Category Archives: Picador

The White Road: Journey into an Obsession by Edmund de Waal

The White Road Title: The White Road: Journey into an Obsession
Author: Edmund de Waal
Publisher: Picador USA, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-1250097323
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Non-Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It had been a while since I had read a good non-fiction and I am very picky when it comes to this genre. The book has to be a solid one or I will just drop it and not read further. Life is too short to read badly written books. I loved Edmund de Waal’s earlier book “The Hare with the Amber Eyes” (Please read it if you haven’t already. Trust me, you will love it as well). This is when I received his new book to read “The White Road: Journey into an Obsession”. How does one describe this book? There is a lot going on in it, but I shall try and make sense of it.

In this book, Edmund de Waal gives us a peek into his obsession with porcelain, also known as “white gold’. Edmund is also a porter who has been working with porcelain for more than forty years now. This book is about his exploration through five journeys to understand porcelain better – where was it dreamed, refined, collected and why do so many people covet it this way. While China, Germany and England were at the core of his visits, he also managed to visit other places around the world and how while doing that, he encountered some of the darkest periods of history, thus intertwining his life, obsession with porcelain and history altogether like a well-crafted mosaic.

This book is highly insightful and well-researched. De Waal doesn’t miss the beat on a single page when it comes to uncovering history and delving to its darkest core. You almost feel that you are undertaking the journey with him alongside and not just reading it. The comparisons he makes given the countries he visits, makes you think of your ignorance, given how the world really works, thinks and imagines.

To me the idea of the book is very unique. I love the concept of how something that wouldn’t otherwise come to mind is at the heart of the book – porcelain and around it Edmund de Waal explores his history and family heritage so to speak. The book is like a friend that needs to be hugged and taken care of. The writing is extremely simple and that helps in turning the pages. All said and done, I couldn’t get more of this book at all and wish it lasted longer than it did.

Outline by Rachel Cusk

25663539-2 Title: Outline
Author: Rachel Cusk
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 9781250081544
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

For the longest time, I avoided reading Outline. I don’t know why but there was this mental block surrounding it that of course broke the minute I started reading it. From then on I couldn’t turn back. I had to finish this book and yet hope it wouldn’t get over. Having said that, Outline also isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. That is just because of the writing – it takes some time to sink into and before you know it, it has already started growing on you.

“Outline” is a story of ten conversations – ten different plot lines, ten lives and a woman at the core of it. The story is of a novelist and the people she meets, the stories she gathers, what people confide in her and tell her – their hopes, regrets, fantasies, anxieties and longings. It is all about life from a vantage point come to think of it. The crux though lies in the novelist’s own life – her losses and gains and how she comes to terms with all of it.

The execution of the book is brilliant. The ideas are stupendous -the fact that all of them find their way and space in the book says a lot about the author’s craft. Cusk’s writing style may seem random at times but it isn’t. Cusk makes you see the world bit by bit, layer by layer, as if an orange is being peeled. She doesn’t jump into incidents or facts of people’s lives. She takes time to introduce them to the reader and the reader is then taking his or her time getting familiar with them. The human details are spread out beautifully over ten lives and the narrator’s of course, that you only end up in awe at the end of this wondrous read.

365 Stories: Day 8: The Crease by Ben Sonnenberg

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Today’s story was a strange one, rather sublime as well – “The Crease” by Ben Sonnenberg is a story of a man and his many loves and what happens to him at the end, when most of them are revealed to one woman.

The pace is fast, the story is established quickly and it isn’t a long one – so you can read it fast and then mull over it. It is the kind of story that will take some time to sink in, but when it does, you will enjoy it thoroughly. I read it twice – not because I couldn’t understand it but because even with sparse writing Sonnenberg shows what can be done and it is fantastic. A treat for every reader.

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell Title: What Belongs to You
Author: Garth Greenwell
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1447280514
Genre: Literary fiction, LGBTQ Fiction
Pages: 204
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Love is a mystery. I have still not been able to figure it out and more so, know what role I play in its larger plan for me, if it does have any plan laid out for me that is. I had been putting off reading “What Belongs to You” by Garth Greenwell for the longest time. I know why. Let me share it with you. It is because in my head it was about unrequited love (which it is) and about disease (again it is about that), but above all it was about selfish love mostly and I had been through it. I thought I would read it and it will all come back to me, haunting me all over again, but it did not. I read the book and all I can say with utmost confidence is that you must read it – everyone must. Though it is about gay love, but love is love after all and hence this book will make that impact felt deeply with readers who have loved or aspire to fall in love.

“What Belongs to You” is about a nameless narrator – an American male, whose name and age is not mentioned, teaching at an institute in Sofia – the capital city of Bulgaria and his encounter with a local rent boy, Mitko. The book is about the narrator’s love and desire for Mitko. I wish I could say the book is just about that and leave it at that – but I can’t do that, because it wouldn’t do justice to the book. “What Belongs to You” is a landscape of desire, which is undone for its characters. Their loves are undone. Their desires do not see the light of day and how emotional and monetary exchanges build or rather feed on people’s weaknesses.

