Category Archives: Tilted Axis Press

Read 39 of 2022. Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree. Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

Title: Tomb of Sand
Author: Geetanjali Shree
Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell
Publisher: Tilted Axis Press
ISBN: 978-1911284611
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Literature
Pages: 730
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A book like Tomb of Sand comes once a while – encompassing everything – all of it – maybe all our stories, or some of our stories – intermingling, intertwining, greeting each other along the way, choosing whom to converse with, whom to ignore, and how to navigate life.  Stories that have a life of their own – breathing, living creations that only need an audience and Tomb of Sand will get its audience, and should – more than its fair share, because this book deserves it all.

I am gushing. I shall gush some more. So be it. Some novels do more than just provide entertainment or are more than means of passing time. They demand to be read, reread, reread some more, till they enter your consciousness and then refuse to leave. Sputnik Sweetheart is one such book for me. This one is definitely another.

Tomb of Sand on the surface seems like a book with a very simple plot-line. A mother of a family and her relationship with a transgender person, in the wake of her husband’s death. This causes some kind of confusion in her daughter who always thought of herself to be more progressive of the two. However, let this plot not fool you. This could very well be a book without a plot for the first two-hundred pages or so, and honestly it wouldn’t matter to the reader or deter the reading experience.

Tomb of Sand is so much more than just a story of a family or of a woman trying to come to terms with the past and the present as it shapes itself around her. Tomb of Sand is a book about families, about life lived in-between contemplating how to live it and the parts that you so want to live but cannot, and more than anything, it was for me – a novel about redemption, about so many what ifs, about the choices we make – intentionally and unintentionally, about empty spaces we choose to fill and sometimes the void is even more glaring than it was, and it is a novel about boundaries, about how we limit ourselves through identity and gender, about how we are much more than we give ourselves credit for.

Geetanjali Shree experiments with language, makes it her own, makes it fall flat on its head, and doesn’t bother with the rules of grammar. She makes her own rules as she goes along. I say this after also having read major portions of the book in Hindi as well. The translation by Daisy Rockwell is a different book – a unique entity, if I were to call it that. Daisy takes the book in Hindi and gives its English readers a new landscape to imagine and embrace. I do not mean the translation doesn’t do justice to the original, in fact, if anything it takes the playfulness of Hindi – makes it more than palpable to English and doesn’t transpose or transliterate, just for it to sound right, but gives it its own vocabulary, adding if I may call it the “Rockwell Touch”.  Her translation doesn’t miss a beat. It is lucid, clear, and gives the reader what they need, and also what they thought they didn’t need.

Tomb of Sand also seems like a rather simple novel, which again it isn’t. I do not mean only when it comes to structure or who is the narrator, or what is happening but also language that I have spoken about earlier. There is a sense of calm to the choice of words – both in Hindi and English – which makes the novel so relatable. I think that the “Indianness” of the novel is what lends it the added layer of appeal. For instance, the entire angle of the mother staying with the daughter in the daughter’s house while the son has his own family is something not permissible in an Indian household. The mother has to stay with the son. Shree breaks this mould and presents a new way of life. Rockwell takes that new way of life and brings to life the conversations between the two women (of course from the original) – without discussing a man – they discuss their bowel movements, they discuss childhood, life, what the mother thinks, what Beti feels, but not a man. This is perhaps intentional but does the job of meeting the Bechdel test than most other novels and movies.

Another instance that intrigued me the most was the class difference and the way Shree has highlighted it throughout the book. Domestic help have names attached – full names and personalities – from what they do to who they are and their role in the family. On the other hand, the members of the household are not known by names, except for one son called Sid. The rest are nameless, known by their roles and what they add to the plot.

Tomb of Sand also becomes a partition novel somewhere after four-hundred pages, and it didn’t surprise me at all, when that happened. I was so immersed in the world created by Shree and her magnificence, that I submitted myself more than happily to this plot-twist, if I can call it that. This again makes the novel even more profound and complex.

Tomb of Sand is shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2022. I hope it wins. I hope it is known widely. I hope because of this other Indian language books get their place in the sun. Tomb of Sand is a delight to read and reread. If you have already read it, I recommend you go back to it. If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for? Please read it. NOW.

