Colour Code: Books By Female Authors With A Blue Cover

The rains are upon us! The sky overcast. The clouds grey and ready to spill.

The mood is grey, happy, light: whatever floats your boat.

To add to the blues, here is a fun series: Colour Code!

Colour Code gives recommendations based on book covers’ colours. Sometimes, it is okay to judge a book by its cover! Or colour!

It is Monday and we all suffer from the Monday blues! But, I don’t know why blues has such a reputation in the English language. The colour blue certainly doesn’t way weigh me down or give me a bout of moodiness.

Blue can be such a refreshing colour!

Imagine infinite blue skies, punctured with pure cotton clouds!

Imagine a pristine river gushing quietly.

Imagine the rich blue in an ink pot, the nib of the fountain pen dripping.

It is all blue. How can this vividness give anyone sadness? How is there anything dull about blue?

Grey/gray I can imagine being dull.

But blue? No. Just cannot fathom.

But before I start again on rants about blue and its misuse, let’s get back to the topic.

So for the first edition, Colour Code brings to you books with a blue cover written by female authors.

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Aren’t the covers simply gorgeous?

Now, that we are done ogling at them and perhaps changing our mind about blue being dull, let’s see what the books are about, in alphabetical order.

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Circus Folks and Village Freaks

The idea of perfection or of being perfect engulfs us all in its suffocating grip. Our bodies, our work, our dress, our hair, and our everything must be somehow perfect in this deeply flawed society. Such are the contradictory expectations that society foists on us all, egged on particularly by the mass media and mass popular culture. Protagonists in movies, pop culture idols, and even politicians are projected as embodying the perfect. The ideal to achieve, then, is only perfection in all spheres of life.

Ancient Greek playwrights were perhaps one of the first to talk about characters with a deep flaw through the concept of hamartia which means ‘to err.’ Shakespeare’s tragic plays feature protagonists that are wholly defined by flaws such as Hamlet and his indecisiveness, Othello with his jealousy, or Macbeth and his greed. Even popular culture has slowly embraced imperfection, often treating its characters through a more nuanced lens rather than just the dichotomous notion of perfect versus imperfect.

Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal in her prose poetry novel, Circus Folk and Village Freaks, wholly rejects these superficial notions of the perfect ideal and instead portrays 18 different tales of characters who are misunderstood and rejected by society as being out of the ordinary, who we would also label ignorantly as ‘freaks.’

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When society rejects these freaks in the novel, they all find solace and space in a village circus, whose circus master is more than happy to accommodate and make a spectacle out of them.

From Siva, the Snake Man who finds an affinity to reptiles rather than humans, to Miss Rita with her chin full of hair because of hirsutism, from the Siamese twins, Sita and Gita to Miss Luxmi whose passion was throwing darts; all kinds of people could make it big and feel accepted among the peculiar circus folk.

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The Reading Spree: First Time on Kindle

My experiments with Kindle began when a friend, Rajitha, suggested all the merits of Kindle. Thus, I embarked on giving it a try considering I had one lying around but was too old fashioned to try it out.

So I decided to find where this device was hidden in my home and then dedicated June to reading on Kindle.

I must say I am still a sucker for normal, actual books. The feel, the smell and even the action of turning a page was much missed.

But yeah, I must reluctantly admit, Kindle is definitely convenient and light. I see its merits as my dear friend suggested. I have already stored so many books to read on them! My TBR list just got a digital revamp! Sigh! Oh the list is positively infinite now!

The best thing is that I found many Japanese and Korean translations in mobi format. This was what eventually convinced me to give Kindle a try since otherwise these translations are pretty expensive to get as paperbacks!

So the three books I read on Kindle were:

  • We Of The Forsaken World by Kiran Bhat: I got this free copy from Book Sirens. It was not the best of reads but engaging enough with its world building and interconnecting narratives. The book comments on the many environmental problems of the world through its different interlinked stories. Continue reading

The Top 5: Pride Month Reads From India

The Book Cafe had done a post earlier this month on Pride Month Reads talking about five queer literature books from around the world. 

Today, for Pride Month we highlight books from India that talk about diverse queer experiences.

Here are Top 5 LGBTQIA+ Indian books to read and understand different facets of love.

