Tag Archives: Literary Fiction Reading Project

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Title: Jack
Author: Marilynne Robinson
Publisher: Virago Press, Hachette UK
ISBN: 978-0349011806
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Jack to me was as beautiful in its writing as Gilead by the same writer. The interior monologues though they went on and on, worked for me. They got me off-track sometimes, but I was back in the book for most part. But perhaps the idea of the book was also to make you feel and think so much as you read along, which it managed to accomplish quite successfully with this reader. Also, might I add that you can read Jack as a stand-alone novel, though it is from the world of Gilead. It would be great if you would also read Gilead, Home, and Lila before embarking this one.

Jack is a book of romance. It is a book about God, faith, religion, and what we hold close. (well in more than one way). It is a book about John Ames Boughton, the prodigal son of Gilead’s Presbyterian minister, and his romance with Delia Miles, an African American high school teacher, who is also a preacher’s daughter. The book is set right after WWII, thereby making it all the more paradoxical of American way of life then and now – of these star-crossed lovers navigate their way at home and in the world.

Robinson’s writing is quiet. It is gentle, and also ferocious when needed. It is about people who don’t fit and how the world they inhabit is not of equals and doesn’t believe in equality. A world that will not let them forget who they are. Jack is about so much more – faith in each other right at the center of the novel, and about how even though cut from the same cloth, people still want to segregate.

Jack is a book that wants to show you how love overcomes it all and tries so hard to do that. I was convinced and loved that aspect of it. At the end of the day though, it isn’t that easy. Robinson’s usual gifts are present throughout – the pacing of dialogue, the story taking its time to get into gear, and how bit by bit all of it is revealed. Read them all. Read all the four books.

The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

The RevisionersTitle: The Revisioners
Author: Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Publisher: Counterpoint
ISBN: 978-1640094260
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was stunned after reading The Revisioners. I still am. There were times I put down the book because I was scared of turning the page, wondering what will happen to characters I fell in love with, mainly the protagonists. This story is about two African-American women connected by blood, and divided by time. The story moves from 2017 to 1924, and also taking place in 1855. There is a lot going on in the book. It is a tale of generations, legacies, healing, motherhood, racism, prejudice, and old-age traditions.

The book starts in New Orleans in the year 2017, when Ava, a biracial mom and her teenage son King move in with Ava’s white, wealthy grandmother Martha. Ava becomes her caretaker, as she is recently laid off and could do with some money and rent-free accommodation. She does all of this so she can finally buy a place of her own after saving some money. Little does she know what’s in store for her and her son – Martha starts behaving erratically and things start to change.

Josephine, Ava’s ancestor’s story is set in 1924 when she is a free woman with her own plantation and house, alternating in the year 1855 when she was a young slave girl on the Wildwood plantation. Josephine befriends a white, lonely, younger woman Charlotte and an uneasy friendship is formed between the two. Josephine has learned the hard way and strived to find her voice and Charlotte has her own past to deal with. The question then is: Can a black woman and a white woman ever be friends?

The power dynamics between the white and the marginalised black are neatly laid out. Sexton speaks up and makes you realize with every scene and conversation about the privilege, the distance, and the promise and audacity of hope between the white and black women as their paths cross. Sexton’s writing is raw and grabs you from the first page. And might I add that it is not a slave narrative. It is about hope, courage, and how to stand your own ground when it comes to identity and the connections of ancestry. It is about how two black women a century apart experience racism, and how things perhaps haven’t changed all that much. The stories of Ava and Josephine are ground in reality, though sometimes they take on a mythical quality, lending them the magic realism tone.

The Revisioners is a book that is needed. It is needed for people to not only check privilege but also make an effort to reduce gaps, to cross bridges, and examine their relationships with people around them. It is a reminder of blood relationships and also relationships that go beyond blood, and expand into a community, and last forever.

A Ballad of Remittent Fever by Ashoke Mukhopadhyay. Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha.

