Category Archives: Literary Memoirs

Read 225 of 2021. Strangers on a Pier: Portrait of a Family by Tash Aw

Strangers on a Pier by Tash Aw

Title: Strangers on a Pier: Portrait of a Family Author: Tash Aw
Publisher: Fourth Estate, Harper Collins 
ISBN: 978-0008421274
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I will now read more of Tash Aw. There is something about reading another’s family, their lives, their experiences in a new country, of how it was, and maybe it is still the same for people who aspire to move, to find roots elsewhere.

When you read about generations of a family and how they live, you relate. Families all over are just the same. Sure, we are different in our own way, but the intersections matter. Whether it is the Malaysian and Chinese heritage of Tash Aw or an Indian Pakistani heritage, somehow it all merges into one big identity.

Strangers on a Pier manages to fit so much in its mere ninety-one pages. From birth to death, Tash Aw tackles it all. These are stories of a family that range from the villages to night clubs to cities and traverse various dialects, customs, and traditions that won’t let go.

The writing is flawless. Every sentence, emotion, and every word are in place. When he speaks of rain, or of exams that have to be given, or explaining the differences between the East and the West, all you want to do is read and when the book ends so soon, you wish it were longer. Through other cultures, Tash Aw bares his culture. Through other ways of being, he speaks of his – dating back generations, and about futures that are so intertwined to the past.

Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi/Padamsee Family Memoir by Feisal Alkazi

Enter Stage Right by Feisal Alkazi

Title: Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi/Padamsee Memoir
Author: Feisal Alkazi
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
ISBN: 978-9390477029
Genre: Memoir, Biographies and Autobiographies, Nonfiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

My introduction to theatre was at the age of sixteen when I first watched “Tumhari Amrita” and since then I haven’t looked back. Theatre as an art form has always captivated me. The idea of performing live in front of an audience, to get the reaction as you go along, and then to also perhaps improvise quite at that time has fascinated me as time has passed, and as I have watched more plays. So much so, that I did get a chance to work with Alyque Padamsee as a writer for one of the playlets in P. Dialogues, which will always remain a very fond chapter of my life.

“Enter Stage Right” is a very arresting memoir of two theatre families – the Alkazis and the Padamsees, who were first glued to each other by the love of theatre and then a bond formed out of marriage. In all of this Feisal Alkazi (the son of Ebrahim and Roshen Alkazi and nephew of Alyque Padamsee) speaks of his heritage of theatre – of the arts, of Bombay in the 40s, and how the theatre company formed by Sultan Padamsee grew, paving way to one of the biggest alliances in the world of theatre and art in independent India – that of the Alkazis and the Padamsees.

The memoir is not just about the families, the lives lived, the family tree, the anecdotes, etc., but is also about the city, the transformation of art in Bombay, and how the city grew from brick to brick and sometimes its decline as well.

The writing took me back in time and it was worth every turn of the page. It made me see my city differently, and also its art scene. Alkazi talks of how Art Heritage opened in Delhi, about Pearl Padamsee and her contribution to the arts, ultimately rounding it off with what’s the current scenario. Enter Stage Right is a delightful read. I cannot wait to go back to the world of theatre and watch those performances.

Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth by Benjamin Taylor

Here We Are - My Friendship with Philip Roth by Benjamin Taylor

Title: Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth
Author: Benjamin Taylor
Publisher: Penguin Books USA 
ISBN: 978-1524705787
Genre: Literary Memoirs
Pages: 192 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 3/5 

With the passing of time, and as you become older, you are set in your ways. There are some things you cannot change, and perhaps don’t wish to either. And somewhere down the line, much against your will (I think), you end up making new friends, and somehow, they stay. Them coupled with the ones who know you and who you know inside-out. I thought this book would be about that – a friendship.

Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth by Benjamin Taylor is exactly what the title says or should’ve been. It started off with so much promise – the first two chapters of a rather small book, and then you got to see the promise only in the last two chapters and that was that. I expected more. I expected glimpses into their friendship, but all I got was Benjamin Taylor gushing over Roth’s works. Well, it is a literary memoir, but then why tell us that it is a friendship with Roth, and then not reveal enough to feel something.

This is the second book read this year, and once again not very impressed by it. The writing like I said shines in places, and leaves you wanting more. Taylor speaks of Roth and his thoughts on being Jewish in the world. Of his characters, his parents (very briefly), his wives (again not too much other than speaking of Claire Bloom), and about being an atheist and such. But never does he speak of what it was to be his friend and vice-versa, except till the very end. Taylor knows so much about Roth, and yet the reader is left with nothing. There are several literary references – more than enough books (Roth’s and others’) that are mentioned. It makes for a great reading list but that’s about it.

Books and Authors mentioned in Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth:

Playlist for Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth:

  • The House I Live In by Frank Sinatra
  • On A Note of Triumph by Norman Corwin
  • Emerson Quartet
  • Friends will Be Friends by Queen
  • Bach
  • Beethoven
  • Brahms
  • Piku’s Sarod Theme
  • Pather Panchali Theme
  • Who Wants to Live Forever by Queen

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.

In The Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado Title: In The Dream House: A Memoir
Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1644450031
Genre: Memoir, Gender Studies
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I had read a couple of short stories of Machado before picking up this memoir. I was also aware that this memoir, to a very large extent, would make me see my life and what I had gone through in a toxic relationship. Abuse need not be physical. In fact, the worst kind of abuse is the one that isn’t physical. The kind where no bruises are exposed, no scars are seen, no indication of violence is made known, and the one that isn’t heard or we feel that we cannot talk about it, as it is our own doing that got us here.

 In the Dream House is a book of abuse, hope, and resilience. It is a book about emotional exorcism which we all need to undertake once in a while, no matter the relationship or the intensity or lack of it. It is a memoir of Carmen’s toxic relationship with her first girlfriend and also a history of queer domestic violence. The chapters alternate from one to another. Some chapters read like parts of a larger fairy tale, while others are just downright horrific.

 And what is not surprising at all is the downright honesty of Machado’s writing. She is aware. She knows. The writing spills the heart on to the page. There is manipulation, deceit, a lot of heartache, and in all of this, she gives us glimpses of love. Love for which you stay. Love for which you are willing to perhaps forgive, till you realize that even that cannot change anything in the relationship or the person.

In The Dream House is beautiful and ugly. It is the kind of writing you want to shy away from but you cannot because you are engrossed, absorbed, and not as a voyeur but as someone who has been there (in my case) and knows every word, feels it, and can sense the pain it may have caused.

 There is grace – a lot of it, and then the candour springs on you from these very pages and grabs you at the throat. There is the Dream House as a Lesbian Pulp Novel, Dream House as Epilogue, Dream House as American Goth, Dream House as Sci-Fi Thriller, and Dream House as Ending. Dream House could be anything and is – a beautiful relationship, an abusive one, a one that won’t let go of you, family history, remembrances, queer history, and the author’s life at the core of it. The story she chose to tell and the manner in which she is telling it.

 In the Dream House is confrontative. It enters a territory which doesn’t get spoken about – queer domestic abuse. Machado also mentions at one point that we think queer folks are good and beautiful, but that’s not the case. We are as capable of ugliness. We are after all only human. The past is called on. The bits and sections are not clichéd narratives. There are no stereotypes here. What is there though: A gut-wrenching, redemptive story of the writer’s experiences. A story that needed to be told, and needs to be read.