Tag Archives: women writers

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Title: The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
Author: Thi Bui
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
ISBN: 978-1419718786
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 344
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It isn’t easy, living this life. I do not know where I read it, or who told me this, but I guess this is true in some way or the other for all of us. It just isn’t easy. Till it becomes bearable I guess, in one way or the other that you make it. I was reminded of this, and more as I turned the pages of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by This Bui – about her parents who escaped to America from Vietnam in the 70s, right after the fall of South Vietnam, and the lives they struggled to build for themselves and their four children.

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Of course this is the kind of book that makes you ponder through its simple illustrations – it is a book about so many stories, so many narratives that Thi Bui makes the reader aware of – conflict, what it is like to not be at home, what is home in the larger scheme of things, identity at the core of restlessness and wanting to shake that off as well, and more than anything the unspoken love between parents and children. I think to a large extent I could relate to the love that remains unspoken. I don’t recall ever saying I love you so casually to either of my parents, and the same goes for them. We don’t say it enough. Like Thi Bui says, it gets stuck in the throat.

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The Best We Could Do is also about coping with life on a daily basis, with the past almost overseeing and controlling events. It is also about what it means to be a parent – from the child’s perspective, and that of the parent’s. It is about the racism that people face in the United States of America, and what it takes to “fit in”. And before you know it, you are rooting for her and her family at almost every page. The empathy is real. I cannot begin to imagine what it must take for her parents to build a life from scratch. I also while reading the book wished I had more time with my grandparents to have asked them what it was like when they moved from Pakistan to India during the Great Partition.

The Best We Could Do is a book that will grab you by the throat and make you see the beauty and the ruthlessness of humanity. It shows all sides without bias. It doesn’t take sides. For Thi Bui to be this objective, and tell the story of her family is a feat in itself. It is all about doing the best, and finding your place in the sun.

The Milk of Dreams by Leonora Carrington

The Milk of Dreams by Leonora Carrington Title: The Milk of Dreams
Author: Leonora Carrington
Publisher: New York Review Children’s Collection
ISBN: 978-1681370941
Genre: Children’s Books
Pages: 56
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Milk of Dreams by Leonora Carrington is such a strange book – even though it is for children. The short stories are odd, have a fairy tale quality to them, and are surreal to the hilt.

These stories aren’t the usual fare that authors serve up for children. They are dark – with children’s body parts missing, some sewed back, and a story also of a vulture getting stuck in gelatin. Carrington read these stories to her children, and that’s how they came to be. In fact, the illustrations in the book are also from the ones that she made on the children’s bedroom walls.

Humbert the BeautifulThis book is bizarre, and at the same time delightfully odd and silly. I was captivated by all of it – the drawings, the prose that was crazy, and the nonchalance of it all, in the sense of it being read to kids. There is John, who has wings for ears, and “Humbert the Beautiful”, and my personal favorite being “The Horrible Story of the Little Meats” – a fantastic fairy of a woman who doesn’t like kids, and ends up feeding them bad meat, to then do what she wants to.

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The Milk of Dreams is a read that is short and yet stays with you. I could reread and reread it some more. Maybe this time I will pay more attention to the illustrations as well. All said and done, it is the kind of book that could be read easily in less than an hour and like I said, go back to once in a while.

Suralakshmi Villa by Aruna Chakravarti

Suralakshmi Villa by Aruna Chakravarti Title: Suralakshmi Villa
Author: Aruna Chakravarti
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
ISBN: 9789389109399
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 313
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

So, I was eagerly waiting to read Suralakshmi Villa, because I loved Chakravarti’s earlier works – Jorasanko and Daughters of Jorasanko. However, while I enjoyed reading this one, a problem kept nagging me over and over again. The depiction of the Muslim man and I even let it go because the story is rich and detailed, but somehow it kept coming back as the pages turned.

