Category Archives: biography

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro

Hourglass Title: Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage
Author: Dani Shapiro
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0451494481
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

To sit back and see life passing you by. That’s the thought I had while reading, “Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage” by Dani Shapiro. It almost felt as though an old friend was speaking with me – telling me tales from her life, snippets that were hidden, incidents that had occurred a long time ago and were being recounted because she just wanted to let me know how she felt or feels. “Hourglass” though it is only 160 pages long, takes its own time to grow on you, and once it does, there is no way you can tear yourself from it.

So, you might wonder, why should I read a memoir about someone’s life and marriage when I don’t even know anything about the person? That’s a valid question to ask, however, that’s also where the answer is. You have to read the book, because Shapiro makes the disassociations feel familiar. Her emotions are universal (just like all of us) and we can relate to it one way or the other.

There are sweet and poignant moments and then others that are cast with essential sadness. Essential sadness – the kind of sadness that there is no running away from. The exploration of a marriage is so honest, that it almost takes you by surprise and awe at some points of the book.

She puts her marriage under a microscope. Initially, I was a little uncomfortable reading about her personal life (as it always happens to me when I read a memoir) but slowly and steadily for sure, I started looking at it more from the point of the writing, which is staggering. Her prose isn’t fancy or verbose and that to me is the beauty of the book. Marriage is difficult, sometimes impossible and Dani’s marriage to M of 18 years cannot be contained in one book. I hope there are others. For our sake. So we can all learn as we go along life.

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In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi

In the Darkroom Title: In the Darkroom
Author: Susan Faludi
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
ISBN: 9780805089080
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Autobiography, Biography
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

To be honest, I had gone blind into this book. I had not read the synopsis or any review online. Nothing. I knew nothing about the book and just went on an adventure with it. Take me where you will, I had almost said and saw through that to the very end.

Faludi’s book to put it simply is about her father and identity. However, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. Susan’s father had left her when she was young. She then set off to investigate him in the summer of 2004 – in the process of discovering and knowing her father, she began understanding her roots and history – Jewish history at that.

Susan found out that her seventy-six year old father – now living in Hungary had undergone sex reassignment surgery. This then led to the questions of identity and gender in the modern world, as seen and observed by her. How could she come to terms with a new parent? A parent who was no longer a man, but a woman? Did it make sense at all? Should it make any sense in this world? At the same time, she had always known her father to be violent. He was a photographer (hence the title and more layers to it which you will figure as you read the book)and the reference to images and the shifting of them is another thing that will leave you spellbound in this book.

The book traverses between the present and past beautifully. Susan’s writing takes you to dark corners of the human heart and soul – when she speaks of politics, she integrates it with the personal and that lends itself so well again to the “question of identity”. Can you escape it? Can you so easily invent another one for yourself? Is it really that simple?

What I also loved is that Susan talked of the trans-gender movement (being a gay man, and it falling under the umbrella of LGBTQIA, I couldn’t help but wonder about it, which led me doing my own research on it) and not only that, the way she speaks of universal father-daughter relationships and how she doesn’t know where she stands in that equation anymore. Through her writing, you can see her struggle to find her father beneath the person he has now become.

“In the Darkroom” is emotional for sure but above all it is a book of such intricate details of relationships – that are strong and fragile and need a voice of their own, which Faludi lends hers to beautifully.

Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star by Aseem Chhabra

Shashi Kapoor - The Householder The Star by Aseem Chhabra Title: Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star
Author: Aseem Chhabra
Publisher: Rupa Books
ISBN: 978-8129139702
Genre: Biographies & Autobiographies
Pages: 216
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I remember asking my mother when I was a ten-year old boy: “Mom! Who is your favourite actor?” and she answered unflinchingly “Shashi Kapoor”. I could almost sense a sly smile as she uttered his name. It was almost like she had betrayed my father by uttering that handsome actor’s face (of course I would know it later as to how insanely crazy she was when it came to him). I did not understand then about a young woman’s desire when it came to her favourite actor and let it pass. I was ten after all.

After almost two decades and two years, I got the opportunity to read the biography of that very actor by Aseem Chhabra titled, “Shashi Kapoor – The Householder, the Star” and it all fell into place. Why was my mother crazy about him? Why did his films matter so much to her? Why would she insist of even watching all Merchant-Ivory productions in which he acted and they weren’t even mainstream movies, which my family would gorge on?

At the same time, some of the family members for the life of them couldn’t understand that how could a man play a role in movies such as Deewar, Trishul etc and still continue to work in “art films” (they used to call them that) such as Junoon, Kalyug, etc. It is perhaps for this versatility of roles and acting skills, Shashi Kapoor was the go-to-guy. Maybe that is why because he was so busy during the shoot of Satyam Shivam Sundaram, that Raj Kapoor dubbed him “Taxi”. All said and done, it was these anecdotes and more you should read what Aseem has written about the star.

I mean more than anything I have always been a fan of Merchant-Ivory productions – I have almost watched all their films and then while I was watching their movies growing-up, I would be jubilant that here was a face I could recognize and how come this Indian actor spoke such great English – he of course was Shashi Kapoor and then slowly, but surely, I fell in love with my mother’s favourite actor.

To know that it was his production house that produced movies such as 36 Chowringhee Lane, Utsav (well I know most people think this movie makes no sense at all, but personally I love it), Kalyug and Junoon, I fell in love with the book even more. What I love about the book is Aseem’s attempt to make readers and film-goers world over not only meet Shashi Kapoor the actor, but also the man behind the actor and the movies. His life is spoken about throughout but very nonchalantly – almost as though it is there for you to see, but only if you try reading between the lines. At times, Aseem even gives it away on a platter to the reader.

