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.

IMG_20190911_154257054.jpg

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.

Continue reading

Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology

I am pretty sure that I have read Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology, edited by Eunice De Souza, in my undergraduate days but I stumbled upon it once again in the library and the faint familiarity of the poems within the book wafted in my mind.

As the title suggests, Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology, contains a selection of poems written in English by nine Indian female poets. The poets included in this anthology are Mamta Kalia, Kamala Das, Melanie Silgardo, Eunice De Souza herself, Imtiaz Dharker, Smita Agarwal, Sujata Bhatt, Charmayne D’Souza and Tara Patel.

The most familiar poets for me were Mamta Kalia, Kamala Das, Eunice De Souza, Imtiaz Dharker and Sujata Bhatt.

My favourite has to definitely be Mamta Kalia’s cheeky and wry poetic style.

IMG_20190625_213221185.jpg

Most of the nine poets have a common theme through them of addressing ideas and issues that affect them such as identity and language, marital relations, family matters or even ex lovers. However, saying that this is all that their poems express would be a gross generalisation which I will not be a party to. Each of the nine poets have specific issues that they deftly express. Each is versatile and each has her own unique style.

For instance, one of the central ideas in Kamala Das’ poems included in his collection is navigating the dynamic of male and female gender roles. On the other hand, Mamta Kalia’s poems artfully use wit to portray women and their routines and challenge those very routines, be it in the automatic love expected out of a daughter to her father or the routines of married life. Whereas Sujata Bhatt’s poems are on the other end of the spectrum where she tries to make sense of the various identities that she carries within. Eunice De Souza’s poems however often take into consideration very Goan Catholic themes as do Melanie Silgardo’s poems.

One of my favourite poems is by Melanie Silgardo titled, Cat, simply because of its words’  visual power that being a cat lover, I can immediately recognise as being typically belonging to any cat’s idiosyncrasies.

Mamta Kalia’s poem, Tribute to Papa, is another of my favourites as it boldly challenges a typical Indian privilege we proffer on to our fathers. The poem stands out because of its sheer defiance.

All in all, Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology is a visual and aural delight as one gets to read the best of 20th century female Indian poets.

Be sure to read them out loud and immerse yourself in their lilting rhythms!

The Bees

If you have not yet fallen in love with Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry, you must pick up her latest collection, The Bees (2011).

IMG_20190407_170253061.jpg

Divided into four sections and encompassing various themes that are held together by the one of the tiniest yet the most important creature of the planet: bees.

Interspersed between odes to the vitality and importance of the bees and the gardens they enable to bloom, are myriad poems ranging from feminist to ecological themes to the ones that comment on current political scenarios that dominate the West.

The ecological poems are beautifully portrayed through the use of the bees metaphor. The use of the bees metaphor is definitely something that is not an oft used idea, particularly to talk about the ultimate devastation that our planet is heading towards; yet it is one of the many creatures that is threatened and which also threatens our existence in return.

Though all the poems that center around bees are heady and evocative of lush blooms and bouquets of flowery beauty, my favourite is Scheherazade. It is about the need to speak, the necessity to speak out rather than die. It is a lovely take on a well known fairy tale trope of Scheherazade from the Arabian Nights, weaving tales to stay alive; each story narrated taking her one step away from death.

Sarcasm is also a tone prominent in many of her other subversive poems such as The Female Husband which portrays a different side of gender or the immensely witty, Mrs Schofield’s GCSE which takes a dig at the way we assess the learning of literature.
Read the poem here.

Romantic strands are subtly woven into a few other poems. These poems’ obviously hidden romantic veneer comes as a surprise at the end. Case in point is Rings. Take a guess what it is about.

And true to her well known style, many of the poems in the collection are devoted to the questioning and presenting of issues through use of larger mythological characters such as Achilles or Leda.

While it is easy to simply say that The Bees is about saving the bees and introspecting about the environmental damage, the poems will actually take you on a roller coaster ride of varied themes with its ups and downs of subversion, sarcasm and stark beauty.

It is akin to entering a beehive itself: well organised but so vast that one can get lost. But only when one is lost though, that one can come out enriched and truly know why Carol Ann Duffy poignantly says, “Honey is art.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musically Yours: Chicken With Plums

Read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi?

How about picking up another of her equally insightful and somberly black and white illustrated graphic novel, called, Chicken with Plums?

The musician Nasser Ali Khan’s favourite tar (an Iranian percussion instrument) is broken. He probably had the best one in the world. Now that it is broken, he goes on a search for an equally matched tar. But after failing to find such a one despite his repeated attempts, he consigns himself to a state where he simply only wishes to die.

The protagonist being a renowned musician having deep questions about his art and his life makes this novel part of The Book Cafe’s series called, Musically Yours!

Continue reading

Reader Not In Love!

Love is complex, we all know but definitely not as complex as D.H. Lawrence makes it to be in his gigantic novel, ‘Women In love.’ Not only is it massive, but Lawrence just makes every idea extremely complex which makes it quite difficult to read the novel. Infact when it came out in the 1920s’ people then also said that they found the book too difficult to read. And it definitely is even till now because I forced myself to finish the book as I hate leaving books unfinished no matter how bad they are.

Taken from goodreads.com

Ok, first, lets clear one misconception that one gets because of the title: ‘Women In Love’ is not a book about lesbian love! It does have references to homosexuality but it is definitely not the main focus!

