Category Archives: Literary Fiction

Read 16 of 2023. Whale by Cheon Myeong-Kwan. Translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim


Occasionally, there comes a novel that shakes you out of your reality, places you in its reality, and makes you want to live there forever, no matter how trying the circumstances, how matter how brutal the lay of the land, and no matter how beastly some characters who inhabit that world. Whale was one such novel for me this year, and maybe for a long time to come.

Whale is a book that breaks all compartmentalisation of the novel. It is literary and then it isn’t. It is fantastical, and then you see reality overflowing from its pages. It dons the hat of magic realism, only to for the magic to be stripped off early on, to make an appearance again and again, leaving you confused and begging for more. It is full of emotion, and stoicism at the same time. It is funny, mostly emotional, heart-rendering, brave, strong, weak, reflects the societies we inhabit, speaks of women and how they are treated, is also cognisant of people on the gender spectrum, makes note of objects having a life of their own, shows how movies can change people, and how success and failure are only ever transient and not constant.

Whale is a book that made me feel so much. I didn’t want it to end – as stereotypical as this statement gets about things we love; it couldn’t be truer for me when it came to this read. I am so glad that this was translated so beautifully from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim – she takes the novel and makes it her own. She tells the story of Geumbok, of her daughter, of her lovers, of the twins, of the elephant, and of everyone in the novel. It stops being a novel by Cheon Myeong-kwan and takes the form of being the translator’s novel, at least for me. That is the beauty of translation, of how it can resonate with the reader because of the expression and words, and emotions chosen by the translator. Of how they make a work theirs and see it for what it truly is.

The plot of this book cannot be explained by me, and I shall not try doing that. What I will say is that you would be missing out on something extremely special by choosing not to read this one, and it will be a huge loss. So, choose wisely. That’s all.

Read 13 of 2023. Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin

Wandering Souls

It has been about a week since I read “Wandering Souls” and there are times in a day that I keep going back to the novel – in my thoughts, in my subconscious and scenes from it keep playing back. Scenes of kindness in times of unimaginable pain, trauma, and hurt. Scenes of what it means to be family – of creating family after its loss, of living life in a new country and yet while there is racism, alienation, and isolation, there is also unimaginable kindness, and kinship from unexpected quarters.

“Wandering Souls” is a book about the unsaid and the unknown feelings – feelings that are bottled, that you choose not to encounter, because it is best to move on, it is best to think about a hopeful future, it is best to dream of a better life. It is a book about atrocities that one country inflicts on another in the name of liberation, in the name of a conspiracy theory, because a nation was afraid it waged a war and ruined the lives of families. It is about closures, about finding peace and joy, about reconciliation of emotions, of a family torn apart and how they heal themselves.

Cecile Pin’s writing about three siblings (and a fourth) and their journey to a foreign land, to try and come to terms with how life has changed so quickly, and how to make sense of the world around them is heartbreaking, uplifting, and presents trauma in the sense of being most empathetic, catharsis-inducing for the reader, and for all of us to see and consider questions of humanity, kindness, and the role it plays in the world we live in.

Read 9 of 2023. Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov. Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel.

Time Shelter

Time Shelter is a sublime take on how we live, on how we have been living, and perhaps also about how we will live in the time to come. It is a book that most elegantly blends the past, the now, and the future, in its large-hearted vision of what it means to be human, of what we choose to live in a certain moment of time, and why we make the choices we do.

This book is everything I expected from it – nostalgia with a dash of contemporary, of what it means to live in the past, of dementia, of memory and the role it plays in our small lives – of what it means to be alive in a world that expects you to remember, when all you want to maybe do is forget. Of wanting to jump time and been given the opportunity to do that. Gaspodinov’s writing is sublime – it is. It is everything and everywhere indeed all at once. I cannot put my finger on it but I love it so much – just spectacularly written and translated beautifully by Angela Rodel.

For me the characters don’t matter, as much as what is going on – how years jump – decades whiz by, the joy of not wanting to keep track as a reader – of all the cultural references as years roll by – music, art, literature, movies, the works. Not to forget the role history will still play even if time is recreated and you are technically still in the present which is soon going to be the past. Absolutely spectacular! I hope it makes it to the shortlist.

