The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi Title: The Death of Vivek Oji
Author: Akwaeke Emezi
Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 978-0571350988
Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming of Age Fiction, LGBTQIA Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is going to be a short note, because this book is under embargo and I cannot post a review as of now. All I can say is that you must read, “The Death of Vivek Oji” by Akwaeke Emezi when it’s out. They have written it with a lot of love and heart.

The story is about Vivek Oji and his death and life – and what led to his death. It is about his homosexuality or even gender fluidity (or so it seems at various points in the book) in a place where LGBT rights are not recognised, and it is a crime to be gay.

The book is set in Owerri, one of the largest cities in Nigeria. It is about the differences that exist – the Nigerwives (as they are called) – who don’t belong to Nigeria but marry men from there, their children, the lives they lead, and above all the patriarchy that doesn’t let you be. The patriarchy of the Nigerian society that is so deep-rooted with all its hypocrisy is mind-numbing to read.

Emezi in their writing brings so much to fore that it compels you to understand and read more of the culture the book is set in. The book then is not just about Vivek Oji and who he was, but all the other characters as well – each trying very hard to find themselves.

A longer review will be up in August when I can talk more about the book. For now, this will do. But please do read it when you get the chance to.

 

The Clothesline Swing by Ahmad Danny Ramadan

The Clothesline Swing Title: The Clothesline Swing
Author: Ahmad Danny Ramadan
Publisher: The Indigo Press
ISBN: 9781999683368
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQIA Fiction
Pages: 220
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I do not know how to review this book. I shall try. I hope I do justice to it. This book is everything – heart, soul, passionate, full of life, despair, about the secrets we keep, and how we finally are undone in the end. The Clothesline Swing is inspired by One Thousand and One Nights. It is all sorts of beautiful, and hopeful in brutal times and that’s what we need right now more than ever – to hang on to hope.

The Clothesline Swing is everyone’s story in that sense and yet so specific to place and time. It is the story of two lovers who live away from home, and are anchored to it in all heart and soul. It is the story of a dying Syria and their memories attached to it. One is the storyteller, who keeps life going through fables and stories from their youth to his dying partner. Each night he tells his partner stories of Damascus, of childhood, of leaving home in fear of being persecuted for being homosexuals, of a hard life, and how he met his lover and life thereon. In all of this, there is Death – its all pervasiveness – waiting patiently, listening to stories – night after night.

This book hit me hard – it is brutal and honest and doesn’t shy away from speaking of what gay men go through. The brutality, the violence, the shame, the love, and kindness in places least expected is all there – for all to read. Ahmad Danny Ramadan’s writing doesn’t get maudlin – it doesn’t enter the zone of pity, but it does become joyful after all the struggle. At the same time, it doesn’t take away from the struggle and the immigrant experience. That is another track in the book that shines.

The Clothesline Swing is about forbidden love, about home that is no longer home – or will always be in memory, it is about the stories that keep us alive and make us live one day to the next, it is also about pain and suffering, and love and beauty, and healing – for the characters, the author, and the readers.

Grandmothers by Salley Vickers

GrandmothersTitle: Grandmothers
Author: Salley Vickers
Publisher: Viking, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN: 9780241371428
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 296
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I think everyone should read this book. I think everyone should read it because we need reads such as these that are heartwarming, and don’t pretend to be intellectual to be lauded by all. At the same time, Salley Vickers has this unusual style that I cannot put my finger on. Her novels are simple and easy to read, contain separate universes within them, and manage to strike a chord by the end of it. So, in the sense that there is this strong build-up to events, lives, and decisions that impact each character.

Grandmothers as the title suggests is about three grandmothers, who are very different women and their relationship with the younger generation. There is Nan Appleby, recently divorced and fiercely independent – who shares a great relationship with her grandson Billy. We then have Blanche – a widow, who has done nothing but adored her grandchildren Harry and Kitty but is forbidden access to them by her son Dominic and his wife Tina. Minna Dyer is the third grandmother (not in the literal sense) who lives in a shepherd’s hut in the country and has developed a grandmotherly relationship with Rose Cooper. Reading binds the two, and that is what brought them close.

