Tag Archives: Magic Realism

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar. Translated from the Persian.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar Title: The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree
Author: Shokoofeh Azar
Translated from the Persian
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609455651
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Four days of frenzied reading. It should’ve taken me not more than two days, but I had to read and stop, stop and read, and read it in huge gulps – almost like breathing after being breathless for a long time.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is a book seeped in reality and dreams. It is about oppression and how when it takes hold, you rely on what you believe and have faith in to make living bearable. The story is told by the ghost of a thirteen-year-old girl, Bahar, whose family was forced out of Tehran, Iran, during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They also somewhere consciously are involved in the decision to move to maintain some sense of intellectual freedom which the current government does not allow.

They do this so their lives are spared, because they are all rebels in one way or the other. They do this because they do not believe religion is supreme, but humanity sure is. And their lives, loves, losses, and how you make sense of the world when all is lost is the story that Azar tells through the lens of one family, more families in the village, and interconnected lives.

The book had me by the throat from the first chapter. The characters – the father, the mother, Beeta the sister, Sohrab the brother, and the narrator (why and how she became a ghost is for you to read) all became a part of my life – still are actually. More than anything else I think I related to the book because I can see what is happening in India, in what once used to be a democratic and secular state – it is now held hostage by people in power and they will go to any lengths to hurt minorities and ensure there is one kind of “religion” that is supreme (the irony). Just as Iran in the 80s and perhaps even today, culture and arts, and the way of living respectfully is tearing at the seams and that became so clear as I turned the pages.

Azar writes in a way to also escape reality. The stories and stories and stories within stories in the book made me want more. Of how a young woman turns into a merperson, to how black love consumes someone, to what happens when dragonflies of different colours enter your life, to the stories of djinns that inhabit your day to day living – everything about this book made me sit up and take notice.

There is a lot that goes on in the book. The entire thread of magic realism is a befitting tribute to Márquez (who is also mentioned several times in the book). I guess it only shows what we want to believe in when life is too unbearable, and you’re at the crossroads of living and dying, and neither come easy. There are a lot of portions that depict solitude – and then there are many that rely heavily on the oral tradition of storytelling, which works fantastically for this book.

I felt like I was being oppressed while reading this book. That all my senses were numbed, and I was pushed into a corner. I felt that the regime was burning my books (which the family loves by the way, so all the more reason to love them). I felt hopeful. I wanted to dance when something nice was happening to them. I wanted to sing when I saw a glimmer of hope in their lives. I cried when things took a tragic turn. I wept as the book ended. This book is about hope, about surviving through the darkest times, and sometimes also understanding that someday you give up and live a little. I thought about what to say about it, and then ended up relying on my heart. Read this book. I can only say this for now.

 

The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez

Title: The House of Paper
Author: Carlos María Domínguez
Translated from the Spanish by: Nick Caistor
Illustrations by: Peter Sís
ISBN: 978-0151011476
Publisher: Harcourt
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 103
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Books about books have always fascinated me. There is something so relatable about them that it breaks my heart and also repairs it at the same time. They are love letters to books – almost love stories between books and collectors – I am sure most will agree with me when it comes to this. A reader and his or her books can never be apart.

“The House of Paper” is one of those books you just cannot get enough of. It is a short book – a novella of 106 pages or so but every page and every sentence and every word gleams in it. This one was a reread for me and I had actually forgotten how much I loved this book, till I read it now. The story is of a Cambridge professor who is killed by a car while reading Dickinson (or so it is assumed). A book is sent to her – a dirty, dusty copy of Conrad’s “The Shadow-Line”. A colleague of hers travels to Uruguay, determined to know the connection between these two people and instead ends up hearing a very strange story – of the man Carlos Brauer and how he has built himself a house from books by the sea. The rest is for you to read and find out – the why, what and the how that is.

“The House of Paper” is magic realism and a lot more than just that in my opinion. Books and reading form such a core of this read that you wished it were longer and that it would not end at all. The book raises questions of mad bibliophiles and the length they will go to for their love of books. At the same time, it doesn’t make it too philosophical or dreary. This book is perfect to the ones obsessed with the written word and for one I cannot stop recommending it. I must also add here that the translation by Nick Caistor is tongue in-cheek, lively and not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Peter Sís. My copy by the way is from The New York Public Library and I was delighted that it came to me in India from there. Only booklovers will understand this. Also this book. So read it. Please.

Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

Beauty is a Wound Title: Beauty is a Wound
Author: Eka Kurniawan
Translator: Annie Tucker
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9385755682
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Beauty is a wound” that borders on the mystical, the surreal, the magic realism and the unbelievable and scores full marks on each of these parameters. It is the kind of book that will not leave you that easy and you will keep going back to it, as you think more and more about the characters, some lines and the plot in general.

The book is everything you can possibly imagine it to be – it is historical in nature, a sweeping family saga, a book of tragedy, legend, humour, rape, monstrosity and more.

What is the book about though?

The book is about Indonesia – it is about the Indonesian way of life and more often than not, about its politics, freedom, culture and the ties that aren’t cut off that easy. It is about ghosts – multiple ghosts at that, about how Dewi Ayu refused to leave her homeland when the Dutch bolted, and how she rises beyond the grave when her family is at stake.

The allegory of the country being a woman is way too strong in the book, hence the rape and pillage scenes are extremely violent and you can only stomach it if you are metaphorically made of steel at that. “Beauty is a wound” also to me in most places felt heavily inspired by Marquez, but the sad part is that anyone who attempts to write in this genre, will be compared to Marquez, whether they like it or not.

Eka Kurniawan’s writing is very different and quite refreshing might I add. This also to a very large extent comes from the translation which shines on every page, as done by Annie Tucker. You don’t want to miss out on this book. It will be tough getting into, it will be raw and intense as you read it, but you will savour it and want more of this masterpiece.

The Village Indian by Abbas Khider

The Village Indian by Abbas Khider Title: The Village Indian
Author: Abbas Khider
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857421012
Genre: Literary fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Seagull books are most interesting. There is something about the list that makes you want to read everything they publish. Their fiction is superlative. Their non-fiction mesmerizes you as a reader. Their concepts and what they choose to publish is beyond anything that I have seen come from other publishers. So when I started reading “The Village Indian” by Abbas Khider, I knew I had struck gold.

“The Village Indian” is not an easy read – in the sense that it is difficult to get your teeth into – yes it is a difficult read from the look of it, but when you immerse yourself in the book – then you cannot get out of it, till it is done and finished with.

The novel though is drawn from the author’s experiences as a political prisoner and the years he spent as a refugee. It will not be easy for some to stomach this, but there is no sugar-coating in this book at all. The hero Rasul Hamid describes the eight different ways in which he fled his home in Iraq and how in those eight different times he failed to find himself a new way home.

This is the summary of the plot – so to say but there are so many layers to this book that will take you by surprise and throw you off-guard. The humour bites you and at the same time it has you wondering about the refugee condition and what happens to those who do not make it – what about the people living on the margins? Do they have a future at all?

Khider’s writing is razor-sharp and doesn’t miss a beat in any sentence or page for that matter. It is a joyride of a novel – that takes you through various turns and twists, and at the same time at some level makes you see what the world really is like, and surprisingly I was a little hopeful, a little bittersweet and a whole lot of happy after reading this book.


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Daydreams of Angels: Stories by Heather O’Neill

Daydreams of Angels by Heather O'Neill Title: Daydreams of Angels: Stories Author: Heather O’Neill
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374280420
Genre: Short Stories, Literary
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Stories, stories and more stories is what should also majorly be a part of life. What else is there to life but that? “Daydreams of Angels” was my seventh read this year and as the other reads, this one also did not disappoint. Keeping my tradition of fairy tales and the surreal and sublime, this one followed close on the heels of “A Wild Swan and other tales”.

This is a weird bunch of short stories – of angels, monsters, of animals and children – just that they aren’t set in the age old world but in the world where we live and are a part of us all. The stories are brilliantly thought of and written. I remember talking about “Sting like a bee” which was extremely surreal and hit the spot.

Most stories are just like that – they manage to engulf you and take you to another world. The other thing that I felt or did not feel was that these stories were too childish or whimsical for me as an adult. In fact, most of them make a lot of pertinent points under the layers of being just stories. O’Neill’s strength is in her declarative sentences – she just announces what is happening and is not afraid of showing all her cards to the readers. To a very large extent, this kind of writing always works with me.

There is a story of Pooh Bear writing an apology letter to Piglet, who has been kidnapped. Then there is the tale of Violet who escapes her stepfather who lusts after her in “The Saddest Chorus Girl in the World” and she also thinks it is sad when you fall in love with someone. This is so much like Great Expectations minus the stepfather.

Some of the metaphors and images in this book are completely heartbreaking. As a reader, I could not get more of them and just wanted to re-read some of the stories. In my opinion, if a book manages to do that, then the author has just hit the nail on the head with her narrative and style.

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