Archive for the ‘Non-Fiction’ Category


Raising Feminists

Dear Ijeawele

Review of Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Knopf 2017; pp 80

– Shana Susan Ninan

Author and essayist Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions is definitely a manifesto to raise sons as Feminists, too. This you-can-finish-over-breakfast book is a reply she gave her friend who’d recently birthed a girl and wanted to know how to raise her daughter a Feminist. They’re straight from the heart and very practical. Adichie’s words are thought-provoking but simple. It’s not laden with Feminist jargon nor tricky sentences. It’s warming, one mother’s experiences shared with another.

It starts off on two solid starting points: the first one is a premise that ‘I matter. I matter equally.’ The second is a question, ‘Can you reverse X and get the same results?’ and the example she cites for the latter is a powerful one – should a woman leave her husband as a response to his infidelity. And that if she were to sleep with another man, would her man forgive her, then her choice to stay in the first place can be a Feminist choice, too.

The very first suggestion lays the foundation for all the 15, that you should be a ‘full person’, not just a woman, a mother. Not to be defined by only one of the many roles a woman dons. She herself is an accomplished woman but doesn’t let the accolades haze her womanly and maternal roles. Her works have been translated into 30 languages and has won many national and international awards for her Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah.

Being in the last few weeks of my second pregnancy I can only identify very well with the third suggestion about gender roles. Blue and pink for boy and girl babies! In Adichie’s opinion, toys and baby accessories should be arranged according to age and ability, not colour. The fourth one is apt – ‘Being a Feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not.’ The watch-phrases tell her friend to teach her daughter to read, and to find pride in the African people and culture, to look for Black heroes and histories.

The most important is to talk about sex in the language of children, no shaming just open talk. Teaching about sex is teaching responsibilities. So beautifully compared. Parents of girls should be able to talk freely and share about anything and everything from periods and virginity to romance and sex.


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Rating: 5.1/10 (17 votes cast)

Surviving, and How!

when I fell in love with life

Review of When I Fell in Love with Life; Geetha Paniker; Partridge 2015; pp 214

– Shana Susan Ninan

The blurb said, an anthology of writings from a cancer survivor whose therapeutic writing will guide, inspire, and heal your soul. And, the author is absolutely right. The prose and poems are a delight – you’ll probably read it in one go. I did. And the journey has been great.

Only a truly positive person will be able to find the CAN in cancer, and Geetha Paniker’s, When I Fell In Love with Life is a testament of that. The light purple-grey colour scheme of the cover and the sea/crab-related photo is a reminder as well. Her doubts, her beliefs, her philosophies… all are covered in the book. And it’s poignantly titled, each part, each journey, and leads us right into the core of her works.

Trips to Yercaud and Mysore, and other places, visits to natural spots, and of course, radiation therapies and hospital stays. Some of the pieces are very clinically written while others are emotional and tugs at your heart strings. I’m sure most of us have at least one friend or family member who’s had cancer, and Geetha’s writings are applicable to all our lives. She’s someone who’s strong enough to call pain, ‘beautiful’. This book isn’t just for survivors of terminal illnesses, but for each one of us.

The only glitch that mars the reading is the initial piece of prose that accompanies poems. I feel poems printed on their own would have been more powerful. The text before it takes away some of the punch of poetry. The shortness of life is well-captured in the terse lines.

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Rating: 7.3/10 (4 votes cast)

A Sub-Collector’s Life

The View From Kollam

Review of The View From Kollam: A Day in the Life of a Sub-collector; C. Balagopal; Harper Collins; Rs 275; pp 176

– Shana Susan Ninan

The cover of Balagopal’s A View From Kollam: A Day in the Life of a Sub-collector is absolutely delightful. A water colour and pen rendering of the official building, most likely. It is light and inviting. The book itself, though, is another matter. It strongly worded and very, very straight-forward. It is written in succinct chapters, all relating to his days at work, his peers, subordinates and bosses, and life in a small town. He constantly compares and contrasts the positions he’s held in Kerala and Manipur, as well as how the two states differ in governance matters.

Is it coincidence or what that I know another Balagopal, who’s quite like this writer? The one I know is a Lecturer in a University, wears white dhoti and starched white shirt, frowns upon people who throw waste on the roadside, ones who are late to class and generally anyone flouting the rules.

Eighteen real-life anecdotes give readers a peek into the nitty-gritty of governance because the author believes that our favourite reads have powerful characters based on real people and plots grounded in reality. Balagopal writes about efficient government officers who cut through red tape and legalese to help people and also how it is people and not the system that can bring about positive changes.

