Tag Archives: identity

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

Good Talk by Mira Jacob Title: Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations
Author: Mira Jacob
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1408880166
Genre: Graphic Memoirs
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

We don’t know what life has in store for us till it flings itself in our faces. Then we know. Then we truly begin to see as it unfolds itself. Mira Jacob’s Good Talk is not just a memoir. It isn’t just a conversation. It is so much more that as I sit and type this, I literally have gooseflesh.

It is a book about identity, about interracial marriage, about when do we know we are citizens of a country? Is there a certificate that gets handed out? We are constantly seeking validation about ourselves – be the way we look, or the way we feel, and most certainly the way we think. What if you needed validation that you belong to a country? What would you feel then? Good Talk is mostly about it, a lot about it, and sometimes less about it.

It is about trying to explain to a seven-year-old that he belongs. That being of the same skin colour do not make families. That it’s okay for his father to be white and his mother and him to be brown. It is more than that. It is about given the freedom to love, to choose, to make your decisions, and to also regret them.

The book travels between the past and the present – and what I realised as I read it was that not much has changed. The issues of race are the same in America. Brown bodies or black ones or anyone who isn’t white is fractured when it comes down to living life in the United States of America. In some way or the other that is. Good Talk is about Mira giving answers to her seven-year-old son’s questions about race, America, and modern politics.

The push and the pull that comes with it, and the several questions that she never side steps, but involves her husband Jed as well in the process. In all of this, the reader also moves back and forth in Mira’s life – the past to the present and how it all threads together – her insecurities while growing-up brown in America and her son’s in the present environment. The juxtaposition on some level is surreal. Obviously her son is too young to experience more, but I am sure that is another book for another time.

Good Talk is about resilience and what it takes to navigate the world we live in and its interconnectedness. It is a book that resonates the time we live in, and heavily at that. It is the era when a man is willing to build a wall to keep the “other” out. Who is the other? Are we the others? Or are the others the people who want to box and categorise people? Who are devoid of empathy? Who are devoid of sentiment? We might think we are isolated and something happening in Africa may not be linked to us, but we need to think again about everything and its impact.

Good Talk is not an easy read. More so it isn’t something we can read and forget. It applies to all of us. After all, aren’t we all a part of a family?

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang Title: Home Remedies
Author: Xuan Juliana Wang
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1786497413
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

It is so tricky to start reading a short story collection. You think: Will I like all the stories? Will I like some stories at least? Will it be the same as reading a novel? What if I want some stories to last longer? That will not happen. Should I then read a short story collection at all? There will always be such thoughts, doubts, and apprehensions one might have before starting a short story collection and yet when you do and the reading is so rewarding, you want everyone else to read the book as well. And this is why I am recommending “Home Remedies” by Xuan Juliana Wang.

And yes, the stories might seem familiar, but trust me they are not. The twelve stories span across China and America, and speak of choices: of immigration, love, sex, and the family structure. The stories challenge the reader – you think hooting for one character and immediately the narrative changes. It also makes you see perspectives – one cannot take sides.

An immigrant family raising its first Americans to a father-daughter relationship involving logic, to a story about a woman becoming a fashion icon after taking a dead girl’s clothes, Wang’s stories are of family, belonging, and displacement. Mostly also unclassifiable, these stories are also quite dream-like. The characters with their unusual sex lives and technology that stunned me are thrown into an abyss, which only Wang knows the exit of. The writing looms large of Chinese cultural undertones, while the American way of life runs in parallel.

Home Remedies is built out of small observations and details. The stories are rendered perfectly, well-done and extremely rewarding. The stories do not have an end in themselves and that works – the unknowable, the speculation, and the way she is almost playing with the readers’ expectations. Home Remedies is a short read, with only twelve stories, and is full of heart and brilliant storytelling.

 

 

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.

Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcott

Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcott Title: Dandelion Clocks
Author: Rebecca Westcott
Publisher: Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0141348995
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 288
Source: Product Manager
Rating: 4/5

The age of “sick-literature” is on. Almost all young adult books have that element in them after “The Fault in Our Stars” and I am not surprised. It can get a bit annoying though. I would rather be back in the time and place when literature for children and teens was simple and reality-free. Or maybe it is the times when they already know so much; that this cannot hurt all that much or maybe I am just thinking too much about it?

Anyway, I read “Dandelion Clocks” by Rebecca Westcott on the fifth of July. I finished it in a day. The premise was nice. The characters were well-etched (some of them though lacked some depth but I am sure, the author will take care of that in the sequel Violet Ink). The book could have been longer, according to me and that is only because I liked it and wanted to know more. All in all, “Dandelion Clocks” was a good read. It also choked me up (as usual) and that is only because, no matter what age one is at, the idea of losing a parent or being away from home (in my case) and thinking about Mom (this book is based on children-mother relationship) can get you all teary-eyed.

“Dandelion Clocks” is about Olivia, an eleven year old and six months in her life, knowing her mother is going to not be there. She will die soon. It is also about Isaac, her older brother with Asperger’s syndrome and how she deals with it. It is about friendship, love, death and identity as you grow up. Olivia loves clicking pictures. She finds her solace and comfort in them. And that again is the crux of the story, as she wants to keep memories alive through them.

On the other hand, it is about her mother trying to teach her how to be a better human being, as she no longer will be around and this she wants to through her diaries written when she was a teenager. It is also about Olivia’s aunt, brother and Dad and how they feel (well that will again be brought up in the sequel in a more detailed manner, I hope). As far as the title goes, let me tell you that you have to read the book to figure that one out.

Like I said, the premise is excellent. The narrative moves at a brisk pace. I just wanted more of it. The book is so taut in some places and somehow loses some steam in others. Having said that, I am still eagerly waiting for the sequel to know what happens in Olivia’s life and how she copes with loss of a loved one. “Dandelion Clocks” is a story that will captivate (in its own way), it will hurt (again in its own way) and will make you want to read the sequel, and I only hope that the sequel is longer.

Here is also the book trailer:

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Just So Happens by Fumio Obata

Just So Happens by Fumio Obata Title: Just So Happens
Author: Fumio Obata
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 9780224096638
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Home is where the heart is. Home is also sometimes the place that you want to go back to the most and just cannot. There are times you long for it and there are times you cannot stand to be in that place. Relationships perhaps are the crux to home. They can either make or break what is home for the person. To a very large extent, it also depends on the past and that is exactly what Fumio Obata’s graphic novel, “Just So Happens” is about – the meaning of home and its importance.

I live away from home. I am from Bombay and I live in Bangalore. It is in the same country no doubt and yet home seems a million miles away. It is almost suffocating at times, not to be at home – the feeling of alienation and then I also try very hard to fit in. Homesickness, longing for home and trying very hard to not choke when you see others around you enjoying their home city.

“Just So Happens” is the story of Yumiko, a young Japanese designer living in London and making it on her own. The past seems a distant memory. Till her brother calls her one fine day, to inform her that their father has died in a mountaineering accident. Life changes in a flash. Yumiko has to return to Japan for a while and has to make choices, she never thought she would.

I am obviously not giving away a lot of the plot because I would like you, as a reader to experience it for yourself. The illustrations are beautiful (they better be, given it is a graphic novel) with vivid brushstrokes – also how the artist separates the two cities and also the hues which are well brought out in the graphics.

I could relate to the book at so many levels and yet at some points I thought the story was a drag, till it picked itself up and then there was no looking back. “Just So Happens” is a heart-warming and yet at times very introspective graphic novel of belonging, identity and to pick up the pieces of life and build it all over again.

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