Category Archives: HarperCollins

Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread by Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani

Title: Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread
Author: Michiko Kakutani
Publisher: William Collins
ISBN: 978-0008421953
Genre: Books about Books, Essays, Literary Theory
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy 
Rating: 2.5/5 

I love books about books. I do. I’m a sucker for them. I was excited for “Ex Libris: 100 Books to Read and Reread” by Michiko Kakutani, the former chief book critic of The New York Times. I was excited given the kind of reading she has done and the books she must have connected with over the years, but I was mildly disappointed to see only most “white” writers on this list, and more than anything else no variety as such.

There’s the same old Donna Tartt, the good old Tolkien, Steinbeck, Atwood, Orwell, Tara Westover, and David Foster Wallace. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I expected more. There is Jhumpa Lahiri, the Márquez, the Zadie Smith, and Colson Whitehead. It somehow doesn’t make me discover or yearn to read a particular title. Some I won’t even bother reading cover to cover. I wish this was a varied and more diverse list. It just didn’t do anything for me. Yes, it’s produced beautifully. The illustrations are quite amazing and all of that. But I wish there was more substance. But by all means pick it up, if you love lists (like I do). I might even try a reading project of this to read and reread all these books (well, or maybe not).

Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu. Translated from the Gujarati by Jenny Bhatt.

Ratno Dholi

Title: Ratno Dholi
Author: Dhumketu
Translated from the Gujarati by Jenny Bhatt Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9390327782
Genre: Short Stories, Translations, Gujarati Short Stories
Pages: 324
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I am immensely grateful to Jenny Bhatt for having given us the translation of Dhumketu (Gaurishankar Govardhanram Joshi, 1892-1965) – in fact his best twenty-six stories (and she has selected from having 600+ of his stories), under the title, “Ratno Dholi”. If it weren’t for Jenny, I do not think we would’ve known or discovered the joy of Dhumketu’s stories.

I have gone through a range of emotions while reading this collection. From sheer joy, to pathos, to chuckling away to glory at some places, and nodding my head in agreement to whatever the author has to say. Dhumketu spoke of a time gone by and yet was so modernistic in his approach, in my opinion. Whether it was giving women agency (The Creator of Life’s Ruins), or even bringing the hypocrisy of society to fore (The Noble Daughters-in-Law), Dhumketu said what he had to, and in a manner only unique to him.

Dhumketu’s stories take their own time to unravel. The beauty of language is evident in this translation by Bhatt. She has taken care to not shake the core of his stories, and yet add her touch to them. The colloquialisms while being explained, are also given context to in the form of footnotes. The stories have a pace and life of their own. For instance, the passage of days in “Old Custom, New Approach” is looked at so casually, without losing the impact of time passed.

I think through these stories, readers are fortunate enough to get a glimpse of a different culture, shaping itself in different times, and at the same time being understanding of the socio-cultural norms of that day and age. We live in an age quick to judgement. But these stories shouldn’t be judged and looked at from broader contextual perspectives.

The thing with Ratno Dholi as a collection is that though these stories were written such a long time ago, I didn’t think they felt outdated in their form or texture. In fact, even the narrative has elements of form and structure that seem so contemporary. Kudos to Jenny Bhatt for this wonderful translation, and hope through her we get to read many more stories of Dhumketu.

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay Title: The Far Field
Author: Madhuri Vijay
Publisher: Fourth Estate, HarperCollins
ISBN: 9789353570958
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 444
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I honestly do not know how to review The Far Field. It is one of those books that has so much to offer that one doesn’t know where to start talking about it. The varied themes, the writing, the plot, the characterization, or even the way it often makes you think about your relationship with people and the world at large. To me, The Far Field is one of the best books I’ve read this year and rightly so.

I started the book with great trepidation given the negative reviews I had read online, but all it took me was a couple of pages in to dismiss them. This is the kind of book that unknowingly creeps up on you and sticks. It stays. It makes you mull and wonder and often even makes you take sides.

You may think Shalini, the protagonist is selfish. You may think of her as inconsiderate in so many places and might even be enraged at her choices, but having said that all she does is travel from Bangalore to Kashmir in search of a man – a salesman by the name Bashir Ahmed to find answers, in the wake of her mother’s death. A mother who was as determined as she was sharp with her tongue and opinions. A mother who struck an unlikely friendship with Bashir. A mother who was also a bored housewife, an intelligent one at that, and someone who just wanted some attention and care.

The Far Field to me is not a political story just because it is set mostly in Kashmir. It is about people, it is about family, community, and the bonds we forge, rather unknowingly. The book is about what we hold on to and what we leave behind. It is about Shalini and what happens to her and the people she meets or wants to meet.

Madhuri Vijay writes brutally. She bares it all for the reader to see, to hurt with the characters, and feel this twinge of sadness as things do not turn out the way you wanted to. The reader is involved, and by that I refer to myself. I don’t want to give away too much about the story but be rest assured that you will find it very hard to put down this book once you’ve begun (or so I hope).

