Category Archives: World Literature

The Gardens of Consolation by Parisa Reza

Title: The Gardens of Consolation
Author: Parisa Reza
Translated by: Adriana Hunter
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453503
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“The Gardens of Consolation” by Parisa Reza is a book about common people, literally caught up in conditions which are not ordinary – things happen around them, their country changes and they just hope and pray that things remain the same. It is the story of a family that sees Iran through the changes and what do those changes mean for them and their lives. Historical fiction isn’t easy to write. I mean there is so much already written about history timelines of a country – that sometimes as a reader I wonder: what else is left to read about this? Then comes along a book like ‘The Gardens of Consolation’ that defies my way of thinking and presents me with something new and exciting.

The book is set in 1920s with young newlyweds Talla and Sardar Amir travelling from their native village Qamsar to the suburbs of Tehran, where everything is new to them. Sardar is amazed at what he can do when it comes to work and Talla is slowly coping with the ways of the world – a major change being with the Shah announcing that the chador must not be worn anymore. This is just one of the incidents but it leaves a huge impact on Talla’s life. The book then proceeds with them moving to Shemiran where they raise their son Bahram – who is somewhat of a prodigy in school and after and how his political leanings (nationalist) change him and the family. The overthrow of Mosaddegh plays a prominent role in the book and of course how Iran progressed as a country from pillar to pillar, thereby also witnessing its decline in the coming years.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot, so this is the story in brief. Having said this, the characters of this book almost become family. I could empathize so much with Talla – be it the situation of the chador to the time she is envious of the girlfriends her son brings home to also the time she goes back to her hometown and yet cannot recognize all that was left behind. Reza’s prose and Adriana Hunter’s translation does wonders to the prose. Sardar on the other hand is a content man (so is Talla by the way) and that’s why he is under constant fear of his world being torn apart one way or the other. I think so many of us can relate to this – time doesn’t matter, neither does class, what matters is the common fear of feeling secure throughout your life. Bahram’s character on the other hand is immensely complexed – he wants more and yet he doesn’t want more. We see him grow from a child to a teenager to an adult and see how his perspectives change as well.

Reza’s writing is compassionate. She makes you want to know a lot more about the characters and the situations they face on a day to day basis. “The Gardens of Consolation” makes you hoot for common people and hope and pray that all goes well in their world – and when you start doing that in a book, it means you are hooked to it. Reza makes you weep (a little), smile (a lot) and makes you a see a world that you never thought existed. A read not to be missed.

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.