Category Archives: Books

Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin. Translated from the Chinese by Bonnie Huie

Notes of a Crocodile Title: Notes of a Crocodile
Author: Qiu Miaojin
Translated from the Chinese by Bonnie Huie
Publisher: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 978-1681370767
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Notes of a Crocodile” according to me is a lovely title for a book. I say this to establish it right at the beginning and get it out of the way. This was the third book I read in the women in translation month project and I think by far this has been one of the best (I’ve read six in all so far). There is something very reassuring and yet heartbreaking about this book that makes you fall in love with the prose. You realize it is a translation but it doesn’t matter. The effect is as much. It moved me in just the right places.

“Notes of a Crocodile” is about teenagers who are queer misfits and only discovering love, friendship and artistic affiliations in post-martial-law era of Taiwan. They study at one of Taiwan’s prestigious university and come to realize what happens when you love too hard and too strong. The narrator is an anonymous lesbian, nicknamed Lazi who falls in love way too strong with an older woman named Shui Ling and how she turns to her friends for support as she doesn’t see this happening. Her friends are another kettle of fish: a rich kid who has turned criminal, his self-destructive gay lover (is there any other way to be or to love?), an overachiever who is just bored and her girlfriend who is an artist. See what I mean, when I say the book covers the entire spectrum of LGBTQ?

I was fascinated by this read. “Notes of a Crocodile” at one point in the book (major breakthrough by the way) moves from sexual identity to self-realization about love, loss and how the heart breaks. The translation is just right. I think all the nuances of Chinese expressions and words are in place. Bonnie Huie does a wonderful job on this cult classic. What I loved the most while reading this book is the pop culture references thrown in by Qiu. I wish she were around to write some more books. I also remember reading Last Words from Montmartre with such fervor as well. I couldn’t stop reading it and the same happened with “Notes of a Crocodile”. Also, should you want to know more about title, then I am not giving that away. Read the book for that.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Tin Man Title: Tin Man
Author: Sarah Winman
Publisher: Tinder Press, Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 978-1472252159
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

A lot of people were talking about “Tin Man” before I got down to reading it. I was the late-comer at the party and I was only too happy about it because I went reading the book without any expectations or knowing anything about it. I am so glad that happened because I loved the book. Me loving the book would be an understatement in my opinion. It was more than love. It was something that I cannot put my finger on and so it is very tough to describe my emotions as I read this book and also after I put it down.

“Tin Man” by Sarah Winman is a story of a painting, of a woman who believes that boys can also appreciate beauty and be tender, of two boys Ellis and Michael who are best of friends and grow up together and a woman named Annie who walks into their lives and everything changes and still remains the same. I am putting it very loosely but let me also tell you that this book is magical. It transports you in the world it creates and will have you weeping for more. I do not exaggerate when I say this. At least, it sure did happen to me this way.

Ellis and Michael cannot be separated. They become men. Annie suddenly enters their lives and stays. The three of them live. Till something changes and then the story begins. Actually, the story begins way earlier with Ellis’ mother winning a painting (Van Gogh’s Sunflowers) at a raffle, which is how the book begins.

The first half of the book is Ellis. The second half is Michael which is heartbreaking. These just happen to be men in love. There is no agenda here. You shouldn’t even read it this way. The prose is so tender, graceful, raw and overwhelming – that for a short book I had to shut it and get back to it after a day or two. I couldn’t finish it in one sitting as I thought I would. I am not going to tell you what happens as I don’t want to give away too much.

Winman writes beautifully. There are so many love stories in this short book and mind you she doesn’t get soppy. We go back and forth through their lives and can only empathize with the men and what it must have been for them. It is heavy on the emotions and a little less when it comes to descriptions which I didn’t mind at all. The loneliness of love, the anguish of separation and the redemption that someday we will be together is what makes you love this small gem of a book so much.

The White Road: Journey into an Obsession by Edmund de Waal

The White Road Title: The White Road: Journey into an Obsession
Author: Edmund de Waal
Publisher: Picador USA, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-1250097323
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Non-Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It had been a while since I had read a good non-fiction and I am very picky when it comes to this genre. The book has to be a solid one or I will just drop it and not read further. Life is too short to read badly written books. I loved Edmund de Waal’s earlier book “The Hare with the Amber Eyes” (Please read it if you haven’t already. Trust me, you will love it as well). This is when I received his new book to read “The White Road: Journey into an Obsession”. How does one describe this book? There is a lot going on in it, but I shall try and make sense of it.

In this book, Edmund de Waal gives us a peek into his obsession with porcelain, also known as “white gold’. Edmund is also a porter who has been working with porcelain for more than forty years now. This book is about his exploration through five journeys to understand porcelain better – where was it dreamed, refined, collected and why do so many people covet it this way. While China, Germany and England were at the core of his visits, he also managed to visit other places around the world and how while doing that, he encountered some of the darkest periods of history, thus intertwining his life, obsession with porcelain and history altogether like a well-crafted mosaic.

