Tag Archives: Women Writers Reading Project

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

The Book of M Title: The Book of M
Author: Peng Shepherd
Publisher: William Morrow, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062669605
Genre: Literary, Post-Apocalyptic
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I am ecstatic that I read this book. At the same time, I am devastated that it ended. A book that was dystopian, post-apocalyptic, a romance and even literary at that. I really can’t place it anywhere but it is post-apocalyptic for sure.

The M in the book title could very well stand for Memory as the book is about that and its loss. The world is now the one in which people’s shadows start to disappear, without any reason. The only problem is that their shadow is linked to memory, which means that even memory then goes out of the window. Simple memories are lost – skills to begin with – how to open a door, how to brush one’s teeth, etc. The more complex memories (the ones related to the heart) go right after. The world spins out of control. There is chaos everywhere. Nothing has prepared the world for this and people fear that this is going to be the end after all.

Shepherd’s book is fascinating. It touches on memory so closely that it almost frightens you with the thought: what would you do if you lost your memories? Or were on the road to rapidly losing them? Then what? Memory is something which perhaps we take for granted all the time, till we start forgetting. Shepherd plays on that aspect cleverly throughout the book. Each character is struggling with his or her demons and the beauty is in Shepherd tying all the loose-ends superbly. I normally do not enjoy “battle scenes” (no spoilers really) but in this book I didn’t mind them at all. In fact, if anything, I enjoyed them and Shepherd has written them accurately.

“The Book of M” draws you into its world. You want to know the whys and hows and whens of it all. Peng Shepherd creates characters you feel for intensely and cannot do anything but pray it will all work out for them. I was reminded of Emily St John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” while reading this, primarily because of the emotions and the richness of characters and secondary given both are set in post-apocalyptic worlds.

“The Book of M” is deeply moving. It is daunting as well, given the scope of writing and the setting of the novel. It is one of those books that sneak up on you and become popular through a lot of word-of-mouth, say for instance like “Homegoing”. This one is a firecracker of a read. You must read it. You just must.

 

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Foxy Aesop: On the Edge by Suniti Namjoshi

Foxy Aesop Title: Foxy Aesop: On the Edge
Author: Suniti Namjoshi
Publisher: Zubaan
ISBN: 978-9385932427
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love Suniti Namjoshi’s books. They are not what you expect or have been conditioned to expect and that’s the primary reason I love what she writes. Her works are heady, over the top, campy even, but above all honest and feminist to the core. She doesn’t mince her words and that’s the only way to write in my opinion. “Foxy Aesop” reminded me of her Fabulist Feminist tales, but more than anything I was drawn into her world so strong that I just didn’t want it to end. Her world is weird (and all weird works for me in more than one way), intriguing and mind you she is one writer who will not let you have it easy. Her prose evokes thoughts but naturally and that’s that.

“Foxy Aesop” to me was everything rolled into one – a fantastical story, a story so quirky that I laughed straight out loud in so many places, a satire as well – something that crescendos into something unusual, only leaving the reader with the hope that she will write something similar. “Foxy Aesop” may suggest that the book is about Aesop, but it is actually about Sprite, a fabulist from the future who transports herself to the century of Aesop and that’s where the book begins. Aesop, on the other hand is busy writing his fables and trying to make ends meet. The book is about fables at the core – what they do to the moral fabric of our society and do they play any role in it at all or not. Sprite and Aesop make for delightful characters in this fantastical piece by Namjoshi.

Namjoshi’s writing is irreverent and that is another quality I love about her prose. She has literally taken the concept of fables and turned it on its head. She makes you rethink and evaluate those morals all over again in light of our world and what we think of them at all – if we do that is.

“Foxy Aesop” is a book that is witty, unusual, full of quirk and life. Suniti Namjoshi has done it again, as always, and not just in storytelling but creating it in a dimension probably unheard of to many. Read it for its fabulousness. Just go read it.

Sparrow by Sarah Moon

Sparrow by Sarah Moon Title: Sparrow
Author: Sarah Moon
Publisher:  Scholastic
ISBN: 978-1338032581
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

As an introvert, Sparrow’s life has not been easy. She has been prone to reading and being by herself, which isn’t a bad thing at all. She prefers watching birds, and spending time with her high-flying mother, who is an IT executive at a Brooklyn bank. She has no friends and her world is limited to books and her teacher, Mrs. Wexler, the school librarian. She is the perfect friend Sparrow has – she doesn’t speak much and knows exactly what book Sparrow will like next. Till tragedy takes place and Mrs. Wexler dies in a freak accident. From then on, Sparrow is left all alone – miserable and lonely, almost wanting to commit suicide. Sparrow enters therapy and her world changes like never before. Enter: Rock & Roll music.

This is the plot of “Sparrow” by Sarah Moon. Sarah knows how to decode a teenager’s head. What goes on in Sparrow’s mind is almost bang-on. In fact, many a time I was transported to my teenage years and that had me nodding in affirmation to everything that was going on in the book. Moon’s prose is bang-on in so many parts, especially when she describes Sparrow with a book or her new-found love and the solace Rock & Roll brings to her life.

The book touches on mental health issues delicately and I wish it had probed a little further on it, though it is there and does address it in more than one way. The story doesn’t stray and I enjoyed Sparrow’s transition from grieving to loss to contemplating suicide to seeing things and life for what they were. Sarah Moon doesn’t glorify anything. If anything, she tells a story the way it is meant to be told – in an honest way. Just for that “Sparrow” deserves one read at least. Also, because it is rather warm in a lot of places.

