Monthly Archives: January 2018

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.

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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.

New Boy: Othello Retold by Tracy Chevalier

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier Title: New Boy: Othello Retold
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
Imprint: Hogarth Shakespeare
ISBN: 978-1781090329
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I was skeptical about reading this one, only because Othello and Macbeth are my favourite Shakespeare plays and in my head, no one can adapt them. I am sure it has been done several times, but they still don’t hold a candle to the original. Hence, the skepticism.

At the same time, while I thought the book started off promisingly, something didn’t quite fit in. There was this constant nagging thought at the back of my head which I couldn’t place. Till I did and which I will speak about a little later.

“New Boy” is a classic circadian novel – a novel that takes place through a day. Maybe that is the reason it is short and couldn’t have been any longer than this. Also, it is the perfect book to read in today’s times – it is sad I say this, because it is about race and alienation in the 70s and we are in 2018. Something should have changed. We think some things have, but they haven’t. Racial discrimination is as real as it was then and we have only see it grow in the last couple of years.

Anyway, back to the book. “New Boy” is Othello retold. The setting: A private junior high-school and as the title suggests, a new boy Osei – straight from Ghana – a diplomat’s son nonetheless (so black and privileged) enters a school and a white girl, Dee (Desdemona) falls for him and that’s when the school bully Ian (Iago, of course) has to do something to tear them apart. It is the 70s and racial discrimination is at its height.

Chevalier gets references and slurs bang on – so real that I had to keep the book down a couple of times before picking it up again and also because many a times, the conversations didn’t seem to be had between eleven-year olds till I stopped thinking of it this way and started enjoying the story.

The book takes place in a day – at the beginning of a school day and finishes at the end. We all know how this one is going to play out. I couldn’t read further for the longest time, because I didn’t want the tragedy to strike. One would even think that the tragedy cannot be as gruesome as it has been depicted in other adaptations, for instance, Omkara but Chevalier packs a punch and how! Her interpretation of Iago is just as crafty (even more and scarier because it is projected on to a child) and then there is her Othello, who is just as gullible and prone to first-day of school politics.

“New Boy” was a read that I warmed to. I didn’t like it initially. I waited for it to grow on me and it did. It is the kind of book that cannot be rushed with either. You have to take it all in in one big gulp and wait for it to be digested before reading some more of it. Pick it up!

Oliver Sacks: The Last Interview and Other Conversations

Oliver Sacks - The Last Interview and Other Conversations Title: Oliver Sacks: The Last Interview and Other Conversations
Author: Oliver Sacks
Interviewers: Charlie Rose, Studs Terkel, Lisa Burrell, Tom Ashbrook and Robert Krulwich
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
ISBN: 978-1612196510
Genre: Non-Fiction, Interviews
Pages: 208
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

I’ve always admired Oliver Sacks. His works make you want more and illuminate you on so many levels about science, humanity, relationships and empathy. Oliver Sacks was not just another neuroscientist. I think he knew how to give cases a voice – to add the human touch to them, to not make them seem so scientific but connect with them on an emotional level because that is what science is at the core. His creativity, compassion and insight made him a worldwide renowned persona and this volume of interviews only make that belief stronger at every possible level.

“The Last Interview and Other Conversations” is a series of interviews (including the last one) with eminent personalities and the volume read by me was of course the one on Oliver Sacks. This volume includes transcripts of six interviews given by Sacks from 1987 until 2015. He died in August 2015 at 82.

These interviews were conducted around the time of his books’ releases – four books and the last two (my favorite ones in the volume) are on aging and finding love. This book just makes you look at Sacks’ various personality attributes – shyness, inquisitiveness, and how he could empathize with people who had neurological disorders and not just treat them as only cases.

This book is a great place to start if you haven’t read any of Oliver Sacks’ works only because these interviews give you the essence to the man and the writer, which would compel you to read at least one of his books if not all. Which would further lead the reader to some incredible case studies (The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat) or the one about the face colorblind person (it is a real thing by the way) to the surgeon with Tourette’s syndrome who also flew a plane.

Sacks speaks of them so fondly in these interviews, also about his friendship with Robin Williams to my most favourite interview (the last one) where he speaks of death and finding love at seventy-seven. These six interviews are like the appetizers that will for sure want you to take a bite of the main course. Read these interviews. Also, read all his works.