Eating Wasps by Anita Nair: Stories of Strong but Flawed Women Painted With Desire

I spent a major part of 2018 reading non-fiction titles. It was only recently that I decided to take a break to savour fiction and as destiny would have it, the two titles I picked have been so close to reality that for a moment I felt that these two might as well be classified as non-fiction for their closeness to the bitter truths of life.

The first book was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

I had first read The Kite Runner almost a decade ago. While it had left me shaken then, rereading it as a parent, has been an altogether different experience.

The second title I picked was Eating wasps by Anita Nair.

Eating Wasps by Anita Nair is a contemporary fiction novel that portrays stories of strong but flawed women painted with desire. Read a detailed book review with quotes from the book on my blog.

The blurb on the book read:

“In a small town by the river Nila, a thirty-five-year-old writer kills herself. No one knows why. Fifty-two years later, an antique cupboard in a private resort opens to reveal a frightened child. And the mystery begins to unravel.”

Going by the blurb of the book, I had been anticipating a thriller with a dose of horror.

Little did I know that I was in for a sneak peek into the Pandora’s box that we (the whole society) works hard to keep shut.

The beautiful cover of the book highlights the title in form of wasp shaped motifs embroidered around a pair of lips painted in the bold red, hinting at the fact that the book is a collection of stories of women. The droplets of blood blotted near the lips seem to signify how the book is held together by the powerful observations of a dead writer who had committed suicide under mysterious conditions.

The book’s interesting title draws its inspiration from an incident from the narrator, Sreelakshmi’s life. However, in a broader context, the title reflects the heartbreak, the loss, the giving in, the indulgence of desire and the acts of courageously stepping in the forbidden territories of life.

The bone of Sreelakshmi’s index finger, a 35-year-old woman who committed suicide,  was picked from the embers of her pyre and hidden away in a pen case in the false back of a cupboard.

As the bone changes hands after being discovered by a child hiding in the cupboard, it reads the minds and relives the memories of its bearer.

Thus begins the sequence of stories from the lives of Megha, Urvashi, Najma, Liliana, Molly and Theresa, Radha, Rupa, Maya and more.

Sreelakshmi (the narrator) and Urvashi’s stories are given more room than others.

Sreelakshmi’s story is allowed to come a full circle, giving the reader a complete view of the circumstances and her life choices that led to her suicide with pieces of her life interspersed in between other stories.

There’s a soul trapped in the bone, waiting to be set free from the painful memories and ties of the mortal world. This introduction right at the start of the book sets the tone for a plot treading to unleash horror.

“Ghosts and writers are more alike than you think. We can be what you want us to be. We can hear your thoughts even if you don’t tell us. We can read the silences and shape your stories as if they happened to us. And I was both: a ghost and a writer.

And horrors unfold. Not in the form of supernatural entities but hidden within the unspoken, secretly brushed away feelings of violation, suppression and emotional trauma women of all ages and from all walks of life carry within their hearts.

The soulful revelations are the life and blood of this poignant collection. Complex feminine experiences expressed with brutal honesty, make these stories feel closer to life.

Eating Wasps by Anita Nair is a contemporary fiction novel that portrays stories of strong but flawed women painted with desire. Read a detailed book review with quotes from the book on the blog.

The characters in the book are connected by their location, a hotel in a small town by the river Nila.

What really bonds them with the reader is their courage to face the formidable nemesis, challenging its authority and rising up to rebel and try to live life (or end it, in Sreelakshmi’s case) at their terms.

Do they all succeed?

Do they perish?

It is what remains to be experienced in the journeys of the various characters.

What makes this book stand out is the portrayal of the unvarnished realities of life. In the echoes of the suffering souls, the reader finds solace in the realization that they aren’t alone in feeling so.

“Once after I helped myself to the kanji we have for dinner every night, I dropped half a bottle of salt into what was left in the vessel. I am a blind woman. Such accidents are bound to happen. I thought it was time she tasted some of the salt from all the tears she had made me shed. “

These are the stories about women whose lives didn’t go the way they would have wanted. Of the resilience, they need to conjure up every day to get a move on. Of having to put on a brave face even when they were quaking within.

