Category Archives: women

The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri

the-clothing-of-books-by-jhumpa-lahiri Title: The Clothing of Books
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0670089741
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books
Pages: 80
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The Clothing of Books originally started off as a talk that Jhumpa Lahiri gave in Italian. It is now translated from Italian to English and is 80 pages long. The book is about book covers and what they mean to the reader, the writer and the relationship it shares and holds between the two. I was expecting a longer read (though I knew it was a short one but not this short) and that disappointed me a bit.

Having said that, Lahiri’s book is definitely not irrelevant to any reader. If anything, it will make you think about the cover as more than just an accessory to a book and what it means to you at a personal level as well. Lahiri touches on the history of book jackets (very briefly) and lets us know how they have now become just marketing vehicles that carry a lot of blurbs and nothing else. She also speaks of her book covers and how important it is for a writer to have his or her opinion about their book covers.

She further goes on to talk about how we judge books by their covers (literally so) and lends it to the metaphor of identity as she was growing-up (different in a foreign land). She doesn’t waste her words when it comes to explaining the concept of covers and how they have come to be – the dust jacket, the naked book (my favourite piece in the entire book) and the visual language it communicates through.

“The Clothing of Books” is an intimate essay of an author and book covers. It is about the experience it carries with itself. It is also about what covers do to books (playing a major role sometimes in the success of a book as well), the personal stories they carry and how art and reading intersect at a certain subliminal level.

So Much for That Winter by Dorthe Nors

so-much-for-that-winter-by-dorthe-nors Title: So Much for That Winter
Author: Dorthe Nors
Translator: Misha Hoekstra
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977429
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love it when authors break boundaries of traditional storytelling and present ideas in a new way. Dorthe Nors, a Danish writer does just that. She breaks the norms of telling a tale and how. Her new book (second one) titled “So Much for That Winter” consists of two novellas, of two women sifting through the fallout of respective breakups.

In the first novella, “Minna Needs a Rehearsal Space” – Nors writes the novella in the form of sparse headlines. Minna gets dumped on a text and the novella is about her being consoled by everyone around her – Minna’s mission though is to escape them all, especially her sister. I loved the way it was written. It is raw, brutal and funny – all at the same time. Nors could have very well written her own story. She could be Minna you know.

The second novella “Days” is about another breakup in the form of lists – of how a writer fills her time post break-up. Through both these novellas, I got a very uncanny sense of how nothing might be relevant in our endless age of tweets, updates and Instagram posts. Even heartbreak for that matter. I finished both these novellas in one go and honestly, I have not felt this disoriented in a long time after reading a book. Nors’ writing speaks to you and you can sense it crawling up your back and somehow you enjoy it. You are perhaps also taken in with all the reality but also somehow make peace with it.

Also, let me not forget that this experience would not have been possible without Misha Hoekstra’s wondrous translation of these novellas. “So Much for That Winter” deals in being human above everything else. These two novellas complement each other superbly and one cannot be read without the other. Nors has created a strewn about, lush, hurtful, real and beautiful love-letter of our times.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

difficult-women-by-roxane-gay Title: Difficult Women
Author: Roxane Gay
Publisher: Corsair, Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 978-1472152770
Pages: 272
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

This is the second time I was reading a book by Roxane Gay and let me tell you, yet again, I was completely blown over. When the world is on and about w0men rights and rightly so, Gay does it like no one else. She speaks on its behalf and also doesn’t seem like an armchair observer who goes on endlessly without making any sense. In fact her book of essays “Bad Feminist” is spot on about the changes we can make as individuals when it comes to equal rights. I think everyone must read her collection of stories – “Difficult Women” now or later, but read you must.

