Category Archives: 2019 Women Writers Reading Project

I Am Young by M. Dean

i am young 3Title: I Am Young
Author: M. Dean
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 978-1683961390
Genre: Comics, Graphic Novels
Pages: 108
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Graphic novels that are intertwined with music are a big bonus. I Am Young by M. Dean is about two teenagers who meet and fall in love after a Beatles concert in 1964. It is so much more and the Beatles are everywhere in this character-driven book of stories, interspersed with music all along by the very talented M. Dean.

i am young 1I Am Young is the kind of book that you must take to bed on a day when nothing has gone right and it all seems futile. It is the kind of book that will cheer you and will also make you sad as their relationship soars, doesn’t, falls, sustains, and then is on the rocks as the decade ends. What remains though is the shared love of the one night in 1964, when they saw Beatles perform.

i am young 2

I Am Young is what dreams are made of. M. Dean’s art is stunning (for lack of a better word really). It is the graphic novel that eases you in to the story of teenagers, of their love, against the backdrop of several years, with one of course being the most important to them. You just get taken into the story of Miriam and George and nothing else will then matter, but how their lives progress over the next hundred-odd pages or so. The impact of culture is a strong basis of this book, with how relationships function and grow over time.

M. Dean’s storytelling capability is extremely sensitive and shows brilliantly in her art and plot. And mind you it isn’t easy drawing about music with a whole lot of charm – it comes across so trippy (had to use it, forgive me) throughout the book. The 60s and 70s had their own thrill and M. Dean does a brilliant job of pulling the reader into that world.

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Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector. Translated from the Portuguese by Benjamin Moser.

hour of the star Title: Hour of the Star
Author: Clarice Lispector
Translated from the Portuguese by
Publisher: Penguin Classics
ISBN: 978-0141392035
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

Clarice Lispector’s works burst on the literary scene a couple of years ago. Her books were republished, retranslated to English (I think), and read and loved by all. Whether understood or not is secondary, and I don’t mean this in a condescending or patronising manner. The truth of the matter is: Sometimes it is hard to read Lispector, because there is so much to make of what she has written. I am only happy that more people are discovering her and reading her. It is always so important to read new authors, to break your reading mould, and experience new terrains, cultures, and lives you wouldn’t have thought about in the past.

Hour of the Star is a strange book, in the classic good-strange kind of way. It was one of her last few works published and it clearly to me is one of her best. I have read most of her books and every time I read a Lispector, my head is in a dizzy. It is like I cannot read anything else for days after reading her. That’s the effect she has with her words, her characters, and the stories she chose to tell.

Hour of the Star is a small book with some very big ideas, all along the read. The book focuses on the life of an uneducated woman and her struggle to survive in a sexist society. Sadly, this doesn’t sound very alien, does it? Hour of the Star is also about abject poverty and the class differences we witness every single day.  At the same time, Lispector’s Macabéa, the 19-year-old impoverished girl living in Rio de Janeiro doesn’t feel for once that she leads a difficult life. The story is told through the narrator, Rodrigo S.M., and he starts the book with how to tell a story and what goes into it. The fourth wall is broken. Lispector’s themes are broad and large in scope. In all of this, there is also a fortune-teller named Madame Carlota and you should read the book also for all of the secondary characters.

Lispector writes more so inwardly – there is a stream of consciousness and then there isn’t. She constantly challenges the reader to read better, if there is something like that, if not then there should be. Macabéa’s traits are so well-etched, that in all of the loving of Coca-Cola, Marilyn Monroe, and her boyfriend (scum, by the way), Lispector cuts away at her heroine’s happiness, thereby jolting the reader’s notions of poverty, identity, and love.

You can sense the dichotomy of the well-off Rodrigo writing about the poverty of Macabéa. It is this power-dynamics that Lispector chose to write about? Is it this Brazil that Lispector wanted to show her readers where the lives of the impoverished is for all to see and write about? Hour of the Star is a tragic comedy about a girl living in poverty and has literally no clue about her state. She certainly makes no impact on anyone and never even knows love, but she has her small joys and as a reader, I couldn’t help but hoot for her through it all.

The brilliance of Hour of the Star is what each reader takes away from it. Don’t be deceived by it’s size of 96 pages. There is so much more to it. Moser’s translation is crisp, and on point. There is no detailing that isn’t needed to begin with. It is a story deeply, starkly, and told rooted in reality, with dreams that can never be fulfilled.

Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises (And Essays) by Rebecca Solnit

call them by their true names- american crises (and essays) by rebecca solnit Title: Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises (And Essays)
Author: Rebecca Solnit
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 978-1783784974
Genre: Political Science, Feminist Criticism, Essays
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I think I would read Solnit even if she would write in a greeting card. She is that powerful as a writer, and I am sure a great human being. Rebecca Solnit has written on a varied number of topics – from the history of walking, to space and how to maintain it, to bow to get lost, to how men explain things to women – she has touched every single surface when it comes to writing (more or less), and this time this collection of essays is her masterstroke.

These essays are telling of our times and it is scary to observe the world we live in. Solnit speaks of the election of Donald Trump and makes no bones about her disagreement. Her essays more than being timely or savage are honest and backed with facts. The insights are spot-on and attempt to diagnose what ails the American culture. Right from the MeToo movement to the incarceration of African-American men, to the misleading speech of President Trump, Solnit emerges as one of the most powerful cultural critics that the world of literature possesses.

