Category Archives: Novella Reading Project

Read 14 of 2022. Blue by Emmelie Prophète. Translated from the French by Tina Kover

Blue by Emmelie Prophète

Title: Blue
Author: Emmelie Prophète
Translated from the French by Tina Kover Publisher: Amazon Crossing
ISBN: 978-1542031295
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 126
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Blue isn’t an easy novel to read. It is short and requires work from the reader, in the sense to keep pace with what’s going on. Time is fluid and it travels without warning. There is a lot of back and forth – given it is a stream of consciousness novel, and that to me is one of its major selling points.

Blue is a lyrical memoir of Haiti. It is a story of the narrator and her life there before she moved. It is a story of her mother and two aunts and all of this is replayed as the narrator sits at an airport, waiting for a flight from Miami back to her native island.

Emmelie Prophète writes about Port-au-Prince through the daily lives of its inhabitants, the ones that aren’t visible sometimes – resisting and inviting voyeurism. We don’t get to see the city as much through its blueprint as much as we do through the narrator – in a minimal space of that of an airport. The comparisons are made – from where the narrator is to what has been left behind, and sometimes event similarities. That of women being subdued, of people making sense of their identities as they go along, and how Haitians are portrayed in North American media, and how it impacts them as people.

There is so much to unpack in this novel. From the outside world to the inside sanctum of thoughts and prayers, Prophète reveals the narrator’s emotions and thoughts in relation to incidents of the past and how it all ties up to the present.

Blue also conveys a sense of solitude – the airport, the island, the inner workings of the mind, the stream of consciousness, and more than anything – the distances between places gives the reader a strong feeling of isolation and contemplation.

The writing is fluid. The translation is reflective of it, on every page. Kover makes it a point to show most of the time and not tell through the translation. It makes you want more, and imagine the most. Sometimes it is tough to keep up with the plot – so much so that it seems like there is no linear plot and yet you know it is the story of a place, of home that is synonymous with the colour Blue, the one that is about forgotten memories, painful ones, that surface once in a while, as you wait to be transported.

Read 224 of 2021. Trust by Domenico Starnone . Translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Trust by Domenico Starnone

Title: Trust
Author: Domenico Starnone Translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 9781609457037
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Two people meet. They fall in love. Their affair is passionate and almost magical. They push each other’s buttons and finally make a pact about telling their darkest secrets to each other – with the promise of trust, thinking that they will forever be with each other. Till the young teacher Pietro and his young student Teresa aren’t together. Till they both find other people to love and the secrets shared continues to haunt them, and both stop trusting each other.

Starnone’s writing is simple. The emotions aren’t. They are messy and all over the place. The first part is told by Pietro and somehow you can see where the power lies in this relationship. But of course, it is quite obvious. The power shift only because Teresa knows what she does and the fact that he fears what might happen if the world knows of it.

Starnone’s writing is balanced and mostly to the point. He is aware of what his characters do, the way they feel, the dilemmas they are caught in, and with the understanding of the kind of control they have, they navigate their lives in the world. The second part is told by Pietro’s daughter Emma, and with this change of narrative, the reader doubts what was known before. How characters betray each other, and do they even know themselves is then the crux.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s translation is perfect. What is interesting is how she perceives the writing – given that the perspective is largely male and how she brings Teresa to the fore with her immaculate translation.

Yes there are moral blind spots in the book and yes you cannot take sides as you read it, or keep shifting sides if that happens, but this is what makes Trust such an interesting read.

Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn

Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn Title: Bottled Goods
Author: Sophie Van Llewyn
Publisher: Fairlight Books
ISBN: 978-1912054305
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 190
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

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.

Fox 8 by George Saunders. Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal

Fox 8 by George Saunders Title: Fox 8
Author: George Saunders
Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1526606488
Genre: Satire, Fiction, Fable for Adults
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

There are some books that just nestle into your heart and stay there. For me, those have been the likes of An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami, The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Capote, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. You get the drift, don’t you? These are the kind of books that can be read to soothe me, when I am feeling down. I am certain we all have these kind of books – the ones that make everything alright, just by opening them and reading – over and over again. Fox 8 by George Saunders is the latest addition to my ever-growing list of “heartwarming” books. (I hate the use of the word heartwarming, my apologies).

I love Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo though is my least favourite book written by him, though it won the Man Booker Prize and all that). His short fiction is par excellence, his essays even better in my opinion, and basically whatever he writes is pure gold. Fox 8 is no less of a book because of its size. If anything, after you are done reading it, you tend to agree that it had to end, where it did, even if you wanted more of it.

Fox 8 - Image 1

Read more: In Appreciation of George Saunders

This 64-page novella/novelette is about a fox – the name is Fox 8 who is curious about humans (poor sad fox. I for one can’t stand most humans) and also learns some of the English language, by watching parents read to their children (I love how the fox also debunks fairy tales for us with reference to the role of the fox in them). Saunders is in his full form with inventiveness of language – writing (phonetically) the way a fox would – yooman and not human, bare and not bear, and the list goes on. At first, you wonder about the writing style and when you give in, you are in love with this fantastical tale of two foxes visiting a mall (that has been built razing most of their forest) and what happens next.

Fox 8 - Image 2Read more: George Saunders’s 10 Favourite Books

Before I forget, kudos and more to Chelsea Cardinal for the illustrations that go so well with the story. The illustrations are all black and white, except the foxes – they are in orange and stunning would perhaps be a lesser adjective to use. Saunders’ story is telling of our times – of the way we inhabit spaces and make of them to how endangered our wild life really is – and all of this is said with the eccentric and almost witty (in this one at least), true blue Saunders style.

Fox 8 is heartwarming, also heart-wrenching, makes you look at the world we have made and why and question almost every decision – which I think we must. At the same time, it makes a spot in your heart and will not go away. I am very happy that it was the first read of the year for me. Read it. It is truly beautifully done.

You can buy Fox 8 by George Saunders here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian by Upamanyu Chatterjee

The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian Title: The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian
Author: Upamanyu Chatterjee
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt Ltd
ISBN: 978-9387693562
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

So, here’s the thing. I never took a shine to Upamanyu Chatterjee’s books. Especially, English, August. I somehow never could see myself in that place and time. And yet, as I turned the pages of this novella, I could not stop till I was done. I devoured it in one sitting and that’s perhaps the only way to read this book. Might I also add that I have also enjoyed “Way to Go” a lot.

Upamanyu Chatterjee’s work may seem linear and pretty straight-forward but it so isn’t. There are many layers to the narrative – some for you to mull over and reach your own conclusions and some that are perhaps in your face and easy to understand.

The book is about an entire family being wiped out in a fire. Who did it and why forms the crux of the tale. I could speak about the characters and motives and more but I have often realized that when it comes to a novella, it is the writing that is of the essence. Sure, characters matter the most and some do stand out in this one as well, like Madhusudan Sen, ICS who turns vegetarian until justice has been served. To me, the setting also was very important – 1949. And not to forget that the book fits the times we live in where a person’s eating habits are of most important in our country.

The structure of the novella is also such that it is fast-paced, moreover, Chatterjee has written this in really short chapters, which works even better. “The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian” is a tale for our times. It is sad but true. Chatterjee’s writing of this one is surreal (maybe because it hits home). It is the kind of book that will be read and not forgotten.  You might not think about it regularly but it sure will resonate every now and then.