Tag Archives: Chatto and Windus

Book Review: Home by Toni Morrison

Title: Home
Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Chatto and Windus, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0701186074
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 146
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Toni Morrison is one of my favourite writers. I have almost loved everything she has written. She is amongst the writers who knows her craft and does not shy from writing on themes that are real and varied and sometimes plain scary. From the first time since I started reading her, when Beloved was gifted to the time I have finished reading her recent book, “Home”, Toni Morrison has managed to make me feel like no other writer has.

“Home” by Toni Morrison is somewhere between a novella and a novel, amounting to 146 pages only and yet as a reader you are amazed at the variety of emotions and themes she touches upon in limited words and pages.

The premise of the novel is brilliant: Trauma suffered by men who have returned from war and that too in the 50’s, the Korean War that ended in 1953. The war was fought between the Republic of Korea (supported by the USA) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. America provided 88% of the 341,000 International Soldiers which aided South Korean Forces. One of the soldiers in this story happens to be Frank Money, who has returned from war, kept his life on hold and has to return home to his sister Cee, who is in trouble. The book is about his demons, his love left behind (not much is spoken of her, just a couple of pages) his journey back home and in-between chapters of his sister’s life back home.

There is a lot of displacement in the book – from families that move to the hurt and anger that seethes and is denied an outlet. Men have to be strong. Times are changing. The war-returned souls cannot express their feelings, or confess their brutal acts. Owing to this, the issue of racism is subtle in the book.

Toni Morrison always ensures that you feel for her characters – be it Pecola in “The Bluest Eye” or Sethe in “Beloved”, she ensures that you cry or that there is a lingering need to save them. I could not empathize for any of the characters in this book. I just could not.

There was may be a lot going on in the book for me to be able to relate to anyone – the War, the racism, the issue of loneliness, poverty, abortion, and ultimately healing. Having said that, the one part that stuck to me was that of Cee’s and how she heals towards the end. That is beautifully written and expressed and I loved that about the book.

Overall, I did not find this book as moving as her other books. Maybe because of the length and that it was trying to say a lot, but couldn’t. At the same time, no one can contest the writing. She is as breathtaking at her skill as ever. Darkness and loneliness are at the core of this book and one doesn’t have to go through war to understand both. I do hope there is more of “Home” in other installments or prequels or anything – but more, because I wasn’t satiated with this one. I need more of her writing.

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Book Review: The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

Title: The Land of Decoration
Author: Grace McCleen
Publisher: Chatto and Windus
ISBN: 978-0-701-18682-1
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 291
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Land of Decoration starts off as a strange book. About a girl, her father and their staunch religious beliefs. At the core of it, it is a battle of good and evil at times, about the choices we make and how we can pretty much differentiate, and the times when everything clouds over and we aren’t able to make the right decisions.

Judith McPherson is a 10-year old girl raised by her widowed father to believe they are living the end of days. They go out canvassing neighbourhoods, passing out religious pamphlets, wanting to educate people about the coming Apocalypse. They read the Bible every night and ponder over it. Judith’s father has no time for her besides these set activities. They visit Church and that is that. Judith is lost in her own land of questions and answers. She builds things from garbage and scraps, almost a whole new town she calls, “The Land of Decoration” in her room, as there is no access to TV or books, as laid out by her father. The entire made-up town represents where she lives and people she meets. The only solace she finds from school bullies and a life without her mother is in this land.

One day, due to the scare of a school bully Neil Williams, Judith prays and hopes it snows in the middle of October. She prays against all hope and creates snow through paper and glue on her made-up land. She wakes up to snow next morning and school is cancelled. She continues this for another day and believes God is speaking to her. Is God really speaking to her? Or is it just her faith? Things take a severe turn for her at school and at home Judith exacts revenge (or teaches Neil a lesson). Neil and his friends’ tyranny reach Judith’s home. Judith’s father has problems at work that involve Neil’s father Doug.

Judith has choices to make: Should she listen to so-called God that speaks with her or give up her so-called magical powers to set things right?

The constant struggle of faith and doubt is the crux of this book. Judith’s beliefs or not form the structure. It is interesting how Grace McCleen takes us in the head of a 10-year old and makes us explore her thoughts and emotions. Questions like, What about faith? What does it mean to you?, and more enter the reader’s mind.

I could not believe it was Grace McCleen’s first novel. The writing is descriptive and sets the tone of the book in almost every chapter. The novel is delightfully inventive and unusual. Judith’s voice sometimes is sad but honest. The book more or less reminded me of “Room” by Emma Donoghue which also had a child as the narrator and was set in unusual circumstances as well.

The Land of Decoration is a fresh and original debut, which definitely will keep you wondering about certain elements of faith and religion. An interesting read for sure.

Here’s my favourite part in the book:

“Miracles don’t have to be big, and they can happen in the unlikeliest places. Sometimes they are so small people don’t notice. Sometimes miracles are shy. They brush against your sleeve, they settle on your eyelashes. They wait for you to notice, then melt away. Lots of things start by being small. It’s a good way to begin, because no one takes any notice of you. You’re just a little thing beetling along, minding your own business. Then you grow.”

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Book Review: Scenes from a Village Life by Amos Oz

Title: Scenes from a Village Life
Author: Amos Oz
Publisher: Chatto and Windus, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0701185503
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Scenes from a Village Life by Amos Oz is not a novel. Neither is it a short-story collection. It is a collection of inter-related tales, which are glimpses of everyday Israeli society and that is what makes this book different.

The tales take place in the fictional village of Tel Ilan, where a lot of strange things start happening to common people. There are eight brilliant, thought-provoking, perceptive and sometimes disturbing vignettes that make this book worth it.

For instance, I can only think of Amos Oz writing the way he does and portraying the puppy love of a seventeen year old boy for a librarian twice his age or for that matter the first story Heirs, which talks of an unusual stranger who arrives at the home of a troubled man, wanting to buy it.

Amos Oz’s stories/tales are not easy to comprehend at the first read. Also there were times I felt that there are emotions that can get lost in translation, however that was not the case that often in this read. Amos Oz cleverly explores the psyche of people in a small village and what they might encounter and make of unusual situations or circumstances. The slice of life element in this book mixed with the touch of fantasy is very well done – both by the author and the translator.

Several stories are meant to be understood, given they are allegorical in nature. At the same time the images and symbolism are quite heavy-handed to be understood by the common reader and need decoding. Scenes from a Village life at the end of the day is more about life in general than anything else. This is a book that aches of the quiet melancholies of life.

As one of the characters says, “Our unhappiness is partly our fault and partly your fault. But your unhappiness comes from your soul. Or from your heart. It’s hard to know. It comes from you. From inside.”

Scenes from a Village Life is not for a rushed read. It needs to be savoured and pondered about for some time. Read it when you have the time and the inclination for this sort of a book.

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