The Windows in our House are Little Doors by Vinod Kumar Shukla. Translated from the Hindi by Satti Khanna.

The Windows in our House are Little Doors by Vinod Kumar Shukla

Title: The Windows in our House are Little Doors
Author: Vinod Kumar Shukla
Translated from the Hindi by Satti Khanna
Publisher: Harper Perennial India 
ISBN: 978-9353574819
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations 
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

It isn’t just magic realism that makes this book what it is. There is magic, yes. There is a lot of it, some which is mostly unseen or even unread on the pages. There is adventure, and a sense of listlessness as well. Vinod Kumar Shukla captures it all on the page. It seems as though his childhood years are encompassed in this book.

“The Windows in our House are Little Doors” is an English translation of Yasi, Rasa, and Ta from the Hindi by Satti Khanna. Vinod Kumar Shukla’s story takes place in an unnamed city, could even be an unnamed small town, a village even, or just somewhere in your vicinity. The time isn’t mentioned either. There is fluidity to it all. Yasi and Rasa are siblings. Their parents are Niya and Vendra. Ta is their cousin. Their uncle Bhoona loves to sleep and doesn’t want to do anything else. Ta is Bhoona’s daughter. But all of this doesn’t matter. Nothing matters since there is no plot as such to the book, but you continue reading it. The writing pulls you in. it intrigues and teases and doesn’t let go.

Vinod Kumar Shukla’s world is unique in that sense. Bicycles understand that they have been stolen and return to their owner. A single melon starts growing on its own, and adds to the weight of the cart, till slices are cut and sold. Houses make way for people. There is no concept of home, and yet there is. Home is at the heart of this book, told through twenty-six storeys (as it is said). Everything makes sense, and nothing does.

“Time bakes the present into the past. Sometimes, much later, shards show up in digs, buried under mounds of dirt. The shards are fragments of time. The ambulant present moves on; history keeps hiding behind it.”

See what he’s done here? I mean the writing is about time and yet he separates all of it – the past, the present, and the future, and again somehow gathers them together. The writing then isn’t just metaphorical. It takes on the shape of something else.

Shukla’s writing makes you believe like you are in a dream. Anything and everything are made possible. Sandals have a mind of their own and get lost. People get lost and are found in an instant. Bicycles smile and remind people to buy towels. Yes, anything happens. There is a jalebi store that is never shut, and the fire is always burning under the jalebi pan. I mean, I just gave in to what Vinod Kumar Shukla had to offer. I entered the world created by him and was happy being there.

The translation by Satti Khanna is magnificent. I say this with confidence, since at some points, I had the Hindi edition also in front of me and read from it a little to contrast and compare. Every sentence has been dealt with kindness and care, and perhaps that’s why the essence remains.

Worlds collide in Shukla’s writing. Day and night cannot be differentiated from. He writes, “A person wishes to become a tourist in the place he has lived for decades” and you relate hard and strong because you also have looked at your city that way. When he says, “We make our homes into prisons. Let us live in a house as if we could pack up and leave for another habitation any time” you nod your head with great affirmation because you have thought about it as well.

“The Windows in our House are Little Doors” has to be experienced and felt. It cannot just be read. But read it going blindfold. Do not read the synopsis. It is nothing after all. You won’t know till you read it.




 

Abandon the Old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Abandon the Old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Title: Abandon the Old in Tokyo
Author: Yoshihiro Tatsumi 
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly 
ISBN: 978-1770460775
Genre: Comics, Short Stories, Graphic Short Stories 
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 4/5 

So, I have just finished reading, “Abandon the Old in Tokyo” by Yohishiro Tatsumi – the father of “gekiga” (he coined the term, and its literal meaning is dramatic pictures), aimed at adult audiences with more mature themes. This collection of comics is just that. Eight stories with themes dealing with existentialism or morbidity that stuns you.

These comics explore the murky side of humans, of the society we live in, and constantly through the use of allegory or metaphor bring that to fore. What I found most remarkable was how it was all achieved through the medium of minimal words in the comic panels, relying heavily only on the power of art.

