Category Archives: Books Read in 2016

The Book of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz

The Book of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz Title: The Book of Memory Gaps
Author: Cecilia Ruiz
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
ISBN: 978-0399171932
Genre: Comic Strips, Graphic,
Pages: 64
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

The fourth book read this month and let me tell you, that while it may be a short book, it certainly will linger in your memory for a while. Funny how I used memory there when the book is about memory gaps. It is a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges and his meditations on memory and time.

Ruiz tells tales of individuals whose memories have failed them. These individuals’ tales are short – a few lines and the rest of the talking is done by the illustrations accompanying them. These stories have to do with false memories, memories that keep getting renewed each day and getting nowhere, memories that are not wanted and memories that keep going in circles. The instances of not remembering are also witty sometimes – also heartbreaking to a large extent.

Some characters suffer from dementia. Some are just lost. Some are searching endlessly. It is almost like the collection of these small tales represents one emotion: Melancholy. The illustrations also go so well with the text – they are dusky and have this dreamlike quality attached to them. The book resonated with me long after. It is the kind of book that stays with you. I am still reeling from its effect.

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The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane

The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane Title: The Gifts of Reading
Author: Robert Macfarlane
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0241257340
Genre: Non-Fiction, Bibliomania, Books about Books
Pages: 64
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Robert Macfarlane is a travel writer more than anything else. He writes about his adventures in walking, trekking, climbing and camping in the wilds above all else. This latest book of his however is different. It is about the joy of receiving and giving books as gifts. The book primarily centers on the relationship he shared with a long departed friend whom he worked and travelled with in China. This relationship was about book gifting.

He recounts his love for Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books and also how he gives away the books he has loved to people he knows and doesn’t know. Macfarlane always has a stack of books ready (which he buys on the side) in his office which people can come and pick up. I loved the idea but I don’t know if I can do this. Maybe someday I will.

Macfarlane has this wondrous style of explaining things so simply – he doesn’t need to exaggerate life and that’s why you need to soak in whatever he offers. All his experiences with reading are one of a kind and while you may relate to them at some point, you wish you’d live them. If a book manages to do that to you, then it is a pretty good book, according to me.

“The Gifts of Reading” is full of anecdotes about books, reading and the lives that perhaps we should be living compared to what we are. I wish the book were longer. I wish it didn’t end so soon. I would love to read more of Macfarlane’s books for sure after this essay.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Title: We Should All Be Feminists
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: 4th Estate
ISBN: 978-0008115272
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essay,
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

We are conditioned when we are kids. Everything that becomes a part of us is because of our childhood and it is these core ideas and values that are difficult to let go off. No matter what you do, they remain with you, for almost your entire life. Genders, sexuality, equality, respect, dignity then just don’t remain words – they manifest and come alive. These are words that hold so much meaning – they did as we were growing up and more so now. When there is no gender equality, and you have it easy by the virtue of just being a man, then you will not know what the woman feels or what women go through in general. Only because you have not faced it.

Honestly, I was of the opinion earlier that there are a lot of “armchair feminists” doing the rounds online and offline, but I think that what Adichie says in this short book – an essay of forty eight pages makes so much sense – yes everyone should be a feminist, because it is much needed.

Adichie’s essay in the form of a slim book “We should all be Feminists” is a primer to have with everyone. Everyone must read and try and follow whatever they can from it. Adichie speaks of what feminism means today and that is the thread of the entire essay.

She speaks of the blatant discrimination in the Nigerian society and while reading it, you can sense that it is the same worldwide. How women get paid lesser, how they are told to serve men, how a woman is conditioned to be a wife and a mother and a man, the householder so to say. Adichie from her life anecdotes and of others’ makes pertinent points when it comes to a world that is clearly biased.

I have often heard people who are uncomfortable with the word “feminism” and this book also touches on that. Adichie with her wry wit goes on to explain how we need words such as “feminist” or “feminism” till the time there is gender discrimination. I am completely in awe of her ideas and I honestly believe that it will take all of us to make a change happen. Let people speak. Let both women and speak about issues and rights. It is time that it becomes a collective battle and not just one versus the other, because it was never like this.

To end this review, all I can say is that everyone must also read this book, whether the majority part of the society or minority. We also need more books such as these – free-thinking people who present ideas in linear and lucid ways to help us understand what the cracks in cultures are and just how we can actually save ourselves from ruin.

