Category Archives: Harper

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale Title: The Toymakers
Author: Robert Dinsdale
Publisher: Del Rey, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1785038129
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

It might feel that you have read something like this before and some might also say that this book is like “The Night Circus” but don’t be fooled by that. “The Toymakers” is really perhaps nothing like what you might have read before (apologies for using the word might a lot). I remember constantly turning the pages and staying way through the night to finish this one and yet reading it with caution, should it finish too soon.

 

“The Toymakers” could also become a drag in some places but then it also picks up pace very quickly and stuns you. I doubt you can go back and reread it (given the genre and the fact that some of the mystery that is in the book ends eventually) but when you are reading it, you will for sure cherish the experience.

The book is set in a toy shop, taking place in 1917 and traversing some years in the past and in the future. The book ends in the 1950s. Cathy, a young girl, pregnant and single, runs away from home in Leigh-on-Sea to London and comes across a rather odd advertisement in the paper. Cathy becomes winter help in Papa Jack’s Emporium – a toy shop which is most extraordinary and also eerie at times.

I will not tell you more about the book. There are secrets, there are wars, scars from those wars, loss, of parents and children, brothers and sisters and how one finds solace in what one does. Might I also add that the magical element of the book will surely take you by surprise.

Dinsdale’s writing is smooth at times and at others, he just oscillates between the past and the present and I loved the book for it. The language is immensely poetic, the experience immersive and your imagination will be tested on almost every page. A novel not to be missed out on.

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Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala Title: Speak No Evil
Author: Uzodinma Iweala
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0061284922
Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming of Age
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Very few books get me all disturbed and thinking about the world we live in. Yes, most of them are impactful, so to say but none off-late have had the lasting effect that “Speak No Evil” will (of which I am sure). I don’t know what it is about this book that makes you so uncomfortable as a reader that you don’t want to read further. I will not spoil anything for you, but the ending is not what I expected. I was shocked and stunned (but that’s where I will leave it).

“Speak No Evil” can be broadly classified into the literary fiction genre, but it is definitely so much more. It is a coming-of-age book, a book about identity and also a book about being an alien in America, but at the heart of it all, it is a book about Niru, an eighteen-year-old boy who comes out to his best friend Meredith and that’s when things take a turn for the worst.

Niru’s parents were born in Nigeria and immigrated to the U.S to build successful careers and give all the privilege to their sons (who are American-born) which they didn’t receive. Till they discover Niru is gay and all hell breaks loose. His father takes him to Nigeria for the summer to get him rid of being gay and the action takes place again in Washington D.C (where they live), ultimately leading to the end.

The book has two narrators – Niru and Meredith. The bulk of the book is told through Niru – his experiences about not only being gay but also being black (it is always about fitting in, and thinking that when they treat you as the other, it is alright but it so isn’t). Niru’s portion broke my heart so many times. I wanted to reach out to him and tell him it will be okay. I have gone through it and it will become easier with time. But Iweala has to do what he must with Niru and Meredith.

“Speak No Evil” disturbs you because you know all that what takes place in the world and yet we are merely people who standby and do nothing about it. Iweala touches on so many themes through Niru and Meredith – that the subtlety of it all will dazzle you; the writing is powerful, though disjointed at times (maybe that is the allure of this book after all). Niru’s parents’ characters are so strong and yet do not overpower the book. I wish I had known his brother OJ better. There is some vague connect between the brothers but I wish there had been more. It might be all about Niru but Meredith also took my heart away in so many places and overall as well. She loves Niru and feels rejected. There is so much going on with her that she can’t tell and to me the unsaid is always more intriguing, which Iweala has expressed marvelously.

All said and done, “Speak No Evil” is a book that will make your heart sing and mourn at the same time. It may leave you wanting more but also so satisfied. Read. It. Today.

Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur

Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur Title: Heart Spring Mountain
Author: Robin MacArthur
Publisher: Ecco
ISBN: 978-0062444424
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

What is home and what does it mean to you? For the longest time, I have asked myself these questions and gotten nowhere with knowing the answer. Maybe I don’t want to anymore. The idea of home if ever, is just people and memories, I suppose. The place you perhaps can go back to every time you feel out and down in the big, bad world. Isn’t that home?

“Heart Spring Mountain” is to be read with all this in mind but at the same time, it demands to be read without judgment. Robin MacArthur’s book is full of sub-plots and characters that are easy to judge and bracket and yet we forget – the terrain of the human heart is constantly changing. There is no room forjudgment​t. It is what it is.