  1. Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar: Translated from Marathi to English by Jerry Pinto, this novel is divided into two parts and set in Pune, Maharashtra. The novel portrays the fluidity of sexuality through two different’s character’s relationship with the same person.
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  2. Kari by Amruta Patil: This dark and gritty graphic novel is about Kari’s relationship with Mumbai and with Ruth.
    Check out more such books set in Mumbai here.
  3. Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar:  This YA novel sensitively portrays the stress, trauma and bullying that a school girl goes through because she is not attracted to boys. It is an excellent read for both parents and teens to broach and understand the issues around homosexuality and Article 377.
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  4. The Roof Beneath Their Feet by Geetanjali Shree: Chachcho and Lalna’s budding relationship on the vast, connected and common terrace of Laburnum House is a beautiful story of female friendship and more.
  5. Mitrachi Gosht by Vijay Tendulkar: Translated from Marathi as A Friend’s Story, is a play, also set n Pune, during the pre-Independence era. It is about a love triangle in a college campus. Like Cobalt Blue, it comments on both the heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

Do you have any other queer literature recommendations? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

 

 

Short Story of the Month: Lavanya and Deepika

Welcome to the seventh short story of the month!

June is Global Pride Month. In 2020, owing to social distancing norms in place across the world, Pride month will be a little different. It will be less parade, and more virtual. Several initiatives have taken up this challenge and tried to create solidarity through various means. 

At The Book Cafe, the short story, Lavanya and Deepika, in focus also has a portrayal of queer characters along with many cool twists!

What is the story about? 

Lavanya and Deepika is written by Shveta Thakrar. It is about the two titular princesses living in a fairy tale kingdom, with their mother, Gulabi.

Their kingdom is attacked and the two princesses must fight to save it. They join forces and their strength: Deepika’s skills with archery and embroidery and Lavanya’s with her spears.

Analysis

The story, like many of Shveta’s other YA writing, has a fairy tale atmosphere. But it has an Indian touch rather than a Grimms’ fairy tale touch.

The story also rejects all kinds of fairy tale conventions such as the damsel in distress trope, beauty as being fair or women characters being witches. It shows sisterly love and bonding between the two protagonists unlike conventional fairy tales that depict the female characters as only scheming against each other. The story portrays that femininity and strength can go together like Deepika’s two skills of embroidery and archery. It also shows a Rani or queen, Gulabi, at the helm of her kingdom managing it with great skill and efficiency, with no need for a king whatsoever.
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The Reading Spree: Kashmir Highlighted

May was a slow and steady month in all aspects: work, the lock down, and even my reading pace. Perhaps it was the stifling heat that brought about this lethargy in all spheres of life.

But I am glad in a way. It is good to slow down. After a long time, I read a book slowly. It had its own magic. I have been reading at least 4 books a month consistently since last August. But this May, I only read two. It was beautiful to do that. I could read 10 pages in a day and still feel like I have learnt so much about the protagonists. I really felt I immersed in the words, stopped and paused to take in a beautiful phrase or to simply enjoy the vivid descriptions (of which were many in the second book I read).

This slow immersion in these two books is what made me glad that I did not be too unrealistic in my reading goals or the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Last year, my goal was to finish 50! Because I had the time and luxury to read endlessly especially in the second half of the year, I could actually complete the goal. But 2020 brought in busier times and so I kept my Goodreads Reading Challenge at first to 25 books and now increased it to 30 books.

These challenges are great to keep and help you to focus on your reading but if you become too ambitious then reading a book can become a chore rather than a pleasure because you become fixated with only numbers rather than the reading experience.

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The Lowland

Spoiler Alert!

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri revolves around love, relationships of loss and political deaths and like her previous novels, is also about cultural amalgamations.

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The novel begins in the 1970s in the flooded lowland of Tollygunge, Calcutta where two brothers, Udayan and Subhash grow up. Udayan is influenced by the Naxalite Movement in his college while Subhash goes on to pursue his studies at Rhode Island in the US.

Things take a drastic turn when the police gun down Udayan mercilessly for his involvement in Naxal activities. His parents then ostracise his wife, Gauri. Pitying Gauri, Subhash takes her back to Rhode Island. In the US, to distract herself from her grief and her pregnancy, Gauri immerses herself in university life, exercising her intelligence to the fullest.

Despite trying to bring a sense of normalcy in their lives by raising a family, and Gauri eventually even pursuing her doctorate with the encouragement of her professor; Udayan’s death is a spectre that still haunts the couple. Their relationship was always one of convenience rather than one of love. The truth of Bela’s (their daughter) parentage is a Damocles sword that particularly unnerves Subhash.

Its climactic revelation opens up a Pandora’s Box in all their lives, shattering any illusions of normalcy the couple might have harboured.

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Guest Post: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo 

Guest Post by Rajitha S

Rajitha is a 29 -year-old from Hyderabad. After working here and there, and tiring out, she is currently relaxing while waiting for inspiration to do something exciting. 


