Tag Archives: March 2022 Reads

Read 32 of 2022. After the Sun by Jonas Eika. Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg

After the Sun by Jonas Eika

Title: After the Sun
Author: Jonas Eika
Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg
Publisher: Riverhead Books
ISBN: 978-0593329108
Genre: Short Stories
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2/5

I was so looking forward to reading this collection of short stories but when it came to it, it left me feeling bland and without colour or excitement.

After the Sun is a collection that is supposed to push boundaries but somehow it doesn’t end up doing that. I wouldn’t call leaving the reader unsettled as pushing boundaries.

There is another story “Alvin” which perhaps was the highlight of the book for me – surreal and a parody of sorts about commodity trading. “Me, Rory, and Aurora” was another one that worked for me about a homeless girl named Casey and her being in a three-way relationship with Rory and Aurora, exploring their lives lived in a run-down flat.

The rest of the stories just didn’t work for me. The writing sparkles in places, but leaves you wanting so much more that you don’t want it after a point. The translation was on point as always, but once again if the source material read so absurdly, then you really cannot say much about the translation.

After the Sun just did not work for me on so many levels – there was nothing to it, and it also did not make me go back and perhaps reconsider what I thought of it earlier.

Read 31 of 2022. Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu. Translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao

Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Title: Happy Stories, Mostly
Author: Norman Erikson Pasaribu
Translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao
Publisher: Tilted Axis Press
ISBN: 978-1911284635
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 173
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Another queer read from the International Booker Prize 2022 Longlist and I couldn’t be happier. I am so glad that queer voices are finally getting the attention and space, we have been jostling for since forever.

This collection of short stories is a punch to the gut, but perhaps quietly, more aware of what the stories are going to do to the reader, so they go gentle into the night, and spring up on you, astonishing you with their might and power.

There is a lot going on in this collection of short stories – intersection is key – from religion to gender identity to sexual orientation – they all intersect with each other and with marginalized lives, always striving and hoping for more to materialize.

All of the stories though come to the point of dealing with homosexuality – the isolation and what it means to be queer. Whether it is a mother in mourning for her son who took his life, or a friendship at a crossroads when a man discovers his best friend (well, sort of) is gay or when a woman discovers something about her husband, all these stories are on the periphery of the seen and the unseen.

I could connect with some stories a lot more than the others, as is the case with any short-story collection. Not all work for most people. But the ones that stood out the most for me was “So What’s Your Name, Sandra?”.

These stories speak to each other in an uncanny manner. The stories aren’t interconnected and yet it feels that way, maybe because of all the queer people navigating the straight world – with also religion playing such an important role throughout the book.

The writing is raw, vivid, and sparse in most parts, which makes the translation by Tiffany Tsao even more delicious -to see the lengths she has gone through to keep the prose intact. You can tell that as a reader.

The idea to break away from heteronormativity and how difficult that is, is explored through all these stories. The jealousies, the misunderstandings, the anguish of the other is seen so starkly, along with the stigma of coming out in a society that just will not notice you.

I hope more such voices get published and promoted. The LGBTQIA+ community could do with all these voices and more, telling our stories, the way we see them, feel them, and live them every single day.

Read 30 of 2022. Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park. Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur

Love in the Big City by Sang Young ParkTitle: Love in the Big City
Author: Sang Young Park
Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur Publisher: Tilted Axis Press
ISBN: 978-1911284659
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction Pages: 231
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Sang Young Park’s prose along with the translation of Anton Hur did for me what Sally Rooney couldn’t, and I have finally found my closure for not enjoying any of Rooney’s works.

Disclaimer: This is the only time I have brought up Rooney in this review.

Love in the Big City is again one of the International Booker 2022 Long-listed titles that resonated with me like no other, besides Heaven. It is a story of friendship, of love, of lust, and essentially of what it is to navigate all of this in a big city. It is messy, it is loud, and sometimes insufferable as well – the way all love is meant to be, but Sang Young Park and Anton Hur give it another dimension – that of pained self-realisation and temperaments that constantly hover on the page.

The story is of the narrator, Young, and his coming-of-age – from college to postgraduate life in Seoul. The book is about the loves of his life (some not so much loves as episodes of lust) – his roommate, Jaehee who moves out after marriage, his cancer-stricken mother, his activist ex he calls Hyung, and Gyu-ho, who makes up most of the second half of the novel.

As a middle-aged (I cannot even bring myself to say it but it’s the truth) gay man in India, I could relate to so much of the book. Of the relationship with the mother – constantly mercurial, of the men in his life, and of a woman who is your best friend and most of all the gay identity that runs throughout the book.

