Amma by Perumal Murugan, Translated by Nandini Murali and Kavitha Muralidharan

Amma

Amma by Perumal Murugan, Trnslated by Nandini Murali and Kavitha Muralidharan

Published by: Eka/Westland Publications

Non Fiction, 191p

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Book summary

Perumal Murugan’s tender yet truthful essays capture the life of a strong, independent and extraordinary woman: his mother. She raised her children with the income from just a few acres of land that she managed on her own, tending to the cattle and crops with maternal concern, all the while minding her unruly husband. Every obligation met, all accounts squared up, each meal cooked to satiate the tongue and heart—Amma never rested, not even when bedridden with Parkinson’s. She lived a farmer’s life and died a farmer’s death.

 

Amma is a homage to a way of life and values—simplicity, honesty and hard work—lost to us today. Peppered with unsentimental nostalgia and delightful humour, and vividly documenting village and farming life in the Kongu region, Amma tugs at generational memory. Murugan’s non-fiction writing, his first to appear in English, is as deeply affecting as his fiction

 

About the author:

Perumal Murugan is a critically acclaimed and much loved Tamil writer and poet. He was written novels, short stories and poetry anthologies. Many of his novels have been translated into English to wide acclaim. The English translation of his novel Madhorubhagan, or One Part Woman, by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, won the Sahitya Akademi’s Translation Prize in 2017 but also mired the author in controversy.

 

 

My Review*

 

*Thank you Eka (Westland Publications) for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

 

 

Perumal Murugan’s writings in the realm of fiction have already made strong connections with readers and literary critics alike and his latest ‘Amma’ is going to be much loved and appreciated as well. A collection of 22 chapters/essays that revolve around the writer’s mother, this latest offering from Perumal Murugan is not just a memoir of the author’s childhood but also, the memories of his ties to his mother juxtaposed with his social cultural commentary. This combination gives an intimate look into the author’s early life filled with the everyday rigor of hard agrarian life and how it consumes his mother.

 

The essays are deeply personal in the way the author has taken readers to the domestic life he lived in: a father who has a small job but a big addiction to local toddy and how it leads to domestic strife and physical abuse. Any reader who has read Murugan’s work will be able to see the seeds and grains of the author’s fictional characters in his mother: her innate wisdom and knowledge of farming practices; the way she is full of heart and deep courage but still follow patriarchal stereotypical practices as dictated by society in the way she defends her husband’s vagaries and later, when her own father comes to live in her house; in the way she is practical and contradictory, taking charge of things around her.

 

It is difficult to pin down a favorite chapter from this book given the way the author has captured memories and presented to them but I will have a special place for ‘The Gift Accounts’ based on the practice of Moi (Mandatory gifting). I come from a different part of the country but we practice the exact same socio cultural practice under the name ‘poppaang’ for gift in kind and ‘poyeng’ for gift in cash in times of family functions like birth, death, sacred thread rituals, marriage/engagements etc and could relate to the sometimes deep churn that such a practice leaves on a close knit community when gifts are a burden or an accounts waiting to be tackled.

 

Two translators – Nandini Murali and Kavitha Muralidharan are credited for the book and while the weight of translating from one language to another and hence, shifting a socio cultural context from one culture to the other is not felt, the initial chapters that speak about the food that the author’s mother makes, felt a bit lost in translation for someone who is not familiar with the food and the terms used.

 

If you love reading personal essays, there is no way that you can forgo reading this beautiful book. If you love Perumal Murugan’s writings, you have to definitely read this without fail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orïsha #2) by Tomi Adeyemi

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Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orïsha #2) by Tomi Adeyemi

Published by: Henry Holt & Company/Pan Macmillan India

Fiction: YA, Fantasy, 404p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary

After battling the impossible, Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they could’ve imagined, reigniting the powers of not only the maji, but of nobles with magic ancestry, too.

Now, Zélie struggles to unite the maji in an Orïsha where the enemy is just as powerful as they are. But when the monarchy and military unite to keep control of Orïsha, Zélie must fight to secure Amari’s right to the throne and protect the new maji from the monarchy’s wrath. With civil war looming on the horizon, Zélie finds herself at a breaking point: she must discover a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance is the stunning sequel to Tomi Adeyemi’s New York Times bestselling debut Children of Blood and Bone, the first title in her Legacy of Orïsha trilogy.

