Author Archives: thehungryreader

About thehungryreader

Hmmm so I am the Hungry Reader. The one who reads. The one who is constantly reading or wanting to read constantly. This blog is all about the books I have read, the ones that I am reading and gems that I plan to read in the future or whenever it arrives. As Virginia Woolf rightly said, "When the Day of Judgement dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards—their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble—the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, "Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading."

Read 203 of 2021. Are You Enjoying? : Stories by Mira Sethi

Are You Enjoying?-Stories by Mira Sethi

Title: Are You Enjoying?: Stories
Author: Mira Sethi
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 978-1526643957
Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

With the onset of the lockdown last year, my mother and I watched Pakistani serials. We were reeling under the influence of Dhoop Kinare watched years ago and thought that Pakistani serials would be made the same way – with nuance. We were mistaken to a large extent. They were just like the K serials of India, barring a few. The same old upholding of values, same old serials seeped in patriarchy, the same old stories of sacrifice and love.

Why do I speak of these serials? Because Mira Sethi’s collection of stories set in Pakistan are refreshingly different and real unlike these shows. Or maybe these shows are also real, each depicting their own universe of events, and the truths that reside in them.

Mira Sethi’s collection of six stories and a novella is not only extraordinary but also immensely detailed, with an eye for pointing out the quirks, eccentricities, and to a large extent satirical. These stories are the much-needed representation we needed of the country. Maybe some of them even made me think of Zoya Akhtar’s movies. They seemed to be set in the same milieu. The rich with their immense set of problems, insecurities, constantly finding ways to escape what is being served to them by life or by fate as a consequence of their deeds (maybe). Whether it is a man who is recovering from his divorce and falls in love with a neighbour in “Mini Apple” or a young actress who wants to make something of her life in “Breezy Blessings”, or even if it is the matriarch in “A Life of Its Own” (which is in two parts) – all of them are struggling with something or the other – their lives are no different than what you and I live. Sethi draws from people she knows, irrespective of whether rich or not. The stories matter and they speak for themselves.

My personal favourite was Mini Apple till I read “Tomboy” and fell in love with the story. The understanding between the friends Asha and Zarrar, as they get married and continue living, hiding their sexuality from society at large, spoke volumes to me as a gay man living in India. We think we have managed to break free, but have we really?

Mira’s stories constantly defy, they are thinly veiled in wit and humour, sometimes even to make a point, but mostly these stories reveal the human condition and the spaces we inhabit. These stories could be set anywhere in the world, but Mira’s Pakistan is the modern country we need to know of – its contradictions, the complexities, the night life, the lives that are not supposed to live to the fullest, and the constant battles of power and desire. It is the Pakistan that speaks volumes, if you read carefully between the lines.

On the surface these stories look simple but let them not fool you. They are anything but easy. They are an easy read for sure, but their impact lasts longer than you think it would. Sethi’s writing is brazen, feisty even, it is refreshing and more than what you have already heard of it. It is a collection that has rightfully earned every bit of praise. Read it.

Read 202 of 2021. Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro. Translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle

Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro

Title: Elena Knows
Author: Claudia Piñeiro
Translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle
Publisher: Charco Press
ISBN: 978-1999368432
Genre: Literary Fiction, Women in Translation
Pages: 173
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Elena, all of sixty-three years old, knows that her daughter did not die by hanging herself. She knows there is more to it and wants to find out what happened to Rita. Why do they claim that Rita hung herself in the church belfry? How could that have been possible since it was raining that night and Rita would’ve never gone out in the rain as she was petrified of lightning? Elena wants answers about her daughter’s death, and no one is willing to help her. She is determined to find the culprit. Even if it means she has to venture out and journey through the suburbs of the city, to call on a favour from a woman named Isabel, who she and her daughter met twenty years ago. Even if it means that she has to do this as she suffers from Parkinson’s – the disease that will not let go of her and will obstruct her search to some extent. What happens next is what the novel is all about.

Piñeiro is well-known as a “thriller” or “crime” writer in Argentina and even around the world. Elena Knows, according to me is a good start to get to know her writing and fall in love with it. I’m surprised that with almost four books translated in English, Piñeiro is still not that well-known. I hope that changes when more people read Elena Knows.

Elena Knows is so much – a detective novel, a woman dependent on her disease to make all basic decisions – that of walking, turning her neck, seeing someone, and even sometimes breathing. It is a lucid and most disturbing commentary on mother-daughter relationships, and what happens when the child becomes a caregiver. It is also about the role of the government when it comes to providing medical care to its citizens – the red tapism, the bureaucracy, and the narrow-mindedness of it all. The book is political. It is about the agency of women and who controls their bodies. Piñeiro doesn’t hesitate to show society the mirror and make them realize what they stand for or not.

The plot unfolds in a day with clearly marked sections – Morning, Midday, and Afternoon – the times that are governed by Elena’s medication schedule. If she misses this, she will not be able to function. She will not be in control of her body and has to follow the schedule. This is another important element of the book. Let me also add here that Elena is not a likeable protagonist. There are shades and layers to this character and that’s what makes her also so endearing to some extent. There is no maudlin expression of her coping with her disease. There are facts, there are emotions, and sometimes the two converge most beautifully in the book.

