Category Archives: Women Writers Reading Project

Grandmothers by Salley Vickers

GrandmothersTitle: Grandmothers
Author: Salley Vickers
Publisher: Viking, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN: 9780241371428
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 296
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I think everyone should read this book. I think everyone should read it because we need reads such as these that are heartwarming, and don’t pretend to be intellectual to be lauded by all. At the same time, Salley Vickers has this unusual style that I cannot put my finger on. Her novels are simple and easy to read, contain separate universes within them, and manage to strike a chord by the end of it. So, in the sense that there is this strong build-up to events, lives, and decisions that impact each character.

Grandmothers as the title suggests is about three grandmothers, who are very different women and their relationship with the younger generation. There is Nan Appleby, recently divorced and fiercely independent – who shares a great relationship with her grandson Billy. We then have Blanche – a widow, who has done nothing but adored her grandchildren Harry and Kitty but is forbidden access to them by her son Dominic and his wife Tina. Minna Dyer is the third grandmother (not in the literal sense) who lives in a shepherd’s hut in the country and has developed a grandmotherly relationship with Rose Cooper. Reading binds the two, and that is what brought them close.

If you are expecting thrills or something to happen in this book, then it won’t. Grandmothers is all about relationships, intersecting lives, and the back stories of women who are otherwise only seen as most ordinary. Salley Vickers takes her own time to even unravel some plot lines. The book is very easy to read and makes for a great afternoon spent in the company of heartwarming prose and maybe even get you teary-eyed in some places.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar Title: The Radiance of A Thousand Suns
Author: Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9353029654
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

As we live, and continue living, as days merge into months, and months into years, we realise that life perhaps is nothing but a collection of burdens. Of guilt we carry. Of so many lives lived in this one life, that every instance, every incident, every moment of joy seems like it happened in a different life, and tragedy always seems nearer – close at hand – to envelope us inside it, any given time.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar was read merely by chance. I hadn’t planned on reading it this month. It wasn’t on the list. But lists change, evolve, and you are only grateful that you read something so utterly heartbreaking, and a book that even manages to make you want to let go of all the weight you carry.

So, where do I start with talking about the plot? It is about the Partition of India, it is about the Anti-Sikh riots, it is about how we love and empathise, and how we lose the ones we love, and how they always remain, no matter what. What is it about? It is about Niki’s determination to complete her dead father’s unfinished book, taking her to Manhattan to uncover the story of an immigrant woman. It is about Dadima and her story. It is the story of Nooran and how she became an integral part of Niki’s life.

The blurb of this book also calls it a literary thriller, which to me is doing the book gross injustice. It is poetic and beautiful, and also brutal at times. Sodhi Someshwar doesn’t hesitate to talk about uncomfortable things – about people who lost their lives during the Partition and then the pogrom of 1984. She will rip the band-aid and not with remorse. The book is about the lives of women when pogroms such as these ruin everything in their wake. It is about generations of women that have had to suffer in silence because men decided that a pogrom or a partition would be a good idea to exact revenge.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns is about stories we tell ourselves in order to go on from one day to the next. The book is about resilience and Manreet’s writing is wondrous – from page to page. The characters are people you know – or someone from your family would, if we dig deep. The book struck a chord because the pain could be felt right through the pages. I was constantly reminded of how easily we forget our painful pasts – whether it is the Partition or the ’84 pogrom, or Godhra, or Mumbai blasts – each incident forgotten in the name of carrying on. Sometimes, in fact, most of the time, we need to acknowledge what has happened, and not let anyone forget it, in order to truly move on.

What I loved was also the quite apparent interspersing of The Mahabharata as an epic – its flaws, its shortcomings, and to connect those incidents to the plot and move it forward.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns does more than tug at the heartstrings. It constantly reminds you, with every turn of the page, what humans do to other humans, mainly in the name of land, religion, and a heightened false sense of laying claim to everything in sight.

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

The Rabbit ListenedTitle: The Rabbit Listened
Author and Illustrator: Cori Doerrfeld
Publisher: Dial Books
ISBN: 978-0735229358
Genre: Picture Books, Children’s Books
Pages: 32
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

What do we need in times such as these? Someone who will listen without any bias or judgement? Someone who will be there for you, and wouldn’t need to prove that time and again? The Rabbit Listened is a book to soothe the heart, the mind, and perhaps even the soul. It just made me smile, and be thankful for what exists. Even if it doesn’t. Even if it did at some point. And by it, I mean relationships.