In the City of Gold and Silver by Kenizé Mourad

In the City of Gold and Silver by Kenize Mourad Title: In the City of Gold and Silver: The Story of Begum Hazrat Mahal
Author: Kenizé Mourad
Translator: Anne Mathai in collaboration with Marie-Louise Naville
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609452278
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I love books set in the period when India had just begun fighting for their independence or had started again way back in the 1940s. Historical fiction has always been close to my heart and will continue to hold that spot – whether the books are set in India or any other country.

“In the City of Gold and Silver” by Kenizé Mourad was the first historical fiction novel read this year and I was completely taken in by it. Set in Awadh during the time of the first Mutiny in India – this book traces the life of the fourth wife of King Wajid Ali Shah – who ultimately had to give up on Awadh when it was annexed by the British like most other princely states and territories in India during the East India regime.

What is different about this story though is that the book doesn’t end with Wajid Ali Shah being exiled, but begins with Begum Hazrat Mahal taking charge of the affairs in the state of Awadh and how she seized control of Lucknow.

The book to me beautifully charts a part of history – which isn’t forgotten but is often not spoken of. Yes, the Indian Rebellion of 1857 is linked to this region as well and is fleetingly mentioned in the book – but the book is mainly about the king Wajid Ali Shah and his wife – Hazrat Mahal – the formidable, strong and independent woman that she was.

Mourad’s writing is in third person and she does a clever job of introducing her characters and etching them. The fluidity of language and perspectives of each character blends in beautifully – from Wajid Shah to Hazrat to the deputy in charge of playing the middleman between the king and the Governor General to the farmers and the sepoys, Kenizé takes you back in a place and time that you cannot imagine and yet as you turn the pages, they come alive.

The book in a sense is a big fat historical lesson – in how one woman succeeding in changing the face of Awadh in troubled times and how she rose from being a courtesan to the fourth queen. That to me in the true sense of the word is “feminism” – how she refused to back down and let go. I think more than Wajid Ali Shah, of course the focus was on her and her story – which is how the book delivers and stays on target with it.

“In the City of Gold and Silver” is a book that will educate you, will make you wonder, will also make you feel really sad for the sovereign and hoot out loud for Begum Hazrat Mahal. I recommend this book very highly if you want to know more about that era or you just want to start reading some good historical fiction.

The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984 by Riad Sattouf

The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf Title: The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984
Author: Riad Sattouf
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
ISBN: 978-1627793445
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I had chanced upon this graphic novel, just by surfing, as I chance upon most of my reads. I read stuff on the internet and then pick and choose by reads. Like most reads that I come across this way and read it this year – the first book of 2016 and what a way to kick-start the year!

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“The Arab of the Future” is a graphic memoir of Riad Sattouf and is the first in the two part series. It is about his childhood spent in Libya, France and Syria – and how he and his family kept shuffling between these three places. It is about the confusion that Riad goes through as a child, given the different cultures and perspectives. It is almost as if it is the miseducation of a child in an Arab world. It is world where little boys defecate on streets, women have no voice, stray dogs are killed with pitchforks and where religion is of supreme importance and you are definitely in for trouble if you aren’t Muslim.

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Riad Sattouf, a French-Syrian cartoonist has drawn just more than what seems to be a graphic memoir on the surface. It is a juxtaposition of values and how each culture is and what they stand for. Riad’s Arabic father believes in a lot things that his French born and raised mother does not and in all of this there is Riad, trying to make sense of the worlds he has been thrown into – where his relatives on both sides seem to be very different and act differently as well. He cannot figure what is going on and is forever confused as he makes his way and understands the world a little better.

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For me while reading this book, a new world opened – that of Sunnis and Shias (though the discussion points about this aspect are few), about Israel and Palestine and what is the conflict all about (again this is briefly touched upon) and how even family members deal with each other sometimes in the most brutal manner.

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The graphic memoir is beautifully illustrated with a lot of tongue-in-cheek comments and indications as you go along. It is done in sepia tones, which you get used to as you turn the pages. I was fascinated with how Riad’s education took place right at home amidst his cousins and their fascination for his toys to how religion politics even affect childhood to a very large extent in these areas – may be that is just how it is with them – catch them young and watch them grow.

The book in a graphic form touches on so many issues that it is difficult at a point to treat it as a graphic novel. You wish he had written a non-fiction text which had more details. “The Arab of the Future” also has a sequel to it which I am most eagerly awaiting – it will take some time given that it will be a translation just like this one. To all graphic novel enthusiasts: Do not skip this one. A must read.

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The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984: A Graphic Memoir