Tag Archives: April 2022

Read 39 of 2022. Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree. Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

Title: Tomb of Sand
Author: Geetanjali Shree
Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell
Publisher: Tilted Axis Press
ISBN: 978-1911284611
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Literature
Pages: 730
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A book like Tomb of Sand comes once a while – encompassing everything – all of it – maybe all our stories, or some of our stories – intermingling, intertwining, greeting each other along the way, choosing whom to converse with, whom to ignore, and how to navigate life.  Stories that have a life of their own – breathing, living creations that only need an audience and Tomb of Sand will get its audience, and should – more than its fair share, because this book deserves it all.

I am gushing. I shall gush some more. So be it. Some novels do more than just provide entertainment or are more than means of passing time. They demand to be read, reread, reread some more, till they enter your consciousness and then refuse to leave. Sputnik Sweetheart is one such book for me. This one is definitely another.

Tomb of Sand on the surface seems like a book with a very simple plot-line. A mother of a family and her relationship with a transgender person, in the wake of her husband’s death. This causes some kind of confusion in her daughter who always thought of herself to be more progressive of the two. However, let this plot not fool you. This could very well be a book without a plot for the first two-hundred pages or so, and honestly it wouldn’t matter to the reader or deter the reading experience.

Tomb of Sand is so much more than just a story of a family or of a woman trying to come to terms with the past and the present as it shapes itself around her. Tomb of Sand is a book about families, about life lived in-between contemplating how to live it and the parts that you so want to live but cannot, and more than anything, it was for me – a novel about redemption, about so many what ifs, about the choices we make – intentionally and unintentionally, about empty spaces we choose to fill and sometimes the void is even more glaring than it was, and it is a novel about boundaries, about how we limit ourselves through identity and gender, about how we are much more than we give ourselves credit for.

Geetanjali Shree experiments with language, makes it her own, makes it fall flat on its head, and doesn’t bother with the rules of grammar. She makes her own rules as she goes along. I say this after also having read major portions of the book in Hindi as well. The translation by Daisy Rockwell is a different book – a unique entity, if I were to call it that. Daisy takes the book in Hindi and gives its English readers a new landscape to imagine and embrace. I do not mean the translation doesn’t do justice to the original, in fact, if anything it takes the playfulness of Hindi – makes it more than palpable to English and doesn’t transpose or transliterate, just for it to sound right, but gives it its own vocabulary, adding if I may call it the “Rockwell Touch”.  Her translation doesn’t miss a beat. It is lucid, clear, and gives the reader what they need, and also what they thought they didn’t need.

Tomb of Sand also seems like a rather simple novel, which again it isn’t. I do not mean only when it comes to structure or who is the narrator, or what is happening but also language that I have spoken about earlier. There is a sense of calm to the choice of words – both in Hindi and English – which makes the novel so relatable. I think that the “Indianness” of the novel is what lends it the added layer of appeal. For instance, the entire angle of the mother staying with the daughter in the daughter’s house while the son has his own family is something not permissible in an Indian household. The mother has to stay with the son. Shree breaks this mould and presents a new way of life. Rockwell takes that new way of life and brings to life the conversations between the two women (of course from the original) – without discussing a man – they discuss their bowel movements, they discuss childhood, life, what the mother thinks, what Beti feels, but not a man. This is perhaps intentional but does the job of meeting the Bechdel test than most other novels and movies.

Another instance that intrigued me the most was the class difference and the way Shree has highlighted it throughout the book. Domestic help have names attached – full names and personalities – from what they do to who they are and their role in the family. On the other hand, the members of the household are not known by names, except for one son called Sid. The rest are nameless, known by their roles and what they add to the plot.

Tomb of Sand also becomes a partition novel somewhere after four-hundred pages, and it didn’t surprise me at all, when that happened. I was so immersed in the world created by Shree and her magnificence, that I submitted myself more than happily to this plot-twist, if I can call it that. This again makes the novel even more profound and complex.

Tomb of Sand is shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2022. I hope it wins. I hope it is known widely. I hope because of this other Indian language books get their place in the sun. Tomb of Sand is a delight to read and reread. If you have already read it, I recommend you go back to it. If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for? Please read it. NOW.

