Tag Archives: Reading Women Challenge 2021

Read 209 of 2021. The Illuminated by Anindita Ghose

The Illuminated by Anindita Ghose

Title: The Illuminated
Author: Anindita Ghose
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9354227257
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 312
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Honestly, I didn’t know what to make of The Illuminated when I first started reading it. I read a couple of pages and for some reason didn’t get back to it. It didn’t call out to me then. I had received an ARC and thought I would read it eventually before the finished copy was out in the market. However, when the finished copy was sent to me, I thought let’s do this. Let us read The Illuminated and so I did. Dear reader, I was in for a roller-coaster ride, a ride that was calm, in its own manner quite tumultuous, deceptively simple, with no twists and turns, and the kind you have to surrender to completely.

Relationships are messy, but that’s how they are. I guess because humans who are in those relationships are complex themselves. Each carrying their own burden, trying very hard to make sense of the world. Shashi and Tara, the mother and daughter at the center of this novel are quite the same. Each trying to make their way in the world, after the death of the center of their lives – the husband and the father. Anindita throws her characters in unfamiliar waters, and it is up to them to sink or swim. Being who they are, they swim. Sometimes in the opposite direction, so as not to cross each other – but what comes of it ultimately is what you will know after reading the book.

The Illuminated is about women – women from different spheres, class, sensibilities, and more than anything women who lead such complicated inner lives – that are brought to fore. From affairs of the heart to desires of the body to how one feels in a marriage, to living in a country where an organisation decides how you should be in the world, Ghose gives us a view (albeit a minor one) into a world unknown to those who live outside of it.

I was mostly reminded of Anita Desai’s writing as I made my way through the book. Initially I thought I could hear Jhumpa Lahiri’s voice, but I was mistaken. It is just Ghose’s own tone that finally makes the book what it is. The themes of loneliness, liberty, of always overlooking one’s shoulder as a woman in modern India, and more than anything longing is constant throughout the book.

The title The Illuminated is self-explanatory. It is of the illumination, of the precise moment of epiphany that Shashi and Tara come to feel is the crux of the book. Of seeing the light that maybe was always there but just got hidden for a long time by the sun. The metaphors do not get in the way of the reading at all. They are subtle, and you get it if you get it.

Anindita’s writing is detailed. I particularly loved Shashi’s parts – the slowness, the sudden change in the tapestry of her life, the choices she then makes, and the determination with which she propels ahead is told skilfully and with most empathy by the writer. It took me a while to get used to Tara. Somehow, I just couldn’t relate to her. There were times I wished I would read more of Shashi and less of Tara, but I also understand that we need Tara’s perspective as readers because that’s where the balancing act happens. At the same time, the parallel but most significant part of the story is also the organisation MSS – that seems to have taken over the responsibility of showing women their place in the society – and how Shashi and Tara navigate their lives around it.

The writing took me some time to get used to, but like I said Anindita’s voice is unique and lures you in after a point. The Illuminated is a nuanced, sometimes faltering, sometimes finding its way and getting there, and sometimes just knowing what it wants to say debut book that stands on its own. I am looking forward to what comes next from Ms. Ghose.

Read 207 of 2021. The Lost Soul by Olga Tokarczuk. Illustrations by Joanna Concejo. Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

The Lost Soul by Olga Tokarczuk

Title: The Lost Soul
Author: Olga Tokarczuk
Illustrator: Joanna Concejo
Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
ISBN: 978-1644210345
Genre: Graphic, Illustrations, Picture Book
Pages: 48
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Lost Soul is one of the best reads of the year, where I am concerned. It not only makes you introspect about life and everything in-between, but also makes you want to stop in your tracks and just be for a while.

The entire book is told in pictures, with very few pages taking up text. It is about John, a workaholic businessman in existential crisis who feels he has lost his soul, and all is gone. A doctor diagnosis his malaise as his soul has been left out in the running game and all he needs to do is wait for his soul to catch-up. This is the plot. The story of our lives.

Tokarczuk is empathetic, poetic, and above all has a sensibility that matches Concejo’s beautiful illustrations, and though the text isn’t so much, yet the translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones hits the spot, like a tonic that you need to get you rid of your ailment.

I think most picture books that I have read my entire life have been more philosophical in nature than literary tomes. They say what they have to quite simply and you have no choice but to go back and reread them. Concejo’s illustrations change with every emotion on page – from sepia tones to being monochromatic to colourful, they are breathtaking in every way.

The Lost Soul teaches us about stopping, slowing down, about the grace in standing still and doing nothing. I think I need to follow this in my life for sure. To just be calm and breathe. To try not to think so much.

Read 202 of 2021. Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro. Translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle

Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro

Title: Elena Knows
Author: Claudia Piñeiro
Translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle
Publisher: Charco Press
ISBN: 978-1999368432
Genre: Literary Fiction, Women in Translation
Pages: 173
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Elena, all of sixty-three years old, knows that her daughter did not die by hanging herself. She knows there is more to it and wants to find out what happened to Rita. Why do they claim that Rita hung herself in the church belfry? How could that have been possible since it was raining that night and Rita would’ve never gone out in the rain as she was petrified of lightning? Elena wants answers about her daughter’s death, and no one is willing to help her. She is determined to find the culprit. Even if it means she has to venture out and journey through the suburbs of the city, to call on a favour from a woman named Isabel, who she and her daughter met twenty years ago. Even if it means that she has to do this as she suffers from Parkinson’s – the disease that will not let go of her and will obstruct her search to some extent. What happens next is what the novel is all about.

