On Books & Reviews

The desert stories

IMG_20190620_152555_Bokeh__01__01__01Reviewing Anukrti Upadhyay’s twin novellas – Bhaunri & Daura

In June at my favourite bookstore, Nirav Mehta of Broke Bibliophile comes up to me and asks if I have read ‘her’ books? These are translations of Rajasthani folktales he said. My interest piqued, I took the books from his hand and started reading the back cover. After a few minutes, I went searching for him to tell him that these were definitely not translations but interesting nonetheless. Seeing the books in my hand, the bookstore staff also mentioned that she is a new author and a must-read. That kind of sealed the deal for me.

Touted as twin novellas – Bhaunri and Daura couldn’t be more different than each other in style and treatment. Reimagined tales of the desert is the only commonality between the two.

Bhaunri is a raw love story. Something you would expect coming from the Thar. A gypsy woman is married to an unfaithful husband. Despite trying to get him to care for, accept her and be monogamous he refuses to surrender. He falls for her charms and does accept her as his wife in all aspects but refuses to be monogamous. Will Bhaunri accept his behaviour? If not, till what lengths is she ready to go to make him comply. Find your answers in this short novella which will keep you gripped right till the last word.

Having read KR Meera’s Poison of Love just a few weeks before this, I can’t help but compare how the two women, when faced with similar situations, dealt with it so differently. One by afflicting pain on themselves the other by ensuring she got her way even if she had to destroy the one she loved. The last few lines of Bhaunri is extremely haunting, “Now he will stay at home always, now he belongs to me…”

Daura, on the other hand, is magical, mystical and carries secrets of the desert. Secrets which unravel themselves bit by bit as you read each narrator’s version and connect the dots. Daura is the journey of a District Collector who comes to survey his area and apparently has a bout of madness and then suddenly disappears. As the search continues and the stories are heard, you get transported from the real world into one where anything could be true if you had faith. There is no explanation for unwavering belief and Daura captures the sentiment gracefully.

If your roots are somewhere in the desert and you want to feel connected to it or want the Indian taste of magic realism, these two should be under your consideration list – more Daura than Bhaunri. I would certainly keep Anukrti Upadhyay on my watch list too and love to see what’s the next story she weaves. Interestingly, these two are not her first published work. She is a bilingual writer and her first book, Japani Sarai, is in Hindi. Do check that out as well.

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On Books & Reviews

The dignity of old age


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The Music of Solitude by Krishna Sobti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

‘Much later she thought, I could have phoned and thanked him. No. Let this remain unsaid. I’m feeling special. I’ve just received the flowers of narcissus for a gift. These bloom on the mountains where silence swims in the air.’

Having sat on the review for almost a month and thinking and rethinking about the novel, I don’t find a more apt and lyrical paragraph in the entire book like the one above…

Translated by Vasudha Dalmia as The Music of Solitude, Krishna Sobti’s Samay Sargam is the story of Aranya and Ishan – neighbours in a Delhi complex but diametrically opposite to each other. Aranya is a feisty writer, living life on her own terms, vocal, impulsive and rebellious while Ishan is calm, disciplined, respect social norms and believes in the family institution despite having no one who calls on him.

The novel revolves around their daily lives and their little interactions. How each one is content in their own cocoon yet dependant on the other for emotional comfort. The beauty of the novel is that at no moment do you feel pity for these two for being alone or ‘deserted’. They are alone but they are definitely not lonely. They enjoy their space and solitude, they even need it to sail them through the last years of their lives.

To truly understand this, you need to see Aranya and Ishan in contrast to the elderly friends they visit regularly – the old widow, the former charismatic writer or the old man who was having an affair. Each saddened, bound by social norms and restricted by their children in contrast to these two highly functional emotional beings. It’s at that moment you decide how you want to grow old. Do you want to be like Aranya or Ishan, independent, happy or do you want to die worrying what the world thinks of you or what your family has reduced you to?

The sense of dignity in old age is what I admire about the novel and I believe that every young person who lives with or has ageing parents should read this once.

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On Books & Reviews

A tightly written page-turner!

51pc0-IIgIL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgBESTSELLER by Ahmed Faiyaz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A few days back I received a warm message on Instagram asking to review ‘Bestseller’. Yes, I had heard of the book and yes I wanted to read it. But right now? Maybe not. Not being able to say no, I picked it up immediately as I had just finished reading something which gave me a lot to think about.

