Tag Archives: Women

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I was thinking about clubbing these two Novel Cure Challenge Reads together and it only made sense – considering how similar the protagonists are. Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary are bound to be clubbed. I remember reading and rereading these books for the longest time and somehow in a very strange way, I could relate to them. I am not married. I am not a woman. There has been no instance of adultery then, of course, but still there is some affinity which I cannot name or pinpoint. I am only too glad to have reread these books. They certainly brought back a lot of memories.

We all know (or at least most of us do) how it works out for these feisty women. Both stuck in unhappy marriages. I think it would be apt to call their marriages boring, or rather the men they are married to. Charles Bovary almost comes across as a dullard who could not care less about Emma’s youth or her desires or what she wants from life. Anna Karenina on the other hand has everything she could want, but somehow the all-consuming love is just not there, till she meets Count Vronsky.

Emma’s life is ridden with men – her father, her husband, her neighbour, the greedy moneylender, the pharmacist, the pharmacist’s assistant, and her two lovers. She knows it will only end in disaster and yet she wants it all, just like Anna. Anna knows the Russian societal norms and yet she will go to any length to get what she wants. Both these nineteenth-century heroines risk it all, for there is only one life to live. All they want is passion. They want love and they just keep searching for it, everywhere they can. Even if it means they have to end it by giving up their lives. Every time I have read these books, I wished they would come out of it alive and they don’t. I know it but I want to believe that everything works out for them, though it does for some time. These novels were also written in times when both countries, Russia and France were going through changing times. Maybe that is why they were considered so radical for their time.

I have never intended to read these classics with a lot of analysis. For me, they are just testimonies to what I connect to relate to – all the unrequited love, the trapped lives dictated by hypocritical societies and the alienation of the self, despite being loved and surrounded by many.

The anguish of the women comes through superbly in both these books and to me what is also surprising is that these books were written by men. Men who were very strong in their own way and manner and extremely eccentric as well, not to mention, womanizers – maybe that is why they could capture the feminine essence with such aplomb in both these works.

The translations again, when it comes to classics such as these matter the most. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Anna Karenina) and Lydia Davis (Madame Bovary) have done more than just a wonderful job with the words and their interpretation. I think for me most of the time loving these two classics have come from these translations. And yes I also think that perhaps there is no cure for adultery. You have to go through it. There is no moral ground. Anything for happiness, I think.

Next Up in the Novel Cure Challenge: Patience by John Coates

Book Review: The Isle of Youth: Stories by Laura van den Berg

The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg Title: The Isle of Youth
Author: Laura van den Berg
Publisher: FSG Originals
ISBN: 9780374177232
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always admitted to the fact that for me, short stories are a little more important than the novel. I am aware that there are literary greats who at one point mastered the form so well, that everything written by anyone after only got compared and perhaps looked pale when done so. There are also times an author comes along and literally makes you wonder about the most amazing genius he or she possesses when penning a short story and perhaps for me after Munro, there is now Laura van den Berg with her dazzling collection of stories, “The Isle of Youth”.

“The Isle of Youth” is mainly about women and their lives. It is about the angry women, the quiet women, and the women who just want to lead uncomplicated lives, which is never the case with them. I think what struck me the most in these stories besides the language, was the strong characterization of both – the men (who obviously are in the background and yet play a vital role) and the women, whose every act and move is monitored, giving the reader the much needed understanding of the why and the how.

Every story in this collection speaks for itself. From the first story in the collection, “I Looked for You, I Called Your Name” with honeymooners’ crash landing in Patagonia to the title story, right at the end, van den Berg will dazzle you with her characteristic eye for detail and landscape of emotions used.

The first story is about the woman discovering her husband’s personality and in the wake of that, her relationship is riddled with doubt and she also begins to understand herself. The nature of the setting, Patagonia in this case also lends to the fragility of the story. For me, what worked the most was the sudden bleakness you are witness to throughout the stories and yet somewhere down the line, there is the underlined hope that is subtle and exquisitely written about.

My favourite story in the collection is, “Opa-Locka” about twin sisters, who are detectives and are entwined in people’s lives, causing unnecessary complications. They discover nothing and leave trails in form of objects and amidst all of this; they are confronted by their father’s criminal past. Why is it my favourite story? Because of the sheer force used to tell this tale. Van den Berg has used all her writing charm according to me in this one. It is that good.

The stories are full of wonder and charm. The women are weak, they are strong, they love and sometimes they also discard their emotions, to make sense of the real world. The stories will have you not look away from the book, till you are done with the collection. They are perfectly structured, coherent and magical. There is no sugar coating and nothing that is saccharine sweet. They are the way life is to a large extent and that is what makes them so readable.

Affiliate Link:

Buy The Isle of Youth from Flipkart.com

Book Review: Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley

Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley Title: Clever Girl
Author: Tessa Hadley
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 9780224096522
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Tessa Hadley as a writer has a quiet way about her. Her books are not loud and neither are her characters. The stories told by her are subtle and have the sort of old-world charm to them, which is what attracts me the most to her books.

“Clever Girl” is about a woman and her life – told right from the 60s to today. That is probably the way this novel could be described and that to be very honest is just speaking about it on the surface. The story may not even seem that special to some, however it is mainly about the writing. It takes the reader to various places in a woman’s mind – right throughout her life – the incidents, the small heartaches, the big things and more, which are so inherent to this magnanimous piece of work.

The magic of the book lies in converting the mundane to something special. The everyday ordinary is just transformed to something special when it comes to Hadley’s words and the scenes she creates for the reader to soak in completely. Stella’s views, her perceptions, her prejudices, are all clearly laid out – right from her childhood to the time she is a grown woman. Tessa Hadley does not let go of a single moment, which is what binds you to the book, the way it does.

