Category Archives: Penguin Random House USA

There There by Tommy Orange

There There by Tommy Orange

Title: There There
Author: Tommy Orange
Publisher: Vintage 
ISBN: 9780525436140
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

There’s so much happening in There There, but not once did it feel overwhelming or confusing. I could understand each character, their motivations, and the plot as well, right till the end when it all unravels. Actually., it starts unravelling quite early on. As early on as the third chapter or so.

There There (title referring to a quote by Gertrude Stein, which is out of context, but works here) by Tommy Orange is not only important because of the socio-political issues it raises or the ones that are deep-rooted in the novel. It is also important because it is written so well and needs to be read widely. There are 12 characters whose lives are interwoven. They are all Native Americans, living or have lived in Oakland, California. They are all dealing with identity issues, and want to make more sense of their lives, and do better at living. And all their stories and lives converge and meet at the Big Oakland Powwow.

It is a Canterbury Tales like novel, with each narrative unfolding, and un-layering till we get to the end. At the heart of it though it is about Native Americans and their lives – their stories, the injustices, the motivations, the histories deep buried and sometimes unacknowledged, the need to fit in so strongly because that’s what’s been drummed into your head, and about the marginalized and the invisible lives they lead.

Each chapter is of course focused on one character, and yet it never feels disjointed or separate. It all magnificently comes together in the manner of how families are formed – sometimes by birth, and sometimes just. Dene Oxedene’s track in the book is pretty much what the book is about – he is making a documentary on the lives of Native Americans, as they speak about their experiences of living in Oakland.

Tommy Orange’s writing is direct and cuts to the bone. He shows and tells. He does it all. He is a traditional storyteller, and also breaks form multiple times in the course of the book. Yes, sometimes it can get overwhelming to follow lives of 12 people, but it is a ride you want to be on gladly, and understand, comprehend, and make sense of the world we live in.

“The messy, dangling strands of our lives got pulled into a braid—tied to the back of everything we’ve been doing all along to get us here…we’ve been coming for years, generations, lifetimes, layered in prayer and hand-woven regalia, beaded and sewn together, feathered, braided, blessed, and cursed.”

Do you need to say anything more with this imagery on paper? All I can say is that read this book. Read it with an open mind and heart. I am eagerly looking forward to Tommy Orange’s next.

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders

The Brief and. Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders Title: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil
Author: George Saunders
Publisher: Riverhead Books
ISBN: 978-1594481529
Genre: Dystopian Fiction, Cyberpunk Science Fiction, Satire
Pages: 134
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders is a book that cannot be categorized. It is a dystopian novella, a science fiction read, a satirical take on our times, the 21stcentury Animal Farm in a way, and perhaps more.

Written in 2006, almost fourteen years ago, this novella is still so frighteningly prescient. We are living it in a way, in almost every country. Most countries of the world today have their own Phil, and their reign isn’t brief.

The country in the book is called Inner Horner, large enough for only one resident at a time. There are citizens who wait to gain entry, and these citizens fall under the rule of the despot Phil, which further leads to mass chaos and hysteria.

The novella is funny (intentionally I guess, at the same time making you see the mirror), dark, and in no way, you will not think about it after you’re done. The so-called people in the story are human in their actions, but maybe not in their appearance. They resemble machines, so maybe Saunders is making multiple points at the same time.

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is for sure a quick read and a political allegory that we are perhaps a part of without realizing it. It is the kind of book that will jolt you a bit and makes you also look at the on-goings in the book from a distance by removing the human element. It is a book that delivers its message if you want to see it. Coupled with some lucid illustrations, this book blends the elements of the surreal and fantastical with great ease, making for a highly introspective read.

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.

 

Comics For A Strange World: A Book of Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand

Comics for A Strange World - A Book of Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand Title: Comics For A Strange World: A Book of Poorly Drawn Lines
Author: Reza Farazmand
Publisher: Plume Books, Penguin Random House USA
ISBN: 9780735219885
Genre: Comics
Pages: 197
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

First read of June 2019. Yes it’s a book of comic strips and yes it counts. I’ve been following Poorly Drawn Lines since some time now and love what Reza does with not only his seemingly simple art, but also so profound when it comes to the writing of the comics.

Comics for a Strange World is the kind of book that worries and also strangely comforts as well. It is the kind of comic that upsets you, because what Reza has laid out – some of it might actually come true. Global warming is a reality. So is our dependency on technology. There are alternative realities, taking us through space and time, and some really bizarre scenarios.

