Tag Archives: 2020 Reading Women Challenge

Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories by Kamala Das

Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories by Kamala Das

Title: Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories
Author: Kamala Das
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9389836165
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction Pages: 108
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Don’t get taken in by the title of the collection and the begin to read it. Actually, you know what, get taken in by the title, buy it because of it, read it, and understand the brilliance of Kamala Das’s writing that is often layered, always real and grounded, criticising the world and its limitations when it comes to women – in the way they are treated, and sometimes also how they take charge of their lives.

Kamala Das’s women are fierce, bold, courageous, even shy, but do not mistake them to be fearful. They may seem like that at beginning of some stories, but they do not end with that character trait for sure. Her women battle. Her women speak their mind, and mostly don’t. The women in her stories are her. The women in her stories are perhaps all of us – the ones who have been denied a voice and do what it takes to assert themselves.

Her writing is about losses and perhaps some wins along the way. It is about abandoned wives, and women who step out and live the way they want to. Leaving men, leaving lovers, and leaving parts of themselves as well. Whether it is Padmavati the Harlot who just wants to redeem herself in front of her God (while clearly shown as being abused by the priest), or a housewife whose husband loves another woman and all she wants is a little kitten and what happens thereafter, to the protagonist of The Sea Lounge who is at the mercy of her lover, each women is a world in herself, and Das doesn’t shy away from telling it as it is. She speaks of empowerment in her own way – of small choices made by her characters, and then it all overwhelms the reader, raining down like an avalanche of emotions.

White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color by Ruby Hamad

 

White Tears:Brown Scars

Title: White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color
Author: Ruby Hamad
Publisher: Catapult
ISBN: 978-1948226745
Genre: Cultural Anthropology, Essays, Nonfiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

This book is much-needed for the times we live in. Actually for any time – past or present or even the future sadly, given how situations play themselves out over and over again. Situations where white people have set certain standards of humanity and how to live and even love for the rest of the world. Situations where they do not give any agency to people of colour, more so to women of colour, and even if what is perceived as agency isn’t really that. Ruby Hamad’s explosive and very important book “White Tears/Brown Scars” brings to fore and speaks of how white women use their tears to avoid speaking of and mainly confronting their racism.

This book is an off-shoot from Hamad’s article on the same topic that came out in The Guardian in the year 2018, and how that further led to Hamad being contacted by various women of colour with their stories of being betrayed by white women and their tears.

This book is extremely well-researched and an account of the white woman’s role in colonialism, in racism, and in oppressing the people of colour. It doesn’t restrict itself only to the women. It goes beyond that , to men of colour as well. Ruby’s book is global in nature and we all can see how we sometimes behave around white people. We who were once colonised, still carry that burden and remain forever apologetic. This is exactly what happens when a women of colour confronts a white women about her racism – she is apologetic to the white woman, as though it wasn’t her place to call out casual racism.

White Tears/Brown Scars should make people uncomfortable, more so the white people and make them realize what they are doing or have been doing over the years. It is necessarily uncomfortable. Hamad doesn’t write only about the US of A. She ropes in other countries as well – whether it is about the history of Aboriginal women in Australia and how they are treated or the Arab women at large in the world – these are perspectives and stories that must be heard, read, and internalised.

Hamad’s book is a revelation to me (I think it would also be the same for most people). The writing is razor-sharp and she doesn’t hesitate from calling a spade, a spade. It delves into performative victimhood and the truths aren’t palpable. In some cases the book reads like an oral history and maybe that’s what it is – experiences of women of colour with White women’s defensiveness and gas lighting in personal and professional settings.

“White Tears/Brown Scars” is a book that should be required reading for anyone interested in intersectional feminism. It is about the imbalance of power, and how it affects feminism. She takes a view of all of it – history, culture, research, and ultimately the lives of women to make us understand the role of white supremacy in all of it. Please read it.

Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread by Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani

Title: Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread
Author: Michiko Kakutani
Publisher: William Collins
ISBN: 978-0008421953
Genre: Books about Books, Essays, Literary Theory
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy 
Rating: 2.5/5 

I love books about books. I do. I’m a sucker for them. I was excited for “Ex Libris: 100 Books to Read and Reread” by Michiko Kakutani, the former chief book critic of The New York Times. I was excited given the kind of reading she has done and the books she must have connected with over the years, but I was mildly disappointed to see only most “white” writers on this list, and more than anything else no variety as such.

There’s the same old Donna Tartt, the good old Tolkien, Steinbeck, Atwood, Orwell, Tara Westover, and David Foster Wallace. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I expected more. There is Jhumpa Lahiri, the Márquez, the Zadie Smith, and Colson Whitehead. It somehow doesn’t make me discover or yearn to read a particular title. Some I won’t even bother reading cover to cover. I wish this was a varied and more diverse list. It just didn’t do anything for me. Yes, it’s produced beautifully. The illustrations are quite amazing and all of that. But I wish there was more substance. But by all means pick it up, if you love lists (like I do). I might even try a reading project of this to read and reread all these books (well, or maybe not).

Principles of Prediction by Anushka Jasraj

Title: Principles of Prediction
Author: Anushka Jasraj
Publisher: Context Books
ISBN: 978-9389648713
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

If you have to read one short-story collection this year (of whatever is left of the year), make it this one. Jasraj’s prose sets you free. Her characters expose their wounds and are proud of them. Her characters love and hate in equal measure. They read Tolstoy and kidnap elephants. They mourn. They celebrate the mundane. Some run away from their husbands, with lion tamers in search of a better life. A storm is coming and there’s inner turmoil, and then the question of sadness.

Anushka Jasraj’s collection of short stories are bewildering, fantastical, ordinary, and always connect with the reader in strange ways. Her writing is as though a hand is reaching out to you and taking you places you’ve only dreamed of. You give in and you’re in for a ride. Her characters tip-toe around life – some waiting for a dead mother’s list to be read, while others are caught between politics and love, with violence always in the distance.

Principles of Prediction is to be savoured at various points of time in the day, with copious amount of cups of tea. There is melancholy tinged with wit. There is the observation of day-to-day coupled living with technicolor dreams. There are men, women, and children caught in relationships that don’t make any sense and here they are, merely living. Read this collection for all of this and more. You won’t regret it.

The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

The RevisionersTitle: The Revisioners
Author: Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Publisher: Counterpoint
ISBN: 978-1640094260
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was stunned after reading The Revisioners. I still am. There were times I put down the book because I was scared of turning the page, wondering what will happen to characters I fell in love with, mainly the protagonists. This story is about two African-American women connected by blood, and divided by time. The story moves from 2017 to 1924, and also taking place in 1855. There is a lot going on in the book. It is a tale of generations, legacies, healing, motherhood, racism, prejudice, and old-age traditions.

The book starts in New Orleans in the year 2017, when Ava, a biracial mom and her teenage son King move in with Ava’s white, wealthy grandmother Martha. Ava becomes her caretaker, as she is recently laid off and could do with some money and rent-free accommodation. She does all of this so she can finally buy a place of her own after saving some money. Little does she know what’s in store for her and her son – Martha starts behaving erratically and things start to change.

Josephine, Ava’s ancestor’s story is set in 1924 when she is a free woman with her own plantation and house, alternating in the year 1855 when she was a young slave girl on the Wildwood plantation. Josephine befriends a white, lonely, younger woman Charlotte and an uneasy friendship is formed between the two. Josephine has learned the hard way and strived to find her voice and Charlotte has her own past to deal with. The question then is: Can a black woman and a white woman ever be friends?

The power dynamics between the white and the marginalised black are neatly laid out. Sexton speaks up and makes you realize with every scene and conversation about the privilege, the distance, and the promise and audacity of hope between the white and black women as their paths cross. Sexton’s writing is raw and grabs you from the first page. And might I add that it is not a slave narrative. It is about hope, courage, and how to stand your own ground when it comes to identity and the connections of ancestry. It is about how two black women a century apart experience racism, and how things perhaps haven’t changed all that much. The stories of Ava and Josephine are ground in reality, though sometimes they take on a mythical quality, lending them the magic realism tone.

The Revisioners is a book that is needed. It is needed for people to not only check privilege but also make an effort to reduce gaps, to cross bridges, and examine their relationships with people around them. It is a reminder of blood relationships and also relationships that go beyond blood, and expand into a community, and last forever.