Category Archives: women

Read 65 of 2022. In the Language of Remembering: The Inheritance of Partition by Aanchal Malhotra

9789354898914

Title: In the Language of Remembering: The Inheritance of Partition
Author: Aanchal Malhotra
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 9789354899140
Genre: Nonfiction, Partition Literature Pages: 756
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I love Partition Literature – it tells me about my ancestors and their way of life, which I didn’t bother asking about when they were alive. Partition Literature is more than just novels or oral history. It goes beyond grief, loss, and belonging. I love Partition Literature because I was always so safe knowing who I was, not fearing about displacement, not knowing any better, till I did.

My grandparents – both maternal and paternal – migrated to India in July 1947, right towards the end, from Pakistan. I was all of eight years old when my paternal grandmother died and I wasn’t born when my paternal grandfather died. My parents don’t remember much about the Partition either. My mother never asked her parents about it. Neither did my aunts and uncles on both sides. That says a lot about trauma and grief, about what we remember and what we forget, and what we do not want to know about.

In the last couple of years, I have read Aanchal Malhotra’s Remnants of a Separation at least three times to make sense of where I come from – at least some of it. I believe art saves you, and it does, and it has, whenever I have turned to it. It is painful to read about the Partition but in a way it is also very cathartic. As a third-generation resident of independent India – who has only heard about the Partition in snatches of stray conversations – trying to make sense of pain and loss, reading about the events can be a means of providing closure, even if in the smallest of ways.

Aanchal Malhotra’s In the Language of Remembering is a book for me, for people who belong to my generation or after, for anyone who wants to understand the Partition from where we are now. It is a book about remembering – of conversations Malhotra had over the years with generations of Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis. She speaks to them about identity, about the relevance of the Partition today, whether we wish to talk about the Partition, and the need to preserve the painful past.

While growing up I used to think of the Partition as an event in my grandparents’ lives. It was cut off from my existence. I didn’t realise till much later that I too am a product of the painful past in one sense or the other – of two people whose parents had memories, who could never forget what they endured, about how they crossed the border, and how long it took them to build a new life.

In the Language of Remembering has been published at a time when the country is in the grips of a destructive chaos – when relationships have taken a back seat and religion is at the fore, when Muslims are being othered, and people are being categorised as “minority” and “majority”. The book has been published at a time when we need it the most – to understand where we have come from and how far we have come, and what it will take to be truly secular.

I never understood what the Partition meant to me, and how it perhaps even impacted me till I read about it. It all began with Kamleshwar’s Partitions in the year 2000, and after twenty-two years and having read about some forty-and-odd books on the subject, I feel we still don’t have enough Partition Literature. We constantly need to look and relook at it, to understand ourselves better, and perhaps generate some more empathy within us – to be kinder to each other and ourselves. I admit, it isn’t as simple as that. Sadly, we have a long way to go since maps and borders continue to be an integral part of our existence, whether we like it or not.

In the Language of Remembering makes us aware of what we carry within ourselves. Malhotra’s book is about regrets, losses, hopes, about what we gained, and what we were separated from. It is about the choices one made, about family, about generations, and how some incidents are not passed over, not told as stories, not revisited because of how painful they are and the need to talk about them – both in order to look ahead and constantly keep looking back so as not to lose a part of ourselves.

Read 236 of 2021. Five Tuesdays in Winter: Stories by Lily King

Five Tuesdyas in Winter - Stories by Lily King

Title: Five Tuesdays in Winter: Stories
Author: Lily King
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1529086485
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 240
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I love short stories and this collection was no exception. I had read Writers & Lovers sometime last year and remember enjoying it a lot. Lily King’s writing is so precise and sharp, that every page shines with clarity of thought and emotion. Even so some stories are weaker than the others, but you tend to ignore them as a reader because the overall collection works for you.

The writing is tender and beautiful. She writes about big themes and spaces – complicated relationships between parents and children, former colleagues, a coming out story, marriages that do not work, and to most specifically focus on feelings in almost every story makes you marvel at the skill of also not meandering and not being too melodramatic, where it could have gone that way.

There are stories that are also dark, but they are made up for stories that offer moments of sweetness and generosity of emotions. The title story is about a jilted spouse left with an only child. A bookseller whose wife left him years ago and now he doesn’t know what to do with all his emotions and his preteen daughter trying to fill the void in his life.

Lily King’s stories are all about human feeling – they cover the entire range of emotions and do not make you choose any as a reader. For me, each was told with a different tone – though the underlined broad strokes were the same – of hope, failure, success, and a chance at mending the broken.

Read 229 of 2021. To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

9781529077506

Title: To Paradise
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1529077476
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 720
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

To Paradise isn’t A Little Life. It will not break your heart. It will not make you cry. It will not torment you days after you finish it. It will not haunt you or your memories. It is not that kind of a book. But what it is – for its writing, multiple plots, characters that are engaging and well-fleshed out, it is about family and relationships and how we are forever stuck or not with them, it is about inheritance, and passion, love and lack of it, and more so about Hawai’i.

It is not The People in the Trees, yet there is enough science for people who loved that one. It isn’t what you think it is – even though the blurb is given, and you think you know what this book is about, but you do not. To Paradise is nothing like I have read this year, and this is what I expect of Yanagihara.

To Paradise is divided into three parts and each part feels like a different novel. I failed to see the larger connect and that to me is alright, because I will reread it and see where I missed out. The first story is set in an alternate version of 1893 America, New York is a part of the Free States where anyone can do what they please, love and marry whoever they want – it all seems very idyllic. The nubile and young scion of a very distinguished family David is smitten by a music teacher Edward, who has nothing to show for, when he is almost betrothed to a wealthy suitor Charles, way older than him and perhaps incapable of understanding him. Yanagihara’s characters take time to grow and for readers to even get to know them. It is almost a slow-burn of a novel in that sense.

