September Reading – Monthly Analysis

I haven’t had much time to write lately, but I did get in quite a bit of reading last month. Here’s a compilation of the books I read in September – as usual, a sharp contrast in the genres and themes. Six non-fiction books, three fiction, a collection of short stories, and a poetry book. Two kindle books, with the majority read as paperbacks. There was one Marathi book and one translated book (Bangla to English translation) which added some variety to the month’s literary pile. A large number of the month’s reads comprised regional literature from India. The birthday bookathon is almost coming to an end (about a month and a half to go). I have been a tad busy to write reviews for all of them. Here are a few of the book reviews I managed to jot down; will get to the remaining in the coming days.

1) The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey – Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar (Review coming up)

2) Murder In The City – Supratim Sarkar

https://curiouscat99.wordpress.com/2018/09/08/murder-in-the-city-book-review/

3) Tell Me Your Real Story – Savita Nair

https://curiouscat99.wordpress.com/2018/09/16/tell-me-your-real-story-book-review/

4) Animals, Inc. – Kenneth Tucker and Vandana Allman

https://curiouscat99.wordpress.com/2018/09/20/animals-inc-book-review/

5) Kudos – Rachel Cusk

https://curiouscat99.wordpress.com/2018/09/22/kudos-book-review/

6) A Year in Himachal – Humera Ahmed  (Review coming up)

7) Nairobi, Then and Now – Stephen and Bhavna Mills  (Review coming up)

8) Islands in Flux – Pankaj Sekhsaria  (Review coming up)

9) Zopala – Va. Pu. Kale  (Review coming up)

10) Run to Realise – Abhishek Mishra  (Review coming up)

11) Bookless in Baghdad – Shashi Tharoor  (Review coming up)

 

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Writer Wednesday – Colette

A feature on the French novelist, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. A movie with Keira Knightley in the titular role will be out soon.

Tomes and Tales

“Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.” French writer Colette’s quote strikes a chord with all animal lovers. Our featured writer for this week is the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, who wore many hats as mime, actress and journalist, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.

Colette was born in Yonne, Burgundy. At the age of twenty she married author and publisher Henry Gauthier-Villars, better known by the nom de plume, Willy. Colette’s first four novels appeared under her husband’s name – four books from the Claudine stories – Claudine à l’école (1990), Claudine à Paris (1901), Claudine en ménage (1902), and Claudine s’en va (1903). The series takes the reader through the coming of age of the titular character – a fifteen year old from a village in Burgundy to the literary salons of Paris at the turn of the century. The stories are semi-autobiographical…

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Wednesday RDP – FEAST

It’s my day for fixing the prompt. As the ragtag community crosses a century of daily prompts over the last three months, join in by composing a post using the word of the day.

Hope everyone’s having a sumptuous week. The Ragtag Community completed a century over the weekend, having set over a hundred prompts in the three months since its inception. This calls for a celebration!

Our word for today is “feast” . Indulge in your creativity and let us gorge on the lovely articles you come up with using the day’s prompt. Let’s set the banquet for all. Cook up a story, compose a poem, click photographs, share your musings – treat us to your interpretation of the prompt in words or pictures.

You know the rules. Use “ragtag daily prompt” , “RDP” , and “feast” as tags. Add “photo” if you’re sharing a picture, as specific tags make your posts more accessible to other bloggers. Pingback your posts to this page or copy-paste your links in the comment thread here. And while you’re around, browse through what your fellow bloggers have come up…

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Writer Wednesday – Thich Nhất Hanh

A feature on the global spiritual leader and writer on mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh. Check out some of his books, if you haven’t read him already.

Tomes and Tales

~ “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.”

~ “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

~ “It takes time to practice generosity, but being generous is the best use of our time.”thich-nhat-hanh-hand-mudra

Our featured personality for this week is the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhất Hanh. The global spiritual leader, revered for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings, was born as Nguyễn Xuân Bảo in the city of Huế in Central Vietnam. He entered the monastery at Từ Hiếu temple at age sixteen, and graduated from Báo Quốc Buddhist academy, from where he received training in the Vietnamese traditions of Mahayana Buddhism and Thiền Buddhism, and was ordained as a monk in 1949.

