Category Archives: On Books & Reviews
If you can’t find the words to describe what you feel…
‘I’m putting my youth, health, job, colleagues, social network, career plans and future on the line. No wonder all I can think about are things I’m giving up. But what about you? What do you lose by gaining a child?’
A power-packed, 162-page novel, ‘Kim Jiyoung, Born in 1982’ questions the patriarchal value system which creates gender inequality. Peppered with statistics of gender inequality in Korea, the novel might have been about any Indian girl in her 30’s as well. ‘Normalising compromise’ as not ok has found a voice in Cho’s narrative. From sharing her room with her sister while her younger brother gets a room of his own to being publicly humiliated for having a cup of coffee in the afternoon with her child, Kim Jiyoung represents every woman who has been shushed for speaking their mind. For me, the book verbalises the feelings I’ve grown up. It gives me the words with which I can hold conversations without getting angry or bursting into tears.
If you do want to read the novel after reading this, I just suggest you keep stickies, a ruler and a pen/pencil handy. You might want to keep coming back to re-read portions.
Book Palsip Yi Nyeon Saeng Kim Jiyeong / Kim Jiyoung, Born in 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo translated by Jamie Chang
Language Originally written in Korean/ Read in English
Publisher Scribner Books
When you want to feel slightly ‘uncomfortable’
The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
‘I’ll even dare to take off my coat. Even though it will feel uncomfortable for a while, but according to the pastor, discomfort is good. In discomfort we are real.’
Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2020, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s debut novel ‘The Discomfort of Evening’ will have you shifting around your seat right from the word go. Narrated from the eyes of Jas, a 12-year-old girl, the book shares the pain of grieving and the darkness your soul can descend to, if not helped in time.
Jas loses her elder brother Matties in a skating incident and what follows after is the family’s coping mechanism with this loss. Each one reacts to the incident differently and tries to find their way out. While the children are left rudderless as their parents are consumed in grief over the loss of their son, the children band together trying to move out, both of their emotional and physical space.
What keeps you turning page after age is the lyrical descriptions of remembrance, grief, darkness and death. There is nothing pleasant about the book, so don’t go into it thinking it would make you feel any better. But if you are finding a hard time to put words to the loss, emptiness and utter despair you feel, go right ahead.
It is said, that the translator becomes invisible when you don’t feel like the work you are reading was written in another language. So kudos to Michele Hutchison for bringing this unsettling piece of work to English readers.
Note: If sexual exploration is a trigger for you, you might want to tread cautiously.
When the loss is so great that you can’t help but feel depressed
The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Here’s an island where things start disappearing one after the other. After every disappearance, it’s inhabitants sharply feel a sense of loss but it lasts for all of a day and then they don’t even remember what they have lost. All that is left is a hole in their soul. Pretty much like what we feel now. Never has the feeling of a blowing breeze felt so pleasant, never has the sound of your loved ones far away felt so reassuring, never has having food on your table felt so gratifying or the fact that you still remember what it feels like to drive or take a long walk or for that matter have a roof over your head. What happens if you begin to forget how those things feel, what happens when you can’t remember any of those things ever existed. Here’s a story of the ultimate loss – forgetting that it ever existed. But what happens to those who remember? Read The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa to know.
Reading resources to calm your restless mind
Photo by Blaz Photo on Unsplash
Darkness: Contemplating on Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas
This was supposed to be the second book I read for the New Book Readathon in September. With tight deadlines and life spiralling out of control, reading time was limited to a sentence here and there each day.
But I’m glad I could finally get down to completing this book. Over though, its after-effects aren’t. I have just been constantly thinking about the title of the book – Tamas – which means darkness. There couldn’t be a more beautiful title to sum up this book.
