James and the Giant Peach

I picked up a Roald Dahl book, James and the Giant Peach, after what seems like an eternity. And I only did it because it seamlessly became part of the October Yellow Book Cover Month. And what an absolute delight the book was! Not since reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have I read a Dahl book and this one was equally quirky and fun. It felt like going back to my childhood. What a fun, childlike and nostalgic read it was!

So what is James and the Giant Peach about?

It is about the eponymous James who had an absolutely terrific life living by the sea with his parents but in an unfortunate yet bizarre incident, (getting eaten by a pair of rhinoceros, no less) his parents die and now James has to live with his terrible aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. They treat him poorly, making him constantly do chores, starving, abusing and punishing him. Worse still, they live on top of a hill, far away from his beloved sea and his dastardly aunts do not allow him to go down this isolated hill and meet or play with other children. And that is the worst kind of treatment any child can be given – to cut a child off from other kids his age is nothing short of abuse and exploitation.

One fine day, James comes across a rather strange man in the garden. The man hands him tiny yet colourful beans and gives precise instructions on how to use them. But as luck would have it, James slips and the beans scatter about and he is too slow in retrieving them.

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Seeing Red

!!!! Spoilers Ahead!!!!

I had diligently followed the idea of Women in Translation Month in August and the last book in my list was the intensely terrifying Seeing Red by Chilean author, Lina Meruane.

(On a side note: Click here and see the other books that were part of my Women in Translation month)

Translated from Spanish Megan McDowell, Seeing Red, narrates the story of Lucina, a Chilean national, who moved to New York and is pursuing her PhD. One night at a party, something strange – yet something that she has been forewarned about – happens!

Her eyes haemmorage; blood gushes through her veins in her eyes leaving her vision clouded. She returns home with her partner, Ignacio, trying to make sense of this new reality. The months that follow show Lucina navigating through this new found blindness: they move to a new place and she tries to orient herself there, she goes back to Chile for a vacation where her relatives provide her with unsolicited advice about her impending eye operation. Even her parents who are themselves doctors, are stunned by Lucina’s illness.

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Musically Yours: Music in Solitude

Aranya is chaotic.

Ishan systematic.

Ishan is a family person.

Aranya questions the idea of family.

Ishan is spiritual.

Aranya a feminist.

Now I know what you are thinking: that this is just going to be some modern run-of-the-mill opposites attract love story.

Fortunately not!

Because Music in Solitude by Krishna Sobti, translated from Hindi by Vasudha Dalmia, is not a love story, but rather a loving tale of two elderly individuals, Ishan and Aranya, who are in the autumn of their lives and yes you guessed it, are complete opposites. Yet it is their age and the life that that brings along in it’s wake, which helps them come together. Not to mention that they stay in the same building in Delhi!

Originally titled as Samay Sargam, the novel stitches together episodes from the two protagonists’ lives. Especially the time spent together discussing myriad topics over tea, lunches or dinners!

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Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth

*********SPOILERS***********

Right at the beginning of Aruna Nambiar’s Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth, we know that the protagonist, 11 year old Geetha, is going to change. The third person narrator tells us that much.

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In a wave of childhood relish, Geetha, who lives in Mumbai (then Bombay), is looking forward to her annual summer vacation with her entire joint family in Amabalkunnu in Kerala where she gets to play and eat endlessly with her cousins. And this time, it is going to be even more promising since she is going to spend the entire vacation at her mother’s parents’ house (who are far more liberal and fun) rather than dividing the vacation between her mother’s and father’s parents (who are stricter and make the kids follow a rigorous schedule even in vacation!)

But something has changed this time around. Her sister and cousin, Minnie and Divya, refuse to play with her and indulge in their own secretive rendezvous considering Geetha too immature for whatever they are doing. As a result, Geetha is almost friendless this vacation and turns to the boys, her brother and cousin, Raju and Vicky, for company. But their endless devotion to cricket utterly bores her.

So what do you think Geetha will do now during her summer vacation?
Read on!

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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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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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When We Were Orphans

Typical of Kazuo Ishiguro’s themes, When We Were Orphans, which is set mostly in the 1930s England while also hovering over to Shanghai, deals with the diminishing of one’s memories and the protagonist, Christopher Banks, makes a conscious attempt to try and recollect them and tell his story.

Through these recollections we see how he lived in Shanghai and how he had to come back home to England due to his parents going missing.

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Guest Post: Purple Hibiscus

About the Reviewer:

Linda Shaji-Pauline is a feminist with a love for post-colonial literature. 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 first read Purple Hibiscus during my undergraduate studies as part of a reading list. This was the first time we were introduced to English literature from the African continent. With the deadline arriving for a book report, I desperately tried searching for a cheap book out of the list that was available in the local bookstore. I figured that I would use the remaining change for a snack or so, not realising that this would turn out to be one of my favourite reads! I believe I’ve read it four times at least.

So with such a biased stance, I believe I’m all set to review Purple Hibiscus yet again.

Adichie has mentioned before that she’s been influenced by one of Nigeria’s greatest post-colonial authors – Chinua Achebe. This strikes the reader the minute we read the first line, “Things started to fall apart……”

So what is the novel about?

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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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Vintage Minis: Desire by Murakami

Vintage Minis is a series launched in 2017 by Penguin that is characterised by its brevity and universal themes of what makes us human.

Desire is the theme the publishing house chose for Haruki Murakami’s five short stories that are taken from three of his following short story collections:

  • Elephant Vanishes
  • Blind Willows, Sleeping Women
  • Men Without Women

While I did not really go looking for the theme of desire in each short story, I did enjoy all five of them since each had its own unique tale to tell.

Starting with The Second Bakery Attack that is narrated as an anecdote of the past of how a newly married couple found itself gnawed by a hunger that they had never known before and which they could only satisfy through a curious robbery!

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Quick Reviews: The Plague

Albert Camus is well known for his Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, through which he pioneered the idea of the absurd and made a relatively lesser known Greek mythic figure, Sisyphus, into a worldwide celebrity for the absurd task.

Even in his classic 1947 novel, The Plague or La Peste (in French), he uses the motifs of absurdism predominantly.

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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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