Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson Title: The Gap of Time
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Publisher: Hogarth Shakespeare
ISBN: 978-0804141352
Genre: Literary Fiction, Adaptation,
Pages: 288
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

There are books or plays that you cannot imagine being retold and when they are, you cannot imagine anyone else retelling them but the author who gave it a new voice. I strongly go by this and more so after I finished reading “The Gap of Time” by Jeanette Winterson, a retelling of “The Winter’s Tale” by the Bard – the first in the project commissioned by Hogarth books under a new imprint “Hogarth Shakespeare” where all of Shakespeare’s plays will be retold by various authors.

“The Winter’s Tale” is one of Shakespeare’s last plays – exploring the theme of forgiveness more than jealousy over time. The plot is similar to “Othello”, but the story and the way it moves is very different and so is the conclusion. There is redemption. You actually need not read “The Winter’s Tale” to read “The Gap of Time” but do have some plot summary in your head before you embark on Winterson’s adaptation.

King Leontes of Sicily believes his wife Hermione is having an affair with his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia and that the child she is carrying is his. So he orders Polixenes to be murdered, the bastard girl child to be exposed to die and Hermione to be sent to prison, where it is believed that she also dies. The bastard girl child survives. Shakespeare has a change of heart so to say and must wait till the child Perdita – the lost one appears in Act II and everything then falls into place, including the broad themes of forgiveness, time and everything that is lost must be found.

Jeanette Winterson takes this plot and makes it her own. The setting is contemporary. The jealousies are the same. Polixenes is Xeno – a bisexual man who is in love with his best friend Leo and his wife MiMi. Leo suspects MiMi of having an affair with Xeno. Perdita is born. Leo orders his gardener to take her to Xeno. Things don’t go as planned. Perdita is adopted by a grieving man Shep and his son Clo. The plot unravels on Shep’s seventieth birthday and nothing is the same ever for the characters caught in the trap of time. They have to live and see what happens next and a lot does, which I will not give away in this review.

Winterson does a fantastic job of bringing “The Winter’s Tale” alive in 2008 – when the financial crisis was hitting the world and bringing it down. The theme of redemption is so strong running throughout that Winterson is the only one I know of who can breeze through it, without it becoming boring or monotonous at any point. There were lines I could not stop underlining or marking. The writing as usual leaves you speechless. It actually also surpasses time itself – just as her earlier works, where time is fluid, flexible and bends at will. “The Gap of Time” is such a worthy successor to “The Winter’s Tale”. You simply have to read it.

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Sergio Y. by Alexandre Vidal Porto

Sergio Y. by Alexandre Vidal Porto Title: Sergio Y.
Author: Alexandre Vidal Porto
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453275
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It is rare you come across a book that stuns you and leaves you gasping for breath, in the happiest way possible. It is also rare that you wish the book didn’t have to end so soon and you wanted to read more and know more about the characters. However, it is true that a book ends when it does and when the writer feels that there is nothing left to say anymore. “Sergio Y” is the kind of book that says what it has to, leaves a void in your heart when you’re done with it and leaves you with a bittersweet feeling which anyway translates to life.

“Sergio Y.” by Alexandre Vidal Porto is a layered book – it is complex, surreal and revolves around the pursuit of happiness so strong that as a reader you just want them all to find that elusive idea of happiness. You want the central character and the others to be happy. You want life to give them that shot at it and let them be to their device. Alexandre writes with such conviction and skill that you want to step out, meet the first person on the street and hug him or her, because people need more understanding and some senseless mad loving in this world, now more than ever.

Armando is a seventy-year-old highly esteemed and extremely qualified psychiatrist in São Paulo and the narrator of Sergio Y. He is writing this journal or a report because years ago he had a patient named Sergio, a seventeen-year-old boy who came to see him for several months before abruptly ending their sessions. This happened without any explanation after Sergio returned from a short vacation in New York City. He just knew what he wanted and he had found it, so he deemed it only fair to end the sessions. A couple of years later Armando learns from Sergio’s mother that Sergio is happy in NYC and is a chef and soon plans to open his own restaurant.

