The Most Beautiful Night of the Soul: Stories by Sándor Jászberényi, Translated by Paul Olchvary

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The Most Beautiful Night of the Soul: Stories by Sándor Jászberényi, Translated by Paul Olchvary

Published by: Speaking Tiger

 Fiction: Short Stories, Translation

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary: 

Set mostly in contemporary Cairo and Iraq, as well as Israel, London, and Hungary, these twelve short stories are a staggering follow-up to those in the acclaimed collection The Devil Is a Black Dog by leading Hungarian writer/photojournalist Sándor Jászberényi. Told from the perspective of Cairo-based European war correspondent Daniel Marosh, The Most Beautiful Night of the Soul is, above all, about a journalist examining some of today’s most pressing Middle East conflicts and the lives of others even while forced to question his own assumptions and haunted by his own demons.

A unique, insider’s view of the days, and disquieting nights, of one Middle East war correspondent who seeks the truth even while battling his own demons.

Resonates with the work of Tim O’Brien, Kevin Powers, Ernest Hemingway, and Graham Greene–when journalism and an insider’s view becomes literature in capital letters The author’s own personal story⎯his unresolved relationships with his own father and with the mother of his child⎯provides a compelling emotional backdrop. Spare, gritty, Hemingwayesque prose.

About the author:

Sándor Jászberényi is the author of the critically acclaimed short story collection, The Devil Is a Black Dog has worked as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East and Africa for leading Hungarian newspapers. He has covered the revolutions in Egypt and Libya, the Gaza War, the Darfur crisis, and the conflict with Islamic State—interviewing armed Islamic groups in the process—and has also reported on the war in Ukraine. His stories and reportage have been published in Geurnica, Wall Street Journal, New York Times etc.

My Review*

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

The Most Beautiful Night of the Soul: Stories, a collection of 12 short stories by Sándor Jászberényi, a journalist is a must read for the only reason that they are contemporary and timeless. The stories are contemporary in the way they are structured around the fictional Cairo based journalist Daniel Marosh covering various modern armed conflicts and their spillovers like the Palestinian-Jewish strikes, or tackling the ISIS, opium addiction, Post Trauma Stress Disorder etc. Each story is timeless for they hinge around morality in the times of violence and the various players, about human ties, the lows that a human being can subject oneself to.

The first eleven short stories read together like a novel with each story threading into one another like chapters do in a novel while the last one stays on its own. The 12 short stories are marked by the flavour of intrigue, an unknown dread in the air and the chaos brought upon by constant violence that happens off the pages. In this collection, you get stories about the trappings of journalists covering war: being at the sidelines but seeing everything directly: the violence, the loss of colleagues, trying to step in as a peacemaker and then realising just how off the mark one can be, the commodification of women and children.

The shadow of death, despair and emotional pain falls on the stories but they don’t leave you despondent. Rather, you will get involved in the scheme of things and try grasping for straws wondering where the story will take the characters from the grime of wars untold. The stories paint an overall picture of how things are often made of chaos and the blur between good, bad and evil. Even as the character of the journalist is thrown into the most violent and politically laced conflicts, there is the humane side into how he responds to people and situation around him that makes the stories stand out. His character finds himself in the worst of situations and amongst the deepest darkest hours but there is also a slim hope, a slim chance at redemption that will keep readers hooked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irrfan Khan: The Man, The Dreamer, The Star by Aseem Chhabra

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Irrfan Khan: The Man, The Dreamer, The Star by Aseem Chhabra

Published by: Rupa Publications

Non Fiction: Biography, 169p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Irrfan Khan is a gentle dreamer with arresting eyes, a towering presence and an illustrious filmography. Most of us know the man only through the characters that he has played: Roohdaar in Haider, Maqbool in the eponymous film, Rana in Piku, Saajan in The Lunchbox, and of course, Ashoke in The Namesake. Today, these characters have made him a recognized name around the world.

