Tag Archives: memoir

Hostage by Guy Delisle

Title: Hostage
Author: Guy Delisle
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House
ISBN: 978-1911214441
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 432
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

Guy Delisle’s graphic novels deal with humanity on a grand scale. When I say humanity I mean the issues we deal with not only on a day to day basis, but also the ones that sometimes go unnoticed – the events that go unspoken of, the people who get caught in unsuspecting circumstances and whose stories aren’t told as much. Delisle’s graphic novels till now (at least the ones I’ve read) have dealt with his life as the spouse of a Médecins Sans Frontières (literal translation: Medicine without Frontiers) physician in different cities. “Hostage” is different from these.

“Hostage” tells the story of Christophe André and his kidnapping in early July 1997 from his Doctors without Borders office in Nazran, a small town in the former Soviet Republic of Ingushetia. His kidnappers took him to Chechnya, where they tried to get a ransom of a million dollars. The story is of his captivity and how he managed to survive in the face of a hopeless situation – when he was moved from one place to another, when he didn’t know if he would live to see the next day or for that matter a random act of kindness from a captivator meant so much.

Delisle recounts André’s harrowing experience in hostage and not once the reader (of course me in question in this case) gets bored. Delisle conveys the psychological effects of solitary confinement through some brilliant use of colours, paneling and muted colour washes. Hostage had me hooting for Christophe and all I wanted was for him to go scot free without any injury. Your heart goes out to him as he is cuffed to a radiator, doesn’t know why he is here, doesn’t know whether his organization would pay for him and whether or not he will be able to attend his sister’s wedding or ever see her (heartbreaking in my opinion). I for one had goosebumps while reading this because I started wondering how I would behave in captivity. Would I be able to have any hope? Would I give up too soon?

The topic is grim and something that perhaps most people may not digest well. It being in a graphic form, in fact sometimes makes it only too real. Having said that, the book is compelling. Christophe managed to keep his sanity (you have to read to find out how he managed that) in an environment that was not conducive at all and yet is alive and managed to tell his tale to Delisle, which now is in the form of a brilliant graphic biography (I might even call it a memoir because all experiences are of Christophe after all and were narrated to the author). “Hostage” is a book that filled me with a lot of hope, troubled me at times and also made me see how easy it is sometimes for common folk to get into situations beyond their control. I also for one wouldn’t be surprised if someone decided to make a movie out of it.

You can buy the book here: http://amzn.to/2sZXYpo

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Title: Just Kids
Author: Patti Smith
Publisher: Ecco Books, HarperCollins Books
ISBN: 978-0060936228
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Rock
Pages: 320
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Just Kids is one of those books that you’d want to read over and over again. This was my first reread and I know I will go back to it. I read it about nine years ago for the first time and as I read it again this year, I found my perspectives and opinions change a lot as the book moved me in different places, which perhaps it didn’t the first time I picked it up. That’s the beauty of some very good books – they make you see, feel and think differently with each read and that to me is a single most parameter for a reread.

Back to Just Kids: This book is the first part memoir written by singer and songwriter Patti Smith. Before she took over punk and rock and roll, she was just another girl who had come to New York to search herself and understand what she wanted to do. She had her poetry and the intrinsic lack of trust in society. In New York she met future photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and “Just Kids” is a document of their life together – as artists, lovers, friends and a trip down memory lane.

The book is razor sharp and has no holds barred. Smith says what she has to and without apology. Robert and Smith’s relationship was mercurial and yet there is something so fulfilling as you turn the pages and don’t want the chapters to end. You want to know more about their lives and for that I recommend you read M Train (where Robert doesn’t feature at all or does but hardly so). Patti Smith just like her songs has this ease of writing to her prose as well – it becomes poetry in so many places and has the capacity to take your breath away. Read it. Be mesmerized.

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me by Bill Hayes

insomniac-city-by-bill-hayes Title: Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me
Author: Bill Hayes
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1620404935
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember a friend sending me excerpts of this book. I read it while I was at Doolally – a taproom in Bombay. I was waiting for friends to show up for the Wednesday night quiz and then something happened which I hadn’t expected to – I wept by the time I had finished reading the long excerpt. I cried. I think I even bawled. I strongly also believe that when an art form does that to you – when it creeps up on you like that and almost shatters your world – you’re in for a rollercoaster ride. That happened to me as I was reading “Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me” by Bill Hayes, from which the excerpt was.

Relationships are fragile, they are also very strong. At the same time, what do you do when it ends all of a sudden? When it ends not because you want it to, but because death comes suddenly knocking on your partner’s door and there is nothing you can do about it. Then what? Hayes’s partner died after sixteen years of togetherness. He then moved to New York from San Francisco in search of a new start (as most of us do). He found himself in a city that was surprising, random, and at the same time made him see the humanity that exists. Slowly and steadily, he fell in love with New York and found love in the form of the late, great neurologist and writer, Dr. Oliver Sacks.

