Category Archives: Women Writers Reading Project

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream-A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib

Title: I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir
Author: Malaka Gharib
Publisher: Clarkson Potter
ISBN: 978-0525575115
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Malaka Gharib is Half-Filipino, Half-Egyptian, and born in the USA. This graphic memoir is about her life and her family on both sides. This memoir is also about identity, growing up in the US of A – being a part of the country and yet alienated. I know a lot of authors have written about this in some form or the other, however, I also believe that every book written in this sub-genre always sadly has something new to provide. The issue of racism, being a different skin colour, following a different way of life, and being ridiculed for it just doesn’t go away. It is always there – sometimes way too visible, and at other times not so much.

I liked this graphic memoir, in fact loved it, because it made me wonder about my confusion about identity (of course of a different kind) while growing up. I could hard relate to it – I could understand the dilemma of what to follow and what not to. Malaka’s life if seen from the greener side of the grass was very exciting growing-up to parents who came from different parts of the world. The opportunity then to know more about different cultures, and understand was twice-fold. At the same time, the need to fit in and belong is age-old. No one who hasn’t fit in will understand the pain of not belonging.

I Was Their American Dream familiarises you with cultures and traditions you perhaps weren’t aware of. I love reading books that do that, more so in the form of say a graphic memoir that isn’t too taxing. Sometimes you need such reads to also get the “reading momentum” going. Malaka’s illustrations are fun. There are also places where she wants readers to engage with her – so there is an activity to make a zine with her or dress a cut-out of hers, so on and so forth.

There are a lot of books like these – on identity, migration, immigration, the need to belong, and yet there is something about this one that struck home and stayed. It is honest, it talks plainly about how at one point she wanted to be a part of the “white” community so bad, and also how to deal with your past and where you come from. More than anything, what should one do with it, if at all one wants to. I Was Their American Dream is a lovely graphic memoir on how we see the world and ourselves in it.

Curry: A Global History by Colleen Taylor Sen

Curry - A Global History by Colleen Taylor Sen Title: Curry: A Global History
Author: Colleen Taylor Sen
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited
ISBN: 9789386338839
Genre: Nonfiction, Cooking, Food
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 stars

I am a fan of Indian food, and but of course because that’s what I grew up eating. Give me a good portion of Butter Chicken and I am capable of forgetting the world. The same goes for Biryani (is it Indian though, I wonder?) and Desi Chinese. Books about food, more so Indian food have fascinated me. Whether it is Rude Food by Sanghvi or a collection of essays by Madhur Jaffrey, each book on Indian food brings a unique perspective, and so does Curry: A Global History to some extent.

Curry gives you a lot of facts about how “curry” came to be – in India and then how it travelled to the rest of the world, thereby now becoming a global dish so to say. The book speaks of how the East India Company officers took to the Indian cuisine, thereby carrying our food with them “back home” and cooks from India, who eventually settled in Britain and some of them opened restaurants. Of how Butter Chicken was invented and became a sensation. Also, me being a lover of food had no idea of the number of curries which this book names and speaks of.

My favourite section was the one on the United States of America and how our food travelled there. The book covers all ground and how our food travelled mainly because of the colonial rule and influence – Singapore, Trinidad, South Africa, Burma, and others. Curry provides an education into the humble curry, its types, the way it is cooked, the spices used for various curries, making it extremely engaging, and yet falling short on not being comprehensive enough and seems rushed in the process. Nonetheless, a great book to know more about Curry and its place in the world.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book by Naja Marie Aidt. Translated from the Danish by Denise Newman.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back- Carl's Book by Naja Marie Aidt Title: When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book
Author: Naja Marie Aidt
Translated from the Danish by Denise Newman
Publisher: Coffee House Press
ISBN: 978-1566895606
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 152
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

You cannot overcome grief. Grief hangs around, till it decides to leave you. Till such time you cannot get rid of it. It will not let go. As Naja Marie Aidt puts it so eloquently, that it breaks your heart: “Sorrow cannot be cured”.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book is a book about Naja’s son Carl and how she and her family lost him when he was twenty-five years old. Lost him to what? Lost him to whom? How does one overcome such a loss? Does one really? The answer is always no.

The book is about Carl. His life, his loves, his innocence, his need to be there for everyone, and his love for his friends and family. Naja bares it all. She gives it all to the reader – in the form of Carl’s notes, his poems, her poems, other writer’s works on death, grief, and loss. From Whitman’s poetry (which she found in her son’s green jacket afterward) to Anne Carson and Gilgamesh, this quest is also personal (only personal) – that of understanding the nature of loss and how to cope with it (if there’s a way to it).

We all have different ways to deal with death. How many of us acknowledge the loss and speak of it again and again and again? How many of us choose to ignore what we feel and continue as though nothing has happened? The loss of a loved one cannot be contained. The loss of a child more so.

Naja’s book made me see how I deal with death. How I manage my emotions, what I feel, how I communicate, and what happens to me when someone beloved is no more.

