Category Archives: Hamish Hamilton

The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

the-golden-legend-by-nadeem-aslam Title: The Golden Legend
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0670089116
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 376
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

With every book that he writes, Nadeem Aslam only gets better at his craft. Since his debut novel in 1993, “Season of the Rainbirds”, Aslam returns to Pakistan with his latest book “The Golden Legend”. His new book is also just the others – a statement made against wars, what was started by the West and how the country he depicts is hell-bent on completing it, and to top it the darkness of the world. What is different about “The Golden Legend” (which I personally love) is the combination of realism and fable across a terrain of terrorism, tragedy and cruelty.

“The Golden Legend” opens with the death of a middle-aged architect Massud, leaving his wife and collaborator Nargis behind. Both of them were collectively working on building a library on the outskirts of the city – to which they were transporting books and that is how Massud got shot and died. At this time, with turmoil surrounding them and a roadside shooting as well, Nargis flees with her Christian neighbour Helen. This is when there are violent relations between Christians and Muslims.

This is only one part of the story. There is also the story of Helen, who falls in love with Imran, an unknown Kashmiri. There is the story of Helen’s mother Lily. There is another tale of the US officer who wants Nargis to forgive her husband’s killer. Amidst all this, there is the story of life, love and reconstruction of faith.

Aslam’s prose cuts through to you. At least it has always to me. His narrative is wise and affecting and perhaps more timely than ever. Catharsis for his characters comes in forms and ways one cannot even imagine. Through his solid writing, Aslam reflects Pakistan’s present and past through a story of love and human spirit, which only he could have offered.

The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri

the-clothing-of-books-by-jhumpa-lahiri Title: The Clothing of Books
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0670089741
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books
Pages: 80
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The Clothing of Books originally started off as a talk that Jhumpa Lahiri gave in Italian. It is now translated from Italian to English and is 80 pages long. The book is about book covers and what they mean to the reader, the writer and the relationship it shares and holds between the two. I was expecting a longer read (though I knew it was a short one but not this short) and that disappointed me a bit.

Having said that, Lahiri’s book is definitely not irrelevant to any reader. If anything, it will make you think about the cover as more than just an accessory to a book and what it means to you at a personal level as well. Lahiri touches on the history of book jackets (very briefly) and lets us know how they have now become just marketing vehicles that carry a lot of blurbs and nothing else. She also speaks of her book covers and how important it is for a writer to have his or her opinion about their book covers.

She further goes on to talk about how we judge books by their covers (literally so) and lends it to the metaphor of identity as she was growing-up (different in a foreign land). She doesn’t waste her words when it comes to explaining the concept of covers and how they have come to be – the dust jacket, the naked book (my favourite piece in the entire book) and the visual language it communicates through.

“The Clothing of Books” is an intimate essay of an author and book covers. It is about the experience it carries with itself. It is also about what covers do to books (playing a major role sometimes in the success of a book as well), the personal stories they carry and how art and reading intersect at a certain subliminal level.

Artful by Ali Smith

artful-by-ali-smith Title: Artful
Author: Ali Smith
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780241145418
Genre: Literary Fiction, Non-Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

The more I read interesting and different forms of the novel, the more I am convinced that the book cannot die. It shouldn’t and it will not. Reading will never go out of style, and Ali Smith is one of those authors that keep proving this time and again. I started reading her when I was about twenty four or so and haven’t stopped since then. All her books are quirky and have this mischief sense about them. This is what attracts me most to her books and her writing. If a writer can make me want to read his or her books without stopping, then that writer has done me in.

“Artful” is unlike anything which Smith has written before. It is based on four lectures given by Ali Smith at Oxford University. “Artful” is all about books and the love of reading and what reading can do to readers. The essays are on four themes: Time, Edge, Offer and Reflection. The lectures were then delivered in the format – as if someone had discovered essays on art and fiction written by a former lover who haunts you. So partly, the book seems to read like a novel and at times like a work of non-fiction, which is a very unique way to write or compile a book. Might I also add that beside the lectures, this is a story of love and loss, of heartache and trying to cope. You will for sure know as you go along in the book.

The narrative and form of the book will instantly get to the reader, such is its power. I had to read the book in parts – could not finish it in one sitting because come to think of it, because of the structure, it is a difficult read in parts. One has to get used to the way it is written and only then can the reader be at ease. What attracted me the most to this book was that it was about art and more so about the love of books and fiction.

