The Reading Spree: October Yellow Cover Month!

I decided to pick a strange, albeit colour coordinated, theme for this month!

It was an impulse decision that came out of random coincidences converging to make my desk very yellow this month!

Thus, I embarked on reading books that had a yellow cover!

These are the books I managed to read in this very yellow month!

IMG_20191010_153156201.jpg

  1. Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko by Patrick Neale: This humorous and satirical novel is based on a a fictional African country, Zambawi, that is riddled with dictatorship, revolutionaries and one lost musungu or white man, Jim, who has come there to teach. Check out my review!
  2. Bara by U.R. Ananthamurthy: This short novella reads almost like a short story. Set possibly in Bidar in Karnataka, it unravels the problems of that district which is facing severe drought and how one civil servant is trying to help but is caught between various conflicts. Read my review here.
  3. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht: This was my favourite novel from the list. Again this novel is set in a fictional place but one that closely resembles Eastern Europe or even possibly Yugoslavia. It narrates how parallel stories of a woman’s relationship with her grandfather and his stories particular the one about the titular tiger’s wife.
  4. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl: This novel is quintessentially a Dahl story with it’s signature child hero, James, who has had a bad childhood and who, because of a strange turn of events, is able to meet the strangest of friends and go on a peculiar ride on the titular giant peach. Read my detailed review here.
  5. Children of the Revolution by Dinaw Mengestu: Told from the point of view of an Ethiopian immigrant, Seppha Stephanos, the novel traverses his present in which he is an owner of a crumbling grocery store, and his past in which he still owned his store but also had the company of Judith and her daughter, Naomi and they had fun reading sessions. Read the Guest Post review here!
  6. The Best of Laxman: The Common Man Watches Cricket: This is a fun, breezy delight through R.K. Laxman’s iconic cartoon series featuring his ubiquitous common man. Despite what the title says, it is not only about cricket but his satirical cartoons broach all kinds of subjects particularly politics. They leave no stone unturned to lay bare the hypocrisy and idiosyncrasies of our country and politicians. What is surprising is that several of the cartoons included in this collection are relevant even today which simply goes to show the vicious circle politics traps citizens in.

Stay tuned next month for the next Reading Spree List! In November, we will focus on Women Writing in India in English. Don’t forget to check out what titles we pick for next month!

Happy browsing!

James and the Giant Peach

I picked up a Roald Dahl book, James and the Giant Peach, after what seems like an eternity. And I only did it because it seamlessly became part of the October Yellow Book Cover Month. And what an absolute delight the book was! Not since reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have I read a Dahl book and this one was equally quirky and fun. It felt like going back to my childhood. What a fun, childlike and nostalgic read it was!

So what is James and the Giant Peach about?

It is about the eponymous James who had an absolutely terrific life living by the sea with his parents but in an unfortunate yet bizarre incident, (getting eaten by a pair of rhinoceros, no less) his parents die and now James has to live with his terrible aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. They treat him poorly, making him constantly do chores, starving, abusing and punishing him. Worse still, they live on top of a hill, far away from his beloved sea and his dastardly aunts do not allow him to go down this isolated hill and meet or play with other children. And that is the worst kind of treatment any child can be given – to cut a child off from other kids his age is nothing short of abuse and exploitation.

One fine day, James comes across a rather strange man in the garden. The man hands him tiny yet colourful beans and gives precise instructions on how to use them. But as luck would have it, James slips and the beans scatter about and he is too slow in retrieving them.

Continue reading

Blurb Appreciation Reviews: When the Doves Disappeared

The Blurb Appreciation Reviews presents its fifth review!

When the Doves Disappeared written originally in Finnish by Sofi Oksanen. The novel is set in Estonia during WWII and later on when it became part of the Soviet Union.

This was my first novel I read that was set in Estonia. I read it as part of the Women in Translation month in August. Take a look at the other books that I read in that month!

The novel is translated into English by Lola M. Rogers.

The Blurb:

As the blurb points out, When the Doves Disappeared takes place through two timelines. This parallel style is quite effective in making the reader think and figure out the pieces of what is happening or has happened to the story’s main characters, Edgar and Roland.