Young is complicated. It is not easy to like Young and yet you do, because we see so much of ourselves in Young, at least I did.  We lead quiet queer lives, till it isn’t all that quiet anymore. The transformation of the queer life from the 20s to mid-30s is mind-boggling. We go from one extreme to another. We want to be visible and that’s what Young does till he doesn’t want to be unacknowledged.

Relationships are fragile, emotions even more so. The translation by Anton Hur depicts all of this and more, adding a new dimension of his own to the novel. The pride and shame and loneliness of being gay is so apparent and palpable that it scared me as a single gay man in the big city – where everything is big and sometimes all you need is small, tender expressions of love. I search for them. Constantly.

Read 29 of 2022. Heaven by Mieko Kawakami. Translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

Title: Heaven
Author: Mieko Kawakami Translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1509898244
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Heaven triggered memories that should’ve been left alone and not touched. The memories of being bullied at school, by four boys who called me their friend, and yet would bully me every single day for five years.

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami is perhaps all our story – of the ones who were bullied at high-school, the monstrosity of it all, the nightmare, and the solace found in unexpected people.

The book isn’t an easy read. Kawakami will not make it easy and redemptive. The bullies will bully and will think of innovative ways of doing so, for instance, taking the unnamed narrator’s head and using it as a football. The description isn’t nice. It isn’t meant to be. It is raw and gritty.

The unnamed fourteen-year-old (who also has a lazy eye) goes through all of this and more, till he meets someone at school – Kojima – a kindred spirit, a classmate who is also being bullied by a bunch of vicious girls, through exchange of notes, their friendship blossoming, and they rarely meet. Over a summer break, they visit an art museum, where Kojima plans to show him her favourite painting about men and women who have discovered harmony and joy after immense suffering. She calls the painting “Heaven”.

The book is set in early 1990s in Japan and to me it was the most beautiful meditation on the nature of suffering, coming of age, and what it is like to perhaps overcome in some manner or the other. They aren’t lovers. They will never be. But they are bound by their suffering and constantly asking questions around it: What is it? When will it end? Why are they going through it?

The translation by Sam Bett and David Boyd is concise and to the point. Having read Breasts and Eggs by Kawakami, also translated by them, I can say that the tone is spot-on. The atmosphere of the school world of Japan in the 90s is clearly communicated. I loved how the translation does not ramble away to explain anything – it lets the prose be for people to see and doesn’t tell anything.

Heaven is a book that might seem YA as it did to me when I started off but worked on so many other levels. The poignancy of growing up, but to have to do so when being exposed to bullying made me go through all of my school life in my head, and it wasn’t easy at all. Perhaps it was extremely cathartic as I did find myself not reading after a point and tearing up, but it was also needed to revisit it all, for life like fiction to transform.

Read 28 of 2022. The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

Title: The Island of Missing Trees
Author: Elif Shafak
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9780241435007
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 354
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The thing about books like The Island of Missing Trees is that they never slip from memory. They are always fresh and clear. The plot, the characters, and sometimes even certain lines. The Island of Missing Trees is so much and only Shafak could’ve skilfully managed to string it all together, without any thread going to waste.

The Island of Missing Trees is a love story – not just of two people, but also of a fig tree, of a teenager and her family, of love that we have for our homelands from which we are forced to flee, or have to in order to lead better lives, and more than anything else, it is a love story of people and nature.

Two teenagers fall in love in Cyprus – one Turkish, the other Greek. They meet at a taverna which is home to them. Kostas and Defne meet in secret, away from people’s prying eyes, in a tavern with a fig tree at its center. The fig tree watching all, observing their love, and jotting memories as time goes by. A war breaks out. The lovers are separated only to meet decades later, and what happens after that is one of the plot points of the book I don’t want to reveal.

The book travels between the past and the present, giving the readers the perspective of the fig tree, of Kostas and Defne’s daughter Ada, and more importantly of what happens to countries when borders are most sought after.

Shafak’s writing is emotional, it is gut-wrenching in so many places – when she speaks of home, of what it is to be driven away, to see neighbours turning on you – it makes you think of the countries currently in conflict and it is all about this – land for them, home for the people who live there.

The layers to this novel are plenty. On one hand, Shafak tackles mental health and its navigation, on the other – the country at war not only with outsiders, but with itself when it comes to love, of ties that are thicker than blood, and ultimately on the idea of what is home and what makes it familiar. I hope this novel makes it to the shortlist of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022.