Category Archives: World Literature

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

americanah-by-chimamanda-ngozi-adichie Title: Americanah
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Anchor Books, Vintage
ISBN: 978-0307455925
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 588
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I did not know what took me this long to reread this book. I remember reading it in 2013, when it was published and I promised a friend that I would get back to it soon – reread it that is. I reread it this month, after three years and was stunned yet again, just as I was when I first read it.

How do you describe a flawless novel such as “Americanah”? How do you review it? How do you describe your feelings to people as you read it, with a hunger and also knowing that you must starve yourself for it, should it get over too soon? While this book is about race at the heart and core of it, it is also a lot more than just that. May be this will be a good start to letting you know more about the book. I for one was riveted. My mind is still reeling from the characters, their lives, their perceptions, opinions, views and how it feels when you are almost an alien in another country.

“Americanah” is fodder for the mind, heart and soul. It may sound cliché when I say this, but that’s what it was for me. It is the story of two Nigerians, each trying to find their place in the world – from school to college to working in countries that they have experienced only in movies, comics, books or TV shows. There is certain neatness to the writing – it is neither convoluted, nor simple at the same time. It deals with issues; it feels personal at the same time and an all-encompassing read.

“Americanah” – the title is a Nigerian word used to describe someone who has lived abroad for so long, maybe particularly in America that they no longer understand the nuances of being Nigerian. They speak American and eat that cuisine. They are alien to their people once they are back and somehow that is the case with Adichie’s characters as well.

Ifemelu – a bright and sharp observant girl, lives her life in Nigeria, goes to America and is in for a rude shock – where race, hair and the way she is plays a major role than she thought it would. The story of Ifemelu is about her trying to fit in and then realizing that America was never for her. She sees America through her journey and life in Nigeria and is constantly on the lookout for more. Her relationships in America are not as fulfilling as they were back home with Obinze (her former boyfriend). He was the love of Ifemelu’s life before America seeped into her bones and flesh. We see love being central to the story and yet it is so distant for the two of them – things change drastically in the course of this book.

Adichie makes her characters like you and I. There is so much of everyday reality that it is heartwarmingly overwhelming. The legacy of slavery and black people and non-black people issues are at the core of this fantastic book. We see how Obinze’s life carries out in London which is very different from that of Ifem’s in America. The common thread is that of feeling like an outsider – like you will never belong.

The secondary characters in the book are not just props – they do, say and add so much gravitas to the entire narrative. From Ifem’s boyfriends and friends to Obinze’s mom and then the reaction of friends and family when Ifem is back from America – to a Nigeria that is very different from what it was when she left it a long time ago.

Ifemelu is more than just an interesting character. To me she embodied a lot of issues, confusion, heartache and more. Obinze on the other hand has so much to say and just doesn’t. Adichie has him restrained to some extent. The blog by Ifemelu on racism called “Raceteenth” and the posts in the book are insightful and brilliantly written. Maybe at some point, being a minority group, we all go through the same kind of racism (or do we?) and that’s why I could relate more to it being a gay man.

“Americanah” is a read not to be missed out on. At any cost.

Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami

hear-the-wind-sing-by-haruki-murakami Title: Hear the Wind Sing
Author: Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0804170147
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

My first tryst with Murakami was in 2001. The book was “Sputnik Sweetheart”. It broke my heart into uncountable pieces. It left it like this, for me to pick them up and move on. I did. Since then, every Murakami I’ve read feels like it is a new experience. Sure, some elements are recurring in each of his books, but so what? I love what he writes and will continue to do so.

I’ve had “Hear the Wind Sing” – the first book written by Murakami on my shelf for a while now. I haven’t had the heart to pick it up, not because I would be disappointed by what he has to say but that there is nothing to read after this by him.

“Hear the Wind Sing” is where it all began and one can see the progression of the writer by reading this book and then the others. This book was written in the spring of 1978. The book is classic Murakami – loneliness, obsession and eroticism at the core of it. An unnamed narrator is definitely needed. Someone obscure – Rat in this case (and continues in two other books) is a must, a mysterious woman and a bar make for a perfect plot.

The writing is leisurely. You cannot read this book and compare it to the rest of his works. In fact, you shouldn’t. What amazes me that even in his first book, there is so much clarity and brevity in the writing. He says what he has to and that’s that. There is no need for the melodrama. You keep turning the pages because you know they are so well-written. “Hear the Wind Sing” is the first in the trilogy, followed by Pinball, 1973 and ending with A Wild Sheep Chase. Now to the second one.

Baba Dunja’s Last Love by Alina Bronsky

Baba Dunja's Last Love by Alina Bronsky Title: Baba Dunja’s Last Love
Author: Alina Bronsky
Translator: Tim Mohr
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN:978-1609453336
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

In my experience, most of the time, shorter books make for some great reading experiences. What sometimes big books fail to communicate, a short book does magnificently. “Baba Dunja’s Last Love” by Alina Bronsky does just that as a gem of a small book. It just makes you sit back and take count of life in some of the most adverse situations and makes you see how far you have come and how it is all going to be okay (or at least you can hope that it will all turn out okay).

So now more about the book. Baba Dunja’s Last Love is a book that is hopeful and yet stems from despair. It is the kind of book that makes you question mankind and its treacherous ways and also redeems the very same race of man. The story is set in Baba Dunja’s home town – which a stone throw away from Chernobyl. The very same Chernobyl that was the core of the nuclear accident of 1986. Baba Dunja has nothing to go back home to but she wants to and she does.

She lives in her house and returns to her village life. She is in touch with her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter who live in Germany. Marja lives in the house next to her and life has an unexpected twist for her as well. Then there is Petrov who is terminally ill and spends his time reading poems. There are other twisted characters in the village and somehow all seems to be going well, till a stranger and his daughter arrives and Baba Dunja’s life is never the same.

This is just the threadbare plot that I have mentioned. There is obviously a lot going on in the book with its dark humour and wit – which you will eventually come to know if you read the book. The writing is never boring or out of place. It is not a big book either – so you can really sit back and finish it in one sitting, even though the topic might seem grim. Bronsky has this charm to her writing – mixing harsh realities with a constant dream that makes you want to hoot for the characters and hope all turns out well for them.

The Robber Hotzenplotz by Otfried Preussler

The Robber Hotzenplotz by Otfried Preussler Title: The Robber Hotzenplotz
Author: Otfried Preussler
Translated by: Anthea Bell from German
Publisher: NYRB Children’s Collection
ISBN: 978-1590179611
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I steer clear from most children’s fiction. I don’t know why but that has always been the case – more or less. There are some books though that catches my fancy and I happened to literally bump into “The Robber Hotzenplotz” by Otfried Preussler online and couldn’t resist getting my own copy (on request from publisher) and I was more than pleasantly surprised by the book.

The story is simply told. The plot is of two boys – around eight or nine year olds – who are best friends – Kasperl and Seppel and of the robber Hotzenplotz who works very hard to hide in the woods and wait for his next victim. His next victim happens to be Kasperl’s grandmother, who he attacks and steals her coffee mill. The boys then head out to rescue the mill from Hotzenplotz and find themselves in the midst of one adventure after another.

Preussler’s writing is funny – in the sense not only for children but also for adults. The translation by Anthea Bell is simple and works with every single turn of the page. The illustrations are magnificent and won’t let go of you that easily. I loved the simple and yet so human like illustrations.

To me the book was a breeze of a read and will be the same for you. I was just wondering also of the numerous tales that we do not pay attention to, either because we aren’t familiar with them or because our culture doesn’t expose us to them. NYRB Children’s Classics plans to change that I hope with the publication of such classics that more children will read from different countries and know more. I know, I for one will lap them all.

“The Robber Hotzenplotz” is a funny read for both children and adults and I highly recommend this one.

Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

Beauty is a Wound Title: Beauty is a Wound
Author: Eka Kurniawan
Translator: Annie Tucker
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9385755682
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Beauty is a wound” that borders on the mystical, the surreal, the magic realism and the unbelievable and scores full marks on each of these parameters. It is the kind of book that will not leave you that easy and you will keep going back to it, as you think more and more about the characters, some lines and the plot in general.

The book is everything you can possibly imagine it to be – it is historical in nature, a sweeping family saga, a book of tragedy, legend, humour, rape, monstrosity and more.

What is the book about though?

The book is about Indonesia – it is about the Indonesian way of life and more often than not, about its politics, freedom, culture and the ties that aren’t cut off that easy. It is about ghosts – multiple ghosts at that, about how Dewi Ayu refused to leave her homeland when the Dutch bolted, and how she rises beyond the grave when her family is at stake.

The allegory of the country being a woman is way too strong in the book, hence the rape and pillage scenes are extremely violent and you can only stomach it if you are metaphorically made of steel at that. “Beauty is a wound” also to me in most places felt heavily inspired by Marquez, but the sad part is that anyone who attempts to write in this genre, will be compared to Marquez, whether they like it or not.

Eka Kurniawan’s writing is very different and quite refreshing might I add. This also to a very large extent comes from the translation which shines on every page, as done by Annie Tucker. You don’t want to miss out on this book. It will be tough getting into, it will be raw and intense as you read it, but you will savour it and want more of this masterpiece.