Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

Is It The Same For You? by Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh

Is It The Same For You? by Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh

Title: Is It The Same for You?
Authors: Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857426963
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 24 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5 stars 

Young girls in conflict zones perhaps face so much more than we know of or will ever know. What do they think? What do they feel? When does childhood end and the reality of being where you are hits you hard? What do governments have to account for then, when innocence is lost way before time? Is it the Same for You in its most raw form asks all these questions, making the reader constantly reflect with every turn of the page.
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Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh take different moments of a young girl’s life in Kashmir and bring them to fore. Amidst all the conflict (political and religious) and terror, the question remains that is it the same for all young girls out there? How is it when their bodies change? The book looks at shards of life – the ones that are rarely come about – when the not so normal becomes normal, when you get used to what you aren’t supposed to get used to, and life is lived just on the sidelines.
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Neha Singh’s text coupled with Priya Sebastian’s most stunning illustrations will constantly haunt you. Each page of sparse text is a story with so many layers and so much to see. The girl who takes comfort in the assumption that maybe this is what it is for all girls over the world and who is to say it isn’t? In one form or the other that is. From one conflict zone to the other. From one state of normalcy to the next. Is it the same for you?

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Title: Disappearing Earth
Author: Julia Phillips
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525520412
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Disappearing Earth is a book that will keep you on the edge of the seat, and yet make you constantly stop and think about so many things that go on in our world, which no one seems to know of. At the start of the book, two young sisters (ages, eight and eleven) are kidnapped in broad daylight from the Kamchatka Peninsula in the far east region of Russia. This is how the story begins.

So, while the disappeared girls are the crux of the story, there are other characters that come right after the first chapter, describing how it all happened, and what was the context (well, in a way). We get to know the characters’ lives and their relationship with the sisters, each character describing their own pain and vulnerability. These characters are mostly women, who are leading quiet lives, each suffering in their own way. This is how Phillips opens up the world of this novel for the reader. It is not what it seems and there is so much more to know.

The writing may seem wobbly at first, but it soon picks up, and gives the reader so much more. Kamchatka has its own role to play (given climate change), but ultimately the book is about the fragility of humans and how the ever-changing ecosystem has such a role to play with their psychology. You can sense it all – the dense forests, the expanse of tundra, the glassy seas, the volcanoes, all of it and more, which only add to the complexity of the narrative.

Phillips shows us the mirror of community, and what happens when you cannot trust what you have been born and raised in. The sense of family runs strong in this novel. The writing is sometimes all tell and very little show, but it worked for me just superbly. I would strongly recommend this read.

Autumn by Ali Smith

Autumn by Ali Smith

Title: Autumn
Author: Ali Smith
Publisher: Anchor Books 
ISBN: 9781101969946
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5

This was a reread for me this year. I had almost forgotten how brilliant this book is, and it is not just about the word-games or the wordplay that Smith uses to her advantage. It is also not about the latent humour that springs itself on you every five pages or so. It is about the writing. The hard-to-contain, the kind of writing that is not limited only to words, the kind of writing that makes you sit up and want to devour the book in one sitting. Autumn for me, is that kind of a book. The book that I will reread perhaps once more before this year ends. 

Autumn by Ali Smith is the first in a quartet. The season quartet as it is called. Autumn is the season of mists, of melancholy, of trees shedding leaves, of changing colours, of perhaps to see clearly, and make peace with the fact that life isn’t stationary. Autumn by Ali Smith is all of this and more. It is called “the Brexit novel”, but to me it is so much more. A lot more. Autumn is about friendship, love, art, identity, forgetfulness, ageing, of how much the world means to us, and how much we perhaps leave behind. 

It is essentially the story of Elisabeth, and her next-door neighbour Daniel Gluck, about 70 years her senior. The friendship that started when she was but a little girl, who is now a woman in her early 30s, and he is centenarian. She goes to meet him at the home for the aged. She reads to him. Constantly reading to him. There is a lot of back and forth between the present and the past in the book, which worked for me through and through. Elisabeth and Daniel’s relationship is charted through the years, of what he teaches her about art, beauty, and the nature of living. Of how she takes it all in. Of the unspoken beauty of friendship, that doesn’t come with any condition of age or time or wisdom. It just is. 

