Tag Archives: grief

Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir by Jayson Greene

Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene Title: Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir
Author: Jayson Greene
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-1524733537
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I am not a parent. I will never know what it is like to lose a child. To grieve for the loss of someone you have created, looked over, been paranoid over, and prayed to God that they live healthy and happy, and yet you have no control over what happens to them. The sheer helplessness and then the realisation after. Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene is the book that makes you see the world through the eyes of a parent – what does it mean to lose a child, how should one grieve, how much should grief take from you, and what it truly means to be able to move on (if there is ever such a thing).

It isn’t easy to read a book about the loss of a child. Of a two-year-old, who just wasn’t there in the world. Of Greta whose life her father Jayson speaks of lovingly. Of the way you as a reader become a part of it and can’t help but recollect the times you have felt that stabbing pain that doesn’t seem to go away, and it does one fine day, and it comes back once in a while, making you sense loss more than ever.

Once More We Saw Stars is also a hopeful book in so many ways. It teaches you how to grieve perhaps, and understand that at the core we are all the same people. We feel the same things. Jayson Greene takes us through this journey of loss, grief, and the coping process.

The book’s title is taken from Dante’s Inferno, also telling us that Greta’s parents will take their grief, make what they have to with it, and ultimately soar above. They will once again see the stars. The story is about love – of deep love and moments of transformation that Jayson presents with such clarity and in great abundance that you cry, weep, and sometimes smile with him, knowing that love will make it alright.

The book is full of memories. Of moments we live and some we do not and some we don’t get a chance to. Jayson’s clarity of thought – how he strings memory and presents them to us is stunning.  There is anger. There is frustration. There is also the knowing that life must carry on and in that process we know that love will remain. It will guide us and help us move ahead, to soldier on, to make us see the stars once more.

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Interview with Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Last year I read a book called The Rabbit and the Squirrel by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi and was deeply touched and moved by it, as most readers who read it were. It is a short book about love, friendship, and loss, told with great brevity, given it is only about sixty pages long.  I wish it were longer. I wish we had more illustrations by Stina Wirsén, as the book moved along and became larger than what it is. But, I am glad it is out there in the world for all to read, love, and appreciate. Siddharth is a friend and I am only extremely happy to have this short interview published on my blog. I wish him more such books, for readers such as I. Thank you, Siddharth.

SDS

Why the long hiatus between The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay and The Rabbit and the Squirrel? 

I don’t think of myself as a professional writer. I make things – photographs, drawings, books. So I don’t measure a gap between books but try and look at what I had done with my time. Between the book, there were photographs, shows I curated, houses I designed – it was all a way of being. But I am also very interested by nonsense things, such as swimming at sea, and I can spend hours, even days looking at cat videos and drinking Goa’s Greater Than gin.

Rabbit

The theme of The Rabbit and the Squirrel to my mind is more than friendship. There are so many emotions that take over this small book, almost everything packed into one. What was the writing experience like? How was it collaborating with the illustrator, Stina?

You know, I have almost no recollection of writing this little fable. I’d made it for someone I cared for deeply; I see now that tenderness for my friend eclipses all recollection of the writing process. Perhaps the story had always been there, a memento of shared, private time. The process of bringing the fable to book form was urged on by my astonishing publisher, Hemali Sodhi; and it was edited with such grace by Niyati Dhuldhoya that it became something else – a rarer, leaner thing – under her attentions.

Stina, the book’s illustrator, is also its co-parent – her sublime, frisky, careful illustrations give this book soul and energy. She is a close personal friend, and instinctively suggested to me to publish this fable – the book exists not only because of her sterling drawings but quite simply because she had been the one to suggest that I publish it.

SDS - Image 1

How important is the writer’s role in the scheme of things today? When the world is literally falling to pieces, what part do writers play in providing some semblance of hope? I say this because The Rabbit and the Squirrel is full of hope, even though fleetingly. 

Writing, and language, holds steady all that is intangible in our lives. In the articulation of our existence – the articulation of prejudice or heartbreak, of dissent, of rage – we are also able to repair. Language is both a measure as well as the meaning of our time. The writer’s job is to hover a lamp over what is, with language, she must illuminate, show and reveal. Reading is a form of civilising the most private self. It is a way of recognising that a part of this world is falling apart – and then of marshalling language to undo this damage.

Do you ever think one can write without reading? 