The second part of the novel plays out in 1993 Manhattan with the AIDS epidemic taking more lives by the minute. This part of the novel looks at the relationship of a son and father, both Davids this time. The son, David is living with his older and richer lover Charles and the father is combating a serious illness, contemplating on life – past and present through a series of monologues. This by far was my favourite section of the novel. Yanagihara writes prose like no other. Even though like I said this book isn’t traumatic, it has its moments of melancholy, grief, and loss.

The last part of the novel is set in a not-so-distant future where pandemics are a common thing and charts the relationship between a grandfather, Charles and his granddaughter Charlie. This is the part where science (as it played out beautifully in The People in the Trees) comes to fore along with questions of identity, climate change, and uncertainty.

The themes of the book are so large and interconnected that it makes you want to keep turning the pages. Love, loss, loneliness, the need for someone, shame, death and fear keep getting played out in several ways. The writing is taut and perfect. Not a beat is missed, and nothing is out of place. The book may seem chunky, but it is needed. Yanagihara works on details – this is the only way to get to know her characters and understand the world she creates.

To Paradise left me stumped as well in a lot of places – there are a lot of questions unanswered, too many loose ends that weren’t tied, too much left for assumption, but it is alright. I think some books are meant to be that way. I will most certainly reread it when it is officially out in January.

Read 219 of 2021. The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

Title: The Book of Form and Emptiness
Author: Ruth Ozeki
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1838855239
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 560
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

All I am going to say is this, if you haven’t Ruth Ozeki, now is the time and no better book to start with than this one. The Book of Form and Emptiness has to be one of my top 10 favourites of the year. It shines, it dazzles, it makes you believe in the not so believable aspects of life and living, but above all – the writing is splendid. It has the touch of lightness to it, without it being it. Ruth Ozeki has done it again and deserves two rounds of applause.

The Book of Form and Emptiness is about a boy named Benny Oh whose father Kenji, a Korean American jazz musician is run over by a chicken truck in an alley behind their house. And this is where the story begins. A story of grief, loss, even humour to some extent, hope, and how we redeem ourselves from the guilt we hold inside. Soon after, Benny starts hearing voices from inside everything. From his dead father’s clarinet to objects around the house to the lettuce in the fridge to furniture to everything in sight – each clamouring for their own attention and space. They all tell Benny their stories – of pain, of laughter, of histories of abuse and how they were handled.

Things are going downhill for his mother Anabelle as well. Benny and she constantly fight, as she refuses to let go of things and hoards more and more, and he cannot help but want to get rid of things as they speak and speak and speak. In all of this, Ozeki speaks of complex neurodivergent subjectivity in some form, touches on Benny’s journey into the schizoaffective, leading him to one of the quietest spots – the library. Even though books also speak with him, especially one specific book. At the library, he finds love and philosophy in two very different people – one a street artist, and the other a homeless philosopher-poet.

The Book of Form and Emptiness is about everything and nothing at all. It is about all of it – rolled into one – about space junk, about life on the margins, toxic masculinity, of Zen Buddhism, bad weather, of coping mechanisms, and above all about how humans come together and find love in most unexpected places.

Ozeki’s writing is magnificent. Almost like a painting or a movie. Her writing is constantly in motion and that makes the reader want to keep pace or just lay languidly without turning the page. The writing gives you the comfort and luxury to do that. The book is also about books to a large extent – of how books save us and what role they play in our lives. Ozeki writes carefully about mental health and trauma, with most empathy and grace. Ozeki’s world is surreal, it is haunting, it is not perfect, and definitely not absolute. It is messy, jagged, demands attention, and perhaps talks about things that truly matter or should matter to human beings, given our small lives.

Read 218 of 2021. Name Place Animal Thing by Daribha Lyndem

Name Place Animal Thing by Daribha Lyndem

Title: Name Place Animal Thing
Author: Daribha Lyndem
Publisher: Zubaan Books
ISBN: 978-8194760504
Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

On the surface what comes across as very simplistic coming-of-age narrative, and the writing also feels that way, however, a couple of interconnected stories into the book and you see the book for what it is. Name Place Animal Thing is refreshing, has nuance to it, is short in the sense to finish but lasts longer in memory and association, to some extent.

For me, reading this book was an eye-opener, because sadly or rather most unfortunately, we often tend to view the north eastern region of the country as similar when it is not so at all.  Daribha Lyndem’s voice is unique, it is sharp and often meticulous, sometimes also jagged which lends it the much-needed authenticity, but mostly it is empathetic and observant.

Name Place Animal Thing is narrated through the eyes of a child, and subsequently a young woman as she comes of age in the city of Shillong. The book is rife with politics – sometimes too obvious and sometimes subtle, the differences and hostility between the Khasis and the Dkhars (term used for non-Khasi people in the region) and more than anything else I think the role it plays in the narrator D’s life.

D’s life as the book is as well – a collection of vignettes – the kind that shape her ideas, thoughts, opinions, and even emotions. D is constantly questioning the world around her – the differences, the inequalities, the experience of insurgency, the friendships we are allowed to form (the last chapter is particularly heartbreaking in my opinion), and the role memory plays in the entire narrative.

I could almost at some point feel Daribha talking to me face-to-face as I turned the pages. The cultural experiences are explained at length, while Lyndem has also chosen very consciously to not italicise the local words and rightly so. I think the place the book is set in matters so much – the lanes, the neighbours, the emotional state, the mental well-being and in all of this the larger themes of race, class, death, grief, and friendships are weaved in like a charm.