Tag Archives: October 2021 Reads

Read 230 of 2021. Everything Like Before: Stories by Kjell Askildsen. Translated from the Norwegian by Seán Kinsella

Everything Like Before - Stories by Kjell Askildsen

Title: Everything Like Before: Stories Author: Kjell Askildsen
Translated from the Norwegian by Seán Kinsella
Publisher: Archipelago Books
ISBN: 978-1939810946
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 318
Source: The Boxwalla
Rating: 5/5

This was my introduction to Askildsen. To the subtlety of language, situations, and to how people react. Askildsen’s short stories are seemingly calm but there’s so much going on under the safe. The characters are forever in a limbo, left to their own device, with nothing or no one in sight.

Whether it is tales of marital unhappiness, conflicts between parent and child, or the struggles of the elderly, Askildsen’s stories are all about everyday despair and life as it goes on. His spaces are ordinary – the kitchen, the park, the drawing room, a movie theatre, restaurants, and bars – where relationships begin, end, or are simply compromised on.

Nothing of significance is happening, even to the characters it doesn’t seem that way. There is however an understated longing for what is not known, love for what is not around, and solitude that is not needed.

Askildsen’s writing is simple and plain. These stories are more vignettes. They don’t run into pages and yet say so much. They also range from morose and bleak to the comic. For instance, the funny side of a son visiting his father to understand their relationship better or the title story that is of a marriage – real, tragic, and funny. The stories are a treat, to be savoured slowly. The translation by Seán Kinsella leaves so much to the imagination, I guess just how the author intends it to be. Everything Like Before is a fantastic collection of thirty dozen stories that range across the spectrum of emotions and make you want more of them.

Read 229 of 2021. To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

9781529077506

Title: To Paradise
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1529077476
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 720
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

To Paradise isn’t A Little Life. It will not break your heart. It will not make you cry. It will not torment you days after you finish it. It will not haunt you or your memories. It is not that kind of a book. But what it is – for its writing, multiple plots, characters that are engaging and well-fleshed out, it is about family and relationships and how we are forever stuck or not with them, it is about inheritance, and passion, love and lack of it, and more so about Hawai’i.

It is not The People in the Trees, yet there is enough science for people who loved that one. It isn’t what you think it is – even though the blurb is given, and you think you know what this book is about, but you do not. To Paradise is nothing like I have read this year, and this is what I expect of Yanagihara.

To Paradise is divided into three parts and each part feels like a different novel. I failed to see the larger connect and that to me is alright, because I will reread it and see where I missed out. The first story is set in an alternate version of 1893 America, New York is a part of the Free States where anyone can do what they please, love and marry whoever they want – it all seems very idyllic. The nubile and young scion of a very distinguished family David is smitten by a music teacher Edward, who has nothing to show for, when he is almost betrothed to a wealthy suitor Charles, way older than him and perhaps incapable of understanding him. Yanagihara’s characters take time to grow and for readers to even get to know them. It is almost a slow-burn of a novel in that sense.

The second part of the novel plays out in 1993 Manhattan with the AIDS epidemic taking more lives by the minute. This part of the novel looks at the relationship of a son and father, both Davids this time. The son, David is living with his older and richer lover Charles and the father is combating a serious illness, contemplating on life – past and present through a series of monologues. This by far was my favourite section of the novel. Yanagihara writes prose like no other. Even though like I said this book isn’t traumatic, it has its moments of melancholy, grief, and loss.

The last part of the novel is set in a not-so-distant future where pandemics are a common thing and charts the relationship between a grandfather, Charles and his granddaughter Charlie. This is the part where science (as it played out beautifully in The People in the Trees) comes to fore along with questions of identity, climate change, and uncertainty.

The themes of the book are so large and interconnected that it makes you want to keep turning the pages. Love, loss, loneliness, the need for someone, shame, death and fear keep getting played out in several ways. The writing is taut and perfect. Not a beat is missed, and nothing is out of place. The book may seem chunky, but it is needed. Yanagihara works on details – this is the only way to get to know her characters and understand the world she creates.

To Paradise left me stumped as well in a lot of places – there are a lot of questions unanswered, too many loose ends that weren’t tied, too much left for assumption, but it is alright. I think some books are meant to be that way. I will most certainly reread it when it is officially out in January.

Read 228 of 2021. Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Title: Jonny Appleseed
Author: Joshua Whitehead
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
ISBN: 978-1551527253
Genre: LGBTQ+ Literary Fiction, Native American Literature,
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Jonny Appleseed decides to come back home to his mother after her husband dies. Jonny is a Two-Spirit Inidigiqueer “glitter princess” and has about a week leading up to his journey.  In that week Jonny goes through the entire gamut of emotions – love, hate, loathing, trauma of growing up on the rez – personal and collective, and more than anything about his dreams and aspirations.