Bestseller arrived promptly the next day from Amazon and being a weekend I finished reading it in a jiffy. In one word, it’s unputdownable. You have to, have to, read it cover to cover in one go. Tightly written and cautiously edited, it has all the elements of a popular fiction novel in place – humour, relationships, intrigue and most importantly a keep you on the edge plot line. You would really have to dig deep to find an out of place strand in this one.

I liked the style of introducing the main protagonist’s thoughts in between what he is saying in italics as well as the sense of urgency by naming the title chapters according to days lapsed. The way the women characters are written you would never think the author is male – bold, vivacious and outgoing, his characters are as everyday and normal like any working woman you would meet in a city like Mumbai. Though not literary in its descriptions, Ahmed has painted a beautiful picture of Colaba in his book.

If anyone of you has read Anurag Mathur while growing up and miss his brand of humour, Bestseller is a must read.

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The perfect gift for a bookworm!

Book LoveBook Love by Debbie Tung

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I discovered Debbie Tung three months ago on Pinterest. After sharing one of her comics on my social platform, I kept getting recommendations for her comics until I finally followed her on Tumblr. I realised most of her comics are book-related and share-worthy much like Grant Snider. She just connects at an inner-level and gets you straight off. You feel like it’s your words, your thoughts, she’s representing on paper.

When Book Love came up for review, I just had to go through it in one sitting. At some point over the last three months, I’ve seen the strips but it still seems as fresh and joyous like you are discovering them for the first time. It’s something every bibliophile would like to hoard and flip through during a reading slump.

Given the holiday season, it’s the perfect book a non-reader can get a bookworm. Trust me, they would hold you in a special light.

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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What to read this Fall by Algonquin Books

The Algonquin Reader: Fall 2018The Algonquin Reader: Fall 2018 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Algonquin Reader Fall 2018 carries original essays by their fiction writers and excerpts from their forthcoming books. The ones that had me hooked are The Collector’s Apprentice by BA Shapiro, Sugar Run by Mesha Maren and Blood Highway by Gina Wohlsdorf.

The Collector’s Apprentice seems promising for any Post Impressionist art lover. Set in the 1920s, mixed with love and betrayal the excerpt had me hooked.

In Sugar Run, the main protagonist is going back home after eighteen years post her stint in prison. It’s her exploration into the place she once called home. Does it feel the same to go back? Or even if the surroundings are familiar everything else is not. We need to read the book to know more.

Blood Highway feels like a dystopian novel. A thriller at the end of the world.

There were others on the list which seem equally promising and have been promoted widely on Algonquin’s Instagram being Other People’s Love Affairs: Stories by D. Wystan Owen, The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose and The Current by Tim Johnston. While I would pick up Other People’s Love Affairs sometime in the future. The other two I’m not so sure of.

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A gourmand’s delight

Dodin-Bouffant : Gourmet ExtraordinaireDodin-Bouffant : Gourmet Extraordinaire by Mathieu Burniat

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is the fastest I’ve read any book. Wafting through the pages, dipping in and out of the beautiful food descriptions and preparations with a neat little love story tied to it.

A graphic rendition to Marcel Rouff’s 1924 book called The Life and Passion of Dodin-Bouffant, Mathieu Burnait’s adaptation is heartening read which makes you worry, cry, squeal in delight, make your heart race and leaves you with an ooooooo in the end.

A must-read for anyone who enjoys food, loves reading about food or even holds French gastronomy in the slightest of regard. I can just think a list of people who would love to read it.

#DodinBouffantGourmetExtraordinaire #NetGalley

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There are always two sides to a story…

Wide Sargasso SeaWide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I started this book with zero expectations, got intrigued by the brilliant introduction by Francis Wyndham and was hooked till the last page. The blurb says the story is about the ‘mad’ woman in the attic from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, however, I felt its a narrative on the post-liberalisation White life in the West Indies. It’s about broken promises, zero compassion and heartache and love for the sake of money and love for the sake of liberation from one own’s lot.

The contrast between the beautiful, serene place and the conflicted, spiteful people just leaves you thinking how can somebody be so hateful and hurtful. Jean Rhys somewhere makes us understand that it’s not a single event that drives someone mad, it’s circumstances which continuously push her to lose her mind and finally all it takes is one trigger.

I now want to read Jane Eyre and see how Mr Rochester defends his actions. There are always two sides to a story, and I’m glad Jean Rhys wrote this side out.

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