Tag Archives: Americans

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Title: The Mountains Sing
Author: Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai Publisher: Oneworld Publications ISBN: 978-1786079220
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“We’re forbidden to talk about events that relate to past mistakes or the wrongdoing of those in power, for they give themselves the right to rewrite history,” the grandmother Dieu Lan tells her granddaughter, nicknamed Guava. “But you’re old enough to know that history will write itself in people’s memories, and as long as those memories live on, we can have faith that we can do better.”

“The Mountains Sing” unfolds a narrative of 20th century Vietnam, right from the land reforms of the 50s, as well as the several troublesome and turbulent decades before it, to the Vietnam War against America, beginning in 2012 and looking backwards. The story is told through the women of a single family. Brave, courageous, and tenacious women. Women who don’t give up – in the face of tragedy, and also don’t give up when it comes to hoping for better futures, time and time again.

The book alternates with memories of Dieu Lan, in the form of stories she tells her granddaughter, Hương, and it is through their lives and lived experiences, the story moves forward.

There is so much to unpack in this novel. There is so much to take within you as a reader. The landscape, the family, the neighbours, the kindness, the cruelty, and above all perhaps some humanity shown in times of war and adversity. There are no heroes here. There are no villains. It is what it is. Life, led with gratitude and fortitude, no matter what. The reading of this book has been sublime and taught me the lesson of humility (a lot more to learn in that aspect).

The Mountains Sing made me think of my privilege, my place in the world, and how people live day to day, and we may never know their stories, or at least most stories, till we listen. The politics of the book is what is at the heart of it, on every page, and yet distanced. Maybe it was needed for such a narrative, which is more about a common family, and their lives and what the cultural, political and emotional landscape of their country means to them, and to how they live and deal with grief, loss, happiness, and moments of redemption. Nguyen’s writing had me turn the pages reluctantly. I was overwhelmed and afraid of what was going to happen to these characters I had grown to love, with their jagged edges and more. The prose isn’t pitch-perfect all the time but I loved it that way. I love the disparity, the disconnectedness, and how it lend to the voices of the people who are forever lost.

War changes you. Fear always keeps you on your toes. Life is perhaps irreparable. It takes so much to make sense of life around you, you stumble, you fall, and somehow with some hope, pray ardently that you make it to the other side. The Mountains Sing is a constant reminder of that hope, of that emotion of not letting go, and above all to know that there is some light at the end of the long, dark, tunnel.

Good-Bye by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Good-Bye by Yoshihiro Tatsumi Title: Good-Bye
Author: Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
ISBN: 978-1897299371
Genre: Graphic Novel, Manga
Pages: 208
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Manga is an art that grows on you. It is also an art form that makes you appreciate the beauty of stillness and subtlety. So when there are graphic novels to be read, there is also Manga which I feel is quite different and a genre of its own than being classified under Graphic Novels. Tatsumi happened to me when I was browsing through Landmark, Bombay, about ten years ago with a very dear friend. That was another book. This time I spotted him at Blossom and could not have been more excited. I knew I had to buy it and I was not wrong about it at all.

“Good-Bye” is a collection of short stories told in Manga. Tatsumi is perhaps one writer that just brings out the best when it comes to Manga, or at least from all that I have read. Tatsumi in this collection portrays a Japanese society – during WWII, in the aftermath of the atomic bomb and post the war.

The stories are about trapped protagonists, who seem to have no choice at all. They are stuck in circumstances that are beyond their control and they have to make sense of the world around them. Right from “Hell” which is about post-Hiroshima attack to “Good-Bye” which is a story of a woman trying to survive after the war, by using her body – the stories are real and laced with pathos and sometimes tragic humour.

What struck me the most was how beautifully Tatsumi managed to bring out the emotions in the entire book. From anger to helplessness to pure love and longing, everything is meticulously laid out for the reader to savour and add in a bit of his or her angst as well. All in all, this book is meant to be relished, page by page, illustration by illustration.

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Book Review: The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam

The Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam Title: The Blind Man’s Garden
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 978-81-8400-109-9
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When you read a Nadeem Aslam novel, you mull over it. You take in his words and breathe what he has to say. You are aware of the political undertones in his books. At times, you also may not like what you read. You might also detest some parts. You will yell in happiness when something good happens to one of his characters. You want to keep the book aside and you will not be able to, because that is the power of his books. You will ignore everything else and read on, because Aslam has a story to tell and his characters will talk to you. They will make you believe and sometimes make you cry and live as well.

“The Blind Man’s Garden” according to me is one of the best books that Aslam has written. I have read all his books and while all his books have the much needed political angle; this one to me is most emotional and heart-wrenching in a lot of places. I interviewed Nadeem Aslam at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year (which will be a different post) and he was so passionate about the book and the way he spoke with me. The book almost came alive through him. All his characters and the situations he put them through almost seemed surreal and believable. For me that is the craft of a great storyteller. “The Blind Man’s Garden” makes you feel and think about humans and what does war do to them. He gets into the heart of his characters and makes them speak for themselves. He makes them tell their stories, their lives spread across the canvas of his landscape, of time unknown and sometimes time is of great essence. This is precisely why I cannot help myself but mark almost every other line on every other page of an Aslam novel.

Jeo and his foster-brother Mikal leave their home in a small Pakistani city not to fight with the Taliban but to help care for the wounded victims. The Western Armies have invaded Afghanistan and the brothers only want to help the wounded, whether Afghani or the Americans. They only want to help and yet they get embroiled deep into the war as its unwilling soldiers. At the same time left behind is Jeo’s wife and her superstitious mother, and their father Rohan, who is slowly but surely turning blind. The war is seen through from all perspectives and that is the crux of the story.

For me everything worked in the book. The writing is sharp and hits in places that you would not expect it to. The past and the present situations merge beautifully throughout the entire narrative. In fact, what I loved the most about the book was the way the structure was built and at the same time the prose seemed very fluid, as though it was waiting to flow through the reader’s mind and heart. The heart of the book is about everything surrounding the war – lost children, grieving parents, hopeful wives and children who are left behind wondering when their fathers will return. Despite all this, what strings the book together is hope, which is unending and everlasting.

There are a lot of sub-elements and plots to the book (which I will not spoil for you) that add to the beauty of this wonderfully written novel. There is beauty and at the same time there is this sharp ache and a prayer that all should go well for the characters that you have come to known while reading the book. As a reader, I found myself hoping that all went well. Such is the power of this magnificent read. It is for sure one of the best I will read this year.

Here are some quotes from the book:

“History is a third parent.”

“The logic is that there are no innocent people in a guilty nation.”

“No,” he said, “but before they lose, they harm the good people. That is what I am afraid of.”

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