Category Archives: Panmacmillan

It’s Not About The Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality, and Race. Edited by Mariam Khan

It's Not About The Burqa

Title: It’s Not About The Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality, and Race
Edited by Mariam Khan
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1509886401
Genre: Essays, Anthology,
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Since time immemorial, women have been taught to be silent, or forced into silence, or submission. We have been following that for centuries now, maybe earlier than that. Women are seen or heard through a filter, and for what it’s worth it is 2019 and we should be done with all filters. It’s Not About The Burqa – an anthology of Muslim Women by Muslim Women does just that. It is about voices unfiltered – bare and open, waiting to be heard.

The idea of the anthology occurred to Mariam Khan when in 2016 she read that David Cameron had linked the radicalisation of Muslim men to the “submissive nature” of Muslim women. And this led to Mariam thinking that why was she hearing this about Muslim women from a man, and that too who wasn’t Muslim? As years passed since this comment, she realised a lot of Muslim women voices were buried or drowned. She then decided to come up with this anthology.

What is also funny is that in the Western world, the Burqa is perhaps the only thing with which Muslim women are linked or identified. The title of the book says it all – that this book is much more and beyond that. Might I also add that the title is no way “just an attention grabber”. There is more to it, which is evident right from the introduction. Mariam Khan along with her 16 other contributors, bring you a collection that is trying to change the way you look at women, at Muslim women in particular and try and look beyond the stereotypes and boxes they are carefully placed in every single day.

The issues are several. They have chosen a few, that’s also because it is next to impossible to cover such a wide range of their culture, and the way they live. From an essay by Sufiya Ahmed (The First Feminist) that speaks of how she found her courage in the book given to her by her father, when she realised that the first feminist was actually Khadija – the Prophet’s wife and how that propelled her to making her own choices, to the first one in the book by Mona Eltahawy on how the time of revolutions has come, this anthology surprises, shocks, and in turns also makes you laugh and cry.

There are others that I loved: Not Just A Black Muslim Woman by Raifa Rafiq – handling the minutest minority – Black, Muslim, and a Woman. The honesty of the essay left me wanting more. There was another one on being a Muslim woman and dealing with depression – when you are told day-in and day-out that there is nothing known as depression. This essay by Jamilla Hekmoun had me gripped and choked.

I think what most people forget, and mainly men that women are so much more. This anthology in more than one way is a reminder of that. The essays, and to me each of them gave me a perspective that I couldn’t think of – some I could, most I couldn’t. I could sense the anger, and again, it’s time that the anger and passion comes through, which it does without a doubt in these essays. These women write about the hijab, about sex and the female pleasure, about divorce, the need for open conversations about sex and identity, and mental health among others.

Its Not About The Burqa is a call to everyone – to sit up, notice, and understand that you cannot reduce Muslim women to pieces of clothing. This book will not disappoint at all. You also need to go without any expectations and let all their experiences wash over you and be ready to listen. To listen to voices that do not get heard. To listen to a representation – even as a sample perhaps, widening perspectives and the need to be empathetic and above all the will to accept and understand.

 

The Legacy of Nothing by Manoj Pandey. Illustrations by Yuko Shimizu

The Legacy of Nothing by Manoj Pandey Title: The Legacy of Nothing
Author: Manoj Pandey
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
ISBN: 978-9386215628
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 126
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2 stars

There are times you are reading a book and really hope and pray that you like it, that it doesn’t disappoint you, till it does, and honestly you then do not know what to do. Should one continue reading it? Endure it so to say, for some time only, like a bad relationship is endured? Should one drop it? I read it. It had a lot of promise, if only the stories were longer and better structured.

The Legacy of Nothing by Manoj Pandey is a collection of ten byte-sized (forgive me for using this phrase) stories. I don’t know if the stories are poems or the poems are stories, either way, it didn’t work for me. The landscape of Manoj’s stories is beguiling. You want to be sucked into it. You want more and end up receiving nothing.

