The Lowland

Spoiler Alert!

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri revolves around love, relationships of loss and political deaths and like her previous novels, is also about cultural amalgamations.

IMG_20200524_153253034~2.jpg

The novel begins in the 1970s in the flooded lowland of Tollygunge, Calcutta where two brothers, Udayan and Subhash grow up. Udayan is influenced by the Naxalite Movement in his college while Subhash goes on to pursue his studies at Rhode Island in the US.

Things take a drastic turn when the police gun down Udayan mercilessly for his involvement in Naxal activities. His parents then ostracise his wife, Gauri. Pitying Gauri, Subhash takes her back to Rhode Island. In the US, to distract herself from her grief and her pregnancy, Gauri immerses herself in university life, exercising her intelligence to the fullest.

Despite trying to bring a sense of normalcy in their lives by raising a family, and Gauri eventually even pursuing her doctorate with the encouragement of her professor; Udayan’s death is a spectre that still haunts the couple. Their relationship was always one of convenience rather than one of love. The truth of Bela’s (their daughter) parentage is a Damocles sword that particularly unnerves Subhash.

Its climactic revelation opens up a Pandora’s Box in all their lives, shattering any illusions of normalcy the couple might have harboured.

Continue reading

Poem of The Month: Rabindranath Tagore

Welcome to the seventh poem of the month!

Earlier this month, on May 7th, Rabindranath Tagore’s 159th birth anniversary was celebrated. While I, like many other Indians, would instantly recall Tagore’s story of The Kabulliwallah, I have personally not read many of his poems. But there is one that I have read perhaps in school and still remember. It is called, “Where the Mind is Without Fear.”

The poem was written more than a 100 years ago to speak about a different context, about a new India. But such is the power of words that it still rings true today.

It is titled, “Chitto Jetha Bhoyshunno” in Bengali. Tagore himself translated it in English and the translated version was included in the Nobel winning anthology, Geetanjali.

Where the mind is without fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Source: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45668/gitanjali-35

Originally written to usher in a new dawn and a way of thinking unshackled by the colonial ruler, the poem still speaks to me today.

British rule of India was not the only dark period that India has gone through. Independence brought in its own challenges. Now, in 2020, as we will celebrate 73 years of Independence, we still struggle with our shackles of narrow mindedness, religious bigotry, sexism and casteism.

We are far from free in these regards and it feels like we have taken 10 steps back into a void where we remain slaves to political spewing, refusing to think and understand on our own. Social media and Whatsapp forwards have limited our ways of thinking, manipulating us into being mere puppets. So, yes, I still dream like in the poem, a world where we regain our sense of reasoning and act upon our ever widening thoughts.

I still dream that the country will awake into a world where it does not fear expressing a different point of view or giving out constructive criticism, where knowledge is not limited or linked to only a few political pandits.

May we all overcome this inexplicable darkness that has overtaken our country today.


Do you have a favourite poem you absolutely love? Share them with The Book Cafe as part of the Poem of the Month! Click here to know more.

Guest Post: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo 

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. 


Disclaimer: 

If your masculinity is fragile, this review might make you feel like a victim. You are going to read it as a personal attack on your existence as a male. It could make you restless. You will feel hurt and may express anger and irritation. Please know that this is not about you. It is about the way of life of more than half of the global population and the system of patriarchy that led you to think the way you do, while dictating the lives of every human. It’s not your fault. There is no intended sarcasm either. Really.  

The Life of Every Woman

When you have lived your life as a woman there are some things, many things in fact, which can be added into the manual – ‘What to Expect When You Are a Woman.’ Most of the things included in this manual will hold true to women irrespective of where they were born, raised, their work place or the family they marry into. There are of course, numerous, (I really mean uncountable) extraordinary circumstances that women are forced into, which could only be a bonus in the manual. The book Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is something like that.  