The collection delves deep into the underbelly of Tokyo and the life of its residents in the 60s and the 70s. Most stories deal with economic hardship, loneliness, longing to better their circumstances, and estranged relationships. Everything is played out not-so-neatly – the twists and the turns are immense, and somehow to me they also seemed subtle. For instance, “Unpaid” for me was the darkest story of them all – of how a bankrupt businessman deals with life by connecting with a dog (you will understand the twist when you read it). Another favourite was the title story, about the relationship between a young man and his mother, and what happens when he wants to start living on his own.

Tatsumi’s characters are ordinary. They lead ordinary lives, and perhaps aspire for a little more than what life has offered. He symbolises or at least tries to symbolise the mass – the everyone, and how drama is played out in their lives, sometimes much against their wish. Even though the stories are set in a different time, and even written in a different time, they make their presence felt through crowds, manholes, buses, trains, restaurants, and the ordinary that still exist and will continue to. His art and the words that accompany them complement each other throughout. Your emotions are tested – since some of the vignettes aren’t easy to handle. Yet, you must read Tatsumi. Start with this. Get introduced to a softer version of the gekiga. Highly recommend it.

These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever

These Violent Delights

Title: These Violent Delights
Author: Micah Nemerever 
Publisher: Harper 
ISBN: 978-0062963635
Genre: Coming of Age, LGBT, Literary 
Pages: 480 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

So this book is really unlike anything I have ever read, and that makes it perhaps even more special. There is violence, loads of it. There is also desire and passion, both in the same measure. There is love, but always scared to be spoken out loud. This book has gutted me to such an extent, that I might not recover from it at least in the next couple of months. It is wickedly delicious, and more. A perfect combination of The Secret History with Lie with Me or even Call Me By Your Name, but more sinister in its approach, more real, and cunning to its core.

The novel takes place in the 1970s in Pittsburgh, and centres around Paul Fleischer and Julian Fromme. They are two freshman students and instantly connect during their first interaction in class. The chemistry is evident. They are poles apart from each other. Paul is shy, a loner, and artistic. Julian is wild (well, in a sense), charismatic to the boot, and wicked to the core (or so it seems). They two develop a great fondness for each other, a friendship that grows more intense each day, finally leading to love that is of catastrophic proportions.

This book had me gasping for breath. Their love is nothing that I have read of in books. It is strange, it breaks and pushes boundary after boundary, it begs for more violence – both physical and emotional, and it won’t stop at anything. The conversations are intellectual and provide fantastic insights into their lives, their families, and all about what it is to be good or moral, and the opposite of that.

Their bond could be called unhealthy, an obsession, a kind of love that destroys everything in its path but you just cannot get enough of it. It doesn’t read like a debut. Nemerever’s writing is never reassuring or comforting – it is brutal and you love that as a reader. It isn’t straightforward. Its turns are atmospheric, and scary, and always tipping the balance one way or the other of the relationship between the two young men, more so given it is set in the 70s, when things were way far more difficult for the queer community. I literally couldn’t stop turning the pages.

These Violent Delights is for me one of the best books read of 2020. I say it with much assurance and confidence. It is dark, humane, ugly, brutal, with a dash of murder as well (oh yes, forgot to mention that), it is full of rage, self-loathing, hate, and inner recesses of the human heart where perhaps compassion resides.

 

The Bookseller’s Tale by Martin Latham

 

The Bookseller's Tale

Title: The Bookseller’s Tale
Author: Martin Latham
Publisher: Particular Books, Penguin UK 
ISBN: 978-0241408810
Genre: Books about Books, Books and Reading 
Pages: 368 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

This is one tale that Chaucer forgot to include in The Canterbury Tales. This is perhaps the only tale from the book that I would have actually read. I think books about books and reading do that to me. They make me understand what others feel about books – just the way I do, and so many others just like me. They make us a collective – a tribe of the crazy, the insane, the lost, the dreamers, the ones who are forever seeking the new, but are also quite content with the old.

