Category Archives: Penguin Press

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 (4)
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.

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh Title: Death in Her Hands
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Publisher: Penguin Press
ISBN: 9781984879356
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

 

So, let me start by saying that while I may not have been taken in with the plot of the book half-way through, I love Moshfegh’s writing, which shines most brightly in her latest offering, “Death in Her Hands”. We have an unreliable narrator, a dog, an elderly widow whose life is turned upside down when she finds a strange note on walk in the woods.

The note says, “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body”. There is no dead body. There is nothing there. This sets the narrator – Vesta Gul, in a frenzy. She doesn’t know what to do and yet wants to do something about it. She just doesn’t know what. Obsessed with Magda and how she ended up dead, Gul builds her life in her head, including motives that led to her death.

“Death in Her Hands” is a fantastic read – because it is so different, even though it does tend to meander a little. Moshfegh’s writing is succinct and spot-on. The building of Magda by Vesta, and in turn two lives being portrayed – one by the other is a great way to introduce the unreliability of the narrator. Is Vesta thinking too much? Is she conjuring something so far-removed that maybe even she can’t believe it anymore? These questions and more kept tugging at my mind as I read further.

The book reads as a psychological thriller, and yet there is so much going on. The writing is literary and what I enjoyed the most was the detailing. From Gul’s house, to her life before she moves into a new town, to what Moshfegh wants to show us about small-town/village life and its day to day workings. “Death in Her Hands” is the perfect read for a weekend, the one that will have you turn the pages, and not stop till you’re done with it.

Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

Feel Free - Essays by Zadie Smith Title: Feel Free: Essays
Author: Zadie Smith
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-0241146897
Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

My association with the works of Zadie Smith started somewhere in 2003, with White Teeth. It was one of those books that are actually unputdownable (I have always been of the opinion that terms such as these are nothing but marketing gimmicks). Since then, Smith has been one of my favourite writers and with good reason. Her prose is like biting into a plum – tart and sweet and almost awakens you from your stupor. It makes you stand up and take notice of how the world works and perhaps what it always was. Smith doesn’t mince her words. Her characters are everyday people who speak their mind and this is also reflective in her new collection of essays, aptly or ironically (given the world we live in) titled, “Feel Free”.

“Feel Free” to me is one of the books of our times. The kind of book that doesn’t preach but makes so many relevant points that you want to see the world and put it so eloquently as Smith does. It is the collection of essays which are spread over five sections – In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf and Feel Free. These sections pose questions that we recognize and perhaps want answers to: What is the Social Network? What is joy and what is the tolerance of it, if there is something like it? How many kinds of boredom make up life? Who owns the narrative of black America? There are many such questions over a diverse range of topics and that’s what makes Zadie’s essays stand out.

Feel Free speaks of pop culture, culture, social change, political debate, the ever-changing fabric of society and what it really means to be human in the 21st century. Some of these essays have appeared before and some are new. At the same time, all of them are relevant and essential to most areas of our lives.

Smith’s essays are sometimes written with the perspective of an insider, but mostly she is an outsider looking in. It isn’t difficult to understand Smith and to me that was the most brilliant aspect of this collection. For instance, when she writes about a book, you want to get up and go read it. When she speaks of Joni Mitchell, you just want to listen to “River” and “Circle Game” on loop. To me, that is the power of great writing.

Essays are often tough to read and since they are so personal in nature, it becomes even more difficult to gauge the place they are coming from. This does not happen when you are reading “Feel Free”. Zadie’s essays are personal and yet appeal to all. The universal quality of her words is too strong to not be understood and related to. “Feel Free” is the collection of essays that needs to be savoured and pondered on. The one that you will not forget easily.

Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver

upstream-selected-essays-by-mary-oliver Title: Upstream: Selected Essays
Author: Mary Oliver
Publisher: Penguin Press
ISBN: 978-1594206702
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Sometimes in life, you just need to step back and look at life differently. Mary Oliver’s books often lend that perspective. They make you rethink life and its subtleties and what transpires in our often ignored surroundings – especially nature and how we ignore it, most of the time.

Her latest offering – a prose collection “Upstream: Selected Essays” is a magical book – it speaks of writing, life, nature and creativity – all rolled into one. My only grouse with the book is that it ended too soon. I wish there was more.

“Upstream” is the kind of book that you won’t be able to rush through even if you tried. It is meant to be read languidly and at your own pace. “You must never stop being whimsical” she says and I this one sentence hit home. Mary Oliver says things you want to say and more particularly, feel. Her writing isn’t long-drawn. She comes to the point and the beauty of her writing lies in her brevity.

“Upstream” is an ode to nature, to other writers such as Whitman, Emerson and Poe. Those by far were my favourite essays. Her poetry is of course remarkable but her essays are also not far behind. Mary Oliver is the kind of writer that observes keenly and emotes beautifully through her words.

Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman

Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman Title: Beloved Dog
Author: Maira Kalman
Publisher: Penguin Press
ISBN: 9781594205941
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Dogs have always been very integral to my existence. From being scared of them to loving them unconditionally, life has come a long way. They are there, always, playing a role in some way or the other, dispensing wisdom in their own way and ensuring that they never let you know. Kalman picks on these qualities of dogs and talks about them through illustrations, her life, the dogs she has encountered and how they have featured in almost every book of hers.

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“Beloved Dog” is a dedication to our canine friends all over the world. The book is of course as usual beautiful illustrated and that is what makes it so special are her personal thoughts on dogs and how she got about getting one even though she had grown up getting scared of them.

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It all started when her husband passed away and a dog came into their lives (her children and hers) and changed everything for them. The book is a mirror of who we really are and who we become when we love our dogs unconditionally. There are so many lessons in here for all of us.

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The book is essentially New York and how we think and feel with them even more than people. If you have ever had a pet or have one, then you know this book, you know it inside out. There are poignant layers of philosophy in the book that are almost cautiously hidden by the beautiful illustrations.

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“Beloved Dog” is all about the love you have for your pet, and when the pet becomes a lot more than just a four-legged creature. Dogs do not go anywhere, even after they have gone in the physical sense, they linger, forever reminding you that it is so important to have them in your life.