Category Archives: May 2018 Reads

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Girls Burn Brighter Title: Girls Burn Brighter
Author: Shobha Rao
Publisher: Flatiron Books
ISBN: 978-1250074256
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Girls Burn Brighter is the kind of book that you are instantly drawn into. Though harrowing mostly, I thought it did have its moments of glimmer and hope. It is the kind of book that is gut-wrenching and ultimately redeems its characters in so many ways and on so many levels.

Girls Burn Brighter is about caste, love, friendship, and violence. There is a lot of violence in the book (it happens in our world and is needed to depict emotions and further the plot). The book is about two friends, Poornima and Savitha and how their lives are intertwined. I know it sounds like any other book about women and friendship, however, it is way more than that.

The book is about so much and yet there are times when Rao skillfully manages to focus on only one or two elements. The story is wrenching. A lot happens throughout the book – the women are forced into a lot of things which isn’t pleasant at all and at one time they are even separated for long, but beyond all this, is a tender tale of love and friendship.

Shobha’s writing shines. Of course there are times, when I thought it was a bit graphic and sometimes the plot went nowhere, but all of that was ignored – mainly due to the plot and the majority of writing which is so on point.

Girls Burn Brighter is the book which is most-needed for our times and I couldn’t be happier that is written. As a society, we have and will always shy away from discussing certain topics – things that are taboo, the ones that cannot be named, but once you start having a conversation, you realize that these were the very topics begging to see the light of day.

 

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Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays by Joan Didion

Slouching Towards Bethlehem Title: Slouching Towards Bethlehem : Essays
Author: Joan Didion
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250160652
Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love Didion’s writing. So I may be biased, but that’s alright. I remember the first time I read Didion. It was “The Year of Magical Thinking” and I was floored. I was gutted as well, amongst other things that I was feeling as the book ended.

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is a collection of essays written in the 1960s, almost fifty years ago – a time and place that current readers have not and will not experience (not that I have as well). At the same time, somehow while reading the book, it all came alive right then and there. Didion paints not just one image but a landscape on paper. Her talent is truly timeless and every time she writes something, she almost supersedes the last piece/book.

Didion’s writing though may seem America-centric but is actually quite deceptive, in the sense, it encompasses the world-view which you only understand after a couple of essays. Maybe that’s why (one of the many reasons for sure) that this book was the one that was the essential breakout work.

Didion’s prose is grounded. It doesn’t stray at any point in time. From speaking of Joan Baez (which is a very affectionate portrait of a highly intelligent woman) to a think piece on the Santa Barbara Coast to Las Vegas and the culture of quickie marriages, there is always this sense of voyeurism and at the same time,​ this need to soak in more of what she writes. This collection, ​in fact, reminded of her other collection of essays, The White Album and After Henry, whose content is very similar to “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”.

It takes a while to kick into the book, but it is also a good beach read (Surprised? So was I when I started it on a quick getaway). Her musings about life, in general,​ are also worth reading, even if you might not agree with some. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is one of the best essay collection you will ever read. So, please do not miss out on it. ​

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater Title: Freshwater
Author: Akwaeke Emezi
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571347216
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 226
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Fierce is the first word that comes to mind when I think of the reading experience of “Freshwater”. I was also dazzled but fierce is way more appropriate. I don’t know if I have ever read something like this book before (in all probability no) but I can say that this one stands out like no other book has for me in the last year or so (beside Homegoing).

Emezi’s book cannot be classified that easy. Actually, I think one of the reasons it breaks form is this. There is a sense of familiarity while reading “Freshwater” and bam!, before you know it, the sense of the known is gone and you are left wanting more.

Ada is born with an Ogbanje (a godlike Igbo spirit) inside her, and the story begins with Ogbanje’s narration from inside her body. Interesting enough for you to pick it up? Oh wait there is more! Ada is not just born with one spirit inside of her. There are more. And that’s what the book is about. Many lives inside and the one that will ultimately live.

“Freshwater” however is more than what I have mentioned here. It is rooted deep in mythology, covering identity, mental illness and trauma. The book will pierce inside of you and make you see things you never thought of before.

Emezi’s powerful prose comes from a different place within her, I think. To conjure different spirits and narrate the book through their points of view is truly magnificent. She then has turned the idea of identity and being on its head, which kept me hooked way into the night.

The idea of a protagonist’s identity being dependent on many and for the reader to be involved for her voice to be heard is not only experimental in form but also when it comes to story-telling. Emezi writes deeply and emotionally, just the way a book like this (or any book for that matter) is meant to be written. This book made me feel all sorts of emotions – love, anger, despair, and also made me perhaps understand myself a lot more.

“Freshwater” is an experience and not just a book on fantastical realism or something dark and powerful (which it sure is). It takes you on a different journey with Ada and her spirits – along with culture, experiences, making it more challenging and thought-provoking read. I cannot recommend it enough.

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

A Place For Us Title: A Place For Us
Author: Fatima Farheen Mirza
Publisher: SJP for Hogarth
ISBN: 978-1524763558
Genre: Literary Fiction, Family Life
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

So, here it is. I read this book almost in one sitting. That’s right! There was something about it that compelled me to and it isn’t that I didn’t savour the book because I read it in one sitting. It is the kind of book that moved fast and yet made you think so much about what was going on.

“A Place For Us” is about a family trying to make sense of what is and is not in a different land. It is an Indian-Muslim family who has come to America and have made it home. Rafiq and Layla are parents of Hadia, Huda and Amar. The story opens with Hadia’s wedding, where Amar appears after many years of being estranged with his father. What happened and what will happen next makes the story what it is.

