Category Archives: 2020 Reading Projects

The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse. Translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls.

The Other Name - Septology I-II by Jon Fosse

Title: The Other Name: Septology I-II
Author: Jon Fosse
Translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
ISBN: 978-1910695913
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 340
Rating: 5/5

This time the International Booker 2020 longlist has outdone itself. With almost every book I have read so far from the list (barring two), I have enjoyed the rest. Some more. Some less. Enjoyed nonetheless. One such book is this one. The Other Name: Septology I-II is a strange read (like most that I have read this month). It is so much more than what it appears to be. It is not easy to comprehend but please do not let that deter you from reading this lovely novel about an artist, Asle, struggling with his faith. On the other hand, it is also about another artist named Asle, living not very far, almost sharing the same life.

I love experimental literature. I love literature that pushes the boundaries of my limited intelligence and makes me speculate, think, and challenge what I read. The Other Name managed to do that and more. There are no breaks in sentences. You do not know if one character is speaking or someone else is. And despite all of this, The Other Name makes for great reading.

The concept of a doppelgänger has always fascinated me. This book with its many layers, and the intellectual puzzle it presents to readers is complex no doubt, but there is a layer of simplicity to that as well. The Other Name speaks of so many things – faith, love, loneliness, identity, memory, and above all what art is all about. I think these are the major themes in a sense of this year’s International Booker long-list. I am not complaining at all. Such themes work the best for me as a reader.

Fosse doesn’t try too hard to connect with the reader. The prose is there. It is almost a take it or leave it kind of situation. There is a lack of plot in a sense that the semblance of a plot meanders and continues to right till the end of the book, but even then the book leaves you in a trance every time you read portions from it.

The Seep by Chana Porter

The Seep by Chana Porter Title: The Seep
Author: Chana Porter
Publisher: Soho Press
ISBN: 978-1641290869
Genre: LGBT Science Fiction, Absurdist Fiction
Pages: 216
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Seep is a book that I can say with utmost guarantee, comes once in a lifetime. Perhaps more than once, but books such as The Seep that engulf you, and evoke emotions and questions, and more than anything else make you a part of another world – one that is very much rooted in yours, or is what we might term an “idyllic existence”.

The Seep is about alien invasion. I wouldn’t want to call it an invasion, but more like an intervention (or that’s what the aliens think). The Seep is the alien entity. The invasion has been coming for years. Trina FastHorse Goldberg-Oneka is a fifty-year-old trans woman whose life is altered unrecognisably by the invasion. The Seep assures people that anything is possible, and it is. You can be who you want to be. Live different lives, and die the way you want to. You can choose, capitalism falls, hierarchies are broken down. Anything is possible, and all for the good of the people.

Trina and her wife, Deeba, live a peaceful life, till Deeba decides to be reborn as a baby. She moves on to live that life, leaving Trina devastated beyond words. In all of this Trina meets a lost boy and takes it on her to save him from The Seep (why the saving is needed is only clear when you read the book).

The Seep could also be an allegory of our times. It could also be an entity who lures, and alters you beyond belief. Trina’s story is also that of a heartbreak, of loss, of loss in times that you do not fathom, and more than anything else when the world around you is constantly changing.

Porter’s writing makes you think of all the changes, and our reactions to them – individually and collectively. It made me see what makes us human (of course not in totality, but to some extent). Also, might I add that you need not be a fan of science fiction to enjoy and love this book. The story is absurd for sure, but works on a lot of levels. There are great and large themes explored in the book and that’s what makes it literary. Also, major props to the cover design by Michael Morris – it is beguiling and will most certainly make you want to read this cracker of a book.

The Seep to me is a book for our times. Read it.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward by Ann NapolitanoTitle: Dear Edward
Author: Ann Napolitano
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0241384077
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I received this book a while back and I refused to read it. I knew it would make me weep, make me think about mortality, about life and its smallness, and maybe at the same time, in a way liberate me from some negative emotions as well. It did all of this and more.

Dear Edward on the surface comes across as a story of a boy who survived. As one of the characters, Shay says early on in the book that Edward is like Harry Potter – the boy who lived. I agree with her. There is so much more though to this novel about hope, grief, and the idea that life moves on in such different ways – ways in which we never expect it to turnaround.

Edward Adler is the twelve-year old sole survivor of a plane crash. He has lost his entire family – his parents and older brother. The 191 passengers onboard, including the crew is dead. This book is about the aftermath of the crash. Of the living that are left behind.

I had to deal with so many emotions while navigating this read. There was a constant lump in the throat – mostly it also came from remembering the ones who aren’t around anymore. There was the deep empathy I had toward Edward, and more than anything when he finds those letters written to him by the relatives, family, and friends of passengers who lost their lives. That’s another major plot point. How does one cope with loss? What does it take to think and feel you have moved on? When do you truly move on, and when do you know that you have moved on?

Edward’s aunt who takes him in with her husband deals with her own grief – that of losing a sibling. The grief that is common to both – Edward’s bond with his brother is the strongest and a loss not easy to deal with, and yet silences speak the loudest in this book. To acknowledge grief is to make it all real.

The book alternates between Edward’s current life, and the storylines detailing the flight and the passengers’ lives. Nothing seems too long or unnecessary. Every plot line mattered. Napolitano made me care for the characters, for each of them, in a very different way. The thing with books such as this is that sometimes it can become very easy to get caught in the plot, and sort of ignore the secondary characters. But this is where Napolitano doesn’t let us lose focus. Edward is at the core, but the ones no longer around are focused on time and again.

Dear Edward, is about empty spaces in our lives. The void that fills itself. The wound that heals. It is a book about small graces and mercies. Of grief and its upliftment, to finally setting it free, to understanding that you don’t love less when you do that.

Letters of Note: Love. Compiled by Shaun Usher.

Letters of Note - Love - Compiled by Shaun Usher Title: Letters of Note: Love
Compiled by Shaun Usher
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 9781786895325
Genre: Compilation, Letters
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4

I was sixteen. He was twenty-five. It was the first time I wrote a love-letter and sent it to someone. I never got a reply. But I continued writing and sending love-letters to various men after that. I think this happened till the Internet took over my life, but that’s not the point I am trying to make here. What I’m saying is that there was a different kind of charm when it came to those letters – I am not romanticizing it one bit, but I guess in retrospect even the scratching and cutting out of phrases and sometimes being candid enough to tell all you felt for the person made you want to not send the letter. You get the drift

About ten days ago, I finished reading “Letters of Note: Love” – compiled by Shaun Usher and all I wanted to do was to reread those thirty letters all over again. Each of these letters is painfully beautiful and expresses love the manner in which I always fall short of words.

From Rilke’s lover expressing her love to him after he died to Steinbeck’s letter to his son speaking about love and heartbreak, to even my personal favorite – one from Vita Sackville-West to Woolf, each of these letters definitely talk of love, but in the most gracious and heartfelt manner.

I don’t know how they did it back in the day when letters used to be written, but they sure knew how to make words seem extraordinary. Whether it is Nabokov writing to his wife, or Johnny Cash to June Carter, each letter is unique, each expressing love in a different manner. No two letters are similar. The language of love and of the heart remains the same.

If you enjoy this (which I am sure you will), do check out Letters of Note, and More Letters of Note – both compiled by Shaun Usher.

Chhotu: A Tale of Partition and Love by Varud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi

Chhotu - A Tale of Partition and Love by Varud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi Title: Chhotu: A Tale of Partition and Love
Author: Varud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi
Publisher: Penguin eBury Press
ISBN: 978-0143446149
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

There are times when you somehow expect so much from a book that even if it disappoints you a little, you tend to take it personally. I understand that sentiment, but do not go by that alone. Look at the book in its totality. Chhotu for sure didn’t live up to my expectations but I loved the premise of it being set in the time of Partition and added to that the angle of love, and more than anything else, taking a page of Maus and reimagining characters as animals. Full points on also Indianizing it.

The book is set in Chandni Chowk and that to a very large extent got me all excited about it, just that I couldn’t empathise or relate to any character. I could see where the story was going. I know most of it. We have heard the same story from our grandparents and what they had to go through during the Partition in one way or the other – of strife, of loss, of not knowing what is going to happen next to them in a country now divided. I saw all of this coming and yet I somehow couldn’t empathise with what was going on.

I was expecting a lot. I wanted more to happen but it didn’t. I liked how the book was structured with famous Hindi song titles as the chapter names and that worked given what was happening in the chapter. The concept is good and would definitely recommend it to people who want to start reading about the Partition. A very good place to start from.