Category Archives: Life

The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez

Title: The House of Paper
Author: Carlos María Domínguez
Translated from the Spanish by: Nick Caistor
Illustrations by: Peter Sís
ISBN: 978-0151011476
Publisher: Harcourt
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 103
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Books about books have always fascinated me. There is something so relatable about them that it breaks my heart and also repairs it at the same time. They are love letters to books – almost love stories between books and collectors – I am sure most will agree with me when it comes to this. A reader and his or her books can never be apart.

“The House of Paper” is one of those books you just cannot get enough of. It is a short book – a novella of 106 pages or so but every page and every sentence and every word gleams in it. This one was a reread for me and I had actually forgotten how much I loved this book, till I read it now. The story is of a Cambridge professor who is killed by a car while reading Dickinson (or so it is assumed). A book is sent to her – a dirty, dusty copy of Conrad’s “The Shadow-Line”. A colleague of hers travels to Uruguay, determined to know the connection between these two people and instead ends up hearing a very strange story – of the man Carlos Brauer and how he has built himself a house from books by the sea. The rest is for you to read and find out – the why, what and the how that is.

“The House of Paper” is magic realism and a lot more than just that in my opinion. Books and reading form such a core of this read that you wished it were longer and that it would not end at all. The book raises questions of mad bibliophiles and the length they will go to for their love of books. At the same time, it doesn’t make it too philosophical or dreary. This book is perfect to the ones obsessed with the written word and for one I cannot stop recommending it. I must also add here that the translation by Nick Caistor is tongue in-cheek, lively and not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Peter Sís. My copy by the way is from The New York Public Library and I was delighted that it came to me in India from there. Only booklovers will understand this. Also this book. So read it. Please.

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Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill Title: Dept. of Speculation
Author: Jenny Offill
Publisher: Granta books
ISBN: 978-1847088734
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Very few books manage to evoke those emotions in you which you never thought a book would manage to bring out. It happens nonetheless and you fall in love with the read. There is more to it though. You know that this read will not be like the others. It has now become special.

“Dept. of Speculation” by Jenny Offill did just that to me. It is now one of those special reads and I know I will keep going back to it again and again and again. The format of the book feels weird to begin with but when you get into it and it grows on you, then it is something else.

It is the story of a wife and a husband and the breakdown of a marriage. It is the story of the woman’s previous lovers and the husband’s lover for whom he is leaving the wife. It is the story of their child and the life they have built together. What’s there not to love about this story? Is it clichéd? Perhaps it is.

A large part of any novella or novel is in the storytelling and this is what makes this book different. The book has no answers to any problems that a couple might face in their marriage. It is not meant to be that, but the snippets of truth of a relationship are brilliantly touched on.

“Dept. of Speculation” to me is one of those rare masterpieces in literature that need to be taken notice of. It is edgy, on the brink of things, unpredictable and something that you will perhaps relate to. There is wisdom, poetry, humour, heartbreak, and some fun facts as well to give you an overall perspective. All said and done, it will make you think and make you cry as well. Go. Read it.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I was thinking about clubbing these two Novel Cure Challenge Reads together and it only made sense – considering how similar the protagonists are. Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary are bound to be clubbed. I remember reading and rereading these books for the longest time and somehow in a very strange way, I could relate to them. I am not married. I am not a woman. There has been no instance of adultery then, of course, but still there is some affinity which I cannot name or pinpoint. I am only too glad to have reread these books. They certainly brought back a lot of memories.

We all know (or at least most of us do) how it works out for these feisty women. Both stuck in unhappy marriages. I think it would be apt to call their marriages boring, or rather the men they are married to. Charles Bovary almost comes across as a dullard who could not care less about Emma’s youth or her desires or what she wants from life. Anna Karenina on the other hand has everything she could want, but somehow the all-consuming love is just not there, till she meets Count Vronsky.

Emma’s life is ridden with men – her father, her husband, her neighbour, the greedy moneylender, the pharmacist, the pharmacist’s assistant, and her two lovers. She knows it will only end in disaster and yet she wants it all, just like Anna. Anna knows the Russian societal norms and yet she will go to any length to get what she wants. Both these nineteenth-century heroines risk it all, for there is only one life to live. All they want is passion. They want love and they just keep searching for it, everywhere they can. Even if it means they have to end it by giving up their lives. Every time I have read these books, I wished they would come out of it alive and they don’t. I know it but I want to believe that everything works out for them, though it does for some time. These novels were also written in times when both countries, Russia and France were going through changing times. Maybe that is why they were considered so radical for their time.

