Book Review by Namrata
Off the Shelf by Sridhar Balan
Speaking Tiger Publishing
Every book has a lot of people involved in it. Of course, a writer is at the core of it all but once the writer is done writing it, we have the beta-readers and editors who polish it further to make it publishing ready. Furthermore, we have the cover designer, typesetter, marketing team and many others who work on giving it the final shape before we the readers get to hold it in our hands. Off the Shelf by Sridhar Balan is an ode to all those people (invisible hands) who work on a book to make sure it reaches the readers in a beautiful package, inside out.
Sridhar Balan is a senior professional in the publishing industry with decades of experience in the Indian publishing industry. Having worked with Oxford University Press and Ratna Sagar P Ltd, he has also been a literary columnist with several Indian newspapers. Currently, he is a consultant with Ratna Books, an imprint for translations.
Off the Shelf has a beautiful beige cover with a bookshelf and a cosy reading nook as the backdrop. For any book lover, the cover depicts a piece of heaven they always crave for. Endless rows of books filled with titles of all types, stories, poems and essays all calling you hither to listen to them is exactly how a book lover sees heaven as.
Book Review by Mitali Chakravarty
Title: The Last Cherry Blossom
Author: Kathleen Burkinshaw
Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2016
“Cherry blossoms are like life itself—so beautiful, yet so fragile that they bloom for only a short time.”
These lines, ethereal and poetic in intent, sum up in spirit the story of the young adult book, The Last Cherry Blossom. This book, authored by Kathleen Burkinshaw, seems to be impacting the world with its peacekeeping efforts as it is now a United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs Resource for Teachers and Students. Burkinshaw has recently spoken at the United Nations in New York City.
The Last Cherry Blossom has received much acclaim. It has been nominated for the NC School Library Media Association YA book award and 2019-2020 VSBA, 2018 & 2016 Scholastic WNDB Reading Club selection, and Finalist for NC Sir Walter Raleigh Fiction Award, 2018 Sakura Medal, Japan, and SCBWI Crystal Kite Award (southeast region).
The narrative recreates a beautiful world that was ruined by the nuclear bomb blast in Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. Burkinshaw herself is the daughter of a survivor — a hibakusha. The Last Cherry Blossom brings home to the readers the loss, the pain and the suffering that a nuclear war generates through generations. Kathleen Burkinshaw herself suffers a neurological disorder due to her mother’s exposure to the atom bomb.
Book Review by Aditya Shankar
Title: A Brief History of Silence
Author: Manu Dash
Publisher: Dhauli Books, India. First Edition, 2019
Manu Dash is a poet, editor, translator, cultural activist and director of OALF (Odisha Art & Literature Festival). He writes in Odia and in English. In 1974, he joined Anam – a literary movement by a group of writers – engaged in searching the socio-cultural roots of the land where he lives. His works include two collections of poems and short stories and four collections of essays. He edited Wings Over the Mahanadi, an anthology of eight Odia poets writing in English (Poetrywala, Mumbai). He edits The Dhauli Review (www.dhaulireview.com), a tri-quarterly of Indian writing, and runs the reputed publishing house, Dhauli Books(www.dhaulibooks.com).
Manu Dash’s poetry collection, A Brief History of Silence, speaks from the warmth and intimacy of the womb—the womb of ideas, the womb of words, the womb of corridors in isolated cancer wards. With womb as the pedestal of speech, the choice of silence and meditation becomes a natural choice of language for these verses. Without a choice, Buddha is an obsession for the inward-looking verse. Songs from the womb must sing about beginnings (‘Zero’, ‘Rain’) and ends (‘No Rain’, ‘Obituary’). These poems cannot help but be obsessed about the shape of formations, the evolution of outcomes (‘Hellhole homes’, ‘Headlines’), and about each step forward.
Book Review by Gracy Samjetsabam
Title: Earthquake Boy
Author: Leela Gour Broome
Publisher and date of publication: Speaking Tiger, 2019.
Earthquake Boy is the latest novel by Leela Gour Broome, a Western classical music and English Literature teacher. She is also an environmentalist. She has contributed to children’s literature by writing numerous short stories, series of pun cartoons, and cartoon strips for a children’s newspaper and magazine. Three of her other books include Flute in the Forest, Red Kite Adventure, and The Anaishola Chronicle. She conducts story-telling and reading sessions for school children and, language-and-literature-related events and workshops for young readers at literature festivals.