Irrfan Khan is an intimate and meticulously researched account of this refreshingly unique and unconventional Indian icon. Drawn from personal interviews and told through many voices, Aseem Chhabra traces Irrfan’s personal and artistic life in all its many shades. Rich in detail and peppered with anecdotes, it is a fascinating look at the life and work of the actor that begins in a small household in Rajasthan and culminates in his face gazing down from billboards in Hollywood. It explores some of his greatest performances that have shown India and the world what cinema can do.

At the heart of this story, however, is a man, possibly the finest actor of his generation, his passion for the craft of acting and his love for unusual characters.

About the author:

Aseem Chhabra is a film journalist, freelance writer and film festival programmer in New York City. He has been published in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Outlook besides a host of other publications. Chhabra has published two other biographies – Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star and Priyanka Chopra: The Incredible Story of a Global Bollywood Star.

My Review

 You can trust Aseem Chhabra to weave a fluid and engaging biography even when he has not interviewed the subject concerned for the same. He did it for the biography of Shashi Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra. Irrfan Khan:The Man,The Dreamer,The Star was always on my reading radar given how I have loved Aseem’s earlier works.So yes, this is entirely about the mind of an actor who has delivered in every role, no matter what its length or medium.Collated from various interviews of the actor along with interviews of long term friends and work collaborators or both rolled into one as with the case of film directors Tigmanshu Dhulia and Vishal Bharadwaj, this book weaves a wonderful narrative of what made Irrfan Khan the actor he was.

The anecdotes and reminiscences featured go back to the days of his roots in Jaipur, shifting then to his NSD days and then Mumbai, all threaded by a common element: that of a constant struggle to find himself as an actor and person. Aseem’s insights into films as a critic allows the reader to get a sense of his own reading of Irrfan Khan as an actor, as does his personal interactions that reveal a thoughtful, philosophical person behind the small town boy who became one of the most sought after actor in Hollywood because of his star appeal.

A biography on Irrfan Khan obviously means revisiting the stories behind his most important roles and characters but we also get to know of little known films that the actor took up because the idea of a character or the thought behind the film appealed to him. The only thing missing from the book for me personally is a filmography of the actor listing all his works in theatre, TV and films.

Tell Her Everything by Mirza Waheed

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Tell Her Everything by Mirza Waheed

Published by: Context/Westland Publications

Fiction, p248

Rating: 3.75/5 stars

Book summary

You see, Sara, it had to happen … I couldn’t have prevented it, could I? It could have been anyone, and it was me. It had to happen to someone, and it was me. Think about it. Of all the men in the world, of all the doctors in the world, of all the fathers in the whole world, I happened to be the one present in that place at that time. Someone or the other had to do it. It just so happens that someone was your dad.’

Where does one draw the line between empathy and sacrifice? Between integrity and survival? Between prosperity and love?

In an unnamed city, a young Indian doctor arrives to make his home and career. It isn’t long before money and success find him, but the price is steep and often unbearable, especially to a wife and daughter who must watch him walk the perilous path of lifelong ambition.

A heartbreaking novel about human ethics, filial love and the corrosive nature of complicity.

About the author:

Mirza Waheed’s debut novel, The Collaborator, was an international bestseller and a finalist for the Guardian First Book Award and the Shakti Bhat Prize besides being longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize. His second novel, The Book of Gold Leaves, was published to critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2016, longlisted for the Folio Prize, and was a finalist for the 2015 Tata Literature Live! Book of the Year (Fiction).

My Review

Tell Her Everything by Mirza Waheed is a book that will try your patience as a reader for at its center is a monologue of a retired doctor who is thinking out aloud over unloading a lifetime of silence to his daughter who he’s sent abroad ‘for a better education, a better life’. The entire book has Dr Kaiser Shah trying to figure out whether his daughter Sara will be able to understand the choices he has made, the dilemmas he has battled over the actions that he has carried out as a job in the hospital he is employed in, in a country that remains unnamed but where punishment for crime entails amputations.

The repeated entreaties in the monologue by Dr K works as a device depicting the acute weight of his despair, the forlorn sum of his existence over the years and a plea to be absolved of the guilt of his silence and complicity. The core of the situation that Dr K finds himself is one of trying to shift through the past and why he did what he did and trying to come to terms with the larger question of a legal practice that is at odds with a moral compass or ethical standing and where it leaves a person.

