Category Archives: graywolf press

All That Man Is by David Szalay

51PSst0HidL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_ Title: All That Man Is
Author: David Szalay
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977535
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

“All that Man Is” is classified as a novel, however to me it was just a wonderful collection of short stories that represent man at a pivotal time in his life. Each story advances age to age and gives us a glimpse of man and his complexities – the way he functions, thinks, and conducts himself. The stories at the same time are also interwoven but by very small details – details that you might even not recognize as you go along and somehow comes full-circle at the end of the book. I would call the book dark but not depressing. It just manages to show you men’s lives and how they are. At the same time, it doesn’t make motherhood statements in any story nor does it endorse the concept of “all men”, which to me was very refreshing.

Szalay’s style of writing is brooding. I like the fact that he spends a lot of time on each story and more than that on each character – giving it the full body and flesh as it should be. Also, might I add that these men are away from home, so that adds another layer altogether to the narrative – which is delightful, fearsome and thrilling at the same time. Also, the locales in which these stories are set are quite edgy in the sense of being melancholic – whether it is a suburb in Prague or a dingy hotel in Cyprus to an Alpine village, the drama of life and death unfolds beautifully through the prose.

The book relies heavily on its characters, more than the locales, which is how it should be, however at some point I thought that the detailing was a bit much sometimes and could have been avoided a little. Having said that, the nine lives could not have been put in any other way than what Szalay has done. “All That Man Is” is a tribute to the contemporary urban life and how we are all a part of this gigantic mosaic that doesn’t fail to amaze us with its simplicity, complexity and zest for life, no matter what.

So Much for That Winter by Dorthe Nors

so-much-for-that-winter-by-dorthe-nors Title: So Much for That Winter
Author: Dorthe Nors
Translator: Misha Hoekstra
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977429
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love it when authors break boundaries of traditional storytelling and present ideas in a new way. Dorthe Nors, a Danish writer does just that. She breaks the norms of telling a tale and how. Her new book (second one) titled “So Much for That Winter” consists of two novellas, of two women sifting through the fallout of respective breakups.

In the first novella, “Minna Needs a Rehearsal Space” – Nors writes the novella in the form of sparse headlines. Minna gets dumped on a text and the novella is about her being consoled by everyone around her – Minna’s mission though is to escape them all, especially her sister. I loved the way it was written. It is raw, brutal and funny – all at the same time. Nors could have very well written her own story. She could be Minna you know.

The second novella “Days” is about another breakup in the form of lists – of how a writer fills her time post break-up. Through both these novellas, I got a very uncanny sense of how nothing might be relevant in our endless age of tweets, updates and Instagram posts. Even heartbreak for that matter. I finished both these novellas in one go and honestly, I have not felt this disoriented in a long time after reading a book. Nors’ writing speaks to you and you can sense it crawling up your back and somehow you enjoy it. You are perhaps also taken in with all the reality but also somehow make peace with it.

Also, let me not forget that this experience would not have been possible without Misha Hoekstra’s wondrous translation of these novellas. “So Much for That Winter” deals in being human above everything else. These two novellas complement each other superbly and one cannot be read without the other. Nors has created a strewn about, lush, hurtful, real and beautiful love-letter of our times.

365 Stories: Day 14: Maureen by Sara Majka

cities-ive-never-lived-in-by-sara-majka

Maureen is a heartbreaking story of a mother, a dead child and how some losses can never be overcome from. Grief that then exists, never leaves. I was shivering while reading it and still reeling from it. Majka knows how to string minimum words with maximum imapct. Maureen’s imagery and loss has been described so well, that you would want to reread it. I know I will.

Read the story here

Ongoingness : The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso

Ongoingness - The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso Title: Ongoingness: The End of a Diary
Author: Sarah Manguso
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977030
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 104
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What is “Ongoingness”? What does it mean and how does it come to be defined? Is it even a word like that? Is it okay for anyone to invent something like that? And does it also then mean that it is all okay and to just experience moments as they come by? “Ongoingness” by Sarah Manguso is a diary – it is however, not your usual run-of-the-mill diary either. Come to think of it, it is not like something I have read in a very long time and trust Ms. Manguso to come up with something so uniquely different and contemplative.

Of course you can finish this book in one sitting and that is the idea. However, I also had to pause in most places and keep contemplating about life. The book is about Sarah’s life as a mother and how memory and loss of it played a major role for some time then. This diary is just a series of fragments on time, memory, the nature of the self and how one connects with the internal and the external world.

The memoir is barely only about 100 pages long and yet there is so much you will see in this book which perhaps no other book will be able to communicate or show. Manguso has dealt with the passage of time beautifully from the time when she was not a mother to the time she became one and how things changed drastically.

“Ongoinginess” is beautiful and terrifying at the same time. It is about relationships and life and yet Manguso has a different perspective and outlook in everything. It is a poetic meditation on our need to remember and capture life through words, images and sounds.

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The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison Title: The Empathy Exams
Author: Leslie Jamison
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 9781555976712
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 226
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There is a certain lack of empathy in the world. That is the conclusion I have come to given my interactions with most people and I wish it were different, but sadly it is not that way. There is cruelty everywhere – offline and mostly online. There is this sense of superiority that comes with making fun of someone, assuaging one’s insecurity I guess, and the fact that maybe you cannot do but bully someone or a set of people, just to show who the boss is. I have never understood this behavior and never will I guess.

There was also this Twitter incident that occurred last week and that clearly showed that we do not live in a world with enough empathy. There are bullies. There are people who mock. I know I am coming across too strong in this review, but a fact is a fact is a fact and there is nothing we can do about it, or wait, there actually is. We can try to be kind. We can be more empathetic. We can understand people – bit by bit and not be insensitive and unkind.

“The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison is a book that opened up a lot of these thoughts stuck in my head – page after page and I loved every bit of it. Jamison talks about empathy through her life-situations and what she has gone through. While reading the book, there were so many thoughts that ran in my head and I just could not stop thinking about how we are unkind and insulting most of the times. Being a Gay man, I have faced it way too many times and I know how it feels. It feels terrible. Jamison’s book takes center stage on this and begins to uncover layer by layer on the whats, whys and why-nots of empathy.

“The Empathy Exams” is a personal book. Jamison makes the reader experience empathy, she talks about her wounds and her life (baring it all out in front of the readers, which is one mean task to do, according to me), and how it really is to be empathetic. The writing is real, raw and extremely honest. Leslie makes us realize the limitations of empathy and why is it so important for us to not let it be restrictive.

Why did the book resonate with me? Like I said, we have forgotten what it is like to be considerate, to be kind, and we just want to be mean. The book made me think of everyday situations and how we choose to deal with them and to me that is something. The fact that a book can do that to you and those ideas stick with you long after you have finished reading the book. “The Empathy Exams” is an introspective read and will tell you a lot more about you as a person than you have ever known. Read it and learn from it. I will try to. Every single day.

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