IMG_20200509_225602__01

When you read this book as a woman, there will be at least one situation you have likely been in with small differences here and there. It applies to modern, ancient, rural, urban, privileged, entitled, poor, rich of women– whichever category you wish to put yourself in. It creates a everywoman character. 
Like when young Jiyoung was followed by an unknown boy while on her way home, I remembered the time when a group of boys followed me for several days. I was scared, blamed myself but finally told my mother about it. I didn’t know the boys but some people (at that point I believed that they mattered to me) said I must have done something, because why would or how would boys from another school decide to follow me, among all the girls in my school.  Mine was a girls’ convent school. I was also told, ‘Ohh, you have been doing these things also these days?” and I kept thinking, but what did I do? Later, I just changed the narrative in my head to believe these people. Of course I provoked them, or why would they come after me? 
Just like Jiyoung’s father asked her why she had to attend a class so far away and which ends so late. Also, that she needs to stop wearing skirts so short, and stop smiling at people. 

Continue reading

Dasuram’s Script: New Writing from Odisha

This is a collection of 16 short stories written in Odia and translated into English by Mona Lisa Jena. All of the stories vividly bring out varied aspects of society. They merge the modern with traditional, the mystical with scientific, folklore with technology. The titular story is about a Kui folk singer, Dasuram, who sings of freedom from the shackles of poverty and oppression. He gets arrested on charges of being a Naxal and while in prison, invents a script for the Kui language.

IMG_20200310_104035043-1.jpg

The Goddess of Kara Dongri is about how Sudhansu is caught up in the fight about naming a temple in a village that he visited as a child during his vacation. He remembers a mountain made of white flint but cannot find it when he returns. He sees that the village has transformed from an idyllic haven into a busy one. Yet the folklore remains intact. The mountain of white flint may have been sacrificed to modernization but the stories of a deity residing there still float around, and to appease that goddess, a temple was built by the villagers themselves. The story succinctly captures the tenuous flux many places in India are caught between because of relentlessly moving towards modernization at the cost of environment and culture.

That House is a simple, almost fable like story about the follies of coveting perfection. Aruna and her husband scrape through and struggle to build a modest house in Brundabanur colony. Close by was a house that was never completed because the owner was a mistress who wanted to create a dream house which was not fulfilled because the house was empty and not occupied by a husband and a child. The story reiterates quite a lot of stereotypes associated with motherhood and role of a woman in a society especially the idea that a woman can attain happiness only when she marries and has a legitimate family. In the story, the woman is a mistress and hence is devoid of any true love which is the reason given to explain her imperfect house which though grand and complex, can never give her true happiness.

This Story Should not be Remembered by Manoj Kumar Panda pays homage to the timelessness of time itself through the character of Kandha Budha, who has become a living legend of his village. He has worked for two kings, Dalaganjana and Pruthwiraj; he has killed tigers with his bare hands, and had even caught the dacoit Bakharia Binjhal for the British government. The story remarks upon the continuity of time and of stories and the ironic existence of anything through these very stories.

This collection of stories often relies on motifs from folklore to create rich thematic narratives.

Continue reading

The Reading Spree: Poetry

May has come in slowly and steadily and brought in its wake extended lock down of two more weeks.

I hope May is not as slow as April. Why must time be relative? Why does it feel so?

April is celebrated as the National Poetry Month by Academy of of American Poets to celebrate American poets.

So I decided to read only poetry this month.

Poems have a lovely, magical quality to them of saying so much, in so less. They convey emotions in so many myriad ways that it is breathtaking!

These are the collection of poems I had at home and I decided to read them in the month of April.

Along with poems I also reread Camus’ The Plague and boy oh boy it was an intense experience and reading it felt like I was looking at a mirror at our own world today that has been hit by the corona virus pandemic.

Read my thoughts about The Plague and the book’s similarity with today’s world on The Curious Reader. 

