Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2017

The Faces of Strangers - Pia Padukone

Reading about other cultures has always fascinated me. I remember, even as a child I used to look forward to this programme called ‘My Beautiful House’ on the Discovery Kids channel where one was given a brief summary of life in another culture specifically food, clothes, practices etc. The content was of course tailor made to suit children. Anthropology as a subject interested me in college but I didn’t pursue it for one reason or another. It has however remained a focal point of personal interest leading me to seek out not just books but also related media. ‘The Faces of Strangers’ by Pia Padukone appealed to me for this very reason as it gave me the opportunity to gain insight into a different culture. The book revolves around a student exchange programme between America and Estonia. I loved reading about Estonia – its natural beauty, food, economic crises and its historical relations with the then Soviet Union. The culture was beautifully drawn out through the Estonian characters …

The Copenhagen Affair - Amulya Malladi

This is my fourth encounter with Amulya Malladi’s work and it has been quite as enjoyable as the first three times. Through ‘The Copenhagen Affair’, Malladi has brought to fore a mental illness that is often brushed under the carpet – depression. However, it is not a melancholic rendition of the illness rather an insight into a woman’s self awareness and self discovery as she attempts to come to terms with the changes in her life. Along with depression, some light is also shed upon anxiety as a mental condition and how it is ignored and unrecognised whilst it continues to play havoc with the daily life of the sufferer.

The novel begins in California with the protagonist Sanya a financial consultant who appears to be suffering from depression after a particularly stressful incident at work. As a “remedy” her husband Harry suggests they move to Copenhagen as he believes a change of scene will help her recovery. The reader is also made aware of Sanya’s over achieving Indian immigrant par…

Salt Houses - Hala Alyan

‘Salt Houses’ – I found the title intriguing and when I read the synopsis of the book it started making sense…. I soon realised the beauty of the metaphor.

The book maps the experiences of a Palestinian family across 4 generations (from the 1960s to 2000s). It talks about displacement by making references to war and/or conflict and it is through the characters that the emotional upheaval that often accompanies this process is effectively brought to light by Hala Alyan. The Israel – Palestine unrest, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and the terror attack of the twin towers of the world trade centre in America all lend a melancholic backdrop to the story.

Along with displacement, the book addresses the most natural human response to displacement - the need for belonging. Consider this paragraph where Alyan has brilliantly captured this need “She touches the sumptuous fabrics of a curtain display, plucking items off the shelves as she walks. Throw pillows, a juicer, picture frames. It…

A Daughter's Courage - Renita D'Silva

I have always admired Renita D’silva’s writing style as it manages to strike a right chord by combining emotion, drama and some sort of connection to the characters’ past. It would be wrong of me to not admit that her stories are set in Karnataka and that instantly helps me relate a lot more to the characters and setting. I love reading her descriptions of Karnataka’s villages, its people and even food!

‘A Daughter’s Courage’ her latest novel makes references to all these aspects and a lot more. It brings to fore the often ignored ‘Devadasi’ practice whereby young girls are groomed to “serve” the temple deity (Goddess Yellamma), priests and rich landlords. In summary, it is prostitution in the name of religion and tradition. It is shocking to note that this practice is still carried out in certain remote parts of Karnataka. Part of the book is set in colonial India so we are also given a glimpse into the lives of British tea plantation owners and their interactions with the “natives”.…

Three Daughters of Eve - Elif Shafak

There are writers and then there are storytellers. Elif Shafak would gracefully glide into the latter. A storyteller for sure and a captivating one at that! I had received this book for review by Penguin a few months ago and it has taken me a while to put my thoughts to paper. I suppose I was fearful of not being able to do justice to the sheer brilliance of this novel. The book is set in Istanbul, Turkey and Oxford, England. The manner in which the story flits between two locations and two different points in time has been presented so beautifully that at no point do you feel confused or overwhelmed. The story revolves around Peri who at present is a rich housewife in Istanbul. An encounter with a thief reveals a photograph from her past and this takes us back to Peri’s days in Oxford University, her life as a student and the intense relationships she enters into especially her relationship with one Professor Azur. This professor seems to live on the periphery of the acceptable no…

The Nothing - Hanif Kureishi

Have you ever thought about what goes on in the minds of the elderly who don’t have much to look forward to and all that truly makes a difference to their lives is the care and affection from those they hold dear? And what happens when they perceive to have not received this love, which is “rightfully” theirs, or even worse, they feel it is being given to someone else? ‘The Nothing’ by Hanif Kureishi has the power to affect you not only because of its theme i.e. an apparently helpless, suspicious old man grappling with illness and insecurity but also because of Kureishi’s characteristic writing style which is packed with dark humour, sarcasm and even erudite crudeness. At the centre of the story is our protagonist Waldo, an elderly gentleman ridden with health issues –physical at first but then as the story progresses one wonders whether the mind is truly bereft of illness. Waldo, a filmmaker in his younger days, lives in the heart of London with his wife Zee, who is much younger tha…

Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows - Balli Kaur Jaswal

I was on the lookout for immigrant literature that is entertaining yet enlightening at the same time and ‘Erotic stories for Punjabi Widows’ came along. Now, before you snigger, the title of the book maybe considered a bit bold but the themes that it addresses are very real and sometimes quite hard hitting.

Nikki, a Sikh girl in her early twenties lands a job at a Gurudwara in Southall, England to conduct English classes and her students happen to be“elderly” widows from her own community. The description of Southall and its predominantly Sikh community is spot on right from the vegetable vendors to shops selling Indian wear and other trinkets. The importance of preserving one’s (and one’s family’s) honour or “izzat” stands out as a driving force behind a lot of the behaviour that is seen in the different characters and their stories.

The cohesiveness that develops during the course of Nikki’s classes which in fact turn out to be story telling sessions amongst the group has been beautif…

Ghachar Ghochar - Vivek Shanbhag (Translated by Srinath Perur)

Translated works from the regional languages of India have always fascinated me as they resonate a sense of simplicity that speaks to the soul. ‘Ghachar Ghochar’ by Vivek Shanbhag was originally written in Kannada and has been translated to English by Srinath Perur. There were two characteristics that drew me to this book. First, the title – Ghachar Ghochar as it reminded me of “gibberish” that my brother and I came up with in childhood but it meant something only to us. Second, I have always had a special affinity to Karnataka, particularly to Bangalore and Mangalore owing to deep ancestral and cultural roots.

The beauty about this book is that even though it is a novella, it manages to effectively communicate a powerful message about the impact of ‘new money’ on a family based in Bangalore. The story is narrated in the voice of the son of the family who is never named. The characters in the narrative include his parents, sister Malati, wife Anita and uncle Chikappa (father’s younger…

The Other Half of Happiness - Ayisha Malik

I have always been a little weary of sequels as I feel my expectations are always greater if the first book has been a great read. ‘The Other Half of Happiness’ by Ayisha Malik is a sequel to ‘Sofia Khan is Not Obliged’ and Malik doesn’t disappoint. Through this book, Malik has attempted to address not just the challenges of a cross-cultural marriage but marriage as a whole. She has also brought to light the issues faced by diverse writers in the publishing world though I would have liked to read more about this. This time round, the protagonist Sofia Khan is tasked with writing a book about Muslim marriage and the story is interspersed with Sofia’s notes for this book. One note that I found to be truly heart warming is “Count every lucky star you have – they will come in the shape of friends you love”. The reader is also privy to excerpts from the draft of her book so these combined with the notes provide an effective parallel to the plot. Malik’s characteristic humorous style of writ…