Monthly Archives: March 2010

Castle by J. Robert Lennon

Alright! This writer and this book completely blew me away.I did not know what to expect on reading the synopsis, however when I started reading the book, I was in awe.

The book peels itself like an onion – with layers and more layers to it. The protagonist, Eric Loesch is a loner – the typical brooder with poor social skills. He buys an old house with nothing around it for miles – just surrounded by plain good ol’ land. He decides to remodel it. Life goes on as usual, until Mr. Lennon decides to build some tension into the plot and things begin to happen.

What I loved about the book was the interwoven plots – one that is real (or so it seems) and the other which is in Eric’s head and almost merges with the real one. There is this artful suspense that had me teethered along the way. There are a lot of questions asked in a subtle manner in the book, which I felt deserved an answer. The monster-human theory in particular, and do not worry it will all make sense in the end.

If you love the dark side and gothic writing, then you will love this one for sure! For the faint-hearted or for the ones who like their stories served on a platter, pick it up. It might just change your view.

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Chaos by Edmund White

Age has always got the better of us. Of all of us – whether it be a man, or a woman, straight or gay, though a lot more in the case of being a gay man, and that’s what Chaos is all about – age and its impact on our lives. The older we get, the more insecure we become, specially more so when you are 66, like the protagonist of the novella, “Chaos”, Jack who is obsessed with Seth, 28-year old charmless ex-Mormon sex bomb. It is rather sad to read to what extent Jack will go to have his way – even if it means paying Seth in return of a sexual favour. The other three stories, about two older men and younger “boys”.

The stories are cliched. You must have read off them before, or probably seen a movie on similar lines, what you have to experience though is the beauty of Edmund White’s language. His prose is so dense at times; that you are forced to take a step back and marvel at what he can do with the language.

For instance, here is something from the book on memory:

He made lists of things to do but forgot to consult them. Nothing yet was completely lost, but he had to write down his appointments right away or they would escape him an hour after he’d worked them out in detail and he’d have to make a humiliating second call (‘Did we say Tuesday at three?’ ‘No, a week from Thursday at four.’).

I do not if gay men out of loneliness wallow in self-pity or escape through opium or by paying prostitutes. I am gay and yes loneliness and old age scare me as well, and I to some extent know where Mr. White is coming from, it’s just that I fail to see how one cannot do more with one’s life. While on the other hand, I also agree to what he has to write to some extent, yet I am sure there is more than just loneliness and being sex-starved when you are an old gay man.

Having said that, each of the four stories carry the theme of aging, of recollection, of longing for the unattainable made out of grasp because of the erosion of time.

‘Time was speeding up just as it was running out, like the last of the water draining form the sink’.

But the manner in which Edmund White carves these tales is not one of desperation, of nihilism. His characters retain the sensual longing yet the inherent dignity of the Marschallin of ‘Der Rosenkavalier’. And the stories are just about that operatic. Reading Edmund White is a feast, beautifully prepared.

An Interview With Aamer Hussein

And so another interview with a man who is classy, has a great penmanship and I recommend, Another Gulmohar Tree to all. A must read. So here is my interview (via email again) with Aamer Hussein:

Q; I was intrigued about the title used for this novella. Could you please let us know how did the title come about?
A;The book was originally titled Puzzled Angels, after something a Pakistani writer said to me about the characters of my previous book of stories, Insomnia (also published by Penguin). The gulmohar tree wasalways there in the story- perhaps because it was ubiquitous in the Karachi of my childhood, and I spent a lot of my free time reading up on a branch of one – but it was only while I was writing the book that I discovered that the tree was brought to the subcontinent from Madagascar, and it became a perfect metaphor for my protagonists’ lives. Actually it was the poet Ruth Padel who suggested the title to me; she said that by the end of the book Usman and Lydia weren’t puzzled any more.

Q: To me this book seemed autobiographical in many ways. Was it? What inspired you to write about love amongst different cultures?
A: Nothing really autobiographical about it, except, perhaps, the glimpses of Karachi, particularly the neighbourhood in which Usman and Lydia build thir yhome, and the art world I knew as a child. However, the story ends in 1962 when I was been barely seven, and the Karachi I remember was changing dramatically.The second part of your question is both tricky and simple; it’s hard to say why one is drawn to a particular subject. However, there were two famous Eruropean women artists, Anna Molka and Esther Rahim, working in Pakistan in thr period; a third, Christian Vlasto (the wife of an acclaimed writer) changed her name to Zainab Ghulam Abbas, did wonderful illustrations for children, and retold traditional stories in a fine book of Pakistani folktales. I took my inspiration from thrm, but the story came to me before I knew them and is in essence imaginary, though its trimmings are historical.

