Tag Archives: family

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan

Title: Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors 
Author: Aravind Jayan
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail 
ISBN: 9781788169868
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction 
Pages: 208 
Source: Publisher 
Raring: 4/5

There is a quiet desperation to small towns. You do not know or understand it till you live in one of them – a small town, a small city, or when you are living inside your head for way too long. But more than that, there is always the desperation seen in families – not so quiet, not so loud, just the right kind of simpering, of yearning, and of grudges that fester and fester over time. 

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan is a book about so much that I find it difficult to pinpoint what it really is about. Jayan packs it all in 200 pages, and gives you a family stuck in time, its members grasping at the last straws of connect, of indifference even, of anything that makes them family, only to have drifted in their own different orbits, wandering, trying so hard to make it back home. 

The plot is about a couple whose video of making out or having sex is secretly filmed and is all over the Internet, and how they and their families deal with it. Amma and Appa have no names. The girl’s parents are just Anita’s mother and father. The boy is Sreenath. The boy’s brother, the narrator of the story is also nameless. In such cases, it is the names of the couple that are hidden. Jayan gives them agency to not be answerable to anyone. This is small-town India, this is a scandal, and then there is the question of family and society, that Jayan handles with humour, dryness, matter-of-fact, and making us aware of the hypocrisies that at the heart of the narrative. 

The narrator – the younger brother – who is only twenty, takes on the role of telling things the way they happened – from the discovery of the video, to when the story begins of the family buying a Honda Civic – a car that was meant to be a status symbol, and by the end of the story is nothing but a bad reminder of what took place after. The narrator wants so badly for things to work out – for his family to get together the way it was – anything that is normal – anything that wasn’t. 

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors reads like a newspaper headline – the one that gives incorrect details – the one that only wants to be sensational and malignant, and malicious at best. There is so much to talk about that goes on this novel – it is also a coming of age novel, a novel where time doesn’t matter – it exists as a plot point but never as a measure of things – never as a stock-taker, as though there is no stock of emotions. That’s another thing about this slim wondrous novel – emotions are deep-seated and multi-layered. Nothing is in your face, nothing is dramatic, and even if it is – it is just maudlin at best – forced and fake. 

Jayan’s writing is refreshing – it is incisive, matter-of-fact, funny in so many places, astonishingly lucid, and makes no bones about what the family is going through. There is no sentimentality in his writing. It is life – it happens, and that’s what I got from it. Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors is a reflection of so much in the societies we inhabit and yet doesn’t become preachy at all. It is refreshing like cold lemonade on a hot day, yet infusing the claustrophobia of the day – of the perspiration on your back, of sweat patches under the arms – visible to all, no matter how hard you try to hide them.

 

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.