Tag Archives: Books

Sparrow by Sarah Moon

Sparrow by Sarah Moon Title: Sparrow
Author: Sarah Moon
Publisher:  Scholastic
ISBN: 978-1338032581
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

As an introvert, Sparrow’s life has not been easy. She has been prone to reading and being by herself, which isn’t a bad thing at all. She prefers watching birds, and spending time with her high-flying mother, who is an IT executive at a Brooklyn bank. She has no friends and her world is limited to books and her teacher, Mrs. Wexler, the school librarian. She is the perfect friend Sparrow has – she doesn’t speak much and knows exactly what book Sparrow will like next. Till tragedy takes place and Mrs. Wexler dies in a freak accident. From then on, Sparrow is left all alone – miserable and lonely, almost wanting to commit suicide. Sparrow enters therapy and her world changes like never before. Enter: Rock & Roll music.

This is the plot of “Sparrow” by Sarah Moon. Sarah knows how to decode a teenager’s head. What goes on in Sparrow’s mind is almost bang-on. In fact, many a time I was transported to my teenage years and that had me nodding in affirmation to everything that was going on in the book. Moon’s prose is bang-on in so many parts, especially when she describes Sparrow with a book or her new-found love and the solace Rock & Roll brings to her life.

The book touches on mental health issues delicately and I wish it had probed a little further on it, though it is there and does address it in more than one way. The story doesn’t stray and I enjoyed Sparrow’s transition from grieving to loss to contemplating suicide to seeing things and life for what they were. Sarah Moon doesn’t glorify anything. If anything, she tells a story the way it is meant to be told – in an honest way. Just for that “Sparrow” deserves one read at least. Also, because it is rather warm in a lot of places.

 

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Ayiti by Roxane Gay

Ayiti by Roxane Gay Title: Ayiti
Author: Roxane Gay
Publisher: Corsair, Hachette UK
ISBN: 9781472154224
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

We are sometimes (perhaps most of the time or even all the time) lost in our individual bubbles – the ones that we create, the ones that protect us from most realities, so much so that we aren’t even aware of them. I say this because before reading “Ayiti” by Roxane Gay I wasn’t aware of what the Haitians went through or are going through on a daily basis and for that, I have no one else to blame but myself.

Having said that, “Ayiti” (the way Haiti is pronounced by the Haitians and is the original way of referring to their country) has made me want to know more about the country. How it was ruled by the French and how did they get their freedom and what were the consequences that made it reach this state in the larger scheme of things.

Roxane Gay’s prose is not forgiving nor is it all roses along the way. Her stories are brutal, real, visceral and jump at you without warning – just the way a well-written short-story should be. At the same time, humanity (or the lack of it) runs deep in these fifteen stories – some medium-sized, mostly vignettes and three long stories that will cut through your heart and make you sometimes weep with helplessness.

“Ayiti” is a collection that makes you see the mirror of the world. A country that is forgotten not only by the world but sometimes also its own people. The people who have perhaps given up on a God to come and rescue them from their fate. Some of whom who make it to America and try too hard, so their family can make it. The people who will eat mud in Haiti because there is nothing else to consume. The characters are always in conflict – between home and what they want to make a home but will never be.

“Haiti is not a perfect home, but it is a home nonetheless” thinks the protagonist of the last story in this collection, “A Cool, Dry Place” – a story of a couple who want to leave Haiti – dreaming of Little Haiti in Miami, where there is air-conditioning and cable TV all-day long. And yet, she doesn’t want to leave. She wants to stay with their loved ones, the familiar. Between them, what keeps them going is the love and lust they share.

Roxane Gay’s stories are for sure semi-autobiographical if not all-autobiographical in nature. She was born and raised in the US, though Haitian and I am sure there must have been stories that traveled and found their way in this book.

These stories were published earlier in 2011 and are now published in a new format, but the voice, the situations, the conditions are still the same. The book couldn’t have been more relevant than today when the world is in a state of limbo – when we need to be human, accept, own and belong. In a world where children are being separated from their parents, the part of the world in which Trump makes decisions, we really need to wake up and smell the coffee.

“Cheap, Fast, Filling” was another favourite of mine – about a man named Lucien and his arrival in the United States via Canada and again right into Miami. He has been told that eat Hot Pockets until he finds a job since they are cheap and taste good. He survives on those and Super Big Gulp. To him, even this taste is wonderful. All he wants is his children left in Haiti, to be able to taste these treats.

“We are the keeper of secrets. We are secrets ourselves. We try to protect each other from the geography of so much sorry.” These are some of the thoughts of the narrator of “In the Manner of Water or Light” – a story of a woman conceiving her daughter on the bank of a river while running away from a horrific massacre. The story is achingly told from the perspective of the granddaughter.

“Sweet on the Tongue” is a story of humiliation, love, redemption and somehow making peace with the ghosts of the past. It is also the story of women loving women, women who love their men fiercely and sometimes when it becomes difficult to love your own child.

Roxane Gay’s writing is not limited by anything. The plot could take you anywhere. Even in the shortest of vignettes, she packs a punch of a nine-page story. “Of Ghosts and Shadows” is a longish story of two women who just want to be left alone, loving each other and not caring about the world. The world they are born into and must whether they like it or not care about. This is one story I could relate with the most – maybe because being gay is really the same anywhere after all.

