Tag Archives: June 2020 Reads

The Clothesline Swing by Ahmad Danny Ramadan

The Clothesline Swing Title: The Clothesline Swing
Author: Ahmad Danny Ramadan
Publisher: The Indigo Press
ISBN: 9781999683368
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQIA Fiction
Pages: 220
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I do not know how to review this book. I shall try. I hope I do justice to it. This book is everything – heart, soul, passionate, full of life, despair, about the secrets we keep, and how we finally are undone in the end. The Clothesline Swing is inspired by One Thousand and One Nights. It is all sorts of beautiful, and hopeful in brutal times and that’s what we need right now more than ever – to hang on to hope.

The Clothesline Swing is everyone’s story in that sense and yet so specific to place and time. It is the story of two lovers who live away from home, and are anchored to it in all heart and soul. It is the story of a dying Syria and their memories attached to it. One is the storyteller, who keeps life going through fables and stories from their youth to his dying partner. Each night he tells his partner stories of Damascus, of childhood, of leaving home in fear of being persecuted for being homosexuals, of a hard life, and how he met his lover and life thereon. In all of this, there is Death – its all pervasiveness – waiting patiently, listening to stories – night after night.

This book hit me hard – it is brutal and honest and doesn’t shy away from speaking of what gay men go through. The brutality, the violence, the shame, the love, and kindness in places least expected is all there – for all to read. Ahmad Danny Ramadan’s writing doesn’t get maudlin – it doesn’t enter the zone of pity, but it does become joyful after all the struggle. At the same time, it doesn’t take away from the struggle and the immigrant experience. That is another track in the book that shines.

The Clothesline Swing is about forbidden love, about home that is no longer home – or will always be in memory, it is about the stories that keep us alive and make us live one day to the next, it is also about pain and suffering, and love and beauty, and healing – for the characters, the author, and the readers.

Grandmothers by Salley Vickers

GrandmothersTitle: Grandmothers
Author: Salley Vickers
Publisher: Viking, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN: 9780241371428
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 296
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I think everyone should read this book. I think everyone should read it because we need reads such as these that are heartwarming, and don’t pretend to be intellectual to be lauded by all. At the same time, Salley Vickers has this unusual style that I cannot put my finger on. Her novels are simple and easy to read, contain separate universes within them, and manage to strike a chord by the end of it. So, in the sense that there is this strong build-up to events, lives, and decisions that impact each character.

Grandmothers as the title suggests is about three grandmothers, who are very different women and their relationship with the younger generation. There is Nan Appleby, recently divorced and fiercely independent – who shares a great relationship with her grandson Billy. We then have Blanche – a widow, who has done nothing but adored her grandchildren Harry and Kitty but is forbidden access to them by her son Dominic and his wife Tina. Minna Dyer is the third grandmother (not in the literal sense) who lives in a shepherd’s hut in the country and has developed a grandmotherly relationship with Rose Cooper. Reading binds the two, and that is what brought them close.

If you are expecting thrills or something to happen in this book, then it won’t. Grandmothers is all about relationships, intersecting lives, and the back stories of women who are otherwise only seen as most ordinary. Salley Vickers takes her own time to even unravel some plot lines. The book is very easy to read and makes for a great afternoon spent in the company of heartwarming prose and maybe even get you teary-eyed in some places.

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh Title: Train to Pakistan
Author: Khushwant Singh
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0143065883
Genre: Literary Fiction, Partition Literature
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This was my third reading of Train to Pakistan, and every time I read it, there is an ache that seems to have gone but hasn’t. I grew up hearing some stories of the Partition from my grandparents, and at the end of each story, I would see vacant eyes, eyes that said a lot and yet did not want to go beyond what was said. The memory of it all would haunt them all their lives.

Train to Pakistan is perhaps the first book that comes to most minds when speaking of the partition of the country. If not the first, then at least second. The starkness, honesty, and empathy of the novel has spread over decades in terms of being relevant (sadly) and continues to do so.

The plot is about a fictional village named Mano Majra and its residents (Muslim and Sikh), and how they are caught up in the turmoil of Partition, how it affects their relationships and lives. It all starts when a train filled with the dead bodies of Sikhs and Hindus arrive in Mano Majra. Singh gives us this but doesn’t make it the centrepiece of the novel.

Train to Pakistan to me is all about human nature, its relation to religion, its connection with the concept of life and death, and how suddenly it is either each man for his own or coming together of people in times of crisis. What I loved the most about this novel (even in the third read) was that Singh never loses his grip on empathy. There is this sense of brotherhood, of community, and yet in the face of the larger event, people seem helpless. Or are they?

