Category Archives: March 2018 Reads

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones Title: An American Marriage
Author: Tayari Jones
Publisher: Algonquin Books
ISBN: 978-1616208776
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

We never know what life has in store for us and that can very well be the premise of Tayari Jones’ book, “An American Marriage”. I was intrigued by this book (just like many others) after Oprah picked it up as her next book club selection. In fact, if anything I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, because I really do trust Oprah’s recommendations and let me tell you that I loved this book to bits and pieces. I want to be all intellectual while reviewing this title, but I’d rather be emotional, as this book is all heart and nothing else.

“An American Marriage” isn’t just about two people in a marriage or in love. It is about a nation and its fears, its racism and class barriers (It still exists in some quarters) and above all it is about time and what it does to you. The vagaries of time play such a major part in the book – that it almost takes over the book and yet very cleverly, Jones doesn’t give in to the exact timeline.

Celestial and Roy are newlyweds and have nothing but dreams in their eyes, representing the New South. Roy is an executive who is young and fresh in the word. Celestial is a doll-maker. It has been a year since their marriage and they are now on their way to make a family, when something unimaginable takes place and Roy is convicted for a crime he did not commit and that’s when their relationship changes.

A marriage takes time to build on. A lot of persistence, love, patience and care and so does life. Jones’ characters are so layered and complex that if you don’t pay attention to the details, it might all be lost on you. Who I must also mention is Andre – Celestial’s childhood friend who is a constant companion when Roy is in prison and how that further complicates all their relationships. To me, Andre’s character was most interesting – his guilt, his decisions and above all the consequences in store.

What I love about the book is that Tayari Jones bares a marriage to its bones. There is no discomfort in the writing when it comes to showing things the way they are. My favourite part in the book were letters Roy and Celestial write to each other while he is in prison. They are by far the most heartbreaking letters I have read in fiction.

Jones brings to light the injustice in the American Judicial System (not that it wasn’t always there) and combines it with a marriage, and that to me was stunning – the balancing act between loneliness, despair and identity and what it does to people.

The portrait of a marriage or how they came to me – all of them is the heart of “An American Marriage”. The tug-of-war between the past, the present and the future is constant in this novel. Will they or won’t they lead normal lives or what is normal anymore is what will have you wondering and asking for till you reach the very end.

All in all, ‘’An American Marriage” is a story of failed dreams, dashed hopes and yet it is about not giving in, but continue to strive to make things better – day by day. I could not stop reading it this book – the questions of race, class and above all love hovered large as I made my way through life. A book that will not be easy to shake off once you are done. Read “An American Marriage” to get a better sense of the world we live in. You will not be disappointed.

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Border Districts by Gerald Murnane

Border Districts by Gerald Murnane Title: Border Districts
Author: Gerald Murnane
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374115753
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Very cleverly, Border Districts calls itself a fiction. After reading the synopsis, and knowing that this book is about a man and the books he has read and the relationship he shares with them, I couldn’t help but smile and kind of relate to it. I hadn’t heard of Murnane before reading this book and now I am so in awe that I want to lay my hands on everything he has written.

“Border Districts” is a story of a man who moves to a remote town in the border country, where all he wants to do is spend the last years of his life. While he is doing that, he wants to look back at a lifetime of seeing and of reading. Of what he saw and what he read. The images, people and places he witnessed as he grew along the years and the fictional characters he came across, the words he soaked in and the books he cherished. And where memory enters any novel/novella, secrets are bound to make an appearance and that’s exactly what happens, which also play with your head.

Murnane’s writing is soothing and yet I could sense the urgency and the head-rush that came with it. Like I said, I had not heard of him until this read and now I can’t wait to read everything he has written. His prose jumps at you and takes you captive. It is that kind of power. The shifting of narrative between seeing and reading is seamless and maybe that’s why I was hooked the way I was.

“Border Districts” is mostly autobiographical in nature, based on Murnane’s move from Melbourne to a remote town. Australia for me has never come this alive in any book. Sometimes unexpected books and authors jump at you and before you know it, you are in love.

Record of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami. Translated by Lucy North.

Record of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami Title: Record of a Night Too Brief
Author: Hiromi Kawakami
Translated from the Japanese by Lucy North
Publisher: Pushkin Press
ISBN: 978-1782272717
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella, Short Stories, Japanese Novellas
Pages: 156
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Record of a Night Too Brief” is a weird book and that I say in a good way. It took me some time to wind my head around it, but it proved to be a very satisfying read, nonetheless. This book is a collection of three fantastical short stories and on the surface, while they all seem to be rather easy and direct, they are anything but that.

In the first titular story, there are dream sequences (reminded me a lot of Murakami when that happened), talking animals, shrinking girls, mathematics, and a night-sky that you should only experience while reading this story.

The second one titled, “Missing” is about a sister mourning for her missing brother, while her entire family is rejoicing the fact of his would-be-wife entering the household. This is my favourite story in the book and you will know why when you read it.

The last story is called “A Snake Stepped On” where a woman accidentally steps on a snake, the snake is transformed to a girl and follows her home, thus living with the woman and her family.

You might think it to be super strange but like I said before, while these stories are strange, they are entertaining and profound to a large extent. These stories are about three women, trying to make their way in this world, surrounded by strange circumstances. In this way then, all these stories are sure inter-linked.

The writing cannot be bracketed in any genre. It is refreshing, haunting and almost new (Like I said, it did remind me of Murakami to some extent). I’ve read Kawakami’s books earlier and I must say that this happens to be her best, according to me. She has truly evolved as a writer in this one.

Lucy North has translated this book to perfection, because I didn’t feel anything lacking in it. If you want to start with contemporary Japanese literature and understand its people and way of life, I would most certainly urge you to read this collection.

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha) by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi AdeyemiTitle: Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha)
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
ISBN: 978-1509871353
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Pages: 544
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5  Stars

Hands down one of the best fantasy I have read in recent times, and by that, I mean in the last fifteen years or so! Children of Blood and Bone is the first part of a series and let me tell you that I just couldn’t get enough of it. While the regular tropes of any high-fantasy exist, it is also an intelligent book and doesn’t spoon-feed the reader at any point of time in the narrative. You must make the effort to read carefully and connect the dots.

The book starts off instantly. There is no build-up as such because Adeyemi has so much to say. I wish I could do justice to the book with this review. I shall try. There are layers and sub-layers in the narrative, with the focal point being magic and how to get it back. The African culture is seeped within in the story so strongly that it is so refreshing to read about it as you go along. Their gods, their way of life, their myths are integrated beautifully by Adeyemi in this tale of the revival of Orïshan magic.

Zélie remembers the time when Orïsha was full of magic – the entire land, and when different clans ruled and each of them had their role to play. And one night, all the magic disappeared. The plot then is to bring back magic to a land without hope and now ruled by a tyrant monarch. As the plot unravels, we see Zélie coping with her doubts when it comes to magic and its revival and more than anything else the one thing she should not be doing and ends up doing anyway.

Adeyemi’s writing is so good. She captures the much-needed gender and social injustices that should be talked about. The oppressed and the oppressor are captured in the most humane way possible with magic lurking in every corner of the page. “Children of Blood and Bone” moves so fast that sometimes you must stop and catch your breath. The characters are varied and not one-dimensional at all. The writing like I said before, is stunning and I for one cannot wait for the second book, which will be a long time coming. A must must read!

 

 

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday Title: Asymmetry
Author: Lisa Halliday
Publisher: Granta
ISBN: 9781783783601
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 275
Source: Publisher
Rating:

This isn’t a plot-driven book. To me, “Asymmetry” was more character-driven (or so I would like to believe) which worked wonderfully when I read it. Yes, some parts did seem disjointed and irrelevant initially, but it all fell into place by the second half of the book and I could see the mirrors within mirrors and more clues staring in my face as I devoured this read. Also, might I add that this isn’t a mystery or thriller. It just is. The worlds are parallel and yet Halliday beautifully manages to blend these worlds, and show us that we are after all connected one way or the other.

“Asymmetry” is told in three sections. The first one titled “Folly” is about Alice, a young American editor and her relationship with the much older writer Ezra Blazer (whose characterization is spot on, in my opinion). The second part takes place at Heathrow airport, where Amar, an economist on his way to Kurdistan is detained at the airport with seemingly no reason. And right at the end, after years have passed by, Ezra reappears mulling on life, love, and loss.

What is the connection between these people? Is there any at all? Why is this story so bizarre and will it even make any sense? I was asking myself these questions a lot, till it all started falling into place and it became more playful than investigative. Halliday conjures characters and situations that take time to wind your head around, but when you do, reading this book is then an adventure, a joyride almost.

At the same time, let me also add that “Asymmetry” is a book about a lot of things that will make you uncomfortable as well (maybe it is intended to and more so in the second half), so be prepared. One can’t be prepared while reading this book. Anything can step out of its pages and shock or surprise you.