Book talk and more?

cropped-books.jpgAfter much fumbling, it’s time to take the plunge into the world of book blogging…yes, another one. As I sit and type these words on a chilly post midnight, I am smiling away to myself and patting my back that the first baby blog step has been taken.

For quite a long time, I have been reading blogs on books by other crazy popular bloggers and just been overwhelmed by the idea of starting my own: would any one care if I did write one or not? But it struck me that it was important that I do write one. And so, here I am…to strike up a conversation on books. Thank you for joining in…

 

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The Girl Made of Clay by Nicole Meier

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The Girl Made of Clay by Nicole Meier

Published by: Lake Union Publishing (E Book)

General Fiction, 304 pages

Rating: 3/5 stars

Book summary:

An emotional exploration of the frayed bond between a father and daughter…and what it takes to mend it.

After Sara’s father, famous sculptor Thomas “TR” Harlow, is badly injured in a fire, she’s suddenly forced to care for a man who is more of a stranger than a parent. Once known as his muse, Sara long ago lost her father to his desire to live the celebrity life.

Now TR’s abrasive and unpredictable presence in her home is reopening old wounds—and causing the rift in her already-strained marriage to deepen. As her young son begins bonding with the grandfather he never knew, Sara must decide if she can find it within herself to forgive the man who broke her heart all those years ago. Will she walk away from a chance to rebuild what was lost, or will she find, by bringing her father back to health, that healing can come in many forms?

About the author:

Nicole Meier’s debut novel, The House of Bradbury, a story of an aspiring writer living in the house of iconic author Ray Bradbury, was chosen as a Best Book of 2016 by Refinery29.

*My review:

*Thank you Netgalley for the eBook!

Nicole Meier’s The Girl Made of Clay is about family and building relationships and cementing hurt with forgiveness. The narrative is from the point of view of two characters: for the most part it is Sara and then on a smaller scale, it is her estranged father, Thomas “TR” Harlow. Sara is a full time mother who has her hands full with running her house in the absence of her forever on call pilot husband and seeing to their 10 year old son. Her father, a celebrity artist has moved on with life (though we see some semblance of guilt over abandoning his daughter) and it’s only when Sara gets a call from the hospital about the injuries her father has sustained that she has heard about him.

I really liked the theme of forgiveness that is the center of the story here but had a hard time warming up to TR who is too curt, too escapist and just plain immature at over 60 years of age. Sara’s character on the other hand was caught up between anxiety over her husband and her father getting back in her life and then, just too forgiving. The narrative repeats patterns of putting blame, trying to work out issues and not succeeding till the first half. It is only in the second half that the story picks up and new characters pop in. I found that the story and the characters did not really make a place in my heart or my thoughts. The forgiving part with the father comes in rather abruptly and the happily ever after comes a bit forced given that half the book is about Sara’s hurt and anger over being abandoned by her father and having to pick up the pieces of her life. The same goes for Sara’s relationship with her husband with whom there has been a wall of silence most times with accusations when the silence gets broken. The resolution of the marital relation came too abrupt for me.

I would peg this as a one time read and a book that did have potential to be either edgy or emotional at the same time. I am disappointed that it was neither! Those who want to go for a light read with family values may like this.

 

 

No Presents Please: Mumbai Stories by Jayant Kaikini; Translated by Tejaswini Niranjana

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No Presents Please: Mumbai Stories by Jayant Kaikini; Translated by Tejaswini Niranjana

Published by: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins India)

Fiction: Kannada literature, Translated Writing 240 pages

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Jayant Kaikini’s compassionate gaze takes in the people in the corners of the city, the young woman yearning for love, the certified virgin who must be married off again, the older woman and her medicines; Tejaswini Niranjana’s translations bring the rhythms of Kannada into English with admirable efficiency.

