Tag Archives: picador india

Suralakshmi Villa by Aruna Chakravarti

Suralakshmi Villa by Aruna Chakravarti Title: Suralakshmi Villa
Author: Aruna Chakravarti
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
ISBN: 9789389109399
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 313
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

So, I was eagerly waiting to read Suralakshmi Villa, because I loved Chakravarti’s earlier works – Jorasanko and Daughters of Jorasanko. However, while I enjoyed reading this one, a problem kept nagging me over and over again. The depiction of the Muslim man and I even let it go because the story is rich and detailed, but somehow it kept coming back as the pages turned.

I think it has got to do more with the need for the plot and to propel the story in a certain direction. Having said that, I still think it could’ve been treated differently. At the same time, perhaps it is a function of the time the book is set in. These thoughts and more also make you see a book differently by the time you are done with it.

Coming back to the book, Suralakshmi Villa with its prose, characters, and Bengal at the core never disappoints in the details and character study. There is a lot going on with the focus on the protagonist Suralakshmi Choudhury, and what goes on in her life as she “settles down” – marries, has a kid, is a gynaecologist, and suddenly decides to abandon it all. Why? What for? Those questions are answered as we read – back and forth in time – drawing from her journals, letters, other people’s perspectives, and incidents. While Suralakshmi is at the center of the narrative, there is so much going on with the other characters, that Chakravarti forces us almost to turn our gaze to them as well.

Aruna Chakravarti writes a historical novel that is also a novel about Bengal, about religion, the lifestyle of the common person, blending in the myths and legends, and connecting it very deeply with personal experiences, bias, and the manner in which a character thinks or aspires. Suralakshmi Villa is about human relationships of course, but it is also about how we got there, and what happened and is there any redemption at all in the grander scheme of things.

March 2020 Wrap-Up

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 11.51.05 AMMarch has been a fantastic month. For me, personally. I have struggled with anxiety and calmed it. I have switched off from the news, and trying very hard to keep away from it on social media as well. I’m just made this way. On the reading front, I read 23 very different books and I am on top of the world. I feel ecstatic. Here’s hoping we all get out of this sane. Much love.
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Here are the titles with the ratings:
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1. Death in her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (4)
2. Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (4)
3. And I do not forgive you: stories and other revenges by Amber Sparks (4)
4. Faces on the tip of my tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano. Translated from the French by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis (5)
5. The Seep by Chana Porter (5)
6. Fern Road by Angshu Dasgupta (3)
7. Apartment by Teddy Wayne (4)
8. The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar. Translated from the Persian (5)
9. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (4)
10. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (4)
11. The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (4)
12. Girl by Edna O’Brien (4)
13. A Burning by Megha Majumdar (4)
14. Amnesty by Aravind Adiga (3)
15. Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin (2)
16. Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (4)
17. Red Dog by Willem Anker. Translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns (2)
18. The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchinson (4)
19. The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse. Translated from the French by Damion Searls (5)
20. The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa. Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (5)
21. Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (4)
22. The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara. Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre (5)
23. Mac’s Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas. Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes (4).
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That’s it, folks! What was your reading month of March like? Any favourites?.
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Here’s to April 2020. Can’t wait.

Amnesty by Aravind Adiga

Amnesty by Aravind Adiga Title: Amnesty
Author: Aravind Adiga
Publisher: Picador India
ISBN: 978-9389109436
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

I was very eager to read this one, because I loved Last Man in Tower, when I first read it in 2011. I still remember the book as vividly. I don’t know if I will be able to say this of Amnesty, nine years from now. It is not that I did not like the read. It is just that I had great expectations from it, which it did not live upto.

Amnesty is a book about Danny, a young adult in his twenties from Sri Lanka, who has been living illegally in Australia for four years as a cleaner. The book is about one of the residents’ death that Danny cleaned for. Danny might know what happened but does not want to come clean because if he did that might get him deported.

The writing to me was quite disjointed and didn’t sort of add up in many places as a whole. There were brilliant moments but only few and far and in-between. All the tropes are there – of accountability, of being human, of showing empathy,  and of understanding the prejudice that exists towards immigrants. Yet the novel did not take-off from me. Like I said, Adiga does know how to write and build the character, and perhaps also make you a part of their life, but somehow Danny’s story of strife and humanity did not strike a chord with me.

