Category Archives: europa editions

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

Title: Interior Chinatown
Author: Charles Yu
Publisher: Europa Editions UK
ISBN: 978-1787702578
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This one was a reread for me, and I loved it even more the second time around.

Interior Chinatown is a deeply emotional book about race, identity, pop culture, and what roles we are forced to play in society, because of where we come from. Willis Wu is not the protagonist of his own life. He is always, even to himself, the Generic Asian Man. He is an actor. Sometimes he gets to play the Background Oriental Making a Weird Face, and sometimes just an Asian guy, but never the protagonist. Never the Kung Fu Guy which he longs to be. Willis lives in a Chinatown SRO (Standing Room Only) and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where a cop show titled Black and White (how apt and ironic as well) is perpetually in production. He is a sidekick or an extra in that show and just wants to do more. We only see his mother who has long separated from his father, being the only one who believes in him.

Charles Yu’s story is for our times, and also set in our times. Yet it somehow seems like it also has elements of the fantastical – of the novel being written like one big script (which works wonderfully for the book), and also of the show being in constant production took me some time to get a hang of the novel, but every minute of turning the page was worth it.

Yu speaks from a place of knowing. Every sentence is in place because of that, which most instantly connects with the reader. The stereotypes are so on-point that as a reader I was screaming with anger and yet understood where the writer and the characters were coming from. Interior Chinatown is a book that needs to be read and understood by everyone. It speaks of such a great need to fit in, to be someone bigger than what the world thinks you were meant to be, and be constantly at it.

The Night in Gethsemane: On Solitude and Betrayal by Massimo Recalcati. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein

The Night in Gethsemane - On Solitude and Betrayal by Massimo Recalcati

Title: The Night in Gethsemane: On Solitude and Betrayal
Author: Massimo Recalcati
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Publisher: Europa Editions, Europa Compass
ISBN: 978-1787702592
Genre: Non-fiction, Essay
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Betrayal. The word conjures so many emotions in us. Anger, melancholy, a sense of loss, of love lost, and even pity. Massimo Recalcati’s brilliant short book, “The Night in Gethsemane” is a book about Jesus’s betrayal by Judas and Peter. Of how Judas arrives with armed men in the olive grove, abandoning Jesus with a kiss. It is the time of being forsaken not only by the ones dearest to him, but also by his father, his God. This is what this short gem is about.

At the same time, it will also make you see and realize and think upon your betrayals – the ones you’ve been guilty of, and the ones done to you. But it is also about suffering, and who is there when we hurt the most. Who is there in our most painful moments? Who was there for Jesus, son of God? How did he fall and more than anything else how did he survive the fall?

While Recalcati looks at Jesus as son of God, of someone Divine, he also looks at him as human. All his emotions are analysed. The prophecy of Jesus being betrayed – when he said that someone close to him will betray him at the last supper. That’s when it happened, right after. Of the different natures of betrayal of Judas and Peter. In all of this we as readers are exposed to the loneliness of the human experience. When one is betrayed, how does one feel? It is as though the person enters an abyss of loneliness that is difficult to get rid of. Ann Goldstein’s translation from the Italian is as always to the point, exercising great brevity, and nuance. The Night in Gethsemane is all about questions of the ordinary, brought to light through the extraordinary. A great feat.

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.

Elena Ferrante’s fiction is not for the weak. It isn’t for the ones who want happy endings, or maybe even believe in them. That doesn’t mean Ferrante’s characters aren’t happy or don’t aspire to be happy. If anything, because they are so broken, they want nothing else but that, or so it seems. 

The Lying Life of Adults is nothing like the Neapolitan quartet, which spanned more than half a century in the lives of two friends. The Lying Life of Adults is about adolescence and not the dreamy, rainbow-eyed, unicorn believing kind of adolescence (if you read Ferrante, you know you will never get that anyway), but a time when lies and deception loom large, and growing up means so much more than just changes of the body. 

The book opens amongst the educated, the elite, the affluent, and the ones who believe more in the nature of science than God (that also is a wonderful sub-text to the book). Giovanna’s father is all of the above and more. He is the center of her world whose validation is needed at every step in her life. Her mother teaches Greek and Latin and proofreads romance novels. Giovanna’s friends Angela and Ida are daughters of her parents’ best friends, the wealthy Mariano and Costanza. Everything is bright and happy in their bourgeoise world, until the day Giovanna overhears a conversation between her parents, which is also the start of the book. 

“Two years before leaving home my father said to my mother that I was very ugly.” 

The story moves on from here, where we as readers are introduced to Giovanna’s aunt, her father’s estranged sister Vittoria, who he compares her with – the aunt that her father has detested for the longest time. Ferrante then turns the story on its head by moving from the affluent spaces of Naples to the not so affluent space, the dingy, the dirty, the filthy industrial neighbourhood where her aunt lives. Giovanna decides to meet her aunt and see for herself how ugly she is and whether she will grow up to be this person or not. From here on, Vittoria becomes a permanent fixture in Giovanna’s life and things change drastically. 

Giovanna lies. Her parents lie. Her friends’ parents aren’t telling the truth either. The entire construct and fabric of her life falls apart as incidents are played out, and the past is brought to life. No one is perfect. No one is a villain. Maybe they all are the villains in their lives, and try as they might, they cannot change that. 