“Difficult Women” is a dark collection of stories – not all of them are dark, some of them are also funny, redeeming and feature colourful female protagonists who just are trying to make their way in a so-called man’s world. They could be writers, housewives or strippers – their profession doesn’t really matter – they still love hard and work harder to get where they want to. I was struck with the soft interior to these stories and yet it had such a tough exterior that a reader can be fooled at the beginning and will begin to see light as every story progresses and reveals something about itself. Roxane’s writing is addictive and the depth of understanding has every layer attached to it – from the unknown to the surreal to desire and humanity in places least expected.

Some stories are one dimensional but they also seemed to work for me. I was most touched by “I Will Follow You” (about two sisters and their captor), Le Negra Blanca (a definite read in the collection) and “North Country”. These are by far my favourites in this collection of twenty-one gems. To a very large extent, the strong women in this collection are based on Gay’s life and the women she has encountered. If you’ve read Bad Feminist you can relate to some of those women in these tales. But I think you will find the women in these stories anywhere – if you look harder that is. The intent of these stories is to give readers a glimpse into the inner world of women – why they do what they do, why they think the thoughts they do, or for that matter why they love the way they do. At this point I must mention the title story ‘Difficult Women’ which is a collection of vignettes of women who just want to live life on their terms.

A couple of times it was tough for me to turn the pages of this collection – only because it seemed so real and heartbreaking. At others, I even thought most of the stories were repetitive. But that is something I was willing to overlook only because of the beauty of the language. “Difficult Women” will make you think about the world around you and the women that inhabit it. I am most certainly not lending my copy to anyone.

Nine Island by Jane Alison

nine-island-by-jane-alison Title: Nine Island
Author: Jane Alison
Publisher: Catapult Books
ISBN: 978-1936787128
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 244
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Nine Island is the kind of book that will sink in way after you have read it. It makes most sense sometimes and no sense at all, the other times. Jane Alison’s writing is lucid at so many points and so vague at the other points. You get my drift, don’t you? It is a dream-like book. I was astounded when it began the way it did and there were also times I was bored out of my mind. Having said that, I reread a couple of passages of the book once I was done with it and let me tell you: They sparkled and spoke in a new voice to me.

What is the book about?

I don’t know how to tell you what the book is about – it is a lot of things actually – a love story, a rumination on Ovid and his tales, about solitude and the bonds we forge as we grow older and circumstances change and mostly, it is about taking second chances and giving yourself the luxury to make your mistakes and fall in love, all over again.

At the heart of the book is J (It is an autobiographical novel by the way), who lives alone past a certain age and yearns for love and companionship. She is trying to decide whether or not to withdraw from romantic love after returning from a reunion with an old flame, Sir Gold. The visit to Sir Gold results in nothing and thus the decision to be made. J lives in Miami and throughout the book ponders over love, Ovid (she is translating his magical stories) and about her ailing mother.

Now, what took me by the horns where this book is concerned is the force of Alison’s writing. The form of writing is free-flowing and that is what allows you to conveniently sink into it. The book is candid and doesn’t mince words about emotions and what J is going through. The first-person narrative works wonders for a book like this. All in all, Nine Island is a book that will make you reassess your relationship and speak with you in ways you didn’t imagine.

365 Stories: Day 10: By the Grace of God (Allah ka Fazl) by Ismat Chughtai

a-chughtai-collection

I remember being fascinated by watching The Quilt being performed by Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre troupe Motley. I remember watching Chughtai’s four short stories being performed on stage. That was the day I was introduced to her writing.

The story read today (the 10th of January 2016) was Allah Ka Fazl, translated by Syeda S. Hameed. I know it is not one of her better-known works, but this is what I was aiming for. This story is about a mother, a daughter who is married to an older man – almost 65 and she cannot produce a child, an aunt (friend of the mother’s) who wants to help by getting her married to someone else she knows and what comes of it all in the end.

Chughtai’s stories are all about women, their issues and the ferocity with which they deal with them. Even in that time and age, I guess women were more liberated than they are today. True-blue feminists with issues to target bang-on seemed to be the order of the day. Anyhow, this story is superb. You might be able to predict the end, as you go along, but worth every turn of the page.