Category Archives: women writers

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward by Ann NapolitanoTitle: Dear Edward
Author: Ann Napolitano
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0241384077
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I received this book a while back and I refused to read it. I knew it would make me weep, make me think about mortality, about life and its smallness, and maybe at the same time, in a way liberate me from some negative emotions as well. It did all of this and more.

Dear Edward on the surface comes across as a story of a boy who survived. As one of the characters, Shay says early on in the book that Edward is like Harry Potter – the boy who lived. I agree with her. There is so much more though to this novel about hope, grief, and the idea that life moves on in such different ways – ways in which we never expect it to turnaround.

Edward Adler is the twelve-year old sole survivor of a plane crash. He has lost his entire family – his parents and older brother. The 191 passengers onboard, including the crew is dead. This book is about the aftermath of the crash. Of the living that are left behind.

I had to deal with so many emotions while navigating this read. There was a constant lump in the throat – mostly it also came from remembering the ones who aren’t around anymore. There was the deep empathy I had toward Edward, and more than anything when he finds those letters written to him by the relatives, family, and friends of passengers who lost their lives. That’s another major plot point. How does one cope with loss? What does it take to think and feel you have moved on? When do you truly move on, and when do you know that you have moved on?

Edward’s aunt who takes him in with her husband deals with her own grief – that of losing a sibling. The grief that is common to both – Edward’s bond with his brother is the strongest and a loss not easy to deal with, and yet silences speak the loudest in this book. To acknowledge grief is to make it all real.

The book alternates between Edward’s current life, and the storylines detailing the flight and the passengers’ lives. Nothing seems too long or unnecessary. Every plot line mattered. Napolitano made me care for the characters, for each of them, in a very different way. The thing with books such as this is that sometimes it can become very easy to get caught in the plot, and sort of ignore the secondary characters. But this is where Napolitano doesn’t let us lose focus. Edward is at the core, but the ones no longer around are focused on time and again.

Dear Edward, is about empty spaces in our lives. The void that fills itself. The wound that heals. It is a book about small graces and mercies. Of grief and its upliftment, to finally setting it free, to understanding that you don’t love less when you do that.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Citizen An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine Title: Citizen: An American Lyric
Author: Claudia Rankine
Publisher: Penguin Poetry
ISBN: 978-0141981772
Genre:  Poetry, Criticism,
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

“Citizen – An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine is a book which can be applied to anywhere in any country. It is on racism and according to me racism is not just deep-rooted in The United States of America. It is prevalent all over the world and that is not something to be proud of for anyone. I chanced on this book on Salon.com. It was heavily recommended by one writer whose name I forget. All said and done, I am only too glad that I picked it up and cannot stop talking about it.

“Citizen” is the perfect book of our times and sadly represents the world that we live in. It is an age of race differentiation, colour differentiation and violence and maybe it never stopped. Maybe it never ended anywhere. This book makes you think in ways you didn’t think it was possible to do. It ruffles your feathers and rightly so. It is needed at this juncture. I think it is also the fact that we tend to ignore so many things because we don’t want to confront. I think it is time to confront. Gone are the days of being silent.

I think that maybe “Citizen” can somewhere down the line help us understand why things are the way they are and at the same time, there is so much introspection that we need to do as well. And like I said before, the book is not all American, though it seems like that from the title. It can speak to anyone and it does. When Rankine speaks of what Serena Williams had to go through because of her colour, she is speaking to a wider audience and we need more voices such as these. She speaks of shame of colour, of rage, of loneliness, and what it means to be discriminated against.

“Citizen” is a read that will take its own time to sink in. You cannot rush through it. It is the kind of read that stays with you and makes you think about the world we live in. The writing is stunning and strong and forces you told contemplate on issues you would have turned a blind eye to. The writing also sort of comes across as an out-of-body experience for Rankine. To distance herself from all of this and write, and then to merge her experiences. I finished this book with a heavy heart. The book can be best summed-up in one line as written by Rankine: “I don’t know how to end what doesn’t have an ending.”

Read it. You will not regret it.

P.S: This time around was my second read of the book. The first time was in 2015. Sadly, nothing has changed.

The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India by Supriya Gandhi

The Emperor Who Never Was - Dara Shukoh in Mughal India by Supriya Gandhi Title: The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India
Author: Supriya Gandhi
Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 978-0674245969
Genre: Biographies and Autobiographies
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

 

I have been afraid of history books. Reads that somehow seem to take a lot of time to process and take a lot from me as a reader. That’s the perception I had for the longest time of history books. Till I read Dalrymple, Thapar, Manu S. Pillai, and now a recent addition, Supriya Gandhi’s, “The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India”.

This is a fascinating read. It reads like a novel. It reads easy. It speaks of Shukoh, of whom less is written, much less spoken of. A fascinating look of a family, the succession to the throne, and the politics that happened in its wake. Dara died at the hands of his younger brother Aurangzeb, and that forever changed the course of South Asian History. Let me speak more about the book.

Shukoh was the eldest son of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor. The Mughals did not practice the concept of primogeniture (the right of succession passed to the firstborn). How did Aurangzeb ascend to the throne and what happened to Dara, and Shahjahan’s other children is what the book is about.

