Tag Archives: Macmillan USA

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid Title: A Small Place
Author: Jamaica Kincaid
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374527075
Genre: Nonfiction, Jamaica Caribbean & West Indies History, Memoir
Pages: 81
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

So, this is my first Kincaid read, and all thanks to the 2020 Reading Women Challenge. Their first prompt is an author from Caribbean or India. Since I’ve read a lot of women from India, I thought let’s give the Caribbean a shot and started with A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid – a rather short, but extremely powerful and engaging book about colonialism and its effects in Antigua. There were so many things I wasn’t aware about Antigua till I read A Small Place, and like I said I was only too happy to read something out of my comfort zone and thereby discover the writing of an author I had intended to read for a while.

A Small Place is a memoir, it is also a history of Antigua in a way, it is also an essay of anger against the people who colonised Antigua, it is also a voice of great empathy that Kincaid has for her country and people. The book begins with an attack on tourists who visit Antigua – what they expect and choose to see versus what the place is.

A Small Place is a short book – but extremely powerful and angry. Kincaid writes about home – about what it meant to her, and what has become of it. Of how the English ruled them, and how their independence has only worsened the situation because of corruption and bureaucracy. Jamaica Kincaid speaks candidly – almost to the point of being brutal – there are no holds barred. The prose comes from an extremely personal space and therefore the writing shines the way it does.

For instance, when she speaks of lack of clean water in the country or even about the beloved old library that was destroyed in an earthquake and how nothing was done to build the new one. And now that there is a new one that has been built (way after the book was published), but there is still doubt if it is open to public or not.

Kincaid’s book is large – very large not only in its scope but also in what it has to say – and how she manages to say it in all in less than hundred pages is nothing short of a feat. That explains the writer she is – succinct, bare-boned, and yet so deeply emotional that every emotion is reflected on paper, and in turn is felt by the reader.

When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History by Hugh Ryan

When Brooklyn Was Queer Title: When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History
Author: Hugh Ryan
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 978-1250169914
Genre: LGBT Nonfiction, Social and Cultural History
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I had never read something like this before – yes cities and the queer culture did merge in books and I have read parts of it, but nothing like this book. I honestly also believe that every city’s culture needs to be talked about through the people who live on its margins, and maybe that’s why this book hit a nerve the way it did. When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History by Hugh Ryan is the kind of book we all need to read, irrespective of orientation and labels.

The story begins in 1855 with the publication of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman and ends in the 1960s when Brooklyn’s queer identity declined, due to several factors. You have to read this book only because the way Ryan unearths how there was a systematic erasure of the queer history of Brooklyn. What must one remember then? Who decides that? What is at the core of people’s histories and more than anything else of places?

Not only this, this book is fantastic if you want to get to know people’s voices and lives – queer lives – right from the famous drag kings and queens of the 1800s, of a black lesbian named Mabel Hampton and how she worked as a dancer, of a WWII gay spy scandal and so much more between its pages.

Ryan’s writing is never just a dry documentation of facts. There is so much more to it. There is tenderness and empathy and above all it is a voice that strives to let people know more. Also, the nuances of gender identity, orientation, and sometimes even race are handled with such a sense of larger understanding of issues, that it makes you want to read more.

More than anything else it is about resistance and no matter what governments do or stand for, people will always continue to live the way they want to, which should be at the core of every identity battle. Ryan’s research is spot-on, so much so that you instantly feel that you are in that world, the minute you start reading the book. He shares letters, diary entries, and publication excerpts to support and validate his arguments of what was erased and how it was found.

What I loved the most was the beautiful prologue – a short one at that but so effective – a glimpse into the lives of Gypsy Rose Lee and Carson McCullers, and from thereon begins what it means to be “queer”.

When Brooklyn Was Queer is one of those rare books that makes you want to sit up and take notice of what’s going on in the world. The past, present, and future merge seamlessly in this account of what history allows us and what it doesn’t. The small joys, sorrows, the sacrifices made, the lives that carry on regardless, and most of all what it means to be queer is what this remarkable book is about. Do not miss out on this read.

 

If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel

IYSMDSH Title: If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi
Author: Neel Patel
Publisher: Flatiron Books
ISBN:9781250183194
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

A short-story collection that is written well and paces itself beautifully always lifts my spirits. It is the feeling of the book never ending. A feeling that it should last a little longer, even though it might end. Some more. And that’s exactly what I felt but of course while reading If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi.