Eating Wasps by Anita Nair is a contemporary fiction novel that portrays stories of strong but flawed women painted with desire. Read a detailed book review with quotes from the book on the blog.

The book sings of heartbreak and loss; of temptation and giving in. In short, the book highlights what it means to be a woman, day in and day out.

Anita Nair’s narration evokes emotion and pain that’s sure to linger long after you put the book down. Blending in of the caste, class, age and religion with ease adds to the charm of the book.

The book features characters from the 1960s and also from the modern era whose lives is greatly impacted by Instagram, YouTube, Tinder and more.

The rich language, vast vocabulary and lucid narration make this book an experience to cherish.

Halfway through the book, I longed to see how the lives of the many women would cross paths or how they will help Sreelakshmi seek solace.

However, the climax of the book gifted me the understanding of why the author chose to leave the many stories with open endings.

I particularly loved Najma’s story, where a young girl was attacked by toxic masculinity in it’s most brutal form. Yet, Najma chose to fight back and to live life at her terms.

“When was the last time Ammi had bought herself something nice, Najma wondered. When had she ever allowed herself to want something? Desire is a luxury, she always said. Not that that desire was evil or wrond, but it could cause heartbreak.

‘Should I get a burkha?’ Najma asked Ammi.
She frowned. ‘Why would you need one?’

Najma laughed. She felt relieved, and blessed. Her Ammi couldn’t even sign her name, but she was more progressive than some of those women who came to talk about female wmpowerment. Her Ammi made her feel that she had every right to be who she was.”

Another favourite is Maya’s story.

Her struggle being a single parent caring for her autistic son, the self-recrimination that seemed to linger even in her sleep, jolted me from within.

“But she felt a crack appear each time a stranger eyed her 95-kg son as if he was an ungainly animal, a baby hippo perhaps. Mostly they turned the other way when she spotted them staring at him. But if it was an acquaintance, the voice would ring with a “Hello Naveen!” Unnatural, syrupy sweet and laden with false emotion: ‘Let’s show Maya that we are blessed with a benevolence of heart, and how much we feel for her.’ Sometimes she felt as though she couldn’t bear to go on any longer. “

Who is this book for? 

This book is a welcome companion in the times when the #MeToo movement is already causing a stir in the world empowering women to stand up for themselves and voice the hurt, the soaked up anguish that has been haunting them for a long time.

This book gives a message to all women living in fear and rage that they aren’t alone. There’s hope and that their voices matter.

I’d like to end my review with a quote that sums up my experience of reading this book.

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”

― William Styron

About the Book: 

Title – Eating Wasps
Author – Anita Nair
Publisher – Context (Westland Publishing)
Genre – Fiction
ISBN –  978-9387578722
Pages – 260
Price – INR 599

About the Author: 

Anita Nair is the author of several novels, including The Better Man, Mistress, Idris: Keeper of the Light and Alphabet Soup for Lovers. She has also authored a crime series featuring Inspector Gowda.

Anita’s other books include Malabar Mind, a collection of poems, Goodnight & God Bless, a collection of essays, and six books for children. She has written two plays and the screenplay for the movie adaptation of her novel Lessons in Forgetting, which was part of the Indian Panorama at IFFI 2012 and won the National Film Award in 2013. Her books have been translated into thirty-one languages around the world. She is also the founder of the creative writing and mentorship programme, Anita’s Attic.

Rating: 4/5

*Disclosure:  I received a review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. 

Head here for more book reviews and my review policy.

 

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua: Memoir of a Strict Mom

Before I became a parent, I had a clear vision of what kind of a parent I wanted to be. I had hoped for a lot of changes from the way my parents had raised me. Though discipline and obedience were absolutely non-negotiable.

Fast-forward to the time when I became a mom and my child was around 2 years old. While I was still struggling with the nuances of motherhood, one thing that stood tall was my kid’s feisty, spirited personality.

She had an untameable spirit and nothing (no amount of bribing, pampering, cajoling, yelling or even threatening) could make her change her mind. Except, giving her control over a situation sometimes helped defuse her temper or sway her decisions.

Things haven’t changed much since then.

I sometimes feel, raising Pari is quite similar to trying to tame a feral horse. Our home is often an all-out warfare with the fact that Pari has inherited my hot-tempered, quick-witted, fast-forgiving personality.

