Eight Acres of Heaven

17

“What are those ducks doing?” asks one of our goggle-eyed friends during a walk around the property called ‘Eight Acres’. Uncle Kam, our tour guide turns to look and replies, nonchalant, “Oh, they’re mating.” Later, in the privacy of our shared accommodation, we four urbanites admit that we have never see such a thing before.

”At the time, though, we are forced to pay attention to Uncle Kam as he continues with his story about this eco-resort in Raub Pahang which recently won a prize for Best Eco Initiative. He says that when his son, Paul Kam (Group Managing director of ‘D Jungle Resorts’, which owns ‘Eight Acres’) first brought him to the property, it was the sound of water cascading from the waterfall nearby that convinced Uncle Kam to support his son’s dream to create this sanctuary. That was four years ago.

Today, ‘Eight Acres’ has evolved into a place that can only be described as a banquet for the senses. To appreciate its extraordinary beauty, you must set aside the creature comforts available at other resorts like air-conditioned accommodation, toiletries on demand and an à la carte menu.

Instead, embrace communal eating, apply liberal amounts of insect repellent and open your heart to the warmth and hospitality of its gracious hosts. In so doing, you may come to see that ‘Eight Acres’ is a place where the humans and animals don’t merely co-exist – they have just about switched places. Where the humans have been lovingly creating and building this place, the animals are involved in scandalous sexual behaviour, acts of horror and even attempted murder.

For instance, there’s Justin, who is in charge of all recreational activities, tenderly stroking an injured bird who made the mistake of flying into the ceiling fan. Uncle Kam monitored the planting of a whole host of trees on a particular section of the property, “because we wanted to create a colony for birds to come.”

”Then there is ‘Java House’, a structure brought over from Java, Indonesia, and reconstructed here on ‘Eight Acres’. Imagine the scene from its balcony during the twilight hour: a waterfall on your left, verdant tropical flora in the background with a majestic ‘Tualang’ tree right at the top, and row upon row of Heliconia and Hibiscus on your right. When night comes, the Orion constellation is prominent in a cloudless

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Astray by Emma Donoghue


Title: Astray
Author: Emma Donoghue
Hardcover
Publisher: Picador (October 25, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1447209494
ISBN-13: 978-1447209492

Emma Donoghue’s tightly written offering of fourteen short stories in ‘Astray’, although small in number, should be read as a considerable contribution to the understanding of what many who venture far away from home experience and endure. As Donoghue says in the ‘Afterword’, ‘Emigrants, immigrants, adventurers, and runaways – they fascinate me because they loiter on the margins, stripped of the markers of family and nation; they’re out of place, out of their depth.’

Each story has two parts: the fictitious account of the protagonist and the factual information the story is based on. This factual information is often derived from public records of a time past. For example, ‘The Gift’ is a story about adopting a child and its consequences, but it is based on entries made in a census taken years ago. ‘Counting the Days’ is based on actual letters Henry Johnson and Jane McConnell Johnson published by their great-granddaughter Louise Wyatt. And ‘Daddy’s Girl’ is based on articles published in the newspapers.

Donoghue is an Irish writer who was born in Dublin, lived in London for a time and now calls Canada home. Her previous works include ‘Slammerkin’, ‘Life Mask’, ‘Touchy Subjects’, ‘The Sealed Letter’ and ‘Room’ (shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange prizes).

It is stated on her website (emmadonoghue.com) that ‘Astray’ was shortlisted for the 2012 Eason Irish Novel of the Year and the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. One of the stories in the collection, ‘The Hunt’ was shortlisted for the 2012 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. The book was also longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction. She also writes about the close connection she has with all the members of her family and her happy childhood.

What is arresting about this collection is that the stories are arranged in a particular sequence – people who are leaving a place or situation, people who are in transit and what happens to people after they arrive at their destinations. This structured and thought out approach makes one feel as though they’re on a journey or sorts with the Donoghue. For example, there is a tale of a slave who hatches a plot with the mistress of the house to run

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The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Title: The Historian
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Paperback: 832 pages
Publisher: Time Warner Books; Later Printing edition (2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0316057886
ISBN-13: 978-0316057882

‘The Historian’ is a classified as ‘Historical Fiction’ in Amazon.com. It is the debut novel of Elizabeth Kostova and blends the mystery of Vlad the Impaler, the legend of Dracula and fiction.

Briefly, ‘The Historian’ features a nameless narrator who documents her adventure in unraveling a mystery after discovering an odd book. She tells her father, a historian, about this book: it has no words but a picture of a dragon in the middle. The father, Paul, tells her the story of his discovery of the book and how it led him on a wild adventure where he met (and later married) the narrator’s mother, Helen Rossi. Halfway through the book, Paul disappears in search of Helen with the narrator and her companion hot on his trail.

‘The Historian’ won awards from the best ‘Novel-in-progress’ (Hopwood Award – 2003) and ‘Debut Author of the Year’ (Quill Award – 2005) to ‘Award for Best Adult Fiction’ (Book Sense – 2006). It is easy to see why ‘The Historian’ won these awards.

For a start, the plot and structure of the novel are very well constructed. As a novel that weaves between time zones, it is easy for the reader to get lost at any one moment. However, Kostova made sure that the reader was never lost in the novel. For example, at the beginning of chapter 4, she writes, ‘As I’ve told you, my father said, clearing his throat once or twice …’ This is a clear indication that the rest of the chapter will be about the father’s adventure, rather than the narrator’s.

That said, the novel is very long and there are times, especially in the middle, when there are no real surprises in store for the reader. A seasoned reader could easily, and rightly, guess each event in the novel. Furthermore, the end of the tale suggests that the characters think that they have killed Dracula, but the last chapter suggests that he will live forever. Perhaps, Kostova could have provided a more realistic and satisfying ending by suggesting that the characters, though happy that their ordeal was over, weren’t sure whether Dracula was dead. Nevertheless, they made the decision to move on with their lives and forget

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