August 2011. Tropical Storm Irene has wreaked havoc on Vermont. Vale receives a call in New Orleans about her mother Bonnie’s disappearance. Vale has long been estranged from Bonnie and yet decides to go home in search of her. Vale then rediscovers herself and the relationships she ran away from – the three generations of women who live on Heart Spring Mountain – the land that belonged to her forefather, leading her to a secret that she could never think of.

So here’s the deal with Heart Spring Mountain: You might get confused initially, given multiple narratives (that happens to me quite a lot) but once you do manage to sink your teeth into the book (which will happen very soon given the prose of MacArthur that shines and breathes life on almost every page), reading this book is a joyride.

While Vale is one of the central characters, and I hoped to have read more of her, I nonetheless enjoyed the different narratives and how lives merge at the end of it all. The pull of the land is strong on this book and to me it is all about the stories – where we grow up, the same place where we depart from and how it all comes back together in some way or another – we then learn to find our way back.
“Heart Spring Mountain” is emotional. It isn’t sentimental. MacArthur captures the rural lay of the land stunningly and adds so many moments of joy and tenderness that everything seems right with the world. It is also quite hard to imagine that it is a debut. Read it one Sunday afternoon and be mesmerized.

The Midnight Gang by David Walliams

the-midnight-gang-by-david-walliams Title: The Middnight Gang
Author: David Walliams
Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books
ISBN: 978-0008164621
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I’ve always identified David Walliams with the show “Little Britain” and the tongue-in-cheek and absolutely obnoxious humour mostly and nothing else. Till of course I got to know that he wrote books for children a couple of years ago and I must say that he is quite a good writer. His latest book “The Midnight Gang” released last year in November and this is the one I shall be talking about obviously.

“The Midnight Gang” ideally may not even be for me (given the target audience and all that) but I thoroughly enjoyed it, just like his other works and cannot wait for the next one to be released. Lord Funt Hospital in London is the setting of this novel and it only gets exciting. It is a children’s hospital but not the ideal place for children to stay at. And yet, the kids who come here manage to have midnight adventures which are quite unusual and thrilling. Tom is the latest entrant and he is going to embark on an adventure of a lifetime, once he meets the other kids of the ward.

The ideas and the writing are splendid. I mean I would even go this far and say that Walliams needs to be placed close to Dahl when it comes to storytelling where children are concerned. He takes a simple idea and turns it around magnificently – thereby just giving the reader so much to look forward to with every turn of the chapter.

The characters are the usual – you might even find them in every other kid’s book, however the illustrations are superlative – done specifically by Tony Ross for this book. “The Midnight Gang” is all sorts of heartwarming as well – when you least expect it. The humour will make even a grown man laugh out loud (as it did in my case). Read it if you’re in the mood to read something light.

Mohanaswamy by Vasudhendra

mohanaswamy-by-vasudhendra Title: Mohanaswamy
Author: Vasundhendra
Translated by: Rashmi Terdal
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN: 978-9352641260
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQ Literature, Translations
Pages: 280
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Reading “Mohanaswamy” struck a chord. It had to. I knew it would. It is a book about a gay man and his life and how he combats every situation and is forever finding love. The resemblance was clear. I was almost terrified when I started this book. I thought I would break down and I did in most places, but I was prepared for it at some sub-conscious level. Books which are so rooted in real-life take you to another level – of deep pain, melancholy and also sometimes of laughter (which also happened by the way). “Mohanaswamy” is a book which I would love everyone to read and hopefully the read would make them more empathetic.

“Mohanaswamy” is the book which will resonate with anyone who has felt left out in the world. It is the story of the protagonist – of his journey – from discovery his orientation to heartbreak (I loved those stories or incidents because those were the ones I could relate the most) to the societal changes (or not) and how it views gay men. Also, the fact that it is set in Bangalore and goes back and forth between Mohanaswamy’s village and the city – one thing doesn’t change though – the hypocrisy of people surrounding him, even the ones he loves. It is everything that I felt as a gay man and still do. It is not a book really – but life, Vasundhendra’s life (I am inclined to believe that it is semi-autobiographical in nature) and that’s what makes it so heartwrenching.

The translation by Rashmi Terdal is fantastic – I don’t know Kannada, but I am sure the translation captures the entire essence of the book beautifully. Growing up gay and then living a life or preparing to live a life of loneliness isn’t easy. “Mohanaswamy” gets under your skin and makes you realize and face those issues. At least, it did that for me. It almost showed me the mirror and it wasn’t easy. We need more writers like Vasundhendra, who will write such books that reflect the times we live in. Vasundhendra’s writing is razor sharp, delicate, emotional and utterly honest. I think that is what connects with a reader and stays. Like I said earlier, I would recommend everyone to read this book. You might just understand some aspect of the gay life.