Tag Archives: World Literature

The Gardens of Consolation by Parisa Reza

Title: The Gardens of Consolation
Author: Parisa Reza
Translated by: Adriana Hunter
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453503
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“The Gardens of Consolation” by Parisa Reza is a book about common people, literally caught up in conditions which are not ordinary – things happen around them, their country changes and they just hope and pray that things remain the same. It is the story of a family that sees Iran through the changes and what do those changes mean for them and their lives. Historical fiction isn’t easy to write. I mean there is so much already written about history timelines of a country – that sometimes as a reader I wonder: what else is left to read about this? Then comes along a book like ‘The Gardens of Consolation’ that defies my way of thinking and presents me with something new and exciting.

The book is set in 1920s with young newlyweds Talla and Sardar Amir travelling from their native village Qamsar to the suburbs of Tehran, where everything is new to them. Sardar is amazed at what he can do when it comes to work and Talla is slowly coping with the ways of the world – a major change being with the Shah announcing that the chador must not be worn anymore. This is just one of the incidents but it leaves a huge impact on Talla’s life. The book then proceeds with them moving to Shemiran where they raise their son Bahram – who is somewhat of a prodigy in school and after and how his political leanings (nationalist) change him and the family. The overthrow of Mosaddegh plays a prominent role in the book and of course how Iran progressed as a country from pillar to pillar, thereby also witnessing its decline in the coming years.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot, so this is the story in brief. Having said this, the characters of this book almost become family. I could empathize so much with Talla – be it the situation of the chador to the time she is envious of the girlfriends her son brings home to also the time she goes back to her hometown and yet cannot recognize all that was left behind. Reza’s prose and Adriana Hunter’s translation does wonders to the prose. Sardar on the other hand is a content man (so is Talla by the way) and that’s why he is under constant fear of his world being torn apart one way or the other. I think so many of us can relate to this – time doesn’t matter, neither does class, what matters is the common fear of feeling secure throughout your life. Bahram’s character on the other hand is immensely complexed – he wants more and yet he doesn’t want more. We see him grow from a child to a teenager to an adult and see how his perspectives change as well.

Reza’s writing is compassionate. She makes you want to know a lot more about the characters and the situations they face on a day to day basis. “The Gardens of Consolation” makes you hoot for common people and hope and pray that all goes well in their world – and when you start doing that in a book, it means you are hooked to it. Reza makes you weep (a little), smile (a lot) and makes you a see a world that you never thought existed. A read not to be missed.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

americanah-by-chimamanda-ngozi-adichie Title: Americanah
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Anchor Books, Vintage
ISBN: 978-0307455925
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 588
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I did not know what took me this long to reread this book. I remember reading it in 2013, when it was published and I promised a friend that I would get back to it soon – reread it that is. I reread it this month, after three years and was stunned yet again, just as I was when I first read it.

How do you describe a flawless novel such as “Americanah”? How do you review it? How do you describe your feelings to people as you read it, with a hunger and also knowing that you must starve yourself for it, should it get over too soon? While this book is about race at the heart and core of it, it is also a lot more than just that. May be this will be a good start to letting you know more about the book. I for one was riveted. My mind is still reeling from the characters, their lives, their perceptions, opinions, views and how it feels when you are almost an alien in another country.

“Americanah” is fodder for the mind, heart and soul. It may sound cliché when I say this, but that’s what it was for me. It is the story of two Nigerians, each trying to find their place in the world – from school to college to working in countries that they have experienced only in movies, comics, books or TV shows. There is certain neatness to the writing – it is neither convoluted, nor simple at the same time. It deals with issues; it feels personal at the same time and an all-encompassing read.

“Americanah” – the title is a Nigerian word used to describe someone who has lived abroad for so long, maybe particularly in America that they no longer understand the nuances of being Nigerian. They speak American and eat that cuisine. They are alien to their people once they are back and somehow that is the case with Adichie’s characters as well.

Ifemelu – a bright and sharp observant girl, lives her life in Nigeria, goes to America and is in for a rude shock – where race, hair and the way she is plays a major role than she thought it would. The story of Ifemelu is about her trying to fit in and then realizing that America was never for her. She sees America through her journey and life in Nigeria and is constantly on the lookout for more. Her relationships in America are not as fulfilling as they were back home with Obinze (her former boyfriend). He was the love of Ifemelu’s life before America seeped into her bones and flesh. We see love being central to the story and yet it is so distant for the two of them – things change drastically in the course of this book.

Adichie makes her characters like you and I. There is so much of everyday reality that it is heartwarmingly overwhelming. The legacy of slavery and black people and non-black people issues are at the core of this fantastic book. We see how Obinze’s life carries out in London which is very different from that of Ifem’s in America. The common thread is that of feeling like an outsider – like you will never belong.

The secondary characters in the book are not just props – they do, say and add so much gravitas to the entire narrative. From Ifem’s boyfriends and friends to Obinze’s mom and then the reaction of friends and family when Ifem is back from America – to a Nigeria that is very different from what it was when she left it a long time ago.

Ifemelu is more than just an interesting character. To me she embodied a lot of issues, confusion, heartache and more. Obinze on the other hand has so much to say and just doesn’t. Adichie has him restrained to some extent. The blog by Ifemelu on racism called “Raceteenth” and the posts in the book are insightful and brilliantly written. Maybe at some point, being a minority group, we all go through the same kind of racism (or do we?) and that’s why I could relate more to it being a gay man.

“Americanah” is a read not to be missed out on. At any cost.

Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami

hear-the-wind-sing-by-haruki-murakami Title: Hear the Wind Sing
Author: Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0804170147
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

My first tryst with Murakami was in 2001. The book was “Sputnik Sweetheart”. It broke my heart into uncountable pieces. It left it like this, for me to pick them up and move on. I did. Since then, every Murakami I’ve read feels like it is a new experience. Sure, some elements are recurring in each of his books, but so what? I love what he writes and will continue to do so.

I’ve had “Hear the Wind Sing” – the first book written by Murakami on my shelf for a while now. I haven’t had the heart to pick it up, not because I would be disappointed by what he has to say but that there is nothing to read after this by him.

“Hear the Wind Sing” is where it all began and one can see the progression of the writer by reading this book and then the others. This book was written in the spring of 1978. The book is classic Murakami – loneliness, obsession and eroticism at the core of it. An unnamed narrator is definitely needed. Someone obscure – Rat in this case (and continues in two other books) is a must, a mysterious woman and a bar make for a perfect plot.

The writing is leisurely. You cannot read this book and compare it to the rest of his works. In fact, you shouldn’t. What amazes me that even in his first book, there is so much clarity and brevity in the writing. He says what he has to and that’s that. There is no need for the melodrama. You keep turning the pages because you know they are so well-written. “Hear the Wind Sing” is the first in the trilogy, followed by Pinball, 1973 and ending with A Wild Sheep Chase. Now to the second one.

Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer by Ann Morgan

Reading the World by Ann Morgan Title: Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer
Author: Ann Morgan
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 9781846557873
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It was about a year ago, when I was led to a site where I discovered a lady who was reading a book from every country. It was her reading project for the year and I was most intrigued by the concept. I then knew that I had to read the book of how it all began when it came out.

“Reading the World” by Ann Morgan is literally about a woman’s journey across the world through books from each country. It is obviously not as simple as this. There is more to the entire process and revelation which this book is all about.
I am a big fan of books about books and that also blends in cultures of various places, which Morgan manages to do beautifully in this book. I agree that initially I did have a problem getting into it, given the tone and structure, but once you do, it is an effortless read (at least for some I am sure).

If you are expecting reviews of every book she read, then you should check out her site, ayearofreadingtheworld.com and not the book, because the book is not about that. The book is about Morgan’s experiences to get to the project and how people all over the world contributed to it. “Reading the World” is about how she chose the books for the project, the things she learned about literature and the experiences that made her question everything.

Books about books and the experience of reading just goes to show that there is so much hope for the world. I say that because I genuinely believe in the redemptive power of books and each book that Morgan picked up led her to questioning, working it all over again and reading books which she otherwise would not have. I urge all book lovers to get hold of this one and read it. It will make you more mindful of the literature that exists in the world, which is not ridden only by American or British literature, but a whole lot more.

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Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer

Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0143034902
Genre: World Literature, Literary Fiction
Pages: 487
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always believed that a book finds you, if it wants you to read it. I think that happens to most of us – to the reader who waits patiently for the book to come along and take him or her on a ride that cannot be forgotten. Two people and very different people at that told me to read, “The Shadow of the Wind”. I always wanted to, but did not. I guess my time had to come on its own. I had to wait for the book and it has been a wait worth it like no other.

“The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is everything you expect from a well-written book. The plot makes you turn the pages. The sentences and language make you fall in love with the writer’s thought process. The characters make you connect with them at all levels of human emotions and more than anything else, this book is about love for literature and reading, and not letting the written word die.

The book is about the search of a boy, Daniel Sempere for the truth about the fate of Julian Carax, the author of a mystery novel (also named The Shadow of the Wind). Daniel adopts the book when his father, a bibliophile and a bookseller takes him to the metaphorical (or real) Cemetery of Forgotten Books and it is there that he owns the book and gets embroiled in its author’s life. He sets out to search for more books written by him and to know what happened to him. In all of this, he learns of someone who is named after one of Carax’s characters and has set out to burn every single copy of Carax’s books and will not stop at anything. Daniel gets involved with him as well and the story thickens. It is one tale after another, intertwined and encompassing the length and breadth of great storytelling, till the reader with bated breath reaches the end of the book.

The book is about Barcelona’s deepest and darkest secret that is about to be revealed, which of course the reader has to discover for himself or herself.

Zafon’s characters are haunting and well thought after. He is the master of mood setting. Every page speaks of scenes with mists, clouds, evenings, darkness, the pale lamplight, thunder, rain and Zafon brilliantly so makes the reader a part of his atmosphere and setting, so much so that I actually thought I was living all of it in Barcelona (where the story is set). Zafon speaks of books like living beings, which I also think they are and he makes them real for the readers in his book.

To a very large extent, the book is extraordinary because of the way the author is treating every word – with great caution and love. When this happens in a book, it is but natural that the reader will also read every word with great love and joy.

With reference to the setting, which is Barcelona before the Spanish Civil War, Zafon talks of politics and life with great passion and almost wants the reader to know how important the setting is to the story. Books about books have always fascinated me and this was also one of those reads. It is very difficult to classify “The Shadow of the Wind” in one genre and yet to a large extent I think the book belongs to Literary Fiction as it covers almost every aspect of life and living. There is courage, intrigue, love, fairy tale quality, Goth, redemption, politics, love, hate, passion and almost every other emotion and characteristic that you can think of in the book. The quality of writing, the old school setting, the power of storytelling, the characters and the plot, all come together and speak of books and reading and the love for them. I could go on and on about this book and the writing, but you know what I mean when I say: Read this book soon or let it find you the way it found me.

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