Tag Archives: new york

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole Title: Every Day is for the Thief
Author: Teju Cole
Publisher: Faber and Faber, Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0571307920
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Teju Cole burst on the scene with “Open City” a couple of years ago. A unique voice is needed all the time, to wake the literary circle, so to say. “Open City” had a deep impact on the sensibilities and emotions as well. There was something unique about it and at the same time, it was quite ordinary. That is the charm of Teju Cole’s writing. He makes the mundane come alive.

“Every Day for the Thief” is a sort of a literary memoir. It is not a memoir and yet sometimes feels like one. A young Nigerian goes home to Lagos, after living away from it, in New York for close to fifteen years. The unnamed narrator moves from the places in the city – recalling what he left behind and trying to make sense of everything in new light.

He witnesses his old friends, the former girlfriend, the exuberance and despair of Lagos and of an eleven-year old who is accused of stealing in the local market. A lot of such incidents shape the novel for the reader. The atmosphere is built slowly, almost creating an element of suspense and yet saying what the narrator has to.

There are patchy parts in the book as well, but I chose to ignore them, because the writing is stupendous. It flows effortlessly most of the time and the voice is strong, so that is more than enough for the reader.

What also sets this book apart, are the author’s photos that are interwoven in the story. The way he captures Lagos – both pictorially and through the written word is superlative. “Every Day is for the Thief” is a short read and manages to stay with you for a very long time. This is one book you should not miss reading out this year.

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Book Review: BUtterfield 8 by John O’Hara

BUtterfield 8 by John O'Hara Title: BUtterfield 8
Author: John O’Hara
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780143124689
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I remember the first time I watched BUtterfield 8. I was dazzled by the plot and more so by Elizabeth Taylor. I grew up some. I grew up some more. At twenty-five I realized that it was adapted from a book by the same title, written by John O’Hara and I could not wait to get my hands on it and devour it. I searched everywhere – high and low, but could not find it anywhere. This was way before the online shopping mania struck us. Somehow, I managed to find three of his novels in one book – Appointment in Samarra, BUtterfield 8 and Hope of Heaven. I devoured BUtterfield 8 in one sitting and loved it.

It was Elizabeth Taylor who played Gloria Wandrous so well, that somehow she stayed in my mind. I lost my copy and then got a chance to reread it – a fantastic Penguin Drop Cap edition of the book and it just felt the same way, the first time I read it.

BUtterfield 8 is set in New York. It is New York in 1931 and it is glamorous and ruthless at the same time. It is a society yet to pick up its pieces from the Great Depression and yet it puts on a show and façade for all to see. One Sunday morning, Gloria wakes up in a stranger’s apartment, with a torn evening dress, stockings and a pair of panties. She has nothing to wear. She steals a mink coat from the wardrobe and starts a chain of events – all strangers interconnected by that one action of hers – which but obviously only ends in tragedy for her. This in short is the plot of the book.

O’Hara’s story is bold and candid and Gloria somehow becomes an icon. An icon that no one wants to aspire to be, however she does instil courage and determination in readers. O’Hara’s pen gives us lines full of wit, candour and irony. The only problem with BUtterfield 8 is that there are too many characters in it – that flash and go and then come back, leaving the reader confused at some point.

I guess the beauty of his novels lay in honesty. He told it like he saw it, without sugar-coating anything and in that, lays the genius of a writer. I knew that there could be no other end to the story and yet the writing somehow makes you hopeful to want more for Gloria, than just a doomed love-affair. I guess if that kind of powerful writing hits you, then all you need is hot chocolate and to switch off the cell-phone and devour this book in one straight sitting.

Here is the trailer of the movie starring Elizabeth Taylor:

Book Review: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer Title: The Interestings
Author: Meg Wolitzer
Publisher: Riverhead Books, Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-1-59448-839-9
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It is never easy to write about the world the way it is. To talk of love and friendships and everything that takes place in between is never something that can be done without wrenching the way you feel about them. I have always admired writers who can manage this and continue to do so, because it takes a lot out of the writer to dig in and generate stories that resonate long after you have finished the book. Books that speak of growing up and its challenges and make me realize how I feel about the way things are, manage to be very close to my heart, and one such book that I have read off-late is, “The Interestings” by Meg Wolitzer.

“The Interestings” begins kind of slowly, almost letting you see how things got to where they did. However once that is shaken off, the book somersaults into various kinds of emotions and that is where the narrative is the strongest. The writing reminded me of Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Bowen – more so because of the back and forth in time, almost linear in narrative and sometimes just spellbinding. It is a chronicle of four decades and the lives of six strangers who become friends at a summer camp in the seventies and how their lives change every year after that. The narrative and action takes place mostly in New York and that is another charm of the book. This is the basic plot of the book and as the adage goes, there’s more to what meets the eye and it could not get truer for this work.

I had never read anything by Wolitzer before this one, but I sure will now. The references throughout the book of the decades gone by are extremely interesting. What is even more interesting is how she manages to stick her story inside all of this and make each and every character stand out. She speaks of the rituals of childhood, the dilemmas of adulthood and how when middle-age takes over, it comes with envy in its wake. The writing is dynamic, with a lot happening on almost every page and maybe that is one of the reasons I wanted to put it down and take in every word page by page and moment by moment.

