Category Archives: 2020 Reading Women Challenge

Weather by Jenny Offill

Weather by Jenny Offill Title: Weather
Author: Jenny Offill
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0385351102
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Weather by Jenny Offill is a demanding book. It holds you right from page one and doesn’t let go (at least it did that to me). It can also go the other way and make the reader wonder what they are reading and perhaps make them stop reading as well. Weather isn’t an easy read. If you are reading Offill for the first time, I suggest you start with Dept. of Speculation and then move on to Weather, as it will give you an idea of perhaps what to expect.

Weather is a novel that is everything and more – it literally as the title suggests, speak of the weather – the situation of climate change that we are in which isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It is about a marriage that seems to be in control and yet felt to me that it was tearing at the seams.

It is also about the protagonist, Lizzie Benson’s sort of stream-of-consciousness that comes from her brother’s mental and physical health, her mentor’s closing off to the world, and to what extent she will go to test her endurance when it comes to empathy and the state of the world.

This is not a book that can be read in one go. You have to savor it and give it some time. It is fragmented and will take some time to get into. Maybe nothing extraordinary ever happens in the book as well (quite subjective). It reminds us of times – of impending doom that hangs over all of us – and yet more often than not we choose to ignore it. It is bleak and has moments of joy. The writing as I have mentioned isn’t easy, but it shouldn’t deter you from reading Offill. She is simply the best.

Amour: How The French Talk About Love by Stefania Rousselle

Amour - How the French Talk About Love by Stefania Rousselle Title: Amour: How the French Talk About Love
Author: Stefania Rousselle
Publisher: Viking, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0241406137
Genre: Photo Essays, Photojournalism
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

How does one find love? How does one sustain that love? How does it feel to listen to sad love songs and pine and long for someone, day after day? I was eighteen once. I loved once with a mad passion. I still do. Though I am scared and afraid of getting hurt, love doesn’t know that though. It washes over me like a tide, and that’s the end of it all. Even before it has begun.

We love like moth to a flame; till the time we crash and burn. We love and we don’t even know how or when or why. We love because sometimes that’s the only thing to do. Love someone with all our might and strength. Love is what makes the world go around, isn’t it? Love is also not many a splendored thing, because it has the capacity to break you, and yet again it repairs you without you knowing.

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Stefania Rousselle had almost stopped believing in love. She is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker, covering the bleakest of assignments – from terrorist attacks to the rise of the right. This led her to travelling around France asking strangers the one good old question that we all try to answer: What is love?

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The result of those interactions is “Amour – How the French Talk about Love”, a book of photographs, memories, and a book that tries hard to make sense of love and what goes and comes with it. Amour is a book about regular people – bakers, painters, plumbers, irrespective of professions, speaking of love and what it did to them or continues to do to them. It is a book about lost opportunities, to lovers that were better left alone, to marriages that crumble and yet you stay, and also about love and its mysteries that just cannot be solved.

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Whether it is about a gay couple who have just started life, or someone who misses his wife so badly that he just cannot fathom living again, to someone who hadn’t kissed till he was twenty-five, to a lady who escaped an abusive relationship and is still waiting on love, all these stories are hopeful, broken, and yet all we all need is love to soldier on. To make us believe in the idea of forever.

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Amour as a book made me think about my loves and my relationships. Relationships with my parents, my lovers, friends, and the ones that didn’t culminate to anything. Love is like that; it just has to be given its space for anything to happen. I am not like that though. I learn every day.

Amour: How the French Talk About Love shows you how love is so universal that it also hurts that way when you read about other people’s experiences. You cry a little. You smile. You cheer. You also want to reach out to them and let them know it will be okay, and love will find a way to them, one way or another.

Starting this month, I have decided to include a playlist at the end of each review – songs I listened to while reading the book.

Here’s the playlist for Amour:

  • Shayad from the movie Love Aaj Kal 2
  • Love of My Life by Queen
  • Aaye Kuch Abr by Atif Aslam (Coke Studio)
  • Aapki Ankhon Main Kuch from the movie Ghar
  • Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell
  • This Year’s Love by David Gray
  • Last Party by MIKA
  • Ae Ajnabi from Dil Se
  • Crying by k.d. lang and Roy Orbison
  • Your Whatever
  • Pyar Hua Chupke Se by 1942: A Love Story
  • Kithe Nain by Aabha Hanjura
  • Maahi Ve from the movie Highway
  • Chaand Chahiye by Ankur Tewari
  • Walkin’ After Midnight
  • Friday I’m in Love
  • Be My Baby
  • We all Sleep Alone by Cher
  • I Wanna Dance with Somebody by Whitney Houston
  • Raabta from Agent Vinod
  • Secrets by Collabro
  • 101010 by Sleeping at Last
  • Don’t Give Up On Us by Sarah McLachlan
  • Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat by Noor Jehan
  • Musafir from Jagga Jasoos
  • Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen
  • Ek Chaand (from LOEV)

So All Is Peace by Vandana Singh-Lal

So All is Peace by Vandana Singh-LalTitle: So All is Peace
Author: Vandana Singh-Lal
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 978-0670093717
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I honestly did not know what to expect when I first read the synopsis of this book. It felt strange, weird, and a sense of great unease that I couldn’t place my finger on. Who wants to read about starvation? Who wants to talk about things we don’t speak in public? Who wants to even acknowledge the darkness within? There were so many thoughts before I started reading the book, that I wondered if it was even a good idea to venture further into this novel of family, food (in a way), and life in modern India.

