Category Archives: Biographies

Virginia Woolf by Alexandra Harris

VWTitle: Virginia Woolf
Author: Alexandra Harris
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
ISBN: 978-0500290866
Genre: Biography, Literary Biography
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I remember being all of 13 and attempting to read Mrs. Dalloway. It didn’t make any sense to me back then. Nothing whatsoever. In fact, I also remember dumping it and not picking up any Woolf till I turned 21. That’s when life truly made sense. Virginia Woolf’s writing has captivated me like no other author, not even Murakami for that matter.

Having said that, I wish I had read this book before reading her works, as it provides so much insight and fodder into who she was as a person and how that impacted her writing. Not only that, it goes a step ahead speaking very closely about her family, husband, and influences when it came to The Bloomsbury Group.

This edition by Alexandra Harris might be a brief one when it comes to Woolf’s life, but might I say that she has captured every phase and essence of the writer’s life and works to perfection. I say this because I have read Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee and that is quite an extensive work. Harris does not gloss over anything and provides a view that is completely unbiased and yet thankfully you can see the admiration for Woolf shine in this short biography.

Harris also takes into account Woolf’s relationship with her contemporaries and how she worked on building the Bloomsbury group. Those chapters swept me away, not to also forget how she came to write the novels that she did and her mental health always there -sometimes in the background and sometimes right there at the front.

“Virginia Woolf” by Alexandra Harris captivated me more than any tome on her could have. The writing is crisp and engaging and works well with the accompaniment of 46 photos of Woolf, only adding to the entire narrative. A read for all Woolf lovers and also for those who are afraid of her writing, just so you are encouraged to pick any of her books and read her, thus converting for life.

 

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This is How I Save My Life: A True Story of Finding Everything When You are Willing to Try Anything by Amy B. Scher

This is How I Save My Life Title: This is How I Save My Life: A True Story of Finding Everything When You are Willing to Try Anything
Author: Amy B. Scher
Publisher: Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 9781501164958
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Scher traveled to India for bold and controversial stem-cell treatments for her advanced Lyme disease after exhausting all options back home in the US of A. She had nearly spent a decade trying to find, research and even underwent several treatments, but no avail. She took a leap of faith and decided to travel all the way to India for a treatment – that could work or not. This book is about her life, her battles, her life in India and how she found a way to deal with every hindrance life threw at her.

I normally do not read books in this genre. Either they do not appeal to me or I get scared of breaking down while reading them. I do not know exactly why, but this time I allowed myself to weep and loved the read. This is most certainly not the typical sickness to health kind of book. In fact, how it is different is because Scher takes us through the journey with her and how she emerges as a more confident and independent person.

If you ask me personally it had nothing to do with the country as much as it had to do with Scher. Having said that, the book chronicles India like never before to me as well. It isn’t exotic or flimsy as most books tend to do. I love Scher’s tenacity, her exuberance and most of all her enthusiasm toward life.

“This Is How I Save My Life” is a book that makes you see life on a larger scale and not just limited to our bubbles or what we go through. Scher’s perspectives are unique and she extends it to the world that she encounters, relating it to her illness and recovery. Extremely inspiring and makes you want to live to the fullest, as cliché as it might sound.

The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters by Laura Thompson

The Six Title: The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters
Author: Laura Thompson
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 9781250099549
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir,
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

When a non-fiction work reads like fiction, you know you have struck gold on so many levels. “The Six” is a brilliant example of that. First, it is the story of the Mitford sisters. Second, it is superbly written by Laura Thompson. Third, the pace. I have often realized that I get bored in the middle of a memoir or biography and that did not happen even once during the read of this book.

