Category Archives: Knopf

A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations by Pico Iyer

A Beginner's Guide to Japan - Observations and Provocations by Pico Iyer Title: A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations
Author: Pico Iyer
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
ISBN: 9780451493958
Genre: Travel, Nonfiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Everything that Pico Iyer writes has this quality of sublimity to it. It uplifts you in the true sense of the word and that’s what was needed in such times, as I picked up this book on observations and provocations on Japan by an author who should definitely be read more.

A Beginner’s Guide to Japan is Pico Iyer’s in a way tribute to the country, after living there for almost thirty-two years and counting. It is as playful as profound a book on the customs, traditions, and brief yet arresting glimpses into Japanese culture.

Iyer describes how the Japanese live in Japan, and how different the rest of the world is from them. From simple things such as greeting someone to nudity not being a taboo but being asked to express one’s feelings is rather offensive. The book is also a bundle of contradictions, given the country that is being spoken about – but the Japanese seem to enjoy their contradictions and things done or said for convenience.

I loved the outsider view that Pico Iyer gives the readers. He doesn’t claim to be an insider, even though he has married a Japanese, and has lived there for the time that he has. Yet, he looks at the country and its people from a certain distance, never wanting to be one of them, happy to be observing from the margins.

A Beginner’s Guide to Japan is a perfect book to understand the country and its people. Pico Iyer gives us a next to complete picture of its hypocrisy and magic, the honesty and the precision, its food, and manners, and somehow even the pointless obsession with perfection at times seems alright. Japan is not a country to so easily be put in words and yet Pico Iyer tries hard and the result is a wondrous book – neatly classified, never losing its sense of humour and evocativeness of language.

Brother & Sister: A Memoir by Diane Keaton

Brother & Sister - A Memoir by Diane Keaton Title: Brother & Sister: A Memoir
Author: Diane Keaton
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0451494504
Genre: Memoirs, Autobiographies,
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

I finally got a chance to read Diane Keaton’s memoir of herself and her brother. It brought out a lot of emotions in me as a sibling. This book is of course about the love she has for her brother Randy, but it is also about the love that doesn’t see after a while, the kind that is oblivious to what is going on with the other.

The book starts off with them being an ordinary family – one big sister, one little brother, Mom, Dad, and some more siblings, all in the middle-class California of the 50s. Things are obviously fine on the surface – the picnics, the family trips, the camps, and such as the other side beings to reveal itself. Of how things go wrong – when you grow up, do not keep in touch, become involved in your respective lives, how the brother is diametrically opposite of his sister, and how he lives a life that isn’t considered “normal”.

Brother & Sister is a book about relationships, and how mental health illness and alcoholism can be and is a real threat. This is also seen through the scrapbooks, journals, letters, and photographs kept by Diane’s mother – it is almost a progression of sorts.

Brother & Sister isn’t about judgment as much as it is about trying to understand someone you love so deeply, about what went wrong with them, why did the relationship suffer, and perhaps a way to piece it all together. Sibling relationships aren’t easy at all. But the idea of perhaps confronting demons and deep-diving into the family history to understand relationships and people makes this book so readable, relatable, and extremely relevant.

March 2020 Wrap-Up

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 11.51.05 AMMarch has been a fantastic month. For me, personally. I have struggled with anxiety and calmed it. I have switched off from the news, and trying very hard to keep away from it on social media as well. I’m just made this way. On the reading front, I read 23 very different books and I am on top of the world. I feel ecstatic. Here’s hoping we all get out of this sane. Much love.
.
Here are the titles with the ratings:
.
1. Death in her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (4)
2. Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (4)
3. And I do not forgive you: stories and other revenges by Amber Sparks (4)
4. Faces on the tip of my tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano. Translated from the French by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis (5)
5. The Seep by Chana Porter (5)
6. Fern Road by Angshu Dasgupta (3)
7. Apartment by Teddy Wayne (4)
8. The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar. Translated from the Persian (5)
9. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (4)
10. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (4)
11. The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (4)
12. Girl by Edna O’Brien (4)
13. A Burning by Megha Majumdar (4)
14. Amnesty by Aravind Adiga (3)
15. Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin (2)
16. Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (4)
17. Red Dog by Willem Anker. Translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns (2)
18. The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchinson (4)
19. The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse. Translated from the French by Damion Searls (5)
20. The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa. Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (5)
21. Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (4)
22. The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara. Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre (5)
23. Mac’s Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas. Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes (4).
.
That’s it, folks! What was your reading month of March like? Any favourites?.
.
Here’s to April 2020. Can’t wait.

