Tag Archives: February 2021

Slash and Burn by Claudia Hernández. Translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches

Slash and Burn by Claudia Hernández

Title: Slash and Burn
Author: Claudia Hernández
Translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches
Publisher: And Other Stories
ISBN: 978-1911508823
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction, Women in Translation
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is war fiction to an extent. This is about the aftermath of a civil war and revolution, and what it mainly does to women. It is fascinating and almost entirely from the perspective of female protagonists. A conflict created by men, whose consequences the women have to suffer – almost every single day.

The country and the characters are unnamed. At the core of the novel is a woman who joins a guerrilla movement as a teenager, eventually becoming a comrade (compañera), suffering abuse by soldiers who terrorise the locals. The book is about family as well. It is about how several years after the war, the woman has four daughters, one of which she is forced to give up who is then sold to a French family in Paris (adopted) and lives there. The woman after getting to know of this decides to pay her a visit.

The novel moves from the past to the present and navigating back to the past. The sentences are long winding, the narrative moves slowly, sometimes it becomes a little difficult to figure who is being spoken about, direct speech is omitted, and yet it all flows smoothly. At no point did I feel exhausted by the writing. I was actually wondering how it would’ve been for the translator in terms of pronouns and no names structure.

Slash and Burn is an intense read. I am glad that men have taken a backseat in the novel and like I said it is all about the women. The idea of starting afresh after a period of war is indeed difficult and Hernández draws on that with great skill. Readers are constantly reminded of what it means to be in a state of war for normal people, how their lives change forever, and how nothing is in our control.

Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine

Just Us - An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine

Title: Just Us: An American Conversation
Author: Claudia Rankine
Publisher: Allen Lane, Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0241467107
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays, Black Literature
Pages: 360
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Just Us is not an instruction manual. It doesn’t tell you how to be, or behave, or cannot even teach you how not to discriminate. What it does is take the discussion of race up by a couple of notches. This book is a book that impacted me deeply with Rankine’s conversations with people about race, her stream of consciousness and thoughts as she encounters people and situations.

Rankine packs so much in one book – poetry, dialogue, illustrations, and lots of footnotes that give not only clarity to the topic but also evokes empathy in the reader. While reading this book I was reminded a lot about Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, though it doesn’t chronicle the history of caste as Wilkerson does, but it does have its roots there.

She also speaks of her white husband and how he views the world she inhabits and is a part of, which is very different and how there are still some differences in his understanding of what she goes through. Rankine’s writing is easy, and candid. Though the book is primarily about colour, it is also most certainly about gender, orientation, appearances, and what it takes to be a writer at large.

Just Us is a book that is not only relevant in the sense of what we should do, but also to reflect on what we have been doing. Rankine writes a book that is for all – irrespective of the country you live in – casual racism is prevalent and is something we cannot deny. Like I said, this book will make you introspect and understand the world better – and hopefully make us change our ways, day by day, evolving as we go along.

Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi/Padamsee Family Memoir by Feisal Alkazi

Enter Stage Right by Feisal Alkazi

Title: Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi/Padamsee Memoir
Author: Feisal Alkazi
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
ISBN: 978-9390477029
Genre: Memoir, Biographies and Autobiographies, Nonfiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

My introduction to theatre was at the age of sixteen when I first watched “Tumhari Amrita” and since then I haven’t looked back. Theatre as an art form has always captivated me. The idea of performing live in front of an audience, to get the reaction as you go along, and then to also perhaps improvise quite at that time has fascinated me as time has passed, and as I have watched more plays. So much so, that I did get a chance to work with Alyque Padamsee as a writer for one of the playlets in P. Dialogues, which will always remain a very fond chapter of my life.

“Enter Stage Right” is a very arresting memoir of two theatre families – the Alkazis and the Padamsees, who were first glued to each other by the love of theatre and then a bond formed out of marriage. In all of this Feisal Alkazi (the son of Ebrahim and Roshen Alkazi and nephew of Alyque Padamsee) speaks of his heritage of theatre – of the arts, of Bombay in the 40s, and how the theatre company formed by Sultan Padamsee grew, paving way to one of the biggest alliances in the world of theatre and art in independent India – that of the Alkazis and the Padamsees.