But apart from this novel, all my reading was poems. These are the five poetry collections I read this month:

IMG_20200501_140918020.jpg

Continue reading

Short Story of the Month: The Night We All Had Grippe

Welcome to the 6th Short Story of the Month

Lock down in certain parts of India is likely to continue, given that the numbers in a few cities and states are continuing their steady ascent.

For many people, this might beckon another frustrating period of being cooped up inside the the home, having to juggle many things in almost claustrophobic conditions.

Reading Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Night We All Had Grippe,” feels like our current cooped up situation is being reflected there.

Shirley Jackson is a well known American short story writer who is most famous for her dystopian short story, The Lottery.

What is the story about?

It is a non fiction story depicting her own struggles as a mother of three children. And on this particular day, the entire family has the grippe or the flu as it known today.

The story begins with the description of the family as one that is fond of puzzles. Then, comes the description of the house, the lie of the land so to say.

Following that is the members trying to adjust to each other being home and trying to sleep and trying to get by with the flu upon them.

Now imagine this for extended period of time? Scary right?

But there is indeed a puzzle for the reader to solve while navigating the story which is the fun aspect of the story.

Analysis

While the story does bring out the sense of suffocation one can feel by the packed descriptions in the story, one must also remember that this is also the state of mothers who are juggling work and home. Because this story was published in 1952, it depicts how in the post WWII era, and even today, women are forced to prioritise and have to find tiny spaces of time to squeeze in any other work they would want to do, like writing for instance.

Where to read it? 

The story is available at Library of America’s website. Click here to read the PDF. The PDF is only 6 pages long and is quite engaging and you get to try your hands at solving a puzzle, while reading it!



This is part of the series called, Short Story of the Month. Click here to find out more!

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.    

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

IMG_20191111_221341497.jpg

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.

Continue reading

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:

IMG_20200402_142645429.jpg

Continue reading

The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa The Driver

The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa The Driver by Chan Koonchung centres on the adventures of the taxi driver, Champa or Champie. He lives in Lhasa, Tibet but takes a thrilling step to go all the way to Beijing to make his dreams come true. The book has been translated from Chinese to English by Nicky Harman. The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa The Driver is divided into three parts: Flesh, Straw Dogs and Alien Land.

The Good

The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa The Driver is a quick read about Champa and his relationship with his boss, Plum who is a businesswoman. She deals with arts and artifacts. One Tara statue that she is trading particularly catches Champa’s interest. Champa is her driver. The book also captures the aftermath of the takeover of Tibet by China. It recalls in bits and pieces the brutality of that time and the subtle differences in the way Tibetans are treated. One of the most insightful incidents of the novel is from Chapter Three in part two, Straw Dogs. Champa had decided to go to Beijing to make it big there and he was in his car (Plum’s car actually) driving from Lhasa to Beijing. He first encounters a massive midge storm and its comical description is an absolute delight, such that it takes you some time to figure out what is being talked about:

That day, I must have taken thousands of lives in the space of less than twenty minutes. Along the highway, I drove smack into the middle of a midge storm.

In that same chapter, he also meets the most well sketched character of the novel, Nyima. Champa gives Nyima a lift and they hit off, immersed in deep conversations about Buddhism, Freudian psychology and Nyima’s death wish fantasies.

IMG_20200310_200712002

Continue reading

Daura by Anukriti Upadhay

An enigmatic sarangiya player sweeps a district collector/officer off his feet with his magical tunes in a distant desert region of Rajasthan state in India.

Sarangiya – the person who plays the sarangi (a rectangular string instrument).

No, Daura by Anukriti Upadhay isn’t a romantic tale set in the twilight of the dusky dunes but the novel is steeped in different ideas of romance – romancing nature, the romance present in the state’s folktales and folk songs, romance of the music, and the most prevalent of all: the romance of the mysterious and the magical.