Broome’s Earthquake Boy is a historical fiction, a novel based on the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, with 26 January as the fateful day and Bhuj as its epi centre. UNICEF in its report on India (Gujarat) Earthquake 2001 estimated that more than 8,000 children were orphaned and more than 1,000 were left unaccompanied. Binna, a shortened form of the Hindi word Bey Naam, which translates to “the boy without a name” in the novel is the protagonist of Broome’s story and through Binna, she also tells the story of the many “Binnas” who were left desolate, homeless and with little hope from the quake.
Natural disasters come unwarned, often violent, furious, calamitous and woeful. Children fall in the vulnerable section of the community in times of natural disaster. Historical fiction on natural calamities for children such as this one, can help create awareness about the hardships that children go through in such times but to shed light on realities that one might have or not experienced, thus broadening the horizons and diversity of thought among the readers. Such stories while painting the harshness of life and disasters, also communicates the beauty of profundity in human spirit.
Book Review by Namrata
Name: The Merman and the Book of Power- A Qissa
Author: Musharraf Ali Farooqi
Publisher: Aleph Book Company, 2019
The Merman and the Book of Power is the retelling of a qissa, a classic storytelling form in Urdu. This epic novel combines myth with history to give us a glimpse of the evolution of civilisation.
Author Musharraf Ali Farooqi works have been critically acclaimed and have been a finalist for both, Man Asia Literary Prize 2012 and DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2008 apart from being longlisted for IMPAC/Dublin Literary Prize. Along with being a writer, he is also an editor, translator and founder of the Storykit Program.
As Farooqi says in the Author’s Note, “This book merges the parallel histories, myths and multiple personas for Apollonius of Tyana, Hermes Trismegistus and Alexander the Great in the Western and Eastern literary canon, and the various religious, occult and apocalyptic traditions associated with them.”
Book Review by Kajoli Banerjee Krishnan
Title: Boys from Good Families
Author: Usha K.R.
Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2019
It was twenty-five years ago that Usha K.R. stepped into the literary world with ‘Sepia Tones’ that won the 1995 Katha Short Story Award. Her first novel Sojourn was published in 1998. Her subsequent novels The Chosen (2003), A Girl and a River (2007) and Monkey-man (2010) have been critically acclaimed. A Girl and a River was awarded the Vodafone Crossword Prize in 2007. Amongst her other short stories are ‘Elixir’, that appeared in Boo, An Anthology of Ghost Stories and ‘The Boy to Chase the Crows Away’ that was shortlisted in the Best Asian Short Stories 2017 by Kitaab.
Usha’s fifth novel Boys from Good Families traces the story of Ashwath. Living with his parents and sister Savitri in ‘Neel Kamal’, their family home, he grows up within a conservative household in the city of Bangalore during the 1970’s and 80’s. Ashwath finds his parents rigid in their beliefs, expectations from them and his extended family dreary and claustrophobic. A romantic at heart and somewhat undecided about his future, he enjoys exploring the city and its surroundings, watching films and starts to fall in love with a remarkably capable and charming Thippy.
This phase abruptly comes to an end when his parents come to know of his affection for Thippy who lives with her family in the outhouse of ‘Neel Kamal’ and is considered a social unequal. They throw out Thippy and family.
Book Review by Mitali Chakravarty
Title: Suralakshmi Villa
Author: Aruna Chakravarti
Publisher: Panmacmillan, 2020
In these troubled times, where exclusivity seems to be the norm, Suralakshmi Villa, a novel by Sahitya Akademi winner, Aruna Chakravarti, seems to rise like a tsunami with its syncretic lore spanning different parts of India—Delhi and Bengal, especially the hinterlands of Malda — and flooding the narrative with gems of not just culture and fantasy but also feminist and progressive concerns.
Developed out of her short story of the same name on the advice of Ruth Prawar Jhabarwala, an eminent author and the subject of Chakravarti’s PHD dissertation, the story is narrated from various perspectives. It is an interesting technique as the story rolls out different aspects of the development of women and society across almost half-a-century — from post-independence to the pre-internet days.
The first introduction to the Villa in the book is given by the youngest generation — Joymita, an avant-garde journalist. The story coils around generations of Indranath Choudhary’s clan or should one take a non- patriarchal stand and say — Suralkashmi’s family? Suralakshmi was the middle daughter of the man who build separate houses for each of his five daughters and named them after the girls. Suralakshmi was perhaps the most unusual of all the sisters and therefore a good protagonist for any novelist. Was she a feminist or did she live by her beliefs? We have to read to discover.
