Winter by Ali Smith

Winter by Ali Smith Title: Winter
Author: Ali Smith
Publisher: Pantheon
ISBN: 978-1101870754
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

 

If there’s one living writer, who sums the way we live, right down to precision and exactness, it is Ali Smith. According to me, at least. “Winter” is more than just the second instalment of the seasonal quartet. It is so many things, rolled into one that I do not know where to begin talking about it, but start, I must.

“Winter” in its entirety could also be a collection of puns, word play and humour that cannot be digested by all. Scottish writer Ali Smith takes on a step further in this one than she did in “Autumn” – the first part of the quartet.  As I was telling my book club members yesterday, as we discussed Winter, “Ali Smith sure has a way of drawing the reader in, right to the bottom of her world and then there is no letting go”.

I, initially had a tough time reading Winter, but twenty pages in and I knew I was sold – hook, line and sinker. It is a family drama and a commentary on the sociopolitical changes (as most of Smith’s books are). “Winter” is mainly about relationships if you ask me. There are three estranged folks in a family and an impostor. The plot: Sophie lives all by herself in Cornwall. She is in her 60s and has started seeing a floating head for no reason (for this, you have to read the book – no spoiler here and won’t be speaking much about this).

It is Christmas Time. Her son, Arthur, who writes a successful nature blog is scheduled to visit her with his girlfriend Charlotte. Charlotte and Art have broken up over a fight of ideals (again, read). Art finds Lux – a Croatian to impersonate as Charlotte, instead of telling his mother the truth. And then there is Iris, Sophie’s estranged sister who is also visiting, though uninvited. The book is about family, dynamics of the self and how the society has changed and continues to when it comes to technology, politics, the environment and human emotions to say the very least.

What I loved the most about “Winter” is the way Ali Smith breathes life into the monotonous activities – going to the bank, buying groceries, or even just being. She has a quiet way of describing events, people and relationships. Ultimately to me, “Winter” is a book that asks what it is like to live today? What it is to be today in tune with the world and not and what implications it might have? At the end of it all, Ali Smith’s “Winter” at the core is about art, love, life – what it once was and what it is today.

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The Worm and the Bird by Coralie Bickford-Smith

The Worm and the Bird Title: The Worm and the Bird
Author: Coralie Bickford-Smith
Publisher: Particular Books, Penguin
ISBN: 9781846149221
Genre: Picture Book
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

 

Is it even a book read, if it is a picture book? I say, why not? A book is a book is a book. Different genres are still counted as books, isn’t it? Picture books read are still counted as read books according to me and that’s quite alright.

Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about, “The Worm and the Bird”.  This book is about a worm and a bird (as you might have rightly guessed, duh!) and the different things they want and how they almost get it or they do for that matter. Under the earth, the worm needs more space. Above the earth, the bird searches for something else. And that’s what the book is. Of course, what makes it so endearing are the illustrations and what one doesn’t expect (which I will not reveal) as well.

Coralie Bickford-Smith’s earlier book, “The Fox and the Star” was a delight and so is this one. “The Worm and the Bird” is also about the shortness of life, but it also rings true of how life should be lived. Being a picture book, it cannot get preachy at all, which it isn’t.

“The Worm and the Bird” is the kind of book which has to be read and appreciated by people of all ages. It is a lesson, but beyond that it is also to be read because of the stunning illustrations, the ink artwork and to get back to understand how stories are told.

Hush A Bye Baby by Deepanjana Pal

Hush A Bye Baby Title: Hush A Bye Baby
Author: Deepanjana Pal
Publisher: Juggernaut
ISBN: 978-9386228574
Genre: Suspense and Thriller
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Why am I reading this book?

Do you ask yourself this as you turn the page of a book you do not seem to enjoy? I know I have asked this question and dropped the book even without knowing the answer. Off-late it has happened a lot more, so I have become quite judicious about my choices. Do I want to read this at all? And if I do, why?

I am not a fan of the thriller genre. I enjoy it now and then but not a fan of the genre, so to say. “Hush A Bye Baby” by Deepanjana Pal on the other hand made me stay up all night, demanding to be read and for that I missed a Riverdale episode (I never miss a Riverdale episode. It is so bad that I love it!). Let me also add here that the experience was rewarding.

Now, within the first ten pages you know whodunit. So that’s that about this book. But why did she do what she did? For that you have to read the book, cover to cover.

The setting: Bombay (or Mumbai as you might choose to call it).

Plot, in brief (because if I say more about it, will you even read the book?): Dr. Nandita Rai is a well-known gynecologist. She consults celebrities and is on media every other week speaking of women’s issues. She is your not-so-typical South Mumbai feminist (a post on South Mumbai feminist is due later sometime). She is the poster girl for every expecting mother, till the police raid her clinic, when she is accused of sex selective abortions. And this is where the why comes into the picture. Enter: Sub-Inspector Reshma Gabuji who is relentless when it comes to this case and will go all out to uncover the truth.

