Category Archives: Pantheon Books

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin.

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann Title: Tyll
Author: Daniel Kehlmann
Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin
Publisher: Pantheon
ISBN: 978-1524747466
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2/5

This is another International Booker 2020 Long-listed title which I finished this month. Mostly it worked for me, and mostly it did not. There is magic realism (which happens to be one of my favourite genres), history, and adventure. And yet there were times I just wanted to put the book down and not read it.

The book is about Tyll Ulenspiegel, a seventeenth-century vagabond performer and trickster. The book spans decades and traverses the Thirty Years’ War, and characters that Tyll encounters on his journey as a performer. It sounds all good on paper, even great, but somehow the book couldn’t hold my attention for the most part.

I just wasn’t involved in Tyll’s life or story and maybe that’s why the book didn’t work for me. At some points in the book, Tyll isn’t even at the center of it. There are other characters which take over, and that’s alright but the plot doesn’t move ahead or didn’t seem to for me. Tyll is atmospheric but that’s where the charm of this book ended for me.

The translation from the German by Ross Benjamin is perfect – when talking about the myth of Tyll, and what war does to humanity, and how art saves us all. Those portions had me wanting more, but not enough. When I started reading Tyll, I was really into the book for at least fifty pages or so, until it just became a chore, but spots of brilliance making an appearance now and then. I wish the moments of brilliance were more than a few.

 

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

Title: Interior Chinatown
Author: Charles Yu
Publisher: Pantheon
ISBN: 978-0307907196
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I thought the book was exhausting when I first began to read it, till I reached about forty pages and started enjoying it thoroughly. This is somewhat my relationship with the other two books written by Yu as well. The start is rocky, till I make some headway, and before I know it, I am in love with what he has to say about the world he builds, and connects it with the world we live in.

Interior Chinatown is a deeply emotional book about race, identity, pop culture, and what roles we are forced to play in society, because of where we come from. Willis Wu is not the protagonist of his own life. He is always, even to himself, the Generic Asian Man. He is an actor. Sometimes he gets to play the Background Oriental Making a Weird Face, and sometimes just an Asian guy, but never the protagonist. Never the Kung Fu Guy which he longs to be. Willis lives in a Chinatown SRO (Standing Room Only) and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where a cop show titled Black and White (how apt and ironic as well) is perpetually in production. He is a sidekick or an extra in that show and just wants to do more. We only see his mother who has long separated from his father, being the only one who believes in him.

Charles Yu’s story is for our times, and also set in our times. Yet it somehow seems like it also has elements of the fantastical – of the novel being written like one big script (which works wonderfully for the book), and also of the show being in constant production took me some time to get a hang of the novel, but every minute of turning the page was worth it.

Yu speaks from a place of knowing. Every sentence is in place because of that, which most instantly connects with the reader. The stereotypes are so on-point that as a reader I was screaming with anger and yet understood where the writer and the characters were coming from. Interior Chinatown is a book that needs to be read and understood by everyone. It speaks of such a great need to fit in, to be someone bigger than what the world thinks you were meant to be, and above all of an aspiration and desire to humanize oneself all over again.

Qualification: A Graphic Memoir in Twelve Steps by David Heatley

Qualification - A Graphic Memoir in 12-Steps by David Heatley Title: Qualification: A Graphic Memoir in 12 Steps
Author: David Heatley
Publisher: Pantheon Books, Knopf
ISBN: 978-0375425400
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Whenever I read a graphic memoir, a thought comes to mind: Does the nature of the memoir in graphic form take something away from the experience of the author? Or does the reader feel more involved in the author’s life because the story is being told in pictures as well? Does it matter at all? Or do you feel like a voyeur stepping into someone else’s life (if only for a short while) and perhaps even judging them for their choices and how it all panned out for them?

Qualification: A Graphic Memoir in Twelve Steps is a memoir of addiction to 12-Step programs. I had never heard of something like this before, and this is what attracted me to this memoir. Heatley has issues and attends 12-Step programs for those. Till he also has some issues which he doesn’t and attends twelve-step programs for those too.

It all begins with his parents (as it always does?). Their troubled marriage, and seeking counseling, attending programs, and then some more. The book brims with black humour, at every stage, perhaps trying to reduce the impact of the not-so-pretty-picture painted by Heatley (which of course is nothing but the truth).

Qualification traces the journey of the author through the various programs – and I was surprised at how many were there in the US of A. I don’t know if we have so many in India, given how we only seem to know majorly about Alcoholic Anonymous and that’s that. We see Heatley’s life up close and personal and maybe that’s why it is also a little too much at times – from all the addiction to what went on in his head and his perception of others around him only gives rise to empathy, compassion, and love.

What comes out of this memoir is David’s relationships with the people around him and how they impact his relationship with addiction. Heatley tells it like it happened. The quirks, the eccentricities, the highs, and the lows as they took place, and where he is today as a person (well, some glimpse of it).

Qualification is a read that makes you look at your addictions that perhaps you haven’t faced or known of yet. It is a book that helped me for sure to understand my demons when it comes to book-hoarding, buying, and more. Now to only do something about it.

Having said all of this, Qualification is a memoir that stays and makes its presence felt in the most unassuming manner. I caught myself thinking about what happens to me when I am faced with the catalysts of my addictions and how I react thereof. Qualification will maybe also help you see yourself. Read it. It is completely worth it.

 

Winter by Ali Smith

Winter by Ali Smith Title: Winter
Author: Ali Smith
Publisher: Pantheon
ISBN: 978-1101870754
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

 

If there’s one living writer, who sums the way we live, right down to precision and exactness, it is Ali Smith. According to me, at least. “Winter” is more than just the second instalment of the seasonal quartet. It is so many things, rolled into one that I do not know where to begin talking about it, but start, I must.

“Winter” in its entirety could also be a collection of puns, word play and humour that cannot be digested by all. Scottish writer Ali Smith takes on a step further in this one than she did in “Autumn” – the first part of the quartet.  As I was telling my book club members yesterday, as we discussed Winter, “Ali Smith sure has a way of drawing the reader in, right to the bottom of her world and then there is no letting go”.

I, initially had a tough time reading Winter, but twenty pages in and I knew I was sold – hook, line and sinker. It is a family drama and a commentary on the sociopolitical changes (as most of Smith’s books are). “Winter” is mainly about relationships if you ask me. There are three estranged folks in a family and an impostor. The plot: Sophie lives all by herself in Cornwall. She is in her 60s and has started seeing a floating head for no reason (for this, you have to read the book – no spoiler here and won’t be speaking much about this).

It is Christmas Time. Her son, Arthur, who writes a successful nature blog is scheduled to visit her with his girlfriend Charlotte. Charlotte and Art have broken up over a fight of ideals (again, read). Art finds Lux – a Croatian to impersonate as Charlotte, instead of telling his mother the truth. And then there is Iris, Sophie’s estranged sister who is also visiting, though uninvited. The book is about family, dynamics of the self and how the society has changed and continues to when it comes to technology, politics, the environment and human emotions to say the very least.

What I loved the most about “Winter” is the way Ali Smith breathes life into the monotonous activities – going to the bank, buying groceries, or even just being. She has a quiet way of describing events, people and relationships. Ultimately to me, “Winter” is a book that asks what it is like to live today? What it is to be today in tune with the world and not and what implications it might have? At the end of it all, Ali Smith’s “Winter” at the core is about art, love, life – what it once was and what it is today.