Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

25
Jul

Of Daughters and Women

Three Daughters of Eve

Review of Three Daughters of Eve; Elif Shafak; Viking 2017; Rs 477; pp 384

– Shana Susan Ninan

Turkey and Peri are metaphors for each other: flanked by a religious side and a more Western one. Always having to choose between religious ideals and liberal lifestyles. Elif Shafak’s revealing work, Three Daughters of Eve is a medley of three perspectives/ ideologies, three women who represent a larger section of society, within and outside Istanbul: a believer, a rebel and a confused soul. In fact, the three can be anyone – three men, young women, people of any religion or background. Starting at the present and going back a decade or more to their youth, the book kicks off at a lavish party in the capital of Turkey.

The three protagonist women end up sharing the same living space in Oxford University and a common course. All three are similar for the facts that they are highly independent, strong-willed and often live against societal norms. Peri’s life in Istanbul is much like the city again: a liberal father and a highly religious mother. And two very different brothers. Growing up in that household has been a tug of war for her.

Her study years in England are decisive and life-changing. For someone who keeps a ‘God diary’, getting into a course at the Oxford called ‘God’, would only seem natural. The seminar, led by the infamous Professor Azur, informs and debates more about the self than God. The students don’t choose the seminar, the professor screens them and hand-picks the few who’d attend it. He doesn’t force his opinions of the self or about god on any of his students or peers, but gives them various perspectives to look at.

The dramatic, Hollywood-like ending spoiled my reading and marred the beautiful feeling that had built inside me. As a reader who loved her previous works, this ending seemed a little hurried and very filmy. As opposed to, say, the dense poetry that’s

The metaphors are superbly crafted: my personal favourite being ‘the night was a swollen river’. And the reference to Eve in the title is a major thought-provoking usage. Why Eve? Had Eve borne any daughters? And why three? Since the story happens in 2015, it’s very recent and relatable. The ‘baby in the mist’ that Peri often witnesses in her dreams and otherwise is a source of mystery for the reader. And as the story progresses, it unravels beautifully.

 

VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 6.7/10 (3 votes cast)
29
Jun

Drums of War, of History

Empress EMerald

Review of The Empress Emerald; J.G. Harlond; Penmore Press LLC 2016; pp 295

– Paavana Varma

Every once in a while you come across a piece of literature which marks its territory in your heart. From the romantic works of Austen to the fantastical themes that Gaiman provides, the list is endless. Written by J.G. Harlond, The Empress Emerald is yet another brilliant work that is certain to stay with the reader for quite a long time.

The protagonist of the novel, Leo Kazan is a Russian-Indian orphan; a thief and a talented linguist. Just the way a moth gets attracted to flame, Leo is drawn to everything that glitters. Discovering Leo’s talents is the District Political Officer in Bombay, Sir Lionel Pinecoffin who realizes that he is sharp-witted and capable even as a young boy. Leo’s talents in stealing, socialising and languages makes an excellent spy of him and thus he becomes Mr. Pinecoffin’s protégé. The story then follows Leo’s life through forty years over several continents and his adventures as a spy as he gets involved in international espionage and diamond smuggling.

The author is successful in painting an intriguing picture of the political instability in India at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is impressive how Harlond turns on the historical lane and makes the characters interact in the background of rising political turmoil. However, in addition to discussing political drama, she has skillfully interwoven personal events of the characters into the work which helps the readers delve into a new hitherto untouched side of the protagonist. We see this in Leo’s romance with Davina Dymond during his time in London which evokes a new found adoration  for him thus enriching the reading experience. However, moral values and principles are also judged when Leo has to leave a pregnant Davina as he has been assigned to go to Russia where the Bolshevik Revolution has taken place.

