Tag Archives: HarperCollins

Read 71 of 2022. Greenland by David Santos Donaldson.

Greenland by David Santos Donaldson

Title: Greenland
Author: David Santos Donaldson
Publisher: Amistad, HarperCollins
ISBN: 9780063159556
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have just finished reading “Greenland” by David Santos Donaldson, and there is so much unpacking to be done – not only where the book is concerned but also when it comes to my life. As a brown gay man, facing a terrible mid-life crisis, and trying to adjust to the world that’s rapidly changing around him, I couldn’t identify more with Kip, the gay black narrator of the novel.

Kip Starling has decided to rewrite his novel in three weeks by locking himself in the basement. His novel takes him in the mind of Mohammed el Adl, E.M. Forster’s secret lover, who was also a Black queer man like Kip.  This is where it all begins for Kip, or rather unravels. His need to be seen and heard, and then the juxtaposition of his life to that of Mohammed’s – both the other, both trying hard to fit in, both with great education and yet feels not accounting for much, each with white lovers, almost not knowing what to do with them. Each with a burden of their own.

While reading this novel, there were so many times I thought I was reading my life, or at least portions of it. It is funny how art and life get mixed-up sometimes, that you cannot differentiate one from the other.

As Kip navigates to find himself in the process of writing the book, I was doing the same with some parts of my life that felt strangely familiar and ones I could relate to from the book. That’s the power of good storytelling – of how it makes you subconsciously see within.

Kip’s struggles are evident – the way not the world sees him as a queer Black man but the way he sees himself in relation to that. Donaldson takes us to the core of the book with Kip’s psyche – the fact that he was named after Kipling – a writer who has been labelled a colonialist, a jingoist, and a racist, speaks volumes about how Kip would turn out to be. The struggle to understand if he is black enough and how much black – when he starts dating white men, to trying to fit in with the “black community” at college, or even when simply trying to overcome his insecurities, he doubts, he second-guesses, he doesn’t have the confidence to perhaps be black. 

Kip’s life then became mine – the struggle to fit in, to write my book, to understand where I come from, and be accepting of it, but more than anything else to embrace love when it is in my way. More than anything else, as a reader I was immensely drawn to the novel within the novel – when Kip’s and Mohammed’s voices became the same, when they were clearly different, when they both sought refuge in each other, and when they both tried to hide. Donaldson brings out all these elements with an honesty that shocks, surprises, and ultimately makes you surrender to the text. 

Greenland is a book about love, about coming to terms with yourself repeatedly, about knowing when to give up and when to get back up and start all over. It is a book that is tender, full of angst (or at least that’s what I thought as a typical gay man – and proud of it), and about what it takes to be in interracial relationships.

David’s writing is refreshing – at no point did I feel that I was reading something already written, though I am sure there are several books that speak of the LGBTQIA theme, linking it to a novel within a novel, but it shows that David has a fondness for E.M. Forster and that translates sublimely into this text.

The redemptive power of literature is constant – almost in every chapter, as a subtext, moving slowly, seen at times, but reminding the reader that literature can save us and does.

Greenland is a fantastic debut – one that isn’t shy of exploring difficult and complex emotions. It is a grand debut in the sense that it takes it risks and leaves the reader with awe, joy, melancholy, and ultimately with the knowledge that relationships are not easy and take a lot from you.

Read 227 of 2021. Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World by Mark Aldridge

Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Greatest Detective in the World by Mark Aldridge

Title: Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World Author: Mark Aldridge
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0008296612
Genre: Books and Reading, Nonfiction Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This is the perfect book for all Christie fans, but more than anything, it is just perfect and more for all Poirot fans. We have mostly all grown up reading Poirot and his detection skills. Whether it is a murder, or a case of mistaken identity, of theft, or embezzlement, Poirot saves the day. Poirot is the man and Christie created him so perhaps the world could relate to this character. 

This book is not only an homage to the detective, but also brings to fore the entire life lived starting from the first book till the last in which he appeared. Mark Aldridge is somewhat the best person to do this, because of the way he presents information to the readers. There is a division of  chapters by decades and which books published in which decade. And not to forget the most beautifully done covers of each book – different editions as well, that are there on every page. 

What makes this book so exciting is that Aldridge includes Christie’s views on every book, whether she thought it was good enough or not, also some publisher and Christie fights and disagreements, and the movies made from the books.

Poirot is a favourite. Mark only adds to that bias through this book. I couldn’t get more of the writing. The details, the facts that people don’t know about some books, and more are all neatly laid out. What is missing though is the editing at some points; some sections are quite repetitive. That could’ve been avoided for sure. Having said that, Agatha Christie’s Poirot – The Greatest Detective in the World is a great read and every Poirot lover should have it in their collection.

Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread by Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani

Title: Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread
Author: Michiko Kakutani
Publisher: William Collins
ISBN: 978-0008421953
Genre: Books about Books, Essays, Literary Theory
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy 
Rating: 2.5/5 

I love books about books. I do. I’m a sucker for them. I was excited for “Ex Libris: 100 Books to Read and Reread” by Michiko Kakutani, the former chief book critic of The New York Times. I was excited given the kind of reading she has done and the books she must have connected with over the years, but I was mildly disappointed to see only most “white” writers on this list, and more than anything else no variety as such.

