Tag Archives: women writers

I Am Young by M. Dean

i am young 3Title: I Am Young
Author: M. Dean
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 978-1683961390
Genre: Comics, Graphic Novels
Pages: 108
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Graphic novels that are intertwined with music are a big bonus. I Am Young by M. Dean is about two teenagers who meet and fall in love after a Beatles concert in 1964. It is so much more and the Beatles are everywhere in this character-driven book of stories, interspersed with music all along by the very talented M. Dean.

i am young 1I Am Young is the kind of book that you must take to bed on a day when nothing has gone right and it all seems futile. It is the kind of book that will cheer you and will also make you sad as their relationship soars, doesn’t, falls, sustains, and then is on the rocks as the decade ends. What remains though is the shared love of the one night in 1964, when they saw Beatles perform.

i am young 2

I Am Young is what dreams are made of. M. Dean’s art is stunning (for lack of a better word really). It is the graphic novel that eases you in to the story of teenagers, of their love, against the backdrop of several years, with one of course being the most important to them. You just get taken into the story of Miriam and George and nothing else will then matter, but how their lives progress over the next hundred-odd pages or so. The impact of culture is a strong basis of this book, with how relationships function and grow over time.

M. Dean’s storytelling capability is extremely sensitive and shows brilliantly in her art and plot. And mind you it isn’t easy drawing about music with a whole lot of charm – it comes across so trippy (had to use it, forgive me) throughout the book. The 60s and 70s had their own thrill and M. Dean does a brilliant job of pulling the reader into that world.

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Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector. Translated from the Portuguese by Benjamin Moser.

hour of the star Title: Hour of the Star
Author: Clarice Lispector
Translated from the Portuguese by
Publisher: Penguin Classics
ISBN: 978-0141392035
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

Clarice Lispector’s works burst on the literary scene a couple of years ago. Her books were republished, retranslated to English (I think), and read and loved by all. Whether understood or not is secondary, and I don’t mean this in a condescending or patronising manner. The truth of the matter is: Sometimes it is hard to read Lispector, because there is so much to make of what she has written. I am only happy that more people are discovering her and reading her. It is always so important to read new authors, to break your reading mould, and experience new terrains, cultures, and lives you wouldn’t have thought about in the past.

Hour of the Star is a strange book, in the classic good-strange kind of way. It was one of her last few works published and it clearly to me is one of her best. I have read most of her books and every time I read a Lispector, my head is in a dizzy. It is like I cannot read anything else for days after reading her. That’s the effect she has with her words, her characters, and the stories she chose to tell.

Hour of the Star is a small book with some very big ideas, all along the read. The book focuses on the life of an uneducated woman and her struggle to survive in a sexist society. Sadly, this doesn’t sound very alien, does it? Hour of the Star is also about abject poverty and the class differences we witness every single day.  At the same time, Lispector’s Macabéa, the 19-year-old impoverished girl living in Rio de Janeiro doesn’t feel for once that she leads a difficult life. The story is told through the narrator, Rodrigo S.M., and he starts the book with how to tell a story and what goes into it. The fourth wall is broken. Lispector’s themes are broad and large in scope. In all of this, there is also a fortune-teller named Madame Carlota and you should read the book also for all of the secondary characters.

Lispector writes more so inwardly – there is a stream of consciousness and then there isn’t. She constantly challenges the reader to read better, if there is something like that, if not then there should be. Macabéa’s traits are so well-etched, that in all of the loving of Coca-Cola, Marilyn Monroe, and her boyfriend (scum, by the way), Lispector cuts away at her heroine’s happiness, thereby jolting the reader’s notions of poverty, identity, and love.

You can sense the dichotomy of the well-off Rodrigo writing about the poverty of Macabéa. It is this power-dynamics that Lispector chose to write about? Is it this Brazil that Lispector wanted to show her readers where the lives of the impoverished is for all to see and write about? Hour of the Star is a tragic comedy about a girl living in poverty and has literally no clue about her state. She certainly makes no impact on anyone and never even knows love, but she has her small joys and as a reader, I couldn’t help but hoot for her through it all.