If you are expecting thrills or something to happen in this book, then it won’t. Grandmothers is all about relationships, intersecting lives, and the back stories of women who are otherwise only seen as most ordinary. Salley Vickers takes her own time to even unravel some plot lines. The book is very easy to read and makes for a great afternoon spent in the company of heartwarming prose and maybe even get you teary-eyed in some places.

Guestbook: Ghost Stories by Leanne Shapton

Guestbook Ghost Stories by Leanne ShaptonTitle: Guestbook: Ghost Stories
Author: Leanne Shapton
Publisher: Particular Books, Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-1846144936
Genre: Literary Fiction, Ghost stories
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Leanne Shapton is one of those writers that just does her thing without caring about how it would be received by readers, and the world at large. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I am a fan. Her books are out of the ordinary for sure, and honestly not all that much as well, given the broader themes of emotions and social issues. Even a collection of ghost stories is so much more.

This book is like any other Shapton book, that being unpredictable and out of the ordinary. Some of the stories are regular and some of them aren’t so regular after all. These hauntings could be of anything – current relationships, past relationships, houses that are haunted, memories that are taken over and in possession – each story haunting us as we go along life, and more so in times such as these.

From a tennis player who breaks down after every win (you will know why when you read it) to the different versions of how people viewed the iceberg that sank the Titanic (there also is a story within the story), to pictures of the foot of beds and what stories come from there, each story is creepy, eerie, sometimes heartbreaking even, but mostly making you jump out of your skin just a little bit.

The book is also unusually and beautifully produced. The stories are layered with photographs, drawings, floor plans, Instagram-style portraits, and is about everyday incidents, observations, wordplay, and how time seems to be of essence or not. Time passes in that sense and is at the crux – as it should be for ghost stories.

All in all, please read Guestbook: Ghost Stories to experience and read something different. I cannot recommend it enough.

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh Title: Train to Pakistan
Author: Khushwant Singh
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0143065883
Genre: Literary Fiction, Partition Literature
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This was my third reading of Train to Pakistan, and every time I read it, there is an ache that seems to have gone but hasn’t. I grew up hearing some stories of the Partition from my grandparents, and at the end of each story, I would see vacant eyes, eyes that said a lot and yet did not want to go beyond what was said. The memory of it all would haunt them all their lives.

Train to Pakistan is perhaps the first book that comes to most minds when speaking of the partition of the country. If not the first, then at least second. The starkness, honesty, and empathy of the novel has spread over decades in terms of being relevant (sadly) and continues to do so.

The plot is about a fictional village named Mano Majra and its residents (Muslim and Sikh), and how they are caught up in the turmoil of Partition, how it affects their relationships and lives. It all starts when a train filled with the dead bodies of Sikhs and Hindus arrive in Mano Majra. Singh gives us this but doesn’t make it the centrepiece of the novel.

Train to Pakistan to me is all about human nature, its relation to religion, its connection with the concept of life and death, and how suddenly it is either each man for his own or coming together of people in times of crisis. What I loved the most about this novel (even in the third read) was that Singh never loses his grip on empathy. There is this sense of brotherhood, of community, and yet in the face of the larger event, people seem helpless. Or are they?

Train to Pakistan is about common people. It is about Government officials who will also use every trick in the book to get their way out. It is about religious extremism and the madness that comes along with it – the madness that will never stop following you.

The sad part is that it is relatable even today – in an India of seventy-three years of independence. It is relevant when there are pogroms against the Muslims in Delhi, it is relevant when Godhra is mentioned, it is relevant when the memory of Mumbai riots of 1992 is evoked, it is relevant when mob lynching is spoken of, and it is relevant when people are killed basis what they eat, wear, look, and who they pray to.

Train to Pakistan was read by me as a part of my Partition Reads Project, of one book on the partition to be read every month. I believe that no matter how much it hurts to read such literature, we can never forget what happened, and in that process we heal – we remember and not forget that we need to be better humans – every single time.