Tag Archives: toni morrison

Top 20 Favourite Books of Nadeem Aslam

I have loved and enjoyed reading Nadeem Aslam’s books. I have always been curious as to what authors read and what compels them to perhaps classify what they read as their favourite reads over time. With this, I start this series with Nadeem Aslam’s favourite 20 books published within his lifetime, each of which he has read at least twice.

The list is amazing and might I add extremely compelling. You would want to pick up each book and read it at least once. Here goes the list. From here on, every word and emotion is that of Nadeem Aslam’s. Thank you Nadeem for this list.

1982 – Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

In just over 100 pages Marquez tells us everything about men, women, love, hatred, corruption and fate. It includes the great line: ‘Life resembles bad literature.’ After Jude the Obscure it is quite possibly the most despairing novel I know. And it is brilliant.

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1986 – An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

An Artist of the Floating World

An old man looks back over his life – and Ishiguro builds up an indelible picture of his fears and anxieties through everyday conversations with his daughters, grandson, people in the neighbourhood. There is very little description and yet you imagine each scene vividly.

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1987 – The Enigma of Arrival by VS Naipaul

The Enigma of Arrival

A book full of long rich sentences that recall Proust, and anticipate Sebald. It made me look deeply at the English countryside I live in. I believe mercy is greater than justice; and so I do not agree with Naipaul’s political outlook, but having read everything he has ever published I think this is one of his enduring works.

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1987 – Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love in the Time of Cholera

A story about love and other diseases of the flesh. A book full of nouns – river, parrot, ship, almonds… This is the master at the height of his powers, naming the world into being. Everything Marquez touches becomes magical: if he were to remove the frame from around a mirror, the mirror would most certainly flow down the wall like water.

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1987 – Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved

There are subjects on which the world maintains a silence closely resembling sin. Beloved speaks about one such sin. It is a terrifying book, and yet it makes rapturous eloquent use of the sky and land and tree and food and clothing. Beyond everything else it’s a book about how people talk: the dialogue is musical, elastic, by turns funny and serious. Dazzling.

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1988 – The Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz

The Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz

In any crisis I turn to Milosz. What to do when you have to accept a savage emotional wound? Where to find the courage to trust another human being after betrayal? When you want to know how you deserve such a fate? Milosz’s verses address something that remains mysteriously inconsolable within me.

Buy New and Collected Poems

1990 – Omeros by Derek Walcott

Omeros

Walcott – one of the greatest poets in the English language – relocates Homer to the Caribbean, because the past belongs not just to those who created it – it belongs to everyone, everywhere. So the Greek heroes become poor fishermen and Helen is a servant girl. It is profound, beautiful and endlessly inventive. It’ll even break your heart.

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1992 – The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient

The first 120 pages of this book are the holiest pages I know – prose whose beauty eases the poverty of the world; startling images; and characters you care about like your family. The book speaks of love and lovelessness, about the acceptance of loss, and how compared with love almost everything in life is easy.

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1993 – All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
1994 – The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

The Border Trilogy

Most people behave badly because they ask too little of themselves. In these books McCarthy – who is one of my great loves – writes about very young men hurled into unknown landscapes, a world frequently absent of radiance. They survive or they die – but they hold onto their integrity, because only the gentle are ever really strong. And McCarthy’s prose is the closest thing I know to an electric shock. It is energy made visible; what Saul Bellow called ‘life giving and death dealing sentences.’

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1995 – Sabbath’s Theatre by Philip Roth

Sabbath's Theater

From the first sentence on this is a funny, serious, and frightening book – the story of a man at the end of his tether. Dirty, ugly, fearing the loss of his sexual prowess, Sabbath wanders around New England and New York like Shakespeare ranting at street corners, screaming the song of the land.

1997 – American Pastoral by Philip Roth

American Pastoral

A book about a man whose daughter is a terrorist, and how he tries to hold onto the ideas of justice and dignity when the smell of blood is in the air and it’s the age of prominent madmen. I disagree strongly with the political stance of this book, but as a novel it contains some of the most intense dramatic scenes in recent years.

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1997 – Taoos Chaman ki Mynah by Naiyer Masud

Taoos Chaman Ki Myna

A novella from the Urdu master of Lukhnow. A man steals a bird from his employer’s menagerie for his little daughter. This is a hear-quickening tale. I don’t think I understand all of its mysteries but perhaps that is how it should be; if you see a statue of a veiled maiden, you mustn’t try to chisel off the veil in the hope of uncovering the face underneath.

1997 – The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things

The key text about all of India’s yesterdays and todays. It is almost elemental. There are a 100,000 miles of blood vessels in a human body, and every drop of blood in mine is grateful to Arundhati Roy for having written this. By turns sorrowing and ecstatic, it possesses a touch that has a sting of starlight to it.

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1997 – Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

Brokeback Mountain

Not only a painful love story, but also a fierce attack on the economic disparities within the USA. From its astonishing and brilliant first paragraph onwards, Proulx tells us that the two lovers are foredoomed not solely because they are homosexual in an unforgiving landscape, but because that they are poor, men who cannot really afford luxuries like love. The need to make a living and support their families is also what keeps the two men from coming together.

