Monthly Archives: April 2013

Book Review: Eustace by S.J. Harris

Eustace by S.J. Harris Title: Eustace
Author: S.J. Harris
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House
ISBN: 978-0224093583
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 280
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I love graphic novels. I have loved them from the time I was introduced to them by a friend. Since then, I have not gone back on them. From Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series to Bill Willingham’s Fable Series, each graphic novel has been an experience in its own self and a unique one at that. I also believe that it is not easy to write a graphic novel. It is not that simple to say what you want to through pictures and characters that have to be spot on, since this is not a novel in its true form. So yes, I love the genre and appreciate the writers and illustrators who are able to deliver every single time.

Having said that, debut graphic novelists are a scary ground to experiment with. As a reader you do not know what to expect. At the same time you take chances whenever you are convinced about the graphic novel in question and this is exactly what I did with “Eustace” by S.J. Harris. More so when the graphic novelist is from Britain, from where I haven’t read too much graphic fiction. Anyway, I was pleasantly taken in by this dark and sometimes radically funny graphic book titled after the protagonist, “Eustace”.

“Eustace” is a boy, who is coming of age and is terribly ill. He is in bed all day with nothing to do but mull over life and dread visits from his uncles and a legion of Aunties. He has to eat horrid soup and nothing else. He gets tired easy and has nothing to do but sleep all day and hallucinate and use his wild imagination to his advantage. That is more or less how his time is spent. And one fine day a wicked uncle arrives and changes everything in his life. Eustace is exposed to decadence galore and life changes drastically for him, till he realizes more about his uncle and his past. That in short is the plot of the book.

Now to the illustrations: I loved them. There are strokes of brilliance in almost every page and the reader can see the effort put by the author in terms of expression, so to create the dark mood and at the same time keep it readable. To be able to create a sense of balance in a graphic novel is not very easy and Steven manages that effortlessly at times. I finished the book in one sitting and will also reread it at some time, just for the laughs and also for the satire that is hidden somewhere. I will most certainly look out for more stuff written by him and not miss that for sure. A must read if you like graphic novels.

Book Review: The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

cranewife Title: The Crane Wife
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-0857868718
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Once in a while you need magic in your life. More so, you need to believe in. In whatever form and manner. I guess sometimes we all need a wake-up call. Something to jostle us of our mere mundane existence and show us life in its truest form. The so-called hurdles along the way also need to be dealt with though. There is no escaping that. Maybe a little bit of living and a little bit of love would be good enough, if it comes in the right balance that is. With this, I present to you one of the most wonderful books I have read this month: “The Crane Wife” by Patrick Ness.

I was taken in by the title. I could not have figured what this book would be about and that further intrigued me to pick it up and give it a go. However, it was one of those seemingly dull days, when one has nothing to do and wants to do nothing but read that I picked up this gem of a book and could not stop reading it till I had finished it.

The writing is sublime. It is funny in places even and in most places just poignant. The story is of a forty-eight year old man in present day London, his adult daughter, his infant grandchild and how their lives are infused and transformed by love of a strange woman, who just happens to enter their lives one fine day. It all starts with one night, when the man, patches an injured crane in his backyard and sets him or her going, the mysterious woman appears at his store the very next day. At some level, you want to believe that maybe it is the crane reincarnate but of course the logical reader will not. What makes this story even more brilliant are the set of 32 tiles she carries with her, which tell a tale of long time gone by, of a daughter born out of a cloud and her existence and life with volcanoes and the world. The questions but obviously keep the reader hooked till the very end: Who is this woman? Where has she come from? What is the purpose? Why the stories? Why the tiles?

I had first heard of Patrick Ness when I read, “A Monster Calls” and loved the book to the core. It affected me quite deeply. I never thought that something else written by him would have the same kind of impact. “The Crane Wife” most certainly did. The writing is magical, infused with everyday living and yet blends with it the element of folklore with great tact. I left the book while I was about to sleep and found myself waking up in the middle of the night and turning the pages right through. Such I guess is the power of a very-well written book. It doesn’t let go of the reader, till the reader is done with it. It will definitely be on my reread list.

Book Review: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid Title: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670086375
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Mohsin Hamid’s books are biting and raw in their nature of storytelling. Nothing is rosy and that his readers are aware of. Nothing is sugar-coated. He tells it the way it is and maybe that is why his readers like reading what he has to write. Hamid writes about the society, the way he sees it. Whether it is a story of a young man in love in his first book to a fundamentalist born out of probably no choice in his second to his latest offering, “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia”, which is as raw and vicious as the other two.

The book is unusual in its writing and plot. It is a satire on the society told fictionally, through a self-help book format, with twelve rules in place on how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. It is the story of a young boy (unnamed but of course), born into a poor family. As he moves on from the village to a slum in the unnamed big city, his hopes and aspirations rise. He wants to be the very best. He wants to be rich and nothing else beyond that. As he rises through the success ladder, and sets up a bottled water factory, he realizes that everything but of course comes for a price. At the end of it all, there is one thing that remains constant in his life: His teenage love – he can never forget and yearns for all the time and all those years. The book is all about his life and the people in his life and the consequences of wanting to get “filthy rich” in rising Asia.

That in short is the plot of the book. The writing being sarcastic is highly humorous and at the same time leaves you with a sense of sadness as you turn the pages. Mohsin Hamid’s writing is strong and packed with punches and surprises in almost every chapter. The reality of the situation is seen and at the same time, it tends to get boring at a couple of places, given the repetitive start to every chapter, which is that of a self-help book.

