August 2020 in Books

A summary of books read in August – a mix of historical fiction, science fiction, horror, memoir, short stories, literature in translation, and non-fiction.

~Orphaned by S.L. Bhyrappa – A Kannada-English translation of a book originally written in the 1960s, with its English version only having come out last year. Set around an old Kannada folk song about a cow and a tiger, the story narrates the significance of the cow in Indian culture through old world traditions versus modern lifestyles, morals and values, ethics and science, cross cultural and cross generational beliefs and conflicts. A thought-provoking book that has no right or wrong, but requires the reader to reflect and bring ones own meaning and interpretation to the forefront. A powerful story that hasn’t lost its relevance over time, brilliantly translated in spite of its heavy blend of Sanskrit within Kannada. 5/5

~Dancing in the Family by Sukanya Rahman – An inter-generational memoir that showcases the changing backdrop of Indian classical dance through history. The author takes us along on a journey with her grandmother, mother and herself – all eminent dancers in their chosen styles. Bharatnatyam, Odissi, Kathakali, Mohiniattam, Ballet, Modern Dance – the book is a historical wonder of dancers and a bond forged through dance that was thicker than blood. Truly a gem of literature in the classical arts, replete with wonderful archival photographs dating from the 1800s though the years, with each remarkable woman representing her generation. 5/5

~Girl with a Pearl earring by Tracy Chevalier – A historical fiction, speculative biography of the 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, and his most famous work – The Girl with the Pearl Earring. Vermeer was known to be a recluse, with barely 35 paintings to his credit, and was one of the greatest enigmas of the art world in the 1600s. His work reflected themes of domestic life, subtlety and simplicity with an emphasis on light and texture. The author attempts to recreate the story behind the anonymous muse of the titular art – and the narrator of the book herself – taking us into Vermeer’s closeted world of color. A stunning story, simple in narration but rich in color, just like its inspiration. 5/5

~Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat – A collection of short stories about Haitian people, all dealing with themes of immigration, displacement, family, community, diasporic experiences, relationships that bind as well as those that break people apart. Short stories can be impactful because brevity lends them power. They can offer serenity, be warm, upsetting, joyful, moving, illuminating, educative, hopeful – each story powerful in its own way, Danticat truly a magician with the written word as she works the reader’s emotions just like her characters. 5/5

~The Humans by Matt Haig – A mathematics professor gets abducted by aliens, who send one of their own to impersonate him and document life on Earth. Body-snatching and numbers have never been so funny and entertaining while being philosophical and moving. Haig’s originality and humor are commendable, teaching us about ourselves through an outsider’s perspective. A science fiction delight of a book that will keep you laughing all the way through, with its subtle insights and contemplation. 4/5

~Remnants of a Separation by Aanchal Malhotra – An attempt to revisit the Partition of India through objects carried by refugees as they crossed the border on both sides. Described as material memory, the author aims to identify belongings, mementos, gifts – things that people hurriedly picked up or chanced upon or happened to inherit – that hold memories of life in undivided India, and what those memories and objects mean to them now. An alternative history of the Partition viewed as a tangible event, the book can be described as a cross between history and anthropology, wonderfully researched and presented. 5/5

~Things Not Made by Michael Sellars – A peculiar story about beings that hate readers and everything that comes with them – books, words, sentences, paragraphs, stories. They’re allergic to books, and booknerds serve as an anathema. So they’re out to eliminate anyone who loves the written word. An odd book that keeps you guessing all the way, as it takes your mind on a trip to another world, just like the story itself does. Quality writing, unsettling adventures, witty dialogue, well fleshed out characters, vocabulary that makes you pause, and above all, the significance of the title of the book, make this one adventure you want to as well as don’t want to miss out on. 5/5

~The Sweetmeat by K. Saraswathi – A Malayalam-English translation from the Amma Series, a feminist classic that addresses themes of love, marriage, relationships through the prisms of intoxication, dominance, inferiority, domestic abuse, the blurred lines of victim and victor, cause and effect, and the vicious circle of each leading to the other. The fact that the writer’s works were neglected in her own state and country due to her feminist stance, and gained popularity only after being published in American journals, shows the true strength of literature and the power of its honesty. 5/5

Of Books and Writers

August has been a great month for Historical Fiction. Two brilliant works connected me with two wonderful writers.

