Tag Archives: Women

The Girl who chose – A new way of narrating the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik

The Girl who Chose - A new way of narrating the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik Title: The Girl who chose: A new way of narrating the Ramayana
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Penguin Books, Puffin
ISBN: 9780143334637
Genre: Mythology, Children’s Fiction
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

So I was a fan of Devdutt Pattanaik’s books when I first read “The Pregnant King”. It was in 2007 or 2008 I think. I remember calling him and chatting with him for hours about it. Maybe that is also one of the reasons why we turned out to be good friends. But that has got nothing to do with the review of his latest book “The Girl who chose – A new way of narrating the Ramayana”. I was waiting for this book since forever. Why? Because I think if you are going to tell a mythological tale for children in a different manner, then I sure would like to know about it.

“The Girl who chose” is about Sita and her five choices and how they impact Ramayana and everyone else in the story. This isn’t Devdutt’s spin or take. It is just an interpretation given what happens in Ramayana. It is about sometimes things being planned out even before you can think about them or about the choices actually that you make and its consequences.

This book is about Sita for sure, but it is also about the other central and not-so-central characters of the Ramayana. The illustrations by the author himself make the book something else. Devdutt’s illustrations are simple. They are easy to comprehend and perhaps one doesn’t even need text while deciphering them. The illustrations speak a language of their own.

I also would like to add here that there is no feminist angle in this book, so don’t be fooled by the title. It is a given that like any other human being, Sita had the power to choose and she made the choices that she did. For a children’s book it perhaps may not come across so clearly, but the understated meaning can be inferred. The tale of the Ramayana always depends on Sita – on what she does, because it is ultimately she who leads the story. No one else has that kind of power in this Indian epic.

Devdutt Pattanaik does it again – simply and with a lot of brevity. He takes on portions of the Ramayana and serves it to you in bite-sized nuggets. The footnotes with additional information only enhance the reading experience. This is a great start for children to know and understand Indian mythology. I think it is the perfect book to gift a child to expand his or her horizons about Ramayana which has been passed down from generation to generation.

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American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

American Housewife - Stories by Helen Ellis Title: American Housewife: Stories
Author: Helen Ellis
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0385541039
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Imagine Desperate Housewives being written into a book – just a little funnier, sarcastic, edgy perhaps and with a dash of American angst, loneliness and the no-good housewife, trying to make something of herself. But the stories in Helen Ellis’s book “American Housewife” is not just about the average housewife, so don’t be fooled by the title. The book is about dreams gone wrong, frustrations dying to get a way out, of thwarted hopes and a lot of pointed commentaries on womanhood and the world around them today.

The stories range from the unique initiation ritual of a book club (the twist is there throughout the story and you can sense it) to the set of a rigged television show to the getaway car of a pageant princess – they are all unique and full of wit and tragedy.

I think for me reading this book felt like I could connect on so many levels – well not of being stuck in a marriage or being betrayed in a relationship, but just that I could relate to the women and the layers of intensity of emotions of every kind that Ellis draws up for this through the dozen stories.

What struck me the most while reading these stories was the tone and pace of each story and how each is different from the other, when it comes to those two parameters. Some stories are definitely sharper than the others, and some just jolt you off your daily existence to make you see how bizarre life can really be.

“American Housewife” is a brilliant, raw and real collection of stories that tells you a lot about women in general, only if you care to listen or in this case read. I would most certainly recommend it to every one out there. Waiting for her next!

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Author: Azar Nafisi
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-0812979305
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literature
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I had wanted to read this book since a very long time. In fact, at one point I even read it till about hundred pages and then just gave it up. Perhaps the time was not right. There are books that need to be read only when you are ready for them and at that time I wasn’t. “Reading Lolita in Tehran” came back to me around a while ago. I had to pick up another copy and start afresh and I did. I now completely see that I was right for it at this time than earlier.

“Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books” is about Azar Nafisi and the classes she taught in her home in Tehran once she quit the university of Tehran. It is not only about this though. It is not about the books they read because they could not read them freely and talk about them. The book goes deeper than that – it is about the Islamic revolution in Iran and how that impacted the lives of women when the Ayatollah came to power.

The author, now living in the US speaks of two decades in Iran as a teacher of American and English literature and how Iran changed drastically after the fall of the Shah. The transformation of Iran is charted through the eyes of the women who come to her house and they learn literature and compare their lives to it, thereby raising pertinent questions. For me this book was an eye-opener of what goes on outside my comfort zone and how in the long run it will impact all of us, whether we see it coming or not.

The insights from the books and parallel to lives are stupendously reached at and just for that I would so strongly recommend this book. The language is simple and yet at times it gets political but that is also because the book is about that and how art imitates life and vice-versa. It is about the relationships she has as a teacher with her students and also as a friend and extending it beyond to knowing who they truly are. All of this happens because of books.

Nafisi’s world is both real and fictitious and with her, so are her students’ lives. You get a glimpse and more about each story and how books shape them at the end of it all. The book is about fiction’s strength to empathize and deal with daily situations, more so when you live in a society that refuses to grant you your rights and there are restrictions at every step.

“Reading Lolita in Tehran” invites all readers to see life differently and to relate them to what you read and how it impacts you on a daily basis. I could not stop reading this one and I regret waiting this long to read it but all said and done it is a book which is not to be missed out on. Better late than never, right?

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Two Novellas and a Story by Ambai

Two Novellas and A Story by Ambai Title: Two Novellas and a Story
Author: Ambai
Publisher: Katha Books
ISBN: 9788187649632
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction, Women Writers
Pages: 112
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I started reading Ambai with this book. I had heard of her and her books in the past, but somehow never got around to reading her. There was always this preconceived notion of her writing being acutely feminist in approach and style, and honestly I was not ready for that kind of fiction or non-fiction then. I picked up, “Two Novellas and A Story” on almost a whim or rather an impulse and sometimes the time is just right for these kinds of books. For me, it was now I guess. The thing about Ambai’s writing is that she opens a world through silences. There are no gaps in her stories and if there are, then it is for the reader to discover what is hidden. She does not give it all away and that is the beauty of her stories.

“Two Novellas and A Story” has obviously two stories and a novella, but also a very interesting essay on space and longing in women’s literature. Ambai’s literature is not feminist in nature. She tries to create a balance between men and women and observes their relationship dynamics with a fresh perspective.

The first novella in this small book is called, “Wrestling” and it is an unusual way of looking at a marriage and how sometimes both perspectives are needed. It is about music and ego and love which mostly is hidden. The plot is not wafer-thin. It is well-layered, though it takes time to get used to the characters’ names and the relationships, but when you start and immerse yourself in it, you are in for a ride.

At the same time, “A Deer in the Forest” is a story of a woman – who is the center of her many nieces and nephews and stepchildren and perhaps their children (or so I assumed) and more children of the household. Just that she cannot become a mother. And she allows her husband to get married again. She spins stories for the children. She continues to live life exactly in the same way like she did before.

This is what I loved about Ambai’s writing. She blends the plot in the ordinariness of life. It is built around the daily acts of living. It is through this that her writing shines and is most relatable by readers, irrespective of borders or languages.

Ambai is not a feminist in the real sense of the word. She is definitely on a mission, but at the same time, it is done beautifully through her stories and characters, that live in the world, and blend in, only to emerge victorious through their choices and opinions. I am absolutely looking forward to reading more of Ambai, because I know this will not be the end of my reading journey with her.

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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I was thinking about clubbing these two Novel Cure Challenge Reads together and it only made sense – considering how similar the protagonists are. Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary are bound to be clubbed. I remember reading and rereading these books for the longest time and somehow in a very strange way, I could relate to them. I am not married. I am not a woman. There has been no instance of adultery then, of course, but still there is some affinity which I cannot name or pinpoint. I am only too glad to have reread these books. They certainly brought back a lot of memories.

We all know (or at least most of us do) how it works out for these feisty women. Both stuck in unhappy marriages. I think it would be apt to call their marriages boring, or rather the men they are married to. Charles Bovary almost comes across as a dullard who could not care less about Emma’s youth or her desires or what she wants from life. Anna Karenina on the other hand has everything she could want, but somehow the all-consuming love is just not there, till she meets Count Vronsky.

Emma’s life is ridden with men – her father, her husband, her neighbour, the greedy moneylender, the pharmacist, the pharmacist’s assistant, and her two lovers. She knows it will only end in disaster and yet she wants it all, just like Anna. Anna knows the Russian societal norms and yet she will go to any length to get what she wants. Both these nineteenth-century heroines risk it all, for there is only one life to live. All they want is passion. They want love and they just keep searching for it, everywhere they can. Even if it means they have to end it by giving up their lives. Every time I have read these books, I wished they would come out of it alive and they don’t. I know it but I want to believe that everything works out for them, though it does for some time. These novels were also written in times when both countries, Russia and France were going through changing times. Maybe that is why they were considered so radical for their time.