About the author:

Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American writer and creative writing coach based in San Diego, California. Her debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone was published in 2018 and the movie is currently in development. After graduating Harvard University with an honors degree in English literature, she received a fellowship that allowed her to study West African mythology and culture in Salvador, Brazil.

My Review*

*Thank you Pan Macmillan India for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

 After reading the second book in the Orïsha trilogy, I must say this: the series need to be adapted on to film. There is so much of visual imagery and sounds in the narrative by Tomi Adeyemi that only mere reading how the scenes and plot point move and flow into one another feels inadequate.

The book follows the character arcs of the main protagonists we got introduced in the first of the series: in this one, we get to see a few more characters taking center stage and strong revelations coming out that revolves around the struggle for power.

I love the writing for while the familiar tropes of YA and fantasy are there: magic, the fight between good and evil; there is also the rich cultural sub text of how tribes/clans live with one another in strife and harmony, the community spirit within a clan, how languages differ across clans in the same place and striving for identity and one’s destiny.

The second book further enhances the characters that we were introduced to in book one and gives us more scope to empathize with each one bearing the weight of past mistakes, responsibilities and loyalty. I love this series for the way the female characters are fleshed out in all their glory: the vengeance, the loyalty, and their strength in the paths they tread be it the good, the unsure or the totally wicked.

Adeyemi has the pulse of her readers right in the way she paces her plots. Yes, seasoned readers will be able to arrive at some plot points before they happen but majority will still be taken off their feet with that epilogue and the way a character still remains mysterious.

There’s a Carnival Today by Indra Bahadur Rai, Translated by Manjushree Thapa

Carnival 

There’s a Carnival Today by Indra Bahadur Rai, Translated by Manjushree Thapa

Published by: Speaking Tiger

Literary Fiction, 236p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary

Darjeeling in the 1950s. Janak, a prominent businessman and local leader, stares at professional, political and moral ruin. His store is failing and he has been sued by Jayabilas—a Marwari trader, once his friend and business partner, to whom he owes money. Bhudev—Janak’s partner at the party which is working to organize workers—has triumphed over him in a bitter struggle for leadership. Janak’s son Ravi, of whom he expected better, has become a schoolteacher and is involved in party work in the tea estates—Janak is convinced that Bhudev is using Ravi to further undermine him. And, despite being in a blissful marriage with Sita, Janak is drawn to the charms of Yamuna, the wife of an ailing friend.

Then, tea-estate workers protesting the arrest of their comrades spontaneously march into town. They are joined by others along the way and the march quickly grows in size. But after the rally ends in a massacre by the police, Janak must find a way out of his morass to stand up and be counted once more.

Capacious and prescient, There’s a Carnival Today is as much a panoramic view of post-Independence Darjeeling as it is of the sharply observed, flesh-and-blood characters who people it. It is also a foreshadowing of the issues of identity which still shape politics and attitudes in the region. Brilliantly translated by Manjushree Thapa, this seminal work by one of the tallest figures in contemporary Nepali literature is a modern classic.

About the author:

Indra Bahadur Rai was an Indian Nepali writer and literary critic from Darjeeling. There’s a Carnival Today was published as Aaja Ramita Cha in 1964 and was his debut novel. He is a stalwart of Nepali literature and played a major role in having the Nepali language officially recognized by the Indian Constitution.

About the Translator:

Manjushree Thapa is a Canadian essayist, fiction writer, translator and editor of Nepali descent. Her translation of Indra Bahadur Rai’s There’s a Carnival Today won the 2017 PEN America Heim Translation Grant. Her best known book is Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy (2005) which was shortlisted for the Lettre Ulysses Award in 2006.

My Review*

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

 There’s a Carnival Today is a deeply layered historical background to the social and political shifts in the history of the Nepali community living in Darjeeling in West Bengal. Yes, you have protagonists who keep you invested in their lives and you have other characters who step in and out of the narrative, you have a plot that plays out in a way that wants you asking more but it is the historical setting to the emergence of the voices in the Nepali community in India that stood out for me.

