Last review of the year. I hope you have a fine end to this year, wherever you are reading from.
My first fascination with literary friendships began with the knowledge of one between Tagore and Yeats, two stalwarts of their time. Since then, I have tried to read correspondences between authors where I can. And this book was on my wishlist too. The nice thing about sharing wishlists for Christmas is that one doesn’t know which book one is going to get. And so on Christmas morning, I was delighted with this waiting for me from my friend Cl.
Stevenson and Barrie – both young Scotsmen, alumni of the University of Edinburgh, and writers of novels for children. They struck up an unusual friendship in that they never met in person. Stevenson had moved to Samoa for health reasons, and Barrie never managed to leave his elderly mother to go visit him. And of course, Stevenson died at 44, so there wasn’t enough time.
But this meant that their friendship developed through these letters – 16 of which have been included in this volume by Michael Shaw. In it, they talk about their works, characters, and the lives they were leading. Barrie was enamoured by Stevenson – not only did he borrow names and mannerisms from the latter’s characters; but he also devised ingenious ways in which their characters might be family to one another. He was also effusive in his praise (and his love) for Stevenson’s literary genius.
Their real-life families feature too. Stevenson’s entire household is part of some letters and Barrie sometimes writes a line or two to each, individually. Barrie, in turn, writed about his mother and also his famous cricket team ‘Allahakbarries.’ This, of course, was the team that included literary greats like Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, P. G. Wodehouse, A. A. Milne amongst others.
Reading all of this provides the background to the thinking behind some of my all-time favourite characters in literature. And this is a well-written and beautifully presented work.
This book is a collection of stories about the female lived experience of Tamil people. Yeah, let that sink in for a bit. It’s not a short read, rather, it took me quite a while to get through it. The book charts the lives of Tamil women, across class, caste, religion and socio-economic strata. I read it as an e-book because Archipelago were offering it for free but I might pick a copy up at some point. It’s the sort of book you keep.
The book is written by Ambai, which is the pseudonym of feminist author C. S. Lakshmi and was published in 1988. I found that in some ways it was representative of its time, but the wider themes of being a woman are timeless and universal. The translation is high quality, as an example, consider this
“Of course a woman reads Camus too. She reads Sartre. She also reads the Tirumandiram, Akka Mahadevi, and the Sufi poets. But when the entire family is engaged in creating the head of the household, a man, she has to find the nooks and crannies where she can create herself out of the evidence of her own being. It is because she continually asks herself philosophical questions concerning Being that she is able to redeem herself and come outside from the grave-pit of daily living. She lives in a world full of symbols. “Why are you at the window?” is the question underlying her life. The window is the symbol of the world outside. Her freedom lies outside the window.”
And so, you can see, it’s a book you go slow with, and savour. There are some elements which are foreign if you (like me) don’t know much about Tamil people and cultures. But if you are interested, let this be the book that guides you through the customs of one of the ancient groups of people in the world.
I picked up this book coincidentally at the same time as the BLM protests kicked off worldwide. Just as well, it added to my quest of trying to understand the black experience more deeply. This book is about the bond between a white girl, and her black nanny. Being brought up in a privileged land and slave-owning family in 1800s Virginia, Lisbeth is unduly attached to her nurse Mattie.
The family of slaves lives on their estate and so Lisbeth has the opportunity to interact with them quite closely. Over time the girl begins to see that these people are not so different to her after all. And they have the same hopes, dreams, fears and aspirations for themselves and their family. What I thought interesting was that the author herself is white, but she does portray the life of black slaves very well. Perhaps this is because she is part of a non-visible minority as well. Through her own personal experiences, she can channel the discrimination faced regularly by those perceived by the majority as ‘the other.’
As Lisbeth approaches her late teens and is encouraged to make herself attractive to a potential suitor, her own moral compass comes in the way of her decision. What will Lisbeth do? Will Mattie ever find the freedom she seeks for her family? What will happen a result of the Abolishionist movement? A fine book, not too hard going, and a toe-dipping exercise into understanding the contibution of slaves to the building of the so-called greatest nation in the world.
