Category Archives: Penguin Books

Jaipur Journals by Namita Gokhale

Jaipur Journals by Namita Gokhale Title: Jaipur Journals
Author: Namita Gokhale
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 978-0670093557
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Jaipur Journals is the kind of book that will work its way to your heart – bit by bit. It is the kind of book that will make you chuckle in several places, even if you haven’t been to the Jaipur Literature Festival (where the book is set) and will also make you want to pack your bags and go there. Jaipur Journals is a melting pot of a book, I think, and more. You will notice characters and at once you know them – they could be anyone you have met or heard of, and yet seem new and delightful. What I loved the most about the book is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Ms. Gokhale has the knack of telling you all (or making it seem like that) and then showing only what she wants to.

From a septuagenarian who has completed her semi-fictional novel (over and over again) but does not want to publish it, to people who are receiving threat letters at the festival, from lost lovers meeting at the festival, to a young girl who has found her way to the greatest literary show on earth through a blogging contest, to a cat-burglar who is now a poet, Jaipur Journals promises all of this, in all its eccentricities and more.

The book goes back and forth in almost every characters’ life and yet doesn’t feel too long or overwhelming. In fact, if anything I thought it ended too soon. Also, it is such a light read that you do not even know when time flies, and that too me is the greatest quality of a good book – readability and engagement, which Jaipur Journals manages spot on.

Jaipur Journals is that friend you speak with about books, the publishing industry, and how perhaps the culture of reading is either dying or not. It is about what happens at literary festivals – the usual sessions, the controversial ones, the times when love is forged, people bumping into people, and some latent hidden bitterness rearing its ugly head once in a while.

If I haven’t said it enough already in so many words, then here it is again: Read Jaipur Journals. Read it because it will make you smile, guffaw, and perhaps even let your guard down. Read it because it literally is an ode to aspiring writers, to writers who have written but do not want their work to be published, to writers who want to be published and are hesitant, to writers who shine and come into their own nonetheless.

 

Lie with Me by Philippe Besson. Translated from the French by Molly Ringwald

Lie with Me by Philippe Besson Title: Lie with Me
Author: Philippe Besson
Translated from the French by Molly Ringwald
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0241987094
Genre: Gay Fiction, LGBT Literature, Queer
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

There isn’t enough gay literature in the world. Till there is. Till you chance upon a book so strong and uplifting and melancholic at the same time, that you don’t know how what to make of your emotions anymore. Life is also nothing but a series of the ones that got away. The ones that remind us of what could have been, almost in another life.

Lie with Me is that kind of book about first love, its insecurities, its jealousies, and with a longing so deep that it will strike you hard, with the turn of every page.

Come to think of it, it doesn’t matter whether this book had straight or gay lovers, the story is riveting, moving, and so powerful that one would only focus on that. It is universal, because love is that way. The loss of a loved one is beyond hurtful. The idea of a loved one going away, leaving you behind to start a new life is heartbreaking for anyone, gay or straight. Given that, Lie with Me speaks to everyone. The language of love and loss is known to all.

Back to the book – it is about a love affair between two teenage boys in 1980s France and how then it has repercussions right till 2016. The book spans thirty-six years – but it is the affair part of the book that hits you the most. At least that’s what happened to me while I read it.

Philippe and Thomas meet as boys and the affair takes place by chance, altering their worlds, ridden by passion, and the understanding that this kind of love better be hidden. Besson writes honestly. There is this nostalgia – this melancholy feeling of abandonment that is constant throughout this short novel. Everything is brought to life. The touches, the smells, the betrayals, the small jealousies, the joy of being together, the said and more so the unsaid. Besson’s writing hurts you. It is meant to, I guess. It brought back all the memories of my first love – everything all rolled into one. Some happy, some sad, and mostly melancholic. Just the way it should have happened while reading this book.

Lie with Me is a book that stays with you. It sticks itself on your existence. It speaks intimately and whispers in your ears – secrets long gone by, secrets we think we have buried till they resurface, threatening the fabric of our being. It tells you stories of love, of happiness, of what it felt like – of summer sun, and how it felt when you first made love and let passion overtake everything else. Molly Ringwald brings to life a translation that I am grateful for and will always be. We need to tell stories of all kind. We need stories to relate to. We need stories that make us want to tell someone that we love them, for now.

 

 

 

 

 

Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis

Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis Title: Sea Monsters
Author: Chloe Aridjis
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1784741938
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Sea Monsters is a mesmerising novel. Really it is. About a seventeen-year-old Luisa who lives in Mexico City and takes off one autumn afternoon. She gets on to a bus to the Pacific Coast with a boy named Tomás who she barely knows. He is everything she isn’t and maybe that’s the pull. What are they on the lookout for? What is it that they are seeking? Well, for that you must really read the book.

Sea Monsters is coming-of-age in a way that I have rarely read before. Aridjis makes it even more great by jumping between narratives – from character-driven to research and plot driven which had me hooked. The storyline is most certainly unsettling, given the teenager being the protagonist and, on the run, however, it is the routine that drives the novel and the knowledge of how most voyages either fail or make it.

The book is about the search for meaning and what life is all about. It may also seem quite a cliché come to think of it, but it isn’t once you start seeing the writing for what it is, and more than anything else it is about individual quests which will leave you a dazzled reader. The book is all about Luisa’s choices and how they impact her and the ones around her. The writing reminded me of Lucia Berlin, Maggie Nelson, and a little bit of Anne Tyler as well (her initial novels).

Sea Monsters is the kind of book that is subtle, enjoyable, and raises pertinent questions along the way – they need not be answered though. They are asked perhaps to just get the reader to mull over them. It is the kind of book that is graceful, fantastical (read it and you shall know), and extremely eloquent. I would definitely reread it at some point.

 

The Music Room by Namita Devidayal

The Music Room Title: The Music Room
Author: Namita Devidayal
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-8184000542
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoirs, Music, Indian Writing
Pages: 320
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

I first read this book when it released in 2007. It has been more than a decade, and I decided to reread it. It has been a while since I cried while reading a book and this one managed to make me weep, yet again. The story of a mentor and a student, and above all music that binds them is beyond beautiful. It is so sublime that there were times I had to just keep the book aside, to only soak in what I had read. Namita Devidayal’s writing skills are beyond ordinary. She tells us the story of her music teacher, Dhondutai and does it with great empathy, feeling, love, and honesty.

The Music Room is also about Hindustani Classical Music – it is so wide that perhaps only a bit can be covered in one book, but Devidayal does try to bring to fore what she learned, what her teacher learned, and in turn manages to enthral readers with every turn of the page. Namita started learning music from her teacher Dhondutai from the Jaipur gharana at the age of ten, at the insistence of her mother.  And thus, begins a journey of not only learning music, but perhaps also learning how to be a better person.

The book traverses the journey of Namita’s musical education and moves back and forth in time – tracing how Dhondutai got her musical education, how she became a part of the Jaipur Gharana (at a time when women were not taught music at all or the ones who did learn music were looked down upon or thought to be nothing but courtesans), how she was trained under the tutelage of greats such as Alladiya Khan, and the tempestuous Kesarbai Kerkar.

The Music Room is a homage to a time gone by. I don’t remember or cannot think of anyone undergoing music lessons as of today and that too in Hindustani classical. But that’s not the point I am trying to make. The Music Room is a book that has so many layers to it – women empowerment, women who do what they must because they are passionate about something, men who do not bind, what music means – what it meant to rulers in an India gone by, and of course at the heart of it there is always music. It is because of this book that I became aware of ragas, of taans, of what raag is sung when, and it all happened organically – in the sense the book isn’t preachy. Thank God for YouTube so I could listen to the greats as I read about them.

