Tag Archives: Immigrant fiction

If I Had Two Lives by Abbigail N. Rosewood

If I Had Two Lives Title: If I Had Two Lives
Author: Abbigail N. Rosewood
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609455217
Genre: Literary Fiction, Immigrant Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Sometimes you just don’t know what to make of a book till you are done reading and pondering a bit over it. If I Had Two Lives was that kind of read for me. This is a coming of age book, it is also a book about an immigrant in the United States of America, and it is also about going back home. Honestly, it might also seem been there, done that (and I also felt that on reading the blurb), but it isn’t that at all. I think every book no matter how similar the plot line to another book, always has something different to say – no matter in what capacity.

If I Had Two Lives is the story of a child who has been isolated from the world in a secret military camp, with a distant mother. Distant mothers as we all know only lead to more mental health issues in all of fiction. Anyway, there she meets a sympathetic soldier and another girl, leading to a very unlikely friendship.

The scene then jumps to New York, where as an adult, she is torn between people who are no longer a part of her life and people who are. She understands that for all of it to make sense, she has to return to where she started from: Vietnam. This in short is the plot of If I Had Two Lives.

Why did I like it?

Rosewood’s writing is sparse and most effective. Most of the novel is without names, except for some and you will understand why as you read the book. I think it is actually because of the title and what it means – the sense of identity (can there be one without a name?), memory (how twisted and convenient it can be), and what is the value we place on people in our lives?

If I Had Two Lives seemed like not a debut, but a work of someone experienced. I think it is also about how well you tell a story, and what do you want to communicate to the readers. In this case, it was the brutality of dislocation and the force of compassion that came through stunningly, with every turn of the page. It is a modern tale, seeped in the past and that’s what makes it what it is: intriguing and gorgeously written. A great debut that deserves all the attention.

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Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

Sea Prayer Title: Sea Prayer
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Illustrator: Dan Williams
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1526605917
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Immigrant Fiction
Pages: 48
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Before I start this review, I would just like to make one thing clear from point of view, a book is a book is a book. Yes, big books and expansive stories make a lot of difference (and I am the kind of reader that loves to read big books and I cannot lie), at the same time, short books (as some might call them and roll their eyes to pay for them) make an impact as well. They have the power to transform and make you introspect the world and yourself in it. “Sea Prayer” by Khaled Hosseini is one such book.

“Sea Prayer” is a lot of things. It is a cry for comfort, of the known, the familiar and what it means to not know or identify home anymore. What does it even mean to not have a home? To me, more than anything else, “Sea Prayer” is about loss and in a very strange way, a story of hope, as most Hosseini’s stories are. They are hopeful, in times of bleakness. There is some ray of sunshine, something to help people get by and in the case of this book it is the sea – both hopeful and dangerous.

SP 1

“Sea Prayer” is written in the form of a short letter, from a father to his son, on the eve of their journey, far away from home. The book is a portrait of their life in Homs, Syria, before and after the war. The gorgeous water colour and ink illustrations by Dan Williams complement the book in so many ways, that you cannot think of the book without it. The interplay of word and image on every page will leave you breathless, wanting so much more, that you wouldn’t mind rereading (re-watching?) the book over and over again.

SP 2

More than anything else anyone who reads, “Sea Prayer” should be affected by it mainly because of the times we live in. We unfortunately guard our spaces and privacy and boundaries so fiercely that we forget to be humane and compassionate. We have seen enough and more of brutality when it comes to the Trump administration and their stance on refugees and immigrants and on the other, the Rohingya crisis – a people almost forgotten, a people not acknowledged at all. And but of course, at the core of the book is the Syrian crisis.

SP 3

“Sea Prayer” will make you realize your own indifference to everything that goes on around us, and at the same time make you check your privilege. It is the kind of book that seeps through and stays in your subconscious, whether you like it or not. All in all, a read that shakes you up and leaves you more empathetic and kinder.

 

Ayiti by Roxane Gay

Ayiti by Roxane Gay Title: Ayiti
Author: Roxane Gay
Publisher: Corsair, Hachette UK
ISBN: 9781472154224
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

We are sometimes (perhaps most of the time or even all the time) lost in our individual bubbles – the ones that we create, the ones that protect us from most realities, so much so that we aren’t even aware of them. I say this because before reading “Ayiti” by Roxane Gay I wasn’t aware of what the Haitians went through or are going through on a daily basis and for that, I have no one else to blame but myself.

Having said that, “Ayiti” (the way Haiti is pronounced by the Haitians and is the original way of referring to their country) has made me want to know more about the country. How it was ruled by the French and how did they get their freedom and what were the consequences that made it reach this state in the larger scheme of things.

Roxane Gay’s prose is not forgiving nor is it all roses along the way. Her stories are brutal, real, visceral and jump at you without warning – just the way a well-written short-story should be. At the same time, humanity (or the lack of it) runs deep in these fifteen stories – some medium-sized, mostly vignettes and three long stories that will cut through your heart and make you sometimes weep with helplessness.

“Ayiti” is a collection that makes you see the mirror of the world. A country that is forgotten not only by the world but sometimes also its own people. The people who have perhaps given up on a God to come and rescue them from their fate. Some of whom who make it to America and try too hard, so their family can make it. The people who will eat mud in Haiti because there is nothing else to consume. The characters are always in conflict – between home and what they want to make a home but will never be.

“Haiti is not a perfect home, but it is a home nonetheless” thinks the protagonist of the last story in this collection, “A Cool, Dry Place” – a story of a couple who want to leave Haiti – dreaming of Little Haiti in Miami, where there is air-conditioning and cable TV all-day long. And yet, she doesn’t want to leave. She wants to stay with their loved ones, the familiar. Between them, what keeps them going is the love and lust they share.

Roxane Gay’s stories are for sure semi-autobiographical if not all-autobiographical in nature. She was born and raised in the US, though Haitian and I am sure there must have been stories that traveled and found their way in this book.

These stories were published earlier in 2011 and are now published in a new format, but the voice, the situations, the conditions are still the same. The book couldn’t have been more relevant than today when the world is in a state of limbo – when we need to be human, accept, own and belong. In a world where children are being separated from their parents, the part of the world in which Trump makes decisions, we really need to wake up and smell the coffee.

“Cheap, Fast, Filling” was another favourite of mine – about a man named Lucien and his arrival in the United States via Canada and again right into Miami. He has been told that eat Hot Pockets until he finds a job since they are cheap and taste good. He survives on those and Super Big Gulp. To him, even this taste is wonderful. All he wants is his children left in Haiti, to be able to taste these treats.

“We are the keeper of secrets. We are secrets ourselves. We try to protect each other from the geography of so much sorry.” These are some of the thoughts of the narrator of “In the Manner of Water or Light” – a story of a woman conceiving her daughter on the bank of a river while running away from a horrific massacre. The story is achingly told from the perspective of the granddaughter.

“Sweet on the Tongue” is a story of humiliation, love, redemption and somehow making peace with the ghosts of the past. It is also the story of women loving women, women who love their men fiercely and sometimes when it becomes difficult to love your own child.

Roxane Gay’s writing is not limited by anything. The plot could take you anywhere. Even in the shortest of vignettes, she packs a punch of a nine-page story. “Of Ghosts and Shadows” is a longish story of two women who just want to be left alone, loving each other and not caring about the world. The world they are born into and must whether they like it or not care about. This is one story I could relate with the most – maybe because being gay is really the same anywhere after all.

Gay’s Haiti is weak, broken like one character says something to the effect that it is turning on into itself. Its people do not want to leave and yet there is no choice. The ones who have left try every day to get their loved ones home, USA – which could never be what Haiti is or was and yet it seems like a lot for now. “Ayiti” is a book that must be read and after you have read it, read more on Haiti and its people, its history – what came to be and why. I know I will.

 

 

 

Family Life by Akhil Sharma

Family Life by Akhil Sharma Title: Family Life
Author: Akhil Sharma
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books India
ISBN: 9780670087457
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always enjoyed a good dysfunctional family story. Somehow, I see my family in it. Somehow, it is true. All families are like that. There is always this undercurrent of tension, of nerves, of issues that are not spoken out loud, and of silences.

“Family Life” is a book of grand proportions. It is also written with the objective, I think to let the reader fill in some spaces, and rightly so, I mean, after all, why should a writer spoon-feed the reader all the time?
Akhil Sharma’s writing is nothing like what I have read in the past. I wanted to read, “An Obedient Father” but never got around to it. So “Family Life” came by and was my first Sharma book. The book is about a family who moves to the US of A and how their lives change forever.

The Mishras (parents and two children, Birju and Ajay) move to America in the 70s, hoping and dreaming of a better life, getting away from the Emergency period in the country. America is full of hope and promise. Birju, the older one is the smart one – with the good grades and a great future, till an accident in the swimming-pool leaves him brain-damaged and Ajay is left to pick up the pieces of a life, torn apart. The father becomes a drunk. The mother loses sight of everything else and only wants to take care of Birju. Ajay on the other hand, does not know what to do and how to grow up in a strange country.

The book is dark. The writing is also funny at times. There were times I wish things would change for the family, but then it would not be the story that it is. Akhil Sharma weaves a story of too many layers – of ambition, loss, living, forgetting, escaping and the condition of the human heart in all of this. “Family Life” is a book for you, only if you want to know about a slice-of-life, close up and personal. A great read this summer.

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