 The Far Field will have you question your ties with family. The things we choose to say with such ease and the things we do not. The ones we think we communicate about and the ones which we don’t are the most important. Something always gets lost. The book like I said is about family, the ties we forge along the way, and what comes of them in the end, if there is an end at all.

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum Title: A Woman Is No Man
Author: Etaf Rum
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0062699763
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

So here’s the deal with this book: Either people have loved it or didn’t like it at all. I belong to the category of readers who loved it. What the book encompassed for me really was that sometimes you have no choice, no matter how hard you try.

While a part of me, vehemently opposes the idea, there’s a part of me that also agrees. I also believe that circumstances play a major role in deciding what you choose or vice-versa: You choose and your choices create those circumstances. Essentially, it is majorly about the deck of cards life hands you as well, but most people would not consider that.

A Woman Is No Man is a book that is also not easy to read. There will be a point in the book when you will question, challenge, and get angry at the characters for behaving the way they do, but I also think as a reader one must look at the larger context and picture, to be able to separate emotions from the text (sometimes) and look at things more objectively. After all, the story is about one large culture and how it looks at its women and treats them.

It might also seem like a book that you have read in the past, but what makes it different is the voice. Rum’s voice is hers alone and cannot be replicated at all. The book is a mother/daughter story. Through the mother Isra, and her daughter Deya we see the harsh reality of the Palestinian Muslim culture and how it remains unchanged over time, unless challenged, even in modern-day Brooklyn. Some that occurs in the past, and some in the present. There is a lot of domestic violence in the book – in the sense that it is even the focus. So if you think you cannot handle it, then perhaps this read isn’t for you just yet.

At the same time, I was also thinking of the book appealing to a white audience perhaps a lot more because of the content, context, and the uniqueness of culture. However, having said that I firmly believe that this story is universal, even if the so-called “uniqueness” is removed from it. Yes, at times I also felt that the characters were one-dimensional but to my mind, the plot is so good that it doesn’t matter. And yes, Isra might have been one-dimensional but there are a lot of times I could also see her burst through the pages with gumption, but those moments were very rare.

For a debut, Etaf Rum has hit this book out of the park. Fareeda for instance, who is Deya’s grandmother (paternal) is a character that has so many layers to her – that you want more of her and you get that as well. I cannot give away more at this time, but you have to read it to understand what I am talking about.

Having said this, the overall treatment of women in the book is a little hard to stomach. Isra’s mental and physical abuse at the hands of her husband and his family get to you. There were times I just couldn’t bear to turn the page. The book in a way also deals with what value women place on themselves to be able to take a stand. What I loved was the character of Deya (Isra’s daughter). How she views the world differently, and treat situations despite not knowing where she belongs – she wants to experience her Americanness but is bound by the culture of her parents and grandparents.

A Woman is No Man is a book that will definitely make you think about people, more so women who come from different cultures to the US of A in the hope of a better life, and what goes on behind closed doors. It is the kind of book that also grows on you, frustrates you as well (but naturally more so if your culture and point of view is different), will make you question the world around you (perhaps), and also help you find some solace in its pages.

 

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui

America for Beginners

Title: America for Beginners
Author: Leah Franqui
Publisher: William Morrow, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062668752
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Now, I have read a lot of books about immigrants and their lifestyles and what happens when you move countries or come to America, as they say. But this is not a story of an immigrant. In fact, it is just a story of a mother who has to come to terms with her son’s sexual preference and lifestyle, after his death. This struck a chord. It hit home and stayed there for a while. I was constantly thinking of my mother and what was she going through when I came out to her and could relate her thoughts and emotions to that of Pival’s. But “America for Beginners” is not just Pival’s story. It is the story of Pival, Satya and Rebecca – each trying to find something or the other – some big meaning in their lives and happen to do it together.

“America for Beginners” is not sentimental. It is for sure an emotional piece of work. It is also compassionate and funny where it needs to be and that is also something I found extremely liberating about the writing. It doesn’t get bogged down by the intensity of the story. Franqui finds humour where she can. A Bengali widow Pival comes to the US of A, to know more about her son Rahi, after a year of his coming out, and in the wake of his death. She has never travelled alone and all she wants is to fit the missing pieces of her son’s life – the son she never knew, also through his partner Jake (you will get to read more about him. Not saying a word for now). Here but obviously she meets Satya, a guide who has never left the five boroughs – an immigrant who doesn’t have a clue where life is headed. Then there is Rebecca – an aspiring young actress with demons of her own to tackle. These three are headed for a road-trip (that again makes it all the more fun) they will remember forever.

This has all the makings of a movie. In fact, I think it is also written to be made into a film. Having said that, I for one did not get bored or did not face a reading slump at all when reading this book. There are also some stereotypes the book is ridden with, and yet I did not have a problem with that as well. There are perspectives, lives, emotions and how we deal with each other as human beings which is most important – than just being a mother, friend, or son.