Category Archives: February 2018 Reads

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

When They Call You A Terrorist Title: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
Authors: Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 978-1250171085
Genre: Non-Fiction, Social Rights
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

This book will not be an easy read. Not because it is written in a difficult to understand manner, but because the lives spoken of haven’t been easy. So, if you get squeamish easy, then this book isn’t for you. This book is about the world and how it is, how it always was – how racism is so deep-rooted that it might take ages before it is wiped out completely. And yet, this book does not only deal with the issue of racism or schizoaffective disorder, it deals with identity and the basic right to live, which should not be taken away from anyone at all.

Patrisse Khan-Cullors life has not been an easy one at all. Being sheltered and fed wasn’t easy while she was growing up. As I have mentioned, her brother who suffers from schizoaffective disorder and a mother who works from dawn to dusk, just to ensure the kids are fed and clothed.

What upsets me the most is the involvement of the police when it comes to mental health organizations when it comes to checks or emergencies. I mean how would they know what it means to be mentally unstable and what one goes through? But that is just one part of the story.

The crux of the book is what it means to be black in today’s world and how unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality causes havoc in people’s lives. Patrisse outraged the most in 2013, when Travyon Martin’s killer went free, which led to the formation of Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.

Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele give you insights into how it is to survive in the face of violent racism. We think nothing is going on, that we live in evolved times, but that is all well and good in the comfort of our homes. What happens in the world is simply horrific.

“When They Call You A Terrorist” hits hard (like it should) and will make you think twice about how sometimes we behave when it comes to people who are different from us. This is a book that is most needed for our times. The situations and people will always remain the same, till an entire culture changes, the one that says Black Lives Matter.

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Beautiful Days: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates

Beautiful Days Title: Beautiful Days: Stories
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Ecco, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062795786
Genre: Short-Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

You just don’t read a book by Joyce Carol Oates. You experience it like no other. You soak in the words, till their brutality cuts you deep and then you use the same words to be work as balm and heal those wounds. That is the beauty of the writing of Joyce Carol Oates, it just doesn’t let you be and at the same time you feel so distant from it after you are done reading it. Only to realize that you will go back to it at some point.

I discovered the writing of Oates on Oprah Winfrey Show when she picked “We Were the Mulvaneys”. That was in early 2000s I think and since then I have not stopped reading Oates’ writing. I cannot thank Oprah Winfrey enough for this.

“Beautiful Days” is a new collection (well, some of them have been published earlier) by the American master of story-telling. Let me just start by saying that Joyce Carol Oates’ characters are so broken that you might find it very hard to relate to them and yet as the story progresses, you start seeing them around you.

“Fleuve Bleu” examines an adulterous relationship and how the people involved in it are overcome by guilt, heartbreak, love, passion and sometimes plain apathy. This was one of my favourite in the collection, only because of the way Oates describes it all – the anger, the frustration of being together and sometimes not being together, of letting go, of having let go and its consequences. While on the other hand in “Big Burnt” a professor cunningly manipulates a woman, who is in love with him. The pathos, the helplessness and moreover the humour (sardonic but there) of being played by someone shines through superbly in this story.

So, I realized one thing while reading this collection, which is, you cannot take sides when it comes to reading any Oates’ story or book. She doesn’t let you take sides. Maybe that is the intention after all. “Undocumented Alien” however made me take sides. I had to. I was so involved in it, that there was nothing else to do. The story is about a young African student enrolled in an American university who is suddenly stripped of his student visa and that’s when all complications begin.

These are just some of the stories that I have loved, but I cannot possibly go on about all of them. The idea is that Oates’ writing only grows better with time (if that can ever happen). There is no best time to start reading her. You just have to start. Perhaps start reading her short stories. Oates’ landscapes are also quite brutal. It is almost that they match the characters’ lives, inner turmoil and sense of irresponsibility (sometimes). Her characters are careless, also callous, and often don’t know what they want or know quite well what they do not want. They strive, they fight demons and sometimes emerge victorious. Most times, they are only human.

 

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Sourdough Title: Sourdough
Author: Robin Sloan
Publisher: MCD, Farrar Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374903343
Genre: Literary Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

If you’ve read Robin Sloan before, chances are you will love this one. If you haven’t read Robin Sloan before, chances are you will love this one again. “Sourdough” is a mix of almost everything – fantasy, science fiction, satire, literary fiction and a profoundness to it like no other book I’ve read in some time. Robin Sloan somehow manages to roll everything in one and does a pretty good job of it.