With a child who challenges my authority at every step, I have learnt to adapt myself to become a parent who always offers her child choices.

However, I can’t help but be worried if I’m doing enough as a parent by not being a strict mom.

Am I robbing my child of the possibility of being successful by not pushing her hard enough?

The answers to all these doubts came to me from Amy Chua’s controversial parenting memoir, Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother.

A detailed book review of the parenting memoir of a strict mom, Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. Here I share the quotes and the lessons learnt from this must-read book for everyone. #theerailivedin #bookreview

I spotted this book among the titles recommended to me by Amazon.

The blurb on the book reads:

An awe-inspiring, often hilarious, and unerringly honest story of one mother’s exercise in extreme parenting, revealing the rewards—and the costs—of raising her children the Chinese way.

All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. What Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother reveals is that the Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that. Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions and providing a nurturing environment. The Chinese believe that the best way to protect your children is by preparing them for the future and arming them with skills, strong work habits, and inner confidence. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother chronicles Chua’s iron-willed decision to raise her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, her way—the Chinese way—and the remarkable results her choice inspires.

Chua demands as much of herself as she does of her daughters. And in her sacrifices—the exacting attention spent studying her daughters’ performances, the office hours lost shuttling the girls to lessons—the depth of her love for her children becomes clear. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is an eye-opening exploration of the differences in Eastern and Western parenting—and the lessons parents and children everywhere teach one another.

While researching about the book, I had a chance of reading Amy Chua’s Wall Street Journal article and the criticism the book received.

I’d like to begin by clarifying that the book is not a parenting prime.

It is a witty memoir of a Chinese immigrant mother who shares her journey in her parenting years clearly outlining her views on how do Chinese mothers raise successful children.

Amy Chua both defends and questions her parenting methods throughout the book, and she accounts for her generalization of “Chinese” and “Western” mother right in the first chapter.

The book draws inspiration for its title from the fact that Amy Chua was born in the year of the tiger as per the Chinese zodiac and this book records her life as being an obsessive, strict mom who is determined to help her children achieve success and greatness in everything they do.

The author has been widely criticised for her parenting style and the immense pressure she subjects her daughters to.

I could feel a connection, an understanding, a bonding for Amy’s choices and parenting style having been raised in a similar way.

Maybe, all Indians and perhaps most Asians can connect with Amy’s style of parenting.

Here are some things Amy Chua would never allow her daughters to do:

– have a playdate
– be in a school play
– complain about not being in a school play
– not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
– play any instrument other than the piano or violin
– not play the piano or violin

These rules had no exceptions and there was no room for any excuses in Amy’s home.

The truth was that Amy’s daughters, Sophia and Lulu would never have had time for a playdate. They were too busy practising their instruments (two to three hours a day and double sessions on the weekend) scoring straight A in all subjects and perfecting their Mandarin.

The book holds an important place in the current times when we can see so many children buckle under the constant pressure of expectations from their parents.

“Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the cChinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and improve from it.”

In a  world that values only the successful, the achievers, failure is not even considered an option.

In Amy’s pursuit of helping her girls achieve excellence, things begin to fall apart. This comeuppance is the reason why this memoir left a lasting impact on me.

Besides the similarities in our personalities, the outlook of the author’s parents and the strikingly similar personality traits my daughter shares with Amy’s younger daughter, Lulu made this book an enlightening read for me.

Unlike parenting books, that tend to get preachy, this memoir helped me see the cultural reasons behind why we, Asian parents, parent the way we do.

I learnt why being a strict mom comes so naturally to me, despite the constant emphasis on the importance of trying to respect our child’s individuality, being more supportive of their choices while providing positive reinforcement from all parenting books and articles on the Internet.

The book makes for an interesting, witty, breezy read with never a dull moment. The book reads like a fiction novel with nuggets of wisdom for the parents at every bend.

This book hit home for me because:

– It introduced me to the many possible explanations about why the strict parents (like my parents and myself) choose to be so.

– How our culture affects the way we parent.

– What is the best approach when raising an iron-willed child like my daughter.

The book teaches many priceless lessons:

Most activities are not fun unless you’re good at it.

