Quick Reviews: Khakey

Love children’s books?
How about next time you pick up one from Bhutan?
Bhutan maybe a tiny country which we do not often think about but it does have a thriving children’s books culture that use remarkable illustrations.
One such book that was launched last year in 2017 at Bhutan’s annual literature festival, Mountain Echoes, was Khakey written by one of Bhutan’s youngest authors, Yeshi Tsheyang Zam, who is only 11 years old!

What is the book about?

With simple fun dialogues and beautiful illustrations by Chand Bhattarai, Khakey is about an interesting ritual carried out mostly in Paro, in Western Bhutan, on the first day of snowfall, where one secretly tries to deliver a big ball of snow filled with some ingredients.
What is the purpose of this ritual? Read and find out.
Yeshi mentioned at the launch about how the idea for Khakey came to her since it is a ritual that many are unaware of and is also decreasing in practice due to rise in urbanization and decreasing snowfall.

One last reason to pick it up?

Khakey has adorable illustrations such as these:

Read more here:

https://thebhutanese.bt/youngest-author-writing-her-next-book/

Bitter Wormwood

Bitter Wormwood. How does the title sound to you? Bitter? Would you ever pick up a novel named so?

Don’t judge a book by its title!

This is because the novel, Bitter Wormwood by Easterine Kire, deftly deals with the issue of freedom of Nagaland and the movement to form an independent country. Beginning with a gripping prologue, and then winding down to a bildungsroman style, it then traces the beginnings of the movement through the character Mose’s development.

The writing is crisp, clear and action packed taking a panoramic view of the conflict and Mose’s life. They move simultaneously. It begins with his childhood which is as the cliche goes, quite innocent and blissful (there is a poignant scene where the only thing that concerns Mose is his school, teaching his mother and grandmother English and helping them or moments of listening to the radio together!). Mose’s only struggle is his school till India’s Independence comes closer and the idea of Nagaland being part of India becomes an problem. The growing dissent is marked by his growing years that disrupts him and his whole life be it family, school or his villagers.

Like his childhood, the conflict is also small but then grows its tentacles as the idea of remaining independent grows further without any proper discussion or response from the other side.

Soon violence and crime take over as the major response from the monolithic Indian government is deploying the armed forces and use of fear tactics.

Mose gets swept up by this tide as well and soon joins the rebels in his teenage angst (though I do not think that the conflict or his joining can be trivalised by that phrase!)

By the end, we see how the movement has become old, warped, lost some of its initial principles, and petered into a conflict among its own people rather than targeting the bigger picture. This is mirrored through Mose’s old age as well.

In the last part, we also see the conflict from the soldier’s perspective albeit briefly. We see how stereotypes can be broken about each side through Mose’s grandchildren and I feel that that is the best message which the book can give to its readers because both sides need to stop this kind of prejudice towards each other.

I would recommend this book to all, just for everyone to know a little bit more about India’s history that is routinely swept under the carpet because it is not appetising. It helps us to know a little bit more about Nagaland, a part of the north east, that is routinely stereotyped against! It is something you will never find in a history textbook, so might as well read it in the form of an engaging and quick to read novel!

And what about the title?

Read the novel and find the significance or its symbolism on your own! There, I have already given away a clue: that it has some significance!

Buy Bitter Wormwood here:

http://zubaanbooks.com/shop/bitter-wormwood/

A Fabled Tale

For all the Kpop and Kdrama fans, fancy a quick dip into Korean literature?

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a short novella by the beloved South Korean author, Sun-Mi Hang.

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Accompanied by very cute illustrations, the simple story is about a hen, aptly named Sprout, who does not want to lay eggs for human consumption anymore and instead wants to raise a chick on her own. Her determination to follow her dream is fraught with danger and several obstacles. Will she be able to achieve her ultimate dream? Borrow the book from the library and find out!

