Tag Archives: family saga

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi. Translated from the French by Tina Kover

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi Title: Disoriental
Author: Négar Djavadi
Translated from the French by Tina Kover
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454517
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

At the very onset, let me tell you that “Disoriental” is not an easy book to read. I think most literary fiction isn’t. You have to give the genre some time to grow on you and once it does, there is no looking back. Having said that, the reading experience differs with every book.

The thing with “Disoriental” is that (and to me, this was important while reading it) it is written in French (the adopted country of the author) and not in the author’s native language Farsi. This in itself says so much about the book and its progression.

The readers are in for a treat when it comes to this book. From a modern-day fertility clinic, we are transported to modern Iranian culture and in the bargain the history of a country. Might I add that there are magic realism elements as well that take your breath away, even if you have read Márquez or Rushdie. Kimiâ Sadr fled Iran with her mother and sisters to join her father in France, at the tender age of ten. She is now twenty-five, in a fertility clinic waiting for her turn and memories come rushing by.

I love how Djavadi has integrated the personal and the political. It is as if they are intertwined and to a very large extent maybe they are. The past, present, and future of the country of birth will somehow in so many ways, will always be linked to ours, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. The Sadrs are a flamboyant lot – from Kimiâ’s formidable great-grandfather to her father and uncles. Not to forget her mother from whom she was greatly inspired.

“Disoriental” besides being a book on identity, exile, and homelessness, is also a book on a family in the midst of political upheaval and regime change. Iran is described on point (not that I have been there but can figure, only going by movies I have watched and other books I have read) and there is mention of “THE EVENT” of March 13, 1994, which is spoken about throughout the book and revealed with a feeling of horror toward the end.

The thing also about “Disoriental” is that it feels as though it has come from a very personal space, almost autobiographical and maybe it is. Family looms large in the narrative and plays along beautifully alongside, combining the personal and the political. Also, not to forget the sexual. Kimiâ’s sexual identity is also explored which I thought was much needed.

“Disoriental” is about distances and perhaps also about the ones we do not sometimes want to traverse. It is about alienation and somehow feeling grounded wherever you are, in a very strange manner. The tone and voice of the narration keep changing in the book, which to me made it jumpy and out of the flow. Having said that, it was needed to give background about characters and the place they came from. There are multiple journeys in one book – they run parallelly to each other and the author uses deep, lyrical sentences that give it the much-needed elegance. At the same time, to understand that all of this is translated into English makes one be in awe of Tina Kover, given how dense the book is.

There is a lot of thread of memory – through objects, people, place and time (you will keep reading about THE EVENT a lot by the way), lending it the Proustian quality (I wasn’t surprised at all). All I can say is that “Disoriental” is a book that has so much to offer, and does it in a lot of ways and stupendously at that.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-1101947135
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are books you read that make you want to be a better person, they make your heart sing and leave you breathless because of their sheer beauty. There are books that break your heart, they keep stabbing at it with a curved blunt knife and you are in pain and you know that, but the magic of words doesn’t make you stop turning the pages. There are also books that do all of this – books that have the power to do it all, so to say and “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi (I still cannot believe that this is a debut novel) is one such book.

I love and enjoy books about families on a grand scale – something about them that makes you relate to what is going on and not so much – perhaps which is what makes it so desirable and not so. “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi is about two sisters who never meet during the book. One grows up in a sort of prosperous family where she is promised in marriage to a powerful man and the other grows up in a tribe where she is captured and caught into slavery. This action takes place in Ghana – more exacting would be in the coastal region. The book is about the sisters of course but also about their children and grand-children and great grandchildren and it is marvelous to see Gyasi loop through all these characters and give them a logical start, beginning and end every single time with every single chapter.

At given point I didn’t think the writing was overwhelming because of the several sub-plots. In fact, if anything, I found Gyasi’s writing to be quite simple, empathetic and most easy to read. The trials and tribulations of these sisters and their progeny makes you think of what goes on in this world as we live safe, protected lives. The narrative switches back and forth between each generation of the sister’s family lines and to me that was a lovely way to link stories of families and to know of the songs and tales passed down from one generation to the next.

