Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid Title: Such a Fun Age
Author: Kiley Reid
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
ISBN: 978-1526612151
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

The book took off very slowly for me, till I finished Part 1 and was instantly floored by the turn the book took, and the writing. Such a Fun Age seems so less on the surface, and it is so much more the moment you give it time, dedication, and continue reading it without stopping. At times, the book is also quite deceptive in its approach, making you believe that it is about the men and not the women, whereas it is only about the women and rightly so.

The book is about Emira Tucker, a young black woman, who is all of 25 years old, lives in Philadelphia, with two part-time jobs (typist and babysitter), with no benefits and no health insurance at all. She wants to do more in her life but is always held back for one reason or the other. In all of this, her life is brought to the forefront involving an upscale grocery store, where she is on an errand with the toddler of her employer, Alix, who is white. Alix is deeply embarrassed by the incident and takes on Emira as a project – to get to know her better and make wrongs right.

This then leads to a series of questions raised throughout the book about class, gender, race, parenthood, forgiveness, and what it takes to be a person in the twenty-first century. The plot and the semi-plots are full of nuances as created by Reid. The book is funny, and before you know it, it becomes serious talking about racial biases, and the prejudices we seem to hold onto, sometimes even unintentionally.

Reid writes from a place of awareness and experience, which adds to the many dimensions of the book. The characters aren’t all black and white, and you do not expect them to be that was well. The greyness is something that just sneaks up (Emira’s boyfriend and what happens thereof). There is a lot of engagement with the reader, in the sense of being vested, as the pages turn. I often found myself not wanting this book to end because of the way it is written.

Such a Fun Age besides being a solid book of and for our times, is a read that will leave you bedazzled and wanting more. It’s take on privilege, wealth, class, and crossing of paths of people is refreshing, and makes it a compulsive read on so many levels.

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

Title: Interior Chinatown
Author: Charles Yu
Publisher: Pantheon
ISBN: 978-0307907196
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I thought the book was exhausting when I first began to read it, till I reached about forty pages and started enjoying it thoroughly. This is somewhat my relationship with the other two books written by Yu as well. The start is rocky, till I make some headway, and before I know it, I am in love with what he has to say about the world he builds, and connects it with the world we live in.

Interior Chinatown is a deeply emotional book about race, identity, pop culture, and what roles we are forced to play in society, because of where we come from. Willis Wu is not the protagonist of his own life. He is always, even to himself, the Generic Asian Man. He is an actor. Sometimes he gets to play the Background Oriental Making a Weird Face, and sometimes just an Asian guy, but never the protagonist. Never the Kung Fu Guy which he longs to be. Willis lives in a Chinatown SRO (Standing Room Only) and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where a cop show titled Black and White (how apt and ironic as well) is perpetually in production. He is a sidekick or an extra in that show and just wants to do more. We only see his mother who has long separated from his father, being the only one who believes in him.

Charles Yu’s story is for our times, and also set in our times. Yet it somehow seems like it also has elements of the fantastical – of the novel being written like one big script (which works wonderfully for the book), and also of the show being in constant production took me some time to get a hang of the novel, but every minute of turning the page was worth it.

Yu speaks from a place of knowing. Every sentence is in place because of that, which most instantly connects with the reader. The stereotypes are so on-point that as a reader I was screaming with anger and yet understood where the writer and the characters were coming from. Interior Chinatown is a book that needs to be read and understood by everyone. It speaks of such a great need to fit in, to be someone bigger than what the world thinks you were meant to be, and above all of an aspiration and desire to humanize oneself all over again.

All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos. Translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore

All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos Title: All My Goodbyes
Author: Mariana Dimópulos
Translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore
Publisher: Transit Books
ISBN: 978-1945492150
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

All My Goodbyes is a strange read. A strange read that is also very satisfying on so many levels. It is a love story, a story of trauma and violence, and also a story of memory told in fragments.

The book is about the disconnected life of an Argentine woman who is rootless, constantly moving from one place to another, leaving the people who take care of her. She is scared of any emotion (I think) and doesn’t even carry emotions with her as she leaves. She then reaches the southernmost region of Patagonia, convinced that she has finally found home and happiness, till she is caught up in murders that seem to take over her life.

Dimópulos’s writing is sharp and exacting. There is no beating around the bush. It is thread-bare and works on so many levels for a book of this nature. It isn’t an easy read to begin with – the narrative moves between time and space, in almost every paragraph. However, it is very fulfilling if you keep at it.

Sentences and plot changes jump at you unexpectedly, which to me is the main strength of this read. The aura of mystery is maintained right till the end, including the life of the narrator that always keeps you second-guessing. The translation by Alice Whitmore is spot-on and manages to recreate everything the author intended it to be (again I am only going by what I have read).