 

Something Bright, Then Holes by Maggie Nelson

Something Bright, Then Holes Title: Something Bright, Then Holes
Author: Maggie Nelson
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
ISBN: 978-1593762308
Genre: Poems, Prose
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Maggie Nelson is a genius. No really, she actually is. Have no doubt when it comes to this. Her prose and poetry shines and is enchanting to the very last word. I have read close to 3 books by her and I can say with complete confidence that there is no one like her. Sometimes I do not even know if her writing is prose or poetry or a combination of both. Whatever it is, it is glorious and deserves to be read by one and all.

Something Bright, Then Holes is full of empathy. Everything she writes is as a matter of fact. To me that stands out in her writing and the only reason why I love her writing the way I do, beside of course the language. However, you cannot separate the two anyway. Also, this collection cannot be compared to Bluets and you shouldn’t if you have read Bluets. This collection is divided into three parts – a new relationship being embarked on and a polluted waterway in Brooklyn, the second is the aftermath of a paralysing accident that Nelson’s friend goes through and the third is her attempt to get over a failed relationship.

Each section is raw, intense and utterly heartbreaking. It is as though you are being tied to a chair and the person you love the most is walking away from you, and you cannot do anything about it. The collection is unapologetic and she doesn’t put on a brave face – her writing conveys, mostly painfully, what she is going through. Each sentence stands out from the other and lends itself a new voice. Maggie Nelson as usual doesn’t disappoint at all. Everything is satisfactory, even the hurt and the pain, especially the hurt and the pain. Read it. Please be prepared to weep.

Ayiti by Roxane Gay

Ayiti by Roxane Gay Title: Ayiti
Author: Roxane Gay
Publisher: Corsair, Hachette UK
ISBN: 9781472154224
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

We are sometimes (perhaps most of the time or even all the time) lost in our individual bubbles – the ones that we create, the ones that protect us from most realities, so much so that we aren’t even aware of them. I say this because before reading “Ayiti” by Roxane Gay I wasn’t aware of what the Haitians went through or are going through on a daily basis and for that, I have no one else to blame but myself.

Having said that, “Ayiti” (the way Haiti is pronounced by the Haitians and is the original way of referring to their country) has made me want to know more about the country. How it was ruled by the French and how did they get their freedom and what were the consequences that made it reach this state in the larger scheme of things.

Roxane Gay’s prose is not forgiving nor is it all roses along the way. Her stories are brutal, real, visceral and jump at you without warning – just the way a well-written short-story should be. At the same time, humanity (or the lack of it) runs deep in these fifteen stories – some medium-sized, mostly vignettes and three long stories that will cut through your heart and make you sometimes weep with helplessness.

“Ayiti” is a collection that makes you see the mirror of the world. A country that is forgotten not only by the world but sometimes also its own people. The people who have perhaps given up on a God to come and rescue them from their fate. Some of whom who make it to America and try too hard, so their family can make it. The people who will eat mud in Haiti because there is nothing else to consume. The characters are always in conflict – between home and what they want to make a home but will never be.

“Haiti is not a perfect home, but it is a home nonetheless” thinks the protagonist of the last story in this collection, “A Cool, Dry Place” – a story of a couple who want to leave Haiti – dreaming of Little Haiti in Miami, where there is air-conditioning and cable TV all-day long. And yet, she doesn’t want to leave. She wants to stay with their loved ones, the familiar. Between them, what keeps them going is the love and lust they share.

Roxane Gay’s stories are for sure semi-autobiographical if not all-autobiographical in nature. She was born and raised in the US, though Haitian and I am sure there must have been stories that traveled and found their way in this book.

These stories were published earlier in 2011 and are now published in a new format, but the voice, the situations, the conditions are still the same. The book couldn’t have been more relevant than today when the world is in a state of limbo – when we need to be human, accept, own and belong. In a world where children are being separated from their parents, the part of the world in which Trump makes decisions, we really need to wake up and smell the coffee.

“Cheap, Fast, Filling” was another favourite of mine – about a man named Lucien and his arrival in the United States via Canada and again right into Miami. He has been told that eat Hot Pockets until he finds a job since they are cheap and taste good. He survives on those and Super Big Gulp. To him, even this taste is wonderful. All he wants is his children left in Haiti, to be able to taste these treats.

“We are the keeper of secrets. We are secrets ourselves. We try to protect each other from the geography of so much sorry.” These are some of the thoughts of the narrator of “In the Manner of Water or Light” – a story of a woman conceiving her daughter on the bank of a river while running away from a horrific massacre. The story is achingly told from the perspective of the granddaughter.

“Sweet on the Tongue” is a story of humiliation, love, redemption and somehow making peace with the ghosts of the past. It is also the story of women loving women, women who love their men fiercely and sometimes when it becomes difficult to love your own child.

Roxane Gay’s writing is not limited by anything. The plot could take you anywhere. Even in the shortest of vignettes, she packs a punch of a nine-page story. “Of Ghosts and Shadows” is a longish story of two women who just want to be left alone, loving each other and not caring about the world. The world they are born into and must whether they like it or not care about. This is one story I could relate with the most – maybe because being gay is really the same anywhere after all.

Gay’s Haiti is weak, broken like one character says something to the effect that it is turning on into itself. Its people do not want to leave and yet there is no choice. The ones who have left try every day to get their loved ones home, USA – which could never be what Haiti is or was and yet it seems like a lot for now. “Ayiti” is a book that must be read and after you have read it, read more on Haiti and its people, its history – what came to be and why. I know I will.