Read 31 of 2022. Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu. Translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao

Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Title: Happy Stories, Mostly
Author: Norman Erikson Pasaribu
Translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao
Publisher: Tilted Axis Press
ISBN: 978-1911284635
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 173
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Another queer read from the International Booker Prize 2022 Longlist and I couldn’t be happier. I am so glad that queer voices are finally getting the attention and space, we have been jostling for since forever.

This collection of short stories is a punch to the gut, but perhaps quietly, more aware of what the stories are going to do to the reader, so they go gentle into the night, and spring up on you, astonishing you with their might and power.

There is a lot going on in this collection of short stories – intersection is key – from religion to gender identity to sexual orientation – they all intersect with each other and with marginalized lives, always striving and hoping for more to materialize.

All of the stories though come to the point of dealing with homosexuality – the isolation and what it means to be queer. Whether it is a mother in mourning for her son who took his life, or a friendship at a crossroads when a man discovers his best friend (well, sort of) is gay or when a woman discovers something about her husband, all these stories are on the periphery of the seen and the unseen.

I could connect with some stories a lot more than the others, as is the case with any short-story collection. Not all work for most people. But the ones that stood out the most for me was “So What’s Your Name, Sandra?”.

These stories speak to each other in an uncanny manner. The stories aren’t interconnected and yet it feels that way, maybe because of all the queer people navigating the straight world – with also religion playing such an important role throughout the book.

The writing is raw, vivid, and sparse in most parts, which makes the translation by Tiffany Tsao even more delicious -to see the lengths she has gone through to keep the prose intact. You can tell that as a reader.

The idea to break away from heteronormativity and how difficult that is, is explored through all these stories. The jealousies, the misunderstandings, the anguish of the other is seen so starkly, along with the stigma of coming out in a society that just will not notice you.

I hope more such voices get published and promoted. The LGBTQIA+ community could do with all these voices and more, telling our stories, the way we see them, feel them, and live them every single day.

Read 30 of 2022. Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park. Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur

Love in the Big City by Sang Young ParkTitle: Love in the Big City
Author: Sang Young Park
Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur Publisher: Tilted Axis Press
ISBN: 978-1911284659
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction Pages: 231
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Sang Young Park’s prose along with the translation of Anton Hur did for me what Sally Rooney couldn’t, and I have finally found my closure for not enjoying any of Rooney’s works.

Disclaimer: This is the only time I have brought up Rooney in this review.

Love in the Big City is again one of the International Booker 2022 Long-listed titles that resonated with me like no other, besides Heaven. It is a story of friendship, of love, of lust, and essentially of what it is to navigate all of this in a big city. It is messy, it is loud, and sometimes insufferable as well – the way all love is meant to be, but Sang Young Park and Anton Hur give it another dimension – that of pained self-realisation and temperaments that constantly hover on the page.

The story is of the narrator, Young, and his coming-of-age – from college to postgraduate life in Seoul. The book is about the loves of his life (some not so much loves as episodes of lust) – his roommate, Jaehee who moves out after marriage, his cancer-stricken mother, his activist ex he calls Hyung, and Gyu-ho, who makes up most of the second half of the novel.

As a middle-aged (I cannot even bring myself to say it but it’s the truth) gay man in India, I could relate to so much of the book. Of the relationship with the mother – constantly mercurial, of the men in his life, and of a woman who is your best friend and most of all the gay identity that runs throughout the book.

Young is complicated. It is not easy to like Young and yet you do, because we see so much of ourselves in Young, at least I did.  We lead quiet queer lives, till it isn’t all that quiet anymore. The transformation of the queer life from the 20s to mid-30s is mind-boggling. We go from one extreme to another. We want to be visible and that’s what Young does till he doesn’t want to be unacknowledged.

Relationships are fragile, emotions even more so. The translation by Anton Hur depicts all of this and more, adding a new dimension of his own to the novel. The pride and shame and loneliness of being gay is so apparent and palpable that it scared me as a single gay man in the big city – where everything is big and sometimes all you need is small, tender expressions of love. I search for them. Constantly.