I had read Girl with a Pearl Earring over a decade ago, and pulled it out recently for a virtual meet cum discussion with the author Tracy Chevalier. Tracy outlined all her research that went into writing a speculative biography about a famous 17th century Dutch painter and his most iconic painting, as well as shared images on his works that drive her narrative and which remarkably enrich the reading experience as you visualize Vermeer’s art. The paintings have been richly described in words, as the colors and lights that created them, and it was inspiring to hear Tracy’s recollection of working on the novel – converting visual art to the written form, and imagining a life within that art.

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali is set during the Iranian revolution and covers themes ranging from immigration, culture, cuisine to poetry, reconciliation and so much more. I was fortunate to interview Marjan and moderate a book discussion with her for my book club that met across three different time zones. An insightful session for readers to experience a book from the perspective of it being written – the detailed research and ground work in documenting an era, along with the writer’s first hand experience of life as an immigrant, joining a fictional story to seamlessly weave the carpet of a narrative.

Historical fiction is a carefully blended genre of imagination and well backed research coming together with quality writing. Both these books are masterfully created, with their writers being powerhouses of their craft. While the pandemic has separated and isolated the world, it has also brought us closer in many ways. It is truly an incredible experience sitting across admired writers and indulging in a warm conversation, discussing much loved  books with them – albeit virtually.

117543010_10160149230984937_6841517334188577932_o

July 2020 in Books

A delayed summary of the books I read in July 2020. The titles last month covered a range of genres from historical fiction, memoir, horror, true crime, fantasy fiction, political thrillers and translated literature. I was lucky to have picked some stunning works and I’d recommend them all to anyone who likes these genres.

~The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun – A Korean-English translation of a psychological thriller described as a cross between Stephen King’s “Misery” and Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”. The protagonist finds himself paralyzed following a car accident that kills his wife. His mother-in-law is the only living family member, who takes it upon herself to be his caretaker, nurse, guardian, physiotherapist, by removing all experts from the scene, only to neglect him thereafter. An atmospheric novel depicting the horrors of isolation, loneliness, depression, helplessness, claustrophobia, the terrors of not knowing versus the brutality of knowing and being unable to do anything. The horror is subtle rather than in-your-face, unraveling as the novel does.  And a gorgeous cover, too, with its own significance in the story. 4/5

~Only in Spain by Nellie Bennett – A memoir of dance, food, travel, journeys and experiences. The author works as a saleswoman at a store in Sydney. A chance encounter with a Flamenco class at a local dance studio kicks off an obsession of sorts with the dance form, taking her to the place of its origin, Seville in Spain. This leads to a newfound love for the country, its culture and people, because the Flamenco is not just a dance but a way of life. An endearing narrative of the writer’s tryst with the dance form. A book sure to trigger fernweh and make you want to travel, dance, eat, learn new languages, and meet people. 4/5

~Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba – A Spanish-English translation based on the true story of an orphan who was killed by other children at an orphanage in Brazil, who ended up playing with her body parts for a week before the murder came to light. As horrifying as the event is, the prose is beautiful, hypnotic, lyrical. This book is not just about the story, but a lesson in writing itself. Disconcerting and heartbreaking but morbidly beautiful, a masterpiece of a work by translator Lisa Dillman who requires her own applause for this one. 5/5