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2001 – My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

My Name is Red

The greatest book by the one of the very greatest novelists of our time. A murder mystery, a monograph on miniature painting, a love story, a rich and subversive inquiry into the past. Its heroine, Shekure, is one of the best portraits of a woman from the Islamic word that I know.

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2004 – Gilead by Marilynne Ronbinson

Gilead

The letter an old priest writes to his very young son, who will not read it until long after the priest is dead. Every single paragraph of this book is full of quiet wisdom – as though a form of music has been found to express silence.

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2004 – An End to Suffering by Pankaj Mishra

An End to Suffering

Pankaj Mishra’s writing is what I turn to first when I need to make sense of the world. And this book is one of the loveliest and most serious meditations on what Buddha brought into the world.

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2007 – The Collected Stories of Intizar Hussein

Exactly 50 years’ worth of stories from the Pakistani master. Read sequentially, these stories chart every single social, historical and cultural event Pakistan has been through in the last half century. Magnificent.

2008 – 2666 by Roberto Bolano

2666

The third world novel as it should be written today – post Naipaul, post Marquez. Part 4 of this book alone should ensure Bolano’s place among the immortals. Please read it.

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Book Review: Home by Toni Morrison

Title: Home
Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Chatto and Windus, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0701186074
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 146
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Toni Morrison is one of my favourite writers. I have almost loved everything she has written. She is amongst the writers who knows her craft and does not shy from writing on themes that are real and varied and sometimes plain scary. From the first time since I started reading her, when Beloved was gifted to the time I have finished reading her recent book, “Home”, Toni Morrison has managed to make me feel like no other writer has.

“Home” by Toni Morrison is somewhere between a novella and a novel, amounting to 146 pages only and yet as a reader you are amazed at the variety of emotions and themes she touches upon in limited words and pages.

The premise of the novel is brilliant: Trauma suffered by men who have returned from war and that too in the 50’s, the Korean War that ended in 1953. The war was fought between the Republic of Korea (supported by the USA) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. America provided 88% of the 341,000 International Soldiers which aided South Korean Forces. One of the soldiers in this story happens to be Frank Money, who has returned from war, kept his life on hold and has to return home to his sister Cee, who is in trouble. The book is about his demons, his love left behind (not much is spoken of her, just a couple of pages) his journey back home and in-between chapters of his sister’s life back home.

There is a lot of displacement in the book – from families that move to the hurt and anger that seethes and is denied an outlet. Men have to be strong. Times are changing. The war-returned souls cannot express their feelings, or confess their brutal acts. Owing to this, the issue of racism is subtle in the book.

Toni Morrison always ensures that you feel for her characters – be it Pecola in “The Bluest Eye” or Sethe in “Beloved”, she ensures that you cry or that there is a lingering need to save them. I could not empathize for any of the characters in this book. I just could not.

There was may be a lot going on in the book for me to be able to relate to anyone – the War, the racism, the issue of loneliness, poverty, abortion, and ultimately healing. Having said that, the one part that stuck to me was that of Cee’s and how she heals towards the end. That is beautifully written and expressed and I loved that about the book.

Overall, I did not find this book as moving as her other books. Maybe because of the length and that it was trying to say a lot, but couldn’t. At the same time, no one can contest the writing. She is as breathtaking at her skill as ever. Darkness and loneliness are at the core of this book and one doesn’t have to go through war to understand both. I do hope there is more of “Home” in other installments or prequels or anything – but more, because I wasn’t satiated with this one. I need more of her writing.

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An Interview with Esther David

So after reading The Man with the Enormous Wings, I had this need to connect with the writer. To ask her questions. To know a little more about the book and her thoughts. Here it is…in the form of this interview!

What gave way to the idea of writing, “The Man with the Enormous Wings”?

During the riots of 2002, my publishers were suggesting that I write a novel and weave it around the earthquake and riots. But, I was so traumatized by the communal riots of 2002,  that I could not. All, I wrote was a poem and a short story, which is used as the last chapter of my novel The Man With Enormous Wings. Then, I did sign a contract to write The Man with Enormous Wings, but it took me ten years to give form to the novel, by concentrating on specific incidents, and people. During this period, I saw how Mahatma Gandhi was forgotten in Gujarat. I thought, he would be the perfect character like Alice in Wonderland, as he grows wings, changes size and keeps on falling between warring groups of people. So, I made him the central character of my novel.

Esther as a person….

Author – Novelist – Storyteller. Always an insider, who is an outsider. Armchair naturalist, armchair anthropologist, armchair artist, armchair art critic.

Esther as a writer…

An artistic dreamer. She has to work very hard to give form to her novels. Has to rewrite many times, till she gets the poetic imagery she wants to create in her work. 

Did you ever feel that you cannot write this book because of the surge of emotions? I for one could not read it at length because it stirred so many feelings in me.

2002 happened around my house. I was witness to many events. It was too close. I could not write. I was also frightened. I am still frightened that it can happen again, so I so long to write.

