Tag Archives: October 2020 Reads

Infinity Diary by Cyril Wong

Infinity Diary by Cyril Wong

Title: Infinity Diary
Author: Cyril Wong
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 9780857427427
Genre: Poetry, LGBTQIA Literature
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

If love is love, then why is it that gay love doesn’t feel like love sometimes? Why does it feel that it will leave? Is it because of my insecurity? Why do I feel that a man’s love will not be enough? When it will be. When it will stay. It will, won’t it?

Love between two men and all the dance that goes around it. The rulebook that isn’t there and is yet followed. There are no rules sometimes and everything is permissible. We are who we are. Cyril Wong shows us the mirror through his book of prose poems “Infinity Diary”. It is written for every gay man out there, for every man who loves another man and doesn’t want to express it, for every man who loves and is unabashed about it, and for every man who also maybe doesn’t want to love.

Cyril Wong’s poetry made me introspect about my relationships with men – the ones that were platonic, the ones not-so-platonic, the ones unrequited, and the ones requited but oh so toxic. His poems don’t just reflect Singapore as a city, and what goes on there behind closed doors between men – the reality of oppression, but makes you realize that it could play out in any city of the world. Even where same-sex love is legal. Even where there is supposed to be no discrimination, and we know there is. “Infinity Diary” is about all of us.

When Wong speaks of glances passed across the room, of desire, of madness in love, of those stolen kisses, of kinks we do not speak of in public, of sadness and heartbreak that never goes away – he speaks of all of this and more and beauty in the chaotic structure of emotions that does find its place, even the ones that aren’t beautiful. The ones that belong, nonetheless.

My favourite piece in this book is “Dear Stupid Straight People” – a poem, a list of instructions for the straight people on how to treat the ones who aren’t like them. It is brutal and perhaps most needed.

Wong’s poetry comes from so many places, and so many emotions. They take up so much room (as they should), and they merge with your emotions as well, and that’s difficult to contain. You see yourself in them, poem after poem. You get restless. You sigh. You get twitchy and fidgety. You sigh some more. You turn the page.

What Happens At Night by Peter Cameron

What Happens At Night by Peter Cameron

Title: What Happens At Night
Author: Peter Cameron
Publisher: Catapult
ISBN: 978-1948226967
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This book is strange, and yet not so. It did seem weird when I began reading it, but then all the pieces took shape and joined together perfectly, like a jigsaw puzzle, and then I wasn’t baffled anymore. At the same time, I am in awe of Cameron’s writing – astute, precise, and fabulist – so much rolled into one, and yet the individual threads of the story aren’t lost.

An unnamed American couple has travelled days from New York City, to an unnamed European country, with the sole purpose of adopting a child. They are staying in a palatial and yet extremely spooky old hotel, Borgarfjaroasysla Grand Imperial Hotel.  The woman is battling stage-four cancer, and this is the reason no one outside of this country will let them adopt a child. A child to them is the only hope to get through life with the hurdle thrown at them.

In all of this they encounter a motley bunch of people – odd, bizarre, mysterious, and sometimes macabre as well, right from a businessman who wants to seduce the man, an ageing former actress who seems to have her own agenda, a local healer, and a bartender who concocts the best local schnapps. This is not even half of the story by the way. The other part of the story where the action really takes place is the marriage of the couple and what happens to it in a strange country surrounded by strange people.

I think what stayed with me while I was reading the book, and will continue to is the atmospheric elements that Cameron infuses so generously – it feels as though the elements are at play independent of the plot (to some extent) but they are the driving force of the narrative. From the gloom of a night to the brightness of a lamp in the hotel room, to the menacing outdoors – the orphanage, the healer’s place, and the railway station – each element brings out a sense of dread and suspense – juxtaposing the marriage of the couple.

I firmly believe that the marriage is another character that is always at the forefront. The frailties of it, the thin line between love and hate, the secrets that hold a marriage together, and what we learn about ourselves in the process shines in Cameron’s prose. Yes, the world of What Happens at Night is weird and enigmatic, and strange, yet it is soothing. I wanted to be in it. A fly on the wall, maybe but I wanted to be a part of it. A world of strangers – each assigned their own role, and at the heart of it – the unnamed couple and their perceptions of marital bliss or otherwise.




The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories by Gayatri Gill

The Day Before Today

Title: The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories
Author: Gayatri Gill
Illustrations: Niyati Singh
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books 
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This had to happen sooner or later. It happened sooner. The Corona virus is still in the air and we have about four to five (maybe more) books already about the virus, stories of people – the privileged and not-so-privileged, stories of lust and liaisons – the list goes on, I think. And in all of this, I bit the bullet and read, “The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories” by Gayatri Gill, illustrated beautifully by Niyati Singh.

“The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories” as the title suggests is a collection of lockdown stories – of people losing their mental faculties, some gaining them, some about the have-nots, and all of them about how our world has changed so drastically, and yet somehow some things still seem the same.

Of children not going to school, of couples bickering and it leading to something more, of mental health issues getting triggered, and taking a life of its own – veering in a direction that could be calamitous – all these stories have the human condition at the heart of them – the condition in times such as these. What happens to people in containment zones, a love story of a ghost, Zoom parties, and in all of this what happens of the essential services workers, Gill lays it all out for the reader in a witty, sharp, and biting manner.

And of course, in such a collection, as you move from story to story it might seem repetitive, but I think even in that, each story emerges as unique and thrilling. Gill’s writing is precise, exercising great brevity, and not using words for the sake of them. Her observations are point-on and make you a part of the story, without realising it. “The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories” is a melancholic goodbye to the time gone by and what’s to come, whatever it might be. It is about the uncertain future, present, and reminiscing about the past – intermingling all of it in this unique collection of stories.





A Ballad of Remittent Fever by Ashoke Mukhopadhyay. Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha.

A Ballad of Remittent Fever

Title: A Ballad of Remittent Fever Author: Ashoke Mukhopadhyay Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9389836028
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was very skeptical when I started reading, “A Ballad of Remittent Fever”. I was scared that medical terminology would be thrown my way and I would be totally lost trying to figure it out. Yes, the terminology did come my way. Yes, I did feel lost a couple of times. But I started enjoying the read. I was in a way enthralled by the extraordinary lives and loves of the members of the Ghoshal Family. The writing converted me.

I think one must also read the book, keeping aside our current situation, if possible. The book is full of references to epidemics, pandemics, and vaccines. That might be hard to do, but I was more involved in the daily affairs of every family member, across time and the non-linear narrative.

The book spans over a hundred years, from 1867 to 1967 – through two World Wars, major diseases, and the forces that propel this family of doctors to ravage and fight those diseases, sometimes also being not-so-aware of the Superman complex some of them have, to wanting to live full lives – professional and personal.

The protagonist (can be called that in a way) Dwarikanath Ghoshal is a man who is at the pinnacle of this unit, with a fierce desire to vanquish diseases that seem incurable. And from there on four generations of the family – in their own way – through Allopathy or Ayurveda try to battle diseases, with the sole intention of making people live.

And then there is the constant push and pull between superstition and medicine, faith in the supernatural and believe in medicine, and alongside all of this – the changes in medicinal science that lends beautifully to the progression of this novel.

The translation by Arunava Sinha is spot on. He wonderfully makes you see Calcutta of the times gone by and how perhaps nothing has changed. Through Arunava’s translation, the book gets another layer of nuance in my opinion.

A Ballad of Remittent Fever must be read for its prose, for the fine intertwining of medicine with life, for the personal battles people fight while trying to combat the professional ones, and what does it take to be a saviour, sometimes referred to as God, and to bear the burden of such responsibility.

 

Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg

Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg

Title: Glass Town
Author: Isabel Greenberg
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-1787330832
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Glass Town is a fictitious world created by the Brontë siblings, first appearing in December 1827. Glass Town was first created by Charlotte and Branwëll Brontë, followed by Emily and Anne to build the creation of an imaginary world in which their stories flourished. However, from about 1831, Emily and Anne distanced themselves from Glass Town and created their own world called Gondal, which then started to feature in many of their poems.

Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg is a stunning graphic novel of the world created by these siblings, their lives, the lives of their characters, and above all the power of art and imagination. It is a book about bringing fictional worlds to life and how writers immerse themselves in it. This then enables readers to see their works in a whole new light – fantastical and extraordinary. To a large extent, I also thought that Ms. Greenberg felt that way too about the works of the Brontës, which of course led to the creation of this book.

There is the “real” world in the book, and the “fictional” world. The world that meant so much to the Brontë siblings and what it did to them once it was all gone and over with. Greenberg merges the fictional with the factual most exactingly – to the point that you want to believe it all. Glass Town is also a graphic that has seemingly simple illustrations, but they are quite complex if looked closely. Glass Town is the kind of graphic novel that will make you want to know more about the Brontë family, their origins, their lives, their loves and feuds, and how they wrote those books they did. More than anything else, it is a book that will make you want to read their works, if you haven’t already.