Constructed like a fable, the story’s myriad characters are like metaphors that readers-both children and adults-can relate to. In the simplest way possible, the story talks about following one’s dreams despite what the world tells you, the need to find your own identity and that it is alright to not fit in with the world around you, or the ultimate importance of letting go of people and things even those that are the closest to you. These may sound cliched or philosophical ideas, but the author wraps these themes under the guise of an animal fable and is not trying to rub those ideas into your heads or is not consciously trying to teach you those moral lessons.

The novella stands somewhere between children’s literature, a fable and philosophy book. It will remind the readers of other favourite animal classics like The Wind in the Willows or Charlotte’s Web or the evergreen The Little Prince, which similarly deals with larger existential issues through the eyes of a little boy.

In this case, it is through the eyes of a hen on a farm and her chick. So sit back on a cloudy Sunday afternoon and enjoy this quick and easy read!

(Side Promotion: Read my review of The Little Prince herehttps://bookreviewsgalore.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/a-princely-read/

Read the first 20 pages of the book, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly here:

https://oneworld-publications.com/media/preview_files/9781780745343.pdf

Read a short interview by the author, Sun-Mi Hang here:

https://oneworld-publications.com/media/wysiwyg/Reading-Guides/hen-who-dreamed-she-could-fly-reading-guide-draft-3.pdf

Lets have a mango party: A Case of Exploding Mangoes

Boom! The ending drops right at the beginning: that Zia ul-Haq will die.

Much like in the novel that is referenced, The Chronicles of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammad Hanif.

Set during the military rule of President Zia ul-Haq, A Case of Exploding Mangoes looks at the fictional events leading to his death and alleged assassination. For most part of the novel, the story  fluctuates between the President’s viewpoint and that of the protagonist, the wry and indifferent junior military officer, Ali Shigri, who himself is haunted by the death of his own father who was also in the military and who he believes was killed on the President’s orders.

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Through Zia ul-Haq’s viewpoint, we see the fears that plague him and the religiousness of the man who uses the Koran as almost a prophetic device to guide his everyday actions. Much like in Wilkie Collin’s novel, The Moonstone, where one of the characters uses the book, Robinson Crusoe, for seeing the future.

This is how we first see the President as well: ruminating over the different translations of a verse about Jonah; finding meaning in it and deciding to up his security level to Code Red.

On the other side, we see Ali Shigri, who views and comments on everything in a cold, calculating and sarcastic manner (even his own brief stint with prison) as if nothing effects him. He is portrayed as a tough and dedicated officer but who lands in trouble due to his missing roommate, Obaid, with whom it is suspected he was very close to. Both land up being held for hatching a plot to kill the President and through this we see the elaborate conspiracies and schemes wrought by the Intelligence Agencies and government to keep the many suspects at bay (or more precisely in prison!).

We know the the President is going to die. We know the moment we start reading the last section of the book titled, Mango Party. Yet, this foreshadowing does not dull any of our excitement since the narration is done at a suspenseful pace that keeps one on tenterhooks. We are racing towards that one final moment where not just the President explodes but so do many, juicy mangoes, along with a unlucky crow! While racing ahead, we see the many threads coming together, we see who is plotting against whom and how this will end!

So whodunnit?

Got to read the book, my friend!

Start with the first chapter here:

P.S. Read reviews of his  second novel, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, below:

https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/r4wrV70ARes9Q7jrX112LL/Our-Lady-of-Alice-Bhatti–Following-the-fallen-angels.html

https://tribune.com.pk/story/257182/book-review-our-lady-of-alice-bhatti-alice-in-charya-land/

 

Weight of the World!

Greek myths are omnipresent. Most kids would have heard about some ancient Greek God such as Zeus or Athena or Hercules particularly thanks to cartoons and Hollywood film franchises.

However, myths like most folk literature are oral, not always recorded, can be fluid and changed to retell stories.

This wonderful Canongate collection, the Myths series, has done exactly that: taken myths from all over the world and allowed writers to re imagine them by adding their own thought to them.

