Category Archives: Women Writers Reading Project

Farewell, My Orange by Iwaki Kei

Farewell My OrangeTitle: Farewell, My Orange
Author: Iwaki Kei
Translated from the Japanese by Meredith
McKinney
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 9781609454784
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

There are books that always have you wanting more. You wish they were longer. You wish you had more to chew on. You wish you had more of those characters, and that their lives wouldn’t end with the book. I love reading big books and I cannot lie (the biggest cliché there is, but it is oh so true). I wish, Farewell, My Orange were a novel, instead of just a novella, however, let me also tell you that it works splendidly for its size and it shouldn’t have been a novel.

Salimah and Sayuri belong to different worlds. Both are immigrants in Australia. One is Nigerian. The other, Japanese. It is highly unlikely that their worlds will ever collide. But they do through English-speaking classes (ESL) and how a bond is formed over tragic incidents in their lives is the crux of Farewell, My Orange.  I am not saying much about the story, because then it would really mean nothing to read the book. However, Kei’s writing then will drag you to the book, would make you want to read it no matter what.

The book is so layered and intense and at the same time, it is just way too beautifully written. There are passages that make you stop as you are reading, just to admire the way Kei has framed sentences and expressed the anguish of not going back home and the longing for it. The characters are regular people who just want to live in a place that offers them more – the opportunities, the dreams, and the hope of belonging, which they think can only be accomplished through language. Meredith McKinney’s translation makes it even easier to relate to all of this – at no point it feels that there is something left unsaid or unexpressed because of it being a translated novella.

Farewell, My Orange is the kind of book that is hopeful and yet sometimes full of despair, owing to circumstances. It is the kind of book that will make you see the lives of other people, or at least manage to get a glimpse of it. Sure, there have been a dime a dozen books written on the migrant experience and each one attempts to stand out. The thing with this novella is that with its powerful voice and range of emotions, it does ultimately show you another side to life.

 

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Pyjamas are Forgiving by Twinkle Khanna

Pyjamas are Forgiving Title: Pyjamas are Forgiving
Author: Twinkle Khanna
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 978-9386228970
Genre: Fiction, Humour
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I normally do not read “celebrity books”. However, this isn’t the first time Twinkle Khanna has written a book, so to me she is just a regular author than a celebrity author and thank God for that! She has the craft, she knows how to tell a story, and be funny at that – not the laugh-out-loud kind of funny, but sure the chuckle kind of funny, the funny that leaves this smile on your face – also the one that you will not forget anytime soon.

I will also literally kill the next person who asks me what the title means. Read the book if you’d like to know that. The book takes place in the sanctuary of an Ayurvedic retreat in Kerala. Anshu tries to heal herself in the wake of a divorce and believes that things will become alright once the doshas are fixed, so to say. But of course, there is more to this than meets the eye. There is love that is clearly not quite lost, once her ex-husband Jay arrives at the same retreat with his younger, trophy wife, Shalini in tow. To add to this, there are other characters that enter the plot and those only make it richer, funnier, and quite a rollicking read.

Pyjamas are Forgiving is the kind of book you take to the beach, to the pool, or lay in bed all day and finish it with your favourite reading snacks. It is the right dose of funny and some contemplation on what relationships really are. What I love about this book is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, just like life must not be for most part. Twinkle’s characters are expressive, they say what they must, they are most human, and stumble and fall like any of us.

Anshu is the kind of person who seems all so powerful and could also be putty in Jay’s hands. She is the kind of woman who knows what is her worth and will also doubt her capabilities most of the time. Then there is the gay couple, Javed and Anil that I loved. What I think resonated right till the end of the book is that they didn’t seem out of place in the narrative, which usually happens when LGBTQIA characters aren’t protagonists. This to me is a great start when it comes to Indian Writing in English, in the popular segment (so to say, hate saying that). Javed and Ali aren’t caricaturesque and that to me was simply great.

Twinkle Khanna never loses sight of the Shanthamaaya spa (this is but obviously a major character) and the oddballs who work there – the Ayurvedic doctors, the ghee routines that make you vomit, the hilarious situations (when Anshu realizes in one chapter that men in the adjoining spa therapy room can see her in the buff), the forbidden foods and of course the strict no-no when it comes to sex, everything comes together very neatly. Also, a little later in the review, however, I absolutely loved Anshu’s Mummy and her sister, Mandira.

There are range of emotions in the book, sometimes as sudden as one sentence to another and somehow as a reader, I did not have a problem with this kind of writing at all. If anything, I thought it was cleverly done. Twinkle Khanna makes no bones about writing the way she does – it is intelligent, funny, and even warm and quite emotional in some places. I loved how there is no redemption or the “perfect end” that ties the novel without any hiccups. Like I said earlier,  these are regular people with regular problems and problems don’t just vanish in thin air at the end of the novel. Pyjamas are Forgiving is witty, sometimes poignant even, and just the kind of book that Ayurvedic doctor recommended.

Strike Your Heart by Amélie Nothomb. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson

Strike Your Heart by Amélie NothombTitle: Strike Your Heart
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Translated from the French by Alison Anderson
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454852
Genre: Mothers and Children, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction,
Pages: 135
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I am still reeling under the influence of Strike Your Heart by Amélie Nothomb. It is a short novel (could have been a novella if fifteen pages shorter) but the impact it has is tremendous. What a book! What a treat! And yet, it will drain you emotionally – of almost everything you possess – of course temporarily but it will.