There are additional themes of how immigrants try to toe the line in a new country, just so to be accepted, to be seen and recognized. But it is mostly about how the weight of years of silent complicity can leave one hollow and grasping for some peace. It is a painful look at the hollow shell of a man who has had to keep silent for the sake of a better future for everyone concerned and yet, in preparing for that, he finds himself unbearably alone, further ravaged by the guilt gnawing at his conscience and the uncertainty of being not understood for the one person he has lived for.

If you love to read books that will keep you bound in a moral quandary and if you are a patient reader, this is the book for you.

 

 

A Gujarat Here, a Gujarat There by Krishna Sobti, Translated by Daisy Rockwell

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A Gujarat Here, a Gujarat There by Krishna Sobti, Translated by Daisy Rockwell

Published by: Penguin Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India

Literary Fiction, 243p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary

Delhi, 1947. The city surges with Partition refugees. Eager to escape the welter of pain and confusion that surrounds her, young Krishna applies on a whim to a position at a preschool in the princely state of Sirohi, itself on the cusp of transitioning into the republic of India. She is greeted on arrival with condescension for her refugee status, and treated with sexist disdain by Zutshi Sahib, the man charged with hiring for the position. Undaunted, Krishna fights back. But when an opportunity to become governess to the child maharaja Tej Singh Bahadur presents itself-and with it a chance to make Sirohi her new home once and for all-there is no telling how long this idyll will last.

Part novel, part memoir, part feminist anthem, A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There is not only a powerful tale of Partition loss and dislocation but also charts the odyssey of a spirited young woman determined to build a new identity for herself on her own terms

 

About the author:

Krishna Sobti was a fiction writer and essayist. She won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1980 for her novel Zindaginama and in 1996, was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship. In 2017, she received the Jnanpith Award for her contribution to Indian literature. She was also the recipient of the first Katha Chudamani Award, in 1999, for Lifetime Literary Achievement, apart from winning the Shiromani Award in 1981.

My Review

What a lovely co incidence that my first time reading of literary stalwart Krishna Sobti’s writing happens to be the last novel she wrote before she passed away. ‘A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There’ is part memoir; part memory embellished narrative written decades after the events, moments and thoughts associated with the past are recollected at the author’s autumn: all of which makes me wonder over just how much of her memories would have to be processed and filtered. After all, our recollections are often seen in the shadow of our present placement, even as the past is part of our present.

This book takes readers to the time when Sobti in her early twenties applies for the post of teacher at a preschool in Sirohi, a princely state caught between the remains of its former royal glory and an uncertain nation that could end up putting it in either Gujarat or Rajashthan. Sobti’s own recent past experiences of growing in Gujarat in what would later become Pakistan, studying in Lahore and then having to hear and experience the horrors of partition to fleeing her home to cross over to India, trying to find roots as a refugee are recurring motifs in this remarkable book. The name of the book in fact denotes the two Gujarat (s) so to say, one in Pakistan and the other in India and charts the flow of events that brings her from one to the other and how it has left behind close friends and family.

This is not to say that it is full of grief and pain for there is the powerful story of a young woman finding her feet, mindful of the politics played out by people when she is asked to apply for the post of Governess for the minor prince of Sirohi. Her relations with the royal women is one of respect and ally ship, her tender connection with the young prince is a mix of tenderness and the careful mentoring of a young ward who is weighed down at times by the world of the adults around him. The writing is tinged with nostalgia over friendships and family ties but also melancholy and despair over the hardships that partition brought. Overall, it is a powerful memoir that is evocative of the moods and the settings the author finds herself in. The translation flows: it does not strip every original word and turns it into a close enough English word which keeps the lyrical at times, sharp as a knife like quality of the author intact.

 

 

Thirst for Love by Yukio Mishima, Translated by Alfred H. Marks

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Thirst for Love by Yukio Mishima, Translated by Alfred H. Marks

Published by: Vintage Classics/Vintage Books

Literary Fiction, 208p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary

In Thirst for Love, Japan’s greatest modern writer created a portrait of sexual torment and corrosive jealousy that is as delicately nuanced as Madame Bovary and as remorseless as Justine. Yukio Mishima’s protagonist is Etsuko, whose philandering husband has died horribly from typhoid. The young widow moves into the household of her father-in-law, where she numbly submits to the old man’s advances.

