Category Archives: Reading Women

Read 113 of 2022: Be My Guest by Priya Basil

Be My Guest by Priya Basil

Title: Be My Guest
Author: Priya Basil
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1786898494
Genre: Nonfiction, Food writing
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Basil in this slim book of food and hospitality speaks of what it is like to host people – to bond through food, the emotions that are deep-rooted in the act of cooking and feeding, and eating, and how do we connect through food. “Be My Guest” is a fascinating brief account of food beyond communities, of food within communities and its importance, of how Basil looks at food from every angle – that of domesticity, immigration, climate change, religion, food waste, and even Brexit.

Basil’s writing may seem concentrated, but it is widespread and expansive in the sense of it looking at the self with the world at large through food. What I loved is how she weaves in the concept of how hospitality can change the world – through empathy, kindness, and how it all begins at one’s kitchen table, and how it all must be unconditional at the end of the day.

She also speaks of alienation through food, of not feeling wanted, of what it takes to be inclusive and in turn lets the reader gaze into her personal life – that of her grandparents and how their lives were so integral to food and feeding.

The larger meanings of food, the rituals around it (unique to each household and individual), the refugee crisis going on in the world at large, and how food unites is all as strangers is at the heart of Be My Guest. Basil invites you to open your heart through food, through serving, by understanding the meaning of hosting, of eating together, of letting people know that there will always be a seat for them at your table, and how it is in the devotion of serving, you take the idea of grace, hospitality, and warmth from paper to the table, right down to not only filling one’s stomach but heart and soul as well.

Read 111 of 2022. These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy. Translated from the Italian by Minna Zallman Proctor

These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy

Title: These Possible Lives: Essays
Author: Fleur Jaeggy
Translated from the Italian by Minna Zallman Proctor
Publisher: New Directions Books
ISBN: 9780811226875
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Pages: 64
Source: The Boxwalla
Rating: 5/5

This short luminous book consists of three essays of these lives – Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, and Marcel Schwob. These writers, whose lives were brief, but perhaps full – each life ultimately centred on death by the author.

Jaeggy’s brevity shines on each page. She doesn’t find the need to ramble on about each of them – saying what she must, and does so with great simplicity, sometimes wit, straightforwardness, and for some maybe not enough, but worked beautifully for me.

The biographies (if I can call them that) extend themselves most naturally to the subjects’ habits, physicality, to their friends, their lives, and finally leading all to death. There is so much going on in these essays, using history, masculinity, the violence, and melancholy that runs throughout. Proctor’s translation makes it even more lyrical, though fragmented, disjointed, and surreal – reading as prose poems more than anything.

They draw you in, and I am sure I will read more about these lives in days to come. These Possible Lives is a short treat for readers – meditative and emotional.

Read 64 of 2022. The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara

The Immortal King Rao

Title: The Immortal King Rao
Author: Vauhini Vara
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 978-0393541755
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When I started reading this book, I didn’t know where it would go at all. In fact, even when I was mid-way, I didn’t have a clue about the progression of the plot. There is so much going on in this close to 400-pages book of love, family, climate change, death, of how memories function, and magic as well somewhere down the line. I was also kind of shaken by the way the Internet is reimagined in a sense – of how it will take over the world, and the role the corporations would play in this.

The Immortal King Rao breaks genres. Yes, it does seem literary on the surface, but it also goes beyond that – it is speculative fiction, historical fiction, dystopian even, and not for a minute does Vauhini Vara make you stop turning the pages.

There were times I was reminded of Moustache by S. Hareesh while reading the book. Then, I was reminded of Jejuri by Arun Kolatkar, given the lyricism of the prose. There is also only one way to read this book and that is to give in.

The story begins in the India of the 1950s. A young man is born into a Dalit family of coconut farmers in a remote village in Andhra Pradesh. He is named King Rao (I love the irony about this, which is also seen in other instances throughout the book). He studies in Seattle and rises up the ladder in the Silicon Valley to become a famous CEO of a tech-company, aptly titled Coconut Corporation. This is where of course the author’s skill of being a technological journalist shows, in the way that she makes you believe it all. In all of this, we meet Athena – the very talented daughter of King Rao who is trying very hard to escape him after being implanted with his memories (the idea to make him immortal – hence the title) is extremely fascinating. She is raised by him on a remote island after her parents’ divorce. This aspect of a single-parent and that too a father unfolds itself very cleverly later on in the book.

The core of this novel perhaps is not technology as it seems at first glance. There is an almighty algorithm as well that will run everything, and humans aren’t needed to apply in the company but after all it is humanity and the need to be keep it all together that will run the planet.

Vauhini’s writing appears to be simple but it is so layered and dense (all in a good way) at almost every page. It is reflective of the past, of how we are living now, and takes into account the entirety of the future or perhaps what is coming for mankind.

As Athena grapples with her father’s memories and what they stand for, forever jostling between his reality and hers, I could see traces of Atwood’s Maddaddam Trilogy, where a world unfolds slowly but takes the reader to this completely believable alternative reality where technology and capitalism have replaced human emotions as we know it.

