First Love, Memories and How We Choose to Reflect on the Past in The Only Story by Julian Barnes

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My Review:

The Only Story by Julian Barnes is an introspective retrospective on a first love and how it shaped the narrator’s life.  I loved this thought provoking love story told many years later and the internal discussion about memories.

In part one, nineteen year old Paul is home from university for the summer and with his mother’s encouragement, he joins the local country club to play tennis.  He is partnered with Susan, a married woman old enough to be his mother.  Paul and Susan spend time together and as their lives intertwine, he meets Susan’s friend Joan, and Susan gets to know Paul’s college buddies.  Paul falls in love, Susan is attracted to him, and the unlikely couple begins an affair.  When their taboo relationship becomes public, they are kicked out of the country club.  Young Paul is energized by the public disapproval, and despite her marriage, albeit loveless, the two travel together, and they live together for over a decade. There was love and romance, and everything was so good.  This is how Paul wants to remember.

In part two Paul tells us all the things he remembers but would want to forget.  They had borders living with them in the attic, Susan’s husband punched him and on another occasion he smashed her teeth in.  Susan was an alcoholic and taking antidepressants.  The realities of life are revealed and author Julian Barnes switches narration from first person, to third person as he distances himself from intense feelings of lust and love to disappointments and heartbreak.

Susan and Paul’s non traditional relationship was a beautiful love affair and at the same time marred by lies, abuse and alcohol.  Paul discusses the idea that feeling less and lower expectations can protect you from too much emotion and hurt.  His happiness is based on Susan, but her happiness has nothing to do with him.  She is devoted to drinking and he takes that as rejection.

In the end,  Paul can’t stop Susan from drinking so he leaves her, but every time she needs him, he goes to her.  He is emotionally tethered and his love for her causes him to be angry and disgusted with himself, wondering if there is something to be said for feeling less.

The Only Story is a raw look at young love, memory and bias, and how over time you can gloss over difficult times to shape your memories.  I enjoyed the author’s retelling of Paul and his falling in love with an older woman, his all in full commitment and his naiveté, her baggage with her husband, children and her addictions, and how his love blinded him.  Romantic and sad with love, forgiveness and continual heartbreak, this story is thought provoking when it comes to how we look back at our lives and remember certain things.  Beautifully written and short in length, this is well worth the read.

An interview with Julian Barnes

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Julian Patrick Barnes is a contemporary English writer of postmodernism in literature. He has been shortlisted three times for the Man Booker Prize— Flaubert’s Parrot (1984), England, England (1998), and Arthur & George (2005), and won the prize for The Sense of an Ending (2011). He has written crime fiction under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh.

Following an education at the City of London School and Merton College, Oxford, he worked as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary. Subsequently, he worked as a literary editor and film critic. He now writes full-time. His brother, Jonathan Barnes, is a philosopher specialized in Ancient Philosophy.

He lived in London with his wife, the literary agent Pat Kavanagh, until her death on 20 October 2008.

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The Unexpected Daughter by Sheryl Parbhoo

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As stated in Goodreads:

Three people’s lives intersect in a tumultuous yet redeeming way that none of them could have ever predicted. Jenny is a young professional from the South with an upbringing she wants to forget. She meets Roshan, an Indian immigrant who has moved to the United States with his mother, Esha, to escape family ghosts. With strong cultural tradition, Esha has devoted her entire life to her only child, both for his own good and for her personal protection from a painful past. Roshan understands his role as his mother’s refuge, and from an early age, he commits himself to caring for her. But when Jenny and Roshan embark on a forbidden, intercultural relationship, all three get tangled into an inseparable web—betrayal, violence, and shame—leaving them forced to make choices about love and family they never wanted to make while finding peace where they never expected to look.

 

My Comments:

I loved this story, enjoyed following each character as they fought their own personal battles and learned a lot about Indian culture and tradition along the way!  Roshan and Jenny have a unique friendship that grows into more but they resist the temptation to commit, he due to his Indian background, customs and parental influences, and she due to her fear of abandonment, and her difficult upbringing surrounded by poverty and addiction.  After fighting the attraction, going their separate ways and living their lives apart for a decade, they come together and are faced with the same obstacles and more.  As author Sheryl Parbhoo shows us in The Unexpected Daughter, it is impossible to escape our formative years, good or bad; it is a part of who we are and how we live in this world.  What we can do is make good decisions for ourselves, embrace opportunities, live authentically and love with an open heart.

One of my favorite types of books is a story of immigration, assimilation and the mixing of cultures.  The Unexpected Daughter delivers all of that so well as the backdrop with a rollercoaster ride of a story of a modern multicultural family as they come to terms with their past and grow together, navigating love, loyalty, addiction, ambition, death, birth and celebration….Life.    A wonderful debut!

Order on AMAZON today!

 

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Sheryl Parbhoo is an author, blogger, educator, and mother of five. A native southerner, her interest in the intricacies of human culture led to a BA in Anthropology from the University of Memphis. Her longing for the spice of life culminated when she married her high school sweetheart, a South African Indian immigrant, and became a stay-at-home mom to their five children for over 20 years. After diligent, dedicated PTA and Room Mom duties, she earned a BS in Education from Kennesaw State University, becoming an ESOL teacher, focusing on immigrant students from Mexico and Guatemala.

Sheryl is known worldwide for her blog, Southern Life Indian Wife, where for four years she has shared stories from her spicy masala/southern cornbread way of life raising her large multicultural family and navigating the quirks of Southern and Indian in-law relationships. These, along with the responses received from readers, are the real-life inspirations for her novel, The Unexpected Daughter.

On sherylparbhoo.com, Sheryl shares her love of writing and personal experiences as a writer. She has been a featured contributor for Masalamommas.com, Twins Magazine, among others. She and her family’s blended cultural traditions have been highlighted on PBSNewshour.com, as well as on various online sites.