The main protagonist of the story and the book is Janak, a garment trader who gets into the political sphere of a small town and who finds family ties and political eminence to be a ground that is slippery, given the slow rise of his brother in law in the party ranks and his son who despises everything he says and does. The family moorings, Janak’s infidelity and its shadow over his domestic life would have made for a fascinating story but that’s not what the author gives you in this book but it works well overall. The beauty of the writing is that all of this is there on the periphery while the focus is on the shifts over the question over identity, worker rights, the exploitation of Nepali workers in the tea estates of Darjeeling, the control of business by the few rich outsider population and the question of who takes charge of the destiny of a community that has a rich legacy of contribution to a country in which it is a minority group.

Reading this book in the current climate of protests in the country over who is a citizen is most ironic but then, great literature reflects life and vice versa. There’s a Carnival Today makes you look at who is entitled and to what, to what purposes does a community strive for. I would recommend this seminal work for the way it takes one to an overview of the Nepali community in parts of India and specifically, their lives and struggles in Darjeeling. The footnote by Manjushree Thapa gives a much-needed insight for those who are not familiar with the political and historical backdrop of the book.

This is a must read!

 

The God Child by Nana Oforiatta Ayim

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The God Child by Nana Oforiatta Ayim

Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing/Bloomsbury India

Fiction,

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Book summary

Maya grows up in Germany knowing that her parents are different: from one another, and from the rest of the world. Her reserved, studious father is distant; and her beautiful, volatile mother is a whirlwind, with a penchant for lavish shopping sprees and a mesmerising power for spinning stories of the family’s former glory – of what was had, and what was lost.

And then Kojo arrives one Christmas, like an annunciation: Maya’s cousin, and her mother’s godson. Kojo has a way with words – a way of talking about Ghana, and empire, and what happens when a country’s treasures are spirited away by colonialists. For the first time, Maya has someone who can help her understand why exile has made her parents the way they are. But then Maya and Kojo are separated, shuttled off to school in England, where they come face to face with the maddening rituals of Empire.

Returning to Ghana as a young woman, Maya is reunited with her powerful but increasingly troubled cousin. Her homecoming will set off an exorcism of their family and country’s strangest, darkest demons. It is in this destruction’s wake that Maya realises her own purpose: to tell the story of her mother, her cousin, their land and their loss, on her own terms, in her own voice.

About the author:

Nana Oforiatta Ayim is a Ghanaian writer, art historian and filmmaker. She has written widely on cultural narratives, histories, and institutions in Africa. She speaks regularly on the decolonisation of knowledge and museums and has created a pan-African Cultural Encyclopaedia.

My Review*

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

Though this is fiction, somehow it read as a bit of a memoir and a long personal essay for there is this strong grain of a singular voice running through The God Child – that of the author. It took some time to get into the flow of the writing for me as I have not been exposed at any point of time to the socio culture and politics of Ghana and given there are many words and phrases that have not been translated.

Once the focus over one’s roots and identity came into the picture, it was but natural to ease into the narrative and the writing that takes readers into the world of Maya and her ancestors who have had a rich life that is slowly being swallowed by the shadow of colonial rule and modernism.

Maya grows up privileged but that doesn’t help her feeling out of place in England and then Germany where she is sent for her education. There is a lot of reflection and realization that Maya undergoes through which comes across more strongly than the parts that takes readers for a tantalizing part into the history of her ancestors. And then it hits you that is what the author intended: where audiences/readers/consumers want the exotica of Africa but will judge them for their way of life and not cede ground for the way they want to be or tell their stories in the manner they want to.

That said, one wishes there was more clarity for readers instead of this fiction that is also non fiction which weighs down on the writing and hampers a connect with the reader. Maya’s attempts at fitting in, her anger and scorn for people who carry colonial attitudes towards her roots and her people starts to feel a bit claustrophobic for readers and one cannot help feeling that the same themes would have worked if they had been addresses or fleshed out differently.

