Category Archives: 2020 Women Writers Reading Project

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.

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.

A Long Petal Of The Sea by Isabel Allende. Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende Title: A Long Petal of the Sea
Author: Isabel Allende
Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1526625359
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I think it was the year 1997, when I picked up my first Allende – like most readers it was The House of the Spirits and I was fascinated, to the point of being mesmerised. I remember the moment as though it was yesterday. I had borrowed the book from the library, and I started reading it. I left it after twenty pages, but the thought of it being incomplete nagged me end on (those days I would not toss books that didn’t hold my interest). I picked it up again and since then I have never dropped an Allende mid-way.

I had heard a lot of mixed reviews about this one, but of course I had to read it to figure it out for myself. I may not have loved it as her other books, but to be honest, I enjoyed the read. A lot. Historical fiction isn’t my cup of tea, but this one had me by the throat, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

The time is late 1930s. Civil War has gripped Spain. General Franco and his fascist regime have succeeded in overthrowing the government and hundreds and thousands of people are overnight forced to flee their homeland, over to the French border. In all of this, there is Roser, a pregnant young girl, whose life is closely intertwined with Victor Dalmau, an army doctor, and the brother of her deceased love. They have to marry to be able to survive and that’s when the story begins.

Victor and Roser embark on SS Winnipeg, a ship that will carry them to Chile, and chartered by Pablo Neruda. Their trials and tribulations have only begun. At the same time, the book is mainly about hope and freedom and once again speaks of the times we live in. It is about humanity and how we find comfort in the strangest of places.

The book starts of in the 30s and ends in the 90s. In all of this, not once I was bored or thought I couldn’t take it anymore. There is a lot of detailing, and Allende is well, known for it. However, the detailing according to me is much needed – including Neruda’s role in the war, and what it did for so many refugees.

The translation is on-point and perfect. So much so that it doesn’t feel that you are reading a translated work. It is that natural and precise. A Long Petal of the Sea captures the lives of ordinary people caught in circumstances that they didn’t want to be a part of. It shows us the mirror to what war does and how there is sometimes no surviving it, though you think you have.

Allende’s prose is glorious, and exacting. The book travels from Spain to France and Chile and Venezuela, and each detail is well-cared for. More than anything she speaks of a better tomorrow, the one that we all need to hope for and believe in even though it is tough to do so.

 

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Citizen An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine Title: Citizen: An American Lyric
Author: Claudia Rankine
Publisher: Penguin Poetry
ISBN: 978-0141981772
Genre:  Poetry, Criticism,
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

“Citizen – An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine is a book which can be applied to anywhere in any country. It is on racism and according to me racism is not just deep-rooted in The United States of America. It is prevalent all over the world and that is not something to be proud of for anyone. I chanced on this book on Salon.com. It was heavily recommended by one writer whose name I forget. All said and done, I am only too glad that I picked it up and cannot stop talking about it.

“Citizen” is the perfect book of our times and sadly represents the world that we live in. It is an age of race differentiation, colour differentiation and violence and maybe it never stopped. Maybe it never ended anywhere. This book makes you think in ways you didn’t think it was possible to do. It ruffles your feathers and rightly so. It is needed at this juncture. I think it is also the fact that we tend to ignore so many things because we don’t want to confront. I think it is time to confront. Gone are the days of being silent.

I think that maybe “Citizen” can somewhere down the line help us understand why things are the way they are and at the same time, there is so much introspection that we need to do as well. And like I said before, the book is not all American, though it seems like that from the title. It can speak to anyone and it does. When Rankine speaks of what Serena Williams had to go through because of her colour, she is speaking to a wider audience and we need more voices such as these. She speaks of shame of colour, of rage, of loneliness, and what it means to be discriminated against.

“Citizen” is a read that will take its own time to sink in. You cannot rush through it. It is the kind of read that stays with you and makes you think about the world we live in. The writing is stunning and strong and forces you told contemplate on issues you would have turned a blind eye to. The writing also sort of comes across as an out-of-body experience for Rankine. To distance herself from all of this and write, and then to merge her experiences. I finished this book with a heavy heart. The book can be best summed-up in one line as written by Rankine: “I don’t know how to end what doesn’t have an ending.”

Read it. You will not regret it.

P.S: This time around was my second read of the book. The first time was in 2015. Sadly, nothing has changed.

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)