Now that that’s cleared up, let us go to the plot. ‘Women In Love‘ begins with two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen who discuss about marriage. The former is a teacher while the latter is an artist. They live in Midlands in England and on one occasion, the sisters meet two men, Gerald Crich- an industrialist who owns coal mines- and Rupert Birkin who is a school inspector. There is also Hermione Granger um sorry I mean Hermione Roddice who was a love interest of Rupert. These five become sort of friends who practically do nothing except discuss difficult, intellectual things that helps them in no way to make a head or tail out of the issue they are discussing. These discussons seem to be the only thing they do beside attending parties and all that!!! They are profound at times, not the parties I mean, but the discussions, but get really boring because the plot doesn’t move forward quick enough. Ursula falls in love with Rupert while Gudrun falls in love with Gerald but the quartet is too thick headed to admit they are in love and go about having rambling, pointless discussions before even admitting it!!! I dont even know how Ursula and Birkin end up getting married but they do(Somehow!). Meanwhile Gudrun and Gerald are vacationing in the Alps. I think it is over there that Gudrun strikes a friendship with Loerke, a fellow artist from Dresden.

Loerke is my favorite character in the novel. He is quirky and so witty. Well, he is quirky in a good way! All the other characters are also quirky but in a stupendously intellectual,boring, complex,roundabout manner! Loerke is direct and straightforward and has no pretensions!

Well, now we are digressing! Well  I am not giving  away the end of the book because it is would be truly a spoiler to tell you all what happened to the quartet’s love story. Go read the end for yourselves!

Women In Love‘ was not an enjoyable book and I labored really hard to complete it. D.H Lawrence threw several complex notions and ideas about so many things with Rupert being his mouthpiece. His writing is very Victorian despite it being written in 1920s. But that is the best part of the book-his writing. The descriptive style makes so many things in the book come alive such as the quartet’s intimacy, their perplexity over life and love, their constant discussions,the industrial cum countryside setting, the parties and the best part-Gudrun’s friendship with Loerke.

Women In Love‘ does question a lot of things mainly at least the notions of love with a woman and a man. Then the process of industrialization seen through the eyes of Gerald. There is almost a Futurist fascination with machines and Gerald in general comes across as a misanthrope. Changes in the aaspects of British countryside brought about by industrialization are also pointed out through Gudrun and Ursula’s conversations and will be more pronounced if one reads, ‘Rainbow’ before reading this novel as the former is a prequel to the latter. Women’s empowerment is also sketched out but still the two women protagonists are more or less dependent on the men but they still are quite bold, strong characters.

I would not recommend ‘Women In Love’ namely because it is tedious, slow in pace and tooooo much strain on the brain!!!! Although any voracious reader is free to take it up!

Scandalous Book!

Ken Follett is a well known writer. There is some famous trilogy of his which I am yet to read. He had recently come to a Mumbai bookstore too-I think it was Landmark but I can’t be sure. Anyway, so I heard a lot about him then. I vaguely knew his name too but somehow I associated him with only fantasy related novels which is a genre that after a good dose of Harry Potter, Ursula Le Guin, Narnia series, Eragon trilogy, Hobbit I do not want to read much. But when I read some interviews of his in the newspaper and then some blogs, I realised that my association of Ken Follett and fantasy novels was misguided. He seemed to write mystery novels and historical ones. This obviously got me interested!

Taken from goodreads.com

So I ended up reading ‘Modigliani Scandal‘ which I found in my library.  The book was really well written and I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was appropriate for my thriller/mystery taste of books.

The story is sort of complex with a smattering of characters that have interestingly just one purpose. The novel begins with Dee Sleign, an art historian, looking for a thesis and decides to do one on how drugs induced painters create different paintings than their usual ones. This line of thought somehow leads to a person her boyfriend knows who in turn gives her some information about some Modigliani paintings that are lost somewhere in this world. This gets her brains working and she decides to hunt this lost painting to start work on her thesis. She then feels an urge to tell someone about this. So she writes a postcard to her uncle, Charles Lampeth, a gallery owner. He obviously would love to get his hands on this painting as it would be a valuable prize to display in his gallery. He sends a detective to search for her.

Meanwhile, Dee sets out on a wild goose chase in search of that elusive painting. By coincidence or a pure quirk of fate, several other people get involved in this same mission like Peter Usher, an artist who wants to take revenge on Lampeth, his former employer; Julian Black, who wants to get this painting to impress his father-in-law so that he will invest in his art gallery and so many more people. Who will eventually get the Modigliani?
To find out, read the book yourselves.

Modigliani Scandal‘ is a good read, a treat for those who have a penchant for thrillers.

The book’s pace is always a good one. Follett introduces many characters initially and establishes their situation and their background in the plot. But this surprisingly does not drag the novel’s pace. It adds to its complexity and makes the plot thicken and bubble with an impending thrilling search for a lost treasure. A sense of foreboding about a mystery brewing is clearly established when after receiving Dee’s letter, Charles Lampeth hires a detective. The reader will want to turn the pages to know more and get to the end of this mysterious search.There are several loose ends that are also manifested with the introduction of so many myriad characters which Follett ties up brilliantly in the end. It is amazing to know that so many characters are connected in some way to each other and have one single aim that will fulfill their different goals.  The end brings all these connections a full circle. When the book is nearing its end, if the reader is smart enough, then she/he can guess who gets the painting and the ingenuity behind a well planned and money making scheme.

One small point I loved about this novel is its distinct sense of an old world charm, of history in the first few chapters which merges with the modern art world-its pros and cons.

Modigliani Scandal‘ is divided into four parts and the title of each one is related to painting and gives a glimpse of the basic core of that particular part. I found this aspect quite creative.

There’s one small negative point. Follett has put in several stereotypes about many natives of countries. This is uncalled for and it is sadly reminiscent of several other thriller novels that are liberally sprinkled with such stereotypes-be it about Italians, French, Oriental or British.

P.S. There may be some errors in the plot summary because I read the book long ago and my memory has faltered a bit. For example, I am not sure if Charles Lampeth is Dee’s uncle or father or some other relative. I am 75% sure he is the former.