Monthly Archives: January 2018

The Armenian Champa Tree by Mahasweta Devi. Translated by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee

The Armenian Champa Tree by Mahasweta Devi.jpg Title: The Armenian Champa Tree
Author: Mahasweta Devi
Translated from the Bengali by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-8170461463
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 54
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember reading my first Mahasweta Devi book at the age of twenty-two I think. It was a long time ago or so it seems like. Since then, I have read and re-read her works. I have tried to make sense of her world or the worlds she creates from reality. I have often found myself helpless, not because I can’t do anything for the under-privileged but because I am perhaps lazy.

At the same time, reading her makes you feel so many things that you just feel them – you don’t fight her writing and you mustn’t. However, “The Armenian Champa Tree” is the kind of book which is layered by politics and caste system and yet doesn’t seem like that. It is one of those books by her which is easy to read (also given that it is so short) and yet makes you think about what she is trying to say.

Mato is a young Buno tribal boy of ten and all he does is daydream, which is mother despises. He is most attached to his pet baby goat, Arjun. A tantric saint demands Arjun’s sacrifice to the goddess Kali and thus begins Mato’s quest to save the baby goat, even if it means entering the Armenian church for it. This is where the stroke of genius of Mahasweta Devi lies. She talks of religious superstitions and makes us see the world for what it is through the eyes of a young boy and a goat. To me, just that was enough to pick up the book.

Also, might I add that the translation by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee is spot on. The reason I say this without reading this in the original form is that some words and phrases are as is which only add to the flavor of the book, at the same time, leaving not wanting for more.

“The Armenian Champa Tree” seems to be an easy book to read and absorb on the surface and it is. Till the layers start peeling and you enjoy it even more.

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The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn Title: The Woman in the Window
Author: A.J. Finn
Publisher: William Morrow, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062678416
Genre: Literary Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I am not a fan of thrillers. I do not read them so often, however, I wanted to read “The Woman in the Window”. Although it would be shelved under thrillers or mystery, it is definitely more than that, according to me. It is extremely literary and not in the hard-kind-of-way-to-read literary. It is a very easy read but it keeps you engaged. Pages may not fly as they do when you read a thriller but let me also tell you that you have to immerse yourself in about one hundred and twenty pages or so till you get to the juicy parts and it is worth every turn of the page.

“The Woman in the Window” also has an unreliable narrator and I am for one not big on this form of writing, however, this might it seemed to work for me. Dr. Anna Fox is a psychologist (child psychologist) who peers through her camera at the neighbours in 212, stuck in her agoraphobic world in her very expensive apartment, estranged from her husband, Ed and young daughter Olivia. She also plays chess online and is a part of an online forum to help other agoraphobics. She goes by the ID thedoctorisin.

At the same time, Anna isn’t one of the most reliable people you know of (that’s why the unreliable narration). She drinks red wine and in copious quantities. She also overdoses her medication. Her psychiatrist Dr. Fielding, comes to check in one her once a week and all her time if not spent snooping in others’ lives, is spent watching old crime noir films. Till one fine day, Anna notices something happening in 212 and life is never the same.

A.J. Finn creates a sense of claustrophobia most of the time (guess it is intended) for his readers and that lends extremely well while reading the book. I often found myself looking over my shoulder to see if someone was around and most often just to breathe, as I thought I was out of breath. Having said that, the writing is light but not without being intelligent and witty (in some places).

The entire book almost feels like a Hitchcock film – you can almost visualize it and to add to that there are these references (and sometimes scenes as well) of the movies Anna loves to watch and watches when the action is going on. I loved the references! What I also liked about the writing is that A.J. Finn doesn’t spoon-feed you with the sub-plots or characters. It flows as the story ambles along. The pace I did have a problem with initially, but that sorted itself early on.

“The Woman in the Window” is a thriller that will make you fall in love with the way characters are sketched, plots are intertwined and unravel and the overall plot structure. A.J. Finn has created a book that is clever as it shows itself to you, page after page. A read not to be missed out this year.

 

I, Parrot by Deb Olin Unferth. Illustrated by Elizabeth Haidle

I Parrot Title: I, Parrot
Author: Deb Olin Unferth
Illustrated by Elizabeth Haidle
Publisher: Black Balloon Publishing
ISBN: 978-1936787654
Genre: Graphic Novels
Pages: 160
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

There are graphic novels and then there are graphic novels that almost speak to you. They are relatable, empathetic and make you see things in a different light. “I, Parrot” is one such graphic novel – unique, wondrous and soulful at the same time.

