Category Archives: Hachette UK

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta Title: The Black Flamingo
Author: Dean Atta
Publisher: Hodder’s Children’s Books
ISBN: 978-1444948608
Genre: 368
Pages: Young Adult, LGBT Reads
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I got to know of this book as it was long-listed for the Jhalak Prize (which is a prize given to the book of the year by a writer of colour), for the year 2020. Luckily, I received a review copy from the good folks at Hachette India and I finished this book in one sitting. I think a lot had to do with the fact that the book is written by a queer person, so it became so relatable, and I often found myself either crying or smiling.

The Black Flamingo is the story of Michael – half-Jamaican, half-Greek -Cyprian boy trying to blend in with his identities and understand where does he truly belong. He is growing up in the UK and from an early age he is more interested in Barbies and singing than the conditioning of how boys should be in a patriarchal society. His mother supports him gently and with a lot of love when he comes out to her (while he is still at school). In all of this, there is his half-sister Anna, his best friend Daisy, and the bullies at school who make him realise who he truly is.

Once Michael goes to university, that he truly realises that he wants to perform in drag. He wants to do this with no labels, and with all fierceness. All he wants is to be The Black Flamingo, in a world of pink ones. This is the story of Michael. Of finding himself through the heartaches, the boys, the crushes, and finding the confidence to live in this world that has a long way to come around.

I think I related to this book at the core – of course by the virtue of being gay but also because it made me understand that sometimes you do not need any labels. You just need to be yourself. I loved the book references in it. I absolutely enjoyed the poetry-prose combination, and Michael’s poems in his notebook. I cried with joy when I saw people around him empathise. I cheered for him as he took stage. I dreamed of being in drag one day – in a red dress, with my fake boa, and in heels so high, I could perhaps touch the sky.

This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace

This Is Water by David Foster Wallace Title: This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life
Author: David Foster Wallace
Publisher: Little, Brown
ISBN: 978-0316068222
Genre: Non-Fiction, Speech
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I have read quite a few commencement speeches by authors. Authors who celebrate creativity (Rowling), some who talk about making art great again or creating good art (Gaiman) and some others who speak of the future and what it has in store (Saunders). And then there is someone like Foster Wallace who gives it to you the way it is – the real world, with no sugar-coating whatsoever.

I knew that would be the case once I received this backlist title from the good folks at Hachette India. David Foster Wallace has left behind a legacy. A cannon of work that I at least read in bits and pieces because sometimes what he says is too much to bear.

This is Water is a speech given by Foster Wallace to the graduating class at Kenyon College in 2005. He starts with a little parable – the one that seems like one, and quickly goes on to break that mode of starting a commencement speech. David’s speech is a trove of wisdom and compassion, thought provoking, and what it means to live in the 21st century.

I think the thing about such books that there is no single universal message. There is something that relates with everyone. The message of giving up on the rat-race (is that even possible?), the one that speaks about awareness, self-consciousness before saying or doing what we say or do (this one hit home real hard), or just the one to understand what it means to give and sometimes sacrifice a little bit, if you have to.

David Foster Wallace doesn’t speak of glory in the most basic terms. There is glory in empathy. There is glory in understanding. There is glory in small efforts as he rightly puts it. This is Water is the kind of book that is needed at every stage of life. The speech will resonate throughout.

I will leave you with this thought that is my favourite from this read:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

 

 

Heartstopper: Volume 1 by Alice Oseman

Heartstopper - Volume 1 by Alice Oseman Title: Heartstopper: Volume 1
Author: Alice Oseman
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
ISBN: 9781444951387
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 263
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I’ve been waiting to read this one. Heartstopper is a story of two boys, Charlie and Nick, studying at the same school. Charlie is gay. Nick isn’t. They have started getting to know each other. They are great friends. Till, Charlie falls hard for Nick. Does Nick feel the same way? Heartstopper is a story of love – between two boys. One whom the school knows is gay and is bullied for it. One whom the school sees as this stud on the rugby team. The stereotypes are there for a reason. You will also see them break as you go through the book.

Heartstopper is the kind of book that should be read by everyone. It is the graphic novel that will make you understand relationships that beyond the heterosexual ones and just the thing that is needed in 2019. Just the thing that was needed way before.