I liked ‘The Book Thief’ reasonably well. I thought it was a good read and as a reader, some elements of it really touched my soul. And then, I was fortunate to catch Markus Zusak at EdBookFest last year taking about Bridge of Clay. This book has been 2 decades in the making. And since I hadn’t read any other books by the author, this one seemed a natural choice.
The story follows the lives of 5 Dunbar brothers, of whom Clay is one. The book is a story of their lives and their times through darkness and light. Many characters in the form of parents, pets, friends and lovers come and go. But fundamentally, it is a story of family and relationships. I was actually pretty disappointed with this book.
The writing is too metaphorical. I know that is a strange thing to say, but if you read a sample chapter, you will see what I mean. Take for example, this quote:
“The town itself was a hard, distant storyland; you could see it from afar. There was all the straw-like landscape, and marathons of sky. Around it, a wilderness of low scrub and gum trees stood close by, and it was true, it was so damn true: the people sloped and slouched.”
It’s beautifully written, there’s a real sense here of what the town is like, and it is evocative. But imagine all 600 pages written in prose like this! No, we do not need descriptions like that all the time, nor narration. The nuggests of the story are nice, but the writing is just too weird.
I have a feeling that this book might be better as an Audiobook – it has an airy-fairy quality and should perhaps be heard slowly. Anyway, the author himself has read it for the audiobook, so perhaps you should give that a go. As for Zusak, sure I will read his other books, but perhaps I will try a sample out first!
I was ‘nominated’ to do the 7 days 7 books challenge on Facebook by a reader friend. And this is the sort of thing I like, because it forces me to revisit books and my feelings for them. I thought I’ll do books set in ‘unusual locations.’ I’ve been trying to read fiction from regions less known about for the last few years. And so here were my 7
I tried to pick books from far flung regions – ones that those in my circle may not have come across. Unfortunately, I didn’t do anything compelling from Africa or Middle East (or even Australia/NZ) but I had to pick 7. I also wanted to include female authors so that helped me hone this down as well.
In no particular order, these were Jamilia, The Hungry Tide, A Dream in Polar Fog, Zlata’s Diary, Island on the Edge, Papillon, The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society.
What books would you have picked? Feel free to recommend some that I may not have read!
Most of my reading this year has been guided by the latest releases picked up by The Wee Review and Neon Books. So it has been a while since I picked anything else up. This book caught my eye in a second hand Christmas book sale and the blurb looked very interesting. This is the story of Zlata Filipovich who lives in Sarajevo. She is 11 years old in 1991, when war breaks out in Bosnia and Herzegovina and she starts recording her experiences in a diary.
If it sounds similar to Anne Frank’s Diary, it is. It tells the story of a different war, through the eyes of a different girl, but fundamentally, the story is the same. The futility of war, the robbing of innocent childhoods and the utterly despicable nature of war is captured here.
Zlata is a regular pre-teen when war breaks out – going to school, getting top grades, loving piano and living life. But slowly the climate in her city becomes suffocating. And her family go into living in one room – often without heating or electricity or food. They lose many loved ones, their family friends, all of Zlata’s schoolfriends leave and they take on refugees from other parts of the country. All of this is written into ‘Mimmi’ which is what Zlata calls her diary.
Unlike Anne Frank, this novella has a happy ending. Zlata’s diary becomes famous in about two years, and her family and she are able to move to Paris because of its worldwide success. It is an unlikely tale, and goes the full gamut of emotions. But it provides a glimpse into what life is like during modern warfare and it brings home the horrific reality that hundreds of thousands of people are living in many countries today.
This is a hands down brilliant book. I picked this up because I saw a friend reading it and I thought it looked interesting. I am usually not up for books set during the war (unless they are classics like Hemingway or Remarque). But this book is different, because it follows the journey of a young girl in Paris, the blind Marie-Laure LeBlanc – daughter of a Museum employee and a young boy Werner Pfennig in Germany.