I have never intended to read these classics with a lot of analysis. For me, they are just testimonies to what I connect to relate to – all the unrequited love, the trapped lives dictated by hypocritical societies and the alienation of the self, despite being loved and surrounded by many.

The anguish of the women comes through superbly in both these books and to me what is also surprising is that these books were written by men. Men who were very strong in their own way and manner and extremely eccentric as well, not to mention, womanizers – maybe that is why they could capture the feminine essence with such aplomb in both these works.

The translations again, when it comes to classics such as these matter the most. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Anna Karenina) and Lydia Davis (Madame Bovary) have done more than just a wonderful job with the words and their interpretation. I think for me most of the time loving these two classics have come from these translations. And yes I also think that perhaps there is no cure for adultery. You have to go through it. There is no moral ground. Anything for happiness, I think.

Next Up in the Novel Cure Challenge: Patience by John Coates

Book Review: The Isle of Youth: Stories by Laura van den Berg

The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg Title: The Isle of Youth
Author: Laura van den Berg
Publisher: FSG Originals
ISBN: 9780374177232
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always admitted to the fact that for me, short stories are a little more important than the novel. I am aware that there are literary greats who at one point mastered the form so well, that everything written by anyone after only got compared and perhaps looked pale when done so. There are also times an author comes along and literally makes you wonder about the most amazing genius he or she possesses when penning a short story and perhaps for me after Munro, there is now Laura van den Berg with her dazzling collection of stories, “The Isle of Youth”.

“The Isle of Youth” is mainly about women and their lives. It is about the angry women, the quiet women, and the women who just want to lead uncomplicated lives, which is never the case with them. I think what struck me the most in these stories besides the language, was the strong characterization of both – the men (who obviously are in the background and yet play a vital role) and the women, whose every act and move is monitored, giving the reader the much needed understanding of the why and the how.

Every story in this collection speaks for itself. From the first story in the collection, “I Looked for You, I Called Your Name” with honeymooners’ crash landing in Patagonia to the title story, right at the end, van den Berg will dazzle you with her characteristic eye for detail and landscape of emotions used.

The first story is about the woman discovering her husband’s personality and in the wake of that, her relationship is riddled with doubt and she also begins to understand herself. The nature of the setting, Patagonia in this case also lends to the fragility of the story. For me, what worked the most was the sudden bleakness you are witness to throughout the stories and yet somewhere down the line, there is the underlined hope that is subtle and exquisitely written about.

My favourite story in the collection is, “Opa-Locka” about twin sisters, who are detectives and are entwined in people’s lives, causing unnecessary complications. They discover nothing and leave trails in form of objects and amidst all of this; they are confronted by their father’s criminal past. Why is it my favourite story? Because of the sheer force used to tell this tale. Van den Berg has used all her writing charm according to me in this one. It is that good.

The stories are full of wonder and charm. The women are weak, they are strong, they love and sometimes they also discard their emotions, to make sense of the real world. The stories will have you not look away from the book, till you are done with the collection. They are perfectly structured, coherent and magical. There is no sugar coating and nothing that is saccharine sweet. They are the way life is to a large extent and that is what makes them so readable.

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Book Review: Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley

Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley Title: Clever Girl
Author: Tessa Hadley
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 9780224096522
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Tessa Hadley as a writer has a quiet way about her. Her books are not loud and neither are her characters. The stories told by her are subtle and have the sort of old-world charm to them, which is what attracts me the most to her books.

“Clever Girl” is about a woman and her life – told right from the 60s to today. That is probably the way this novel could be described and that to be very honest is just speaking about it on the surface. The story may not even seem that special to some, however it is mainly about the writing. It takes the reader to various places in a woman’s mind – right throughout her life – the incidents, the small heartaches, the big things and more, which are so inherent to this magnanimous piece of work.

The magic of the book lies in converting the mundane to something special. The everyday ordinary is just transformed to something special when it comes to Hadley’s words and the scenes she creates for the reader to soak in completely. Stella’s views, her perceptions, her prejudices, are all clearly laid out – right from her childhood to the time she is a grown woman. Tessa Hadley does not let go of a single moment, which is what binds you to the book, the way it does.

Clever Girl is not an easy book when it comes to reading or analysing and yet, the characters are complex and the story moves in the pace that one isn’t used to. Despite this, the book worked for me on so many levels. The writing reminded me of subtleties of life, the quiet way, the delicacy so to speak and that in itself is most comforting. The atypical narrative was only an added bonus. All in all I can say that read this book, only if you have some time and a few thoughts to spare. A book which will not disappoint you at all.