A Ballad of Remittent Fever

Title: A Ballad of Remittent Fever Author: Ashoke Mukhopadhyay Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9389836028
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was very skeptical when I started reading, “A Ballad of Remittent Fever”. I was scared that medical terminology would be thrown my way and I would be totally lost trying to figure it out. Yes, the terminology did come my way. Yes, I did feel lost a couple of times. But I started enjoying the read. I was in a way enthralled by the extraordinary lives and loves of the members of the Ghoshal Family. The writing converted me.

I think one must also read the book, keeping aside our current situation, if possible. The book is full of references to epidemics, pandemics, and vaccines. That might be hard to do, but I was more involved in the daily affairs of every family member, across time and the non-linear narrative.

The book spans over a hundred years, from 1867 to 1967 – through two World Wars, major diseases, and the forces that propel this family of doctors to ravage and fight those diseases, sometimes also being not-so-aware of the Superman complex some of them have, to wanting to live full lives – professional and personal.

The protagonist (can be called that in a way) Dwarikanath Ghoshal is a man who is at the pinnacle of this unit, with a fierce desire to vanquish diseases that seem incurable. And from there on four generations of the family – in their own way – through Allopathy or Ayurveda try to battle diseases, with the sole intention of making people live.

And then there is the constant push and pull between superstition and medicine, faith in the supernatural and believe in medicine, and alongside all of this – the changes in medicinal science that lends beautifully to the progression of this novel.

The translation by Arunava Sinha is spot on. He wonderfully makes you see Calcutta of the times gone by and how perhaps nothing has changed. Through Arunava’s translation, the book gets another layer of nuance in my opinion.

A Ballad of Remittent Fever must be read for its prose, for the fine intertwining of medicine with life, for the personal battles people fight while trying to combat the professional ones, and what does it take to be a saviour, sometimes referred to as God, and to bear the burden of such responsibility.

 

Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction by Roshan Ali

ibs-endless-search-for-satisfaction-by-roshan-ali

I remember reading this book when it was first long listed for The JCB Prize for Literature last year. Given all that has happened since, it feels like another lifetime. Having said this, I reread it this month and in a very quiet, almost unassuming manner, this book touched me. I think I read it with a different point of view the first time around, or I do not know what was so special about it this time, or perhaps I had forgotten all about it, but that’s hardly the point. Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction in more than one way felt like my story. Or at least similar.

Ib is perhaps not a nice young man to know. He is self-absorbed, only worries about himself (sometimes not even that), is a wayward in more than one way, doesn’t know where life is to take him, and yet so endearing, real, and only too brutally honest. His father suffers from schizophrenia. His mother moves from one day to another – lost in her thoughts and the world of being a caregiver. His maternal grandfather, Ajju, is mean and loves that Ib’s family is dependent on him for almost everything. And in all of this, there is Ib – growing up – trying to grow up – trying very hard even not to, and sometimes just trying to make sense of the world he has been thrown into.

Ib doesn’t have friends. Ib prefers looking at everything in great detail. Ib knows what he wants and then doesn’t. Ib craves for human attention, company, the tenderness as he calls it at one point, and he wants it all on his terms. Ib’s journey is mundane, it is of the everyday living, it is of boredom at work, of not suffering the banal in college, it is of preferring one’s company to that of others, and living as honestly as possible.

Roshan Ali’s city – the one in which Ib lives and comes to inhabit closely could be any city – any at all, and yet it is only one. The one that Ib and the readers come to love. Roshan Ali’s writing is unapologetic – he speaks of things that are uncomfortable – of death, sex, his father’s condition, and in all of this the complexity of living.

Ib is not an easy person to understand or to write about is what I think. At the same time, what I loved about the book was the minor characters that aren’t minor – the mother, the friend Major, Annie, Maya, and even a sadhu thrown in for good measure. There is a lot taking place, and as a reader I revelled in all of it.

Nothing happens. Really. Almost nothing happens in Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction. There are revelations but nothing happens. Death happens, loss, grief, and yet nothing at all. In all of this everyday living, there are glimpses of hope in all of the melancholy, in all of the anguish – to be able to live and be.

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.