Disclaimer: 

If your masculinity is fragile, this review might make you feel like a victim. You are going to read it as a personal attack on your existence as a male. It could make you restless. You will feel hurt and may express anger and irritation. Please know that this is not about you. It is about the way of life of more than half of the global population and the system of patriarchy that led you to think the way you do, while dictating the lives of every human. It’s not your fault. There is no intended sarcasm either. Really.  

The Life of Every Woman

When you have lived your life as a woman there are some things, many things in fact, which can be added into the manual – ‘What to Expect When You Are a Woman.’ Most of the things included in this manual will hold true to women irrespective of where they were born, raised, their work place or the family they marry into. There are of course, numerous, (I really mean uncountable) extraordinary circumstances that women are forced into, which could only be a bonus in the manual. The book Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is something like that.  

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When you read this book as a woman, there will be at least one situation you have likely been in with small differences here and there. It applies to modern, ancient, rural, urban, privileged, entitled, poor, rich of women– whichever category you wish to put yourself in. It creates a everywoman character. 
Like when young Jiyoung was followed by an unknown boy while on her way home, I remembered the time when a group of boys followed me for several days. I was scared, blamed myself but finally told my mother about it. I didn’t know the boys but some people (at that point I believed that they mattered to me) said I must have done something, because why would or how would boys from another school decide to follow me, among all the girls in my school.  Mine was a girls’ convent school. I was also told, ‘Ohh, you have been doing these things also these days?” and I kept thinking, but what did I do? Later, I just changed the narrative in my head to believe these people. Of course I provoked them, or why would they come after me? 
Just like Jiyoung’s father asked her why she had to attend a class so far away and which ends so late. Also, that she needs to stop wearing skirts so short, and stop smiling at people. 

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Guest Post: The Vegetarian’s Inexplicable Aftertaste 

Guest Post by Rajitha S

Rajitha is a 29 -year-old from Hyderabad. After working here and there, and tiring out, she is currently relaxing while waiting for inspiration to do something exciting. 


When dearie Aakanksha (:P) asked me to review The Vegetarian, (also the one who suggested this read), I first hesitated and then agreed. After that, I took a lot of time to write it. I am still not sure about how to describe this reading experience. There is an unexplainable, pleasing aftertaste.  May be, you can take this as the first reason to read the book.     

The Vegetarian by Han Kang was first published in South Korea in 2007. It was later translated into English and re-published in 2015. Here, I would like to mention that my choice of books then was limited, and also awful. Many years later, with a much-evolved taste in books (promise), I list The Vegetarian as one of my best reads of 2020. 

The aftertaste I was talking about, it lingers for a long time. I’ll tell you why, without revealing many details. 

First, the plot line. The book is set in South Korea and is the story of a woman, Yoeng- Hye who decides to become a vegetarian.

The reason, ‘I had a dream’, she says.

The book is divided into three parts, and each part is narrated from the perspective of three different people. The most interesting aspect here is the tone of narration which varies with the personality of a character. For instance, the first part of the book is from the perspective of a middle-class man, complaining about his wife’s changing lifestyle. It is written in a way that you’d feel he’s sitting across the table and moping about his pathetic life to you personally, seeking pity and approval. This changes in the second part, where the tone becomes slightly more sensitive because, well, I don’t want to give it away. Same with the third part.    

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Between Change and Stillness of Time, Mamang Dai Tells the Legends of Pensam

Stories are an intrinsic part of who we are. They define us; they have been with us since times immemorial. The book, The Legends of Pensam by Mamang Dai tries to recreate something similar through its story- a timeless, universal tale of human togetherness and struggle. Contrary to the title, the novel is not just a collection of folktales or legends. Rather the legends about common people and their deeds that have been passed down from one generation to the next and therefore have become folklore/legends in themselves. The stories of common people are portrayed and interwoven with folktales which make it seem as if the folktales are living and breathing through the lives of the people. 

IMG_20191111_104548141.jpgThe unnamed female narrator has gone back to her hometown in Arunachal Pradesh and is a participant in these stories rather than the storyteller. She also invites her friend, Mona and Jules to visit her village and to meet the people there.

The Legends of Pensam is divided into four parts: Diary of the WorldSongs of the RhapsodistDaughters of the Village, and Matter of Time.

The first part presents an introduction to this world of forests, folklore, and its people. It sets the stage for the characters: the narrator visiting her village and staying there, her inviting Mona, Hoxo and his family.