This is a book full of anecdotes, of life, of how we find ourselves in places where we least expect to be, and how life comes full-circle more often than not. It is a beautiful profile of Dhondutai, but my favourite portions were ones on Kesarbai. Devidayal writes about her mischievously, with a lot of love, and reverence as well. But when she speaks of her teacher – there is a whole lot of heart and you can sense the bond without it becoming too sentimental. Read it. Please read it. You must. Just must.

 

 

 

Interview with Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Last year I read a book called The Rabbit and the Squirrel by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi and was deeply touched and moved by it, as most readers who read it were. It is a short book about love, friendship, and loss, told with great brevity, given it is only about sixty pages long.  I wish it were longer. I wish we had more illustrations by Stina Wirsén, as the book moved along and became larger than what it is. But, I am glad it is out there in the world for all to read, love, and appreciate. Siddharth is a friend and I am only extremely happy to have this short interview published on my blog. I wish him more such books, for readers such as I. Thank you, Siddharth.

SDS

Why the long hiatus between The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay and The Rabbit and the Squirrel? 

I don’t think of myself as a professional writer. I make things – photographs, drawings, books. So I don’t measure a gap between books but try and look at what I had done with my time. Between the book, there were photographs, shows I curated, houses I designed – it was all a way of being. But I am also very interested by nonsense things, such as swimming at sea, and I can spend hours, even days looking at cat videos and drinking Goa’s Greater Than gin.

Rabbit

The theme of The Rabbit and the Squirrel to my mind is more than friendship. There are so many emotions that take over this small book, almost everything packed into one. What was the writing experience like? How was it collaborating with the illustrator, Stina?

You know, I have almost no recollection of writing this little fable. I’d made it for someone I cared for deeply; I see now that tenderness for my friend eclipses all recollection of the writing process. Perhaps the story had always been there, a memento of shared, private time. The process of bringing the fable to book form was urged on by my astonishing publisher, Hemali Sodhi; and it was edited with such grace by Niyati Dhuldhoya that it became something else – a rarer, leaner thing – under her attentions.

Stina, the book’s illustrator, is also its co-parent – her sublime, frisky, careful illustrations give this book soul and energy. She is a close personal friend, and instinctively suggested to me to publish this fable – the book exists not only because of her sterling drawings but quite simply because she had been the one to suggest that I publish it.

SDS - Image 1

How important is the writer’s role in the scheme of things today? When the world is literally falling to pieces, what part do writers play in providing some semblance of hope? I say this because The Rabbit and the Squirrel is full of hope, even though fleetingly. 

Writing, and language, holds steady all that is intangible in our lives. In the articulation of our existence – the articulation of prejudice or heartbreak, of dissent, of rage – we are also able to repair. Language is both a measure as well as the meaning of our time. The writer’s job is to hover a lamp over what is, with language, she must illuminate, show and reveal. Reading is a form of civilising the most private self. It is a way of recognising that a part of this world is falling apart – and then of marshalling language to undo this damage.

Do you ever think one can write without reading? 

No, firmly, absolutely no: you cannot write without reading widely, promiscuously. Your writing will only be as good as your reading.

Your favourite books?

Beloved – Toni Morrison.
Light Years – James Salter.
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

SDS - Image 2

Is there another book that we could look forward to? A novel, perhaps? 

I would be so lucky to serve another book. (And thank you for your support over the years, Vivek).

SDS 3

The Rabbit and the Squirrel moved me to tears. I know several people who have had the same emotions evoked while or after reading the book. What was your intent when you started writing this universal tale? 

I had no intention except to make a gift for a friend. That is what I think of it, still and always, a private little thing made for, and with, love. But yes, I know what you mean – other friends have said that, which has always reminded me that all of us going about our lives with so many broken pieces in our pockets. All of us are suffering. All of us are enduring.

You can buy the book here

Please do buy the book. Please do read it. Please weep and laugh as you read it. Please repeat the process all over again. Gift the books to loved ones. You will be gifting them joy.