Werner and his sister Jutta fix a half broken radio and listen to a Science made simple show, where an older Frenchman breaks complicated concepts down for children. When Germany invades France in 1940, Marie-Laure has to flee Paris and ends up with her eccentric great-Uncle Etienne. The story interleaves between the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner and the amazing thing is that the two central characters don’t meet until 80% of the book is over. Even so, it is a fleeting meeting that doesn’t last long at all. Everything about the story is incredibly well crafted. I loved Jules Verne as a child and this book has snippets of all time favourite ‘20,000 Leagues under the Sea’.
The storyline is incredibly simple, but with Germany invading France during the war, even the simplest of stories take on a larger than life meaning. I would definitely recommend this book, even if it is the only one you read in the summer. It was long after I had finished reading and I couldn’t get the book out of my head, I decided to red up on the author and discovered that this book had won the 2015 Pulitzer!
I got this book on my Kindle as I had an offer code to use. So it cost me very little money, I liked the blurb and started reading. The plot very quickly sucked me in. If you’re a fan of recent books like Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, Sharp Objects etc – you will really enjoy this book.
The premise is simple. The protagonist, on her way home one day on the London Underground, thinks she sees her own blurry photo with a singular website that looks like an adult website in the Classifieds section. She is a woman in her mid-40s, with two kids and lives with them and her partner in a suburban block. All very normal. She becomes more and more anxious as every day it is a different woman, until one day, she sees on the news that one of them is dead. What is happening?
The book is very well-written. So much so, that I was on the Underground a couple of weeks after and felt uneasy thinking about the probability of the crime described. It is very hard to guess who the criminal is, and the plot is sufficiently tight to allow no person to be beyond suspicion. Obviously, there is a broody police officer with their own demons, as always.
Overall, really good travel/summer holiday read.
Bridget Jones returns. Need I say more? I genuinely thought that with Bridget getting married and with a baby, things had more-or-less reached a head. And boy, was I wrong? Somehow, in true Bridget fashion, she has managed to land herself in a situation where she is still self-critical, under-confident, single and on the market. Oh, and she got nits!
The fact that I write about Bridget like she’s my friend is testimony to Fielding’s great talent. The character remains relatable, lovable, and totally flawed in a way we all are. And yet, as life goes on and we are all older and none the wiser, there is a certain sense of misplaced maturity even in Jones. Motherhood adds a special extra dimension, and the old friends and the ever charming sleazy ex-boss Daniel bring familiarity.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I had no idea it had come out, I just happened to pick it up from the local book swap shelf. You’re probably wondering about Mark Darcy but I won’t tell you or it will spoil it. But rest assured, it won’t be as you expected and the ending is quite heart-warming too. Enjoy!
It has been a long time since I read an Indian author writing in English. I cannot say I have read a lot of them anyway, but Amitav Ghosh has always been close to my heart. And I still remember reading The Hungry Tide a long time ago and how it touched me.
This novel by Anuradha Roy touches on some similar themes. The idea of caste in rural Bengal, the frequent floods, the ache of unrequited love are all similar and deftly captured. The story of two generations of young men and women, whose live just meander along with little or no meaning, with the passage of time is written in a poignant way.
There is a Macondo-esque village in this novel, a kind of place that has life infused in it easily and one can almost imagine it standing as a still witness to the coming and goings of its characters. I also loved the descriptions and imagery in the passing of the seasons and the effects upon the soft green lands.
Roy’s writing is very beautiful, and it lends itself well to the theme of longing. I hadn’t even heard of her but will definitely keep an eye out for more of her works. I’ll leave you with this quote…
“A veritable atlas. What rivers of desire, what mountains of ambition. Want, want, hope, hope, this is what your palm say, your palm is nothing but an atlas of impossible longings.”