Category Archives: Women Writers Reading Project

The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

The Book of Memory Title: The Book of Memory
Author: Petina Gappah
Publisher: Picador
ISBN:9781250117922
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source:Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“The Book of Memory” is the kind of book that creates ripples in your heart and you will not be able to control how you feel. I think that happens to me the most when I read books that have unreliable narrators. There is this sense of thrill and caution and at the same time, a strange sense of empathy that emerges for such characters. I like books that the central character is so strong and yet doesn’t overpower the entire book. This one is that sort of a read.

Memory is an albino woman who is in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. She has been convicted of murder and as a part of her appeal, she has to write exactly what happened. And this is where the unreliable narrator angle begins (coupled with the wordplay on the name Memory, which as one goes along in the book means and stands for so much more). She has been convicted of murdering her adopted father, Lloyd Hendricks. Why did she kill him? Did she kill him at all? What exactly happened?

Gappah creates a book that might seem repetitive in terms of plot but isn’t when it comes to her writing for sure. And then again, once you are about half-way into the book, the plot also doesn’t seem repetitive or something you have read before. The characters are strongly etched and to me beside all this, it was only the writing that took the cake and more. What is also strange according to me is that Memory’s parents send her away when she is eight years old and that is not brought up again in the entire book. I thought it was oddly weird.

Having said that, “The Book of Memory” sometimes reads like a thriller and sometimes just a literary fiction book which has so much to give. The mutable nature of memory is there throughout the book – that is what makes it so unique and mysterious at the same time. All in all, this one was a hugely satisfying read.

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Chemistry by Weike Wang

Chemistry Title: Chemistry
Author: Weike Wang
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-1524731748
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

September 2017 is going to be a good month of books read. The next that I read this month was “Chemistry” by Weike Wang. Chemistry is the kind of read that takes time for you to suck yourself into. I don’t mean that it is a slow read, but it is the kind of book which will have you ruminate over what is going on and go back to the pages you just read, so to make sense of what is going on as well. Wang’s craft is that of talking about various things at one time and might I add that she is brilliant at that.

For a debut novel, “Chemistry” took me by surprise. It would have also taken me by surprise had it not been a debut novel, don’t get me wrong but just the sheer force with which it is written (and it isn’t even a long read) makes you want to sit up and take notice. I was also asked by someone on Facebook if chemistry is an integral part of the book – as in does it change the life of the characters or not, to which I would say: No. While it does form a background to the book, I didn’t think it was life-altering in any way.

So what is the book about? The story follows a Chinese-American scientist (she is unnamed which is more or less like the challenges she faces in life) as she is three years into her graduate studies at quite a demanding Boston university. Amidst this there is the pressure from her parents to excel. Her love for chemistry is slowly dying. Her boyfriend wants to marry her and she has no response yet for him. She is lost just like anyone else and to find herself she has to give up everything and leave behind what she loves. This is the crux of the plot, as she gives up two years to discover herself and realizes that formulas or equations may not always have all answers as she thought they would.

The plot may not sound interesting initially but once you start reading Wang’s writing – you are just transported to her world. It is almost semi-autobiographical in nature and you can sense the confusion of her narrator and some sense of knowing in the second part (I loved the second part of the book a lot more). The writing is crisp, wry and overwhelming in a lot of places. The narrator and her relationships shine throughout but the relationship with herself is what I loved the most (as cliché as that might sound). “Chemistry” is a book of a scattered mind and a scattered soul that learns to piece itself day by day.

My Daughters’ Mum: Essays by Natasha Badhwar

My Daughters' Mum Title: My Daughters’ Mum: Essays
Author: Natasha Badhwar
Publisher: Simon & Schuster India
ISBN: 978-9386797001
Genre: Essays
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Natasha Badhwar’s writing is comfort food. It is the hug you have been waiting for but just don’t know it yet. It is the reassurance of a loved on that takes its own time to come but when it does, your heart is filled with warmth like none other. It is the hobby that becomes a passion and you cannot wait to get back to it at the end of the day. I hadn’t known of Natasha’s column (very famous by the way – appears in Mint Lounge every week) or of her before I started following her on Twitter (Thank God I did) and I couldn’t have been happier knowing she exists. She is there somewhere on the Internet, spreading kindness, wisdom and sometimes nothing but just telling us stories of her life and that’s what this book is about.