Governance and politics rule the lives of a majority of people in Kerala, directly and indirectly. And Balagopal has given life to those stories in an interesting way. His own spiced anecdotes and stories of frustration at the slow-moving-Government-wheel adds to the tone of the tales.

He states that corrupt and apathetic administrators ruin the governmental process and cause roadblocks along the way. And not much has changed since.

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Rating: 7.5/10 (4 votes cast)

Lessons from an MBA Life

Book cover Google

Review of MayBe This OR mAybe That – 37 Things we didn’t learn in B – schools; Abhaidev; Pebbls Publishing House 2015; Rs 150; pp 96

– Shana Susan Ninan

The book came as a surprise for me – not just because it is in Q & A mode, but also for the simplicity of the language. It deals with the everyday questions that most college-educated youngsters would have, but it is dealt with very smoothly and in a manner that quells your curiosity about several themes. It’s so simple, it’s almost un-MBA like!

Why most guys feel that “MBA girls” are not good marriage material? Why every other MBA is turning into a candid photographer or a best-selling author? Apart from answering such quirky questions, Abhaidev has tried articulating what many MBA graduates have thought of but couldn’t. Worth read for those who have “been there, done that” and also for those who aspire to join the MBA brethren in the near future.

There are short stories, anecdotes, case studies and quirky tales… all weaved into the flow of the book. The author brings in stories and answers about planning, delegating, tactics, evaluation, GD’s, appraisals, mergers and other typical things that are part and parcel of an MBA’s cycle. I enjoyed the references to Indian idioms and phrases – very relatable.

I wonder why’s that it’s techies and managers who’ve left their IT and corporate jobs who publish so many books? What about those on the job? Do they feel the same way? Abhaidev is the pen name of Mayank Chandna, an MDI Gurgaon alumnus, who quit his boring investment banking career to venture into the ‘exciting’ world of writing, something he had always dreamt of as a child. Once working as a perfunctory 10 hour shift finance employee, he now loves his 24×7 job of being a writer and an entrepreneur.

Typos and the use of a sans serif font does slow down your reading a bit. But I must say, the author has successfully tried a new style of writing.

You can buy the book from:

Flipkart Link –

Amazon Link –

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Rating: 7.2/10 (10 votes cast)

Autism: Know It, Know Them

Review of Autism: A Handbook of Diagnosis and Treatment of ASD; Sumita Bose; V&S Publishers 2015; Rs 395; pp 158

– Shana Susan Ninan

That Autistic kids in India aren’t welcome in most mainstream schools is a given. It’s a proven fact. But how does one “handle” an autistic child/ teen? In my teaching years, I’ve come across autistic children and their parents, and most received complaint is that people around aren’t accommodative. That given a choice and resources, they’d leave this country and live abroad with their differently abled child. Is it because of lack of awareness regarding this disorder? Are the various communities in society reluctant to accept such children?

The author, Sumita Bose handholds us readers into this life by introducing us to a personal anecdote of how she came to do Child Psychology and ASD related courses in the US. Autism isn’t the end of the road for a child or its family. It is but a different life – one that needs patient care and love. She gives us profiles of doctors and early medical practitioners who’ve pioneered in this field, and how India officially accepted the widespread existence of this disorder, in 1991.

There’s a lot of pressure from schools and extended family, and the general public, on these kids and their parents. An empathetic way of dealing will go a long way here. This is a good guide for parents, teachers, friends and public who come into contact with autistic persons. Bose gives a narrative-like feeling when she deals with issues from conception/ birth to education to adulthood. The details of schools and institutions meant for autistic kids is useful, although I personally feel that there are lot many more NGO’s and individual agencies that help, especially in Kerala.

Another thing I found missing is how an autistic child’s family and friends deal with the sexuality and orientation of autistic children. They are major components of a children. More so since autistic children aren’t able to express themselves as well as others. A page or two about the sexual needs, routines and characteristics of autistic children would have made it a little more wholesome.

Bose has been a teacher for more than two decades, and authored Science, Mathematics and puzzle books for children. She’d a member of Autism Society of America and designated Autism Ambassador in Melbourne, Florida.

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Rating: 9.8/10 (8 votes cast)

365 Days of Wine

Review of The Connoisseurs; Michael O’Neill 2013; pp 192

– Shana Susan Ninan

Author Michael O’Neill has made sure that even those unacquainted with the wine world don’t feel left out, in reading his The Connoisseurs. It’s a refreshing novel about a year in the life of a wine shop in Plumbly Fold, the imaginary champagne capital of Great Britain. Corkscrews is a chain of wine shops across the area, and the one here seems to house odd but interesting people. The fact that all four employees are men is a curious fact.

