Category Archives: bloomsbury

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.

 

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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?

Small Days and Nights by Tishani Doshi

Small Days and Nights by Tishani Doshi Title: Small Days and Nights
Author: Tishani Doshi
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 978-9388912709
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Small Days and Nights had me break into a sweat for most part. I fervently turned the pages, wanting to know what would happen next to Grace and Lucia, to their dogs, and Mallika. For most part, I was on the edge of the proverbial seat so to say, and for the other part, I was mulling, thinking, pondering, and submitting to Doshi’s writing and worldview.

I recall going through the same feeling of angst, hopelessness, and some hope while devouring The Pleasure Seekers in 2010. It has been eight years now and Doshi’s writing is just as evocative, raw, and with a passion that will perhaps burn the reader.

The world Tishani Doshi builds in Small Days and Nights is a small one. Often uncomplicated even, often without layers, and is all about the day to day living of two sisters – who have discovered each other late in life. Grace stumbled upon the existence of Lucia (who is living the Down Syndrome), as she returns to Pondicherry, where her dead mother awaits cremation. Lucia has been living in a residential facility their mother helped build. Grace moves Lucia with her to a tiny coastal village in Tamil Nadu – Paramankeni, a place that is at least three hours away from most human contact. And not to forget, the year is 2010. Grace and Lucia live quiet (or so it seems) lives with Mallika, a village woman who lives on their property as a cook and a guard, also looking after the many adopted dogs.

This novel is deceptive in the sense that while it seems to be calm on the surface, a lot is taking place beneath the surface – Lost relationships that refuse to be found, parental bonds (their Italian father is in Venice, who was estranged from their mother many years ago and is acousticphobic as well) that are not quite there, a family that isn’t your typical family (but what is a typical family anyway?), and women who are cocooned in a world of their own, where men will not let them be. That theme runs throughout the novel – incidents happen on their property, men look creepily, and the sea rages in the distance.

Doshi creates a world that has its moments of grace, of kindness, of empathy beyond recognition and yet there are times through her writing where darkness makes itself known. Her characters love and also fall short of love. Her writing is razor-like and also quite a balm at most times – it soothes and cuts sharp. It seethes with anger and knows when to smile. The descriptions linger long after, the taste of the sea remains, the sound of the dogs barking, and the restlessness strike home.

Grace and her parents are aware of their failings and that’s what makes them so real and at the same time quite unforgiving. You don’t feel for Grace – it is hard to, but as a reader you understand loneliness, and the right to claim life in whatever capacity. Women’s experience in public and personal places, of caring for someone with special needs, forgiveness, and the need to understand that all of us are perhaps sailing in the same boat is the heart of Small Days and Nights, and yet there is the awareness that it can all be undone quite easily.

99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai

99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai Title: 99 Nights in Logar
Author: Jamil Jan Kochai
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1408898420
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

While 99 nights in Logar may seem to have been set in a culture and time alien to most readers, the universality of theme is astounding, which you only begin to realize as the pages turn. This is where the genius of Jamil Jan Kochai only begins. You don’t need a tour guide to take you through the terrains of Afghanistan or a map to get you acquainted to the landscape. You just need to go with the story and that’s enough.

I must admit though initially I did face a problem with who was whom in the family and what were the relationships and more than anything else, the confusion about names. However, that ended soon enough and from thereon it was a journey worth taking.

This debut is narrated by Marwand, a 12-year-old boy who is raised in America and takes a trip with his parents and brother to a village in Afghanistan in 2005. The American war is almost over, and no one knows what the future has in store.

The book starts with a search – Marwand, and his uncles and cousin – Gul, Dawood and Zia set out to find his uncle’s dog Budabash. The dog hasn’t been seen since he savaged Marwand’s index finger on the first day of his arrival. A lot of things happen on the course of finding the dog – people drop out of the search party for one reason or the other, stories are exchanged (which to me is the brilliance of the novel) – over a cup of chai, waiting for things to happen in the course of the search, or even while doing nothing.

Kochai tells us the story of a family and he doesn’t do it keeping the West at the fore. The images are spot-on, you feel a part of the narrative, and for most Farsi or Pashto words there is no English translation given, which is quite natural given the people in this region speak that way. Coming back to the family, Jamil Jan Kochai weaves the story back and forth in time through the stories told by everyone not just the boys – and then it only further changes hands of time.

99 nights in Logar is all about memory. Memory is at the heart of this novel and throughout the book. Whether is it recollection of stories, or even how things happened a week ago or two days ago, Kochai manages to make the story funny, filled with nostalgia, angst, and a great coming-of-age experience.

Fox 8 by George Saunders. Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal

Fox 8 by George Saunders Title: Fox 8
Author: George Saunders
Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1526606488
Genre: Satire, Fiction, Fable for Adults
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

There are some books that just nestle into your heart and stay there. For me, those have been the likes of An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami, The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Capote, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. You get the drift, don’t you? These are the kind of books that can be read to soothe me, when I am feeling down. I am certain we all have these kind of books – the ones that make everything alright, just by opening them and reading – over and over again. Fox 8 by George Saunders is the latest addition to my ever-growing list of “heartwarming” books. (I hate the use of the word heartwarming, my apologies).

I love Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo though is my least favourite book written by him, though it won the Man Booker Prize and all that). His short fiction is par excellence, his essays even better in my opinion, and basically whatever he writes is pure gold. Fox 8 is no less of a book because of its size. If anything, after you are done reading it, you tend to agree that it had to end, where it did, even if you wanted more of it.

Fox 8 - Image 1

Read more: In Appreciation of George Saunders

This 64-page novella/novelette is about a fox – the name is Fox 8 who is curious about humans (poor sad fox. I for one can’t stand most humans) and also learns some of the English language, by watching parents read to their children (I love how the fox also debunks fairy tales for us with reference to the role of the fox in them). Saunders is in his full form with inventiveness of language – writing (phonetically) the way a fox would – yooman and not human, bare and not bear, and the list goes on. At first, you wonder about the writing style and when you give in, you are in love with this fantastical tale of two foxes visiting a mall (that has been built razing most of their forest) and what happens next.

Fox 8 - Image 2Read more: George Saunders’s 10 Favourite Books

Before I forget, kudos and more to Chelsea Cardinal for the illustrations that go so well with the story. The illustrations are all black and white, except the foxes – they are in orange and stunning would perhaps be a lesser adjective to use. Saunders’ story is telling of our times – of the way we inhabit spaces and make of them to how endangered our wild life really is – and all of this is said with the eccentric and almost witty (in this one at least), true blue Saunders style.

Fox 8 is heartwarming, also heart-wrenching, makes you look at the world we have made and why and question almost every decision – which I think we must. At the same time, it makes a spot in your heart and will not go away. I am very happy that it was the first read of the year for me. Read it. It is truly beautifully done.

You can buy Fox 8 by George Saunders here