Tag Archives: Political

33 Revolutions by Canek Sánchez Guevara

33-revolutions-by-canek-sanchez-guevara Title: 33 Revolutions
Author: Canek Sánchez Guevara
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453480
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

A short book that has so much to say. I am enamored by books that say so little and end up showing you an entire world of things, ideas and more importantly make you think and a lot more once you are done reading them. “33 Revolutions” by Canek Sánchez Guevara is one such book.

The book might seem vague to begin with but it is anything but that. It is the story of a nameless protagonist living in contemporary Cuba, whose parents were the supporters of the Castro revolution. At the same time, he is black. The reason I mention this is because it plays a role in the story and one which cannot be ignored. The hero’s father died on being accused of embezzlement. His mother flees after her husband’s death and settles in Madrid.

He is separated from his wife and all he does besides his rote work is read. Books open him to a different world and make him see the reality he is surrounded by: the mundane, the ineffectual and the broken records of life – which the book captures beautifully. I think that has also to do with the fact that the author was the grandson of Che Guevara. The ideas of revolution that spring later can be seen lucidly as being inspired by him.

Our hero also has Kafkaesque dreams – nightmares and tethers on the edge mostly. In fact, at most times you as a reader cannot distinguish between reality and fiction of the novel and question the plot. This to me is fantastic as it challenges you – the reader, which doesn’t happen too often in books. The sense of disillusionment is real and how you actually see the protagonist being an informer and then refusing to do what he is told are the hallmarks of this novella.

This novella has actually made me want to read more about Cuba and its revolution of Castro – of how it all began and how it disappointed its supporters. “33 Revolutions” though is a fantastic stand-alone novella. Guevara puts his heart and soul in the writing – while reading it you might also feel exhausted and tired and that is the cornerstone of a good book – to make you feel what you read. Might I also add that the translation by Howard Curtis who also translated Santiago Gamboa’s book “Night Prayers” (published earlier this year and which I loved) is superb. If politics, life, and the disappointment of it all interests you, then this book sure is for you. If not, then too pick it up for the beauty of language.

Guapa by Saleem Haddad

guapa-by-saleem-haddad Title: Guapa
Author: Saleem Haddad
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454135
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQ fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The minute I had known of “Guapa” by Saleem Haddad, I knew I wanted to read it. I also strangely (well not so) enough knew that I would love it. Is it because I am gay? Is it because there is this sense of alienation I feel sometimes, as most minorities do? I don’t know. I don’t think that’s one of the major reasons why I thought I would love the book, but it was definitely playing at the back of my mind. “Guapa” extends itself from being just “another gay novel” and that’s what I love about it.

The novel opens strangely enough with a scene that I can most associate myself with. The protagonist, Rasa’s grandmother catches him in bed with his lover Taymour. That’s how the book opens. That’s exactly what happened to me many years ago – my mother caught me with a man (random and not my lover at all) in bed and I was mortified. I was ashamed (Eib as Rasa calls it in the book and you will know the context and the way the word is used). I was not scared. I was just helpless as it happened. Anyway, that is how the book begins.

It is a book set in an unnamed country (and yet we know it is Iraq) and takes place over 24-hours and what happens to Rasa, a disillusioned gay man – caught between two worlds, between his grandmother and the love he has for his lover, between tradition and modernity and always looking within to find means of escape. The book is about Guapa, the underground night club where the city’s clandestine LGBT community meets and lives their lives, day by day, with no hope in sight. The same day, Rasa’s best friend and drag queen Majid has been arrested. That’s another aspect of the book. Let me also add another very interesting part of the book here: Taymour is about to get married. For the rest, I beseech you to read “Guapa”.

There are some authors who debut and you know it is their debut novel. There are some who are brilliant with the written word and their first novel doesn’t seem like the first novel and this is the case with Saleem Haddad’s book. The writing is mostly in the first person, but doesn’t ever fall in the territory of stereotypes or its creation. It if anything, breaks and rips them apart with each sentence and thought. It is not a coming of age novel, though one would be so tempted to fit it in that genre. Honestly, for convenience I have categorized it under literary fiction and LGBTQ fiction but I think the book is broader in scope than that. “Guapa” is about what goes on behind headlines, it is about lives who want to be free and live the way they must, it is about issues that are seething and often ignored; marginalized lives and hopes and dreams and above all empathy toward one and all.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

the-underground-railroad-by-colson-whitehead Title: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
Publisher: Fleet Books, Hachette
ISBN: 978-0708898390
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I love the choices made by Oprah for her book club. She does a brilliant job of it. I also think that single-handedly she has had a huge role to play in getting America to read. I remember it was 2000 or something like that I when I was first introduced to her book club. Internet was in the very nascent stages in India and we had Star Plus though (it had not become Star World yet I think) and there was the Oprah Winfrey Show that would air every morning at 6 am and I would watch it religiously. That is when I was introduced to her book club and since then I have been a fan. From what is been told, Oprah actually got the publishers of this selection to sort of push the date of publishing right back so she could announce it on her network. I am mighty impressed and she is one of the few people who can pull this off.

