Tag Archives: February 2020 Reads

The Book of Indian Kings: Stories & Essays

The Book of Indian Kings Title: The Book of Indian Kings: Stories & Essays
Author: Various
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-8194365709
Genre: Anthology
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I love what Aleph Book Company publishes. Their books are unique and well-crafted. I mean I have so far enjoyed most of their books, so its but natural that I enjoyed the latest in their Olio series. Olio which means a miscellaneous collection of things, just like this series. Each book in this series is carefully curated and edited. From stories of love and lust, to the essence of Delhi, and now The Book of Indian Kings.

What I loved about this collection is that it somewhat may encourage first-time readers of these authors to go and explore more of their works. I think that should be the objective of any anthology in that sense, and it works.

The Book of Indian Kings is a fascinating collection of stories and essays, each with a different touch of hand, and sensibilities. From Manu S. Pillai talking about Krishnadeva Raya to Romila Thapar’s brilliant essay on Mauryan India, to Salman Rushdie’s story The Shelter of the World that appeared first in The New Yorker in 2008 and is ever so playful and magical. Each story and essay is carefully included – it isn’t just about the kings, but how they were – their personal lives, their kingdoms, their victories and losses.

This book needs to be savoured in the sense of reading one piece perhaps a day or finish in about three days or so. What does tend to happen though is the setting of a sense of boredom, but that quickly vanishes, if you jump from one story or essay to another, rather than read them in order.

The writing is lucid. The book is short and to the point. Not a single piece to me stuck out as a sore thumb, which says a lot about a collection. Read it over a weekend or so. You will definitely not be disappointed.

How We Fight For Our Lives: A Memoir by Saeed Jones

How We Fight For Our Lives- A Memoir by Saeed Jones Title: How We Fight For Our Lives: A Memoir
Author: Saeed Jones
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 978-1501132735
Genre: Memoirs, LGBT
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This book to some extent made me see the mirror. Saeed’s story isn’t very different from mine, though it is. His story of being bullied because he was “different” is the same as mine. The sense of being called a faggot, a homosexual, and to understand that you have to survive in a world of hate and the world that treats the “other” differently, isn’t easy to do so. I live it every day, and as a fellow gay man in that sense, I understand it even more.

You have to fight and reclaim a lot, snatch even, and make your own terms to live and be respected for who you are. “How We Fight for Our Lives” by Saeed Jones is a memoir that has several layers to it. Of being gay. Of being a black man. Of growing up gay and black.

I loved how Saeed depended on books while growing up (just as I did) and I could see how that made him embrace his desire, till he reaches college and unleashes himself both, physically and mentally. This book is a collection of reflections of his life, of loves, and losses, but more than anything else, it is his relationship with his mother and grandmother that hit me hard. The detailed sexual experiences that are noted are needed for people to understand what goes on in a world different from theirs.

The honesty of the memoir is heartbreaking and often cuts through all prejudices. The language is emotional and makes you sit up and notice Jones’ life and the world in context. How We Fight for Our Lives is a memoir that is much needed in a time such as ours, to make us see that not everyone is the same, but everyone deserves the same respect, dignity, love, and the same opportunity irrespective of their orientation or skin colour.

 

A Long Petal Of The Sea by Isabel Allende. Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende Title: A Long Petal of the Sea
Author: Isabel Allende
Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1526625359
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I think it was the year 1997, when I picked up my first Allende – like most readers it was The House of the Spirits and I was fascinated, to the point of being mesmerised. I remember the moment as though it was yesterday. I had borrowed the book from the library, and I started reading it. I left it after twenty pages, but the thought of it being incomplete nagged me end on (those days I would not toss books that didn’t hold my interest). I picked it up again and since then I have never dropped an Allende mid-way.

I had heard a lot of mixed reviews about this one, but of course I had to read it to figure it out for myself. I may not have loved it as her other books, but to be honest, I enjoyed the read. A lot. Historical fiction isn’t my cup of tea, but this one had me by the throat, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

The time is late 1930s. Civil War has gripped Spain. General Franco and his fascist regime have succeeded in overthrowing the government and hundreds and thousands of people are overnight forced to flee their homeland, over to the French border. In all of this, there is Roser, a pregnant young girl, whose life is closely intertwined with Victor Dalmau, an army doctor, and the brother of her deceased love. They have to marry to be able to survive and that’s when the story begins.

Victor and Roser embark on SS Winnipeg, a ship that will carry them to Chile, and chartered by Pablo Neruda. Their trials and tribulations have only begun. At the same time, the book is mainly about hope and freedom and once again speaks of the times we live in. It is about humanity and how we find comfort in the strangest of places.

