I really love Victoria Hislop. I like her style, the fact that she writes about Greece, Spain, Cyprus; and just the way she spins stories. They are stories about everyday people in remarkable situations typically set against a period of historic significance.
The Island had been on my TBR for a while, but I saved it until I got to THE island. Yes, read the book while on a vacation to Crete and a visit to Spinalonga, the 20th century leper colony that housed so many people plagues by leprosy. It’s a disease that has faced so much stigma and shame historically, that a person contracting it is instantly shunned by society.
The story really is Alexis’s grandmother – Eleni, who is a mother to two daughters, Maria and Anna and wife to Georgio. When a trip to the doctor alters her simple life, she must face her tragic reality. The reader is instantly drawn into the lives of the daughters, their contrasting personalities, and their aspirations in life.
Simple village life on Crete takes on larger proportions through themes of love, passion and ultimately the human spirit against challenges. Such a wonderful read, no surprise that it is prize winning and has sold millions of copies. Here is mine in the Cretan sun.
As far as lightweight summer reading goes, Victoria Hislop is one of my absolute favourites. She writes in a beautiful, natural way, her stories have a nice flow, and the books are so easy to read. In The Return, the reader is transported to Granada, in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War.
Our modern day protagonist Sonia, trapped in a marriage with a man she doesn’t even recognise anymore is hoping to let her hair down on a trip to Spain with her childhood friend. But a chance meeting with a stranger in a cafe will lead her into the past. Here she will discover the incredible story of the Ramirez family as they live in a war torn Spain, and the remarkable journeys they go on.
Of all the places I have been to in Spain, Granada has always tugged at my heart. The Moorish quarters, the winding streets of the Albycin, the impenetrable majesty of the Alhambra – it is a city with magic. It also has an incredible history as one of the foremost cities of Andalusia and of great importance in medieval times. Hislop manages to lift these scenes of the pages through the stories of the past.
The reader is completely drawn into the tale of the Ramirez children and the story of this family, as it is brought to the brink of extinction by the Civil War. The backdrop is terrific and really shows that democracies that we take for granted in the modern day were one day, bitterly fought for and snatched from the greedy mouths of dictators.
This is a wonderful book and I very much recommend as a summer read if you are looking for one this year.
I have been meaning to read this book for years. I acquired a copy and finally got round to it. It felt like it would be in a similar frame of reference to my previous read. And I wasn’t wrong! Maya Angelou’s autobiography is powerful, riveting, and devastating all at once.
In the account that spans her childhood and teenage years, she describes, uniquely and fully, what it meant to be a black girl growing up in America in the 1930s. Themes of identity, gender, and race come together in the mind of this young girl, striving to thrive in the world. She and her brother are being raised by their grandmother and at every point in the story, the choices available to them are limited. Limited because the cycle of rasicm and poverty means that doors shut on their faces, the chance of an honest life snatched away.
Particularly hard hitting, is the account of Angelou’s sexual abuse at the hands of her mother’s new partner. It is difficult to read, but at the same time, has to be read. It forms a determining part of her life and her identity, how can it not! And just like the reality of millions of girls & women worldwide, the consequences to bear are always for the abused than the abuser.
Anyway, this is a classic of American literature. And I do highly recommend you read this – it is beautifully written, has some funny interludes and is no wonder so famous!
Bibhutibhushan Bandyopdhyay is one of Bengal’s most well-loved writers. I grew up listening to his name being discussed in circles whenever literary merit was discussed. Like a lot of other Bengali stalwarts of his time, his reach remained largely regional. But it was the genius filmmaker Satyajit Ray, whose adaptation of Bandyopadhyay’s work brought it due fame and recognition.
Unfortunately, I have lost my fluency to read lengthy works in Bengali, and so I must console myself with the translation. And after all these years, I decided to read ‘Pather Panchali’ (Song of the Road) to start off my 2022. The Folio Society edition is translated by T.W. Clark and Tarapada Mukherji and at the very outset, I must admit, how excellent the translation is. The decisions to write names phonetically, and place names in transliteration is the right one.
I grew up with stories of rural Bengal. My father & my grandparents grew up in villages and they regaled me with stories of the trees, the rivers & ponds, and the unique ways of village life. In this book, the reader dives into the lives of siblings Durga & Apu, siblings growing up in the village of Nishchindipur. Their father, a poor but proud Brahmin, struggles to make ends meet. Eventually he leaves the village in search of work prospects.