The second part invites the reader to be part of a dance drama that tells the tale of the white man colonizing these forests and about a violent turn of events. The dance drama is staged for a festival, but also for Mona and Jules. As a reader, you too gaze at one aspect of the culture and are one with the story. The rhapsodist also regales the reader and perhaps even Mona and Jules with other such stories – one where the wind howls and dust swirling confused the rhapsodist; one where he narrates how the Migu and Sirum clans were united by bonds of blood and kinship.

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Pardesi: Salt Houses

Salma Yacoub looked at the coffee cup and knew that something is amiss about the fate of her youngest daughter, Alia. She never read the coffee dregs of her own kin but made an exception here because it was Alia’s wedding day. So what did she do? She decided to tell a lie, to give away only the positive foretelling. 

This paraphrasing is how the novel, Salt Houses, by Hala Alyan, begins. With a lie.

It is also her decision to tell this lie that captivates the reader immediately. As Salma waited for her daughter, she reminisced about her life, about how she ended up in Nablus, fleeing from Jaffa; about her husband’s death and about her three children, Widad, Mustafa, and Alia. Widad was already married and settled in Kuwait and now the youngest was getting married to Atef. Salma spared no expenses. Interestingly, the wedding itself is not described in the story but only the events leading up to it.

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The entire novel is narrated through the perspectives of Salma’s family. Initially, it is her children’s viewpoints that are portrayed and later on her grandchildren and great grandchildren as well.

The novel begins in the 1960s and ends in around 2014. It narrates the history and growth of Salma’s family over 60 years. The one constant in all their perspectives is war, the act of fleeing and resettling. Movement is constant. Each generation has seen war. Salma was the first. Her children were victims of The Six Day War in 1967 which forced Atef and Alia to settle in Kuwait along with her sister, Widad. They had to flee again from Kuwait, when it was invaded by Iraq in August 1990.

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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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The Top 5: Nigerian Women Writers

We all know of Chimamanda Adichie. Many may have read her works, reveled in the feminism of her works and her depiction of Nigeria and its struggles, which are especially beautifully bought out in her two novels, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun.

But Nigeria is also teeming with many other female writers writing in English. While Adichie’s writing is breathtaking, her works often overshadow the other writers.

So this International Women’s Day, The Book Cafe, brings to the limelight five female Nigerian authors that one must read:

1. Buchi Emecheta:

Chinua Achebe seems to embody African literature. English literature syllabus in universities that teach world literature or post colonial literature, undoubtedly include Things Fall Apart by Achebe.

But Buchi Emecheta is not as well known. She was born in Lagos but immigrated to London with her husband. Her works are prolific and portray the sexism of institutions such as marriage and motherhood as well as speak about her own experiences as an immigrant. If you loved Americanah by Adichie, you should give her books her read too! You can borrow her books at the Internet Archive.

2. Flora Nwapa:

Flora Nwapa is another pioneer of Nigerian writing. Her works also lay bare the inherent discrimination within Igbo society. She combines folktales and stories to present modern day narratives of female empowerment. Through her books, the reader gets to see a women’s perspective of Igbo culture which is vastly different from Achebe’a portrayal of  the same culture as it shows a male perspective. You can borrow one of her novels, Women Are Different at the Internet Archive.
Google commemorated her 86th birthday in 2017 as well! 

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The Reading Spree: Hindi Writing

So this year I had set an ambitious goal of reading 50 books on Goodreads for the 2019 Reading Challenge.

Today on 31st December, I finished reading 51 books! YAY! Check out my year in books here at Goodreads.

In 2020, I think I will limit my reading to half of the 2019 ambitious goal: to read 25 books in 2020 because I think 2020 will not be as relaxed as 2019!

By the time December came, I was sure to complete my challenge and so I decided to read a few Hindi novels I have at home. I am not a fast reader of Hindi writing having lost touch with reading in Hindi after college. So I thought December would be a great time to read in Hindi as I can take it slow and steady.

Consequently, I read only 3 books this month but they were all amazing! I had wanted to read one more book, a poetry collection by Dushyant Kumar titled, Saaye Mein Dhoop, but I did not make time for that though I have read it before.

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I had also planned to read Anukriti Upadhay’s short story, Cherry Blossom but was not able to do that either. It is available online as part of one of the issues of The Bombay Literary Magazine and hoping to read it soon!

These are the three novels I read:

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The Hussani Alam House

The Hussain Alam House is about the changing life of Ayman’s (the narrator) house in the Hussaini Alam area of Hyderabad in Telangana.

