Category Archives: bloomsbury

February 2020 Reading Wrap-Up

February 2020 Wrap-Up

 

Wanted to read more than I read in January 2020. Ended up reading one book less. So, February ended with 12 books read. 10 seen here as two are lent to other people.
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Here’s hoping March 2020 will be kinder and more will be read, thanks to the International Booker 2020 shadow panel and the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2020. February was great with a book about love, of Delhi and its poems, of Allende and the Spanish Civil War, of a graphic novel about the Khmer Rouge, of Offill’s take on climate change with a story seeped in domesticity of life, of love and loss in Dear Edward and more. .
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Here is the list read with my ratings:

1. Amour by Stefania Rousselle (5)
2. A long petal of the sea by Isabel Allende. Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson (5)
3. Year of the Rabbit by Tian Veasna. Translated from the French by Helge Dascher (5)
4. Like Blood on the Bitten Tongue by Akhil Katyal. Illustrations by Vishwajyoti Ghosh.
5. Chhotu by Varud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi. (3)
6. The book of Indian kings (4)
7. Weather by Jenny Offill (5)
8. How we fight for our lives by Saeed Jones (5)
9. Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini. Translated from the Italian by J. Ockenden (4)
10. Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano (5)
11. Letters of Note: Love. Compiled by Shaun Usher (4)
12. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (5) .
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So, this is my list of February 2020 reads. What about yours?

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid Title: Such a Fun Age
Author: Kiley Reid
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
ISBN: 978-1526612151
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

The book took off very slowly for me, till I finished Part 1 and was instantly floored by the turn the book took, and the writing. Such a Fun Age seems so less on the surface, and it is so much more the moment you give it time, dedication, and continue reading it without stopping. At times, the book is also quite deceptive in its approach, making you believe that it is about the men and not the women, whereas it is only about the women and rightly so.

The book is about Emira Tucker, a young black woman, who is all of 25 years old, lives in Philadelphia, with two part-time jobs (typist and babysitter), with no benefits and no health insurance at all. She wants to do more in her life but is always held back for one reason or the other. In all of this, her life is brought to the forefront involving an upscale grocery store, where she is on an errand with the toddler of her employer, Alix, who is white. Alix is deeply embarrassed by the incident and takes on Emira as a project – to get to know her better and make wrongs right.

This then leads to a series of questions raised throughout the book about class, gender, race, parenthood, forgiveness, and what it takes to be a person in the twenty-first century. The plot and the semi-plots are full of nuances as created by Reid. The book is funny, and before you know it, it becomes serious talking about racial biases, and the prejudices we seem to hold onto, sometimes even unintentionally.

Reid writes from a place of awareness and experience, which adds to the many dimensions of the book. The characters aren’t all black and white, and you do not expect them to be that was well. The greyness is something that just sneaks up (Emira’s boyfriend and what happens thereof). There is a lot of engagement with the reader, in the sense of being vested, as the pages turn. I often found myself not wanting this book to end because of the way it is written.

Such a Fun Age besides being a solid book of and for our times, is a read that will leave you bedazzled and wanting more. It’s take on privilege, wealth, class, and crossing of paths of people is refreshing, and makes it a compulsive read on so many levels.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett Title: The Dutch House
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1526618757
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett is a novel of many wonders. It is a box of things that are seen at first glance, only to discover a secret opening, where new things emerge from. This book gives, and gives, and gives some more. As a reader, as a fan of Patchett’s works, as an ardent admirer of what she puts to paper, my experience with The Dutch House has been surreal, mixed with nostalgia, and snatches of memory of my own childhood (though not this morbid or unfortunate).

What is a novel? What should be a novel? Is there such a thing as an ideal novel? Who decides that, if there is something like that? The critic? The reader? Or all of us, trying to find answers to questions of meaning of life, hope, and love as we turn the pages of novel after novel, searching for truths unknown as we move from one work of fiction to another?

The Dutch House is a fairy-tale. It is also gothic in nature when you least expect it to be. It is also full of misery, and then surprises you with moments of hope and togetherness. It is the story of two siblings – how they lose their home, how they understand each other (or not), and how they reclaim some of their lost home.

We are introduced to Danny (the narrator), and his older sister Maeve right at the beginning of the book. Their introduction to their would-be stepmother Andrea is where the book starts, and that’s when the series of events unfold in front of the reader – travelling between the past and the present of the novel.

The fairy-tale element runs strong, with a fair share of the Gothic that adds to the strong plot. Not to forget the way Patchett builds on the characters – from the housekeepers to the people that enter and exit from the siblings’ lives. Each character and each plot point is thought of to the last minute detail and maybe therefore this novel is as close to being perfect or it already is in more than one way.

What I found most interesting was the use of narration – by using the first-person narrator technique in a novel where time is of most importance, we see events unfold through two perspectives – the younger Danny and the older Danny. A doppelgänger effect, adding another layer to the complexity of the book.

The Dutch House is deceptively simple. It is a book that seems so easy to read on the surface, and it is. However, it is in joining the dots that are far and wide that adds to the reading experience. It is for this reason and more that Patchett is one of my top 10 favourite writers and will always be. She makes you feel, she makes you internalise how you think and feel as you read her books, and more than anything else she reminds you that being humane is the heart of it all.

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.

 

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

Good Talk by Mira Jacob Title: Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations
Author: Mira Jacob
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1408880166
Genre: Graphic Memoirs
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

We don’t know what life has in store for us till it flings itself in our faces. Then we know. Then we truly begin to see as it unfolds itself. Mira Jacob’s Good Talk is not just a memoir. It isn’t just a conversation. It is so much more that as I sit and type this, I literally have gooseflesh.

It is a book about identity, about interracial marriage, about when do we know we are citizens of a country? Is there a certificate that gets handed out? We are constantly seeking validation about ourselves – be the way we look, or the way we feel, and most certainly the way we think. What if you needed validation that you belong to a country? What would you feel then? Good Talk is mostly about it, a lot about it, and sometimes less about it.

It is about trying to explain to a seven-year-old that he belongs. That being of the same skin colour do not make families. That it’s okay for his father to be white and his mother and him to be brown. It is more than that. It is about given the freedom to love, to choose, to make your decisions, and to also regret them.

The book travels between the past and the present – and what I realised as I read it was that not much has changed. The issues of race are the same in America. Brown bodies or black ones or anyone who isn’t white is fractured when it comes down to living life in the United States of America. In some way or the other that is. Good Talk is about Mira giving answers to her seven-year-old son’s questions about race, America, and modern politics.

The push and the pull that comes with it, and the several questions that she never side steps, but involves her husband Jed as well in the process. In all of this, the reader also moves back and forth in Mira’s life – the past to the present and how it all threads together – her insecurities while growing-up brown in America and her son’s in the present environment. The juxtaposition on some level is surreal. Obviously her son is too young to experience more, but I am sure that is another book for another time.

Good Talk is about resilience and what it takes to navigate the world we live in and its interconnectedness. It is a book that resonates the time we live in, and heavily at that. It is the era when a man is willing to build a wall to keep the “other” out. Who is the other? Are we the others? Or are the others the people who want to box and categorise people? Who are devoid of empathy? Who are devoid of sentiment? We might think we are isolated and something happening in Africa may not be linked to us, but we need to think again about everything and its impact.

Good Talk is not an easy read. More so it isn’t something we can read and forget. It applies to all of us. After all, aren’t we all a part of a family?