This is the plot really. Of course, there is more but for review purposes, this shall suffice. Deepanjana’s take on Bombay is superb. I just wish there was more of Bombay. Nandita’s character checks all the right boxes, but my personal favourite was Reshma all the way. Both Nandita and Reshma are witty (that obviously comes from Deepanjana being that way and if you don’t know how witty she is, then you must watch her videos on YouTube), independent and gregarious women.

I loved how Deepanjana leaves so many clues and paces them well in the first-half of the book, keeping in pace with all the thrills. What didn’t work for me was the end, though it did make sense, just that I felt it was too rushed. At the same time, what worked brilliantly (amongst so many other things) was the fact that finally someone in India wrote about sex-selective abortions and women’s rights – all rolled in to a pot-boiler, page-turner thriller. It drives the point home without being too pedantic. There are other secrets as well that come out from the closet, but like I said, for that you have to read the book.

“Hush A Bye Baby” is all that you will expect from a thriller and it will deliver that and more. A perfect flight-read or a summer afternoon read when you think you have nothing to do, but you can read. So read this book already.

Don’t Call Us Dead:​ Poems by Danez Smith

Don't Call Us Dead Title: Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
Author: Danez Smith
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977856
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I think for the longest time I avoided reading poetry as a genre because I was scared. Prose will kill you. Let me correct that: Good prose will kill you. Great prose will leave you bereft. Or the other way around, but once poetry gets into your veins, you are an addict my friend! There is no way out of it. I was introduced to Neruda. Never say never also might work brilliantly as an adage.

Circa 2018. I love poetry. I love poems that seize my heart and wring it with ease. Sometimes brutally. I failed to keep my promise. Why am I saying all this? Well, because I have just finished reading a brilliant book of poems and I want to let you know how I feel about it. The book in question: “Don’t Call Us Dead” by Danez Smith.

This collection isn’t an easy one to read. If you are planning to read it at a stretch or even in one-sitting, my recommendation is you don’t. Smith doesn’t make poetry floral or sweet-smelling or even bearable for that matter. When it comes to me, I agree with him. Poetry like most form of art only reflects what exists around us and should with very good reason.

“…paradise is a world where everything
is a sanctuary & nothing is a gun…” 

Just by reading these two lines, I was moved like I haven’t been moved in a while. The idea that every place is sanctuary (so remote, isn’t it?) and that nothing is a gun couldn’t have rung truer than it does now. The now that we live in that Danez writes about so and that hits so hard.

Smith’s voice is much needed for everyone, but more so for the black men, for the young black man, the gay man, the kind who have endured a history of oppression and violence or have heard of it. It is for everyone who wants to change the world by reading and understanding and that empathy shines through Danez’s poems. The beauty in all of them is striking, almost heartbreaking even.

Take this one for example, where the loneliness of the gay man is stark and evident, universal that it strikes a chord one way or the other.

“everyone on the app says they hate the app but no one stops

I sit on the train, eyeing men, begging myself to talk to them

 He whispers his name into my lower mouth
I sing a song about being alone”

Danez Smith does not shy away from expressing. Some poems run into pages and lots of pages (and for good reasons) while others are explained briefly and they are as effective as any other poem in the collection. This isn’t micro-poetry. This isn’t slam poetry. It is life, that seeps, bleeds ad yearns through the veins and the pores.

“Don’t Call Us Dead” is set in a time – our time, which is equal parts scary, liberating and melancholic. Let me remove my proverbial hat and tip it for Smith.

 

 

 

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone Title: The Great Alone
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-1447286004
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

The Great Alone is a story of wilderness and survival. I also think to a large extent it is the story of what it takes to rebuild and reconstruct life amidst tragedy (seemingly) and secrets (intentionally kept). This enough should get you to read this book. However, I shall tell you more so you do for sure read this one.

“The Great Alone” begins with Ernt Allbright dragging his wife, Cora and his daughter, Leni into a wilderness experience to Alaska to run away from his demons. Ernt has come home from the Vietnam War – a changed and hostile man. His daughter is thirteen and on the brink of adolescence. She is caught in her parents’ tumultous relationship and only wants some peace of mind. Mother and daughter will both follow the man wherever he takes them. They just want a new beginning.

In all of this, is Alaska. The daunting land, the unknown terrain that they enter and as winter approaches they realize that things aren’t what they thought it would be. Hannah’s writing seems simple initially, but as the layers run deep, it becomes complex. Not that any of it isn’t readable but there is so much going on that you have to pause and think about what you just read.

Alaska in itself is a major character. The bleakness, the winter and the darkness, coupled with Ernt’s fragile mental state, Lena and Cora are locked in for eighteen hours in their small cabin. The action has only begun. The terrors from within show up and that’s where I will not say anything more and wait for you to read the book.

Hannah’s writing is terrifying in this one. “The Nightingale” was a relatively tender book. “The Great Alone” demands writing (which the author delivers) that explores the dark recesses of the mind, the heart and the soul. It is a story of immense loss and how to perhaps recover or not from it. Kristin Hannah does a stupendous job of exploring emotions – the dark side and the ones in the light and what happens when the two merge. I would highly recommend this title.