Quick Reviews: Sexing the Cherry

Sexing the Cherry by Jeannette Winterson is out there to thwart all our perceptions about reality be it the concept of time, or stories or strands of history or even how we may be connected to our ancestors.

IMG_20190124_211900440.jpg

What is the book about?

Bordering on the fabulist, Sexing the Cherry, is seemingly about a large woman named Dog Woman because of her fierce love for her dogs and her adopted son, Jordan. Set in London in the 1640s’ with the upheaval of Cromwell’s clash with the Royalists in the background, the story talks about these two protagonists’ views of each other. Jordan develops a love for sailing and travels the world to witness the quirks of the world and the Dog Woman worries about how Jordan cannot save his broken heart.

Interspersed within is a beautiful tale of twelve dancing princesses whom Jordan meets and who each retell their stories and subvert the very idea of the portrayal of a damsel in distress in a fairy tale.

Continue reading

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.

IMG-20190115-WA0003.jpeg

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! 😛

Continue reading

Top 5: Meena Alexander’s Poems

As temperatures dip, grab a cuppa and enjoy the soothing, balmy poems of Meena Alexander.

Here are my top 5 picks of her poems:

5. Lychees

Terrace deep as the sky.
Stone bench where I sit and read,
I wandered by myself
Into the heart of the mountains of Yoshino.
In one hand a book, in the other, a bag made of newsprint—
No weather-beaten bones here
Just lychees bought in the market,
Thirty rupees per kilogram.
Stalks mottled red tied up with string,
Flesh the color of pigeon wings—
Sweet simmering.
Sunlight bruises air
Pine trees blacken.
Where shall I go?
The Dhauladhar peaks
Are covered in snow.

4. Cadenza

I watch your hands at the keyboard
Making music, one hand with a tiny jot,
A birthmark I think where finger bone
Joins palm, mark of the fish,
Living thing in search of a watering
Hole set in a walled garden,
Or in a field with all the fences torn:
Where I hear your father cry into the wind
That beats against stones in a small town
Where you were born; its cornfields
Skyward pointing, never sown, never
To be reaped, flagrant, immortal.

 

Continue reading

Tiger Hills

So I began the new year, 2019 with Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna! This was a book I knew about a long time ago! And only recently was I able to get my hands on it.

And what a perfectly divine choice! The novel whisks you back in time and takes you on a flavourful albeit bitter journey across Coorg in the Indian state of Karnataka!

Replete with rich symbolism such as herons, and once in a blue moon blooming bamboo flowers, Tiger Hills, begins in 1878, when Mutthava reminisces about the birth of her daughter, Devi, in Coorg.

wp-1546956195025.jpg

Devi is the only daughter of Mutthava and Nachimanda Thimmaya. She is pampered by all, including her parents and her grandmother, Tayi. She becomes bold and feisty and soon her life is intertwined with the orphaned son, Devanna. They become the best of childhood friends. The story then turns to how Devanna is lauded for his intelligence by Reverend Gundert, who was in charge of the mission there. He develops a fondness for the boy and wants to cultivate in him a deep well of learning. Devanna grows to love this attention and also slowly cultivates his love for botany and education. Simultaneously, he falls in love with Devi as well. But he aspires to become a doctor as well and confess his love for her when he completes his studies. Devi, however, gets smitten by the famous tiger killer, Machu and has eyes only for him.

And alas, like all love stories, tragedy befalls on Devanna and due to that on Devi as well.

The novel however, does not simply capture the love that Devanna has for Devi because it is so much more. Sarita Mandanna’s writing is quick yet descriptive and gives a sweeping gaze across so many aspects of the many events that were occurring alongside the main story. She richly etches out the beauty of Coorg of those days, takes in the historical events that intertwined with the main plot as well such as the British Afghan War, the two World Wars etc.

Continue reading

The Maharaja’s Household

The Maharaja’s Household: A Daughter’s Memories of her Father is a unique memoir told from a daughter’s perspective. This non fictional account is about Maharaja Churachand, the erstwhile ruler of the current Indian state of Manipur, told from the perspective of his youngest daughter, Princess Wangol or as she is more widely known, Binodini. It is an informal account, based on her own memories of how she saw her father and also based on stories she heard from people that surrounded the Maharaja.

wp-1546268596083.jpg

Binodini is a humble narrator who admits that the book is not a historical account. The key word to remember is also memoir. She admits often that some stories might not even be accurate and that they are based on stories she has heard from other sources or from her own memories. Continue reading

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!!!!

 

The Devil and Satire

What happens when the devil and his henchmen including a pet demon cat walk into a bar?

A. Utter Chaos.
B. Nobody believes this can happen.

Both happens in the utterly eccentric masterpiece by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita. Except that it takes place in Moscow’s streets and theatre and not in any bar!

The novel begins with two characters, Berlioz and Bezdomny, who talk about the latter’s poems when they run into “an eccentric foreigner” who joins in the conversation and rants on while also claiming to have met the likes of Kant and even Pontius Pilate!

wp-1546181567999.jpg

He even predicted how Berlioz would die!
And what do you know! That is exactly what occurs.