Read 38 of 2022. Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Title: Mapping the Interior
Author: Stephen Graham Jones
Publisher: Tordotcom
ISBN: 978-0765395108
Genre: Novella, Fantasy
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

For a novella, Jones sure knows how to pack it all in. There is family dysfunctionality (well, if you read it that way which I sure did), there is loneliness, the concept of home, the Native American culture, the way we are raised, some horror as well (quite a lot actually), and the superstitions that surround us.

Mapping the Interior is a story of the protagonist, a sleepwalker, who at fifteen years of age sees the silhouette of his dead father (or at least he thinks it is his father) in the house where he, his mother, and younger brother who suffers from seizures live. Nothing is clear about the father’s death who died mysteriously before the family left the reservation.

In all of this, the boy wants to know more. So, he decides to understand where he came from, where his family came from – their culture and roots but also about the house and its hidden corners and passages, and to comprehend the haunting (if that’s what it is).

Stephen Graham Jones’ writing is beyond superlative. The way he blends coming of age with a supernatural story, and also about what it means to be clueless about identity is staggering, and that too with such brevity. It is so short that it can be devoured in a day, and that was also one of my issues with it – I wish it were longer because it is so good. At the same time, I am also conflicted in thinking that the length is just right for the story Jones wanted to tell. I cannot begin with explore his other books and read them all, one after the other.

Read 37 of 2022. Paradais by Fernanda Melchor. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes

Paradais by Fernanda Melchor

Title: Paradais
Author: Fernanda Melchor
Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes
Publisher: New Directions
ISBN: ‎978-0811231329
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

My mind is numb, and my heart is a mess. The latest offering by Melchor is dark, overwhelming, rustic, punches you in the gut, devastating to say the least, and more than anything else, in a very nuanced manner touches on the class differences in society and what happens thereof.

Paradais is a shorter compared to her previous work Hurricane Season, and yet it doesn’t feel that way. Its 125 pages are packed with unsettling language, doesn’t play to the reader’s expectations, and definitely does not believe in toning it down.

We meet Polo, a 16-year-old school drop-out who works as a gardener in a luxury residential complex called “Paradise” in Progreso, Mexico.  The title comes from the fact that he cannot pronounce it, and his boss teaches him to pronounce this way. Even in language, he cannot have a piece of paradise.

Polo is the narrator and all he wants to do is get out. He is not rich like the other teenager he introduces us to – Franco Andrade – who is overweight, addicted to porn, only fantasizes about his neighbour and the ways in which he will have sex with her – who is an attractive married woman and a mother of two.

Polo just wants to escape his overbearing mother, thinks of his dead grandfather, waits for a phone call from his cousin to get him out, and drinks with Franco (whom he calls Fatboy) so he can forget his existence for a while. It is in such moments of desperation, they hatch a plan, which might go either way for them.

Melchor’s writing is not easy to digest. It is bleak, it is angry, it wants to tell so much, and it does, even in so little prose. The anguish, the frustration, and the idea to do better through worse is so ironic and yet the only thing that seems right to Polo. We only see Franco through Polo’s perspective, so at some parts I was also doubting that, but Melchor’s writing convinced me about that as well – that perhaps all Polo says is in fact the gospel truth.

The darkness that runs through the town and into the lives of Franco and Polo is palpable. Most of the novel takes place at night – some also during the day, but that’s when the ridicule happens, the discrimination is made clear, the anger is seething – only to appear at night when drunk and find escape by imagining various ways to find an exit. All of this is conjured through Hughes’ fantastic translation that doesn’t miss a beat.

When Melchor writes about the Mexican society – whether it is the wealth gap and gang violence, she does it as a matter of fact attitude. It doesn’t preach, nor does it seek pity or empathy. What it also does at some point is scary – it gives agency to the naïve, to the fatalistic teenagers who have no clue what life has in store for them or how will it all turn out and make the most horrific choices.

Paradais works on so many levels, and for so many reasons. It is built on the shoulders of toxic masculinity through and through, and you know that world will not last long. The casualness, the most nonchalant manner in which people are thrown about in the book says a lot about the societies we inhabit. Melchor just brings it to fore, and a lot more. Reading this book also repulsed me a lot of times, yet with the constant nagging feeling at the back of my mind that this is the truth – whether I like it or not.