Harlond’s characters are near to the realistic as she refuses from rendering a thoroughly positive picture of them. She draws our attention to their good, bad and ugly sides. It is up to the readers to judge Leo as he decides to never depart from the strict requirements that come with his profession. The characters are as clear as they are vague for it never becomes certain what we are to make of them and this applies to the bitter reality of our lives too for it seems impossible to figure out the confusing set of people in our lives and at times, ourselves. The various numbers of subplots and tales can be a bit confusing but gives it ample time to come together as a finely devised novel making it all the more dramatic; the apt ingredient required for any piece of historical fiction.

Though the abrupt perspective shifts may, at times, set the reader off track, the language makes up for it. It is powerful and the author seems to have an eye for detail. Her vivid descriptions of the people and places are sure to take the reader on a magnificent journey through Spain, UK, Russia and India over a span of 40 years. At times, it even feels as though the words have been put into a reel because the wonderful panorama of the places has been portrayed in such an effective cinematic style.

This is a tale of love and separation, of faithlessness and treachery. We learn an essential truth from the novel that time can do a lot to people. It can hurt as much as it can heal. It should be appreciated how the author has captured a number of themes, countries and four decades in all of 295 pages. A thoroughly engaging work and an absolute page turner, the book is self-contained and teaches us a thing or two about the world and its residents.

VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 10.0/10 (2 votes cast)
06
Jun

Caste calls

Pyre

Review of Pyre; Perumal Murugan; translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan; Penguin Random House; Rs 250; pp 270

– Shana Susan Ninan

Perumal Murugan’s Pyre is a caustic reminder of India’s caste intolerance. Clearly pointing a finger at the harsh treatments meted out to inter-caste couples across India, the title of the book is a clever one. Following his now-controversial book, Madhorubagan, this is a story of hatred, intolerance and human suffering. And beneath it all, tucked away in little corners of the book, is the love between the couple.

I only wish I could read it in the original Tamizh. The Translator’s Note at the beginning tells us how his job wasn’t easy, partly because, although speaking Tamizh, the two protagonists – Kumaresan and Saroja – conversed in dialects. The variations in the two cannot be fully brought out in English. The explanations of the same also renders reading a tad bit marring.

The large use of metaphors and visual imagery in the story is just too good. Chronicling a place and a people that have nothing other than village rules to follow, I’m sure Murugan’s work wasn’t easy. Nondi’s mother, Mariya is a one-dimensional woman here: she seems to open her mouth only to abuse her new daughter-in-law, a city-bred, fair-skinned girl who wilts under her words.

Destruction is in our blood. From the cave to the skyscraper, humans haven’t let go of that trait. And when you couple the intolerance with centuries of adherence to community mores and norms, nothing could be more drastic than marrying a woman outside their caste and rendering the village unclean.

Murugan has taken one emotion – hate – and portrayed it in so many myriads of ways. From the villagers spewing hateful curses, and women gawking and saying the angry words to Nondi’s relatives and the final fire that destroys the outsider, it’s all about hate. And how!

The only glitch in my reading was that Nondi comes out as too soft. In spite of marrying a woman of his choice and trying to stay afloat in his village, when the whole community and his family turn against them, he doesn’t even raise his voice nor opposes with strong nerve.

Murugan has, to his credit, six novels, four collections of short stories and four anthologies of poetry. Three of his novels have been translated into English: his controversial, One Part Woman, Seasons of the Palm, shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize in 2005, and Current Show. A professor of Tamil at the Government Arts College in Namakkal, he has received several recognitions from government and other agencies.

 

 

 

VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)
09
Dec

The Sea and its People

dance-of-the-sea

Review of Dance of the Sea; Soosaiya Anthreas; Gatekeeper Press 2015; pp 462

– Paavana Varma

Franklin D. Roosevelt once remarked, “A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” This quote fits rather perfectly in Soosaiya Anthreas’s fine novel, The Dance of the Sea. Set in a coastal slum village of Kanyakumari, his book paints an intriguing picture of the difficult challenges life puts forth. The Dance of the Sea traces with remarkable subjectivity, the unfortunate lives of the fisherfolk situated in the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent. It speaks about how ambition and poverty strives together in the rural lives of Indian fishermen.