Fathers and Daughters have always been depicted in literature so very often with a lot of emotion at play. Vara tends to not do that, which is quite refreshing. The relationship between King and Athena is very Shakespearean (had to be) – reminding the reader mainly of King Lear and the Tempest.  The constant back and forth of wanting to be loved by her father and constantly seeking his validation makes Athena also seem weak but that is not the case. She is her own person and yet seeks the anchor in her father.

There is the Dalit narrative that is told through flashback – painful memories that come to fore – told by Athena as she spends time in a jail cell. The revolution, subjugation, and the collective consciousness through one man is repeatedly communicated and done so in a satirical and sardonic manner.

Not once does Vara lose the believability factor when it comes to her characters or even the fantastical plot for that matter. I would also like to mention the role of wit and humour in this book that Vara employs to the fullest. The oddness of certain situations – of dreams merging with reality, of Rao’s internal musings through Athena’s recollections (well, not really hers) could only have been managed by a writer who sees and recognises the absurdity within.

There are three distinctive timelines in the book only for them to merge seamlessly, not seeming separate at all. Vara forces us (well in that sense, almost) to look at the world that we want to look away from. The world full of its eccentricities, absurdities, the greedy world, about Shareholders, and how it all comes together with one Dalit family’s lives and histories. It is almost fascinating, but also heartbreaking to read those portions – just to understand that the technique of magic realism is employed to make the reading of Dalit lives bearable.

In all of this, there is also a lot of beauty and grace in the novel that cannot be missed. It is about the stories we tell ourselves in order to live and continue living, no matter what. The resilience of Athena, King Rao, and even King Rao’s wife Margie is what makes the reader grow to love them despite their inherent flaws and warts for all to see.

The Immortal King Rao is no less than an epic tale of human relationships. Of a daughter getting to know her father in death more than when he was alive. Of how relationships are so estranged not only between lovers but also parents and children, who cannot see eye-to-eye. It is about the future and yet looking into the past at all times, realising that one cannot work without the other, almost to the point of it being inside your head. The book is about moments that pass us by and in the grander scheme of things, while may not seem much, they do account for something.

Read 43 of 2022. Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough

Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough

Title: Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing: Essays Author: Lauren Hough
Publisher: Coronet, Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 9781529382525
Genre: Essays, Memoir, LGBTQIA
Pages: 314
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I was most curious about this book, well, because of the title, and who wouldn’t be right? I mean we have all been there, when it comes to leaving and being left, in whatever form and manner. And rightly so this collection of essays from Hough’s life and observations, brought me to tears, a couple of essays in.

This book is about so many things – about growing up in a cult, about coming of age, about realising you are lesbian and in the military, about being ousted from service because of your identity, about being taught to please men sexually in the cult since you were twelve years old, and struggling with insomnia, PTSD, and mental health issues.

Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing is a brutal collection of essays. At times it is real, cringe, heartbreaking even, defining so many points in Hough’s life and in relation to the world, it is funny, making all meaning from the trauma and suffering, and above all relatable.

I found so many pieces that I could emotionally connect with – the time she is gaslighted by her superiors at work, or her first time encountering a gaybourhood (though I found that comfort with friends), and a lot also about hope really.

Hough’s writing is as real as it gets. The reader is not spared the details. There are no solutions, neither Hough asks for them. She tells about her life the way it was, and the way it is. You just cannot turn away from it.

Read 41 of 2022. Let There Be Light: The Real Story of Her Creation by Liana Finck

Let There Be Light by Liana Finck

Title: Let There Be Light: The Real Story of Her Creation
Author: Liana Finck
Publisher: Random House
ISBN: 978-1984801531
Genre: Graphic Novels
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Let me just say this right at the outset: I love this graphic novel. This wonderfully smart and highly inventive reimagining of the Book of Genesis by Finck is a graphic novel for the ages. God is imperfect in Finck’s retelling. God is moody. God is neurotic. God is a woman, and God exists.

Let There Be Light is so much more than a retelling. It shatters so many myths, constantly rethinking stories and filing the gaps in the fables as it goes along, giving it a spin of its own, saying and depicting what it has to, seeped in its own philosophy of life, death, and including art.

Finck’s God is funny, adorable, wants to and does her own thing, carries a wand (well like witches do, isn’t it?), feels bad about herself and also the world as incidents happen, prone to self-doubts, and overall is a God that is also prone to punishing and providing hints to her people about what’s to come.

The art is minimalistic–in panels of black and white, sometimes spouting colour in-between, making very relevant points. This God also keeps on creating – nothing impresses her, and nothing will. The plot also jumps blending The Book of Genesis to present-time in a very interesting and fun manner. Finck also introduces us to Lilith – the first wife of Adam, as being the snake in the Garden of Eden – a monster. She makes Adam believe that she is a he – an old man with a beard and thus then creates Eve, the woman.

There is so much going on in this graphic novel – the Cain and Abel story, the story of their children and more, about how God doesn’t want to be seen at all, she doesn’t want to reveal herself, the tower of Babel and the story of language, and how God outshines in the first couple of chapters, only to become invisible in the rest.

The beauty of Finck as an artist is that she doesn’t provide explanations at every panel nor does she believe in giving the reader a template to follow. Her art is playful, sad, and all over the place just as it should be in the creation of life on earth and what came next.

Finck is a marvellous artist and a very engaging storyteller, constantly making the reader turn the page, and go back to start all over again. A must-read!