Category Archives: harper perennial

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.

A Tale of Things Timeless by Rizio Yohannan Raj

A Tale of Things Timeless Title: A Tale of Things Timeless
Author: Rizio Yohannan Raj
Translator: Supriya M. Nair
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN: 9789350293416
Genre: Indian Literature
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Some books just make your dreams more vivid. They make you want to fly into nothingness and perhaps stay there. Yes, it is true. Some books have that effect on you. And this is what happened to me when I finished reading, “A Tale of Things Timeless” by Rizio Yohannan Raj.

“A Tale of Things Timeless” will perhaps move you in no other way some books have. It is a story which is very different and yet keeps you hooked throughout, besides being literary to the core. The book is about two people – one dead and one alive and how their lives converge.

Avinash Suvarna – a small-time writer leaves a suicide note – a one-line note at that, and that is seen by Laya Thomas. She is intrigued. She wants to know more about this stranger’s life and this leads her to exploring herself and parts of her life, she thought were buried somewhere. What I love about such plots is that there is so much more to the book.

The book is not easy to read. I had a tough time getting into the plot and the timelines. They were everywhere and spread out so thick that the reader is just lost at times. Rizio knows what she has written. Surpiya, as the translator does a great job of bringing that to fore with an excellent translation. The read though strenuous is a read which should not be missed at all. I mean, Indian literature needs as many readers as it can get.

“A Tale of Things Timeless” is an ode to everything wrong and right with the world and the changes one goes through. It is about experiencing life through death and to such a large extent, it is just about everyday living. The pain, the anguish and the moments of happiness that just shine, if you are lucky.

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Book Review: Run by Ann Patchett

Run by Ann Patchett Title: Run
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN: 9780061340642
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I remember when I first read Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I was stunned. I was beyond stunned. I found myself crying in parts and pieces of the book, which doesn’t happen too often to me. While Bel Canto was about strangers getting to know each other under the most unlikely circumstance, Run is about family, roots, and love at a larger level and perspective.

“Run” happened to me while reading The Novel Cure and of course I had embarked on the Novel Cure challenge anyway, so it had to be read in that order. “Run” is not an easy book to write about – not because the plot is challenging or the story is difficult to follow. The reason it is challenging is the voice Patchett gives her characters & the conflicting and most unlikely situations she throws them in.

Bernard Doyle – the former mayor of Boston, only wants to see one of his sons grow up and enter politics. His oldest son Sullivan is out to follow his heart. Tip and Teddy Doyle are inclined to do what each wants to – work with fishes – aquaculture and the second one wants to become a minister. An incident involving a mother and her daughter on a cold winter night is what shapes the entire course of the book. What Bernard then wants to do is keep his children safe. That becomes the sole objective. Nothing really matters.

The tone of the book is fast-paced and yet you tend to stop through paragraphs and pages and mull over what you have read. Patchett has this uncanny writing style – she writes so nonchalantly (or so it seems) and suddenly the reader is left astounded with sentences, that are packed with emotion and hit the reader in the face. Run is a book that you will go back to and reread at some point, because it demands to be reread. It is that good.

Next Up on the Challenge: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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Book Review: Adverbs by Daniel Handler

Adverbs by Daniel Handler Title: Adverbs
Author: Daniel Handler
Publisher: Harper Collins UK
ISBN: 9780007181285
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

It is an old book, published in 2007 and yet it makes sense to me every time I read it. “Adverbs” by Daniel Handler (the real name of Lemony Snicket, oh yes, that’s trivia for you) is a treat for the reader. I guess not many people have heard of it, however it is time that they do and hence this review, hoping I can reach out to some of them. “Adverbs” is a book of short stories (some interconnected as well) about love and lost chances and basically back to love. Every chapter is titled on an adverb and the story is related to it (but obviously).

Adverbs is an unusual book. May be because it explores the state of love so beautifully and rather differently as well. Love keeps modifying in all stories, just like it does, every single time. Hence I guess the title of the book. Adverbs is all about love and its nature – from a passenger falling in love with his cab driver to love falling itself out in a relationship, the stories are charming, wistful, and seductive on most levels.