Q I loved the part about the children not knowing how to speak Urdu fluently in the book. Was that delibrate? Did you also have to struggle to master the language?
A: Urdu was the first language I remember speaking; but I learnt the English alphabet at five and Urdu at about eight, so my reading in English was far more fluent when I was growing up. Now I’m pretty much bilingual as a speaker and a reader.

Q; The book starts with fables, which I wished were more in the book. The connection of them to the story was brilliantly executed. Was there any specific reason to write in fables?
A: Usman in my story responds to the poliical climate by writing fables. My plan was to rewrite the classical story of thr Crocodile King with a modern twist but I got carried away and wove in other tales, too. But I think there are just enough for my book and adding any more would have overloaded the book.

Q: Who are your favourite authors?

A; From the subcontinent, I love the novels and stories of Qurratulain Hyder and the short fictions of Shafiq-ur-Rahman, among others. I admire Vaikom Bashir, Two of my favouritr novels are Cesare Pavese’s Thr Moon and thr Bonfire and Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights. I love the short stories of Isak Dinesen and the Japanese Tanizaki and Akutagawa.

Q: I know it sounds rather banal, however one book you wish you had written and why?

A; I’m by predilection a writer of short fiction. So: some of the stories of Hyder in her collection Pathjhar ki Avaaz (translated as Thr sound of Autumn Leaves): the title story and the novella ‘Exiles’, for example. .

Q: What are you currently working on?

A; I’m working on the final draft of a novel, The Cloud Messenger, which will be published in England next year.

Q; What are you currently reading?

A: Salvador Dali’s Hidden Faces; Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes; a biography of the photographer Dorothea Lange.

The Original of Laura by Vladimir Nabokov

So there is this protagonist Flora, who is married to an older man and obviously she is not satisfied in her marriage – emotionally or physically. So its no surprise that she has many lovers, of which one has written a novel, “My Laura”. This is her chronicle – everything about her. Her husband Philip, gets hold of the copy. Philip tends to then think of himself not a part of the story – as though he was out of it, and that’s when he decides to erase himself. That’s the story.

The Original of Laura was written on Nabokov’s death bed, with instructions to be perished. The charm of the book lies in the photographic images of Nabokov’s original index cards side-by-side with the typeset version. The plot and characters are in fragments, yet the story has tremendous emotional heft. What I loved was that we could be a part of the creative process – the way Nabokov indulged in it. You get to be the writer by removing the cards and playing with them in order to arrange the story in your head.

I love Nabokov. Always have and the way he writes. His books are rather complicated, but having said that his lines are brilliant. Some of them from this one, “A cloudless September maddened the crickets”, and “Every now and then she would turn up for a few moments between trains, between planes, between lovers. My morning sleep would be interrupted by heartrending sounds — a window opening, a little bustle downstairs, a trunk coming, a trunk going, distant telephone conversations that seemed to be conducted in conspiratorial whispers. If shivering in my nightshirt I dared to waylay her all she said would be ‘you really ought to lose some weight”. That is brilliant writing, though conversations are fractured in this one.

I only wish there was more of it in this one. More of his writing. Its more like an unfinished puzzle that just keeps you wanting more and you know there will be no more.

Another Gulmohar Tree by Aamer Hussein

So while I hadn’t heard of Aamer Hussein as a writer, or had come to discover his works, my journey has truly begun with a brilliant book, written by him, called “Another Gulmohar Tree”. There is magic in the book, that seeps and mingles with the lush descriptions of Karachi and London – two cities, two people, two cultures and a single love story that binds it all. A tapestry of a marriage – as it threatens to fall apart and how after all its only love that binds.

The book is somewhere between a novel and a novella I think and that hardly mattered. The first 40-odd pages left me breathless – there were parables that would only reveal themselves later in the book. The plot is simple: Usman, a writer, is visting London from Pakistan to work for The Telegraph for a year. He meets Lydia, an aspiring artist and is immediately drawn to her thoughts and her. They find comfort in each other – a familiar sense of being, both just out of failed marriages.

Usman heads back to Pakistan and is joined by Lydia two years later, only to end up marrying her. Thus starts their journey, of her getting accustomed to a new place and of his getting to know the “new’ her.

The book is written simply. I love the simplicity – a simple emotion like love does not require complex words anyway. A description of a Gulmohar tree is enough. The knowing between a couple is sufficient, and sometimes just taking comfort in the fact that two people who love each other enough and more are together is what this book is all about. A love that truly binds.

Another Gulmohar Tree is available by Penguin India. ISBN: 9780143067399; Rs. 225

To learn more about the author, please visit: http://www.aamerhussein.com