The protagonist, Sebastian, struggles to escape his squalid town of slum dwellers and later on emerges as a successful engineer. Sebastian’s success makes him less self-effacing as he goes on to desert his lover, Gloria, who lives an independent and more successful life, with regards to money and fame. He also leaves his poverty-stricken sister to herself, not bothering to lend her a helping hand in deadly crisis. But the problems develop into a more serious one as the 2004 Tsunami strikes and takes the lives of hundreds of fisherfolk, and their properties are swallowed by the sea. More troubles follow as the fisherfolk divides themselves into two rival factions based on the method of fishing, and the community disintegrates.

Reading this book will be an emotional experience as the common man will get to live the lives of a set of people hitherto hidden to the fast-paced urbanised population of the world. The unthinkable lives of the characters, ravaged by pain has been addressed directly and in a poignant manner. It shows the research that the author has done over the years. There is anger, humour and grief. Somehow, I felt that Sebastian’s longing to escape his hometown was his own way of seeking salvation. Sebastian wanted to disappear and his search for respite from the brutality of the world is rather breathtaking.

The author hasn’t hesitated to expose the vulnerability of his characters and this makes the book all the more dramatic. The tenacity of the characters especially that of Gloria is admirable. The deadening weight of the circumstances draws a thoughtful picture, nevertheless. A picture of how people find themselves in each other and how strokes of empathy lessens the naive narcissism of the better off and how there is a light of hope however faint, shining through the wreckage.

The writing style is fine except in some places it lags and tends to get jerky. The author has used rich language to depict the lives of the poor fisherfolk. In spite of the challenges and traumas, there exists a kind of harmonic suppleness. The novel is extremely atmospheric and very emotionally involving. There also prevails the inevitable melancholy the story brings with it. The Dance of the Sea is a very interesting novel. It is the kind of book that you might want to read in sessions, to take time and read it in your own pace. The book doesn’t fail to communicate effectively with the reader and even when the book has ended, the sea looms over your imagination distinguishing itself as an entity.

Soosaiya Anthreas was born in the year 1959 in Azhikkal, Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu to fisherfolk parents. He graduated in Engineering from CIT, and is interested in Philosophy, Literature and Spirituality.

VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 7.3/10 (9 votes cast)
01
Sep

Challenges of Saving the World

Sky God

Review of Book of the Sky God (Vol.1 & Vol.2); Laura Markowitz; Story Bridge Books; pp 299

– Paavana Varma

Five teens and the end of the world! One wouldn’t really expect five teens to save the world, but the fate of humanity rests with them. This fantasy book written by Laura Markowitz revolves around the Indian-American Rajthani siblings Laila, Ram and Nina, former Miss Popular, Katie Chase and part time zombie, Henry Lipton. Centred on the Mayan prophecy, the book is targeted at young adults. Part one of the book is where the the story line slowly develops, the admirable writing delving into the ties of long friendships is enough to make this a one sit read. We find that Ram and Henry are best friends, Ram’s little sister Laila who voluntarily went mute six years ago has numinous senses and knows the song of humanity. Henry was trained his whole life, without him knowing, for the day of the judgement by an evil secret cult called the brotherhood of prophecy. They believed, they would ascend to godhood through their living heir, Henry.

The author has written the story in such a way that all the events are interrelated. The occasional shift to a whole new imaginative world of immortals and higher beings make it all the more gripping. Miss Markowitz definitely had her creative juices flowing into the pages while writing this book. One understands it from the other worlds, aliens and the multiverse she has talked about in the book. We have Aditi and Itzam-nah the sky gods who will be coming back to Earth another time to judge humanity. They have the power to erase timelines and all the memories associated with it. The author seems to have great interest in Indian mythology too since, Aditi and Itzam-nah are described as having six arms and a third eye.