Their mother, uneducated, poor and with no agency, is left to tend to the house and the children. Through Apu & Durga’s eyes the reader journeys through the seasons and time. It is a reminder of the vicious cycle of poverty and the deep pits it throws its victims into. The innocent and sublime lives of children are moulded in ways that age them faster.
Through the book as the story progresses, characters come and go. But the family and the weight of their circumstances remain, shackling them to their poor luck. It would be condescending of me to say I loved this book. It felt more like coming face to face with a literary great, as one may speak of Marquez or Toni Morrisson. An immense work, and such a way to start this year’s reading.
I did a talk at work where I talked about 5 books that made me a better Program Manager. So I thought I would share them here for non-fiction lovers. These are just captioned with the notes I made for myself as talking points!
The importance of building and nurturing an open and transparent culture
Importance of OKRs – of setting and demonstrating that we are making progress
Examples from consultancies, finance, telecom, manufacturing – bringing in the best of lateral thinking
All about receiving feedback effectively – personal & professional
What are our triggers, how are we uniquely wired
Turn feedback into actionable items and move forward
How can we give feedback better
Find her hugely inspiring
Career is a jungle gym (so true for TPMs) who have a wide variety and diversity of backgrounds
Specifically helpful for women, but also anyone else who is ‘not the norm’
Everyone who wants to be an ally or is raising kids should read it
Stereotypes and how important they are in shaping our sense of self
Mentors and how important they are in shaping our sense of self
How she negotiated her FB offer, the initial years of hosting important people and her TED talks
But also some special reflections, anecdotes and people from the early days of FB
A lot of work I have done in my career is zero-to-one
Requires being comfortable with ambiguity
When I built and ran my own startup I followed – how to compensate, how to hire, who to hire, how to price.
Zoom out and take a big picture view
Ask the big hard questions when the detail isn’t clear
What is our vision, our north star and why should we care?
How does what I do fit in with the wider society and humanity.
How can we inspire those around us and those that come after us
“We never really know where the next great scientific discovery will come from, nor who will make it. Opening up the thrill and wonder of scientific discovery, creating innovative and accessible ways to reach out to the widest young audience possible, greatly increases the chances of finding and inspiring the new Einstein. Wherever she might be.
So remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up. Unleash your imagination. Shape the future.”
During the height of the pandemic last year, I went through a phase of watching book talks, interviews and opera that was all put online through the generosity of arts organisations. It was during this time that I watched Evaristo being interviewed by Sturgeon at the Edinburgh Book Festival. By this point, this book had already won the Booker, George Floyd’s dying words had brought systemic rasicm to the forefront, and people were starting to understand ‘intersectionality.’
This book deals with the lives of 12 black women and the stories of their lives. Some of them are related to another, while others are not. But regardless, each woman’s story completes a full arc. We start somewhere in the middle, getting acquainted to them only in the throes of their lives, and then a backstory unfolds. Evaristo’s prose gives these women depth and layers, and the readers are invited to partake in their most intimate thoughts.
Personally, there have been more Booker-winning-books that I have disliked than liked. However, I have to say, I really enjoyed this one. The characters felt both distant and familiar. And the combination of their identities, sexualities, ambitions and religions made for a heady concoction that never bored.
As with all books that have a plethora of characters, it is natural to side with one. And for me that was Penelope. For some reason, her story intrigued me, and I sympathised with her poor life choices and the suffering that resulted from it. You’ll have to read the book to really find your own favourite character, and until then, I’d recommend you watch the interview video too.
Only 21 women hold the position of Head of state out of 193 countries. In total, only 60 women have ever held the position worldwide. Data shows consistently that women in leadership positions fare better, build more sustainable societies and are more decisive. And yet, due to societal frameworks, few women are afforded the privilege. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, is one such woman.
I have been in the same room as her multiple times, but I have met her only twice. It so happened that they were both within a span of three weeks. When I ran into her the second time, she knew exactly who I was, commented on it, and remarked on where we’d met three weeks ago. Coming from a head of state who had met hundreds of people in the interim, I was amazed at her memory recall, her sharpness, and her intelligence. I do not agree with everything that her party stands for, but as a leader, I admire her immensely.