The book reads like a confession – the narrator speaks of his encounter with Mitko one fine day at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia and this is how the book begins. Lust is on the fore of this highly emotional roller-coaster of a ride novel. Greenwell somehow eases the reader into the first encounter between the narrator and rent boy. They are obviously to meet on more than one occasion – money will exchange hands in place of sexual favors and this is how the world is – there is really no awkwardness from Mitko’s side as this is what he does for a living, but one can sense the narrator’s discomfort and how he is pulled apart by his love for Mitko (possessive, envious, the kind of love we have all been through) and his past – his relationship with his father as he came out, the boy he loved (K) and how all he wanted was his father to accept and love him for who he was. Greenwell manages this with great tenderness and tact and this was the part of the novel, where I actually cried. I could relate to the dynamics as it would have played out with my father, which it never did and this continues to be one of my biggest regrets.

The narrator leaves Mitko many times in the course of the book. He realizes that perhaps Mitko at some point is toxic and he needs to find his own, because Mitko all said and done will never love him.

“As I had cause to think before, of how helpless desire is outside its little theatre of heat, how ridiculous it becomes the moment it isn’t welcomed, even if the welcome is contrived”

The third and final part of the book is about Mitko’s return – and the part which is most gut-wrenching as it is about disease and how the two cope with it in their own way. The narrator by now has a boyfriend R and the relationship dynamics there I thought were rushed a little. Having said that, what struck me at this point was the xenophobia which was subtly displayed as the narrator goes from clinic to clinic getting tests done. At the same time, the concept of fear was delicately probed time and again and yet amidst all of this is the unrequited love and desire that hangs in the balance. Greenwell never lets you forget for once that the book is about people who love, lose, falter, make terrible decisions, try and become better people in all probability and have no one to go to but themselves.

“What Belongs to You” to me was one of the highlight novels I’ve read this year. It definitely features in my Top 10 reads of the year so far and all I can say is that you have to go and pick up this novel – read it at leisure, soak in the emotions and pray and hope that you aren’t caught weeping uncontrollably.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 9781447268970
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 333
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I could have easily finished this book in a day. That’s what I normally do when I start reading a book and I am totally immersed in it. That was also the case with “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel. I was gripped by the prose and the beauty of the language and I could have finished it in one day. But my journey or love affair with the book lasted for five days and I also know that it does not end here. I will constantly keep thinking of the book, and will also reread my favourite parts which I have marked and will cherish for a long time to come.

On the surface of things, “Station Eleven” might seem to be just another post-apocalyptic novel, but it is way beyond that. It is a testimony to us being human and more than anything else, to the survival power art can have in our lives and to a very large extent about the role of memory and how it can be, both cruel and kind.

“Station Eleven” is more than the regular novel, well at least to me it is. Why do you ask? Because it makes you feel things on a different level. How else can I put it? It also makes you perhaps live this life a little better than you already are and if a book manages to do that, then it is supreme to me.

“Station Eleven” is not about the end of the world, as most people say it is. It is to me the beginning of a new world and new hopes and aspirations that never die, no matter what. The book is about a pandemic that wipes out almost three-quarters of the world and more. There is nothing left. The old world or the world that we knew is gone. The new world has no electricity, no cars, no Internet, you get the drift. People drift. People try and settle. Things are no longer what they used to be at all.

Twenty years have passed since. Humans are trying very hard to reconstruct life – new ways, new means and The Traveling Symphony, that travels on foot, putting up performances – musical and that of Shakespeare. Amidst this there is a prophet and his band of people which the Traveling Symphony encounter and from there things go haywire. And I cannot forget at the core of all of this, lies a comic, which you will only know more about, when you read the book.

Of course, I cannot say much because that would mean giving away the plot, which I do not want to. Memory plays a major role in the book, as I mentioned earlier. It is these memories that help people survive the new world and also for some it seems best to forget them, in order to move on. The small bits of the book make it so worthwhile a read: When newscasters say goodbye, when there is a glimmer of hope that maybe things will not be the same and someone will come to rescue the living, when people will do anything to hang on to faith of any kind because it is so needed, when you don’t realize that this might be the last cup of coffee you drink or the last orange you eat and when the most insignificant things become the most significant.

“Station Eleven” manages to evoke multiple emotions in you as a reader. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it even makes you want to believe in humanity when it is dying all around you in the book, but I think above all it makes you hope, no matter what. The idea is not about apocalypse or what happened in the new world, as much as it is about reinventing and recreating the world with memories. The book is about the connections we have with people (as the six people in this book do with each other in some or the other manner), about how the beauty of the world can never be lost, about life hangs on to the very end and how perhaps we need to give ourselves more credit for being human. I cannot stop recommending this book enough and I will not. I think everyone should read this book, just about everyone.

Here is the book trailer:

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