Tag Archives: PRH

Days without End by Sebastian Barry

Title: Days without End
Author: Sebastian Barry
Publisher: Viking, Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780525427360
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The more I think about “Days without End” by Sebastian Barry, the more I feel that I just must go back and reread it. This book is poetic to the point of it being heartbreaking and yet you can look at it objectively but not for long – because you will be swept away in this epic tale of the Wild West (and mind you, I don’t like these Wild West tales at all) that has such beauty about it even in the dark times that surround it – given the war with the Indians in the 1850s, soon followed by the Civil War.

Sebastian Barry’s characters are as human as they can get and there is no good or bad to it. You cannot pick sides and that’s the nature of war and love. Barry’s writing doesn’t come with layers of prose. He makes you see life, and not tell you anything. The show vs. tell craft is superlatively used in all his books (this being the 3rd that I read by him and can’t wait to gobble the rest). At the same time, there is this sense of stillness to his books – like a river flowing in the background whose gurgle you get used to till it is flooded – his writing is pretty much like that.

Thomas McNulty is seventeen years old and has fled famine in Ireland to come to the United States of America. He meets another orphan on the road, John Cole and they initially dress as women for 50 cents a dance to keep themselves from starvation. They head to the West, fighting the Indian wars, come back to civilian life, back in uniform for the Civil War. What will surprise you is how they build a family (I will not give away that part of the story) so for that you have to read the book.

This is the kind of book that makes you believe that love transcends all barriers – gender mostly and is pure. It doesn’t need validation and never has. It is not even a gay love story. It is just about love and that is enough. The sentences are mostly short but shine so much so that you would have to keep the book down and ruminate on each scenario and word that Sebastian Barry throws at you. His prose is short and subtle – painting the landscape with language as he goes along. The characters – even the minor ones like the Sergeant and the Major are well-etched. Some you love and some you hate.

“Days without End” is the kind of book that you will reread. You will do that because of the story, the setting and the emotions it will evoke inside of you. Might I also add that it isn’t for everyone – the writing has to grow on you but once it does, it is very difficult to let go of. A read not to be missed if you love the quiet life with some turmoil thrown in.

A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee

Title: A State of Freedom
Author: Neel Mukherjee
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670090150
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 275
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Neel Mukherjee’s “A State of Freedom” begins with a father who has come to India with his six-year old son from the States (where he now works). He wants his son to see the Taj Mahal and the nearby monuments at Fatehpur Sikri. The son is intimidated by the landscape – he doesn’t belong to this country and the father feels that even he is a “tourist in his own country”. This sense of alienation and weirdness furthers on into the first chapter, only to leave the reader gasping for more and turning the pages.

The start is powerful, albeit not very clear, but powerful nonetheless. It will leave the reader with two choices (as most starts do) – to either abandon the book or to carry on with it. I recommend that you edge on and you will be in for a surprise. Mukherjee’s characters are closely interlinked with the plot – though the plot is finely segregated into five segments (that is only too deceptive by the way), you see how characters appear time and again from one plot to another – it is as though they have decided to colour outside the lines and they very well will do so.

A construction worker falls to his death in the first section of the immigrant young father and his son and how his story is tackled later. At the same time, let’s not forget the core of the story (to me at least) of a passing poverty-struck man with his dancing bear (the cover is thus inspired) – each trying to find a way out – one of poverty and one of captivity – a “state of freedom” is being tried to achieve. The themes of alienation, identity and longing are further explored in the section of a young man who lives in London and visits Bombay time and again to meet his parents. In the course of the visits, he is taken in by the life of their cook Renu and another servant, Milly – so much so that he is encouraged by Renu to visit her village and stay with her brothers and their families – only to reach an understanding that he never can and never will be able to imagine the lives of others and how they live – his capacity for that is too diminished.

For me, while reading this book, there was the sound of loneliness that rang in almost every page – thus leading to the sound of grief, of belonging and to find salvation in one’s circumstances. I did read The Lives of Others last year, but this book has had an altogether different impact. I think what worked for me while reading this book is the association of daily life that Mukherjee doesn’t throw in your face but doesn’t hesitate to make you see what you normally would’ve shirked away from – the class, the racism, the feeling of not crossing lines because it gets uncomfortable after a point is so stark and raw that it will leave you with a lump in your throat.

For instance, the angle of Lakshman and the bear. There is so much going on in this part of the book that you would have to stop, take a breath and then continue – from the way Lakshman trains the bear (or so he thinks he has) to the drudgery of day to day living – to finding food for himself and the beast, Mukherjee’s prose shines on every single page. The peripheral layers to every section may seem ordinary, till they surface in another section and realism merges with the philosophical.

As a reader what also took me away was the different forms or narratives in which each section is written – the first section is in third person, the second in the first person, and how with each section the story only becomes even more complex and yet so simple. The fourth section is that of Milly and her friend Soni and how these two girls born and brought up in poverty, set out to want better lives and what the outcome of that is. The meaning of dislocation is the strongest in this portion of the book, thereby tying all loose ends.

The last section of the book is the one that is an unpunctuated chapter – told in first-person. It definitely gives the book the much required closure but it is also the chapter that I cannot talk about. “A State of Freedom” is one of those rare books that take you in slowly, capture you by the throat, overwhelm you time and again, make you see broken, fractured lives and at some point also make the attempt to make you whole again from that experience. It is one of those books that you would have to read, no matter what. I cannot stop talking about it.