Do not be fooled by its size. 135 pages pack a lot more what 350 pages cannot in most novels. This one is a firecracker and how! While I was reading it initially, I thought it was modelled after Madame Bovary and some of it sure was, but it was only in the first couple of twenty pages or so and then the similarity ended.

The book is about Diane but first let’s talk about Diane’s mother Marie, the one with whom it all begins. Marie who had to marry early on and give birth to Diane when she was just twenty. There is no bond between mother and daughter. Marie can’t bear to see her daughter. Diane does what she can to gain approval of her mother. Diane’s father Olivier is merely a spectator. With two more siblings, Diane’s love for her mother doesn’t diminish, till she sees her smothering her sister Célia and decides to step back and live with her maternal grandparents (there is a lot more that happens which I cannot say for now, because spoilers).

Years pass. Diane wants to pursue her dream of becoming a cardiologist (the heart connect) and at university, she befriends an assistant professor, Olivia. Olivia is strangely similar and yet so different to Marie (which Diane realizes much later). Olivia loves power and wants to feel superior to everyone around her, including her own eight-year-old daughter, Mariel. Diane’s life is thrown into a whirlwind and how it all ends up makes for the rest of the story.

“Strike Your Heart” – the very title comes from the quote by novelist Alfred de Musset, “Strike Your Heart, that is where genius lies”. This is what inspires Diane to take up medicine, this is the core of the book – the intensity of emotions and relationships – comes all from the poor old heart.

Nothomb writes with a force of a tsunami, really. Every word and sentence is not wasted. Nothing is out of place. Nothomb is cruel and yet so gentle all at the same time. She moves at a quick pace and doesn’t manage to lose out on all the essential incidents, lives, moments and the on-goings of almost all characters. Even the ones that are hidden – Diane’s brother Nicolas, her best friend Élisabeth, her father, her grandparents, and even Olivia’s husband and daughter. Nothomb has a role to be played by everyone.

“Strike Your Heart” in so many places feels so autobiographical – like it must have happened to someone the author knew or to her. The translation by Alison Anderson is spot on. She is one of my favourite translators of French to English. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is one such example of her genius translated work. Every line seems that it was meant to be there. No syntax changes and the emotion is perfect.

Here is one of my favourite lines from the book:

“She stayed for hours at the side of an old lady who was allergic to solitude”

“Strike Your Heart” will stay with you for a long time. I know it will stay with me for sure. The bitter-sweetness, the longing, the desperation, all of the validation and not to forget jealousy which is so much at the core of this wondrous read.

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

The Water CureTitle: The Water Cure
Author: Sophie Mackintosh
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0241334744
Genre: Women, Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I finished reading The Water Cure at neck-break speed. There was no other way to read this book. Yes, it started off a little slow. Yes, it took its time to grow on me but when it did, there was no turning back. There is a lot happening in the book – it is dystopian, it is feministic (well, you will struggle to see it but its there) and in most parts, it is also very fantastical. It may seem that there is no story really but there is, and the writing is on point – every word and every sentence where it should be.

At various points in the book, you might even think that the book is loosely based on King Lear and maybe it is, but it is so much more than that because the King soon disappears in the book. House on the island, alone by the sea. Three girls, Grace, Lia, and Sky live with their parents’ Mother and King (see the use of a patriarchy term right here – while the parents have no names, the father is always known as King).

Their worldly knowledge comes only from what the King dishes them. They have no contact with the outside world. They are in a world of their own. Till of course, like I said, King disappears, Mother takes over and their world crumbles as other men wash up on their beach, lay claim to their land and everything changes for them – in an instant.

Mackintosh’s writing isn’t easy but it is extremely engaging. There are times when you feel the book isn’t even dystopian as it claims to be, but there are only parts that are far and few in-between. The plot is for sure disturbing, but if it is to your taste, then I would recommend that you carry forth and finish the read, because it is extremely rewarding. The storytelling is unique and mesmerizing. Mackintosh is a new voice that has to be heralded, and this one most certainly read like a debut. It is that good.

The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg

The Third Hotel Title: The Third Hotel
Author: Laura van den Berg
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374168353
Genre: Literary Fiction, Fantastical fiction,
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

“The Third Hotel” is a strange book. A strange and yet, a highly fulfilling, crackling read really. Clare is widowed and decides to go to Havana for a horror movie festival, which she had planned with her husband, a film critic. And when she does end up going to Cuba, strange apparitions and incidents occur that resemble what she is thinking or feeling – sort of the inner life we all carry within ourselves. She suddenly sees her husband alive and follows him into a world, where reality and fiction blur and that in essence is the plot of the story.

Laura van den Berg’s stories and novels have this quality of the fantastical. I think it is a constant as it has been repeated in “The Isle of Youth” (a collection of short stories) and even “Find Me” (a novel) which I have read. Her novel isn’t easy to get into but once you do, there is no stopping you as a reader.

The author takes the gruesome, the horror, the extraordinary and blends it with the everyday loneliness. There is this raw emotional power in the novel that is consistent and cohesive to the entire plot and the way characters behave. It almost reminded me of Murakami, Kafka and Cortazar a lot – the psychological revelation and the mystery surrounding everything – from the places to people.

Havana in itself is such a major character in the book that the book is nothing without it. Also, as you read along, the story takes over – it creeps on you unexpectedly – with multiverses and the undead presence of Clare’s husband that forms the crux of the novel. Berg’s writing is precise, blunt and told in effortless prose that is ambiguous and also thrilling at the same time. It is a challenging read but immensely rewarding. Stay with it.