So who is this mysterious person?

Bezdomny goes berserk after the stranger’s prophecy comes true and  now wants to find where he is but alas no one believes his story at all!

Would you?

Continue reading

To Live

When the protagonist, Fugui, loses all his money and property because of his addictive gambling right at the beginning of the novel, To Live by Yu Hua (translated by Michael Berry) , we know that it will not be a typical hero who succeeds in all his endeavors.

IMG_20181209_121118528.jpg

What is the book about? 

After squandering all his family’s wealth that was accumulated over a long period of time, Fugui is consigned to a small piece of land on the outskirts of his village. Not able to take the shock of Fugui’s mistake, his father soon dies while he is left to take care of his wife, mother and daughter, Fengxia.

Thus, from being a landowner’s whoring and gambling son, he becomes a mere peasant. The whole family now struggles to survive.

Continue reading

Born in Jangbi

Not many know about the tiny Himalayan country, Bhutan. They may know about its two neighbouring giants, India and China but not so much of the country sandwiched in between.

Even fewer would know about the ethnic diversity of Bhutan.

Born in Jangbi by Damber S. Mongar is a fictional account of one Monpa, Sangayla’s struggle to achieve something in his life and bring about the development of his fellow people as well rather than continuing to languish in poverty.

The author informs us that the Monpas are a community living in three villages of Jangbi, Wangling and Phumzur villages of Trongsa Ddzongkag.

True to its title, Born in Jangbi is set in the village Jangbi and begins with a birth. A very painful birth. One that ends in death of both the mother and the child. Birth and death commingled at the very beginning.

Instantly, we see through that pain the isolation of the village and the lack of amenities.

Continue reading

In the Time of the Butterflies

Based on a true story of the Mirabal sisters and their bravery, In the Time of the Butterflies, is a luminous and an imaginative story of the lives of the four sisters and how it was intertwined with the brutal regime of the Dominican dictator, Trujillo at that time.

Julia Alvarez has infused the truth with her own creativity and has skilfully sketched out each sister’s lives and thoughts.

In the Time of the Butterflies has been told from the point of views of the four Mirabal sisters: Patria, Dede, Minerva, and Maria Teresa. Each sister has her own unique personality and way of thinking which shines through when the story moves through their different point of views.

Continue reading

Quick Reviews: Lomba

Lomba is a novel by one of Bhutan’s youngest authors, Pema Euden. Lomba is a young adult novel about discovering true friendships and an appreciation of your own culture and society through a wild ride into the spirit world.

IMG_20181205_215658269.jpg

What is the book about? 

The novel, Lomba revolves around Seday, a school going girl, who has to move from Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city to Haa Dzongkhag in the Western part of Bhutan. Like any other school going person, she dreads the thought of leaving behind her friends and going to a remote part and starting in a new school as a complete stranger. Atrocious, wouldn’t you think so? And that is how the novel, Lomba begins:

“Atrocious. That was exactly how the past week had been.”

Now how would she get out of this dilemma?

Despite Seday’s misgivings and drama, as she starts her new school, she does meet terrific and friendly people who are do not simply exist to make her life hell!

Around the time that she had to shift to Haa, the place was abuzz with festivities because Lomba festival was just around the corner!

Lomba is a new year festival celebrated in Haa Dzongkang.

Her family was excited to be part of the festivities and they did all that was required to do as part of the festival; and that included making delicious hoenteys and making Lus which are as the author describes, “like gingerbread men, which can be made out of any kind of flour, really….These lus are said to have the ability yo take away our sorrows and misfortune.”

There is also a belief that if one does not eat dinner on the night of Lomba, one gets kidnapped by the lus.

Seday was skeptical about such traditions and superstitions. She did not believe any of the ideas behind lus kidnapping people that her friends filled her in with about this new festival that she had not celebrated.

To test the tradition, she decided to not eat dinner and prove them wrong about whether lus kidnapped or not!

So what happened next?

Read on….

Continue reading

Travel Diaries: Solitaire Mystery

Who else wants to take a trip all the way from Norway to Greece to search for their long lost mother?

Well, the father son duo of Jostein Gaardner’s novel, The Solitaire Mystery, sure did that.

Hans Thomas and his father come across their mother’s photo on a magazine cover and they decide to (after a lucky draw win) take a car ride across Europe to bring back their mother who had left several years ago to search for her own self.

IMG_20181125_220518936.jpg

But that is not where the story starts.

It starts a long time ago with Frode’s playing cards when he got shipwrecked onto a magical island in the middle of nowhere where he made his own characters come out from his own imagination.

Confused much?

Let’s take a step back.

Continue reading

Coraline

Coraline is the first book I read by Neil Gaiman. I have heard a lot about him and his books but never got round to reading anything by him. But I happened to read somewhere that his story, Coraline, features a cat and I lapped up on the opportunity to read it since I had seen the copy in the college library.

