Tag Archives: sons

Book Review: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Title: The End of Your Life Book Club
Author: Will Schwalbe
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0307594037
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Memories
Pages: 352
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I had wanted to read, “The End of Your Life Book Club” the first time I read about it, which was in April 2012 or somewhere closer to that month. I love reading books about books and more so when a selection is made and discussed, just as the title suggests – a book club. For me, it was more than that. It was the story that made me want to grab this one and start and I did when I got the first chance. I have just finished reading this book and I am overwhelmed beyond words. So maybe this review will be a short one, just because I want whichever reader to pick up this book, to be able to enjoy it without any pre-conceived notion of anyone else’s opinion about it.

“The End of Your Life Book Club” is about a mother and a son (the author and his mother), whose love for books is never-ending. They discuss books and talk about books throughout the journey that the author describes brilliantly in this work. Will’s mom has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the journey of the book club starts at the doctor’s office and the waiting room as they wait for the chemo appointments and discuss books that they are reading at the same time. The book is a tribute to his mother and books and life and its magnanimity.

What struck me was the way this book is written. It is about Mary Ann Schwalbe and her family, with books playing a major role between her and her second born, Will Schwalbe. The book is simple and yet chronicles a family’s life, a mother’s love and more than that, the woman that she was – compassionate, generous, kind, loving and a reader. I had to pen down this review because I want more people to read this book – it is about books for sure and it is also about connections – about telling your loved ones that you love them and are proud of them, no matter what.

The writing is thread-bare and comes from the heart. It must have been very difficult for Mr. Schwalbe to pen this book, considering how personal it is, and yet at the same time, I am only too glad that he decided to write this book and share his mother’s life with readers around the world. Of how building a library in Kabul was the most important task for her (given her associations with non-profit organizations) to the daily planning of dinners and birthday parties. Mary Ann Schwalbe is a woman I think every reader would want to have known and this book is a perfect way of doing that. To know what she read and why and more so what sort of a woman she was – determined to help others and live her life to the fullest no matter what, not even deterring in the face of a disease.

“The End of Your Life Book Club” comes from an emotional place. There were times I choked and nearly cried and was so happy to have been reading this book. I know for a fact that I will reread this one and also read all the books that Will and Mary read throughout the course of the book. It is a book about reading and how it can save you at most times. It is about love and what family means to you. It is about life. I cannot recommend it enough.

Affiliate Link:

Buy The End of Your Life Book Club from Flipkart.com

Advertisements

Book Review: The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph

Title: The Illicit Happiness of Other People
Author: Manu Joseph
Publisher: Fourth Estate
ISBN: 978-9350293645
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Manu Joseph is definitely the most promising writer on the Indian Literary scene as of now and well-deserved of that place in my opinion. Serious Men made a great impact in the literary world and rightly so. It was a sweeping novel of family, doubt, and loss in an emerging India, full of hopes, aspirations and the need to get somewhere. Manu Joseph writes with a keen eye to details. He knows what he wants to convey to the much-eager reader and he delivers to the maximum.

“The Illicit Happiness of Other People” is yet again another example of his genius. The reader should not compare it to Serious Men. It may be the same writing style, but of course, the plots are radically different.

“The Illicit Happiness of Other People” is set in Madras in the early 90s when technology was well on its way to invade the country and the lifestyle changes were crawling up unaware to the Great Indian Middle Class. Ousep Chacko is an anarchist. He is a family man. He is an alcoholic. He wants to know what happened to his first-born seventeen year old Unni Chacko, the highly talented comic book writer and illustrator. Why did he do what he did? What compelled him to? The only clue he has on hand is his son’s comic strip and he has to string and make sense of his son’s life through that and meeting people he doesn’t know existed in Unni’s life.

While this plot is unfolding itself, we have his second son, Thoma who hasn’t shown as much promise as Unni and is often ignored by his father. All his father wants is answers about Unni’s life. The other angle is that of his wife, who is suffering in silence. Unni’s cartoons reveal more than what Ousep wants to know and that reels the story in a completely different direction, with the arrival of a stranger who will change things for the three of them.