The plot is set in a village near Taxila, in undivided India, just before Independence. The British are on their way out but the Indians haven’t stopped revering them. It’s easy to instigate a fight between age-old relationships when everything is simmered with religion. It’s easy to make the damage permanent when political parties are divided on religion and not merit. It’s easy to force one’s point of view down someone’s throat when their life depends on it. Has this changed? Have situations changed? For certainty not. Our country is still divided on religion politics. The Congress is accused of being pro-Muslim whereas the Muslim League can simply be replaced by our own right-wing fanatics now.
The darkness that was cast with the British – divide and rule – is so sharp in our nation’s history that even after so many year’s of independence it still looms in the shadows questioning every decision we make. I always thought was there a time when people co-existed in the same space rather than have little pockets of similar communities in the same city. When I read Indian language literature, I know that there was a time when they did live together and I sort of begin to understand why these little pockets exist. Not because of mistrust but because of fear. Fear for one’s life in my mind is the worst fear to live with. I sometimes wonder how our previous generation faced it.
Coming back to the book, it’s lengthy and has many layers. As the ‘riot’ progresses and the way the book ends, you are left to wonder who really instigated it and for what? What did they get by destabilising an entire generation of people? As the Babri Masjid verdict will be announced tomorrow at 10.30 AM, I hope our nation has grown slightly more sensible…
The cause and effect of a revolution
Jasmine Days by Benyamin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
So I just finished reading ‘Jasmine Days’ by Benyamin and was surprised to see that last year’s JCB Prize Winner was actually a translation of an Arabic novel by Sameera Parvin originally titled ‘A Spring without Fragrance’. I know people who have read the book would know this but those of you like me would be taken aback at the power of a good story. For this one moment, I actually took a step back and wanted to thank God for creating such deft translators. And then my surprise was corrected by this article where Benyamin clarifies that the ‘Arabic translation’ was a literary device he used where the reader entered his fictional world right from the cover page and remained enthralled till the translator’s note.
Coming back to the novel, having read Cairo by Ahdaf Soueif, I sort of felt I had a hang of where this was going but I was so, so wrong. Despite all that was televised and all that you heard and read about the role of social media, there are certain images and phrases about the book that you can’t take out. Who is the oppressor, who are oppressed? Who is right, who is wrong? An entire generation is silenced and yet another grows older with anger. When will there be peace and tolerance or forbearance and forgiveness? There are so many questions that plague your mind as you go through Sameera’s journey. All she wanted to be was a radio jockey in a foreign country her father adopted to ensure they lived a better life in Faisalabad. All she ever wanted to be was honest, and the saddest part is that her honesty is not expressed to the people who matter most. She was quelled before she could raise her voice.
I’m eagerly waiting for the translation of his latest novel – Al-Arabian Novel Factory – which is a twin novel or we can say a continuation of where Jasmine Days ended. An excerpt is available in the hardcover copy and online and it’s almost torturous; the wait!
The desert stories
Reviewing Anukrti Upadhyay’s twin novellas – Bhaunri & Daura
In June at my favourite bookstore, Nirav Mehta of Broke Bibliophile comes up to me and asks if I have read ‘her’ books? These are translations of Rajasthani folktales he said. My interest piqued, I took the books from his hand and started reading the back cover. After a few minutes, I went searching for him to tell him that these were definitely not translations but interesting nonetheless. Seeing the books in my hand, the bookstore staff also mentioned that she is a new author and a must-read. That kind of sealed the deal for me.
Touted as twin novellas – Bhaunri and Daura couldn’t be more different than each other in style and treatment. Reimagined tales of the desert is the only commonality between the two.
Bhaunri is a raw love story. Something you would expect coming from the Thar. A gypsy woman is married to an unfaithful husband. Despite trying to get him to care for, accept her and be monogamous he refuses to surrender. He falls for her charms and does accept her as his wife in all aspects but refuses to be monogamous. Will Bhaunri accept his behaviour? If not, till what lengths is she ready to go to make him comply. Find your answers in this short novella which will keep you gripped right till the last word.