Piñeiro is well-known as a “thriller” or “crime” writer in Argentina and even around the world. Elena Knows, according to me is a good start to get to know her writing and fall in love with it. I’m surprised that with almost four books translated in English, Piñeiro is still not that well-known. I hope that changes when more people read Elena Knows.

Elena Knows is so much – a detective novel, a woman dependent on her disease to make all basic decisions – that of walking, turning her neck, seeing someone, and even sometimes breathing. It is a lucid and most disturbing commentary on mother-daughter relationships, and what happens when the child becomes a caregiver. It is also about the role of the government when it comes to providing medical care to its citizens – the red tapism, the bureaucracy, and the narrow-mindedness of it all. The book is political. It is about the agency of women and who controls their bodies. Piñeiro doesn’t hesitate to show society the mirror and make them realize what they stand for or not.

The plot unfolds in a day with clearly marked sections – Morning, Midday, and Afternoon – the times that are governed by Elena’s medication schedule. If she misses this, she will not be able to function. She will not be in control of her body and has to follow the schedule. This is another important element of the book. Let me also add here that Elena is not a likeable protagonist. There are shades and layers to this character and that’s what makes her also so endearing to some extent. There is no maudlin expression of her coping with her disease. There are facts, there are emotions, and sometimes the two converge most beautifully in the book.

Elena knows is so much more and I am stunned at how Piñeiro managed to say so much in such a small book. At the same time, Frances Riddle’s translation is on-point and makes you wonder what it would sound like in Spanish. The sentences gleam and I often found myself underlining passages.

Elena Knows is a book about patriarchy, structures, narrative (italics for dialogues), time, gender, motherhood, illness, and law and what we do with it, as we move on – day to day, hoping for a better tomorrow.

Read 175 of 2021: The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav

The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav

Title: The Anger of Saintly Men
Author: Anubha Yadav 
Publisher: Bee Books 
ISBN: 9788194511311
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5 

There is so much to talk about and unpack about The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav. A book that spans over thirteen years (maybe more), a story of a family ridden with male toxicity, patriarchy, misogyny, and above all the men we raise in Indian families.

Anubha Yadav’s book is perhaps about every Indian man, and not. It is about the men we encounter on a daily basis and their lives – sometimes small, sometimes larger than life itself, their dreams, aspirations, their interaction with other men, with women most importantly as the book progresses, and above all how they constantly view themselves.

Sonu, Anu, and Vicky are three brothers growing up in the 90s. A brand new decade with everything around them rapidly changing. They have moved into their new and last house (no more moving houses) which they name Chuhedani (mousetrap, that they all want to escape but all cannot). This is where they will become men. This is the place patriarchy will sink its teeth in their tender flesh and make them one of its products. The book is about them, their families, their friends, and how all of it is interconnected to how we raise men in sexist societies and what are the consequences. 

Yadav’s book is unapologetic, extremely candid, and an unsentimental look at a typical middle-class North Indian family and what happens to each brother though he is raised more or less the same way. In the course of it, we meet other men – friends, cousins, uncles, grandfathers – and women who are subdued, hidden, and yet always asserting themselves.

Yadav’s writing is clear, focused, and unabashed. There were times it did not seem like a debut at all. All in all, I most enjoyed this short novel, that made me think a lot about our society structures and the spaces we inhabit. The Anger of Saintly Men should be read by all, in my opinion. More so by men.




The Boy in the Cupboard – Written by Harshala Gupte and Illustrated by Priya Dali

The Boy in the Cupboard by Harshala Gupte and Priya Dali

Title: The Boy in the Cupboard
Written by Harshala Gupte
Illustrated by Priya Dali
Publishers: Gaysi Media + Lettori Press
ISBN: 9781638212737
Genre: Children’s Books, LGBTQIA, Diversity
Pages: 24
Source: Publishers
Rating: 5/5

There are very few diverse children books being published in India. Sometimes it becomes very difficult to look for such books – it is as difficult as finding a needle in the haystack. So, I was very glad when Gaysi Media and Lettori Press sent me a copy of their collaborative published work, “The Boy in the Cupboard” – most empathetically written by Harshala Gupte and beautifully illustrated by Priya Dali.

Karan’s favourite place in the whole wide world is his cupboard. If he isn’t at school, he is in his cupboard. Away from the world and the bullies at school. Away, in a place of his own, a place that he visits and prefers to remain there. Until one day his mother finds out about his secret place and wants to know why he is there all day long.

The Boy in the Cupboard is an exquisite and most precious read according to me. It is a book that is needed to be read by every child and adult, and not from the point of view of sexuality but inclusivity, diversity, and how we all need a heart who listens and a shoulder to rest on. The story by Harshala Gupte is so spot-on and simple that it will warm your heart with the turn of every page. Dali’s illustrations are adorable and made me look at them with so much love. All in all, this is a picture book not just for kids, but also for adults – for everyone who has had a tough time fitting in. Read it. Gift it. Cherish it.