Tag Archives: 2020 Women Writers Reading Project

The Milk of Dreams by Leonora Carrington

The Milk of Dreams by Leonora Carrington Title: The Milk of Dreams
Author: Leonora Carrington
Publisher: New York Review Children’s Collection
ISBN: 978-1681370941
Genre: Children’s Books
Pages: 56
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Milk of Dreams by Leonora Carrington is such a strange book – even though it is for children. The short stories are odd, have a fairy tale quality to them, and are surreal to the hilt.

These stories aren’t the usual fare that authors serve up for children. They are dark – with children’s body parts missing, some sewed back, and a story also of a vulture getting stuck in gelatin. Carrington read these stories to her children, and that’s how they came to be. In fact, the illustrations in the book are also from the ones that she made on the children’s bedroom walls.

Humbert the BeautifulThis book is bizarre, and at the same time delightfully odd and silly. I was captivated by all of it – the drawings, the prose that was crazy, and the nonchalance of it all, in the sense of it being read to kids. There is John, who has wings for ears, and “Humbert the Beautiful”, and my personal favorite being “The Horrible Story of the Little Meats” – a fantastic fairy of a woman who doesn’t like kids, and ends up feeding them bad meat, to then do what she wants to.

The Milk of Dreams - Image 3

The Milk of Dreams is a read that is short and yet stays with you. I could reread and reread it some more. Maybe this time I will pay more attention to the illustrations as well. All said and done, it is the kind of book that could be read easily in less than an hour and like I said, go back to once in a while.

Brother & Sister: A Memoir by Diane Keaton

Brother & Sister - A Memoir by Diane Keaton Title: Brother & Sister: A Memoir
Author: Diane Keaton
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0451494504
Genre: Memoirs, Autobiographies,
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

I finally got a chance to read Diane Keaton’s memoir of herself and her brother. It brought out a lot of emotions in me as a sibling. This book is of course about the love she has for her brother Randy, but it is also about the love that doesn’t see after a while, the kind that is oblivious to what is going on with the other.

The book starts off with them being an ordinary family – one big sister, one little brother, Mom, Dad, and some more siblings, all in the middle-class California of the 50s. Things are obviously fine on the surface – the picnics, the family trips, the camps, and such as the other side beings to reveal itself. Of how things go wrong – when you grow up, do not keep in touch, become involved in your respective lives, how the brother is diametrically opposite of his sister, and how he lives a life that isn’t considered “normal”.

Brother & Sister is a book about relationships, and how mental health illness and alcoholism can be and is a real threat. This is also seen through the scrapbooks, journals, letters, and photographs kept by Diane’s mother – it is almost a progression of sorts.

Brother & Sister isn’t about judgment as much as it is about trying to understand someone you love so deeply, about what went wrong with them, why did the relationship suffer, and perhaps a way to piece it all together. Sibling relationships aren’t easy at all. But the idea of perhaps confronting demons and deep-diving into the family history to understand relationships and people makes this book so readable, relatable, and extremely relevant.

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/