Tag Archives: tales

Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey

Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey Title: Amphigorey Too
Author: Edward Gorey
Publisher: Perigee Books
ISBN: 978-0399504204
Genre: Graphic Novels, Literary, Humour
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Amphigorey Too is a wonderfully strange book. It is a collection of 20 tales which have been previously published and this book is an anthology. In fact Edward Gorey’s stories are so short and so many of them that there are four omnibuses to encapsulate all of them.

These 20 tales are dark and completely out of the ordinary. They will take you by surprise and while they seem to be meant for children, they most certainly are not. Gorey’s style is always dark and witty. I guess having a signature way of writing always helps an author in the sense that readers can then associate easily and know what they are in for after reading the first couple of stories or books.

Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey - Image 1

I had not heard of Edward Gorey, till my friend at Book Sense spoke highly of him and I knew I had to read him. My favourite tale in the book is “The Gilded Bat” which is about a prima ballerina and her life between performance, rehearsal and boredom. There are children in these tales who die at the drop of a hat and before you know it even adults are killed and meet their end quite grotesquely sometimes. But you must also read “Amphigorey Too” for the illustrations. They are brilliantly done and in tune with the wry humour.

Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey - Image 2

The stories are sarcastic, dead pan, whimsical, bold, gory and above all also quite emotional if read deeper. Some of it is nonsense. Some of it is not. All I can say is that this is a read for a perfect rainy Sunday.

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Shikhandi and Other Tales they Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik

Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don't Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik Title: Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Zubaan and Penguin Books
ISBN: 9789383074846
Genre: Mythology
Pages: 176
Source: Pubisher
Rating: 5/5

There is so much to Indian Mythology that remains hidden. There is so much which no one speaks of. Of hidden desires (maybe), of stories that somehow do not surface, because we are too civilized for our own good. We are full of shackles and intimidation and fear and to top it all ego, which do not let us realize our true selves. Somewhere down the line, perhaps, we have also been too apologetic of our traditions and culture – first to the British and Europeans and then to ourselves. The stories need to be told to change perspectives. The answers need to be out there with the questions, so people can decide for themselves without being brainwashed. “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t Tell you” by Devdutt Pattanaik is one such attempt.

“Shikhandi” is a book of stories. Stories that have been forgotten – mostly intentionally I would think. Stories that celebrate the queer, the ones that do not differentiate between the masculine and the feminine, where form does not matter as much, where it is about fluidity and not rigidity of gender and where clearly it is about celebrating life. Devdutt tries to uncover stories in mythology about men and women, about gender bender, about situations where roles were reversed for good reason and sometimes for no reason at all.

To me, “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t tell you” is all about liberation. While reading it, I felt liberated and maybe that is the purpose of this book. From Narada who forgot that he was a man, to Indra who took the form of a Brahmin to make love to his wife when he was away, to Krishna who cross-dresses in time of war and peace for various reasons to more Gods and Demons and Kings and Queens who are not rigid about sexuality and gender, “Shikhandi” is a work that transcends orientation and gender.

The writing is precise and concise. The stories can be read in a day and yet how can one understand Queerness for all that it is, in a day or a week or even a fortnight? To then connect it to mythology is another matter altogether. To then not be judgmental about it is far beyond another issue. Devdutt’s stories are not about intrigue. They are not about provoking for the sake of it. They are provocative because it is time we drop the blinders and look at the world different, away from our myopic vision and conditioning of what is wrong and what is right. The illustrations and foot-notes are trademark Pattanaik and work wonderfully in this book.

“Shikhandi” is a paean to the marginalized, to the differences (seemingly so), to the unseen and the not spoken about tales. After interviewing him for Jaya and after reading Jaya, I thought there was nothing like that book. I was wrong. In my opinion, it is “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t tell you” which is his best work. Go broaden your thinking. Read this book for sure.

Here is the book trailer:

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Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta

“Look sir you’re not going to tell me that! Everyone knows stories! I just told you I slept in the same bed as my wife every night for the last fifteen years in the same bedroom of the same flat in the same suburb of Tokyo – and look at all you different people! You just have to tell me how you travel to work every morning in the place where you live and for me it’s a fable! It’s a legend! Sorry I am tired and a little stressed and this is not how I usually talk but I think when you are together like this then stories are what is required.”

Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta is a modern day Canterbury Tales. A group of passengers get snowed in at an unnamed airport, on their way to Tokyo. They hunker down for the night in airport chairs, surrounded by cavernous, vacant halls. To pass the time, they tell stories.

From there, Dasgupta had a choice. He could have taken us into the passengers’ lives. We could have learned about why they were travelling, what was important to them, how they made the right choices or wrong choices in their lives, and how they came to be stuck at that airport. Dasgupta had other ideas, though. The stories the passengers told were modern day fables.

The book is a collection of thirteen of these fables framed in the overall story of being stuck at the airport. They stories are generally magical and filled with unexpected twists. Dasgupta writes clearly and simply, but still has wonderful imagery. Some of the stories have simple plots, and come to a resolution; others end with more questions than they began. The characters in the stories accept a magical world with few questions.

These are not children’s fairy tales, though. In many of them, they characters don’t live happily ever after. There may be morality lessons in some of them, but the lessons, if any, are far from clear. Good isn’t always rewarded and evil isn’t always punished. And in many cases, there is no good or evil — just a deep gray. And in this book, Dasgupta finds ways to write about nearly all bodily functions at some point. While not jarringly out of context in the stories, the material may not be appropriate for sensitive readers.

That said, it is a great book to read. The stories are fascinating, and Dasgupta does a nice job of pulling the reader in. When Dasgupta has a point to make, he usually has one character in a story speak it to the main character in that same story.

For example, one character describes the world of organized crime like this:

“`It’s a scintillating world; it’s a pyramid of mercury: and we have to be standing on top.'”

That’s one of the best descriptions of a treacherous balancing act that I’ve seen in a long time. I can see the poisonous material sliding out from underneath.

We also get this description of the nature of time:

“‘For you the present is easy to discern because it is simply where memory stops. Memories hurtle out of the past and come to a halt in the now. The present is the rock face at the end of the tunnel where you gouge away at the future.'”

The idea that the present is nothing more than where memory stops will keep me starting at my lava lamp for hours.

The point of the book may be that the only time things worthwhile actually happen is when something major completely disrupts people’s lives. They sleep walk through their routines, and big adventure like in the stories, or a simply travel mishap like in the framework may be all it takes to live a different life.

“Was it not at times like this, when life malfunctioned, when time found a leak in its pipeline and dripped out into some little pool, that new thoughts happened, new things began? Would they look back at this night and say that is when it started?”

The book is not perfect. I don’t think some of the stories needed to be as graphic at they were.

My other concern is the voice of the story. Each story “sounded” like the same story teller. Even “The Doll”, with its innovative layout, had the same language-feel as the others. This would not be a problem for me if it was just a collection of short stories. But Dasgupta chose to have passengers tell the stories. And all the passengers tell their stories the same way.

It’s still a great novel, though. Tokyo Canceled is a rare book that calls for a second reading. It’s difficult to get everything out of the early stories without having read the later stories. Each story itself brings its own setting, plot, and characters. Discussing the deeper meaning of these stories would be great way to pass the time with fellow passengers the next time I find myself stuck in an airport overnight.

Tokyo Cancelled; Dasgupta, Rana; Harper Perennial UK; Rs. 325

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

I received, “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary” by David Sedaris in the mail yesterday and finished it this morning. I could not stop reading and loved it to the core. I remember reading, “Me Talk Pretty One Day” a long time ago and also the fact that I could not stop laughing. I was almost in tears at the end of it and “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” was no exception.

What we have here is a unique and absurd collection of what appear (on the surface) to be anthropomorphic animal characters- squirrels, storks, cats, toads, turtles, and of course a duck. Each story starts out benign and normal enough, more or less like an Aesop’s Fable, but then gets more preposterous as far as animals go and then more and more relevant to life as we live it today. In other words, each story holds up a mirror to our everyday life- but this being David Sedaris it’s more a Wonderland or Funhouse mirror. Perhaps the closest I could come would be Aesop’s fables written by a very modern Lewis Carroll.

Sedaris says to not expect a Moral for each Fable, but if you read them carefully, you should find some insight. “His morals are not spoon-fed cautionary tales of cause-and-effect but rather seemingly matter-of-fact observations that pack a subtle aftershock of insightfully insinuated scrutiny.”

The mirror has shattered, and each little tale here is a sharp shard. There is a danger that if you handle the jagged pieces you will cut yourself. The sardonic self-interest of the cat, the anxious spirituality of the brown chicken, and the bemused acquiescence of the chipmunk—David has exposed these all-too-human characteristics but he has not given us himself as a human lightning rod to accept and defuse the psychological voltage. The animals in these parables, true to type and operating as they do out of unapologetic instinct, certainly can’t absorb any of the shock, and we are left alone, face-to-face with our own pettiness, cruelty, wisdom, ignorance, tenderness, heartbreak. The tales are sometimes laughable and sometimes excruciatingly uncomfortable, and almost always brilliant. As fables, they are simply written—but they are definitely not for children despite the cartoonish illustrations. They are not for adults who wish to remain ignorant of their human failings either. Like all good fairy tales, they are instructional, but only if you pay attention and apply the parallels.

The cruelty and darkness that some reviewers mention is a standard function of cautionary story-telling, and it’s there to grab your attention; it provides the necessary tension so that the reader is drawn in, either through outrage, fear or discomfort. There is a grotesque element operating here that gentler readers will have difficulty reckoning with. I am one of those, and my first instinct was to say: forget it! But I went back over the parts that had first offended me, and with a second reading found that David’s sense of humor was intact; it was mine that had been lacking. His insights remained unflinching and devastating.

Although SQUIRREL SEEKS CHIPMUNK might not be the usual fare readers have come to expect from David Sedaris, it has all the earmarks of what makes his nonfiction truly remarkable: biting wit, caustic satire, and an ever-so-subtle detection of a wink aimed toward his readers. Ian Falconer’s illustrations provide the perfect accompaniment to these acerbic tales. Unexpected, yes, but this slim volume provides a refreshing change of genre from one of our most treasured and talented writers.

As you read, the pieces of the broken mirror reassemble, and by the end of the book you will be able, once again, to see a reflection. It’s you alright, with the tail of a rat, the talons of the owl, the pecked neck of the fowl. Cringe. Laugh (sheepishly). Change your attitude. Think twice. Hold your tongue. Examine your motivations. It’s uncomfortable but it’s necessary. How else can we become more aware if not through the shock of self-recognition? And how else can we grow unless we see how small we really are?

Here’s a youtube sneak on the tale “Squirrel and the Chipmunk”

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk; Sedaris, David; Little Brown and Company; Hachette Book Group; $21.99