The Reading Spree: First Time on Kindle

My experiments with Kindle began when a friend, Rajitha, suggested all the merits of Kindle. Thus, I embarked on giving it a try considering I had one lying around but was too old fashioned to try it out.

So I decided to find where this device was hidden in my home and then dedicated June to reading on Kindle.

I must say I am still a sucker for normal, actual books. The feel, the smell and even the action of turning a page was much missed.

But yeah, I must reluctantly admit, Kindle is definitely convenient and light. I see its merits as my dear friend suggested. I have already stored so many books to read on them! My TBR list just got a digital revamp! Sigh! Oh the list is positively infinite now!

The best thing is that I found many Japanese and Korean translations in mobi format. This was what eventually convinced me to give Kindle a try since otherwise these translations are pretty expensive to get as paperbacks!

So the three books I read on Kindle were:

  • We Of The Forsaken World by Kiran Bhat: I got this free copy from Book Sirens. It was not the best of reads but engaging enough with its world building and interconnecting narratives. The book comments on the many environmental problems of the world through its different interlinked stories. Continue reading

Poesie: Anna Akhmatova and her Poetry

Born on 23rd June in 1889 in present day Ukraine, Anna Akhmatova was a prolific poet of her times and became a symbol of resistance during Stalin’s iron rule. Eventually however, she was forgotten, becoming a poet overshadowed by fellow male Russian writers instead.

There has been a slow revival of interest in her poetry since the 1990s. Her works have been translated in English several times now and this review will look at the Vintage publication, Selected Poems by Anna Akhmatova, translated by D.M. Thomas.

Anna Akhmatova published her first collection, Evening, in 1912. Many of her earlier poems were well received and had quite a large female readership. They depicted the torturous realities of love from the excitement of clandestine visits to the heartbreak of a parting. One of her poems from Evening, shows her wit and is reminiscent of Wendy Cope’s light hearted love lyrics:

He loved three things alone:
White peacocks, evensong,
Old maps of America.
He hated children crying,
And raspberry jam with his tea,
And womanish hysteria.
…….and he had married me. 

Feminist Retelling

Akhmatova by Nathan Altman / Public domain
Akhmatova by Nathan Altman / Public domain

It is not only a humorous poem but also shows her concerns about wifely duties and even makes a jibe at the misconception of hysteria as uniquely female. Many of her poems express her anguish about fitting into roles of a mother and wife.

One way in which Akhmatova portrays the female point of view is through retelling of folklore, Biblical stories and literary anecdotes. She humanises Shakespeare’s Cleopatra and Ophelia in her poems, Cleopatra and Reading Hamlet respectively. She also gives a humorous spin to the Cinderella tale when she ends a poem from her collection Rosary (1914) with Cinderella more worried about her shoe rather than the Prince’s love for her:

Where can I hide you?
And it’s a bitter thought
That my little white shoe
will be tried by everyone.

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Poem of the Month: Fernando Pessoa

Welcome to the eighth poem of the month!

Set aside all your Monday blues with June’s poem of the month!

Last month, we celebrated Tagore’s 159th birth anniversary with the poem, Where the Mind is Without Fear

This month, in June, we celebrate the birth anniversary of another poet, Fernando Pessoa. His birthday was on 13th June.

Fernando Pessoa was a Portuguese poet. His poetry and his unique Modernist style of writing put Portugal on the map of European Modernism.

Pessoa in Portuguese means ‘a person’ and the poet is well known for embracing different sides of his own personality. However, he did not just create alter egos but completely new authors who had their own literary backgrounds and distinct style of writing.

The theme of the poem I picked for this edition of Poem of the Month is something that will resonate with us all. Because all of us fall prey at sometime or the other to thinking and fretting over the future.

Beyond The Bend In The Road
(Para além da curva da estrada)
Beyond the bend in the road
there may be a well, a castle.
There may be simply more road.
I neither know nor ask.
As long as I’m on the road before the bend
I simply look at the road before the bend,
since I can see only the road before the bend.
It would do no good to look elsewhere
or at what I can’t see.
Let’s just concentrate on where we are.
There’s beauty enough in being here, not elsewhere.
If anyone’s there beyond the bend in the road,
let them worry about what’s beyond the bend in the road.
That is the road, to them.
If we arrive there when we arrive we’ll know.
Now we only know that we’re not there.
Here there’s only the road before the bend, and before the bend
there’s the road with no bend at all.