The book tore me severely in so many places. The times she speaks of her son – always so lovingly, the way she speaks of who he was and what he was made of, her anger at her son not being present in the world, how he was buried, the future he could’ve had, the reactions of the family, and more – all of them shook me, made me weep, and made me realise how important it is to tell people you love them – to make them know it again and again and again. Death isn’t easy. Living without is most difficult. We all hold on to scraps of memories. That is all what remains.

And here is Naja Marie Aidt’s interview about the book. A must-watch:

 

In The Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado Title: In The Dream House: A Memoir
Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1644450031
Genre: Memoir, Gender Studies
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I had read a couple of short stories of Machado before picking up this memoir. I was also aware that this memoir, to a very large extent, would make me see my life and what I had gone through in a toxic relationship. Abuse need not be physical. In fact, the worst kind of abuse is the one that isn’t physical. The kind where no bruises are exposed, no scars are seen, no indication of violence is made known, and the one that isn’t heard or we feel that we cannot talk about it, as it is our own doing that got us here.

 In the Dream House is a book of abuse, hope, and resilience. It is a book about emotional exorcism which we all need to undertake once in a while, no matter the relationship or the intensity or lack of it. It is a memoir of Carmen’s toxic relationship with her first girlfriend and also a history of queer domestic violence. The chapters alternate from one to another. Some chapters read like parts of a larger fairy tale, while others are just downright horrific.

 And what is not surprising at all is the downright honesty of Machado’s writing. She is aware. She knows. The writing spills the heart on to the page. There is manipulation, deceit, a lot of heartache, and in all of this, she gives us glimpses of love. Love for which you stay. Love for which you are willing to perhaps forgive, till you realize that even that cannot change anything in the relationship or the person.

In The Dream House is beautiful and ugly. It is the kind of writing you want to shy away from but you cannot because you are engrossed, absorbed, and not as a voyeur but as someone who has been there (in my case) and knows every word, feels it, and can sense the pain it may have caused.

 There is grace – a lot of it, and then the candour springs on you from these very pages and grabs you at the throat. There is the Dream House as a Lesbian Pulp Novel, Dream House as Epilogue, Dream House as American Goth, Dream House as Sci-Fi Thriller, and Dream House as Ending. Dream House could be anything and is – a beautiful relationship, an abusive one, a one that won’t let go of you, family history, remembrances, queer history, and the author’s life at the core of it. The story she chose to tell and the manner in which she is telling it.

 In the Dream House is confrontative. It enters a territory which doesn’t get spoken about – queer domestic abuse. Machado also mentions at one point that we think queer folks are good and beautiful, but that’s not the case. We are as capable of ugliness. We are after all only human. The past is called on. The bits and sections are not clichéd narratives. There are no stereotypes here. What is there though: A gut-wrenching, redemptive story of the writer’s experiences. A story that needed to be told, and needs to be read.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett Title: The Dutch House
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1526618757
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett is a novel of many wonders. It is a box of things that are seen at first glance, only to discover a secret opening, where new things emerge from. This book gives, and gives, and gives some more. As a reader, as a fan of Patchett’s works, as an ardent admirer of what she puts to paper, my experience with The Dutch House has been surreal, mixed with nostalgia, and snatches of memory of my own childhood (though not this morbid or unfortunate).

What is a novel? What should be a novel? Is there such a thing as an ideal novel? Who decides that, if there is something like that? The critic? The reader? Or all of us, trying to find answers to questions of meaning of life, hope, and love as we turn the pages of novel after novel, searching for truths unknown as we move from one work of fiction to another?

The Dutch House is a fairy-tale. It is also gothic in nature when you least expect it to be. It is also full of misery, and then surprises you with moments of hope and togetherness. It is the story of two siblings – how they lose their home, how they understand each other (or not), and how they reclaim some of their lost home.

We are introduced to Danny (the narrator), and his older sister Maeve right at the beginning of the book. Their introduction to their would-be stepmother Andrea is where the book starts, and that’s when the series of events unfold in front of the reader – travelling between the past and the present of the novel.

The fairy-tale element runs strong, with a fair share of the Gothic that adds to the strong plot. Not to forget the way Patchett builds on the characters – from the housekeepers to the people that enter and exit from the siblings’ lives. Each character and each plot point is thought of to the last minute detail and maybe therefore this novel is as close to being perfect or it already is in more than one way.

What I found most interesting was the use of narration – by using the first-person narrator technique in a novel where time is of most importance, we see events unfold through two perspectives – the younger Danny and the older Danny. A doppelgänger effect, adding another layer to the complexity of the book.

The Dutch House is deceptively simple. It is a book that seems so easy to read on the surface, and it is. However, it is in joining the dots that are far and wide that adds to the reading experience. It is for this reason and more that Patchett is one of my top 10 favourite writers and will always be. She makes you feel, she makes you internalise how you think and feel as you read her books, and more than anything else she reminds you that being humane is the heart of it all.