Tag Archives: literary fiction

Read 210 of 2021. The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois

Title: The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois Author: Honorée Fanonne Jeffers Publisher: Harper ISBN: 978-0062942937 Genre: Literary Fiction, African American Literary Fiction, African American Women’s Fiction
Pages: 816
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I will always be grateful to Oprah’s Book Club for introducing me to the debut novel of Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. The minute I saw it being picked by Oprah for her book club, I knew I had to read it. A multigenerational saga, with African American history at its core is something I wouldn’t want to miss reading. What I didn’t realize was how attached I would become to the characters, how I would root for some and become their cheerleader, how I would hate some with a vengeance, how I would fall in love with the language, and more than anything else, how I would find parts of myself in this novel.

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is more than just a story told through the lens of an African American family. It is so much more than that. It is not just about African history intertwined with contemporary living, but so much more. Jeffers lays it all out, bares her soul, to make us – the readers see what it was and what it still is. This is most marvellously done through the songs and writing of W.E.B Du Bois who is at the center of this magnificent epic.

Ailey Garfield is a headstrong, vulnerable, emotional, and highly intelligent women coming from a long line of women of the Garfield family. This is her story. This is the story of the women of the Garfield family – her mother, her maternal grandmother, great-grandmothers, her sisters, and her ancestors tracing way back to how they became slaves and what happened. It is the story of so many generations and somehow the story sadly is still the same, the one of fight – the one of voicing what is right, the one of standing up against wrong, and yet at the heart of it all there is love. A whole lot of love, that shines through the writing.

Ms. Jeffers’ voice shifts beautifully between times, between the past, the present, and beyond. The narration shifts swiftly to communicate the timbre of the times, the tone, of how it was, and in all of this never losing sight of the family and its struggle.

What I loved the most about the book is how emotional it gets you, and yet all you want to do is turn the pages. And yet there were times I wanted to just keep it down, which I did, and make sense of all the writing and the emotion. The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is personal, it is political, it is devoid of the constrict of time (though it may not seem that way), and above all it is kind. It is a kind novel. It still preaches that over and over again, no matter what. Ms. Jeffers’ takes on topics that are so difficult and yet have to be talked about – the demonic nature of child abuse, the way relationships can get so messy, about slavery and colorism, about what it feels like to be the only black student and a teacher on campus, about black women who lead the novel and life, of how Ailey confronts tough situations as she goes along life, with help from her family and friends and about history that must not be whitewashed or forgotten. History that runs through the veins of every marginalised folk, in this case the African American people. The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois is compelling, gorgeous, stunning, and a read that has to be mandatory for all. Please read it.

Read 209 of 2021. The Illuminated by Anindita Ghose

The Illuminated by Anindita Ghose

Title: The Illuminated
Author: Anindita Ghose
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9354227257
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 312
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Honestly, I didn’t know what to make of The Illuminated when I first started reading it. I read a couple of pages and for some reason didn’t get back to it. It didn’t call out to me then. I had received an ARC and thought I would read it eventually before the finished copy was out in the market. However, when the finished copy was sent to me, I thought let’s do this. Let us read The Illuminated and so I did. Dear reader, I was in for a roller-coaster ride, a ride that was calm, in its own manner quite tumultuous, deceptively simple, with no twists and turns, and the kind you have to surrender to completely.

Relationships are messy, but that’s how they are. I guess because humans who are in those relationships are complex themselves. Each carrying their own burden, trying very hard to make sense of the world. Shashi and Tara, the mother and daughter at the center of this novel are quite the same. Each trying to make their way in the world, after the death of the center of their lives – the husband and the father. Anindita throws her characters in unfamiliar waters, and it is up to them to sink or swim. Being who they are, they swim. Sometimes in the opposite direction, so as not to cross each other – but what comes of it ultimately is what you will know after reading the book.

The Illuminated is about women – women from different spheres, class, sensibilities, and more than anything women who lead such complicated inner lives – that are brought to fore. From affairs of the heart to desires of the body to how one feels in a marriage, to living in a country where an organisation decides how you should be in the world, Ghose gives us a view (albeit a minor one) into a world unknown to those who live outside of it.

I was mostly reminded of Anita Desai’s writing as I made my way through the book. Initially I thought I could hear Jhumpa Lahiri’s voice, but I was mistaken. It is just Ghose’s own tone that finally makes the book what it is. The themes of loneliness, liberty, of always overlooking one’s shoulder as a woman in modern India, and more than anything longing is constant throughout the book.

The title The Illuminated is self-explanatory. It is of the illumination, of the precise moment of epiphany that Shashi and Tara come to feel is the crux of the book. Of seeing the light that maybe was always there but just got hidden for a long time by the sun. The metaphors do not get in the way of the reading at all. They are subtle, and you get it if you get it.

Anindita’s writing is detailed. I particularly loved Shashi’s parts – the slowness, the sudden change in the tapestry of her life, the choices she then makes, and the determination with which she propels ahead is told skilfully and with most empathy by the writer. It took me a while to get used to Tara. Somehow, I just couldn’t relate to her. There were times I wished I would read more of Shashi and less of Tara, but I also understand that we need Tara’s perspective as readers because that’s where the balancing act happens. At the same time, the parallel but most significant part of the story is also the organisation MSS – that seems to have taken over the responsibility of showing women their place in the society – and how Shashi and Tara navigate their lives around it.

