The Reading Spree: Indian Women Writing in English

November is done. Unseasonal rains are behind us. Hopefully some coolness and not smog will descend over the city.

As mentioned last month in my October Yellow Book Cover Month Reading Spree post, I had decided to read Indian Women Writers in English.

It was absolute fun to be vicariously traveling from one place to the other through these books, to exploring thoughts and mindsets of varying female protagonists as they face their everyday battles.

So here are the books that made it to my list:

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Short Story of the Month

Let’s face it, we have huge TBR piles and we are never able to resist buying more books!

“What! It is a sale, how can I miss it?”

“I can always make room for more books.”

“There is always space for books!”

“I can donate my older books!”

These are just some of the excuses we often make and justify our not putting a stop to buying books!

And let’s face the reality and admit that reading and buying books are completely different hobbies!

So one possible solution to reduce our constant buying of books is to READ ONLINE!

The best thing to read online are short stories.

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Let’s not add more to our TBR piles!

I personally do not prefer reading novels online (unless I absolutely must!) as I spend way too much time on the computer (or rather this godforsaken addictive smartphone) anyway! Reading my old fashioned paperback is one way I can detach from technology!

Short stories however are fun and short to read and give less strain to the eyes!

So we at The Book Cafe have decided to introduce you to a short story available online. It will be posted on the first of every month so that you get a whole month to read the short story!

The logic behind Short Story of the Month is three fold:

  1. To introduce you to newer writers.
  2. To make sure people do not think any less about short stories
  3. To help you read, even without shelling out tons of money and then stacking on your long TBR piles!

What say? Is it a deal?

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So come join us to read one short story per month online!

 

Stay tuned tomorrow for the short story reveal!


Subscribe to the blog to get the short story delivered straight to your inbox!

Pick It Up: The Tiger’s Wife

Pick It Up is a monthly series of book recommendations to help you with what to read next!

This month The Book Cafe recommends The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.

Although Tea Obreht sets The Tiger’s Wife in a fictional place, it is reminiscent of former Yugoslavia. She weaves in magic realism, folklore with the everyday human task of survival.

The protagonist, Natalia and her childhood friend, Zora are headed to execute a good will mission to inoculate children at the Brejevina Orphanage.

On the way there, she receives a pager from her grandmother. On calling her, Natalia finds out that her grandpa had died in a clinic in a town called Zdrevkov.

While she cannot cancel her goodwill mission, she cannot help wonder what her grandpa was doing far away from home in a remote town. She begins to dwell on the past, recollecting her grandpa’s stories about the tiger’s wife and the deathless man.

The narrative then winds its way around two timelines: one where her grandfather is growing up in his home village of Galina and speaks of his encounters with a strange female who is rumoured to be the tiger’s wife and his stranger encounters with the deathless man; the other in the present where Natalia is straddling between her past and her present while inoculating children and also trying to convince the labourers in the farms to send their sick children to the hospital.

The novel explores pasts within pasts and explores changing boundaries and nations, notions of folklore and how old wives tales develop among communities.

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The Top 5: Indian Stories that Merge Folklore and Fiction!

Folklore are the world’s oldest stories. India is replete with them. All corners of the country can boast of their own set of different oral stories that have been passed down from one generation to another.

Yet the 20th and 21st century (and perhaps earlier too?) there have been authors who have created exceptional fictional worlds, after being inspired by folklore and legends. They rewrite them. They create their own. They interweave fiction and folklore creating a rich tapestry of story telling, adding to our country’s own storytelling traditions.

Here’s our Top 5:

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Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko

Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko by Patrick Neate centres on the events of a fictional country, Zambawi, ruled by President Adini. He had declared himself as the President, after his own successful coup launched with his Commander, Indigo Bulimi.

Now another revolution is brewing and at its helm is the rebel Black Boot Gang, headed by Adini’s own bodyguard, Isaiah. Caught between all of the politics of the country are a great many characters from Musa, the witch doctor to Adini’s own son, Enoch; to Rujeko Tula, daughter of the exiled Presiden Tula of Zambawi’s neigbouring country, Mozola; and the titular Mr. Jim Tulloh who comes to teach in a school in Zambawi.

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The Good:

Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko‘s strongest point is its tongue in cheek and straightforward humour that clinically satirises the wrongs of the imaginary country. All is met with a questioning and humourous eye: be it Adini’s success and his continued President ship or the entitlement of the white people residing in Zambawi or worse, the blatant and biased involvement of the British forces in the country’s politics.

The imagination put into creating Zambawi’s history, language, flag, its culture (such as the flatulence inducing drug, gar!) and folklore is commendable.

