Daily Archives: February 14, 2013

Book Review: The Guardians : An Elegy for a Friend by Sarah Manguso

The Guardians by Sarah Manguso Title: The Guardians
Author: Sarah Manguso
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1250024152
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

One of the most difficult things to write about is the death of a loved one and how it completely changes you, or at least most parts of you. Death, being the common factor to our lives, since we have all lost someone special and dear to it, is almost something that doesn’t let go. The loss is felt at various times and places and to document that to me is a work of remarkable restraint and courage. “The Guardians” by Sarah Manguso is one such book. After reading, “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion, I thought I was done reading about loss and grief, however guess I wasn’t.

“The Guardians” by Sarah Manguso, as the title also suggests is an elegy for a friend. Sarah grieves for a best friend through this book. Her friend, Harris died on the 23rd of July 2008 under the wheels of a train. The Guardians is a heartfelt meditation on friendship and grief. It is about love and how it changes the world of a person, when the other is not around. At the same time, the book is not sentimental or wallowing in self-pity. It is written the way Sarah feels it. The book is about Sarah trying to make sense of death and how it changed her life and the way she thought to some extent.

I could relate a lot to the book, maybe because like I said, we have all lost that special someone, so it is only fair that the reader would be able to relate to a book of this nature. The writing is sparse, extending only at one hundred and twenty eight pages and yet Manguso manages to say what she has to. She shows some parts and aspects of Harris’s life and covers some, rightly so, given the book could get either very personal or very distant. She speaks of mourning and the process of grief in most endearing ways: “I want to set aside every expectation of how I should feel or act given that my friend had a bad death, and try to explain what has actually happened to me” she states most eloquently. Grief to her cannot be measured at all and that can be seen throughout the book.

The book is deeply personal and when you read something this personal, a part of you cannot think, it can only feel and the other wants to think and connect everything that is read. For me the book was difficult in parts. I choked at some and at other times I closed the book, and revisited it after some time. Like they say, grief is way too personal. One’s relation to it in whatever form is also very personal and this book stands out to unite people in grief, at a very superficial level, but nonetheless it binds through the situation and words and feelings. I for one cannot imagine what would happen to me if my best friend were to die. This book is a short treatise on loss, love and friendship. Something that I will not recommend you miss.

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Book Review: The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read them by Elif Batuman

The Possessed by Elif Batuman Title: The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them
Author: Elif Batuman
Publisher: Granta Books, Penguin
ISBN: 9781847083142
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

There is something about Russian classics which has always been quite of a challenge for me to read. It is a different thing that I have grown to love them over time, however getting acquainted with them was a bit of a challenge. The dreariness of plots, the numerous characters in almost every big Russian novel and I guess that is why I did not learn to appreciate it at the beginning. At the same time, there are other Russian books which are not as well-known or authors who have not got their due, however that I will pick up sometime later and devour them, page by page. For now, I must talk about “The Possessed” by Elif Batuman.

“The Possessed” is unlike any other book I have read. Going by the cover, I honestly thought that it would be a serious book on Russian classics and the people who have read them, however I was in for a surprise. “The Possessed” is a funny book. It is not direct humour; however there are moments of extreme laughter, and joy that come across quite unexpectedly. It is sort of a love affair of Batuman with Russian classics and how along the way she interacted with people who loved those classics as well. At the same time, there are undertones of politics (but of course) and personal opinions to people and how sometimes art imitates life and vice-versa.

There are times I felt the book to be more of a personal memoir and less of a book on Russian literature, however that opinion changed as I went further into the book and turned the pages. The references that are most close to me in the book were the ones made to Tolstoy (well there is a whole chapter on him and with good reason) and Pushkin (I guess almost every Indian child born in the 80’s grew up on his fairy tales). The writing tends to get a little academic to begin with, more so with the chapter on Babel; however it eases into the book and converts to being simple as the chapters run along.

The book alternates between Batuman’s perception and the incidents that took place with her during the course of meeting people and knowing more about the Russian masters. “The Possessed” is a good start to familiarize yourself with the Russian classics in bits and pieces if you do not know anything about them. The other part which I loved the most in the book was the summer the author spent in Samarkand – it is a pretty intriguing read. There is a lot to learn about cultures in the book and the context in which they can be sensed or used. The book was an eye-opener for me to learn more about my favourite Russian authors and in context to human nature more so. I would only recommend this read if the long gone and not-read Russian Classics interest you. The book is then almost written for you.

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