Tag Archives: Women Writers Reading Project 2022

Read 113 of 2022: Be My Guest by Priya Basil

Be My Guest by Priya Basil

Title: Be My Guest
Author: Priya Basil
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1786898494
Genre: Nonfiction, Food writing
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Basil in this slim book of food and hospitality speaks of what it is like to host people – to bond through food, the emotions that are deep-rooted in the act of cooking and feeding, and eating, and how do we connect through food. “Be My Guest” is a fascinating brief account of food beyond communities, of food within communities and its importance, of how Basil looks at food from every angle – that of domesticity, immigration, climate change, religion, food waste, and even Brexit.

Basil’s writing may seem concentrated, but it is widespread and expansive in the sense of it looking at the self with the world at large through food. What I loved is how she weaves in the concept of how hospitality can change the world – through empathy, kindness, and how it all begins at one’s kitchen table, and how it all must be unconditional at the end of the day.

She also speaks of alienation through food, of not feeling wanted, of what it takes to be inclusive and in turn lets the reader gaze into her personal life – that of her grandparents and how their lives were so integral to food and feeding.

The larger meanings of food, the rituals around it (unique to each household and individual), the refugee crisis going on in the world at large, and how food unites is all as strangers is at the heart of Be My Guest. Basil invites you to open your heart through food, through serving, by understanding the meaning of hosting, of eating together, of letting people know that there will always be a seat for them at your table, and how it is in the devotion of serving, you take the idea of grace, hospitality, and warmth from paper to the table, right down to not only filling one’s stomach but heart and soul as well.

Read 112 of 2022. Pure Colour by Sheila Heti

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti

Title: Pure Colour
Author: Sheila Heti
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374603946
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have found my second best book of the year (the first one being After Sappho),  and I say this with most confidence, happiness, joy, and sheer pleasure, that it is, Pure Colour by Sheila Heti.

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti is the kind of book that has no start, perhaps no middle, and maybe no apparent end as well, but oh God does it hurt when you are done reading the book. It shines brightly, it is therapeutic, it heals, makes you cry, speaks of the world, and makes you believe (and is the truth) that it is your story unfolding, with art and books at the center of it, and the way we live today.

Love is at the core of this book. Whether it is between Mira and Annie, or Mira and her father, or between people who haven’t met each other yet, or people who have been living with each other for decades, Heti speaks of love most delicately. She also brings to fore with her writing love of different kinds, of different textures that might hurt, of love that transcends time, and bodies, and might compel you to follow the one you love in the body of a leaf. Sheila is a stupendous, unafraid, and a writer that must be read at any cost.

Pure Colour is about the state of civilisation, it is about a woman joining her dead father on another plane of being and existence, it is about art and its critics, about what we hold close and what we are willing to let go of – perhaps it is also earnest at times, but it worked for me, because I was willing to overlook that aspect of the novel.

Sheila Heti’s writing reminds me of Murdoch – of her kind of philosophy that always took the worldwide look – the angle of being and existing together – when she speaks of nostalgia, and how it was before the Internet, you cannot put the book down. When she constructs sentences like “there were so many ways of being hated, and one could be hated by so many people”, you nod, because we have all witnessed that – this kind of writing makes you want to read this book cover to cover and gift it to a friend or a couple of friends and beg them to devour it.

Pure Colour is a mad book. It is a book of our times. It is a book that is crazy, original, empathetic, unafraid, bold, and above all is mindful of the fact that we are all humans, and maybe we all hurt the same.

Read 111 of 2022. These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy. Translated from the Italian by Minna Zallman Proctor

These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy

Title: These Possible Lives: Essays
Author: Fleur Jaeggy
Translated from the Italian by Minna Zallman Proctor
Publisher: New Directions Books
ISBN: 9780811226875
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Pages: 64
Source: The Boxwalla
Rating: 5/5

This short luminous book consists of three essays of these lives – Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, and Marcel Schwob. These writers, whose lives were brief, but perhaps full – each life ultimately centred on death by the author.

Jaeggy’s brevity shines on each page. She doesn’t find the need to ramble on about each of them – saying what she must, and does so with great simplicity, sometimes wit, straightforwardness, and for some maybe not enough, but worked beautifully for me.

The biographies (if I can call them that) extend themselves most naturally to the subjects’ habits, physicality, to their friends, their lives, and finally leading all to death. There is so much going on in these essays, using history, masculinity, the violence, and melancholy that runs throughout. Proctor’s translation makes it even more lyrical, though fragmented, disjointed, and surreal – reading as prose poems more than anything.

They draw you in, and I am sure I will read more about these lives in days to come. These Possible Lives is a short treat for readers – meditative and emotional.

