Tag Archives: Books

Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People: Edited by Tarnya Cooper

Imagined Lives - Portraits of Unknown People - Edited by Tarnya Cooper Title: Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People
Edited by Tarnya Cooper
Publisher: National Portrait Gallery Publications
ISBN: 978-1855144552
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

A picture tells a thousand words they say. We have all learnt it as we were growing up. Yet how many of us can actually make pictures talk? Do we even care about what they have to say? The National Portrait Gallery in London receives portraits on a daily basis. Sometimes there are portraits that cannot be identified and belong to a century and time long gone.

attributed to Cornelius De Neve, oil on canvas, 1627

attributed to Cornelius De Neve, oil on canvas, 1627

So this is what the gallery did. They commissioned eight contemporary authors of Britain and Ireland to weave stories around fourteen unidentified portraits. Who are these men and women? What were their life stories? What were their thoughts? The book is about the lives of these unknown sitters from a time gone by.

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, transferred to canvas, circa 1570

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, transferred to canvas, circa 1570

The stories are deliciously written. Tracy Chevalier brings to life a painting and terms it “Rosy” about a man and his affair with another man. “I am Mary Douglas” by Minette Walters is a reflection of a time to connect emotionally with. You just want more of these stories recorded in the form of short memoirs, character sketches, diary entries and just a brief page or two about the subjects. There is also a brilliant story by Terry Pratchett on one of the portraits’ subjects meeting Queen Elizabeth. To me, that was the best piece in terms of humour.

Imagined Lives - Portraits of Unknown People - Edited by Tarnya Cooper - Image 3

Each portrait is written about and analyzed in detail – not a single element is missed out on. Alexander McCall Smith for instance does a wonderful job in “False Mary” where there is a sit in for Mary Queen of Scots herself. It is delicious and so absolutely believable that you want more from where that one came. Toward the end of the book is a brilliant explanation of how these portraits came to be by the chief curator of NPG and editor of the book Tarnya Cooper, titled “Did my hero look like that?”

“Imagined Lives” is a book about lost souls. It is about life and art merged and seen individually. I just chanced on this book and took to it. The stories and the portraits are something. Definitely something worth reading and owning.

The Girl who chose – A new way of narrating the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik

The Girl who Chose - A new way of narrating the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik Title: The Girl who chose: A new way of narrating the Ramayana
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Penguin Books, Puffin
ISBN: 9780143334637
Genre: Mythology, Children’s Fiction
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

So I was a fan of Devdutt Pattanaik’s books when I first read “The Pregnant King”. It was in 2007 or 2008 I think. I remember calling him and chatting with him for hours about it. Maybe that is also one of the reasons why we turned out to be good friends. But that has got nothing to do with the review of his latest book “The Girl who chose – A new way of narrating the Ramayana”. I was waiting for this book since forever. Why? Because I think if you are going to tell a mythological tale for children in a different manner, then I sure would like to know about it.

“The Girl who chose” is about Sita and her five choices and how they impact Ramayana and everyone else in the story. This isn’t Devdutt’s spin or take. It is just an interpretation given what happens in Ramayana. It is about sometimes things being planned out even before you can think about them or about the choices actually that you make and its consequences.

This book is about Sita for sure, but it is also about the other central and not-so-central characters of the Ramayana. The illustrations by the author himself make the book something else. Devdutt’s illustrations are simple. They are easy to comprehend and perhaps one doesn’t even need text while deciphering them. The illustrations speak a language of their own.

I also would like to add here that there is no feminist angle in this book, so don’t be fooled by the title. It is a given that like any other human being, Sita had the power to choose and she made the choices that she did. For a children’s book it perhaps may not come across so clearly, but the understated meaning can be inferred. The tale of the Ramayana always depends on Sita – on what she does, because it is ultimately she who leads the story. No one else has that kind of power in this Indian epic.

Devdutt Pattanaik does it again – simply and with a lot of brevity. He takes on portions of the Ramayana and serves it to you in bite-sized nuggets. The footnotes with additional information only enhance the reading experience. This is a great start for children to know and understand Indian mythology. I think it is the perfect book to gift a child to expand his or her horizons about Ramayana which has been passed down from generation to generation.

