Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko

Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko by Patrick Neate revolves around a fictional country, Zambawi, ruled by President Adini, who declared himself as President, after his own successful coup launched with his Commander, Indigo Bulimi.

Now another revolution is brewing and at its helm is the rebel Black Boot Gang, headed by Adini’s own bodyguard, Isaiah. Caught between all of the politics of the country are a great many characters from Musa, the witch doctor to Adini’s own son, Enoch; to Rujeko Tula, daughter of the exiled Presiden Tula of Zambawi’s neigbouring country, Mozola; and the titular Mr. Jim Tulloh who comes to teach in a school in Zambawi.

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The Good:

Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko‘s strongest point is its tongue in cheek and straightforward humour that clinically satirises the wrongs of the imaginary country. All is met with a questioning and humourous eye: be it Adini’s success and his continued President ship or the entitlement of the white people residing in Zambawi or worse, the blatant and biased involvement of the British forces in the country’s politics.

The imagination put into creating Zambawi’s history, language, flag, its culture (such as the flatulence inducing drug, gar!) and folklore is commendable.

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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 Artist of Disappearance

The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai thrives on the motif of disappearance. The epigraph (by Jorge Luis Borges) of the book,

“One thing alone does not exist – oblivion,”

similarly brings in an oft debated idea of what stays on eternally and what disappears from this world. I would think, contrary to what Borge points out, oblivion is the ONE thing that is absolutely constant. A person cannot protect or fight against oblivion. It is inevitable.

Yet the three short stories of The Artist of Disappearance, question whether oblivion is in fact inevitable and if it is possible to fight it.

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The first story, The Museum of Final Journeys, is about a Civil Servant Officer, who recently finished his training and is now traveling to a remote place: his first posting. Soon the banality of his office and work overtakes his life and is only broken when an old faithful caretaker of the erstwhile Mukherjee estate nearby requests the officer to take over a now crumbling museum that is replete with bric-a-brac collected from all over the world. The caretaker even takes the officer to the equally dilapidated estate and shows him the various rooms filled with these curious objects – carpets and rugs from across the world, stuffed birds and animals, miniature paintings from bygone Indian empires, fans and kimonos, myriad masks, weapons of war and much more.

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A Strangeness in my Mind

Reminiscent of other novels by Orhan Pamuk and their lovely rendering of Istanbul, A Strangeness in my Mind, also pays homage to the city.

Seen mainly through the eyes of the character, Mevlut, comes to Istanbul in 1969 at the age of 12, to live with his father, who sells yoghurt during the day and boza (a fermented drink) at night. He and his father are among the hundreds of villagers who migrated from remote villages to Istanbul in search of a better income and life.

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Mevlut thoroughly enjoys it as a child there, looking wondrously at the city’s intricate streets and its inhabitants while accompanying his father on his rounds; picking up the nitty gritties of the job: the way to behave, the way to entice a customer to buy, the manner in which to extol your yoghurt or boza. Being in school presents a completely different set of challenges especially due to the class divide and him having to work after his school. Nonetheless, his time with his cousins and their mother, is something he looks forward to, particularly with cousin Suleyman, who is always ready to give Mevlut the benefit of the doubt.

The novel weaves its way through the various main events that occur in Mevlut’s life such as him dropping out of school, or his marriage to Rayiha which has its own twist, or his time selling ice cream or being a waiter or being robbed during one of his rounds selling boza among many others .

A Strangeness in my Mind is a peculiar bildungsroman or a coming of age novel that traces Mevlut’s growth. Yet Pamuk plays with the narrative’s style deftly such that the novel is not a mere chronicler of life from birth to death.

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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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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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Travel Diaries: Circle of Karma

The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden is the first novel written by a woman in Bhutan. Using simple language and straightforward plot line, the story weaves around Tsomo and her literal and metaphorical journey from her childhood to her old age.

Set in the mid-20th century Bhutan, The Circle of Karma‘s protagonist is Tsomo, who lives in Tang valley in Bumthang (one of the districts of Bhutan), is burdened with household chores and envious of her brothers getting a religious education from her scholarly father, who was a gomchen (a religious scholar/monk).

She deeply loves and respects her mother. She fears her father. She wants to learn to read and write but being a girl, she is not allowed to do so.

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Her observant nature though allows us a glimpse into several cultural aspects around her such as the nature of society and its bias towards women or the rituals that happen around her in her society.

