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Curious Iguana Event Recap: Sweta Vikram, author of Louisiana Catch

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Sweta Vikram came to Frederick, Md., to the Curious Iguana bookstore to have a conversation about not only women’s rights and her book, Louisiana Catch, but also about the dangers of social media and human rights.

And, yes, before you ask: I did bring every Sweta Vikram book I own to get signed, since I haven’t seen her in person in so long! She had to sign my books.  I hope I didn’t give her hand a cramp.

Also, since I help establish her blog tour through Poetic Book Tours for her debut U.S. novel, I was happy to provide a Live Facebook Feed for part of the event. Please click and watch the beginning of the event. She’ll make you laugh.

Please also view these two videos from the Q&A and reading portions of the event.

It was a small room and full of people that Sweta, also the owner of NimmiLife, knew and some that those people had brought along with them, including my daughter who did not want to miss the “Poet lady.” Yes, that’s how she refers to Sweta. I never saw her put on her shoes so fast to go to a reading before; it was quite a sight.

The event had it all: discussions of marital rape, surviving sexual assault, women’s rights, the differences between writing poems and writing fiction, and of course the question everyone wants to know — was Rohan Brady based on Bradley Cooper?

Sweta Vikram will be back in the D.C. area in September, and I hope those who couldn’t make it up to Maryland, will see her when she’s in town again.

Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Today’s review is not for poetry as expected this month, but rest assured, the author is a poet.

Sweta Vikram’s poetry has appeared on this blog previously, and I’m humbled to call her a friend. She is particularly talented as you can tell from her previous books and this debut novel.

Happy launch day, my friend.

***Mark your calendar DMV residents! Sweta Vikram will be at the Curious Iguana bookstore in Frederick, Md., on May 27 4-5pm***

I’ll be there, but will you!

Source: publisher
Paperback, 268 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is more than just a novel that captures our current time where the Internet is pervasive and many of us have allowed our walls of privacy to fall. It is a novel in which Ahana Chopra is forced to live her own life and discover on what terms she wants to live that life — a woman no longer under the wing of her mother and no longer under the thumb of her husband in New Delhi, India.

A quote from Socrates — “To find yourself, think for yourself.” — is a perfect summation of a novel in which the protagonist goes on a spiritual, emotional, and physical journey to self discovery, like that of Vikram’s Ahana. Vikram’s main character has a strong voice, even if her convictions waver from time to time as the shroud of mourning gathers about her unexpectedly. But once outside her cloistered world, she has no choice but to examine her world and her place in it. She must make choices that can either lead to her own happiness or force her down the same dark path she walked before.

“At social gatherings, I want to disappear and become invisible.” (pg. 1 ARC)

The dark threads of the novel outline the loneliness of marital abuse and the sinkholes the Internet can disguise when catfishers seek new prey, but the light threads are the inner strength Ahana cultivates as she strives to make a safe place for women who’ve been victims of abuse. She also has solid friendships — with Rohan and others — and family relationships to lean on. As her mother’s wise words come to Ahana, she gains strength and learns to move forward, if cautiously.

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” (pg. 182 ARC)

Vikram’s novel is a tapestry of hope sprung from pain and shines as a beacon for those who need a gentle push away from the darkness in their lives. Fiction can be an escape and showcase an amazing story, but Vikram uses her words and characters to help change lives and give strength to those who need it. Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram takes readers on a multi-continental and multi-cultural journey that mirrors our own world today, but it begs us to make changes.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a best-selling author of 11 books, a wellness columnist, and a mindfulness writing coach.  Featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” Sweta writes about women, multiculturalism, and identity. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nice countries and three continents. Louisiana Catch (Modern History Press 2018) is her debut U.S. novel. Born in India, Sweta grew up between the Indian Himalayas, Northern Africa, and the United States collecting and sharing stories. Exposure to this vast societal spectrum inspired her to become an advocate for social issues and also to get certified as a Holistic Health Counselor. In this avatar, Sweta is the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife through which she helps people elevate their productivity and creativity using Ayurveda and yoga. A certified yoga teacher, Sweta also teaches yoga and mindfulness to female survivors of rape and domestic violence. She lives with her husband in New York City.

