After the Banquet by Yukio Mishima, Translated by Donald Keene

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After the Banquet by Yukio Mishima

Published by: Vintage Books

Literary Fiction, p288

Rating: 4.50/5 stars

Book summary

For years Kazu has run her fashionable restaurant with a combination of charm and shrewdness. But when the she falls in love with one of her clients, an aristocratic retired politician, she renounces her business in order to become his wife. But it is not so easy to renounce her independent spirit, and eventually Kazu must choose between her marriage and the demands of her irrepressible vitality. After the Banquet is a magnificent portrait of political and domestic warfare.

About the author:

Yukio Mishima writes in Japanese language. His first published book, The Forest in Full Bloom, appeared in 1944 and he established himself as a major author with Confessions of a Mask. From then until his death he continued to publish novels, short stories, and plays each year. His crowning achievement, the Sea of Fertility tetralogy—which contains the novels Spring Snow (1969), Runaway Horses (1969), The Temple of Dawn (1970), and The Decay of the Angel (1971)—is considered one of the definitive works of twentieth-century Japanese fiction.

My Review

 Yukio Mishima is an author I have read so much about that the idea of reading his works weighed on me, so much so that I received this book as a birthday present in March last year and it remained unread all this time.

‘After the Banquet’ follows two main protagonists Kazu, the owner of a restaurant that caters to the elite and powerful political circles of Japan and Noguchi, a semi retired politician belonging to an aristocratic family. Both are at an age that is surrounded with the remains of their youth and the prospect of mortality.

Kazu at 50 years is an attractive woman with an efficient hand over her business but gives in to the dread of a lonely death in a solitary grave. Noguchi at 60 years is a widower, an old school politician who has set ways and social decorum. The two marry and make an attempt at making a life together but then a political campaign and the way each goes about it exposes the glaring differences between the two.

Mishima looks at old age, loneliness, impending death and the idea of corruption, the later, in terms of morals as well as in politics. His writing will not take readers into the minds of the characters so much as their actions and while the setting and what is what is left unsaid between the two main protagonists serve as a rich tapestry to get an essence of the mood of the narrative. On one hand, there is the hustle and bustle at the restaurant, the cloistered secrecy of political conversations in spaces beyond probing eyes, the behind the scene look at the hypocrisy of social circles.

What makes Mishima and other writers and later, film makers looking at the post Second World War Japan fascinating is their commentary on the socio political dynamics of a nation emerging with reluctance from their belief in the Emperor and the Sumurai on one hand and an insecurity of the future. Will recommend this if you love old school Japanese literature.

 

 

 

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

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A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

Published by: Electric Monkey

Fiction, 297p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary

It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.

Longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature!

From the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Shatter Me series comes a powerful, heartrending contemporary novel about fear, first love, and the devastating impact of prejudice.

About the author:

Tahereh Mafi is an Iranian-American, New York Times and USA Today best selling author of the Shatter Me series. Shatter Me is her first series, with television rights optioned by ABC Signature Studios.

My Review

Main protagonists on the cusp of adulthood? Tick. Issues of not fitting in at High School? Tick. A budding romance? Tick. The ticks straightaway put ‘A Very Large Expanse of Sea’ in the Young Adult category but I can say for a fact that this book will appeal to every reader who picks it up. Believe me, if you steer away from reading this one just because it falls under YA, it will be your loss!

Shirin, a strong-minded American teen whose parents are Iranian immigrants takes you right into the midst of her anger and angst that stems from the hatred against Muslims in the wake of 9/11. That Shirin is a Hijabi of her own accord makes her the target of subtle to not so subtle attacks on her at school and elsewhere, leading her to keep to herself in an angry cocoon. Her joys are her family including an older brother, an innate love and sense of fashion and music while break dancing in a crew with her brother and his friends, gives her room to exhale.

Tahereh Mafi writes with so many nuances that you feel the confusion, the fear, the suspicion, the unease that Shirin feels that keeps her wary and on guard against everyone. The friendship and subsequent romance track between Shirin and Ocean Young is sweet and further fleshes out the narrative with how different cultures have set assumptions about the other. The plot moves with no drastic twists but that works just as fine because what happens to the protagonists are relatable and you will keep turning the pages to see what happens to Shirin and Ocean Young.

Shirin as a character is one that you feel exists as a real person and not just a fictional one and towards the end when she says, ‘The more I got to know people, the more I realized we were all just a bunch of frightened idiots walking around in the dark, bumping into each other and panicking for no reason,’ you can only approve heartily.