All My Goodbyes is constantly moving like the narrator. It forces you to surrender to the story and let the book take you where it has to. I suggest don’t make much of it to begin with. Just read with an open mind and that is enough. More than enough to understand how we are connected to fellow humans in the larger scheme of the world and our place in it.

Jaipur Journals by Namita Gokhale

Jaipur Journals by Namita Gokhale Title: Jaipur Journals
Author: Namita Gokhale
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 978-0670093557
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Jaipur Journals is the kind of book that will work its way to your heart – bit by bit. It is the kind of book that will make you chuckle in several places, even if you haven’t been to the Jaipur Literature Festival (where the book is set) and will also make you want to pack your bags and go there. Jaipur Journals is a melting pot of a book, I think, and more. You will notice characters and at once you know them – they could be anyone you have met or heard of, and yet seem new and delightful. What I loved the most about the book is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Ms. Gokhale has the knack of telling you all (or making it seem like that) and then showing only what she wants to.

From a septuagenarian who has completed her semi-fictional novel (over and over again) but does not want to publish it, to people who are receiving threat letters at the festival, from lost lovers meeting at the festival, to a young girl who has found her way to the greatest literary show on earth through a blogging contest, to a cat-burglar who is now a poet, Jaipur Journals promises all of this, in all its eccentricities and more.

The book goes back and forth in almost every characters’ life and yet doesn’t feel too long or overwhelming. In fact, if anything I thought it ended too soon. Also, it is such a light read that you do not even know when time flies, and that too me is the greatest quality of a good book – readability and engagement, which Jaipur Journals manages spot on.

Jaipur Journals is that friend you speak with about books, the publishing industry, and how perhaps the culture of reading is either dying or not. It is about what happens at literary festivals – the usual sessions, the controversial ones, the times when love is forged, people bumping into people, and some latent hidden bitterness rearing its ugly head once in a while.

If I haven’t said it enough already in so many words, then here it is again: Read Jaipur Journals. Read it because it will make you smile, guffaw, and perhaps even let your guard down. Read it because it literally is an ode to aspiring writers, to writers who have written but do not want their work to be published, to writers who want to be published and are hesitant, to writers who shine and come into their own nonetheless.

 

Manto & I by Nandita Das

Manto & I by Nandita Das Title: Manto & I
Author: Nandita Das
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-8194365747
Genre: Nonfiction, Film
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I remember watching a play in the year 2007. A friend and I on a lark went to Prithvi theatre and decided right there to watch the play, “Manto Ismat Hazir Hain”. It’s been thirteen years now since I was introduced to Manto, and yet there is so much left to read. So much left for translators to translate. So much left for the world to know the man he was, and is, as he continues to live on. Writers always do. Creative people always do.

I also remember watching Manto in a small theatre in 2018 with my mother. My mother always admired his short stories. She took time to warm up to his style, but it was worth the wait she says, and I believe her. Manto is an acquired taste, perhaps. And I was ecstatic to see a film made on a writer’s life. I was overjoyed because not many writers get that – not in India at least. Kudos to Nandita Das for bringing a part of Manto’s life and stories to our lives.

Manto, the film is a story of a writer who is unafraid to speak his mind and heart. He says what he wants to without regret or thinking twice. There is no self-censorship. There was no question of that. To know Manto, read his stories. Read as much as you can. To know more about the movie, and its intricacies and in knowing that to also know about Manto, read Manto & I by Nandita Das.

The book reached me about two days ago and I was honestly fascinated by the way it was done. A coffee table book, and yet to my mind not quite. Not a memoir either. Not a slice of life. Just a love letter of sorts, from Nandita to Manto – for how she has gotten to know the man, over the years – right from thinking about this movie to the research to everything the movie led to – the casting, the sound design, the costumes, the works, including how actors worked pro-bono, and other such stories from the film and Manto’s life.

I loved the part of how she integrated the stories in the film, and how some essence of Manto was captured. The way she so lovingly speaks of the film, the writing process, how she got Nawazuddin to act, how he became Manto, and more than ever how everyone else on set also became Manto.  The letter written to Manto by her moved me to tears. It isn’t just about the movie then, or about one book. To me, Manto and I is about Manto that exists in all of us. Thank you, Nandita for this book and for the film.

And it suddenly sprang on me while reading this book, that we need Mantoiyat today more than ever. We need voices who believe in unity than division. We need to believe that we will overcome. The divide that he tried to bring down through his stories and works must be worked on again with great vigour. Read Manto. Read Manto & I. Evoke the Manto in you. May he never die.