Daily Archives: March 15, 2020

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell.

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin Title: Little Eyes
Author: Samanta Schweblin
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
ISBN: 978-1786077929
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Samanta Schweblin has done it again. This is her third book (translated in English) and the second novel and I do not know how will I write this review without gushing. Little Eyes is a strange book, or so it seems as you start reading it. After a point, as a reader, you realize that you could be living this life at some point in the future. Or maybe you already are, given the rate at which technology is surpassing us minute by minute. Little Eyes is a book about human connections as well, through technology, and how it makes us think, behave, or react.

They are called Kentukis. They aren’t robots, or toys, or not even phones. They are devices that connect you with other humans without really connecting you. The world is that of voyeurism, narcissism, and the need to not be lonely, and yet not quite maintain social relationships. These are available throughout the world and have a different way of operating.

The book is split into very short chapters and set across the world. The techno dystopian world that Schweblin builds is scary, intriguing, and to a large extent almost a prediction of things to come. The larger themes of the book are atomization of society, surveillance, lack of privacy, and how we have reached a stage that we will hanker after every new technology that there is.

I enjoyed the different narratives and the worlds I was being exposed to as I turned the pages. Schweblin’s writing packs a punch, and even in those short chapters, you are looking forward to more. Different characters only add to the overall appeal. There is also so much hope and redemption in the book that at times it felt strange to understand that it was written by the same person. Megan McDowell’s translation makes for the story to be only more interesting, thereby driving the narrative. A read that will stick with you for days. It has with me.

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

A Burning by Megha Majumdar Title: A Burning
Author: Megha Majumdar
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525658696
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

So, I started this book with great excitement. After all, it is on all lists, and one of the major releases of 2020. It started off slow. I wasn’t invested in the characters or the plot. This is just me being honest about what I felt while reading it. Till, I reached about 100 pages and that’s when the book started working for me. That is exactly when I think I became invested and hurt and felt joy with the characters. The book speaks to me as an Indian, of what is going on in the country. It speaks to me of the injustice. It speaks to me about how the government is by intent isolating a community and targeting it, and encouraging people to kill and instigate riots. The riots that took place in Delhi in February 2020 and some part of early March is testimony to that. A Burning speaks about all of that (hidden albeit) and more.

A Burning is not just the story of three people and the people connected to them. It is the story of all of us – of humanity in that sense and the decisions we make basis greed, selfishness, aspirations, and dreams. At the heart of the story is a train that is burned, and its aftermath. Jivan, a Muslim girl from the slums determined to move up in life, is accused of executing the attack on the train because of a comment on Facebook against the government (this is so true given the times we live in and the BJP IT Cell of the country). There is PT Sir – a teacher of physical training in an all-girls school, an opportunistic individual who somehow gets a way in the right-wing party and has aspirations of his own. The third is Lovely, an outcast – a person who lives on the margins of society and dreams of becoming an actress. The book is about their lives intersecting, and ultimately revealing each motivation, each aspiration, and each form of personal escape.

A Burning hit hard. It of course made me see what is happening (which I already knew) and also how most of the time we are so apathetic to it, as long as our bubble of privilege, influence, and dreams does not burst. Majumdar’s writing is simple, detailed, and makes you think – think of how we ignore, turning a blind-eye, and most of all the act of submission – even in the times of barbaric acts being committed in the name of religion.

Megha Majumdar builds beautifully on each character – their lives, their tragedies, the day to day living, and the complexity of emotions. At one point, the PT Sir does have a change of heart (momentarily) and then doesn’t. There is always this push and pull between what one does for greater good and what one does for self.

A Burning is a book of human beings who are lost, are a bundle of contradictions, and a book of our times. It shows us the mirror in more than one way. The setting though is in West of Bengal, it could be any Indian city, town, or village. The emotion is universal – of hate, forgiveness, love, redemption, and sometimes a very slight sliver of hope.