Category Archives: Penguin Random House India

Read 10 of 2022. Adam by S. Hareesh. Translated from the Malayalam by Jayasree Kalathil

Adam by S. Hareesh

Title: Adam
Author: S. Hareesh
Translated from the Malayalam by Jayasree Kalathil
Publisher: Penguin Vintage
ISBN: 978-0670094608
Genre: Short Stories, Translation,
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

You just cannot predict what’s going to happen next in any of these stories, written by the very talented and imaginative S. Hareesh. Each story makes you question the world around you, sometimes quite minutely, and sometimes on a larger scale.

This was the first collection of short stories read this year, and I am so happy it started with this. S. Hareesh writes with abandon that is very hard to spot. His sentences are sparse but sometimes they extend to many, more so if there is a scene to be described. For instance in the title story, S. Hareesh takes liberty with the form by shifting narratives as he takes turn to describe the four children born of the same parent, and their eventual fate. The emotion in all of these stories is that of rawness, of masculinity that appears so strong on the surface, only to be eventually shattered.

S. Hareesh’s characters might come across as simple but they are constantly fighting with themselves or against the system. There is an internal war that rages, which is reflective in day-to-day living. Take for example, the story “Maoist” (on which the movie Jallikattu is based) – it is essentially about two bulls creating havoc in a small village but there is so much more to it. The class and caste politics play themselves out unknowingly, and is a constant pressure point till all hell breaks loose. The story then doesn’t just remain about the two animals but is so much more, given the metaphors and layers.

S. Hareesh builds his own worlds through his stories. We think we know the terrain, but he is constantly pushing the boundaries. Alone in that sense transforms itself to being a semi-supernatural story, where there are so many elements of fear and horror, that it could be set anywhere in the world. The appeal of universality is strong, and yet S. Hareesh reins himself in to talk of these stories in the milieu he knows best.

One cannot bracket S.Hareesh’s writing in one single genre. He constantly tries to offer more and more to readers with each story in this nine-story collection. The writing is simple, and so effective that you will not stop thinking about at least some stories when you are done with the collection. Jayasree’s translation is on point as it was in Moustache. You can hear the lilt of the source language (Malayalam) even though you are reading the text in English. Each and every word is needed and in place. There is nothing that seems wasted. Adam is a collection of short stories that is diverse, relatable to some extent, and very accessible to readers.

Read 6 of 2022. The Odd Book of Baby Names by Anees Salim

The Odd Book of Baby Names by Anees Salim

Title: The Odd Book of Baby Names
Author: Anees Salim
Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0670095971
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

So, here’s the deal: Once you start reading this book you will be entranced by the simplicity of prose, the flair with which the narrative moves (which it does quite swiftly), and how Anees Salim is meticulous and to the point – at the same time making us imagine so much, from one page to the other. This is what happens right through The Odd Book of Baby Names.

The Odd Book of Baby Names is about eight characters that take centre stage – eight progenies of a king who is dying. Eight unique voices, each with their story to tell about their King, their father, and the circumstances surrounding them. And these are just eight that are known to the reader, perhaps among 100 that the King had sired. The book of baby names is the book in which the King notes the names of the babies (as he has given it to them) along with the meaning.

The book is so layered, way beyond what meets the eye. Of course there is the angle of the dying King and a kingdom that is no longer his. The kingdom in question is hinted at Hyderabad, and the period in which the book is set alludes to the 60s and the 70s. The women that the King was intimate with have no history or agency. One must also look at the time period in which this book is set. The traditions, the advantages taken by royalty, the utter nonchalance of not knowing the future of your children, and more than anything else the mental health issues of these eight people that shows itself to the reader page by page.

Anees Salim’s writing cannot be boxed into any genre. I think there is a unique style, that didn’t remind of me any other writer. The sentences sometimes are long and in detail as needed, some sections are to the point and precise, The book is unique – it is simple in its approach and complex at the same time. There is a lot of difference in all of the 8 voices and to make each of the distinct is true craft.

The Odd Book of Baby Names was a sure hit of a read for me. It was paced just right, the words and expressions used were a delight, and the reader in me couldn’t wait to get back to it till it was done. Please read it.

Books and Authors mentioned in The Odd Book of Baby Names: 

  • Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
  • Ghalib
  • Khusrow
  • Zafar

Read 201 of 2021. China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

Title: China Room
Author: Sunjeev Sahota
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 9780670095070
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I honestly picked up China Room without any expectation. There was zero expectation as I started the book, and savoured it over a period of a week or so. China Room was a revelation of many aspects. It unravels itself as you turn the pages, and with such elegant and deceptively simple prose that makes you go back and read some sentences all over again.

China Room in brief is about three women who are married away to three men in the year 1929, in rural Punjab. Mehar is one of the brides who is trying to find out the identity of her husband, since she has never seen him. The wives are cut off from their husbands during the day and only called on at night if their mother-in-law Mai wills it. All of this of course because there is need of an heir. What comes of it is the rest of the story.

In another time, in 1999 to be precise, another story unfolds. That of a young unnamed man who travels from England to a farm that has been abandoned for decades, with his own demons. The trauma of his adolescence – his experience with racism, addiction that continues, and more importantly the chasm between him and his culture.  In the process of finding himself (or coming of age in some sense), he finds his roots linked to Mehar.

Sahota does a brilliant job of intertwining the two threads. At the same time, at no point as a reader did, I feel I needed to know more. Sahota’s storytelling skills are totally on-point, and at most times I felt I was reading a literary page-turner (which I think it was). The issues that this book brings to light are so many. There is the awareness of India’s struggle for independence looming large, the idea of women’s liberation (that doesn’t exist at all, whether it is 1929 or 1999 in a country like India), and above all the concept of family and loss that makes for the entire arc of the story.

China Room is also to some extent based on what the author heard from his parents and ancestors, of what happened in his family and that’s why you resonate so much with the writing. It is told with a lot of heart and soul. It explores lives that go by without being chronicled, the book aims to understand the human heart, and what often transpires inside of it. A must-read in my opinion.