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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Chinatown Days by Rita Chowdhury

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Chinatown Days by Rita Chowdhury

Published by: Macmillan/Pan Macmillan India

Fiction, 396p

Rating: 3.25/5 stars

Book summary

It is the early nineteenth century. The British East India Company has been bringing in Chinese indentured labourers to work in the tea gardens of Assam. Amidst days of misery and toil, they slowly begin to find contentment in their day-to-day lives.

In post Independence Assam, Mei Lin, descended from the slave Ho Han, lives a life of satisfaction with her husband Pulok Barua. But in 1962, as war breaks out in the high Himalayas between India and China, a close family member conspires to have Mei Lin deported to Maoist China. She and thousands of other Chinese Indians will now have to fend for themselves in a land that, despite their origins, is strangely foreign.

From the horror-ridden hardships of the labour pens of Assam to the Sino-Indian war, this searing novel tells the unforgettable story of the Chinese Indians, a community condemned by intolerance to obscurity and untold sorrow.

About the author:

Rita Chowdhury is an award-winning Assamese poet and writer. An important voice in contemporary Assamese literature, Rita has written fifteen novels that portray a vivid picture of her strife-torn state. Chinatown Days (Makam) is one of her best-known works.

My Review

Chinatown Days is an intergenerational story about how indentured Chinese laborers were brought to a remote corner in Assam in India where they painfully and slowly assimilated as their home through intermarriages, social relations and economic exchanges. And yet when the Indo Sino War breaks out with Chinese armed forces attacking certain parts of North East India region, the very safety and roots of the community is rendered fragile with questions on their loyalty and identity.

The historical parts of ‘Chinatown Days’ pay attention to how Chinese origin labourers had a major role to play in the tea plantation industry of India after Robert Bruce a Scottish gentleman introduced it in India while also giving insights into the plight of Indian soldiers engaged in the fight against China. The description of houses built and other objects, the skill sets of the labourers who came to India after enduring terrible hardships add to the pathos of the novel and when the Indo Sino War breaks out, the impact it has on this small community is beyond imagination.

If you are only looking for a historical fiction and keen to read something you knew ever knew about in India’s history, this book works well. But if you are looking at the writing itself, it comes across as a never-ending series of anecdotes. There are too many characters whose lives are used to carry forward the anecdotes of assimilation with the Assamese way of life prior to the Indo Sino War and the crisis post the war. No character is fleshed out enough and there are repetitive sentences throughout. It is a book that could have been extraordinarily special but remains only good in parts.

The device of a novel within a novel is a tad too much to swallow: writer Arunabh Bora from Assam, meets Lailin at a writing workshop where the later takes an immediate dislike to the former because she ‘hates Indians’. The later tries to find out why and through Lailin meets her mother who tells him the story of Chinese origin people in India. That Lailin’s mother would tell the back story which becomes Arunabh’s novel smacks of appropriation. Why couldn’t it be Lailin writing the story and Arunabh trying to trace out the people mentioned in the stories? The ending came across as too syrupy and like a 80s Hindi film where the entire joint family comes on the frame with ‘happily ever after’.

 

 

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.