Tag Archives: history

The Years by Annie Ernaux. Translated from the French by Alison L. Strayer

The Years by Annie Ernaux Title: The Years
Author: Annie Ernaux
Translated from the French by Alison L. Strayer
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
ISBN: 978-1910695784
Genre: Biographies, Memoirs, Women Writers, French Literature, French History
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

The Years by Annie Ernaux caught my eye when it was long-listed for the Man Booker International Prize 2019. I am on the shadow panel of the prize and have till now read 11/13 long-listed books. This one for sure is on my personal shortlist. Why you ask? Here’s why.

The Years is considered to be Ernaux’s finest work and rightly so. It is a narrative of the period 1941 to 2006 and all of this is told through events – historic and personal, impressions – past and present, and through culture, habits, books, art, music, movies, and above all people. It could be termed as meta-novel but it is so much more according to me. It is a woman’s experience growing up in tumultuous years. It is an experience of history, the world at large, and memory of a woman in a time that stays and mostly does not.

The Years captures so much. It is political and individual. It is Proust-like, only to find a voice of its own. It is full of lists (which I love) and long passages of what happened where and when, what food was cooked and what did it smell or taste like, what mode of transportation was taken, and whose heart was broken. Not to forget the lucid translation from the French by Alison L. Strayer. It isn’t easy to capture emotion and translate that to perfect sentences the way Strayer manages.

The Years is a book that deserves to be savoured and not rushed into. You need to take your time with it. You need to nurture it. Its fluidity, grace, and by that extension all heart is very rare to find in books. So when you do, you hang on to it and cherish the writing. Time, place, and memory beautifully merge in this gem of a book.

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Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises (And Essays) by Rebecca Solnit

call them by their true names- american crises (and essays) by rebecca solnit Title: Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises (And Essays)
Author: Rebecca Solnit
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 978-1783784974
Genre: Political Science, Feminist Criticism, Essays
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I think I would read Solnit even if she would write in a greeting card. She is that powerful as a writer, and I am sure a great human being. Rebecca Solnit has written on a varied number of topics – from the history of walking, to space and how to maintain it, to bow to get lost, to how men explain things to women – she has touched every single surface when it comes to writing (more or less), and this time this collection of essays is her masterstroke.

These essays are telling of our times and it is scary to observe the world we live in. Solnit speaks of the election of Donald Trump and makes no bones about her disagreement. Her essays more than being timely or savage are honest and backed with facts. The insights are spot-on and attempt to diagnose what ails the American culture. Right from the MeToo movement to the incarceration of African-American men, to the misleading speech of President Trump, Solnit emerges as one of the most powerful cultural critics that the world of literature possesses.

Solnit’s writing is powerful, stark and a representation of the times we live in. This collection of essays ends with the injustice Americans (mostly) face every single day – from the cynicism, to police shootings, the gentrification, and the crises that ultimately define America today. As she so eloquently puts it, ““Being careful and precise about language is one way to oppose the disintegration of meaning, to encourage the beloved community and the conversations that inculcate hope and vision. Calling things by their true names is the work I have tried to do in the essays here.”

The primary ideas behind the book are the naming and precision of language which somehow also tends to fall short somewhere, more so in alignment with what Solnit is trying to talk about. Sure it is from a very personal space and she acknowledges that. My favourite essays were: “Twenty Million Missing Storytellers”, which is on voter suppression, “Milestones in Misogyny” about the 2016 presidential election is sympathetic to Clinton and I thought was written with a lot of force.

“Call Them By Their True Names” is a powerful read, the one that makes you question, stand up, take notice and see what is going on with America and therefore with the rest of the world. The one that deserves to be read right now!

 

March:​ Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Art by Nate Powell

March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell Title: March:​ Book One
Authors: John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Art by Nate Powell
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
ISBN: 978-1603093002
Genre: Graphic Novels, Biographies and History Graphic Novels, African-American and Black
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

History is shameful. Events occurred that shouldn’t have. Things happened that shouldn’t have in a million years. People lost lives. History for the most part is cruel and perhaps (for sure I think) we need constant reminders of what it was like, so we do not make the same mistakes. And, yet we continue to make them, as though they never happened, or we never learned from them. Part of this is the unjust trials and tribulations forced upon Black Americans by White Americans in a time not so long ago. “March: Book One” is a graphic memoir of United States Congressmen John Lewis. It also goes beyond being just a memoir. It becomes an account of “The United States Civil Rights Movement” as seen through the lens of John Lewis.

“March: Book One” is the first part of a trilogy of the events that unfolded in the life of John Lewis – who was born in Alabama, from childhood to facing segregation every step of life, to his very humble family beginnings to how he so desperately wanted to study, and he did to eventually his fight for basic human rights not given to Blacks due to racial discrimination. He is of course in the present-time, a Congressman, but the journey to there hasn’t been easy and “March” documents that through three volumes intermingling it very closely with racial biases and American History.