His stories are of migrants, of people who just want to make a living with dreams and hopes of their own, of people who are treated callously in their own country, feeling dejected and alienated. This is precisely why I wanted to love this collection, to soak into their lives, but maybe the form of writing isn’t for me.

The collection starts with how we project ourselves on social media and the lengths we will go to achieve that. The first story “Decay” hits you hard when the protagonist, a struggling musician will go to any lengths to stir a sensation online – even take advantage of a story of rape. Or the one titled “Inadequacy” which is about new age role-plays and how it fits into our current social conditioning (which by the way doesn’t come through at all). “Pretty as Fuck” is about Facebook friends who chat, interact, get to know each other, and then what happens when they meet. There are seven other stories – of a Maoist who finds solace in sips of Coca-Cola (the only one I could feel toward), of a man who changes his sex (The longest story in the collection. I wish there was some empathy while writing this), and more in the same vein.

So, here’s the thing: The stories aren’t empathetic enough toward its characters, or perhaps they don’t want to project that to the reader. Maybe that’s how it is when it comes to these stories and its fine, but as a reader I felt nothing for the characters.

The writing seems rushed and not involving. Everything is just on the surface. The format is new and works initially, only to become jaded and leave you wanting more. The Legacy of Nothing sadly leaves you with nothing at the end of the book.

The Favourite Sister by Jessica Knoll

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Title: The Favourite Sister
Author: Jessica Knoll
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-1509839964
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

I did not think I would enjoy this book the way I ended up enjoying it. It is fast, breezy and extremely relevant to our times and the world we live in. Brett and Kelly are sisters who are the jewels of a New-York based reality television show called Goal Diggers. And this is where their rivalry begins. It is a show for the winning and there are three other competitive women participating in the show, besides the sisters.

This is where they begin to drift and all the secrets and lies and more secrets enter the picture, as expected. Till something happens (you guessed it right!) and things take a turn for the worst. The characters are etched well, though I did find some inconsistencies in some places, but that is all forgiven because the plot is so strong. The elements are the same – jealousy, money, fame, greed and control, which are the hallmarks of a good thriller.

Knoll builds the novel to a great climax and that is the beauty of this book. Sometimes it does feel like a drag but persist a little for the good parts to come. “The Favourite Sister” makes for a good flight read.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone Title: The Great Alone
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-1447286004
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

The Great Alone is a story of wilderness and survival. I also think to a large extent it is the story of what it takes to rebuild and reconstruct life amidst tragedy (seemingly) and secrets (intentionally kept). This enough should get you to read this book. However, I shall tell you more so you do for sure read this one.

“The Great Alone” begins with Ernt Allbright dragging his wife, Cora and his daughter, Leni into a wilderness experience to Alaska to run away from his demons. Ernt has come home from the Vietnam War – a changed and hostile man. His daughter is thirteen and on the brink of adolescence. She is caught in her parents’ tumultous relationship and only wants some peace of mind. Mother and daughter will both follow the man wherever he takes them. They just want a new beginning.

In all of this, is Alaska. The daunting land, the unknown terrain that they enter and as winter approaches they realize that things aren’t what they thought it would be. Hannah’s writing seems simple initially, but as the layers run deep, it becomes complex. Not that any of it isn’t readable but there is so much going on that you have to pause and think about what you just read.

Alaska in itself is a major character. The bleakness, the winter and the darkness, coupled with Ernt’s fragile mental state, Lena and Cora are locked in for eighteen hours in their small cabin. The action has only begun. The terrors from within show up and that’s where I will not say anything more and wait for you to read the book.

Hannah’s writing is terrifying in this one. “The Nightingale” was a relatively tender book. “The Great Alone” demands writing (which the author delivers) that explores the dark recesses of the mind, the heart and the soul. It is a story of immense loss and how to perhaps recover or not from it. Kristin Hannah does a stupendous job of exploring emotions – the dark side and the ones in the light and what happens when the two merge. I would highly recommend this title.

 

 

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!