No Presents Please: Mumbai Stories is not about what Mumbai is, but what it enables. Here is a city where two young people decide to elope and then start nursing dreams of different futures, where film posters start talking to each other, where epiphanies are found in keychains and thermos-flasks. From Irani cafes to chawls, old cinema houses to reform homes, Jayant Kaikini seeks out and illuminates moments of existential anxiety and of tenderness. In these sixteen stories, cracks in the curtains of the ordinary open up to possibilities that might not have existed, but for this city where the surreal meets the everyday.

About the author:

Jayanth Kaikini is a poet, short stories author and a lyricist working in Kannada cinema having published six anthologies of short stories, four books of poetry, three plays and a collection of essays. Kaikini received the Karnataka Sahitya Academy award for his first poetry collection at the age of nineteen in 1974. He has been awarded the Dinakara Desai award for his poetry, the B. H. Sridhar award for fiction, as well as the Katha National award and Rujuwathu trust fellowship for his creative writing.

My review:

I have this great love for looking out for Indian writing: I scroll through book listings on online stores frowning at the ‘popular’ titles and the authors who have fans gushing away. None of them ever tempt me (there are only a few Indian authors who excite me) for my sole attention is on people who have written in their languages and consistently at that. I found Jayant Kaikini’s ‘No Presents Please – Mumbai Stories’ grabbing my attention catching my attention when I read that the author had written on Mumbai in Kannada. It tickled my interest for I wanted to find out whether he was writing as an outsider/observer or with Mumbai as a setting. I found out that there were myriad layers in Kaikini’s writings.

The 16 short stories in this collection translated by Tejaswini Niranjana have only one common leitmotif: Mumbai, the city that never sleeps and which is boundless with so many people, so many thoughts that they shape the way your life and action goes. Kaikini’s writing is in the small details of the people and their stories that goes in directions that the reader never sees coming. I cannot single out one story as my favorite for I loved them all, each one renders human ties and humane failings and the possibilities of life stories and events just going on its own steam.

Scattered across the 16 stories are tales of the despair of lower rung workers over the small jobs they have; the negotiation of favours amongst friends and neighbours; domestic tiffs and frissions but above all of these nuances, it brings to readers Mumbai’s regular people with dignity and a bit of helplessness in the way their lives are pushed and pulled gently or otherwise by the sheer number of other people milling around them, each with a different dream and a different purpose.

I would recommend this book strongly for readers who are not looking at regular story narratives. This collection will work for readers who love to dwell on subtle layers and experience the subtle and sometimes deliberate gentle twists and turns a story and its characters can go into. It comes with a PS section where the writing style of the author has been discussed at length by the translator.

Jayant Kaikini’s ‘No Presents Please – Mumbai Stories’ has been shortlisted for the for the 2018 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. You can find more details about the book here on the Harper Collins India Site

 

 

 

 

 

The Queen of Jasmine Country by Sharanya Manivannan

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The Queen of Jasmine Country by Sharanya Manivannan

Published by: Harper Collins India

Fiction, 138 pages

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Tonight, under this arena of starlight, I take up my stylus and press it by the glow of a clay lantern into dry palmyra leaves. It is on this night that I dedicate myself – to my self, to who I truly am, to what is invincible and without bondage of time, that predates me, that will outlive me.

Ninth century. In Puduvai, a small town in what we now know as Tamil Nadu, young Kodhai is taught to read and to write by her adoptive father, a garland-weaving poet. As she discovers the power of words, she also realizes that the undying longing for a great love that she has been nursing within her – one that does not suppress her desire for freedom – is likely to remain unfulfilled. Then, she hears of a vow that she can undertake that might summon it to her. In deepest winter, the sixteen-year-old begins praying for a divinely sensual love – not knowing that her words will themselves become prayers, and echo through the centuries to come.

Rich with the echoes of classical poetry, in The Queen of Jasmine Country, Sharanya Manivannan imagines the life of the devotional poet Andal, whose sublime and erotic verses remain beloved and controversial to this day.