But soon Etsuko falls in love with the young servant, Saburo. Tormented by his indifference yet invigorated by her anguish, she makes one last, catastrophic bid for his attention. Stunningly acute in its perceptions, excruciating in its psychological suspense, Thirst for Love is a triumph of eroticism, terror, and compassion.

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

Mishima writes in the only way he does: taking the readers straight into the insides of a Japanese society where socio cultural mores call for stoic correctness even as there are layers beneath that throb of primeval emotions.

In ‘Thirst for Love’, the main protagonist Etsuko is a young widow whose husband when alive was a philanderer who was wilfully cruel to her. Etsuko’s longing for love and affection from her husband, her suppressed physical desires make her into a person she can barely recognise. When her husband falls ill, she begins to take delight in the way she suffers when her husband’s physical wellbeing lies in her hands.

It is this almost sadistic masochistic streak that is seen as Etsuko’s calm demeanor by others around her when she comes to live in the family household presided over by her father in law, who soon takes advantage of her body. She does not fight off his attentions nor welcome it. Her only indifference to the situation she finds herself in is the presence of the youthful Saburo, a household help who is the manifestation of someone over whom she thinks she has a hold.

Mishima’s characters seek neither judgment nor sympathy from readers: he offers none and they are what they are – human beings given to jealousy and rage, cynical and selfish, dismissiveness and cruel. The range of feelings and emotions that Etsuko undergoes during the loveless marriage with her husband, her jealousy and sadistic bent of mind, when he becomes sick is a fascinating arc that not many see from male writers, leave alone those from a more earlier time period. Read Mishima if you are keen to discover Japanese classic literature, more so if you are looking at an author who succeeds at fleshing out women characters that stand out.

 

 

The Yogini by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, Translated by Arunava Sinha

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The Yogini by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, Translated by Arunava Sinha

Published by: Penguin Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India

Literary Fiction:Women’s Writing, Translation, 216p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary

With her days split between a passionate marriage and a high-octane television studio job, Homi is a thoroughly modern young woman-until one day she is approached by a yogi on the street. This mysterious figure begins to follow her everywhere, visible only to Homi, who finds him both frightening and inexplicably arousing.

Convinced that the yogi is a manifestation of fate, Homi embarks on a series of increasingly desperate attempts to prove that her life is ruled by her own free will, much to the alarm of her no-nonsense husband and cattily snobbish mother. Her middle-class Kolkata life, and the relationships that define her identity, are disturbed to the point of disintegration.

Following the inexorable pull of tradition, the mystic forces that run beneath the shallow surface of our modern existence like red earth beneath the pavements, Homi ends up in Benaras, the holy city on the banks of the Ganga, where her final battle with fate plays out.

The Yogini is a novel which makes use of creeping, unsettling, surrealist horror to create an atmosphere which reflects the real lives of women today who are shackled by the things they cannot control.

About the Author:

Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay is a Bengali novelist. She has published nine novels and over fifty short stories since her controversial debut, Shankini. A newspaper columnist and film critic, the author lives and works in Kolkata.

About the Translator

Arunava Sinha has translated over fifty books from Bengali. Winner of the Crossword translation award, for both Sankar’s Chowringhee and Anita Agnihotri’s Seventeen, and of the Muse India translation award for Buddhadeva Bose’s When the Time Is Right, his translation of Chowringhee was also shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

My Review:

This one left me reeling with its clever yet deep churn on the shifts within modern relationships and the rabbit hole of questioning belief systems where layers are shrouded in layers. Confused? Got you thinking? Well! That’s The Yogini for you.

The crux of this book that sizzles your thought process is tied to what is written in the foreword about ‘Niyati’ – ‘being led or carried, which can of course be interpreted as an absence of agency.’ Further, ‘niyati also refers to a state in which the individual is under the illusion of being bound to a particular time and space, when in fact they are not.’ The ‘story’ starts with Homi who is in her early 20s and working with a TV channel set to celebrate a year of marriage with Lalit, her liberal and just as young husband. As she sets out, she sees a dirty ascetic who looks at her with wanton longing in his eyes and tells him he is her ‘fate’.

