Tag Archives: ReadMoreWomen

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.

Is It The Same For You? by Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh

Is It The Same For You? by Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh

Title: Is It The Same for You?
Authors: Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857426963
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 24 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5 stars 

Young girls in conflict zones perhaps face so much more than we know of or will ever know. What do they think? What do they feel? When does childhood end and the reality of being where you are hits you hard? What do governments have to account for then, when innocence is lost way before time? Is it the Same for You in its most raw form asks all these questions, making the reader constantly reflect with every turn of the page.
.
Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh take different moments of a young girl’s life in Kashmir and bring them to fore. Amidst all the conflict (political and religious) and terror, the question remains that is it the same for all young girls out there? How is it when their bodies change? The book looks at shards of life – the ones that are rarely come about – when the not so normal becomes normal, when you get used to what you aren’t supposed to get used to, and life is lived just on the sidelines.
.
Neha Singh’s text coupled with Priya Sebastian’s most stunning illustrations will constantly haunt you. Each page of sparse text is a story with so many layers and so much to see. The girl who takes comfort in the assumption that maybe this is what it is for all girls over the world and who is to say it isn’t? In one form or the other that is. From one conflict zone to the other. From one state of normalcy to the next. Is it the same for you?

When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me by Ananda Devi. Translated from the French by Kazim Ali.

When The Night Agrees to Speak to Me by Ananda Devi

Title: When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me
Author: Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Kazim Ali Publisher: Harper Perennial India
ISBN: 9789390351930
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 120
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Poetry and I share a tumultuous relationship. There are times I love it with all my heart, even though I fleetingly remember lines. There are times I hate it so much, that I don’t want to read the genre again. But it is always extreme. This love or the hate. Nothing in- between. Off late, it is veering toward more love, and for that I am grateful. We all evolve. Thank God for that.

Ananda Devi’s poetry takes a while to get used to, like any collection of poems. Just that this isn’t any other collection. Her tone, her structure, the subtle hints of expression – the saying and not saying – the exquisite way in which language lends itself – even though it’s a translation, is just stunning. There are poems and then there are three prose poems, which go on quite beautifully.

Her poems do take some time to get into. The themes are evident: sometimes a little bit of longing, a burst of emotions, surpassing all norms of gender (all these poems to my mind were gender-neutral and that was absolutely fantastic), speaking of the body, of sleeplessness, of desire that isn’t accentuated, and about aging and the body not in control as it moves through time.

The translation by Kazim Ali is what Ananda Devi intended. The translations were read by her, they went through a process – back and forth and reached the version we read. As Kazim Ali says the task of translation was “less karaoke and more full-blown drag”. There is an interview with Ananda Devi at the end of the book, and a note by Mohit Chandna (an Assistant Professor in French and Francophone Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad, India) that sum up the book beautifully – the poems from head to toe, from start to finish, from insomnia to deep sleep.

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Title: Jack
Author: Marilynne Robinson
Publisher: Virago Press, Hachette UK
ISBN: 978-0349011806
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Jack to me was as beautiful in its writing as Gilead by the same writer. The interior monologues though they went on and on, worked for me. They got me off-track sometimes, but I was back in the book for most part. But perhaps the idea of the book was also to make you feel and think so much as you read along, which it managed to accomplish quite successfully with this reader. Also, might I add that you can read Jack as a stand-alone novel, though it is from the world of Gilead. It would be great if you would also read Gilead, Home, and Lila before embarking this one.

Jack is a book of romance. It is a book about God, faith, religion, and what we hold close. (well in more than one way). It is a book about John Ames Boughton, the prodigal son of Gilead’s Presbyterian minister, and his romance with Delia Miles, an African American high school teacher, who is also a preacher’s daughter. The book is set right after WWII, thereby making it all the more paradoxical of American way of life then and now – of these star-crossed lovers navigate their way at home and in the world.

Robinson’s writing is quiet. It is gentle, and also ferocious when needed. It is about people who don’t fit and how the world they inhabit is not of equals and doesn’t believe in equality. A world that will not let them forget who they are. Jack is about so much more – faith in each other right at the center of the novel, and about how even though cut from the same cloth, people still want to segregate.

Jack is a book that wants to show you how love overcomes it all and tries so hard to do that. I was convinced and loved that aspect of it. At the end of the day though, it isn’t that easy. Robinson’s usual gifts are present throughout – the pacing of dialogue, the story taking its time to get into gear, and how bit by bit all of it is revealed. Read them all. Read all the four books.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Title: The Vanishing Half
Author: Brit Bennett
Publisher: Dialogue Books, Hachette UK ISBN: 9780349701462
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2/5

I really wanted to like The Vanishing Half, and I also did to some extent, but some parts of it were just too boring and the plot did nothing to build on the characters of the twins, who leave the town they are born and raised in one fine day.

The Vanishing Half is the story of very light-skinned identical twins Stella and Desiree, who grew up in the tiny Louisiana town of Mallard, that is inhabited only by light-skinned people. The story reminded of “Passing” and I was quite intrigued to therefore read the book. The story of these twins and their lives in and out of Mallard did nothing to arouse my interest nor did it whet my appetite after the first three chapters.

The writing is good, in fact great in some places. The bone I had to pick was with the plot and like I said the characterization of the protagonists. It does not take into account the important topics that is somewhere also at the core of the book – that of sexism, colorism, domestic abuse, and being a trans person. I could not see anything moving in that direction. It then becomes the usual – about family, sisterhood, and their children and that’s that. The Vanishing Half got me all excited but left me feeling all wasted at the end of it.