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Giving up the Ghost: A Memoir by Hilary Mantel

Giving up the Ghost Title: Giving up the Ghost: A Memoir
Author: Hilary Mantel
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250160669
Genre: Biographies, Memoirs
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Hilary Mantel is an author that should be read by everyone. I don’t mean it because she is a Booker-Prize winner (twice at that, and consecutively so), not because her fiction is par excellence, but because of her memoir. The memoir that will break you, make you smile, make you relate, and feel all sorts of emotions. At the same time, it is about feminist literary circles, about women who write and without fear, and literally about “Giving Up the Ghost”.

I cannot talk about the book in a linear manner because it is also not written that way. This memoir is about how a poor child of Irish origins, from a disadvantaged family, grew to become one of the world’s most celebrated novelist. Through her story, Mantel touches on other stories – the ones that we can relate to the pinnacle and back. She speaks of home, growing up, books, and more books and above all how she was subject to visions, to “seeing things” that weren’t there. Spooky, isn’t it? Were they real or just a condition because of her hormones as she had undergone an early hysterectomy?

The pain and clarity in the writing is astounding. She speaks of her novels as the children she would never have. All along she speaks of women – literary women mostly and their lives – and also strangely ties in the century and its on goings.

At no point does Mantel’s writing become pitiful or self-loathing or wanting attention. It is what it is and she has written it in a very matter-of-fact tone. The book doesn’t meander or amble and combines all of it quite beautifully. Honestly, you don’t even have to read her novels to read the memoir. Just dive in and be prepared for a fantastic, heck of a ride!

 

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire Title: Home Fire
Author: Kamila Shamsie
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781408886786
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I will try doing some justice to the book with my review. I will only try. “Home Fire” is one of those books that come when you least expect them to and leave you stunned, make you feel a thousand things, and then pretend that nothing has ever happened. There is the storm and also the lull at the same time. When that happens to me, while reading a book, I know that the book will stay for a long time.

Shamsie’s prose is so evocative and tender that you can feel the characters trying very hard to balance themselves – their emotions and their motives more than anything else. “Home Fire” as most people have said and so will I, is an adaptation or inspired by “Antigone”. Antigone, a teenage girl is forced to choose between obeying the law of the land (her uncle, the king of Thebes, has forbidden the burial of a traitor who happens to be her brother Polynices who declared war on the city and in the process kills his own brother Eteocles) and religious law and sentiments toward her brother. The good brother gets the funeral and the so-called bad brother doesn’t. Antigone then must decide if she wants to give Polynices a burial or not, the punishment for which is death penalty.

I remember watching Antigone a long time ago. Ratna Pathak Shah was Antigone and I could not get images out of the play out of my mind as I read “Home Fire”. Art does cross boundaries. Anyway, back to “Home Fire”. This is the same dilemma faced by Aneeka, as of course Home Fire is loosely based on the play by Sophocles. Aneeka’s twin brother Parvaiz has left London to work for the media arm of Isis, after knowing about their father’s death. Their sister Isma tells the police where he is gone and Aneeka is most angry, almost to the point of telling her that they have no sister. Isma is the older sister to the twins who has taken care of them like a mother. She is the voice of reason, while Aneeka’s voice is that of strong emotion. Isma meets Eamonn (, while she is studying in the US and he is on a holiday. There is a connection. However, on his return to US of A, he falls in love with Aneeka, who will go to any lengths to go home and search for her brother.

Shamsie raises the issues of love, freedom, longing, exile (from a beloved and from a country), what home truly is and of course the most underlined theme of all: xenophobia and what it is to be Muslim in modern times. There is so much going on in the book that I had to stop, hold my breath or sometimes just wait till I finish gasping and then turn the pages once again. Her writing is stunning and more than anything else, she has this quality to speak with you and anyone else through her emotions. Her words are universal. She also makes Antigone accessible but after a while the story of Antigone is merely a skeletal framework while the story of Aneeka, Isma and Parvaiz is what keeps you glued.

“Home Fire” truly deserves a place not only in the long-list for the Man Booker Prize 2017 but also in the short-list and perhaps even the winner. The book makes you see your world for what it is and is most emotional of her works if you ask me. In fact, I think, this is my most favourite of her books. A read which you will not forget.

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

Title: The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
Author: Thi Bui
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
ISBN: 978-1419718779
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 336
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

The times we live in aren’t easy. We live in xenophobic times. As much as I hate to say it, it is true and we cannot turn a blind eye to this one. In these times, as much as I don’t want to read what stares in my face all over the place – on Twitter, on FB, on almost every social media – hatred for a religion or class, or a set of people that aren’t yours, but you read because you feel you will understand and empathize better and this is the time “The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir” came into my life.

This is a graphic memoir, which means it happened to the author and her family – a set of events – after her parents moved to the land of milk and honey from Vietnam on a boat. The story is deceptively simple but layered with relationships issues, immigration and belonging issues and above all: what it really takes to blend in? Do people who come from outside can after all be called citizens of a particular country even after decades or do they have to keep proving themselves and their patriotism over and over again?