“Artful” while is a challenging book; it also lets you explore your imagination and ideas. It sort of blends your ideas with the books’ thoughts and that is something which I haven’t come across in many books. At the same time, it is quite a challenging book to read, if as a reader you are up to the challenge. Smith’s literary references are all over the place and it takes a reader some time to make sense of it, however once that happens, it is breezy read. I would recommend it to you, only if you are interested in books and fiction and art being talked about in another book.

In other words by Jhumpa Lahiri

In Other Title: In Other Words
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Translated by: Ann Goldstein
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670088898
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Learning a new language is not easy. At least in my experience it hasn’t been easy. I tried and struggled with French and could only get this far. After that, either I gave up on the language or the language gave up on me (I don’t even think that’s possible though). I wish I had continued with it for a while and mastered it perhaps. However, that was not meant to be.

Language is a tricky thing to learn. Some say there is a certain age to it. Some say you have to speak it with someone who is fluent, every single day and immerse yourself in it. Jhumpa Lahiri’s new book “In Other Words” is all about how she learned Italian because she wanted to, moved to Rome to learn it more and finally wrote a book in Italian (the translated version by Ann Goldstein is what I have read).

This book to me was more about life than language. It was about a writer’s struggle to not only conquer the language but also at a deeper level come to terms with identity, cultural and emotional barriers and what makes a person complete.

“In other words” is more than just a memoir even – it is going to the depths of what a writer thinks, imagines, and struggles with, dreams about and how it all comes together when she writes. The writing is simple and even though it is translated from Italian, it doesn’t lose its essence. That to me is the indication of some spectacular writing right there – when it doesn’t take away anything from the original in the translated form.

The book is meticulously crafted – giving the readers a view to the writer’s innermost fears, the insecurity of writing in another language and to reveal her new linguistic identity, so to speak. Her stay in Rome was almost a self-exile as she traded her English for Italian – almost a new life. As readers, what comes to us most of the time is the dulled down version, without any of the writer’s angst, however this is not that version. It is raw and stark and right there – demanding your time and attention.

The book is about a writer’s journey and what comes along the way – sometimes even in the name of experimentation and what shape it takes at the end of it all. Jhumpa Lahiri’s struggle with the language and the need to overcome it are so strong that you find yourself almost cheering for her, knowing that she managed to write the book in Italian after all.

“In Other Words” is the kind of book that will also make you question your own creative beliefs and think of the roads not taken. Jhumpa Lahiri’s graceful writing – in its most simple form will evoke a lot of emotions inside the reader – fear, love, frustration, anger, the desire to accomplish something, to push your boundaries and to perhaps experience something new and different in what you do.

Definitely a book not to be missed out on this February.

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And Then One Day : A Memoir by Naseeruddin Shah

And Then One Day by Naseeruddin Shah Title: And Then One Day: A Memoir
Author: Naseeruddin Shah
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780670087648
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 328
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

There are times you take stock of life. You evaluate what is there and what is not there. Perhaps one day we will all go through this. It is but eventual I think. While reading Naseeruddin Shah’s memoir, “And Then One Day”, this was my foremost thought. The book of course is written I guess keeping that in mind and at the same time, the tone of Mr. Shah is unique to him – sometimes brash, others haughty, sometimes also hypocritical, at other times contradictory and mostly funny and true. This is probably one of the reasons why I could not stop turning the pages.

“And Then One Day” to me is a mix of both, the man and the actor, after all one cannot separate one from the other, or maybe one can, which I am not aware of. The book chronicles the life of Naseeruddin Shah – from his childhood till his marriage to Ratna Pathak Shah. I think it is the candor with which it is written is what attracts the reader to the book and perhaps the credentials he holds as an actor.

The magnificence of the personality shines on every page. There is the struggle of becoming an actor to unabashedly admitting to roles done because he needed money. I must admit that sometimes I thought the tone was condescending and patronizing even, but the writing was so good that one can ignore that.

While I was reading the book for the first time (yes, I have read it twice), I thought it was ghost-written. However, it is not. The writing is clear, crisp and almost makes you picture incidents as you turn the pages. There are also a lot of times when Mr. Shah indulges in some self-deprecating humour which is also quite brilliantly written.

It is not easy to talk about one’s life. I am sure it is very cathartic and sometimes also brings back memories that you do not want to encounter. At the same time, there is a lot of clarity in the thought process of the writer about this book. Yes, there are times when there is a lot of back and forth between the past and present, but then I also think that this is the only way to write a memoir.

Mr. Shah excels at this book and it does not seem that he does not know how to write, like I mentioned earlier. The book is practical, it is real and it also comes from the heart so many times – especially when he is speaking of his daughter and his relationship with her. “And then One Day” is a book which talks about acting, the actor, the man, the human being and it does so with no holds barred.

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