Category Archives: Penguin Viking

Grandmothers by Salley Vickers

GrandmothersTitle: Grandmothers
Author: Salley Vickers
Publisher: Viking, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN: 9780241371428
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 296
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I think everyone should read this book. I think everyone should read it because we need reads such as these that are heartwarming, and don’t pretend to be intellectual to be lauded by all. At the same time, Salley Vickers has this unusual style that I cannot put my finger on. Her novels are simple and easy to read, contain separate universes within them, and manage to strike a chord by the end of it. So, in the sense that there is this strong build-up to events, lives, and decisions that impact each character.

Grandmothers as the title suggests is about three grandmothers, who are very different women and their relationship with the younger generation. There is Nan Appleby, recently divorced and fiercely independent – who shares a great relationship with her grandson Billy. We then have Blanche – a widow, who has done nothing but adored her grandchildren Harry and Kitty but is forbidden access to them by her son Dominic and his wife Tina. Minna Dyer is the third grandmother (not in the literal sense) who lives in a shepherd’s hut in the country and has developed a grandmotherly relationship with Rose Cooper. Reading binds the two, and that is what brought them close.

If you are expecting thrills or something to happen in this book, then it won’t. Grandmothers is all about relationships, intersecting lives, and the back stories of women who are otherwise only seen as most ordinary. Salley Vickers takes her own time to even unravel some plot lines. The book is very easy to read and makes for a great afternoon spent in the company of heartwarming prose and maybe even get you teary-eyed in some places.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow Title: A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670026197
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What do you say about a book that has received so much acclaim, praise, adulation, and applause? What do you say that hasn’t been said already? Just how do you put your experience of reading the book into words, that come from a deep-seated place of multiple emotions? I think I am one the people who were late to the Amor Towles party, but boy am I beyond myself that I attended it – better late than never.

A Gentleman in Moscow to me is an experience. An experience and more so a lesson on kindness, compassion, elegance, and different ways to view the world. We all need perspective. We all need that much needed point of view, and Towles through this book presents plenty of them.

The book is beyond a one on exile, of Count Alexander Rostov being exiled in the Metropole Hotel for writing a poem – this exile is from the year 1922 to 1954. Thirty-two years of a life – of so many losses and much more gains that Towles magnificently writes about in this masterpiece.

Why do I call this book a masterpiece? Well, to me it covered the gamut of human emotions – there is love, anger, loss, helplessness, friendships that last a lifetime, and the grace to let go and forge new relationships. I could go on about the writing – the book opens like nesting dolls – Matryoshka dolls – one inside the other, a plot that opens up, a character that enters and takes your heart away, and something that you overlooked suddenly comes to light. Towles’ writing is beyond superlative, and how do I begin to count the number of times I have highlighted in the entire book – a sentence there, a passage here, a line that reminds me of my life, of a friendship that doesn’t exist, of a love that got away, or of a time when things were simple and kind.

Time is of such an important factor in the book – everything historical that takes place – the Cultural Revolution in the Soviet Union, the rise of Stalin, Gulag, and how everyday humans are caught in it all. Time centres on nostalgia, on what happens, on how it passes, on the everyday living – of books, movies, music, food, and people whose memories are attached to it all, with the Count at its center. Whether it is with a precocious twelve-year-old Nina to then the relationship he shares with the actress Anna, and more, time passes. Sometimes with great significance and at other times – the passage of time is enough to acknowledge the beauty and tragedy of life that Towles puts in so many words so masterfully.

A Gentleman in Moscow is almost like a poem that speaks to one and all, if you have the patience, and intention to pick it up. A Gentleman in Moscow is the kind of book that stays. You might perhaps forget about it after a couple of days, but some parts will come back as you are going about your life – there will be that connect to life, dreams, imagination, and how we relate to one another as humans. Of how we are all connected somehow, and what it takes to understand that. A magnificent read. A read that will make you feel small in the larger scheme of life, universe, and everything.

Note: 

There is a lot of literary references in the book. Here are some that I could take note of:

Books and Authors mentioned in A Gentleman in Moscow: 

  • Anna Karenina
  • War and Peace
  • Tolstoy
  • Chekhov
  • Gogol
  • The Cherry Orchard
  • The Seagulls
  • Maxim Gorky
  • Bulgakov
  • Akhmatova
  • Osip Mandelstam
  • Vladimir Mayakovsky
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • Dostoevsky
  • Karl Marx
  • Michel de Montaigne
  • Socrates
  • The Nose by Gogol
  • A Sportsman’s Sketches by Ivan Turgenev
  • Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Idiots
  • Demons

And here’s a trailer of the book released by Viking when the book was out:

 

 

February 2020 Reading Wrap-Up

February 2020 Wrap-Up

 

Wanted to read more than I read in January 2020. Ended up reading one book less. So, February ended with 12 books read. 10 seen here as two are lent to other people.
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Here’s hoping March 2020 will be kinder and more will be read, thanks to the International Booker 2020 shadow panel and the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2020. February was great with a book about love, of Delhi and its poems, of Allende and the Spanish Civil War, of a graphic novel about the Khmer Rouge, of Offill’s take on climate change with a story seeped in domesticity of life, of love and loss in Dear Edward and more. .
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Here is the list read with my ratings:

1. Amour by Stefania Rousselle (5)
2. A long petal of the sea by Isabel Allende. Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson (5)
3. Year of the Rabbit by Tian Veasna. Translated from the French by Helge Dascher (5)
4. Like Blood on the Bitten Tongue by Akhil Katyal. Illustrations by Vishwajyoti Ghosh.
5. Chhotu by Varud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi. (3)
6. The book of Indian kings (4)
7. Weather by Jenny Offill (5)
8. How we fight for our lives by Saeed Jones (5)
9. Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini. Translated from the Italian by J. Ockenden (4)
10. Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano (5)
11. Letters of Note: Love. Compiled by Shaun Usher (4)
12. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (5) .
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So, this is my list of February 2020 reads. What about yours?

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward by Ann NapolitanoTitle: Dear Edward
Author: Ann Napolitano
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0241384077
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I received this book a while back and I refused to read it. I knew it would make me weep, make me think about mortality, about life and its smallness, and maybe at the same time, in a way liberate me from some negative emotions as well. It did all of this and more.

Dear Edward on the surface comes across as a story of a boy who survived. As one of the characters, Shay says early on in the book that Edward is like Harry Potter – the boy who lived. I agree with her. There is so much more though to this novel about hope, grief, and the idea that life moves on in such different ways – ways in which we never expect it to turnaround.

Edward Adler is the twelve-year old sole survivor of a plane crash. He has lost his entire family – his parents and older brother. The 191 passengers onboard, including the crew is dead. This book is about the aftermath of the crash. Of the living that are left behind.

I had to deal with so many emotions while navigating this read. There was a constant lump in the throat – mostly it also came from remembering the ones who aren’t around anymore. There was the deep empathy I had toward Edward, and more than anything when he finds those letters written to him by the relatives, family, and friends of passengers who lost their lives. That’s another major plot point. How does one cope with loss? What does it take to think and feel you have moved on? When do you truly move on, and when do you know that you have moved on?

Edward’s aunt who takes him in with her husband deals with her own grief – that of losing a sibling. The grief that is common to both – Edward’s bond with his brother is the strongest and a loss not easy to deal with, and yet silences speak the loudest in this book. To acknowledge grief is to make it all real.

The book alternates between Edward’s current life, and the storylines detailing the flight and the passengers’ lives. Nothing seems too long or unnecessary. Every plot line mattered. Napolitano made me care for the characters, for each of them, in a very different way. The thing with books such as this is that sometimes it can become very easy to get caught in the plot, and sort of ignore the secondary characters. But this is where Napolitano doesn’t let us lose focus. Edward is at the core, but the ones no longer around are focused on time and again.

Dear Edward, is about empty spaces in our lives. The void that fills itself. The wound that heals. It is a book about small graces and mercies. Of grief and its upliftment, to finally setting it free, to understanding that you don’t love less when you do that.

So All Is Peace by Vandana Singh-Lal

So All is Peace by Vandana Singh-LalTitle: So All is Peace
Author: Vandana Singh-Lal
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 978-0670093717
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I honestly did not know what to expect when I first read the synopsis of this book. It felt strange, weird, and a sense of great unease that I couldn’t place my finger on. Who wants to read about starvation? Who wants to talk about things we don’t speak in public? Who wants to even acknowledge the darkness within? There were so many thoughts before I started reading the book, that I wondered if it was even a good idea to venture further into this novel of family, food (in a way), and life in modern India.

I also then read mixed reviews about the book. I am not the one to read a book because of a review, no matter how trustworthy the reviewer/critic is. I finally decided to give it a go, to read it, to understand the book, and make some sense of the author’s mind (which can never happen by the way).

So All Is Peace on the surface is a book about twin sisters Layla and Tanya found starving in their upmarket apartment. This sets the media in a tizzy. There are theories galore, and in all of this is the disillusioned journalist Raman who is assigned this story. Tanya begins to speak and tell their story to Raman, and this is when the novel takes off.

The writing is raw, matter of fact, and above all keeps you engaged at every page. The details are needed, so while they may seem daunting initially, it all makes sense as the novel progresses.

Vandana Singh-Lal knows Delhi. She knows the way it functions, its nuances, its everyday behaviour, and isn’t afraid to lay it out for the reader. The book like I said goes deeper than just a story of starvation. The answers lay within our society – the way we live, and make decisions that impact our lives for a long time to come. So All Is Peace is about women living in the country – their daily encounters with men, and what it leads to. Singh-Lal cleverly intertwines social media into the novel and the role it plays, at the same time questioning every intent and reason.