This book is highly insightful and well-researched. De Waal doesn’t miss the beat on a single page when it comes to uncovering history and delving to its darkest core. You almost feel that you are undertaking the journey with him alongside and not just reading it. The comparisons he makes given the countries he visits, makes you think of your ignorance, given how the world really works, thinks and imagines.

To me the idea of the book is very unique. I love the concept of how something that wouldn’t otherwise come to mind is at the heart of the book – porcelain and around it Edmund de Waal explores his history and family heritage so to speak. The book is like a friend that needs to be hugged and taken care of. The writing is extremely simple and that helps in turning the pages. All said and done, I couldn’t get more of this book at all and wish it lasted longer than it did.

Enigma Variations by André Aciman

51L-bsaKRML Title: Enigma Variations
Author: André Aciman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374148430
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember when I first read “Call Me by Your Name” by André Aciman and couldn’t stop crying. The book touched me in places I didn’t even know existed within me. The love of a teenager and an older man had me by the gut and for the longest time I couldn’t stop recommending it to people. Actually, I still do. Good books must always be read by all, even if it means just most people, but read it must be for sure. And for a while after I didn’t read anything by Aciman, till “Enigma Variations” was sent to me and I couldn’t help myself.

You cannot expect “Enigma Variations” to be like “Call Me by Your Name” but the writing is for sure similar (the same author of course) and that is what keeps the reader going. This novel charts the life of a man named Paul – whose loves remain as overpowering and passionate throughout his adulthood as they were during adolescence. With this book Aciman has sealed himself as being one of my favourite authors for sure. This book is that powerful and lyrical.

“Enigma Variations” is about Paul of course, but it is also about the people he falls in love with – both women and men. The setting could be Southern Italy, where as a boy he had a crush on his parents’ cabinetmaker (reminded me so much of Call Me by Your Name) or it could be a snowbound campus in New England where he falls hard for a girl and meets her over and over again, or it could also be his nefarious one-night stands with men who he will never meet, or New York’s sidewalks and cafés and more – the bottom line is that Aciman makes his characters yearn, gives them raw desire and emotions and leaves them to grapple with it. At no point did I get bored with the book. In fact, if anything I just didn’t want the book to end.

It felt like I was Paul and it was my life playing itself out in front of me. Aciman’s language casts a spell – through his words and situations he maps corners of desire that were most mysterious and out of reach. His characters are human. They make mistakes. They cry. They hurt. They also want and they also waver from the wanting. They are indecisive and it is alright for them to be this way. Paul takes account of all his fears, hopes, desires and still wants love in his life.

To me that is of paramount significance – after being such enigmas to our own selves, we finally discover what it is that we really want. Aciman plays on everyday emotions and scenes. At no point as a reader you will feel strongly disconnected from the plot. It is almost like he is chronicling what you might have gone through once a upon a time. Aciman understands emotions intricately and is not shy of putting them out like an open wound.

My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1 by Gengoroh Tagame . Translated by Anne Ishii

51rq4hPobXL Title: My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
Author: Gengoroh Tagame
Translated from the Japanese by
Publisher: Pantheon Graphic Novels
ISBN: 978-1101871515
Genre: Graphic Novels
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“My Brother’s Husband” is a graceful manga by Gengoroh Tagame. It handles homosexuality, homophobia and xenophobia (to some extent) very tenderly and not once did I feel berated being a gay man or an insider looking out while reading this manga. Tagame tells the story of parents and in turn of children and how important it is for children to learn, believe and accept alternate sexualities. At the same time, this manga doesn’t get preachy at all. It doesn’t sermonize or ask you to change yourself. It provides different perspectives and that’s that to it.

Yaichi – a single Japanese dad is forced to confront his painful past when an affable Canadian named Mike Flanagan shows up at his door, declaring himself to be the widower of Yaichi’s estranged gay twin Ryoji. Mike wants to explore Ryoji’s past, his family and his growing-up years. Yaichi takes him in reluctantly and thus begins a relationship of understanding, apprehension and fear not only between Mike and Yaichi but also between Mike and Yaichi’s young daughter, Kana. It is how Kana begins to question and understands Mike and at the same time Yaichi’s overcoming of homophobia is what the manga is all about.

Japan as a country is quite conservative when it comes to the question of homosexuals. It isn’t easy to talk about it in the open – more so in traditional societies of Japan. Maybe that is why this manga is needed now more than ever. Tagame explores each aspect – alienation, small incidents of homophobia, questions about the relationship that wasn’t mainstream and the differences of perception between the East and the West tenderly and with much insight.

There are multiple viewpoints, which is great because he then doesn’t give only one point of view and leave it at that. It also talks of how relationships can alter feelings and how life as it goes along, gives you the opportunity to keep embracing the new, no matter how different it might be. The story is beautiful and the characters are so well-rounded.

This book is definitely for those who want to understand what the LGBT people face, no matter how basic it seems in the book. This could however be the perfect guide and also not just for adults but children as well. “My Brother’s Husband” embraces differences and talks of cultural clashes at the same time. I cannot wait to read the second volume soon.