Category Archives: OneWorld Publications

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Title: The Mountains Sing
Author: Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai Publisher: Oneworld Publications ISBN: 978-1786079220
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“We’re forbidden to talk about events that relate to past mistakes or the wrongdoing of those in power, for they give themselves the right to rewrite history,” the grandmother Dieu Lan tells her granddaughter, nicknamed Guava. “But you’re old enough to know that history will write itself in people’s memories, and as long as those memories live on, we can have faith that we can do better.”

“The Mountains Sing” unfolds a narrative of 20th century Vietnam, right from the land reforms of the 50s, as well as the several troublesome and turbulent decades before it, to the Vietnam War against America, beginning in 2012 and looking backwards. The story is told through the women of a single family. Brave, courageous, and tenacious women. Women who don’t give up – in the face of tragedy, and also don’t give up when it comes to hoping for better futures, time and time again.

The book alternates with memories of Dieu Lan, in the form of stories she tells her granddaughter, Hương, and it is through their lives and lived experiences, the story moves forward.

There is so much to unpack in this novel. There is so much to take within you as a reader. The landscape, the family, the neighbours, the kindness, the cruelty, and above all perhaps some humanity shown in times of war and adversity. There are no heroes here. There are no villains. It is what it is. Life, led with gratitude and fortitude, no matter what. The reading of this book has been sublime and taught me the lesson of humility (a lot more to learn in that aspect).

The Mountains Sing made me think of my privilege, my place in the world, and how people live day to day, and we may never know their stories, or at least most stories, till we listen. The politics of the book is what is at the heart of it, on every page, and yet distanced. Maybe it was needed for such a narrative, which is more about a common family, and their lives and what the cultural, political and emotional landscape of their country means to them, and to how they live and deal with grief, loss, happiness, and moments of redemption. Nguyen’s writing had me turn the pages reluctantly. I was overwhelmed and afraid of what was going to happen to these characters I had grown to love, with their jagged edges and more. The prose isn’t pitch-perfect all the time but I loved it that way. I love the disparity, the disconnectedness, and how it lend to the voices of the people who are forever lost.

War changes you. Fear always keeps you on your toes. Life is perhaps irreparable. It takes so much to make sense of life around you, you stumble, you fall, and somehow with some hope, pray ardently that you make it to the other side. The Mountains Sing is a constant reminder of that hope, of that emotion of not letting go, and above all to know that there is some light at the end of the long, dark, tunnel.

March 2020 Wrap-Up

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 11.51.05 AMMarch has been a fantastic month. For me, personally. I have struggled with anxiety and calmed it. I have switched off from the news, and trying very hard to keep away from it on social media as well. I’m just made this way. On the reading front, I read 23 very different books and I am on top of the world. I feel ecstatic. Here’s hoping we all get out of this sane. Much love.
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Here are the titles with the ratings:
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1. Death in her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (4)
2. Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (4)
3. And I do not forgive you: stories and other revenges by Amber Sparks (4)
4. Faces on the tip of my tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano. Translated from the French by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis (5)
5. The Seep by Chana Porter (5)
6. Fern Road by Angshu Dasgupta (3)
7. Apartment by Teddy Wayne (4)
8. The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar. Translated from the Persian (5)
9. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (4)
10. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (4)
11. The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (4)
12. Girl by Edna O’Brien (4)
13. A Burning by Megha Majumdar (3)
14. Amnesty by Aravind Adiga (3)
15. Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin (2)
16. Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (4)
17. Red Dog by Willem Anker. Translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns (2)
18. The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchinson (4)
19. The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse. Translated from the French by Damion Searls (5)
20. The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa. Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (5)
21. Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (4)
22. The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara. Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre (5)
23. Mac’s Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas. Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes (4).
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That’s it, folks! What was your reading month of March like? Any favourites?.
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Here’s to April 2020. Can’t wait.

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell.

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin Title: Little Eyes
Author: Samanta Schweblin
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
ISBN: 978-1786077929
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Samanta Schweblin has done it again. This is her third book (translated in English) and the second novel and I do not know how will I write this review without gushing. Little Eyes is a strange book, or so it seems as you start reading it. After a point, as a reader, you realize that you could be living this life at some point in the future. Or maybe you already are, given the rate at which technology is surpassing us minute by minute. Little Eyes is a book about human connections as well, through technology, and how it makes us think, behave, or react.

