Category Archives: essays

Read 43 of 2022. Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough

Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough

Title: Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing: Essays Author: Lauren Hough
Publisher: Coronet, Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 9781529382525
Genre: Essays, Memoir, LGBTQIA
Pages: 314
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I was most curious about this book, well, because of the title, and who wouldn’t be right? I mean we have all been there, when it comes to leaving and being left, in whatever form and manner. And rightly so this collection of essays from Hough’s life and observations, brought me to tears, a couple of essays in.

This book is about so many things – about growing up in a cult, about coming of age, about realising you are lesbian and in the military, about being ousted from service because of your identity, about being taught to please men sexually in the cult since you were twelve years old, and struggling with insomnia, PTSD, and mental health issues.

Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing is a brutal collection of essays. At times it is real, cringe, heartbreaking even, defining so many points in Hough’s life and in relation to the world, it is funny, making all meaning from the trauma and suffering, and above all relatable.

I found so many pieces that I could emotionally connect with – the time she is gaslighted by her superiors at work, or her first time encountering a gaybourhood (though I found that comfort with friends), and a lot also about hope really.

Hough’s writing is as real as it gets. The reader is not spared the details. There are no solutions, neither Hough asks for them. She tells about her life the way it was, and the way it is. You just cannot turn away from it.

Read 25 of 2022. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder. Illustrated by Nora Krug.

On Tyranny - Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder. Illustrated by Nora Krug

Title: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
Author: Timothy Snyder
Illustrator: Nora Krug
Publisher: Bodley Head, Vintage Books Genre: Graphic Nonfiction, Essay
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I would like to begin this review by saying: This book must be read by everyone who knows how to read. Do yourselves a favour and read this book, a primer about history, its failures, and how together we can overcome what we are going through right now.

Snyder speaks of tyranny and its root – where does it come from? Why does it exist? What can we do to overcome it? And while doing so, we have twenty lessons to learn, some which we already know.

On Tyranny - Image 1

The book is extremely American leaning and perhaps because the author is from there – however it is sadly applicable to all other nations that have faced some form of tyranny or are doing so right now. I could see so much of India in this book and what is going on right now in our country because it being a one-party state.

I was shaken to the core while reading this book because it hit home so hard. Snyder speaks of the Nazi brutality, of Putin and how he came to power, of how tyrannical structures methodically rise, and at the same time he also shows us what we can do to overcome all of that. Right from protecting our right to speech to safeguarding institutions, to listening for dangerous words and not using them, to ensuring we look out for each other, it is all in this book and more.

On Tyranny - Image 2

The writing is simple. Not once does Snyder takes sides but tells it the way it is. The writing is lucid, full of examples from history and its follies. All of these twenty lessons make so much sense separately and as whole, for us to work on step by step. These go hand in hand with the most stark, disturbing, and brilliant illustrations by Nora Krug.

For those who say the personal and the political are separate, need to take a long hard look at the state of affairs not only in their own country but around the world to understand how intertwined the two are and one needs the other to coexist. Therefore, the individuals have so much power to rise and take charge.

On Tyranny - Image 3

On Tyranny speaks to all of us – the ones who support the tyrants as well. It shows us what we perhaps already know and choose to ignore most of the time. The question is how long? How long will we ignore the ways of the tyrant and totalitarianism? When will we raise our voices in unison and know the strength we have?

As the last lesson, “Be as courageous as you can” says: “If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny”.

Read 2 of 2022. The Orders Were to Rape You: Tigresses in the Tamil Eelam Struggle by Meena Kandasamy

The Orders Were To Rape You by Meena Kandasamy

Title: The Orders Were to Rape You: Tigresses in the Tamil Eelam Struggle
Author: Meena Kandasamy
Publisher: Navayana
ISBN: 978-8194865445
Genre: Essay, Nonfiction
Pages: 104
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This book is in part an essay, a memoir of some sort – a dialogue with oneself, and also a collection of resistance poems by female guerrillas and militants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. It is a narrative of three Tamil women – tigresses – the wife of an LTTE fighter, a female combatant from the LTTE, and of the author herself.

What set out to become a documentary by the author, ended up becoming an essay of gruesome experiences recounted by the two survivors of war. Meena met them in Malaysia and Indonesia, in 2013, four years after the war had ended.

This book is so much more than this. It is about Kandasamy’s “childhood history of adulation and fangirling over the Tigresses”, leading to questioning all that is fed to people in the guise of news, and only one narrative being told. I think this is what actually led Meena to tell stories that were not told and to give a voice to ones that didn’t get one. It is also about genocide of the Tamil Eelam people – of the involvement of India in this, the violent aftermath and the camps. It is about the rapes of women – the brutalities, the wounds that never heal, the scars that don’t appear, and the trauma that never goes away.

