The House That Spoke by Zuni Chopra

Imagine living in a house as old as time, with a living and breathing library at your disposal, an ornate fireplace, and an armchair to sit back for hours and read. No, I am not talking about the library from Beauty and the Beast. But yes, this could easily be a dream for all book lovers, especially when cooped up indoors during the pandemic. Who would not want a beautiful house where you could while away hours on an end, as time passes slowly by?

Soon to turn 15, Zoon Razdan, luckily has exactly that in Zuni Chopra’s YA novel, The House That Spoke. She lives with her mother, Shanti, in Srinagar in their ancestral house. Her grandma lives close by, down the street. Zoon loves her home. Her favourite place in the house is the library where she loves spending her mornings and having some noon chai. Thus, when one day Zoon finds a realtor, Mr. Qureishi in her house, all hell breaks loose and strains her relationship with her mother. Zoon then embarks on an adventure to stop her mother from selling the house. To help out, she has a bunch of curious and unlikely friends along with her shy and newly found friend, Altaf. Altaf is Shanti’s friend, Lameeya’s son.

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The House That Spoke is suffused with a fairy tale atmosphere that is a cross between Beauty and the Beast and the Chronicles of Narnia because her own historic house is a portal to both adventure and danger. Despite this magical element, Zoon’s adventures and life are tangled with the dangers that anyone living in Srinagar might face from acts of terrorism to government and army excesses. Chopra portrays the ‘normal’ in Kashmir through Zoon’s eyes: from stray shooting to a bomb blast. The fact that even a 15 year old knows how to navigate through this terror and thinks of it every time she crosses the street to see her grandma, her tathi, manifests the way in which the state has been paralysed with violence and how successive governments have failed it. Hence, the magic evoked in The House That Spoke is fraught with the realities of everyday life, of the darkness that engulfs the state and how Zoon, in trying to save her house, must also save her home, her state from this inexplicable darkness.

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The Top 5: Pride Month Reads

June is celebrated as Pride Month. This particular month was chosen to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. While the origins of Pride Month definitely lie in America, it is celebrated globally. And this year, it has gotten an online flavour to it because of the COVID 19 pandemic. Several pride parades and celebrations had to be cancelled and go virtual. Instagram, in collaboration with The Queer Muslim Project, has developed a Well Being Guide to help cope during these trying times.

Literature has always provided a space for expression for all communities and LGBTQIA+ is no exception.

So, let’s celebrate Pride Month with The Book Cafe’s The Top 5 Pride Month Reads!

  1. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi: This moving manga portrays a protagonist’s struggle with her own demons, societal norms and expectations as well as depression. In the course of the story, the protagonist also explores her sexuality, breaking away from her own conditioned notions around sex.  Read my complete review here.
  2. One Last Drink at Guapa by Saleem Haddad: The novel opens on an explosive note. The protagonist, Rasa is caught in bed with his lover, Taymour by Rasa’s grandmother. You might think all hell may break loose now. But the story then unfolds slowly depicting Rasa’s growth and love for Taymour. Intertwined within the story is not just Rasa grappling with his homosexuality but also with the idea of his Arab identity. This is  a must read.
    Read my complete review here.
  3. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai: Set in Sri Lanka, this coming of age novel is about Arije and his different experiences around ideas of masculinity and sexuality are portrayed against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan Civil War.
    Read my complete review here.
  4. Zami by Audre Lorde: This biomythography traces Lorde’s own life experiences right from her childhood. The debilitating poverty she faces later as a black lesbian woman is highlighted along with her political sensibilities. It is a heartfelt and deeply moving memoir of sorts of her life, her community and country. It is also a must read to perceive the challenges and threats faced by the black community.
    Read my complete review here.
  5. Seahorse by Janice Pariat: Inspired or rather a retelling of the Neptune and Pelops relationship, this novel creates nothing less than pure beauty through Nem and Nicholas’ tender, fleeting love affair in Delhi, India. The watery metaphors it elicits as well as the literary and art references are a delight to indulge in. This novel gives one pure, aching bliss.IMG_20200604_193240129.jpg

If you are hungering for more books to read, here are three more recommendations:
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Short Story of the Month: Dilli Ki Sair by Rashid Jahan

Welcome to the fourth Short Story of the Month!

This is quite a late post! But, just in time to celebrate international women’s day. Me being my skeptical self am a little wary of celebrating such days where celebrating women is reduced to having ridiculous sales or discounts rather than having any constructive discussions on women empowerment or equality.

Leaving that aside, this short story of the month is all about smashing the male gaze. This month let us read, Rashid Jahan’s Dilli Ki Sair or A Trip to Delhi. It was written originally in Urdu around 1932.

What is the story about?

Dilli Ki Sair was published in the anthology, Angaarey. The story is about Malka Begum who had taken an adventurous trip from Faridabad to Delhi. In the story, she is recounting this adventure to her female friends.

Analysis

Today, travelling from Faridabad to Delhi is a daily routine for lakhs of people, including women. But back then when the story was penned it was in all probably a rarity for a woman to travel. In the story, she does not travel alone. She had traveled to Delhi with her husband but was left alone with the luggage at the large Delhi Railway Station while her husband went to pay a visit to the station master. It is then that Malka Begum talks about what she has seen. She talks about how the men react to her, the woman sitting alone on the station. This is painfully real even today. A woman sitting alone on train stations will be seen suspiciously and she will be eyed by countless men.

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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 Top 5: Female Bildungsroman Novels

If you have been following The Book Cafe posts, you may have noticed about how I have been trying to read more female writers and how many of their novels have had a sense of growth and change in the female characters which makes them qualify as a bildungsroman novel. A bildungsroman novel can be loosely defined as a coming of age novel focusing on the protagonist’s formative years or a novel that highlights a physical or psychological growth and change.

Often, these bildungsroman novels have a male protagonist and their specific growth. But in this post I would like to highlight my top 5 picks of female bildungsroman novels!

Come take a look!

5. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez:

This is a heart wrenching true story of three Mirabel sisters who became legends because of their defiance during the gaunt Trujillo regime in Dominican Republic. It is not just about their rebellious years but also about their innocent childhood, their family life and how they grew into the symbols that they have become today.

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Read my full review here.

4. Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden:

This one is a debut novel in English from the renowned Bhutanese author, Kunzang Choden and she takes us to join Tshomo’s journey towards her acceptance of her self and her spiritual love.

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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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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.

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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. The Reverend also slowly cultivates Devanna’s love for botany and education. Simultaneously, Devanna falls in love with Devi. But he aspires to become a doctor and then 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 view of so many aspects of the various 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 and the two World Wars etc.

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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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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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