Daily Archives: March 2, 2020

Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano. Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins

Faces on the Tip of my Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano Title: Faces on the Tip of my Tongue
Author: Emmanuelle Pagano
Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins
Publisher: Peirene Press
ISBN: 978-1908670540
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I am glad I reread it because of it being on the 2020 International Booker Longlist, and me being on the shadow panel. This is the first of the 13 that I have read (reread) and 12 more to go, but it has been such an enriching read – both in terms of content and style of writing.

“Faces on the Tip of My Tongue” by Emmanuelle Pagano is a collection of thirteen interlinked short stories set in France, across several decades. It is the third book in the publisher’s 2019 “There Be Monsters” series. As the stories progress, meanings become clearer, like a jigsaw puzzle it all starts making sense. Initially it did feel a little tiresome and maybe I was lost as well, but I am glad I persisted the first time around and even now.

The collection starts off with a story called, “The Lake’s Favourite” which sets the tone of the book. It is a story of an ideal childhood and how things then turn in the life of the narrator. Don’t be fooled by this story alone. The rest of the stories are nothing like this one. They are real, hard-hitting, and make you ponder long after.

One of my favourite stories is “Mum at the Park” – a snapshot of a child’s view about their reading parent and how she gets when she is at the park. How the city doesn’t suit her and so on and so forth. “The Loony and the Bright Spark” is about misfits in society and the ever-eternal question: What does one do with them? Does one do anything with them at all?

The recurring characters, their lives in different times is at the heart of this collection. Pagano’s writing is raw in most places, tender in some, with the sense of place being at the center of the book. The translation by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins never seems choppy throughout the book. There is a balance of sorts – that manages to capture the essence of time, place, and events in the most beautiful manner. Personally, I am rooting for this one to make it to the shortlist.

Fern Road by Angshu Dasgupta

Fern Road by Angshu Dasgupta Title: Fern Road
Author: Angshu Dasgupta
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt Ltd
ISBN: 978-9389231922
Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming of Age
Pages: 216
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

Here’s the thing about this book: I am glad it exists, I just wish it had been written with more nuance. I like the fact that it deals with confusion when it comes to orientation, and maybe even does a layer deeper, however, it somehow did not generate the empathy in me for the protagonist, Orko. I did relate to a lot of instances, but overall the book lost me in most places.

The book is set in 1980s’ Calcutta (absolutely love the setting) and chronicles a young boy’s journey through conflict, a lot of confusion, self-doubt, and acceptance. The book has shades of magic-realism and what goes on inside a boy’s head and those bits Dasgupta gets spot-on. Fern Road is also about Orko who thought he would grow-up to be like his mother, till she disappears. And then it dawns on him that boys grow up to be men and not women.

The writing is crisp and draws on so much nostalgia without force-feeding it to the reader. Dasgupta brings the 80’s to life quite brilliantly and yet the confusion, the pain of growing-up someone else and not what you imagined, and then to accept oneself as easily had me stumble through the novel for most part. I wanted to connect deeply with the book and when I didn’t I was disappointed, but perhaps not every book centred around identity will resonate with every reader. Some scenes though made me choke up – for instance when Orko wants earrings, or when he prays to Ma Lokkhi to turn him into a girl, or even when he wants a new name.

Fern Road could have been so much more according to me, but if you want to read a book about coming-of-age, and get perspectives on the “different” people one can be, then this is the book that makes an honest attempt at getting there, and for that you must read it. Maybe I am conflicted as of now, but I also know that I will reread it and who knows, I might even change my mind about the book.