Category Archives: Books

Read 174 of 2021: The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Title: The Magic Fish
Author: Trung Le Nguyen
Publisher: Random House Graphic
ISBN: 978-0593125298
Genre: Graphic Novels, LGBTQIA, Coming of Age, 
Pages: 256 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

I wish someone had written this book for me when I was growing up. When I was dealing with my sexuality and didn’t know any better. I wish I knew how to tell my parents and family I was gay using words that would break their hard exterior and touch their heart and soul, which of course didn’t happen. I just came out and that was that. The Magic Fish however is a book that seems to know what to say and how and is more beautiful for it.

Tiến loves his family and friends. His parents hail from Vietnam and he is keeping a secret from them – about himself, about who he is, about how he cannot tell them that he is gay because there is no equivalent for it in Vietnamese. It is also about his love for a friend, and him struggling with his identity.

At the same time, Nguyen takes us on a whirlwind of providing comfort to yourself through fairy tales. Tiến and his mother read fairy tales to each other, every night, and in those tales, each of them is trying to find and know more about their lives – the past, present, and perhaps the future.

I love how Nguyen takes the concept of a fairy tale and throws it on its head and gives his readers something so refreshing to introspect about. The Magic Fish is a book that refreshingly looks at fairy tales keeping modern lives in mind. It doesn’t shy away from breaking norms and stereotypes, which is the need of the hour and the times we live in. Trung’s art is stunning and you need to spend some time on every page to soak it all in. In short, The Magic Fish is a read meant for all, to make people understand that people lead different lives and it is all about perspective and empathy.

 

Fangs by Sarah Andersen

Fangs by Sarah Andersen

Title: Fangs
Author: Sarah Andersen
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing ISBN: 978-1524860677
Genre: Comics
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Fangs by Sarah Andersen is a comic about Else and Jimmy falling in love and their lives as a couple. Else is a vampire and Jimmy is a werewolf. It is a lovely, most funny, and very quirky comic about misfits and lonely souls coming together.

Fangs to me was a delightful comic that looked at the nature of vampires and werewolves in the most fun manner ever. Andersen’s comics are not only funny but also looks at dating, love, and relationships in a very different manner. The gothic illustrations are super cheesy and point on, packed with all the clichés that I enjoyed a lot.

The graphics are fun, dark, clever, and full of wit. Fangs is a super sweet book about two monsters who are very different and so in love with each other.

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.