Category Archives: Literary Fiction

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Title: Black Buck
Author: Mateo Askaripour
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0358380887
Genre: Literary Fiction, Satire
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

This book is unlike anything I have read in a while, after reading The Sellout. It is farcical, it is biting, and makes you question so much about privilege and class. 

At the same time, it isn’t a laugh-out-loud satire. It takes its time to grow on you. I persisted, and I am glad I did. Black Buck is about what happens when a young unambitious twenty-two year old black tries to emulate a white man.

Darren is happy working at Starbucks, waiting for his opportunity to arrive. That comes in the form of working as a salesman at a start-up company. He is the only Black person in the company, nicknamed, “Buck” because of where he worked earlier (some things just don’t change). And then of course things change, situations develop, and Buck takes charge to change the sales force of America by getting more black people into it.

The racism that exists in corporates these days is so vague, so blended in with the idea of being woke and liberal that sometimes we just cannot see it. Or we think we have but we pacify ourselves with the thought that it doesn’t exist, till we know better and experience otherwise.

Askaripour’s writing is hard-hitting, sometimes sugar-coated with humour bur mostly intending to do what it wants to – hit you where it hurts and it does. I liked the entire breaking of the fourth wall – of the narrator speaking to the reader (highlighting his thoughts – extremely engaging technique), of how the book is written in the form of a sales manual (very clever), and most of all showing us the transformation of Buck, and how it impacts everyone he interacts with.

Black Buck is a book that takes time to get into. More than that, it is a fun read, over the top, and sometimes unrealistic, but please read it keeping all of this in mind. And what Askaripour says in the book, “If you’re not black but have this book in your hands, I want you to think of yourself as an honorary black person.”






Cry, The Peacock by Anita Desai

Cry, The Peacock by Anita Desai

Title: Cry, The Peacock
Author: Anita Desai
Publisher: Orient Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-8122200850
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 184
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

The beauty of an Anita Desai novel is that it is. It exists. It takes its time to breathe, to soak in, for readers to discover it, and then work its way into their minds and hearts. That is what an Anita Desai novel looks like, feels like, and well, is.

Her books aren’t easy reads. Perhaps nothing happens in them on every page or even every couple of pages, but that’s how it is, and as a reader over the years of reading her again and again, I have learned to admire what I see before me. Yes, I shall sing praises and yes, I shall gush because I don’t see enough people doing that.

Cry, the Peacock is the first novel of hers. Published in 1963, a story of a young woman Maya, who is obsessed by a childhood prophecy of disaster. She lives life on the precipice of it coming true in her head and how it all plays out one Indian Summer with her husband Gautama who is radically different from her.

Anita Desai’s characters have set motives most of the time, and when they don’t is when you’re flummoxed but you’re in for the ride anyway – for the writing that gingerly sneaks up on you and takes you by the horns. The book is full of metaphors and expectations. Expectations that one has from life, and people in it. It is about what you start with and how it all ends (or so it seems at that time).

Cry, the Peacock is a book about so much longing and sensitivity that it is surprising that it doesn’t become sentimental or maudlin at all. Anita Desai’s prose is imaginary, reckless, cautious, and also extremely precise. In less than 200 pages or so she says what she has to, her characters charm and equally annoy you, and her writing mesmerises you. One must read Anita Desai with a lot of time on hand, and when you aren’t rushed to read. Her books demand that time and attention, forever oscillating between hope and hopelessness.

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

Title: Homeland Elegies
Author: Ayad Akhtar
Publisher: Tinder Press, Hachette UK
ISBN: 978-1472276889
Genre: Literary Fiction, Autofiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Homeland Elegies as a book cannot be bracketed into any genre. It is all of it and more. It is a novel, it is a memoir, autofiction, autobiography, metafiction, non-fiction, and maybe even more. Whatever it is, it is a brilliant book of so many ideas, thoughts, emotions, and how a country once great and known for inclusion has cracked, slipped, and torn at its seams.

The book is about immigrants, their children, and the idea of America. Akhtar’s parents moved to America from Pakistan in 1968. His father took to America like a fish to water. His mother did not. She forever mourned the loss of home. His father, a surgeon loves America for what it is, and believes things will get better (post 9/11 and more). The book is about Akhtar’s life – a kid from Wisconsin, a writer struggling in New York, rubbing shoulders with the greats and yet not fitting in. The book is about so many nameless immigrants, and also the ones that Akhtar interacts with, who are scared about their children’s future in the land of great and plenty.

It is a story of a father and his son and how they both view home differently. Homeland Elegies speaks of so much, there is so much contained in one book – immigration, identity, home, politics, the arts, and decline of hope, though trying very hard to make sense of what goes on with optimism.

Akhtar’s writing is candid, vibrant, introspective, and a brilliantly sketched portrait of a family in a fractured land. I loved the fact that as a reader you don’t realize what’s fiction or fact in this book and honestly, after the first ten pages or so I stopped thinking about that. All I cared about is where the story was taking me, and it took me to all the right places about an unhinged country and its people.

 

 

The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez. Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor

The House of Paper by Carlos Maria Dominguez

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 book-lovers will understand this. Also this book. So read it. Please.

God in Pink by Hasan Namir

God in Pink by Hasan Namir

Title: God in Pink
Author: Hasan Namir
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 140
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

What does a gay man do in the modern world? Perhaps coming out to himself and his family would be the first step you’d say. But what would a gay man do in Iraq in 2003? Would he have the courage to come out? Would he at all, knowing that it would only mean death for him and nothing else in the world could save him besides marriage to a girl? Would he marry? Or will he choose love and want to run away from his country of birth?

Hasan Namir’s “God in Pink” is a stupendously small book trying to answer these questions through the protagonist Ramy – a young gay Iraqi struggling to find balance between his sexuality, religion and culture. On the other end is Ammar, a sheikh who is a staunch believer of Islam and is tested through and through from the moment he receives an anonymous letter from Ramy asking him for his help.

I will not give away more of the story but yes, this book haunts me – even though I am done reading it. As I was reading it, I was perhaps thankful that I was born in India – where no one is out for my blood for being gay (or not that I know of), but is that enough?

Namir gets all nuances just in place (but that is also because he is gay and that matters because this book is written from the heart, all of it). “God in Pink” to me was way more personal – it made me relive the times I dithered and almost didn’t want to come out. What would life be then? Would it be any different? Oh yeah! I am glad I came out when I did. I think the book is needed by all. We all need to read it – straight or gay people to understand our phobias, fears and the need to always be someone we so aren’t. Hasan Namir can say so much and yet use so little words. The brevity and the rawness of his prose makes this book a stellar read.

P.S: The title is so intelligent and brazen. I loved it.