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

A Burning by Megha Majumdar Title: A Burning
Author: Megha Majumdar
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525658696
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

So, I started this book with great excitement. After all, it is on all lists, and one of the major releases of 2020. It started off slow. I wasn’t invested in the characters or the plot. This is just me being honest about what I felt while reading it. Till, I reached about 100 pages and that’s when the book started working for me. That is exactly when I think I became invested and hurt and felt joy with the characters. The book speaks to me as an Indian, of what is going on in the country. It speaks to me of the injustice. It speaks to me about how the government is by intent isolating a community and targeting it, and encouraging people to kill and instigate riots. The riots that took place in Delhi in February 2020 and some part of early March is testimony to that. A Burning speaks about all of that (hidden albeit) and more.

A Burning is not just the story of three people and the people connected to them. It is the story of all of us – of humanity in that sense and the decisions we make basis greed, selfishness, aspirations, and dreams. At the heart of the story is a train that is burned, and its aftermath. Jivan, a Muslim girl from the slums determined to move up in life, is accused of executing the attack on the train because of a comment on Facebook against the government (this is so true given the times we live in and the BJP IT Cell of the country). There is PT Sir – a teacher of physical training in an all-girls school, an opportunistic individual who somehow gets a way in the right-wing party and has aspirations of his own. The third is Lovely, an outcast – a person who lives on the margins of society and dreams of becoming an actress. The book is about their lives intersecting, and ultimately revealing each motivation, each aspiration, and each form of personal escape.

A Burning hit hard. It of course made me see what is happening (which I already knew) and also how most of the time we are so apathetic to it, as long as our bubble of privilege, influence, and dreams does not burst. Majumdar’s writing is simple, detailed, and makes you think – think of how we ignore, turning a blind-eye, and most of all the act of submission – even in the times of barbaric acts being committed in the name of religion.

Megha Majumdar builds beautifully on each character – their lives, their tragedies, the day to day living, and the complexity of emotions. At one point, the PT Sir does have a change of heart (momentarily) and then doesn’t. There is always this push and pull between what one does for greater good and what one does for self.

A Burning is a book of human beings who are lost, are a bundle of contradictions, and a book of our times. It shows us the mirror in more than one way. The setting though is in West of Bengal, it could be any Indian city, town, or village. The emotion is universal – of hate, forgiveness, love, redemption, and sometimes a very slight sliver of hope.

A letter to Gabo on his birthday.

IMG_8748

Dearest Gabo,

It’s your birth anniversary and I’m grateful that you were born. I’m overjoyed that you lived, experienced what you experienced, loved the way you loved, made your mistakes, and took them all and wrote your books. Your books people say are rooted in magic. I think they are rooted in harsh reality, which you sugar-coated for us. So, thank you for that as well. There won’t be more books from you. I’m aware. It’s been a while now. But I am happy that I get to reread all that you wrote. No one else could write like you Gabo. No one else can. They try. But you are you, and you know that. One hundred years of solitude made me dream in technicolor, Márquezda and you should know that. Of love and other demons brought me closer to my ex-boyfriend and he left me when your autobiography was released. It’s been a long time since then. I remember not liking love in the time of cholera. Sorry for that. I still don’t. But I read it. Your stories have a life of their own, and you know that. I write to you because I love you. I write to you to let you know that you made a fifteen year-old boy dream when he was lost and confused. You made me see my Macondo. You made me live my reality and taught me how to face it. I remember reading Leaf Storm at 15 and being fascinated by it. I wanted to write you a letter. I always did. Never thought it would be when you were in a Macondo of your own. I hope the siestas are long. I hope you are still writing. I hope you are dreaming for all of us. I hope you’re happy. I also want to gift you something if it means something. I will read a book of yours every month. Reread most of them. Till I’m done. And perhaps start all over again. Gabo, you made a generation hopeful of love. You made them see magic. You made them escape. You made them live. Thank you. A thousand times.

Love,
A reader.