Having read KR Meera’s Poison of Love just a few weeks before this, I can’t help but compare how the two women, when faced with similar situations, dealt with it so differently. One by afflicting pain on themselves the other by ensuring she got her way even if she had to destroy the one she loved. The last few lines of Bhaunri is extremely haunting, “Now he will stay at home always, now he belongs to me…”
Daura, on the other hand, is magical, mystical and carries secrets of the desert. Secrets which unravel themselves bit by bit as you read each narrator’s version and connect the dots. Daura is the journey of a District Collector who comes to survey his area and apparently has a bout of madness and then suddenly disappears. As the search continues and the stories are heard, you get transported from the real world into one where anything could be true if you had faith. There is no explanation for unwavering belief and Daura captures the sentiment gracefully.
If your roots are somewhere in the desert and you want to feel connected to it or want the Indian taste of magic realism, these two should be under your consideration list – more Daura than Bhaunri. I would certainly keep Anukrti Upadhyay on my watch list too and love to see what’s the next story she weaves. Interestingly, these two are not her first published work. She is a bilingual writer and her first book, Japani Sarai, is in Hindi. Do check that out as well.
The dignity of old age
The Music of Solitude by Krishna Sobti
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
‘Much later she thought, I could have phoned and thanked him. No. Let this remain unsaid. I’m feeling special. I’ve just received the flowers of narcissus for a gift. These bloom on the mountains where silence swims in the air.’
Having sat on the review for almost a month and thinking and rethinking about the novel, I don’t find a more apt and lyrical paragraph in the entire book like the one above…
Translated by Vasudha Dalmia as The Music of Solitude, Krishna Sobti’s Samay Sargam is the story of Aranya and Ishan – neighbours in a Delhi complex but diametrically opposite to each other. Aranya is a feisty writer, living life on her own terms, vocal, impulsive and rebellious while Ishan is calm, disciplined, respect social norms and believes in the family institution despite having no one who calls on him.
The novel revolves around their daily lives and their little interactions. How each one is content in their own cocoon yet dependant on the other for emotional comfort. The beauty of the novel is that at no moment do you feel pity for these two for being alone or ‘deserted’. They are alone but they are definitely not lonely. They enjoy their space and solitude, they even need it to sail them through the last years of their lives.
To truly understand this, you need to see Aranya and Ishan in contrast to the elderly friends they visit regularly – the old widow, the former charismatic writer or the old man who was having an affair. Each saddened, bound by social norms and restricted by their children in contrast to these two highly functional emotional beings. It’s at that moment you decide how you want to grow old. Do you want to be like Aranya or Ishan, independent, happy or do you want to die worrying what the world thinks of you or what your family has reduced you to?
The sense of dignity in old age is what I admire about the novel and I believe that every young person who lives with or has ageing parents should read this once.
Get your copy on Amazon.in
A tightly written page-turner!
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A few days back I received a warm message on Instagram asking to review ‘Bestseller’. Yes, I had heard of the book and yes I wanted to read it. But right now? Maybe not. Not being able to say no, I picked it up immediately as I had just finished reading something which gave me a lot to think about.
Bestseller arrived promptly the next day from Amazon and being a weekend I finished reading it in a jiffy. In one word, it’s unputdownable. You have to, have to, read it cover to cover in one go. Tightly written and cautiously edited, it has all the elements of a popular fiction novel in place – humour, relationships, intrigue and most importantly a keep you on the edge plot line. You would really have to dig deep to find an out of place strand in this one.
I liked the style of introducing the main protagonist’s thoughts in between what he is saying in italics as well as the sense of urgency by naming the title chapters according to days lapsed. The way the women characters are written you would never think the author is male – bold, vivacious and outgoing, his characters are as everyday and normal like any working woman you would meet in a city like Mumbai. Though not literary in its descriptions, Ahmed has painted a beautiful picture of Colaba in his book.
If anyone of you has read Anurag Mathur while growing up and miss his brand of humour, Bestseller is a must read.
Get your own copy on Amazon.in