I think it has got to do more with the need for the plot and to propel the story in a certain direction. Having said that, I still think it could’ve been treated differently. At the same time, perhaps it is a function of the time the book is set in. These thoughts and more also make you see a book differently by the time you are done with it.

Coming back to the book, Suralakshmi Villa with its prose, characters, and Bengal at the core never disappoints in the details and character study. There is a lot going on with the focus on the protagonist Suralakshmi Choudhury, and what goes on in her life as she “settles down” – marries, has a kid, is a gynaecologist, and suddenly decides to abandon it all. Why? What for? Those questions are answered as we read – back and forth in time – drawing from her journals, letters, other people’s perspectives, and incidents. While Suralakshmi is at the center of the narrative, there is so much going on with the other characters, that Chakravarti forces us almost to turn our gaze to them as well.

Aruna Chakravarti writes a historical novel that is also a novel about Bengal, about religion, the lifestyle of the common person, blending in the myths and legends, and connecting it very deeply with personal experiences, bias, and the manner in which a character thinks or aspires. Suralakshmi Villa is about human relationships of course, but it is also about how we got there, and what happened and is there any redemption at all in the grander scheme of things.

The Little Snake by A.L. Kennedy

The Little Snake by A.L. Kennedy Title: The Little Snake
Author: A.L. Kennedy
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1786893871
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This inventive, almost fable-like book is just what I needed in times such as these, and so do you. The Little Snake is a story of a girl named Mary, and a snake named Lanmo, and about human beings on this planet, and who we are at the heart of it all. It is a story of how the snake is a symbol of death, is so full of wisdom, and can sense feelings through tasting the air people breathe.

The Little Snake is a book that is so profound and you don’t realise it as you are reading it, but toward the end it all becomes clear. I don’t know what else to say about this book that will stay with me for a very long time. There are some books that come to you, and even after they have you don’t get to them at the earliest. You take your time because there is always a right time to read the right book (no matter what anyone else thinks). The book is influenced by The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and I am not surprised given the language used and descriptions of beauty lending to hope in times of hopelessness.

I found myself thinking of all that is happening right now with reference to Corona Virus, to how we as humans are – taking opportunity of a crisis, to getting together and showing kindness and empathy. The Little Snake is a story of everyone’s journey – from life to death, about community where only wealth and power exists, to the means people have to survive and hope for a better tomorrow.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

A Thousand Ships by Natalie HaynesTitle: A Thousand Ships
Author: Natalie Haynes
Publisher: Mantle, PanMacmillan
ISBN: 978-1509836208
Genre: Myth Retelling, Literary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Another Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 Long-listed title, which I read and thoroughly enjoyed. This is the book that The Silence of the Girls should have been but wasn’t. I am only too glad that this was published and I got a chance to read it. A Thousand Ships might seem like the regular fare of various perspectives and voices about The Trojan War, but there is more to it.

I liked the structure of the book, in the sense of it being an all-female perspective. Right from Penelope to Cassandra to Calliope to Hera and also the lesser-known women of this epic battle. The book’s characters are divided as per houses through which the battle was fought, but they only have similarities. The same grief and loss when men die. The same trauma when women are raped and married against their will. The same anguish of a mother as her child returns as a dead body. The helplessness of a goddess. The book focuses on events which happened before and during Homer’s two epics – The Iliad and The Odyssey.

The story starts with the sacking of Troy. The Greeks entering Troy through the Trojan Horse and raping, pillaging, and killing. Haynes lends structure and character to the lesser-known voices of the war. Women who have no voices in Homer’s poems. Whether they are Priam’s wife and daughters or Penelope’s pain and hurt, Haynes gives us deeper insight into their emotions and feelings. I just didn’t enjoy the constant Helen-bashing that took place at some points in the book.

The chapters are chronological, so there might be some confusion reading the book to begin with. At the same time, you don’t have to read Homer to know what happened. A quick summary of Iliad and Odyssey should be enough to venture into this read. A Thousand Ships is a great read of the retelling of a great myth.