Category Archives: February 2022 Reads

Read 24 of 2022. Afterparties: Stories by Anthony Veasna So

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So

Title: Afterparties: Stories
Author: Anthony Veasna So
Publisher: Grove Press/Atlantic Monthly Press
ISBN: 978-1611856514
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

To be diverse in reading is one of the greatest joys according to me. You read diversely and you are aware about so much that goes on – and not just that, I think to some extent it also perhaps makes you a better person.

Afterparties: Stories by Anthony Veasna So is one such book. A book that makes you see people differently, their lives perhaps with a little more empathy, and more than anything else, I felt some of the stories hit harder as a gay man. Sexuality in these stories is subtle and yet makes such a huge impact on the reader.

The stories in this collection are so diverse, and from the same community – the Cambodian Americans. From “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts” where these women are seen fighting, talking, and reading Wittgenstein behind the window of their bakery in wee hours, trying desperately hard to make sense of their identity while being stuck, to “Generational Differences”, where a survivor of the Khmer Rouge has also witnessed a school shooting, and is only doing her best to raise her son differently and without any further trauma, these stories become more than just being tragic.

At the same time, these stories speak of renewal, of healing, of finding solace in the mundane and the monotonous. So’s people are mostly queer, angry, romantic, hopeful, and displaced – survivors of the genocide, trying to find their way in the world.

Afterparties is a collection of stories that is predictable, also unassuming sometimes, and lets its characters explore detours and various twists in the tale through the complexities of their cultural identity. Please read it.

*Anthony Veasno So died from a drug overdose in 2020. He was twenty-eight years old.

Read 23 of 2022. Don’t Want Caste: Malayalam Stories from Dalit Writers. Edited by M.R. Renukumar. Translated from the Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and Ravi Shanker.

Don't Want Caste. Edited by M.R. Renukumar

Title: Don’t Want Caste: Malayalam Stories from Dalit Writers
Edited by M.R. Renukumar
Translated from the Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and Ravi Shanker
Publisher: Navayana Books
ISBN: 978-8189059811
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 192
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This collection of short stories hits hard and as it should. We need to with our privilege open our eyes and see the world around us for what it is. For the injustice, for the hate, for the discrimination, and for the fear that some people live with – the marginalized whose rights have been encroached on, and those whose lives are a constant struggle.

Don’t Want Caste, a collection of stories by Dalit writers is a mix of truth, some truth told through the lens of magical realism, and some told plain and simply.

These stories have been selected from seven decades of Dalit writing in Malayalam –       from the 1950s to the 2010s. There are 23 stories in all, each very different and just the same – telling us about the atrocities of caste discrimination and what it does to functioning societies or how it is an integral part of it, unfortunately so.

The stories explore the meaning and consequences of what it is to be a Dalit – of what it is to belong and not belong – of how then the unreal is used to talk about the real. The real that is so traumatic that it needs the assistance of magic to speak of.

“The Downfall of a Demon” (1964) is one story that captivated me the most. It is simple, unique and yet says all that it wants to about the world we live in. “The World of Rabbits” (2006) is about a young Dalit boy who discovers a change of emotions among his parents towards rabbits and what happens thereof.

There are stories of men, women, and children running away from their caste – wanting to disown it and trying very hard to get away. There are stories of men, women, and children embracing who they are and what they are – and fighting throughout in their own manner to claim all of it.

“The Serpent Lover” is a story of two lovers Ganesan and Sarojam who make a tragic discovery about their past and have to work around it. There is the issue of shame, hope, and also the angle of memory that doesn’t let go because how you are constantly made to show your place in the society.

Please read it. The translations of Abhirami and Ravi are succinct, on point, and let the stories speak for themselves. The writers – twenty-three of them have done a magnificent job of displaying every emotion on these pages. Don’t Want Caste is one of the books that I recommend to everyone in the country to understand the nuances of what is often thought doesn’t exist, but it does, and it is in your face most of the time. Please don’t choose to hide behind ignorance.

Read 22 of 2022. The Village of Eight Graves by Seishi Yokomizo. Translated from the Japanese by Bryan Karetnyk

The Village of Eight Graves by Seishi Yokomizo

Title: The Village of Eight Graves
Author: Seishi Yokomizo
Translated from the Japanese by Bryan Karetnyk
Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo
ISBN: 978-1782277453
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 352
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 2.5/5

I was so looking forward to reading a good mystery and was disappointed to some extent by this read. The pacing clearly was one of the major reasons for this. It went on to become too long after a certain point, and I wish it had ended earlier.