 

 

When the River Sleeps by Easterine Kire

Kire

When the River Sleeps by Easterine Kire

Published by: Zubaan Books

Fiction, 264p

Rating: 3/5 stars

Book summary

A lone hunter, Vilie, sets out to find the river of his dreams, a place from which he will be able to wrest a stone that will give him untold power. His is a dangerous quest—not only must he overcome unquiet spirits, vengeful sorceresses, and demons of the forest, but there are armed men on his trail as well.

In ‘When the River Sleeps’, Easterine Kire transports her reader to the remote mountains of Nagaland in northeastern India, a place alive with natural wonder and supernatural enchantment. As Vilie treks through the forest on the trail of his dream, readers are also swept along with the powerful narrative and walk alongside him in a world where the spirits are every bit as real as men and women. Kire invites us into the lives and hearts of the people of Nagaland: their rituals and beliefs, their reverence for the land, their close-knit communities, and the rhythms of a life lived in harmony with their natural surroundings.

“Reminiscent of García Márquez’s magic realism and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Native-American storytelling. At the end, though, this is a Naga story, unmistakably so, in its sense of place, time, and oral traditions.” —Paulus Pimomo, Central Washington University.

About the author:

Easterine Kire (Iralu) is a poet, writer, and novelist from Nagaland. has written several books in English including three collections of poetry and short stories. Her first novel, A Naga Village Remembered, was the first-ever Naga novel to be published. Easterine has translated 200 oral poems from her native language, Tenyidie, into English.

My Review*

 *Thank you Zubaan Books for the review copy. All opinions are my own

Mixed feelings about this one: Easterine Kire’s When the River Sleeps works only if you read it for the writing that takes you to the ways and lives of people living in a small village in Nagaland. The story is one-dimensional as it stays firmly on the adventures of Vilie, a solitary hunter. Vilie works for the Forest Department to ensure protection of the Tragopans in the forest and is constantly haunted by dreams of a river from where he has to snatch a stone that is said to bestow untold power.

Kire mixes Naga folklore and fables, peppering the concoction with life lessons on life, forgiveness and moving on in life. The narrative is embellished with the socio communal life of the Naga people in villages and their belief systems as readers follow the many adventures that Vilie encounters on his journey- one filled with supernatural elements. Unfortunately, the supernatural elements come across as flat and end up as mere plot devices: they fail to stir up the narrative. What one expects is a Naga parable or folk story that would leave you enchanted but you really get are a few elements of the old beliefs of the Naga people married to a more modern setting. So there are anecdotes of various adventures and Vilie’s quest for the river that sleeps from which he has to wrest a stone with powerful magic is done and over with before we reach the half mark of the book.The ending is abrupt and makes you wonder what is missing from the writing.

If you are looking for a light read, this makes the cut. I liked this Kire book but did not enjoy it as much as I expected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shake the bottle and other stories by Ashapurna Debi, Translated by Arunava Sinha

Asha

Shake the bottle and other stories by Ashapurna Debi, Translated by Arunava Sinha

Published by: Om Books International

Fiction: Sort Stories,288p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary

Ashapurna Debi gazed into the heart of the domestic life of the Indian woman as no other writer in the world has done. In one story after another, numbering into thousands by the time she was done, she examined the imprisonment of the women within their homes and their responses to the power play, pressures and hypocrisies lying beneath the surface of the apparent solidity of the middle-class urban family. Nobody has written as relentlessly, with as much insight and yet with as light a touch, of the darkness of both the interior and the behavioural life within the four walls of the home. Over more than 70 years of a writing career, she created an extraordinary oeuvre, whose depths will be mined for generations.

Twenty-one of Ashapurna Debi’s most shocking stories, cherry-picked from over a thousand, have been brought together in this collection. Why these stories in particular? Each of them unravels an unexpected, even dreadful, side to the personalities of the women who feature in them. In every story, a deceptively quiet but potentially explosive act of revolt takes place – or comes close to taking place. Far from the sweet and submissive stereotype of the wife/mother/daughter/woman of the house that familial structures have enforced, it is the rebellious side of the woman, often forced to emerge through cruelty, viciousness and even hatred, that stands revealed. these are scandalous stories, each one of them.

About the author:

Ashapurna Debi was a prominent Bengali novelist and poet. She has been widely honoured with a number of prizes and awards. She has been awarded the Jnanpith Award and the Padma Shri. For her contribution as a novelist and short story writer, the Sahitya Akademi conferred its highest honour, the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship.

About the translator:

Arunava Sinha is an award-winning translator with his work ranging from classic, modern and contemporary Bengali fiction and nonfiction into English, and from English into Bengali.

