Tag Archives: historical

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-1101947135
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are books you read that make you want to be a better person, they make your heart sing and leave you breathless because of their sheer beauty. There are books that break your heart, they keep stabbing at it with a curved blunt knife and you are in pain and you know that, but the magic of words doesn’t make you stop turning the pages. There are also books that do all of this – books that have the power to do it all, so to say and “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi (I still cannot believe that this is a debut novel) is one such book.

I love and enjoy books about families on a grand scale – something about them that makes you relate to what is going on and not so much – perhaps which is what makes it so desirable and not so. “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi is about two sisters who never meet during the book. One grows up in a sort of prosperous family where she is promised in marriage to a powerful man and the other grows up in a tribe where she is captured and caught into slavery. This action takes place in Ghana – more exacting would be in the coastal region. The book is about the sisters of course but also about their children and grand-children and great grandchildren and it is marvelous to see Gyasi loop through all these characters and give them a logical start, beginning and end every single time with every single chapter.

At given point I didn’t think the writing was overwhelming because of the several sub-plots. In fact, if anything, I found Gyasi’s writing to be quite simple, empathetic and most easy to read. The trials and tribulations of these sisters and their progeny makes you think of what goes on in this world as we live safe, protected lives. The narrative switches back and forth between each generation of the sister’s family lines and to me that was a lovely way to link stories of families and to know of the songs and tales passed down from one generation to the next.

Yaa Gyasi projects the conflict of the Asantes and Fantes – the tribes of Ghana and the readers will be pulled into their lives, customs and how one of them even work with the British to sell them slaves. Honestly, it didn’t even surprise me given what some people go through in India at the hands of their so-called “community people”. I felt a little cheated in the last couple of chapters and wished there was more to the characters and their lives – but I guess those can be overlooked.

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi is a novel that will take your breath away. It is meshed intricately with people across generations, timelines, emotions, men and women who are stuck with decisions they make and the ones that are forced on them. Most of all, the book is about what it takes to be human above everything else and what it really takes to make it through all the pain and hardship.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

the-underground-railroad-by-colson-whitehead Title: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
Publisher: Fleet Books, Hachette
ISBN: 978-0708898390
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I love the choices made by Oprah for her book club. She does a brilliant job of it. I also think that single-handedly she has had a huge role to play in getting America to read. I remember it was 2000 or something like that I when I was first introduced to her book club. Internet was in the very nascent stages in India and we had Star Plus though (it had not become Star World yet I think) and there was the Oprah Winfrey Show that would air every morning at 6 am and I would watch it religiously. That is when I was introduced to her book club and since then I have been a fan. From what is been told, Oprah actually got the publishers of this selection to sort of push the date of publishing right back so she could announce it on her network. I am mighty impressed and she is one of the few people who can pull this off.

The latest book (not Love, Warrior) that I have read from the stable is “The Underground Railroad” and I must say that I was mesmerized by this book. I have not read any other work of Colson Whitehead and always wanted to start with Sag Harbor but I am glad that it was this book that started it for me. “The Underground Railroad” is brutal. It is fictitious but I am sure that most of it has happened – and perhaps it is easy to talk about suffering in fiction than it is in the form of a memoir or biography. I honestly believe in this. I think that when you speak of human redemption, suffering or something that is so heartbreaking, fiction will get more people to connect to it.
So what is the book all about? Why am I raving about it?

The book is the story of Cora, the young runaway slave from Georgia. It is also about Caesar and how they both flee the Randall plantation and head north via an actual underground railroad. The story is set in 1812 and must I say that this book is not for the weak-hearted. There is a lot of violence and emotional torture but it had to be told because there is no escaping it. You cannot and must not sugar-coat sorrow. So Cora and Caesar are on the run and while that happens, Cora manages to kill a white boy who tries to capture her. From there on they are hunted endlessly and how they manage to do what they want to makes for the rest of the story.

Colson’s writing reminds me of Morrison. There are passages and sentences that will leave you breathless and you will reach out for that glass of water. It will happen. You will get angry because slavery is just not what should ever exist. You will also cheer for Cora and for some people she meets along the way. You will mainly hoot for the perseverance and courage of the protagonist and want to change things in your life. “The Underground Railroad” is not just a book about slavery, it is also a book about humanity and how there is always a way out. A must read this year and it will not disappoint you at all.

Moonstone – the Boy who never Was by Sjón

Moonstone - The Boy who Never Was by Sjon Title: Moonstone – the Boy who never Was
Author: Sjón
Publisher: Sceptre Books, Hachette
ISBN: 978-1473613133
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher, ARC
Rating: 5 Stars

“Moonstone – the Boy who Never was” by Sjón (pronounced Shawn) came to me in a boxful of other books. My eye rested on this one, because I had heard a lot about the author’s previous book “The Whispering Muse”. I wanted to find out for myself what the whole fuss was about this writer and his style. Let me tell you at the very onset that “Moonstone” will for sure be one of the top 10 books I would have read this year. Hands down!