I have never intended to read these classics with a lot of analysis. For me, they are just testimonies to what I connect to relate to – all the unrequited love, the trapped lives dictated by hypocritical societies and the alienation of the self, despite being loved and surrounded by many.

The anguish of the women comes through superbly in both these books and to me what is also surprising is that these books were written by men. Men who were very strong in their own way and manner and extremely eccentric as well, not to mention, womanizers – maybe that is why they could capture the feminine essence with such aplomb in both these works.

The translations again, when it comes to classics such as these matter the most. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Anna Karenina) and Lydia Davis (Madame Bovary) have done more than just a wonderful job with the words and their interpretation. I think for me most of the time loving these two classics have come from these translations. And yes I also think that perhaps there is no cure for adultery. You have to go through it. There is no moral ground. Anything for happiness, I think.

Next Up in the Novel Cure Challenge: Patience by John Coates

Hope

Hope. It is so easy to let go of it and sometimes even easier to cling on to it. This year has been maddening. I have cried. I have contemplated suicide. I have spoken to my friends about things – been miserable, did not want to spend any time with anyone and then things have also changed. Time has humbled me. Time has taught me a lot. I was unemployed since the 1st of July 2011. Things were not going in my favour. I was almost close to depression. I would not attend family gatherings. I would not meet too many friends. I would ditch them. I was envious of their success. I did not know how to handle my failure, or so I thought of it then.

I was living day to day. Life happens like this. It teaches you and then perhaps just hits you right in the face. I was clueless. Every day was a struggle and only those who have been there, know what I am talking about. Sure, it was my choice to quit my job, but I did not know that things would be this bad. There were friends who did not remain friends anymore – they just did not keep in touch. They said they would help with my resume, but I knew better. They did not and it is alright. They had their reasons.

The thing is that life changes. For me it changed in May 2013. When I went for my interview with Flipkart and got my dream job. I mean, books matter to me the most and I remember being so overwhelmed when I got to know that I made it. I cried at the airport. What else could I do? The last two years were tough enough. I somehow made it through. It somehow worked. It fell into place. My mother always believed. A couple of friends never let go. May be sometime, you stop believing in yourself.

You need faith. In something or someone. I remember praying. Walking to Siddhi Vinayak. Going to Ajmer while I was there for the Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2013, and today I am one of the speakers for the Jaipur Literature Festival 2014. I cry easily. I get overwhelmed. I am humbled by life. It is all about the ups and downs I guess. All of it. You can mock faith all you want, but it does tide you over. The clichés make sense. This too shall pass. Good times are round the corner. Who do you believe in? What do you do when you are at the end of all belief? How do you move on?

Life has been tough. It has not been easy at all. But lessons have been learnt which will stay forever. And a big thank you (I cannot thank these people enough) and a big hug to these people for staying on and cheering me from the stands of life, even though I fell so many times.

Thank you: Mom, Neha, Anisha – love you always, Payal Saklani – for knowing me for such a long time and being there always, even when I thought you were not. I cannot love you enough. Thank you.

Thank you Arun Das – for being there throughout and giving me the opportunity when I needed it the most. Thanks a lot.

Husain – Thank you for being a part of my life, Rahul – I love you to bits, Ankiet, Visha – I don’t know what I would have done without you, Harsh – my soul-mate in so many ways, Nandini, Deepa, Rupa – my trilogy of life, Iyer – you made me laugh.

Niyati – for understanding and somehow sailing with me in the same boat – I love you, Ameya – again for trying for me and loving me, Gautam – my soul sister and you know it, Payal – for the opportunity, Ankita, Amit, Awadi and Narang – You have always been there, big hugs and wet kisses to the four of you, my pillars of strength.

Divya, Ekta (thank you baby), Menaka, for all the help when I needed it, Pramanik – for in your most subtle ways, you understood my pain and were there. Avantika – for listening to me, Neha (for trying for me), Sukanto and Arunima for talking to me about books and edging me on, Pallav – for listening so patiently as I whined, Pia – I love you, and last but not the least, Sarvesh – my rockstar. Sorry for the long thanks, you only deserve it and more.

Thank you 2013. You have been kind. Thank you.