Affiliate Link:

http://amzn.to/2bMvWnF

The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane

The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane Title: The Gifts of Reading
Author: Robert Macfarlane
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0241257340
Genre: Non-Fiction, Bibliomania, Books about Books
Pages: 64
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Robert Macfarlane is a travel writer more than anything else. He writes about his adventures in walking, trekking, climbing and camping in the wilds above all else. This latest book of his however is different. It is about the joy of receiving and giving books as gifts. The book primarily centers on the relationship he shared with a long departed friend whom he worked and travelled with in China. This relationship was about book gifting.

He recounts his love for Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books and also how he gives away the books he has loved to people he knows and doesn’t know. Macfarlane always has a stack of books ready (which he buys on the side) in his office which people can come and pick up. I loved the idea but I don’t know if I can do this. Maybe someday I will.

Macfarlane has this wondrous style of explaining things so simply – he doesn’t need to exaggerate life and that’s why you need to soak in whatever he offers. All his experiences with reading are one of a kind and while you may relate to them at some point, you wish you’d live them. If a book manages to do that to you, then it is a pretty good book, according to me.

“The Gifts of Reading” is full of anecdotes about books, reading and the lives that perhaps we should be living compared to what we are. I wish the book were longer. I wish it didn’t end so soon. I would love to read more of Macfarlane’s books for sure after this essay.

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng Title: Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
Author: Jennifer Tseng
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609452698
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are books that come on to your shelf quietly and from there enter your heart and stay there. “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” is one such book which I have just finished reading and cannot stop talking or thinking about.

Jennifer Tseng has written this book about uncharted and almost forbidden territory when it comes to falling in love and yet it is so exquisite, raw and almost unnerving by the time you reach the end. It is almost like a movie that you are witnessing and don’t want it to end or at least end the way you imagined it to.

“Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” is the kind of book that will make you sit up, turn the pages furiously, go back to the pages read and mark passages vigorously, finish the book and come back to your favourite sentences over and over again.

Mayumi Saito is a librarian. She is the sort of unassuming woman who goes on about love – day by day without really aspiring for much. Mayumi loves her books and that’s all there is to it. She then meets a seventeen year-old and her life is not the same anymore.

I wouldn’t call it an affair, as much as it is just being together and their common love for books that brings them closer. It is the subtleties, the nuances of the plot, and the sheer connection between them that makes this book what it is. Wait a minute though. There is a twist in the tale – well not so much as a twist but something that is almost predictable – Mayumi knowingly befriends the patron’s mother and that in itself is a different story for you to read and explore.

The book is hedonistic in its approach and it is brilliantly executed. Every word and every sentence is so in place that you pause, hold your breath and marvel at Tseng’s literary skill and craft. It is heady, almost like a car waiting to collide and you know it will and yet all you want to do is enjoy that catastrophic ride, nonetheless.

“Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” is one of those rare books that speak of loneliness and isolation so candidly that it hits and hurts the spot. You are scared of what might happen to you when you reach a certain age and how perhaps literature might not be the only crutch that will save you. Jennifer Tseng brings out the best, the graceful, the sweet and the horrid nature of humans in her characters stupendously. Yes, the book is self-conscious and so are the characters, but that is what I expected and it served me well. You might expect erotica but it is again graceful and subtle – the kind I enjoy reading about.

If you have to read one book that speaks of love, longing, desire and books all at the same time – almost culminating to an obsession, then you must read, “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness”.

The Village Indian by Abbas Khider

The Village Indian by Abbas Khider Title: The Village Indian
Author: Abbas Khider
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857421012
Genre: Literary fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Seagull books are most interesting. There is something about the list that makes you want to read everything they publish. Their fiction is superlative. Their non-fiction mesmerizes you as a reader. Their concepts and what they choose to publish is beyond anything that I have seen come from other publishers. So when I started reading “The Village Indian” by Abbas Khider, I knew I had struck gold.