The Bookseller’s Tale is essentially about Martin and his love for reading, and in that he takes us through a brief history of the book so to say, along with his reading, his thoughts on authors and everything bookish. Martin Latham, the service manager (bookseller really) at Waterstones Canterbury for over three decades now and this book is his dedication to books, the art of reading, selling books, and meeting people who love the written word.

As soon as I started reading the book, I was immersed in a world that was not mine and I was so glad for that. In such tough times, we need more book such as this one to transport us to times and places where it all seemed so simple and just to know that there is this pure comradeship that books provide. Latham speaks of marginalia – about how beautiful it is, he goes on to speak about chapbooks and book pedlars and the role they have played in shaping cultures, with some charming anecdotes of writers visiting the store and customers who lend to the stories.

My most favourite parts of the book were the ones about comfort reading and reading in adversity, and both seemed so perfect for the times we are living in. We need to read without judging, without being judged. We need that safety need of books when all else is taken away from us, which is happening as I write this. We need books and reading to survive this time.

The Bookseller’s Tale is about a shared love of books that transcends it all. It doesn’t take into account gender, age, background, caste, nothing at all. It is just the written word and you. No matter the language, and no matter the place. Latham’s writing is like a dream – like I said, it transports you to another world and place. The historical references are plenty – reading between wars, the invention of reading terminology, the old books he speaks of, and the art of collection. At the same time, he makes you see the reality of independent bookstores, of online buying, of the booksellers of France and New York and London and Bombay. I wish there were more stores and more countries to cover, but maybe that is for another book.

The Bookseller’s Tale is a book to be read and enjoyed by every reader. For me it was the best read of the year. Hands down!

White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color by Ruby Hamad

 

White Tears:Brown Scars

Title: White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color
Author: Ruby Hamad
Publisher: Catapult
ISBN: 978-1948226745
Genre: Cultural Anthropology, Essays, Nonfiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

This book is much-needed for the times we live in. Actually for any time – past or present or even the future sadly, given how situations play themselves out over and over again. Situations where white people have set certain standards of humanity and how to live and even love for the rest of the world. Situations where they do not give any agency to people of colour, more so to women of colour, and even if what is perceived as agency isn’t really that. Ruby Hamad’s explosive and very important book “White Tears/Brown Scars” brings to fore and speaks of how white women use their tears to avoid speaking of and mainly confronting their racism.

This book is an off-shoot from Hamad’s article on the same topic that came out in The Guardian in the year 2018, and how that further led to Hamad being contacted by various women of colour with their stories of being betrayed by white women and their tears.

This book is extremely well-researched and an account of the white woman’s role in colonialism, in racism, and in oppressing the people of colour. It doesn’t restrict itself only to the women. It goes beyond that , to men of colour as well. Ruby’s book is global in nature and we all can see how we sometimes behave around white people. We who were once colonised, still carry that burden and remain forever apologetic. This is exactly what happens when a women of colour confronts a white women about her racism – she is apologetic to the white woman, as though it wasn’t her place to call out casual racism.

White Tears/Brown Scars should make people uncomfortable, more so the white people and make them realize what they are doing or have been doing over the years. It is necessarily uncomfortable. Hamad doesn’t write only about the US of A. She ropes in other countries as well – whether it is about the history of Aboriginal women in Australia and how they are treated or the Arab women at large in the world – these are perspectives and stories that must be heard, read, and internalised.

Hamad’s book is a revelation to me (I think it would also be the same for most people). The writing is razor-sharp and she doesn’t hesitate from calling a spade, a spade. It delves into performative victimhood and the truths aren’t palpable. In some cases the book reads like an oral history and maybe that’s what it is – experiences of women of colour with White women’s defensiveness and gas lighting in personal and professional settings.

“White Tears/Brown Scars” is a book that should be required reading for anyone interested in intersectional feminism. It is about the imbalance of power, and how it affects feminism. She takes a view of all of it – history, culture, research, and ultimately the lives of women to make us understand the role of white supremacy in all of it. Please read it.