This is of course just the plot very loosely put as I do not want to give away anything, but “A Place for Us” is so much more than family drama or a family saga, so to speak. Mirza going back and forth into the novel (the timelines might get confusing, so pay attention when you are reading), speaks of identity, immigrants, nationality, what it means to be a Muslim woman in a first-world country, and a husband, father and son. At times I felt the story wasn’t going anywhere but when it did, it knocked my socks off!

The sections that describe the siblings’ relationships were my favourite. I could relate to them the most. Hadia’s love and resentment toward Amar (for being the coddled child by their mother), Huda’s indifference toward family dynamics and yet somewhere the need to be accepted by Hadia and Amar and Amar’s sense of loss (terrifying by the way).

“A Place for Us” is a book that is so all encompassing that you might even feel that more was needed when you reach the end . It took eight years for Fatima Farheen Mirza to write this book and you can understand why only when you read it. The landscape of emotions and the way the characters shift territory when it comes to matters of the heart is beautifully told through moving prose. Mirza in a very subtle manner gets into the skin of her characters, exposing their wounds, scars, warts and all. No one is perfect and no one is expected to be. I was in parts greatly bothered by Rafiq, but that also somehow found its way to redemption in the last one-third part of the book.

“A Place for Us” rightly so is a debut you should not miss out on. It will be difficult to get into it initially but I recommend you persist, because it will be worth it. A debut that doesn’t read like a debut at all. A book that is more than what meets the eye. Do read it, whenever you can.

 

 

The Bloody Chamber, Wise Children, Fireworks (Everyman’s Library Contemporary Classics) by Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber Title: The Bloody Chamber, Wise Children, Fireworks
Author: Angela Carter
Publisher: Everyman’s Library Contemporary Classics
ISBN: 978-1101907993
Genre: Literary Fiction, Fairy Tales
Pages: 504
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Well, if you ask me, Angela Carter was a movement in herself. I have read most of her books and there isn’t a single one which I haven’t been enthralled by or thought about its layers, once done with it. Also, might I add that while most people think (and rightly so) that “The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories” is a very raw and grisly take on fairy tales, it is much more than that.  Carter’s stories are underlined or rather soaked in eroticism and subverts their so-called “intended message”. At the same time, they entertain, enthrall and amuse.

It was somewhere in the last year of college that I started reading Carter. As most would, I started with “The Bloody Chamber” and finished it in one sitting through one night. Her sense of fabulism had got me hooked to whatever she had to say. To my mind, that mixed with the feminist tone, enhanced every single word and sentence, lending it the much-needed sense of imagination and force. Perhaps, it was also the age when I first read her that changed me as a person and kept doing so everytime I would go back to her works, as I grew older.

“The Bloody Chamber” is a collection of stories that isn’t an adaptation of fairy tales. They are just revisitations. The world is of Carter’s – where young girls are more aware of themselves sexually and emotionally, where beasts can be suitors, mothers and pets could be saviours and blood flows endlessly. If nudity, sex, violence, necrophilia, and murder upset you easily, then perhaps this collection of stories isn’t for you. You wouldn’t want to see your beloved fairy tale characters (or a semblance to them) being so aware and liberal about who they are and what they stand for.

Now to the next book in this collection: Wise Children. “Wise Children” is perhaps the onyl Carter which I read right now for the first time. I was almost cursing myself for waiting for all this time before reading it. This book isn’t strange as much as it is farcial, humorous and engaging. The signature elements of fabulism, magic realism (hate the word but shall use it) and this entwined with the ongoings of two families, make “Wise Children” for a splendid read. It is theatrical and nostalgic in its scope. The narrative voice of a 75-year-old former song and dance girl, is perfect. The larger than life characters of theatre and film is what Carter captures with such wit and scope, that it is enough to engulf you. Before I forget, the multiple Shakespearean references and plot devices used (since Dora and Nora Chance are Shakespearean actors) only enhance the humour and irony of the book.

“Wise Children” is almost a tribute to the Bard, both in characterization and its plot. The writing is wry, intelligent and fantastically told. Even if you do not get the Shakespearean references, it is quite alright. You will enjoy the book nonetheless.

“Fireworks” was Carter’s first collection of short stories. Published in 1974 (four years prior to The Bloody Chamber), it was subtitled, “Nine Profane Pieces”. I love how Carter doesn’t mean to titilate or scandalize and yet people feel that way when they read her. When all she was doing through her stories, was asserting her identity, womanhood, and the claiming of sex (as it would seem).

This collection of stories have her constant themes – domination and transformation, also the untimely loss of innocence (traces of this would also be seen in The Bloody Chamber and other stories) and entering the dark territory of emotions – mainly lust, and horror of the body and the mind. Carter never shied from exploring themes and pushing the envelope so to say. To my mind, she was one of the foremost women writers who captured the mind of a woman and merged it with the surreal and fantastical, almost leading the way for other writers.

The stories of “Fireworks” are all about the darkness within and somehow Carter’s writing makes it playful, non-linear and intriguing. I often found myself yet again wanting to be a part of the worlds she creates.

Angela Carter’s writing has perpetually been fascinating, not treating gender as anything but a social construct and love mixed with a lot of comedy. Her characters are undecided,   forever changing their minds, and strangely know what they want. The richness of her imagination was always evident in what she wrote and all I can say is read more of her. Her essays, short stories, novels and journalistic pieces. Read them all. She is a treasure worth admiring.