Jasoda by Kiran Nagarkar


Jasoda by Kiran Nagarkar

Published by: Harper Collins India

Fiction, 265p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Paar—’mirage’ country, where it is often impossible to draw the line between reality and illusion—has been suffering from a decade-long drought. Jasoda is one of the last to leave this ‘arse-end of the world’ with her children and mother-in-law. Since her husband claims he has important work to do for the local prince, Jasoda must make the journey to the city by the sea on her own. Meanwhile, after years of anonymity, Paar seems poised to take off. Will Jasoda return home with her children? Or stay in the city that’s become home for her children? It’s taken for granted that epic journeys and epics were possible only during the time of the Mahabharata, the Odyssey, or the Iliad. Even more to the point, the heroes of the epics had to, perforce, be men. The eponymous Jasoda of the novel is about to prove how wrong the assumptions are.

Kiran Nagarkar’s trenchant narrative traces the journey of a woman of steely resolve and gumption, making her way through an India that is patriarchal, feudal, seldom in the news, and weighed down by dehumanizing poverty.

About the author: One of India’s most critically acclaimed writers, Kiran Nigarkar was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for his ‘Cuckold’ in 2001. Nagarkar received the Order of the Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2012. One of the sharpest critics of India’s socio political scenario, Kiran Nagarkar also writes in Marathi.

My Review:

The prologue of Kiran Nagarkar’s Jasoda lets readers on into a bit of what might just say ahead in the rest of the book: there is Jasoda hard at work in a field with her eldest son Himmat and there’s a baby on the way. It is a tough birth that she manages alone, at the end of which she kills the baby because it is a girl. There! That must have got your attention! It got mine. It took me a day to recover from the prologue and then I read the entire book in one sitting.

The book has four parts: part one is set in Kantagiri ruled by Prince Parbat Singh who may have likely killed his older twin brother to ascend the ‘throne’ in a post privy purse India wherein there is name and reputations to consider, but little money in the treasury. When the rains play truant, the people of Kantagiri leave in hordes for the city by the sea and part two of the book chronicles the journey and life experiences of Jasoda and her brood. The last two parts of the book further tells the reader about Jasoda’s return to her village and her forays into making a better life. Calling Jasoda a book that only looks at a woman’s journey from poverty, domestic abuse and being left to fend on her own to one of prosperity and coming in to money would be a mistake for there are other characters and other plots at work.

Jasoda as a character is many women in India burdened by domestic abuse and patriarchal norms: the ones who rage against what is given in their fate, not with spunk and fervour but with tenacity and the ability to take things on the chin. You can only marvel at the way she keeps her children alive and deals with losses and new ways of a changing world around her. Yes, there were times I wanted to take hold of Jasoda and give her a tight shake, to see if she would just be more decisive with her abusive husband whose sole purpose in life is to snatch what is not his. I am glad I found out towards the end of the book that I didn’t really have to give that shake to Jasoda!

The afterword section tells us that there was a 20 year break in between the first part of the book and the remaining parts and I guess that explains the cagey timeline and the way ‘Mumbai’ is used throughout the section instead of ‘Bombay’. But Nagarkar’s characters and more specifically, the arc of Jasoda’s eldest son Himmat, Jhanvi the youngest daughter who gets to survive after her birth unlike other infant girls born to the family only because of Himmat, Prince Parbat Singh who is almost a mirror in meanness with Jasoda’s husband and the narrative are such that the reader really doesn’t care much of the timeframe of incidents and ambience described throughout.

I would recommend Kiran Nagarkar’s Jasoda: book readers will know all too well that it is in the Longlist for the JCB Prize for Literature. You can find details of the book here





Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram


Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Published by: Dial Books; Penguin Random House International

Fiction: YA, Middle Grade (Ecopy, ARC)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian–half, his mom’s side–and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.

Darius has never really fit in at home in Portland, and he just knows things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Sohrab introduces Darius to all of his favourite things–mint syrup and the soccer field and a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, friends don’t have to talk. Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough–then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay.

*My Review:

 *Thank you Penguin Random House International and NetGalley for providing me with an uncorrected eGalley!

When I started reading Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, it didn’t immediately strike me that I was in for a treat. Once I had completed reading it, I realised just what a strong message it has for young people who are battling social awkwardness and those who are ‘trying to fit in’.

The sole attention of the book is on Darius Kellner, born to a German American father and a Persian mother facing racial snubs and jibes at his school and the first thought that strikes the reader is: growing up angst, tick; coming of age, tick; race and multicultural theme, tick. So, you have Darius who doesn’t quite know how to claim his place in school with his only true happiness lying in the time that he gets to watch Star Trek episodes with his father and brewing tea. Slowly though, the reader is clued in to the fact that Darius and his father both suffer from clinical depression and are on medication.

When Darius and his parents along with his younger sister travels to Iran to meet his grand parents, he comes face to face with his roots and the history of his mother’s country but find that he doesn’t fit in there. Enter Sohrab who bonds with him and tells him, “Your place was empty before. But this is your family. You belong here”. So begins a friendship that will also have its tests and lessons, the most crucial being that there are hardships one cannot come to terms with but find a way to live with. The emotional bond between the two is further heightened by a tantalising physical element from Darius but it is a theme/track that is only mentioned and not further explored in the book.

The theme of clinical depression takes centerstage towards the finale of the book and left me in tears: the bonding between Darius and his father and the former’s realisation of his mother’s journey in an alien country was very moving. The earlier part of the book looks at depression in a matter of fact manner and it is only in the final chapters that we are brought face to face with how it can get out of hand despite treatment. The best part of course is in the way Darius finds that when he changes a bit, the world around him changes too. The conversations on belonging and acceptance were not preachy but very real. This is one book that ought to be a must read for young people in reading groups and clubs. I will recommend this for adults too for Darius is a great guy when he is not OK!




Between the Great Divide: A Journey into Pakistan administered Kashmir by Anam Zakaria


Between the Great Divide: A Journey into Pakistan administered Kashmir by Anam Zakaria

Published by: Harper Collins India

Non Fiction: Current Affairs, 282p

Rating: 4/5

Book Summary:

Seventy years ago, as India and Pakistan gained their independence, the region of Jammu & Kashmir also found itself divided, with parts of the territory administered by Pakistan ever since. Located by the volatile Line of Control and caught in the middle of artillery barrages from both sides, Pakistan administered was until over a decade ago one of the most closed off territories of the world. In a first book of its kind, award winning Pakistani writer Anam Zakaria travels through Pakistan administered Kashmir to hear its people-their sufferings, hopes and aspirations. She talks to women and children living near the Line of Control, bearing the brunt of ceasefire violations; journalists and writers braving all odds to document events in remote areas; political and military representatives championing the cause of Kashmir; former militants still committed to the cause; nationalists struggling for a united independent Kashmir and refugees yearning to reunite with their families on the other side.

In the process, Zakaria breaks the silence surrounding a people who are often ignored in discussions on the present and future of Jammu & Kashmir even though they are important stakeholders in what happens in the region. What she unearths during her deeply empathetic journey is critical to understanding the Kashmir conflict and will surprise and enlighten Indians and Pakistanis alike.

*My Review:

*Thank you Harper Collins India for sending this review copy!

I am always on the look out for good nonfiction writing and when I got to know about the premise of this book, ‘Between the Great Divide: A Journey into Pakistan administered Kashmir’ by Anam Zakaria, there was no way I would have missed reading it. Anam Zakaria’s book is a brave attempt at bringing out the voices of the people of Pakistan administered Kashmir. There is an array of voices starting from people on the ground to former militant leaders to army leaders and through them, the reader not only gets to go over through established history but get acquainted with uncharted territories literally, namely the area along the Line of Control in the part of Kashmir administered by Pakistan.

There are three segments of the book: Conflict; State Policies and Beyond the Ceasefire that looks at the various nuances of the political conflict in and over Kashmir. The first part looks at the origins of conflict in Kashmir, the second part looks at the state narratives while the last segment looks at what lies beyond the botched ceasefire of 2003 between the two countries and what peace and freedom mean in ‘Azad’ Kashmir. What I love about the book and its approach is that it caters to people who are not familiar with the political history of Kashmir and those who have been following developments in the conflict torn region. It will certainly be a book that will send some ripples in the corridors of power across both sides of the border with its telling commentary on how both the Indian and Pakistan governments look at the people who are most affected by their decisions on the ground.

Anam Zakaria captures the voices of women who have been trying to cope with the trauma of losing their loved ones right before their eyes, the repression of pain and shock of living under intense violence, the unspeakable horror of not knowing if their loved ones will ever come back and their journey from being shell shocked victims to stoic survivors to women with a voice that strongly says that the only thing they want is peace and that nothing else matters. This could well have been only an academic book but Anam Zakaria’s writing and approach is filled with empathy and her own personal touches ensures that this book engages with you and doesn’t leave you bogged down with details that look far removed from our everyday realities. I particularly loved a chapter wherein the writer looks at the similarities between the life narratives of Basharat Peer and Rahul Pandita and their respective works: Curfewed Night and The Moon Has Blood Clots, both told from the perspectives of falling victims to violence in the Kashmir Valley.

This is a deeply insightful book that looks at a geo-politically strategic region in the continent and I will surely recommend this book to readers who want to be informed of current affairs. You can get more details of this book and buy it from here