~Ring by Koji Suzuki – A Japanese-English translation of the horror classic known by its many movie adaptations in both Japanese and English. A mysterious videotape that kills the viewer within one week of watching it. If the movies scared you, the book ups the ante by several notches, with a detailed narrative on the origins of the tape and how it works, along with the significance of the title. Eerie, disturbing, and chilling to the bone even without the iconic scene from the movies, a must-read in horror fiction. 5/5

~The Invisible by Seb Doubinsky – A political crime drama set around a mysterious hallucinogenic drug, with people getting killed on the way for knowing too much. Politics, crime, poetry, fantasy, an alternate universe of noir. A place where the culprit is not a person, but a system. A strange book that I came across on Meerkat Press, a publishing house that comes out with some very different, but very good books. 4/5

~The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski – A Polish-English translation of the Witcher’s origin story.  Written as a series of short stories, the reader is taken along Geralt of Rivia’s many adventures, interspersed with the present timeline as a prelude to later books in the series. Are monsters identified by their looks or behavior? A world of djinns, elves, wizards, sorceresses, spells and elixirs – brilliantly translated into English, retaining the wit and humor of the original. Fantasy fiction at its best with a wonderful character of the White Wolf, his choices and actions. 5/5

~The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali – Historical fiction delving into the political upheavals of Iran, a world of coups, poetry, letters, books, food, culture, immigration and more. A story about a tiny neighborhood stationery shop, and a story about everything else. A mix of epistolary and framing, past and present and parallel stories, Marjan Kamali is a powerful voice in Iranian literature, with a subtle yet effective narrative. 5/5

~Blanky by Kealan Patrick Burke – Set around the death of an infant caused by suffocating on her blanket, Kealan Patrick Burke brilliantly handles a dark theme in describing the horrors of losing a child and the associated sadness, loss, grief. A haunted blanket can be scary, but the ghosts outside are no match for the ones within. A book that deserves a read just for the writer’s take on the subject. 5/5

July2020books

May 2020 in Books

I have been a little occupied over the past few months. Having utilized the lockdown period to enrol in literature courses, most of my reading these days is taken up by course material, required readings, lectures, and participation in student discussion forums. These are some of the books I read in May.

~Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks – Historical fiction based on true events surrounding the Plague that afflicted the village of Eyam in 1665. One of the first known evidences of quarantine as we now know it, the entire village decided to isolate itself in an effort to save neighboring villages and towns from contracting the disease. Eyam is a tourist destination today, known as “Plague Village” – the bubonic plague having ravaged through the self-sacrificing residents. 4.5/5

~Poisonville by Massimo Carlotto and Marco Videtta – An English translation of an Italian language crime novel. A woman finds herself murdered a week before her wedding. Her fiance being the son of the director of the firm she works for is the prime suspect, but things are never what they seem. A noir thriller where the killer is not one specific person, but an entire corrupt system, bringing together the dilemmas of family, business, society, morals, obligations. A good work of Italian crime noir. 3.5/5

~Alien by Alan Dean Foster – A novelization of the screenplay that released before the movie came out. Consequently, the book is based on the original screenplay, straying from Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the horror classic we know. A brilliant science fiction read for lovers of the genre. If the silence and solitude of space scared you in the movie, the book ups the ante several notches. The fear is so atmospheric, with nothing and everything happening in the silence. Only seven characters occupy the entire length of the novel (and movie) and what a ride it was! 5/5

~Survival of the Sickest by Sharon Moalem – A scientific outlook on the evolution of disease and illnesses through the evolution of species. Viruses and bacteria have occupied our planet since the time of the dinosaurs. What makes them so resilient through millennia of evolution, with other species having come and gone? An engaging narrative on why we fall sick, and how disease within a species is inherent as we evolve. 5/5

~Mango Cake and Murder by Christy Murphy – A cozy mystery with a Filipino mother-daughter crime fighting duo who balance their investigations alongside a catering business. An interesting premise that had the potential to be a wonderful read, if not for the bland approach taken by the writer. A quick read that’s decent enough between heavy or more serious books. Not recommended as a must-read. 2/5

