Category Archives: HarperCollins

Read 5 of 2022. Legal Fiction by Chandan Pandey. Translated from the Hindi by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari.

Legal Fiction by Chandan Pandey

Title: Legal Fiction
Author: Chandan Pandey
Translated from the Hindi by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9354227509
Genre: Translated Fiction, Literary Fiction Pages: 168
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Legal Fiction was one of the best reads for me last year. I reread it again this month because I was in conversation with Chandan and Bharatbhooshan and enjoyed every minute of it.

Legal Fiction is unlike anything I read and kept thinking about it a lot. The themes of disappearance of a Muslim man, love jihad – a term coined by the right wing of the country to bring to task Muslim men who love Hindu women, the struggle of people in a small town who are constantly under surveillance whether they like it or not (in one way or the other), the idea of democracy just being on paper, and ultimately that of rule of land being followed over rule of law.

Silences play a major role. Silences that force people to look within, to understand their spaces, look at the role of caste and religion that draw invisible boundaries, silences that reflect lack of agency of women, and how vocabulary defeats what we feel most of the time.

Legal Fiction put simply is about the disappearance of a man – a man who lives in a small town with his wife and is from a minority religion in Modi’s India. It is about the agency of an urban middle-class man, Arjun, who travels to Noma – the fictional village – to locate the man, Rafique. It is about what Arjun unearths in Noma, and what goes on behind closed doors, and sometimes right in the open, only because it can.

Chandan Pandey makes no bones about what he has to say. The writing is sparse, calls out the hypocrisy of the system, where things have gone wrong and continue to do so, and above all packs in a punch and more on almost every single page.

Bharatbhooshan’s translation reads like the original (I also read the book in Hindi). It is fast-paced, reads like a thriller but is so much more, mesmerizing, like a sort of fever dream, and above anything else a mirror for us to see ourselves in and understand what we have become vis-à-vis what we were.

Read 235 of 2021. Crossroads, A Key to All Mythologies # 1 by Jonathan Franzen

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Title: Crossroads, A Key to All Mythologies #1
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Publisher: Fourth Estate, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780008308902
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 586
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Crossroads is heady, it is brilliant, it is expansive in the sense of no other Franzen novel ever was, it is most empathetic which says a lot about Franzen since he doesn’t let his characters wear their emotions on their sleeve, and even if they do they are doomed to suffer, and above all Crossroads is a novel of big themes, big ideas, and big huge hope maybe at the end of it all (not to forget there are two more novels left in this Key to all Mythologies trilogy).

Yes, this novel is about a dysfunctional family, but it is also so much more. I remember there was a time while reading this book, when Franzen is talking about Marion, the mother and the wife’s past that I gasped, I couldn’t handle what she had gone through, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages either. Franzen’s writing is at its peak in my opinion and will continue to stay there. The way the tone shifts from the parents to the kids to the interpersonal relationships, and not only that – the way his writing has become less ironic, satirical and more earnest in a sense. It is refreshing to read this Franzen.

Crossroads is set in the ‘70s. Spanning nearly 600 pages, we can see the highs and lows of each character, each situation that plays out, each character making their decisions, stuck in a world that perhaps is not for them, dealing with suicide attempts, rape, adultery, drugs, and metaphorical and literal car wrecks of their lives.

This time we are introduced to the Hildebrandts. Religion is a big theme in this book. Russ Hildebrandt, the patriarch, is the church’s associate pastor and all he wants to do is sleep with a recently widowed church member. His wife, Marion has her own secret life. His children Clem, Becky, and Perry are searching for their own truths, each on the brink of a crossroad of their own, trying to strike their own deal with the devil if the day ever presents itself.

Crossroads is also the name of the youth group of the church, and Franzen will wittingly talks about it – sometimes quite ludicrously as well. Franzen’s book is a world of its own, with smaller words entangled in it. The stories told by each character, their lies, their version so to say, layers and layers of lives, each heading toward their own destruction or not.

Franzen has laid it all out quite superbly in the first book for the other two to follow. Families aren’t easy to traverse. Neither are communities that are believed in. Neither is the path of ideas, liberation, and of taking sides and sticking to them.

There is so much unpacking and yet at the end of the book I was left with this void, that could only be filled by books 2 and 3. Franzen has over the years been criticised a lot for not so much his writing as for the person he is. To my mind, he has his opinions, and yes, they are strong, and yes, they reflect in what he writes, but please don’t let that deter you from reading this fantastic piece of art. Don’t let anything deter you from getting to know the world Franzen creates in an already known world and more than anything else his flawed, fractured, and lost characters – each seeking their own redemption, going in circles every single time.

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.