Tag Archives: Fourth Estate

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.

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My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent Title: My Absolute Darling
Author: Gabriel Tallent
Publisher: Fourth Estate, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0008185220
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Once in a while, you read a book that makes you angry. Very angry. And you cannot help but cheer so madly and wildly for the underdog. The book takes over your life till you are done reading it and while it is hopeful (in small doses and so not enough), it also leaves you exhausted, frustrated and contemplative about the world you inhabit. “My Absolute Darling” by Gabriel Tallent is one such book and it is very hard to believe that it is only his debut.

“My Absolute Darling” is the kind of book that will in the most brutal manner stay with you long after you’ve finished it. It is one of those books that you wouldn’t even want to stay with you and yet it will. It is the dark “Lolita”. Nabokov’s “Lolita” looks like a bird in front of this one. The book is of the coming-of-age genre in the most raw, terrible manner. The one that no child must go through and perhaps the ones that do, mostly emerge to be the stronger ones. But as the blurb says, “Sometimes strength is not the same as courage” or “Sometimes leaving is not the only way to escape” – this book lives up to it in so many ways.

Julia (Turtle) Alveston is a survivor. She is all of fourteen and has grown-up isolated since the death of her mother. Her father, Martin, is tortured and believes that Julia is the best thing that has happened to him. So much so that he doesn’t want to let go of her. She is after all his, “absolute darling”. Turtle is physically, mentally and emotionally abused by her father. Turtle’s social existence is confined to her school, and sometimes meeting her grandfather, who she is most fond of. She doesn’t have friends. She is angry, miserable, and all she knows is how to survive and that her daddy loves her very much (she also deep down just wants to get away from all of this).

In all of this, Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who reads, is funny and lives in a big clean house with his parents and sister. For once, Turtle feels some kind of normalcy in her life and starts forging friendships. But she now has to find a way to escape her old life and start anew. She wants to leave her “devoted” father. And thus begins the story of Turtle (almost more than halfway through the book). She becomes her own hero and I as a reader often found myself just hooting for her, cheering, interacting with her, wanting to hug her and tell her that it will all be okay, to reach out between the pages and scream at Martin, to perhaps even kill him.

The emotional complexities of this book are of another level. The setting of the book is the outdoors (woods along the Northern California Coast) – where Turtle lives with her father. This adds another layer of fierceness and subtext to the novel. Of how sometimes even though circumstances aren’t just about right, you can still seize what is yours if you want to. But this book thankfully, isn’t preachy. It is real. Sometimes too real.

The story is gripping. You cannot help but turn the pages and yet you don’t want to. Tallent takes you to the heart of darkness (multiple times) and leaves you hanging with what will happen next. He takes you through the maze in Turtle’s head – her confusion, her loss of expression, her self-doubt (always thinking she isn’t pretty and not worthy of anything good), self-loathing and finally being resilient to it all. There are times when words that need Turtle’s expression aren’t there and yet you know it all. The writing is that surreal and empathetic. The prose is measure, even though laborious at times, but it is worth it. Tallent has also referenced so many authors and books in this book, which to me was nothing short of brilliant and each reference made so much sense in the larger sense of the plot (I will list those down soon). There were technicalities with weapons which I didn’t get at all, but I let it go. The characters that Tallent creates are frighteningly real. Such an incident or series of incidents could be happening in your backyard and you wouldn’t know of it.

This one sentence stood out for me as an explanation for the entire book, however the entire book is peppered with so many of them: “Her moments of happiness occur right at the margin of the unbearable”.

Read this book only if you can stomach it. But read it. Make yourself stronger and read it. The prose demands to be read. The emotions most certainly do. Tallent is one author to watch out for. I loved reading this one.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Title: We Should All Be Feminists
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: 4th Estate
ISBN: 978-0008115272
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essay,
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

We are conditioned when we are kids. Everything that becomes a part of us is because of our childhood and it is these core ideas and values that are difficult to let go off. No matter what you do, they remain with you, for almost your entire life. Genders, sexuality, equality, respect, dignity then just don’t remain words – they manifest and come alive. These are words that hold so much meaning – they did as we were growing up and more so now. When there is no gender equality, and you have it easy by the virtue of just being a man, then you will not know what the woman feels or what women go through in general. Only because you have not faced it.

Honestly, I was of the opinion earlier that there are a lot of “armchair feminists” doing the rounds online and offline, but I think that what Adichie says in this short book – an essay of forty eight pages makes so much sense – yes everyone should be a feminist, because it is much needed.