The second part where Meena shares poetry of the tigresses, is more of a call for rebellion in one way. It looks at poetry by women as a way to fight back, to resist, to fight over and over against the status quo.

For me the narrative of the Tamil Tiger’s wife was most powerful and resonated so deep. It is very disturbing but needs to be told. It needed to be told in the manner Kandasamy says it – cutting no edges, hiding nothing, revealing it all for the reader.

Are these women victims or survivors? I kept asking this question to myself long after reading this text. I am still wondering. Also, the relationship of these women with Kandasamy is something I would want to read more of. The reluctance they had initially to speak with her and the opened up. What led to that? What sort of an ally one has to be to be able to evoke that? The lived and complex realities of Tamils, Tamil women, and more so Tamil women combatants in Sri Lanka through this essay will certainly give rise to much needed discourse, and we need more of those. There is a lot to unpack, a lot to take in through this slim volume of suffering, fight, and the road to liberation that is always long and hard.

Books and Authors mentioned in The Orders Were to Rape You

  • Nimmi Gowrinathan
  • Lovers and Comrades: Women’s Resistance Poetry from Central America: Edited by Amanda Hopkinson
  • Against Forgetting by Carolyn Forche
  • Mariana Yonüsg Blanco
  • Sandra Ramirez
  • Commandante Yesenia
  • Tichaona Nyamubaya
  • Lorena Barros
  • Aida F Santos
  • Anna Swir
  • Captain Vaanathi
  • Nibha Shah
  • Captain Kasturi
  • Adhilatchumi
  • Lil Milagro Ramirez
  • Poem 278 by Kakkaipatiniyar Naccellaiyar
  • Purananuru
  • Poem 112

Read 267 of 2021. These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett

These Precious Days

Title: These Precious Days: Essays Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0063092785
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I remember reading my first Ann Patchett novel in the year 2011, and that changed so much about the way I used to live. Bel Canto did and still does so much to me not only as a reader, but also as a person. I am of the firm belief that if certain books have the capacity to do that, then they must be kept close for the entire lifespan.

Having said that, I started devouring everything that Patchett had written before Bel Canto and in the coming years after. This is mainly about her fiction. Now about her non-fiction. The essays mainly. She writes the only way she knows and wants to perhaps, with utmost honesty. This is what I feel every time I read her – a sense of deep honesty. “These Precious Days” her latest collection of essays made me feel just the same and more.

When Patchett speaks of her three fathers, you are moved to tears, because you are reminded of your own father and men who are father figures in your life. When she speaks of literature, you are tempted to pick up her favourite reads. Patchett has a deep sense of friendship, so of course she celebrates some of her friends in this collection. She speaks of her mother with fondness and wit. The title story of the collection is about her acquaintance with Tom Hanks, and the long-lasting beautiful friendship she shared with his assistant Sooki who was battling pancreatic cancer.

Patchett’s writing is without pretension and that’s what makes it not only relatable but also empathetic. Her writing style is her own – it is enchanting, real, glorious, and unafraid to go into deep corners of the mind and heart and present life the way it is – unpredictable, constantly evolving, and mainly lived through memories.

Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread by Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani

Title: Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread
Author: Michiko Kakutani
Publisher: William Collins
ISBN: 978-0008421953
Genre: Books about Books, Essays, Literary Theory
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy 
Rating: 2.5/5 

I love books about books. I do. I’m a sucker for them. I was excited for “Ex Libris: 100 Books to Read and Reread” by Michiko Kakutani, the former chief book critic of The New York Times. I was excited given the kind of reading she has done and the books she must have connected with over the years, but I was mildly disappointed to see only most “white” writers on this list, and more than anything else no variety as such.

There’s the same old Donna Tartt, the good old Tolkien, Steinbeck, Atwood, Orwell, Tara Westover, and David Foster Wallace. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I expected more. There is Jhumpa Lahiri, the Márquez, the Zadie Smith, and Colson Whitehead. It somehow doesn’t make me discover or yearn to read a particular title. Some I won’t even bother reading cover to cover. I wish this was a varied and more diverse list. It just didn’t do anything for me. Yes, it’s produced beautifully. The illustrations are quite amazing and all of that. But I wish there was more substance. But by all means pick it up, if you love lists (like I do). I might even try a reading project of this to read and reread all these books (well, or maybe not).