Tag Archives: Essay

Read 25 of 2022. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder. Illustrated by Nora Krug.

On Tyranny - Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder. Illustrated by Nora Krug

Title: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
Author: Timothy Snyder
Illustrator: Nora Krug
Publisher: Bodley Head, Vintage Books Genre: Graphic Nonfiction, Essay
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I would like to begin this review by saying: This book must be read by everyone who knows how to read. Do yourselves a favour and read this book, a primer about history, its failures, and how together we can overcome what we are going through right now.

Snyder speaks of tyranny and its root – where does it come from? Why does it exist? What can we do to overcome it? And while doing so, we have twenty lessons to learn, some which we already know.

On Tyranny - Image 1

The book is extremely American leaning and perhaps because the author is from there – however it is sadly applicable to all other nations that have faced some form of tyranny or are doing so right now. I could see so much of India in this book and what is going on right now in our country because it being a one-party state.

I was shaken to the core while reading this book because it hit home so hard. Snyder speaks of the Nazi brutality, of Putin and how he came to power, of how tyrannical structures methodically rise, and at the same time he also shows us what we can do to overcome all of that. Right from protecting our right to speech to safeguarding institutions, to listening for dangerous words and not using them, to ensuring we look out for each other, it is all in this book and more.

On Tyranny - Image 2

The writing is simple. Not once does Snyder takes sides but tells it the way it is. The writing is lucid, full of examples from history and its follies. All of these twenty lessons make so much sense separately and as whole, for us to work on step by step. These go hand in hand with the most stark, disturbing, and brilliant illustrations by Nora Krug.

For those who say the personal and the political are separate, need to take a long hard look at the state of affairs not only in their own country but around the world to understand how intertwined the two are and one needs the other to coexist. Therefore, the individuals have so much power to rise and take charge.

On Tyranny - Image 3

On Tyranny speaks to all of us – the ones who support the tyrants as well. It shows us what we perhaps already know and choose to ignore most of the time. The question is how long? How long will we ignore the ways of the tyrant and totalitarianism? When will we raise our voices in unison and know the strength we have?

As the last lesson, “Be as courageous as you can” says: “If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny”.

Read 3 of 2022. In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. Translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker

In Praise of Shadows by Jun'Ichirō Tanizaki

Title: In Praise of Shadows Author: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker Publisher: Vintage Classics
ISBN: 9781784875572
Genre: Nonfiction, Design
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I have always wanted to read this book, and #JanuaryinJapan made me get to it sooner than later. I must say though that I loved it through and through, no matter how outdated some of the ideas may seem in today’s time and age.

Tanizaki’s book is about shadows and light when it comes to Japanese architecture or the layout of a home, but it is so much more than that as well. It is about how we approach darkness and the significance we give to light. Tanizaki appreciates shadows and the role they play not only in aesthetically but also in our lives and what they say about us as people.

It is about how shadows are all-pervasive in our ordinary lives and thereby then extending to the ordinariness of living and what encompasses it. When Tanizaki speaks of woodwork, sliding doors, walls and the projection of shadows on them, Japanese houses, the traditional restaurants, candle lights, and Japanese toilets, it all fits beautifully and merges with the reality of living, where harshness of light is preferred to the understated beauty of darkness.

Japanese aesthetic got me then thinking of how we also live our lives – more tuned to Western aesthetics than the Oriental and perhaps that leads to more restlessness and anxiety. Like I said, the book does seem outdated when it comes to some concepts of space and light and shadow but overall, it is a wonderful primer on not just design but also on how to live in the modern age.

Books and Authors mentioned in In Praise of Shadows: 

  • Natsume Sōseki
  • Saito Ryoku
  • Kôtei
  • Takebayashi Musôan
  • Pillow of Grass by Nastume Sōseki
  • Some Prefer Nettles
  • The Makioka Sisters
  • The Key
  • Diary of a Mad Old Man
  • The Mother of Captain Shigemoto
  • Seven Japanese Tales by Howard and Hibbett
  • The Tale of Genji
  • Susan Sontag

 

Read 2 of 2022. The Orders Were to Rape You: Tigresses in the Tamil Eelam Struggle by Meena Kandasamy

The Orders Were To Rape You by Meena Kandasamy

Title: The Orders Were to Rape You: Tigresses in the Tamil Eelam Struggle
Author: Meena Kandasamy
Publisher: Navayana
ISBN: 978-8194865445
Genre: Essay, Nonfiction
Pages: 104
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This book is in part an essay, a memoir of some sort – a dialogue with oneself, and also a collection of resistance poems by female guerrillas and militants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. It is a narrative of three Tamil women – tigresses – the wife of an LTTE fighter, a female combatant from the LTTE, and of the author herself.

What set out to become a documentary by the author, ended up becoming an essay of gruesome experiences recounted by the two survivors of war. Meena met them in Malaysia and Indonesia, in 2013, four years after the war had ended.

This book is so much more than this. It is about Kandasamy’s “childhood history of adulation and fangirling over the Tigresses”, leading to questioning all that is fed to people in the guise of news, and only one narrative being told. I think this is what actually led Meena to tell stories that were not told and to give a voice to ones that didn’t get one. It is also about genocide of the Tamil Eelam people – of the involvement of India in this, the violent aftermath and the camps. It is about the rapes of women – the brutalities, the wounds that never heal, the scars that don’t appear, and the trauma that never goes away.