About the author:

Sharanya Manivannan is a writer, dancer, painter, journalist and activist. She has published two books of poetry and a picture book for children. Her short story collection ‘The High Priestess Never Marries’ won the South Asia Laadli Media and Advertising Award for Gender Sensitivity in Best Book Fiction category (2015-16) and was longlisted for the Atta Galatta Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize.

*My review:

*Thank you Harper Collins India for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

A 138 page book! What a breezy ride it will be! That would be the first impression when you see this slim book by Sharanya Manivannan but you cannot be more wrong. I found myself immersed in the feel of the words: there is so much power and depth in the words strung together, like a garland, each word chosen with care and which are full of depth and rich meaning. Soaking in the words and feel of the emotions of the book, I found that I wanted to linger on with the pages and not rush in…

It is centered on the fictional life and times of a young girl Kodhai whose lineage is unknown but who grows with much love and affection in the family of Vishnuchittan a court poet and a devotee of Lord Vishnu. This book follows her journey from Kodhai as a growing up girl who questions the world around her and seeks a place for herself to becoming Andal whose compositions to Lord Vishnu are sung to this day. She is the only female ‘Alvar’ or poet saints of South India (‘Alvars’ wrote songs of devotion to Lord Vishnu and believed him to be the ‘supreme being’).

Told in Kodhai’s words, The Queen of Jasmine Country is half fable and parts myth and fiction. Kodhai herself is impetuous, independent and very aware of the place of women: she sees in in the situation of her mother (of whom we don’t get to know more) and the fates of the friends around her.

Till the time I had the book in my hands, I had no idea about Andal and her work but I couldn’t help feeling that there is so much about the cosmos of Hinduism that I don’t know of. I loved the way Kodhai/Andal hides her period when she is being taken to her marriage with Lord Vishnu and couldn’t help but smile part in delight and part ruefully that centuries hence, women have to be under disguise and escorted to even seek divine blessings (Yes, Sabarimala). In her words:

How little they will ever know, those who only see what they want to see, who raise armies for what keeps them safe, but who do not see that these are the same things that keep them unable to be free.’

I am so glad that this book has been written. It made me immediately tie Andal with Meera whose devotion to Lord Krishna and whose devotional writings bordered on physical desire and ecstasy. There is so much love and longing in the way the author has written Andal/Kodai’s words that make ‘The Queen of Jasmine Country’ throb with passion. This is certainly a book that I will surely revisit time and again.

You can read up about this book at the Harper Collins India page

 

 

Love in a Fallen City and Other Stories by Eileen Chang (Translated by Karen S Kingsbury and Eileen Chang)

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Love in a Fallen City and Other Stories by Eileen Chang; Translated by Karen S Kingsbury and Eileen Chang.

Published by: Penguin Books

Fiction, 312 pages

Rating: 5/5 stars

Book summary:

The works in this volume show Eileen Chang’s brilliance in the short story form. Through fascinating evocations of the great cities of Hong Kong and Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s, she provides revealing glimpses of Chinese life – both traditional and modern – as she depicts a world of concubines and opium addicts, fast living and family affairs. At the heart of Chang’s achievement is her short fiction—tales of love, longing, and the shifting and endlessly treacherous shoals of family life. Written when she was still in her twenties, these extraordinary stories combine an unsettled, probing, utterly contemporary sensibility, keenly alert to sexual politics and psychological ambiguity, with an intense lyricism that echoes the classics of Chinese literature.

In the novella, ‘Love in a Fallen City’, an unlikely couple find true romance as bombs fall on Hong Kong during the Second World War. And in other tales, a schoolgirl is lured into the decadent world of her disreputable aunt, an awkward student’s overpowering wish for a different father has disastrous consequences, and a successful businessman reflects on the women he has loved and lost.

About the author:

Eileen Chang is considered one of the most influential modern Chinese writers. She wrote both in Chinese and English, writing her short debut novel at the age of 12. She has also written several film scripts. Her most acclaimed works are considered to be ‘Love in a Fallen City’ and ‘The Golden Cangue’.