Read 73 of 2022. Lucky Breaks by Yevgenia Belorusets. Translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky

Lucky Breaks by Yevgenia Belorusets

Title: Lucky Breaks
Author: Yevgenia Belorusets
Translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky
Publisher: New Directions
ISBN: 978-0811229845
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 112
Source: TheBoxWalla
Rating: 4/5

Just finished reading this sometimes fantastic, and sometimes not so collection of short stories and vignettes by Ukrainian photographer, journalist, and writer. Each story in this book is centred on a woman (most of the time) in Kyiv or elsewhere in Ukraine. These stories aren’t about Putin, or his invasion. These stories are about everyday living and all about anonymous people – from a refugee to a florist to card players to readers of horoscopes, a world unto itself.

Belorusets’ writing is sometimes playful, mostly tragic, and all about surviving with some humour along the way. There are also twenty-three photographs in this collection, each telling its own story, and forming their own unique visual narrative. The translation by Eugene Ostashevsky is on-spot and extremely lucid. I was just a little miffed to not see the translator’s name on the cover. Also, as a side-note, read it online or hear it. The print is way too fine and you might end up straining your eyes like I did.

Lucky Breaks is a surreal collection of stories from a region that has come to fore, sadly for all the wrong reasons. But do read this book to know more about Ukraine, its people, and how they live and feel.

Read 65 of 2022. In the Language of Remembering: The Inheritance of Partition by Aanchal Malhotra

9789354898914

Title: In the Language of Remembering: The Inheritance of Partition
Author: Aanchal Malhotra
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 9789354899140
Genre: Nonfiction, Partition Literature Pages: 756
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I love Partition Literature – it tells me about my ancestors and their way of life, which I didn’t bother asking about when they were alive. Partition Literature is more than just novels or oral history. It goes beyond grief, loss, and belonging. I love Partition Literature because I was always so safe knowing who I was, not fearing about displacement, not knowing any better, till I did.

My grandparents – both maternal and paternal – migrated to India in July 1947, right towards the end, from Pakistan. I was all of eight years old when my paternal grandmother died and I wasn’t born when my paternal grandfather died. My parents don’t remember much about the Partition either. My mother never asked her parents about it. Neither did my aunts and uncles on both sides. That says a lot about trauma and grief, about what we remember and what we forget, and what we do not want to know about.

In the last couple of years, I have read Aanchal Malhotra’s Remnants of a Separation at least three times to make sense of where I come from – at least some of it. I believe art saves you, and it does, and it has, whenever I have turned to it. It is painful to read about the Partition but in a way it is also very cathartic. As a third-generation resident of independent India – who has only heard about the Partition in snatches of stray conversations – trying to make sense of pain and loss, reading about the events can be a means of providing closure, even if in the smallest of ways.

Aanchal Malhotra’s In the Language of Remembering is a book for me, for people who belong to my generation or after, for anyone who wants to understand the Partition from where we are now. It is a book about remembering – of conversations Malhotra had over the years with generations of Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis. She speaks to them about identity, about the relevance of the Partition today, whether we wish to talk about the Partition, and the need to preserve the painful past.

While growing up I used to think of the Partition as an event in my grandparents’ lives. It was cut off from my existence. I didn’t realise till much later that I too am a product of the painful past in one sense or the other – of two people whose parents had memories, who could never forget what they endured, about how they crossed the border, and how long it took them to build a new life.

In the Language of Remembering has been published at a time when the country is in the grips of a destructive chaos – when relationships have taken a back seat and religion is at the fore, when Muslims are being othered, and people are being categorised as “minority” and “majority”. The book has been published at a time when we need it the most – to understand where we have come from and how far we have come, and what it will take to be truly secular.

I never understood what the Partition meant to me, and how it perhaps even impacted me till I read about it. It all began with Kamleshwar’s Partitions in the year 2000, and after twenty-two years and having read about some forty-and-odd books on the subject, I feel we still don’t have enough Partition Literature. We constantly need to look and relook at it, to understand ourselves better, and perhaps generate some more empathy within us – to be kinder to each other and ourselves. I admit, it isn’t as simple as that. Sadly, we have a long way to go since maps and borders continue to be an integral part of our existence, whether we like it or not.

In the Language of Remembering makes us aware of what we carry within ourselves. Malhotra’s book is about regrets, losses, hopes, about what we gained, and what we were separated from. It is about the choices one made, about family, about generations, and how some incidents are not passed over, not told as stories, not revisited because of how painful they are and the need to talk about them – both in order to look ahead and constantly keep looking back so as not to lose a part of ourselves.