The Rabbit Listened is a book for all of us. It is about empathy. It is about empathy that we do not action, even though we tend to speak volumes of it on the Internet, and specifically on social media. The Rabbit Listened is about a boy who has something he loves destroyed, and all sorts of animals come to advise him about how he should move on, till the rabbit just sits and listens. A listening ear is all we need, perhaps most of the time.

We all need that rabbit in our lives. Someone who will listen, and just be there. This book somehow strangely reassures us about people in our lives, about the love, the kindness, and why do we hold them dear and close to us. We need to understand empathy and how to action it more now than ever. The Rabbit Listened is for people of all ages, and not just for children. We all need to listen, and be there.

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Title: The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
Author: Thi Bui
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
ISBN: 978-1419718786
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 344
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It isn’t easy, living this life. I do not know where I read it, or who told me this, but I guess this is true in some way or the other for all of us. It just isn’t easy. Till it becomes bearable I guess, in one way or the other that you make it. I was reminded of this, and more as I turned the pages of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by This Bui – about her parents who escaped to America from Vietnam in the 70s, right after the fall of South Vietnam, and the lives they struggled to build for themselves and their four children.

TBWCD - Image 1

Of course this is the kind of book that makes you ponder through its simple illustrations – it is a book about so many stories, so many narratives that Thi Bui makes the reader aware of – conflict, what it is like to not be at home, what is home in the larger scheme of things, identity at the core of restlessness and wanting to shake that off as well, and more than anything the unspoken love between parents and children. I think to a large extent I could relate to the love that remains unspoken. I don’t recall ever saying I love you so casually to either of my parents, and the same goes for them. We don’t say it enough. Like Thi Bui says, it gets stuck in the throat.

TBWCD-Image 2

The Best We Could Do is also about coping with life on a daily basis, with the past almost overseeing and controlling events. It is also about what it means to be a parent – from the child’s perspective, and that of the parent’s. It is about the racism that people face in the United States of America, and what it takes to “fit in”. And before you know it, you are rooting for her and her family at almost every page. The empathy is real. I cannot begin to imagine what it must take for her parents to build a life from scratch. I also while reading the book wished I had more time with my grandparents to have asked them what it was like when they moved from Pakistan to India during the Great Partition.

The Best We Could Do is a book that will grab you by the throat and make you see the beauty and the ruthlessness of humanity. It shows all sides without bias. It doesn’t take sides. For Thi Bui to be this objective, and tell the story of her family is a feat in itself. It is all about doing the best, and finding your place in the sun.

The Milk of Dreams by Leonora Carrington

The Milk of Dreams by Leonora Carrington Title: The Milk of Dreams
Author: Leonora Carrington
Publisher: New York Review Children’s Collection
ISBN: 978-1681370941
Genre: Children’s Books
Pages: 56
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Milk of Dreams by Leonora Carrington is such a strange book – even though it is for children. The short stories are odd, have a fairy tale quality to them, and are surreal to the hilt.

These stories aren’t the usual fare that authors serve up for children. They are dark – with children’s body parts missing, some sewed back, and a story also of a vulture getting stuck in gelatin. Carrington read these stories to her children, and that’s how they came to be. In fact, the illustrations in the book are also from the ones that she made on the children’s bedroom walls.

Humbert the BeautifulThis book is bizarre, and at the same time delightfully odd and silly. I was captivated by all of it – the drawings, the prose that was crazy, and the nonchalance of it all, in the sense of it being read to kids. There is John, who has wings for ears, and “Humbert the Beautiful”, and my personal favorite being “The Horrible Story of the Little Meats” – a fantastic fairy of a woman who doesn’t like kids, and ends up feeding them bad meat, to then do what she wants to.

The Milk of Dreams - Image 3

The Milk of Dreams is a read that is short and yet stays with you. I could reread and reread it some more. Maybe this time I will pay more attention to the illustrations as well. All said and done, it is the kind of book that could be read easily in less than an hour and like I said, go back to once in a while.