Tag Archives: Women Writers Reading Project

Read 3 of 2023. Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

Title: Age of Vice
Author: Deepti Kapoor
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 978-9393986481
Genre: Thriller, Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction
Pages: 560
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Age of Vice is a book that doesn’t cut corners. It doesn’t hold back from saying what it wants to about the vast difference between the haves and the have-nots in the Indian society, and what happens because of that. At the same time, it is heartfelt in the way the story unfolds sometimes. Mind you, those times are very rare in the book, so when you find them, you are overwhelmed, broken, and realise your failings as a person, in comparison to that of the well-nuanced, messy, struggling-with-life, and fractured characters that inhabit these five-hundred-and-forty pages.

Age of Vice is set in Delhi – the book opens with a crime – and Kapoor doesn’t shy from showing us how it was done – getting into the gory details, and the intended result of that crime that takes place in 2004, but the story begins in 1991 with Ajay – a boy of eight – a boy from a lower caste – a Dalit, and what happens to him till and after he starts working for Sunny Wadia, the heir to the Wadia empire and its nefarious dealings. Basically, a crime syndicate, and how inextricably the stories of Ajay and Sunny will be linked for years to come. And in all of this, there is Neda, the headstrong journalist, whose gumption is tested to the point of it not being there, whose moral compass is uprooted, and how she becomes a part of the world inhabited by Sunny.

There is opulence, decadence, wealth that one cannot imagine – brands being dropped constantly on every other page, and while initially I thought what was happening, I realised very soon that it was much-needed. To show the farmhouse culture of Delhi, to understand the poor, we must understand the wealthy. Kapoor has this insider-outsider perspective – there is biting satire that unravels itself slowly and quite deliciously. As a reader, you must wait, you must go through the finer details of living – and losing, and the sheer heartbreak of the story – of Sunny and Neda’s love, of how as humans we will go to any stretch sometimes to ensure we have the one elusive characteristic that places us on the top of it all – POWER.

Power to claim people, to make them see where they belong in the larger scheme of things, to rule them all (Bunty Wadia and his brother, Vicky Wadia’s constant pursuit), to understand who must be manipulated and controlled to what extent, the plot of Age of Vice races on full-throttle mode. Incidents happen swiftly – people die at the drop of a hat, injustices take place and no one dare utter a word because of the “crime family” at the helm, and Kapoor’s Delhi seethes, and spectates, and we move from place to place with guilt, the idea of freedom in the minds of the characters, never letting go of privilege, of understanding its worth, of being punched in the face with self-awareness, and to then bear the burden of living.

Deepti Kapoor takes us through Goa, the hills of Himachal, Nepal, back to Delhi, to Italy even, to the center of it all – Uttar Pradesh, and all the places to make us understand the futility of living – there is no higher purpose anyway. There are truths and lies, and in-between the ones – the living who tell them daily, to live after all.

Age of Vice is about decaying – the rotting that takes place spectacularly, on such a grand level that the ones involved, the ones watching from the sidelines, and the ones encouraging it also perhaps – know it all – they are aware of what is going on and yet cannot take their gaze away, they cannot walk away – they must endure. Deepti’s writing is sharp, incisive, and makes no bones about how it is. “It is what it is” – this phrase came to my mind so many times as I turned the pages, and it sticks – the indifference of the phrase lingers throughout the book, and in this indifference stems the need to seek validation, to make something of your life, to make it worth it, to make it count – whether for Ajay it is the idea of family, or for Sunny it is about validation – the strong sense of urgency to do good or the idea of it, and ultimately for Neda – to try so hard to be right and yet constantly failing to her own lofty ideas about living.

The back and forth between the sacred, the profane, the good, the bad, the moralistic, the amoral makes Age of Vice what it is – a reflection of our times, of the Kalyug that Deepti mentions at the beginning of the book, the dark times, of the doomsday cometh, of pain and pleasure – both unbearable – the complexity of living, and the simple ways of death – Kapoor’s writing astounded me, made me want to get up and slap a few characters, to show them the way, to play God even, only to quickly realize that as a reader I had been given no power at all – so I enjoyed the read, lapped it all up, thought about the book for days to come, and cannot wait for the next two instalments of this fantastic trilogy.

Read 1 of 2023. Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Vintage
Imprint: Chatto & Windus
ISBN: 9781784744656
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Let me just say, right at the start, that this book is all about kindness, and more than anything about kindness in friendship. I think everyone who thinks of themselves as a friend to someone must read this book. It will only strengthen your bond with that one friend or more than one friend you hold close to your heart. And also, there’s none of the preachy stuff, nor does it try to be a self-help guide in any way. If nothing, Zevin shows relationships for what they are: messy, complicated, but in the end all-enduring.

Yes, this book is about two friends who meet when they are kids – when the meaning of friendship is known, but not about its endurance. They meet in a hospital – playing video games – what they know and love best – and video games chart the course of their lives – well in some manner or the other – through their friendships, loves, falling-out, anxiety, depression, disabilities, and above all making them realise their worth in each other’s lives. It is about misunderstandings, about race and class, about how the other is treated in the United States of America, of privilege, of disability (the most honest portrayal of it I have read in contemporary literature), and of second and third chances – to make us feel how after all we are all waiting to reset whatever happens to us, and start anew.

“Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow” came to me at a time when I suppose I needed it the most. It made me see the power of relationships, and how flawed we all are in the larger scheme of things. Through video games – across decades, Zevin’s writing takes the reader through so much – the universe in which video games are made, the intricacies of each game, the dynamics of Sadie, Sam, and Marx, of how it is to find solace in a world that is unreal, but is more real to you because of the comfort it provides, and ultimately the question of love, and what it really is.

Through the book, I found myself thinking of my relationships with people – of what they were, what they could’ve been, and what they are. The book moved me to tears in so many places – Zevin doesn’t sentimentalise emotions – she doesn’t write to make you weep or cry – she just tells the story that she wants to, and all emotions come along the way. I experienced the same while reading, “The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry” and recommended it very highly to one and all.

“Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow” is a book I cannot stop recommending. Please read it, if you haven’t already. I am just so happy that it happened to be my first read of 2023, and just as sad, because it ended.

Books and Authors mentioned in the book:

  • Homer
  • Odyssey
  • Ulysses
  • The White Album by Joan Didion
  • Shakespeare
  • Twelfth Night
  • Macbeth
  • The Marriage of Beth and Boo
  • Hamlet
  • King Lear
  • The Mikado
  • The Tempest
  • A Brief History of Time
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service
  • A Chorus Line
  • The Call of the Wild
  • Call it Courage
  • The Hero’s Journey
  • The Language Instinct
  • Swiss Family Robinson

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.