Source: https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Portuguese/FernandoPessoa.php#anchor_Toc503461474

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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.  

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Reading Spree: September

30th September is International Translation Day! It was declared by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2017 to foster peace and greater understanding among nations.

It is therefore a great way to end the National Translation Month (also September!) on this day and take a look at the books that were read as part of this month.

Since August was Women in Translation Month, I simply continued that in this month as well! It is always great to read more women writers, don’t you think so?

Here’s the list:

  1. First up was Shanghai Baby which was written by Wei Hui and translated by Bruce Humes from Chinese. The the novel takes you through Coco’s story, living in Shanghai and trying to write a novel while living with her boyfriend, Tian Tian. Read my full review here.
  2. Second came A Rag Doll after My Heart. Translated from Marathi by Shruti Nargundkar and written by Anuradha Vaidya, this ‘poetic novel’ is a lovely, though a bit dated and patriarchal, look at a mother and daughter’s bond by evoking it through thought provoking metaphors. Read my full review here.

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Please Look After Mom

“It’s been one week since mom went missing.”

This is how Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin begins, plunging the reader headlong into the plot.

It’s a chilling start, one that no one would want to experience.

Translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim, Please Look After Mom, tells the harrowing aftermath that the family deals with when their mother, Park So-nyo, goes missing after she was unable to board a train with her husband at Seoul Station.

The story is told through different perspectives: first the elder daughter, Chi-hon; then the eldest child, Hyong Chol, and then her husband and finally the mother (who seems to be flitting between this world and the next).

Each perspective is steeped in regretful reflections and replete with poignant memories about Park So-nyo.

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The daughter recalls her mother always working, and in her mind she is synonymous with the kitchen. Only when her younger sister, who herself now has three kids, asks her, “Do you think mom liked being in the kitchen?” does she even weigh in the enormity of her mother’s difficult and sacrificing life.

Hyong Chol, on the other hand, regrets not fulfilling his mother’s dreams and the promises he had made her, particularly of being a prosecutor.

Whereas the husband now regrets taking his wife for granted, not being able to help her even during her illness and how he had automatically assumed that she would be the one to take care of him.

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Quick Reviews: Shanghai Baby

Shanghai Baby by the Chinese writer, Wei Hui, has been translated into English by Bruce Humes. The novel is set in the turn of the 21st century in Shanghai, China.

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What is the book about?

Shanghai Baby unravels a story about Coco, living in Shanghai, who wants to be a writer and who eventually drops her waitress job, when she meets the artist Tian Tian, at the same cafe. After a little encouragement from him, she decides to pursue writing a novel full time. She had already published an erotic and daring collection of short stories titled, Shriek of the Butterfly, and was working at a magazine before. What prompted her to leave that job and become a waitress is not explored. What is explored, however, is her relationship with her city, with her parents, with Tian Tian, who is a drug addict and impotent; and her lover, Mark, a German expat, working there and the one who satisfies her sexual desires.

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Seeing Red

!!!! Spoilers Ahead!!!!

I had diligently followed the idea of Women in Translation Month in August and the last book in my list was the intensely terrifying Seeing Red by Chilean author, Lina Meruane.

(On a side note: Click here and see the other books that were part of my Women in Translation month)

Translated from Spanish Megan McDowell, Seeing Red, narrates the story of Lucina, a Chilean national, who moved to New York and is pursuing her PhD. One night at a party, something strange – yet something that she has been forewarned about – happens!

Her eyes haemmorage; blood gushes through her veins in her eyes leaving her vision clouded. She returns home with her partner, Ignacio, trying to make sense of this new reality. The months that follow show Lucina navigating through this new found blindness: they move to a new place and she tries to orient herself there, she goes back to Chile for a vacation where her relatives provide her with unsolicited advice about her impending eye operation. Even her parents who are themselves doctors, are stunned by Lucina’s illness.

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Musically Yours: Music in Solitude

Aranya is chaotic.

Ishan systematic.

Ishan is a family person.

Aranya questions the idea of family.

Ishan is spiritual.

Aranya a feminist.

Now I know what you are thinking: that this is just going to be some modern run-of-the-mill opposites attract love story.

Fortunately not!

