Hmmm so I am the Hungry Reader. The one who reads. The one who is constantly reading or wanting to read constantly. This blog is all about the books I have read, the ones that I am reading and gems that I plan to read in the future or whenever it arrives.
Title: Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas Author: Machado De Assis
Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson
Genre: Classics, Literary Fiction, Magic Realism
Source: The Boxwalla
A memoir that is being written from the grave. Quite a plot, I say! Also, the man is deplorable. So, as a reader you are kind of happy that he is dead and long gone. Yet, you have his “memoirs” with you. So, you read them and find them witty, real, ironical, and also giving some clarity to readers on how this sort of led the movement of modernist fiction.
This book is strange. But for those who have read Dozakhnama, it is quite alright to understand how things can be communicated from beyond the grave. Might I also say that this book was originally published in 1881, so yes, it is ground-breaking in that sense.
I loved Assis’s writing. The inequalities of the Brazilian society conveyed through the character of Brás Cubas is understandable and needed, but it does make you uncomfortable as a reader. The character has no self-awareness, he does what he pleases, he has zero regrets, is highly privileged, and to be honest reminded me of some men I know in the twenty-first century.
The writing is hilarious in most parts, and yet the profundity is not lost. The plot isn’t compelling. There is no story as such and yet you cannot help but turn the pages. The translation by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson is spot on – so much so that all the nuances came through, and yes there were italicized words and footnotes, but they added to the plot.
We learn about the man, the life he has lived, the (mis) adventures, and more, and somehow there were times I wanted to just fling the book across the book but also enjoyed it a lot that I didn’t. Brás Cubas is a simple man with extravagant need for attention and pleasures, and it somehow fits in – all of the nihilism and weird sense of debauchery and depravity.
Title: The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree
Author: Shokoofeh Azar
Translated from the Persian
Publisher: Europa Editions
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction
Four days of frenzied reading. It should’ve taken me not more than two days, but I had to read and stop, stop and read, and read it in huge gulps – almost like breathing after being breathless for a long time.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is a book seeped in reality and dreams. It is about oppression and how when it takes hold, you rely on what you believe and have faith in to make living bearable. The story is told by the ghost of a thirteen-year-old girl, Bahar, whose family was forced out of Tehran, Iran, during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They also somewhere consciously are involved in the decision to move to maintain some sense of intellectual freedom which the current government does not allow.
They do this so their lives are spared, because they are all rebels in one way or the other. They do this because they do not believe religion is supreme, but humanity sure is. And their lives, loves, losses, and how you make sense of the world when all is lost is the story that Azar tells through the lens of one family, more families in the village, and interconnected lives.
The book had me by the throat from the first chapter. The characters – the father, the mother, Beeta the sister, Sohrab the brother, and the narrator (why and how she became a ghost is for you to read) all became a part of my life – still are actually. More than anything else I think I related to the book because I can see what is happening in India, in what once used to be a democratic and secular state – it is now held hostage by people in power and they will go to any lengths to hurt minorities and ensure there is one kind of “religion” that is supreme (the irony). Just as Iran in the 80s and perhaps even today, culture and arts, and the way of living respectfully is tearing at the seams and that became so clear as I turned the pages.
Azar writes in a way to also escape reality. The stories and stories and stories within stories in the book made me want more. Of how a young woman turns into a merperson, to how black love consumes someone, to what happens when dragonflies of different colours enter your life, to the stories of djinns that inhabit your day to day living – everything about this book made me sit up and take notice.
There is a lot that goes on in the book. The entire thread of magic realism is a befitting tribute to Márquez (who is also mentioned several times in the book). I guess it only shows what we want to believe in when life is too unbearable, and you’re at the crossroads of living and dying, and neither come easy. There are a lot of portions that depict solitude – and then there are many that rely heavily on the oral tradition of storytelling, which works fantastically for this book.
I felt like I was being oppressed while reading this book. That all my senses were numbed, and I was pushed into a corner. I felt that the regime was burning my books (which the family loves by the way, so all the more reason to love them). I felt hopeful. I wanted to dance when something nice was happening to them. I wanted to sing when I saw a glimmer of hope in their lives. I cried when things took a tragic turn. I wept as the book ended. This book is about hope, about surviving through the darkest times, and sometimes also understanding that someday you give up and live a little. I thought about what to say about it, and then ended up relying on my heart. Read this book. I can only say this for now.
I have read almost more than half of the Women’s Prize longlist of this year, and hands down this is one of the top 3 favourites of mine. Bottled Goods is the kind of book that makes you contemplate and ruminate over life and its dynamics at the end of every chapter almost, which doesn’t happen very often when you read a book. Bottled Goods wrenches you and takes you to a place where you start wondering about good and bad, right and wrong, and the need to want to leave your home and yet stay.
The book is set in communist Romania and at the heart of it is Alina living with her husband, Liviu, quite satisfied, with her head down and going about her life. This is all well and good till her brother-in-law defects to the West and she and her husband come in the eye of secret service. There is torture from the agents – emotional, mental, and physical, eventually taking a toll on their marriage. In all of this enters Alina’s aunt Therese who can help her escape the country through the old folk ways.
Van Llewyn writes brilliantly and with great brevity. No word or sentence is out of place. Whether she is talking about Alina’s rocky relationship with her mother, husband, or country, everything is just perfect. I never thought I needed more to hit home. I have not read any book with Romania as a setting so far, and I am only intrigued to know more about it in the time of Ceausescu and what did normal folk go through, living day by day.