The collection has several writers presenting well known myths in their own way. They do not necessarily change the whole story but give it more insight and suffuse it with their own ideas and views.

Weight by Jeanette Winterson also makes for an interesting read since it narrates the story from Atlas’ point of view. We not only get to see Hercules in his interaction with Atlas to finish his Twelve Labours, we also get to see how Atlas thinks and feels about his own burden- to hold the weight of the world.

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It gives a poignant and philosophical insight into his thoughts. What must it feel like to hold the world? To see the universe, to feel time’s relentless push and worse, to feel time’s relentless push when one is stuck with the weight of the whole, wide world? How does one escape? Do we escape at all? Are we all carrying our own burdens?

Need more reasons to pick the book up?

In an adorable twist, Laika, the dog sent by Russia in 1957 to space, makes a guest appearance and Laika and Atlas become unlikely eternal companions.

Read more about the book:

http://www.jeanettewinterson.com/book/weight/

Take a look at the other books in this collection:

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/6763.Canongate_Myths_Series

Have you read any other books from this series? Comment below what you thought about them. Or better yet, ping me about doing a guest post on them!

Happy Reading!

Reading from all the states of India!

We have all heard of reading books from all over the world. (Sidenote: Check out this 13 year old girl’s Facebook page that will motivate you to read always: https://www.facebook.com/reading197countries/)

But how many of us have read books from all parts of India?

I have definitely not read from all the states. But plan to.

So here is the challenge, before taking the big leap of reading novels from all the countries in the world, lets read books from all 29 states and 7 union territories of India!

Please share recommendations of the different books from different states that you read. They could be in any language; they could be of any genre be it children’s novel or romance or horror or political or plays or poems; they could be translations as well.

The criteria is that the authors are from a particular place or the book is set in that place.

So here is a list of the books of the different states that I have read:

Arunachal Pradesh:

  • The Black Hill by Mamang Dai.

Assam:

  • Swarnlata by Tilottoma Misra. Read my review here.

Delhi:

  • Delhi is Not Far by Ruskin Bond (It is not exactly set in Delhi but the idea of Delhi pervades the whole book!)
  • A Girl Like Me by Swati Kaushal (Set in Gurgaon. It is up to the reader to decide the question of what qualifies as a Delhi novel!)
  • Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup. Read the review here!
  • Music in Solitude by Krishna Sobti. Read my review here.

Goa:

  • Reflected in Water: Writings On Goa– edited by Jerry Pinto. download (4)

Gujarat:

  • 3 Mistakes of My Life by Chetan Bhagat.
  • First There was Woman: Folk Tales of Dungri Garasiya Bhils compiled by Marija Sres. Read my review here!

Jammu & Kashmir:

  • I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded.
  • The Country Without a Post Office by Agha Shahid Ali.download (1)

Karnataka:

  • Samskara by U.R. Ananthamurthy (Set in Durvasapura!)
  • Bara by U.R. Ananthamurthy. Catch my review here.
  • Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna (Set in Coorg!) Read my review here!
  • Boiled Beans on Toast: A Play by Girish Karnad (Set in Bangalore!)
  • Half Pants, Full Pants by Anand Suspi (Set in Shimoga!)
    Check the FB page here: https://www.facebook.com/halfpantsfullpants/
  • Keep Off the Grass by Karan Bajaj (Set in Bangalore!)

Kerala:

  • Chemmeen by Thakazhi Pillai.
  • Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth by Aruna Nambiar.IMG_20190206_084926623_HDR.jpg
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

Maharashtra:

Madhya Pradesh

  • The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Manipur:

  • The Maharajah’s Household by Binodini. Read my review here!wp-1546268596083.jpg

Meghalaya:

  • Lunatic in my Head by Anjum Hassan (Set in Shillong!). Read my review here.
  • Boats on Land by Janice Pariat (Set in Shillong!). Read my review here!IMG_20180930_141717676_HDR.jpg

Nagaland:

  • Bitter Wormwood by Easterine Kire.
  • Laburnum for my Head by Temsula Ao (Not sure I can specifically classify this here, but oh well, we are all slaves to constructed categories!)