Autumn is energetic, brimming with wordplay, there is so much to it – the layers just keep peeling – perhaps also with every reread. It is also the story of Christine Keeler, of the Profumo fame, and how art plays a role in all of it. It is the story of how we function as humans. Ali Smith’s writing is perfect as far as I am concerned. No phrase or sentence is out of place, or not needed. Everything makes sense and sometimes nothing does. But that’s the beauty of her writing. You read. You pause. You savour what she serves, and you right back for a reread. I for one, cannot wait to now read Winter.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger by Aravind AdigaTitle: The White Tiger
Author: Aravind Adiga
Publisher: Free Press, Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 978-1416562603
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Indian Writing in English
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 2.5/5

Every time I tried reading, “The White Tiger” I was unsuccessful. I couldn’t move beyond the tenth page. There was something about it, or something about me that didn’t enable the turning of the page after a certain point. I tried reading it in 2008 when it was first published. I tried reading it when it won the Booker that year, and many other times. I couldn’t.

Till I did a couple of days ago, and well, it turned out to be the first read of 2021. I must say that I was left disappointed. I could not empathise with any character. I mean I so wanted to with Balram at least. The one who rises above the very real and deep-rooted caste system. The one who does it all, no matter what it takes. It is Balram who is narrating the story. He could also be an unreliable narrator, but I was willing to believe it all. I was hanging on to every word till I stopped.

Balram Halwai is the protagonist of The White Tiger, or perhaps it is circumstances of one and millions of Indians who are drummed into believing that they have to serve. So, he serves. He is the son of a rickshaw puller, born in the heartland of India. He works at a tea-stall, also crushes coal, and dreams of a better life. Opportunity knocks when a big landlord hires him as a chauffeur for his son, daughter-in-law, and also to do other tasks around the house. For him, life is better when he is asked to move to Delhi with the couple, and thereon he plans his escape, so he can be a man who is at the top of the pyramid of life.

Yes, Adiga tries hard to speak of poverty, caste system, discrimination, of what he calls the “Rooster Coop” – as a metaphor for describing the oppression of the poor in the country. He does all of this, but somehow, I couldn’t find any nuance. The writing failed to make an impact. I couldn’t feel anything for any character. I did guffaw in very few places, but that was that. I did turn the pages quickly because it is that kind of read. Perhaps the very few Booker winning titles, that are actually readable. Maybe I read it because of the hype of the movie that releases on the 22nd of this month, starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Rajkumar Rao. Whatever it is, the first read of the year turned out to be a dud.

Books and Authors mentioned in The White Tiger:

  • Harry Potter Series
  • Rumi
  • Iqbal
  • Mirza Ghalib
  • James Hadley Chase
  • Kahlil Gibran
  • Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
  • The Joy of Sex
  • Desmond Bagley

Playlist for The White Tiger:

  • Hazaron Khwaaishein Aisi by Shubha Mudgal
  • Fields of Gold by Sting
  • On My Way Home by Enya
  • I Want to Break Free by Queen
  • Return to Innocence by Enigma
  • Jawaane Jaaneman
  • Changes by Tara George
  • Hey Jude by The Beatles
  • Freedom by George Michael
  • Dil Jalane ki Baat by Farida Khannum

Jaipur Journals by Namita Gokhale

Jaipur Journals by Namita Gokhale Title: Jaipur Journals
Author: Namita Gokhale
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 978-0670093557
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Jaipur Journals is the kind of book that will work its way to your heart – bit by bit. It is the kind of book that will make you chuckle in several places, even if you haven’t been to the Jaipur Literature Festival (where the book is set) and will also make you want to pack your bags and go there. Jaipur Journals is a melting pot of a book, I think, and more. You will notice characters and at once you know them – they could be anyone you have met or heard of, and yet seem new and delightful. What I loved the most about the book is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Ms. Gokhale has the knack of telling you all (or making it seem like that) and then showing only what she wants to.

From a septuagenarian who has completed her semi-fictional novel (over and over again) but does not want to publish it, to people who are receiving threat letters at the festival, from lost lovers meeting at the festival, to a young girl who has found her way to the greatest literary show on earth through a blogging contest, to a cat-burglar who is now a poet, Jaipur Journals promises all of this, in all its eccentricities and more.

The book goes back and forth in almost every characters’ life and yet doesn’t feel too long or overwhelming. In fact, if anything I thought it ended too soon. Also, it is such a light read that you do not even know when time flies, and that too me is the greatest quality of a good book – readability and engagement, which Jaipur Journals manages spot on.

Jaipur Journals is that friend you speak with about books, the publishing industry, and how perhaps the culture of reading is either dying or not. It is about what happens at literary festivals – the usual sessions, the controversial ones, the times when love is forged, people bumping into people, and some latent hidden bitterness rearing its ugly head once in a while.

If I haven’t said it enough already in so many words, then here it is again: Read Jaipur Journals. Read it because it will make you smile, guffaw, and perhaps even let your guard down. Read it because it literally is an ode to aspiring writers, to writers who have written but do not want their work to be published, to writers who want to be published and are hesitant, to writers who shine and come into their own nonetheless.