Tag Archives: coming of age

Read 174 of 2021: The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Title: The Magic Fish
Author: Trung Le Nguyen
Publisher: Random House Graphic
ISBN: 978-0593125298
Genre: Graphic Novels, LGBTQIA, Coming of Age, 
Pages: 256 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

I wish someone had written this book for me when I was growing up. When I was dealing with my sexuality and didn’t know any better. I wish I knew how to tell my parents and family I was gay using words that would break their hard exterior and touch their heart and soul, which of course didn’t happen. I just came out and that was that. The Magic Fish however is a book that seems to know what to say and how and is more beautiful for it.

Tiến loves his family and friends. His parents hail from Vietnam and he is keeping a secret from them – about himself, about who he is, about how he cannot tell them that he is gay because there is no equivalent for it in Vietnamese. It is also about his love for a friend, and him struggling with his identity.

At the same time, Nguyen takes us on a whirlwind of providing comfort to yourself through fairy tales. Tiến and his mother read fairy tales to each other, every night, and in those tales, each of them is trying to find and know more about their lives – the past, present, and perhaps the future.

I love how Nguyen takes the concept of a fairy tale and throws it on its head and gives his readers something so refreshing to introspect about. The Magic Fish is a book that refreshingly looks at fairy tales keeping modern lives in mind. It doesn’t shy away from breaking norms and stereotypes, which is the need of the hour and the times we live in. Trung’s art is stunning and you need to spend some time on every page to soak it all in. In short, The Magic Fish is a read meant for all, to make people understand that people lead different lives and it is all about perspective and empathy.

 

These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever

These Violent Delights

Title: These Violent Delights
Author: Micah Nemerever 
Publisher: Harper 
ISBN: 978-0062963635
Genre: Coming of Age, LGBT, Literary 
Pages: 480 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

So this book is really unlike anything I have ever read, and that makes it perhaps even more special. There is violence, loads of it. There is also desire and passion, both in the same measure. There is love, but always scared to be spoken out loud. This book has gutted me to such an extent, that I might not recover from it at least in the next couple of months. It is wickedly delicious, and more. A perfect combination of The Secret History with Lie with Me or even Call Me By Your Name, but more sinister in its approach, more real, and cunning to its core.

The novel takes place in the 1970s in Pittsburgh, and centres around Paul Fleischer and Julian Fromme. They are two freshman students and instantly connect during their first interaction in class. The chemistry is evident. They are poles apart from each other. Paul is shy, a loner, and artistic. Julian is wild (well, in a sense), charismatic to the boot, and wicked to the core (or so it seems). They two develop a great fondness for each other, a friendship that grows more intense each day, finally leading to love that is of catastrophic proportions.

This book had me gasping for breath. Their love is nothing that I have read of in books. It is strange, it breaks and pushes boundary after boundary, it begs for more violence – both physical and emotional, and it won’t stop at anything. The conversations are intellectual and provide fantastic insights into their lives, their families, and all about what it is to be good or moral, and the opposite of that.

Their bond could be called unhealthy, an obsession, a kind of love that destroys everything in its path but you just cannot get enough of it. It doesn’t read like a debut. Nemerever’s writing is never reassuring or comforting – it is brutal and you love that as a reader. It isn’t straightforward. Its turns are atmospheric, and scary, and always tipping the balance one way or the other of the relationship between the two young men, more so given it is set in the 70s, when things were way far more difficult for the queer community. I literally couldn’t stop turning the pages.

These Violent Delights is for me one of the best books read of 2020. I say it with much assurance and confidence. It is dark, humane, ugly, brutal, with a dash of murder as well (oh yes, forgot to mention that), it is full of rage, self-loathing, hate, and inner recesses of the human heart where perhaps compassion resides.

 

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi Title: The Death of Vivek Oji
Author: Akwaeke Emezi
Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 978-0571350988
Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming of Age Fiction, LGBTQIA Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is going to be a short note, because this book is under embargo and I cannot post a review as of now. All I can say is that you must read, “The Death of Vivek Oji” by Akwaeke Emezi when it’s out. They have written it with a lot of love and heart.

The story is about Vivek Oji and his death and life – and what led to his death. It is about his homosexuality or even gender fluidity (or so it seems at various points in the book) in a place where LGBT rights are not recognised, and it is a crime to be gay.

The book is set in Owerri, one of the largest cities in Nigeria. It is about the differences that exist – the Nigerwives (as they are called) – who don’t belong to Nigeria but marry men from there, their children, the lives they lead, and above all the patriarchy that doesn’t let you be. The patriarchy of the Nigerian society that is so deep-rooted with all its hypocrisy is mind-numbing to read.