My review:

I am trying to recover from the sheer brilliance of Eileen Chang’s writing: it is evocative in its mood settings, lush with emotions and layered with sub texts that pulls in readers to a world so different and long ago but all the while, making readers relate to the characters, the situations and the time period. ‘Love in a Fallen City and Other Stories’ is a collection of four novellas and two short stories, written by Eileen Chang in the 1940s and set around Hong Kong and Shanghai. Published in 1943, the translated version was only published in 2006 with all translations by Karen S Kingsbury except for The Golden Cangue, which Eileen has translated.

Eileen Chang’s personal background of being born to a more old world father and a modern mother, her subsequent education and move to Hong Kong and then the US in the wake of the Second World War may well be the reason her writings reflect the push and pull between the old and the new: the friction and conflict, the moral obligations versus the need for greed, the sense of a changing past to an unknown and different future, old traditional moorings and fraught present. Each story in this collection addresses the socio cultural turmoil fraught in Hong Kong and Shanghai society with an eerie calm.

‘Aloeswood Incense: the First brazier’ follows a young Ge Wilong who has decided to reach out to her aunt who has been estranged from the family for choosing to be the third concubine of an older but wealthy man. The aunt is her only means to better opportunities in life but the world her aunt inhabits is one made of calculated steps, each one that may either risk her chances of a better life or give her ground to stand on her feet. At the end of it all however, Wilong is akin to incense! Jasmine Tea follows an unhappy boy who lives with suppressed dreams of how life could have turned for him. Unable to cope with the real in his life, he throws himself into an illusion of being in happier and circumstances where he is accepted.

‘The Golden Cangue’ is about how our lives are the weight of broken dreams and the inability to grasp the slight chances one gets to mend them. It is a morose story alright but one that makes you realize that it is all real in its bitter indictment of how things change and don’t. ‘Sealed off’ is a ‘what could have been’ story that happens in a tramcar that takes reader to the uncertainties of war but also human relationships. It is a brilliant capture of how men and women engage with one another in public, sometimes crossing certain boundaries, at times breaking free of them.

The tittle story almost made me dread how it could turn out given Eileen Chang’s mastery over non romanticizing life and relationships. It had every chance of leaving the female protagonist unhappy and dissatisfied or just living with the consequences of dreaming more and getting little but what a turn of the story this one took!

Red Rose, White Rose looks at the place of women through the eyes of a privileged man who’s got it all: money, children, a wife and a mistress. Each story bears Chang’s mastery over the art of story telling: the back drops and the mood, the desires of people running awry and the possibilities of which way the story and characters can turn to. I am definitely going to look up more of the author!

 

My Father’s Garden by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

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My Father’s Garden by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

Published by: Speaking Tiger

Indian Writing: Fiction, 191 pages (Hardback)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Spanning half a life, My Father’s Garden tells the story of a young doctor—the unnamed narrator—as he negotiates love and sexuality, his need for companionship, and the burdens of memory and familial expectation. The opening section, ‘Lover’, finds him studying medicine in Jamshedpur. At college, he discovers an all-consuming passion for Samir, a junior, who possesses his body, mind and heart. Yet, on their last morning together, when he asks Samir to kiss him goodbye, his lover tells him, ‘A kiss is only for someone special.’

In ‘Friend’, the young doctor, escaping heartbreak, finds relief in Pakur where he strikes up an unusual friendship with Bada Babu, the head clerk of the hospital where he is posted. In Bada Babu’s house, they indulge a shared love for drink, delicious food and convivial company. But when government bulldozers arrive to tear down the neighbourhood, and Bada Babu’s house, the young doctor uncovers a sordid tale of apathy and exploitation—and a side to his new friend that leaves him disillusioned.