 

 

 

 

 

Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila

Tram

Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila

Published by: Speaking Tiger

Fiction, 207p

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Book summary

In an unnamed African city-state riven by civil war profit-seekers of all languages and nationalities mix. They have only one desire to make a fortune by exploiting the mineral wealth of the land. Two friends a budding writer home from Europe and his childhood friend who dreams of taking over the seedy underworld of their city meet in the most notorious nightclub in town Tram 83 and are sucked into a dizzying lurid world of gangsters and crooks poets and sex workers soldiers and spies tourists and stowaways.

Tram 83 plunges the reader into a modern African gold rush as cynical as it is comic. A daring feat of narrative imagination and linguistic creativity this stunning debut uses the rhythms of jazz to weave a darkly exuberant tale of human relationships greed and excess in a world that has become a global village.

About the author:

Fiston Mwanza Mujila owes his origin to Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His debut novel Tram 83 was a French Voices 2014 grant recipient and won the Grand Prix du Premier Roman des SGDL, and was shortlisted for numerous other awards, including the Prix du Monde as well as the Longlist for the Man Booker Prize in 2016.

My Review*

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

Gob smacked is how one feels after reading this: It is on the edge manic writing and a novel that has just a few characters and steers away from a traditional plot line. But it is the narrative and the writing that smacks you in the face and the guts. Set in an unnamed ‘city state’ somewhere in Africa that is run by the whims of a dissident General, the nightclub but almost brothel Tram 83 is where the greed and the despair and the cynicism of a country that exists in the way it does because of its mineral resources is reflected in all its seedy and brooding glory.

There is not much of a story in this but Tram 83 ends up telling you many stories: where the white man’s ideas of progress through railroads and introducing mining has ruined the social and economic fabric of natives leading to the rise in poverty and crimes and sexually transmitted diseases. Calling Tram 83 a brilliant book is not enough: it is cleverly crafted word play that leaves one gasping with its insights and commentary. The flow of words is lyrical at times and suddenly staccato, almost sounding like funk rap and then changing gears to meander into a pleasant pace.

At one point, the protagonist Lucien who is a writer home from Europe observes:

“We’ve already had enough of squalor, poverty, syphilis, and violence in African literature. Look around us. There are beautiful girls, good-looking men, Brazza Beer, good music. Doesn’t all that inspire you? I’m concerned for the future of African literature in general. The main character in the African novel is always single, neurotic, perverse, depressive, childless, homeless, and overburdened with debt. Here, we live, we fuck, we’re happy. There needs to be fucking in African literature too!”

Of course, the author Fiston Mwanza Mujila is based in Europe and writes about his country so yes, he inserts himself into his novel and makes the reader decide what is fact and what is fiction. The imagery, the insider look, the cynical air of one who knows one’s land for what it is and the obstinate hope that maybe things might change for the better even as one is bogged by the weight of the knowledge that everything that is falling apart at its seams is what makes Tram 83 extremely readable.

Would strongly recommend this to readers who are looking for original voices and narrative styles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

R.N. Kao: Gentleman Spymaster by Nitin A Gokhale

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R.N. Kao: Gentleman Spymaster by Nitin A Gokhale

Published by: Bloomsbury India

Non Fiction: Biography, 227p

Rating: 3/5 stars

Book summary

The Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s foreign intelligence organization is one of the most respected institutions in the world of espionage and foreign intelligence today. It has played a vital role in almost all of the landmark events in India’s recent history – from the 1971 war to the merger of Sikkim, from discovering Pakistan’s nuclear programme to the recent Balakot operation. Yet, as befits its role, very little is known about the organization.

Equally little is known about its founder, Rameshwar Nath Kao or RNK. An intensely private man, RNK was the classical spymaster who operated in the shadows but built enduring institutions. A ruthless professional who believed in putting national interest above his personal preferences, RNK was also the creator of the secretive Aviation Research Centre, India’s premier technical intelligence agency. His finest hour was the role played by the R&AW in the creation of Bangladesh.

Over half a century after R&AW was founded and seventeen years after Kao’s death, Nitin A Gokhale puts together the story of the legend that was RNK. Based on reminiscences of family, professional colleagues and juniors, and using his personal papers, this biography is the first definitive account of the life and times of RN Kao. This book is as much a tribute to Kao as the organization he created.