Jewelry, mirrors, dolls, the smell, pleasure of adolescence and the need to derive it at any cost, education as a means of climbing the ladder – of proving your worth to others, keep constantly reappearing in the book. Ferrante shocks you with the familiar. There is no redemption for anyone. Characters accept the cards handed out to them, to point of them unabashed about their situations. It is what it is. 

Body image in The Lying Life of Adults is its own beast. We encounter it through almost every major and minor character and how they deal with it, is well not up to the people around them. Ferrante somehow ensures that it is only the readers that can feel pity, empathy, or any kind of emotion for Giovanna, Angela, Ida, or anyone else. In their interactions with each other, these people are harsh, cold, mean, and maybe rightly so. 

Ann Goldstein’s translation from the Italian as always is spot-on. You forget it is a translation, and most often than not you are reminded of the beautiful turn of phrase, or the clinical way in which emotions are dealt with, or the way somethings aren’t said and get stuck in characters’ throats – that you realise the beauty of a translation that makes you see this, feel this, and experience it to the optimum. 

“The truth is difficult, growing up you’ll understand that,” Giovanna’s told, when she points out that adults she is learning to lie to have been doing that to each other all their lives . “Lies, lies, adults forbid them and yet they tell so many,” she observes. 

There is a lot going on in the book. You get used to it as a reader. The book however is deeply moving, brutal, honest, wise, holding its ground – balancing itself in the beautiful and ugliness of everyday life, manifesting itself on the body, and making sense of it all through the women – old, middle-aged, and young, one lie after another.

Thank you Europa Editions for the review copy.

March 2020 Wrap-Up

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 11.51.05 AMMarch has been a fantastic month. For me, personally. I have struggled with anxiety and calmed it. I have switched off from the news, and trying very hard to keep away from it on social media as well. I’m just made this way. On the reading front, I read 23 very different books and I am on top of the world. I feel ecstatic. Here’s hoping we all get out of this sane. Much love.
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Here are the titles with the ratings:
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1. Death in her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (4)
2. Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (4)
3. And I do not forgive you: stories and other revenges by Amber Sparks (4)
4. Faces on the tip of my tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano. Translated from the French by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis (5)
5. The Seep by Chana Porter (5)
6. Fern Road by Angshu Dasgupta (3)
7. Apartment by Teddy Wayne (4)
8. The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar. Translated from the Persian (5)
9. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (4)
10. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (4)
11. The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (4)
12. Girl by Edna O’Brien (4)
13. A Burning by Megha Majumdar (3)
14. Amnesty by Aravind Adiga (3)
15. Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin (2)
16. Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (4)
17. Red Dog by Willem Anker. Translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns (2)
18. The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchinson (4)
19. The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse. Translated from the French by Damion Searls (5)
20. The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa. Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (5)
21. Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (4)
22. The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara. Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre (5)
23. Mac’s Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas. Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes (4).
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That’s it, folks! What was your reading month of March like? Any favourites?.
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Here’s to April 2020. Can’t wait.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar. Translated from the Persian.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar Title: The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree
Author: Shokoofeh Azar
Translated from the Persian
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609455651
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Four days of frenzied reading. It should’ve taken me not more than two days, but I had to read and stop, stop and read, and read it in huge gulps – almost like breathing after being breathless for a long time.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is a book seeped in reality and dreams. It is about oppression and how when it takes hold, you rely on what you believe and have faith in to make living bearable. The story is told by the ghost of a thirteen-year-old girl, Bahar, whose family was forced out of Tehran, Iran, during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They also somewhere consciously are involved in the decision to move to maintain some sense of intellectual freedom which the current government does not allow.

They do this so their lives are spared, because they are all rebels in one way or the other. They do this because they do not believe religion is supreme, but humanity sure is. And their lives, loves, losses, and how you make sense of the world when all is lost is the story that Azar tells through the lens of one family, more families in the village, and interconnected lives.

The book had me by the throat from the first chapter. The characters – the father, the mother, Beeta the sister, Sohrab the brother, and the narrator (why and how she became a ghost is for you to read) all became a part of my life – still are actually. More than anything else I think I related to the book because I can see what is happening in India, in what once used to be a democratic and secular state – it is now held hostage by people in power and they will go to any lengths to hurt minorities and ensure there is one kind of “religion” that is supreme (the irony). Just as Iran in the 80s and perhaps even today, culture and arts, and the way of living respectfully is tearing at the seams and that became so clear as I turned the pages.

Azar writes in a way to also escape reality. The stories and stories and stories within stories in the book made me want more. Of how a young woman turns into a merperson, to how black love consumes someone, to what happens when dragonflies of different colours enter your life, to the stories of djinns that inhabit your day to day living – everything about this book made me sit up and take notice.

There is a lot that goes on in the book. The entire thread of magic realism is a befitting tribute to Márquez (who is also mentioned several times in the book). I guess it only shows what we want to believe in when life is too unbearable, and you’re at the crossroads of living and dying, and neither come easy. There are a lot of portions that depict solitude – and then there are many that rely heavily on the oral tradition of storytelling, which works fantastically for this book.

I felt like I was being oppressed while reading this book. That all my senses were numbed, and I was pushed into a corner. I felt that the regime was burning my books (which the family loves by the way, so all the more reason to love them). I felt hopeful. I wanted to dance when something nice was happening to them. I wanted to sing when I saw a glimmer of hope in their lives. I cried when things took a tragic turn. I wept as the book ended. This book is about hope, about surviving through the darkest times, and sometimes also understanding that someday you give up and live a little. I thought about what to say about it, and then ended up relying on my heart. Read this book. I can only say this for now.