Tag Archives: literary fiction

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli Title: Lost Children Archive
Author: Valeria Luiselli
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525520610
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Lost Children Archive is a book that should be read by everyone. I think more so because it is so relevant for the times we live in, and also because it is written with such grace, delicacy, and at the same time rawness that is unfathomable. It is one of those rare books that once you start you don’t want it to end. It is like an experience that is immersive and yet so heartbreaking. You don’t want to read it, and yet you do. The wanting to read is obviously far greater, so you do – you read it, if you are me you also constantly mark, highlight, and annotate. Lines resonate, words linger, emotions are so deep-rooted that even if you haven’t experienced any of them, you feel for the characters, though they are nameless.

In 2017, Mexican-born novelist Valeria Luiselli, published a book called “Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions”. This book was a result of her volunteering as a court interpreter for children – the “illegal aliens” (as they are called), helping them with intake questionnaires that might establish a case for asylum for them. The book is about her experience of also applying for a green card as she fights for the children.

Lost Children Archive, her much-anticipated new novel (and the first one written in English) is about these refugee children and their lives, it is about a family at the core of it – their lives, and ultimately about ties that bind us and the ones that don’t. Luiselli touches on a topic that is so relevant, so utterly terrifyingly heartbreaking that sometimes as a reader, it took me time to digest, assimilate, and then process my thoughts and emotions.

What I must not forget and mention here is that Lost Children Archive is a “road novel” as well. It is a journey undertaken at the start of the novel by a family – a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter. A family that came together when the father and the mother, two single parents fell in love while recording the sounds of New York City. Their marriage is drifting. They are losing grip on who they used to be. The husband plans a new project to travel to the ancestral homeland of the Apaches in Arizona, she decides to go along with her daughter and his son. She plans to document sounds of refugees at the border, and also wants to find two missing, undocumented daughters of her immigrant friend.

Furthermore, there are boxes of the family that travel with them – boxes that are filled and some that aren’t. Boxes that mean something, that are heavy with meaning and emotion, of work documented by the husband and the wife and what remains of their union. Luiselli captures the voices of the children beautifully. The 10-year old son (from the husband) and the 5-year old daughter (from the wife) are seamlessly integrated into the narrative of adults – asking, wondering, sometimes taking pictures (you will learn of this as you read along), and questioning their identity and family as a unit.

Luiselli breaks the mould so many times as she tells the story – over and over again. With the contents of the boxes, the small chapters that integrate, the characters’ voices that seamlessly integrate and also stand-out most often, but above all the last twenty pages of the book are something else – a long sentence that reaches its ending with so much to already chew and mull over, leaving a void in your mind and heart.

Lost Children Archive is most certainly the novel of our times (and sadly as well). It is so many things and yet it is up to the reader what they want to take from it. The story of the refugee children is constantly told from various points of view and done so strangely and beautifully most of the time. Not to forget the character that is the US of A. Home, perhaps. The roads, the motels, the diners, the billboards, and the borders we create are covered with such eye for detail that you wonder if she wrote the book as she travelled. Maybe she did. Maybe she didn’t. It is about family – the breaking of one and where do other families fit in, the ones that have been broken through displacement, still seeking refuge?

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Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector. Translated from the Portuguese by Benjamin Moser.

hour of the star Title: Hour of the Star
Author: Clarice Lispector
Translated from the Portuguese by
Publisher: Penguin Classics
ISBN: 978-0141392035
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

Clarice Lispector’s works burst on the literary scene a couple of years ago. Her books were republished, retranslated to English (I think), and read and loved by all. Whether understood or not is secondary, and I don’t mean this in a condescending or patronising manner. The truth of the matter is: Sometimes it is hard to read Lispector, because there is so much to make of what she has written. I am only happy that more people are discovering her and reading her. It is always so important to read new authors, to break your reading mould, and experience new terrains, cultures, and lives you wouldn’t have thought about in the past.

