Tag Archives: biography

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.

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The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature by Bill Goldstein

The World Broke In Two Title: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature
Author: Bill Goldstein
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-0805094022
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Literary Non-Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

To want to read a book since a while and then to actually read it and not be disappointed by it is kicking Murphy’s behind. I had to say this because I was apprehensive about whether or not I would enjoy reading “The World Broke in Two”. I love books centered around literary events and what happened in the past between authors and what were the circumstances like. You get the drift. This book is about the year 1922 and four authors that changed the course of English Literature – Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Stearns Eliot, and Edward Morgan Foster. Each battling with their personal demons and on the side trying to make sense of their professional lives and where they fit in in the scheme of things.

“The World Broke in Two” is a fascinating read and I don’t mean it in the loose sense of the word. I really do mean it. If you have interest in history, books, the creative process, and more so the changes that took place after WWI, then this is the book for you. I don’t mean to broaden the scope of this book, but it can be classified over genres and that is also the beauty of this title.

What I loved the most about this book is how Goldstein brings to fore the various writing processes of these four authors. He describes the process in detail, not to forget the anguish of these writers, the self-loathing at most times and how they also learned from each other. For instance, how E.M. Forster learned from Woolf when she gave him a copy of Jacob’s room. The book is layered with anecdotes and what is wondrous is that it is almost like a Russian doll when it comes to discovering more books to read for a novice reader. Goldstein very tactfully blends the historical with the literary – neither of which feel too much of at any given point in the book. The book if anything, reads like a novel.

Goldstein does not shy away from speaking of the authors’ mental and physical challenges and how they sometimes became an impediment and at others a catalyst to surge ahead. “The World Broke in Two” is a stunning read about four authors, the worlds inhabited by them and at the core of it, their writing which is paramount to this book.

Book Review: Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guha

Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guha Title: Gandhi Before India
Author: Ramachandra Guha
Publisher: Allen Lane
ISBN: 9781846142666
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Pages: 688
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Who was Gandhi? Was he just a movement? Or was there more to him? Was there ever more to him as a person? What was he like before he started the revolution of such a kind that inspired millions to follow him? How did he get there? Who was Gandhi the man? Such questions always cropped in my mind in school.

There was always this chapter on the Mahatma in school and yet we never tried to know more about the man. He was always an enigma. Maybe because not enough is written or spoken of him before his time in India. Of his formative years spent in England and South Africa. Ramachandra Guha discovers the man through those years in his aptly titled book, “Gandhi Before India”.

“Gandhi Before India” is all about the man and what led him to believe in what he did. It is about his years in England and South Africa before coming back to India in 1915 and starting a revolution against the Empire like none other.

The book is an attempt to unearth Gandhi like never before. His ideologies, his thoughts, the convergence of incidents in his life, that made him the man he was and how he grew to become the Mahatma or rather what he was before he became the “Great Soul”.

“Gandhi Before India” brings to light the transformation of the boy to the man. The writing makes no bones about it and that is what will have the reader from page one. Gandhi somehow is always relevant. In almost every single time and era, and this book strives to unearth the man behind all the layers.

Ramachandra Guha’s research is intense and that is evident. He has gone through letters, journals and had more conversations with people to get to know the Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi that we all grew up knowing and taking for granted as a part of history.

To me the book told a lot more about the Mahatma than I ever knew or was aware of. Maybe books such as these are meant to do that. To get you to know more so the dim view or opinions do not exist anymore. “Gandhi Before India” is a rich work on the man who was and what he became. The “what he” became part is yet to be documented by Mr. Guha and there is definitely a sequel of to this. I for one cannot wait for it.

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Book Review: Guru Dutt: A Tragedy in Three Acts by Arun Khopkar

Title: Guru Dutt – A Tragedy in Three Acts
Author: Arun Khopkar
Translator: Shanta Gokhale
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143415053
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Film
Pages: 168
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There is no better way to get to know a film-maker than through his works. To watch them repeatedly – one after the other, till they charm you, make you smile, make you cry and make you think. That to me is the best way to know a filmmaker. To realize and understand what made him or her make movies like the ones you are watching, what is the psyche behind them, and what is the connect it has with you and the impression it leaves behind.