“My Daughters’ Mum” is a collection of her essays which have previously appeared in Mint (some of them I think) and again since I hadn’t read any, it was a unique experience for me and my heart. I’ve always believed that books and reading can connect you with people like no other and this is what happened to me as I turned the pages of Natasha’s book. I wept. I laughed. I nodded knowingly. I wanted to reach out to her and hug her tight. I wanted to tell her children that they are loved so much (I am sure they know it as well) and all I ended up doing was healing myself through her words.

We all carry burdens, of various kinds. They come in different shapes and are full of different things – some recognizable and some don’t. Natasha’s writing is raw and makes us see what we cannot see through her struggles – big or small and that is where the connect lies I suppose. She writes nonchalantly about her kids, her husband, her in-laws, her parents, about how she feels and what she thinks and how she also connects with the world at large. This sense of putting your heart out there and knowing that it is okay to do so filled me with awe. I am in awe of her because she shows her deepest scars, her fears and knows that that is the only way she can connect and know people better. For instance, when Sahar (her oldest) doesn’t know how to express her anger – its all there or for that matter when Naseem (her youngest) knows some things too well for a child her age – Natasha bares it all and that’s why I could feel the emotions I did.

My review is not doing justice to the book as it should. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the book to give you an idea of how brilliant it is and why you should read it. All I can say is that you should read it. It is the kind of book that deserves to be read by everyone. You will find your own comfort in its pages, just like I did. Thank you Natasha, for this.

 

A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry by Grace Paley. Edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley.

A Grace Paley Reader Title: A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry
Author: Grace Paley
Edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley
Publisher:Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN:978-0374165826
Genre: Anthology
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Grace Paley is one of those writers for which you to devote a lot of time and mind space. The reason I say this: the narrators and characters of her stories will not leave you. Her essays will haunt you long after you have finished reading them. Her verse will stay, whether you like it or not. To me, she is one of the finest I have read this year (I have of course read her works earlier as well – but scattered). I think this book also is the definite collection if you need an introduction to her work, before you move on to other books by her.

“A Grace Paley Reader” has a lot of omissions from her earlier works, but I guess as an editor they have to choose what to put and what to remove. Nonetheless, to me the span of her work mattered and this anthology touched on almost every genre in which she wrote. My favourite essays though are “A Midrash on Happiness” and also “Other People’s Children” which are very unsettling and yet so comforting – the paradox is hard to explain.

But then the sort of writer Grace Paley was, it is just very difficult to ignore her as a reader. “A Conversation with my Father” will tear you up in no time and you would wonder if a short story can do that, as it already has. Her economy of words, and at the same time the effortlessness of her prose keeps you stunned. Paley was also a feminist and that is reflective in her poems such as “Anti-Love Poem” or “Is There a Difference Between Men and Women” and my personal favourite “Letter to my Daughter”. She can do anything if you ask me and does in most of her work.

The introduction by George Saunders sums up her work beautifully in this one sentence: “Grace Paley will live in the minds of the readers she has moved, and in the minds of those she will yet move”. Need I say more after this?

 

Wings of Fire #1 The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland

Title: Wings of Fire #1 : The Dragonet Prophecy
Author: Tui T. Sutherland
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-0545349239
Genre: Children’s Fantasy, Teens
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

After a long time, I read a book for kids that was super-fun and thrilling at the same time. It was also heartwarming and made no bones of using everything that has been already covered when it comes to dragons, yet it felt so refreshing. “The Dragon Prophecy” is the first book in the “Wings of Fire” series and was first published in 2012. It is also a high-fantasy series might I add but thank God that it doesn’t read like that.

The series as you must have guessed is all about dragons – it goes a step further and introduces a war going on between seven dragon tribes over the throne of SandWings (Game of Thrones but with only dragons). And in all of this we are introduced to Clay (a dragonet) and his four friends (Tsunami, Glory, Starfight and Sunny) who are destined to stop the war and have been raised in a cave under a mountain by three guardians, so no one can harm them. The plot of the book moves around the prophecy, the mystery behind it and the introduction to the dragonets, and more.

The plot exists but is kind of loose right now maybe because this is just the first book and there is so much more to come. The writing is engaging, at times I thought it could have fleshed out the dragonets a lot more but I guess she has left it for later. I am also very happy that Scholastic has brought this series to India. It is the perfect series for middle-graders, teens and even adults to start with. “The Dragonet Prophecy” is a fun read with the correct elements in place for a high-fantasy – which will sure evolve in the coming books (which are out and available by the way).