Tag Archives: biography

The Years by Annie Ernaux. Translated from the French by Alison L. Strayer

The Years by Annie Ernaux Title: The Years
Author: Annie Ernaux
Translated from the French by Alison L. Strayer
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
ISBN: 978-1910695784
Genre: Biographies, Memoirs, Women Writers, French Literature, French History
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

The Years by Annie Ernaux caught my eye when it was long-listed for the Man Booker International Prize 2019. I am on the shadow panel of the prize and have till now read 11/13 long-listed books. This one for sure is on my personal shortlist. Why you ask? Here’s why.

The Years is considered to be Ernaux’s finest work and rightly so. It is a narrative of the period 1941 to 2006 and all of this is told through events – historic and personal, impressions – past and present, and through culture, habits, books, art, music, movies, and above all people. It could be termed as meta-novel but it is so much more according to me. It is a woman’s experience growing up in tumultuous years. It is an experience of history, the world at large, and memory of a woman in a time that stays and mostly does not.

The Years captures so much. It is political and individual. It is Proust-like, only to find a voice of its own. It is full of lists (which I love) and long passages of what happened where and when, what food was cooked and what did it smell or taste like, what mode of transportation was taken, and whose heart was broken. Not to forget the lucid translation from the French by Alison L. Strayer. It isn’t easy to capture emotion and translate that to perfect sentences the way Strayer manages.

The Years is a book that deserves to be savoured and not rushed into. You need to take your time with it. You need to nurture it. Its fluidity, grace, and by that extension all heart is very rare to find in books. So when you do, you hang on to it and cherish the writing. Time, place, and memory beautifully merge in this gem of a book.

Advertisements

The Sakura Obsession: The Incredible Story of the Plant Hunter Who Saved Japan’s Cherry Blossoms by Naoko Abe

The Sakura Obsession Title: The Sakura Obsession: The Incredible Story of the Plant Hunter Who Saved Japan’s Cherry Blossoms
Author: Naoko Abe
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 9781524733575
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography,
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

One should always get out of their comfort zone and try things they say. Different things. For me reading something which I wouldn’t otherwise is radical enough. I mean, this book intrigued me, and I just had to read it to know more. I am so glad I did. To experience a different culture (which of course I have through other reads), but also knowing about the Cherry Blossom and how it came to be saved was a brilliant experience.

The story starts in 1907, when Collingwood “Cherry” Ingram fell in love with the sakura or the cherry tree, as he was visiting Japan on his honeymoon. He was taken in with the tree to such an extent that he couldn’t help but bring back hundreds of cuttings back to England, where he literally grew them, creating a garden of cherry varieties. In fact, in 1926 when he learned that the cherry tree was extinct in Japan, he sent a cutting of his own through the Trans-Siberian express. Not only that, Ingram also ensured that cuttings were sent to other parts of the world, where it was conducive to grow the specimen.

This in short is what the book is about. However, there is so much more to it. Abe writes elegantly, and not only that – the research is spot on – with photographs, details, linking of other events, and personal perspectives. At times, I also felt that I was actually reading a historical novel, it is so well-written.

The Sakura Obsession is what it is because Abe understands Ingram’s motivations, his complex nature – the oddity and the gentleness and that’s what makes this book so unique and refreshing. The Sakura Obsession tells a story that most people aren’t aware of – of how it took one man to save blossoms people enjoy over the world and are in awe of. I am only too glad that I got out of my comfort zone and read this one.

Daddykins: A Memoir of My Father and I by Kalpana Mohan

Daddykins Title: Daddykins: A Memoir of My Father & I
Author: Kalpana Mohan
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 9789386349538
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Pages: 224
Source: Author/Publisher
Rating: 4 starsIt

Reading Daddykins in this time and age was highly refreshing. It reminded me of Malgudi. It reminded me of the simpler times (though I so wish I was born then). It reminded me of a time when perhaps everyone thought and felt the same – either when it came to the country becoming Independent or being very frugal since they had all been through the same fate of Partition and the scars remained for perhaps life. 