The three main characters are at loggerheads with each other – so to speak – with a young boy thrown in between. Written in a diary format – complete with date, place and terse paragraphs – the story is told through the life of Jim, the newest employee of the shop. Alan is a psychotic, control-freak boss, and Laurie is the OCD maniac.

The plot is very relatable for those who’ve worked in shops, keeping tabs on customers, distinguishing between the genuine ones and the those just passing time. It runs smoothly from one day to the next, often leaving the reader anticipating the next day’s events. The language is well-articulated, though there are a couple of words/ phrases that the uninitiated in winery will have to look up the meaning of.

Interpersonal relationships at workplace are defined very early on in the book, and the author has done a very good job of rounding off the characters well. Their emotions and tugs are revealed from the first page onwards.

The spacing of the text and paragraphs are a little tedious for the eye. Especially for readers who’d like to read several pages at one go. I found the first few pages a little dry, too. Probably was the time for me to be initiated into the plot of the book. Breaking Banana Bread, The Great Champagne Disaster and the Apple Queen Election are all parts of the book I enjoyed. The narrative shows the in-depth knowledge of the writer in fields dealt with.

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Rating: 6.4/10 (5 votes cast)

Child Sexuality, A conversation

Review of Dark Room: Child Sexuality in India; Pankaj Butalia, Illustrations Neelima P. Aryan; Harper Collins 2013; pp 179; Rs 350

– Shana Susan Ninan

That’s a question I’ve tried a lot to answer.

The line between sexuality and abuse of children is thin and shifting. It is demarcated by family background, neighbourhood lived in, culture and social mores. In India we see a mediated sexuality, in children and adults. Elders, society and often, strangers, dictate what our sexualities should or shouldn’t be. Childhood sexuality has always been a cause of anxiety, and elders’ first step has always been to “protect” children from sexual experiences – with the self and with others. Adults often refuse to acknowledge that children have a sexuality. The children do. They’re not just kids, they are mini humans. With all the innate feelings, emotions and instincts as we have – just that its levels are much lesser, perhaps.

Butalia has chosen 11 stories – real and happened ones – to illustrate how children have a sexuality. It may be expressed through words or deeds, and most definitely through thoughts. After reading them, it registered in me how the term ‘child’ is wrongly defined by us. The continued existence of child marriage in India gives us a glimpse into our negotiation with childhood sexuality, and that it isn’t restricted to myth or religion.

The longish introduction by Shalini Advani, and educationist and author, opened my eyes to facts I had read before but refused to accept. Sexual experiences by and in children are blanketly termed as abuse. Having worked for a while with young mothers who were victims of incest, it was very difficult for me to see the positive side of child sexuality, if there is something as a positive side.

The importance of touch, is another theme I’d like to explore, after having taken in the real life experiences of the 11 people. Parents and siblings, and to an extent, cousins and friends, play a large and irreplaceable role in initiating and grounding the tactile senses of a child. Hugs from parents, platonic kisses from siblings, a pat from a friend… all these ‘harmless’ touches may actually help to condition sexuality in the childhood. And it may even help children to keep away predatorial sexual experiences.

Pankaj Butalia is a former table tennis player who has a 20-year stint at teaching Economics, and has won several international awards for his documentary films. This is his debut work in writing. The book is an eye-opener. The accompanying illustrations by Neelima are strong and focused. I think all adults, especially parents and teachers/ professors, should read this book. A much needed impetus for a conversation on child sexuality.

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Rating: 9.7/10 (7 votes cast)

Killing the Face That Graced a Million T-Shirts

Review of Hunting Che: How a Special Forces Team Helped Capture The World’s Most Famous Revolutionary; Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer; Berkley Caliber 2013; pp 277

– Shana Susan Ninan

Traces the US-trained Bolivian forces’ success at capturing 20th century’s most famous man – Che Guevara. It’s the ordeal of a US Green Beret team that trained Bolivian soldiers and common men in 1967 to capture Che. After Castro’s rise to power in Cuba, Che was on a high, travelling to Asia, Africa and countries of South America

The CIA knew everything about him, except where he was. And that was damn frustrating. For a man who was trained to blend into the forest and not be visible to the rest of the world, Che does a good job evading the Americans.

Major Ralph Shelton a.k.a. “Pappy”, who saw combat in Korea, Laos and the Dominican Republic, led the Green Beret team which captured the famous man. Shelton was a favourite in his unit, accepted by the soldiers and villagers, alike.

The middle section of the book is rife with photos pf the capture, Che’s travels, and for the first time in publications, a photo of Che in disguise as an old man. The writing is prose mixed with some news writing. The authors have written well, showing the death of the revolution and not just the death of one man.