Rajasthan:

  • Daura by Anukriti Upadhyay

Punjab:

Tamil Nadu:

  • A Handful of Rice by Kamala Markandaya (Set in Madras!)

Telangana:

  • The Hussaini Alam House by Huma R. Kidwai (Set in Hyderabad)!IMG_20191111_104847278.jpg

Uttarakhand:

Uttar Pradesh:

West Bengal:

States that are missing: Odisha, Mizoram, Tripura, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar, Sikkim, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and the union territories except Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir!

Have you read any books from the above places? Comment below!

I am going to leave you with these last books that resist any categorization! These are some books and reviews of those books set in fictional towns or move across different places in India:

More Links! Links Galore!

Concluding Remarks:

As you can see I have barely covered half of the states in India! Comment about more books if you have read them or recommend others from different parts and share the post! Hopefully, we will read more books from across India! I have in mind some Goa books that are on my to-read list!

If you want to do a guest post of books you have read from different parts of India, comment in the space below!

Carry On

When the author’s name itself reminds me of something inexplicably happy and definitely of unicorns, how can Rainbow Rowell disappoint with her book, Carry On.

“Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home,” said J.K.Rowling famously at the premiere of the last film of the Harry Potter series.

While Watford may not be Hogwarts and may not be the home most hardcore Harry Potter fans would prefer, it is faintly reminiscent of it with its castle like structure and the choosing of roommates procedure. The characters such as the Mage and even that goatherd could have easily been inspired by the HP series.

Carry on may smell like a fan fiction but also manages to weave its own enganging story revolving around Simon Snow, an orphan who is prophesized to be the Chosen One to destroy the most oddly named villain, Humdrum.

He is surrounded by the usual cast of friends, who help him in his trials, and enemies. But there is a catch, his nemesis, Baz, is his roommate and they are both hopelessly in love with each other.

Do I smell a Draco Harry fan fiction?

Probably not. Though I never shipped those two and do not think they could have really fallen for each other, the two in Carry On are quite a contradictory fit. One sassy and sharp while the other clumsy and caring. Take a guess who is who!

They both hate each other but one cannot exist without the other’s constant opposition.

Apart from their secretive romance, most of the novel takes us through Simon Snow’s other friends such as Penelope and Agatha, how he and Baz come together to sort the mystery of Baz’s kidnapping and eventually the gang fights the Humdrum.

So do they come together romantically though or does their mutual hatred overcome them, would be your question I suppose?

Well read and find out!!!

Carry On is definitely a great book to pick if you love fantasy and are in a desperate need to read something that is not mind bogglingly dense and difficult. It is quite a fun and light read.

And by the end of it you will be humming to yourself these lines from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody:

Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters.

Which actually resonates quite well with the title and the meaning through that title emphasised in the book at the end.

Happy reading!!

If you have read this one, let me know in the comments below what you thought of it!

P.S. Have you read any of her other novels? What did you think about them? Comment below!

One Last Drink at Guapa

One Last Drink at Guapa intertwines two very sensitive themes or ideas: homosexuality and the Arab identity. In a nutshell, the novel is about a man named Rasa, living in an unnamed, presumably a Middle Eastern or a predominantly Islamic nation, who gets caught by his grandmother in bed with his lover, Taymour. Taking place within the short span of just 24 hours, the novel looks at Rasa’s present dilemma of being caught and how to continue the relationship with Taymour, takes the reader through flashbacks into Rasa’s past including his time as a student in America; and brings us back to the present which seems as fraught with complications as the past.

The readers view the events in the story through Rasa’s eyes. We see his predicament as a young teen trying to search for the right word in either Arabic or English to encapsulate his homosexual identity. We see later in America how him being bilingual further alienates. We see how as an adult, he navigates the mix of his grandmother’s hegemonic rules along with the new ideas his education gives him. We see how Rasa’s own individuality is overshadowed by the Muslim stereotype and how he traverses that mix as well being both Arab and gay in both America as well as his home country. We see him being forced to confront this new sense of the Other which before was simply the normal way of life for him.