About the author:

Nitin A. Gokhale , one of South Asia’s leading Strategic Analysts, is a renowned author, media trainer and founder of a specialised defence-related website. Author of five books so far on insurgencies, wars and conflicts, he is visiting faculty at all Indian Defence training

 

 

 

My Review*

 

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

 

I picked this book, as I love the world of espionage. After all, a profile on Rameshwar Nath Kao, the man credited with instituting India’s foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) seemed too good to pass by for it would mean personal insights about the man and the workings of the organization he headed (what can be shared in public domain).

 

So yes, there are some select family voices talking about RN Kao and a brief about his family background. Additionally, there are a few behind the scenes anecdotes and cases on the professional front: notably, the merger of Sikkim to India that will surely remind one of the manner that the US uses subversion and propaganda to topple Governments or heads of state and out people they are friendly with in its place and the liberation of Bangladesh.

 

Unfortunately, the writing seems to be bogged down with a heavy air and one cannot help feel a tad disappointed at the lost opportunity of making the life of a truly inspiring man more gripping and fascinating. The writing style comes across as devoid of any personal touch by the author and looks like a verbatim reproduction of interviews of sources and notes. The chapter on a plane crash that could have led to international headlines and some geo political shifts made for the most mundane read instead of keeping the reader in me intrigued and wanting to turn the pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Death in the Himalayas: A Neville Wadia Mystery by Udayan Mukherjee

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A Death in the Himalayas: A Neville Wadia Mystery by Udayan Mukherjee

Published by: Picador India/Pan Macmillan India

Fiction; 274p

Rating: 3.50/5 stars

Book summary

Why would anyone kill a well-meaning foreigner like Clare Watson in a quiet neighbourhood in the foothills of the Himalayas?

Yes, Clare was a fearless woman. But why would she venture into the dark forest after sundown knowing it fully well as leopard habitat? When a celebrity author-activist is found battered in a Himalayan forest spring, the event resounds internationally. India jumps into headlines once again as a country that is unsafe for women. Closer home, the tragedy divides the sleepy village into gentle folk who mourn the dreadful passing of their dear friend and the motivated elite who believe she was begging for trouble. As Neville Wadia picks his way through the blood-splattered hills of Birtola, he begins to unpack the deadly truth that killed Clare, only to realize there are other tender lives at stake.

What kind of killer is at work here: a jealous lover, a dejected husband, a sharp land grabber, a wily politician or a disgruntled local? Tense and atmospheric, a Death in the Himalayas is a mesmerizing mystery about the little-known intimacies of an idyllic locale.

About the author:

An economist by training, Udayan Mukherjee was formerly the Managing Editor with CNBC India. He debuted as a writer with a fiction novel titled Dark Circles published last year.

My Review*

*Thank you Picador India/Pan Macmillan India for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Heralding the first in a series featuring a former police officer Neville Wadia, A Death in the Himalayas is quite the one starting with the title (doffing a hat to the Queen of crime fiction perhaps!) and mentions of the sleuthing skills of Sherlock Holmes. Neville’s character has a smart sidekick too: a current police officer who admires him and puts in a request to work on the case of the gruesome murder of a foreign national in the quiet of the hills.

It is difficult not to love the nuances that the author brings into the setting of the murder: the ecological damage wrought upon by corrupt and money making enterprises, the beauty of the hills marred by the greed of contractors and politicians, the tendency of people from the cities running to the hills for solitude while the locals want to get out and join the rate race.

Enter Clare Watson who strives for a better life for the women of Birtola village and who motivates them to stand up against violence in their families, one who takes up cudgels against plans to acquire large reserves of land under the garb of ‘development’ and who goes against the dictum that ‘women should remain quiet’. Clare’s murder is what it takes to reveal the stories underneath the surface and the quiet of Birtola.

Neville Wadia is an interesting character for sure: there is a brief backstory about the circumstances that have brought him and his wife, the emotional and partly mental baggage he has brought with him. The plot has enough potential but nowhere can one call this a pulsating mystery thriller, rather I felt that the identity of the culprit was too convenient for the character was the least problematic of the other suspects who represents power and clout in the Indian social firmament. I would have relished it more if the narrative had kept its focus on following a forensic trail rather than take readers through conversations that serve as red herrings.