No, firmly, absolutely no: you cannot write without reading widely, promiscuously. Your writing will only be as good as your reading.

Your favourite books?

Beloved – Toni Morrison.
Light Years – James Salter.
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

SDS - Image 2

Is there another book that we could look forward to? A novel, perhaps? 

I would be so lucky to serve another book. (And thank you for your support over the years, Vivek).

SDS 3

The Rabbit and the Squirrel moved me to tears. I know several people who have had the same emotions evoked while or after reading the book. What was your intent when you started writing this universal tale? 

I had no intention except to make a gift for a friend. That is what I think of it, still and always, a private little thing made for, and with, love. But yes, I know what you mean – other friends have said that, which has always reminded me that all of us going about our lives with so many broken pieces in our pockets. All of us are suffering. All of us are enduring.

You can buy the book here

Please do buy the book. Please do read it. Please weep and laugh as you read it. Please repeat the process all over again. Gift the books to loved ones. You will be gifting them joy.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter Title: Grief is the Thing with Feathers
Author: Max Porter
Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 978-0571323760
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Grief – A word that we are most afraid of encountering in our lives. A word that has the capacity to change everything and turn life on its head and shake your being to the core. We all experience it, whether we like it or not. We have no choice in this regard. Life does not give us any choices. I guess after happiness, which we also share quite hesitatingly, grief comes close second as an emotion that is not shared. We keep it within and maybe that is when we need to be pushed to let it all out and get over it (so to say) and move on with life.

Everybody passing could comprehend how much I miss her. How physical my missing is. I miss her so much it is a vast golden prince, a concert hall, a thousand trees, a lake, nine thousand buses, a million cars, twenty million birds and more. The whole city is my missing her.

It is just that it kicks you senseless, this grief I mean. It will not let you be as well. I remember how I felt when my father passed away in 2001. Fourteen years seems to be a very long time and it probably is and yet grief is at the core of it all, mixed with regrets and prematurely died promises and hopes that we had as a family. So when I read, “Grief is the Thing with Feathers” I could not stop wondering about our lives in that phase from the time it happened to the time we moved on (did we?) and perhaps that’s why this debut by Max Porter struck such a chord with me.

Loss and pain in the world is unimaginable but I want them to try.

“Grief is a Thing with Feathers” is a book which can be read by everyone and that is what I think every book aims to be – to be read by everyone in the long run, for people to connect with it, for people to not leave it, for people to also wonder why did it end so soon (which happens to be more often than not when I read books such as this one – which is so moving) and of course for people to reread it.

Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.

The book is about the death of a mother and how the husband and two boys come to terms with her death. It is not as easy as it sounds. Life never is and that is the beauty of this book. They need something to help them cope – an external resource and that comes in the form of a giant Crow (fable-like, mythical quality, whatever you may call it, but it helps them live day to day), who transforms their lives inside out and will only leave once the healing is complete.

Grieving is something you’re still doing, and something you don’t need a crow for.

Max Porter’s writing shines on almost every single page. The writing style and composition of the book is varied – part prose, part rhyme and part poetry, it is a meditation on living and dying and the void called grief, thrown right in-between these two. My only grouse with the book was the crow’s voice at times, because I just could not understand that and that voice happened to be most crucial in the book. Well, having said that the story on its own is so strong that you cannot help but turn the pages, one after the other.

The narrative is not straight-forward and that is what sets this book apart from the regular ones written on the subject of death and grieving. There are silences in the book that speak to the reader and make him or her their own. The book is highly emotional but does not at any point become sentimental. The three voices in the book are so unique and distinct that even in less than one hundred and fifty pages you start developing fondness for all the characters, including the crow. The dark humour, the moving on pieces right in the end and the way life just comes full circle, whether we want it to or not is beautifully portrayed in these pages. It is a wild and at the same time a tender exploration of grief and above all most reassuring that the void does get filled at some point.

“Grief is a Thing with Feathers” is a sparkling debut which comes to be only once in a while. So I highly recommend that you go out there, pick up this book, read it and while you are reading, let not anyone interrupt the marvelous experience.

Here’s Max Porter reading from the book:

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Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Book Review: Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes Title: Levels of Life
Author: Julian Barnes
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House UK
ISBN: 9780224098151
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Memoirs
Pages: 118
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

There are things that are connected in the world. That perhaps come naturally to people – either as a phrase – like chalk and cheese or like the way it is meant to be – like a button and a shirt. They go hand in hand. There are some things that just are not meant to go hand in hand. That maybe by some twist of fate some things just happen or they make you think of them together, in Julian Barnes’s case – love, grief, photography and ballooning. They all strangely come together in his latest work, “Levels of Life”.

