Tag Archives: 2020 Reads

Suralakshmi Villa by Aruna Chakravarti

Suralakshmi Villa by Aruna Chakravarti Title: Suralakshmi Villa
Author: Aruna Chakravarti
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
ISBN: 9789389109399
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 313
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

So, I was eagerly waiting to read Suralakshmi Villa, because I loved Chakravarti’s earlier works – Jorasanko and Daughters of Jorasanko. However, while I enjoyed reading this one, a problem kept nagging me over and over again. The depiction of the Muslim man and I even let it go because the story is rich and detailed, but somehow it kept coming back as the pages turned.

I think it has got to do more with the need for the plot and to propel the story in a certain direction. Having said that, I still think it could’ve been treated differently. At the same time, perhaps it is a function of the time the book is set in. These thoughts and more also make you see a book differently by the time you are done with it.

Coming back to the book, Suralakshmi Villa with its prose, characters, and Bengal at the core never disappoints in the details and character study. There is a lot going on with the focus on the protagonist Suralakshmi Choudhury, and what goes on in her life as she “settles down” – marries, has a kid, is a gynaecologist, and suddenly decides to abandon it all. Why? What for? Those questions are answered as we read – back and forth in time – drawing from her journals, letters, other people’s perspectives, and incidents. While Suralakshmi is at the center of the narrative, there is so much going on with the other characters, that Chakravarti forces us almost to turn our gaze to them as well.

Aruna Chakravarti writes a historical novel that is also a novel about Bengal, about religion, the lifestyle of the common person, blending in the myths and legends, and connecting it very deeply with personal experiences, bias, and the manner in which a character thinks or aspires. Suralakshmi Villa is about human relationships of course, but it is also about how we got there, and what happened and is there any redemption at all in the grander scheme of things.

The Little Snake by A.L. Kennedy

The Little Snake by A.L. Kennedy Title: The Little Snake
Author: A.L. Kennedy
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1786893871
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This inventive, almost fable-like book is just what I needed in times such as these, and so do you. The Little Snake is a story of a girl named Mary, and a snake named Lanmo, and about human beings on this planet, and who we are at the heart of it all. It is a story of how the snake is a symbol of death, is so full of wisdom, and can sense feelings through tasting the air people breathe.

The Little Snake is a book that is so profound and you don’t realise it as you are reading it, but toward the end it all becomes clear. I don’t know what else to say about this book that will stay with me for a very long time. There are some books that come to you, and even after they have you don’t get to them at the earliest. You take your time because there is always a right time to read the right book (no matter what anyone else thinks). The book is influenced by The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and I am not surprised given the language used and descriptions of beauty lending to hope in times of hopelessness.

I found myself thinking of all that is happening right now with reference to Corona Virus, to how we as humans are – taking opportunity of a crisis, to getting together and showing kindness and empathy. The Little Snake is a story of everyone’s journey – from life to death, about community where only wealth and power exists, to the means people have to survive and hope for a better tomorrow.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories by Nayrouz Qarmout. Translated from the Arabic by Perween Richards. Title story translated by Charis Bredin.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories by Nayrouz Qarmout Title: The Sea Cloak & Other Stories
Author: Nayrouz Qarmout
Translated from the Arabic by Perween Richards
Title story translated by Charis Bredin
Publisher: Comma Press
ISBN: 9781905583782
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 106
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Every book makes you want to know more about the world around us, the spaces we inhabit, and why are people the way they are. At least, well-written books make you want to do that. To research, to understand, and to view the story/stories from different perspectives. “The Sea Cloak & Other Stories” did that for me. The first thing I did in the process of reading this slim collection, was to not read it. Instead, I logged onto YouTube and watched a ten-minute video on the Israel-Palestine conflict (which I have tagged here, right at the end) to comprehend what I was getting into. This comprehension was purely from the view of empathy – to understand their lives as depicted in the stories and not be oblivious to the history of the writer.

Nayrouz Qarmout is a Palestinian author, and a women’s rights campaigner, living at the Gaza Strip. The stories in this book range from taking place in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and also one on the Gaza Strip. I was overwhelmed reading every story from this collection. There was this tug at my heart, and this happened without judgement or taking sides.

Every story in this collection is not without conflict, of course, but at the heart of every conflict is just human emotion coming to fore – whether it is greed for land, the desperation to do better (Pen and Notebook, which is one of my favourite stories from the collection), or revenge (the story Our Milk certainly felt like that). Qarmout writes with such ease – the brutality of it all, without flinching (I think), making the reader uncomfortable, and forcing the reader to know more, ask more, and discover for themselves, which to me every well-written book should do.

As I read every story, turning page after page, I was taken in by what it means to be a Palestinian today. What does conflict mean to them? What do the words survival and freedom communicate? Do they say anything at all? When does history lose its significance? When do long-standing battles over land come to an end, so people can live without fear?

The writing of The Sea Cloak & Other Stories comes from such a personal space – it reflects on every page and through every story. The footnotes help in further understanding the conflict and how we get by in such times. For instance, the story “14 June” touches on the need of a mother to keep her daughters safe, at the cost of perhaps giving a part of herself. The stories hit you hard as they must. The translation by Perween Richards is as evocative as the original – the smells, sounds, objects come to life and become characters of the story – whether a glass of milk in “Our Milk” or lilies and what they mean in “White Lilies”. The title story translated by Charis Bredin holds up as a great start to this collection.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories will stay with me for a long time. It will prompt me to know more, to read more, to watch more, and to understand more about the Israel-Palestine conflict. But more than that it has taught me to see different sides of the story, various stories that are lived, and the ones that also go unheard.

Links: 

And here is a link to Reading List of Palestinian Prose: 

https://electricliterature.com/a-reading-list-of-palestinian-prose/

 

March 2020 Wrap-Up

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 11.51.05 AMMarch has been a fantastic month. For me, personally. I have struggled with anxiety and calmed it. I have switched off from the news, and trying very hard to keep away from it on social media as well. I’m just made this way. On the reading front, I read 23 very different books and I am on top of the world. I feel ecstatic. Here’s hoping we all get out of this sane. Much love.
.
Here are the titles with the ratings:
.
1. Death in her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (4)
2. Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (4)
3. And I do not forgive you: stories and other revenges by Amber Sparks (4)
4. Faces on the tip of my tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano. Translated from the French by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis (5)
5. The Seep by Chana Porter (5)
6. Fern Road by Angshu Dasgupta (3)
7. Apartment by Teddy Wayne (4)
8. The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar. Translated from the Persian (5)
9. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (4)
10. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (4)
11. The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (4)
12. Girl by Edna O’Brien (4)
13. A Burning by Megha Majumdar (4)
14. Amnesty by Aravind Adiga (3)
15. Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin (2)
16. Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (4)
17. Red Dog by Willem Anker. Translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns (2)
18. The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchinson (4)
19. The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse. Translated from the French by Damion Searls (5)
20. The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa. Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (5)
21. Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (4)
22. The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara. Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre (5)
23. Mac’s Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas. Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes (4).
.
That’s it, folks! What was your reading month of March like? Any favourites?.
.
Here’s to April 2020. Can’t wait.

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor

Title: Hurricane Season
Author: Fernanda Melchor
Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
ISBN: 9781913097097
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This is the last book I will be reviewing for the month of March 2020. I am just only too happy that I read Hurricane Season, and enjoyed it to the hilt. There is no way my review is going to do justice to the book, but I shall try.

The book starts with the Witch’s death. Yes, The Witch is dead (almost reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz). Her corpse is discovered by children playing near the irrigation canals (I absolutely loved the imagery of this one, I mean to make this seem so casual and yet not something children want to ever face. The bleakness was delicious). And the book then is about how and why this murder took place. I am putting it in a very simple manner though.

Hurricane Season is not for the faint-hearted in my opinion. There is a lot that gets uncovered and most of it is not pleasant. Yes, there is a lot of violence in the book, but there is a lot of hope and humanity as well. The book is told through the stories of Luismi, Norma, Brando, and Munra. The vividness of a small Mexican village comes through stunningly in Hurricane Season. It reminded me of so many other Latin-American writers, and their spaces, and yet it was so different and new.

Hurricane Season might perhaps be hands-down one of the best books I have read this year. The sheer intensity of the prose, while also showing the read lives wrought with poverty, violence, misogyny, and prejudice. Each chapter presents itself in a different voice – so yes, there is a different perspective, and all of it falls together at the end of it. Everyone says there is a bit of Faulkner in it, but I couldn’t find him. All I heard was Melchor’s distinct voice and the brilliant translation by Sophie Hughes.

The sentences do tend to go on and on and on most of the time, but if you concentrate, and comprehend the narratives, you will be just fine. There is anger, pain, and the understanding of the role literature plays when it comes to compassion and empathy.