Category Archives: Fourth Estate

Read 13 of 2023. Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin

Wandering Souls

It has been about a week since I read “Wandering Souls” and there are times in a day that I keep going back to the novel – in my thoughts, in my subconscious and scenes from it keep playing back. Scenes of kindness in times of unimaginable pain, trauma, and hurt. Scenes of what it means to be family – of creating family after its loss, of living life in a new country and yet while there is racism, alienation, and isolation, there is also unimaginable kindness, and kinship from unexpected quarters.

“Wandering Souls” is a book about the unsaid and the unknown feelings – feelings that are bottled, that you choose not to encounter, because it is best to move on, it is best to think about a hopeful future, it is best to dream of a better life. It is a book about atrocities that one country inflicts on another in the name of liberation, in the name of a conspiracy theory, because a nation was afraid it waged a war and ruined the lives of families. It is about closures, about finding peace and joy, about reconciliation of emotions, of a family torn apart and how they heal themselves.

Cecile Pin’s writing about three siblings (and a fourth) and their journey to a foreign land, to try and come to terms with how life has changed so quickly, and how to make sense of the world around them is heartbreaking, uplifting, and presents trauma in the sense of being most empathetic, catharsis-inducing for the reader, and for all of us to see and consider questions of humanity, kindness, and the role it plays in the world we live in.

Read 8 of 2022. Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades

Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades

Title: Brown Girls
Author: Daphne Palasi Andreades Publisher: Fourth Estate, HarperCollins UK
ISBN: 978-0008478056
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This book reminded me so much of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, of course, barring the fact that in Brown Girls we are exposed to a variety of voices – of all brown girls trying to navigate and find their way in the world. While Cisneros’s work was about the coming-of-age of one young girl, Brown Girls is the story of many. It also somewhere down the line becomes the story of the marginalised, the unseen, the unobserved, the ones who are struggling every single day to make their presence felt. 

Brown Girls is about young women of colour – across ethnicities, growing up in Queens, and it is their stories that are told from one chapter to the other.  This book also reads like a memoir sometimes – I am sure though some portions are reflective of the author’s life. 

Brown Girls is a novel that speaks of the loneliness of young girls, the losses that they do not speak of, the secrets they don’t confide in anyone but each other, and the ones that are hidden even from themselves. It is a book of how brown girls are alienated and how they are almost given a handbook to be followed by their family and the outside world as well.

Andreades touches on female friendships that are cohesive, argumentative, disruptive, and extremely volatile. It is written in the style of a chorus of immigrant voices – of daughters living on the margins of the American dream. The expectations of parents, their own desires and hopes, and the world that doesn’t allow them those benefits is the crux of the book. It is also mainly about survival.

The writing is strong, unifying, sometimes speaking of identity as a whole, and sometimes right down to individuals. The complex nuances of race and identity surface with every chapter in a different way and compels readers to see what Andreades wants them to.

Read 235 of 2021. Crossroads, A Key to All Mythologies # 1 by Jonathan Franzen

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Title: Crossroads, A Key to All Mythologies #1
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Publisher: Fourth Estate, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780008308902
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 586
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Crossroads is heady, it is brilliant, it is expansive in the sense of no other Franzen novel ever was, it is most empathetic which says a lot about Franzen since he doesn’t let his characters wear their emotions on their sleeve, and even if they do they are doomed to suffer, and above all Crossroads is a novel of big themes, big ideas, and big huge hope maybe at the end of it all (not to forget there are two more novels left in this Key to all Mythologies trilogy).

Yes, this novel is about a dysfunctional family, but it is also so much more. I remember there was a time while reading this book, when Franzen is talking about Marion, the mother and the wife’s past that I gasped, I couldn’t handle what she had gone through, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages either. Franzen’s writing is at its peak in my opinion and will continue to stay there. The way the tone shifts from the parents to the kids to the interpersonal relationships, and not only that – the way his writing has become less ironic, satirical and more earnest in a sense. It is refreshing to read this Franzen.

Crossroads is set in the ‘70s. Spanning nearly 600 pages, we can see the highs and lows of each character, each situation that plays out, each character making their decisions, stuck in a world that perhaps is not for them, dealing with suicide attempts, rape, adultery, drugs, and metaphorical and literal car wrecks of their lives.

This time we are introduced to the Hildebrandts. Religion is a big theme in this book. Russ Hildebrandt, the patriarch, is the church’s associate pastor and all he wants to do is sleep with a recently widowed church member. His wife, Marion has her own secret life. His children Clem, Becky, and Perry are searching for their own truths, each on the brink of a crossroad of their own, trying to strike their own deal with the devil if the day ever presents itself.

Crossroads is also the name of the youth group of the church, and Franzen will wittingly talks about it – sometimes quite ludicrously as well. Franzen’s book is a world of its own, with smaller words entangled in it. The stories told by each character, their lies, their version so to say, layers and layers of lives, each heading toward their own destruction or not.

Franzen has laid it all out quite superbly in the first book for the other two to follow. Families aren’t easy to traverse. Neither are communities that are believed in. Neither is the path of ideas, liberation, and of taking sides and sticking to them.

There is so much unpacking and yet at the end of the book I was left with this void, that could only be filled by books 2 and 3. Franzen has over the years been criticised a lot for not so much his writing as for the person he is. To my mind, he has his opinions, and yes, they are strong, and yes, they reflect in what he writes, but please don’t let that deter you from reading this fantastic piece of art. Don’t let anything deter you from getting to know the world Franzen creates in an already known world and more than anything else his flawed, fractured, and lost characters – each seeking their own redemption, going in circles every single time.

Read 225 of 2021. Strangers on a Pier: Portrait of a Family by Tash Aw

Strangers on a Pier by Tash Aw

Title: Strangers on a Pier: Portrait of a Family Author: Tash Aw
Publisher: Fourth Estate, Harper Collins 
ISBN: 978-0008421274
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I will now read more of Tash Aw. There is something about reading another’s family, their lives, their experiences in a new country, of how it was, and maybe it is still the same for people who aspire to move, to find roots elsewhere.

When you read about generations of a family and how they live, you relate. Families all over are just the same. Sure, we are different in our own way, but the intersections matter. Whether it is the Malaysian and Chinese heritage of Tash Aw or an Indian Pakistani heritage, somehow it all merges into one big identity.

Strangers on a Pier manages to fit so much in its mere ninety-one pages. From birth to death, Tash Aw tackles it all. These are stories of a family that range from the villages to night clubs to cities and traverse various dialects, customs, and traditions that won’t let go.

The writing is flawless. Every sentence, emotion, and every word are in place. When he speaks of rain, or of exams that have to be given, or explaining the differences between the East and the West, all you want to do is read and when the book ends so soon, you wish it were longer. Through other cultures, Tash Aw bares his culture. Through other ways of being, he speaks of his – dating back generations, and about futures that are so intertwined to the past.

Read 208 of 2021. Taxi Wallah and Other Stories by Numair Atif Choudhury

Taxi Wallah and Other Stories by Numair Atif Choudhury

Title: Taxi Wallah and Other Stories Author: Numair Atif Choudhury
Publisher: HarperCollins India, Fourth Estate India
ISBN: 978-9354892134
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 132
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I haven’t read Babu Bangladesh!, but now I will. I will ensure that I do, at least before the year ends, because Numair’s writing holds you by the throat, it suffocates you, it does not let you be, and more than anything else, it makes you see the stark differences in society, if in case you didn’t know about them already. 

Choudhury’s Bangladesh is a place very much like others in and around the country – poverty-stricken, gross injustice and inequalities that are visible from a mile, and more than anything else for you to acknowledge it. They make you uncomfortable because that’s the truth and we are aware of it.

Whether it is the very evident class difference that surfaces in “Rabia” – a story of a house-help and her sudden change of relationship with her aapa (who doesn’t want to be called that anymore), or in “Crumble” – a very hard-hitting story of Shahed – a brick-breaker in Dhaka who is just trying to make ends meet, or even if it is through the story “Different Eyes” about organ donors – the ones who have no choice but to do what they do, to settle their loans, each story exposes the darkness within. Choudhury’s stories aren’t for the faint-hearted. They aren’t glossy, they aren’t easy to digest, they don’t exist in happy and shiny places. They live hidden in shadows and come out when they wish to, or are already in plain sight but not seen by people.

Numair sees the world through a lens so huge and yet so minuscule – the stories could perhaps be sent in any third-world country and yet only belong to Bangladesh. The joys (however small), the sorrows, the defeat, the victories (very rare), and kindness that displays itself unexpectedly (say in “Chokra” – a beautiful story of street children and one in particular), Choudhury’s writing is sharp, raw, poetic, and shows the mirror the world.

Read this fantastic collection of short stories, and then read Babu Bangladesh! (as I will), and then lament about the fact that he was taken away too soon.