Category Archives: Literary Fiction

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi Title: The Death of Vivek Oji
Author: Akwaeke Emezi
Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 978-0571350988
Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming of Age Fiction, LGBTQIA Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is going to be a short note, because this book is under embargo and I cannot post a review as of now. All I can say is that you must read, “The Death of Vivek Oji” by Akwaeke Emezi when it’s out. They have written it with a lot of love and heart.

The story is about Vivek Oji and his death and life – and what led to his death. It is about his homosexuality or even gender fluidity (or so it seems at various points in the book) in a place where LGBT rights are not recognised, and it is a crime to be gay.

The book is set in Owerri, one of the largest cities in Nigeria. It is about the differences that exist – the Nigerwives (as they are called) – who don’t belong to Nigeria but marry men from there, their children, the lives they lead, and above all the patriarchy that doesn’t let you be. The patriarchy of the Nigerian society that is so deep-rooted with all its hypocrisy is mind-numbing to read.

Emezi in their writing brings so much to fore that it compels you to understand and read more of the culture the book is set in. The book then is not just about Vivek Oji and who he was, but all the other characters as well – each trying very hard to find themselves.

A longer review will be up in August when I can talk more about the book. For now, this will do. But please do read it when you get the chance to.

 

The Clothesline Swing by Ahmad Danny Ramadan

The Clothesline Swing Title: The Clothesline Swing
Author: Ahmad Danny Ramadan
Publisher: The Indigo Press
ISBN: 9781999683368
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQIA Fiction
Pages: 220
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I do not know how to review this book. I shall try. I hope I do justice to it. This book is everything – heart, soul, passionate, full of life, despair, about the secrets we keep, and how we finally are undone in the end. The Clothesline Swing is inspired by One Thousand and One Nights. It is all sorts of beautiful, and hopeful in brutal times and that’s what we need right now more than ever – to hang on to hope.

The Clothesline Swing is everyone’s story in that sense and yet so specific to place and time. It is the story of two lovers who live away from home, and are anchored to it in all heart and soul. It is the story of a dying Syria and their memories attached to it. One is the storyteller, who keeps life going through fables and stories from their youth to his dying partner. Each night he tells his partner stories of Damascus, of childhood, of leaving home in fear of being persecuted for being homosexuals, of a hard life, and how he met his lover and life thereon. In all of this, there is Death – its all pervasiveness – waiting patiently, listening to stories – night after night.

This book hit me hard – it is brutal and honest and doesn’t shy away from speaking of what gay men go through. The brutality, the violence, the shame, the love, and kindness in places least expected is all there – for all to read. Ahmad Danny Ramadan’s writing doesn’t get maudlin – it doesn’t enter the zone of pity, but it does become joyful after all the struggle. At the same time, it doesn’t take away from the struggle and the immigrant experience. That is another track in the book that shines.

The Clothesline Swing is about forbidden love, about home that is no longer home – or will always be in memory, it is about the stories that keep us alive and make us live one day to the next, it is also about pain and suffering, and love and beauty, and healing – for the characters, the author, and the readers.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar Title: The Radiance of A Thousand Suns
Author: Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9353029654
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

As we live, and continue living, as days merge into months, and months into years, we realise that life perhaps is nothing but a collection of burdens. Of guilt we carry. Of so many lives lived in this one life, that every instance, every incident, every moment of joy seems like it happened in a different life, and tragedy always seems nearer – close at hand – to envelope us inside it, any given time.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar was read merely by chance. I hadn’t planned on reading it this month. It wasn’t on the list. But lists change, evolve, and you are only grateful that you read something so utterly heartbreaking, and a book that even manages to make you want to let go of all the weight you carry.

So, where do I start with talking about the plot? It is about the Partition of India, it is about the Anti-Sikh riots, it is about how we love and empathise, and how we lose the ones we love, and how they always remain, no matter what. What is it about? It is about Niki’s determination to complete her dead father’s unfinished book, taking her to Manhattan to uncover the story of an immigrant woman. It is about Dadima and her story. It is the story of Nooran and how she became an integral part of Niki’s life.

The blurb of this book also calls it a literary thriller, which to me is doing the book gross injustice. It is poetic and beautiful, and also brutal at times. Sodhi Someshwar doesn’t hesitate to talk about uncomfortable things – about people who lost their lives during the Partition and then the pogrom of 1984. She will rip the band-aid and not with remorse. The book is about the lives of women when pogroms such as these ruin everything in their wake. It is about generations of women that have had to suffer in silence because men decided that a pogrom or a partition would be a good idea to exact revenge.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns is about stories we tell ourselves in order to go on from one day to the next. The book is about resilience and Manreet’s writing is wondrous – from page to page. The characters are people you know – or someone from your family would, if we dig deep. The book struck a chord because the pain could be felt right through the pages. I was constantly reminded of how easily we forget our painful pasts – whether it is the Partition or the ’84 pogrom, or Godhra, or Mumbai blasts – each incident forgotten in the name of carrying on. Sometimes, in fact, most of the time, we need to acknowledge what has happened, and not let anyone forget it, in order to truly move on.

