Category Archives: 2018 Women Writers Reading Project

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.

 

Advertisements

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.

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

Number One Chinese Restaurant Title: Number One Chinese Restaurant
Author: Lillian Li
Publisher:Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-1250141293
Genre: Literary Fiction,
Pages:304
Source ​:Publisher
Rating:4 Stars

A dysfunctional family to the core and their story set against the backdrop of a Chinese restaurant, which of course belongs to them. Nothing in this genre could get better. I couldn’t wait to read this book and now I know why. It is the book that has the right amount of funny and tragedy with so much going on with various people. At times, it was difficult to keep track even, but once you get to know the characters (as it would happen in every book, except those written by Tolstoy), the reading becomes easier to tackle.

“Number One Chinese Restaurant” refers to The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland. The one place to go to for hunger pangs and celebrations of any kind. It is world in its own, surrounded by its own people with their problems – be it from waiters, to kitchen staff who love and hate in equal measure to the owner and his family (quite an extended one at that) – a world that has been stable for some time till disaster strikes and people’s lives go awry.

I have always been skeptical of multiple-narration in books. Different voices kind of throw me off the story but surprisingly this did not happen with this book. It felt easy to read it. The beauty of such books (at least to me) is that one can empathize with almost everyone. To me the angst and pain of Jimmy to Annie (Jimmy’s niece) who wants to go back to the past when her dad was around and a young love story that had me hooting and not at the same time.

“Number One Chinese Restaurant” is a heady read of parents and children, youth and aging and above all of what it means to be family and how far are we willing to go to give it all up.

Record of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami. Translated by Lucy North.

Record of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami Title: Record of a Night Too Brief
Author: Hiromi Kawakami
Translated from the Japanese by Lucy North
Publisher: Pushkin Press
ISBN: 978-1782272717
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella, Short Stories, Japanese Novellas
Pages: 156
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Record of a Night Too Brief” is a weird book and that I say in a good way. It took me some time to wind my head around it, but it proved to be a very satisfying read, nonetheless. This book is a collection of three fantastical short stories and on the surface, while they all seem to be rather easy and direct, they are anything but that.

In the first titular story, there are dream sequences (reminded me a lot of Murakami when that happened), talking animals, shrinking girls, mathematics, and a night-sky that you should only experience while reading this story.

The second one titled, “Missing” is about a sister mourning for her missing brother, while her entire family is rejoicing the fact of his would-be-wife entering the household. This is my favourite story in the book and you will know why when you read it.

The last story is called “A Snake Stepped On” where a woman accidentally steps on a snake, the snake is transformed to a girl and follows her home, thus living with the woman and her family.

You might think it to be super strange but like I said before, while these stories are strange, they are entertaining and profound to a large extent. These stories are about three women, trying to make their way in this world, surrounded by strange circumstances. In this way then, all these stories are sure inter-linked.

The writing cannot be bracketed in any genre. It is refreshing, haunting and almost new (Like I said, it did remind me of Murakami to some extent). I’ve read Kawakami’s books earlier and I must say that this happens to be her best, according to me. She has truly evolved as a writer in this one.

Lucy North has translated this book to perfection, because I didn’t feel anything lacking in it. If you want to start with contemporary Japanese literature and understand its people and way of life, I would most certainly urge you to read this collection.

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha) by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi AdeyemiTitle: Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha)
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
ISBN: 978-1509871353
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Pages: 544
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5  Stars

Hands down one of the best fantasy I have read in recent times, and by that, I mean in the last fifteen years or so! Children of Blood and Bone is the first part of a series and let me tell you that I just couldn’t get enough of it. While the regular tropes of any high-fantasy exist, it is also an intelligent book and doesn’t spoon-feed the reader at any point of time in the narrative. You must make the effort to read carefully and connect the dots.

The book starts off instantly. There is no build-up as such because Adeyemi has so much to say. I wish I could do justice to the book with this review. I shall try. There are layers and sub-layers in the narrative, with the focal point being magic and how to get it back. The African culture is seeped within in the story so strongly that it is so refreshing to read about it as you go along. Their gods, their way of life, their myths are integrated beautifully by Adeyemi in this tale of the revival of Orïshan magic.

Zélie remembers the time when Orïsha was full of magic – the entire land, and when different clans ruled and each of them had their role to play. And one night, all the magic disappeared. The plot then is to bring back magic to a land without hope and now ruled by a tyrant monarch. As the plot unravels, we see Zélie coping with her doubts when it comes to magic and its revival and more than anything else the one thing she should not be doing and ends up doing anyway.

Adeyemi’s writing is so good. She captures the much-needed gender and social injustices that should be talked about. The oppressed and the oppressor are captured in the most humane way possible with magic lurking in every corner of the page. “Children of Blood and Bone” moves so fast that sometimes you must stop and catch your breath. The characters are varied and not one-dimensional at all. The writing like I said before, is stunning and I for one cannot wait for the second book, which will be a long time coming. A must must read!