Category Archives: Bloomsbury Publishing

Read 203 of 2021. Are You Enjoying? : Stories by Mira Sethi

Are You Enjoying?-Stories by Mira Sethi

Title: Are You Enjoying?: Stories
Author: Mira Sethi
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 978-1526643957
Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

With the onset of the lockdown last year, my mother and I watched Pakistani serials. We were reeling under the influence of Dhoop Kinare watched years ago and thought that Pakistani serials would be made the same way – with nuance. We were mistaken to a large extent. They were just like the K serials of India, barring a few. The same old upholding of values, same old serials seeped in patriarchy, the same old stories of sacrifice and love.

Why do I speak of these serials? Because Mira Sethi’s collection of stories set in Pakistan are refreshingly different and real unlike these shows. Or maybe these shows are also real, each depicting their own universe of events, and the truths that reside in them.

Mira Sethi’s collection of six stories and a novella is not only extraordinary but also immensely detailed, with an eye for pointing out the quirks, eccentricities, and to a large extent satirical. These stories are the much-needed representation we needed of the country. Maybe some of them even made me think of Zoya Akhtar’s movies. They seemed to be set in the same milieu. The rich with their immense set of problems, insecurities, constantly finding ways to escape what is being served to them by life or by fate as a consequence of their deeds (maybe). Whether it is a man who is recovering from his divorce and falls in love with a neighbour in “Mini Apple” or a young actress who wants to make something of her life in “Breezy Blessings”, or even if it is the matriarch in “A Life of Its Own” (which is in two parts) – all of them are struggling with something or the other – their lives are no different than what you and I live. Sethi draws from people she knows, irrespective of whether rich or not. The stories matter and they speak for themselves.

My personal favourite was Mini Apple till I read “Tomboy” and fell in love with the story. The understanding between the friends Asha and Zarrar, as they get married and continue living, hiding their sexuality from society at large, spoke volumes to me as a gay man living in India. We think we have managed to break free, but have we really?

Mira’s stories constantly defy, they are thinly veiled in wit and humour, sometimes even to make a point, but mostly these stories reveal the human condition and the spaces we inhabit. These stories could be set anywhere in the world, but Mira’s Pakistan is the modern country we need to know of – its contradictions, the complexities, the night life, the lives that are not supposed to live to the fullest, and the constant battles of power and desire. It is the Pakistan that speaks volumes, if you read carefully between the lines.

On the surface these stories look simple but let them not fool you. They are anything but easy. They are an easy read for sure, but their impact lasts longer than you think it would. Sethi’s writing is brazen, feisty even, it is refreshing and more than what you have already heard of it. It is a collection that has rightfully earned every bit of praise. Read it.

Navigate Your Stars by Jesmyn Ward. Illustrations by Gina Triplett.

Navigate Your Stars by Jesmyn Ward

Title: Navigate Your Stars
Author: Jesmyn Ward
Illustrations by Gina Triplett
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1526620347
Genre: Speeches, Non-Fiction
Pages: 64
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

This year hasn’t been easy on any of us. We have all tried to fight a lot – anxiety, confusion, lethargy, to just be able to function on a daily basis, and sometimes even to give up and restart the next day. This year hasn’t been easy. I chanced upon Jesmyn Ward’s slim book “Navigate your Stars” – a book that is now a constant reminder of value of hard work and hope for a better tomorrow.

Ward just reflects on her experiences as a Southern Black Woman addressing all the themes of grit, the problems she and her family faced, and above all the importance of also learning together as a unit – sometimes not even the same lessons.

This book is a result of Ward’s commencement address at Tulane University, where she teaches creative writing (I think she still does). Navigate Your Stars is also about the people in her family who weren’t that fortunate to get the chances and opportunities that Ward did, and yet did what they could to better their lives – or make their successors’ lives better.

There is so much wisdom and inspiration in this sixty-four page very short book that sometimes big tomes fail to contain. Also, not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Gina Triplett that shine on every page. Navigate Your Stars is a book to read when you are down in the dumps, when you are happy, when you feel all of it, and just want to feel hopeful all over again.

Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan

Here is the Beehive Title: Here is the Beehive
Author: Sarah Crossan
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
ISBN: 9781526619518
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Here is the Beehive is a story of a relationship, of love, of loss, and how the world seems when the beloved is no longer in it. At what point do you start doubting love, only because both of you were married to different people? At what point do you not trust what was said, proclamations made after sex, vows declared after being drunk, the world offered on a platter when they were in a good mood?  Here is the Beehive is a story of all of this and so much more.

I had not read any Crossan before this. With this book, I think I will break that and read everything she has written (though most of it is YA literature, if I am not mistaken). Here is the Beehive is also perhaps about every relationship that we have with others – family, friends, acquaintances, best friends, lovers, and more. Though on the surface it is about the death of a lover, and what happens after to the lover left behind, it is also about all of the other relationships and the role they play in your life.

This verse novel has so much to say and yet sometimes it says so little and does a great job of it. Connor and Ana keep telling each other that they will leave their spouses but they don’t. They break up, come back together, break apart, and repeat the cycle, till he dies, and that’s the end of the relationship. Ana is left with nothing but grief and memories. The relationship isn’t healthy. Crossan shows its toxicity in full splendour, however, there is love.

Crossan’s writing is real – the small instances of validation when in love or lust, the small instances of grief that turn big, the need to know that you were loved – and that wasn’t just something you made up in your head – all of it is tended to with great attention and eye for detail. There are no winners or losers. There is only love and what happens when you fall hard without understanding the implications. No one is right or wrong. It just is.

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.

 

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

City of Girls Title: City of Girls
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1526615237
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I am just going to go on record and say that I absolutely love Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing. I remember the time Eat, Pray, Love had released in India and had become an overnight sensation. The literary snobs (as they are called) were pretty hesitant to even read it, often dismissing it as “chick-lit” (hate this term by the way). And then “The Signature of all Things” was published a couple of years later and it was a literary sensation. More than anything else, just the way it was written – the characters, the setting, the prose – all of it. But this review is about City of Girls.

 City of Girls is a novel that seeps you into its timeline, makes you feel for the characters, and makes you aware of the fact that you are under a spell as long as you’re reading it. City of Girls may not also be everyone’s cup of tea. It is slow and takes time to build up, but I loved every bit of it because it is atmospheric and lures the reader in – with every turn of the page.

 The book is set in New York of the 1940s – the world of theatre at that. Vivian Morris is eighty-nine years old, looking back on her life in the 40s – freshly kicked out of Vassar College, arriving at Manhattan to live with her aunt Peg who owns the crumbling theatre called the Lily Playhouse. This is where the story begins with oddball characters, and a mistake committed by Vivian that sends her world twirling headlong upside down and more.

 This is the plot of the book to put quite simply. The book is about growing-up at a time when the world was changing at a neck-breaking speed and to keep up with all of it. Of course, the book is also about war and what it does to people. Gilbert writes about it realistically and yet not losing her touch of empathy and emotional quotient.

City of Girls may seem extremely slow in bits and parts (especially in the middle), however, just like any other book it works for some and doesn’t for the other. Gilbert’s writing prowess is the same or even better when it comes to this read, and please don’t compare The Signature of All Things to this one, because they are vastly different. What most certainly worked for me was the transition from the 1940s to the current time and Gilbert has done a stunning job of bringing it all together, in one book. Read it if historical fiction interests you, or if you are comfortable with a book taking its own time.