The memoir is not just about the families, the lives lived, the family tree, the anecdotes, etc., but is also about the city, the transformation of art in Bombay, and how the city grew from brick to brick and sometimes its decline as well.

The writing took me back in time and it was worth every turn of the page. It made me see my city differently, and also its art scene. Alkazi talks of how Art Heritage opened in Delhi, about Pearl Padamsee and her contribution to the arts, ultimately rounding it off with what’s the current scenario. Enter Stage Right is a delightful read. I cannot wait to go back to the world of theatre and watch those performances.

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Title: Black Buck
Author: Mateo Askaripour
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0358380887
Genre: Literary Fiction, Satire
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

This book is unlike anything I have read in a while, after reading The Sellout. It is farcical, it is biting, and makes you question so much about privilege and class. 

At the same time, it isn’t a laugh-out-loud satire. It takes its time to grow on you. I persisted, and I am glad I did. Black Buck is about what happens when a young unambitious twenty-two year old black tries to emulate a white man.

Darren is happy working at Starbucks, waiting for his opportunity to arrive. That comes in the form of working as a salesman at a start-up company. He is the only Black person in the company, nicknamed, “Buck” because of where he worked earlier (some things just don’t change). And then of course things change, situations develop, and Buck takes charge to change the sales force of America by getting more black people into it.

The racism that exists in corporates these days is so vague, so blended in with the idea of being woke and liberal that sometimes we just cannot see it. Or we think we have but we pacify ourselves with the thought that it doesn’t exist, till we know better and experience otherwise.

Askaripour’s writing is hard-hitting, sometimes sugar-coated with humour bur mostly intending to do what it wants to – hit you where it hurts and it does. I liked the entire breaking of the fourth wall – of the narrator speaking to the reader (highlighting his thoughts – extremely engaging technique), of how the book is written in the form of a sales manual (very clever), and most of all showing us the transformation of Buck, and how it impacts everyone he interacts with.

Black Buck is a book that takes time to get into. More than that, it is a fun read, over the top, and sometimes unrealistic, but please read it keeping all of this in mind. And what Askaripour says in the book, “If you’re not black but have this book in your hands, I want you to think of yourself as an honorary black person.”






When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me by Ananda Devi. Translated from the French by Kazim Ali.

When The Night Agrees to Speak to Me by Ananda Devi

Title: When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me
Author: Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Kazim Ali Publisher: Harper Perennial India
ISBN: 9789390351930
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 120
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Poetry and I share a tumultuous relationship. There are times I love it with all my heart, even though I fleetingly remember lines. There are times I hate it so much, that I don’t want to read the genre again. But it is always extreme. This love or the hate. Nothing in- between. Off late, it is veering toward more love, and for that I am grateful. We all evolve. Thank God for that.

Ananda Devi’s poetry takes a while to get used to, like any collection of poems. Just that this isn’t any other collection. Her tone, her structure, the subtle hints of expression – the saying and not saying – the exquisite way in which language lends itself – even though it’s a translation, is just stunning. There are poems and then there are three prose poems, which go on quite beautifully.

Her poems do take some time to get into. The themes are evident: sometimes a little bit of longing, a burst of emotions, surpassing all norms of gender (all these poems to my mind were gender-neutral and that was absolutely fantastic), speaking of the body, of sleeplessness, of desire that isn’t accentuated, and about aging and the body not in control as it moves through time.

The translation by Kazim Ali is what Ananda Devi intended. The translations were read by her, they went through a process – back and forth and reached the version we read. As Kazim Ali says the task of translation was “less karaoke and more full-blown drag”. There is an interview with Ananda Devi at the end of the book, and a note by Mohit Chandna (an Assistant Professor in French and Francophone Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad, India) that sum up the book beautifully – the poems from head to toe, from start to finish, from insomnia to deep sleep.