Kalpana Mohan’s memoir of her father and the relationship she shared with him could be anyone’s father’s memoir. That’s why it is so relatable. The emotions are universal and they hit a nerve or two in the bargain, making you choke in several places as you read. Daddykins is a simple story of a simple man and his relationship with his daughter. It is also about how she takes care of her father when he is unwell, of how our relationship is with our parents – no matter at what age, and how it comes down to our understanding of them and their of ours. 

The thing about Daddykins is that Mohan does not only talk about her father, but also links it with key events that took place in the country. However, it is done so smoothly and with such ease that you do not realize it as you read through. There are so many characters in the book that are a solid part of Daddykins life – but the one that was most endearing to me was his “man Friday”. To know more about that one, you have to read the book. 

Daddykins is the kind of book that can be finished in one sitting on a Sunday afternoon. It is layered and peppered with a lot of love, humour, and nostalgia. It is the kind of book that will leave this very warm tingling feeling in your heart, and sometimes, I am grateful for books such as these. 

The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters by Laura Thompson

The Six Title: The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters
Author: Laura Thompson
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 9781250099549
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir,
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

When a non-fiction work reads like fiction, you know you have struck gold on so many levels. “The Six” is a brilliant example of that. First, it is the story of the Mitford sisters. Second, it is superbly written by Laura Thompson. Third, the pace. I have often realized that I get bored in the middle of a memoir or biography and that did not happen even once during the read of this book.

“The Six” as the cover tells you is about the life of the famous Mitford sisters. Born to the 2nd Lord Redesdale between 1904 and 1920, their lives have become synonomous with the darkest periods of history. The Mitford sisters comprised of Nancy, a highly succesful historian and novelist; Pamela, who lead a quiet life suffering from polio and other diseases; the glamorous Diana who broke all rules and divorced her husband; Unity – the most infamously famous who was so taken in by Hitler and his philosophy; Jessica, the communist and Deborah who finally married a Duke and became a Duchess. These were the six Mitford sisters. The book is not just about them though. Thompson magnificently covers history – sneaking up on you between the pages and blending it beautifully with the sisters’ stories.

Thompson covers it all – the glitz and the glamour and the riches to the failed loves and relationships. Nothing has been left out conveniently. A lot of analysis of each sister and their relationship with each other is honestly told and that to me is the highlight of this rivetting read. Thompson does not leave any stone unturned and like I said the writing is easy and yet intense, covering it all and somehow leaving so much room to imagine the ongoings. A read that perhaps may not be for all, but a great one nonetheless.

Meatless Days by Sara Suleri

Meatless Days by Sara Suleri Title: Meatless Days
Author: Sara Suleri
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0241342466
Genre: Biography
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Books that are reread are mostly far and few in between and when that happens often, you must rejoice. “Meatless Days” by Sara Suleri is one such book. I remember reading it for the first time, a couple of years ago and loving it. It was unlike something I had ever read. A memoir that was so irreverent and profound at the same time. Well, it was refreshing to hear someone write like that, as though Sara was in my living room having a conversation with me about herself and her family.

“Meatless Days” is a book that perhaps cannot be even bracketed into a genre and yet for all practical purposes, we must. The complexity and intricacy of both her language and the content of the book astounds the reader, makes you laugh and sometimes make you introspect.

The book is about Pakistan, postcolonial, post-independence and a world that treats its women way differently than its men. It is about Suleri’s Welsh mother, her Pakistani father, her tenacious grandmother and her five siblings. She writes about the wandering soul with such soul that you can only empathize.

Her journey out of Pakistan, the gaze of an outsider and yet strangely an insider is a universal emotion that perhaps every reader can relate with. At the same time, for some it might prove to be a difficult read as the nine chapters are completely disjointed and string together beautifully through Suleri’s distillation of experiences of love, loss and family, and takes form in powerful poetry-like prose.

“Meatless Days” changes with every chapter – the form does, the writing to some extent and so will your emotions as you turn the pages. Suleri’s prose is unique, may rarely come across as too complex (but that’s only because she has so much to say) and yet so liberating and rewarding at the end of it all. A lost-classic for sure, which I am glad has been revived as a part of Penguin Women Writers initiative.