The book is beautifully written and heart-breaking to a large extent, with the right doses of humour thrown in. I must admit that it took me sometime to sink into the book at the beginning, but when I did, I could not stop myself from reading. The story is infectious and grows on you. Just when you think that the writing and characters have become predictable, there is a sense of comfort; Joseph surprises you by pulling an unexpected rabbit out of his wordsmith hat.

The writing and the characters reach out to you in ways you can never imagine. Your heart goes out to Ousep and yet there are times you wish he didn’t do things that he does. Thoma as the recluse is brilliantly etched and the mother, though silent plays a crucial part in the book. The highlight of the book for me was when it all made sense, when the book looped in. Characters searching for happiness and fulfillment in a book are most tragic for the reader. It almost holds a mirror sometimes. You then know the ulterior motives of characters. They just want happiness after all, so much so that they start despising others for being happy.

I cannot stop raving about this book. Nothing is out of place and nothing is flawed in the writing. Whoever says that Indian Writing has not yet reached its pinnacle has to read this book to probably take back their words. I would recommend it to whosoever I meet.

Affiliate Link:

Buy The Illicit Happiness of Other People from Flipkart.com

Book Review: Quilt by Nicholas Royle

Title: Quilt
Author: Nicholas Royle
Publisher: Myriad Editions
ISBN: 9780956251541
PP: 144 Pages
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Price: £7.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

From the very beginning of this book the reader embarks on a fictional journey that feels distinctly different from any they may have had before. Language in all its strangeness and beauty comes to the fore, whilst at the same time the very human story is movingly conveyed. The tale is about the profound nature of the everyday, about emotional events that every reader will experience at some time in their lives. But it is also funny and intellectual. It engages the reader’s thoughts, challenges them, calls for them to think about the very language they read and speak and inhabit. This is an inventive, risky piece of writing, which succeeds because of the way in which it combines flights of imagination with the sense of a powerful emotional reality.

I suppose Quilt qualifies loosely as a novel, in the sense that it has characters (really just the two), time more-or-less flows forward in linear fashion, and the author shows a grudging nod to such plot niceties as beginning, middle, and end. However, it’s also free-association stream-of-consciousness poesis, in which the writer gives full rein to his obvious infatuation with ontological wordplay.

The book starts out as a reasonably coherent if lyrical tale about a man dealing with his father’s demise, but quickly develops a Kafka-esque quality as the protagonist waxes weird on the philosophical and theological import of…wait for it…stingrays. As it happens, I have a thing for sharks and their compressed cousins myself, so was delighted by the professor’s unexpected dive into the philological murk of our subconscious substrate; however, crafty readers hoping for allusions to actual quilting will be much surprised, as mantuas are masked by mantas, and purls passed over for pearls.

The brief Afterword suggests some very interesting ways of thinking about fiction today, what it can do and what it might do. It also prompts a rethinking about Quilt itself.

Royle’s critical work is justly famous and has always had a kind of inventiveness more usually associated with literary writing. In Quilt he takes this creative energy to the level,as Helene Cixous comments on the back cover, of mythmaking. It’s an exciting development for English novel-readers.

Four stars, for reminding us that syntax is our servant, not master, and that words were created expressly to share thoughts, feelings and dreams which could not otherwise be communicated simply by pointing to rock, and grunting.

Book Review: Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi

Title: Beside the Sea
Author: Veronique Olmi
Publisher: Peirene Press
ISBN: 9780956284020
Price: £8.99
Source: Publisher
Genre: Translated Work, French Fiction, Novella, Literary Fiction
PP: 111 Pages
Rating: 5/5

What would drive a mother to kill her own children? Why would she do that? Which mother ever does that? What must be the situation or circumstance that propelled such behaviour? I had these questions raging in my mind, when I read about 3 weeks ago in the local newspaper, that a woman had flung her 2 children – aged 6 and 11 years old and then took the path of suicide herself. She could not handle the stress at home and her husband wasn’t supportive of her choices either. I stared at her picture for the longest time and then it struck me that I studied with her. She was almost my classmate. We knew each other. I had once upon a time laughed with her. I could not get her out of my head for the longest time and she still lingers there somehow.

The reason I mentioned all of this is when I started reading, “Beside the Sea”, my thoughts time and again centred on her and her children. The book is about a nameless mother and her two children Stan and Kevin and their trip beside the sea. The story is set in a nameless town – grey and dark and full of rain and mud. There is no mention of any colour in the entire book and may be that is how it is supposed to be, given the plot and the atmosphere. Well the story hinges on the two day trip and aftermath. I had to give the spoiler away since I had to mention what I was going through and what I had experienced.

This is no joyful jaunt to sun, surf and sand. Instead, we discover a deeply disturbed mother, already on the edge, afraid for the life of poverty and exclusion that she fears her boys are destined to lead. Determined to give them at least one happy memory, she takes them on a holiday that she cannot afford and has not properly planned.

We are introduced to the two little boys, Stan and Kevin, through the eyes of their mother allowing us to develop a proxy parental concern for them. The story is told from within their mother’s mind but she remains nameless, allowing us to feel empathy for her while still keeping her at arms distance.

Seeing the experiences of this family through the eyes of the boys gives a sense of wonder and delight, but the covering veil of the mother’s thoughts and emotions and the constant presence of rain give the story a continual sense of darkness that leads to a disharmony – a sense that something is not quite right.

My head was empty when I finished reading this book. I don’t know why. I know and yet the book shook me in several ways, ways I did not think it was capable of. The book takes you by surprise (or may be by shock?) and manages to make you think long after you have finished reading the book. I thought the translation was perfect considering it was originally written in French by Veronique Olmi. The writing is perfect, neither too less and nor too much – anyway that’s how a novella should be written, isn’t it? I did not want to know more at the end of it. I was satisfied. I have had a roller-coaster of an emotional ride while reading this beautiful work. So must you.  

You can purchase the book here on Flipkart

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

I absolutely adored this book it gets a terrific 5 out of 5 gnomes for having a sincere engaging main character and a story that really keeps you thinking. This is one of the most well written and lyrical stories that I’ve read in a long time. It is so full of great quotes and lines, I have over thirty pages bookmarked where I wanted to go back and note what was said.

The overall story is intriguing in both structure and theme. Throughout there are excerpts from How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe so it’s like a book inside a book. The plot is explained like a story. Charles, the main character, lives in Minor Universe 31 where, “physics was only 93 percent installed,…” Some universes have more heroes and better protagonists then others. Minor Universe 31 though is very small.

Charles is a time travel technician, he repairs or helps people when they or the machine go wrong. He can open windows to other universes and see what he’s like there. Just thinking about that would be enough to paralyze me and most people because what if you find out that you’re the worst off out of all the possible yous? Charles doesn’t really live in the present, he uses his time machine and stays in between certain minutes so when he has to go in for repairs it turns out that from the present he’s been gone for ten years.

The secondary characters in this book are full of quirks but also very fun to read about. There’s Ed, TAMMY, Phil and Charles’s Mom. Ed, Charles’s dog he found was retconned out of a western show. TAMMY is the operating system of the time machine who has low self esteem and is extremely funny in her interactions with Charles. Phil, his manager doesn’t know he’s a computer program. His Mom lives in one hour of time because that’s all he could afford for her retirement. (This buying of a certain hour or time limit to live over and over is another interesting concept that is introduced which makes you contemplate what you would choose.

An incident occurs that leads to a time loop (because as any watcher of Star Trek can attest to, meeting yourself in the past or future is not the best idea). He has to figure out how to get out of the loop and why the book How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, a book seemingly written by him that he hasn’t written yet, is important. Because of the loop he gets to look back at important events in his life between him and his father. What follows is an epic journey to find his father that he lost long ago. The father and son relationship is vividly explored and it’s shown how he and his father came to build a time machine and the ramifications it had between them. It’s shown how the past impacts him and what happens to people that tend to live in the past. There is plenty of adventure along the way and a plethora of surprises as Charles goes through the time loop trying to figure everything out before it starts all over again.

Overall this book has quite the story to tell and will leave you thinking about it for a long time past the last page. Last but certainly not least is the major plus that How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe ends happily.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe; Yu, Charles; Pantheon; $24.00