Coraline begins with the eponymous protagonist having moved into an old house along with her parents. The house also has a few strange neighbours who have equally strange names: Miss Spink and Miss Forcible being two examples. Another is an old man who is currently training rats to perform their own circus!

Despite such peculiar neighbours, Coraline feels easily bored with her surroundings and being summer vacation, she does not have much to do except chatting with her parents (who are busy with their own jobs) or neighbours or exploring the old house which is quite huge and even has an overgrown garden. But this alone does not quench her boredom.

Continue reading

Travel Diaries: Buttertea at Sunrise

Come take a beautiful hike with Britta up the Kori La pass in Mongar, in the central east district of a tiny country, Bhutan, sandwiched between two giants, India and China!!

When Britta had decided to volunteer in Bhutan way back in 1997, she had no clue what she was signing up for! But her stint as a physiotherapist in a village hospital in Mongar gave her beautiful insights and lovely memories of a place about which not much is written about. Perhaps, that is how Buttertea at Sunrise was born!

IMG_20181009_154652100.jpg

Continue reading

The Crazed

The Crazed by Ha Jin is told from the point of view of the student, Jian, who is under the guidance of Mr. Yang. But the novel starts with Mr Yang having suffered from a stroke and in the hospital in 1989.

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead! 

Mr. Yang’s crazy outbursts while in hospital give a glimpse into his relationship with his student, Jian, as well as his past: affairs, his ill treatment under the Mao regime, his unconscious desire to have been a well respected official along with being a scholar among other things.

What is so interesting about The Crazed are the several literary references that pepper the novel, particularly Mr Yang’s lectures even in that delirious state about random literary subjects such as why Western poets use a persona to speak in their poems whereas the Chinese poets speak as themselves in the poems or his references to poets such as Goethe, Dante and several Tang poets like Tu Fu or Li Po.

It was astonishing how in that state he goes from “a political parrot” as Jian calls him, spewing Communist jingles to a lecture spewing professor.

Continue reading

Ito Junji’s Cat Diary: Yon and Mu!

Ito Junji’s horror mangas are well renowned but this famous Cat Diary takes a step away from the usual gory affairs and gives an autobiographical look at how Junji warmed up to two pet cats his fiance got into their lives.

Cat Diary starts with the author moving into a new house in Gifu with his fiance.

And that turns his world upside because his cat loving fiance brings her parents’ cat, Yon, from their house in Chiba.

Yon is a scary cat nicknamed, “the cat with an accursed face”, since it has an eerie print of a skull on its back.

Horror may be his forte, but the accursed face scares the living daylights out of Junji Ito in Cat Diary!

Quite ironical, yeah?

Continue reading

Kafka on the Shore

I am sure many hardcore Murakami fans will swear by the magic realism and surreal feel of his novel, Kafka on the Shore.

And it sure has a touch of the bizarre and the other worldly.

Kafka on the Shore starts with a 15 year old boy deciding to runaway from his father to live on his own under the pseudonym, Kafka Tamura. The novel than traces his journey where he meets other characters such as Sakura who is a hair dresser and who he thinks might be his sister. Then he stumbles on a job in the library that he had visited and finds a home there. At the library, he meets Oshima, who is the assistant, and the owner, Miss Saeki, who has her own melancholic back story.

IMG_20181014_220511017.jpg

Parallelly, the novel touches upon a curious incident that happened in the Yamanashi Prefecture where a group of children suddenly became unconsciously. It then focuses on one of those students, Mr. Nakata, who after the accident lost the ability to read and write but could mysteriously talk to cats. Consequently, he was the cat finder of his area in Nakano where he stayed.

Talking to cats is just one in the series of bizarre things to pop up in the novel.

Continue reading

Quick Reviews: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness

With pale pink illustrations, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi, gives a sharp look at how one person deals with the demons in her mind that the world creates and painfully overcomes them.

What is the book about? 

The opening scene of the manga, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi is like a film since it focuses on an unexpected situation that the female protagonist of this manga is in and then she talks about the scene and how she ended up there.

Next page though, we see the ghosts that haunted her in the past ten years that led her to that opening situation: ghosts that we may all face such as not knowing where to go, not having a “something I belong to”, to much more serious ones such as self harm, eating disorders and depression.

Continue reading

Blurb Appreciation Reviews: Boats on Land

The second Blurb Appreciation Reviews presents a review of Boats on Land by Janice Pariat.

The Blurb:

IMG_20181007_173206285.jpg

About the blurb:

I agree with one thing in the blurb that Boats on Land is imbued with the supernatural and the folkloric. From the first page itself, Janice Pariat gives a glimpse of the Khasi (an ethnic group of the north eastern Indian state of Meghalaya) culture through the concept of ka ktien, which would roughly mean (if I am not mistaken) the power that words have.

Right in the first story itself, we see the power of the ka ktien and throughout the stories we see other rituals such as “the three night long watches kept by the ieng iap briew (household of the dead) when windows and doors stayed open for the spirits of the deceased.”

Pariat has infused elements of the Khasi oral culture, with its many customs, beliefs and superstitions, into the written word and she upholds the former’s power over the latter.

Continue reading