The second part where Meena shares poetry of the tigresses, is more of a call for rebellion in one way. It looks at poetry by women as a way to fight back, to resist, to fight over and over against the status quo.

For me the narrative of the Tamil Tiger’s wife was most powerful and resonated so deep. It is very disturbing but needs to be told. It needed to be told in the manner Kandasamy says it – cutting no edges, hiding nothing, revealing it all for the reader.

Are these women victims or survivors? I kept asking this question to myself long after reading this text. I am still wondering. Also, the relationship of these women with Kandasamy is something I would want to read more of. The reluctance they had initially to speak with her and the opened up. What led to that? What sort of an ally one has to be to be able to evoke that? The lived and complex realities of Tamils, Tamil women, and more so Tamil women combatants in Sri Lanka through this essay will certainly give rise to much needed discourse, and we need more of those. There is a lot to unpack, a lot to take in through this slim volume of suffering, fight, and the road to liberation that is always long and hard.

Books and Authors mentioned in The Orders Were to Rape You

  • Nimmi Gowrinathan
  • Lovers and Comrades: Women’s Resistance Poetry from Central America: Edited by Amanda Hopkinson
  • Against Forgetting by Carolyn Forche
  • Mariana Yonüsg Blanco
  • Sandra Ramirez
  • Commandante Yesenia
  • Tichaona Nyamubaya
  • Lorena Barros
  • Aida F Santos
  • Anna Swir
  • Captain Vaanathi
  • Nibha Shah
  • Captain Kasturi
  • Adhilatchumi
  • Lil Milagro Ramirez
  • Poem 278 by Kakkaipatiniyar Naccellaiyar
  • Purananuru
  • Poem 112

This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace

This Is Water by David Foster Wallace Title: This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life
Author: David Foster Wallace
Publisher: Little, Brown
ISBN: 978-0316068222
Genre: Non-Fiction, Speech
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I have read quite a few commencement speeches by authors. Authors who celebrate creativity (Rowling), some who talk about making art great again or creating good art (Gaiman) and some others who speak of the future and what it has in store (Saunders). And then there is someone like Foster Wallace who gives it to you the way it is – the real world, with no sugar-coating whatsoever.

I knew that would be the case once I received this backlist title from the good folks at Hachette India. David Foster Wallace has left behind a legacy. A cannon of work that I at least read in bits and pieces because sometimes what he says is too much to bear.

This is Water is a speech given by Foster Wallace to the graduating class at Kenyon College in 2005. He starts with a little parable – the one that seems like one, and quickly goes on to break that mode of starting a commencement speech. David’s speech is a trove of wisdom and compassion, thought provoking, and what it means to live in the 21st century.

I think the thing about such books that there is no single universal message. There is something that relates with everyone. The message of giving up on the rat-race (is that even possible?), the one that speaks about awareness, self-consciousness before saying or doing what we say or do (this one hit home real hard), or just the one to understand what it means to give and sometimes sacrifice a little bit, if you have to.

David Foster Wallace doesn’t speak of glory in the most basic terms. There is glory in empathy. There is glory in understanding. There is glory in small efforts as he rightly puts it. This is Water is the kind of book that is needed at every stage of life. The speech will resonate throughout.

I will leave you with this thought that is my favourite from this read:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

 

 

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell Title: Art Matters
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group, Headline Review, Hachette Books
ISBN: 9781472260086
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

It has been established the world over (if not, then it should be) that Neil Gaiman is one of the most prolific writers that we have, and we must never forget that. In fact, we must cherish what we have every single day and celebrate him by reading more of him, but obviously, day after day.

Art Matters is a collection of his short essays (all previously published individually and collectively in The View from the Cheap Seats) about art, reading, libraries, and why all of it is so important even more so in today’s time and age.

I love what Gaiman writes, and even though I’d read these pieces earlier, with Chris Riddell’s illustrations, they seemed different, more invigorating, and captivating to say the least. There is something about the power of the written word, isn’t it? That’s what this book is about primarily – about words, reading, and how the world can be changed, one book at a time.

Of course, the piece that stands out for me is Make Good Art, in which Gaiman talks to us about how he started writing books, how to do what you really want to do, push boundaries, and be what you set out to be. Yes, it does sound self-help like and maybe it is, but coming from Gaiman, everything is great and achievable and inspiring.

I am not saying this as a fanboy, it’s just that this book really inspires you to step out and make good art. And not to forget that the Make Good Art piece has come from his commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts in May 2012, which I am linking below. The illustrations by Chris Riddell are as usual stupendous and go hand in glove with Gaiman’s prose. Though, I would love to see how this book comes alive in colour as well. Maybe, even a graphic version of these four pieces and more.

Make Good Art just makes you want to go out there and create. Be it anything. A sentence even, or just those two hundred words you’ve been telling yourself you will write, or the composition you are stuck at, or when you feel that you just cannot create anything, this book will at least inspire if nothing else. Read this. Read it again like me, if you have already read them. The illustrations and the reminding of what great art can do is absolutely worth the experience.

Link to the commencement speech: