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 Bluest Eye

The recent demise of Toni Morrison was a truly big blow to the world of diverse literature. With her end, comes an end to a writer who stood up for lesser known and oppressed voices, who urged those who did not see themselves in literature to write their own stories, to voice themselves since each story and each voice matters.

I am not really sure of how I picked up Toni Morrison’s books. I remember reading and loving the subtleties in her books, Sula and Mercy, which are my favourites while the more darker and deeper, Beloved, was a tough read to grasp. Perhaps, I should give it a try once again to enjoy and understand it thoroughly.

One of the recent ones I read was The Bluest Eye which is now my favourite, toppling the previous titles.

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The Bluest Eye is her debut novel, a heart wrenching story of two black girls, Claudia and Pecola, and how the widespread racism in their society affects them both.

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The Forty Rules of Love

Wait..Hold up…Spoilers ahead.

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak got rave reviews which made me pick it up. However, it has now become one of those books for me that everyone likes but I mildly dislike.

The story is about a woman named Ella Rubinstein living in Northampton, Massachusetts in the USA. She seems to have it all: a loving husband, three loving children and a good house. Yet she is at the brink where she is rethinking about her life. There seems to be some undercurrent of monotony and dislike in her marriage with her husband, David. Ella seems to be questioning her life choices and going through a mid life crisis at she turns the dreaded age of forty. This constant doubting on their marriage and her life led her to seek jobs and she landed with one in a literary agency which had assigned her to read and do a report on an obscure book, Sweet Blasphemy by an even obscure author, A.Z. Zahara.

As the story foreshadows,

“Little did she know that this was going to be not just any book, but the book that changed her life. In the time she was reading it, her life would be rewritten.”

So The Forty Rules of Love begins with a prologue about Ella and then has another one which is that of the novel, Sweet Blasphemy.

So what is Sweet Blasphemy about that it changed her life?

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First There was Woman

Who doesn’t love folktales?
They are simple, easy, quick to tell us so much about our worlds and how people used to be versus how we are now, how much we have progressed or deteriorated.

Last year, in the Zubaan Books online sale, I got my hands on First There was Woman: Folk Tales of Dungri Garasiya Bhils compiled by Marija Sres. I have little or no knowledge about the tribal diversity of India and this book therefore caught my eye.

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Dungri Garasiya Bhils as the book informed me are part of the larger Bhil tribe. They live in “north Gujarat and southern Rajasthan. In Gujarat, they largely live in Sabarkantha district.”

And it is there that Marija Sres, a Slovenian women, settled after having learnt Gujarati Literature from Ahmedabad University way back in the 1970s’.
She worked for about thirty years with the Dungri Garasiya Bhils and was involved in various projects that were implemented for their welfare. She also took to writing and has been lauded for her achievements to Gujarati Literature.

The book, First There was Woman: Folk Tales of Dungri Garasiya Bhils begins with a long autobiographical essay, The Story Behind My Stories, in which she traces her journey to Gujarat, India. So now, I won’t bore you further with these details. I think you will find those details there and online pretty easily.

First There was Woman: Folk Tales of Dungri Garasiya Bhils presents a good collection of folktales. It begins with a typical creation myth. It is a type of creation myth in which the supreme beings create the world. The story talks of how Kudrat created Earth from darkness and how he created the first woman. From there comes also the title of the book! Title fetishes strikes finally in 2019! 😛

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Looking Back and Ahead: 2018 Highlights!

So, 2018 has ended with the last book of the year, The Maharaja’s Household by Binodini! (The review coming up tomorrow!)

2018 has been great for the blog since I finally decided to restart it after about 3 years of being missing in action and it has been such fun to write reviews and come up with interesting series that hopefully grow in 2019!

(Side Note: Shameless promotion: Check out all of The Book Cafe’s new series: Travelling Diaries, Blurb Appreciation Reviews, Pardesi and Musically Yours)

In terms of reading, I think it was remarkable since I managed to read about 41 books. I do not know the exact number since I had, like my blog, also neglected Goodreads for quite a while and hence could not keep track of books I read!

But in 2019 I hope to read about 50 books!

The highlight in terms of reading has been reading more books that are translated. Plus, I found out about the idea of Women in Translation month as well and hope to celebrate it next year too!

Off late, I have been very conscious of reading books that are unusual, different and not canonical and that means it opens up infinite avenues of reading books with different styles, from different languages and of different countries as well.

Thus, I took baby steps in reading books from Japan, China and South Korea and I hope that this continues in the next year as well.

I tried to challenge the grand narrative in India too by looking at how many books I have read from different states in India and realised that I have still a few more states to cover.

And the most important of all is the discovery of the amazing number of books that female writers have written but whose works are regularly ignored for several reasons. I am glad I was able to read and find out more about female writers be it Indian, translated or from other different countries as well. I ended the year by reading an unusually styled memoir written by Manipur’s well known writer, Binodini. I hope to start the new year on such a diverse note as well.

So what bookish expectations do I carry as I go into 2019?

  • Firstly, to read more diverse books – be it from different states, from different nationalities, genders, about different not that well known issues etc.
  • To read more and buy less (Let me see how this works out!) 😛
  • Read more books by women writers.
  • Read more books in translation.
  • Read books in different mediums such as graphic novels and manga.
  • More stories on cats!
  • To read more books in Hindi. (This has been quite a challenge as it requires quite a lot of patience!)
  • And of course to continue writing more book reviews on The Book Cafe.

So books I would love to read and explore are:

  • K.R. Meera novels.
  • Apple and Knife by Intan Paramaditha.
  • The Marioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki.
  • Touching Earth by Rani Manicka.
  • The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo.
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.
  • The Colour of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa.
  • My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame
  • The Emperor and I by Mato.
  • A Strangeness in my Mind by Orhan Pamuk.
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.
  • And many others that might discover in the library and in my to read bookshelf!

Here is wishing everyone a Happy New Year and looking forward to another wonderful year of reading!!!!

 

Guest Post: Reading Indian Language Translations!

In July, The Book Cafe had stated an interesting idea about how one needs to read books from all the states in India-be it in the original language or translated. Click the link here to see the full list of books The Book Cafe has read from different Indian States!

Meera Baindur, a bookworm and philosophy faculty at Bengaluru Central University, shares her own thoughts about reading translations of different Indian languages. 

Read On!

Mountain Echoes: Literary Festival in Thimphu, Bhutan

Tiger’s Nest Monastery located in Paro, Bhutan is the most well known tourist site in country.

Little does the rest of the world know that Bhutan also holds an international literary festival every August called Mountain Echoes!

In 2018, the dates for the festival are from 22nd to 25th August.

Find the Programme Schedule for Mountain Echoes, here!

Last year in 2017, the festival had Ruskin Bond as one of its speakers and I was thrilled to not only get to hear him and see him but to get his autograph on not one but two books, since he was kind enough, even at his age, to give us all autographs!

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Birthday Wish List!

Ah to grow a year older!

But the heart is young!

And what more would a book lover want on one’s birthday than to have some more books?

So here is my current wish list or my to-read or to-borrow or to-buy books list:

The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe.

Javady Alley by Manny Shirazi.

The Emissary by Yoko Tawada

Aag Ka Darya by Qurratulain Haider

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi.

Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak.

El Deafo by Cece Bell.

Human Acts by Han Kang

Two Brothers by Gabriel Ba.

Coraline and Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie.

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil.

Cigarette Girl by Masahiko Matsumoto. 

Chronicles of a Death Foretold by Gabriel  Garcia Marquez.

Men Without Women by Murakami.

Aliyah: The Last Jew in the Village by Sethu.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

and lastly, but never never the least:

Notes of a Crocodile by Qui Miaojin

P.S. The List is actually endless but oh well, one must control! 😛

 

Have you read any from this wish list? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Quick Reviews: Khakey

Love children’s books?
How about next time you pick up one from Bhutan?
Bhutan maybe a tiny country which we do not often think about but it does have a thriving children’s books culture that use remarkable illustrations.
One such book that was launched last year in 2017 at Bhutan’s annual literature festival, Mountain Echoes, was Khakey written by one of Bhutan’s youngest authors, Yeshi Tsheyang Zam, who is only 11 years old!

What is the book about?

With simple fun dialogues and beautiful illustrations by Chand Bhattarai, Khakey is about an interesting ritual carried out mostly in Paro, in Western Bhutan, on the first day of snowfall, where one secretly tries to deliver a big ball of snow filled with some ingredients.
What is the purpose of this ritual? Read and find out.
Yeshi mentioned at the launch about how the idea for Khakey came to her since it is a ritual that many are unaware of and is also decreasing in practice due to rise in urbanization and decreasing snowfall.

One last reason to pick it up?

Khakey has adorable illustrations such as these:

Read more here:

https://thebhutanese.bt/youngest-author-writing-her-next-book/

One Last Drink at Guapa

One Last Drink at Guapa intertwines two very sensitive themes or ideas: homosexuality and the Arab identity. In a nutshell, the novel is about a man named Rasa, living in an unnamed, presumably a Middle Eastern or a predominantly Islamic nation, who gets caught by his grandmother in bed with his lover, Taymour. Taking place within the short span of just 24 hours, the novel looks at Rasa’s present dilemma of being caught and how to continue the relationship with Taymour, takes the reader through flashbacks into Rasa’s past including his time as a student in America; and brings us back to the present which seems as fraught with complications as the past.

The readers view the events in the story through Rasa’s eyes. We see his predicament as a young teen trying to search for the right word in either Arabic or English to encapsulate his homosexual identity. We see later in America how him being bilingual further alienates. We see how as an adult, he navigates the mix of his grandmother’s hegemonic rules along with the new ideas his education gives him. We see how Rasa’s own individuality is overshadowed by the Muslim stereotype and how he traverses that mix as well being both Arab and gay in both America as well as his home country. We see him being forced to confront this new sense of the Other which before was simply the normal way of life for him.

Along with Rasa’s own individual turmoil, we see the political upheavals raging within his own country. This adds another layer to the novel where challenging sexual norms are meshed with challenging oppressive political regimes as well.

Apart from Rasa, other interesting characters that feature in the novel are his lover, Taymour, who eventually succumbs to the pressures of society and settles down for a heterosexual marriage; and his fiercely principled grandmother who controlled a lot of how Rasa’s family functioned. A close friend of Rasa is Maj, who is an activist by day and a colourful cross dresser by night and performs at a bar named, Guapa, where Rasa and his gang spend most of their nights reveling away. There are plethora of other characters you meet along the way as well.

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The ending is most interesting as it ends not only on an ambiguous note but also on a hopeful, poignant note where the characters seem to accept that living their life and living in their country will be rife with problems and stress but they are going to soldier on and stay true to themselves and their beliefs. While it is difficult to often stand by your own, it is heartening to see a book ending on such a positive note where the characters are not simply scrambling away to America or other such dream country to end their woes.

The novel therefore gives the readers a unique glimpse into Arab gay culture: something hitherto not as well known in popular literature thanks to the stereotypical Muslim equals terrorist image that colours popular imagination.

Available on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.in/One-Last-Drink-at-Guapa/dp/9385755099

See more reviews here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34234646-one-last-drink-at-guapa?rating=2

 

I am Back!

So after a hiatus of almost three years, I think I would like to restart writing book reviews and other literature related things!

Hopefully, this restarting will be a positive one and not something that swivels out like a new year resolution!

Thank you all for reading and enjoying my reviews.

I want to start with a bang. But hopefully, will not fizzle out or like T.S. Eliot says, “not with a bang, but with a whimper!”

Here is to new beginnings!

Politics and Satire

Most Indians today associate Hindi literature with Premchand and with more of the urban youth reading the crass commodified young urban romance novellas, it is perhaps only Premchand who holds the beacon of Hindi literature high.

But if you dig deeper, find out more,get your curiosity running, you will find out so much many more Hindi authors of tremendous fame.

I am not a fan of Hindi literature per se. And whatever little I have read in Hindi is limited to children’s comics or stray stories here and there. Or I have read translations.

Recently, happened to read one. And eventually found out the popularity of the author and that work.

No work in Indian English can perhaps compare with that novel in terms of the sheer accuracy of depicting the post-Independence Indian scenario with a brutal honesty.

Still can’t guess the novel right?

Its titled, Raag Darbari and the novel got me hooked from the first page itself.

The first lines go:
And there, on the edge of the town, stood a truck. As soon as you saw it you could tell that the sole purpose of its creation has been to rape the roads of India.

Such direct, forceful, unique and compelling descriptions pepper the whole novel.

Raag Darbari written by Srilal Shukla is a wonderful satiric account that essentially shows what went wrong with the post-Independent India. Set in the fictional town of Shivpalganj somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, politics and government with all its negative sides are intrinsically described in the book.

The town of Shivpalganj is just any village/town in North India run by not a system of bureaucrats but one single person Vaidyaji who controls everything in the town from education to politics to the police. Helping him out in his politics of power and supremacy is his son Ruppan babu who holds his own in the school from where he never passes. Stuck between the morass is Vaidyaji’s nephew, Rangnath, a research student come to stay in Shivpalganj for improving his health. The novel is narrated from his point of view.

The forte of Srilal Shukla has always been satire and Raag Darbari has humour on every page: whether satire, biting sarcasm or caricature, slapstick or dark humour.He spares no one in his sweeping satire from the most powerful to the most commonest of men (Langad). Srilal Shukla has satirised every character, every point of view to bring to light the utter breakdown of bureaucracy and the rampant corruption that festers within. No point of view is privileged even the narrator’s-Rangnath for all his education and research is satirised for his condescension of the village politics while also tacitly being a part of it. The novel as a whole is episodic and though it has a skim plot running through, it is a bunch of humourous tales satirising the corrupt politics.

Raag Darbari is a gem to be read for its satire and the detailed descriptions of several commonplace, taken for granted things that are a part and parcel of an Indian village and it is this attention to detail that makes Shivpalganj come alive. What makes the novel enduring is its relevance even in today’s India. Certain episodes of red tape, of indifference of the bureaucracy, of the traps that a common man is endlessly placed in to get benefits from the government will all find resonance with any Indian reader today as well. It is this very relevance today  that is a grim reminder of sorry state of Indian politics and bureaucracy today.

Sleuthing Around

A lot of kids have grown up on crime thrillers or mystery novels written for kids and teens like Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton’s popular series Famous Five and Secret Seven and scores of other books. Tons of Indian kids have also been hooked by these writers and their young detectives. There are many Indian writers also who write detective stories for children as well yet they don’t seem to be very popular as compared to the ones written by the foreign writers.  Not many know that one of India’s best film maker, Satyajit Ray, also penned a number of detective stories and created one of his own sleuths, the famous Feluda who would go around solving mysteries with his nephew Tapesh and later on Lalmohan Ganguli.

Satyajit Ray began writing these stories for the Bengali children’s magazine, Sandesh. The first story was titled Danger In Darjeeling and was published in 1965. Thereafter, there was no looking back. Feluda became very popular with its young Bengali readers and Ray wrote at least one story every year. In all, 35 Feluda stories were published from 1965-1996.

Enough about facts, now down to the review. The Penguin Publications came out in 2004 with a definitive two volume edition, The Complete Adventures of Feluda which contains all the stories. So whether you were hooked on to these stories as a kid and want to relive them now or simply love detective stories, these volumes are a must have. Translated from Bengali by Gopa Majumdar, they are chronologically arranged and show the progress of Feluda as a detective along with the marked progress in Ray’s writing too. The initial stories are simple and childish but later on the plots become more dangerous, complex and twisted. The characters become more fully etched and we come to learn more about this beloved detective’s personality-that he is a knowledgeable person, a voracious reader and a very talented man.

The detective’s real name is Pradosh C. Mitter and his nickname is Felu. His nephew’s name is Tapesh who Felu lovingly called Topshe. The suffix ‘da’ is used as a mark of respect when addressing an elder brother. The first volume has 16 stories which are very entertaining and exciting. It is a treat for any fan of crime fiction. Ray’s language is simple and lucid and keeping in mind the primary audience for his stories, he kept them clean and with minimal violence. Reading the Feluda stories doesn’t just proffer its readers dollops of thrill and fun but also a tour of India and an insight into the life the Indian people in those decades. In Volume 1 itself, the trio travelled from Jaisalmer to Lucknow, from big cities like Bombay to small places like Gosiapur, from Shimla to Gangtok and many more places. These stories do not just tell a tale of adventure and crime but take the reader on a journey across India.

Narrated by Feluda’s own Watson-Topshe, these stories connected easily with its teenage audience. Ray was a self professed lover of crime fiction and had read all the Sherlock Holmes story. It is therefore no wonder that those stories provided an inspiration to him and became a reference point for the format and style of his own detective stories. We see a little bit of Ray reflected in Feluda’s personality as well. Often his views are similar to those of the great film maker.

These stories are a great read and quite informative as well. They are a wholesome read for everyone.

Love Story

‘Love Story’ by Eric Segal is a famous romance bestseller. Its an unusual love story with bouts of unusual romance coupled with a touch of sadness. It is a short book, almost a novella and can be read in no time.

Taken from hachette.com.au

Oliver Barrett IV is a descendant of a rich, old family and he is a Harvard student who wants to pursue a career in law. Oliver falls in love with an ordinary(read no heritage and poor) girl studying in Radcliffe, Jeniffer Cavilleri. They plan to eventually get married which causes Oliver’s father to disinherit him. After marriage, its difficult to earn money but they pull through. However, a tragedy cuts this pretty love story short.

The good thing about ‘Love Story’ is that Eric Segal does not make the two protagonists fall in love in a cliched manner-like love at first sight or the guy doing the most chivalrous things or making disgusting promises to woo the girl. Its a quick romance with a few swear words thrown in(Its amazing how profanity can be romantic in ‘Love Story’). I have never seen a romantic novel where swear words and insulting each other contributes to building up the love between a girl and a guy!

Its written from a male perspective which I think is rare as most love stories have a woman’s point of view or have a woman as the narrator.

The book’s length is an advantage and a disadvantage simultaneously. On one hand ‘Love Story’ makes for a short read. But it is this short length that doubles up as a disadvantage too because it does not allow depth in the story and in the characters. It almost becomes a breezy, unmoving read because there is not much descriptions about either Oliver’s or Jeniffer’s feelings or their relationship.

Too much use of American slang also creates a casual effect, not a deep one . It feels like it is not a profound love story but rather just an ordinary one. The short length and slang usage contribute in diluting the sadness at the end of the novel.

The last word-‘Love Story’ is no doubt a good romantic read but it is definitely not the best. Its only a one time read!

Hello world!

Heya, My name is Aakanksha Singh. I live in Mumbai in India. I love doing  loads of fun stuff and one of them is reading. I love reading books of any genre, mostly fiction. My favorite genre is detective novels or crime and suspense. I do like different genres but somehow I really do not like reading romantic novels particularly mills and boons. My favorite books include the Harry Potter series, Heidi, Oliver Twist, Tell Me Your Dreams, Da Vinci Code, Agatha Christie novels and so many more!!!!!! I am a complete bookworm!

In this blog, I will post my reviews on some books that I have read. Hopefully these reviews will help you all in knowing the books better. So enjoy your stay here and post comments on anything you want. Any constructive criticism is also welcome!!!!