I was enthralled by the writing. Like I said, Gandhi’s writing is very accessible and doesn’t seem heavy at all. There was not a single place in the book that seemed forced or unwanted. Every detail of the family, to what the siblings felt, to Dara’s sense of being, and Aurangzeb’s personality (sometimes misunderstood as well) was perfectly laid out.

Supriya Gandhi almost gets into the skin of Shukoh – the man he was, how he embraced Sufism, and yet he wasn’t without his own flaws. She transports the reader to a land of constant conflict and gives us a biography that is balanced – there is no bias of any kind and she doesn’t take sides. She presents history the way it happened.

We live in times when politicians in India (some of them) are out to erase the history of this nation. The Emperor Who Never Was by Supriya Gandhi reclaims history and gives us a complex, nuanced biography of a man who was not known at all, and also of a family that was different and always at loggerheads with each other. Read the book to know more. Read the book and educate yourself. We live in times, where a good open perspective is always needed.

Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy

Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy Title: Exquisite Cadavers
Author: Meena Kandasamy
Publisher: Context, Westland
ISBN: 9789388754842
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I do not know where to begin talking about this book. There is so much going on in this book – love, hate, fights, religion, a book about a young couple navigating love and hate in London, about migration, and how we are in the modern world. Or rather how we perceive love, and its failings (if any).

Exquisite Cadavers is about a young couple, Karim and Maya. Karim is a filmmaker who has left his house in Tunis, and made his house in London with Maya, an English woman, who is battling her demons of an almost absent father, fighting with giving up cigarettes, and is confronted by a pregnancy she isn’t quite sure of.

The book is very cleverly divided into the actual novella and in the margins the thoughts of Meena as she was writing the actual book. Sometimes it just feels that the novel is meta and the thin line between reality and fiction is blurred to the point of it not being recognised. Pieces are stitched – revealing one layer after another. While one column speaks of Karim and Maya, the other speaks of the author’s creative process, her life, and the horrors occurring in India (yes, she speaks of the current ruling party and what followed).

Meena’s life on the left – from seeing her friends killed and arrested to becoming an activist herself is a stream of consciousness that shouldn’t be missed. The rage and anger is perhaps what we need in large doses, given the times we live in. At the same time, the domestic tale of Karim and Maya is extremely engaging, till the two very cleverly meet at the end of the book.

Exquisite Cadavers is a book that needs time to brew and seep, till you pick it up and look at it by taking sides. You need to take a side, and stay there. This book demands that when it comes to marginalia – you cannot sit on the fence. It is an experimental novella unlike any other that I have come across and it will make you question, ponder, mull, and understand where you come from.

 

Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim. Translated from the Korean by Janet Hong.

Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim Title: Grass
Author: Keum Suk Gendry-Kim
Translated from the Korean by Janet Hong
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
ISBN: 9781770463622
Genre: Nonfiction, Graphic Memoir
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

 

Before reading Grass, I wasn’t aware of “comfort women”. I wasn’t aware of how they were treated by Japanese soldiers. These women were largely Korean and were forced into sexual slavery during the Japanese Occupation of Korea before and during World War II. This is the account of how the atrocity of war ruins women’s lives – no matter the country, no matter the place – the suffering of women is universal. Men go to battle. Women get raped. Men go to battle. Women must bear all consequences.

Grass is the story of a Korean girl named Okseon Lee (becoming Granny Lee Ok-sun) – from her childhood to how she became a comfort woman to depicting the cost of war and the importance of peace. The “comfort woman” experience was most traumatic for Korean women that took place from 1910 to 1945, till they were liberated from the Japanese.

This book is painstakingly honest and brutal. It moves the reader but does not take away from the story and the truth, as should be the case. It is as I said before a woman’s story as a survivor – undergoing kidnapping, abuse, and rape in time of war and imperialism.

Grass opens at a time in Granny Lee Ok-sun’s life when she travels back home to Korea in 1996, having spent fifty-five years as a wife and a mother in China. Kim’s interviews with Granny is what forms the base of this book. Some memories surface clearly, some don’t, and yet it doesn’t take away from the book at all.

To tell such a story through the graphic medium doesn’t reduce the significance or the emotional quotient of the narrative. I found myself most moved so many times in the course of this read. Just the idea that these women were not given the agency to think or feel for themselves, and treated with such brutality, made me think of PTSD and how they didn’t even have the vocabulary to explain this or understand what they were going through. All they knew was they had to be alive, no matter what. In the hope of either being saved by strangers, or finding ways to escape “comfort houses”, to get away from conditions where getting a proper meal is a luxury, where your child is taken away from you, where men constantly enter and exit at will, and ultimately to feel human.

The artwork by Kim is brilliant. The scenes that are tough to digest are portrayed with such beauty – in the sense that it exists, hovers above you as you read it, and yet somehow makes you understand, keeping the dignity of the women. I think also to a large extent, the book is what it is because of the translation – which is so nuanced and on point when it comes to brevity and communicating what it has to.

Grass is a book that needs to be read to understand how people get away with the utmost damage to the human soul. Given the fight of haves and have-nots, of gender differences, of how unequal society is, this book should be read, and reread to understand where violence and also empathy comes from.