Tag Archives: class

Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky

Go Went Gone Title: Go Went Gone
Author: Jenny Erpenbeck
Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1846276200
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Go Went Gone” is an unusual book. Also, it isn’t an easy read. At least, it wasn’t for me. It took me a while to get into the book and understand its nuances. However, once I was say three chapters in, I started enjoying this read a lot, actually to a point that I felt sad when the book ended. Erpenbeck has always taken on issues so huge in her books and actually delivered. I remember reading “The End of Days” and “Visitation” and being awestruck by the writing. And just like those books, “Go Went Gone” is a book that talks of the impact of the political on personal and what place does the past and present have in history after all.

Richard has spent his life as a university professor, immersed in books and ideas and has now retired with nothing to do. He steps into the streets of Berlin and discovers a new community on Alexanderplatz – a tent city of sorts, established by African asylum seekers. He is confused. On one hand, he wants to get to know these new people and on the other he hesitates.

I loved the simplicity with which the plot is unravelled and yet there is so much going on – the complex layers of race, class, community and prejudice. What struck me the most was Richard’s ageing and his reluctance to change and at the same time his curiosity toward it as well. The writing is subtle enough to give readers signs and cues as the story moves along, which makes Jenny Erpenbeck truly one of the best European writers there is. She slices the book scene by scene – so much so that isolated situations and scenes come together so beautifully – even if at a later stage. She also at the same time, takes no sides. She doesn’t want Richard to be a caricature and also understands his point of view.

The political angles in the book are real – the Western ideologies and stance toward the European refugee crisis and how it can be solved for. More than anything else though, it is the story of one man who has more in common with people he doesn’t know than he realizes.“Go Went Gone” is the kind of read that cannot be gulped in one go. It must be savoured. And yes please pay attention to the silences in scenes as well – that say so much and yet can be missed if you look the other way.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

americanah-by-chimamanda-ngozi-adichie Title: Americanah
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Anchor Books, Vintage
ISBN: 978-0307455925
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 588
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I did not know what took me this long to reread this book. I remember reading it in 2013, when it was published and I promised a friend that I would get back to it soon – reread it that is. I reread it this month, after three years and was stunned yet again, just as I was when I first read it.

How do you describe a flawless novel such as “Americanah”? How do you review it? How do you describe your feelings to people as you read it, with a hunger and also knowing that you must starve yourself for it, should it get over too soon? While this book is about race at the heart and core of it, it is also a lot more than just that. May be this will be a good start to letting you know more about the book. I for one was riveted. My mind is still reeling from the characters, their lives, their perceptions, opinions, views and how it feels when you are almost an alien in another country.

“Americanah” is fodder for the mind, heart and soul. It may sound cliché when I say this, but that’s what it was for me. It is the story of two Nigerians, each trying to find their place in the world – from school to college to working in countries that they have experienced only in movies, comics, books or TV shows. There is certain neatness to the writing – it is neither convoluted, nor simple at the same time. It deals with issues; it feels personal at the same time and an all-encompassing read.

“Americanah” – the title is a Nigerian word used to describe someone who has lived abroad for so long, maybe particularly in America that they no longer understand the nuances of being Nigerian. They speak American and eat that cuisine. They are alien to their people once they are back and somehow that is the case with Adichie’s characters as well.

Ifemelu – a bright and sharp observant girl, lives her life in Nigeria, goes to America and is in for a rude shock – where race, hair and the way she is plays a major role than she thought it would. The story of Ifemelu is about her trying to fit in and then realizing that America was never for her. She sees America through her journey and life in Nigeria and is constantly on the lookout for more. Her relationships in America are not as fulfilling as they were back home with Obinze (her former boyfriend). He was the love of Ifemelu’s life before America seeped into her bones and flesh. We see love being central to the story and yet it is so distant for the two of them – things change drastically in the course of this book.

Adichie makes her characters like you and I. There is so much of everyday reality that it is heartwarmingly overwhelming. The legacy of slavery and black people and non-black people issues are at the core of this fantastic book. We see how Obinze’s life carries out in London which is very different from that of Ifem’s in America. The common thread is that of feeling like an outsider – like you will never belong.

The secondary characters in the book are not just props – they do, say and add so much gravitas to the entire narrative. From Ifem’s boyfriends and friends to Obinze’s mom and then the reaction of friends and family when Ifem is back from America – to a Nigeria that is very different from what it was when she left it a long time ago.

Ifemelu is more than just an interesting character. To me she embodied a lot of issues, confusion, heartache and more. Obinze on the other hand has so much to say and just doesn’t. Adichie has him restrained to some extent. The blog by Ifemelu on racism called “Raceteenth” and the posts in the book are insightful and brilliantly written. Maybe at some point, being a minority group, we all go through the same kind of racism (or do we?) and that’s why I could relate more to it being a gay man.

“Americanah” is a read not to be missed out on. At any cost.

Book Review: The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prize Winning Essays: Edited by Tara L. Masih

Title: The Chalk Circle: Intellectual Prize Winning Essays
Editor: Tara L. Masih
Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing
ISBN: 978-1936214716
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays
Pages: 224
Rating: 5/5

I never thought I would enjoy a collection of essays that much. I had read Tara’s collection of short stories earlier and was immensely impressed by it. The collection was varied and simply written and that’s what I have loved about her essays as well. Though the essays since written on multi-cultures and races; tend to get a little intense, however they are brilliantly penned by various writers.

Global communities need to be understood more today than ever. The need is not to be tolerant but to be aware of differences and may be at some level embrace them than shunning without a thought.