The book is about Daphne, a lonely woman, her life, her attempt to keep her life afloat so she can get the custody of her child someday from her ex-husband, her current love who she cannot make head or tail of and forty-two exotic parrots she has to take care of for her employer who is out for the weekend.

There is poignancy and humour in this large-hearted graphic novel like none other than I have read in recent times. It will take some time to get into it though – the whining and constant complaining will not make you want to turn another page, but once you do, the rewards of this graphic novel are multiple.

Unfreth’s writing is layered. There is more than what meets the eye. Of course, the usual metaphors are there of freedom and so on and so forth, but there are also a bunch of painters at work and what that means is something you have to discover for yourself. At the same time, Elizabeth Haidle’s illustrations are to die for. The way the parrots have been drawn and the world that exists around them is spectacular and introspective. Illustrations in a graphic novel have to account for sixty percent and Haidle gives it her heart and soul to this one.

“I, Parrot” is a strange book – told with a lot of heart and touches on extinction of not only birds but also the human heart. It is told with tenderness and takes a funny look at the impossible things of life, only to show that redemption can after all only be found in the most unexpected places of them all.

Vampire in Love: Stories by Enrique Vila-Matas. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas Title: Vampire in Love: Stories
Author: Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated by Margarey Jull Costa
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386338822
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I love long-winding stories, so much to the point that if the author rambles sometimes, I am okay with that as well. Maybe that is also because of the style of the writer. There is something to it which doesn’t let go of the reader. Enrique Vila-Matas is one such writer whose works have always eluded me – left me hanging for more and made me not want to make sense of them as well – because the stories and books he has written are enough. He is one of those authors who should just keep writing. Nothing else really matters. Maybe I am praising him too highly, but don’t go by what I am saying. Read him. No matter place to start than his short stories and this collection titled, “Vampire in Love” is just what the doctor prescribed.

“Vampire in Love” is a collection of stories that are mostly absurd but also fantastical and profound. It takes a lot of time to get into this collection, but once you do, it will have you by your throat and not let go. Vila-Matas creates a world within each story that can be books in itself but it is best when it isn’t. When the stories leave you wanting more and you don’t get it.

The stories are a ​matter of fact and to the point, so don’t be alarmed if your imagination isn’t soaring boundless. The thing to remember is the craft and the emotion each story will generate (because that it will). From empathizing with an effeminate barber who falls in love with an innocent choirboy to a lonely ophthalmologist, Vila-Matas’ characters are regular people and yet they aren’t. “Vampire in Love” is a collection which isn’t for all and yet I would urge you to read it, only to test your boundaries as a reader.

Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Season-of-Crimson-Blossoms Title: Season of Crimson Blossoms
Author: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Publisher: Speaking Tiger International Fiction
ISBN: 978-9386702418
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 296
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Season of Crimson Blossoms” is the kind of book that grows on you. As I started reading it, it did not do much. But I was about fifty pages in and was completely taken in by its language, the characters, and the storyline. The book is about an older woman’s sexuality and it had me rooting​ for her like no one else in literature in recent times. The book then as it should be being unapologetic, and non-western and shines as a post-colonial Nigerian work of fiction.

Binta is a now a widow. She is fifty-five years old and has always lived life colouring in between the lines and not exploring enough. She doesn’t know what it means to live – to truly experience life for what it is. Her firstborn​ dies and grief engulfs her. Reza, on the other hand,​ is a thug and a gang member and deals in drugs. He is only twenty-six and his mother has abandoned him. They both meet. She is old enough to be his grandmother. And yet, there is something which neither of them can resist and romance blossoms between the two, despite all odds – despite political unrest, religious upheaval and the basic difference between their ages and what the world might have to say.

The story is non-judgmental and please as a reader, I urge you to not judge at all while reading it. The tone is fresh, unlike any other Nigerian writer I have read and for me, that worked like a charm. Ibrahim writes with such ease. Nothing is hidden. All emotions are out there – simmering from page one and then before you know it, you are engulfed in them, which works wonders for this book. The Nigerian political structure and social frameworkare​s brilliantly depicted through Binta and Reza and the moments they share.

“Season of Crimson Blossoms” will shock you, surprise you, make you empathize to the bone, make you mad sometimes, but above all will make you see love for what it is – just love.