What I loved about this book is the focus of course on everything not-colonial, even love, more so love. The book is about Jonny and the women in his life as well – his kokum (grandmother) his friends, his mother, Peggy, and as well as his Tias – the one person from where all the queer loving comes and nestles in his heart and soul. Their interactions with Jonny are also governed by day to day activities – from a meal to a recipe to how the whites try and erase the Native American community. There is so much going on in this short book that at times I just had to shut it and process everything Whitehead was trying to communicate.

Add to this there is technology and how Jonny uses it to facilitate sex work, allowing lonely men to somewhat fetishize his culture and where he comes from, and in all of this there is trauma and pain and healing that Whitehead manages to write about in the most brutal and also sublime manner.

Whitehead’s writing doesn’t cut corners on emotions. He says it the way it is – intense, with racism, sexism, homophobia, and how it impacts indigenous minds, hearts, and souls in addition to what they go through.  All of this is told to us through Jonny. You root for him. You want his life to be better. You want him to meet his mother as soon as possible. You don’t want him to suffer. But he must follow his heart and destiny, and things will happen, but in all of this, there is togetherness, a celebration of love and longing, and how to finally find your roots and identity.

Read 227 of 2021. Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World by Mark Aldridge

Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Greatest Detective in the World by Mark Aldridge

Title: Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World Author: Mark Aldridge
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0008296612
Genre: Books and Reading, Nonfiction Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This is the perfect book for all Christie fans, but more than anything, it is just perfect and more for all Poirot fans. We have mostly all grown up reading Poirot and his detection skills. Whether it is a murder, or a case of mistaken identity, of theft, or embezzlement, Poirot saves the day. Poirot is the man and Christie created him so perhaps the world could relate to this character. 

This book is not only an homage to the detective, but also brings to fore the entire life lived starting from the first book till the last in which he appeared. Mark Aldridge is somewhat the best person to do this, because of the way he presents information to the readers. There is a division of  chapters by decades and which books published in which decade. And not to forget the most beautifully done covers of each book – different editions as well, that are there on every page. 

What makes this book so exciting is that Aldridge includes Christie’s views on every book, whether she thought it was good enough or not, also some publisher and Christie fights and disagreements, and the movies made from the books.

Poirot is a favourite. Mark only adds to that bias through this book. I couldn’t get more of the writing. The details, the facts that people don’t know about some books, and more are all neatly laid out. What is missing though is the editing at some points; some sections are quite repetitive. That could’ve been avoided for sure. Having said that, Agatha Christie’s Poirot – The Greatest Detective in the World is a great read and every Poirot lover should have it in their collection.

Read 226 of 2021. Featherhood: A Memoir of Two Fathers and a Magpie by Charlie Gilmour

Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour

Title: Featherhood: A Memoir of Two Fathers and a Magpie
Author: Charlie Gilmour
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN: 978-1501198502
Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I first heard of this book by going through the Wainwright Prize 2021 shortlist in the Nature Writing category. I was taken in by what the synopsis said and couldn’t wait to read it. Also, I didn’t realize till much later that Charlie Gilmour is the adoptive son of David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame and all that.  

Featherhood, however is not about David Gilmour and his relationship with Charlie. It is about Charlie, his biological father Heathcote Williams and of Charlie being a parent to a magpie named Benzene. This is why Featherhood. This book of course reminded me of H is for Hawk as it should, but only at the beginning. When Charlie’s voice took over, I forgot everything else. 

Why do people abandon people? Why do biological fathers leave? What happens when you do not love enough? Charlie attempts to answer these questions and more by also taking care of Benzene and also somehow figuring his biological father. Charlie is left to figure Heathcote after his death – through papers, by meeting people, and his memories of him. And there are no closures. That is the beauty of the writing. 

Charlie doesn’t focus much on his relationship with David. So fans of Floyd might be a bit disappointed there. However, my favourite parts are the ones with Benzene. How does one take care of a magpie? How does it become a part of your world, almost becoming your world? As Benzene grows up, we also see a change in Charlie’s perspective to life and he finds humour in things than being pensive. Benzene provides Charlie with love, care, empathy, and more than anything confidence and self-esteem.

Having lost a parent, I know what it is like. I could sense Charlie’s confusion to some extent, since he wasn’t close to Heathcote and hadn’t known him at all. At the same time, the way he raises Benzene is so reflective of what he has with David.

Featherhood is beautiful. I read it slowly and took time with it, page by page. It is one of those books that left me with a smile at the end of it.