There’s the same old Donna Tartt, the good old Tolkien, Steinbeck, Atwood, Orwell, Tara Westover, and David Foster Wallace. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I expected more. There is Jhumpa Lahiri, the Márquez, the Zadie Smith, and Colson Whitehead. It somehow doesn’t make me discover or yearn to read a particular title. Some I won’t even bother reading cover to cover. I wish this was a varied and more diverse list. It just didn’t do anything for me. Yes, it’s produced beautifully. The illustrations are quite amazing and all of that. But I wish there was more substance. But by all means pick it up, if you love lists (like I do). I might even try a reading project of this to read and reread all these books (well, or maybe not).

Bhaunri by Anukrti Upadhyay

Bhaunri by Anukrti Upadhyay Title: Bhaunri
Author: Anukrti Upadhyay
Publisher: Fourth Estate India, HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9353570033
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 148
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 stars

Bhaunri is the book that should be read on a rainy day. It is short and can be finished in less than an hour and a half. It is atmospheric. It is everything that you want from a book not set in a milieu you are familiar with. The writing makes you turn the pages, and also because you want to know how to book ends.

This novella by Anukrti Upadhyay is set in a village in Rajasthan. The protagonist, Bhaunri is married, according to the customs of her nomadic tribe of blacksmiths at a very young child, till the time comes for her husband and his family to take her away. She is a young woman now and is aware of the ways of the world. Her parents have taught her well and at the same time given her the liberty to think for herself. There is another angle to it – her parents’ love story which I will not reveal.

Bhaunri finds herself drawn deeply to her husband Bheema. The love isn’t only physical but also all-consuming. Her mother-in-law and her marital life are also a very important part of the book. With the great atmospheric background of the desert and village life, the drama plays out, to reach the end that I didn’t have in mind.

I liked the book because like I said the setting had me gripped from the first time. The folklore, the myths, the superstition, and above all the food that was cooked all worked. Plus the way the author describes the house and what goes on in there – the shed, the workings of sleeping outside in winter, so on and so forth.

What didn’t work is that the pace seemed too rushed. I felt that there was a tearing hurry to just finish the book and not build on the emotions of other characters, except Bhaunri. Also, the second-half of the book (well not like a film), somehow just left me feeling that a lot could’ve gone down (with one character just being a prop and the other not being spoken about at all), yet I guess it is to the author’s discretion.

Having said this, Bhaunri is a book that is refreshing and full of female agency and must be read to explore new lands, thoughts, and ways of life. A book that will sure want me to read her other book Daura in due time.

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum Title: A Woman Is No Man
Author: Etaf Rum
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0062699763
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

So here’s the deal with this book: Either people have loved it or didn’t like it at all. I belong to the category of readers who loved it. What the book encompassed for me really was that sometimes you have no choice, no matter how hard you try.

While a part of me, vehemently opposes the idea, there’s a part of me that also agrees. I also believe that circumstances play a major role in deciding what you choose or vice-versa: You choose and your choices create those circumstances. Essentially, it is majorly about the deck of cards life hands you as well, but most people would not consider that.

A Woman Is No Man is a book that is also not easy to read. There will be a point in the book when you will question, challenge, and get angry at the characters for behaving the way they do, but I also think as a reader one must look at the larger context and picture, to be able to separate emotions from the text (sometimes) and look at things more objectively. After all, the story is about one large culture and how it looks at its women and treats them.

It might also seem like a book that you have read in the past, but what makes it different is the voice. Rum’s voice is hers alone and cannot be replicated at all. The book is a mother/daughter story. Through the mother Isra, and her daughter Deya we see the harsh reality of the Palestinian Muslim culture and how it remains unchanged over time, unless challenged, even in modern-day Brooklyn. Some that occurs in the past, and some in the present. There is a lot of domestic violence in the book – in the sense that it is even the focus. So if you think you cannot handle it, then perhaps this read isn’t for you just yet.

At the same time, I was also thinking of the book appealing to a white audience perhaps a lot more because of the content, context, and the uniqueness of culture. However, having said that I firmly believe that this story is universal, even if the so-called “uniqueness” is removed from it. Yes, at times I also felt that the characters were one-dimensional but to my mind, the plot is so good that it doesn’t matter. And yes, Isra might have been one-dimensional but there are a lot of times I could also see her burst through the pages with gumption, but those moments were very rare.

For a debut, Etaf Rum has hit this book out of the park. Fareeda for instance, who is Deya’s grandmother (paternal) is a character that has so many layers to her – that you want more of her and you get that as well. I cannot give away more at this time, but you have to read it to understand what I am talking about.

Having said this, the overall treatment of women in the book is a little hard to stomach. Isra’s mental and physical abuse at the hands of her husband and his family get to you. There were times I just couldn’t bear to turn the page. The book in a way also deals with what value women place on themselves to be able to take a stand. What I loved was the character of Deya (Isra’s daughter). How she views the world differently, and treat situations despite not knowing where she belongs – she wants to experience her Americanness but is bound by the culture of her parents and grandparents.

A Woman is No Man is a book that will definitely make you think about people, more so women who come from different cultures to the US of A in the hope of a better life, and what goes on behind closed doors. It is the kind of book that also grows on you, frustrates you as well (but naturally more so if your culture and point of view is different), will make you question the world around you (perhaps), and also help you find some solace in its pages.