One such filmmaker whose works I have admired for years now has to be Guru Dutt. His cinema according to me was way ahead of its time. The depiction of a poet trying to come to terms with the world’s ways or the idea of a disillusioned filmmaker trying to cope with failure, Guru Dutt to me was a storyteller beyond words. He to me was successfully in creating poetry on screen – with eye movements, with body language and with silence. So when I got the opportunity to read, “Guru Dutt – A Tragedy in Three Acts” by Arun Khopkar, I jumped at it.

Arun Khopkar is an award-winning film director and scholar and it is through his eyes that the reader gets a sense of Guru Dutt and three of his films – Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool and Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam. Arun Khopkar does not talk about Dutt’s private life even once in the book and that is commendable. He looks at the person and the director through his movies which is most essential.

The technical aspects of Guru Dutt’s movies are explored more – with reference to lighting, the play of shadows, the script, the music, the plot of his movies and ultimately to me, “the man who never tried to fit in”. Khopkar’s language is simple and retrospective, which has been beautifully translated from Marathi by Shanta Gokhale. The idea of a troubled genius is clearly communicated throughout the book, and what I found most intriguing was how Khopkar has managed to understand Dutt layer by layer purely through his cinema and silences.

For me, each film mentioned in the book is precious. Khopkar’s views on each of these three films are unique and intelligent. His writing does not ignore the minor or secondary characters. He takes into account every aspect of those films and presents Guru Dutt to the reader – raw and brilliant.

The book is not a long read and as the writer describes in the preface, that it was just meant to be a personal documentation on the legendary filmmaker and nothing more. It somehow took the shape of a book and I am glad it did. “Guru Dutt: A Tragedy in Three Acts” is a book that will make you think about art and the genius that Dutt was to devote his life to art and sometimes the madness that came with the devotion. A short and effective read, this is one book on cinema which you shouldn’t miss.

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Book Review: Are You My Mother? : A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

Title: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama
Author: Alison Bechdel
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0-224-09352-1
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 289
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When Alison Bechdel wrote, “Fun Home”, a graphic novel about her closeted gay father and her relationship with him, it was received with great aplomb. Critics loved it and so did the regular readers. I read it last month and was in absolute love with it. At the end of the book, I wondered, “What about Alison’s mother? What about her point of view and her life?” and the wonder was put to rest when I read her new book, “Are You My Mother?”

Are You My Mother speaks of the relationship Alison shared/s with her mother. Alison’s mother was everything rolled into one – an actor, musician, lover of books and also a woman unhappily married to a gay man. Alison’s childhood simmered under all of this – her father’s constant battle and her mother’s constant shirking away from her, so much so that she stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night ever since she was seven. There was this constant tension between her parents, which led to Alison’s history of obsessive compulsive disorders which she shares in the book.

The book in itself is funny and at so many places only heartbreaking. There are moments when Alison’s relationship with her mother are for all to see – how she did not get the attention she craved for, or the relationship defined by the complete and absolute lack of intimacy. At some places she provides answers and reasons and at the others she leaves it for the reader to figure it on his/her own.

Are you my Mother contains a lot of dream analysis as well – Freud has to jump in, when it is the bigger picture and through these dreams one can also understand how detail-oriented Bechdel is with reference to her life and relationships.

As a graphic novel, I loved the drawings as much as I did in Fun Home. The lines are clear and the colour is just what this book should have – in shades of grey and tinges of red. Alison’s book is not just about her mother – it is also about introspection of her life and the way she led it before writing Fun Home.

I loved the way this book was written. More so because I am biased to graphic novels. They speak a different language of words and pictures, which also conveys a lot, like a novel would. The past and present are beautifully juxtaposed and the good thing is that there is also a sense of empathy while reading the book. There is no pity or sympathy; however it is something one can relate to, without experiencing it at some level.

“Are you My Mother?” for me was a wonderful read this month. Family relationships are beautifully portrayed in this one and that too being a graphic novel, it manages to convey a lot. Bechdel’s mother remains an enigma in most places, but that doesn’t deter the book from being what it is – brilliant. Relationships are like a prism sometimes with way too many angles and perspectives. This is one of them – from a daughter to her mother.

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