Homi who has never believed in fate keeps seeing the ascetic around her, including inside the bedroom. As Homi tries to get a grasp of what is happening, the writer skilfully unravels Homi’s world: her dysfunctional family – a self-absorbed mother, a father who is only physically present. You don’t know if any of it has affected Homi. You don’t know what Lalit or other people see in Homi that makes them afraid for her.

The writing is such that readers will have to grasp the spiritual and philosophical intent of the book for themselves. The sexual tones on one hand and the spiritual/philosophical track on the other hand, alluding to the tantric belief system in India binds the narrative fluidly and with wild passion.

 

 

 

 

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Published by: Virago

Fiction, Women’s Writing

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary

Zora Neale Hurston’s masterpiece is perhaps the most widely read and highly regarded novel in the entire canon of African American literature. Published as part of a beautifully designed series to mark the 40th anniversary of the Virago Modern Classics.

‘Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of the very greatest American novels of the 20th century. It is so lyrical it should be sentimental; it is so passionate it should be overwrought, but it is instead a rigorous, convincing and dazzling piece of prose, as emotionally satisfying as it is impressive. There is no novel I love more’ Zadie Smith

‘She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her’

When, at sixteen, Janie is caught kissing shiftless Johnny Taylor, her grandmother swiftly marries her off to and old man with sixty acres. Jane endures two stifling marriages before she finally meets the man of her dreams – who offers not diamonds, but a packet of flowering seeds.

About the author:

Zora Neale Hurston was an American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker. She wrote more than 50 short stories, plays, and essays portraying racial struggles in the early-1900s American South.

My Review

Published in 1937, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is considered a Classic the Harlem Renaissance, an intellectual, social, and artistic movement centered in Harlem, Manhattan, New York City that spanned the 1920s.

The main plot centers around Janie Crawford’s self journey from a young girl with no agency over who she is or what she wants to be, to a woman with a mind of her own. Raised by Nanny, her grand mother after her mother leaves her, Janie grows up in a somewhat different world from that of Nanny who was raped by her then White owner. And yet, she is married off to a much older rich man at 16, against her wishes by her grandmother.

Janie finds herself suffocating in her marriage and uneasy about the lack of love. After things take a turn, she leaves him for another man who is ambitious and charming who does make her a part of his social position. But he too lays down what is expected of her, who she can mix with and when. After his death, many suitors woo Janie but she ends up getting drawn to a much younger drifter who treats her in way that is totally different. It is with him that Janie finds her self validated.

More than the central story, it is the internalization of Janie as a person that makes this a powerful read. Her thoughts and reactions to women bearing the burnt of social and gender roles will speak to you across time. The writing is colloquial but if you read it with patience, the lyrical beauty and sensuousness envelops you. Contextualize the writing of this book when there weren’t many black women voices and you will know just why Hurston is considered the literary foremother of Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Zadie Smith and Toni Morrrison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Translated by Arunava Sinha

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The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Translated by Arunava Sinha

Published by: Bee Books

Fiction, Translation, p143

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary

A laugh-out-loud, tug-at-your-heartstrings tale of love, family, and freedom centered around three generations of Bengali women. Somlata has just married into the dynastic but declining Mitra family. At eighteen, she expects to settle into her role as a devout wife in this traditional, multi-generational family. But then Somlata, wandering the halls of the grand, decaying Mitra mansion, stumbles upon the body of her great aunt-in-law, Pishima.

A child bride widowed at twelve, Pishima has finally passed away at the ripe old age of seventy. But she isn’t letting go just yet. Pishima has long harbored a grudge against the Mitras for keeping her in perpetual widowhood, never allowed to fall in love.. Now, her ghost intends to meddle in their lives, making as much mischief as possible. Pishima gives Somlata the keys to her mysterious box of gold to keep it out of the Mitras’ hands. However, the selfless Somlata, witnessing her new family waste away their wealth to the brink of bankruptcy, has her own ideas.

