Category Archives: Books

Slash and Burn by Claudia Hernández. Translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches

Slash and Burn by Claudia Hernández

Title: Slash and Burn
Author: Claudia Hernández
Translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches
Publisher: And Other Stories
ISBN: 978-1911508823
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction, Women in Translation
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is war fiction to an extent. This is about the aftermath of a civil war and revolution, and what it mainly does to women. It is fascinating and almost entirely from the perspective of female protagonists. A conflict created by men, whose consequences the women have to suffer – almost every single day.

The country and the characters are unnamed. At the core of the novel is a woman who joins a guerrilla movement as a teenager, eventually becoming a comrade (compañera), suffering abuse by soldiers who terrorise the locals. The book is about family as well. It is about how several years after the war, the woman has four daughters, one of which she is forced to give up who is then sold to a French family in Paris (adopted) and lives there. The woman after getting to know of this decides to pay her a visit.

The novel moves from the past to the present and navigating back to the past. The sentences are long winding, the narrative moves slowly, sometimes it becomes a little difficult to figure who is being spoken about, direct speech is omitted, and yet it all flows smoothly. At no point did I feel exhausted by the writing. I was actually wondering how it would’ve been for the translator in terms of pronouns and no names structure.

Slash and Burn is an intense read. I am glad that men have taken a backseat in the novel and like I said it is all about the women. The idea of starting afresh after a period of war is indeed difficult and Hernández draws on that with great skill. Readers are constantly reminded of what it means to be in a state of war for normal people, how their lives change forever, and how nothing is in our control.

Seven Kinds of People you Find in Bookshops by Shaun Bythell

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops by Shaun Bythell

Title: Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops
Author: Shaun Bythell 
Publisher: Profile Books, Hachette UK 
ISBN: 9781788166584
Genre: Books about Books and Reading, Nonfiction 
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 3/5 

I love books about books, reading, bookshops, and libraries. Bythell’s earlier two books have been delightful – anecdotes, stories, and his encounters with different kinds of people in his bookstore, called The Diary of a Bookseller, and the Confessions of a Bookseller. Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops is an extension of that. From the bearded pensioner to the whistler, to the one that will never buy, Bythell covers them all.

He speaks of various quirks – of how people sometimes leave their children in the bookshop and perhaps just saunter away, returning only after an hour or two. Or how people who are experts at some topic and will bore you endless, and also the ones who just want to get their book published and the poor bookseller has to listen to all of them. Of also the erotica browsers, the ones who think their old books are collectors’ editions, the farters, and everyday shoppers.

The book makes fun of people and that’s alright. I quite liked that in most parts. For me, the only problem was that it got over too fast. I wanted it to give me more, explore more characters and prototypes, discuss or speak about books in general, and a whole lot of charm as was in the earlier two books.

Read the book for its writing. It is eccentric, sharp-witted, and spot on about what it has to say. It will make you smile or even laugh in some places. Read it if you like books about books and bookshops and reading like me.

The Gaze by Elif Shafak. Translated from the Turkish by Brendan Freely

The Gaze by Elif Shafak

Title: The Gaze
Author: Elif Shafak
Translated from the Turkish by Brendan Freely Publisher: Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0241201916
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations, Women in Translation
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Reading Elif Shafak is a thing of joy. For me at least, and I am guessing for most people as well. I am also one of those who perhaps didn’t enjoy The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi as much as her other works, but even then, I will never write her off basis one book. Anyway, back to the point.

I have started an Elif Shafak Reading Project this year – to read one Shafak every month starting with The Gaze, which I reread in January. The Gaze still is my favourite book written by her. It unpacks so much. It is layered with so much – our preconceived notions about people, about the way they look, and how we look in that regard; of how the world views us, and how our desire to look at others takes life spinning in different orbits.

The Gaze is perhaps not Shafak’s popular book, but I absolutely adore it. A story that spans across time and characters that are embroiled in the concept of how they look and what it means to them. An obese woman and her lover, a dwarf, decide to reclaim the streets. They decide to step out in the world that ridicules them. So, they reverse roles. The man wears make-up and dresses like a woman. The woman sports a moustache on her face. This is their story.

There is then the story of Memis that takes place centuries ago – who decides to create a circus of people, and not animals – weird looking people to get others intrigued and curious to come and see them. At the same time, we see Memis’s loneliness and why he does what he does. In all of this, there is also the Dictionary of The Gazes that the dwarf is working on. It is based on incidents, and movies, and what does the gaze mean at the end of the day.

Shafak’s prose shines on every page. The writing is terrific and for me it was hard to believe (as always) that this was one of her earlier works. The translation by Brendan Freely is on point. At no point do you feel that you are reading a translated work. The book is suggestive. The book is all sorts of unique and perhaps even difficult to get into. The book isn’t linear in its narrative and I love that about it. Read The Gaze to get a sense of Shafak’s writing and the worlds she conjures, as an extension of the world we inhabit.

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

Title: Homeland Elegies
Author: Ayad Akhtar
Publisher: Tinder Press, Hachette UK
ISBN: 978-1472276889
Genre: Literary Fiction, Autofiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Homeland Elegies as a book cannot be bracketed into any genre. It is all of it and more. It is a novel, it is a memoir, autofiction, autobiography, metafiction, non-fiction, and maybe even more. Whatever it is, it is a brilliant book of so many ideas, thoughts, emotions, and how a country once great and known for inclusion has cracked, slipped, and torn at its seams.

The book is about immigrants, their children, and the idea of America. Akhtar’s parents moved to America from Pakistan in 1968. His father took to America like a fish to water. His mother did not. She forever mourned the loss of home. His father, a surgeon loves America for what it is, and believes things will get better (post 9/11 and more). The book is about Akhtar’s life – a kid from Wisconsin, a writer struggling in New York, rubbing shoulders with the greats and yet not fitting in. The book is about so many nameless immigrants, and also the ones that Akhtar interacts with, who are scared about their children’s future in the land of great and plenty.

It is a story of a father and his son and how they both view home differently. Homeland Elegies speaks of so much, there is so much contained in one book – immigration, identity, home, politics, the arts, and decline of hope, though trying very hard to make sense of what goes on with optimism.

Akhtar’s writing is candid, vibrant, introspective, and a brilliantly sketched portrait of a family in a fractured land. I loved the fact that as a reader you don’t realize what’s fiction or fact in this book and honestly, after the first ten pages or so I stopped thinking about that. All I cared about is where the story was taking me, and it took me to all the right places about an unhinged country and its people.

 

 

The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez. Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor

The House of Paper by Carlos Maria Dominguez

Title: The House of Paper
Author: Carlos María Domínguez Translated from the Spanish by: Nick Caistor
Illustrations by: Peter Sís
ISBN: 978-0151011476
Publisher: Harcourt
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 103
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Books about books have always fascinated me. There is something so relatable about them that it breaks my heart and also repairs it at the same time. They are love letters to books – almost love stories between books and collectors – I am sure most will agree with me when it comes to this. A reader and his or her books can never be apart.

“The House of Paper” is one of those books you just cannot get enough of. It is a short book – a novella of 106 pages or so but every page and every sentence and every word gleams in it. This one was a reread for me and I had actually forgotten how much I loved this book, till I read it now. The story is of a Cambridge professor who is killed by a car while reading Dickinson (or so it is assumed). A book is sent to her – a dirty, dusty copy of Conrad’s “The Shadow-Line”. A colleague of hers travels to Uruguay, determined to know the connection between these two people and instead ends up hearing a very strange story – of the man Carlos Brauer and how he has built himself a house from books by the sea. The rest is for you to read and find out – the why, what and the how that is.

“The House of Paper” is magic realism and a lot more than just that in my opinion. Books and reading form such a core of this read that you wished it were longer and that it would not end at all. The book raises questions of mad bibliophiles and the length they will go to for their love of books. At the same time, it doesn’t make it too philosophical or dreary. This book is perfect to the ones obsessed with the written word and for one I cannot stop recommending it. I must also add here that the translation by Nick Caistor is tongue in-cheek, lively and not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Peter Sís. My copy by the way is from The New York Public Library and I was delighted that it came to me in India from there. Only book-lovers will understand this. Also this book. So read it. Please.