Bui’s story is the story of her family – as she begins to adjust to being a first-time mother, she reminiscences what it means to be a parent from her parents’ perspective – from the sacrifices to unnoticed gestures to love that need not be spoken all the time. In all of this is America – Grand Old America in the background (not as much) always making them question their identity and the importance of home. There are panels that are so breathtakingly beautiful and how they mingle with the prose – will make you weep and in the next panel before you know it you are smiling and cheering on for Thi and her circumstances.

This book as Viet Thanh Nguyen claims will break your heart and then heal it – did just that for me. What is funny is that I also spoke to my maternal aunt after reading this book to know her memories of coming to India from Pakistan during the Great Partition and what it was like for them. “The Best We Could Do” as the title suggests is just that – the best they did and how sometimes you have to keep doing your best to find your place in the world.

Book Review: The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin Title: The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
ISBN: 9781408704615
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 243
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There comes a time in everyone’s life when a book truly speaks to them. It talks and you cannot do anything but listen and wonder what happened to all those dreams and hopes that were once present. Books do that. They have the power to communicate. They also have the power to heal a broken soul, no matter how broken or damaged. I think for me, books have always been that. An antidote to everything that is wrong with the world and everything that can be made right, with just the turn of the page.

So when I knew that my next read was going to be about books and reading, I could not contain my joy. I love books about books and reading that centre on the theme of a reader or two. It fills my heart with immense warmth. This is exactly what happened as I read, “The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin.

The book is a story of a bookstore owner and how his life transforms completely, through reading and the people he meets in the course of his life, or rather those who enter his life involuntarily and change it completely. The bookstore is called Island Books and is on a small town called Alice in Staten Island. A.J. Fikry’s wife died recently in a car accident and he does not know what to do with his life. Books and his store are the only things that keep him going.

On the other hand, there is Amelia, a book representative who is leading a very lonely life and has a big heart. She too loves her books and reads with a passion. Needless to say, her life intersects that of A.J. and things take a dramatic turn. Amidst all this, there is a two-year old baby Maya, who is left at the bookstore’s doorstep one fine day and A.J. has no clue what to do with her.

In all of this, A.J’s first edition of Poe is stolen and he is immensely heartbroken about it. There is no way he can get it back, try as he might. It just vanished in thin air.

If the plot does not compel you enough to go out and read this book, then maybe my experience while reading it should, or so I hope. The book made me laugh. The book made me cry. Books that do that to you have a power which cannot be defined. Zevin’s writing is marvellous. She takes the emotion – lays it bare and then gives it her own touch of empathy and unique voice. There are times when I had to keep the book down, take a breath, or perhaps not choke with emotion and get back to it.

A.J. Fikry is one character who will not be forgotten by readers who read this gem of a book. Zevin has created characters that are loveable and what binds them is their love of books and the written word. I could not stop reading this book. In fact, I also remember telling a friend before watching a movie on Saturday night that I would rather be home, finishing this book and this is exactly what I did once the movie got over. I rushed home and finished this book, only to find myself crying at the end of it and fully aware that I would reread this magical book and cry and laugh all over again.

Book Review: Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Title: Tell The Wolves I’m Home
Author: Carol Rifka Brunt
Publisher: Pan
ISBN: 978-1447202134
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“Tell the Wolves I’m Home” by Carol Rifka Brunt cannot be classified as a Young Adult novel. It is not that for sure. It is haunting and adult in more ways than one. It is a beautiful human story that I was expecting on reading the synopsis and it delivers at every level.

The premise is simple: Fourteen-year old June Elbus loses her beloved uncle Finn Weiss to AIDS. Finn, who was a reclusive artist and spent the last months of his life painting a portrait of June and her older sister Greta. After Finn’s death, June chances upon another side to her uncle – an almost other life and she leads to the road of discovering her uncle and stitching the fragments in her mind and heart.

June learns that her uncle had a secret boyfriend, Toby. She is jealous of Toby. She is told by her family that her uncle died because of Toby as he was responsible for Finn’s disease. She hates him passionately at the beginning, but begins to learn more about her uncle through him, and eventually warms up to him, and grows to love him immensely. At the same time June misses her uncle in ways unimaginable and that is also at the core of the story, which sometimes is heartbreaking.

“Tell the Wolves I’m Home” is about acute grief and how does one deal with it. It is about growing up and how does one feel like an outsider – be it June, or Toby or Finn for that matter. Told from June’s perspective, the book is not easy to begin with – a lot of past and present scenes are muddled, but I somehow liked the time shifts as they added to the overall narrative.

The book has its own set of twists and turns. The good part is that there aren’t too much to handle at any point. Every character has his or her own story to tell and Carol has done justice to each of them.

Carol Rifka Brunt’s characters are flawed. No one is perfect. That is why I enjoyed reading this book the way I did. The title of the book is as unique as the plot. You need to read the book to figure, why this title was used.

My favourite character in the entire book has to be Toby. He is a great combination of tenderness, sentimentality and an outcast that only needs to be understood. In more than one way, the similarities between June and Toby are striking and maybe that was intentional.

The urgency in the writing is apparent. Words flow effortlessly and that style appealed to me as a reader. It kept taking me to a place that reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird in some ways and that is very special to me. Tell the Wolves I’m Home definitely has to be one of the best reads this year. Highly recommended.

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