Esther’s favourite books

The Strange Case of Billy Biswas by Arun Joshi. A thousand years of Solitude – by Gabriel Garcias Marquez. Shame – by Salman Rushdie. Aphrodite – by Isabelle Allende

Esther’s favourite writers…

Gabriel Garcias Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Isabelle Allende, Toni Morrison, Amos Oz.

If you had to describe, “The Man with the Enormous Wings” in one word, what would it be and why?

Unwanted. In the present scenario of Gujarat with its Vibrant Gujarat and ghettoization between communities, there is no place for Mahatma Gandhi and his ideology, meaning The Man With Enormous Wings.

 I loved that the book ended with a lot of hope and optimism. What do you think about it? Will it be like this?

I am just consoling myself, because, most people have forgotten 2002, and, as we say in the Bible – if we forget, it will happen again.

 Your views on today’s literary world…

It gives a writer a wide scope to be read and become known and publishers help in the growth of writers, as long as authors are willing to work hard. Yet, the media needs to focus more on writers who live in India, than expatriate Indian born writers.  

That was this. You can read the review of “The Man with the Enormous Wings” here.

The Man with Enormous Wings; David, Esther; Penguin India; Rs. 199.

Sula by Toni Morrison

Sula was a re-read for me and it was awesome! It was like tasting your favorite ice-cream sundae all over again. Letting the familiar flavors and fragrances wash all over you while the taste sinks on your taste buds and remains there forever. Sula is like that sundae with loads of nuts and various toppings of regret, friendship, love, betrayal and above all redemption. What made this book even more better was the fact that all the loose ends that were left untied the last time I read it, were complete and made all sense to me this time round.

“Sula” is a world in itself. A world defined by loss and womanhood. A world that is not restricted to Bottom – it could be anywhere and could occur at anytime. This book spans between 1921-1965 taking readers to a journey in the lives of two girls, Sula Peace and Nel Wright as they become friends, share secrets and make their way into womanhood. What I liked about the book was its simplicity – yeah it was simple as would not be generally expected out of Morrison’s’ works.

This 174 page so-called novella shows readers what it is that friendship can sometimes do and sometimes cannot. Sula Peace is one character that is so enigmatic and rich – she leaves her hometown called Bottom (which has a funny yet moving significance in the book) only to return and add to the anger of the residents. Sula is a woman of a different sort. Growing up in a poor black mid-western town, she lives in a home where men often visit, but don’t stay very long. Her grandmother and mother allow men to satisfy their respective sexual desires, but don’t need them in their lives on a permanent basis.

Out of this environment, and through other events in her youth (including ten years in the outside world attending college and living in different parts of the country), Sula arrives back at home as an attractive woman who, like her mother and grandmother before her, “uses” a different man every night to satisfy inner urges but nothing else. There is no love for Sula. She has exercised her freedom and independence by becoming the ultimate “player”, loving and leaving them all over town, married or not. She even loves and leaves her best friend’s husband, destroying both marriage and friendship.

And with nary a care. Until one day when an older man, Ajax, comes calling. He is kind but not possessive. They are a perfect match. They enjoy each other’s company, and they certainly enjoy their time together in bed, but they don’t need each other. They are two free spirits who can love and stay with each other precisely because their partner could care less. That is, until Sula starts to care. When she sets the table for two, cleans house, makes the bed, and “expects” Ajax to show, well, that’s the end of that.

love, love, love,
makes you do foolish things.
sit alone by the phone,
a phone that never rings.
hoping to hear you say
that you love me still,
knowing, knowing, you never will.

Some pretty nasty things happen to and around Sula on the way to her adulthood of free and open choice. In freely bedding any man she chooses, she becomes hated. She is the town pariah. A witch. Evil incarnate. In fact, the whole town measures their worth, their piety in direct contrast to Sula’s evil. She is their yardstick. When she dies, when the yardstick goes away, they have no feedback loop, and fall into evil chaos themselves. Toni Morrison presents a clear view that evil makes us virtuous by comparison. In Sula, the entire town finds virtue by hating Sula.
Sula, was, until Ajax, the only woman in the town who could resist the standard operating procedure, the moral code: “You need a man”. To achieve that level of freedom in her time, she had to become, in many respects, the epitome of evil. Sula has to make some awful choices or sacrifices to be the person she chooses to be, to live her life as she pleases. The young Sula mutilates her own finger with a knife to prove herself a worthy opponent. “If I can do that to myself, what you suppose I’ll do to you?”

Sula has many layers – I feel that the book was written with much integrity and a lot of afterthought. Toni Morrison observes the racial issues with such strength and vigor that the portrayal of which in the book is breathtaking. We also meet characters from her earlier books such as Tar Baby and the Deweys – which do have their significance in the book – only that it is lost after a certain point. The central link though is a drunk lost war fellow called Shadrack who comes across very strongly celebrating “Suicide Day”. Toni Morrison uses Sula to help the reader analyze the conditions that have created Afro-American life in America. The picture is not always appealing, but there are some clear issues available for deep empathy and discussion.