Category Archives: Literature

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard Title: The Deep End of the Ocean
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670865796
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 434
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I have always been a fan of the books Oprah has recommended on her book club. It all began in 2001 I think and since then I have read some of the old ones recommended by her and some of the old ones. So I have decided to read all the books chosen by her – one after the other. What better place to start than the very beginning, isn’t it?

The beginning came in the form of a dark, depressing and quite a hopeful book called, “The Deep End of the Ocean” by Jacquelyn Mitchard. When you read it, you cannot believe it is her debut. It is a story of a mother and her child and about every mother’s worst nightmare.

Beth Cappadora is at her school reunion, all ready to check-in to her room, only to turn around and realize that her 3-year old son is missing. Everything changes in a split second. Her relationship with her husband, her children, her relatives, all of it – it just goes to smoke as she perpetually is in a grieving mode.

I could not turn the pages enough of this one. It had me stuck from the word go. I would also suggest that you do not watch the movie of the same book as it just does not do justice to the book. While reading the book though, I felt myself grieving with Beth – almost scared to turn the page, to want good things to happen to her and her family. Mitchard’s writing is so simple and yet so heart-wrenching that if you are a parent you wouldn’t want to even imagine what would happen if this were to happen to you.

“The Deep end of the Ocean” does not disappoint one single bit. This was another book for which I shouldn’t have waited this long. I should have read it sooner. However, better late than never I guess.

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Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi by Teffi

Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, And Me - The Best of Teffi Title: Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi
Author: Teffi
Edited by: Robert Chandler and Anne Marie Jackson
Publisher: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 978-1590179963
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literature, Essays
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Some books are just so good that you want them to last longer than they did – to savour them, every single word then become precious. Teffi is one such author whose works you just want to soak in and want the words to linger long after. I got to know of her through the NYRB website and knew I just had to read this one – because of the author’s associations with literary giants such as Tolstoy and how she got to meet the very famously infamous Rasputin, not once but twice.

Teffi’s experiences are what this book is about – short autobiographical pieces that are sometimes funny, mostly catty and unforgettable for sure. These pieces were written in the 20s and 30s when she was in exile in Paris. There is a touch of poetic quality to her prose (no wonder because she wanted to be a poet anyway).

A lot of wit, human understanding of the world and empathy shine in every essay and that is what I love about the collection. Sure there are parts that I couldn’t relate to (because of the cultural barrier), however what I read was enough to tide me over to be able to understand the beauty of her language and the points she was trying to make.

From speaking of her childhood most vividly to the Russian cultural phenomenon, nothing is left out. The essays show us the Russia that was quite forward in its approach when it came to the arts to the Russia that was turbulent and oppressive at the same time.

The book is divided into four parts – first being about how she lived and worked, second about personal aspects of her life – from how she was raised to her time in France, the third one is about her bizarre encounters with people and the fourth is about famous authors and writers. She truly did have a sense of understanding people and reading them quite accurately.

Teffi’s writing is crystal clear and she says what she has to without mincing any words. You might have to keep track of the people she mentions on and off in the book, but there is a guide for that at the end of the book as well. I am completely taken in by her writing after reading this collection of essays and plan to read some more of her for sure. You must read this collection of essays for sure, if history is of any interest to you.

The Man who Snapped his Fingers by Fariba Hachtroudi

The Man who Snapped His Fingers by Fariba Hachtroudi Title: The Man who Snapped his Fingers
Author: Fariba Hachtroudi
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN:978-1609453060
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

And so another book was finished this month. What a book I must say as I start this review. A truly close to life book, “The Man who snapped his Fingers” surpasses every expectation and predictability and goes to the heart of the matter, without the reader even realizing that that has happened.

The book is about two people – a colonel from the inner circle of the Iranian supreme commander who now lives in another country and is being constantly questioned, as he attempts to gain asylum from the country. He is being questioned about his past – and whether or not he had anything to do with the regime’s program of kidnapping and torture. Of course, since he is being questioned, his translator at the last interrogation turns out to be “455” – a prisoner under the regime, with whom he shares a past of torture.

In the chapters that come to be in the book, we learn more about their loves and how they come to understand each other, despite sharing such a tumultuous past. I was deeply moved by this book – given how regimes (and more so dictatorial ones) change people and how after years, when the same people are face to face, how it all comes back and the decisions you then make to save the ones you love.

There are interior monologues throughout the book (first person narratives are anyway kind of difficult to immerse into) – of both these people and at first, it might be a bit daunting to read it this way – but you do get used to it eventually. The book explores the concepts of power and memory so strongly and lucidly that you are completely taken in by it.

There are their conversations – half-truths and the murkiness that has been accumulated throughout the years – which make these two who they are. As you read the book yo realize that how difficult it is to face some pasts as they reenter your existence and they do, whether you like it or not.

“The Man who snapped his Fingers” is not an easy read. Nor is it the kind of book which is easy to forget. Fariba’s writing is stark, raw and unsettling. She does not sugar-coat anything and that would be a problem if you are used to reading literature that does not present the way facts are to be presented – just the way they happened. This is of course a fictional work, but still whose roots lay in reality. I absolutely loved what this book had to offer. This book is a treat. “The Man who snapped his Fingers” is the kind of book that sticks to you and stays. I know for a fact that I will reread it sometime soon.