Solnit’s writing is powerful, stark and a representation of the times we live in. This collection of essays ends with the injustice Americans (mostly) face every single day – from the cynicism, to police shootings, the gentrification, and the crises that ultimately define America today. As she so eloquently puts it, ““Being careful and precise about language is one way to oppose the disintegration of meaning, to encourage the beloved community and the conversations that inculcate hope and vision. Calling things by their true names is the work I have tried to do in the essays here.”

The primary ideas behind the book are the naming and precision of language which somehow also tends to fall short somewhere, more so in alignment with what Solnit is trying to talk about. Sure it is from a very personal space and she acknowledges that. My favourite essays were: “Twenty Million Missing Storytellers”, which is on voter suppression, “Milestones in Misogyny” about the 2016 presidential election is sympathetic to Clinton and I thought was written with a lot of force.

“Call Them By Their True Names” is a powerful read, the one that makes you question, stand up, take notice and see what is going on with America and therefore with the rest of the world. The one that deserves to be read right now!

 

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

a raisin in the sun by lorraine hansberryTitle: A Raisin in the Sun
Author: Lorraine Hansberry
Publisher: Modern Library
ISBN: 978-0679601722
Genre: Drama, American Literature, Black Literature
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

Let me start this short review with this: Anyone who goes on and on and on about James Baldwin, which isn’t a bad thing at all by the way, should and must read Lorraine Hansberry. Amongst other things, Hansberry was the first black woman author whose play was performed on Broadway. It doesn’t seem much, but it is so much more, given the human rights they were fighting for – constantly, and still are.

Lorraine Hansberry did not write much. I wish she had. Her bibliography is limited. But, whatever she wrote is pure gold and deserves to be placed on the highest literary shelf there is. Her biography Looking for Lorraine by Imani Perry, which is a must-read if you’d like to know more about her. Well, let’s get on with A Raisin in the Sun.

What’s strange is that I had had the book on my shelf for years now but never picked it up. It is almost like you only read books when they are ready to be read and not before nor after. The timing has to be right and I am so glad that it was time for this play. This play is everything you think it is and more. A black family’s dreams and aspiration is portrayed heartbreakingly in this cracker of a play. The Younger family has decided to make something of themselves. While Ruth is content with what they have, her husband Walter isn’t. He wants to give a better life to their son, Travis. They live in poverty with Walter’s mother Lena and his sister Beneatha in a dilapidated two-bedroom apartment on Chicago’s south side. All Walter wants is a move, to some place better.

The entire play is about their trials and tribulations. And while Hansberry covers that brilliantly, she layers it with everything racist, everything prejudiced, and biased. There have been about three films based on this play, each better than the other and of course you must watch them when you can. Hansberry’s writing is without any apologies. It is as it is. Most of the play was semi-autobiographical and perhaps that’s why its candidness and brutal honesty challenged President Kennedy to take bolder stances on the Civil Rights Movement.

A Raisin in the Sun can rightly be called a movement. A revolution even – a small one and in its own way, a very important one. It was and continues to remain just that. A movement that will continue as long as disparity and inequality exists. Once you are done reading this extremely powerful play, read more by Hansberry. Be prepared to be in awe. Over and over again.

Little Culinary Triumphs by Pascale Pujol. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson.

Little Culinary Triumphs Title: Little Culinary Triumphs
Author: Pascale Pujol
Translated from the French by Alison Anderson
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454906
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Little Culinary Triumphs is a book that will delight you. It is funny, and will leave you with the feeling of wanting to get up and hug someone. At least, I felt that way at the end of it. It is a whimsical book, it is also profound at times (rarely though), all in all it is the perfect book to be read when feeling down and about.

The story takes place in Montmartre – multi-ethnic neighbourhood, where cultures meet, mingle, and sometimes collide as well. It is the place perfect for the senses – all of them actually, but more so when it comes to the taste buds. Sandrine, one of the central characters, works in an employment office, helping people find jobs. Under this surface is a world-class cook waiting to blossom and realize her dream of opening a restaurant. A bunch of weird and eccentric characters come together, thanks to Sandrine to open the restaurant – Antoine, an unemployed professor; the giant Senegalese, a magical chef, a psychologist, and a Kama Sutra expert as well. In all of this, is a newspaper magnate, upto no good at all.

Pujol’s prose is hilarious. It sneaks up quite cleverly on you. Till I reached page 75, I was of the opinion that this book isn’t going anywhere at all. I was proved so wrong after that and I am so glad I was. The writing is crisp, delicious, and leaves you with this aftertaste that I just cannot describe. Yes, I used food adjectives, but that’s what the book is all about anyway – food, food, and more food.

I am a fan of Alison Anderson’s translations. From Muriel Barbery to J.M.G. Le Clézio, her translations are spot-on. It is as though she gets the pulse of the original to the very last detail and as a reader, I am never left wanting more or wondering how it would’ve read in the original language. Little Culinary Triumphs is a novel that will make you laugh, chuckle, and understand a minuscule bubble of a universe of oddballs, who eventually grow to understand and sometimes even like each other.