Monthly Archives: April 2018

Time is a Killer by Michel Bussi. Translated from the French by Shaun Whiteside.

Time Is A Killer Title: Time is a Killer
Author: Michel Bussi
Translated from the French by Shaun Whiteside
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN:978-1609454425
Genre: Thriller, Noir
Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember reading Michel Bussi’s, “After the Crash” in one night. I remember not sleeping (thank god it was a weekend, so I eventually did catch up on some sleep) and before I knew it, it was dawn and the book was done. And what a read it was! The same did not happen this time. I loved, “Time is a Killer” but the book was way too long for me to pull an all-nighter and finish it. At 512 pages, not once did I find it dull, boring, or insipid. At the same time, if anything, I just wanted more and more.

Set on Corsica, “Time is a Killer” is a book about murder, revenge, loss, and most of all memories, home and identity. I loved how Bussi very cleverly, quite almost makes this a literary thriller and yet it isn’t that. The book alternates between the summers of 1989 and 2016.

Clotilde Idrissi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Corsican father and a Franco-Hungarian mother, is the only survivor of a terrible automobile accident that takes the lives of her parents and older brother Nicolas in August 1989. Twenty-seven years later, Clotilde is back on the island with her husband Franck and her 15-year-old daughter, Valentine and things aren’t what they seem. While all seems changed on the island, some secrets of that night and accident reveal themselves to Clotilde (of course I won’t tell you through who) and her life is never the same.

Bussi has a knack of merging the present with the past. He has done it in his earlier works as well and does it stupendously in this one too. While sometimes, it might seem a bit tedious to read this book, however, let nothing deter you. It is undoubtedly one of the best noir books I’ve read so far, this year. The mystery is hidden superbly and will have you guessing right down till the last page. It will immerse you and just as I was, so will you be enchanted by the beauty of Corsica, as described by Bussi.

“Time is a Killer” is a great read. It is fast-paced, has the necessary elements of relationships and how sometimes we don’t communicate enough and a good plot. All the makings of a great summer read. Do not miss out on this one!

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Barefoot Gen, Vol. 1: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima by Keiji Nakazawa, Translated by Project Gen

Barefoot Gen 1 Title:
Author: Keiji Nakazawa
Publisher: Last Gasp
ISBN: 978-0867196023
Genre: Graphic Novel, Manga
Pages: 288
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Never a good time to read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and yet something draws me to picking up more books about that time and what happened to them during WWII. I don’t know what it is – maybe just some fascination or dread even (which I will never admit) – the fact that we know how it ended and yet we want to know more about it – the horror of it all, but more than that it is the human stories that come out of it, with every new read on the bombings. Yes, that’s why for sure. And this time in the form of a graphic novel.

“Barefoot Gen” is a series consisting of 10 books. The story begins in Hiroshima during the final months of the World War II. Six-year-old Gen Nakaoka and his family live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet. Gen’s father Daikichi is critical of the war. He hates the idea of it. And then in all of this, his brother Koji joins the Navy and on August 6th, the atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, killing Gen’s father and his siblings. His mother and he escape and “Barefoot Gen” is the story of that survival, as they witness the horror of war and the bombing.

The book is autobiographical in nature and though you think it is only but a comic, it manages to wrench your heart. The perspective of war from the eyes of a six-year-old and the maturity as well of it will leave you speechless.

Books such as “Barefoot Gen” will always be so relevant (sadly so) – given the atrocities of war and the common folk who are always in the eye of the storm. For most part of reading the book, I just didn’t know how to react. There was a lot of sadness and love and more than anything else, a lot of anger at a chosen few who decide to do what they do, when all that the majority wants is peace and the chance to be alive and thrive. A read not to be missed out on for sure. Can’t wait to read the other nine parts.

 

Census by Jesse Ball

Census by Jesse Ball Title: Census
Author: Jesse Ball
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 78-1783783755
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Census” by Jesse Ball isn’t a difficult book to read. It seems like that initially but as you are way into it, you just don’t want it to end. It reminded me of “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy but don’t worry – it isn’t that dark, but haunting nonetheless in its own way. I doubt I have read anything like “Census” before, but that’s the magic of Jesse Ball’s books. They may sound similar to other books but are far from it. This is the third Ball book I’ve read and I am astounded by the consistency of his writing prowess.

“Census” is a very personal book when it comes to Jesse Ball as he has dedicated it to his deceased brother, Abram Ball who had Down Syndrome and he has mentioned it in the prologue, how he decided to write this book and more so write around the syndrome than about it.

The book is about an ill widower, a doctor who takes on the role of a census taker and sets off with his son who has the Down Syndrome to take the census, from towns A to Z.

This is the basic premise. But of course, there is more than what meets the eye. The entire activity and exercise undertaken by the father is layered – of being counted – of life being taken into account while he is nearing his death and in the sense his son’s responsibility being taken on by another person. Then the son becomes a census – a number and perhaps nothing more.

“Census” is also wondrously allegorical – given the times in which we are living – of unnamed identities (are they even identities then?), of places and countries that restrict and of how there is so much kindness and heart still present in the world.

“Census” is perhaps one of the most important books of our times, in my opinion. There are so many revelations as you go along the book, that will leave you astounded and wanting more.