~The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi – Historical fiction set in Jaipur, India of the 1950s. A henna artist married at fifteen, escapes from an abusive husband at seventeen, and finds a path ahead applying henna/mehendi to the rich and famous of post-Independence India. Years pass and a sister born since after she left home shows up at her door step. Beautiful descriptions of the henna artwork, insightful concoctions of traditional herbs and restorative foods, recipes that make you want to eat along as you read – all travel parallel with sibling dynamics, interplay of past and present, the lines between clients and friends, family and strangers. A fascinating story and uplifting read. 5/5

~A Shower of Summer Days by May Sarton – An Irish estate home unoccupied for years, finds its temporary visitors turning permanent residents, as a middle-aged couple decide to settle in the wife’s ancestral house. A book about people not only bound to each other, but to the house itself – the house being a character in the story, a witness to emotions and conversations, providing a sense of familiarity and serenity as well as alienation and flaring tempers. Kind of a charming counterpart to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. 4/5

~The Rider by Tim Krabbé – An English translation of a Dutch memoir; a literary sports classic of the seventies. A tribute to the art of bicycle racing, Krabbé describes his transition from chess player and sports journalist to competitive rider and top endurance athlete – all interspersed within the pages of a 150-kilometer road race. A thrilling ride not just for cyclists or athletes, but anyone who enjoys an inspiring read. 5/5

~The Summer People by Shirley Jackson – A short story about an elderly couple that decides to extend their stay at a summer cottage. What happens when tourists turn full time residents? A sinister take on the relationship between locals and tourists and the outcome when these lines are blurred. 4/5

~The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – A re-telling of the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, from the point of view of Draupadi/Panchaali – the wife of the legendary Pandavas brothers. A well conceived interpretation with fantastic prose make this a book worth reading. 5/5

A collage of all the books:

101343333_10159891438379937_8960007287963910144_o

April 2020 in Books

A summary of books read in April 2020.

~Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – An epistolary and lipogrammatic satire, narrated in the form of letters between characters, by eliminating letters from the English alphabet as the story progresses. Pure brilliance in the concept and outcome. 5/5

~Meg by Steve Alten – A prehistoric marine dinosaur (that actually existed and was larger and stronger than the T-Rex) surfaces in the present age, wrecking havoc in its wake as top predator that ever existed. A thrilling ride of paleontology and marine ecology. 4/5

~Friend Request by Laura Marshall – A middle-aged woman receives a Facebook friend request from a school classmate. Only the latter died 27 years ago, and the protagonist was responsible for her death. An insightful tale on the obsession of social media and being consumed by the virtual world. 3.5/5

~Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata – A woman spends most of her adult life working in a convenience store, and feels like a misfit in the “regular world”. A simple story offering a fresh take on society and the pressure to conform. 3.5/5

~Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw – A post-apocalyptic novel about killer jam consuming the world. The tables have truly turned, and the eaten becomes the eater. A laugh riot all the way. 4/5

~The Yellow Arrow by Victor Pelevin – A train that has no start point and an undisclosed destination. Once you get on, you cannot get off, and you forget all about your time outside the train. The Yellow Arrow makes you a passenger for life. Philosophical and metaphorical, the train as an analogy for life itself. What is it about Russian writers that every book seems to warrant a 5/5?

2 books on Autism, since April is dedicated to Autism Awareness.

~The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris – An autistic child with synesthesia narrates the story of his neighbor’s murder. Only he’s the one who murdered her. And nobody believes him because he’s on the spectrum. Interestingly chronicled through colors. 4/5

~Autism in Heels by Jennifer O’Toole – A memoir of being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at the age of 34, and subsequently bringing up children on the autism spectrum. A witty, humorous and informative read. 5/5

April2020

March 2020 in Books

A summary of books read in March – An array of women authors and female protagonists, in keeping with the month that celebrates Women’s Day. Due to lots going on around, I have not been able to get online much. Detailed reviews will follow as and when I find the time. Hope everyone is staying safe in these difficult days. It’s times like these when books are our refuge.