Part one of the book talks more about the characters’ lives and gives us a sneak peek into their deep thoughts that make them, who they are. Ideas and sub-stories weren’t clashing with one another and as the title of each chapter suggests, the story is rooted to what the chapter name conveys. Because of this clever idea, even when the plot thickens and twists around a lot, in the bigger picture you have a clear understanding about the story. Going through the difficult period of adolescence, we find in all the five teens a search for self-identity. Part one is also not as dramatic and action packed as part two. This book ends in such a way that it keeps you tip toed to find out what the next book has in store for us.

Part two has road trips and is jam-packed with adventures and fights. Unlike the innocent immaturity we see in the characters in part one, part two sees a newfound maturity in the five teens. Maybe we can link it with the purposes they have found to their lives. We also see a gradual strengthening of family and friendship bonds. Nina and Ram who couldn’t stand each other’s presence are now completely comfortable with each other. Friendships and family bonds are tightened and rediscovered. The transformation of characters and the storyline line from part one to two is not sudden but rather slow and subtle and that makes the story more interesting.

The way the author has woven the concept of Karma into the story is quite intriguing. The language is free-flowing and at times you might even find it poetic. The values and meaning of friendship manifest in the novel through the bond the five share. There is more to the book than just the surface story. If you dig deeper you will find a lot of messages that are crucial to our adult lives.  The book is a great read not just for young adults but anyone who enjoys science fiction, fantasy and mythology. The Book of the Sky God is the kind of book you’d want to read in a good summer vacation. But once you take up the book to read, don’t ever think you can stop it midway. It is what you may call ‘unputdownable’.

The only glitch is that after all the hustle and bustle it all ends quite abruptly. The end really doesn’t seem like the end! Maybe it isn’t after all.

 

 

 

VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 9.8/10 (4 votes cast)
24
Jul

Adventure beyond the Mountains

frontcover.jpeg

Review of Tale of the Wulks; V.K. Green; Fremont Books 2013; pp 658

– Shana Susan Ninan

Wulks live in the mountains of California, away from the eyes of humans. Watching closely, they are the guardians of Mother Earth, fighting off people who are out to hurt her. Rilk, a young differently-abled boy, is the central character. His grandfather Manfield embarks on an adventurous journey with the Dragon Prince Englar. Long ago, the Wulks were thrown out of their ancestral lands along with the Native Americans. Instead of going onto reservations as the American Indians did, however, the Wulks concealed themselves at the base of Mission Peak in California, after which a Dragon appeared before them and helped them establish a country the human invaders could not destroy. It’s this ingenious intertwining of actual human history that makes Wulk Land more vivid. That said, a map to accompany the precise descriptions of Wulk geography would be welcome.

Talking about his writing process, the author V.K. Green says, “Unlike many writers who usually write whatever is on their mind and arrange the parts later, I brainstorm the entire story before beginning to write.” Indeed, that shows in the plot – it flows seamlessly, from one location to another, from one scene of action to the next.

Autism and adventure are two core themes that run through the story. Carefully crafted into the plot, Green, who himself is autistic, has played the cards well. The protagonist, Rilk is extremely intelligent in his own ways. But the way the world sees the autistic, or anyone differently-abled for that matter, is quite sidelining. The fact that Green has given prominence to Rilk and looked at his abilities than disabilities is a promising breath of air. People who care for or live with autistic persons will very well understand that.

The case of Chris is interesting. Myself a student of Kalaripayattu, an ancient martial arts form of South Asia, I was drawn to this extraordinary character. Chris is a prodigy, an intelligent mind with a sharp and fit body. The wise teenager, Chris helps the other boys in their search. And the author, too, confirms: “I consider the martial arts battles throughout my book to be dear to me.”

I did find some paragraphs needing the editor’s cuts. Some of the sequences are long-winded and, sometimes, leads us off the page. With a few nicks and polishes here and there, this is a brilliant work of fantasy fiction for young and the old.

