Daily Archives: February 1, 2013

Book Review: Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell by Rabisankar Bal (Translated by Arunava Sinha)

Dozakhnama by Rabisankar Bal Title: Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell
Author: Rabisankar Bal
Translator: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 9788184003086
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 544
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Translations are needed – to let us readers know what we have missed out on and what we cannot anymore. I am a champion of translations, only because I wish I could read some works in the language they were written in, but if I cannot do that, then well, a translation suffices any given day. With a book that is translated, there is so much at stake. Are all the emotions translated as well? Are words used the way they are supposed to? Is every phrase and every thought in its place? Maybe so, is punctuation to convey the correct idea? Translation is not easy business. It takes a lot from the translator – it is almost a bond needs to be there between the writer and the translator for sure. With this, I begin my review of, “Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell” – written by Rabisankar Bal and beautifully translated by Arunava Sinha.

“Dozakhnama” proved to be is a very special read. I read it cover to cover and could not stop reading it. I managed to finish it today and here I am talking about it. The book is about two of my favourite writers conversing beyond the graves – Mirza Ghalib and Sadaat Hasan Manto. Their lives are entwined in shared dreams. The book has all elements – love, anger, hate, jealousy, magic realism (a lot of it and maybe that is one of the reasons I enjoyed the book the way I did), and covers all ground – right from Bandra to Ashok Kumar. This is what I love the most about the book – Bal doesn’t hesitate to imagine and Arunava doesn’t hesitate to work towards getting the emotion right for the reader in English.

The writing had me gripped from the first page and I couldn’t put it down, though it was heavy in most places. While reading the book, I often wondered, how it would sound in the language it was written in. The nuances of Bengali may not have come across totally in English; however I must say the translation was packed with power and to the hilt, as it was supposed to. I will not give away the meaning behind the title, because I want other readers to explore what is there to it. At the same time, what I loved most was the couplets and quotes that kept appearing in the book since but obviously it is about two great writers.

I have yet to come across a translation as good as this one. Arunava as always does a brilliant job of translating works. Dozakhnama is a read that I will not forget for a very long time to come. In fact, if I have the time to reread it, I will do that as well. I cannot stop raving about it and with good reason.

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Book Review: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg Title: The Middlesteins
Author: Jami Attenberg
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-4555-0721-4
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 274
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I guess every family is dysfunctional and deals with their problems in their own way. Maybe that is what makes families what they are – the one support system you cannot do without, irrespective of the size of the family. These thoughts and more crossed my mind as I finished reading my last read of January – “The Middlesteins” by Jami Attenberg.

On the surface, the book is about a morbidly obese woman Edie Middlestein, who has been advised by the doctors to either lose weight or die and her family coming together to save her. On the other, it is about failed relationships and the cracks that appear sooner than we know and how life has the ability to never let things go the way we want them to. Edie and Richard have had a wonderful American suburban life for over thirty decades with their kids – Robin and Benny, a nice house, a great job and everything seems rosy, except for Edie’s eating disorder. Richard leaves Edie and then it falls on the kids and Benny’s wife Rachelle to get things in order, for almost to save Edie.

At the heart of the book, there are always so many questions gnawing the reader’s mind: Why did Edie eat the way she did? Didn’t she know the implications? Why did Richard leave her? Also, what I found most intriguing in the book was the way their religion (Jewishness) is inter-connected beautifully in the book, without overtaking it. The Middlesteins has been written very well and that is what kept me turning the pages. The writing is wonderfully structured and goes back and forth in time to explain the things Edie and the rest of the family does. Of course the more traditional elements of every dysfunctional family are brought out excellently, so I could also somewhere see parts of my family there – the sort of inane connect a reader has with a book. Read it if the idea of something dysfunctional and full of some dry humour captures your interest and attention.

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