My Review*

 *Thank you Arunava Sinha for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

 Having read a lot about the prolific pen of Ashapurna Debi, it was a sweet pleasure to finally read her work, ALL thanks to Arunava Sinha the translator for this lovely collection of 21 short stories and who sent me this book to read.

After reading the stories in this collection, one can only marvel at the finesse with which the author brings the intricacies of human relationships in the confines of domesticity. Each story throbs with the tension of possibilities as the characters (mostly the women but men too) stand on a precipice of emotions, actions and repercussions mirroring the fragile ties that bind couples or family members.

The 21 stories are simple yet complex in nature: simple in the ordinariness and complex in the way they leave you gasping for breath. The stories are everyday fare in middle class families: the palpable tension between a widowed mother who has brought up her son who lives with the change that a daughter in law brings with her entry into the family but there is then another story of a widowed father who smarts due to the changes that enters the family when a daughter in law enters! And then as a reader, you begin to see the author is positioning how individuals react with suspicion, fear and ill will when a new member enters the intimate space of a family.

Each story in this collection is about the contours and intricacies of human relationships: the spaces that exist, the push and pull of individual expectations and actions on another person and vice versa. I can only recommend picking this book: there is no doubt about this. You will be enthralled.

 

The Alchemy of Secrets by Priya Balasubramanian

Alchemy

The Alchemy of Secrets by Priya Balasubramanian

Published by: Tranquebar/Westland Publications

Fiction, 299p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

‘There is no turning back now. I cannot afford to wonder if I am strong enough. I have to be, and it is time.’

Mira’s beloved grandmother is on her deathbed in Bangalore, a city she fled from seven years ago. She has no choice but to return. But it also means having to face what she has tried to forget all these years. Memories of a lazy summer come flooding back, when she and her best friend Anisa wandered the tree-lined streets in Bangalore. All was not as idyllic as it seemed to them, however: a mosque had recently come down in another part of the country, and its after-effects rippled all around them. As unscrupulous small-time politicians used the rise in religious fervour to grow their own careers, those ripples were soon to engulf these young girls, with tragic consequences.

Back now in Bangalore, in a city even more polarised by religion, Mira untangles the threads—of love, jealousy, political ambition, friendship and family—and finds that they go far back. Not just to when she was a young girl, but further, to the mystery of her mother’s death during the Emergency, and beyond. A vivid, unforgettable story, as relevant today as the time in which it is set, The Alchemy of Secrets explores how the simplest of acts can have the most far-reaching consequences.

 

About the author:

Priya Balasubramanian is an alumna of Christian Medical College, Vellore, and is now a gastroenterologist and hepatologist in Sacramento, California. The Alchemy of Secrets is her first novel.

 

 

My Review*

 

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

 

 

The Alchemy of Secrets is a very assured debut by Priya Balasubramanian who weaves a potent story of a family in the backdrop of political events happening around them. With a narrative that goes back and forth over different time periods, readers are taken through a myriad landscape of emotions and sub contexts: young friendships, a small town that feels the pressure of politics and religion brought upon by events unfolding far yet come near.

 

The narrative follows what happens when Mira returns to Bangalore from the US after being told that her grand mother, her Ajji is on her death-bed. Mira is loath to return, for heading back means coming face to face with painful memories from her childhood. As it turns out, it not just Mira who has to find solace from confronting a fragmented past: there is Ajji who has been bearing burdens too heavy on her conscience.

 

We are taken through Ajji’s life, starting out as a young woman married to an idealist who worshipped a Mahatma and who placed his nationalism over his family and himself then becoming a young widow who brings up her two sons only to see them going on different paths and then her ties to her two daughters in law – Vimla and Radhika.

 

All the female characters are fleshed out well and play integral parts in the plot structures: Ajji’s emphatic rules in the household, strong and resolute in her ways and yet finding it in herself to bend down (literally); Vimla, stoic till the point she uses her silence to cold shoulder her husband whose ways she does not agree with; Celia, the one who gathers Mira when she is lost and broken; Radhika, whose brief but strong presence pushes the plot of the story and many of the characters to react as they do and Sitara, the ‘other’ woman, a has been star who must stay hidden and voiceless but one you clap for when things come to a head. Then of course, there is Mira whose journey brings all these characters (and more) alive with their foibles and dilemmas.

 

Each character has a part in the larger narrative that looks at how personal ties are intertwined with the politics of religion and the quest for power and how it impacts women as targets and victims. When the resolution comes, you will have to try hard not to cry. Strongly recommending this book as much for the story and the characters but also for the way it takes you to a few vignettes of what Bangalore was like in the 70s.