Category Archives: women writers

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Girls Burn Brighter Title: Girls Burn Brighter
Author: Shobha Rao
Publisher: Flatiron Books
ISBN: 978-1250074256
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Girls Burn Brighter is the kind of book that you are instantly drawn into. Though harrowing mostly, I thought it did have its moments of glimmer and hope. It is the kind of book that is gut-wrenching and ultimately redeems its characters in so many ways and on so many levels.

Girls Burn Brighter is about caste, love, friendship, and violence. There is a lot of violence in the book (it happens in our world and is needed to depict emotions and further the plot). The book is about two friends, Poornima and Savitha and how their lives are intertwined. I know it sounds like any other book about women and friendship, however, it is way more than that.

The book is about so much and yet there are times when Rao skillfully manages to focus on only one or two elements. The story is wrenching. A lot happens throughout the book – the women are forced into a lot of things which isn’t pleasant at all and at one time they are even separated for long, but beyond all this, is a tender tale of love and friendship.

Shobha’s writing shines. Of course there are times, when I thought it was a bit graphic and sometimes the plot went nowhere, but all of that was ignored – mainly due to the plot and the majority of writing which is so on point.

Girls Burn Brighter is the book which is most-needed for our times and I couldn’t be happier that is written. As a society, we have and will always shy away from discussing certain topics – things that are taboo, the ones that cannot be named, but once you start having a conversation, you realize that these were the very topics begging to see the light of day.

 

Advertisements

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays by Joan Didion

Slouching Towards Bethlehem Title: Slouching Towards Bethlehem : Essays
Author: Joan Didion
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250160652
Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love Didion’s writing. So I may be biased, but that’s alright. I remember the first time I read Didion. It was “The Year of Magical Thinking” and I was floored. I was gutted as well, amongst other things that I was feeling as the book ended.

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is a collection of essays written in the 1960s, almost fifty years ago – a time and place that current readers have not and will not experience (not that I have as well). At the same time, somehow while reading the book, it all came alive right then and there. Didion paints not just one image but a landscape on paper. Her talent is truly timeless and every time she writes something, she almost supersedes the last piece/book.

Didion’s writing though may seem America-centric but is actually quite deceptive, in the sense, it encompasses the world-view which you only understand after a couple of essays. Maybe that’s why (one of the many reasons for sure) that this book was the one that was the essential breakout work.

Didion’s prose is grounded. It doesn’t stray at any point in time. From speaking of Joan Baez (which is a very affectionate portrait of a highly intelligent woman) to a think piece on the Santa Barbara Coast to Las Vegas and the culture of quickie marriages, there is always this sense of voyeurism and at the same time,​ this need to soak in more of what she writes. This collection, ​in fact, reminded of her other collection of essays, The White Album and After Henry, whose content is very similar to “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”.

It takes a while to kick into the book, but it is also a good beach read (Surprised? So was I when I started it on a quick getaway). Her musings about life, in general,​ are also worth reading, even if you might not agree with some. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is one of the best essay collection you will ever read. So, please do not miss out on it. ​

Giving up the Ghost: A Memoir by Hilary Mantel

Giving up the Ghost Title: Giving up the Ghost: A Memoir
Author: Hilary Mantel
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250160669
Genre: Biographies, Memoirs
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Hilary Mantel is an author that should be read by everyone. I don’t mean it because she is a Booker-Prize winner (twice at that, and consecutively so), not because her fiction is par excellence, but because of her memoir. The memoir that will break you, make you smile, make you relate, and feel all sorts of emotions. At the same time, it is about feminist literary circles, about women who write and without fear, and literally about “Giving Up the Ghost”.

I cannot talk about the book in a linear manner because it is also not written that way. This memoir is about how a poor child of Irish origins, from a disadvantaged family, grew to become one of the world’s most celebrated novelist. Through her story, Mantel touches on other stories – the ones that we can relate to the pinnacle and back. She speaks of home, growing up, books, and more books and above all how she was subject to visions, to “seeing things” that weren’t there. Spooky, isn’t it? Were they real or just a condition because of her hormones as she had undergone an early hysterectomy?

The pain and clarity in the writing is astounding. She speaks of her novels as the children she would never have. All along she speaks of women – literary women mostly and their lives – and also strangely ties in the century and its on goings.

At no point does Mantel’s writing become pitiful or self-loathing or wanting attention. It is what it is and she has written it in a very matter-of-fact tone. The book doesn’t meander or amble and combines all of it quite beautifully. Honestly, you don’t even have to read her novels to read the memoir. Just dive in and be prepared for a fantastic, heck of a ride!