I also think that “March” isn’t just about America or one man. It is about what is going on around the world – in terms of collective injustice and discrimination. Because this is the truth – John’s story that is, you somehow feel anger and empathy hundred times over. His interactions with Dr. Martin Luther King were to me the highlight of the graphic memoir. Powell’s illustrations therefore are enchanting – taking us through every interaction, idea, indicating the tension filled atmosphere with some brilliant brushstrokes, when it comes to marches and travelling between past and present. Also, for those who haven’t read ant graphic memoir before, this is a perfect entry into that genre.

“March: Book One” should be read by all – irrespective of what race, caste or colour you are bracketed under. The attempt is to document injustices, and lives of people who lived through those times and to ensure that the mistakes made as I said earlier, should not be made again and this to my mind fits for every country in the world.

P.S: I cannot wait to pick up the second and third volumes.

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The White Road: Journey into an Obsession by Edmund de Waal

The White Road Title: The White Road: Journey into an Obsession
Author: Edmund de Waal
Publisher: Picador USA, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-1250097323
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Non-Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It had been a while since I had read a good non-fiction and I am very picky when it comes to this genre. The book has to be a solid one or I will just drop it and not read further. Life is too short to read badly written books. I loved Edmund de Waal’s earlier book “The Hare with the Amber Eyes” (Please read it if you haven’t already. Trust me, you will love it as well). This is when I received his new book to read “The White Road: Journey into an Obsession”. How does one describe this book? There is a lot going on in it, but I shall try and make sense of it.

In this book, Edmund de Waal gives us a peek into his obsession with porcelain, also known as “white gold’. Edmund is also a porter who has been working with porcelain for more than forty years now. This book is about his exploration through five journeys to understand porcelain better – where was it dreamed, refined, collected and why do so many people covet it this way. While China, Germany and England were at the core of his visits, he also managed to visit other places around the world and how while doing that, he encountered some of the darkest periods of history, thus intertwining his life, obsession with porcelain and history altogether like a well-crafted mosaic.

This book is highly insightful and well-researched. De Waal doesn’t miss the beat on a single page when it comes to uncovering history and delving to its darkest core. You almost feel that you are undertaking the journey with him alongside and not just reading it. The comparisons he makes given the countries he visits, makes you think of your ignorance, given how the world really works, thinks and imagines.

To me the idea of the book is very unique. I love the concept of how something that wouldn’t otherwise come to mind is at the heart of the book – porcelain and around it Edmund de Waal explores his history and family heritage so to speak. The book is like a friend that needs to be hugged and taken care of. The writing is extremely simple and that helps in turning the pages. All said and done, I couldn’t get more of this book at all and wish it lasted longer than it did.

Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand

kohinoor-by-william-dalrymple-and-anita-anand Title: Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond
Authors: William Dalrymple and Anita Anand
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN:978-9386228086
Genre: History
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

While reading the “Kohinoor” – William Dalrymple and Anita Anand’s joint effort to make sense of the world’s infamous diamond, I was tempted to list – a list of deaths that took place in the wake of the diamond – to either capture it, or while owning it or ones who were ultimately possessed by the jewel.

There is a lot written about the Koh-I-Noor (Mountain of Light in Persia) – on and off Wikipedia. More so in this age of technology, you can perhaps know everything and more related to it on the internet. However, let me tell you that it will not be anything like this book, jointly penned by Anand and Dalrymple.

The story of the diamond is not just about the diamond and its lore and how it now resides in the Tower of London. I love the fact of how almost each of the five claimants of the Koh-I-Noor – India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and the Taliban are so confident of how the diamond belongs to them but no one knows how and why (well, mostly they are not sure).

From the Peacock Throne to the Mughals to the Queen Victoria’s crown, Dalrymple and Anand seek to separate history from myth and do it exceedingly well, might I add. They have researched and gathered all material from every part of the five claimants to add more gravitas to the narrative of the diamond. It is of greed and ambition – of men who coveted it and of men who would do anything for it – of the blood that was spilled for it (Shah Zaman Durrani was blinded with hot needles, Shah Rukh – grandson of Nader Shah had molted lead poured onto his head – kinda like A Song of Ice and Fire and many such incidents) and the courage to own it any cost. Why is Koh-I-Noor that important? What makes it the most beloved, even though there have been jewels far precious than this one?

The two historians do a fantastic job of trying to unearth almost every mystery surrounding the diamond and yet leave some to be speculated and mulled on by the reader. William tackles the first part of the book – of the diamond’s history while Anand looks at the Sikh history of the diamond. The tone of the book is neutral which is needed when you chronicle something from or belonging to the past. “Kohinoor” is a rock solid book which tells you almost all that you wanted to know about the diamond and never lets go of the reader.