Hostage by Guy Delisle

Title: Hostage
Author: Guy Delisle
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House
ISBN: 978-1911214441
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 432
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

Guy Delisle’s graphic novels deal with humanity on a grand scale. When I say humanity I mean the issues we deal with not only on a day to day basis, but also the ones that sometimes go unnoticed – the events that go unspoken of, the people who get caught in unsuspecting circumstances and whose stories aren’t told as much. Delisle’s graphic novels till now (at least the ones I’ve read) have dealt with his life as the spouse of a Médecins Sans Frontières (literal translation: Medicine without Frontiers) physician in different cities. “Hostage” is different from these.

“Hostage” tells the story of Christophe André and his kidnapping in early July 1997 from his Doctors without Borders office in Nazran, a small town in the former Soviet Republic of Ingushetia. His kidnappers took him to Chechnya, where they tried to get a ransom of a million dollars. The story is of his captivity and how he managed to survive in the face of a hopeless situation – when he was moved from one place to another, when he didn’t know if he would live to see the next day or for that matter a random act of kindness from a captivator meant so much.

Delisle recounts André’s harrowing experience in hostage and not once the reader (of course me in question in this case) gets bored. Delisle conveys the psychological effects of solitary confinement through some brilliant use of colours, paneling and muted colour washes. Hostage had me hooting for Christophe and all I wanted was for him to go scot free without any injury. Your heart goes out to him as he is cuffed to a radiator, doesn’t know why he is here, doesn’t know whether his organization would pay for him and whether or not he will be able to attend his sister’s wedding or ever see her (heartbreaking in my opinion). I for one had goosebumps while reading this because I started wondering how I would behave in captivity. Would I be able to have any hope? Would I give up too soon?

The topic is grim and something that perhaps most people may not digest well. It being in a graphic form, in fact sometimes makes it only too real. Having said that, the book is compelling. Christophe managed to keep his sanity (you have to read to find out how he managed that) in an environment that was not conducive at all and yet is alive and managed to tell his tale to Delisle, which now is in the form of a brilliant graphic biography (I might even call it a memoir because all experiences are of Christophe after all and were narrated to the author). “Hostage” is a book that filled me with a lot of hope, troubled me at times and also made me see how easy it is sometimes for common folk to get into situations beyond their control. I also for one wouldn’t be surprised if someone decided to make a movie out of it.

You can buy the book here: http://amzn.to/2sZXYpo

The Book of Destruction by Anand

Title: The Book of Destruction
Author: Anand
Translated from the Malayalam by Chetana Sachidanandan
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0143068464
Genre: Literary fiction, Translated fiction
Pages: 242
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“The Book of Destruction” by Anand isn’t an easy book to read. I am forewarning you because it is the truth. At the same time, you must read this book according to me, even if it means slaving through the first couple of pages (actually it is a slave-through after the first couple of pages) but do persist and then you will know why you will fall in love with this piece of work.

Anand’s book is about thugs and hashashins (assassins as called in Persian), it is about destruction and murder – right from the medieval times to the world we live in. The book is a three-story episodic narrative – all of them centered on one narrator and a man named Seshadri, with whom it all begins. In one, the narrator knows of the book of destruction and also the fact that he has been selected to kill – in the second a discotheque is bombed and in the third there is a staged orgy to which the narrator is led.

“The Book of Destruction” is essentially on the nature of murder and what drives a human being to kill (very little as a matter of fact). At the same time, I also thought the book was rambling endlessly and out of hand at sometimes, which could’ve easily been cut out. Having said that, Anand’s research is point on and only makes you want to know more about people who exist in the shadows.

Chetana’s translation is spot on and makes you wonder what the original would have read like. I think it happened to me more in case of this book because of its density and detailing. I absolutely enjoyed “The Book of Destruction” and if you are remotely interested in violence in literature, then this is the book for you.

The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

the-golden-legend-by-nadeem-aslam Title: The Golden Legend
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0670089116
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 376
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

With every book that he writes, Nadeem Aslam only gets better at his craft. Since his debut novel in 1993, “Season of the Rainbirds”, Aslam returns to Pakistan with his latest book “The Golden Legend”. His new book is also just the others – a statement made against wars, what was started by the West and how the country he depicts is hell-bent on completing it, and to top it the darkness of the world. What is different about “The Golden Legend” (which I personally love) is the combination of realism and fable across a terrain of terrorism, tragedy and cruelty.

“The Golden Legend” opens with the death of a middle-aged architect Massud, leaving his wife and collaborator Nargis behind. Both of them were collectively working on building a library on the outskirts of the city – to which they were transporting books and that is how Massud got shot and died. At this time, with turmoil surrounding them and a roadside shooting as well, Nargis flees with her Christian neighbour Helen. This is when there are violent relations between Christians and Muslims.

This is only one part of the story. There is also the story of Helen, who falls in love with Imran, an unknown Kashmiri. There is the story of Helen’s mother Lily. There is another tale of the US officer who wants Nargis to forgive her husband’s killer. Amidst all this, there is the story of life, love and reconstruction of faith.

Aslam’s prose cuts through to you. At least it has always to me. His narrative is wise and affecting and perhaps more timely than ever. Catharsis for his characters comes in forms and ways one cannot even imagine. Through his solid writing, Aslam reflects Pakistan’s present and past through a story of love and human spirit, which only he could have offered.