Along with Rasa’s own individual turmoil, we see the political upheavals raging within his own country. This adds another layer to the novel where challenging sexual norms are meshed with challenging oppressive political regimes as well.

Apart from Rasa, other interesting characters that feature in the novel are his lover, Taymour, who eventually succumbs to the pressures of society and settles down for a heterosexual marriage; and his fiercely principled grandmother who controlled a lot of how Rasa’s family functioned. A close friend of Rasa is Maj, who is an activist by day and a colourful cross dresser by night and performs at a bar named, Guapa, where Rasa and his gang spend most of their nights reveling away. There are plethora of other characters you meet along the way as well.

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The ending is most interesting as it ends not only on an ambiguous note but also on a hopeful, poignant note where the characters seem to accept that living their life and living in their country will be rife with problems and stress but they are going to soldier on and stay true to themselves and their beliefs. While it is difficult to often stand by your own, it is heartening to see a book ending on such a positive note where the characters are not simply scrambling away to America or other such dream country to end their woes.

The novel therefore gives the readers a unique glimpse into Arab gay culture: something hitherto not as well known in popular literature thanks to the stereotypical Muslim equals terrorist image that colours popular imagination.

Available on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.in/One-Last-Drink-at-Guapa/dp/9385755099

See more reviews here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34234646-one-last-drink-at-guapa?rating=2

 

The Guest Cat

Fed up of dog related books? Are you a cat lover who is not appreciated because the world is gaga over dogs and their loyalty whereas cats are consigned to a manipulative caricature?

Well I am!!

I am a default cat lover since the time we got a pet cat quite out of pity. From then on, I have loved my own cat and cats in general to death. So when I came across the novel, The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hiraide on Amazon at a decent rate, I instantly bought it since it fed my two interests: cats and my nascent interest in Japanese literature.

Translated into English by Eric Selland, the story is a simple one about a couple who sort of adopt a cat but do not own her. It traces their relation with the cat while also commenting on other aspects of Japan.

Chibi, the cat, comes into their lives unexpectedly when they move into a small guestroom next to a bungalow in Tokyo in 1988. Chibi has her own quirky characteristics that the narrator describes at length. Chibi comes and goes freely into their modest abode, sets up a routine of staying in their house at night and leaving in the mornings to accompany her actual owners’ son to say goodbye.

Against this backdrop, the couple themselves go through their own daily lives and jobs. The woman works at a publishing house and the man quits his job at a publishing agency to write his own stories.

What stands out however is how the main focus is the cat’s quiet relationship with the couple and the house they live in. The descriptions of both Chibi and their house is poetic and academic perhaps keeping in mind the profession of the narrator.

Through these descriptions the narrator also conveys information and comments on the goings on in Japan and Tokyo, most prominently the real estate and the Emperor’s sickness and subsequent death. It is accompanied by a glossary at the end which gives good information on the Japanese references in the novel.

Another, truly unique aspect that stands out are the comparisons and references between the different emotions and moods of the narrator whether it is comparing a house hunt with Machiavelli or triangular surveying to measure distance to avoid grief!

All in all, the novel, The Guest Cat shines because of its talent to convey profound musings through the everyday. And whether you are a cat lover or not, this is a must read since the style and the writing is unique, sparse and down to earth.

Here is a link of the book on Amazon:

I am Back!

So after a hiatus of almost three years, I think I would like to restart writing book reviews and other literature related things!

Hopefully, this restarting will be a positive one and not something that swivels out like a new year resolution!

Thank you all for reading and enjoying my reviews.

I want to start with a bang. But hopefully, will not fizzle out or like T.S. Eliot says, “not with a bang, but with a whimper!”

Here is to new beginnings!