“Sourdough” follows the story of a young computer programmer (again), Lois Clary from Michigan into something so dark that it takes you by surprise and also shock in so many places. Lois does nothing but code – all night and sleeps all day. Her human contact is limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood joint from which she orders food every evening. The brothers close shop and it is to Lois to keep their sourdough starter alive. She basically has to learn how to bake with it, which she clearly doesn’t know.

The book is weird. From here on it takes turns and twists that you wouldn’t believe (much in the vein of Mr. Penumbra’s), however, if you read deeper (which I am sure you will at some point), you will find elements of alienation, immigration issues and what it is to be American and not be starkly evident. This book is so weird (I know I am being repetitive but I have to) that at times I didn’t know what I was reading or why. You have to be patient with the prose to be involved so you cannot let go. And might I also add that you would crave sourdough while reading this book, so be prepared.

“Sourdough” cannot be classified into a genre but I have to because I have no choice, really. All I can say is that if you like your reading a little over the edge and funky, you must try this one for sure.

 

 

The Wife by Alafair Burke

the-wife-burke Title: The Wife
Author: Alafair Burke
Publisher:
IBN: 978-0571328185
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

“The Wife” by Alafair Burke is perhaps one of the best thrillers I’ve read this year. I say this right at the beginning, because I loved it. There is no unreliable narrator concept (I don’t like those by the way). A plot that is so racy that you cannot stop to even take a washroom break. The story might seem quite ordinary and plaid on the surface, but Burke sure knows how to turn the story on its head for the reader and leave us guessing more and wanting to know more. Also, what I loved the most about “The Wife” is that it doesn’t try to fit too many plotlines in one book. It follows one trajectory and sticks to it.

Angela meets Jason Powell, while catering a function in the Hamptons and does not make much of their romance. Jason is a brilliant economic professor at NYU. The marriage means a new beginning for Angela, to put her past behind and she moves with her son and Jason to Manhattan in search of a new start. Six years pass and something related to Jason comes up which Angela cannot make sense of and doubts every single moment of her marriage. Things change suddenly. Life is never the same.

Burke doesn’t waste time at all in developing characters, places or time lines given the situations that surround Angela, since she is the titular character. I loved the character of Angela and how she is reduced to being a wife from being such a success at her work. This was something I could not ignore. Having said that, Burke doesn’t let go of your concentration for one single moment and that too me for a thriller writer (or so it seems) is a feat in itself.

Read, “The Wife”. You will not want to touch another book as you read it.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists Title: The Immortalists
Author: Chloe Benjamin
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-0735213180
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

What would you do if you knew the day of your death? How would you live your life differently, or would you? What do you think it would be like for you? Also, what would it be if each of your siblings also knew the day of their death? Would your relationships be any different? How would life then play out? These questions and more haunted me as I was reading, “The Immortalists” by Chloe Benjamin.

“The Immortalists” might seem like that one book which you read a while ago but it isn’t. There is so much and more to the book that you cannot compare it with anything you’ve read before, so I suggest you don’t even try and read it with an open-mind at the very best.

The story starts off in New York in 1969, when we meet the Gold children – Varya 13, Daniel 11, Klara 9 and Simon who is 7 years old. They belong to a religious Jewish family and are close to their parents. A psychic is heard of by one of the children – someone who has set camp nearby and four of them head out to meet her, who is known to predict the date of someone’s death. She individually tells them each the day they will die. This is where the story begins.

The novel is divided into four sections, each for one child, and we traverse through their lives, trying to understand what happens to each of them as they live and whether or not the prediction comes true.

I am not going to give away any spoilers here but all I can say is that this book has the power to leave you stunned and asking for more answers. Who was the psychic? What happens? What does not happen and why? All of this makes you turn the pages anyway but Benjamin’s writing does not seem new. She doesn’t write like a debut novelist. The craft is so precise – every scene comes alive; every emotion wrenches you and you can’t help but mull over it.

The dynamics of the siblings with each other and their mother is another thing that will make you relate to the book to a very large extent. Also, what they choose to share with each other and don’t forms such a major part of the book. What I also loved was the role time plays this book – with it hanging so severely on their heads and yet it is in a way so subtle – moving at its own pace and making the siblings realize the value or life or not.

“The Immortalists” is the kind of book which will have you thinking about life, more and everything in between. This book is hard to put down once you start it. Benjamin will literally make you cry (be prepared for it) and smile almost in the same page. It is a book which truly deserves all accolades and more this year. Read it. You will not be disappointed.