Tag Archives: January 2022 Reads

Read 17 of 2022. How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Title: How High We Go in the Dark
Author: Sequoia Nagamatsu
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1526637192
Genre: Literary Fiction, Climate Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I don’t think my review will do justice to this book. What can I say about a book that makes you see the world differently, makes you feel more, and more than anything, makes you a better person in a manner that you didn’t imagine? The question asked really is: What happens to humanity when the world is coming to an end? What happens to the nature of humans when the world isn’t what they used to know, and when death moves way ahead of life?

How High We Go in the Dark isn’t a pandemic novel, though it is marketed as one. Yes, there is a virus in the book, discovered 30,000 years later, the one that creates havoc, something that we have experienced in the last two years as well. However, this book is more about hope, love, missed opportunities, family, community, and ultimately healing.

Nagamatsu’s book is epic in the sense of the stories it tells – the threads that are connected, the characters that are only trying to make sense of the world they are in which isn’t theirs anymore, and how we navigate grief and loss. The book starts in Siberia where unearthing a girl releases a virus that destroys human organs. And from there Nagamatsu takes us to the City of Laughter, an amusement park where children infected with the virus can enjoy one last fun-filled day before riding a deathly roller-coaster. There is a scientist whose experiments on a pig take an emotional turn when the pig starts communicating. Funerary services dominate the landscape – enabling ways of grieving and not so.

Grief, and what it does to humans and non-humans as well is at the heart of this book. It is about connections and Nagamatsu does a stunning job of expressing it through his characters – who all want to reach out to one another, sometimes succeeding and sometimes not. I loved how he brought back the beginning of the book right towards the end, which left me stumped and awestruck. The writing is not only powerful but also contemplative and deeply engaging. How High We Go in the Dark is hands down one of the best books I’ve read this month.

Read 16 of 2022. The Law of Desire: Rulings on Sex and Sexuality in India by Madhavi Menon

The Law of Desire

Title: The Law of Desire: Rulings on Sex and Sexuality in India
Author: Madhavi Menon
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
ISBN: 9789354471155
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 150
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Madhavi Menon breaks down sex and sexuality in relation to the law most succinctly in this pocket-sized book. This book also feels like an extension of her previous work, “Infinite Variety: A History of Desire in India”, which is a work that should be widely read.

The Law of Desire is a slim book of five sections – Preamble, Criminal, Immoral, Obscene, and Unnatural – each dealing with rulings about sex and sexuality and more so thoughts on way forward. The Preamble and Amendment act as Prologue and Epilogue in a traditional sense of a book.

I like how Menon presents facts and doesn’t let her opinions come in the way, though of course there are times that she does debate with the reader, which I found quite fruitful and invigorating. Menon makes connections of religion and fundamental rights to desire and how they have nothing to do with gender to begin with.

Madhavi’s writing is simple, to the point, and peppered with examples from various other rulings, though at times it does get a little overbearing to try and recall them.

One element that I loved a lot in the book is the way Menon uses pop-culture to the benefit of the book’s topic – from movie posters, to literature, to music – all of it ties in neatly with the rulings and the cases she brings up through the course of the book.

She also tries to take the conversation away from just the binary when it comes to sex and sexuality to include the non-binary, which of course is inclusive but are far and few and in-between.

The Law of Desire is a short and insightful read on desire and how sometimes the law doesn’t even know what to do with it. It is biting, precise, and on-point. For readers who want to know more about desire and the Indian courts’ rulings, this is a good book to start with.

Read 15 of 2021. City of Incident: A Novel in Twelve Parts by Annie Zaidi

City of Incident by Annie ZaidiTitle: City of Incident: A Novel in Twelve Parts
Author: Annie Zaidi
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9390652129
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Sometimes an author doesn’t have to say too much to make points felt, or to express emotions. I have always been taken in by the concept of vignettes in literature – of how some writers are capable of writing them to the point of distinction – each appearing as an entire universe in its own structure and some who somehow fail to achieve that and get caught in detail.

Annie Zaidi’s new offering “City of Incident: A Novel in Twelve Parts” is a great example of what to do when writing slice-of-life fiction. To be minimal – to only use words that matter and not more than what are needed – to the point of making the reader feel the claustrophobia, more so when a city such as Bombay is being described from various vantage points.

Zaidi captures people from various walks of life – people we see and sometimes fail to as we lead our lives. She speaks of conditions and circumstances quite nonchalantly – as though they don’t mean anything but don’t be fooled by the lightness – because there is so much to uncover at the end of it.

Situations are primary – highlighting them isn’t the motive of this book, I think. It is all about living and what it takes to live in a metropolis. Zaidi’s writing feels like I am in a bubble and there is no way out. From railway platforms to overcrowded trains, to homes that provide no respite, and traffic signals that make you see events you don’t want to. She documents all of it, being almost a chronicler of disappointed lives, mercurial beings, and tortured souls.

City of Incident feels like all those lives have merged together in one small book. Each life appears different and unique, only for Zaidi to make us by the end of it, feel like they all are universal – same and without distinction. City of Incident makes you stop in your tracks and observe people around you closely and with more introspection. I highly recommend this read.

Read 14 of 2022. Blue by Emmelie Prophète. Translated from the French by Tina Kover

Blue by Emmelie Prophète

Title: Blue
Author: Emmelie Prophète
Translated from the French by Tina Kover Publisher: Amazon Crossing
ISBN: 978-1542031295
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 126
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Blue isn’t an easy novel to read. It is short and requires work from the reader, in the sense to keep pace with what’s going on. Time is fluid and it travels without warning. There is a lot of back and forth – given it is a stream of consciousness novel, and that to me is one of its major selling points.

Blue is a lyrical memoir of Haiti. It is a story of the narrator and her life there before she moved. It is a story of her mother and two aunts and all of this is replayed as the narrator sits at an airport, waiting for a flight from Miami back to her native island.

Emmelie Prophète writes about Port-au-Prince through the daily lives of its inhabitants, the ones that aren’t visible sometimes – resisting and inviting voyeurism. We don’t get to see the city as much through its blueprint as much as we do through the narrator – in a minimal space of that of an airport. The comparisons are made – from where the narrator is to what has been left behind, and sometimes event similarities. That of women being subdued, of people making sense of their identities as they go along, and how Haitians are portrayed in North American media, and how it impacts them as people.

There is so much to unpack in this novel. From the outside world to the inside sanctum of thoughts and prayers, Prophète reveals the narrator’s emotions and thoughts in relation to incidents of the past and how it all ties up to the present.

Blue also conveys a sense of solitude – the airport, the island, the inner workings of the mind, the stream of consciousness, and more than anything – the distances between places gives the reader a strong feeling of isolation and contemplation.

The writing is fluid. The translation is reflective of it, on every page. Kover makes it a point to show most of the time and not tell through the translation. It makes you want more, and imagine the most. Sometimes it is tough to keep up with the plot – so much so that it seems like there is no linear plot and yet you know it is the story of a place, of home that is synonymous with the colour Blue, the one that is about forgotten memories, painful ones, that surface once in a while, as you wait to be transported.

Read 13 of 2022. Mobile Girls Koottam: Working Women Speak by Madhumita Dutta . Illustrated by Madhushree

Mobile Girls Koottam - Working Women Speak by Madhumita Dutta

Title: Mobile Girls Koottam: Working Women Speak
Author: Madhumita Dutta
Illustrated by Madhushree
Publisher: Zubaan Books
ISBN: 9789390514458
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 284
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Mobile Girls Koottam is a book I would recommend everyone in the country to read at least once before they start speaking of equity. It is a book that will perhaps make it clear of how young rural migrant women work vis-à-vis how we imagine the worlds of working-class women from a privileged vantage point.

How do these migrant women see themselves in the larger scheme of things as they work, day after day? What are their aspirations and how they navigate around them, sometimes negotiating their circumstances? This book was first a podcast, when Dutta, in 2013, a doctoral student went to do her research in Kancheepuram district in Tamil Nadu, encountering five women who worked inside an electronics factory. There she documented the lives of Abhinaya, Satya, Lakshmi, Pooja, and Kalpana – in a single rented room, over cups of tea – chatting and recording the podcast over a year, till the factory shut down in 2014. This book is a collection of those transcripts.

No topic was out of bounds when it came to these women. They spoke their hearts and minds – about reclaiming public spaces, the nature of factory work and how exploitative it is when it comes to women, the fear of losing a job, the differences that work creates between men and women, about economic independence and marriage. In fact, most of them were living alone for the first time – leaving their homes and stepping out to work.

The book also looks at economic policies made in favour of or not for the working class irrespective of gender. Madhumita speaks of labour and its relation to the society at large through these women – most of it was covered in the preface but I could also see glimpses of it in the conversations documented.

At this point, might I also mention the most fantastic illustrations by Madhushree interspersed quite intelligently, throughout the book to state points and to capture the experiences of these women with wit and candour.

Mobile Girls Koottam is a book that reveals a lot – about the nature of work, about the nature of work when it comes to genders and how it then shapes into something else by the end of it, and most importantly it speaks of having a room of your own to be able to think and speak freely.