They are called Kentukis. They aren’t robots, or toys, or not even phones. They are devices that connect you with other humans without really connecting you. The world is that of voyeurism, narcissism, and the need to not be lonely, and yet not quite maintain social relationships. These are available throughout the world and have a different way of operating.

The book is split into very short chapters and set across the world. The techno dystopian world that Schweblin builds is scary, intriguing, and to a large extent almost a prediction of things to come. The larger themes of the book are atomization of society, surveillance, lack of privacy, and how we have reached a stage that we will hanker after every new technology that there is.

I enjoyed the different narratives and the worlds I was being exposed to as I turned the pages. Schweblin’s writing packs a punch, and even in those short chapters, you are looking forward to more. Different characters only add to the overall appeal. There is also so much hope and redemption in the book that at times it felt strange to understand that it was written by the same person. Megan McDowell’s translation makes for the story to be only more interesting, thereby driving the narrative. A read that will stick with you for days. It has with me.

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell

Mouthful of Birds Title: Mouthful of Birds
Author: Samanta Schweblin
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
ISBN: 978-1786074560
Genre:
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

The world of Samanta Schweblin’s stories is intriguing. There is aplenty and then there is nothing. You begin to wonder as a reader, in-between being stumped by the prose and the sheer magnitude of the story being read, whether or not you are worthy of it. The stories are nightmarish for sure, but then Schweblin also prepares you for them right at the beginning. The context and the tone are set immaculately, the translation by Megan McDowell precise to the last word and emotion, and more than anything else the diversity of the collection, only makes you want to turn the pages sooner, even if the collection seems too long at twenty stories.

Mouthful of Birds is strange. But that’s what makes it so delicious a read. The title story is that of a teenaged girl, who to the fascination (at some point) and repulsion of her divorced parents resorts to only eating live birds. It just happens, one fine day without any reason. So what does one feel after reading such a story? Pity? Empathy (can you, really)? Disgust? Schweblin gives you enough and more room to feel, get in touch with your emotions at the end of the every story, only to be met with another story, with another set of emotions all over again.

The devastating realities of fairy tales creep up in The Merman. You cannot help but go back to your childhood and be alarmed at what you read. This is just Schweblin’s perspective when she has a story to tell and it shines. Or you have a story such as “Butterflies” whose end will leave your stomach churning and wanting more. The imagery of no two stories is remotely similar. Schweblin draws every story and every framework from different places and varied emotions, which makes it even more interesting.

That’s the thing about Samanta’s stories. They make you wonder, you are awed, fascinated even, repulsed, revolted, and yet you cannot help but turn the page to the next one. It is the feeling of a roller-coaster ride, knowing you are going to fall, plunge headlong and yet there is this excitement – the butterflies-in-your-stomach kind of a feeling. If anything and more, this collection is ferocious.

You can also tell that the stories have matured and come to the author over a period of time. These have not been written all at once, and it shows. The translation by Megan McDowell is on-point. She also translated Fever Dream by Schweblin, which was written after this collection but translated and published in English before. But that’s just a technicality in the sense of publishing timeline.

What is truly astounding is how McDowell makes the original voice hers, thereby giving us a culminated effort. The multiple stories breathe and live multiple lives. It is as though you can see the author mature and an underlined theme runs throughout – that of intense dysfunctional of family and the self. Headlights, the opening story is strange – Schweblin has got the emotion pat-down and you can see the misogyny of men. In another story titled Preserves, an unborn baby is spat out (perhaps unwanted as well). Each story shines and has its own unique element. Some leave the reader satisfied, while others don’t.

Mouthful of Birds breaks ground in storytelling and so many times also sticks to the traditional format of showing more and telling less. It challenges readers every step of the way, and never lets you imagine what will happen next. Samanta Schweblin’s reality is the one we inhabit and also the one we are way far-off from. That to me is the beauty and core of this fantastic short-story collection, that deserves to be read by almost everyone.