It is the kind of book that doesn’t let you be till you are done with it. It is a historic novella in the sense. It is also a subtle love story. It is about struggle and the will to live against all odds and do what one must do anyway. It is about cinema- about the small things that make everything else seem so big and grand. It is a book set in 1918 and in Iceland – of course given the author is from there.

The book is about Mani Steinn (this is where Moonstone comes from – but again how it appears in the book is heartbreaking) – a 16-year old waif who is an enigmatic character. He lives with his great-grandmother’s sister. The volcano Katla has erupted and can be seen colouring the sky night and day from the streets of Reykjavik where the boy lives. The Spanish flu will arrive. The Great War grinds on. Things change. Mani has two loves of his life – Sola G and the movies. He loves the movies and well what he does for a living is something you will find out as you read the book.

The flu changes everything – the place, people, their lives, dimming the line between reality and delirium. For Mani it is about coming of age in one of the most brutal ways, about loving from afar, and the idea of watching movies one after the other is what life is all about. He cannot comprehend any other life till incidents set in motion and life changes completely.

Sjón’s prose is heartbreaking, crisp and there is so much said in such few words. This is the kind of writing that leaves you wanting more. From Mani’s life to the impact the flu has on the town to the magic of silent movies to describing the year 1918 and that too in about two months when the novel is set, is no easy feat. At this point, I must also speak of the translation by Victoria Cribb which is superlative. I’m sure it manages to convey what the author set of to.

“Moonstone” is the kind of book that evokes this melancholy feeling inside you, it makes you want to reach out and hug the writer for writing something so remarkable. It is a short book with a very big heart. I know for one that I will most certainly read a lot more that has been written by Sjón and I highly recommend that you do the same. Start with this one.

The Curse of Surya by Dev Prasad

The Curse of Surya by Dev Prasad Title: The Curse of Surya
Author: Dev Prasad
ISBN: 9788184006223
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Booksense
Rating: 3.5/5

I never thought I would like “The Curse of Surya” but I ended up enjoying it a lot. It is a fast-paced book that ends before you even know it and leaves you hankering for more. It is a thriller set across Singapore and India which is perfect for Ashwin Sanghi fans and will also appeal to Aroon Raman’s readers.

It is a thriller based on Indian mythology and about the quest for Shyamantaka – a jewel believed to have been lost for 5000 years. Sangeeta Rao, the protagonist is a TV anchor in Singapore who drops everything to go to Agra for a special story and that is when she gets embroiled with a Welshman Alan Davies to find the jewel and go through a lot of trials and tribulations.

The thing about the book is the story. The plot is the king and that’s how it should be. The characters are well-etched and the banter between Sangeeta and Alan is worth it. It also has a wry sense of humour in some places, which is refreshing.

The writing sometimes seems a bit tepid but carries pace when it has to and saves the day. I loved the way the book was written and the chapters kept revealing the plot lines, keeping me glued to the edge of the seat.

“The Curse of Surya” is the perfect book to be read on a flight. Before you know it, it is over and done with. If someone asks me what thriller they must read next, which will get over soon and which will keep them hooked, I will recommend this one.

Book Review: The Eighth Guest and Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries by Madhulika Liddle

Title: The Eighth Guest and Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries
Author: Madhulika Liddle
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 978-93-5009-275-0
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 286
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Imagine this: 1656 Delhi. Muzaffar Jang – an aristocrat with friends in low places. He has just finished solving a case that involved two Englishmen and the Imperial Exchequer. All he wants to do is take it easy and here come more cases waiting for him to be solved. Muzaffar Jang also happens to be a detective – a part-time one but a detective nonetheless.

The series of mysteries in this collection are something else – from the elephant that killed his mahout to the murder of an artist, these ten stories will have you wanting more. I am always biased to good mystery stories and when they came with an appropriate historical background, it makes it even better.

Madhulika Liddle’s writing has definitely come of age from her first book. The writing is crisp and taut, just the way a good mystery tale should be told. At the same time, the essence of the book is not lost. Delhi in 1656 must have been very difficult to conjure for any writer. Historical fiction is probably easier to write when supported by some facts as a map. In the absence of such a map, it becomes a task to invent characters and fit them in situations and yet exhilarating from the author’s point of view.

There were times I wondered and wanted the book to be a novel, only because I wanted to see where it would go and what turn it would take, more so for the last story, “The Woman who Vanished” as it is my personal favourite from the collection. The Eighth Guest and Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries still stands as a testimony that Indian writers can write a good mystery. Madhulika Liddle is a writer to watch out for. Read this book and her earlier book, “The Englishman’s Cameo” as well.

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