Yaa Gyasi projects the conflict of the Asantes and Fantes – the tribes of Ghana and the readers will be pulled into their lives, customs and how one of them even work with the British to sell them slaves. Honestly, it didn’t even surprise me given what some people go through in India at the hands of their so-called “community people”. I felt a little cheated in the last couple of chapters and wished there was more to the characters and their lives – but I guess those can be overlooked.

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi is a novel that will take your breath away. It is meshed intricately with people across generations, timelines, emotions, men and women who are stuck with decisions they make and the ones that are forced on them. Most of all, the book is about what it takes to be human above everything else and what it really takes to make it through all the pain and hardship.

Night Prayers by Santiago Gamboa

Layout 1 Title: Night Prayers
Author: Santiago Gamboa
Translator: Howard Curtis
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453114
Genre: Literary Crime, Literary, Crime
Pages: 302
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Reading “Night Prayers” by Santiago Gambao is like watching a movie on adrenalin. It is not only a crime novel but also a literary crime novel that takes you through the heartland of Latin America. It is also a story of sibling love and so much happening in the background, that you don’t realize when you have come to the end of the book.

“Night Prayers” may seem like it isn’t an easy read when you begin it, however, once you start, you realize it is most simple and a fabulous read at that. The book is about Manuel, a Colombian philosophy student who gets arrested in Bangkok, accused of drug trafficking. He has a sister named Juana, who he hasn’t seen for years. He longs to see her. He doesn’t even care if he is executed. All he wants is to see her.

Juana’s life has been all about protecting her brother from the mean streets of Bogotá. She decides to take him away from Bogotá – as far as she can and she is unable to. All of this happened when Manuel was a student, a dreamer and great lover of literature. Things take an ugly turn and she has to leave her brother behind. In present day, she is married to a rich Japanese businessman and lives in Tokyo.

In all of this, the Colombian counsel in Delhi wants to help and reunite the siblings and all of this with the intrigue of Manuel’s case and what actually happened there. This is in short, the story of “Night Prayers”. Now, why must you read this book? Let me tell you the reasons.

Santiago is a writer who is so skillful that he cannot write anything mediocre or bad at all. I’ve read one of his other books, “Necropolis” and it shines – I kid you not when I say that. It is intricate (just like this one), layered and characters who stay with you long after. Manuel and Juana stop becoming mere characters and become people for the reader. As a reader, I was involved in everything they did or didn’t do – the choices made and the repercussions.

For me, what also worked very well in the novel were the secondary characters – from the counsel in Delhi to the underbelly goons of Bogotá, each of them had oodles of character and charm to sustain me throughout. Santiago’s writing is essentially as though you are watching a well-scripted movie. The plot points are tight and don’t waiver. The translation by Howard Curtis is precise and does not meander into rambling at any point. The prose is chic and stylish – the dialogues even more. “Night Prayers” is the kind of book that you will race through in the span of a weekend and I’m sure you would want more by Gamboa – in that case, please keep “Necropolis” handy as well. You have to read them consequently. All in all, please visit the nearest bookshop or order these two online, right now!

Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

I have always been amazed by the way Ms. Picoult deals with moral situations in her books. I can almost imagine the strain on a writer. From Nineteen Minutes (a mother ponders over what her son did) to My Sister’s Keeper (the mother-daughter relationships), every novel has this capacity to catch you unaware and punch you in the face – it is that strong.

But all the care in the world cannot save the people we love…Handle with Care starts off on this premise. It is about a family (as is the case in all her books) dealing with their youngest daughter’s condition of osteogenesis imperfecta which can easily cause brittle and broken bones. Her mother wants her to leave her a legacy of something which will not bend or break – the case in point her name, Willow. Weeping Willows – I loved the use of the metaphor and yet it is Willow that shines throughout the book with her strength and love for all things natural.

I will not give away too many details of this book, but yes this book goes far beyond a family coping with a disease. Like in “My Sister’s Keeper”, we see sibling jealousy here as well, with one normal daughter and the other Willow – who needs to be handled with care, the attention all going to one sibling. And yet at the end of it all, they are sisters.

The book goes back and forth in time and told from various people’s perspectives. It is about the lies we catch ourselves telling, the truths we are determined to hide – in case something better might come of it. It is about the bonds we forge and the ones we break to protect our loved ones. It is a rollercoaster of a ride and may I add that every goosebump, that every butterfly in the stomach feeling and every emotion you will know while reading this book, will be worth it.