What I loved was also the quite apparent interspersing of The Mahabharata as an epic – its flaws, its shortcomings, and to connect those incidents to the plot and move it forward.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns does more than tug at the heartstrings. It constantly reminds you, with every turn of the page, what humans do to other humans, mainly in the name of land, religion, and a heightened false sense of laying claim to everything in sight.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow Title: A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670026197
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What do you say about a book that has received so much acclaim, praise, adulation, and applause? What do you say that hasn’t been said already? Just how do you put your experience of reading the book into words, that come from a deep-seated place of multiple emotions? I think I am one the people who were late to the Amor Towles party, but boy am I beyond myself that I attended it – better late than never.

A Gentleman in Moscow to me is an experience. An experience and more so a lesson on kindness, compassion, elegance, and different ways to view the world. We all need perspective. We all need that much needed point of view, and Towles through this book presents plenty of them.

The book is beyond a one on exile, of Count Alexander Rostov being exiled in the Metropole Hotel for writing a poem – this exile is from the year 1922 to 1954. Thirty-two years of a life – of so many losses and much more gains that Towles magnificently writes about in this masterpiece.

Why do I call this book a masterpiece? Well, to me it covered the gamut of human emotions – there is love, anger, loss, helplessness, friendships that last a lifetime, and the grace to let go and forge new relationships. I could go on about the writing – the book opens like nesting dolls – Matryoshka dolls – one inside the other, a plot that opens up, a character that enters and takes your heart away, and something that you overlooked suddenly comes to light. Towles’ writing is beyond superlative, and how do I begin to count the number of times I have highlighted in the entire book – a sentence there, a passage here, a line that reminds me of my life, of a friendship that doesn’t exist, of a love that got away, or of a time when things were simple and kind.

Time is of such an important factor in the book – everything historical that takes place – the Cultural Revolution in the Soviet Union, the rise of Stalin, Gulag, and how everyday humans are caught in it all. Time centres on nostalgia, on what happens, on how it passes, on the everyday living – of books, movies, music, food, and people whose memories are attached to it all, with the Count at its center. Whether it is with a precocious twelve-year-old Nina to then the relationship he shares with the actress Anna, and more, time passes. Sometimes with great significance and at other times – the passage of time is enough to acknowledge the beauty and tragedy of life that Towles puts in so many words so masterfully.

A Gentleman in Moscow is almost like a poem that speaks to one and all, if you have the patience, and intention to pick it up. A Gentleman in Moscow is the kind of book that stays. You might perhaps forget about it after a couple of days, but some parts will come back as you are going about your life – there will be that connect to life, dreams, imagination, and how we relate to one another as humans. Of how we are all connected somehow, and what it takes to understand that. A magnificent read. A read that will make you feel small in the larger scheme of life, universe, and everything.

Note: 

There is a lot of literary references in the book. Here are some that I could take note of:

Books and Authors mentioned in A Gentleman in Moscow: 

  • Anna Karenina
  • War and Peace
  • Tolstoy
  • Chekhov
  • Gogol
  • The Cherry Orchard
  • The Seagulls
  • Maxim Gorky
  • Bulgakov
  • Akhmatova
  • Osip Mandelstam
  • Vladimir Mayakovsky
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • Dostoevsky
  • Karl Marx
  • Michel de Montaigne
  • Socrates
  • The Nose by Gogol
  • A Sportsman’s Sketches by Ivan Turgenev
  • Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Idiots
  • Demons

And here’s a trailer of the book released by Viking when the book was out:

 

 

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders

The Brief and. Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders Title: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil
Author: George Saunders
Publisher: Riverhead Books
ISBN: 978-1594481529
Genre: Dystopian Fiction, Cyberpunk Science Fiction, Satire
Pages: 134
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders is a book that cannot be categorized. It is a dystopian novella, a science fiction read, a satirical take on our times, the 21stcentury Animal Farm in a way, and perhaps more.

Written in 2006, almost fourteen years ago, this novella is still so frighteningly prescient. We are living it in a way, in almost every country. Most countries of the world today have their own Phil, and their reign isn’t brief.

The country in the book is called Inner Horner, large enough for only one resident at a time. There are citizens who wait to gain entry, and these citizens fall under the rule of the despot Phil, which further leads to mass chaos and hysteria.

The novella is funny (intentionally I guess, at the same time making you see the mirror), dark, and in no way, you will not think about it after you’re done. The so-called people in the story are human in their actions, but maybe not in their appearance. They resemble machines, so maybe Saunders is making multiple points at the same time.

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is for sure a quick read and a political allegory that we are perhaps a part of without realizing it. It is the kind of book that will jolt you a bit and makes you also look at the on-goings in the book from a distance by removing the human element. It is a book that delivers its message if you want to see it. Coupled with some lucid illustrations, this book blends the elements of the surreal and fantastical with great ease, making for a highly introspective read.