The various friendships forged throughout the book just reminded me of my relationships and people who I have held close for years. It also reminded me of friends who have drifted away. That is the effect of this book. It not only makes you think, but also feel. The subject matter of the book may not be original – since it is about friendships being forged and then not working out at some level, however the way Wolitzer writes is something very unique and brilliant.

The writing is economical and yet the expressions aren’t. Wolitzer manages to capture the essence of every single emotion. From a successful couple to a one who is not so and how their friendship takes on its own form and shape. The novel provides various insights and various perspectives and that is something which is hard to miss. Each character has his or her voice and that helps a lot as you turn the pages. It is not a story told from one perspective or a single person, which I loved the most about this one.

“The Interestings” title comes from the fact that the six friends do not want to be boring and Wolitzer ensures that for the reader at every single page. Characters are forever growing in this one and that is what makes the book so unique. The cover of the book is retro and says a lot and connects wonderfully to the plot. A must read for all. I totally recommend this one wholeheartedly.

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Book Review: Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

Title: Ten Thousand Saints
Author: Eleanor Henderson
Publisher: Quercus Books
ISBN: 978-1780872179
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It took me quite a lot of time to get into the skin of this book and enjoy it. “Ten Thousand Saints” by Eleanor Henderson wasn’t an easy read to begin with. Let me directly get to the plot.

The book begins on New Year’s Eve 1987 in a fictional college town Lintonburg, Vermont. Two teenagers, Teddy and Jude are out partying with their new friend Eliza from Manhattan. Everything seems to be going fine when Teddy is found dead the next morning, after huffing Freon and on an overdose of Cocaine. The guilt weighs heavy on Jude and Eliza, as they were the ones who provided the drugs. Eliza also discovers that she is pregnant with Teddy’s baby and is confounded about what to do. Eliza, Jude and Teddy’s older half-brother Johnny then decide to raise the baby.

That is essentially the crux of the story. I found it a little difficult to read initially because of the structure but when you get used to it, it is a breeze. The parents of the teenagers are as involved in the book as the kids. The story also centers on the parents’ decisions and its impact on their kids. Jude’s divorced parents make their living by selling marijuana. Eliza’s mom is a self-indulgent and aging ballerina. Teddy and Johnny’s mom is an aging hippie. In short: Nothing is what it seems and it all goes wrong and also connects everyone with the other after Teddy’s death.

The book does tend to get repetitive at times but it is fascinating to some extent. There are times when you can get into the characters’ minds because they are so well-formed and etched. Maybe it is nothing new, but the content covers almost every topic – from homelessness to the emergence of AIDS in the late 80’s, to the time when things were progressing rapidly in the US of A and its impact on the characters and their lives.

The metaphors used are marvellous and fit like a glove on every page. The redemption of characters takes place gradually in the book and when you see it as a reader, it has the capacity to astound you. The overarching themes make the plot what it is – beautiful that is. The moral dilemma of the characters only adds to the book.

“Ten Thousand Saints” may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was definitely mine and I am glad I endured and read through it.

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Book Review: Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: Little Bird of Heaven
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: 4th Estate, Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-0007342549
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I discovered Joyce Carol Oates a long time ago. I think about ten years or so. Since then I have always looked forward to what she writes and she churns out at least two books or so every year. Maybe even more. The fact of the matter is that she writes like a dream. Her prose is something else. It is of the macabre, the darkness, the sexually obsessed, of strained relationships and all about life as is – in your face and not a happy place to be in.

So when I got the opportunity to read and review one of her books, I could not help but give it a go. “Little Bird of Heaven” could be a love story. It could also be a murder mystery and a deep psychological drama. Joyce Carol Oates very cleverly makes the book about all of those.

“Little Bird of Heaven” takes place in a small town called Sparta in New York, where a young mother is found dead. The primary suspects are her estranged husband and a married man with whom she was having an affair. But that is not the story. The story is about the lady’s son Aaron and her lover’s daughter Krista who are virtually strangers to each other, and now linked to each other by this crime, as they struggle to be on opposite sides, while being infatuated with one another.

The story seems threadbare but it isn’t so. There are layers to it and rightly so, as this is just what Oates likes to deliver. Her narrative of this book is unique and surpasses somehow anything she has ever written. The first half of the book is told from Krista’s perspective, a young girl, who wants to believe in her father and somehow is torn between what is real and what she thinks of as reality.

The second part is told from Aaron’s perspective. It is less vocal, more introspective. It is about hidden emotions and not displaying any of them, even when your mother is no longer a part of the world. Despite this, Oates does not get sentimental at any point in the book. She writes with raw intensity and emotions that are in check. That is what is needed for a book like this I guess.

“Little Bird of Heaven” is about a lot of things – the past, the present and how the future shapes our lives. It is about emotional longing and cruelty. Of how children endure the pain and how they deal with it. This book is not a light read. It is about life on the edge and how the characters hang on to it. Joyce Carol Oates writes with some riveting insight. There is no happy ending; however I will definitely recommend this book to all.

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