Boshon is a book-loving, scooter-riding, rebellious teenager who wants nothing to do with the many suitors that ask for her hand. She yearns for freedom and wants to go to college. But when her poor neighbor returns from America she finds herself falling in love. Perhaps Pishima’s yearning spirit lives on in her own her heart?

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is a frenetic, funny, and fresh novel about three generations of Mitra women who are surprising at every turn and defy all expectations. They may be guarding a box of gold, but they are the true treasures in this gem of a novel.

About the author:

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay is a Bengali author who has writes for both adults and children. Many of his works have been adapted into films. He has won various literary awards including the Sahitya Akademi.

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

 The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is quite the book: more a novella with a mere 143 pages and its pocket size format, it leaves the reader relishing the turn of events.

On one hand, it is an intergenerational narrative about three women of the Mitra family, which is at the fag end of an earlier feudal era. The men in the family live on the money that comes by through the sale of land and jewelry since getting a job is beneath their dignity while the women are to remain in the shadow of the men. There is another track that the book centres itself around: how woman are short changed when it comes to love, attraction, desire, affection.

The underlying tone of the book is how the three women attempts at taking agency over their position in the family and their own personal lives in terms of their desires and needs. The ‘aunt’ Pishima, is a child bride widowed at 12yrs staying at her parental house and confined to her room, devoid of love and physical desires that leaves her cranky, bitter and resentful. Somlata of very humble roots married to a man years older than her, is the younger daughter in law of the Mitra family. It is Somlata who knows exactly what her position in the family and has the wisdom to maneuver her way to get things done without going into any confrontations. Interestingly, Pishima’s spirit is the only ‘character’ that threatens to pull Somlata towards wrong deeds. The irony of Pishima pulling the strings in the Mitra family after her death even as she had remained subjugated by social and family norms when she was alive makes for poetic justice that makes you laugh in delight.

Boshon, the third generation, and Somlata’s daughter is educated, has a mind of her own and is free spirited. There is a part where she and her classmates are on a picnic and she roams on her own in the dark: something about that part hints at the surreal and strong, yet vulnerable nature of Boshon. She scoffs at the nature of her young lovelorn friends who thirst romantic overtures and cannot quite fathom why she cannot take the lead in reaching out to a boy.

The plot devices are sure to leave readers chuckling away with the very strong hint about the link between Pishima and Boshon. I can only recommend you to read this gem of a book with the guarantee that you will love it.

 

 

 

Shivaji Park: Dadar 28: History, Places, People by Shanta Gokhale

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Shivaji Park: Dadar 28: History, Places, People by Shanta Gokhale

Published by: Speaking Tiger

Non Fiction, 169p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

One of the earliest planned neighbourhoods of Bombay, Shivaji Park in Dadar was conceived in order to decongest the mega city’s residential and commercial centre after the plague epidemic of 1896. With its massive playground named after the Maratha warrior king, gorgeous Art Deco buildings and the great Arabian Sea beyond, Shivaji Park was a coveted residential area long before Bandra and Juhu.

In this little gem of a biography, Shanta Gokhale, author, cultural critic and longtime resident of the area, brings together key events and individuals to create a matchless portrait of the neighbourhood. Through her conversations with friends and neighbours, she relives the thrill and novelty of moving from congested chawls to flats that ensured privacy and the unheard-of luxury of piped gas back in the 1930s.

She recalls the politically charged decades of the 1950s and ’60s, when P.K. Atre’s voice reverberated through the grounds of Shivaji Park during the United Maharashtra Movement and Bal Thackeray launched the Shiv Sena. She also writes of the illustrious people who have contributed to the cultural fabric of Shivaji Park: the freedom fighter Senapati Bapat; town planner N.V. Modak; classical musician Sharadchandra Arolkar; veteran actress Sulabha Deshpande; and cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, among others.

The designated playground of the neighbourhood, she argues, is also one of the city’s most democratic spaces where hundreds walk every morning and evening in the shade of tall and gracious trees; where people young and old gather around the ‘katta’ to talk politics or share a moment of love. And even as she celebrates the grace and spirit of Shivaji Park, Gokhale also notes how, despite the best efforts of its residents, the area is threatened by rampant redevelopment, and how the sense of community that has always defined it is slowly eroding.