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan

Title: Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors 
Author: Aravind Jayan
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail 
ISBN: 9781788169868
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction 
Pages: 208 
Source: Publisher 
Raring: 4/5

There is a quiet desperation to small towns. You do not know or understand it till you live in one of them – a small town, a small city, or when you are living inside your head for way too long. But more than that, there is always the desperation seen in families – not so quiet, not so loud, just the right kind of simpering, of yearning, and of grudges that fester and fester over time. 

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan is a book about so much that I find it difficult to pinpoint what it really is about. Jayan packs it all in 200 pages, and gives you a family stuck in time, its members grasping at the last straws of connect, of indifference even, of anything that makes them family, only to have drifted in their own different orbits, wandering, trying so hard to make it back home. 

The plot is about a couple whose video of making out or having sex is secretly filmed and is all over the Internet, and how they and their families deal with it. Amma and Appa have no names. The girl’s parents are just Anita’s mother and father. The boy is Sreenath. The boy’s brother, the narrator of the story is also nameless. In such cases, it is the names of the couple that are hidden. Jayan gives them agency to not be answerable to anyone. This is small-town India, this is a scandal, and then there is the question of family and society, that Jayan handles with humour, dryness, matter-of-fact, and making us aware of the hypocrisies that at the heart of the narrative. 

The narrator – the younger brother – who is only twenty, takes on the role of telling things the way they happened – from the discovery of the video, to when the story begins of the family buying a Honda Civic – a car that was meant to be a status symbol, and by the end of the story is nothing but a bad reminder of what took place after. The narrator wants so badly for things to work out – for his family to get together the way it was – anything that is normal – anything that wasn’t. 

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors reads like a newspaper headline – the one that gives incorrect details – the one that only wants to be sensational and malignant, and malicious at best. There is so much to talk about that goes on this novel – it is also a coming of age novel, a novel where time doesn’t matter – it exists as a plot point but never as a measure of things – never as a stock-taker, as though there is no stock of emotions. That’s another thing about this slim wondrous novel – emotions are deep-seated and multi-layered. Nothing is in your face, nothing is dramatic, and even if it is – it is just maudlin at best – forced and fake. 

Jayan’s writing is refreshing – it is incisive, matter-of-fact, funny in so many places, astonishingly lucid, and makes no bones about what the family is going through. There is no sentimentality in his writing. It is life – it happens, and that’s what I got from it. Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors is a reflection of so much in the societies we inhabit and yet doesn’t become preachy at all. It is refreshing like cold lemonade on a hot day, yet infusing the claustrophobia of the day – of the perspiration on your back, of sweat patches under the arms – visible to all, no matter how hard you try to hide them.


Read 112 of 2022. Pure Colour by Sheila Heti

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti

Title: Pure Colour
Author: Sheila Heti
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374603946
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have found my second best book of the year (the first one being After Sappho),  and I say this with most confidence, happiness, joy, and sheer pleasure, that it is, Pure Colour by Sheila Heti.

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti is the kind of book that has no start, perhaps no middle, and maybe no apparent end as well, but oh God does it hurt when you are done reading the book. It shines brightly, it is therapeutic, it heals, makes you cry, speaks of the world, and makes you believe (and is the truth) that it is your story unfolding, with art and books at the center of it, and the way we live today.

Love is at the core of this book. Whether it is between Mira and Annie, or Mira and her father, or between people who haven’t met each other yet, or people who have been living with each other for decades, Heti speaks of love most delicately. She also brings to fore with her writing love of different kinds, of different textures that might hurt, of love that transcends time, and bodies, and might compel you to follow the one you love in the body of a leaf. Sheila is a stupendous, unafraid, and a writer that must be read at any cost.

Pure Colour is about the state of civilisation, it is about a woman joining her dead father on another plane of being and existence, it is about art and its critics, about what we hold close and what we are willing to let go of – perhaps it is also earnest at times, but it worked for me, because I was willing to overlook that aspect of the novel.

Sheila Heti’s writing reminds me of Murdoch – of her kind of philosophy that always took the worldwide look – the angle of being and existing together – when she speaks of nostalgia, and how it was before the Internet, you cannot put the book down. When she constructs sentences like “there were so many ways of being hated, and one could be hated by so many people”, you nod, because we have all witnessed that – this kind of writing makes you want to read this book cover to cover and gift it to a friend or a couple of friends and beg them to devour it.

Pure Colour is a mad book. It is a book of our times. It is a book that is crazy, original, empathetic, unafraid, bold, and above all is mindful of the fact that we are all humans, and maybe we all hurt the same.