Elena knows is so much more and I am stunned at how Piñeiro managed to say so much in such a small book. At the same time, Frances Riddle’s translation is on-point and makes you wonder what it would sound like in Spanish. The sentences gleam and I often found myself underlining passages.

Elena Knows is a book about patriarchy, structures, narrative (italics for dialogues), time, gender, motherhood, illness, and law and what we do with it, as we move on – day to day, hoping for a better tomorrow.

Read 201 of 2021. China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

Title: China Room
Author: Sunjeev Sahota
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 9780670095070
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I honestly picked up China Room without any expectation. There was zero expectation as I started the book, and savoured it over a period of a week or so. China Room was a revelation of many aspects. It unravels itself as you turn the pages, and with such elegant and deceptively simple prose that makes you go back and read some sentences all over again.

China Room in brief is about three women who are married away to three men in the year 1929, in rural Punjab. Mehar is one of the brides who is trying to find out the identity of her husband, since she has never seen him. The wives are cut off from their husbands during the day and only called on at night if their mother-in-law Mai wills it. All of this of course because there is need of an heir. What comes of it is the rest of the story.

In another time, in 1999 to be precise, another story unfolds. That of a young unnamed man who travels from England to a farm that has been abandoned for decades, with his own demons. The trauma of his adolescence – his experience with racism, addiction that continues, and more importantly the chasm between him and his culture.  In the process of finding himself (or coming of age in some sense), he finds his roots linked to Mehar.

Sahota does a brilliant job of intertwining the two threads. At the same time, at no point as a reader did, I feel I needed to know more. Sahota’s storytelling skills are totally on-point, and at most times I felt I was reading a literary page-turner (which I think it was). The issues that this book brings to light are so many. There is the awareness of India’s struggle for independence looming large, the idea of women’s liberation (that doesn’t exist at all, whether it is 1929 or 1999 in a country like India), and above all the concept of family and loss that makes for the entire arc of the story.

China Room is also to some extent based on what the author heard from his parents and ancestors, of what happened in his family and that’s why you resonate so much with the writing. It is told with a lot of heart and soul. It explores lives that go by without being chronicled, the book aims to understand the human heart, and what often transpires inside of it. A must-read in my opinion.   

Read 175 of 2021: The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav

The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav

Title: The Anger of Saintly Men
Author: Anubha Yadav 
Publisher: Bee Books 
ISBN: 9788194511311
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5 

There is so much to talk about and unpack about The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav. A book that spans over thirteen years (maybe more), a story of a family ridden with male toxicity, patriarchy, misogyny, and above all the men we raise in Indian families.

Anubha Yadav’s book is perhaps about every Indian man, and not. It is about the men we encounter on a daily basis and their lives – sometimes small, sometimes larger than life itself, their dreams, aspirations, their interaction with other men, with women most importantly as the book progresses, and above all how they constantly view themselves.

Sonu, Anu, and Vicky are three brothers growing up in the 90s. A brand new decade with everything around them rapidly changing. They have moved into their new and last house (no more moving houses) which they name Chuhedani (mousetrap, that they all want to escape but all cannot). This is where they will become men. This is the place patriarchy will sink its teeth in their tender flesh and make them one of its products. The book is about them, their families, their friends, and how all of it is interconnected to how we raise men in sexist societies and what are the consequences. 

Yadav’s book is unapologetic, extremely candid, and an unsentimental look at a typical middle-class North Indian family and what happens to each brother though he is raised more or less the same way. In the course of it, we meet other men – friends, cousins, uncles, grandfathers – and women who are subdued, hidden, and yet always asserting themselves.

Yadav’s writing is clear, focused, and unabashed. There were times it did not seem like a debut at all. All in all, I most enjoyed this short novel, that made me think a lot about our society structures and the spaces we inhabit. The Anger of Saintly Men should be read by all, in my opinion. More so by men.




Read 174 of 2021: The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Title: The Magic Fish
Author: Trung Le Nguyen
Publisher: Random House Graphic
ISBN: 978-0593125298
Genre: Graphic Novels, LGBTQIA, Coming of Age, 
Pages: 256 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

I wish someone had written this book for me when I was growing up. When I was dealing with my sexuality and didn’t know any better. I wish I knew how to tell my parents and family I was gay using words that would break their hard exterior and touch their heart and soul, which of course didn’t happen. I just came out and that was that. The Magic Fish however is a book that seems to know what to say and how and is more beautiful for it.

Tiến loves his family and friends. His parents hail from Vietnam and he is keeping a secret from them – about himself, about who he is, about how he cannot tell them that he is gay because there is no equivalent for it in Vietnamese. It is also about his love for a friend, and him struggling with his identity.

At the same time, Nguyen takes us on a whirlwind of providing comfort to yourself through fairy tales. Tiến and his mother read fairy tales to each other, every night, and in those tales, each of them is trying to find and know more about their lives – the past, present, and perhaps the future.

I love how Nguyen takes the concept of a fairy tale and throws it on its head and gives his readers something so refreshing to introspect about. The Magic Fish is a book that refreshingly looks at fairy tales keeping modern lives in mind. It doesn’t shy away from breaking norms and stereotypes, which is the need of the hour and the times we live in. Trung’s art is stunning and you need to spend some time on every page to soak it all in. In short, The Magic Fish is a read meant for all, to make people understand that people lead different lives and it is all about perspective and empathy.