Guest Post: The Vegetarian’s Inexplicable Aftertaste 

Guest Post by Rajitha S

Rajitha is a 29 -year-old from Hyderabad. After working here and there, and tiring out, she is currently relaxing while waiting for inspiration to do something exciting. 


When dearie Aakanksha (:P) asked me to review The Vegetarian, (also the one who suggested this read), I first hesitated and then agreed. After that, I took a lot of time to write it. I am still not sure about how to describe this reading experience. There is an unexplainable, pleasing aftertaste.  May be, you can take this as the first reason to read the book.     

The Vegetarian by Han Kang was first published in South Korea in 2007. It was later translated into English and re-published in 2015. Here, I would like to mention that my choice of books then was limited, and also awful. Many years later, with a much-evolved taste in books (promise), I list The Vegetarian as one of my best reads of 2020. 

The aftertaste I was talking about, it lingers for a long time. I’ll tell you why, without revealing many details. 

First, the plot line. The book is set in South Korea and is the story of a woman, Yoeng- Hye who decides to become a vegetarian.

The reason, ‘I had a dream’, she says.

The book is divided into three parts, and each part is narrated from the perspective of three different people. The most interesting aspect here is the tone of narration which varies with the personality of a character. For instance, the first part of the book is from the perspective of a middle-class man, complaining about his wife’s changing lifestyle. It is written in a way that you’d feel he’s sitting across the table and moping about his pathetic life to you personally, seeking pity and approval. This changes in the second part, where the tone becomes slightly more sensitive because, well, I don’t want to give it away. Same with the third part.    

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Poem of the Month: Wendy Cope

Welcome to the sixth poem of the month!

Spring has long gone in most parts of India and now most of the country is in both lock down as well as in the throes of summer.

Still hope is a rare thing we must celebrate. Wendy Cope’s lovely, refreshing lyrics give us just that.

Wendy Cope has been one of my favourite poets because of her witty poems. I like her poems for two reasons: her use of parody (which is rare to see in poets) and her humourous treatment of the emotion of love and all its irrationality.  I fell in love with her down to earth and realistic representation of love as well as her parody of The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot! The parody is called The Wasteland: Five Limericks. You can read the poem here. The fact that she could condense Eliot’s masterpiece so succinctly shows her skill and humour as well. It also makes this rather dense, literary and canonical text easily understandable!

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Between Change and Stillness of Time, Mamang Dai Tells the Legends of Pensam

Stories are an intrinsic part of who we are. They define us; they have been with us since times immemorial. The book, The Legends of Pensam by Mamang Dai tries to recreate something similar through its story- a timeless, universal tale of human togetherness and struggle. Contrary to the title, the novel is not just a collection of folktales or legends. Rather the legends about common people and their deeds that have been passed down from one generation to the next and therefore have become folklore/legends in themselves. The stories of common people are portrayed and interwoven with folktales which make it seem as if the folktales are living and breathing through the lives of the people. 

IMG_20191111_104548141.jpgThe unnamed female narrator has gone back to her hometown in Arunachal Pradesh and is a participant in these stories rather than the storyteller. She also invites her friend, Mona and Jules to visit her village and to meet the people there.

The Legends of Pensam is divided into four parts: Diary of the WorldSongs of the RhapsodistDaughters of the Village, and Matter of Time.

The first part presents an introduction to this world of forests, folklore, and its people. It sets the stage for the characters: the narrator visiting her village and staying there, her inviting Mona, Hoxo and his family.

The second part invites the reader to be part of a dance drama that tells the tale of the white man colonizing these forests and about a violent turn of events. The dance drama is staged for a festival, but also for Mona and Jules. As a reader, you too gaze at one aspect of the culture and are one with the story. The rhapsodist also regales the reader and perhaps even Mona and Jules with other such stories – one where the wind howls and dust swirling confused the rhapsodist; one where he narrates how the Migu and Sirum clans were united by bonds of blood and kinship.

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Pardesi: Salt Houses

Salma Yacoub looked at the coffee cup and knew that something is amiss about the fate of her youngest daughter, Alia. She never read the coffee dregs of her own kin but made an exception here because it was Alia’s wedding day. So what did she do? She decided to tell a lie, to give away only the positive foretelling. 

This paraphrasing is how the novel, Salt Houses, by Hala Alyan, begins. With a lie.

It is also her decision to tell this lie that captivates the reader immediately. As Salma waited for her daughter, she reminisced about her life, about how she ended up in Nablus, fleeing from Jaffa; about her husband’s death and about her three children, Widad, Mustafa, and Alia. Widad was already married and settled in Kuwait and now the youngest was getting married to Atef. Salma spared no expenses. Interestingly, the wedding itself is not described in the story but only the events leading up to it.

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The entire novel is narrated through the perspectives of Salma’s family. Initially, it is her children’s viewpoints that are portrayed and later on her grandchildren and great grandchildren as well.

The novel begins in the 1960s and ends in around 2014. It narrates the history and growth of Salma’s family over 60 years. The one constant in all their perspectives is war, the act of fleeing and resettling. Movement is constant. Each generation has seen war. Salma was the first. Her children were victims of The Six Day War in 1967 which forced Atef and Alia to settle in Kuwait along with her sister, Widad. They had to flee again from Kuwait, when it was invaded by Iraq in August 1990.

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The Reading Spree: Orange Book Spines

The month of March was a topsy turvy one for the entire world owing to the COVID 19 pandemic.

It was a strangely stretched out one as even the place I live in slowly came to a stand still because of the growing cases and because organisations and people began realising the the virus’ dangers.

This month, since I had no particular theme in mind, a random glance at my bookshelf decided it for me! Last year, I had the time to clean and organise my bookshelves and mostly I do them by size and do not keep it colour coded. But, in one section of the shelf, I had kept together books that had orange spines!

And that is what decided it. I read books with orange spines. In October 2019 as well, I had chosen books that had a yellow cover because of odd coincidences of everything on my desk becoming yellow because of a calendar cover and other knickknacks. This is the second time I have read books based on a colour theme!

Since many of them were short stories, I read quite a lot in terms of number. These are the books I read in the month of March:

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