The writing took me some time to get used to, but like I said Anindita’s voice is unique and lures you in after a point. The Illuminated is a nuanced, sometimes faltering, sometimes finding its way and getting there, and sometimes just knowing what it wants to say debut book that stands on its own. I am looking forward to what comes next from Ms. Ghose.

Read 208 of 2021. Taxi Wallah and Other Stories by Numair Atif Choudhury

Taxi Wallah and Other Stories by Numair Atif Choudhury

Title: Taxi Wallah and Other Stories Author: Numair Atif Choudhury
Publisher: HarperCollins India, Fourth Estate India
ISBN: 978-9354892134
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 132
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I haven’t read Babu Bangladesh!, but now I will. I will ensure that I do, at least before the year ends, because Numair’s writing holds you by the throat, it suffocates you, it does not let you be, and more than anything else, it makes you see the stark differences in society, if in case you didn’t know about them already. 

Choudhury’s Bangladesh is a place very much like others in and around the country – poverty-stricken, gross injustice and inequalities that are visible from a mile, and more than anything else for you to acknowledge it. They make you uncomfortable because that’s the truth and we are aware of it.

Whether it is the very evident class difference that surfaces in “Rabia” – a story of a house-help and her sudden change of relationship with her aapa (who doesn’t want to be called that anymore), or in “Crumble” – a very hard-hitting story of Shahed – a brick-breaker in Dhaka who is just trying to make ends meet, or even if it is through the story “Different Eyes” about organ donors – the ones who have no choice but to do what they do, to settle their loans, each story exposes the darkness within. Choudhury’s stories aren’t for the faint-hearted. They aren’t glossy, they aren’t easy to digest, they don’t exist in happy and shiny places. They live hidden in shadows and come out when they wish to, or are already in plain sight but not seen by people.

Numair sees the world through a lens so huge and yet so minuscule – the stories could perhaps be sent in any third-world country and yet only belong to Bangladesh. The joys (however small), the sorrows, the defeat, the victories (very rare), and kindness that displays itself unexpectedly (say in “Chokra” – a beautiful story of street children and one in particular), Choudhury’s writing is sharp, raw, poetic, and shows the mirror the world.

Read this fantastic collection of short stories, and then read Babu Bangladesh! (as I will), and then lament about the fact that he was taken away too soon.

Read 205 of 2021. The Man who Lived Underground by Richard Wright

The Man who Lived Underground by Richard Wright

Title: The Man who Lived Underground Author: Richard Wright
Publisher: Library of America
ISBN: 978-1598536768
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was absolutely stunned as I turned the pages and devoured this previously unpublished work of Richard Wright. The Man who Lived Underground is about an innocent black man who gets trapped in double homicide and brutalised by the police force. He is wrongly accused, interrogated for the sake of it, and finally not even entitled to a lawyer to fight his case. This book is set in 1942. Sadly, nothing has changed.

Fred Daniels manages to escape from police custody and enters the sewers, and this is really where the story takes place. He has lost his home, his wife, and his new-born child – all because of his colour and the racism that exists. He is making his way through the sewer questioning life and death, his existence at large, and what will happen to him once he is found by the authorities.

The writing is quick in most parts, verbose in some, but never lets go of the reader. You can see Wright’s touch through and through, but more than that, I also saw a lot of Baldwin in the book. Perhaps Baldwin inspired Wright to write the way he did.

The experience of reading about a man in a sewer is nightmarish, almost allegorical, even magic realism taking on in the prose to some extent. Everything in the sewer takes on a different meaning – from a car sloshing through a puddle, or the scream of a baby, or a shout – it is all different for Fred much like when he exists on the world above.

Wright’s writing cuts to the bone. Empathy flows throughout. There is madness. There is chaos. And it all seems like one big fever dream, an old story told over and over again – when everyday life is taken over by hallucinations in order to make it bearable.

Read 204 of 2021. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Title: Klara and the Sun
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 978-0571364886
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

There is so much going on in Klara and the Sun that it was impossible for me as a reader to not put the book down and mull over what Ishiguro was trying to say, if one can get what authors try to tell you every single time. Ishiguro’s latest (and long-listed for the Booker Prize 2021) has been published after six long years, and all I have to say is that the wait is worth it.

To understand the concept of Klara, an Artificial Friend, and then to understand her thoughts and feelings and how she makes sense of the world is fascinating. Ishiguro’s writing in this one to me was way different from his other works. There is a sense of restlessness that I felt inside of me as I navigated through Klara and the Sun. Her world is very different and when she’s with her human friend, the perspective changes drastically. Memories merge with Klara’s observations that sometimes she comes across as an unreliable narrator, but that is also another aspect of the novel which is joyous to read.

The latent struggle of trying to make sense of what is going on and at the same time to be true to her human friend is real. The loneliness, the meaning of love, and could she ever love someone, and what makes her who she is are elements so complex and core to the novel.

Klara and the Sun was definitely worth the wait after The Buried Giant. I thought it would be similar to Never Let Me Go or on those lines, but Ishiguro not only surprises you, but sometimes urges you to look at the world differently, and in the process perhaps understand yourself, and maybe even your heart a little more.