Category Archives: Memoir

Read 226 of 2021. Featherhood: A Memoir of Two Fathers and a Magpie by Charlie Gilmour

Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour

Title: Featherhood: A Memoir of Two Fathers and a Magpie
Author: Charlie Gilmour
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN: 978-1501198502
Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I first heard of this book by going through the Wainwright Prize 2021 shortlist in the Nature Writing category. I was taken in by what the synopsis said and couldn’t wait to read it. Also, I didn’t realize till much later that Charlie Gilmour is the adoptive son of David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame and all that.  

Featherhood, however is not about David Gilmour and his relationship with Charlie. It is about Charlie, his biological father Heathcote Williams and of Charlie being a parent to a magpie named Benzene. This is why Featherhood. This book of course reminded me of H is for Hawk as it should, but only at the beginning. When Charlie’s voice took over, I forgot everything else. 

Why do people abandon people? Why do biological fathers leave? What happens when you do not love enough? Charlie attempts to answer these questions and more by also taking care of Benzene and also somehow figuring his biological father. Charlie is left to figure Heathcote after his death – through papers, by meeting people, and his memories of him. And there are no closures. That is the beauty of the writing. 

Charlie doesn’t focus much on his relationship with David. So fans of Floyd might be a bit disappointed there. However, my favourite parts are the ones with Benzene. How does one take care of a magpie? How does it become a part of your world, almost becoming your world? As Benzene grows up, we also see a change in Charlie’s perspective to life and he finds humour in things than being pensive. Benzene provides Charlie with love, care, empathy, and more than anything confidence and self-esteem.

Having lost a parent, I know what it is like. I could sense Charlie’s confusion to some extent, since he wasn’t close to Heathcote and hadn’t known him at all. At the same time, the way he raises Benzene is so reflective of what he has with David.

Featherhood is beautiful. I read it slowly and took time with it, page by page. It is one of those books that left me with a smile at the end of it.

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.

Read 216 of 2021. Actually…I Met Them: A Memoir by Gulzar

Actually...I Met Them by Gulzar

Title: Actually…I Met Them: A Memoir Author: Gulzar
Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton ISBN: 978-0670096077
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

I was eagerly looking forward to Gulzar saab’s memoir since its announcement. I was expecting a tome of memories, songs, and relationships to come my way. I was but of course disappointed to then see that it was a memoir of only 176 pages and that too character sketches of people Gulzar saab was close to.

People also for a very large part make up a memoir. The people one interacts with shapes the trajectory of life. So, in that case sure they are a part of a memoir, but can a book of character sketches based on experiences with those people alone be called a memoir is something I am still pondering about. Maybe, yes. Actually, yes.  

I wanted to love this book, but I only liked it, and that too in bits and pieces. Most of the stories and anecdotes can be found by Googling. Yes, it is different when Gulzar saab writes about it, but after a point it just didn’t work for me.

He speaks fondly about people who shaped his life and his craft – the ones who inspired me, the ones he was in awe of, and the ones he misses and loved the most. From R.D. Burman to Kishore Kumar to Satyajit Ray and Suchitra Sen, not to forget Sanjeev Kumar and Sharmila Tagore, Gulzar saab speaks of them all – how it was to work with them to how he addressed them, their eccentricities, how they made the films they did, and what these people meant to him. There are twenty-one or more people mentioned in the book, and how his life was lived to some extent with them acting as enablers.

Actually…I Met Them is written is true Gulzar saab manner – candid, emotional, and funny. Like I said, I was expecting a lot more, but didn’t get that. I will listen to his songs now and hope there are more memoirs in store for us.

Read 214 of 2021. Dog Flowers: A Memoir by Danielle Geller

Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller

Title: Dog Flowers: A Memoir
Author: Danielle Geller
Publisher: One World
ISBN: 978-1984820396
Genre: Memoirs
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is the thing about family and memories. No matter what, there is always more to uncover, to know, to also maybe understand and comprehend. Perhaps this also holds true for most families, maybe even every family when it comes to secrets, legacies, with what one may call tropes such as redemption, but it is only living.

Geller’s memoir goes beyond the personal. It talks about the political as well, as perhaps a good memoir should. When Danielle’s mother passes away, she leaves behind eight suitcases of worldly possessions. The eighth suitcase is full of letters, photographs, and journals. Dog Flowers is an attempt by Danielle to get to know her mother and her identity in the process of archiving what was left behind.

Geller and her sister were raised by her paternal grandmother since her mother’s alcohol addiction was way out of control. On top of that, she couldn’t provide for her children. In the process of being neglected by her mother, Geller gradually distances herself from the identity handed from her maternal side – the Navajo identity. After her mother’s death, Danielle travels to the reservation to get to know her extended family, and at the same time to find some closure.

Dog Flowers is written in a very matter-of-fact manner. There are no theatrics in the writing, nor there is drama. It is how it is. The memoir is moving but not sentimental or maudlin. It depicts and brings vulnerability to the surface but doesn’t get overwhelming. Dog Flowers also perhaps tells us how to make peace with the demons of the past and let them be. Geller’s book is definitely a must-read in the genre.

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.