And in ‘Father’, unable, ultimately, to flee the pain, the young doctor takes refuge in his parents’ home in Ghatsila. As he heals, he reflects on his father—once a vital man who had phenomenal success at work and in Adivasi politics, then an equally precipitous downfall—and wonders if his obsessive gardening has anything to do with the choices his son has made. Written with deep empathy and searing emotional intensity, and in the clear, unaffected prose that is the hallmark of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s style, My Father’s Garden marks a major talent of Indian fiction writing at the top of his form.

About the author:

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar is a doctor and the author of a collection of short stories, The Adivasi Will Not Dance, which was shortlisted for The Hindu Prize. His debut novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey won the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar and was nominated for The Hindu Prize, the Crossword Book Award and the International Dublin Literary Award. His last published work was Jwala Kumar and the Gift of Fire: Adventures in Champakbagh, a novel for children. He also translates prose and poetry from Santhali and Hindi into English.

*My review:

*Thank you Speaking Tiger for this review copy. All opinions are my own.

‘My Father’s Garden’ by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar is a book that is not going to be easily cast into regular structures of ‘novel’ ‘short story collection’ or ‘part memoir’: suffice to say it is each one of these and all of it together! Made up of three parts/segments titled ‘Lover’, ‘Friend’ and ‘Father’ : Hansda’s latest book is written in a first person narrative. The three segments are placed in a chronological journey but make the reader look at each part as short memoirs with the narrator as the common thread.

‘Lover’ looks at the narrator’s life as a medical student caught in the throes of illicit desire bursting with part betrayals and all doomed to stop. There is angst and wonder throbbing throughout the section with quite a few mention of Salman Khan. ‘Friend’ follows him as he negotiates life on his own after his posting at a small hospital and where he learns that there is always more than what meets the eye. The last section ‘Father’ is partly about laying down the socio political and cultural backdrop of the Adivasis and their demand for Jharkhand brought to us through the life and times of the narrator’s grand father and his father and then filled in with just the right amount of heartache that so characterises the distance and affection between children and parents in the Indian family set up, or rather, fathers and sons. Each section has another common element besides the narrator: the class and caste divides and the discrimination that is attached to people at the lower social order, something that Hansda writes with élan and constant questioning.

Pegged as a work of fiction, the narrator (who remains unnamed) and certain common elements with that of the author makes the reader in me try to guess just how much of autobiographic elements are included in this book. The common elements? The narrator is a medical doctor who is posted at Pakur (as is the author till his suspension following allegations that his book, The Adivasi Shall Not Dance, portrayed Adivasi women and Santhal culture in a bad light); the narrator’s father works in a copper factory Ghatshila as does the author’s parents.

I read Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s debut novel, ‘The Mysterious ailment of Rupi Baskey’ a few months earlier and was struck by the author’s narrative. The writing brought alive the social cultural mores of the Adivasis so vividly with an intimacy that comes from belonging and yet being able to wrest with the confines of being ‘othered’ and that is something I can say for this latest book too. I am going to tag this as a must read book for 2019. And yes! the cover is all heart!

Read more details of the book here

 

 

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

Published by: Jonathon Cape

Graphic novel/Memoir, 176 pages

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Famously referred to as part of the “Axis of Evil,” North Korea is one of the most secretive and mysterious nations in the world today. A series of manmade and natural catastrophes have also left it one of the poorest. When this fortress-like country recently opened the door a crack to foreign investment, cartoonist Guy Delisle found himself in its capital of Pyongyang on a work visa for a French film animation company, becoming one of the few Westerners to witness current conditions in the surreal showcase city.

Armed with a smuggled radio and a copy of 1984, Delisle could only explore Pyongyang and its countryside in the company of his translator and a guide. But among the statues, portraits and propaganda of leaders Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il– the world’s only Communist dynasty–Delisle was able to observe more than was intended of the culture and lives of the few North Koreans he encountered. His astute and wry musings on life in the austere and grim regime form the basis of this remarkable graphic novel. Pyongyang is an informative, personal, and accessible look at an enigmatic country.

About the author:

Guy Delisle has spent the last decade living and working in the South of France with his wife and son. Delisle has spent ten years, mostly in Europe, working in animation. Delisle has written and drawn six graphic novels, including “Pyongyang,” his first graphic novel in English.

My review:

First published in 2006, Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is through and through wicked political commentary on a country that still is under wraps and out of bounds. Deslisle’s work assignment for a post production of an animation film takes him into North Korea where upon his arrival at the airport, he is asked to explain what George Orwell’s book, 1984 is about. That sets the tone for what lies ahead for readers following Deslisle’s stint in North Korea under the strict surveillance of his official translator: with barely any one to one interactions with regular citizens.

The observations on North Korea’s political situation is sheer brilliance: after a tour of mammoth statue displays that hail the mighty Supreme Leader Delisle writes of it as ‘The World’s only Communist dynasty’. The mention of too many statues hailing the greatness of certain leaders made me cringe given that India now has a gigantic statue put in by the current government regime that’s beginning to look very authoritarian. His reading of Orwell’s book starts looking ominous to him and for us readers and gets borderline creepy when he mentions that Orwell wrote 1984 in the year 1948, the year the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea came into power!

There can be no truth more telling than this when Delisle writes: ‘At a certain level of oppression, truth hardly matters. Because the greater the lie, the greater the show of power, and the greater the terror for all…a mute, hidden terror.’

The drawings keep in tune with the mood of the writing: too many wide open spaces and rigid looking people that point to the air of unknown dread and watchfulness. I would recommend this as an honest peek into North Korea, a country that has clamped down on engagements with outsiders. It certainly should serve as an indicator for where our country may be heading when we are meant to follow dictates and orders as set out by our leaders and are not allowed any room for dissent!

I am glad this is my first read for 2019! What better way to start off a new year than to start off on a circumspect mode and very aware of the pitfalls of dazed dogma!

 

 

 

 

 

The Inhuman Race by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

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The Inhuman Race by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

Published by: Harper Collins India

Science Fiction, 190 pages

Rating: 3.75/5 stars

Book summary:

The year is 2033. The British Empire never fell. Communism never happened. The Commonwealth flies the flag of the Empire. The flag of the Commonwealth still flies over its colonies, which lies stripped bare in the name of British interests, powerless to resist. To the Far East, the Second Song Emperor rules China and meditates upon an electronic kingdom built behind the bamboo curtain.
Upon this stage is Ceylon – a once-proud civilization tracing itself back to the time of the Pharaohs, reduced to ashes and dust, but not dead for the Great Houses of Kandy still control the most lucrative trade routes, since even dust and ashes can serve a purpose. In this surreal landscape, where technology and humanity intersect and where children are no longer the innocent but built to kill, we meet The Silent Girl – a survivor, an explorer, a threat.

 

The Inhuman Race is a magnificent novel about what it means to be human, and how history can come back to haunt us even as we race into the future.

 

 

About the author:

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne was born in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, and grew up in Colombo, writing about local technology and politics on the controversial Icaruswept blog. He is also a data researcher and a former journalist.

*My review:

*Thank you Harper Collins India for this review copy! All opinions are my own.

It Ugh..(a nice ugh by the way)..this is creepy crazy..The Inhuman Race by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, a Sri Lankan writer marks the first time I am reading science fiction! Hell yeah! I have never read science fiction though I have been fascinated by writers like Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke and HG Wells.

It took me some time to get into the groove of this book. But boy! the narrative, the ambience, the setting and the crazy crazy world it describes is what kept me engrossed. I loved the almost chaotic, very surreal world of tech bods and tech waste in a world where the British Empire has never fallen and Ceylon is struggling to keep afloat on its past glories and current violence. It is an almost parallel universe that has not changed but not remained constant.

I loved the mention of contemporary political mooring in the books, how a futuristic world is almost dominated by children being subjects of tech games being watched and logged in. that brief analogy to cricket as an almost blood sport that was mentioned almost in passing was sheer brilliance.

I would recommend this for science fiction and dystopian book readers.