Tag Archives: literary fiction

Read 201 of 2021. China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

Title: China Room
Author: Sunjeev Sahota
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 9780670095070
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I honestly picked up China Room without any expectation. There was zero expectation as I started the book, and savoured it over a period of a week or so. China Room was a revelation of many aspects. It unravels itself as you turn the pages, and with such elegant and deceptively simple prose that makes you go back and read some sentences all over again.

China Room in brief is about three women who are married away to three men in the year 1929, in rural Punjab. Mehar is one of the brides who is trying to find out the identity of her husband, since she has never seen him. The wives are cut off from their husbands during the day and only called on at night if their mother-in-law Mai wills it. All of this of course because there is need of an heir. What comes of it is the rest of the story.

In another time, in 1999 to be precise, another story unfolds. That of a young unnamed man who travels from England to a farm that has been abandoned for decades, with his own demons. The trauma of his adolescence – his experience with racism, addiction that continues, and more importantly the chasm between him and his culture.  In the process of finding himself (or coming of age in some sense), he finds his roots linked to Mehar.

Sahota does a brilliant job of intertwining the two threads. At the same time, at no point as a reader did, I feel I needed to know more. Sahota’s storytelling skills are totally on-point, and at most times I felt I was reading a literary page-turner (which I think it was). The issues that this book brings to light are so many. There is the awareness of India’s struggle for independence looming large, the idea of women’s liberation (that doesn’t exist at all, whether it is 1929 or 1999 in a country like India), and above all the concept of family and loss that makes for the entire arc of the story.

China Room is also to some extent based on what the author heard from his parents and ancestors, of what happened in his family and that’s why you resonate so much with the writing. It is told with a lot of heart and soul. It explores lives that go by without being chronicled, the book aims to understand the human heart, and what often transpires inside of it. A must-read in my opinion.   

Read 175 of 2021: The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav

The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav

Title: The Anger of Saintly Men
Author: Anubha Yadav 
Publisher: Bee Books 
ISBN: 9788194511311
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5 

There is so much to talk about and unpack about The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav. A book that spans over thirteen years (maybe more), a story of a family ridden with male toxicity, patriarchy, misogyny, and above all the men we raise in Indian families.

Anubha Yadav’s book is perhaps about every Indian man, and not. It is about the men we encounter on a daily basis and their lives – sometimes small, sometimes larger than life itself, their dreams, aspirations, their interaction with other men, with women most importantly as the book progresses, and above all how they constantly view themselves.

Sonu, Anu, and Vicky are three brothers growing up in the 90s. A brand new decade with everything around them rapidly changing. They have moved into their new and last house (no more moving houses) which they name Chuhedani (mousetrap, that they all want to escape but all cannot). This is where they will become men. This is the place patriarchy will sink its teeth in their tender flesh and make them one of its products. The book is about them, their families, their friends, and how all of it is interconnected to how we raise men in sexist societies and what are the consequences. 

Yadav’s book is unapologetic, extremely candid, and an unsentimental look at a typical middle-class North Indian family and what happens to each brother though he is raised more or less the same way. In the course of it, we meet other men – friends, cousins, uncles, grandfathers – and women who are subdued, hidden, and yet always asserting themselves.

Yadav’s writing is clear, focused, and unabashed. There were times it did not seem like a debut at all. All in all, I most enjoyed this short novel, that made me think a lot about our society structures and the spaces we inhabit. The Anger of Saintly Men should be read by all, in my opinion. More so by men.




Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi. Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman

Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi

Title: Eve Out of Her Ruins
Author: Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 9789386338709
Genre: Literary Fiction, Women in Translation
Pages: 174
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t easy for those who live on the margins. It isn’t easy when you are surrounded by poverty and bitterness. How do you love when all you have seen is hate? How do you bring yourself to live then? Eve does that. She lives, on her terms. She doesn’t live, she merely survives, day after day, trying to get out. Hoping for a better future, till she doesn’t. You witness her story, her life, and hope and pray that she is redeemed – that others are as well, that at seventeen and perhaps a little older, they deserve better, but you don’t know how the story will turn out, and where will it go.

Eve Out of Her Ruins is set in Troumaron, an impoverish area of Port-Louis, the capital of Mauritius Island. You see what you haven’t seen or thought of Mauritius to be. There is fear, there is violence, there is sexual assault, the air heavy with stench of yearning to get away, of dashed dreams, and broken hopes.

We meet four youngsters – fighting to survive. Eve, the seventeen-year-old that time forgot to nourish, that kindness overlooked, who moves from one man to another, always looking to get out but doesn’t want to. Savita, Eve’s soulmate in a sense, the only one who loves her selflessly. Saad, who is in love with the idea of Eve – who wants to save her and knows that she will never love him back. Clélio, a rebel waiting for life to happen to him, waiting for his brother to call him to France, waiting almost perpetually.

Through these characters Ananda Devi creates a world that is raw, belligerent, sometimes tender, warily poetic, and even forgiving. The world of Troumaron that is exploding at the seams – waiting to burst with energy that will only ruin these four. Ananda Devi’s characters are similar and so dissimilar to each other. In the sense they are all stuck, all perhaps wanting out, and yet don’t even know it. Her writing hits you hard. The poetry and the prose merge beautifully – they make you imagine as you read – the characters became more real than ever, and their emotions became mine.

Eve Out of Her Ruins is a small book with so much to unpack and undo. The lives of people on the margins, the lives they lead forever fluctuating between hope and hopelessness, brought out beautifully by the translator, Jeffrey Zuckerman. I could sense the French, and the Mauritian Creole rolling off my tongue as I attempted to read it when encountered it in the pages. This is a book that is not to be missed. I urge you to read it. Ananda Devi, we need more writing from you. A lot more.

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Title: Black Buck
Author: Mateo Askaripour
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0358380887
Genre: Literary Fiction, Satire
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

This book is unlike anything I have read in a while, after reading The Sellout. It is farcical, it is biting, and makes you question so much about privilege and class. 

At the same time, it isn’t a laugh-out-loud satire. It takes its time to grow on you. I persisted, and I am glad I did. Black Buck is about what happens when a young unambitious twenty-two year old black tries to emulate a white man.

Darren is happy working at Starbucks, waiting for his opportunity to arrive. That comes in the form of working as a salesman at a start-up company. He is the only Black person in the company, nicknamed, “Buck” because of where he worked earlier (some things just don’t change). And then of course things change, situations develop, and Buck takes charge to change the sales force of America by getting more black people into it.

The racism that exists in corporates these days is so vague, so blended in with the idea of being woke and liberal that sometimes we just cannot see it. Or we think we have but we pacify ourselves with the thought that it doesn’t exist, till we know better and experience otherwise.

Askaripour’s writing is hard-hitting, sometimes sugar-coated with humour bur mostly intending to do what it wants to – hit you where it hurts and it does. I liked the entire breaking of the fourth wall – of the narrator speaking to the reader (highlighting his thoughts – extremely engaging technique), of how the book is written in the form of a sales manual (very clever), and most of all showing us the transformation of Buck, and how it impacts everyone he interacts with.

Black Buck is a book that takes time to get into. More than that, it is a fun read, over the top, and sometimes unrealistic, but please read it keeping all of this in mind. And what Askaripour says in the book, “If you’re not black but have this book in your hands, I want you to think of yourself as an honorary black person.”






Cry, The Peacock by Anita Desai

Cry, The Peacock by Anita Desai

Title: Cry, The Peacock
Author: Anita Desai
Publisher: Orient Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-8122200850
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 184
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

The beauty of an Anita Desai novel is that it is. It exists. It takes its time to breathe, to soak in, for readers to discover it, and then work its way into their minds and hearts. That is what an Anita Desai novel looks like, feels like, and well, is.

Her books aren’t easy reads. Perhaps nothing happens in them on every page or even every couple of pages, but that’s how it is, and as a reader over the years of reading her again and again, I have learned to admire what I see before me. Yes, I shall sing praises and yes, I shall gush because I don’t see enough people doing that.

Cry, the Peacock is the first novel of hers. Published in 1963, a story of a young woman Maya, who is obsessed by a childhood prophecy of disaster. She lives life on the precipice of it coming true in her head and how it all plays out one Indian Summer with her husband Gautama who is radically different from her.

Anita Desai’s characters have set motives most of the time, and when they don’t is when you’re flummoxed but you’re in for the ride anyway – for the writing that gingerly sneaks up on you and takes you by the horns. The book is full of metaphors and expectations. Expectations that one has from life, and people in it. It is about what you start with and how it all ends (or so it seems at that time).

Cry, the Peacock is a book about so much longing and sensitivity that it is surprising that it doesn’t become sentimental or maudlin at all. Anita Desai’s prose is imaginary, reckless, cautious, and also extremely precise. In less than 200 pages or so she says what she has to, her characters charm and equally annoy you, and her writing mesmerises you. One must read Anita Desai with a lot of time on hand, and when you aren’t rushed to read. Her books demand that time and attention, forever oscillating between hope and hopelessness.