Category Archives: Books

Read 110 of 2022. Bolla by Pajtim Statovci. Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston.

Bolla by Pajtim Statovci

Title: Bolla
Author: Pajtim Statovci
Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston
Publisher: Pantheon Books
ISBN: 9781524749200
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I finished reading Bolla at a time when I am most disillusioned by love – more so when it comes to same-gender love. I am confused, whether it exists or not, whether it is possible for forever together, and happiness to be possible. If anything at all, can two men love each other? Can they truly love each other?

I am not going to say that Bolla answered these questions of mine, because they are too vague, and perhaps not to nuanced to be met with answers anyway. But what Bolla did was, it reaffirmed the fact that love isn’t easy, neither is it as simple as it seems on paper, nor is it moral, and almost never in sync with what you expect.

Bolla is a story beyond two men and their loves and lives. It is also the story of conflict between the Serbs and the Albanians, the Kosovo war, what happens to people torn by war, and in all of this – it is a story of self, identity, the confusion that rises from finding yourself, and the lengths one will go to, to do that.

Bolla makes you go through a series of emotions – from love, to lust, to wanting what the two men have, to not want it at all, to getting angry at one of them because of his choices, and perhaps then understanding his state of being, mind, and heart. You pick sides while reading this book, and then you don’t.

As a reader, I was overwhelmed in the beginning, angry at mid-point, sad right through the read, judgmental, and then wasn’t because you don’t take sides in a story where there are so many blurred lines. At some point, reading the journal entries of Miloš, I couldn’t tell if the narrator was then reliable or not.

Statovci is a genius. A master who doesn’t believe in telling all, neither does he show all. It is a beautiful balance of the two – a lyrical meditation on what we lose, how we gain, and what remains in the end.

Bolla is about self-loathing, how much are we willing to be honest to ourselves, and at what cost – it is about affairs and lives cut short, about the selfish nature of living, and all of this comes together so alive and beautiful only because of David Hackston’s most wondrous translation (whose name I wish was on the cover) from the original Finnish. Hackston never once made me feel that I was reading a translation. It was so clear, lucid, and made me feel everything that perhaps Statovci intended his readers to feel.

Bolla will not leave me very soon. It has nestled and made way inside my heart, like a snake – the mythical being the story refers and comes back to again and again. It is intimate, raw, questioning our endurance, how we don’t sometimes want the past to merge with our present, of how intertwined they all are, and above all it is about being graceful, tender, and learning to love and forgive ourselves, so we can perhaps heal.

Read 108 of 2022. In Praise of Good Bookstores by Jeff Deutsch

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Title: In Praise of Good Bookstores
Author: Jeff Deutsch
Publisher: Princeton University Press
ISBN: 978-0691207766
Genre: Books and Reading
Pages: 216
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Yes, this book starts off on a very boring note, and yes it also tests your patience, but I request you to also endure while reading the first couple of pages, because after that it gets better, and to the extent that you find yourself nodding your head to every observation or thought made or had by Deutsch.

I do not know for how long the bookstore will last. The physical, brick and mortar bookstore – the one that isn’t Amazon or the likes of it. Maybe it will for a very long time, but that also depends on us – the readers. To make them last, for them to not only survive but also thrive. Deutsch has always been a bookseller and he draws from this rich experience of his and gives us a book that makes so many points in praise of good bookstores, and how they are places of discovery and communities should only be thankful to have them around.

At the same time, I wish Deutsch would also speak of people who work for bookstores with limited knowledge of books, and how to work around that, or for that matter the stocking issues as well when it comes to bookstores – the book you want is almost never available. Having said that, Deutsch also looks at the practical aspects of a bookstore – of it as a space – of how qualities like time, abundance, light, and the presence of community make or break a bookstore.

In Praise of Good Bookstores also gets pedantic at times, and the author does quote a lot of literary greats, but it also quickly manages to get the book back on track about the elements most need for a bookstore to be good, great, and the best. It does tend to get caught up in the nostalgia and the old-world charm of a bookstore but also balances it with the real-time situation of the day. I would most certainly recommend this read for a balanced perspective on why physical bookstores are needed and praising the good ones that are around.

Read 107 of 2022. After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz

After Sappho

Title: After Sappho
Author: Selby Wynn Schwartz
Publisher: Galley Beggar Press
ISBN: 978-1913111243
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

After Sappho is a song that must be heard by all. It is a paean that generations of people must pay attention to. Of the struggles, the triumphs, the failures, & then of winning and the struggle to keep all of it sustained – Schwartz takes us through fragments of the lives of historical women, transporting us across time – from 1880s Italy to 1920s Paris and London. There are so many women we meet along the way, many kindred souls, many whose loves and lives we relate with, their broken dreams, hearts full of love, aspirations, yearning for independence, to be seen, to transform to Sappho.
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As a queer person, this book spoke like no other title on the Longlist. With every reread my heart has been fuller, my mind freer, and my thoughts wilder. After Sappho is about women reading books in trees, of Virginia Woolf falling in love with Vita Sackville-West, it is about liberation, need to express oneself, about how Henrik Ibsen took a woman’s story and made it his, about men who do that on a daily basis, about spaces that are waiting to be reclaimed by women, about stories that end in the year 1928 in the book, but are still going on and on and on, encompassing the lives and loves of women.
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The prose is not only compelling but gloriously touching. After Sappho is a story of collective voices, of individual laments, of voices that will not be subdued, of voices that have been told to shut up constantly, and of voices that belong to bodies that do, think, and act as they please. Schwartz writes with humour, writes about pain, what it is to be a woman (something which I will never know, though I am constantly torn about who I am and what is my identity), she writes about everyone who is on the periphery of society. She speaks of the past, merging it with the present, predicting the future. It is about learnings – what we understand from our ancestors, women who go back and forth to learn, to understand themselves, the world at large where they are concerned.