In 1956, Hanh was named editor-in-chief of Vietnamese Buddhism, the periodical of the  Giáo Hội…

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Wednesday Prompt – SOBRIQUET

It’s my day for fixing the daily prompt. Join in everyone, and contribute a blog-post using the word of the day.

A very good day to the blogging world! Our impetuously named ragtag community is inching towards its centenary prompt.

Our word for today is “sobriquet” (/ˈsoʊbrɪkeɪ/ SOH-bri-kay) – a nickname, sometimes assumed, but often given by another. Distinct from a pseudonym, it usually is a familiar name used in place of a real name without the need of explanation, often becoming more familiar than the original name.

What comes to your mind when you hear or think of a sobriquet? Any interesting anecdotes to share of your own? Tell us a story or compose a poem; show us your interpretation of the prompt in words or pictures.

You know the rules. Use “ragtag daily prompt” , “RDP” , and “sobriquet” as tags. Add “photo” if you’re sharing a picture, as specific tags make your posts more accessible to other bloggers. Pingback your posts to this page or copy-paste your links in the…

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Wednesday Prompt : OEUVRE

Wednesday is my day for setting the ragtag prompt. Here’s our word for today – “oeuvre”. Join in and compose a blog-post using the day’s prompt.

WOW!! It’s our 90th prompt today! The ragtaggers body of work has come this far with the enthusiasm of the beautiful blogging community meticulously posting each day.

Our prompt for today is “oeuvre” .  What comes to your mind when you think about this word? Narrate an incident, cook up a story, compose a poem or song, click a picture. Take us across the worlds of music, arts, literature, and tell/show us what the prompt means to you.

You know the rules. Use “ragtag daily prompt” , “RDP” , and “oeuvre” as tags. Add “photo” if you’re sharing a picture, as specific tags make your posts more accessible to other bloggers. Pingback your posts to this page or copy-paste your links in the comment thread here. And while you’re around, browse through what your fellow bloggers have come up with using the day’s prompt.

Feel free to read, write, click, share. We…

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Writer Wednesday – Rachel Cusk

On experimental writers and their works.

Tomes and Tales

Our feature for today is an author I was recently introduced to. Rachel Cusk is a Canadian-born novelist and writer who spent her early childhood in the United States, and currently resides and works in the United Kingdom. She has written eight novels and three non-fiction books.

Her first novel, Saving Agnes, published at the age of twenty-six in 1993, dealt with themes of femininity and social satire. This was followed by The Temporary (1995), The Country Life (1997), The Lucky Ones (2003), In The Fold (2005), Arlington Park (2006), and The Bradshaw Variations (2009). Cusk’s novels are set in an imaginary elsewhere which undermines the constitutions of her characters. Wanting to be a part of something and yet be apart from it are recurring themes in her works. Cusk’s writing is less concerned with how things are, than with what they might be compared to. Her reliance on…

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Scheherazade – Book Review

Title – Scheherazade

Author – Haruki Murakami (translated by Ted Goossen)

Genre – Fiction, Short story

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“The scene seemed divorced from reality, although reality he knew, could at time be terribly unreal.”

A short story by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami which narrates the days of one of it’s primary characters, Nobutaka Habara, who for some undisclosed reason is home bound. Habara has been shifted to his new accommodation since a few months, and a woman who serves as his caretaker, entrusted to him by an unnamed company, is his only contact with the world. The woman never tells him her name, and never refers to Habara by his name either. She visits twice a week with all the groceries, books, DVDs, and other supplies he needs, even offering sex and narrating stories. Habara assumes everything is part of the deal with his new lodging and doesn’t ask or protest. He names her Scheherazade, after Queen Scheherazade from “A Thousand And One Nights”, due to her penchant for telling stories after sex.

“Her voice, timing, pacing were all flawless. She captured her listener’s attention, tantalized him, drove him to ponder and speculate.”

They have almost no other conversation in the few hours they spend together during her biweekly visits. Her stories begin and end abruptly, and the narrative takes us through how Habara has to wait for the next visit to know what happens. Whether narrating about her past life as a lamprey, or disclosing her routine break-ins at a former classmate’s house, Habara has no idea whether her stories are fact or fiction.