The book starts of in the 30s and ends in the 90s. In all of this, not once I was bored or thought I couldn’t take it anymore. There is a lot of detailing, and Allende is well, known for it. However, the detailing according to me is much needed – including Neruda’s role in the war, and what it did for so many refugees.

The translation is on-point and perfect. So much so that it doesn’t feel that you are reading a translated work. It is that natural and precise. A Long Petal of the Sea captures the lives of ordinary people caught in circumstances that they didn’t want to be a part of. It shows us the mirror to what war does and how there is sometimes no surviving it, though you think you have.

Allende’s prose is glorious, and exacting. The book travels from Spain to France and Chile and Venezuela, and each detail is well-cared for. More than anything she speaks of a better tomorrow, the one that we all need to hope for and believe in even though it is tough to do so.

 

Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini. Translated from the Italian by J. Ockenden

Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini Title: Snow, Dog, Foot
Author: Claudio Morandini
Translated from the Italian by J. Ockenden
Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd
ISBN: 978-1908670564
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This for now is the strangest book I’ve read in 2020. I mean it with the utmost admiration for the author, Claudio Morandini to have the capacity to spin such a fantastical tale of a man, a dog, and a human foot that appears poking out of the receding snow.

I don’t know what to make of this novella. It is a thriller (in some sense of the word), it is also a meditation on loneliness and deliriousness, and more than anything else it is about the reality of hunger and survival.

Adelmo Farandola doesn’t like people. He doesn’t like animals. He doesn’t like anyone. At one point in the book, I was certain he didn’t even like himself given how he lives. Till he meets a dog and starts interacting with him (interesting, isn’t it?). The winter that comes upon them is harsh. There is nothing left to eat. The village is in the valley and it’s impossible to go down there. What remains to be seen is who will eat whom first: the dog or the man. In all of his, they chance on a dead body that adds another twist in the tale.

This in short is the plot of the book. Morandini’s prose is exact and full of brevity. There were times I cringed, there were times I also shook in fear, and there were times I found myself smiling at the delirious interaction between man and animal.

Snow, Dog, Foot is a strange book (like I said at the beginning) but it is also very satisfying. It checks all boxes and leaves a lot unsaid. The translation by J Ockenden to me seems exact and not at all out of place. The prose beautifully captures the scene and harshly tells us readers what’s in store for us as well. All of this is very gently and sometimes hastily communicated to us. It is a book that is part humane, part deranged, and part thrilling.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Citizen An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine Title: Citizen: An American Lyric
Author: Claudia Rankine
Publisher: Penguin Poetry
ISBN: 978-0141981772
Genre:  Poetry, Criticism,
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

“Citizen – An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine is a book which can be applied to anywhere in any country. It is on racism and according to me racism is not just deep-rooted in The United States of America. It is prevalent all over the world and that is not something to be proud of for anyone. I chanced on this book on Salon.com. It was heavily recommended by one writer whose name I forget. All said and done, I am only too glad that I picked it up and cannot stop talking about it.

“Citizen” is the perfect book of our times and sadly represents the world that we live in. It is an age of race differentiation, colour differentiation and violence and maybe it never stopped. Maybe it never ended anywhere. This book makes you think in ways you didn’t think it was possible to do. It ruffles your feathers and rightly so. It is needed at this juncture. I think it is also the fact that we tend to ignore so many things because we don’t want to confront. I think it is time to confront. Gone are the days of being silent.

I think that maybe “Citizen” can somewhere down the line help us understand why things are the way they are and at the same time, there is so much introspection that we need to do as well. And like I said before, the book is not all American, though it seems like that from the title. It can speak to anyone and it does. When Rankine speaks of what Serena Williams had to go through because of her colour, she is speaking to a wider audience and we need more voices such as these. She speaks of shame of colour, of rage, of loneliness, and what it means to be discriminated against.

“Citizen” is a read that will take its own time to sink in. You cannot rush through it. It is the kind of read that stays with you and makes you think about the world we live in. The writing is stunning and strong and forces you told contemplate on issues you would have turned a blind eye to. The writing also sort of comes across as an out-of-body experience for Rankine. To distance herself from all of this and write, and then to merge her experiences. I finished this book with a heavy heart. The book can be best summed-up in one line as written by Rankine: “I don’t know how to end what doesn’t have an ending.”

Read it. You will not regret it.

P.S: This time around was my second read of the book. The first time was in 2015. Sadly, nothing has changed.