Category Archives: Review

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-1101947135
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are books you read that make you want to be a better person, they make your heart sing and leave you breathless because of their sheer beauty. There are books that break your heart, they keep stabbing at it with a curved blunt knife and you are in pain and you know that, but the magic of words doesn’t make you stop turning the pages. There are also books that do all of this – books that have the power to do it all, so to say and “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi (I still cannot believe that this is a debut novel) is one such book.

I love and enjoy books about families on a grand scale – something about them that makes you relate to what is going on and not so much – perhaps which is what makes it so desirable and not so. “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi is about two sisters who never meet during the book. One grows up in a sort of prosperous family where she is promised in marriage to a powerful man and the other grows up in a tribe where she is captured and caught into slavery. This action takes place in Ghana – more exacting would be in the coastal region. The book is about the sisters of course but also about their children and grand-children and great grandchildren and it is marvelous to see Gyasi loop through all these characters and give them a logical start, beginning and end every single time with every single chapter.

At given point I didn’t think the writing was overwhelming because of the several sub-plots. In fact, if anything, I found Gyasi’s writing to be quite simple, empathetic and most easy to read. The trials and tribulations of these sisters and their progeny makes you think of what goes on in this world as we live safe, protected lives. The narrative switches back and forth between each generation of the sister’s family lines and to me that was a lovely way to link stories of families and to know of the songs and tales passed down from one generation to the next.

Yaa Gyasi projects the conflict of the Asantes and Fantes – the tribes of Ghana and the readers will be pulled into their lives, customs and how one of them even work with the British to sell them slaves. Honestly, it didn’t even surprise me given what some people go through in India at the hands of their so-called “community people”. I felt a little cheated in the last couple of chapters and wished there was more to the characters and their lives – but I guess those can be overlooked.

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi is a novel that will take your breath away. It is meshed intricately with people across generations, timelines, emotions, men and women who are stuck with decisions they make and the ones that are forced on them. Most of all, the book is about what it takes to be human above everything else and what it really takes to make it through all the pain and hardship.

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Title: Just Kids
Author: Patti Smith
Publisher: Ecco Books, HarperCollins Books
ISBN: 978-0060936228
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Rock
Pages: 320
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Just Kids is one of those books that you’d want to read over and over again. This was my first reread and I know I will go back to it. I read it about nine years ago for the first time and as I read it again this year, I found my perspectives and opinions change a lot as the book moved me in different places, which perhaps it didn’t the first time I picked it up. That’s the beauty of some very good books – they make you see, feel and think differently with each read and that to me is a single most parameter for a reread.

Back to Just Kids: This book is the first part memoir written by singer and songwriter Patti Smith. Before she took over punk and rock and roll, she was just another girl who had come to New York to search herself and understand what she wanted to do. She had her poetry and the intrinsic lack of trust in society. In New York she met future photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and “Just Kids” is a document of their life together – as artists, lovers, friends and a trip down memory lane.

The book is razor sharp and has no holds barred. Smith says what she has to and without apology. Robert and Smith’s relationship was mercurial and yet there is something so fulfilling as you turn the pages and don’t want the chapters to end. You want to know more about their lives and for that I recommend you read M Train (where Robert doesn’t feature at all or does but hardly so). Patti Smith just like her songs has this ease of writing to her prose as well – it becomes poetry in so many places and has the capacity to take your breath away. Read it. Be mesmerized.

Gaysi Zine 05

The Gaysi Zine has come a long, long way. It is in its 5th issue now and I am so glad and proud to be associated with it for a couple of issues. Hope I get to write more for it. Having said that, this issue is fabulous – both in terms of content and design. I don’t just say this because of my association with them, but because it is the truth.

The zine is a heady mix of various forms of writing and when all of them unite – a common voice is heard – that of solidarity, justice, rights, love, companionship, soulfulness and the gritty reality of everyday living – of everyday queer living. There is a certain bite to the pieces in this zine – right from Ladybeard to Krass go beyond the traditional content pieces you see in magazine. There are also articles in the zine that break the mold and question authority at almost every page.

The illustrations communicate it all without saying anything. I think anyone then can connect and break the barrier of language and gender. What was also refreshing about this issue was that it looked beyond the urban LGBTQ landscape and was being more inclusive of smaller towns and giving them a voice – to their desires to say it all and not inhibit themselves.

Queer politics and narratives – let’s talk about this a bit. I have always believed that these are tricky territories to deal with, but the zine talks about them boldly, not shying away from issues at hand and definitely not hiding behind any invalid stance. All in all, I think this is my favourite issue of all time (though I did not contribute to it). Please pick it up. Unlearn all that you have been taught. Discover the world with a fresh perspective.

You can buy the zine here: http://gaysifamily.com/2017/01/23/the-gaysi-zine-issue-5-is-out-now/

The House that Spoke by Zuni Chopra

Title: The House that Spoke
Author: Zuni Chopra
Publisher: Penguin Books India
ISBN: 9780143427841
Genre: Children’s Books
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the longest time, “The House that spoke” lay on my bookshelf and somehow there was no inclination to pick it up. One of the barriers was that it is written by a teenager and somehow that thought kept becoming an impediment till it did not. Till I picked up the book and finished it over a weekend and enjoyed it a lot at that.

Having said that, “The House that Spoke” also tries to pack in a lot in one book which at times does feel tedious but eventually grows on you. The book is about fourteen-year-old Zoon Razdan who is instantly shown to be witty, intelligent and above-all perceptive. She lives in Kashmir with her mother in a house – which of course is a part of the title. The objects in the house converse with her. She isn’t new to magic. There are forces beyond her control that threaten to take over her life, the house and her beloved Kashmir.

The book has a lot of metaphors given Kashmir’s situation as of today and that is laudable. Zuni is very empathetic in her writing and that shows. I think that perhaps when you are younger you aren’t influenced by all the writing around you. Of course you read a lot but then again, it isn’t what drives your writing. Your experiences do and after reading this book, I think Zuni’s writing comes from a more personal space (as it should). The characters could have been culled out in a more interesting manner but I guess that can be ignored given it is her first book and she is only sixteen (I think). The writing though is powerful and I loved how the narrative of historic fiction was blended in seamlessly. “The House that Spoke” will charm you, move you, and also make you think about what we’ve done to heaven on earth.

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

Title: Rules of Summer
Author: Shaun Tan
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
ISBN: 978-0545639125
Genre: Children’s Fiction, Picture Books
Pages: 48
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember when I first read Shaun Tan. It was the book Arrival and it was without words. Pictures said it all and there was really no need for words. I also remember loving that book to the hilt and recommending it to one and all. It spoke of the immigrant status so well and brought up so many issues without saying anything at all. I then chanced upon “Rules of Summer” last year and the publisher Scholastic was kind enough to send me a copy. It is a different story that I only read it this year and loved it to bits, as expected.

“Rules of summer” is a coming of age story, but told in such a weird manner that only Shaun Tan can. Rules of summer are the ones that can be made up by your older brother and you have to follow them all through summer. It is the kind of rules that border into fantasy from reality and that’s how they should be. I used to think that some books of Shaun Tan aren’t meant for children and rightly so but this one is out and out a children’s books and brilliant at that.

The words are perfect for a six-year old and above and the illustrations are magnificent and extremely imaginative. The rules are sinister but go with the story and it is most certainly about terrains that are forbidden for children but they go there anyway. Shaun Tan’s illustrations are out of this world. I must say this again because they must be given more than their due. And as you go along adding up the rules to the pictures, the book makes perfect sense at the end. A book not just for kids but adults as well. One of those reads that will enter your dreams.