Bottled Goods as the title has so many meanings to it. The yearning to get out – as if you are bottled goods itself, the meaning of not being able to take bottled goods out of the country, or even aspirations when it comes to perfume or bottles of aerated drinks that aren’t accessible. The atmosphere of the book is spot-on. Llewyn manages to create tension and menace right throughout the book, infused with humour, regret, and rumination over what has been lost.
Bottled Goods is the kind of book that opens your world to what was going on in the world and does it delicately, at the same time not sparing any details. The characters are rounded, and communist Romania emerges very strongly as another character. For me, the magical elements were magical, and I did not consider them to be metaphors (though some readers could). Overall, I am hooting for it to win, only because it is something so different, empathetic, real, and more than anything else written with great finesse and style.
Title: Daydreams of Angels: Stories Author: Heather O’Neill
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genre: Short Stories, Literary
Stories, stories and more stories is what should also majorly be a part of life. What else is there to life but that? “Daydreams of Angels” was my seventh read this year and as the other reads, this one also did not disappoint. Keeping my tradition of fairy tales and the surreal and sublime, this one followed close on the heels of “A Wild Swan and other tales”.
This is a weird bunch of short stories – of angels, monsters, of animals and children – just that they aren’t set in the age old world but in the world where we live and are a part of us all. The stories are brilliantly thought of and written. I remember talking about “Sting like a bee” which was extremely surreal and hit the spot.
Most stories are just like that – they manage to engulf you and take you to another world. The other thing that I felt or did not feel was that these stories were too childish or whimsical for me as an adult. In fact, most of them make a lot of pertinent points under the layers of being just stories. O’Neill’s strength is in her declarative sentences – she just announces what is happening and is not afraid of showing all her cards to the readers. To a very large extent, this kind of writing always works with me.
There is a story of Pooh Bear writing an apology letter to Piglet, who has been kidnapped. Then there is the tale of Violet who escapes her stepfather who lusts after her in “The Saddest Chorus Girl in the World” and she also thinks it is sad when you fall in love with someone. This is so much like Great Expectations minus the stepfather.
Some of the metaphors and images in this book are completely heartbreaking. As a reader, I could not get more of them and just wanted to re-read some of the stories. In my opinion, if a book manages to do that, then the author has just hit the nail on the head with her narrative and style.
Title: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights
Author: Salman Rushdie
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magic Realism
Salman Rushdie is back after seven years to what he does best – tell a story. And not just tell a story but tell it across time, across eons perhaps, across everything and beyond your imagination. “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” – the word play on the title itself, adding to 1001 is in itself an indication of the master of words being back in his game. This book is different and yet so similar to his earlier books. Let’s look at what is similar and what is not, without giving away too much of the plot.
In context to his other books, here is what sets apart this one: The tone is way too mature and yet edged with wry humour, which was very evident in The Satanic Verses as well. At the same time, the feeling of alienation can be felt which was the case in “Fury”. The magnitude of “Midnight’s Children” is most certainly present, but what is lacking is more of magic realism. It is the trademark for sure, nonetheless more was expected.
The roller-coaster of a ride as the book zigzags from places, religion, fantasy, literature is something which has always been a part of his books – more so in this one and “The Moor’s Last Sigh”. In fact, at some point I thought that there was somewhere down the line a lot of recycling but with a lot of exuberance and verve. What isn’t there is the debate on religion which was a part of his earlier books mainly “Grimus” and “Shame”. What was also interesting was that at some point the innocence combined with a lot of angst that was a part of “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” could also be found as I turned the pages.
I also think that the book is heavily influenced by Marquez’s writings. The combination of magical and the realistic are interwoven beautifully in Rushdie’s latest work. At the same time, it does take some time to get into the book, however once the reader does, it is not easy to get out of the land created by Rushdie.
The book is a more matured version of Rushdie’s writings. There is a lot of profundity, with a balanced mix of magic-realism (the death of this word shall not come to be), mythology, history and of course not to forget love – at the core of the tale.
The usual elements are always there, lurking in the background, even Bombay snakes itself in in the first fifty pages with so much ease. There is also the magic realism, which is present throughout, but of course since the book is about a Jinni named Duniya and her love for a human being and how the connection of her children over time comes to be in the near future. There is an element of apocalypse with a storm striking New York skies and something called the “strangeness” which occurs in its aftermath, linking all of Duniya’s children across the world.
To me the story of “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” is simply breath-taking. I could not for tear myself away from the book. Where does the title come into play? The title is about the time spent by Dunia’s children fighting a war with each other as the days and nights unfold. The tales are nested, just like all his other books. There is no overtly political tone in the book, like was the case in his other works of fiction, which is very refreshing.
The story is satirical (making its jabs felt on almost every page), it is also a metaphysical fable, it is also wicked and wise at the same time. In short, it is perhaps nothing like what Rushdie has written before. The reference range in the book is also wide – given he talks of Aristotle, Mickey Mouse and Henry James as well (besides many others), so much so that your head will spin faster and faster, right when you reach mid-way.
Rushdie’s New York is another aspect about the book. He encapsulates the city like no one else ever has (I don’t only think that but also believe in it). The humour is absurdist in nature, reminding me of Gary Shteyngart.
The Arab mythology angle is dealt with in a racier manner and I could almost find myself not being able to wait for those parts to come through. There is always this sense of dread mingled with excitement while reading a Rushdie novel. This book proves to be more and beyond that. I also think that maybe the gestation helped him to create something like this.
All in all, I would say that “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” is the kind of book that comes along once in a while blending past, present, future, the mysticism and the real so innovatively that all you want to do then is reread it. Here’s Salman Rushdie talking about his book: