Category Archives: Granta Books

Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises (And Essays) by Rebecca Solnit

call them by their true names- american crises (and essays) by rebecca solnit Title: Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises (And Essays)
Author: Rebecca Solnit
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 978-1783784974
Genre: Political Science, Feminist Criticism, Essays
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I think I would read Solnit even if she would write in a greeting card. She is that powerful as a writer, and I am sure a great human being. Rebecca Solnit has written on a varied number of topics – from the history of walking, to space and how to maintain it, to bow to get lost, to how men explain things to women – she has touched every single surface when it comes to writing (more or less), and this time this collection of essays is her masterstroke.

These essays are telling of our times and it is scary to observe the world we live in. Solnit speaks of the election of Donald Trump and makes no bones about her disagreement. Her essays more than being timely or savage are honest and backed with facts. The insights are spot-on and attempt to diagnose what ails the American culture. Right from the MeToo movement to the incarceration of African-American men, to the misleading speech of President Trump, Solnit emerges as one of the most powerful cultural critics that the world of literature possesses.

Solnit’s writing is powerful, stark and a representation of the times we live in. This collection of essays ends with the injustice Americans (mostly) face every single day – from the cynicism, to police shootings, the gentrification, and the crises that ultimately define America today. As she so eloquently puts it, ““Being careful and precise about language is one way to oppose the disintegration of meaning, to encourage the beloved community and the conversations that inculcate hope and vision. Calling things by their true names is the work I have tried to do in the essays here.”

The primary ideas behind the book are the naming and precision of language which somehow also tends to fall short somewhere, more so in alignment with what Solnit is trying to talk about. Sure it is from a very personal space and she acknowledges that. My favourite essays were: “Twenty Million Missing Storytellers”, which is on voter suppression, “Milestones in Misogyny” about the 2016 presidential election is sympathetic to Clinton and I thought was written with a lot of force.

“Call Them By Their True Names” is a powerful read, the one that makes you question, stand up, take notice and see what is going on with America and therefore with the rest of the world. The one that deserves to be read right now!

 

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Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

SabrinaTitle: Sabrina
Author: Nick Drnaso
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 978-1783784905
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I will not talk a lot about how it was such a surprise to see a graphic novel on the Man Booker Longlist 2018, because it is alright. It is more than alright for this to happen and about bloody time that it did, given how popular is this genre and stories need not be told through just one form. There are plenty and I am glad that finally some people took notice. That’s that. Now coming to Sabrina.

Sabrina is literally about Sabrina missing and it hits hard where and when it must. Drnaso, at the same time doesn’t let Sabrina go. She is there, hanging around in the sense of being a presence, as the lives of other characters are in a limbo, emerging from or facing their own troubles. There is something about Drnaso’s storytelling that is not only bleak and dark, but somehow enchanting. You want to remain stuck in this world and not get out. To me, that was highly fascinating.

Sabrina though is about the titular character, to my mind, it is a lot more about the characters on the fringe. Where do they go from here and what happens to them were the questions I found myself asking time and again, long after the book was done with. There is something so real about the book that it shakes you to the core – I think most of it has got to do with the times we live in – separate from each other, connected virtually and not knowing what is going on in others’ lives.

Sabrina deals with so much more – mass shootings, notoriety, depression, marriage, privacy – it is a melting pot of issues – that are so relevant and need to be told. Most readers and critics were skeptical of a graphic novel being on the Booker longlist, but  think it is so worth it in every way. Hooting for this one!

Census by Jesse Ball

Census by Jesse Ball Title: Census
Author: Jesse Ball
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 78-1783783755
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Census” by Jesse Ball isn’t a difficult book to read. It seems like that initially but as you are way into it, you just don’t want it to end. It reminded me of “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy but don’t worry – it isn’t that dark, but haunting nonetheless in its own way. I doubt I have read anything like “Census” before, but that’s the magic of Jesse Ball’s books. They may sound similar to other books but are far from it. This is the third Ball book I’ve read and I am astounded by the consistency of his writing prowess.

“Census” is a very personal book when it comes to Jesse Ball as he has dedicated it to his deceased brother, Abram Ball who had Down Syndrome and he has mentioned it in the prologue, how he decided to write this book and more so write around the syndrome than about it.