Train to Pakistan is about common people. It is about Government officials who will also use every trick in the book to get their way out. It is about religious extremism and the madness that comes along with it – the madness that will never stop following you.

The sad part is that it is relatable even today – in an India of seventy-three years of independence. It is relevant when there are pogroms against the Muslims in Delhi, it is relevant when Godhra is mentioned, it is relevant when the memory of Mumbai riots of 1992 is evoked, it is relevant when mob lynching is spoken of, and it is relevant when people are killed basis what they eat, wear, look, and who they pray to.

Train to Pakistan was read by me as a part of my Partition Reads Project, of one book on the partition to be read every month. I believe that no matter how much it hurts to read such literature, we can never forget what happened, and in that process we heal – we remember and not forget that we need to be better humans – every single time.

Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari. Translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande.

Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari Title: Darkness
Author: Ratnakar Matkari
Translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9353573331
Genre: Short Stories, Horror
Pages: 228
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 3/5

I love the horror genre – whether it is in movies or books. Something about consuming it, getting terribly scared, and then not being able to sleep for days. Yes, it does seem kind of sadistic, but I enjoy the “thrill” of that as well.

So, when I came across Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari – a collection of 18 horror and supernatural stories, translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande, I was whooping for joy. Finally, there was one collection of horror stories, in translation, from the sub-continent. I am sure there are more, but I don’t know of them for now.

The book starts off with great promise. The opening story “Birthday” is about a young boy who can predict death-days by knowing your date of birth. Honestly, I was spooked by it. I think I even got gooseflesh. The titular story “Darkness” is excellently written – pulpy, takes the reader to the edge, and leaves you wondering what actually took place. A story of doppelgängers? Time travel? What just happened? As I progressed, I was skeptical about the quality of stories but surprisingly the pace and fear factor were maintained. “By the Clock” seemed predictable but wasn’t. Most of Matkari’s stories seem predictable but they aren’t and that’s the beauty of evoking the chill in the reader, long after the story is over.

At the same time, some stories did not work for me and seemed rushed. “I See Vikram” was so-so – about an affluent kid who seems to have an imaginary friend from the slums did not do it for me when it came to the writing or ambience.

Most of his stories hint at other dimensions, other worlds, time-travel, and of what will come to be which is already known to the characters. “Monsoon Guest” is a great example of infusing mythology with horror – some way also reminded me of the movie Tumbbad – the eeriness, the ambience which becomes a character in itself, and the dialogue that takes over the story.

While reading this book, I also often wondered if the experience would be even more enriching reading it in the original Marathi, and the answer was a resounding YES. Couple of reasons for it: The terrain and locales in which these stories are set are so deep-rooted in Maharashtra that only reading them in Marathi would do complete justice to the writer’s vision and storytelling capabilities. The second reason being, nothing like reading anything pulpy in the original language only to truly feel the emotion the author intended you to.

“Darkness” for me worked on several plot points, stories, and gave me the much-needed spooks. At the same time, it also got repetitive in most part, and predictable. I would still recommend this collection of stories, wonderfully translated by Vikrant Pande – keeping the essence intact in most stories. It is the kind of collection that will jolt you and make you also look over your shoulder once in a while.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie MackesyTitle: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
Author: Charlie Mackesy
Publisher: Ebury Press, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN: 9781529105100
Genre: Picture Book, Books for Everyone
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The more I live in this world, the more I do not want to interact with most people. I want to stay away from them all, because I also know that they want the same. They just don’t say it. No one has what it takes to say that they do not want to listen to you, or pick up the phone and talk to you, or even be there as a friend. Yet, strangely enough you are called a friend by them. We all like to pretend most of the time.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy - Image 1

But once in a while, there comes a book that makes you see the beauty in the world – the love, the forgiveness, the simplicity of perhaps a smile, and what empathy can do for both parties involved. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy makes you believe in the goodness, the niceness, and the joy of being alive, even in a world such as this.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy - Image 2

It is about these four – who are lost, unhappy, scared, and don’t have a clue about what to do with their lives, and yet they meet each other, and soldier on. They love, share, talk, and understand what it takes to go from one day to the next. Reading this book made me smile at almost every page, and that healed and helped me immensely.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy - Image 3

We all need to pause and consume art that heals. The kind of art that doesn’t weigh heavy on your heart. The kind that (in the most cliché way of them all) sets you free, and you do not even realise that has happened. This book is all kinds of hopeful and wonderful. Something we all could use in times such as these. Yes, I will use all the trope descriptors, but it does feel like a warm hug, a friend holding your hand, and someone who is just there for you, telling you you are loved. Read it. Please.