Enter to win 1 copy of Louisiana Catch by Sweta Vikram (Kindle ebook for international entrants or print copy for U.S. residents)

Other Reviews:

Mailbox Monday #400

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

Without a Conscience by Cat Gardiner for review in November.

Someone wants to kill The Iceman, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and will stop at nothing to lure him into the open. Out for retribution, the son of an assassinated South American drug lord is seeking payback. His diabolical objective puts Operation Macarena into play by dangling bait guaranteed to entice his enemy. Can Darcy’s new bride, Liz, accept his decision to leave their tranquil life at Pemberley to resume the deadly profession he swore was behind them forever?

But are Darcy and Liz each fully satisfied with their simple, peaceful existence raising polo ponies and planning exotic vacations? Darcy set Liz’s spirit free; how can she resist the urge to ride on the wild side? Perhaps coming out of retirement is just what her husband needs because The Iceman never truly melted.

Without a Conscience takes readers on an adventure from the dangerous Peruvian Amazon Basin to the salacious underbelly of Parisian nightlife, leading toward a perilous rescue in Moscow.

Essential Readings & Study Guide by K.V. Dominic, which Anna passed on to me.

“K. V. Dominic Essential Readings” gathers for the first time the three most important works of poetry from this shining new light of contemporary Indian verse in English: “Winged Reason,” “Write Son, Write” and “Multicultural Symphony.” A fourth collection of 22 previously unpublished poems round out a complete look at the first 12 years of Dominic’s prolific and profound verse. Each poem includes unique Study Guide questions suitable for South Asian studies curricula.

Written in free verse, each of his poems makes the reader contemplate on intellectual, philosophical, spiritual, political, and social issues of the present world. Themes range from multiculturalism, environmental issues, social mafia, caste-ism, exploitation of women and children, poverty, and corruption to purely introspective matters. From the observation of neighborhood life to international events, and everyday forgotten tragedies of India, nothing escapes the grasp of Dominic’s keen sense of the fragility of life and morality in the modern world.

R2-D2 and C-3P0’s Guide to the Galaxy (LEGO Star Wars) by Ace Landers, which my daughter picked from her school’s book fair (primarily because it came with a C-3P0 lego character)

A guide to the good guys, bad guys, places and vehicles from LEGO(R) STAR WARS(TM) presented by R2D2 and C-3P0. The two fan-favorite Droids introduce each chapter (i.e. heroes, villains, vehicles, places) and occasionally pop in to comment on things via comic book word balloons, making for a humorous and fresh take on the LEGO(R) STAR WARS(TM) Universe. Plus, comes with buildable C-3P0 minifigure!

Draw DC Universe: Learn to Draw the Heroes and the Villains by Kaitlyn Nichols, which she got from the book fair as well.

This book is a complete how-to-draw package, jammed with expert tips and techniques, tons of practice space, and of course, a universe of DC heroes and villains. The draw-right-in-it book comes with everything you need: a sketching pencil, a drawing marker, artist Have fun

The Little Shop of Monsters by R.L. Stine, illustrated by Marc Brown, which she picked from the book fair.

A frighteningly fun picture book adventure from two monstrously talented children’s book icons–Marc Brown and R.L. Stine!

Are you are afraid of monsters?
Do they make you shiver and shake and shut your eyes really tight at night?

Welcome to the Little Shop of Monsters! Do you want a SNEEZER? A TICKLER? Or one of the CREEPIEST monsters of all? Come on in and choose your favorite, if you dare (before one of them chooses YOU!).

Renowned children’s book creators Marc Brown and R.L. Stine join forces for the very first time-in Stine’s picture book debut-with a tale that is monstrously good fun.

Trick or Treat! by Hayley Down, illustrated by Sarah Vince, which she selected from the book fair.

As Halloween approaches, children will be excited to explore this super spooky story. It contains a silicone torch that can be used to light up the pages and reveal some hidden artwork. Dim the lights of the room for extra effect!

A funny, rhyming story that will help children understand that Halloween doesn’t have to be scary, it’s full of pictures of fun costumes. Shine the torch and you’ll be able to see the excited children inside them!

Political Theatre by Mark Peterson, already reviewed in November.