Because Music in Solitude by Krishna Sobti, translated from Hindi by Vasudha Dalmia, is not a love story, but rather a loving tale of two elderly individuals, Ishan and Aranya, who are in the autumn of their lives and yes you guessed it, are complete opposites. Yet it is their age and the life that that brings along in it’s wake, which helps them come together. Not to mention that they stay in the same building in Delhi!

Originally titled as Samay Sargam, the novel stitches together episodes from the two protagonists’ lives. Especially the time spent together discussing myriad topics over tea, lunches or dinners!

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The Reading Spree: Women in Translation Month 2019

And so the Women in Translation (WiT) month has ended. And oh what a beautiful reading spree it was!

As part of WiT, I read female writers that have been translated into English and I managed to read a humble total of six books!

Here is the list:

1. First on my list was When the Dives Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen, translated from Finnish by Lola M. Rogers. This novel is a story of two Estonian cousins and their very different reactions to first Soviet occupation, then Nazi German and then back to Soviet occupation. Told using two parallel timelines, this was my first book by an Estonian writer that also shed a lot of light on a little known aspect of world history: Estonia’s role and struggle for independence during dark periods of occupation. Read the complete Blurb Appreciation Review of this novel here

2. Next was The M usic of Solitude by Krishna Sobti, translated from Hindi by Vasudha Dalmia. This is a touching tale of two elderly people living in Delhi, Ishan and Aranya, who are diametrically opposite people yet are brought together by proximity and burdensome and very palpable questions of old age and death. Read my complete review here.

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Quick Reviews: Gigi and the Cat

Gigi and The Cat by the acclaimed French writer, Colette, are two novellas published together by Vintage and I read them as part of Women in Translation Month.

Don’t know what that is?

Find out here!

What is this book about?

Gigi and The Cat consists of two stories: one is titled Gigi and the other, The Cat. Translated from French, both the stories adeptly capture the vivacity of the fin de siecle in Paris.

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Gigi is about the eponymous protagonist, ebullient girl of 15, dictated by her grandmamma who lavishly rains on her several rules of how to behave like a woman. Both her grandmamma and mother think that she is a simple, childish, naive girl who is unable to understand the intricacies of class and its politics. However, when an admirable suitor, Gaston Lachaille, confesses his love to her, Gigi or Gilberte, employs her own tactic of figuring out how to handle the situation, breaking away from her grandmother and mother’s advice.

La Chatte or in English, The Cat, is a much more complex story narrated in rich, detailed prose. The Cat outlines the love of the protagonist, Alain, towards his beautiful cat, Saha. The story then unravels how his marriage to Camille Malmert affects Saha and Alain’s relation with Saha. The story takes a plunge into Alain’s thoughts and emotions toward Saha, Camille, and his life in general, especially his deep love for the house he grew up in. Alain’s love for Saha is clear in the way he fondly calls out her name (with an aspirated ‘h’) and behaves with her ever so lovingly. His instinct toward Saha and his ability to know her inside out irks Camille to a certain extent, though she does try to come to terms with the cat.

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Women in Translation Month!

Starting the Women in Translation month with this promising read:

Because August is Women in Translation Month!

Let’s celebrate it and put the limelight on more women writers!

When the Doves Disappeared is an intriguing tale about Soviet occupation of Estonia which is told through the interweaving of two separate timelines!

I am excited to dig into my first book from Estonia!

Click here to read more about Women in Translation month and about endless lists of books by women writers that have been translated.

Travel Diaries: Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings

Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings, written in Japanese by Matsuo Basho and translated by Sam Hamill, is published by Shambala Classics. Matsuo Basho is famous for reinventing the haiku and imbuing it with true qualities of simplicity and natural beauty. This book is a beautiful haibun that chronicles Basho’s travels to the northern parts of Japan in late 17th century. Haibun is a form of writing that combines haiku and prose. Essentially, Narrow Road to the Interior or Oku no Hosomichi is a travelogue wherein Basho beautifully pens down his thoughts and journeys using both prose and haiku. The haikus often remark on particular incidents or scenes that Basho found memorable.

Read more about haibun here.

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The travelogue begins with these inviting lines,

The moon and sun are eternal travelers. Even the years wander on. A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

Such an alluring beginning immediately pulls the reader in and reflect on the idea of journey itself.

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