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The Gospel of Yudas

Watch out: Spoilers Ahead: 

Set amidst the Naxalite movement during the Emergency in the 1980s’ in Kerala, The Gospel of Yudas by K.R. Meera is a story that revolves around the two lovelorn protagonists, Yudas who is lost in love in the past and Prema who is deeply affected by the Naxalite ideology and falls head over heels in love with Yudas, whom she in her youthfulness dreams of as an ideal Naxalite who will save her.

Yudas’ past looms large in his psyche, affects his movements and his mindset. To try and run away from his past, he moves from place to place and dredges corpses drowned in different water bodies close by to eke out a living. He lives frugally and through his nomadic life attempts to wander away from his past – a past that is marred by betrayal, vicious torture and loss of his beloved. Yudas was tortured for participating in the Naxal movement and his betrayal haunts him much like his Christian namesake, Judas. It is this betrayal that does not allow him to accept Prema’s infatuation. He runs away from her while she keeps searching for him far and wide, trying to uncover the secret that lurks in his eyes and shapes his rejections.

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Translated into English from Malayalam by Rajesh Rajamohan, The Gospel of Yudas is a short and quick read that is flush with depth and metaphors.

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Blurb Appreciation Reviews: Boats on Land

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

The Blurb:

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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.

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Travel Diaries: The Ships

In the Honduran novel, The Ships by the Honduran author, Roberto Quesado, the protagonist, Lopez Guillermo is proud to be working on the pineapple plantation for the Standard Fruit Company despite being a city person. That is because there are not many jobs that pay well in the city.

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What he would like to do is write but he is not sure if that too will bring in the money. However, that does not stop him from always thinking about how to write about certain things that are happening around him such as when he visits the town of El Porvenir, he thinks about how to write about that town where one is greeted by headless hands. He is always thinking about how to make his writing interesting and unique even though we do not really see him writing.

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Pardesi: Children of the Revolution

Guest post by Linda Shaji-Pauline:

Linda Shaji-Pauline, a fellow feminist and a rice lover, who had an affinity for post-colonial literature but now realises that there is much more to read as well. When she’s not at work, her motto is, “will walk for food.” You can often find her walking around all over the city in search of that new restaurant. She is still undecided if she loves music or books more but agrees that together they make the best combination. Together they make her life in finance very tolerable.


I love debuts, and why not? There is a new author / musician / composer / actor whose art is to be explored by their audience.
Dinaw Mengestu’s 2007 book, Children of the Revolution, captured my attention in a second hand book sale for not just being a debut but also for being written by an immigrant writer. Dinaw Mengestu is Ethiopian-American. This was the first book that I was reading that had a connection to Ethiopia. I do not consider it Ethiopian in nature, it is still American.
Written in a first person narrative, the story is that of Sepha Stephanos who left Ethiopia as a refugee simply seeking survival in America. He does not bring along with him the great American dream, he simply wants to be invisible enough to survive. Sepha survives on his meagre income earned by running his simple grocery / general store. It is not the best store in the neighbourhood as he frankly attests.

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Blurb Appreciation Reviews: The Ayah and Other Stories

Welcome to the first Blurb Appreication Review:

Confused about what it is?
Click here before reading on!

The Blurb:

About The Blurb:

The above blurb says it all and I feel that I have nothing much to add about the setting and themes of the stories.

But I would like to focus your attention to the picture at the bottom of the back cover. Looks scary, right?

Well it is meant to be.

Sri Lanka, according to many myths, was supposed to have been ruled by rakshashas or demons. The picture you see at the bottom is the Naga Rakshasa mask (Snake Demon mask) which is worn during rituals or performances to exorcise the demons or the rakshasas. Notice the many snakes on the top of the mask!

Now that is what I call a kick ass blurb-it not only tells you what the book is about but entices you with a bonus picture too that lets you know more about the setting!

For more information on the rakshash masks: click here and here!

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Musically Yours: After Dark

I am slowly starting to read some Murakami. The first book of his that I read was Strange Library which was indeed strange and had such a beautiful cover featuring a library card!

Next I read Desire, part of the Vintage Mini Series, which had five of his short stories. I absolutely adored that book! Read my review here!

Next up was After Dark, which one of my colleagues gave me. I did not mind reading it since she said it was only 200 pages long. I am going through a phase where I somehow cannot commit to books that are too long because I do not get time to read them!

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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!

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