“How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” is a short book and yet touches on the complexities of living and surviving in big cities. It portrays the paradoxes that lie in “Rising Asia” and its impact on the so-called “class” system that exists. Like I said, Hamid does not shy away from saying and seeing things the way they are. The book is highly entertaining and also thought-provoking to a very large extent. A perfect read for a Sunday afternoon.

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Book Review: On Being Different: What it Means to be a Homosexual by Merle Miller

On Being Different by Merle Miller Title: On Being Different: What it Means to be a Homosexual
Author: Merle Miller
Publisher: Penguin Classics
ISBN: 9780143106968
Genre: Non-Fiction, Gay, Gender Studies, Essay
Pages: 74
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I remember the time I came out to my family. I had to. There was no other way. I could not live the way I was. Almost a double life. It does not work this way and it should not. I did not want to go through having to lie every time I had to step out or make any random excuse. More than this I guess, I wanted to live my life on my own terms. I did not know how it would be at eighteen though. Today I know better and also am aware that maybe our country has miles to go before homosexuality is accepted in all walks of life, without looking at it as something “queer” or “odd” or “different”. We think we are okay with it. We almost would like to believe it. The story is however different. There are so many friends I know of who would never want their children to be gay. They cannot fathom that and they are okay with me being who I am. Which makes me think: Are they really okay? Would they even let me close to their children? And it was at this time, I read a book which made perfect sense to me and was a right read at that time – “On Being Different” by Merle Miller.

At the same time, it was not easy for the gay community back in the 70s, living in the United States of America. It was looked down upon. People were losing their jobs if out of the closet. There were no gay rights to speak of. In short, it was either treated as something that did not exist or something that existed but more as a mental disease than love between same genders. Merle Miller, an American writer, and journalist then decided to retaliate against an article written by Joseph Epstein for Harper’s Magazine called, “The Struggle for Sexual Identity”, in which Epstein publicly lashed out against homosexuals. Miller did not understand the article and why the hatred against homosexuals. He wrote an article in retaliation titled, “What it Means to Be a Homosexual” for the New York Times. It later became a book called “On Being Different”, with a forward by Dan Savage and an afterword by Charles Kaiser, which I have just finished reading.

I did not love the book because I am gay and I have to love it because it is about gay people or gay rights. I loved it because it was honest. It came from a place which everyone has been to – a place of alienation, of wanting to fit in and at the same time on their own terms, to be treated as equals with the same rights for all, and that to me is primary in any civilized set-up. Miller’s essay is so relevant to the society I live in. He talks of how his straight friends do not want their children to mingle with gay people, in the fear that they might be seduced and lured. He speaks of the atrocities in an angry tone and at the same time speaks of changes that need to occur. It was very difficult for me to imagine that this was written in the 70s, when challenges surrounding gay rights were abound. Teenage gay boys were committing suicide instead of coming out to their parents. They were scared. There was no one to turn to. Miller with his essay made people see the reality of the situation. Gay-Straight Alliances were set up and slowly and steadily changes came about in the United States of America.

The writing of the essay is razor sharp and sparse. Everything is said in about 30 pages or so. There were times while reading the book, I was thinking of my life. I have gone through my own share of ridicule for being gay, for perhaps walking and talking in the manner I used to, for thinking about men the way I did, and of course for never expecting a straight man to understand how I felt. At the same time, I also believed at the end of reading this book, that everyone should read this essay. Just to understand how we sometimes unintentionally or intentionally mock something or some people who are different. How maybe it is time differences are embraced and we learn to co-exist. After all, love knows no gender. People’s minds on the other hand are a different story. “On Being Different” is just that – an essay, a meditation on accepting differences, without prejudices, without any judgments, because maybe the time is right.

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Book Review: Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson Title: Written on the Body
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780679744474
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 190
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Books read at an impressionable age always leave you astounded. You cannot get more of them. You reread them at various stages in life and if it manages to evoke similar feelings in you, like the first time, then the book maybe is meant for you. Few books fit into this category. Fewer books make it there from the hundreds and thousands of books we read in a lifetime. It is almost like a personal treasure – this small collection that touches you every time you pick any book from it. For me, a lot of books fit into this, and “Written on the Body” by Jeanette Winterson is one of them.

I read this book for the first time when I was just about to come out to my family. It is one of those books which will always be close to my heart. It somehow gave me the required courage to do what I did. I don’t know how, but it did and at that time, it mattered the world to me. It made me want to go up to Ms. Winterson and let her know how much I loved her book and how grateful I was to her for writing it. Books do that. Any art form does. Anything that can manage to touch you to that extent.

“Written on the Body” is a love story as most of Ms. Winterson’s books. It is a meditation on love and desire. It is about how maybe love sustains itself no matter what the odds. It is everything to do with extraordinary passion and unrequited love at its worst. It is about the body – every single part of it, every pore of the skin, every surface that the beloved touches. The book is narrated by a nameless and genderless being about his or her love for a married woman named Louise. The book talks of their affair, their love, their desire and the betrayal by the body.

Winterson’s writing is beyond magical. She knows which nerve to touch on, which emotion to carry through, which rawness to portray that makes the reader wonder about his or her life. She speaks of how lovers know each other’s bodies. How they know every scar, every detail, every birthmark, every crevice of the body and how love gets to those places. The book is unusual in its narrative, however once you get the hang of it, you will not let go of it. The prose is lyricism at its best. Winterson’s expressions and her details about love and the lovers are not to be missed. The book is clever as well, but above all it is about the nature of love and how we do not give up on the lover, even if the love is doomed.

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