The brilliance of Hour of the Star is what each reader takes away from it. Don’t be deceived by it’s size of 96 pages. There is so much more to it. Moser’s translation is crisp, and on point. There is no detailing that isn’t needed to begin with. It is a story deeply, starkly, and told rooted in reality, with dreams that can never be fulfilled.

Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises (And Essays) by Rebecca Solnit

call them by their true names- american crises (and essays) by rebecca solnit Title: Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises (And Essays)
Author: Rebecca Solnit
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 978-1783784974
Genre: Political Science, Feminist Criticism, Essays
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I think I would read Solnit even if she would write in a greeting card. She is that powerful as a writer, and I am sure a great human being. Rebecca Solnit has written on a varied number of topics – from the history of walking, to space and how to maintain it, to bow to get lost, to how men explain things to women – she has touched every single surface when it comes to writing (more or less), and this time this collection of essays is her masterstroke.

These essays are telling of our times and it is scary to observe the world we live in. Solnit speaks of the election of Donald Trump and makes no bones about her disagreement. Her essays more than being timely or savage are honest and backed with facts. The insights are spot-on and attempt to diagnose what ails the American culture. Right from the MeToo movement to the incarceration of African-American men, to the misleading speech of President Trump, Solnit emerges as one of the most powerful cultural critics that the world of literature possesses.

Solnit’s writing is powerful, stark and a representation of the times we live in. This collection of essays ends with the injustice Americans (mostly) face every single day – from the cynicism, to police shootings, the gentrification, and the crises that ultimately define America today. As she so eloquently puts it, ““Being careful and precise about language is one way to oppose the disintegration of meaning, to encourage the beloved community and the conversations that inculcate hope and vision. Calling things by their true names is the work I have tried to do in the essays here.”

The primary ideas behind the book are the naming and precision of language which somehow also tends to fall short somewhere, more so in alignment with what Solnit is trying to talk about. Sure it is from a very personal space and she acknowledges that. My favourite essays were: “Twenty Million Missing Storytellers”, which is on voter suppression, “Milestones in Misogyny” about the 2016 presidential election is sympathetic to Clinton and I thought was written with a lot of force.

“Call Them By Their True Names” is a powerful read, the one that makes you question, stand up, take notice and see what is going on with America and therefore with the rest of the world. The one that deserves to be read right now!

 

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

a raisin in the sun by lorraine hansberryTitle: A Raisin in the Sun
Author: Lorraine Hansberry
Publisher: Modern Library
ISBN: 978-0679601722
Genre: Drama, American Literature, Black Literature
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

Let me start this short review with this: Anyone who goes on and on and on about James Baldwin, which isn’t a bad thing at all by the way, should and must read Lorraine Hansberry. Amongst other things, Hansberry was the first black woman author whose play was performed on Broadway. It doesn’t seem much, but it is so much more, given the human rights they were fighting for – constantly, and still are.

Lorraine Hansberry did not write much. I wish she had. Her bibliography is limited. But, whatever she wrote is pure gold and deserves to be placed on the highest literary shelf there is. Her biography Looking for Lorraine by Imani Perry, which is a must-read if you’d like to know more about her. Well, let’s get on with A Raisin in the Sun.

What’s strange is that I had had the book on my shelf for years now but never picked it up. It is almost like you only read books when they are ready to be read and not before nor after. The timing has to be right and I am so glad that it was time for this play. This play is everything you think it is and more. A black family’s dreams and aspiration is portrayed heartbreakingly in this cracker of a play. The Younger family has decided to make something of themselves. While Ruth is content with what they have, her husband Walter isn’t. He wants to give a better life to their son, Travis. They live in poverty with Walter’s mother Lena and his sister Beneatha in a dilapidated two-bedroom apartment on Chicago’s south side. All Walter wants is a move, to some place better.