About the author:

Shanta Gokhale is a newspaper columnist, writer, translator, theatre critic, screenplay writer, and part actor. She has received two Indian National Film Awards for her documentary scripts, two Maharashtra state awards for literary creation for her novels, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 2015 (for her overall contribution/scholarship for performing arts and the Ooty Literary Festival Lifetime Achievement Award.

My Review*

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

Shivaji Park by Shanta Gokhale is a delight to read that takes readers to the many stories revolving around Mumbai’s best known landmark. The first chapter traces the origin of the neighbourhood around Shivaji Park after the plague epidemic in 1896- 97 that eerily mentions about people running away from quarantine and poor people moving away. What an uncanny co-incidence that I would pick this book at this time of Covid related anxieties!

Why would a neighbourhood park be deserving of a book, one may well ask. But then Shivaji Park is not a regular park but one that is attached to political journeys, a part of cricket history and many other well-known luminaries who lived/lives in its immediate neighbourhood. Shanta Gokhale’s writing is intimate, is full of insights and never loses its way in reminiscing about the past leaving the reader in you enthralled in the way she reveals one layer here, another there: from the architecture of heritage buildings, to the shift of life in Chawls giving way to apartments, the social practice of putting in a separate door for sweepers, the mix and match of cultures and people. It is a sort of dual testimony: a personal and political one for Shanta Gokhale explores the neighbourhood’s earliest residents and traces its ties to the political movements in 1950s and 1960s, including the United Maharashtra Movement and the launching of the Shiv Sena.

I found it a fascinating read and must say, it made me feel like I knew Shivaji Park just a bit better after reading this book. This is extremely readable and is the classic insider’s version of a public place, seeing as it is that the author has lived for decades in the neighbourhood around Shivaji Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summerwater by Sarah Moss

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Summerwater by Sarah Moss

Published by: Pan Macmillan

Fiction, Ebook

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary

On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. The endless rain leaves them with little to do but watch the other residents.

A woman goes running up the Ben as if fleeing; a retired couple reminisce about neighbours long since moved on; a teenage boy braves the dark waters of the loch in his red kayak. Each person is wrapped in their own cares but increasingly alert to the makeshift community around them. One particular family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, starts to draw the attention of the others. Tensions rise and all watch on, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead as night finally falls.

About the author:

Sarah Moss is a writer and academic. She has published six novels as well as a number of non-fiction works and academic texts. Her work has been nominated three times for the Wellcome Book Prize.

My Review

In ‘Summerwater’ Sarah Moss takes readers to an idyllic Scottish holiday cabin park near a lake for a part of a day. There are 12 people in different cabins who are all reconciled but differently, to the fact that the constant rain is playing spoilsport to their holiday. Cooped inside the cabins, the scenes play out mostly in the mind of the characters we read about giving us everyday like scenes that happens to people: one half of an engaged couple looking at domesticity, sexual fantasies and notions of being truthful; an older couple mulling over earlier memories and the changes that life is bringing to them; a mother worn out from housework motherhood; a parent – teen age angst play out and so on. The enforced quietness is disturbed by the music and noise that comes from a cabin, the sight of the dresses and appearance of the people within making them the ‘others’.

The lack of a conventional plot, the way the author takes readers into the thoughts of a few selected characters make you feel like you are missing out on the larger picture but in reality, the device works so well for one sees the way each character’s thoughts are almost meditative, some cruel, some alarming. It is not so much a story or plot as it is about isolated lives living in a common situation, how they are disconnected and yet connected by the same and different things. The everyday thoughts, the bits and pieces that you get of the characters make you feel a sense of ease and disquiet.

Summerwater is nothing like I have read! A rather short book, the word flow is like rain drop: a constant pitter-patter that keeps on assailing your senses – in the wetness, the sound, making you wonder when it would stop. The writing is solid and yet fluid: it immerses you till you wonder whether you are there at the cabin becoming one with the character and the mood they are in.

Thank you #Netgalley and #PanMacmillan for the egalley