Tag Archives: identity

Fern Road by Angshu Dasgupta

Fern Road by Angshu Dasgupta Title: Fern Road
Author: Angshu Dasgupta
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt Ltd
ISBN: 978-9389231922
Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming of Age
Pages: 216
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

Here’s the thing about this book: I am glad it exists, I just wish it had been written with more nuance. I like the fact that it deals with confusion when it comes to orientation, and maybe even does a layer deeper, however, it somehow did not generate the empathy in me for the protagonist, Orko. I did relate to a lot of instances, but overall the book lost me in most places.

The book is set in 1980s’ Calcutta (absolutely love the setting) and chronicles a young boy’s journey through conflict, a lot of confusion, self-doubt, and acceptance. The book has shades of magic-realism and what goes on inside a boy’s head and those bits Dasgupta gets spot-on. Fern Road is also about Orko who thought he would grow-up to be like his mother, till she disappears. And then it dawns on him that boys grow up to be men and not women.

The writing is crisp and draws on so much nostalgia without force-feeding it to the reader. Dasgupta brings the 80’s to life quite brilliantly and yet the confusion, the pain of growing-up someone else and not what you imagined, and then to accept oneself as easily had me stumble through the novel for most part. I wanted to connect deeply with the book and when I didn’t I was disappointed, but perhaps not every book centred around identity will resonate with every reader. Some scenes though made me choke up – for instance when Orko wants earrings, or when he prays to Ma Lokkhi to turn him into a girl, or even when he wants a new name.

Fern Road could have been so much more according to me, but if you want to read a book about coming-of-age, and get perspectives on the “different” people one can be, then this is the book that makes an honest attempt at getting there, and for that you must read it. Maybe I am conflicted as of now, but I also know that I will reread it and who knows, I might even change my mind about the book.

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream-A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib

Title: I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir
Author: Malaka Gharib
Publisher: Clarkson Potter
ISBN: 978-0525575115
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Malaka Gharib is Half-Filipino, Half-Egyptian, and born in the USA. This graphic memoir is about her life and her family on both sides. This memoir is also about identity, growing up in the US of A – being a part of the country and yet alienated. I know a lot of authors have written about this in some form or the other, however, I also believe that every book written in this sub-genre always sadly has something new to provide. The issue of racism, being a different skin colour, following a different way of life, and being ridiculed for it just doesn’t go away. It is always there – sometimes way too visible, and at other times not so much.

I liked this graphic memoir, in fact loved it, because it made me wonder about my confusion about identity (of course of a different kind) while growing up. I could hard relate to it – I could understand the dilemma of what to follow and what not to. Malaka’s life if seen from the greener side of the grass was very exciting growing-up to parents who came from different parts of the world. The opportunity then to know more about different cultures, and understand was twice-fold. At the same time, the need to fit in and belong is age-old. No one who hasn’t fit in will understand the pain of not belonging.

I Was Their American Dream familiarises you with cultures and traditions you perhaps weren’t aware of. I love reading books that do that, more so in the form of say a graphic memoir that isn’t too taxing. Sometimes you need such reads to also get the “reading momentum” going. Malaka’s illustrations are fun. There are also places where she wants readers to engage with her – so there is an activity to make a zine with her or dress a cut-out of hers, so on and so forth.

There are a lot of books like these – on identity, migration, immigration, the need to belong, and yet there is something about this one that struck home and stayed. It is honest, it talks plainly about how at one point she wanted to be a part of the “white” community so bad, and also how to deal with your past and where you come from. More than anything, what should one do with it, if at all one wants to. I Was Their American Dream is a lovely graphic memoir on how we see the world and ourselves in it.

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.