Read 36 of 2022. Maithili and the Minotaur – Web of Woe by C.G. Salamander and Rajiv Eipe

Maithili and the Minotaur - Web of Woe by C.G. Salamander and Rajiv Eipe

Title: Maithili and the Minotaur – Web of Woe
Author: C.G. Salamander
Illustrator: Rajiv Eipe
Publisher: Puffin Books, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0143455189
Genre: Children’s Literature, Graphic Novels, Comics
Pages: 64
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I could not stop smiling as I turned the pages of Maithili and the Minotaur – Web of Woe, the first in an Outlandish Graphic Novel Series, and outlandish it is to the very core.

Maithili is an outcast from the human world, and she doesn’t know why. She also cannot fit in at school. No monster one will speak with her, except for the Minotaur. Everyone apparently seems to be hiding something from Maithili (which is sort of revealed in the book but not quite), till an incident occurs that changes the course of the story.

This comic/graphic novel series is so exciting and also very real when it touches upon the topics of alienation, loneliness, and what it means to be different. The graphics by Rajiv Eipe are minimal initially and later they get more colourful, and interesting.

Maithili and the Minotaur is a wholesome read – and I recommend everyone read it, irrespective of age. It is a chaotic journey, and the illustrations do justice to it. It is about monsters and humans living together (and why are they labelled to begin with?)  and that in itself is a strong message. Do check it out.

Read 35 of 2022. Rumours of Spring: A Girlhood in Kashmir by Farah Bashir

Rumours of Spring by Farah Bashir

Title: Rumours of Spring: A Girlhood in Kashmir
Author: Farah Bashir
Publisher: Fourth Estate India, Harper Collins India
ISBN: 978-9354224218
Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Farah Bashir’s book “Rumours of Spring” is an extremely poignant account of life as an adolescent in Kashmir of the 1990s, the Kashmir that was full of conflict and uncertainty. Nothing has changed for Kashmiris as of today, but we shall not go there.

I was gutted. As I was reading the book and when I finished reading it as well. I am still reeling from Bashir’s experiences as young girl in the valley – what her family and friends had to go through, and the trauma that will never go away. Some wounds never heal. Maybe that’s how it is meant to be.

The book starts with the death of Farah’s grandmother, Bobeh. The chapters follow the day of her funeral, compartmentalized into Evening, Night, Early Hours, Dawn, Morning, and Afterlife. Each chapter reveals more about Farah’s life and that of her family, amidst the turmoil – life that has changed completely, leaving only memories of the days gone by.

A young girl grows up under constant curfew, sudden raids, gunfire, and talk of death all around. A young girl grows up waiting to go to school, checking when the phone works – whether the school is open, and the buses are plying – checking whether she can go to school – dependent on whether where she stays is a sensitive area or not. A young girl has to constantly hear of deaths of loved ones, of cousins, of how you have to be careful – cannot go here and must go there with someone, and then to imagine what life must be like in places that are not Kashmir.

Bashir’s writing is devoid of sentiment but full of emotional heft. It doesn’t want to make you cry, as much as it wants you as a reader to empathize and understand the way things were. At the same time, she is trying very hard not to judge – the government, the Indian army, and even the militants for that matter. She is only stating her truth – the one that she experienced, the one that her family faced, the truth where everything we take for granted is full of terror and crackdown.

Time plays such an important role throughout the book and yet not. Bobeh’s body has to be kept at home for a day, because of curfew. Time passes then – slowly for Farah and her family, as somehow relatives and friends come to console, memories rise. When you could freely listen to music, when freshly baked bread could be bought without fear, and when you could go to one room from another in your house without the fear of wood creaking, leading to the army asking questions and perhaps even shooting a stray bullet.

Farah interweaves the history of a state and a country – including its politics with her personal spaces. From her friends who are Kashmiri Pandits and have to leave without a word in 1990 to the siege of the Hazratbal shrine in 1993, when she loses all will to study and do better. Everything is acknowledged, everything is remembered with the intention of it being forgotten.

Rumours of Spring speaks of what is lost, what remains, and hopefully what will not be lost. It is a chronicle of a girlhood, but also negotiating spaces of beauty, grace, hope, and identity in the midst of chaos, terror, and death.