Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

Read 205 of 2021. The Man who Lived Underground by Richard Wright

The Man who Lived Underground by Richard Wright

Title: The Man who Lived Underground Author: Richard Wright
Publisher: Library of America
ISBN: 978-1598536768
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was absolutely stunned as I turned the pages and devoured this previously unpublished work of Richard Wright. The Man who Lived Underground is about an innocent black man who gets trapped in double homicide and brutalised by the police force. He is wrongly accused, interrogated for the sake of it, and finally not even entitled to a lawyer to fight his case. This book is set in 1942. Sadly, nothing has changed.

Fred Daniels manages to escape from police custody and enters the sewers, and this is really where the story takes place. He has lost his home, his wife, and his new-born child – all because of his colour and the racism that exists. He is making his way through the sewer questioning life and death, his existence at large, and what will happen to him once he is found by the authorities.

The writing is quick in most parts, verbose in some, but never lets go of the reader. You can see Wright’s touch through and through, but more than that, I also saw a lot of Baldwin in the book. Perhaps Baldwin inspired Wright to write the way he did.

The experience of reading about a man in a sewer is nightmarish, almost allegorical, even magic realism taking on in the prose to some extent. Everything in the sewer takes on a different meaning – from a car sloshing through a puddle, or the scream of a baby, or a shout – it is all different for Fred much like when he exists on the world above.

Wright’s writing cuts to the bone. Empathy flows throughout. There is madness. There is chaos. And it all seems like one big fever dream, an old story told over and over again – when everyday life is taken over by hallucinations in order to make it bearable.

Read 204 of 2021. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Title: Klara and the Sun
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 978-0571364886
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

There is so much going on in Klara and the Sun that it was impossible for me as a reader to not put the book down and mull over what Ishiguro was trying to say, if one can get what authors try to tell you every single time. Ishiguro’s latest (and long-listed for the Booker Prize 2021) has been published after six long years, and all I have to say is that the wait is worth it.

To understand the concept of Klara, an Artificial Friend, and then to understand her thoughts and feelings and how she makes sense of the world is fascinating. Ishiguro’s writing in this one to me was way different from his other works. There is a sense of restlessness that I felt inside of me as I navigated through Klara and the Sun. Her world is very different and when she’s with her human friend, the perspective changes drastically. Memories merge with Klara’s observations that sometimes she comes across as an unreliable narrator, but that is also another aspect of the novel which is joyous to read.

The latent struggle of trying to make sense of what is going on and at the same time to be true to her human friend is real. The loneliness, the meaning of love, and could she ever love someone, and what makes her who she is are elements so complex and core to the novel.

Klara and the Sun was definitely worth the wait after The Buried Giant. I thought it would be similar to Never Let Me Go or on those lines, but Ishiguro not only surprises you, but sometimes urges you to look at the world differently, and in the process perhaps understand yourself, and maybe even your heart a little more.

Read 203 of 2021. Are You Enjoying? : Stories by Mira Sethi

Are You Enjoying?-Stories by Mira Sethi

Title: Are You Enjoying?: Stories
Author: Mira Sethi
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 978-1526643957
Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

With the onset of the lockdown last year, my mother and I watched Pakistani serials. We were reeling under the influence of Dhoop Kinare watched years ago and thought that Pakistani serials would be made the same way – with nuance. We were mistaken to a large extent. They were just like the K serials of India, barring a few. The same old upholding of values, same old serials seeped in patriarchy, the same old stories of sacrifice and love.

Why do I speak of these serials? Because Mira Sethi’s collection of stories set in Pakistan are refreshingly different and real unlike these shows. Or maybe these shows are also real, each depicting their own universe of events, and the truths that reside in them.

Mira Sethi’s collection of six stories and a novella is not only extraordinary but also immensely detailed, with an eye for pointing out the quirks, eccentricities, and to a large extent satirical. These stories are the much-needed representation we needed of the country. Maybe some of them even made me think of Zoya Akhtar’s movies. They seemed to be set in the same milieu. The rich with their immense set of problems, insecurities, constantly finding ways to escape what is being served to them by life or by fate as a consequence of their deeds (maybe). Whether it is a man who is recovering from his divorce and falls in love with a neighbour in “Mini Apple” or a young actress who wants to make something of her life in “Breezy Blessings”, or even if it is the matriarch in “A Life of Its Own” (which is in two parts) – all of them are struggling with something or the other – their lives are no different than what you and I live. Sethi draws from people she knows, irrespective of whether rich or not. The stories matter and they speak for themselves.

My personal favourite was Mini Apple till I read “Tomboy” and fell in love with the story. The understanding between the friends Asha and Zarrar, as they get married and continue living, hiding their sexuality from society at large, spoke volumes to me as a gay man living in India. We think we have managed to break free, but have we really?

Mira’s stories constantly defy, they are thinly veiled in wit and humour, sometimes even to make a point, but mostly these stories reveal the human condition and the spaces we inhabit. These stories could be set anywhere in the world, but Mira’s Pakistan is the modern country we need to know of – its contradictions, the complexities, the night life, the lives that are not supposed to live to the fullest, and the constant battles of power and desire. It is the Pakistan that speaks volumes, if you read carefully between the lines.

On the surface these stories look simple but let them not fool you. They are anything but easy. They are an easy read for sure, but their impact lasts longer than you think it would. Sethi’s writing is brazen, feisty even, it is refreshing and more than what you have already heard of it. It is a collection that has rightfully earned every bit of praise. Read it.

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.