“Shashi Kapoor – the Householder, the Star” is a book about the generous spirit of the man – as a human being, actor and producer. It was Shashi Kapoor who was the first so-called “crossover” actor and also among the first who took to stage the way he did and created an institution called Prithvi Theatre which still runs strong in Mumbai.

I love the book. I love its nuances – the way Aseem has researched it and the amount of time it took him to give shape and form to it. It is almost no one else could have written about the actor but Aseem. There is so much empathy when he speaks of Jennifer and the effect she had on Shashi’s life – both as a professional and his wife. I think as a person who loves Bollywood and everything about it (well almost everything about it), this book was not only a revealer of sorts but also refreshing – it is about a man that not much is spoken or written about (not at least now) and I loved the way it is structured and written. If you are a Bollywood aficionado and even if you aren’t, you must read this book only because Shashi Kapoor deserves to be known the way Aseem wants you to know him.

Sagan, Paris 1954 by Anne Berest & Translated by Heather Lloyd

Sagan, Paris 1954 by Anne Berest Title: Sagan, Paris 1954
Author: Anne Berest
Translated by: Heather Lloyd
Publisher: Gallic Books
ISBN: 978-1908313898
Genre: Memoirs, Literary Fiction, Biography, Literary Biography
Pages: 160
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

Some books have an age for it. You just cannot read Catcher in the Rye at 30. You will not get it. No matter how hard you try. The same goes for a beautiful well-known book called “Bonjour Tristesse” whose author Francoise Sagan was only eighteen when she wrote it.

I was eighteen when I read. That was the time I came out to my family and this book was one of those read that year, after I came out, that helped me see myself better and clearer for sure. There is no other way to put it and no better way to pay homage to it than read a book about how “Bonjour Tristesse” became what it did and that’s what I did when I read “Sagan, Paris 1954” by Anne Berest and translated by Heather Lloyd from French.

“Sagan, Paris 1954” traces the life of Francoise Quoirez, before she became a literary sensation. It is of the months in 1954 that led to the publication of her legendary novel. Berest writes the book in the form of a paean – a poetic-prose meditation on the young author’s life – the atmosphere in which she grew, her friends, her parents, her brother and her life in Paris. The book reads like a journal – a journal of Sagan (in some bits – some fabricated) as written by Berest. The reader sometimes doesn’t know whose perspective or whose life is being talked about – I liked the intermingling. It worked for me for sure.

If you are looking for writing tips or how it is to be a writer at eighteen, then this book is not for you at all. This book is for lovers of literature who want to know more about Sagan and how she became what she did. Berest’s writing will keep you turning the pages and leave you hungering for more. Lloyd’s translation is precise and cuts clean through the book.

As a reader, I loved how Berest took me through the journey of a confident writer who knew that the only way she would be was in writing and getting a book published. She was never short on confidence. Sagan’s life in these couple of months was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride which Berest intricately and with great brevity takes us through. I love this book – it is a great mix – a take on real life and life that is closely reimagined – taking some liberties but which could very well be true.

Rajesh Khanna – The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar by Yasser Usman

Rajesh Khanna by Yasser Usman Title: Rajesh Khanna: The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar
Author: Yasser Usman
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143423614
Genre: Biography, Non-Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

He had it all. He was twenty-eight and he ruled the hearts of many women and men. It was the era that would etch his name in Bollywood like none other star. He was after all India’s first superstar and perhaps the only one that could garner the crowds like none other and his downfall also was like none other star. Rajesh Khanna came, saw, conquered and was defeated. The book, “Rajesh Khanna – The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar” by Yasser Usman is an attempt to uncover as to why the man was the way he was, what led to his downfall and what happened that led to him becoming just another name or a has-been.

Rajesh Khanna was more than just a superstar. I think he was an enigma that people wanted to believe in. He was the cornerstone of everything nice and pious with the world and the personification of romance and tragedy, till it all came crashing down. “Rajesh Khanna – The Untold Story of India’s Superstar” delves deep – into the star’s life – from childhood to his death day, of everything about him that is not told and everything that is misunderstood as well.

Jatin Khanna (as he was born) was adopted by his uncle and aunt and brought to Bombay (as it was then known) and had dreams of becoming a film-star early on. Being the only child, he was treated like a prince and every whim and fancy of his was adhered to. His only ambition was that to be a film-star and nothing or no one could stop him. He entered a talent contest, won it and then became who we all know as “Rajesh Khanna”.

One doesn’t know what it was about him that got fans crazy about him. The charisma perhaps. Or maybe the fact that the country was finally ready for a romantic superhero and his time was just right. Women would write him letters in their blood. Men wanted to be him and romance women. The country was riding on a one-man storm and then it all ended for the superstar.

“Rajesh Khanna” is a book by Yasser Usman that delves on the persona of Rajesh and also the person that Jatin was. His loves – Anju Mahendroo, Dimple Kapadia, Tina Munim and more maybe. The relationships he had with the people of the film industry – the rivalry with Amitabh Bachchan, the closeness with Devyani Chaubal, the support he always had from Shakti Samanta, because of whom he became what he did and many more such people. The book speaks of his marriage to Dimple Kapadia, his election phase, his good movies and the bad ones, his wanting to have a hold on everything and everyone close to him and of his much-talked about possessive attitude.

The book has a very neutral view of the superstar, his whims, his temper, his arrogance, his large heartedness and his refusal at not accepting failure. Usman’s writing is sparse, to the point and extremely effective. The writing makes you feel for the actor, makes you want to know more about him, watch his films and get to understand what made him and what unmade him.

“Rajesh Khanna – The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar” is a book that shows us the various sides of Bollywood – of how you are praised at your peak and then thrown away unceremoniously when your films do not take you far. Read the book. Be wowed by the superstar. Turn the pages. Get to know his life. Take it all in. You will not regret it.

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