V. K. Green is an autistic student who has performed at a high academic level with advanced diction, language, and social skills. Using fantasy-adventure, Green is determined to demonstrate to the world the truth behind autism, what it is, and how much autistic individuals add to the positive whole of society. Green currently lives in Fremont, California, with his family.

I love it that there are many beings in the story: humans, dwarves, elves, forest spirits, sages and dragons. And that the story ends peacefully.

VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 8.3/10 (8 votes cast)
01
May

Kama – Dance of Desire

Review of The Banana and the Peepul Leaf; Asuri Vasudevan; CinnamonTeal Publishing 2015; Rs 400; pp 262

– Shana Susan Ninan

Asuri Vasudevan’s The Banana and the Peepul Leaf is full of turns – life poses several choices to us; sometimes flinging the most apt one at our faces. Relationships and the strings attached to them form the crux of Vasudevan’s sequel to Cloudburst.

Kama is an interesting concept. It is intriguing, deep and desirous. You can even call it the protagonist of the story, the central force upon which the story revolves. How do people of different races fall in love? How do they stay in love? For Radha, it is love at first sight when she sees Prakash and the fact that Prakash is a married man is dismissed as a minor detail. Prakash is attracted to Radha’s sensuality even though he is very much in love with his wife.

As youngsters trying to make a place for themselves in the world, Phillip and Gomi have to make a sense of their yearnings for each other. Prakash’s wife Kathy sensing her husband’s betrayal uses the same approach partly to pacify herself and partly to radically transform the life of someone she cares for. For Kathy’s friend and soul sister Maya, sex is the culmination of companionship.

Based in Mumbai, Vasudevan is an economist, with specialisations in central banking and international finance. He has worked in various countries on long stints, and have been advisor in several international organisations. The story is spread across Asia, Africa and America.

In the book, what I cherished the most is the ending – it isn’t usual, and there’s a punch to it. The book cover is simple and lucid, a pointer to the lives unravelled inside. It’s a great book for a weekend read, full of surprises and interesting quips and quotes.

VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 8.2/10 (13 votes cast)
07
Jan

Revealing the Buddha

Buddha

Review of Buddha – Volume I:  Kapilavastu; Osamu Tezuka; Harper Collins; pp 400

– Shana Susan Ninan

Japanese Graphic Artist Osamu Tezuka’s brilliant black strokes on paper move like a movie. Buddha, in eight volumes, traces the life of Siddhartha Gautama, and his journey into Enlightenment and Mentorship. The prince is born halfway into the first book, and the events preceding it are likes omens that lead us to his birth. Caste is a theme that takes prominence in the narrative. Woven into the emotions and movements, you can find it creeping into the fabric of the story.

Tezuka’s work is humourous, lucid and definitely relatable. You’ll find colloquial usages, slangs and even slur, in the book. And two of my favourite pages are the ones that have locusts swarming in them. Yep, just two pages full of locusts. The perspective used is awesomely focussed and absolutely on-the-dot. The visual expression surpasses usual storytelling skills, and the readers are taken right into the heart of the plot.

VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 8.0/10 (8 votes cast)
06
Jan

Married to Mumbai

2

Review of Tikli and Laxmi Bomb – to Hell with Patriarchy; Aditya Kriplani; Rs 195; pp 165

– Shana Susan Ninan

Old Monk is a character as much as the two women, Putul and Laxmi. This book, which follows the two women’s lives and their trial at a sex workers’ system by/for/of the women, is a one-sitting read. Aditya has hit the mark, and his film script like writing keeps you turning the pages. Each time either of them hit the bottle before they go to bed or when they feel down in the dumps, the reader would definitely feel the liquid burning his or her throat. Aditya writes with such ferocity that you won’t even have a minute to wander off from the story.