 

Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a Paintbrush by Anita Vachharajani. Illustrations by Kalyani Ganapathy

Rebel with a Paintbrush Title: Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a Paintbrush
Author: Anita Vachharajani
Illustrated by: Kalyani Ganapathy
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9352774739
Genre: Biographies, Art Biographies
Pages: 184
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I love Sher-Gil’s work. Almost everything she painted. Every work of art transformed itself in her hands. So there was this one biography of hers which I had read a long time ago, whose author I forget. But this is the one that will stay for a long time to come. I think it is mainly because of the illustrations.

“Rebel with a Paintbrush” very succinctly describes Sher-Gil – as a person, a wife, a lover, and an artist. More than anything, the book is all about her influences and her works of art. The journey of an artist is so well-described that I wished there was more of it.  More than anything else, I am in awe of how she conducted herself and lived life on her terms. Mind you, we are referring to a time when feminism had just taken flight.

This book is about her life, her influences, her education, the growing-up years and her determination and passion toward her art. It is also about the story behind the artist – about the rebel and the dreamer, her loves and longing and what shaped her both as an artist and woman.

Anita Vachharajani’s take on it may not seem new, but the writing is fresh and important. Also the beautiful reprints of Sher-Gil’s work along with the original illustrations by Kalyani Ganapathy make it more than worthwhile to pick this brief biography. I loved how Anita has looked at every aspect of Amrita’s life and ensured that nothing is missed. I can only imagine how she must’ve managed it but the result is quite a treat for someone who has an interest in art and wants to understand more about Amrita Sher-Gil – her life and work. Do read this book. Won’t take too much of your time and a perfect one for the monsoons.

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi. Translated from the French by Tina Kover

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi Title: Disoriental
Author: Négar Djavadi
Translated from the French by Tina Kover
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454517
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

At the very onset, let me tell you that “Disoriental” is not an easy book to read. I think most literary fiction isn’t. You have to give the genre some time to grow on you and once it does, there is no looking back. Having said that, the reading experience differs with every book.

The thing with “Disoriental” is that (and to me, this was important while reading it) it is written in French (the adopted country of the author) and not in the author’s native language Farsi. This in itself says so much about the book and its progression.

The readers are in for a treat when it comes to this book. From a modern-day fertility clinic, we are transported to modern Iranian culture and in the bargain the history of a country. Might I add that there are magic realism elements as well that take your breath away, even if you have read Márquez or Rushdie. Kimiâ Sadr fled Iran with her mother and sisters to join her father in France, at the tender age of ten. She is now twenty-five, in a fertility clinic waiting for her turn and memories come rushing by.

I love how Djavadi has integrated the personal and the political. It is as if they are intertwined and to a very large extent maybe they are. The past, present, and future of the country of birth will somehow in so many ways, will always be linked to ours, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. The Sadrs are a flamboyant lot – from Kimiâ’s formidable great-grandfather to her father and uncles. Not to forget her mother from whom she was greatly inspired.

“Disoriental” besides being a book on identity, exile, and homelessness, is also a book on a family in the midst of political upheaval and regime change. Iran is described on point (not that I have been there but can figure, only going by movies I have watched and other books I have read) and there is mention of “THE EVENT” of March 13, 1994, which is spoken about throughout the book and revealed with a feeling of horror toward the end.

The thing also about “Disoriental” is that it feels as though it has come from a very personal space, almost autobiographical and maybe it is. Family looms large in the narrative and plays along beautifully alongside, combining the personal and the political. Also, not to forget the sexual. Kimiâ’s sexual identity is also explored which I thought was much needed.

“Disoriental” is about distances and perhaps also about the ones we do not sometimes want to traverse. It is about alienation and somehow feeling grounded wherever you are, in a very strange manner. The tone and voice of the narration keep changing in the book, which to me made it jumpy and out of the flow. Having said that, it was needed to give background about characters and the place they came from. There are multiple journeys in one book – they run parallelly to each other and the author uses deep, lyrical sentences that give it the much-needed elegance. At the same time, to understand that all of this is translated into English makes one be in awe of Tina Kover, given how dense the book is.

There is a lot of thread of memory – through objects, people, place and time (you will keep reading about THE EVENT a lot by the way), lending it the Proustian quality (I wasn’t surprised at all). All I can say is that “Disoriental” is a book that has so much to offer, and does it in a lot of ways and stupendously at that.