Daily Archives: July 16, 2008

The Art of Racing in The Rain – Review

Spread the word

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction

Garth Stein’s third novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, is a uniquely told story through the eyes of the ever loving and ever loyal dog Enzo. Chapter one begins with Enzo in his adult years, knowing that he will be passing away soon, and thus begins to sort through his life, from being a puppy, well into his old age.

When Enzo is a puppy, he is adopted by Denny Swift. As Enzo develops a tight-knit bond with Denny, we see their relationship expand as Eve joins the picture and eventually little Zoe. Enzo’s instinct kick in when he can sense that something is not right with Eve. Enzo can smell the brain cancer long before anyone else in the family, but is unable to communicate with this owners to send them a warning. Enzo is an incredibly philosophical dog, obsessed with TV and racecars. Denny is a professional racecar driver and often has to leave the family for weeks at a time to enter a race. This, among other reasons, breed much animosity between Denny and his parents-in-law.

Once Eve’s brain cancer is apparent, and medical treatment has begun, she is taken home to her parents for her final months, and at her parent’s encouragement, Zoe remains with his mother and grandparents, leaving Denny and Enzo on their own. After Eve’s death, begins a downward spiral for Denny as Eve’s parents bitterly fight to retain full custody of Zoe, leaving Enzo with little to no communication or visitation rights with is own daughter. Throughout all his ordeals, Denny always has Enzo by his side, offering support and unconditional love.

Through Enzo’s eyes and hears, we see and learn more about human nature, instinct and morality. I don’t think this story would have worked as well if told through the eyes of a human narrator. There are frequent comparisons made to racing cars, and racecar drivers that highlight Denny’s personality. “Racing is about discipline and intelligence, not about who has the heavier foot. The one who drives smart will always win in the end.” (p178). Scattered throughout the book, certain chapters are devoted just to Enzo’s analysis of certain racing tactics or techniques. Often times, these explanations parallel emotionally what Denny is going through with his struggles with his wife’s cancer, and his custody battles with his in-laws. Denny and Enzo constantly watch tapes of Denny’s races, learning from mistakes with Denny constantly explaining the mental endurance of a driver. This endurance, this ability to predict your opponents moves, to see one lap ahead helps Denny with his custody battle against his in-laws.

Since the story is told through Enzo’s side, we see only glimpses of human communication and with Enzo’s keen sense, we see humans for what they really are. A dog’s natural instinct is far more advanced than humans. Dogs can read people better, I think. They are more attuned to unspoken emotions and are aware of an unbalanced and unhealthy environment.

This is one book that I could not set aside. The story is smooth, the characters are either lovable, or deplorable, and Enzo is an amazing narrator, making references and connections to pop-culture, making astute philosophical and psychological assessments of the humans around him. The book is endearing because of the detachment from human emotion. We see things in a black and white, good or bad way that dogs do. Although I checked this copy out from my library, I think I will be making a pit-stop at my local bookstore to pick up a copy of this book for my bookshelf.

Find this book at your local library

Buy this book on Amazon

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain
By Garth Stein
Harper Collins, 2008
ISBN 9780061537936
321 pages

The Namesake – Review

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Age: Adult

It seems like most people have probably already either read the book, or seen the movie, The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. In that respect, this is also a story well known just by the content. A story of culture-clash, of two generations struggling to find an identity in America. Substitute just about any other ethnicity for Bengali, and this could very well be your life story if you are a second generation immigrant to the US. Although I wasn’t born here, I came to this country at an age young enough to be able to adopt all the “typical” American behaviors and characteristics that were not the norm in my parents eyes. Teenagers have a hard enough time to begin with trying to figure out their lives, throw into the mix the identity crisis of culture, and its a bona-fide recipe for angst and confusion.

As the central focus of the novel, Gogol Ganguli is a representation of his parents dream of the US, of their future. While his parents still tightly cling onto their Bengali past, Gogol struggles to break free in anyway he can. Despising the Russian name bestowed by his parents, he changes it to his original good name, Nikhil once he turns eighteen. What I enjoyed is that the author continued to call him Gogol throughout the rest of the book. Gogol never quite acclimated himself to become Nikhil, his only alternative persona from Gogol. Gogol was named after the Russian author, Nikoli Gogol. Gogol’s father, Ashoke, was reading a book of Gogol’s (the author) short stories, when his train flew off the tracks, killing hundreds and dangerously wounding others. It was because of the book in his hand that Ashoke was found in the rubble and his life was saved. Gogol, (the son) never understood the relevance of his name until after he had graduated from Yale and was well into his career as an architect. I think this story helped Gogol with his acceptance of his Bengali life.

Since I’ve seen the movie a few times, the book felt a little slow for me. I liked that the movie condensed Gogol’s angst and cultural confusion, but I enjoyed how the book shed light on some of the smaller characters. In both the book and the movie Gogol’s sister, Sonia, has an incredibly small role, but Ashima is given more freedom and strength in the movie. Constant connections are made between Gogol’s love life, and that of his parents. Gogol rushes into his future to constantly become something he’s not, always unhappy with who he turns into. His parents are in limbo between their past and their present trying to make sense of the their lives and find their own place. It is also after his father’s death, when Gogol finally begins to find happiness with himself as Moushumi, his wife, become the focus of the story with her internal struggle to be a “proper Bengali wife” despite her aspirations to be something, anything, else.


Find this book at your local library

Buy this book on Amazon

A Novel

The Namesake: A Novel
By: Jhumpa Lahiri
Mariner Books, 2004
ISBN 978-0618485222
304 pages