Tag Archives: ties

Ties by Domenico Starnone

Title: Ties
Author: Domenico Starnone
Translated by: Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453855
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

To learn a language and not do anything about it is what regular folk do. It just sits in their memory and without any practice or anyone to speak with fades from there as well. That is how language works – more so when a new language is learned. But to actually do something the skills acquired with a lot of struggle, pain and heartache is perhaps what people like Jhumpa Lahiri do when they learn a new language. In her case, Italian and the translated work (by her) was Ties by Domenico Starnone.

I was anticipating this one for a while. I think it was more because I knew it was translated by Lahiri and I have loved almost all her books in the past, but as I read the book, I was taken in by the plot and I understood why I was waiting for it after all. “Ties” is a story of a marriage and also I would like to think of objects and empty spaces that surround us, where words get lost, and communication is dead between spouses. Also, might I add that “Ties” is not just another marriage story – there is a lot more to it which seethes under the surface as beautifully imagined by Starnone.

“Ties” is also beyond just the marriage of Vanda and Aldo. It is also about the other relationships that come with the terrain of marriage and how all of them get impacted when a marriage goes awry. The brokenness, the visible fault lines and sometimes not so visible ones, the routine and the mundane that act as barriers to them fulfilling their vows and above all no compatibility makes this book a rollercoaster of emotions read. To me, the book also symbolized time – the years of a marriage, the so-called affiliation between a couple, the ups and downs as they happen and above all the empathy for each other, which somehow is so fragile that it can break any time.

Domenico’s writing is sparse. I love how he doesn’t waste words when it comes to describing a situation, detail or emotion. I don’t know how the book reads in Italian but the translation seems just in place – just what is needed for this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, though initially it was a breeze to get into, later as the layers got added and it became a little more complex, it was tough but eventually it picked pace again.

“Ties” is the kind of book which has multiple facets to it – the ones that will make you see how sometimes marriages work and sometimes they do not – it is all around you for you to observe and make your deductions. At the same time, it is the kind of read that sticks – Starnone delves deep into the minds and hearts of common people and brings out every side to them through his characters. Lahiri’s translation hits home with the details, nuances and dialogue which is pitched perfectly for readers in English. “Ties” is the kind of a book which of course can be read for a weekend, but will stay for way longer than that.

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To Whom It May Concern by Priscila Uppal

There are different kinds of families. Some who love, some who don’t and there are some who are embroiled in greed. The heart of Priscila Uppal’s novel’s family is somewhat centred around that. Poet, Novelist and Academician, Priscila Uppal is the latest author to wade into the waters of identity politics with her second novel, To Whom It May Concern, the saga of the splintered Dange Family. With every read centred on a family, I get drifted into remembering what Tolstoy had to say about families; however I shall not quote him here.

The aging patriarch, an immigrant named Hardev is an engineer confined to a wheelchair, since an accident left him paralyzed. He has separated from his wife Isobel a long time ago and now shares the family’s original suburban Ottawa home with his son Emile. The novel opens to Hardev watching his family discussing Thanksgiving Dinner (well half-parentage certainly helps with reference to festivals) – Emile, Birendra – his oldest daughter, her fiancé Victor, who is meeting Hardev for the first time. Isobel has skipped the dinner, as well as Dorothy, the couple’s 17-year old daughter, a precocious deaf student and artist who works part-time in a tattoo parlour.

Unknown to the entire family, Hardev is about to lose the house to the bank, unless he can find a way to earn enough money to pay off his mortgage payments. At the same time, he is also struggling to save his family and get them together (kind of reminds you of The Corrections).

The novel bursts with secondary characters – Mohab, Emile’s devout Muslim friend who may be homosexual, the homecare worker Rodriguez, and Kite – Dorothy’s co-conspirator in a plan to build a massive college (aptly titled, “To Whom It May Concern”) charting their fellow students’ transient, and fluctuating identities.

The plot is told by different characters and not just one. There are many voices and each one is so sort of jostling with the other to be heard by the reader. The transitions between each voice are seamless. Each character is in his or her place and is not misplaced, as it could happen when dealing with more characters. The book has been touted as a modern version of “King Lear”; however I did not feel that. What I felt was that each character was struggling in the book to find their own and find their place in the world.

The way the novel is written is different. For instance, you get a glimpse of Birendra’s wedding menu to how a bank forecloses on a home mortgage. These are strategically placed and move the story in its rightful direction. The book will make you laugh and make you cry. For me at the end of it all, it was a fulfilling experience.

 To Whom It May Concern; Uppal, Priscila; Penguin India; Rs. 350