“The Chalk Circle” by Tara L. Masih (editor) is one such attempt to bring communities together and work on understanding them. The essays are prize-winning pieces and written by various people from various backgrounds to be able to build the barrier between races and thought processes. This collection is a result of a call, the editor put out in 2007, for Intercultural Essays dealing with subjects of “culture, race, and a sense of place”.

The sense of place is very strong in the book – for instance when I read, “Finding Center” and “Connections”, I could not help but wonder about Home and what does it take to call it that. What makes culture? What is the spirit behind it? Is there anything more to it than people? Identity plays a major role in these essays.

The book is divided into the following sections: The Chalk Circle: Identity, Home and Borderlands, As I Am: Letters of Identity, The Tongue of War: A Clash of Cultures, The Tragedy of the Color Line, Eyewitness: As seen by another, The Other and the Culture of Self and Spirit. Each essay is written with a lot of life and magnanimity. It is the emotions lying at the surface – what if things had been different, what if circumstances were to change, and what if identity was as clear as most things in life.

Each essay is a story that opens to the life of the writer, the theme being the same – sometimes displacement, and sometimes loss of a voice. The writing is varied, after all as the case normally is in a collection.

It isn’t easy compiling a collection of this nature. Tara L. Masih as an editor has done a fantastic job using keen insight and not being biased while selecting the essays from a lot of them that appeared for the contest. After finishing, The Chalk Circle, I could make sense of culture, race and a sense of place, in a way evolved manner than I did earlier.

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Book Review: The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

Title: The Wandering Falcon

Author: Jamil Ahmad
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780670085330
PP: 180 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Price: Rs. 399
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are boundaries between countries and maybe the boundaries exist for a reason, or do they? This question haunted me long after reading the book. There are very few books like these that leave you with lingering thoughts. Thoughts that do not seem to stop. I am often disturbed when I read about territorial issues and added to that communal violence topped with “whose land is this”? kind of sentiment. And somehow you cannot be a judge of anything that is happening in places that you are not a part of. That you have witnessed or felt. We in all probability have no right to.

So back to the book. What is it about?

It is about a boy, known as Tor Baz, the black falcon, and to put it the way I read it, he is a wanderer. The story is set before the Taliban regime, in the forbidden areas where the borders of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet. Tor Baz wanders between tribes and meets different men and women. Men who have only battles and wars on their minds and women who are shunted away in the name of honour. And in these encounters, he tries to make sense of everything else in between.

The tribes and the tribal race are almost extinct now. I do not know if anyone ever mentions them as well these days – even in our own country, where they exist only probably as a heritage symbol. What I loved most about the book was of course the writing and that goes without saying, however the vast canvas on which it was written – the territories unexplored, you can almost feel the heat on your back as you read the book.

The Wandering Falcon is one of those books that take you by surprise. It isn’t about the age of the author; after all writing has no age limit, isn’t it? It is the simplicity of the storyline that will keep you glued to the book. He charts the lives of the tribals who live in inhospitable conditions and often misunderstood. Jamil Ahmad also lived with the tribes and their people to understand them better and that is what struck me the most while reading the book – as all the vividness and clarity in the writing made perfect sense.

The Wandering Falcon is a book that touches on various emotions – loyalty, camaraderie, family, clan togetherness, graciousness, forgiveness and the feeling of being in a tribe. Through Tor Baz, the reader sees and experiences it all – I would highly recommend this short and fine piece of fiction. It is definitely worth a read and a re-read.

Makers of Modern India: Edited and Introduced by Ramachandra Guha

This is one book that everyone who has an interest in the evolvement of the idea of India must read. Ramachandra Guha, the writer of this book, is known worldwide for his impeccable style of writing. His writing only gets better when he deals with anything that has any interest in the modern India.

This is a book about those Indians who has changed the way India used to be perceived. Guha meticulously researched for this book and the result is a highly readable account of genuine heroes of modern India. The book is about thinking and writing of nineteen thinkers of modern India. 

I started reading this book around four days ago and it took a lot from me – in the sense, when it came to the ideas and thoughts of the nineteen thinkers – right from Rammohan Roy who speaks about Relations between Men and Women to Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s thoughts on elevating the depressed classes, it was an eye-opener. The topics that these leaders touch on are varied – from gender, class and to banishing English as a language to Kashmir, Tibet, and Nationalism – it is the variedness of these topics that sometimes lead to contradictory and quite opposing ideas. What I like is the selection of passages, speeches and thoughts that Guha has so skillfully compiled. It touches on almost every aspect and yet there were gaps that could have been filled.

The interpretation of their writings were done by Guha in the context of the then prevailing situations. Though, there is notable exclusion from the book. Not a single Indian Marxist has been covered by Guha. There is no doubt that Indian Marxists are great thinkers, but when it comes to the pragmatism of their high level of thinking, there is none. Definitely, there is not an iota of pragmatism in the thinking of Indian Marxists.

Then, the exclusion of Subhas Chandra Bose and Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel from the list of makers of modern India is highly contestable. These two definitely changed the perspective and thinking of innumerable people. And, of course, these two leaders were also responsible for making the largest democracy of the world. The reason mentioned by Guha for their inclusion is not sufficient.

Anyway, this is a book which will directly take you in the mind of thinkers who have been covered. Do read this to understand the ethos of India in a straight way and to the point. In a nutshell, this one is a highly readable book by Ramachandra Guha.

Makers of Modern India; Edited and Introduced by Ramachandra Guha; Penguin Viking; Rs. 799