This book “Insomniac City” as the title suggests is about New York, Oliver Sacks and Bill Hayes. It is also about life – majorly so, and how it changes constantly whether we would like it or not. It is about New York – of how brutal and gentle she can be at the same time, of how to surrender to the city is to love her completely and without any prejudice. The book ultimately is about great love that transcends all barriers, challenges, doubts and the throes of darkness. There are also the author’s stunning photographs – capturing his love for the city and Oliver.

Let me not forget the portrait of Oliver Sacks that Bill Hayes paints so vividly and beautifully – a genius who did not own a computer – who always preferred to communicate via letters and longhand, who didn’t know how a champagne bottle was opened and used goggles when he first opened them for the fear of the cork hitting his eye, who called pot “cannabis” and who believed in living life as it came – day by day. Hayes met Oliver after Oliver wrote him a letter praising his book “The Anatomist” and this is how they met and love blossomed. The book is about that love, about how Oliver met Hayes after three decades of being alone and celibate. “Insomniac City” will surprise you in ways more than one.

“Insomniac City” is about the love between Oliver and Hayes and what they shared in Oliver’s final years. The writing is so personal and out there that you cannot help but be overwhelmed. Their love for things common, their roads to discovering something they did not know, and what it is to live daily – for the bond to strengthen and one fine day to see that love slip away. The book teaches you about grief, about people coming together quite randomly on a bus or a train and makes you more aware and conscious of what it is to be human. I cannot recommend this book enough. Do yourself a favour: Order it, read it and weep. You need a good cry, now and then.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

love-warrior-by-glennon-doyle-melton Title: Love Warrior
Author: Glennon Doyle Melton
Publisher: Flatiron Books
ISBN: 978-1410493859
Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction
Pages: 325
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

Now, there are some books you are most excited about reading and cannot wait when they come to you and you devour them and love them. At the same time, things could also play out differently with you. You may like the book in bits and parts and not as a whole. I am actually sad that I didn’t enjoy “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton as I thought I would have. More so because I generally have enjoyed books picked by Oprah for her book club. But this one clicked for me in some places and in some it just didn’t.

Her first book Carry On, Warrior is a collection of her blog posts in the form of a book – dealing with everything – addiction to marriage to having children. This one – “Love Warrior” is about her struggle with addiction, how her husband Craig and she got together, their marriage, problems in her marriage, her husband’s infidelity and how she coped with it.

I mean, there was nothing new in it. It took me a while to get into it, I liked some parts – the writing seemed crisp but nothing like her first book. There was something missing – she was still honest and Melton does a great job at baring all and telling all but this book fell short.

The book kinda seemed repetitive as far as I was concerned. If you haven’t read the first book, then you might enjoy this one. Love Warrior might for sure help other people in the same situations but somehow it didn’t reach out to me and resonate the way Carry On, Warrior did. All said and done, her views also changed drastically from the first book. Having said that, I will still eagerly look forward to her new book as and when it is published.

In other words by Jhumpa Lahiri

In Other Title: In Other Words
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Translated by: Ann Goldstein
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670088898
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Learning a new language is not easy. At least in my experience it hasn’t been easy. I tried and struggled with French and could only get this far. After that, either I gave up on the language or the language gave up on me (I don’t even think that’s possible though). I wish I had continued with it for a while and mastered it perhaps. However, that was not meant to be.

Language is a tricky thing to learn. Some say there is a certain age to it. Some say you have to speak it with someone who is fluent, every single day and immerse yourself in it. Jhumpa Lahiri’s new book “In Other Words” is all about how she learned Italian because she wanted to, moved to Rome to learn it more and finally wrote a book in Italian (the translated version by Ann Goldstein is what I have read).

This book to me was more about life than language. It was about a writer’s struggle to not only conquer the language but also at a deeper level come to terms with identity, cultural and emotional barriers and what makes a person complete.

“In other words” is more than just a memoir even – it is going to the depths of what a writer thinks, imagines, and struggles with, dreams about and how it all comes together when she writes. The writing is simple and even though it is translated from Italian, it doesn’t lose its essence. That to me is the indication of some spectacular writing right there – when it doesn’t take away anything from the original in the translated form.

The book is meticulously crafted – giving the readers a view to the writer’s innermost fears, the insecurity of writing in another language and to reveal her new linguistic identity, so to speak. Her stay in Rome was almost a self-exile as she traded her English for Italian – almost a new life. As readers, what comes to us most of the time is the dulled down version, without any of the writer’s angst, however this is not that version. It is raw and stark and right there – demanding your time and attention.

The book is about a writer’s journey and what comes along the way – sometimes even in the name of experimentation and what shape it takes at the end of it all. Jhumpa Lahiri’s struggle with the language and the need to overcome it are so strong that you find yourself almost cheering for her, knowing that she managed to write the book in Italian after all.

“In Other Words” is the kind of book that will also make you question your own creative beliefs and think of the roads not taken. Jhumpa Lahiri’s graceful writing – in its most simple form will evoke a lot of emotions inside the reader – fear, love, frustration, anger, the desire to accomplish something, to push your boundaries and to perhaps experience something new and different in what you do.

Definitely a book not to be missed out on this February.

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In Other Words