Cut ahead to a few weeks and Armando learns of Sergio’s murder in the papers. His murder haunts Armando. He doesn’t know why he feels so strongly for this patient, whose only motive was to be happy and find happiness wherever he could. On further discovery, Armando realizes that there is no record of the death of Sergio Yacoubian, but only that of a Sandra Yacoubian. Armando is further perplexed. How could Sergio hide something so important? Where did it all begin? Armando seeks answers and all of this leads him to NYC, where it all began. He also learns of how Sandra died.

The book is all about the pursuit of happiness – of memories, migration and the need to belong. Why did I love this book? Because it shows you that you can be happy, only that you have to work toward it which Sergio did. Sergio finds happiness in Sandra. He cannot live as a man so he decides to change and be happy. The book also is of perspectives – of Sandra’s parents, of the murderer, of Armando as a husband and a father and of how cities make change possible within you as a person. Porto looks at cultures within human beings and the need for those to mingle with the outside world, which is so essential.

“Sergio Y” leaves with you with optimism, a sweet longing that things are fine no matter how long or short your life might be, and with the knowing that all you have to do is find your happiness and chase it. Alexandre Vidal Porto, thank you for this beautiful, gregarious book. I loved every word of it. Thank you again.

The Man who Snapped his Fingers by Fariba Hachtroudi

The Man who Snapped His Fingers by Fariba Hachtroudi Title: The Man who Snapped his Fingers
Author: Fariba Hachtroudi
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN:978-1609453060
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

And so another book was finished this month. What a book I must say as I start this review. A truly close to life book, “The Man who snapped his Fingers” surpasses every expectation and predictability and goes to the heart of the matter, without the reader even realizing that that has happened.

The book is about two people – a colonel from the inner circle of the Iranian supreme commander who now lives in another country and is being constantly questioned, as he attempts to gain asylum from the country. He is being questioned about his past – and whether or not he had anything to do with the regime’s program of kidnapping and torture. Of course, since he is being questioned, his translator at the last interrogation turns out to be “455” – a prisoner under the regime, with whom he shares a past of torture.

In the chapters that come to be in the book, we learn more about their loves and how they come to understand each other, despite sharing such a tumultuous past. I was deeply moved by this book – given how regimes (and more so dictatorial ones) change people and how after years, when the same people are face to face, how it all comes back and the decisions you then make to save the ones you love.

There are interior monologues throughout the book (first person narratives are anyway kind of difficult to immerse into) – of both these people and at first, it might be a bit daunting to read it this way – but you do get used to it eventually. The book explores the concepts of power and memory so strongly and lucidly that you are completely taken in by it.

There are their conversations – half-truths and the murkiness that has been accumulated throughout the years – which make these two who they are. As you read the book yo realize that how difficult it is to face some pasts as they reenter your existence and they do, whether you like it or not.

“The Man who snapped his Fingers” is not an easy read. Nor is it the kind of book which is easy to forget. Fariba’s writing is stark, raw and unsettling. She does not sugar-coat anything and that would be a problem if you are used to reading literature that does not present the way facts are to be presented – just the way they happened. This is of course a fictional work, but still whose roots lay in reality. I absolutely loved what this book had to offer. This book is a treat. “The Man who snapped his Fingers” is the kind of book that sticks to you and stays. I know for a fact that I will reread it sometime soon.

In the City of Gold and Silver by Kenizé Mourad

In the City of Gold and Silver by Kenize Mourad Title: In the City of Gold and Silver: The Story of Begum Hazrat Mahal
Author: Kenizé Mourad
Translator: Anne Mathai in collaboration with Marie-Louise Naville
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609452278
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I love books set in the period when India had just begun fighting for their independence or had started again way back in the 1940s. Historical fiction has always been close to my heart and will continue to hold that spot – whether the books are set in India or any other country.

“In the City of Gold and Silver” by Kenizé Mourad was the first historical fiction novel read this year and I was completely taken in by it. Set in Awadh during the time of the first Mutiny in India – this book traces the life of the fourth wife of King Wajid Ali Shah – who ultimately had to give up on Awadh when it was annexed by the British like most other princely states and territories in India during the East India regime.