The novel explores a different, lesser known side of history namely Estonia’s struggle in World War 2 especially against the Nazi rule and its eventual capture by Soviet forces. The Soviet side had initially come to Estonia as saviours but later they also turned into captors of all Estonians, denying them freedom.

Continue reading

Swarnlata

Translated from Assamese by Udayon Misra, Swarnlata is a historical fiction about three girls growing up in Nagaon in Assam during the 1800s’ in the Pre-Independence era. It is written by Tilottoma Misra.

The eponymous character is the daughter of Nagaon’s Assistant Commissioner, Gunabhiram Barua, who has accepted the Brahmo faith and married a widow, Bishnupriya, which at that time was a revolutionary and scandalous step to take.

IMG_20191014_121133082.jpg

Lakhi is widowed at a very tender age, even before her marriage takes place. With Gunabhiram and her father’s support, she decides to continue with her education, which she had started with Swarnalata and her private tutor.

Tora’s mother, Golapi, converted to Christianity when the Baptist Missionary, Miles Bronson, provided her with a job at the mission school at Nagaon as a chowkidarni after her husband’s death. She saw faith in this religion and Tora followed her mother’s footsteps by studying in that school and eventually becoming a teacher there as well. However, Tora does suffer from self doubt about the faith’s complicity with the British rule and its ever increasing cruelty. This facet of Tora’s personality brings out a significant idea of how and why people converted and even if natives did become Christians, they were still considered savage subjects.

Continue reading

Musically Yours: Anjum Hasan’s Lunatic in My Head

 

Lunatic in My Head is one of a kind story written by Anjum Hasan. It is set in Shillong of the 1990s. The novel is an interwoven story of three main characters: an English college lecturer, Firdaus Ansari; an IAS aspirant Aman Moondy, and eight year old, Sophie Das.

Firdaus is caught between her teaching and her wish to pursue an MPhil to safeguard her teaching post at the convent she teaches in. She is also caught between her colleagues’ personal affair dramas and her very unhelpful, lecherous potential supervisor, Thakur.

The novel begins with Firdaus on an April afternoon when “pine trees dripped slow tears,’ (a line that hooked me to the book immediately for its visuality) and as she walks down a street, the opening page itself gives a sweeping view of the multicultural composition of the city, from the Khasis, to Bengalis, to Goans, and to Firdaus herself, who is from Bihar but born and brought up in Shillong. Her sense of being rooted there in Shillong yet being seen as a dkhar, which is the Khasi word for non tribal or foreigner, is another of the conflicts she is entangled in.

Aman Moondy is studying for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) exams for the second time, having failed on his first attempt. His first love, however, is Pink Floyd. He and his friends, Ibomcha and Ribor, even formed a band, ProtoDreamers and played Pink Floyd’s covers for several small occasions. Aman lives and breathes music. He compares everything around him to music, including his infatuation for Concordella. He is also on the other hand, someone who dislikes the smallness of Shillong and wants to leave. This is also why he decided to give the IAS exam a shot or two. For him, it meant a window to the outside world.

When we first read about Sophie, she is sitting in class and wondering how the baby in her mother’s belly will come out. Sophie herself is a product of an intercultural marriage, her father, Mr. Das, being a Bengali whereas her mother a northerner. Sophie loves to read and is fascinated by her neighbour, Elsa Lyngdoh, and her house, which was the only place she was allowed to go by herself. She has strange conversations with Elsa and even stranger ones (and perhaps a touch too creepy) with her son, Jason. Elsa, an old Khasi woman, and an eight year old, Sophie, made for an odd couple whenever they went together for an excursion outside the house.

Continue reading

A Strangeness in my Mind

Reminiscent of other novels by Orhan Pamuk and their lovely rendering of Istanbul, A Strangeness in my Mind, also pays homage to the city.