After Sappho is a testimony to those on the margins, the outsiders; to those women who don’t fit in and don’t want to. It is about anyone who has fought, and continues to do so. As a gay man I found myself in its pages. I was another Sappho, too.

Read 106 of 2022. In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing by Elena Ferrante. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein

In the Margins by Elena Ferrante

Title: In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing
Author: Elena Ferrante
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 9781787704169
Genre: Essays, Nonfiction
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

There’s nothing that Ferrante cannot write about. That’s just my opinion and anyone can refute that, but I will stick to it. Ferrante writes like a dream. Yes, at times her works do seem laborious to get by, too convoluted even, but the essence of each of her books, the way she makes you connect with the emotions of her characters, and more than anything else the way she writes of course in the larger scheme of things.

In the Margins is a collection of three lectures (and an essay) she gave (through the actress Manuela Mandracchia) in November 2021 at the University of Bologna as a part of “The Eco Lectures” that started in 2000. In these lectures, she takes us through the process of writing, what writing means to her, what reading is all about, and how she fits in to the greater framework as a writer.

So, here’s the thing, the lectures make for great insights into her mind as a writer – how she struggled with it, how she found her voice, and how even today she sometimes struggles with the entire writing process. Ferrante draws on her childhood writings, her process as a writer (briefly giving us glimpses), and in all of that, she speaks of her novels, and the ones that inspired her to write.

Overall, I found the book extremely engaging, though there were times I felt completely disinterested, but carried through with it, because the language and expression of writing never let me go. The translation then as usual of her works by Ann Goldstein is perfect and doesn’t miss a beat. Goldstein not only becomes a vehicle through which we understand Ferrante, but somewhere down the line, I was also somehow trying to make sense of the translator’s thoughts and conflicting emotions while translating a work about writing and reading.

In the Margins will take some time to read though it is only about 112 pages long. It is packed with ideas, emotions, and thoughts on how life and writing intersect, of a writer’s dilemma, of what she perhaps owes to herself before anyone else – as a reader and a writer.

Books and Authors mentioned in the book: 

  • Umberto Eco
  • Elie Wiesel
  • Orhan Pamuk
  • Dante
  • Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo
  • Rime of Gaspara Stampa
  • Mallairne
  • Virginia Woolf
  • A Writer’s Diary
  • Samuel Beckett
  • The Unnamable
  • Macbeth
  • Jacques the Fatalist and His Master by Denis Diderot
  • Tristram Shandy by Laurence Stern
  • Troubling Love
  • The Days of Abandonment
  • The Lost Daughter
  • Relating Narratives by Adriana Cavarero
  • Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
  • Hannah Arendt
  • Sexual Difference by Adriana Cavarero
  • Alice B. Toklas
  • Gertrude Stein
  • The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  • My Brilliant Friend
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Neapolitan Novels
  • Dostoyevsky
  • Hemingway
  • Mark Twain
  • Notes from Underground
  • Homer
  • Ingeborg Bachmann
  • Mörike
  • Goethe
  • Elsa Morante
  • Natalia Ginzburg
  • Anna Maria Ortese
  • Jane Austen
  • Brönte Sisters
  • María Guerra
  • The Lying Life of Adults

Read 102 of 2022. The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun by Anil Menon

The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun

Title: The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun Author: Anil Menon
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 9789391028602
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 280
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Let me just begin by saying that my mind was completely blown by this collection of wondrous, fantastical, and most unique short stories I’ve read in a while. Anil Menon’s writing is all over the place (in a very good way), and you enjoy it from the very start.

I love how each story has a beating, alive, and full heart. Menon doesn’t overlook emotions in favour of craft or the story. Each story gets its due – some more than the others, but nonetheless the setting, the characters, and the way the prose moves between surrealism and reality of the situations is what makes the reader’s jaw drop and be in awe of the writing.

I absolutely loved the title story – of a couple in the process of reorganising their home library, realizes how that impacts their reality – a story so refreshing, odd, and yet hugely satisfying. There is so much going on in this collection of short stories – there are robots, there is a Ramayan retelling unlike anything I have read before, there is betrayal, there are ancient languages, there is so much technology yet sort of mixed with the old and the medieval, and extremely playful. There is philosophy, there is a lot of wit, and of course SFF shines when it has to.

Anil Menon’s writing hits you in the face – like something good – out of the blue – something that you cannot quite put your finger on and yet you cannot stop turning the pages. Overall, I just think everyone must read this book and enjoy it to its fullest. Approach it with an open mind and enjoy the ride!