This is his third book, and all three of them have strong women protagonists. In fact, he wishes for a world ruled by women. Yay to that! This particular story is set in Mumbai again, and follows Putul and Laxmi as they fight patriarchy within the sex workers’ community. The belong to a network run by men, pleasuring men and boys, living out their bodies and minds for them, and all the way, succumbing to atrocities meted out by the authorities themselves. Sex workers have no say in what happens to them; they’re mere puppets in the hands of the various men that control them at every stage.

Putul, a.k.a. Tikli, is a smart-alecky, wise-ass young girl, with fire in her heart and tongue. Though she’s thin and short, and all things cute, you don’t wanna mess with her. She hates the system she’s working from, and longs for one where women benefit. Laxmi is a 40-year-old veteran in this industry and practically lives by herself, is feared by even the local pimp Mhatre, and the cops, and is generally aloof.

They don’t back out even when faced with brutal physical violence from all sides. In fact, that spurs their movement – more young girls from all over the city join their group. With hard work and caution, they inch forward. And, much to the chagrin of Mhatre and his cronies, the women turn out to be a power to reckon with. Even a car full of goondas with sticks in hand couldn’t stop them.

Two poignant, and often deeply sad, motifs that run through the narrative are Laxmi’s escapades into the city in an auto, with her face in the wind, taking in the freedom and the fun, and the melancholic songs that she pens, and sometimes sings, in honour of the Mumba Devi. The city itself is a metaphor of an oft-abused woman, but one that stands up high in the midst of all the storms she’s gotta face.

VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 8.6/10 (7 votes cast)
06
Sep

Finding Mr Right

9789384439163
Review of Or Forever Hold Your Peace; Donna Abraham; Authors UpFront 2014; Rs 150; pp 98

– Shana Susan Ninan

And you think that’s easy? The Mr right in your parents’ mind, the one you wish for, the one who finally lands on your lap… could all be different people. Luck, kismet, fate, whatever you call it, plays a big role in deciding who you partner with. And sometimes, more often than not, the journey to finding that Mr Right is tortuous – long-winded and patience-zapping.

Donna Abraham’s novella, Or Forever Hold Your Peace is a nice, light read that takes you through the life of a young Malayali girl in Delhi. Sundays began with mass at 7 in the morning. Mass would get over by 8 am and her dad would spend the next hour and a half reading the newspaper, which included circling suitable advertisements in the Catholic Section of the matrimonials. Weddings can be tricky business. They can be fun, emotional, exciting, frustrating, nerve-racking, downright stressful and very unpredictable…a bit like life itself.

Abraham’s lucid writing and short paragraphs are easy on the eye. I finished the book in one go – the story, too, keeps you wanting to know what happened, and how it happened. The only thing I thought would add more flavour was the presence of more dialogues. Long narrations at a stretch can be cumbersome to cross, at times.

The book cover and the title take you right to the centre of the plot. Weddings are great fun, lots of activities at home, rituals, home-cooked savouries and family get-togethers. The author keeps our spirits high all through the way. And being half a Malayali Christian and living in south India all my life, I can very well connect with the traditions and lifestyles mentioned in the book.

The links to buy the book are:

http://www.amazon.in/Forever-Hold-Your-Peace-ebook/dp/B00OE7SZ2K/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1441608921&sr=1-1&keywords=or+forever+hold+your+peace

http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Hold-Your-Peace-ebook/dp/B00OE7SZ2K/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1441608955&sr=8-3&keywords=or+forever+hold+your+peace

http://www.flipkart.com/forever-hold-your-peace-english/p/itmeyx4btdmjhhqh?pid=9789384439163&ref=L%3A-4811707087558786938&srno=p_1&query=or+forever+hold+your+peace&otracker=from-search

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/or-forever-hold-your-peace

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/or-forever-hold-your-peace-donna-abraham/1120552820?ean=9789384439194

VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 8.0/10 (5 votes cast)