“Reality and supposition, observation and pure fancy seemed jumbled together in her narratives.”

In typical Murakami style, the reader is never told who Scheherazade really is, why Habara cannot leave the house, or what is the significance of the stories. The narrative is unique, with the backstory forming the main story as Scheherazade’s reminiscences of her past take you along for the ride. She begins abruptly and leaves the endings for the next visit, and every visit ends with something else pending. The reader experiences the same feelings with Murakami as Habara does with Scheherazade – the story doesn’t get anywhere, but the ride is thrilling.

At it’s core, the story is about companionship. Habara cannot move outside his abode and Scheherazade is his only link to the outside world. Scheherazade is a licensed nurse and a mother of two, but offers her storytelling to Habara who seems to be the only one eager to listen to them. With only two characters and an average plot, Murakami leaves us with beautiful imagery and brilliant storytelling, as reflected in the life of a lamprey or a house breaker who is not a thief. Just like Habara, the reader is left puzzled with many questions during and at the end of the story. But read this for your dose of Murakami’s writing, just as Habara cherishes Scheherazade’s stories for her storytelling skills.

Rating – 3/5

 

 

Favorite Books Of The Year So Far

I was asked to write an article on my top ten books for the first half of the year. Readers love sharing the books we have read with brio, and are constantly on the look out for new recommendations. Here are some of the books that kickstarted 2018 for me – a compilation of my top ten books (in no particular order)  from the myriad ones I read in the first half of the year.

1) The Mirror of Wonders by Syed Rafiq Hussain

An anthology of stories peopled by animals, “The Mirror of Wonders” is a compilation of eight stories originally written in the Urdu language. The stories are set in the Terairegion of the Himalayan foothills, where Hussain was a hunter before he got into writing. Each of the stories is told from the vantage point of animals; humans move in an out and around and between it all. Hussain has beautifully showcased the ignominy of human behavior in these satirical tales. The translator has done a fabulous job, deftly bringing these stories to a larger reader audience with his nuanced translation. My rating: 5/5

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2) My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece by Anabel Pitcher

The story of a child who loses his sister in a bomb attack, and the aftermath of his crumbling family and difficult school life. This is the author’s debut novel and an absolute delightful read. Issues of racism, alcoholism, prejudices, parental abandonment, childhood grief, bullying are all delicately handled, and leave the reader with much to ponder upon after the completing the book. Laugh-out-loud in certain places, and heartbreaking in others, a much recommended read, this one. My rating : 5/5

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3) Memory by Philipe Grimbert

Originally written in French, “Memory” is Grimbert’s autobiographical account of his family history amidst the Nazi occupation of France. The author’s parents jumped to their deaths from a balcony of their apartment building. Twenty years later, Grimbert wrote this novel about the memories and secrets that dominated their lives and drove them to the final leap. The author’s search to draw out the cold truths results in this hauntingly brilliant narrative. Every sentence has a lot of soul and depth to it and stays with you long after finishing the book. My rating: 5/5

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4) The Girl With The Green Tinted Hair by Gavin Whyte

A simplistic tale that revolves around the four seasons, but holds a lot more meaning than just changing weather. There are only two characters at any given point in the book – unnamed and referred to as “boy” and “girl”. This little gem of a book philosophizes on situations we encounter on a regular basis – people we meet everyday, things we see and hear frequently but do not pay much attention to, something seemingly mundane that we take for granted. The story teaches us to appreciate the present and live in the moment. Every moment is fleeting, and all good things come to an end to make way for better things. A very impactful read. My rating: 4/5

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5) Second Thoughts by Navtej Sarna

I love books about books! You get introduced to new titles and authors, or new books by authors you’ve already read before, as well as recollect books read years ago, or those you meant to read but forgot about and now that they’re in front of you, you can’t help picking them up. In “Second Thoughts”, Navtej Sarna introduces us to “literary pilgrims” – people who plan trips around places mentioned in books, travel to places where authors lived, visit local bookstores while on holiday, and meet authors. If you find yourself doing any of the aforementioned, this book is a must read for you. My rating: 5/5

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6) The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