The entire play is about their trials and tribulations. And while Hansberry covers that brilliantly, she layers it with everything racist, everything prejudiced, and biased. There have been about three films based on this play, each better than the other and of course you must watch them when you can. Hansberry’s writing is without any apologies. It is as it is. Most of the play was semi-autobiographical and perhaps that’s why its candidness and brutal honesty challenged President Kennedy to take bolder stances on the Civil Rights Movement.

A Raisin in the Sun can rightly be called a movement. A revolution even – a small one and in its own way, a very important one. It was and continues to remain just that. A movement that will continue as long as disparity and inequality exists. Once you are done reading this extremely powerful play, read more by Hansberry. Be prepared to be in awe. Over and over again.

Romtha by Mahasweta Devi. Translated from the Bengali by Pinaki Bhattacharya

Romtha by Mahasweta Devi Title: Romtha
Author: Mahasweta Devi
Translated from the Bengali by Pinaki Bhattacharya
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-8170462576
Genre: Indian Writing, Novella, Novelette
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

I remember the time the movie Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa had released. It was directed by Govind Nihalani and had got not such a great theatrical release. I think it barely must have released in a couple of theatres in Bombay. The year was 1998. That was the time I got to know that the movie that touched me so deeply was based on a book. I also discovered to my pleasure that one of my favourite movies released five years ago in 1993, Rudaali, was also based on the same author’s short story. Those were the times when great literature was converted to films in Indian cinema – till of course the likes of Govinda movies took over. That’s not the point though.

It has been 20 years since I have been reading Mahasweta Devi’s works. Repeatedly. Sometimes, chancing upon one of your favourite authors’ works, purely by accident is the best that could have happened to you. Thankfully, she has written prolifically, and we have so many of her works at our disposal, thanks to Naveen Kishore of Seagull Books.

Mahasweta Devi’s writing is not easy, no matter how big or small her works are. The beauty of the short story written by her is that it has the same impact as that of a novel penned by her. Romtha (Criminal, Convict) is one such example. I cannot believe I hadn’t read it till now, but this lament is for a later date. Back to the book.

Romtha is a story of a criminal – a beautiful young man, Sharan, who is condemned to death for a crime of passion – that of his lover, a beautiful courtesan, Chandrabali. He has killed her and mourns for her, almost yearns for her. In all of this, there is a lonely widow, Subhadra, pining for Sharan – wanting him and yet wants nothing more than her freedom as well. All of this takes place in twelfth century Bengal – shifting from the royal city of Gaur and the rural landscape of Bengal – focusing on how the Romtha culture came to be, drawing details on casteism, hypocrisy of the world, and chalking characters who find no redemption or second chances at life.

Mahasweta Devi’s writings are not comfortable. They make you uncomfortable and rightly so. She talks of issues that she has experienced first-hand. You cannot expect getting into a Mahasweta Devi work and not be reeled by the injustice meted by our society to the less privileged. Romtha speaks of so much more and the muted silences in-between do most of the talking. Every character – from Gopal – the chief security who forces Chandrabali to get intimate with him, Subhadra – just wanting a better life, and Chandrabali who is dead before her time – each of them are threaded by Sharan – the Romtha, who is so ironically named, as there is no refuge for him at all.

Twelfth-century Bengal – its customs, traditions, are brought out with nuance so much so that it had me Googling and finding out more about that time. Also, please do not skip the very insightful interview, Naveen Kishore has with Mahasweta Devi – on words, language, and how they have been used in the story. Pinaki Bhattacharya’s translation is on point – I think it must have been tough given the stream of consciousness that jumps in at the reader, which I loved. Every terrain, texture, emotional landscape, and the beauty of unrequited love, desire, and the possibility of more is expressed empathetically and more so with stark reality.

Mahasweta Devi’s works are par excellence and there is no doubt about it at all. One of my projects this year is to go through all her books – the ones that are translated in English. Thank you, Naveen Kishore, for what you do.