Moonstone – the Boy who never Was by Sjón

Moonstone - The Boy who Never Was by Sjon Title: Moonstone – the Boy who never Was
Author: Sjón
Publisher: Sceptre Books, Hachette
ISBN: 978-1473613133
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher, ARC
Rating: 5 Stars

“Moonstone – the Boy who Never was” by Sjón (pronounced Shawn) came to me in a boxful of other books. My eye rested on this one, because I had heard a lot about the author’s previous book “The Whispering Muse”. I wanted to find out for myself what the whole fuss was about this writer and his style. Let me tell you at the very onset that “Moonstone” will for sure be one of the top 10 books I would have read this year. Hands down!

It is the kind of book that doesn’t let you be till you are done with it. It is a historic novella in the sense. It is also a subtle love story. It is about struggle and the will to live against all odds and do what one must do anyway. It is about cinema- about the small things that make everything else seem so big and grand. It is a book set in 1918 and in Iceland – of course given the author is from there.

The book is about Mani Steinn (this is where Moonstone comes from – but again how it appears in the book is heartbreaking) – a 16-year old waif who is an enigmatic character. He lives with his great-grandmother’s sister. The volcano Katla has erupted and can be seen colouring the sky night and day from the streets of Reykjavik where the boy lives. The Spanish flu will arrive. The Great War grinds on. Things change. Mani has two loves of his life – Sola G and the movies. He loves the movies and well what he does for a living is something you will find out as you read the book.

The flu changes everything – the place, people, their lives, dimming the line between reality and delirium. For Mani it is about coming of age in one of the most brutal ways, about loving from afar, and the idea of watching movies one after the other is what life is all about. He cannot comprehend any other life till incidents set in motion and life changes completely.

Sjón’s prose is heartbreaking, crisp and there is so much said in such few words. This is the kind of writing that leaves you wanting more. From Mani’s life to the impact the flu has on the town to the magic of silent movies to describing the year 1918 and that too in about two months when the novel is set, is no easy feat. At this point, I must also speak of the translation by Victoria Cribb which is superlative. I’m sure it manages to convey what the author set of to.

“Moonstone” is the kind of book that evokes this melancholy feeling inside you, it makes you want to reach out and hug the writer for writing something so remarkable. It is a short book with a very big heart. I know for one that I will most certainly read a lot more that has been written by Sjón and I highly recommend that you do the same. Start with this one.

Hedon by Priyanka

Hedon by Priyanka Title: Hedon
Author: Priyanka
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0143425953
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 312
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Hedon is a story of two people – Tara Mullick and Jay Dhillon. What’s new about it, you might ask? Well the difference is in the plot, in the brilliant nuances of the book as you turn pages effortlessly and they exist on almost every page. Hedon is the kind of book (and I say every word when I mean it) that will not let you go till you are done with it. To think it is a debut, I couldn’t believe it was one.

The book is not just about two people and their lives and how they meet on and off and what eventually happens to them. It is also about the other characters – Tara’s friends, her family, her relationship when she is at school in the US of A, Jay’s relationships and what he feels or thinks and more than anything else it is about their connection and how it plays out for them across time and distance.

Tara and Jay meet for the first time at a wedding and life isn’t the same for either of after that. Not because they met, but because of how their friendship blossoms and then the realization of love that makes you feel that void and the hurt that comes in its wake. We see life as narrated by Tara – from her Calcutta days to the time she moves to the US of A for her further studies and the back and forth that takes place – through deaths, fights, and passionate love that can only lead to the inevitable conclusion.

I think more than anything else it is the way these characters’ lives intermingle that kept me hooked. Also let me tell you at this point that Tara is but just seventeen and Jay of course is a little older – he is twenty-five. This isn’t about age as much as it is about their lives and how they come face to face again after seven years from when they first met.

The story then moves along – across time periods and hence the cultural references make so much sense and are so needed for a book of this nature. Not only that; even the secondary characters have unique voices – from Cookie and Button (Tara’s best friends – it is very intriguing to see how those relationships play out as Tara leaves the country and visits once a while – I thought even that was empathetically handled as well) to their parents and siblings views that appear once a while and the rest of the time they are in the background – maybe content being there. Also might I add the school these girls go to – that also forms a major part of the book and lends to the time from being a girl to transforming to a woman, as cliché as it might sound. It isn’t just a love story – there is more that lends itself to the story – a lot more actually – it is about the rites of passage, of growing-up, the angst that comes with it and also it is about the realization what really matters when it comes down to it – from the choices we make to what we live by as a consequence of those choices.

“Hedon” is a book that encompasses voices of times infused with waywardness, the need to belong one way or the other and most importantly of people who want to make a dent – as they go through life, love and everything in-between. To pin point and say that it is only a love story or only a slice of life story, wouldn’t do it justice. It is more than that and one can only realize that after reading it cover to cover. Hedon is a lot of randomness and somehow you see it all tying up at the end or in between, but it does come together and that is something that plays itself out beautifully.

Priyanka’s writing is razor-sharp. It is biting, juicy and makes you visualize everything that is written. She captures everything to the last detail – the food eaten at a friend’s house to how the shamiana was – sort of a festival where boys and girls from various schools participate in and gather. The minute details of youth are encapsulated to a point of evoking those bittersweet feelings in you and bring them to fore.

How else then can you define or classify great writing if not this way? There is more than one way to describe it and I shall try. It is something which you perhaps have never read before. Sure you must have read something similar, but not anything like it.

There is also the element of various pop culture references that make you fall in love with the book and relate to it at that time over and over again. Might I also add, the ending is nothing like what you might expect from a regular novel, because this isn’t a regular novel to begin with.

The language of the book is easy to read and so intense that it feels like someone punched you in the stomach and you are recovering from it. The prose is laced with irony and humour in good measure, coupled with the melancholy and the pains of realizing who you really are and what or who can you call home.

The book releases on the 26th of April 2016.