Che was a grand propagandist, more like a PRO for the Communist Party – even now- than as a leader. His message, his photo, rather, lives on in the minds of the young and the old. And in all fairness, I think, of all the books I’ve read of and by Che, this one is the most unbiased. As writers and journalists, the authors have taken an even stand in recreating this drama at the end of Che’s life.

When most writers, filmmakers and documenters of Che’s life absolutely fall for his charm, Weiss and Maurer are not at all enamoured by this smart-talking revolutionary. In fact, their words in describing the few minutes after Che’s capture says it all:

“Don’t bother, captain, this thing is all over,” Che said.

The Che – the picture of confidence, the icon of the revolutionaru movement – hung his head….

And for once, Che had nothing to say.


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Rating: 9.3/10 (7 votes cast)

Her Mother’s Champion

Review of Hiding Places:A Mother, A daughter, an uncovered life; Diane Wyshogrod; Excelsior Editions 2012; pp 298

– Shana Susan Ninan

All of us have memories, people and feelings we’ve hidden away in the dark and deep recesses of our minds. The kind that we don’t allow to surface, to occupy spaces in our daily lives. But sometimes, just sometimes, we allow our loved ones to gain access to them, and at other times, we open to them, on self-will or by persuasion.

Dina’s Hiding Places is one such attempt, I’d say – she is her mother’s champion in unraveling a part of her mother’s youthful days, peeling off layers of years. As painful as it is, Dina gets her mother to speak about her years during the Nazi Occupation of Poland, specifically the 16 long months she’d spent in a 4ft by 6ft cellar. Although her mother at first disagrees with sharing her disturbing past with the world, Dina successfully convinces her mother to do so. But, as the author goes deeper into the processing of taking down the notes directly from her mother, both are overwhelmed at times, by the sheer expanse of what her mother went through.

In the middle of the book is a beautiful session on how Dina’s mother, Lutka and others who’ve suffered under the Nazi regime “revisit” Zolkiew, their hometown. The narration covers several pages, and Is skillfully crafted to reflect the emotions that the group experiences as they travel through a city that was once theirs.

Now, riding through the night, I feel myself trying to absorb Israel into my skin, through all my senses…. I feel my identity – even my age – shifting. I am Lutka’s daughter, the granddaughter of Josef Rosenberg, the town pharmacist. I suddenly feel like a precocious youngster being taken on an adult outing. I almost forgot that I am already in the middle of my own life, a professional, a wife, a mother with school-age children.

A psychologist’s perspective and scientific background comes through, in some parts of the book, though not over powering that the smooth flow of a non-fiction novel is affected by it. Dina’s words are poignant, with deep meanings and attributes. Very few people who have lived through trauma can write about it with this kind of detachment, at the same time not leaving out the intensity of the situations. Readers will feel like they are in the midst of a dinner time conversation, or stuck in the tiny cellar, or travelling in the bus with Dina, her mother and others… they are so many more examples to elucidate that. The vivid and varied photographs only enhance the read.

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Rating: 9.3/10 (9 votes cast)

Touching Them Wrong

Review of The Bad Touch; Payal Shah Karwa; Hay House 2014; p 264

– Shana Susan Ninan

No amount of field work, sessions with victims of Child Sexual Abuse and reading articles and watching videos had prepared me for this. To actually read first-person accounts of CSA, incest and child rape was a totally different experience. There was an ache in my heart as the pages flew by, finishing the book in two short sittings. Since my teenage I’ve been working in several social and community circles, helping CSA victims reclaim their lives. I’ve spoken at various forums, voiced my dissent to many people and institutions. The difference probably lies in the fact that I’m the mother of a two-year-old boy now. Yes, that’s it. Reading Payal Shah Karwa’s The Bad Touch brought me closer to the topic on a personal level.

Known filmmakers Harish Iyer and Anurag Kashyap narrate the incidents from their life. It is followed up by the stories of other men and women who’ve suffered in their childhood. The traumatic situations are brought back to life, the painful episodes opened up, layer by layer. Readers, in spite of their background and exposure, will be able to identify with the real life stories in the book.

In India, it is said that almost 64% of children have endured some form of sexual abuse or another. And in majority of cases, the perpetrator was known to them closely. I hope this book opens up this taboo topic, enough for people to frankly discuss and address issues of Child Sexual Abuse. The book is positive in the sense that it inspires the older, mature generation to take note of the little ones more carefully. And also for the fact that it encourages the survivors to speak up boldly about their experience.

In the middle of the reading of Payal’s book, I’d left it on the table when I went for a bath. My mother, not a voracious reader like me but someone who used to read a lot in her younger days, picked up the book and read almost half of it at one go. As a kindergarten coordinator and a person who works with young children day in and day out, she found the book deep and insightful.

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Rating: 7.3/10 (6 votes cast)