Tag Archives: family

Read 226 of 2021. Featherhood: A Memoir of Two Fathers and a Magpie by Charlie Gilmour

Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour

Title: Featherhood: A Memoir of Two Fathers and a Magpie
Author: Charlie Gilmour
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN: 978-1501198502
Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I first heard of this book by going through the Wainwright Prize 2021 shortlist in the Nature Writing category. I was taken in by what the synopsis said and couldn’t wait to read it. Also, I didn’t realize till much later that Charlie Gilmour is the adoptive son of David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame and all that.  

Featherhood, however is not about David Gilmour and his relationship with Charlie. It is about Charlie, his biological father Heathcote Williams and of Charlie being a parent to a magpie named Benzene. This is why Featherhood. This book of course reminded me of H is for Hawk as it should, but only at the beginning. When Charlie’s voice took over, I forgot everything else. 

Why do people abandon people? Why do biological fathers leave? What happens when you do not love enough? Charlie attempts to answer these questions and more by also taking care of Benzene and also somehow figuring his biological father. Charlie is left to figure Heathcote after his death – through papers, by meeting people, and his memories of him. And there are no closures. That is the beauty of the writing. 

Charlie doesn’t focus much on his relationship with David. So fans of Floyd might be a bit disappointed there. However, my favourite parts are the ones with Benzene. How does one take care of a magpie? How does it become a part of your world, almost becoming your world? As Benzene grows up, we also see a change in Charlie’s perspective to life and he finds humour in things than being pensive. Benzene provides Charlie with love, care, empathy, and more than anything confidence and self-esteem.

Having lost a parent, I know what it is like. I could sense Charlie’s confusion to some extent, since he wasn’t close to Heathcote and hadn’t known him at all. At the same time, the way he raises Benzene is so reflective of what he has with David.

Featherhood is beautiful. I read it slowly and took time with it, page by page. It is one of those books that left me with a smile at the end of it.

Read 225 of 2021. Strangers on a Pier: Portrait of a Family by Tash Aw

Strangers on a Pier by Tash Aw

Title: Strangers on a Pier: Portrait of a Family Author: Tash Aw
Publisher: Fourth Estate, Harper Collins 
ISBN: 978-0008421274
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I will now read more of Tash Aw. There is something about reading another’s family, their lives, their experiences in a new country, of how it was, and maybe it is still the same for people who aspire to move, to find roots elsewhere.

When you read about generations of a family and how they live, you relate. Families all over are just the same. Sure, we are different in our own way, but the intersections matter. Whether it is the Malaysian and Chinese heritage of Tash Aw or an Indian Pakistani heritage, somehow it all merges into one big identity.

Strangers on a Pier manages to fit so much in its mere ninety-one pages. From birth to death, Tash Aw tackles it all. These are stories of a family that range from the villages to night clubs to cities and traverse various dialects, customs, and traditions that won’t let go.

The writing is flawless. Every sentence, emotion, and every word are in place. When he speaks of rain, or of exams that have to be given, or explaining the differences between the East and the West, all you want to do is read and when the book ends so soon, you wish it were longer. Through other cultures, Tash Aw bares his culture. Through other ways of being, he speaks of his – dating back generations, and about futures that are so intertwined to the past.

Read 214 of 2021. Dog Flowers: A Memoir by Danielle Geller

Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller

Title: Dog Flowers: A Memoir
Author: Danielle Geller
Publisher: One World
ISBN: 978-1984820396
Genre: Memoirs
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is the thing about family and memories. No matter what, there is always more to uncover, to know, to also maybe understand and comprehend. Perhaps this also holds true for most families, maybe even every family when it comes to secrets, legacies, with what one may call tropes such as redemption, but it is only living.

Geller’s memoir goes beyond the personal. It talks about the political as well, as perhaps a good memoir should. When Danielle’s mother passes away, she leaves behind eight suitcases of worldly possessions. The eighth suitcase is full of letters, photographs, and journals. Dog Flowers is an attempt by Danielle to get to know her mother and her identity in the process of archiving what was left behind.

Geller and her sister were raised by her paternal grandmother since her mother’s alcohol addiction was way out of control. On top of that, she couldn’t provide for her children. In the process of being neglected by her mother, Geller gradually distances herself from the identity handed from her maternal side – the Navajo identity. After her mother’s death, Danielle travels to the reservation to get to know her extended family, and at the same time to find some closure.

Dog Flowers is written in a very matter-of-fact manner. There are no theatrics in the writing, nor there is drama. It is how it is. The memoir is moving but not sentimental or maudlin. It depicts and brings vulnerability to the surface but doesn’t get overwhelming. Dog Flowers also perhaps tells us how to make peace with the demons of the past and let them be. Geller’s book is definitely a must-read in the genre.

Read 201 of 2021. China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

Title: China Room
Author: Sunjeev Sahota
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 9780670095070
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I honestly picked up China Room without any expectation. There was zero expectation as I started the book, and savoured it over a period of a week or so. China Room was a revelation of many aspects. It unravels itself as you turn the pages, and with such elegant and deceptively simple prose that makes you go back and read some sentences all over again.

China Room in brief is about three women who are married away to three men in the year 1929, in rural Punjab. Mehar is one of the brides who is trying to find out the identity of her husband, since she has never seen him. The wives are cut off from their husbands during the day and only called on at night if their mother-in-law Mai wills it. All of this of course because there is need of an heir. What comes of it is the rest of the story.

In another time, in 1999 to be precise, another story unfolds. That of a young unnamed man who travels from England to a farm that has been abandoned for decades, with his own demons. The trauma of his adolescence – his experience with racism, addiction that continues, and more importantly the chasm between him and his culture.  In the process of finding himself (or coming of age in some sense), he finds his roots linked to Mehar.

Sahota does a brilliant job of intertwining the two threads. At the same time, at no point as a reader did, I feel I needed to know more. Sahota’s storytelling skills are totally on-point, and at most times I felt I was reading a literary page-turner (which I think it was). The issues that this book brings to light are so many. There is the awareness of India’s struggle for independence looming large, the idea of women’s liberation (that doesn’t exist at all, whether it is 1929 or 1999 in a country like India), and above all the concept of family and loss that makes for the entire arc of the story.

China Room is also to some extent based on what the author heard from his parents and ancestors, of what happened in his family and that’s why you resonate so much with the writing. It is told with a lot of heart and soul. It explores lives that go by without being chronicled, the book aims to understand the human heart, and what often transpires inside of it. A must-read in my opinion.   

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay Title: The Far Field
Author: Madhuri Vijay
Publisher: Fourth Estate, HarperCollins
ISBN: 9789353570958
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 444
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I honestly do not know how to review The Far Field. It is one of those books that has so much to offer that one doesn’t know where to start talking about it. The varied themes, the writing, the plot, the characterization, or even the way it often makes you think about your relationship with people and the world at large. To me, The Far Field is one of the best books I’ve read this year and rightly so.

I started the book with great trepidation given the negative reviews I had read online, but all it took me was a couple of pages in to dismiss them. This is the kind of book that unknowingly creeps up on you and sticks. It stays. It makes you mull and wonder and often even makes you take sides.

You may think Shalini, the protagonist is selfish. You may think of her as inconsiderate in so many places and might even be enraged at her choices, but having said that all she does is travel from Bangalore to Kashmir in search of a man – a salesman by the name Bashir Ahmed to find answers, in the wake of her mother’s death. A mother who was as determined as she was sharp with her tongue and opinions. A mother who struck an unlikely friendship with Bashir. A mother who was also a bored housewife, an intelligent one at that, and someone who just wanted some attention and care.

The Far Field to me is not a political story just because it is set mostly in Kashmir. It is about people, it is about family, community, and the bonds we forge, rather unknowingly. The book is about what we hold on to and what we leave behind. It is about Shalini and what happens to her and the people she meets or wants to meet.

Madhuri Vijay writes brutally. She bares it all for the reader to see, to hurt with the characters, and feel this twinge of sadness as things do not turn out the way you wanted to. The reader is involved, and by that I refer to myself. I don’t want to give away too much about the story but be rest assured that you will find it very hard to put down this book once you’ve begun (or so I hope).

 The Far Field will have you question your ties with family. The things we choose to say with such ease and the things we do not. The ones we think we communicate about and the ones which we don’t are the most important. Something always gets lost. The book like I said is about family, the ties we forge along the way, and what comes of them in the end, if there is an end at all.