I also then read mixed reviews about the book. I am not the one to read a book because of a review, no matter how trustworthy the reviewer/critic is. I finally decided to give it a go, to read it, to understand the book, and make some sense of the author’s mind (which can never happen by the way).

So All Is Peace on the surface is a book about twin sisters Layla and Tanya found starving in their upmarket apartment. This sets the media in a tizzy. There are theories galore, and in all of this is the disillusioned journalist Raman who is assigned this story. Tanya begins to speak and tell their story to Raman, and this is when the novel takes off.

The writing is raw, matter of fact, and above all keeps you engaged at every page. The details are needed, so while they may seem daunting initially, it all makes sense as the novel progresses.

Vandana Singh-Lal knows Delhi. She knows the way it functions, its nuances, its everyday behaviour, and isn’t afraid to lay it out for the reader. The book like I said goes deeper than just a story of starvation. The answers lay within our society – the way we live, and make decisions that impact our lives for a long time to come. So All Is Peace is about women living in the country – their daily encounters with men, and what it leads to. Singh-Lal cleverly intertwines social media into the novel and the role it plays, at the same time questioning every intent and reason.

The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India by Supriya Gandhi

The Emperor Who Never Was - Dara Shukoh in Mughal India by Supriya Gandhi Title: The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India
Author: Supriya Gandhi
Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 978-0674245969
Genre: Biographies and Autobiographies
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

 

I have been afraid of history books. Reads that somehow seem to take a lot of time to process and take a lot from me as a reader. That’s the perception I had for the longest time of history books. Till I read Dalrymple, Thapar, Manu S. Pillai, and now a recent addition, Supriya Gandhi’s, “The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India”.

This is a fascinating read. It reads like a novel. It reads easy. It speaks of Shukoh, of whom less is written, much less spoken of. A fascinating look of a family, the succession to the throne, and the politics that happened in its wake. Dara died at the hands of his younger brother Aurangzeb, and that forever changed the course of South Asian History. Let me speak more about the book.

Shukoh was the eldest son of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor. The Mughals did not practice the concept of primogeniture (the right of succession passed to the firstborn). How did Aurangzeb ascend to the throne and what happened to Dara, and Shahjahan’s other children is what the book is about.

I was enthralled by the writing. Like I said, Gandhi’s writing is very accessible and doesn’t seem heavy at all. There was not a single place in the book that seemed forced or unwanted. Every detail of the family, to what the siblings felt, to Dara’s sense of being, and Aurangzeb’s personality (sometimes misunderstood as well) was perfectly laid out.

Supriya Gandhi almost gets into the skin of Shukoh – the man he was, how he embraced Sufism, and yet he wasn’t without his own flaws. She transports the reader to a land of constant conflict and gives us a biography that is balanced – there is no bias of any kind and she doesn’t take sides. She presents history the way it happened.

We live in times when politicians in India (some of them) are out to erase the history of this nation. The Emperor Who Never Was by Supriya Gandhi reclaims history and gives us a complex, nuanced biography of a man who was not known at all, and also of a family that was different and always at loggerheads with each other. Read the book to know more. Read the book and educate yourself. We live in times, where a good open perspective is always needed.

The Beach at Night by Elena Ferrante. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.

The Beach at Night by Elena Ferrante Title: The Beach at Night
Author: Elena Ferrante
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Illustrations by Mara Cerri
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453701
Genre: Children’s Books, Picture Books
Pages: 38
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This book is a picture book by Ferrante. It is also a children’s book (or so it seems). The Beach at Night is a deceptive book, that pretends to be a book for kids and can scare the bejesus out of you. It is a macabre story of a doll and has several hints of terror. This is told in the traditional sense of a fairy tale for kids, but goes deeper than that. The book is from the doll’s perspective (almost reminded me of the doll we meet in My Brilliant Friend) and has so much touches of darkness all throughout.

It is as though all her books have the same theme – darkness, loneliness, and the idea to belong at some level. Although this book does have a happy ending, it still is peppered with a lot of dark imagery (though it is this small a book). I don’t even know if the book is for children really, but it definitely works for adults.

In this one the translation itself might be limited, given the few use of words, but nonetheless it is done effectively to transport you to the world of Ferrante. Let me tell you something about the story. Celina the doll is jealous of the new kitten Minu. She gets lost along the way and somehow the story then reaches the beach. What happens next and the things that happen to her is what the book is about.

The illustrations by Mara Cerri are so aligned to the story and are more than enough to create the atmosphere of loneliness and abandonment, thereby leading to the other darker themes of the short picture book. The Beach at Night is an unusual book, and yet hands down so fulfilling a read, the one that will haunt you for a while.