I wish Amnesty had the heart of Last Man in Tower or the cleverness of Between the Assassinations, but I am just being biased. You should read the book if you want to, and decide for yourself. At the most, it definitely proved to be a page-turner of a read.

 

Ours are the Streets by Sunjeev Sahota

How do you write a first person narrative about a potential suicide bomber? I mean, how can you imagine yourself into such an extreme situation and tell a believable story about it? I really had my doubts but, on the whole, I think that Sunjeev Sahota has achieved it.

The story is written in a popular slang style – Imtiaz is from Sheffield and so the narrative is written with Sheffield slang – ‘I were this’, ‘I were going up Meadowhall’, ‘it sempt to me’ – and there are no chapters, simply gaps where the narrator stops writing. It’s not a diary but more sort of notes to himself, not to justify his actions, but to try and explain them to himself.


Basically, it strikes me as a desperately sad story. It’s about a deep, deep sense of alienation. Imtiaz grows up in this northern town, watching his parents sacrifice themselves, taking almost any abuse in order to raise him, to see him have a better life than they. But when his father dies and he returns with the body to Pakistan, he finally feels a sense of belonging and quickly wants to fit in, to adopt the clothes, manners and beliefs of those around him, to not be the foreigner.

And really, it’s this sense of belonging, of wanting to belong, that prompts him to take the actions he does. He watches the videos of atrocities but doesn’t seem particularly moved by them, says that he’s seen them before. He is outraged by what the fighting has done to Kashmir, but it’s not a strident, violent anger. His commitment seems to come much more from that sense of belonging he finds in Pakistan and his sense of alienation when he returns to Sheffield.

By making Imtiaz’s motivation more subtle and complex, perhaps Sahota risks making the story less believable. I had my doubts almost all the way through. But, in the end, it hardly matters because the story ends up being much less about a potential suicide bomber and far more about belonging, friendship, loyalty and loss.

Ours are the Streets; Sahota, Sunjeev; Picador India; Rs. 450

Conversations With Myself by Nelson Mandela

This is a rather very interesting & personal book, composed of Nelson Mandela’s vast archive material in the form of letters, papers, conversations, interviews & speeches/recordings he made/written while in Robben Island as a prisoner, after his release from prison & when he was the first democratic elected President of South Africa and the book is titled “Conversations With Myself”. It has been put together by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, dedicated to his grand-daughter who died in a car accident in June this year during Fifa Soccer World Cup 2010 & is foreworded by President Barack Obama.


The book outlines Nelson Mandela’s views among others on leadership & as well as his fallability as a human being : he was quite ‘anxious/uncomfortable’ while in Robben Island that he was being regarded/portrayed as a Saint by some followers/quarters. He does not however regard himself as a Saint even though his definition of a “Saint is a sinner who keeps on trying/repenting”!

This book is an excellent read because of a diversity of material contained : it’s not like a story with a plot or narrative thread. Thus this book can be studied in bits/chunks as you wish with ease without loosing ‘the flow’ of the book. Some of his letters/speeches reflected/presented in this book are in Nelson Mandela’s own handwriting, making this book rather very personal & special (collectable).

Instead of one or two sections of photos in the middle of the book, readers will find copies of some of the actual source documents, mostly written in Mandela’s own hand, every few pages. Several useful appendices are included: a timeline, maps, a list of abbreviations, and list of “People, Places, and Events” which I found to be indispensable.

This book, “Nelson Mandela : Conversations With Myself”, is a highly recommended reading from one of the most famous prisoners in the world, known for his fight for human rights (Nobel Peace Prize Winner), reconciliation & a humble personality (and hence his declaration as no Saint).

For casual readers, no prerequisite reading is necessary to enjoy this book. This is a story born out of confinement but never lonely; a tale of some sorrow but not despair; a message not of apathy but of hope. Mandela’s amazing resiliency is one of the constant factors in this story.

Here is a book trailer of the same:

Conversations with Myself; Mandela, Nelson; Pan Macmillan; Rs. 999