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller Title: Circe
Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette USA
ISBN: 978-0316556347
Genre: Mythology, Literary Fiction, Greek Mythology
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I have never followed Greek Mythology with great fervor. In fact, even while I was in school and college, these myths did not interest me much. Till after, when I started reading The Iliad and the Odyssey that my interest levels peaked and there was no turning back. Also, might I add the various retellings – from “The Penelopiad” by Margaret Atwood to Ilium by Dan Simmons (a lesser-known work but a work of sheer beauty) to also the funny “Gods Behaving Badly” by Marie Phillips and then “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller happened and changed it all, I suppose.

I read “The Song of Achilles” and was floored by it. And now her brand-new book “Circe” – to me is even better. I also tend to think her craft has worked way better when it comes to this one. Circe has always been thought of as the dangerous siren from Homer’s Odyssey who lured sailors to their deaths with her seductive song. Madeline Miller changes that perception and manages to make her more human (ironic, isn’t it?) than just be someone cold and distant.

Madeline Miller makes Circe’s life real, with motivators, with passion, life experiences that made her who she was. There is no justification and no sides are taken. Miller steers clear from all of that. There are shades of grey which are present in almost every character in the book – from Helios – Circe’s father (Titan God of the Sun) or Perse (her mother, an Oceanid naiad), to her siblings who are cruel to her (this was one of the major reasons of Circe being who she turned out to be), and all the other nymphs who are seemingly lovelier than Circe.

Circe turns to witchcraft when she makes Glaucos (a mortal) a god, and even more so when Glaucos falls in love with another nymph. “Pharmaka” or witchcraft is frowned upon by all gods and goddesses and this is how Circe is banished to the island of Aiaia to live a solitary life. It is here that she practices her powers of witchcraft and excels. It is here that her life begins (as is also mentioned in the Odyssey).

I love how Miller uses the story of Circe to make so many points – feminism, alienation, acceptance, loss of love and not being able to fit in. Madeline Miller also didn’t restrict the book to mainly being Circe’s story. It is also about the other mythological characters that Circe encounters – Prometheus, Daedalus, Icarus, Hermes, Athena, Penelope and more and all the other gods and mortals. It is also through them that Miller shows us various emotions and sides to Circe, thus leading her to actively participate in their myths as well.

“Circe” might be a retelling and may not be for everyone (more so if you are a purist when it comes to myths) but it sure did work for me. All in all, it was a great read, with everything falling in place – from the plot to the characters to the way Madeline has written the story – with not a single dull moment. Will sure keep you turning the pages.

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones Title: An American Marriage
Author: Tayari Jones
Publisher: Algonquin Books
ISBN: 978-1616208776
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

We never know what life has in store for us and that can very well be the premise of Tayari Jones’ book, “An American Marriage”. I was intrigued by this book (just like many others) after Oprah picked it up as her next book club selection. In fact, if anything I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, because I really do trust Oprah’s recommendations and let me tell you that I loved this book to bits and pieces. I want to be all intellectual while reviewing this title, but I’d rather be emotional, as this book is all heart and nothing else.

“An American Marriage” isn’t just about two people in a marriage or in love. It is about a nation and its fears, its racism and class barriers (It still exists in some quarters) and above all it is about time and what it does to you. The vagaries of time play such a major part in the book – that it almost takes over the book and yet very cleverly, Jones doesn’t give in to the exact timeline.

Celestial and Roy are newlyweds and have nothing but dreams in their eyes, representing the New South. Roy is an executive who is young and fresh in the word. Celestial is a doll-maker. It has been a year since their marriage and they are now on their way to make a family, when something unimaginable takes place and Roy is convicted for a crime he did not commit and that’s when their relationship changes.

A marriage takes time to build on. A lot of persistence, love, patience and care and so does life. Jones’ characters are so layered and complex that if you don’t pay attention to the details, it might all be lost on you. Who I must also mention is Andre – Celestial’s childhood friend who is a constant companion when Roy is in prison and how that further complicates all their relationships. To me, Andre’s character was most interesting – his guilt, his decisions and above all the consequences in store.

What I love about the book is that Tayari Jones bares a marriage to its bones. There is no discomfort in the writing when it comes to showing things the way they are. My favourite part in the book were letters Roy and Celestial write to each other while he is in prison. They are by far the most heartbreaking letters I have read in fiction.

Jones brings to light the injustice in the American Judicial System (not that it wasn’t always there) and combines it with a marriage, and that to me was stunning – the balancing act between loneliness, despair and identity and what it does to people.

The portrait of a marriage or how they came to me – all of them is the heart of “An American Marriage”. The tug-of-war between the past, the present and the future is constant in this novel. Will they or won’t they lead normal lives or what is normal anymore is what will have you wondering and asking for till you reach the very end.

All in all, ‘’An American Marriage” is a story of failed dreams, dashed hopes and yet it is about not giving in, but continue to strive to make things better – day by day. I could not stop reading it this book – the questions of race, class and above all love hovered large as I made my way through life. A book that will not be easy to shake off once you are done. Read “An American Marriage” to get a better sense of the world we live in. You will not be disappointed.