The book is about an ill widower, a doctor who takes on the role of a census taker and sets off with his son who has the Down Syndrome to take the census, from towns A to Z.

This is the basic premise. But of course, there is more than what meets the eye. The entire activity and exercise undertaken by the father is layered – of being counted – of life being taken into account while he is nearing his death and in the sense his son’s responsibility being taken on by another person. Then the son becomes a census – a number and perhaps nothing more.

“Census” is also wondrously allegorical – given the times in which we are living – of unnamed identities (are they even identities then?), of places and countries that restrict and of how there is so much kindness and heart still present in the world.

“Census” is perhaps one of the most important books of our times, in my opinion. There are so many revelations as you go along the book, that will leave you astounded and wanting more.

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday Title: Asymmetry
Author: Lisa Halliday
Publisher: Granta
ISBN: 9781783783601
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 275
Source: Publisher
Rating:

This isn’t a plot-driven book. To me, “Asymmetry” was more character-driven (or so I would like to believe) which worked wonderfully when I read it. Yes, some parts did seem disjointed and irrelevant initially, but it all fell into place by the second half of the book and I could see the mirrors within mirrors and more clues staring in my face as I devoured this read. Also, might I add that this isn’t a mystery or thriller. It just is. The worlds are parallel and yet Halliday beautifully manages to blend these worlds, and show us that we are after all connected one way or the other.

“Asymmetry” is told in three sections. The first one titled “Folly” is about Alice, a young American editor and her relationship with the much older writer Ezra Blazer (whose characterization is spot on, in my opinion). The second part takes place at Heathrow airport, where Amar, an economist on his way to Kurdistan is detained at the airport with seemingly no reason. And right at the end, after years have passed by, Ezra reappears mulling on life, love, and loss.

What is the connection between these people? Is there any at all? Why is this story so bizarre and will it even make any sense? I was asking myself these questions a lot, till it all started falling into place and it became more playful than investigative. Halliday conjures characters and situations that take time to wind your head around, but when you do, reading this book is then an adventure, a joyride almost.

At the same time, let me also add that “Asymmetry” is a book about a lot of things that will make you uncomfortable as well (maybe it is intended to and more so in the second half), so be prepared. One can’t be prepared while reading this book. Anything can step out of its pages and shock or surprise you.

Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky

Go Went Gone Title: Go Went Gone
Author: Jenny Erpenbeck
Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1846276200
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Go Went Gone” is an unusual book. Also, it isn’t an easy read. At least, it wasn’t for me. It took me a while to get into the book and understand its nuances. However, once I was say three chapters in, I started enjoying this read a lot, actually to a point that I felt sad when the book ended. Erpenbeck has always taken on issues so huge in her books and actually delivered. I remember reading “The End of Days” and “Visitation” and being awestruck by the writing. And just like those books, “Go Went Gone” is a book that talks of the impact of the political on personal and what place does the past and present have in history after all.

Richard has spent his life as a university professor, immersed in books and ideas and has now retired with nothing to do. He steps into the streets of Berlin and discovers a new community on Alexanderplatz – a tent city of sorts, established by African asylum seekers. He is confused. On one hand, he wants to get to know these new people and on the other he hesitates.

I loved the simplicity with which the plot is unravelled and yet there is so much going on – the complex layers of race, class, community and prejudice. What struck me the most was Richard’s ageing and his reluctance to change and at the same time his curiosity toward it as well. The writing is subtle enough to give readers signs and cues as the story moves along, which makes Jenny Erpenbeck truly one of the best European writers there is. She slices the book scene by scene – so much so that isolated situations and scenes come together so beautifully – even if at a later stage. She also at the same time, takes no sides. She doesn’t want Richard to be a caricature and also understands his point of view.

The political angles in the book are real – the Western ideologies and stance toward the European refugee crisis and how it can be solved for. More than anything else though, it is the story of one man who has more in common with people he doesn’t know than he realizes.“Go Went Gone” is the kind of read that cannot be gulped in one go. It must be savoured. And yes please pay attention to the silences in scenes as well – that say so much and yet can be missed if you look the other way.