Tag Archives: June 2020 Reads

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar Title: The Radiance of A Thousand Suns
Author: Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9353029654
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

As we live, and continue living, as days merge into months, and months into years, we realise that life perhaps is nothing but a collection of burdens. Of guilt we carry. Of so many lives lived in this one life, that every instance, every incident, every moment of joy seems like it happened in a different life, and tragedy always seems nearer – close at hand – to envelope us inside it, any given time.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar was read merely by chance. I hadn’t planned on reading it this month. It wasn’t on the list. But lists change, evolve, and you are only grateful that you read something so utterly heartbreaking, and a book that even manages to make you want to let go of all the weight you carry.

So, where do I start with talking about the plot? It is about the Partition of India, it is about the Anti-Sikh riots, it is about how we love and empathise, and how we lose the ones we love, and how they always remain, no matter what. What is it about? It is about Niki’s determination to complete her dead father’s unfinished book, taking her to Manhattan to uncover the story of an immigrant woman. It is about Dadima and her story. It is the story of Nooran and how she became an integral part of Niki’s life.

The blurb of this book also calls it a literary thriller, which to me is doing the book gross injustice. It is poetic and beautiful, and also brutal at times. Sodhi Someshwar doesn’t hesitate to talk about uncomfortable things – about people who lost their lives during the Partition and then the pogrom of 1984. She will rip the band-aid and not with remorse. The book is about the lives of women when pogroms such as these ruin everything in their wake. It is about generations of women that have had to suffer in silence because men decided that a pogrom or a partition would be a good idea to exact revenge.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns is about stories we tell ourselves in order to go on from one day to the next. The book is about resilience and Manreet’s writing is wondrous – from page to page. The characters are people you know – or someone from your family would, if we dig deep. The book struck a chord because the pain could be felt right through the pages. I was constantly reminded of how easily we forget our painful pasts – whether it is the Partition or the ’84 pogrom, or Godhra, or Mumbai blasts – each incident forgotten in the name of carrying on. Sometimes, in fact, most of the time, we need to acknowledge what has happened, and not let anyone forget it, in order to truly move on.

What I loved was also the quite apparent interspersing of The Mahabharata as an epic – its flaws, its shortcomings, and to connect those incidents to the plot and move it forward.

The Radiance of a Thousand Suns does more than tug at the heartstrings. It constantly reminds you, with every turn of the page, what humans do to other humans, mainly in the name of land, religion, and a heightened false sense of laying claim to everything in sight.

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

The Rabbit ListenedTitle: The Rabbit Listened
Author and Illustrator: Cori Doerrfeld
Publisher: Dial Books
ISBN: 978-0735229358
Genre: Picture Books, Children’s Books
Pages: 32
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

What do we need in times such as these? Someone who will listen without any bias or judgement? Someone who will be there for you, and wouldn’t need to prove that time and again? The Rabbit Listened is a book to soothe the heart, the mind, and perhaps even the soul. It just made me smile, and be thankful for what exists. Even if it doesn’t. Even if it did at some point. And by it, I mean relationships.

The Rabbit Listened is a book for all of us. It is about empathy. It is about empathy that we do not action, even though we tend to speak volumes of it on the Internet, and specifically on social media. The Rabbit Listened is about a boy who has something he loves destroyed, and all sorts of animals come to advise him about how he should move on, till the rabbit just sits and listens. A listening ear is all we need, perhaps most of the time.

We all need that rabbit in our lives. Someone who will listen, and just be there. This book somehow strangely reassures us about people in our lives, about the love, the kindness, and why do we hold them dear and close to us. We need to understand empathy and how to action it more now than ever. The Rabbit Listened is for people of all ages, and not just for children. We all need to listen, and be there.

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Title: The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
Author: Thi Bui
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
ISBN: 978-1419718786
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 344
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It isn’t easy, living this life. I do not know where I read it, or who told me this, but I guess this is true in some way or the other for all of us. It just isn’t easy. Till it becomes bearable I guess, in one way or the other that you make it. I was reminded of this, and more as I turned the pages of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by This Bui – about her parents who escaped to America from Vietnam in the 70s, right after the fall of South Vietnam, and the lives they struggled to build for themselves and their four children.