Neel Patel’s stories are quiet and tender. They pack a punch nonetheless when they have to. What lends to them superbly is the writing – the in-depth and heart-wrenching intimacy of this collection, and more than anything else, the tapestry of the lives of second-generation Indians – their lives and loves in the US of A.

Relationships are at the core of this book and no one is judged. These eleven stories pack a punch every time. The stereotypes grow with every turn of the page and then Patel shatters them with one giant stroke of the hammer. Whether it is a younger gay man involved with an older one, three women who want to defy every norm of society there is, a young couple trying to carry on with their lives amidst gossip, and whether it is standing up to arranged marriage, every story is layered and compelling.

Neel Patel’s prose isn’t sugar coated. His characters betray, regret, and realize that living is perhaps all of this and more. That makes it real and relatable, no matter where you live. The landscape doesn’t matter. The stories do for sure. They speak to you. You can see these characters around you and that’s where I guess Neel also gets his inspiration from.

“If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi” is a collection of stories that must be read this year. A debut that is so strong, introspective, and will make you perhaps see the world a little more differently than you are used to.

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

The Shepherd's Hut Title: The Shepherd’s Hut
Author: Tim Winton
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374262327
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

“The Shepherd’s Hut” by Tim Winton is unlike anything I have read this year. It is experimental, it is thrilling and takes the reader on a self-discovery along with the protagonist in so many ways. There are elements to the novel that the reader realizes only either half-way in the book or when the book is done with and you are ruminating over it. Because ruminate you will. It is that kind of book.

The story is about Jaxie Clackton, a brutalized rural youth who is on the run from the scene of his father’s violent death and heads to the wilds of Western Australia. All he wants is to be left alone and he thinks he will survive with a rifle and a water jug. He is so mistaken about that. He ends up meeting once a priest, Fintan MacGillis and there begins the story of an unlikely friendship, love and yearning.

I loved Cloudstreet. That’s the only other book I have read by Winton. In comparison, it was an easier read. The Shepherd’s Hut doesn’t make it easy at all when it comes to cultural references. I found myself reaching to Google after almost every chapter. Barring that, Winton has captured the essence of isolation and solitude beautifully, almost close to perfection. The dreadful landscape, the tension of the characters and the connecting storyline falls perfectly in place with the harsh truth – just like a jigsaw puzzle.

You find yourself empathizing with both characters, their intentions, their aspirations, but it is Jaxie who will eventually take your heart away. What I also found most surprising is that I never got bored in the entire book given that it had only two major characters and almost no one else. Winton does a marvelous job of keeping the reader engaged throughout the book. The characters are not only fascinating but also extremely engrossing. It is the language, landscape and Jaxie and Fintan that make this book what it is – a heady ride of self-discovery and friendship.

 

The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg

The Third Hotel Title: The Third Hotel
Author: Laura van den Berg
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374168353
Genre: Literary Fiction, Fantastical fiction,
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

“The Third Hotel” is a strange book. A strange and yet, a highly fulfilling, crackling read really. Clare is widowed and decides to go to Havana for a horror movie festival, which she had planned with her husband, a film critic. And when she does end up going to Cuba, strange apparitions and incidents occur that resemble what she is thinking or feeling – sort of the inner life we all carry within ourselves. She suddenly sees her husband alive and follows him into a world, where reality and fiction blur and that in essence is the plot of the story.

Laura van den Berg’s stories and novels have this quality of the fantastical. I think it is a constant as it has been repeated in “The Isle of Youth” (a collection of short stories) and even “Find Me” (a novel) which I have read. Her novel isn’t easy to get into but once you do, there is no stopping you as a reader.

The author takes the gruesome, the horror, the extraordinary and blends it with the everyday loneliness. There is this raw emotional power in the novel that is consistent and cohesive to the entire plot and the way characters behave. It almost reminded me of Murakami, Kafka and Cortazar a lot – the psychological revelation and the mystery surrounding everything – from the places to people.

Havana in itself is such a major character in the book that the book is nothing without it. Also, as you read along, the story takes over – it creeps on you unexpectedly – with multiverses and the undead presence of Clare’s husband that forms the crux of the novel. Berg’s writing is precise, blunt and told in effortless prose that is ambiguous and also thrilling at the same time. It is a challenging read but immensely rewarding. Stay with it.