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Top 10: Mumbai Reads

So you think that Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts defines Mumbai? Got what you need to know about Mumbai from the novel?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but that novel is only one adventurous aspect of Mumbai.

Mumbai has many layers. It is definitely more than Marine Drive or famed iconic restaurants. Mumbai may have been all about the town till about the 1980s but believe me it has mushroomed and mushroomed since then.

Yet, mostly Mumbai novels are centred around the town and do not speak of suburbs. While, recently, there have been newer novels that go beyond South Mumbai and explore other neighbourhoods, there is still a dearth of novels about the city from a suburban point of view.

There should be stories written about the constant monsoon flooding, about Aarey Colony, about SGNP trips, about picnics to Elephanta Island, about architecture other than the Art Deco, about leopard attacks, about the migrants, the dabbawallas, the overflowing markets, about the fishermen, about the Worli Sea Link, about the new metro travels, about communities other than Parsis and so much more.

Why limit your idea of Mumbai to only one single stretch of sea facing pavement? (Don’t get me wrong, I love Marine Drive and have spent good fun and thoughtful times there! But still there is more to Mumbai than that!)

Nonetheless, let us wait till such a novel is written, found and published.

For now let us look at books that go beyond the Taj Hotel, Gateway of India and other such symbols that stereotype the city!

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Poem of the Month: Anna Akhmatova

Welcome to the first Poem of the Month!

This month, November 2019,  we look at Anna Akhmatova.

Russian literature is known for being dour and gloomy. However, like literature from many countries, it is known more by its male writers than female writers.

I think my interest in learning more about female writers from Russia was piqued when a friend of mine randomly asked about it and I realised I knew about none!

Thus, coming across Anna Akhmatova’s work by chance in a bookstore helped me to dispel my ignorance when it came to female writers from Russia.

Muse
(Translated by D.M. Thomas)
When at night I wait for her to come,
Life, it seems, hangs by a single strand.
What are glory, youth, freedom, in comparison
With the dear welcome gust, a flute in hand?
She enters now. Pushing her veil aside,
She stares through me with her attentiveness.
I question her: ‘And were you Dante’s guide,
Dictating the Inferno?’ She answers: ‘Yes.’

This poem is from her work, Reed. Though it is extremely difficult to pick only one single poem from such a gifted writer, I chose Muse, because the poem conveys an intimate conversation between the persona of the poem and a Muse.

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Poem of the Month

It’s been a while since The Book Cafe presented a new series! It felt empty. So to fill that strange void, we present a new series on poems!

Once a month, on the 15th, The Book Cafe will present one specific poem, for you, my dear readers, to soak in and enjoy!

This space will be devoted to love for poetry. It will be a space to share our favourite poems and discuss why it is a favourite!

Why poems though? In a blog meant for book reviews? Because poetry reaches out to the soul in such succinct styles and manners that are bound to take your breath away!

This is also to allow for greater appreciation of poems when very few people are attracted to the idea of reading!

If you are a poetry connoisseur like me, come blog about it here!
Share your favourite poems with me at akisabookworm@gmail.com


Stay tuned on the 15th of each month for your monthly poetry updates!

Quick Reviews: Bara

Bara by U.R. Anantmurthy can be read in one sitting. It is a short book with an intense depth.

What is the book about?

Bara is modeled on the author’s own experience of meeting a civil servant who was trying to resolve the drought prevalent in his district.

The novel is translated from Kannada by Chandan Gowda, who teaches at Azim Premji University in Bengaluru.

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The Artist of Disappearance

The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai thrives on the motif of disappearance. The epigraph (by Jorge Luis Borges) of the book,

“One thing alone does not exist – oblivion,”

similarly brings in an oft debated idea of what stays on eternally and what disappears from this world. I would think, contrary to what Borge points out, oblivion is the ONE thing that is absolutely constant. A person cannot protect or fight against oblivion. It is inevitable.

Yet the three short stories of The Artist of Disappearance, question whether oblivion is in fact inevitable and if it is possible to fight it.

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The first story, The Museum of Final Journeys, is about a Civil Servant Officer, who recently finished his training and is now traveling to a remote place: his first posting. Soon the banality of his office and work overtakes his life and is only broken when an old faithful caretaker of the erstwhile Mukherjee estate nearby requests the officer to take over a now crumbling museum that is replete with bric-a-brac collected from all over the world. The caretaker even takes the officer to the equally dilapidated estate and shows him the various rooms filled with these curious objects – carpets and rugs from across the world, stuffed birds and animals, miniature paintings from bygone Indian empires, fans and kimonos, myriad masks, weapons of war and much more.

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