The latest book (not Love, Warrior) that I have read from the stable is “The Underground Railroad” and I must say that I was mesmerized by this book. I have not read any other work of Colson Whitehead and always wanted to start with Sag Harbor but I am glad that it was this book that started it for me. “The Underground Railroad” is brutal. It is fictitious but I am sure that most of it has happened – and perhaps it is easy to talk about suffering in fiction than it is in the form of a memoir or biography. I honestly believe in this. I think that when you speak of human redemption, suffering or something that is so heartbreaking, fiction will get more people to connect to it.
So what is the book all about? Why am I raving about it?

The book is the story of Cora, the young runaway slave from Georgia. It is also about Caesar and how they both flee the Randall plantation and head north via an actual underground railroad. The story is set in 1812 and must I say that this book is not for the weak-hearted. There is a lot of violence and emotional torture but it had to be told because there is no escaping it. You cannot and must not sugar-coat sorrow. So Cora and Caesar are on the run and while that happens, Cora manages to kill a white boy who tries to capture her. From there on they are hunted endlessly and how they manage to do what they want to makes for the rest of the story.

Colson’s writing reminds me of Morrison. There are passages and sentences that will leave you breathless and you will reach out for that glass of water. It will happen. You will get angry because slavery is just not what should ever exist. You will also cheer for Cora and for some people she meets along the way. You will mainly hoot for the perseverance and courage of the protagonist and want to change things in your life. “The Underground Railroad” is not just a book about slavery, it is also a book about humanity and how there is always a way out. A must read this year and it will not disappoint you at all.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson Title: Nimona
Author: Noelle Stevenson
Publisher: Harper Teen
ISBN: 978-0062278227
Genre: Comics, Graphic Novels
Pages: 272
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Nimona is a refreshing comic debut. Noelle started it as a web-comic, till it was a rage and voila, then a book! I am disappointed that I waited this long to get my hands on this one, but I am also quite glad that I read it perhaps way at the end of the pile, so I could enjoy it so.

Nimona is a comic book anti-hero like no other. She is a shapeshifter and the comic itself is set in the near future. There is a regime at work and they want the law and order situation to be maintained as per them. Nimona is the new sidekick to her super-villain boss Lord Ballister Blackheart. Ballister Blackheart has a history with Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin (you will also know of the twist there once you read the book) who works for the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. It is up to Nimona and Ballister to prove to everyone that the institution is not really what it stands for. How they do that forms the crux of this graphic novel and more than anything else the past of Nimona and the terrors she holds. Might I also add that Nimona is barely a young girl with a knack of villainy.

The entire shapeshifting angle in this graphic novel worked superlatively. It is hilarious and often terrifying. The plot is taut and as a reader, I am so looking forward to the sequel (hoping there is one). The comic is delightful and also the scientific angle is explained quite simply. There is plenty of action, adventure and incidents that follow throughout the course of the book. Graphic novel and superhero lovers will simply adore this book. I know I did. “Nimona” is the one graphic novel you cannot miss out on.

Book Review: The Beautiful and the Damned by Siddhartha Deb

Title: The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India
Author: Siddhartha Deb
Publisher: Penguin Viking India
ISBN: 978-0-670-08596-5
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 253
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

India as a country is not easy to understand. It never has been, with its glaring differences in strata of societies and not to mention the similarities sometimes, it is almost like a maze with no fixed end point. And that is because it is constantly evolving and ever-changing. With these changes moving at their own speed and yet the past not letting us get very far, Siddhartha Deb’s book, “The Beautiful and the Damned” – Life in the New India gives us new perspectives to think about.

Siddhartha Deb has undertaken something so huge with this book – to be able to unveil Modern India for us. To give the readers a sense of what is Modern India all about – from its economic viewpoints to cultural backgrounds to the way we think and sometimes trying to understand why we think and act the way we think and act.

The book is a series of four chapters that touch on Modern India – from the lifestyle of the BPO industry to the state of farmers in the country to the steel and mill workers and finally the women of the country. The first chapter that focused on IIMP and Arindam Chaudhari has been banned from being published in India. So the book does not have that included. So much for modernity and the fact that we live in a so-called democratic environment.

Siddhartha Deb is just chronicling his observations so to speak in this book. The fact that the chapters aren’t inter-related is refreshing, keeping the conclusions open to the reader. At the same time, I also feel that probably one book and four chapters aren’t enough to talk about New India. It sure does require more paper and thought space.

Having said that, the writing is taut and not too many words are wasted in getting through to the reader. Siddhartha Deb’s writing style is simple and clear. There aren’t too many metaphors, which could be the case while writing this kind of a book. I thoroughly enjoyed this read and to some extent it also gave me a different viewpoint on Modern India – its pros and its cons.

Affiliate Link:

Buy The Beautiful And The Damned: Life In The New India from Flipkart.com

The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India