This book collects some of her speeches in office since she has come to power. Their gamut is massive – ranging from climate, to gender equity, to the betterment of remote communities, and the vagaries of politics. There are some political anchors in the book, like the historic SNP win in 2016 and the disastrous Brexit vote. Her commentary on these was nice to reread, since I heard the speeches live when she delivered them.
But most others were delivered in various conferences and fora worldwide. And reading those, as we went through a heatwave, brought to sharp focus the portrait of a lady. Sturgeon speaks honestly, she is intelligent enough to author most of what she talks. As a result, the reader sees everything she stands for, the society she seeks to build, and the principles of state she cares about.
Scotland is not without its problems. It mirrors a lot of the issues felt widely around the western world. But despite that, what it has, is a leader at its helm that genuinely cares about the people she is elected to serve. She does not display hubris, arrogance or the pig-headedness that we have seen so often from male leaders in recent times. She might run a small country, but her thoughts and words span large and global. She is just like the country she represents, whose contributions to the societal fabric of the world is disproportionately large compared to its size. I would recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in wide ranging socio-economic-political issues.
I am reading ‘A Suitable Boy’. At 1500 pages, it is a veritable tome of a book and I don’t think I have read anything since LOTR that’s as long. Anyway, I had to take a break at about halfway point, to read something else. And I picked this book up from our shared shelf downstairs.
It is set in Deia, a village on the Isle of Majorca, which I have visited and I love. A couple holidays there every year, but this time, they are accompanied by their daughter and her partner. For some reason, this boy doesn’t sit very well with the parents; in particular, the mother. As the ‘plot’ moves on, this turn more edgy and eventually the daughter disappears.
This book is meant to be a holiday read. But I doubt it’s even worth reading then. There is a lot of sexual tension between the mother and the teenage-boyfriend but it just feels unnecessary. The woman is happily married and there is no real motivation for her to stray. And there wasn’t enough written about Deia for it to be a nice trip down memory lane for me.
I certainly got my break from the other book. But I wouldn’t recommend this one. There is also no lemon grove, in case you were wondering why it was called that.
Along with being a lover of books, I am a big fan of stationery. I still take notes in notebooks, still write thoughts down, make lists, and write letters. To me, writing is committing to memory, and the physical act of writing is important to me. Plus, I have noticed, people love receiving real letters.
There are many notebook brands I love. But my most interesting possession is my ‘Commonplace Notebook.’ A Scottish brand Waverley, make these wrapped with Kinloch Anderson tartan. Of course, it doesn’t get more Scottish than this. The one I own is the Mackay Ancient tartan, and I do love it because it is similar to the tartan I identify with.
Commonplacing was most popular amongst thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries. These notebooks were used to jot down thoughts and ideas. The flap at the back was used for storing scraps. Greats who were known to Commonplace were David Hume, Adam Smith, Rabbie Burns and Virginia Woolf.
I use this notebook for the work I do with another wonderful Scottish organisation – Scottish Book Trust. All my meeting notes and reflections go in here. And the size of it means that it fits into a small purse or a large pocket, which is great. I do love this notebook, and must think of buying a larger one.
I spent Christmas last year at my friend’s. M is an author herself, works in publishing and is one of the most prolific readers I know. So staying over at hers means picking something unusual off the copious bookshelves and coming back with a read or five. This time, I picked up Ladies Coupé by Anita Nair. I never got round to reviewing it at the time, so here goes.
This book follows a life-affirming journey of the protagonist – a young Indian woman named Akhila. She works in income tax, is 45 and single, and has just bought herself a one-way ticket to Kanyakumari. While she is trying to escape her stifling Tam-Brahm(slang for Tamil Brahmin – usually denotes a small-minded, conservative culture) life, she is also travelling towards something. On the train, she is sharing a coupé with five other women.
The reader is looking into a fishbowl in which these characters interact. Each woman has her own story and the narrative takes turn in acquainting us with each. Different themes are explored – physical love, the need (or not) for a man, happiness, and the expectations of society from a woman, amongst others,
I read this book over 3-4 days and it completely consumed me. It is deeper than it looks from the blurb, and explores many nuances of hidden emotion. What will we learn, and will we find any answers? Whilst the reader is drawn to Akhila, there is a remote-ness about her which is unsettling. This is a fine novel, and a great example of women’s literature from the subcontinent.
A personal note here: over the last few weeks of lockdown, a number of friends have casually mentioned this blog. I always think of it as rather personal (always have) and I’m flattered that you indulge me so… thank you.