“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. to get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”

 You can’t get good at something without practice. Through practice, every single day of the year is a must.

“Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence. Once a child starts to excel at something – whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet- he or she gets praise, admiration, and satisfaction.”

Practising something you aren’t good at isn’t fun, and you may need external motivation, coaching and lots of willpower to make it more enjoyable.

“The praise and admiration the child gets builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.”

While verbal encouragement can give you confidence, great results give you a lot more confidence.

“As a parent, one of the worst things you can do fr your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.”

The book wouldn’t have impressed so much if it had been written entirely from a parent’s perspective. The author has taken the time to acknowledge the various episodes where she’d override her children’s desires and preferences, break promises in the hope of helping them (her children) achieve greatness.

What really balances out the tiger mom’s obsessive parenting misadventures is the rebellion of her daughter, Lulu. How Amy learnt that it was time to draw the line to her overzealous, often tortuous ways of making her kids excel is something, many parents can take a learning from.

The author has succeeded in painting an almost complete picture of two styles of parenting. One, strict and authoritarian and the other where the parents believed in individual choice and valued their children’s independence, creativity and questioning authority.

This balance comes from the fact that Amy married an American Jewish, who had been raised with values very different from her own.

There is no denying that at times, Amy’s parenting style feels suffocating when she insists on her daughter’s practising the piano and the violin every day, even on their overseas vacations and on many days past midnight.

But you can’t help but notice that the author is a caring mother. Despite the rebellion from her kids, she doesn’t give up. The Tiger Mom’s parenting style is different and builds immense pressure on her kids but because it is backed with love, you can see the children survive it and excel (exactly the way their mother hoped they would).

The author’s irresistible passion for life and her honesty shines bright and makes this an unputdownable read irrespective of whether you agree with her parenting style or not.

Who is this book for?

I might not agree with the author’s parenting style but I strongly recommend this book, not only to parents but everyone who has been raised by strict parents. Asian immigrant parents (settled in the western world) will particularly feel a connection with Amy’s thought process and preferences.

If you’re a parent, irrespective of your style of parenting, this book is a must read to give you an insight into what it feels like to be raised in a strict environment. This book gives a taste into what goes on in the process of pushing kids too hard in the pursuit of excellence.

About the Book:

Title – Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Author –Amy Chua
Publisher – Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre – Memoir
ISBN –  978-1408822074
Pages – 273
Price – INR 196 (Explore the best deal at Amazon

About the Author: 

Amy L. Chua is the John M. Duff, Jr. Professor of Law at Yale Law School. She joined the Yale faculty in 2001 after teaching at Duke Law School. Prior to starting her teaching career, she was a corporate law associate at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton. She specializes in the study of international business transactions, law and development, ethnic conflict, and globalization and the law. As of January 2011, she is most noted for her parenting memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Rating: 4/5

*Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

How I discipline without breaking my child’s spirit

When I became a parent, I was faced with the baffling situation, how to inculcate discipline in my child, without acting like a tyrant, strict mom.

Though I wished for her to follow my instructions, I yearned for a definite plan that wouldn’t aim at obscuring her inner voice.

I’d like to confess, that I have made many mistakes in disciplining my child despite having a vision of what I wanted to achieve.

From defying positive attention (being in the same room but doing my own thing while listening to what my child had to say ) to not letting my child make choices of her own (making simple decisions about what to do in her free time to what gift she would like on Diwali).

With time, I have mended my ways, fine-tuned my parenting style countless times keeping one goal in mind.

I am not hoping to use discipline as a means to raise an obedient child.

Instead, I discipline in a way to raise a kid who is self-reliant and confident enough to know what to do in life (even if it means making mistakes) even when I’m not around.

Though I’m not quite there yet, however, every milestone is an encouragement that I am hopefully getting closer to my goal.

To assist me in staying focused, I have outlined a strategy:

1. Choose your battles wisely:

I am well aware that the way we discipline our child, our actions, and our tone eventually becomes the inner voice of the child.

Frequent rebuking for the choices made instils self-doubt; being yelled at every mistake makes the child react the same way when someone else makes a mistake and worse still smacking a child teaches her that it is the way of tackling disagreement.

In the bigger picture of life, I am now clear that if I want to raise a happy, kind, open-minded child, I need to practice the same myself while disciplining her.

2. Set enforceable limits:

The whole idea here is to put into action the one principle that seems to work for everyone, adults and children alike.

The more perceived control a person has over the situation, the more likely he or she is to cooperate and listen.

The trick to use when applying it to discipline children is instead of always telling Pari what to do, I try telling her what I will do instead.

For example:
I’ll read you a bedtime story if you will sit quietly.
I’ll let you play with your new toy as soon as you finish your homework.

This works only when you patiently wait until the kids are actually doing what you asked before you do your part of the equation.

Are you struggling with disciplining without yelling? Do you fear to break your child's spirit by being a strict mom? Here's how I'm balancing discipline and my child's will without a compromise. #theerailivedin #parenting #settinglimits #parentingquotes #discipline #singlemom #quotestoliveby #LRKnost

3. Attention and time are precious and should be spent thoughtfully:

Everyone craves for the attention of their near and dear ones. Kids are no different. Being a SAHM juggling work with my daughter around gets tough when she constantly complains about me not paying enough attention to her. This is why we now have designated work and play hours for her and myself.

When I work, she finishes her homework. When I’m free I invest my undivided attention free from gadgets, playing, reading and even dancing with her.

Recommended Reading: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

4. We work together as a team:

Conveying how much I love and cherish my daughter through words and actions has been a major shift for an introvert me.

Earlier when I used to ask my daughter to help me clean up the room, putting the toys and books back in place she would act lazy, keep watching me but wouldn’t move a finger. Once I was done and dusted, she’d insist I spend time with her playing making my hard-work go undone.

Now I ask my daughter to have our little chit-chat while we are arranging the room and she is showing me where we place what, her points of view so that she feels involved. This trick works because she loves the position where she is making the decisions, with mamma paying attention to her preferences.

She enjoys seeing how her choices resulted in the look of her room and also how she can improve it over time.

5. Pragmatism about success and failure:

Discipline has mostly been about training individuals to be successful in life. However, along the way, the need to accept shortcomings with equal grace often raises its head.

Earlier, I used to micro-manage my child, preventing her from making mistakes. Though this attitude didn’t bear any startling results, I always ended up with a cranky, whining child.

Lately, my daughter and I have adopted singing the ‘Que sera, sera’ song as we go on with life. Accepting what comes our way (despite our best efforts) with equal grace and a smiling face.

The ‘it’s all part of the game’ approach on my part has surprisingly helped my child accept life events like standing second in a recitation competition or not being given the largest piece of chocolate better than before.

6. Voicing our thoughts is as important as expressing our concerns:

Nagging or yelling to control my kid’s rude behaviour, whining or crying has never worked. It took me a while to figure out that these antics were nothing but a child seeking attention and expressing their wound up emotions.

To get the situation in control, I’ve learnt that keeping calm and telling what’s disturbing you (“I don’t like it when you scream, can you ask nicely?”) work better. Sometimes, I step out of the room leaving my child with her thoughts.

Given a moment to reflect, with a clear idea of what mama likes, helps my daughter feel in control. She gives up the tantrum sooner and approaches me in a more peaceful way.

7. Use the child’s imagination to keep them entertained:

This year during the school holidays I was running out of ideas to keep my daughter from getting bored just two days into vacations. Everything I’d suggest would make my child whine or not follow for long. This was making it impossible for me to work.

That’s when a friend of mine suggested how she lets her son be guided by his imagination. She lets her son draw, colour, paint and at times even get messy (unless it is a matter of health or safety) and it is satisfying to watch the child be happy, creative, expending energy doing what she enjoys.

A mess isn’t always a bad thing.

Finally:

Making these positive changes, battling my own fears and changing the way I raise my child from the kind of upbringing I have had has helped me communicate better.

I now pair my disciplining with kindness, compassion and love. I’ve been working hard at letting Pari grow up as an individual while nurturing her will.

And the best part is the newfound peace in the family with due care of tending to my child’s spirit.

Related: How I became the calm mom I always wanted to be.

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The song on my mind: Hum Na Samjhe They ~ Gardish

*Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.