TBWCD - Image 1

Of course this is the kind of book that makes you ponder through its simple illustrations – it is a book about so many stories, so many narratives that Thi Bui makes the reader aware of – conflict, what it is like to not be at home, what is home in the larger scheme of things, identity at the core of restlessness and wanting to shake that off as well, and more than anything the unspoken love between parents and children. I think to a large extent I could relate to the love that remains unspoken. I don’t recall ever saying I love you so casually to either of my parents, and the same goes for them. We don’t say it enough. Like Thi Bui says, it gets stuck in the throat.

TBWCD-Image 2

The Best We Could Do is also about coping with life on a daily basis, with the past almost overseeing and controlling events. It is also about what it means to be a parent – from the child’s perspective, and that of the parent’s. It is about the racism that people face in the United States of America, and what it takes to “fit in”. And before you know it, you are rooting for her and her family at almost every page. The empathy is real. I cannot begin to imagine what it must take for her parents to build a life from scratch. I also while reading the book wished I had more time with my grandparents to have asked them what it was like when they moved from Pakistan to India during the Great Partition.

The Best We Could Do is a book that will grab you by the throat and make you see the beauty and the ruthlessness of humanity. It shows all sides without bias. It doesn’t take sides. For Thi Bui to be this objective, and tell the story of her family is a feat in itself. It is all about doing the best, and finding your place in the sun.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow Title: A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670026197
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What do you say about a book that has received so much acclaim, praise, adulation, and applause? What do you say that hasn’t been said already? Just how do you put your experience of reading the book into words, that come from a deep-seated place of multiple emotions? I think I am one the people who were late to the Amor Towles party, but boy am I beyond myself that I attended it – better late than never.

A Gentleman in Moscow to me is an experience. An experience and more so a lesson on kindness, compassion, elegance, and different ways to view the world. We all need perspective. We all need that much needed point of view, and Towles through this book presents plenty of them.

The book is beyond a one on exile, of Count Alexander Rostov being exiled in the Metropole Hotel for writing a poem – this exile is from the year 1922 to 1954. Thirty-two years of a life – of so many losses and much more gains that Towles magnificently writes about in this masterpiece.

Why do I call this book a masterpiece? Well, to me it covered the gamut of human emotions – there is love, anger, loss, helplessness, friendships that last a lifetime, and the grace to let go and forge new relationships. I could go on about the writing – the book opens like nesting dolls – Matryoshka dolls – one inside the other, a plot that opens up, a character that enters and takes your heart away, and something that you overlooked suddenly comes to light. Towles’ writing is beyond superlative, and how do I begin to count the number of times I have highlighted in the entire book – a sentence there, a passage here, a line that reminds me of my life, of a friendship that doesn’t exist, of a love that got away, or of a time when things were simple and kind.

Time is of such an important factor in the book – everything historical that takes place – the Cultural Revolution in the Soviet Union, the rise of Stalin, Gulag, and how everyday humans are caught in it all. Time centres on nostalgia, on what happens, on how it passes, on the everyday living – of books, movies, music, food, and people whose memories are attached to it all, with the Count at its center. Whether it is with a precocious twelve-year-old Nina to then the relationship he shares with the actress Anna, and more, time passes. Sometimes with great significance and at other times – the passage of time is enough to acknowledge the beauty and tragedy of life that Towles puts in so many words so masterfully.

A Gentleman in Moscow is almost like a poem that speaks to one and all, if you have the patience, and intention to pick it up. A Gentleman in Moscow is the kind of book that stays. You might perhaps forget about it after a couple of days, but some parts will come back as you are going about your life – there will be that connect to life, dreams, imagination, and how we relate to one another as humans. Of how we are all connected somehow, and what it takes to understand that. A magnificent read. A read that will make you feel small in the larger scheme of life, universe, and everything.

Note: 

There is a lot of literary references in the book. Here are some that I could take note of:

Books and Authors mentioned in A Gentleman in Moscow: 

  • Anna Karenina
  • War and Peace
  • Tolstoy
  • Chekhov
  • Gogol
  • The Cherry Orchard
  • The Seagulls
  • Maxim Gorky
  • Bulgakov
  • Akhmatova
  • Osip Mandelstam
  • Vladimir Mayakovsky
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • Dostoevsky
  • Karl Marx
  • Michel de Montaigne
  • Socrates
  • The Nose by Gogol
  • A Sportsman’s Sketches by Ivan Turgenev
  • Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Idiots
  • Demons

And here’s a trailer of the book released by Viking when the book was out: