Tag Archives: viking

Grandmothers by Salley Vickers

GrandmothersTitle: Grandmothers
Author: Salley Vickers
Publisher: Viking, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN: 9780241371428
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 296
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I think everyone should read this book. I think everyone should read it because we need reads such as these that are heartwarming, and don’t pretend to be intellectual to be lauded by all. At the same time, Salley Vickers has this unusual style that I cannot put my finger on. Her novels are simple and easy to read, contain separate universes within them, and manage to strike a chord by the end of it. So, in the sense that there is this strong build-up to events, lives, and decisions that impact each character.

Grandmothers as the title suggests is about three grandmothers, who are very different women and their relationship with the younger generation. There is Nan Appleby, recently divorced and fiercely independent – who shares a great relationship with her grandson Billy. We then have Blanche – a widow, who has done nothing but adored her grandchildren Harry and Kitty but is forbidden access to them by her son Dominic and his wife Tina. Minna Dyer is the third grandmother (not in the literal sense) who lives in a shepherd’s hut in the country and has developed a grandmotherly relationship with Rose Cooper. Reading binds the two, and that is what brought them close.

If you are expecting thrills or something to happen in this book, then it won’t. Grandmothers is all about relationships, intersecting lives, and the back stories of women who are otherwise only seen as most ordinary. Salley Vickers takes her own time to even unravel some plot lines. The book is very easy to read and makes for a great afternoon spent in the company of heartwarming prose and maybe even get you teary-eyed in some places.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow Title: A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670026197
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What do you say about a book that has received so much acclaim, praise, adulation, and applause? What do you say that hasn’t been said already? Just how do you put your experience of reading the book into words, that come from a deep-seated place of multiple emotions? I think I am one the people who were late to the Amor Towles party, but boy am I beyond myself that I attended it – better late than never.

A Gentleman in Moscow to me is an experience. An experience and more so a lesson on kindness, compassion, elegance, and different ways to view the world. We all need perspective. We all need that much needed point of view, and Towles through this book presents plenty of them.

The book is beyond a one on exile, of Count Alexander Rostov being exiled in the Metropole Hotel for writing a poem – this exile is from the year 1922 to 1954. Thirty-two years of a life – of so many losses and much more gains that Towles magnificently writes about in this masterpiece.

Why do I call this book a masterpiece? Well, to me it covered the gamut of human emotions – there is love, anger, loss, helplessness, friendships that last a lifetime, and the grace to let go and forge new relationships. I could go on about the writing – the book opens like nesting dolls – Matryoshka dolls – one inside the other, a plot that opens up, a character that enters and takes your heart away, and something that you overlooked suddenly comes to light. Towles’ writing is beyond superlative, and how do I begin to count the number of times I have highlighted in the entire book – a sentence there, a passage here, a line that reminds me of my life, of a friendship that doesn’t exist, of a love that got away, or of a time when things were simple and kind.

Time is of such an important factor in the book – everything historical that takes place – the Cultural Revolution in the Soviet Union, the rise of Stalin, Gulag, and how everyday humans are caught in it all. Time centres on nostalgia, on what happens, on how it passes, on the everyday living – of books, movies, music, food, and people whose memories are attached to it all, with the Count at its center. Whether it is with a precocious twelve-year-old Nina to then the relationship he shares with the actress Anna, and more, time passes. Sometimes with great significance and at other times – the passage of time is enough to acknowledge the beauty and tragedy of life that Towles puts in so many words so masterfully.

A Gentleman in Moscow is almost like a poem that speaks to one and all, if you have the patience, and intention to pick it up. A Gentleman in Moscow is the kind of book that stays. You might perhaps forget about it after a couple of days, but some parts will come back as you are going about your life – there will be that connect to life, dreams, imagination, and how we relate to one another as humans. Of how we are all connected somehow, and what it takes to understand that. A magnificent read. A read that will make you feel small in the larger scheme of life, universe, and everything.

Note: 

There is a lot of literary references in the book. Here are some that I could take note of:

Books and Authors mentioned in A Gentleman in Moscow: 

  • Anna Karenina
  • War and Peace
  • Tolstoy
  • Chekhov
  • Gogol
  • The Cherry Orchard
  • The Seagulls
  • Maxim Gorky
  • Bulgakov
  • Akhmatova
  • Osip Mandelstam
  • Vladimir Mayakovsky
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • Dostoevsky
  • Karl Marx
  • Michel de Montaigne
  • Socrates
  • The Nose by Gogol
  • A Sportsman’s Sketches by Ivan Turgenev
  • Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Idiots
  • Demons

And here’s a trailer of the book released by Viking when the book was out:

 

 

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward by Ann NapolitanoTitle: Dear Edward
Author: Ann Napolitano
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0241384077
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I received this book a while back and I refused to read it. I knew it would make me weep, make me think about mortality, about life and its smallness, and maybe at the same time, in a way liberate me from some negative emotions as well. It did all of this and more.

Dear Edward on the surface comes across as a story of a boy who survived. As one of the characters, Shay says early on in the book that Edward is like Harry Potter – the boy who lived. I agree with her. There is so much more though to this novel about hope, grief, and the idea that life moves on in such different ways – ways in which we never expect it to turnaround.

Edward Adler is the twelve-year old sole survivor of a plane crash. He has lost his entire family – his parents and older brother. The 191 passengers onboard, including the crew is dead. This book is about the aftermath of the crash. Of the living that are left behind.

I had to deal with so many emotions while navigating this read. There was a constant lump in the throat – mostly it also came from remembering the ones who aren’t around anymore. There was the deep empathy I had toward Edward, and more than anything when he finds those letters written to him by the relatives, family, and friends of passengers who lost their lives. That’s another major plot point. How does one cope with loss? What does it take to think and feel you have moved on? When do you truly move on, and when do you know that you have moved on?

Edward’s aunt who takes him in with her husband deals with her own grief – that of losing a sibling. The grief that is common to both – Edward’s bond with his brother is the strongest and a loss not easy to deal with, and yet silences speak the loudest in this book. To acknowledge grief is to make it all real.

The book alternates between Edward’s current life, and the storylines detailing the flight and the passengers’ lives. Nothing seems too long or unnecessary. Every plot line mattered. Napolitano made me care for the characters, for each of them, in a very different way. The thing with books such as this is that sometimes it can become very easy to get caught in the plot, and sort of ignore the secondary characters. But this is where Napolitano doesn’t let us lose focus. Edward is at the core, but the ones no longer around are focused on time and again.

Dear Edward, is about empty spaces in our lives. The void that fills itself. The wound that heals. It is a book about small graces and mercies. Of grief and its upliftment, to finally setting it free, to understanding that you don’t love less when you do that.

Amour: How The French Talk About Love by Stefania Rousselle

Amour - How the French Talk About Love by Stefania Rousselle Title: Amour: How the French Talk About Love
Author: Stefania Rousselle
Publisher: Viking, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0241406137
Genre: Photo Essays, Photojournalism
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

How does one find love? How does one sustain that love? How does it feel to listen to sad love songs and pine and long for someone, day after day? I was eighteen once. I loved once with a mad passion. I still do. Though I am scared and afraid of getting hurt, love doesn’t know that though. It washes over me like a tide, and that’s the end of it all. Even before it has begun.

We love like moth to a flame; till the time we crash and burn. We love and we don’t even know how or when or why. We love because sometimes that’s the only thing to do. Love someone with all our might and strength. Love is what makes the world go around, isn’t it? Love is also not many a splendored thing, because it has the capacity to break you, and yet again it repairs you without you knowing.

Image 1

Stefania Rousselle had almost stopped believing in love. She is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker, covering the bleakest of assignments – from terrorist attacks to the rise of the right. This led her to travelling around France asking strangers the one good old question that we all try to answer: What is love?

Image 2

The result of those interactions is “Amour – How the French Talk about Love”, a book of photographs, memories, and a book that tries hard to make sense of love and what goes and comes with it. Amour is a book about regular people – bakers, painters, plumbers, irrespective of professions, speaking of love and what it did to them or continues to do to them. It is a book about lost opportunities, to lovers that were better left alone, to marriages that crumble and yet you stay, and also about love and its mysteries that just cannot be solved.

Image 3

Whether it is about a gay couple who have just started life, or someone who misses his wife so badly that he just cannot fathom living again, to someone who hadn’t kissed till he was twenty-five, to a lady who escaped an abusive relationship and is still waiting on love, all these stories are hopeful, broken, and yet all we all need is love to soldier on. To make us believe in the idea of forever.

Image 4

Amour as a book made me think about my loves and my relationships. Relationships with my parents, my lovers, friends, and the ones that didn’t culminate to anything. Love is like that; it just has to be given its space for anything to happen. I am not like that though. I learn every day.

Amour: How the French Talk About Love shows you how love is so universal that it also hurts that way when you read about other people’s experiences. You cry a little. You smile. You cheer. You also want to reach out to them and let them know it will be okay, and love will find a way to them, one way or another.

Starting this month, I have decided to include a playlist at the end of each review – songs I listened to while reading the book.

Here’s the playlist for Amour:

  • Shayad from the movie Love Aaj Kal 2
  • Love of My Life by Queen
  • Aaye Kuch Abr by Atif Aslam (Coke Studio)
  • Aapki Ankhon Main Kuch from the movie Ghar
  • Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell
  • This Year’s Love by David Gray
  • Last Party by MIKA
  • Ae Ajnabi from Dil Se
  • Crying by k.d. lang and Roy Orbison
  • Your Whatever
  • Pyar Hua Chupke Se by 1942: A Love Story
  • Kithe Nain by Aabha Hanjura
  • Maahi Ve from the movie Highway
  • Chaand Chahiye by Ankur Tewari
  • Walkin’ After Midnight
  • Friday I’m in Love
  • Be My Baby
  • We all Sleep Alone by Cher
  • I Wanna Dance with Somebody by Whitney Houston
  • Raabta from Agent Vinod
  • Secrets by Collabro
  • 101010 by Sleeping at Last
  • Don’t Give Up On Us by Sarah McLachlan
  • Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat by Noor Jehan
  • Musafir from Jagga Jasoos
  • Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen
  • Ek Chaand (from LOEV)

Last Stories by William Trevor

Last Stories Title: Last Stories
Author: William Trevor
Publisher: Viking, Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0241337769
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Of all that I have read of William Trevor’s work, one thing is certain: There is a sense of magic to his prose. His sentences take you by the hand, lead you on (you give in quite readily as well) and for sure you will never be disappointed. As a reader, you will be at a loss, because you loved every story and that hasn’t happened in a while with a short-story collection. You then realize that you after all read Trevor and make a promise to reread the collection and you do. Nothing sweeter than to honour this kind of a promise.

I am obviously referring to Trevor’s last collection of stories, posthumously published and aptly titled “Last Stories” (though I think to some extent that was very lazy). “Last Stories” is a collection of stories that is mysterious, enigmatic, sparse and yet spot on – the pace of the prose is languid and easy and somehow has the potential to draw you right into it.

Now to the stories. Trevor wrote of common men and women – those who are lost and are struggling to come to terms with life. I think after Alice Munro, Trevor is hands down my second favourite short-story writer. Every story that I have read by him has left a mark on my mind, heart and life.

All through the book what tugged at my heart is loneliness and longing that is consistent in almost every story. “Mrs Crasthorpe” is about a middle-aged widow who is only seeking companionship, only to be rebuffed later on in the story by a widower. It definitely broke my heart and that too with luscious prose at its center. And then there is “The Piano Teacher’s Pupil” which is perhaps the most cheerful story of the collection. Miss Nightingale is the protagonist of this story who has known a bit about disappointment in her life, who in her fifties is almost reminiscing about her sixteen-year-old affair with a married man. Like I said, loneliness and longing are at the heart of every story in this collection and Trevor doesn’t let you forget that.

In “At the Caffe Daria” a wife whose husband left her for her best friend, renews her relationship with friend, after the husband’s death. And then there is “The Unknown Girl” featuring Emily, a housecleaner who commits suicide after speaking of love to the son of the house. William Trevor knows the harshness of the real world and yet somehow his characters never let go of some hope, in whatever way and manner, even in death so to say.

His stories spell disaster, confusion and loss of innocence (if there was any) for his characters. They grow-up but perhaps a little later. Or they also grow-up a little sooner than expected. Life is unfair and unkind to them and yet they are survivors all along. “Last Stories” will remind you of his genius and make you wonder why he had to leave us so soon. A beauty of a book.