Emezi in their writing brings so much to fore that it compels you to understand and read more of the culture the book is set in. The book then is not just about Vivek Oji and who he was, but all the other characters as well – each trying very hard to find themselves.

A longer review will be up in August when I can talk more about the book. For now, this will do. But please do read it when you get the chance to.

 

99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai

99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai Title: 99 Nights in Logar
Author: Jamil Jan Kochai
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1408898420
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

While 99 nights in Logar may seem to have been set in a culture and time alien to most readers, the universality of theme is astounding, which you only begin to realize as the pages turn. This is where the genius of Jamil Jan Kochai only begins. You don’t need a tour guide to take you through the terrains of Afghanistan or a map to get you acquainted to the landscape. You just need to go with the story and that’s enough.

I must admit though initially I did face a problem with who was whom in the family and what were the relationships and more than anything else, the confusion about names. However, that ended soon enough and from thereon it was a journey worth taking.

This debut is narrated by Marwand, a 12-year-old boy who is raised in America and takes a trip with his parents and brother to a village in Afghanistan in 2005. The American war is almost over, and no one knows what the future has in store.

The book starts with a search – Marwand, and his uncles and cousin – Gul, Dawood and Zia set out to find his uncle’s dog Budabash. The dog hasn’t been seen since he savaged Marwand’s index finger on the first day of his arrival. A lot of things happen on the course of finding the dog – people drop out of the search party for one reason or the other, stories are exchanged (which to me is the brilliance of the novel) – over a cup of chai, waiting for things to happen in the course of the search, or even while doing nothing.

Kochai tells us the story of a family and he doesn’t do it keeping the West at the fore. The images are spot-on, you feel a part of the narrative, and for most Farsi or Pashto words there is no English translation given, which is quite natural given the people in this region speak that way. Coming back to the family, Jamil Jan Kochai weaves the story back and forth in time through the stories told by everyone not just the boys – and then it only further changes hands of time.

99 nights in Logar is all about memory. Memory is at the heart of this novel and throughout the book. Whether is it recollection of stories, or even how things happened a week ago or two days ago, Kochai manages to make the story funny, filled with nostalgia, angst, and a great coming-of-age experience.

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor Title: The Dragonfly Sea
Author: Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0451494047
Genre: Coming of Age, Literary Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Books that manage to capture place, time, person, and at the same time keep the prose intact and tight are rare to come about. The Dragonfly Sea is one of them. It scores very high on each of these parameters and then some more. When I say more, I mean what the reader feels for the characters, which to me is primary. The Dragonfly Sea is the kind of book that will keep you enthralled, and make you wonder about the Kenyan landscape – but more than anything else it will leave you wanting more of Owuor’s writing.

The book opens on the island of Pate, off the coast of Kenya, where stubborn Ayaana lives with her mother, Munira. Ayaana has never known what it’s like to be with a father, till Muhidin, a sailor enters their lives and things start to change. There is so much happening in the book that for some time I had to just pause and take a breath. That’s the power of this book. It also reminded me of Homegoing but not so much. So, it is its own person so to say and I love that about it.

The Dragonfly Sea is a coming-of-age book that is unlike any other I have read. Maybe it is the setting, but mostly it is the way Owuor has written this book. This is the first time I am read something by her, and it won’t definitely be the last. Ayaana’s voice, her thoughts, and the way circumstances impact her thoughts are beautifully expressed throughout the book. Whether is a visitor with a murky past or from dragonflies to a tsunami or kidnappers, or even her journey to the Far East, every plot-line has a purpose to serve and even though the book stretches to five hundred and twelve pages, it is worth every sentence.

Owuor’s prose strikes you immediately, it almost jumps at you and you also have to reread some sentences to make sense of what’s going on. It might even take some time for the reader to get into the book, but once you get the hang of the plot and the sub-plots, there’s no stopping you. I loved how descriptions change as per place, which of course they will, but I guess just the deftness with which it is done is remarkable. All details are laid out, and that helps a lot. The emotions of characters are unpredictable and that helps steer the novel in various directions, which is needed for a saga such as this one.

The Dragonfly Sea is one of those books that has it all – adventure, compassion, the choices we make and how difficult they prove to be, and of course more than anything else the need for home – to what becomes home and where we feel at ease. It is the kind of book you want to come home to at the end of the day and not stop reading at all. A fantastic read that is not to be missed.