I can’t wait for the second volume to reach me. Alice Oseman gets the vibe of the teenagers. The confusion, the heartbreak, the acceptance, and the bullying. The relationship between Nick and Charlie took me back to a time when I was in school and in love. It is the kind of book that will remind you of what it is to be young or what it was. A super book. I love it.

Books mentioned in Heartstopper: Volume 1

Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead Title: The Nickel Boys
Author: Colson Whitehead
Publisher: Fleet Books, Hachette
ISBN: 9780708899434
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2.5 stars

There are some books you wish you love when you read them. You want to love them with all your heart and soul. The Nickel Boys was one such book for me. I quite enjoyed and liked The Underground Railroad and I wanted more out of The Nickel Boys. I did. I was expecting a lot – to be emotionally turned inside-out by the end of the read, which sadly did not happen to me at all.

When any book is such a struggle to read and get through, you know you will never revisit it or recommend it. The Nickel Boys sadly is that book for me this year.

The book starts off with great promise. The first part of the book is written with great insight, sensitivity, and empathy throughout. It is about Elwood Curtis and his life out of the juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy and inside of it. For a black teenager in the early 60s, all it takes is one mistake to destroy his future. The Nickel Academy is a hellish reform school, who has the outer façade of creating moral and upright citizens of delinquents who have lost their way. Beneath all of this, is a world of torture, discrimination, and instances that end in death.

Elwood’s grandmother Harriet, his dreams, his ambitions, and his idea of a free world are all left behind when he enters The Nickel Academy by no fault of his. Whitehead’s inspiration of the Nickel Academy came from the infamous Dozier school that made headlines as fake graveyards were discovered on the closed school’s grounds.

The Nickel Boys is mainly set outside of the school – part one and part three at that. While a lot is also set in it, as you can read in part two, as a reader I was left underwhelmed and wanting more. Also, Elwood suddenly is thrown in a world where he meets several characters (but naturally) and yet I could feel nothing for them. I wanted to. I so wanted to be immersed in this book, but I just couldn’t. For instance, Turner (one of the boys Elwood befriends) was one such character that wasn’t explored enough in my opinion. The constant battle of his pessimism and Elwood’s optimism is the only thing that stayed (beautifully done at that).

I understood the book – the nuances, the being an accomplice to what was going on inside the house for every boy once you walked into its doors to even the question of loyalty in a place like The Nickel Academy. Yet, with all its nuances and sometimes brilliant prose, I was left wanting more. The threads somehow didn’t connect and by the time I reached Part Three, I was drained of any comprehension to move on with the read. There is also no iota of character development. The book could’ve been longer and perhaps more time spent in letting us know about the characters and their lives, which sadly did not happen.

And yes, the dignity of human life, the assertion of black lives mattering, the understanding of injustices, and more than anything else persistence of the human spirit comes across in the book in bits and pieces, but I wish it was held together strongly. The book falters and stumbles, without any direction. The Nickel Boys was one book I was waiting to read with great anticipation. I wish I had enjoyed it with similar enthusiasm.

 

 

Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt

Memories of the Future Title: Memories of the Future
Author: Siri Hustvedt
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978-1473694415
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I have always loved reading Siri Hustvedt. She writes with an urgency and lucidity that is rare and extremely engaging. Most of the time, I feel her works are meta, and likely so given art is after all inspired by life, and that works the most when it comes to her works. Whether it is The Blazing World or The Sorrows of an American or even What I Loved, every book has a trace of her life and that is the connecting factor for the reader.

Memories of the Future is a novel about time, memory, desire, and obsession at the core of it. It is a novel about New York in the late 70s – forever dynamic, changing, and bursting at the seams. At the same time, it is a novel of the present – of the diary SH kept in the 70s and reads it now – recalling the time she lived next to Lucy, and what transpired then.

The technique of a story within a story isn’t new, but just the way Hustvedt writes about it is seamless and original. Her observations on memory and how time wraps itself around it in all its vulnerability is touching. The book is about a narrator and a very strong one at that. You may not even come across many characters, but you do get used to the writing, which keeps you engaged and wanting more.

Memories of the Future is the kind of book that has a range of opinions, thoughts, and memories. I had to go back and forth multiple times, but it was truly worth it. Madness and sanity have a wonderful balance as well. It is an extremely stimulating novel, by a very intelligent writer. The kind that is crisp and on point with most things. A novel not to be missed at all.