Hour of the Star is a strange book, in the classic good-strange kind of way. It was one of her last few works published and it clearly to me is one of her best. I have read most of her books and every time I read a Lispector, my head is in a dizzy. It is like I cannot read anything else for days after reading her. That’s the effect she has with her words, her characters, and the stories she chose to tell.

Hour of the Star is a small book with some very big ideas, all along the read. The book focuses on the life of an uneducated woman and her struggle to survive in a sexist society. Sadly, this doesn’t sound very alien, does it? Hour of the Star is also about abject poverty and the class differences we witness every single day.  At the same time, Lispector’s Macabéa, the 19-year-old impoverished girl living in Rio de Janeiro doesn’t feel for once that she leads a difficult life. The story is told through the narrator, Rodrigo S.M., and he starts the book with how to tell a story and what goes into it. The fourth wall is broken. Lispector’s themes are broad and large in scope. In all of this, there is also a fortune-teller named Madame Carlota and you should read the book also for all of the secondary characters.

Lispector writes more so inwardly – there is a stream of consciousness and then there isn’t. She constantly challenges the reader to read better, if there is something like that, if not then there should be. Macabéa’s traits are so well-etched, that in all of the loving of Coca-Cola, Marilyn Monroe, and her boyfriend (scum, by the way), Lispector cuts away at her heroine’s happiness, thereby jolting the reader’s notions of poverty, identity, and love.

You can sense the dichotomy of the well-off Rodrigo writing about the poverty of Macabéa. It is this power-dynamics that Lispector chose to write about? Is it this Brazil that Lispector wanted to show her readers where the lives of the impoverished is for all to see and write about? Hour of the Star is a tragic comedy about a girl living in poverty and has literally no clue about her state. She certainly makes no impact on anyone and never even knows love, but she has her small joys and as a reader, I couldn’t help but hoot for her through it all.

The brilliance of Hour of the Star is what each reader takes away from it. Don’t be deceived by it’s size of 96 pages. There is so much more to it. Moser’s translation is crisp, and on point. There is no detailing that isn’t needed to begin with. It is a story deeply, starkly, and told rooted in reality, with dreams that can never be fulfilled.

Elevation by Stephen King

elevation by stephen king Title: Elevation
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton, Hachette
ISBN: 978-1473691520
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

No matter how short or long the book is, I am a sucker for books written by Stephen King. Also, no matter how not so very good or very good those books are. Well, I guess some writers are just worth your time. In fact, I was just discussing with a friend yesterday that how he has the perfect blend of writing (if there is something like that at all) – the one that combines mass market with literary. Stephen King to my mind writes like no one else I have read and that’s perhaps that’s quite a tall claim, but I shall go with it for now.

Elevation is not like any Stephen King book you would’ve read and for someone with that kind of bibliography, that’s saying a lot. At first glance, a book about a man who is worried about his steady weight loss might seem to go in King’s safe spot, it isn’t the case as you continue reading it. The plot takes a very un-King twist and from there on the book becomes something else. Even in a 160-page book, King manages to fit in so much without it seeming that way.

The twist in the tale of Elevation is the plenty references of earlier books set in Castle Rock – from IT to the others. But what sets this one apart is how Scott (the protagonist) deals with what is happening to him and more importantly what is happening around him when a lesbian couple comes to town, opening a fine-dining restaurant and the town’s bias and prejudices start showing.

I for one, am extremely happy that King chose to speak of a marginalized community and has done so with great empathy. Sure, the tropes are present – the biggest being the backdrop of Thanksgiving. Having said that, there is a very small element of suspense that gets cleared very soon. I think King should write more of these novellas, that are so precise and yet convey everything. At the same time, I realize that I miss a tome from him.

Elevation is a much-needed book and I am glad it’s out there for people to read. It captivates and makes you think and wonder about your own biases. Read it. Please read it. Like I said, it is the kind of book that will make you sit up and take notice of people and communities around you.

Little Culinary Triumphs by Pascale Pujol. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson.