Over the past two years New York–based Mark Peterson (born 1955) has photographed American presidential candidates as they lead rallies, meet with the public and plead for votes. He began documenting the race shortly before the government shutdown in 2013 at a Tea Party rally at the US Capitol, when politicians were railing against President Obama and the Affordable Care Act. Since then Peterson has followed the political spin as it approaches the November 2016 election, creating already-famous images of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Sarah Palin, Chris Christie and others, cutting through the staging of their personalities and revealing the cold, naked ambition for power. This volume documents what has been widely described as the most polarized and bizarre presidential race in American history.

What did you receive?

Saris and a Single Malt by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 46 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

***I consider Sweta a friend and her book is on tour with Poetic Book Tours.***

Saris and a Single Malt by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is highly emotional and raw.  It is clear that her mother’s sudden passing left a void in her life, and she was adrift with anger, despair, and confusion.  She spent time with family in India, people who she viewed as vampires (sucking the life from those around them for gossip), but respected her mother enough not to say anything.  There is a delicate balance in grief — when we want to cry out and shout out despair, we must be respectful that others are grieving in their own way as well.  At the same time, there are those who continue to lack compassion or empathy, making the grieving process even more difficult.

This collection made me cry on more than one occasion as I thought about those who have left my life — some suddenly, some after long illness — and each time the grieving process was different and difficult. My nana passed at a critical time in my life as a college student, and I carried a lot of guilt about her passing before I could make it to the hospital to see her after my classes. I procrastinated that day, wanting to eat dinner and rest after a trying week of classes and wanting to avoid the sadness of seeing her with tubes everywhere in an ICU where germs were kept at bay as much as possible. When I arrived just after she left this world, I was tormented by guilt. I wanted to know why she left before I got there. Sweta’s poem, “Why Didn’t You Wait for Me?” struck a chord. Can they see us after they have passed? Can they send us signs? I think it’s possible, and whenever I see a ladybug, I think of her.

From: JFK: Terminal 4 Airport Lounge (pg. 4)

At first I try to hide the fact,
but any passerby could look inside me
and tell it was fake calm that I was drinking
at the airport lounge in a wine glass.
But, inside that one glass,
I could become invisible.
Inside one sip of wine,
I could whisper my fears.

Like love, grief is an emotion that bonds us. Through these poems and mini essays, Vikram show us the entire grieving process and how it tears us down so we can rebuild ourselves. Saris and a Single Malt by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a tribute to a wonderful woman, who may have lived differently than her daughter, and while it comes after her passing, it signals to us to cherish those we have. We need to pay closer attention to our now and less to the past. We need to be better about showing our appreciation in the now, rather than when it is too late.

RATING: Quatrain

Other reviews:

Guest Posts and Interviews:

About the Poet:

Sweta Srivastava Vikram, featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is an award-winning writer, five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Amazon bestselling author of 11 books, writing coach, columnist, marketing consultant, and wellness practitioner who currently lives in New York City. A graduate of Columbia University, she also teaches the power of yoga, Ayurveda, & mindful living to female trauma survivors, creative types, entrepreneurs, and business professionals. Sweta is also the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife, which helps you attain your goals by elevating your creativity & productivity while paying attention to your wellness.

Wet Silence by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Source: Sweta Srivastava Vikram
Paperback, 72 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Wet Silence by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, which is on tour tomorrow with Poetic Book Tours, is a stunning collection of poems that give voice to the often solitary lives of Hindu widows.  Whether these women loved their husbands, fell in love with them, or merely stayed out of their way, without them in their lives, these women struggle with the emptiness — a vacancy where desire, love, and affection should be.  These women could wail and weep but it does not negate the fact that they become spectators in their own lives once their husbands are gone.  They become apparitions of themselves, hollowed out and shoved to the background like furniture or paintings on the wall, only as useful as the remaining family allows them to be.

Despite their losses and Hindu traditions, these women are still very much alive.  In “Eulogy” (pg. 39), the narrator says “I am a lady,/but I didn’t promise/to sleep in your shadow.”  Despite their vitality, these women are in the shadows with no way out that would allow them to retain their respect.  “Silence became my lover, that’s why.//Just so you know, my every kiss was real./I wrapped them in turmeric and sandalwood,/left them in your urn wrapped in a white sheet.//” (from “Silence Became My Lover”, pg. 34) In spite of their continued devotion, they must remain silent about it and their feelings and desires — in the eyes of the family, they have become non-entities without an anchor.

Many of these women loved deeply, passionately, but who can they share their memories with, except for their own grief and the silent walls around them.  In “Never Abandoned” (pg. 7), the narrator laments, “we came crashing like a wave./We contained each other.//Even the rain can’t erase/the warm memories of our togetherness/the cold bones others try to break.//”  For those widows who were abused or cuckolded, how do they move on from the death of their husband?  Can they?  They are still expected to wear grief like a devoted wife, honoring a marriage that to them may have been plagued with abuse and disappointment.  These women are trapped in a different way than those who can feel comfort in their loving husband’s memories.  There is no second chances at love or passion without consequence for these women.

Wet Silence by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a collection of eulogies, odes, and laments, but at its heart it is a collection that gives voice to the voiceless.  The women in these pages, though unnamed, are given new life, and their passions are presented to all readers in a way that is open and honest.  In the “wet silence” of their grief, there is no pretense, no hypocrisy; there is only the bare truth.  It is a collection that should be used in schools, read in book clubs, and held up high on the best of poetry lists.

Sweta is someone I call friend, but she stuns me with each new book, and there is nothing less than awe inspiring in this collection.

Other reviews:

Guest Posts and Interviews:

PoeticButton

 

 

 

 

Writers on the Edge: 22 Writers Speak About Addiction and Dependency edited by Diana M. Raab and James Brown

Source: Modern History Press
Paperback, 185 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Writers on the Edge: 22 Writers Speak About Addiction and Dependency edited by Diana M. Raab and James Brown is a collection of essays, memories, poems, and stories about addiction and dependency, but more than that they are harrowing experiences of surviving with addiction and dependency and the continuous struggle that dogs these writers throughout their lives.  Most, if not all, of these essays are frank and honest about the vacillation between lying about an addiction and being honest about it and confronting it.  The poems are similar in that way.  From alcoholism to suicide and depression as well as overeating addictions, these writers share the struggle with themselves, each other, their readers, and sometimes even their families.  “These writers were more often than not, perps–their own or somebody else’s.  It’s roughly akin to reading a recollection of Nagasaki survivors by people who dropped the bomb on themselves,” says Jerry Stahl in the Foreword.

There are perfect examples in these writers’ lives of what addiction can lead to, and there are examples of friends who successfully killed themselves that haunt these writers and scare them to keep away from their addictions.  But even the scariest moments in these addicts lives may not be enough to stave off addictions for long, while there are times when addiction is held at arms length for a longer period of time, there are always moments of weakness around the corner.  What these writers strive to illustrate through these essays is that life and addiction go hand in hand, and some addictions may be more destructive than others, but it is when they become obsessions that people can lose control of themselves and lose all that they have and love.

From John Amen's "23":

... Jul called an ambulance,
and I came to in intensive care, sunlight flooding
through barred windows, tubes flowing like power lines.
I'd been here before, each survival bolstering some
myth of invincibility, but this time I knew I was treading

Clarity is the moment when each addict learns that they are addicts and that they must do something differently or die. “The language of poetry is the means by which one human consciousness speaks most intimately, directly, and precisely to others. Yet it is also an empty mirror, if I tell the truth of what I see,” says Chase Twichell in “Toys in the Attic.” More than a look at the addiction that has shaped these writers, this volume offers lessons and examples of struggle and includes an appendix of organizations and support groups to help those who need it.  Writers on the Edge: 22 Writers Speak About Addiction and Dependency edited by Diana M. Raab and James Brown is heartbreaking and inspiring, with selections that echo off one another to shout the louder truth of surviving addiction — it is a never ending process that must be undertaken every day, every hour, and at every moment.

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, published by Modern History Press, is a collection of poems about the subjugation of women and all of its forms, across not only the Middle East and Africa, but also throughout the various parts of Asia and South Asia.  These poetic portraits are often prefaced by some facts about a particular woman’s story encapsulated in the poem or about statistics of crimes against women in various countries.  Not all of the poems are prefaced, but even those that are could stand on their own and speak for the women they represent.  Beyond the violence and inequality women deal with on a daily basis, these poems also shed light on the women-on-women violence and the silent acceptance among older women of continuing these traditions with the younger generations.

From War (page 12; which is related to Sri Lankan battles)

The sun was shining on shells
of burnt-out houses in their neighborhood.
Her mother, sister, and she were drinking

coffee, thanking bees for leaving them alone
when three men in uniforms entered

their house under the pretense of search.

All cavities of the women's trust were emptied out
when each man selected a victim:

Vikram’s poetry not only provides a story that is easily accessible on the surface, but she also provides themes and hardships that call for closer inspection.  In this way, her collection would make an excellent book club pick, which could be even further enhanced by additional materials on the subjugation of women across the globe even today. Her poetry speaks of social injustice in a way that shocks the reader, but also pays homage to those who have suffered with the deft strokes of her imagery.  Some poems are stronger than others in terms of theme and imagery, while others are more in-your-face and full of surface meaning.

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a vast ocean of pain, discomfort, and horror that should make women in the modern world, including those inside and outside the United States, stand up for themselves and others. Beyond that, it should make men stand up and take notice that their actions and those of other males in societies across the world should not be tolerated — and ended.

About the Author:

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an award-winning poet, writer, novelist, author, essayist, columnist, and educator. She is the author of four chapbooks of poetry, two collaborative collections of poetry, a novel, a nonfiction book, and a book-length collection of poems (upcoming). Her work has also appeared in several anthologies, literary journals, and online publications across six countries in three continents. Sweta has won two Pushcart Prize nominations, an International Poetry Award, Best of the Net Nomination, Nomination for Asian American Members’ Choice Awards 2011, and writing fellowships. A graduate of Columbia University, she lives in New York City.

This is my 6th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

 

Click on the image below for today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour post:

Mailbox Monday #218

HAPPY EASTER to those who celebrate!

As tomorrow is the kick-off of National Poetry Month, I’m posting this meme early, and it may be on hiatus for the rest of the month until the blog tour is over.

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. April’s host is Mari Reads.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received for review:

1.  Writers on the Edge:  22 Writers Speak About Addiction and Dependency edited by Diana M. Raab and James Brown from Modern History Press for review.

Writers On The Edge offers a range of essays, memoirs and poetry written by major contemporary authors who bring fresh insight into the dark world of addiction, from drugs and alcohol, to sex, gambling and food. Editors Diana M. Raab and James Brown have assembled an array of talented and courageous writers who share their stories with heartbreaking honesty as they share their obsessions as well as the awe-inspiring power of hope and redemption.

CONTRIBUTORS: Frederick & Steven Barthelme, Kera Bolonik, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Maud Casey, Anna David, Denise Duhamel, B.H. Fairchild, Ruth Fowler, David Huddle Perie Longo, Gregory Orr, Victoria Patterson, Molly Peacock, Scott Russell Sanders, Stephen Jay Schwartz, Linda Gray Sexton, Sue William Silverman, Chase Twichell, and Rachel Yoder.

2.  Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey for review from the poet.

“Unexplained Fevers plucks the familiar fairy tale heroines and drops them into alternate landscapes. Unlocking them from the old stories is a way to “rescue the other half of [their] souls.” And so Sleeping Beauty arrives at the emergency room, Red Riding Hood reaches the car dealership, and Rapunzel goes wandering in the desert – their journeys, re-imagined in this inventive collection of poems, produce other dangers, betrayals and nightmares, but also bring forth great surprise and wonder.” – Rigoberto González, author of Black Blossoms “Unexplained Fevers begins with that most familiar of phrases, “Once upon a time,” but the world we find inside these covers is deeply defamiliarized. Trapped by physical ills, cultural expectations, and the constraints of marriage, these heroines interrogate the world and propel themselves through it with cunning and sass. We follow, for example, Jack and Jill though a prose poem where they “somehow turned thirty without thunderous applause,” after having sworn they “would follow each other anywhere, but anywhere turned out to be a lot like Ohio.” At the center of these poems – urgent, mysterious, evocative – we find the great topic of all fairy tales, transformation. Read Unexplained Fevers, and be transformed.” – Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Unmentionables.

What did you receive?