The month of April is celebrated as Autism Awareness Month, and I had picked this up as one of my endeavors to learn and educate about autism – a subject I had worked on for my thesis. Originally in Japanese, the book is on autism, written by a person with autism, translated by the parents of a child with autism. The book follows a conversational pattern, with Naoki presenting answers as descriptions to commonly asked questions and dilemmas faced by non-autistic people who do not know how to interact with a person with autism. This is a highly recommended book for those who work with people with autism, or have a loved one on the spectrum, and most importantly for non-autistics to do away with any misconceptions regarding the condition. My rating: 4/5

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7) Hayavadana by Girish Karnad

A tragicomedy play originally written in Kannada and translated into English by the same writer, which is a delight for readers. Said to be a retelling of Thomas Mann’s “The Transposed Heads”, the narrative presents the differentiation between body and soul, and questions the philosophy that holds the head superior to the body. It is about human identity in a world of tangled relationships. An excellent play that raises the question of what completes a being. My rating: 5/5

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8) Son Of The Thundercloud by Easterine Kire

Easterine Kire is one of the most prominent voices of Naga literature, and uses her lyrical storytelling skills to weave this novel based on the magic and wisdom of Naga legends. What we get in turn, is a beautiful fable with a moral. A wonderfully written ode to storytellers, a pilgrimage into the myths and legends of a land, an intricately woven and magnificently presented fable that leaves a long lasting impression on the reader’s mind. My rating: 5/5

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9) Bump, Bike and Baby by Moire O’SUllivan

I had picked this one as an ode to Mother’s Day, and the book is a treat to all mums who are athletes and fitness enthusiasts, and do not want childbirth to bring an end to their sporting endeavors. Moire O’Sullivan is a mountain biker, runner and kayaking enthusiast from Ireland, and the book highlights her experiences from the births of both her children – how she trained pre-conception, during pregnancy, and post delivery – and the races she undertook during those years. My rating: 5/5

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10) Skating Through by Jennifer Cosgrove

A heartwarming tale which is essentially a coming out story, “Skating Through” delves into the topics of homosexuality and sports. Though creating a story revolving around serious themes, it isn’t filled with angst throughout and has it’s share of lighthearted moments. A great read for anyone looking for books that cover the LGBTQ community – great concept, story and characterization. My rating: 4/5

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So these were some of the books that stood out for me in the first six months of the year – a mix of fiction, non-fiction, anthologies, novels, memoirs and plays. What have been some of your favorite books so far this year?

Kitchen Experiments – Basbousa

Some extra time on this week day evening had me tinkering around the kitchen, looking for something to try out from what was available in the house. I remembered a recipe I had read some days ago, of the traditional Middle Eastern sweet cake known as Basbousa. The cake has various regional and dialect names – basbusah in Arabic, shamali in Armenian, revani in Turkish, gabelouze in French. Nammoura in Lebanon, hareesa in Jordan, pastusha in Kuwait. It is popular in the cuisines of the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Horn of Africa, and is primarily composed of semolina or milled wheat, soaked in sugar syrup. All the required ingredients readily available at home, I decided to have a go in trying it out.

I used semolina and desiccated coconut, to which yogurt and butter were added along with lemon juice, rose water, and baking powder. The entire mixture was filled into a baking tray, and baked for about twenty minutes at 160° Celsius. On cooling for a little while post baking, hot sugar syrup was poured on the warm cake. I cut the cake first, giving the syrup space to soak into each piece. Alternately, one can also poke holes with a knitting needle for the syrup to soak in completely. Garnishing is optional – I used an almond for each piece.

For those without a sweet tooth, this recipe is not very sweet and fun to try out. I used homemade yogurt which was unsweetened and made from low-fat milk. The desiccated coconut was also unsweetened. Remember, you can avoid the sugar syrup topping if you want – the cake is soft enough due to the yogurt. It makes for a healthy and filling snack.

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All ingredients mixed together, except for the sugar syrup.
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Out from the oven and left to cool.
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Pieces cut before pouring the syrup, ensuring it soaks in completely.
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Optional garnishing. You can also use chopped walnuts or pistachios or flaxseed powder.

If you like trying cuisines from around the world, have a go at this and let me know how it turns out.