Ties by Domenico Starnone

Title: Ties
Author: Domenico Starnone
Translated by: Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453855
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

To learn a language and not do anything about it is what regular folk do. It just sits in their memory and without any practice or anyone to speak with fades from there as well. That is how language works – more so when a new language is learned. But to actually do something the skills acquired with a lot of struggle, pain and heartache is perhaps what people like Jhumpa Lahiri do when they learn a new language. In her case, Italian and the translated work (by her) was Ties by Domenico Starnone.

I was anticipating this one for a while. I think it was more because I knew it was translated by Lahiri and I have loved almost all her books in the past, but as I read the book, I was taken in by the plot and I understood why I was waiting for it after all. “Ties” is a story of a marriage and also I would like to think of objects and empty spaces that surround us, where words get lost, and communication is dead between spouses. Also, might I add that “Ties” is not just another marriage story – there is a lot more to it which seethes under the surface as beautifully imagined by Starnone.

“Ties” is also beyond just the marriage of Vanda and Aldo. It is also about the other relationships that come with the terrain of marriage and how all of them get impacted when a marriage goes awry. The brokenness, the visible fault lines and sometimes not so visible ones, the routine and the mundane that act as barriers to them fulfilling their vows and above all no compatibility makes this book a rollercoaster of emotions read. To me, the book also symbolized time – the years of a marriage, the so-called affiliation between a couple, the ups and downs as they happen and above all the empathy for each other, which somehow is so fragile that it can break any time.

Domenico’s writing is sparse. I love how he doesn’t waste words when it comes to describing a situation, detail or emotion. I don’t know how the book reads in Italian but the translation seems just in place – just what is needed for this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, though initially it was a breeze to get into, later as the layers got added and it became a little more complex, it was tough but eventually it picked pace again.

“Ties” is the kind of book which has multiple facets to it – the ones that will make you see how sometimes marriages work and sometimes they do not – it is all around you for you to observe and make your deductions. At the same time, it is the kind of read that sticks – Starnone delves deep into the minds and hearts of common people and brings out every side to them through his characters. Lahiri’s translation hits home with the details, nuances and dialogue which is pitched perfectly for readers in English. “Ties” is the kind of a book which of course can be read for a weekend, but will stay for way longer than that.

The Day Grandfather Tickled a Tiger by Ruskin Bond

the-day-grandfather-tickled-a-tiger-by-ruskin-bond Title: The Day Grandfather Tickled a Tiger
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 978-0143428732
Genre: Children’s Books
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

This is another title in the same Bond series – chapter books that is. The first one that I reviewed was “The Tree Lover”. This one as the title suggests is more on the funny side and was again, a breeze to read. Just that for this one, there were no watercolour illustrations so that was kind of disappointing. At the same time, the story is delightful (I had read it earlier) and this time it had me wondering if it actually happened or not.

“The Day Grandfather tickled a Tiger” is obviously again about Rusty’s grandfather – this time involving a tiger. I enjoyed this story a lot and also recalled that I had read it earlier but the illustrations by Viplov Singh helped enhance it. This one is a little longer than “The Tree Lover” so perhaps the older kids would enjoy it more, plus it is funny.

Ruskin Bond as I have said before has this uncanny ability to appeal to all age-groups. It doesn’t matter if you are his target audience, so to speak or not – I think he writes for everyone and that is the beauty of his writing. This is most certainly a solid reason to read him.

The Tree Lover by Ruskin Bond

the-tree-lover-by-ruskin-bond Title: The Tree Lover
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 978-0143428749
Genre: Children’s Books
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

The Tree Lover is one of the short stories of Ruskin Bond that was a part of a larger collection. This time though it stands alone as a Puffin chapter book which I think is great, because honestly these chapter books are the way children will read more and be interested in stories, not to forget, the brilliant watercolour illustrations in this book by Ahlawat Gunjan make it even more special.

The Tree Lover is an autobiographical story of Rusty and his grandfather and nature. As the title suggests, the story is about trees and how they love back when you love them unconditionally. The watercolour illustrations of course added the extra pizazz to this short read but the narrative, as all Bond fans would know is simple and descriptive and that ends up magical for the reader.

I think these chapter books introduced by Puffin would also be read a lot by adults. These are more than just quick reads because they stay with you. Ruskin Bond has created a whole new world since the time he started writing – I think the entire convergence of growing up Anglo-Indian in India and thereby noticing the differences and the similarities, and more so the expression of it through his books is one of a kind. I am yet to read another writer who does this with as much grace. Do gift this book to a child who has just learned to read in your house. Sit with him or her. Read to them. Do yourself a favour.