Clever Girl is not an easy book when it comes to reading or analysing and yet, the characters are complex and the story moves in the pace that one isn’t used to. Despite this, the book worked for me on so many levels. The writing reminded me of subtleties of life, the quiet way, the delicacy so to speak and that in itself is most comforting. The atypical narrative was only an added bonus. All in all I can say that read this book, only if you have some time and a few thoughts to spare. A book which will not disappoint you at all.

Book Review: Eating Women, Telling Tales : Stories about Food by Bulbul Sharma

Eating Women, Telling Tales by Bulbul Sharma
Title: Eating Women, Telling Tales: Stories About Food
Author: Bulbul Sharma
Publisher: Zubaan Books
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories, Women’s Literature
ISBN: 9789381017890
Pages: 115
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

You come across fiction all the time. You also tend to pick up a lot of which is highly recommended and then sometimes as a reader you are disappointed and do not know what to do with the person who recommended a book to you. Should you be honest enough in letting the person know that you did not like the read? Or do you not talk about the book or the author ever again to that person? But there are also times when people ask you to read a specific book and you love that book beyond anything that you might have read recently. This happened to me after I finished reading, “Eating Women, Telling Tales” by Bulbul Sharma.

“Eating Women, Telling Tales” was first published by Zubaan in 2009 and now to mark their 10th anniversary, they have reprinted this classic with a new cover. There are 9 such titles as well to the collection. Now to talk about the book. The book is beautifully and poignantly written. There are about seven women who come together to cook a meal for guests on the occasion of their male relative’s death anniversary. They cook and while they cook, each of them tells a story. These stories are either of themselves or of women they know and somehow food is integral to each and every story.

The vignettes are beautifully written – from tragic to funny to sometimes a satisfying turn at the end, each story is about food and women. Bulbul’s writing is clear, sparse and illuminates almost every aspect of life and what it takes sometimes to be away from home or to try too hard to be loved. Her women are traditional, grappling with the modern, trying to fit in and at the same time do not understand the new. They rather be embraced with their thoughts and mindsets, which but of course the only way it should happen. Even though in one story, a man takes the center stage, it is but the wife who is the strongest in it. Bulbul’s writing is playful and also mostly shows the mirror to the society and its inhabitants, who formulate such rituals which ultimately have no meaning and it is human life which is of most importance. A read to be reveled in and cherished for a long time to come.

Affiliate Link:

Buy Eating Women

Book Review: The Missing Queen by Samitha Arni

The Missing Queen by Samitha Arni Title: The Missing Queen
Author: Samitha Arni
Publisher: Penguin Viking/Zubaan Books
ISBN: 9789381017647
Genre: Mythology, Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always wondered and thought that the Ramayana has nothing to offer in terms of shades of grey. I thought that it was a plain vanilla story, with nothing of value, though at the back of mind I was aware of Sita and her predicaments, I somehow did not give it too much thought. I was more focused on reading more of the Mahabharata, with its vast number of characters and intricate plot, there was no way any other mythological text could hold a candle to it. This was my opinion till I started reading, “The Missing Queen” by Samhita Arni.

I had read Samhita’s graphic novel, “Sita’s Ramayana” sometime ago, however that did not impact me much as this one has. Once in a while, I read a mythological piece of work that compels me to recommend it to whosoever I meet, and this time it is “The Missing Queen”. I cannot stop raving about. Most of it has got to do with the writing; however most of it has also got to with the plot and the new angle or twist so to say to the epic.

“The Missing Queen” is set in modern-day Ayodhya, ten years after Ram won the war and Sita disappeared basis the hearsay from the Washerman and other speculation by Ayodhya’s citizens on her chastity. Things have changed a lot since then. Ayodhya is indirectly a totalitarian state kept under strict vigilance by the Washerman and his people. Ram, but of course is the shining hero and king who looms large and makes decisions, however not without consulting some people. This Ayodhya is of television and media, of Cadillacs and malls, of consumerism and a complete dry state with bootleggers reining at night-time in shoddy basements. It is also on its way of becoming a democracy, which in a way is scary and at the same time liberating for some. Amidst all of this, a young journalist begins asking questions about Sita: What happened to her? Why did she disappear? She wants answers and does not even stop at asking Ram during an interview about Sita and her whereabouts.

She must not be asking such questions. The Washerman and his fleet chase her out of the city and she goes to Lanka in search of answers, which further takes her to Mithila. For me this was the best part in the book. Samhita has brought out different perspectives through this short book – of Surpanakha, of Vibhishana and his daughter, of Urmila and others who have been a part of the epic. While reading this book one also gets the feeling of the “other” part of the story. The question posed by the journalist seep into the readers’ head and that to me is great writing as demonstrated by Arni. There were so many places in the book where my heart just went out to Sita and also to the Lankans. That is primarily because of the writing and the world that Samhita conjures given her imagination and what happened after the war. There are so many questions in the book and also so many issues. For instance, the one line that struck me the most in the book was the one said by Surpanakha: “Do women need circles drawn in sand to protect them?” I think this is so relevant even today. Some men take it upon themselves to protect women, without wondering what they want. There are parts like these in the book that shake you up and make you question everything around you.

At times while reading the book, I felt that Sita and Ram and the Washerman were merely metaphors for who we are and our beliefs (if any) and that made me think a lot more of the plot of the book. I will of course not give away the ending. However at the end of it all, what I can say is that you have to read “The Missing Queen” to experience a different kind of tale and storytelling when it comes to mythology and more so to the Ramayana. A must read for February.

Affiliate Link:

Buy The Missing Queen from Flipkart.com