Reading about other cultures has always fascinated me. I remember, even as a child I used to look forward to this programme called ‘My Beautiful House’ on the Discovery Kids channel where one was given a brief summary of life in another culture specifically food, clothes, practices etc. The content was of course tailor made to suit children.
Anthropology as a subject interested me in college but I didn’t pursue it for one reason or another. It has however remained a focal point of personal interest leading me to seek out not just books but also related media. ‘The Faces of Strangers’ by Pia Padukone appealed to me for this very reason as it gave me the opportunity to gain insight into a different culture.
The book revolves around a student exchange programme between America and Estonia. I loved reading about Estonia – its natural beauty, food, economic crises and its historical relations with the then Soviet Union. The culture was beautifully drawn out through the Estonian characters – Paavlo the student, his family and their daily lifestyle. The difference between American and Estonian cultures was also highlighted but what stood out is the underlying humanness that connects us all irrespective of where we come from.
Along with addressing cultural aspects the book also sheds light on a condition called prosopagnosia, which is the inability to recognise faces. The title of the book therefore has been cleverly coined as it manages to capture the essence of both themes. The narrative is presented from each character’s point of view which lends enough cadence for character development especially for that of Paavlo and Nico (his American counterpart).
Padukone’s writing is crisp. I particularly enjoyed her use of language e.g. “But fear clung to him like a straitjacket, pinning his arms to his sides and rendering him helpless” which kept me engaged through the course of the book. Although this is Padukone’s second book, it is my first experience of her work, which I am pleased to say, has been an enjoyable one. My sincere thanks to the author and publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.