The entire book is a parody of human life, much like the account here on Instagram. Follow him if you aren’t. Also, the book mocks modern age like no other. It’s a testimony to our troubled times and honestly nothing is too weird. The book is divided into 5 sections: The Human Experience, Social Creatures, Changes, A Strange World, and Thoughts on Things. Each is superbly funny and outlandish. Read it.

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

The Source of Self-Regard Title: The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations
Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525521037
Genre: Literary Speeches, Anthologies
Pages: 386
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Toni Morrison’s collection of essays don’t follow a timeline, neither it is linear, nor it is set in an order to make it easy for the reader. At first glance, it might even seem just a random collection of essays, speeches and meditations put together, however, it isn’t that. The book, “The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations” is actually a book that speaks directly to the contemporary reader, and hence the order of essays. It goes headlong into speaking about issues at hand and whoelse better to address and them and show us the mirror than the queen herself, Ms. Morrison.

The book is divided into two parts, with an interlude. The first part is titled, “The Foreigner’s Home”, the second, “God’s Language” and in-between is the interlude aptly titled, “Black Matter(s)”. This is the structure of the book – it is Ms. Morrison’s essays, speeches, and meditations on living, race, gender, language, and the current role of politics in America and in effect its relation to the world. It is also about the duty of the press and media and what is the role of the artist in all of this. As a reader, please be prepared to face harsh realities, question the world around you and ponder over issues you never thought of earlier.

Morrison doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind. The candour is not just for the sake of it. This collection is deeply personal as well. From why she became a writer (Faulkner and Women) to her thoughts on Beloved. At the same time, this collection as every reader will know is about race and what it means to be black in America, not only today but for decades and centuries and how have that played out for the black person.

Toni Morrison writes with such elegance and dignity that you get caught up in her words, and then focus on the ideas, going back to the power of her prose. The interlude piece on Martin Luther King Jr. is not only searching but also mirrors the contemporary times. In the essay, Voyagers to the West, she speaks of the Scottish pioneer William Dunbar, and how he managed to build a fortune trading slave, and how ironically his achievements are extoled till date. This is the kind of voice Morrison is all about – she knows exactly when to make the impact felt through her words and how deep.

Morrison also speaks of writers and how they impact the mindset of readers. She speaks of how jazz brought American blacks a different kind of legitimacy. She also talks about why American and English writers could not speak for people of colour, hence the onus was only on black writers to do that. Literature then took a different form altogether, and its voice wasn’t restricted in a way is what I could make out of it. In her most poignant tribute to James Baldwin, the eulogy she delivered at Baldwin’s funeral on December 8, 1987, she honours his literature, his voice, and how he used language so tenderly. Morrison’s heart is almost laid bare in this – this tribute of sorts to a dear friend. It is almost as if you start becoming her friend, piece by piece.

“Jimmy, there is too much to think about you, and much too much to feel,” she begins. “The difficulty is your life refuses summation—it always did—and invites contemplation instead. Like many of us left here, I thought I knew you. Now I discover that, in your company, it is myself I know. That is the astonishing gift of your art and your friendship: You gave us ourselves to think about, to cherish.”

Toni Morrison’s writing is not only simple, but elegant to the bone. It is as though you are speaking with a friend, an elder, a teacher of sorts who is telling you about life and its ways. Throughout the book, Morrison speaks of the personal and the political and how they are intertwined. The first section, The Foreigner’s Home deals not only with race, but also with the question: What is Home? Where do you find it? What does it mean? At the same time, the section has essays wide ranging from “Literature and Public Life” and also her Nobel lecture.

The third section of the book is my most favourite – the one where she speaks of language, authors, and the power of words. The essay on Beloved – how she came to write it and what it means to her, almost made me cry. Toni Morrison’s commentary on her own work – The Bluest Eye, Sula, Tar Baby, Jazz, Beloved, and Paradise are honest, and she understands the time and space she wrote them in and how they might be read differently today.

Morrison’s works – fiction and nonfiction are always relatable. One doesn’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but the heart of the matter is the writing – from conception of plot to the way her sentences are constructed, every step is well-thought of and crafted.

I am convinced that there is nothing Ms. Morrison cannot write about. It is almost as if she has to just enter the space and something extraordinary emerges out of her pen. Her voice we all know is unique and original, but that’s not what makes an impact. I think it is the emotional intensity attached to it that makes all the difference, every single time.

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations as a collection of essays couldn’t have been compiled and published at a better time. We inhabit a world where people are extremely conflicted about issues of race, language, colour, and above all what entails to be human. I also would strongly recommend this book to every person who wants to understand home, race, the black person’s struggle, the place of literature in the world, and how it impacts us all. The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations is illuminating, thought-provoking, and above all every piece has just been written from the heart.