What is different about this story though is that the book doesn’t end with Wajid Ali Shah being exiled, but begins with Begum Hazrat Mahal taking charge of the affairs in the state of Awadh and how she seized control of Lucknow.

The book to me beautifully charts a part of history – which isn’t forgotten but is often not spoken of. Yes, the Indian Rebellion of 1857 is linked to this region as well and is fleetingly mentioned in the book – but the book is mainly about the king Wajid Ali Shah and his wife – Hazrat Mahal – the formidable, strong and independent woman that she was.

Mourad’s writing is in third person and she does a clever job of introducing her characters and etching them. The fluidity of language and perspectives of each character blends in beautifully – from Wajid Shah to Hazrat to the deputy in charge of playing the middleman between the king and the Governor General to the farmers and the sepoys, Kenizé takes you back in a place and time that you cannot imagine and yet as you turn the pages, they come alive.

The book in a sense is a big fat historical lesson – in how one woman succeeding in changing the face of Awadh in troubled times and how she rose from being a courtesan to the fourth queen. That to me in the true sense of the word is “feminism” – how she refused to back down and let go. I think more than Wajid Ali Shah, of course the focus was on her and her story – which is how the book delivers and stays on target with it.

“In the City of Gold and Silver” is a book that will educate you, will make you wonder, will also make you feel really sad for the sovereign and hoot out loud for Begum Hazrat Mahal. I recommend this book very highly if you want to know more about that era or you just want to start reading some good historical fiction.

Night Prayers by Santiago Gamboa

Layout 1 Title: Night Prayers
Author: Santiago Gamboa
Translator: Howard Curtis
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453114
Genre: Literary Crime, Literary, Crime
Pages: 302
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Reading “Night Prayers” by Santiago Gambao is like watching a movie on adrenalin. It is not only a crime novel but also a literary crime novel that takes you through the heartland of Latin America. It is also a story of sibling love and so much happening in the background, that you don’t realize when you have come to the end of the book.

“Night Prayers” may seem like it isn’t an easy read when you begin it, however, once you start, you realize it is most simple and a fabulous read at that. The book is about Manuel, a Colombian philosophy student who gets arrested in Bangkok, accused of drug trafficking. He has a sister named Juana, who he hasn’t seen for years. He longs to see her. He doesn’t even care if he is executed. All he wants is to see her.

Juana’s life has been all about protecting her brother from the mean streets of Bogotá. She decides to take him away from Bogotá – as far as she can and she is unable to. All of this happened when Manuel was a student, a dreamer and great lover of literature. Things take an ugly turn and she has to leave her brother behind. In present day, she is married to a rich Japanese businessman and lives in Tokyo.

In all of this, the Colombian counsel in Delhi wants to help and reunite the siblings and all of this with the intrigue of Manuel’s case and what actually happened there. This is in short, the story of “Night Prayers”. Now, why must you read this book? Let me tell you the reasons.

Santiago is a writer who is so skillful that he cannot write anything mediocre or bad at all. I’ve read one of his other books, “Necropolis” and it shines – I kid you not when I say that. It is intricate (just like this one), layered and characters who stay with you long after. Manuel and Juana stop becoming mere characters and become people for the reader. As a reader, I was involved in everything they did or didn’t do – the choices made and the repercussions.

For me, what also worked very well in the novel were the secondary characters – from the counsel in Delhi to the underbelly goons of Bogotá, each of them had oodles of character and charm to sustain me throughout. Santiago’s writing is essentially as though you are watching a well-scripted movie. The plot points are tight and don’t waiver. The translation by Howard Curtis is precise and does not meander into rambling at any point. The prose is chic and stylish – the dialogues even more. “Night Prayers” is the kind of book that you will race through in the span of a weekend and I’m sure you would want more by Gamboa – in that case, please keep “Necropolis” handy as well. You have to read them consequently. All in all, please visit the nearest bookshop or order these two online, right now!