He uses ballooning as a metaphor for love – raising us to a higher level and then what happens when we come crashing down. At this point, the focus moves to the crux of the book, which is his grief – the gaping hole left by his wife when she passed on after thirty years of togetherness.

Julian Barnes writing is sparse and very striking. He writes with a lot of emotion (but obviously given the context) and somehow transfers the feeling in his reader/s. Somehow I have found very few writers capable of doing this.
Barnes’ writing is too intense at times, however that is because he was writing with the emotion that could not be faked, which converted superbly into words and sentences. The book scorches you from within – because grief after all is a universal emotion. We have all felt it at one point or the other, and Barnes only connects to that with almost every sentence. It does take some time to get into the book at the beginning, however once the reader does, it is all a breeze, where you wish Pat (Julian’s wife) was there with him, healthy and alive.

“Levels of Life” may be a short book, however the emotion and the construction of the memoir, which is only close to The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, to me is sure going to be one of the best reads this year. I would recommend everyone to get a copy of this work.

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Book Review: The Infinite Tides by Christian Kiefer

Title: The Infinite Tides
Author: Christian Kiefer
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 978-1-60819-810-8
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 393
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

If there is one book I would recommend you to read this year, amongst other books as well, but of course, “The Infinite Tides” by Christian Kiefer would be one of them for sure. I have read debuts so brilliant. Debuts that do not feel like the book is a first by a particular writer and this for sure falls in that category.

The protagonist of this book – Keith Corcoran, who has spent his entire life in the pursuit of becoming an astronaut and becomes one as well, and manages to go into space. He has achieved his goal. His ambition has been lived after being a Princeton Graduate, a Ph.D in Mathematics and being hired by NASA at that. He has managed to make it all with the support of his wife Barbara and his daughter Quinn. He has never been able to spend time with his family and be there for them.

Keith Corcoran is your ambitious man. He wants it all and gets all of it. Sometimes there are also events in life that happen unexpectedly, that almost sock you in the stomach and leave you with no air to breathe and that exactly what happens to Keith. He is in space and receives news of the death of his seventeen year-old daughter. Quinn is the only one he could connect with and now she is not there. His wife Barb cannot stand the grief (and the fact that she is cheating on him) and leaves him, taking everything from their house, barring an ugly sofa, bed, his cul-de-sac, a TV and memories.

Keith returns home three months after the death of his daughter. He is an empty man, who now suffers from migraines. He doesn’t know when he will be called again by NASA and that almost breaks him. Keith is living the life he doesn’t want to and yet he has no choice. He is haunted by memories. For me the part about memories that hit home the most was the fact that he had to watch his daughter’s funeral on a DVD which NASA taped for him, as he was in space at that time.

Amidst his grief (the quiet nature of it is amazingly described by Kiefer), Keith has an affair with a next-door neighbour and makes a new friend in the form of Peter, a Ukrainian immigrant. Peter used to work as a tech assistant in a huge astronomical station in Ukraine. Keith and Peter connect through the telescope owned by Peter. They smoke pot, drink beer and watch the heavens. This is when life unfurls. The unexpected friendship that forms between the two, for me was the basis of the book.

There is a lot more that happens in the book, however not everything can be said through this review. Now to the writing. I loved the writing style. It is raw and fresh (well to a certain extent it did remind me of Richard Yates school of writing, but that is just me, as I love Yates’ works). I was taken into the book from page one, and could not stop reading it. Though I did have problems with the space bits, but then they seemed to blend so well with the larger themes of the book – of void, loss and the chance to live life once again, that it all made sense by the time I was half-way through the book.

Christian has given a unique voice to Keith, by probably not giving him a voice at all – Keith is a character who doesn’t express himself all that much and by his association with Peter, that changes to a large extent in the book, which is a treat to read. There is passion and angst in great measure in the book, no matter how subtle, but the reader can connect to the book on so many levels.

“The Infinite Tides” by Christian Kiefer is a book that I am glad I read and would definitely re-read it. There are lines that break your heart but that is the beauty of a great book. The connection at some level or another. This book is highly recommended by me. Do read it as and when you can.

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Here is a trailer of the book: