Tag Archives: literature

Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi by Teffi

Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, And Me - The Best of Teffi Title: Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi
Author: Teffi
Edited by: Robert Chandler and Anne Marie Jackson
Publisher: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 978-1590179963
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literature, Essays
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Some books are just so good that you want them to last longer than they did – to savour them, every single word then become precious. Teffi is one such author whose works you just want to soak in and want the words to linger long after. I got to know of her through the NYRB website and knew I just had to read this one – because of the author’s associations with literary giants such as Tolstoy and how she got to meet the very famously infamous Rasputin, not once but twice.

Teffi’s experiences are what this book is about – short autobiographical pieces that are sometimes funny, mostly catty and unforgettable for sure. These pieces were written in the 20s and 30s when she was in exile in Paris. There is a touch of poetic quality to her prose (no wonder because she wanted to be a poet anyway).

A lot of wit, human understanding of the world and empathy shine in every essay and that is what I love about the collection. Sure there are parts that I couldn’t relate to (because of the cultural barrier), however what I read was enough to tide me over to be able to understand the beauty of her language and the points she was trying to make.

From speaking of her childhood most vividly to the Russian cultural phenomenon, nothing is left out. The essays show us the Russia that was quite forward in its approach when it came to the arts to the Russia that was turbulent and oppressive at the same time.

The book is divided into four parts – first being about how she lived and worked, second about personal aspects of her life – from how she was raised to her time in France, the third one is about her bizarre encounters with people and the fourth is about famous authors and writers. She truly did have a sense of understanding people and reading them quite accurately.

Teffi’s writing is crystal clear and she says what she has to without mincing any words. You might have to keep track of the people she mentions on and off in the book, but there is a guide for that at the end of the book as well. I am completely taken in by her writing after reading this collection of essays and plan to read some more of her for sure. You must read this collection of essays for sure, if history is of any interest to you.

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng Title: Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
Author: Jennifer Tseng
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609452698
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are books that come on to your shelf quietly and from there enter your heart and stay there. “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” is one such book which I have just finished reading and cannot stop talking or thinking about.

Jennifer Tseng has written this book about uncharted and almost forbidden territory when it comes to falling in love and yet it is so exquisite, raw and almost unnerving by the time you reach the end. It is almost like a movie that you are witnessing and don’t want it to end or at least end the way you imagined it to.

“Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” is the kind of book that will make you sit up, turn the pages furiously, go back to the pages read and mark passages vigorously, finish the book and come back to your favourite sentences over and over again.

Mayumi Saito is a librarian. She is the sort of unassuming woman who goes on about love – day by day without really aspiring for much. Mayumi loves her books and that’s all there is to it. She then meets a seventeen year-old and her life is not the same anymore.

I wouldn’t call it an affair, as much as it is just being together and their common love for books that brings them closer. It is the subtleties, the nuances of the plot, and the sheer connection between them that makes this book what it is. Wait a minute though. There is a twist in the tale – well not so much as a twist but something that is almost predictable – Mayumi knowingly befriends the patron’s mother and that in itself is a different story for you to read and explore.

The book is hedonistic in its approach and it is brilliantly executed. Every word and every sentence is so in place that you pause, hold your breath and marvel at Tseng’s literary skill and craft. It is heady, almost like a car waiting to collide and you know it will and yet all you want to do is enjoy that catastrophic ride, nonetheless.

“Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” is one of those rare books that speak of loneliness and isolation so candidly that it hits and hurts the spot. You are scared of what might happen to you when you reach a certain age and how perhaps literature might not be the only crutch that will save you. Jennifer Tseng brings out the best, the graceful, the sweet and the horrid nature of humans in her characters stupendously. Yes, the book is self-conscious and so are the characters, but that is what I expected and it served me well. You might expect erotica but it is again graceful and subtle – the kind I enjoy reading about.

If you have to read one book that speaks of love, longing, desire and books all at the same time – almost culminating to an obsession, then you must read, “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness”.

Hedon by Priyanka

Hedon by Priyanka Title: Hedon
Author: Priyanka
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0143425953
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 312
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Hedon is a story of two people – Tara Mullick and Jay Dhillon. What’s new about it, you might ask? Well the difference is in the plot, in the brilliant nuances of the book as you turn pages effortlessly and they exist on almost every page. Hedon is the kind of book (and I say every word when I mean it) that will not let you go till you are done with it. To think it is a debut, I couldn’t believe it was one.

The book is not just about two people and their lives and how they meet on and off and what eventually happens to them. It is also about the other characters – Tara’s friends, her family, her relationship when she is at school in the US of A, Jay’s relationships and what he feels or thinks and more than anything else it is about their connection and how it plays out for them across time and distance.

Tara and Jay meet for the first time at a wedding and life isn’t the same for either of after that. Not because they met, but because of how their friendship blossoms and then the realization of love that makes you feel that void and the hurt that comes in its wake. We see life as narrated by Tara – from her Calcutta days to the time she moves to the US of A for her further studies and the back and forth that takes place – through deaths, fights, and passionate love that can only lead to the inevitable conclusion.

I think more than anything else it is the way these characters’ lives intermingle that kept me hooked. Also let me tell you at this point that Tara is but just seventeen and Jay of course is a little older – he is twenty-five. This isn’t about age as much as it is about their lives and how they come face to face again after seven years from when they first met.

The story then moves along – across time periods and hence the cultural references make so much sense and are so needed for a book of this nature. Not only that; even the secondary characters have unique voices – from Cookie and Button (Tara’s best friends – it is very intriguing to see how those relationships play out as Tara leaves the country and visits once a while – I thought even that was empathetically handled as well) to their parents and siblings views that appear once a while and the rest of the time they are in the background – maybe content being there. Also might I add the school these girls go to – that also forms a major part of the book and lends to the time from being a girl to transforming to a woman, as cliché as it might sound. It isn’t just a love story – there is more that lends itself to the story – a lot more actually – it is about the rites of passage, of growing-up, the angst that comes with it and also it is about the realization what really matters when it comes down to it – from the choices we make to what we live by as a consequence of those choices.

“Hedon” is a book that encompasses voices of times infused with waywardness, the need to belong one way or the other and most importantly of people who want to make a dent – as they go through life, love and everything in-between. To pin point and say that it is only a love story or only a slice of life story, wouldn’t do it justice. It is more than that and one can only realize that after reading it cover to cover. Hedon is a lot of randomness and somehow you see it all tying up at the end or in between, but it does come together and that is something that plays itself out beautifully.

Priyanka’s writing is razor-sharp. It is biting, juicy and makes you visualize everything that is written. She captures everything to the last detail – the food eaten at a friend’s house to how the shamiana was – sort of a festival where boys and girls from various schools participate in and gather. The minute details of youth are encapsulated to a point of evoking those bittersweet feelings in you and bring them to fore.

How else then can you define or classify great writing if not this way? There is more than one way to describe it and I shall try. It is something which you perhaps have never read before. Sure you must have read something similar, but not anything like it.

There is also the element of various pop culture references that make you fall in love with the book and relate to it at that time over and over again. Might I also add, the ending is nothing like what you might expect from a regular novel, because this isn’t a regular novel to begin with.

The language of the book is easy to read and so intense that it feels like someone punched you in the stomach and you are recovering from it. The prose is laced with irony and humour in good measure, coupled with the melancholy and the pains of realizing who you really are and what or who can you call home.

The book releases on the 26th of April 2016.

Literary Miniatures by Florence Noiville

Literary Miniatures by Florence Noiville Title: Literary Miniatures
Author: Florence Noiville
Translated by: Teresa Lavender Fagan
Publisher: Seagull books
ISBN: 978-0857421067
Genre: Literary Criticism, Interviews
Pages: 183
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Twenty-seven writers in one book. 27 perspectives on wide-ranging topics. What else could a literary lover ask for?
This book is all about the world and views of these writers. It is also about how their most famous works came to be. “Literary miniatures” is a wondrous world of words, books, and authors. Being a bibliophile, this volume was God-sent. Well not God-sent but Seagull sent and might I add here, that Seagull books publishes a lot of gems that are lesser-known and have to be discovered through their site.

Back to the book. “Literary miniatures” is a collection of interviews that appeared in Le Monde, a French daily evening newspaper and conducted by Florence Noiville. These are to me unparalleled in literary journalism. Why you ask?

Here are some reasons why:

The choice of authors. The length and breadth of authors chosen for interviews by Noiville are superlative. This collection has interviews with A.S. Byatt, Kazuo Ishiguro, Don DeLillo, Enrique Vila-Matas, Mario Vargas Llosa, William Trevor, Toni Morrison and more. Need I say more why you must read this?

The passion with which they speak of writing, reading and other topics. Trust me, as a reader I could not take my eyes off this book.

The writing is effortless. It is also easy and not taxing.

Even after all this, you don’t want to pick this up and you claim to love these writers, then I have nothing to say to you. But I still would urge you to read this one.

Affiliate Link:

Literary Miniatures (The French List)

Literary Miniatures (English)

Conversations – Volume 1: Jorge Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrari: Translated by Jason Wilson

Conversations - Jorge Luis Borges Title: Conversations – Volume 1
Authors: Jorge Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrari
Translator: Jason Wilson
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857421883
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Reading conversations with writers is fun. It is the best thing ever according to me. Their views, thoughts, expressions, blatantly calling out bull shit sometimes and most importantly their perspectives are to be cherished and worth going back to every once a while.

For me, reading about conversations with Jorge Luis Borges was a stunning experience. He doesn’t leave any stone unturned. His conversations are with Osvaldo – a poet and a university professor.

Jorge Luis Borges has always been my idol. I love everything he has written – from prose to non-fiction to his poems. They all make for some marvelous reading. What makes these conversations different, you ask?

These are two intelligent people discussing literature, art, poetry, politics and more. How much better than this can it get for you, humble reader? The sections are short, which means that you might read them fast, but it takes time to soak in all that the master (well to me he is) is saying.

The forty-seven pieces in the book are as varied and diverse than perhaps anything you’ve ever read. My favourite portions of course in the book are when they are discussing literature (which is almost all time) – from Dante to Henry James, on poetry, realist and fantasy literature (my most favourite piece in the book) to the detective story.

Borges’ fiction was always infused with dreams and so much magic realism – it makes you dizzy after a while but when you sink into the prose, it is something else. He speaks of his works (another aspect that intrigued me a lot) and the socio-economic condition (then) of Europe and the political atmosphere. Like I said, no stone is left unturned. To top it all, there is also a second volume in line which I will speak about soon. For all literary lovers, this is a treat like none other.

Affiliate Link:

Conversations, V 1

Conversations, Volume 1 (English)

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Author: Azar Nafisi
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-0812979305
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literature
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I had wanted to read this book since a very long time. In fact, at one point I even read it till about hundred pages and then just gave it up. Perhaps the time was not right. There are books that need to be read only when you are ready for them and at that time I wasn’t. “Reading Lolita in Tehran” came back to me around a while ago. I had to pick up another copy and start afresh and I did. I now completely see that I was right for it at this time than earlier.

“Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books” is about Azar Nafisi and the classes she taught in her home in Tehran once she quit the university of Tehran. It is not only about this though. It is not about the books they read because they could not read them freely and talk about them. The book goes deeper than that – it is about the Islamic revolution in Iran and how that impacted the lives of women when the Ayatollah came to power.

The author, now living in the US speaks of two decades in Iran as a teacher of American and English literature and how Iran changed drastically after the fall of the Shah. The transformation of Iran is charted through the eyes of the women who come to her house and they learn literature and compare their lives to it, thereby raising pertinent questions. For me this book was an eye-opener of what goes on outside my comfort zone and how in the long run it will impact all of us, whether we see it coming or not.

The insights from the books and parallel to lives are stupendously reached at and just for that I would so strongly recommend this book. The language is simple and yet at times it gets political but that is also because the book is about that and how art imitates life and vice-versa. It is about the relationships she has as a teacher with her students and also as a friend and extending it beyond to knowing who they truly are. All of this happens because of books.

Nafisi’s world is both real and fictitious and with her, so are her students’ lives. You get a glimpse and more about each story and how books shape them at the end of it all. The book is about fiction’s strength to empathize and deal with daily situations, more so when you live in a society that refuses to grant you your rights and there are restrictions at every step.

“Reading Lolita in Tehran” invites all readers to see life differently and to relate them to what you read and how it impacts you on a daily basis. I could not stop reading this one and I regret waiting this long to read it but all said and done it is a book which is not to be missed out on. Better late than never, right?

Affiliate Link:

Amazon:

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Flipkart:

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff Title: 84, Charing Cross Road
Author: Helene Hanff
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0140143508
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 112
Source: Personal
Rating: 5/5

For the longest time now, I had been wanting to read “84, Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff. It was one of those books that were on my shelf for a while and every time I tried reading it, it did not go down that well. For such a book, I was surprised when I finished it in a day’s time.

“84, Charing Cross Road” is a true story of two people who love books and mull over life and everything else in between through letters, without meeting each other at all. The epistolary use of form is fascinating, crisp and to the point in this book.

The book is written plainly in parts, discussing love of books between an emerging writer in New York and a second-hand bookseller in England. It is about Helene’s experiences with Frank and how their lives merge because of love for books.

The entire book is in the form of letters between the two and also between Helene and other people working at the bookstore, “Marks & Co.” The correspondence runs from 1949 until 1969, where they exchange gifts, news of their families and friends and about the love and tenderness people can have without meeting each other. Books of course play a vital role and are at the core of this book.

“84, Charing Cross Road” is a friend which will warm you on a cold night. It is something which is needed for the book lover’s soul and comes highly recommended from me. It is the kind of book which every book lover should have a place for in his or her library. I cannot stop recommending it to everyone I meet. Might I also add, that I have just received the DVD and cannot wait to watch the movie version starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.