Tag Archives: ReadMoreWomen

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Title: Disappearing Earth
Author: Julia Phillips
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525520412
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Disappearing Earth is a book that will keep you on the edge of the seat, and yet make you constantly stop and think about so many things that go on in our world, which no one seems to know of. At the start of the book, two young sisters (ages, eight and eleven) are kidnapped in broad daylight from the Kamchatka Peninsula in the far east region of Russia. This is how the story begins.

So, while the disappeared girls are the crux of the story, there are other characters that come right after the first chapter, describing how it all happened, and what was the context (well, in a way). We get to know the characters’ lives and their relationship with the sisters, each character describing their own pain and vulnerability. These characters are mostly women, who are leading quiet lives, each suffering in their own way. This is how Phillips opens up the world of this novel for the reader. It is not what it seems and there is so much more to know.

The writing may seem wobbly at first, but it soon picks up, and gives the reader so much more. Kamchatka has its own role to play (given climate change), but ultimately the book is about the fragility of humans and how the ever-changing ecosystem has such a role to play with their psychology. You can sense it all – the dense forests, the expanse of tundra, the glassy seas, the volcanoes, all of it and more, which only add to the complexity of the narrative.

Phillips shows us the mirror of community, and what happens when you cannot trust what you have been born and raised in. The sense of family runs strong in this novel. The writing is sometimes all tell and very little show, but it worked for me just superbly. I would strongly recommend this read.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Title: The Bluest Eye
Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0307278449
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 206
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I read this book a long time ago. I think it was 2001. It has been nineteen years, and my love for this book only grows with passing time. The Bluest Eye is a book that needs to be read by everyone. It is a book that is most contested, and also banned in schools and colleges in the US of A. It is a book that didn’t shy away from saying what it had to, when it was first published in 1970, and even after 50 years, it says all that it has to and reaches more readers every single day.

The novel takes place in Lorain, Ohio and tells the story of a young African American girl Pecola, who grows up in the years following The Great Depression. She is deemed to be ugly by people around her. She believes it as well. All she wants the bluest of eyes (like the Shirley Temple Doll), which to her is the quality of a “white girl” – the kind of girl everyone loves and adores. And even then, though Pecola is at the heart of this novel, she is the soul of the novel so to say, we as readers will never hear her side of the story. Morrison doesn’t grant us that.

I cannot say anything new about this classic that hasn’t already been said before. It has all been said in 50 years, and more. All narratives have been explored. All angles have been analysed. What remains at the heart of it is a story told that is traumatic, holding a mirror to our society, and showing the dark recesses of human nature.

Toni Morrison never did flinch from telling things the way they were. Yes, The Bluest Eye might make some readers most uncomfortable. But that’s the intent. To feel that discomfort and understand and empathise and see the world differently. Yes, it is about Pecola and her abusive father and her mother who cannot do anything. But that’s the truth Ms. Morrison wanted to bring to fore which she did most candidly – making readers question about beauty, about fitting in, and all of this through an impoverished black girl who just wants to be accepted, and the only way she knows it can happen is by wishing for pretty blue eyes.

The Bluest Eye even when I reread it this month made me look and see at every step of the way – in and out of this book as well. Morrison had said that she wrote The Bluest Eye because she wanted to read it. She makes us aware of children and their lives, their truths and their questions through Pecola and the children who are narrating this story (or have they become adults?). Pecola cannot be shaken, cannot be broken, and as heartbreaking and horrible it is, the only love Pecola seems to have known has come from her abusive father Cholly.

The Bluest Eye makes us see truths that we shy away from. Of how it feels not to be a whole person. Of how it is to know that our cracked selves are just a manifestation of the society we live in. Of how desperately we want the world to look at us differently.

The Bluest Eye to me is about where you come from and where you hope to go. It is all about what you dream about, despite the circumstances, despite what surrounds you, and despite what you look like to the rest of the world (in this case Pecola to the rest of the town and neighbourhood). The Bluest Eye is and will always be a landmark read for me. I will visit it more often than not. Morrison’s debut should be read, and reread, and read some more.

Autumn by Ali Smith

Autumn by Ali Smith

Title: Autumn
Author: Ali Smith
Publisher: Anchor Books 
ISBN: 9781101969946
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5

This was a reread for me this year. I had almost forgotten how brilliant this book is, and it is not just about the word-games or the wordplay that Smith uses to her advantage. It is also not about the latent humour that springs itself on you every five pages or so. It is about the writing. The hard-to-contain, the kind of writing that is not limited only to words, the kind of writing that makes you sit up and want to devour the book in one sitting. Autumn for me, is that kind of a book. The book that I will reread perhaps once more before this year ends. 

Autumn by Ali Smith is the first in a quartet. The season quartet as it is called. Autumn is the season of mists, of melancholy, of trees shedding leaves, of changing colours, of perhaps to see clearly, and make peace with the fact that life isn’t stationary. Autumn by Ali Smith is all of this and more. It is called “the Brexit novel”, but to me it is so much more. A lot more. Autumn is about friendship, love, art, identity, forgetfulness, ageing, of how much the world means to us, and how much we perhaps leave behind. 

It is essentially the story of Elisabeth, and her next-door neighbour Daniel Gluck, about 70 years her senior. The friendship that started when she was but a little girl, who is now a woman in her early 30s, and he is centenarian. She goes to meet him at the home for the aged. She reads to him. Constantly reading to him. There is a lot of back and forth between the present and the past in the book, which worked for me through and through. Elisabeth and Daniel’s relationship is charted through the years, of what he teaches her about art, beauty, and the nature of living. Of how she takes it all in. Of the unspoken beauty of friendship, that doesn’t come with any condition of age or time or wisdom. It just is. 

Autumn is energetic, brimming with wordplay, there is so much to it – the layers just keep peeling – perhaps also with every reread. It is also the story of Christine Keeler, of the Profumo fame, and how art plays a role in all of it. It is the story of how we function as humans. Ali Smith’s writing is perfect as far as I am concerned. No phrase or sentence is out of place, or not needed. Everything makes sense and sometimes nothing does. But that’s the beauty of her writing. You read. You pause. You savour what she serves, and you right back for a reread. I for one, cannot wait to now read Winter.

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Title: The Mountains Sing
Author: Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai Publisher: Oneworld Publications ISBN: 978-1786079220
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“We’re forbidden to talk about events that relate to past mistakes or the wrongdoing of those in power, for they give themselves the right to rewrite history,” the grandmother Dieu Lan tells her granddaughter, nicknamed Guava. “But you’re old enough to know that history will write itself in people’s memories, and as long as those memories live on, we can have faith that we can do better.”

“The Mountains Sing” unfolds a narrative of 20th century Vietnam, right from the land reforms of the 50s, as well as the several troublesome and turbulent decades before it, to the Vietnam War against America, beginning in 2012 and looking backwards. The story is told through the women of a single family. Brave, courageous, and tenacious women. Women who don’t give up – in the face of tragedy, and also don’t give up when it comes to hoping for better futures, time and time again.

The book alternates with memories of Dieu Lan, in the form of stories she tells her granddaughter, Hương, and it is through their lives and lived experiences, the story moves forward.

There is so much to unpack in this novel. There is so much to take within you as a reader. The landscape, the family, the neighbours, the kindness, the cruelty, and above all perhaps some humanity shown in times of war and adversity. There are no heroes here. There are no villains. It is what it is. Life, led with gratitude and fortitude, no matter what. The reading of this book has been sublime and taught me the lesson of humility (a lot more to learn in that aspect).

The Mountains Sing made me think of my privilege, my place in the world, and how people live day to day, and we may never know their stories, or at least most stories, till we listen. The politics of the book is what is at the heart of it, on every page, and yet distanced. Maybe it was needed for such a narrative, which is more about a common family, and their lives and what the cultural, political and emotional landscape of their country means to them, and to how they live and deal with grief, loss, happiness, and moments of redemption. Nguyen’s writing had me turn the pages reluctantly. I was overwhelmed and afraid of what was going to happen to these characters I had grown to love, with their jagged edges and more. The prose isn’t pitch-perfect all the time but I loved it that way. I love the disparity, the disconnectedness, and how it lend to the voices of the people who are forever lost.

War changes you. Fear always keeps you on your toes. Life is perhaps irreparable. It takes so much to make sense of life around you, you stumble, you fall, and somehow with some hope, pray ardently that you make it to the other side. The Mountains Sing is a constant reminder of that hope, of that emotion of not letting go, and above all to know that there is some light at the end of the long, dark, tunnel.