Dark Things by Sukanya Venkatraghavan

dark-things-by-sukanya-venkatraghavan Title: Dark Things
Author: Sukanya Venkatraghavan
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 978-9350099223
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
Pages: 360
Source: Author
Rating: 4 Stars

Not a lot of people write fantasy fiction in the country and that to me was perplexing at one point, till it became clear. A lot of readers don’t read homegrown fantasy fiction. It could work either way, but the point being – there have to be more authors and readers of the so-called Indian fantasy fiction genre only because there is so much to explore, given our rich mythology and stories we have been hearing from our grandmothers on a cold winter’s night. With this thought in mind, I am glad that I got the opportunity to read ‘Dark Things’ by Sukanya Venkatraghavan and also interview her at the Halloween event organized by Books on Toast.

It would be quite safe to say that you wouldn’t have read anything like “Dark Things”. I would also be very candid and say that initially I thought I would not be taken in by a book like this, about Indian demons and monsters, but all it took me was two chapters to be hooked in to the world of Atala, the lives (I think I can say that) of Ardra, Hera and Dwai. Also, at this point, might I add that the book’s plot is inspired by a Keralan temple legend (which again to my mind is innovative and draws from its roots and should be done more often) and also manages to merge with modern times in a rather kick-ass manner.

Now to the plot of the book – Dwai survives a supernatural attack on Earth by Ardra. Ardra’s world is literally thrown into a series of questions and confusion at this incident. I was more clued in to the character of Hera – she is evil and that kinda made me want to know more about her and where she comes from. Everyone loves the hero so to say, but I was more piqued about this anti-hero. She is brazen, wild and doesn’t let emotions get better of her. This is the world of Gandharvas, Apsaras and Yakshis and you need patience to get into it.

I think to a very large extent, the plot being so simple helps reading this book. That way what tends to happen is that you can focus on the characters and what’s going on with them – in the sense a true balance between plot and characterization is struck. There is also a lot of romance in this book but let me also tell you that this is far from the usual paranormal romance. There are more layers to it which only come to light once you are further in the book and have been able to connect one with the other. All said and done, should you read Dark Things? Of course, you should. Should you perhaps pester the writer for a sequel right after finishing it? You bet your ass you must!

Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra

multiple-choice-by-alejandro-zambra Title: Multiple Choice
Author: Alejandro Zambra
Translated by: Megan McDowell
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 978-1783782697
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 112
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember loving multiple choice questions at school. I would actually look forward to that option at any exam or test, given that I could at least deduce some and get my answer and be almost sure that it would be the right option that I had chosen. Alejandro Zambra’s new book “Multiple Choice” is a book which is inventive, playful and based on the Chilean Academic Aptitude Test. It is one of the highly inventive books I have across in a long time (after Hopscotch by Cortazar I think and even he was Latin American) and I can in all honesty say that I loved it immensely.

“Multiple Choice” is a collection of micro-stories which engages the reader at every turn of the page – by giving them options to choose from. At the same time, it doesn’t really give you a choice and that’s when the clever writing of Zambra kicks in. This is not a novel for sure. It isn’t even a collection of short stories. I love the way this book breaks all norms and becomes something which no one can define. The irony lies in the postmodern prose where it challenges everything postmodern as well.

The book does take some time getting into and understanding the format – but once you do, you cannot help yourself but finish it. The book is divided into forms of multiple choice sections where as a reader you have to do either of these: exclude a term, reorder a sentence, decide on how to fill in the blanks in a sentence, eliminate sentences from a short narrative or show comprehension skills of stories. What the book then ends up doing is automatically laying ground for many perspectives to emerge from each short piece. What is interesting is the hidden political criticism that emerges in most short stories, almost defying a system in place.

Alejandro Zambra’s books are not easy to get into, as I mentioned earlier but what they do manage to do is leave a lot of thoughts lingering with the reader. “Multiple Choice” is a smart book that will make you feel clever and also underutilized at the same time. Some pieces are deeply moving as well – I loved the reading comprehension story on divorce which will choke you a bit. Sometimes the unconventional novel or a literary work challenges the way you think and rightly so. I strongly think more works of literature should do that, given the times we live in.

All said and done, “Multiple Choice” is also this good because of the fantastic translation by Megan McDowell. Every word, no matter how small stands out in the reading comprehension pieces and makes so much sense when connected with the questions at the end of it. I think that is the beauty of fiction that doesn’t follow the norm – it all ends up together one way or the other. “Multiple Choice” is deeply emotional, passionate, and political, and to forget a brilliant moving read. One of the best I’ve read in this genre and form in a while.