Monthly Archives: January 2010

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The End by Salvatore Scibona

When I received a copy of “The End” by Salvatore Scibona, I was hesitant to read it. It seemed one of those reads that would depress me, after all it did speak of an immigrant country (the US of A) in flux and severly under pressure from racial conflict and the changing socio-economic scenario and amidst all this with Scibona’s characters. And from the word go I could not stop reading this book.

The Italian immigrants do collide in this book and yet the collision is subtle – there is the elderly woman, Constanza Marini at the centre of the book who performs abortions and her character is not understood till the end of the book. Then there is Lina, who is her protegee and she wants to save her from spinsterhood (I guffawed at this a couple of times during the read, however I could not help a smirk or two after) to Rocco the baker of the Italian Community of Elephant Park, who wants to leave everything behind and search for his lost family.

The action all starts on Assumption Day with a street carnival at Elephant Park neighborhood – this is home to these struggling Italian immigrants – each with his or her own share of hopes and despair.

Yet we are real people inhabiting real places, with people who share the same blood as us. “we may perceive ourselves to be careening aimlessly through space, when in fact distant events have thrown us into long ellipitcal, cometlike orbits, far from our origins, and eventually we will circle back on people whose lies preceded and gave rise to our own.” And that pretty much is what the book is about.

Scibona takes writing to the level of true art, and for that The End is fascinating and intriguing. However, reading it is difficult. It challenges perceptions, and forces the reader to take an entirely new approach to following story and narrative structure.

What I loved best about this book were some of its sentences like:

Night, for children, was more a place than a time

The city was a mammoth trash heap — even the lake was brown — but it was an honorable place. It put pretty to one side

All said and done, The End with its reading challenges stands out to clearly shine amongst other literary gems! A must read!

A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire

While I like what Gregory Maguire has written in the past – Wicked, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Mirror Mirror, sadly enough I did not enjoy A Lion Among Men. The book did not strike a chord with me like his earlier works did. It was supposed to be a part of the Wicked Series and yet it did not have the magic of the story or the prose like that of Wicked and Son of a Witch. All I can say is that one knows about the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz (barely does he feature in Wicked though) and he is at the centre of all the action in this book, however all said and done there is not a growl left in this one. Not even for a good fairytale reading.

Kari by Amruta Patil

So this was the 3rd time that I finished reading Kari and everytime that I wanted to write about it in the past, words escaped me. I could not pinpoint the specific emotion to nail this graphic fiction down and may be I will not be eloquent now as well, however I will try my best.

Kari is about love, loneliness, anxiety, angst, melancholy, alienation and happiness – all rolled into one – the setting being the city by the sea, also known as The Smog City. So Kari and her soulmate Ruth take the leap together, they fall from the terrace of different buildings (no reason given whatsoever – I presume, its love and the longing which does not end) and both survive the fall (in a weird sort of way). While Ruth decides to find her roots elsewhere, Kari stays on in the city and survives because of the sewers. She wants to clean the cogs and becomes a boatman before you know it.

Along the way we are introduced to people you might have seen or come across in your day-to-day interactions – the ever foolish women whose existence is incomplete without the men in their lives. The brash Angel who is dying of Cancer and attracts Kari in the most affable manner (personally I loved Angel parts in the novel). Kari is a hero in a PVC Suit. A fallen angel – clipped wings that are etched in a tattoo on her back – its beautiful how Amruta manages to combine poetry to prose in the book. At some point, I wished this was not a graphic novel, I wanted it to be fiction, purely because there would be more to read and devour.

My favourite bits of the novel: Kari and Angel’s trip to the beach, Kari wanting to look like Sean Penn, the first time Ruth and Kari meet, Kari stepping out in the rain to go and meet Angel and last but not the least, the end with the possibility of life and joy and the promise of  a sequel which I am waiting for with bated breath.

Related Reading: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, Affinity by Sarah Waters, Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson, Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, Books by Dorothy Allison.

I have to start reading related reading as well and watch movies related to the topic for more insights. I love where reading can take you.

Dangerlok by Eunice De Souza

And so it happens to be that Eunice De Souza taught my boyfriend English Literature at St. Xavier’s College, Bombay and he can never stop praising her and what she writes. I recently gave him her book of collected poems, “A Necklace of Skulls” (apparently the one she used to wear with her cotton saris which were not hemmed) and during that conversation he brought up “Dangerlok” and that really prompted me to go pick it up and read it.

Might I also add that Dangerlok is not easily available in Bombay anymore and I wonder why, considering that is a great book. Well in this case the book literally came to me and I did not regret the decision of the book.

Every sentence is precise in the book. Nothing is wasted. Every emotion is exact. Now to the plot: What is Dangerlok about? Dangerlok is Mumbai – the swirl, the scum, the acid aftertaste, the lingering, the seductive city who lures you and then enters your head and heart like a disease. And in between all this stands the protagonist, Rina Ferreira (positively modelled after Eunice)  who is an English Literature Teacher, who lives in Santacruz East with her two parrots – Totha and Tothi and her hoard of books, writing letters to David (a man who she once loved and may be still does), enjoying a casual cab ride, observing her neighbours, friends, cabwallahs, the existence of them all and the humour and irony behind things that seem so little and normal on an average day. She comes across Dangerlok on a daily basis while smoking her cigarettes and drinking her jungli tea. She observes. She notices and dashes off letters to David about the world that surrounds her.

I cannot put a finger on what I felt while reading this book – I loved it to such a great extent. It was the description of the small things – Totha sitting on her head as she opens the door to a neighbour, the memory of having bought David Copperfield for four bucks, her worry over her parrots and hence she does not leave the city for long, the fact that she does not want to be “involved in life” and yet her heart goes out to the stray pup, nutty clerks at the postoffice who refuse to acknowledge, and many such instances. De Souza gives Rina her space to play, her canvas to paint and yet its sad that the canvas is only a mere 124-page long novella. It makes you yearn for more. There is ennui and there is hope. But you better watch out, because chances of seeing Dangerlok everywhere around you are not that slim.