“The Six” as the cover tells you is about the life of the famous Mitford sisters. Born to the 2nd Lord Redesdale between 1904 and 1920, their lives have become synonomous with the darkest periods of history. The Mitford sisters comprised of Nancy, a highly succesful historian and novelist; Pamela, who lead a quiet life suffering from polio and other diseases; the glamorous Diana who broke all rules and divorced her husband; Unity – the most infamously famous who was so taken in by Hitler and his philosophy; Jessica, the communist and Deborah who finally married a Duke and became a Duchess. These were the six Mitford sisters. The book is not just about them though. Thompson magnificently covers history – sneaking up on you between the pages and blending it beautifully with the sisters’ stories.

Thompson covers it all – the glitz and the glamour and the riches to the failed loves and relationships. Nothing has been left out conveniently. A lot of analysis of each sister and their relationship with each other is honestly told and that to me is the highlight of this rivetting read. Thompson does not leave any stone unturned and like I said the writing is easy and yet intense, covering it all and somehow leaving so much room to imagine the ongoings. A read that perhaps may not be for all, but a great one nonetheless.

Giving up the Ghost: A Memoir by Hilary Mantel

Giving up the Ghost Title: Giving up the Ghost: A Memoir
Author: Hilary Mantel
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250160669
Genre: Biographies, Memoirs
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Hilary Mantel is an author that should be read by everyone. I don’t mean it because she is a Booker-Prize winner (twice at that, and consecutively so), not because her fiction is par excellence, but because of her memoir. The memoir that will break you, make you smile, make you relate, and feel all sorts of emotions. At the same time, it is about feminist literary circles, about women who write and without fear, and literally about “Giving Up the Ghost”.

I cannot talk about the book in a linear manner because it is also not written that way. This memoir is about how a poor child of Irish origins, from a disadvantaged family, grew to become one of the world’s most celebrated novelist. Through her story, Mantel touches on other stories – the ones that we can relate to the pinnacle and back. She speaks of home, growing up, books, and more books and above all how she was subject to visions, to “seeing things” that weren’t there. Spooky, isn’t it? Were they real or just a condition because of her hormones as she had undergone an early hysterectomy?

The pain and clarity in the writing is astounding. She speaks of her novels as the children she would never have. All along she speaks of women – literary women mostly and their lives – and also strangely ties in the century and its on goings.

At no point does Mantel’s writing become pitiful or self-loathing or wanting attention. It is what it is and she has written it in a very matter-of-fact tone. The book doesn’t meander or amble and combines all of it quite beautifully. Honestly, you don’t even have to read her novels to read the memoir. Just dive in and be prepared for a fantastic, heck of a ride!

 

Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a Paintbrush by Anita Vachharajani. Illustrations by Kalyani Ganapathy

Rebel with a Paintbrush Title: Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a Paintbrush
Author: Anita Vachharajani
Illustrated by: Kalyani Ganapathy
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9352774739
Genre: Biographies, Art Biographies
Pages: 184
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I love Sher-Gil’s work. Almost everything she painted. Every work of art transformed itself in her hands. So there was this one biography of hers which I had read a long time ago, whose author I forget. But this is the one that will stay for a long time to come. I think it is mainly because of the illustrations.

“Rebel with a Paintbrush” very succinctly describes Sher-Gil – as a person, a wife, a lover, and an artist. More than anything, the book is all about her influences and her works of art. The journey of an artist is so well-described that I wished there was more of it.  More than anything else, I am in awe of how she conducted herself and lived life on her terms. Mind you, we are referring to a time when feminism had just taken flight.

This book is about her life, her influences, her education, the growing-up years and her determination and passion toward her art. It is also about the story behind the artist – about the rebel and the dreamer, her loves and longing and what shaped her both as an artist and woman.

Anita Vachharajani’s take on it may not seem new, but the writing is fresh and important. Also the beautiful reprints of Sher-Gil’s work along with the original illustrations by Kalyani Ganapathy make it more than worthwhile to pick this brief biography. I loved how Anita has looked at every aspect of Amrita’s life and ensured that nothing is missed. I can only imagine how she must’ve managed it but the result is quite a treat for someone who has an interest in art and wants to understand more about Amrita Sher-Gil – her life and work. Do read this book. Won’t take too much of your time and a perfect one for the monsoons.