Seen mainly through the eyes of the character, Mevlut, comes to Istanbul in 1969 at the age of 12, to live with his father, who sells yoghurt during the day and boza (a fermented drink) at night. He and his father are among the hundreds of villagers who migrated from remote villages to Istanbul in search of a better income and life.

img_20191006_155527513.jpg

Mevlut thoroughly enjoys it as a child there, looking wondrously at the city’s intricate streets and its inhabitants while accompanying his father on his rounds; picking up the nitty gritties of the job: the way to behave, the way to entice a customer to buy, the manner in which to extol your yoghurt or boza. Being in school presents a completely different set of challenges especially due to the class divide and him having to work after his school. Nonetheless, his time with his cousins and their mother, is something he looks forward to, particularly with cousin Suleyman, who is always ready to give Mevlut the benefit of the doubt.

The novel weaves its way through the various main events that occur in Mevlut’s life such as him dropping out of school, or his marriage to Rayiha which has its own twist, or his time selling ice cream or being a waiter or being robbed during one of his rounds selling boza among many others .

A Strangeness in my Mind is a peculiar bildungsroman or a coming of age novel that traces Mevlut’s growth. Yet Pamuk plays with the narrative’s style deftly such that the novel is not a mere chronicler of life from birth to death.

Continue reading

A Rag Doll after my Heart

A Rag Doll after my Heart, is written by Anuradha Vaidya and translated into English from the original Marathi by Shruti Nargundkar.

The story is told in verses and hence the description as a ‘poetic novel.’ It is a straightforward story of a mother’s relationship with her daughter, who is fashioned out of rag clothes, since her mother was not bestowed with a child like the others. The nosy Indian society of course maliciously points fingers at this anomaly of a daughter, even accusing the mother of trying to act like God by creating a daughter/doll from rags. Only God can create, so why have you as well?

IMG_20190915_123044221.jpg

With this Frankensteinesque beginning, also begins their odd journey embedded within a larger metaphor of life as a game, with its set rules, that doles out the fates/destinies to all the people. The writer has used this overarching metaphor and within it several others to refer to their bond or the daughter’s journey such as the most important one that of the doll and daughter, or a bird or a fish or even horticultural metaphors. These metaphors within metaphors beautifully encapsulates the emotions of mother and daughter but the larger metaphor is a tad bit overused and can wear out the reader.

Continue reading

Guest Post: The Women’s Courtyard – A Complex and Thought-Provoking Look at Feminity and Suffocating Traditions

Guest Post by Arun Kumar

Arun Kumar is a Software professional with an unbridled passion for the world of cinema and books. He believes in an enriching film culture – from watching great cinema to engaging with its connoisseurs. Currently, he blogs at Passion for Movies and Passion for Books.


!!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!

These exalted humans are really something, she thought, when they don’t believe in God they even consider the very word ‘God’ to be false, but when they do come around to believing, they begin to see divinity even in the threshold beneath the feet of saints.”

Urdu novelist Khadija Mastur’s The Women’s Courtyard (originally published in 1962 under the title ‘Aangan’ and succinctly translated to English by Daisy Rockwell in 2018) is set in the backdrop of the final stages of the Indian Independence movement. But this isn’t a narrative that offers a familiar retelling of the political uprisings to break free from the British Raj or provides an account of the communally charged politics that lead to the trauma of Partition. That also doesn’t mean Khadija’s poignant literary creation is apolitical. The novel rather speaks of how a society that demands freedom from its colonizers is firmly bound to the rigid codes of class hierarchy and patriarchy.

IMG-20190820-WA0002.jpeg

The Women’s Courtyard, as its title suggests, revolves around ordinary Muslim women, confined to their house’s inner courtyard. They are largely cut off from the outside world and deeply embroiled in the narrow-minded cultural practices. Aliya, the young protagonist of the novel, dreams of breaking away from the chains of domesticity. She identifies the traditional romantic legends as the means to dis-empower women. Her skepticism about love is aroused after the suicides of her elder sister Tehmina and her best friend, Kusum, whose lives are overturned by the traditional narrative of romantic bliss. Aliya’s father and uncle are swept up under the ideological storm and the politics of freedom struggle so that they only exhibit aloofness when it comes to dealing with their family’s economic ruin.

Continue reading