“The Village Indian” is not an easy read – in the sense that it is difficult to get your teeth into – yes it is a difficult read from the look of it, but when you immerse yourself in the book – then you cannot get out of it, till it is done and finished with.

The novel though is drawn from the author’s experiences as a political prisoner and the years he spent as a refugee. It will not be easy for some to stomach this, but there is no sugar-coating in this book at all. The hero Rasul Hamid describes the eight different ways in which he fled his home in Iraq and how in those eight different times he failed to find himself a new way home.

This is the summary of the plot – so to say but there are so many layers to this book that will take you by surprise and throw you off-guard. The humour bites you and at the same time it has you wondering about the refugee condition and what happens to those who do not make it – what about the people living on the margins? Do they have a future at all?

Khider’s writing is razor-sharp and doesn’t miss a beat in any sentence or page for that matter. It is a joyride of a novel – that takes you through various turns and twists, and at the same time at some level makes you see what the world really is like, and surprisingly I was a little hopeful, a little bittersweet and a whole lot of happy after reading this book.


Affiliate Links:

Flipkart:

The Village Indian (English)

Amazon:

The Village Indian (The German List)

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki Title: Skim
Words by: Mariko Tamaki
Pictures by: Jillian Tamaki
Publisher: Groundwood Books
ISBN: 9780888997531
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 143
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I had heard a lot about “Skim” before purchasing it. It is all about teenage angst, but I also think it is meant for everyone who wants to find a place of their own in this world and also about what path you want to choose, when there are so many in front of you.

“Skim” is Kimberly Keiko Cameron – who isn’t slim, is also a Wiccan Goth (well she does want to be it) and goes to a private girls’ school, where keeping up and meanness is in vogue. It all begins with Katie Matthews’ boyfriend dumps her and then kills himself. This starts a chain reaction of events at school forcing Skim to think about things she doesn’t want to and also in the process she falls in love and doesn’t know what to do anymore.

“Skim” as a book works on so many levels – adolescence, crushes, love – gay or not, forming cliques and what happens when you’re not a part of them, first love, and more than anything else – a way to find yourself is explored beautifully in this slim graphic novel.

It is the kind of book that can and should be given to every teenager as a rite of passage so it can help them come into their own. It is a book about being young and more than anything else it is about actualization to some extent. Please do not judge it by the cover. The illustrations are beyond words beautiful and it is all in black and white, which makes it even more special.

I am glad I read this book this year and more importantly this month. February as cliché as it may sound is about love (well all months are) and one must read some books all about love – twisted or not.

Affiliate Link:

Amazon:

Skim

Flipkart:

Skim

Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman

Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman Title: Beloved Dog
Author: Maira Kalman
Publisher: Penguin Press
ISBN: 9781594205941
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Dogs have always been very integral to my existence. From being scared of them to loving them unconditionally, life has come a long way. They are there, always, playing a role in some way or the other, dispensing wisdom in their own way and ensuring that they never let you know. Kalman picks on these qualities of dogs and talks about them through illustrations, her life, the dogs she has encountered and how they have featured in almost every book of hers.

Image 1

“Beloved Dog” is a dedication to our canine friends all over the world. The book is of course as usual beautiful illustrated and that is what makes it so special are her personal thoughts on dogs and how she got about getting one even though she had grown up getting scared of them.

Image 2

It all started when her husband passed away and a dog came into their lives (her children and hers) and changed everything for them. The book is a mirror of who we really are and who we become when we love our dogs unconditionally. There are so many lessons in here for all of us.

Image 3

The book is essentially New York and how we think and feel with them even more than people. If you have ever had a pet or have one, then you know this book, you know it inside out. There are poignant layers of philosophy in the book that are almost cautiously hidden by the beautiful illustrations.

Image 4

“Beloved Dog” is all about the love you have for your pet, and when the pet becomes a lot more than just a four-legged creature. Dogs do not go anywhere, even after they have gone in the physical sense, they linger, forever reminding you that it is so important to have them in your life.