Category Archives: Penguin Viking

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.

Jaipur Journals by Namita Gokhale

Jaipur Journals by Namita Gokhale Title: Jaipur Journals
Author: Namita Gokhale
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 978-0670093557
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Jaipur Journals is the kind of book that will work its way to your heart – bit by bit. It is the kind of book that will make you chuckle in several places, even if you haven’t been to the Jaipur Literature Festival (where the book is set) and will also make you want to pack your bags and go there. Jaipur Journals is a melting pot of a book, I think, and more. You will notice characters and at once you know them – they could be anyone you have met or heard of, and yet seem new and delightful. What I loved the most about the book is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Ms. Gokhale has the knack of telling you all (or making it seem like that) and then showing only what she wants to.

From a septuagenarian who has completed her semi-fictional novel (over and over again) but does not want to publish it, to people who are receiving threat letters at the festival, from lost lovers meeting at the festival, to a young girl who has found her way to the greatest literary show on earth through a blogging contest, to a cat-burglar who is now a poet, Jaipur Journals promises all of this, in all its eccentricities and more.

The book goes back and forth in almost every characters’ life and yet doesn’t feel too long or overwhelming. In fact, if anything I thought it ended too soon. Also, it is such a light read that you do not even know when time flies, and that too me is the greatest quality of a good book – readability and engagement, which Jaipur Journals manages spot on.

Jaipur Journals is that friend you speak with about books, the publishing industry, and how perhaps the culture of reading is either dying or not. It is about what happens at literary festivals – the usual sessions, the controversial ones, the times when love is forged, people bumping into people, and some latent hidden bitterness rearing its ugly head once in a while.

If I haven’t said it enough already in so many words, then here it is again: Read Jaipur Journals. Read it because it will make you smile, guffaw, and perhaps even let your guard down. Read it because it literally is an ode to aspiring writers, to writers who have written but do not want their work to be published, to writers who want to be published and are hesitant, to writers who shine and come into their own nonetheless.

 

Stories on Caste by Premchand. Edited by M. Asaduddin. Translated from the Hindi and Urdu by Various.

Stories on Caste by Premchand

Title: Stories on Caste
Author: Premchand
Edited by M. Asaduddin
Translated from the Hindi and Urdu by Various
Publisher: Penguin India, Penguin Viking
ISBN: 978-0670091447
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 168
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

There is no chance that you will read any short-story written by Premchand and not be moved in some manner or the other. To add to that, I started reading his “Stories on Caste” which I knew would show me the stark mirror of reality that exists in our society, even until today. We might like to believe that the caste system has been done with, but we are so wrong. It exists and how. And not just in small towns and villages, but also in cities. When we normalize abuses referring to caste; when we overlook perhaps even the smallest occurrences of caste differences at home – that’s precisely when we need to be aware and look at what is happening around us.

Premchand’s stories aren’t extraordinary. Not the writing style to a large extent. However, what makes them extraordinary are the circumstances – the acute sense of observation and transferring those experiences to words. It is unfortunate and very sad that he had to write from life. At the same time, Premchand’s stories are not all without hope. There are some that bring some amount of wit, cunning and not-all-is-lost sense of things to the table. For instance, in “The Lashes of Good Fortune”, an orphan makes something of his life when he runs away from his oppressive master and returns to a different village altogether and a different life. The book begins though with a punch-in-your-face story “Thakur’s Well” (Thakur ka Kuan) – where a woman has to slyly try and get clean water for her ailing husband and that too from the Thakur’s well.

I think Premchand was perhaps one of the only writers then who depicted the lives of the underdog so to say with such empathy and nuance. The oppressors and oppression did not limit themselves – they came in various forms in his stories. For instance in “One and a Quarter Ser of Wheat ” (Sawa Ser Gehun), a poor farmer doesn’t even know what he has done to his generations to come, just by borrowing sawa ser gehun from the local landlord. Premchand never shied away from telling it the way it was (that quality to a very large extent, I have found in most regional writers’ works. The stark reality is always shown to the reader, no matter what).

At the same time, what I found very interesting about his stories was that the oppressors were found whether sarcastically or not shown to be oscillating between doing the right thing and what their “dharma” asked of them to do. In “Salvation” (Sadgati), poor Dukhi dies a meaningless death, trying to work on something so senseless because he doesn’t want to offend a Brahmin priest. And yet, ironically enough there are times in the story when the priest and his wife get sentimental about Dukhi and yet do nothing to show any emotion because they aren’t supposed to as they are of a higher caste. This inner battle of what to do and what is ultimately done continues to be seen in almost all of these stories in this collection. Of course, Premchand explores guilt in every form – but redemption is something rare.

Premchand’s stories may seem clear and straightforward and yet the layers to each of them are that of a wider scale and thought. Might I also add that nothing gets lost in translation in these stories. I was told by plenty of people on social media to read them in Hindi but I chose to read in English only because it moves faster for me. Having said that, none of the nuances of Hindi or Urdu (3 have been translated from the Urdu) have been lost. I had read some of these stories in Hindi earlier so I am aware (well superficially though) that the translators (there are about twelve to thirteen that have worked on these stories – sometimes individually, others collectively) have been true to their craft, because the emotion hits you real hard, no matter the language.

“Stories on Caste” is one of the five collection of Premchand’s stories published by Penguin India. The remaining four are on: Women, Village, City and Animals. Each I am sure unique in their own way. I for one can’t wait to start reading the others.