I have always loved Lemony Snicket’s books; however I guess I love Handler’s books a lot more than A Series of Unfortunate Events. I think that is because of the love plots intertwined in them, whether it is Adverbs or Why We Broke Up (a teenage love story and loads of heartache). “Adverbs”, in its writing is clear and precise, and it would definitely ring true for everyone who has ever been in love or has aspired to or has his or her heart broken.

I am glad I reread it this year as the book speaks to you emotionally at so many levels, sometimes interconnected and sometimes not. I would definitely recommend this book to everyone. A great read on a winter’s day.

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Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta

“Look sir you’re not going to tell me that! Everyone knows stories! I just told you I slept in the same bed as my wife every night for the last fifteen years in the same bedroom of the same flat in the same suburb of Tokyo – and look at all you different people! You just have to tell me how you travel to work every morning in the place where you live and for me it’s a fable! It’s a legend! Sorry I am tired and a little stressed and this is not how I usually talk but I think when you are together like this then stories are what is required.”

Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta is a modern day Canterbury Tales. A group of passengers get snowed in at an unnamed airport, on their way to Tokyo. They hunker down for the night in airport chairs, surrounded by cavernous, vacant halls. To pass the time, they tell stories.

From there, Dasgupta had a choice. He could have taken us into the passengers’ lives. We could have learned about why they were travelling, what was important to them, how they made the right choices or wrong choices in their lives, and how they came to be stuck at that airport. Dasgupta had other ideas, though. The stories the passengers told were modern day fables.

The book is a collection of thirteen of these fables framed in the overall story of being stuck at the airport. They stories are generally magical and filled with unexpected twists. Dasgupta writes clearly and simply, but still has wonderful imagery. Some of the stories have simple plots, and come to a resolution; others end with more questions than they began. The characters in the stories accept a magical world with few questions.

These are not children’s fairy tales, though. In many of them, they characters don’t live happily ever after. There may be morality lessons in some of them, but the lessons, if any, are far from clear. Good isn’t always rewarded and evil isn’t always punished. And in many cases, there is no good or evil — just a deep gray. And in this book, Dasgupta finds ways to write about nearly all bodily functions at some point. While not jarringly out of context in the stories, the material may not be appropriate for sensitive readers.

That said, it is a great book to read. The stories are fascinating, and Dasgupta does a nice job of pulling the reader in. When Dasgupta has a point to make, he usually has one character in a story speak it to the main character in that same story.

For example, one character describes the world of organized crime like this:

“`It’s a scintillating world; it’s a pyramid of mercury: and we have to be standing on top.'”

That’s one of the best descriptions of a treacherous balancing act that I’ve seen in a long time. I can see the poisonous material sliding out from underneath.

We also get this description of the nature of time:

“‘For you the present is easy to discern because it is simply where memory stops. Memories hurtle out of the past and come to a halt in the now. The present is the rock face at the end of the tunnel where you gouge away at the future.'”

The idea that the present is nothing more than where memory stops will keep me starting at my lava lamp for hours.

The point of the book may be that the only time things worthwhile actually happen is when something major completely disrupts people’s lives. They sleep walk through their routines, and big adventure like in the stories, or a simply travel mishap like in the framework may be all it takes to live a different life.

“Was it not at times like this, when life malfunctioned, when time found a leak in its pipeline and dripped out into some little pool, that new thoughts happened, new things began? Would they look back at this night and say that is when it started?”

The book is not perfect. I don’t think some of the stories needed to be as graphic at they were.

My other concern is the voice of the story. Each story “sounded” like the same story teller. Even “The Doll”, with its innovative layout, had the same language-feel as the others. This would not be a problem for me if it was just a collection of short stories. But Dasgupta chose to have passengers tell the stories. And all the passengers tell their stories the same way.

It’s still a great novel, though. Tokyo Canceled is a rare book that calls for a second reading. It’s difficult to get everything out of the early stories without having read the later stories. Each story itself brings its own setting, plot, and characters. Discussing the deeper meaning of these stories would be great way to pass the time with fellow passengers the next time I find myself stuck in an airport overnight.

Tokyo Cancelled; Dasgupta, Rana; Harper Perennial UK; Rs. 325