4 paperbacks:

91902636_10159638808114937_1855056165382127616_o

~Aranyaka by Amruta Patil and Devdutt Pattaniak – A graphic novel about forests – the wilderness outside and within; the beginning of life and civilization, the merging of elements, and the influence of nature on man and vice versa. 5/5

~Road to Mekong by Piya Bahadur – A memoir about 4 women motorcyclists who undertake a road trip, covering 17,000 kilometers through 6 countries, guided by the river Mekong that flows through Southeast Asia. 5/5

~Sand & Sea by Ann D’Silva – A novel about past lives and connected souls. A women’s dreams are haunted by a man she knew in another life, and she attempts to find out more about him. 2/5

~In My Dreams I Dance by Anne Wafula Strike – The autobiography of a Paralympic racer who overcame disability and prejudice to compete among top level athletes. 5/5

3 books on Kindle:

91907908_10159638809294937_6067181986147991552_o

~The End We Start From by Megan Hunter – A post apocalyptic novel with development and destruction running parallel in the narrative. A baby is born as the world is being submerged by exponential floods. As the child grows, the world sinks further. 4/5

~Mad Love by Paul Dini and Pat Cadigan – A novelization of the origin story of Harley Quinn and her subsequent prominence in the DC comic world. 3/5

1 re-read:

~The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – One of the books I read this month was so disappointing, this book was conjured to bring back some brilliance in my reading. 4 individuals are placed in a supposedly haunted house to measure hauntings and obtain evidence of ghosts. But ghosts are not always around you. What about the ghosts within us? When it’s pure, brilliant writing one is looking for, look no further than Shirley Jackson. 5/5

ARANYAKA – Book Review

Title – Aranyaka

Authors –  Amruta Patil and Devdutt Pattanaik

Genre – graphic novel, mythology, history

88442076_10159506624149937_5680185963691638784_o

“From wind, she learned movement. From mountains, patience. From rivers, persistence. From outstretched branches and deep roots, she understood hunger.”

“Bad arguments were about ego and delusion, good arguments brought epiphany. All argument was combat.”

“I thought we were equals, bilateral symmetry of leaves. He thought we were halves – He above, Me below.”

Aranyaka literally translates to “of the forest”. It begins with the history of all living beings which started from the forest, and how domestication and civilization take us away from nature. The story is a warp and weft of 3 primary women – the Large, the Weaver and the Fig, (The three rishikas – Katyayani, Gargi and Maitreyi) who help us unravel humankind. Aranyaka is not only the forest around us, but also addresses the wilderness within us. Is food solely to satiate hunger, or is it a temporary replacement for a greater hunger/thirst in life? When we cook for or help or take care of others, is it in thought of the opposite person, or emphasizing our own importance in their lives?

A difficult book to review because it encapsulates a multitude of subjects and themes. Aranyaka alludes to a set of 3000-year old Vedic scriptures, and the foundational role forests play in Vedic lore.Writer Devdutt Pattanaik and illustrator Amruta Patil have imaginatively transformed a myriad of ideas into a novel – the crux of which is, observing elements and the natural world transforms the way humans think. Forests can be as violent as they are beautiful. In this sense, scriptures do not belong to a bygone era, but are right here with us.

The two artists have collaborated long distance – with Patil living in France, and Pattanaik in India. The tremendous research dedicated to the text reflects Pattanaik’s strength in his genre of mythology. There are numerous references suggested for further reading. Patil’s artwork is just beautiful – closely following the storyline, with a vibrant assortment of shades and tones. Some pages don’t need dialogue – the striking paintings take you through the multi-layered narrative.

A delightful book, worth having in ones collection – more for the artwork than the story.

My rating – 5/5

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)

 

owl-reading-clipart-dcreAEqRi