IMG_20191026_165944399.jpg

Daura is Anukriti Upadhay’s one of the first books in English. She also writes in Hindi. A District Collector or DC (a government officer who governs a division of the state called a district). He is unnamed and very enthusiastic about exploring the culture and tradition of the desert folks which is why he is often touring the district he governs (much to the dismay of his orderly, who is happy to be ensconced in his town life and engaging in urban activities rather than rural pastimes). The collector, on the other hand, shows kindness to their way of life, is happy to partake in it, and happier even to be regaled by their music and dance at the dak bangla (a bungalow) in the remote desert of the district.

Continue reading

The Reading Spree: Vicarious Travels in India

This is a very very late post!

I usually upload The Reading Spree blog posts by end of the month. But I this time I forgot that it was February and it has fewer days! From then I just spiraled into procrastination and never got to writing this post!

So in February, I managed to armchair travel to different parts of India through books!

These are the four books I read in February:

  1. The Legends of Pensam by Mamang Dai: This is a short novel about folk tales and family stories mingling together and creating unique histories. The stories revolve around the erstwhile and modern day lives of the Adi tribe in Arunachal Pradesh
  2. Seahorse by Janice Pariat: This was by far the best novel of the last month. The soul stirring and palpable descriptions of the relationship between the protagonist, Nem and Nicholas. This book not only takes you through the university lanes of Delhi but also through the mysterious moors of England. It also takes you on a thoughtful literary and musical ride, leaving you with ideas of how both love and gender are fluid. The rich tapestry Pariat creates around two main relationships through motifs of water, seahorse and aquarium as well as through intricately interspersed music and literary inter textual references are bound to captivate you. It is especially delightful for lovers of literature and classical music. Continue reading

Poem of the Month: Bill Collins

Welcome to the fifth Poem of the Month

This month we celebrate yet another birthday! Last month we celebrated Agha Shahid Ali’s birthday in the Poem of the Month series.

This month it is Bill Collins. He celebrates his birthday on 22nd March. He turns 78 this year.

March rings in the spring season. The budding of flowers. The slowly creeping warmth. In most parts of India, March is the one pleasant month before the onslaught of sunny summers begins. This onslaught is becoming increasingly severe with each passing year, thanks to global warming.

However, for today let us read a succinct poem that celebrates this changing of seasons:

Today 
If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

Continue reading

Short Story of the Month: Dilli Ki Sair by Rashid Jahan

Welcome to the fourth Short Story of the Month!

This is quite a late post! But, just in time to celebrate international women’s day. Me being my skeptical self am a little wary of celebrating such days where celebrating women is reduced to having ridiculous sales or discounts rather than having any constructive discussions on women empowerment or equality.

Leaving that aside, this short story of the month is all about smashing the male gaze. This month let us read, Rashid Jahan’s Dilli Ki Sair or A Trip to Delhi. It was written originally in Urdu around 1932.

What is the story about?

Dilli Ki Sair was published in the anthology, Angaarey. The story is about Malka Begum who had taken an adventurous trip from Faridabad to Delhi. In the story, she is recounting this adventure to her female friends.

Analysis

Today, travelling from Faridabad to Delhi is a daily routine for lakhs of people, including women. But back then when the story was penned it was in all probably a rarity for a woman to travel. In the story, she does not travel alone. She had traveled to Delhi with her husband but was left alone with the luggage at the large Delhi Railway Station while her husband went to pay a visit to the station master. It is then that Malka Begum talks about what she has seen. She talks about how the men react to her, the woman sitting alone on the station. This is painfully real even today. A woman sitting alone on train stations will be seen suspiciously and she will be eyed by countless men.

Continue reading

The Top 5: Nigerian Women Writers

We all know of Chimamanda Adichie. Many may have read her works, reveled in the feminism of her works and her depiction of Nigeria and its struggles, which are especially beautifully bought out in her two novels, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun.

But Nigeria is also teeming with many other female writers writing in English. While Adichie’s writing is breathtaking, her works often overshadow the other writers.

So this International Women’s Day, The Book Cafe, brings to the limelight five female Nigerian authors that one must read:

1. Buchi Emecheta:

Chinua Achebe seems to embody African literature. English literature syllabus in universities that teach world literature or post colonial literature, undoubtedly include Things Fall Apart by Achebe.

But Buchi Emecheta is not as well known. She was born in Lagos but immigrated to London with her husband. Her works are prolific and portray the sexism of institutions such as marriage and motherhood as well as speak about her own experiences as an immigrant. If you loved Americanah by Adichie, you should give her books her read too! You can borrow her books at the Internet Archive.

2. Flora Nwapa:

Flora Nwapa is another pioneer of Nigerian writing. Her works also lay bare the inherent discrimination within Igbo society. She combines folktales and stories to present modern day narratives of female empowerment. Through her books, the reader gets to see a women’s perspective of Igbo culture which is vastly different from Achebe’a portrayal of  the same culture as it shows a male perspective. You can borrow one of her novels, Women Are Different at the Internet Archive.
Google commemorated her 86th birthday in 2017 as well! 

Continue reading

The Yacoubian Building

The Yacoubian Building by Alaa al Aswany was originally written in Arabic. The novel is translated from Arabic by Humphrey Davies. The Yacoubian Building centres on characters that live in the old and quaint Yacoubian Building. Their lives intersect and connect in so many different strands that are unknown even to them.

The Good

The many characters that weave in and out the narrative of The Yacoubian Building is the highlight of the novel. These characters show the city’s diversity, its class divisions and the problems the different classes face because of belonging to that particular class. Their narratives touch upon the history of the city, particularly its colonial past and how Cairo became a city that was open to several communities and people of different ethnicity. The building itself has a unique history of its own. It was constructed by an Armenian millionaire, Hagop Yacoubian, to mimic a kind of colonial European grandeur.

Among the colorful characters are Zaki Bey, who is the oldest resident of the building; Hatim Rasheed, a closet homosexual who is also the editor of a French language newspaper, Le Caire; Hagg Azam, Taha el Shazli, Busayna and many others.

Hagg Azam is a businessman who ventures into politics.

Taha el Shazli is a hardworking student who aspires to join the police but his aspiration is thwarted because of class: his father is a doorman which is unfairly used as a yardstick to judge Taha’s ability. Thwarted by an unfair system, Taha gets demoralised and influenced by extremist movements which leads to his bitter end. Taha’s story was a nuanced criticism of the failure of the systems that allows young ambitious individuals to perish by providing space to terrorist elements to mushroom.

The depiction of the homosexual relationship between Hatim and his partner along with showcasing the underground gay scene depicts Cairo in a different light: a city that is trying to free itself from the shackles of strict religious morality.

The Bad

The opening of The Yacoubian Building reveals that Zaki Bey is the oldest resident of the building and speaks of him as a legendary figure. But by the third page, the novel depicting him as a womaniser was a complete let down of the cosmopolitan and nostalgic opening. This could be overlooked too as being only one character’s flaw. However, majority of the male characters are shown lusting over women (except the homosexual couple). The women also are shown as considering this male lust as a norm, accepting it as how things are between men and women. This deprives both male and female characters of any humanity or individuality.

IMG_20200112_191343742.jpg

Continue reading

Top 5: Catty Catty Bang Bang: Part 2!

It is February 22nd! Anddd today is National Cat Day in Japan.

Thus, we at The Book Cafe want to celebrate it by presenting the Top 5 books from Japanese Literature that feature none other than our favourite feline creatures, CATS!

Japan loves its cats. They feature in legends and folklore. There are even shrines dedicated to them such as Nekonomiya (Shrine of the Cat) in Yamagata Prefecture or the Nekojinja (Cat Shrine) on the island of Tashirojima in the Miyagi Prefecture. And of course the ubiquitous maneki neko (the beckoning cat) beckons through most shops and restaurants.

Unsurprisingly, Japanese literature also boasts of several books that centre on cats or have cats as prominent characters.

Let’s take a look at the Top 5 Japanese novels that are about cats:

Continue reading