Adichie’s essay in the form of a slim book “We should all be Feminists” is a primer to have with everyone. Everyone must read and try and follow whatever they can from it. Adichie speaks of what feminism means today and that is the thread of the entire essay.

She speaks of the blatant discrimination in the Nigerian society and while reading it, you can sense that it is the same worldwide. How women get paid lesser, how they are told to serve men, how a woman is conditioned to be a wife and a mother and a man, the householder so to say. Adichie from her life anecdotes and of others’ makes pertinent points when it comes to a world that is clearly biased.

I have often heard people who are uncomfortable with the word “feminism” and this book also touches on that. Adichie with her wry wit goes on to explain how we need words such as “feminist” or “feminism” till the time there is gender discrimination. I am completely in awe of her ideas and I honestly believe that it will take all of us to make a change happen. Let people speak. Let both women and speak about issues and rights. It is time that it becomes a collective battle and not just one versus the other, because it was never like this.

To end this review, all I can say is that everyone must also read this book, whether the majority part of the society or minority. We also need more books such as these – free-thinking people who present ideas in linear and lucid ways to help us understand what the cracks in cultures are and just how we can actually save ourselves from ruin.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Fourth Estate
ISBN: 978-0008130824
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 544
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are books and then there are books you cannot tear yourself away from. Books with intricate details and sub-plots that make you beg for more. The kind of books where the writing shines on every page and all you want to do is get home and race through it, savour it, hold it and not let go of the book till you are done with it. The book is “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr and while I was late to this party, I was glad that I attended it. The book will leave you speechless and I am not just saying that for the sake of it.

The characters in this book do things that ordinary people do not. They are also a part of circumstances and situations that only ordinary people are capable of being in. Doerr brings to forth WWII stories that could have been forgotten. These are fictional, however these could also be true, given all that is hidden or not seen (a wonderful play on the title).

“All the Light We Cannot See” is a book of three stories – intertwining strangely enough, and not so. There are three stories. One of a French girl, who becomes blind and her father builds her a perfect miniature of their Parisian neighborhood so she can find her way home and navigate in their town. The second story is of an orphan named Werner who grows up with his sister in a mining town in Germany and has no choice but to join the force of Hitler Academy. He is interested in science and will do anything to learn that instead of joining the forces. The third story in the book is of a man who refuses to leave his home till he has no choice but to.

The book is about these stories and how Marie and Werner’s lives converge into Saint-Malo, where the action begins and ends, almost. Doerr makes the book profound on so many levels, that it is impossible to just speak of one. The writing is around seashells, physics, electricity, love, war and what it means to be human. I was completely overwhelmed and taken in by the writing. It is pure, surreal and makes you wonder why you didn’t pick this one up sooner than later. “All the Light We Cannot See” is a treat for all literary fiction lovers and you shouldn’t miss this one at all.

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The Americans by Chitra Viraraghavan

The Americans by Chitra Viraraghavan Title: The Americans
Author: Chitra Viraraghavan
Publisher: 4th Estate
ISBN: 9789351362593
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A lot has been written on the migrant experience. It has been written from various points of view. Sometimes, it is a man’s voice and sometimes it is a woman’s voice, journey and careening their way through an unknown land. I have also managed to read quite a few books on the topic. So when I picked up, “The Americans” by Chitra Viraraghavan, I was apprehensive. However, one hundred pages into the book and I could not stop reading it.

“The Americans” is about different people and how their stories merge together, at a point in the United States of America. This is what I loved about the book – the entire concept of six degrees of separation and how it was rolled in beautifully in the narrative.

There is an old man trying to find his way in a new land, on a vacation albeit. There is Tara, a single woman who visits America to look after her niece, as her sister is struggling with other issues. There are eight other stories that merge with these two and to me that was the highlight of the book. I am also somehow fond of books with short chapters and this one was written in that manner, which made me cry: Hurrah!

Viraraghavan has an acute sense of surrounding and nature to her writing. The book is set in 2005 and one can see that she knows America inside-out as she of course studied there and that has definitely helped in the research of the book.

The writing is lucid and heart-warming in most places. For me, what worked the most were the journal entries (or so they seemed) of books read by a teenager and her view of the American life. “The Americans” is a thought-provoking book on what it means to cross borders – physically and emotionally and sometimes what it takes to perhaps not cross them.

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