Little Culinary Triumphs Title: Little Culinary Triumphs
Author: Pascale Pujol
Translated from the French by Alison Anderson
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454906
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Little Culinary Triumphs is a book that will delight you. It is funny, and will leave you with the feeling of wanting to get up and hug someone. At least, I felt that way at the end of it. It is a whimsical book, it is also profound at times (rarely though), all in all it is the perfect book to be read when feeling down and about.

The story takes place in Montmartre – multi-ethnic neighbourhood, where cultures meet, mingle, and sometimes collide as well. It is the place perfect for the senses – all of them actually, but more so when it comes to the taste buds. Sandrine, one of the central characters, works in an employment office, helping people find jobs. Under this surface is a world-class cook waiting to blossom and realize her dream of opening a restaurant. A bunch of weird and eccentric characters come together, thanks to Sandrine to open the restaurant – Antoine, an unemployed professor; the giant Senegalese, a magical chef, a psychologist, and a Kama Sutra expert as well. In all of this, is a newspaper magnate, upto no good at all.

Pujol’s prose is hilarious. It sneaks up quite cleverly on you. Till I reached page 75, I was of the opinion that this book isn’t going anywhere at all. I was proved so wrong after that and I am so glad I was. The writing is crisp, delicious, and leaves you with this aftertaste that I just cannot describe. Yes, I used food adjectives, but that’s what the book is all about anyway – food, food, and more food.

I am a fan of Alison Anderson’s translations. From Muriel Barbery to J.M.G. Le Clézio, her translations are spot-on. It is as though she gets the pulse of the original to the very last detail and as a reader, I am never left wanting more or wondering how it would’ve read in the original language. Little Culinary Triumphs is a novel that will make you laugh, chuckle, and understand a minuscule bubble of a universe of oddballs, who eventually grow to understand and sometimes even like each other.

 

 

Fox 8 by George Saunders. Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal

Fox 8 by George Saunders Title: Fox 8
Author: George Saunders
Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1526606488
Genre: Satire, Fiction, Fable for Adults
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

There are some books that just nestle into your heart and stay there. For me, those have been the likes of An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami, The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Capote, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. You get the drift, don’t you? These are the kind of books that can be read to soothe me, when I am feeling down. I am certain we all have these kind of books – the ones that make everything alright, just by opening them and reading – over and over again. Fox 8 by George Saunders is the latest addition to my ever-growing list of “heartwarming” books. (I hate the use of the word heartwarming, my apologies).

I love Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo though is my least favourite book written by him, though it won the Man Booker Prize and all that). His short fiction is par excellence, his essays even better in my opinion, and basically whatever he writes is pure gold. Fox 8 is no less of a book because of its size. If anything, after you are done reading it, you tend to agree that it had to end, where it did, even if you wanted more of it.

Fox 8 - Image 1

Read more: In Appreciation of George Saunders

This 64-page novella/novelette is about a fox – the name is Fox 8 who is curious about humans (poor sad fox. I for one can’t stand most humans) and also learns some of the English language, by watching parents read to their children (I love how the fox also debunks fairy tales for us with reference to the role of the fox in them). Saunders is in his full form with inventiveness of language – writing (phonetically) the way a fox would – yooman and not human, bare and not bear, and the list goes on. At first, you wonder about the writing style and when you give in, you are in love with this fantastical tale of two foxes visiting a mall (that has been built razing most of their forest) and what happens next.

Fox 8 - Image 2Read more: George Saunders’s 10 Favourite Books

Before I forget, kudos and more to Chelsea Cardinal for the illustrations that go so well with the story. The illustrations are all black and white, except the foxes – they are in orange and stunning would perhaps be a lesser adjective to use. Saunders’ story is telling of our times – of the way we inhabit spaces and make of them to how endangered our wild life really is – and all of this is said with the eccentric and almost witty (in this one at least), true blue Saunders style.

Fox 8 is heartwarming, also heart-wrenching, makes you look at the world we have made and why and question almost every decision – which I think we must. At the same time, it makes a spot in your heart and will not go away. I am very happy that it was the first read of the year for me. Read it. It is truly beautifully done.

You can buy Fox 8 by George Saunders here