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.

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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 as well. 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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Red Sorghum

The opening of Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum – a child of fifteen setting out to join his foster father’s mission to ambush the Japanese – sets the tone for the rest of the novel: not only violent but intensely detailed violence.

Within that violence is embedded the story of three generations of a Chinese family that lived before and through the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Cultural Revolution up to the 1970s.
The part which is most emphasised on is the first one: the life of the family before and through the Second Sino-Japanese War.

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Quick Reviews: Funny Boy

Funny Boy: A Novel in Six Stories by Shyam Selvadurai is just that!
It is a collection of short stories that are interlinked with each other and that is what ironically makes it a novel. The six short stories seem episodic but that is deceptive and it is actually quite a fun exercise to connect the dots in each vignette as if you are putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

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Guest Post: The Thief

I have read just one other book that was translated from Japan – The Cape and Other Stories from the Japanese Ghetto written by the acclaimed author Kenji Nakagami, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

So when I saw a copy of a book that was a translation yet again from Japan titled The Thief  by Fuminori Nakamura; translated by Satoku Izumo and Stephen Coates, I jumped at it.

Was it worth my time? Yes and no – because this is a short and easy read.

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Guest Post: Weep Not, Child by  Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’

First Guest Post of the Blog:

Written by Linda Shaji Pauline.

“Fear not, read”

That is how I encouraged myself to pick up a Kenyan (notice I do not refer to this as an African) classic, Weep Not, Child.

Why? Because I thought that this work would be a cliché as it was one of first works of post colonial literature.

Also never have been a fan of “classics”. But yes, the story is rather simple, and sticks to the use of long, oft repeated themes of post colonial literature like redemption of one’s oppressed life through western education / Christian God, that colonialism was never any good at assimilating with the local population, but were merely diving cultures, etc. These themes have seeped into our imagination since pioneers like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’ thought it was important to write about them.

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Rumtum the Sailor

Bored of all the run of the mill kiddy books that flood stores? Tired of the same old, oft repeated rhymes?

How about picking up a beautifully illustrated, Rumtum The Sailor, which tells the story of a determined sailor father who resolutely tries to reach home from an unexpected halt at a deserted island.
As he relentlessly tries to get back to his family, he is unknowingly accompanied by none other than a mischievous octopus!

Will Rumtum get back to his family in time? Read and find out!

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Of Dogs and Walls

The Penguin Modern series presents a brilliant collection of stories from authors which you might not encounter in your everyday bestseller list. Plus it is super cheap! What more could you want?

One title from the series that I recently bought was two short stories by Yuko Tshuhima. I have never read this author before. I have heard of Yukio Mishima, but yet to read him as his books are so hard to get here! So I was excited to find this gem on an online website and its price was hard to resist even with the delivery charge!

The book uses the title of the second short story as its main title: Of Dogs and Walls.

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Bitter Wormwood

Bitter Wormwood. How does the title sound to you? Bitter? Would you ever pick up a novel named so?

Don’t judge a book by its title!

This is because the novel, Bitter Wormwood by Easterine Kire, deftly deals with the issue of freedom of Nagaland and the movement to form an independent country. Beginning with a gripping prologue, and then winding down to a bildungsroman style, it then traces the beginnings of the movement through the character Mose’s development.

The writing is crisp, clear and action packed taking a panoramic view of the conflict and Mose’s life. They move simultaneously. It begins with his childhood which is as the cliche goes, quite innocent and blissful (there is a poignant scene where the only thing that concerns Mose is his school, teaching his mother and grandmother English and helping them or moments of listening to the radio together!). Mose’s only struggle is his school till India’s Independence comes closer and the idea of Nagaland being part of India becomes an problem. The growing dissent is marked by his growing years that disrupts him and his whole life be it family, school or his villagers.

Like his childhood, the conflict is also small but then grows its tentacles as the idea of remaining independent grows further without any proper discussion or response from the other side.

Soon violence and crime take over as the major response from the monolithic Indian government is deploying the armed forces and use of fear tactics.

Mose gets swept up by this tide as well and soon joins the rebels in his teenage angst (though I do not think that the conflict or his joining can be trivalised by that phrase!)

By the end, we see how the movement has become old, warped, lost some of its initial principles, and petered into a conflict among its own people rather than targeting the bigger picture. This is mirrored through Mose’s old age as well.

In the last part, we also see the conflict from the soldier’s perspective albeit briefly. We see how stereotypes can be broken about each side through Mose’s grandchildren and I feel that that is the best message which the book can give to its readers because both sides need to stop this kind of prejudice towards each other.

I would recommend this book to all, just for everyone to know a little bit more about India’s history that is routinely swept under the carpet because it is not appetising. It helps us to know a little bit more about Nagaland, a part of the north east, that is routinely stereotyped against! It is something you will never find in a history textbook, so might as well read it in the form of an engaging and quick to read novel!

And what about the title?

Read the novel and find the significance or its symbolism on your own! There, I have already given away a clue: that it has some significance!

Buy Bitter Wormwood here:

http://zubaanbooks.com/shop/bitter-wormwood/

A Fabled Tale

For all the Kpop and Kdrama fans, fancy a quick dip into Korean literature?

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a short novella by the beloved South Korean author, Sun-Mi Hang.

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Accompanied by very cute illustrations, the simple story is about a hen, aptly named Sprout, who does not want to lay eggs for human consumption anymore and instead wants to raise a chick on her own. Her determination to follow her dream is fraught with danger and several obstacles. Will she be able to achieve her ultimate dream? Borrow the book from the library and find out!

Constructed like a fable, the story’s myriad characters are like metaphors that readers-both children and adults-can relate to. In the simplest way possible, the story talks about following one’s dreams despite what the world tells you, the need to find your own identity and that it is alright to not fit in with the world around you, or the ultimate importance of letting go of people and things even those that are the closest to you. These may sound cliched or philosophical ideas, but the author wraps these themes under the guise of an animal fable and is not trying to rub those ideas into your heads or is not consciously trying to teach you those moral lessons.

The novella stands somewhere between children’s literature, a fable and philosophy book. It will remind the readers of other favourite animal classics like The Wind in the Willows or Charlotte’s Web or the evergreen The Little Prince, which similarly deals with larger existential issues through the eyes of a little boy.

In this case, it is through the eyes of a hen on a farm and her chick. So sit back on a cloudy Sunday afternoon and enjoy this quick and easy read!

(Side Promotion: Read my review of The Little Prince herehttps://bookreviewsgalore.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/a-princely-read/

Read the first 20 pages of the book, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly here:

https://oneworld-publications.com/media/preview_files/9781780745343.pdf

Read a short interview by the author, Sun-Mi Hang here:

https://oneworld-publications.com/media/wysiwyg/Reading-Guides/hen-who-dreamed-she-could-fly-reading-guide-draft-3.pdf