Tatsuya Terada has been invited to become the heir of a wealthy Tajimi family in a remote mountain village. The village gets its name from a bloody legend of eight samurais who were murdered by the inhabitants in the 16th century, letting loose a curse. Recently someone from the Tajimi family has murdered thirty-two villagers.

Tatsuya goes to the village only to become the prime suspect. Enter, Kosuke Kindaichi – a very hapless detective trying to solve the murders.

The writing is interesting in the first half and then it loses steam in the second half. I found myself getting bored and I wish there was more to the unfolding of the story. The characters are well-rounded and yet the plot doesn’t take it any far. The translation by Bryan Karetnyk manages to give the reader the much-needed imagination when it comes to a mystery and maintain the hold on conversation as well.

The Village of Eight Graves could’ve been so much more and isn’t. It would for sure make for a great binge-worthy Netflix series, but as a book it disappointed me for sure.

Read 21 of 2022. Love and Reparation: A Theatrical Response to the Section 377 Litigation in India by Danish Sheikh

Love and Reparation by Danish Sheikh

Title: Love and Reparation: A Theatrical Response to the Section 377 Litigation in India
Author: Danish Sheikh
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857427502
Genre: Plays, LGBTQIA
Pages: 164
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

You don’t see a lot of LGBTQIA literature coming out of the sub-continent, even though section 377 has been read down. You just do not. I am not surprised though. But what I was pleasantly surprised by was this text, aptly titled, “Love and Reparation” – a collection of two plays about the decriminalization of queer intimacy that took place on the 6th of September of 2018.

One decision that changed so many lives across the spectrum. From being “criminals” to not being criminals overnight, and to have full sexual agency meant something for most, and yet there was doubt about the future, given how we lived in the past. The future is as uncertain even today, almost four years into the judgement.

Danish Sheikh’s two plays bring out the true nature of how we feel. It is a representation I am glad exists. Both the plays bring forth the intermingling of the personal and the political, with the legal aspects playing a major role. Sheikh writes with so much empathy, yet never straying away from facts. Being a queer person, Danish speaks through these plays – everything that is so personal is out there.

“Contempt” and “Pride” are the two sides of the same coin and it couldn’t be truer. One play examines the before and one the after. Both speak about living with the law and what are the repercussions. I learnt the language of longing and desire pretty late though I knew somehow what it was a lot earlier. I have lived through a time when Section 377 was used by my family to put me in place and I have thankfully (perhaps) also lived to see the day when this section was read down.

Contempt was written as a response to the Suresh Kumar Koushal vs. Naz Foundation judgement in the year 2013, when the Supreme High Court reinstated section 377, overturning the Delhi High Court judgement. Pride was written as a response to the decriminalization of 377 in the year 2018.

I felt deep sense of satisfaction after reading these two plays and yet I also felt this deep sense of loss, of something that is still not complete and needs to be looked at, with one eye on the future. And yet, these plays have provided so much hope and love inside of me for what’s to come. A love that can finally speak out loud.

Read 20 of 2022. The Blue Book: A Writer’s Journal by Amitava Kumar.

The Blue Book by Amitava Kumar

Title: The Blue Book: A Writer’s Journal Author: Amitava Kumar
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9354893742
Genre: Nonfiction, Diaries and Journals Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I will say this at the onset of this review: This book definitely makes it to one of my top reads of this year, and we are only in February. The Blue Book by Amitava Kumar is a whole lot of heart, meditations on loss and living, and above all on the resilience of the human spirit, in several circumstances, the pandemic being one of them.

The Blue Book is a journal of the pandemic, it is an ode to the ones who have left us, it is a memoir, it is a journal of the passing of time, and how in all of this literature saves us, most of the time. It is also a collection of paintings and drawings – of life observed as it came to a standstill, and somehow did not.

Amitava Kumar’s musings aren’t just that – you could even call them contemplations, or profound thoughts but to me they were nothing but deeply personal and emotional. He speaks of his parents, their mortality, his mother’s passing away, his children, his friends, and how it all comes together for him as a writer.

The Blue Book is a book that makes you see things around you, in a more calm and balanced manner. It did that for me at least. It made me slow down in a sense and appreciate what I had and also what I did not. Kumar’s paintings say so much – they represent life, death (since he also started painting over the obits from the pandemic in NY Times), and a sense of life coming full circle in a strange way. Art brings forth the grief – the unsaid, the understated, and perhaps how to let go.