Ayman speaks of each of the female relatives in her house who were dear to her and played a significant role in her life and her upbringing. These included her great grandmother, Qamar un Nissan or her Nanima; her grandmother, Meher un Nissan; her own mother, Naghma Soz; her sister, Mariam and her foster bua (which means a father’s sister, though in this case it was her grandfather’s adopted foster sister), Khudsia or Khalajaan.

The Good

A chapter is devoted to each of these members. By outlining their importance or her bond with them, Ayman also throws light on the house and the Nawabi culture they followed and on the festivals they celebrated. This also gives a small peek into Hyderabad’s old city and its lanes, buildings and bazaars.

The chapters speak of declining culture and fortune (and the decline in one is related to the decline in the other), of cheerful evenings of storytelling in the courtyard, of a mournful series of deaths, of arguments, secrets and the family drama within. The novel recreates a bygone era.

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The Reading Spree: Indian Women Writing in English

November is done. Unseasonal rains are behind us. Hopefully some coolness and not smog will descend over the city.

As mentioned last month in my October Yellow Book Cover Month Reading Spree post, I had decided to read Indian Women Writers in English.

It was absolute fun to be vicariously traveling from one place to the other through these books, to exploring thoughts and mindsets of varying female protagonists as they face their everyday battles.

So here are the books that made it to my list:

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Pick It Up: The Tiger’s Wife

Pick It Up is a monthly series of book recommendations to help you with what to read next!

This month The Book Cafe recommends The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.

Although Tea Obreht sets The Tiger’s Wife in a fictional place, it is reminiscent of former Yugoslavia. She weaves in magic realism, folklore with the everyday human task of survival.

The protagonist, Natalia and her childhood friend, Zora are headed to execute a good will mission to inoculate children at the Brejevina Orphanage.

On the way there, she receives a pager from her grandmother. On calling her, Natalia finds out that her grandpa had died in a clinic in a town called Zdrevkov.

While she cannot cancel her goodwill mission, she cannot help wonder what her grandpa was doing far away from home in a remote town. She begins to dwell on the past, recollecting her grandpa’s stories about the tiger’s wife and the deathless man.

The narrative then winds its way around two timelines: one where her grandfather is growing up in his home village of Galina and speaks of his encounters with a strange female who is rumoured to be the tiger’s wife and his stranger encounters with the deathless man; the other in the present where Natalia is straddling between her past and her present while inoculating children and also trying to convince the labourers in the farms to send their sick children to the hospital.

The novel explores pasts within pasts and explores changing boundaries and nations, notions of folklore and how old wives tales develop among communities.

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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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Blurb Appreciation Reviews: When the Doves Disappeared

The Blurb Appreciation Reviews presents its fifth review!

When the Doves Disappeared written originally in Finnish by Sofi Oksanen. The novel is set in Estonia during WWII and later on when it became part of the Soviet Union.

This was my first novel I read that was set in Estonia. I read it as part of the Women in Translation month in August. Take a look at the other books that I read in that month!

The novel is translated into English by Lola M. Rogers.

The Blurb:

As the blurb points out, When the Doves Disappeared takes place through two timelines. This parallel style is quite effective in making the reader think and figure out the pieces of what is happening or has happened to the story’s main characters, Edgar and Roland.

The novel explores a different, lesser known side of history namely Estonia’s struggle in World War 2 especially against the Nazi rule and its eventual capture by Soviet forces. The Soviet side had initially come to Estonia as saviours but later they also turned into captors of all Estonians, denying them freedom.

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Swarnlata

Translated from Assamese by Udayon Misra, Swarnlata is a historical fiction about three girls growing up in Nagaon in Assam during the 1800s’ in the Pre-Independence era. It is written by Tilottoma Misra.

The eponymous character is the daughter of Nagaon’s Assistant Commissioner, Gunabhiram Barua, who has accepted the Brahmo faith and married a widow, Bishnupriya, which at that time was a revolutionary and scandalous step to take.

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Lakhi is widowed at a very tender age, even before her marriage takes place. With Gunabhiram and her father’s support, she decides to continue with her education, which she had started with Swarnalata and her private tutor.

Tora’s mother, Golapi, converted to Christianity when the Baptist Missionary, Miles Bronson, provided her with a job at the mission school at Nagaon as a chowkidarni after her husband’s death. She saw faith in this religion and Tora followed her mother’s footsteps by studying in that school and eventually becoming a teacher there as well. However, Tora does suffer from self doubt about the faith’s complicity with the British rule and its ever increasing cruelty. This facet of Tora’s personality brings out a significant idea of how and why people converted and even if natives did become Christians, they were still considered savage subjects.

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