Daily Archives: March 23, 2020

Amnesty by Aravind Adiga

Amnesty by Aravind Adiga Title: Amnesty
Author: Aravind Adiga
Publisher: Picador India
ISBN: 978-9389109436
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

I was very eager to read this one, because I loved Last Man in Tower, when I first read it in 2011. I still remember the book as vividly. I don’t know if I will be able to say this of Amnesty, nine years from now. It is not that I did not like the read. It is just that I had great expectations from it, which it did not live upto.

Amnesty is a book about Danny, a young adult in his twenties from Sri Lanka, who has been living illegally in Australia for four years as a cleaner. The book is about one of the residents’ death that Danny cleaned for. Danny might know what happened but does not want to come clean because if he did that might get him deported.

The writing to me was quite disjointed and didn’t sort of add up in many places as a whole. There were brilliant moments but only few and far and in-between. All the tropes are there – of accountability, of being human, of showing empathy,  and of understanding the prejudice that exists towards immigrants. Yet the novel did not take-off from me. Like I said, Adiga does know how to write and build the character, and perhaps also make you a part of their life, but somehow Danny’s story of strife and humanity did not strike a chord with me.

I wish Amnesty had the heart of Last Man in Tower or the cleverness of Between the Assassinations, but I am just being biased. You should read the book if you want to, and decide for yourself. At the most, it definitely proved to be a page-turner of a read.

 

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

A Thousand Ships by Natalie HaynesTitle: A Thousand Ships
Author: Natalie Haynes
Publisher: Mantle, PanMacmillan
ISBN: 978-1509836208
Genre: Myth Retelling, Literary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Another Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 Long-listed title, which I read and thoroughly enjoyed. This is the book that The Silence of the Girls should have been but wasn’t. I am only too glad that this was published and I got a chance to read it. A Thousand Ships might seem like the regular fare of various perspectives and voices about The Trojan War, but there is more to it.

I liked the structure of the book, in the sense of it being an all-female perspective. Right from Penelope to Cassandra to Calliope to Hera and also the lesser-known women of this epic battle. The book’s characters are divided as per houses through which the battle was fought, but they only have similarities. The same grief and loss when men die. The same trauma when women are raped and married against their will. The same anguish of a mother as her child returns as a dead body. The helplessness of a goddess. The book focuses on events which happened before and during Homer’s two epics – The Iliad and The Odyssey.

The story starts with the sacking of Troy. The Greeks entering Troy through the Trojan Horse and raping, pillaging, and killing. Haynes lends structure and character to the lesser-known voices of the war. Women who have no voices in Homer’s poems. Whether they are Priam’s wife and daughters or Penelope’s pain and hurt, Haynes gives us deeper insight into their emotions and feelings. I just didn’t enjoy the constant Helen-bashing that took place at some points in the book.

The chapters are chronological, so there might be some confusion reading the book to begin with. At the same time, you don’t have to read Homer to know what happened. A quick summary of Iliad and Odyssey should be enough to venture into this read. A Thousand Ships is a great read of the retelling of a great myth.

Girl by Edna O’Brien

Girl by Edna O'Brien Title: Girl
Author: Edna O’Brien
Publisher: Faber and Faber Books
ISBN: 978-0571341177
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

The award season for books is upon us. The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 Longlist was announced on the 3rd of March 2020 and one of the books that caught my fancy was Girl by Edna O’Brien. I have read O’Brien’s books in the past – maybe two to three, but this one sounded so unlike what she would write and further piqued my interest.

Girl is a book based on a factual record. When I got to know of that, my skin crawled a little. I didn’t know what to make of the world we live in – the one that I thought of as being empathetic and kind to a large extent. Now, I don’t know. Girl is based on the abduction of hundreds of convent girls who were group-raped by the Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria. The novel focuses on one girl who tells us the story of their journey into the forest, and what happens thereafter.

Girl isn’t an easy book to read. The code of violence the men are governed by, and in turn the abuse faced by mere girls is not easy to digest for all. At the same time, O’Brien talks about love and forgiveness in the harsh landscape – of what follows and how brutal it must be, there is perhaps light at the end of the tunnel.

The book is all about the human condition – about its frailties, evils, and also maybe the idea that all can be forgiven. But can it? Would you? Could I? I don’t know but these questions did come to mind as I was reading this book and did stay with me long after.

Girl is a tough read. It isn’t pleasant. It demands attention and your emotions as well. It is sensitively written but doesn’t shy away from telling what must have happened and how. I am rooting for it to be a part of the shortlist. I wish more people read this book.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa. Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder.

The Memory Police by Yoko OgawaTitle: The Memory Police
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846559495
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations,
Pages: 288
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This book was on my TBR since the time it was published. I just took a while to get to it, thanks to the International Booker 2020 Longlist, whose shadow panel I am a part of. This book definitely is in my top 5 books from that list and I will tell you why.

The book is set on an unnamed island, where people and objects are disappearing at the hands of an authoritarian force known as The Memory Police. Things you do not seem to remember or know anymore. A rose. A book. A chair. More. It is not about the utility as it is about memory. In all this, is the unnamed protagonist, a writer who is close to her editor, and what happens after.

The Memory Police is  a meditation on loss, insanity when it consumes you, a comment on love, friendship, and what it takes to survive in a totalitarian regime. Memory of course plays a major role, but what hit home was the idea of nostalgia and what it does to you as a person. What you choose to remember, what you forget, and what you have to hide. Ogawa’s writing is subtle, graceful, and full of melancholy – of lost spaces, places, and the role of community when it comes to memories. This book is unlike anything I have read before.

Snyder’s translation to me was pitch perfect. I never felt at any point that some thing was getting lost in the translation or that I needed to know more. With translations that’s always the thing – the need to either know more or not. The Memory Police hits that raw never while reading, also providing that comfort at times (rarely), and making you see the world where you must do what it takes to maintain your sanity, humanity and remember.