Gay’s Haiti is weak, broken like one character says something to the effect that it is turning on into itself. Its people do not want to leave and yet there is no choice. The ones who have left try every day to get their loved ones home, USA – which could never be what Haiti is or was and yet it seems like a lot for now. “Ayiti” is a book that must be read and after you have read it, read more on Haiti and its people, its history – what came to be and why. I know I will.

 

 

 

Not To Read by Alejandro Zambra. Translated by Megan McDowell

Not To Read by Alejandro Zambra Title: Not To Read
Author: Alejandro Zambra
Translated by Megan McDowell
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
ISBN: 978-1910695630
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Essays
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I discovered, “Bonsai” by Alejandro Zambra in 2014 and since then I have never looked back. I’ve read all his books and all I can say is that I am glad he exists in the same universe as we do and continues to write. This time it was a collection of essays, some old and some new, collected in a book “Not to Read” and published by the very erudite folks at Fitzcarraldo Editions.

The thing about Zambra’s writing is the high level of engagement he was with his readers, even without meaning to I guess. You instantly relate to what he has to say about libraries, personal libraries and books in general. At the very superficial level it is this, but at a more constant and deeper level it is his writing which seems so effortless thanks to the translation really. McDowell has done a spectacular job of giving words to his thoughts and words of course in another language so smoothly, that you almost want to read the original (written in Spanish).

The essays are spread over three sections and each section, without a doubt is a joy to read. Zambra makes you travel with him, through his literature and also through his pieces on literature. I will for one never forget how he and his friends photocopied books as they were (and still are) very expensive to buy when they were students. What is most endearing is that even when he could afford to buy the originals, the photocopy stacks still remained on the shelves. Or the time when he visits a friend’s house and comments on the shelving of books and the technique used (a hilarious piece by the way).

Zambra’s writing connects with the reader in all of us and that’s why it is so accessible. Another thing about reading books about books is the discovery. Just by reading “Not to Read”, I have chanced upon a dozen or more writers I would’ve never known. Well, the glitch is that most of them aren’t translated to English but hey, I hope wanting to read them will finally make me enroll for Spanish classes. Anything that would make you read new authors, I suppose.

Alejandro Zambra has not praised or touched on the big Chilean writers – either because he doesn’t admire their writing, which is fair or because he sincerely feels there are alternatives (which I was glad to know of). This is a very important aspect of a book about books in my opinion – giving alternatives to what already exists. The cannons of literature will remain and revered, but we need something else to hold onto as well.

“Not to Read” can be read in one sitting (like I did) or better yet dip into it time and again, read an essay or two and mull over its magnificence. I am only too happy that more authors are writing about books and reading. One of my favourite genres so far. I strongly recommend everyone to read this book.

Border Districts by Gerald Murnane

Border Districts by Gerald Murnane Title: Border Districts
Author: Gerald Murnane
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374115753
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Very cleverly, Border Districts calls itself a fiction. After reading the synopsis, and knowing that this book is about a man and the books he has read and the relationship he shares with them, I couldn’t help but smile and kind of relate to it. I hadn’t heard of Murnane before reading this book and now I am so in awe that I want to lay my hands on everything he has written.

“Border Districts” is a story of a man who moves to a remote town in the border country, where all he wants to do is spend the last years of his life. While he is doing that, he wants to look back at a lifetime of seeing and of reading. Of what he saw and what he read. The images, people and places he witnessed as he grew along the years and the fictional characters he came across, the words he soaked in and the books he cherished. And where memory enters any novel/novella, secrets are bound to make an appearance and that’s exactly what happens, which also play with your head.

Murnane’s writing is soothing and yet I could sense the urgency and the head-rush that came with it. Like I said, I had not heard of him until this read and now I can’t wait to read everything he has written. His prose jumps at you and takes you captive. It is that kind of power. The shifting of narrative between seeing and reading is seamless and maybe that’s why I was hooked the way I was.

“Border Districts” is mostly autobiographical in nature, based on Murnane’s move from Melbourne to a remote town. Australia for me has never come this alive in any book. Sometimes unexpected books and authors jump at you and before you know it, you are in love.

The Park Bench by Chabouté

The Park Bench by Chabouté Title: The Park Bench
Author: Chabouté
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571332304
Genre: Graphic Novels
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The first read of the year – I love the sound of this sentence. 2018 couldn’t have started off better. Yes, it is a graphic novel. Yes, it is a book with only images and no words, but who said, images can’t be read? Who said that this doesn’t count as a book? No one really and even if they did, then well, to each his own. To me, ​it is a read and a satisfying one at that.

“The Park Bench” by Chabouté is about a park bench (obviously in a park) and the people it watches pass, stop, meet, return, wait, sleep, thrown out, and all of this happens in a strangely intertwined manner that is life. The bench in all of this is the central character – stable, stationary and yet witness to all of it. Imagine if the bench could talk, the stories it could tell, isn’t it? The book is just like that.

There is so much hope contained in this book that it will make you see the world differently, even if it is for a short while. The use of space, lines, art that conveys so many emotions and yet there is something hidden that makes you want to know more and above all the recurring characters that become so familiar – the ache when the book ends and you know what you have experienced is something so profound.

“The Park Bench” makes you mull over​ things and people other than yourself (which is a very good thing, given the times we live in). It might also make you want to speak with a stranger, nod at someone in understanding, smile at someone or maybe just be. There have been so many times when I have wanted to reach out to someone and haven’t. Maybe now I will.