Chakravarti, in Jorasanko, her best- selling historical novel, took up the concept of abarodh, a kind of purdah that was practiced among women in Bengal prior to the late nineteenth- early twentieth century. In this one, she pauses a little on abarodh but introduces women who have already moved out of the confines of the purdah and have a right to decide their lives, though the less-educated and impoverished have difficulty in finding their independence. She says in an interview: “Like all my other novels Suralakshmi Villa focusses on the lives of women. It is about two sets of sisters. The first belongs to a wealthy, modern, enlightened, household of Delhi. The other, a goatherd’s daughters living in a slum in Malda, comes from the dregs of society. But close inspection reveals that there is not much difference in their lives and fates. There is emotional violence in one world…both physical and emotional violence in the other.”
Book Review by Namrata
Title: Coming back to the city, Mumbai Stories
Author: Anuradha Kumar
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books, 2019
‘She’s from Amrika, your new tenant, Pooja. A gori.’
Thus, begins the interwoven tale of lost souls living in the city of dreams, Mumbai by Anuradha Kumar.
The city of Mumbai is as mysterious as it can be. On one hand it is called the eternal city of dreams, meaning a place where people come with their dreams and work hard to get them fulfilled. While on the other hand, it is also known as the city which never sleeps. So, either the dreams you have are the ones you see wide awake or it is a contrast, signalling at the sleek chances of your dreams coming true. Whatever be the deeper meaning, it has never stopped people from aspiring and dreaming to live in this city.
Bringing together her experiences of living in Mumbai for 14 years, Kumar creates a moving tale from the great metropolis with stories both heard and unheard.
Book review by Tan Kaiyi
Title: The War on Terror
Author: Rene Acosta
Publisher: Penguin, 2019
“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvellous, intoxicating.”
As Southeast Asia achieves prominence as a rising tiger of the East (once again), it can be easy to forget the violence that plagued the region. Thailand is known as the ‘Land of Smiles’, but concealed is the reality of military juntas, corruption and royal drama. Indonesia, known for its pristine mythical landscapes, is also home to soil infested with the blood of suspected Communists. Even Singapore, the icon of the region’s progress, is not exempt from a history of violence. The Japanese Occupation and racial riots are just some of the stains on the history of the island nation.
The War on Terror deep dives into the vibrant yet troubled land of the Philippines. Written by veteran journalist Rene Acosta, this slim book is a concentrate of bloodshed and death. The non-fictional account is told through behind-the-scenes perspectives, detailed accounts of the operations and moments of extreme terror that not even today’s ultra-violent entertainment can match. The book centers on the Filipino military’s actions against the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). An Islamic separatist organization that operates in the Southern Philippines, it has been terrorising the group of islands—and the surrounding regions—since its first recorded activity in 1991.
The beginning sets the tone for the relentless bloodshed that pervades the book’s pages. Acosta starts his narrative in February 1993, when a group from the Philippines Marine Corp was massacred by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). They were lured out into a surprise attack by 300 members of the MNLF. Acosta spares no details when it comes to describing the atrocity of the massacre, reporting that the Marines were “…were stripped to their underwear and whose bodies showed burn and hack wounds that left most of them nearly unrecognizable…”
Book Review by Rakhi Dalal
Title: My Mother’s Lover and Other Stories
Author: Sumana Roy
Publisher: Bloomsbury India, 2019
Sumana Roy’s book How I Became a Tree, published in 2017, was shortlisted for the Sahitya Academy Award (Non-fiction) for the year 2019. Her novel Missing was published in 2018 and poetry collection Out of Syllabus in March 2019. My Mother’s Lover and Other Stories, a collection of fourteen stories, is her fourth published work.
The blurb of the book describes this collection as stories about people suffering from curious ailments. Interestingly, the book starts with this quote by Roland Barthes:
‘I have a disease; I see language.’
This makes it seem as if the author at the start of the collection confides to the reader her own ailment. Perhaps her observations and thoughts translate into words compulsively and take the form of language. Perhaps it is the inevitable metamorphosis of images, definite and indefinite, into words in her mind, which eventually shapes into stories, essays and poems. Through these stories, she seems to contemplate ordinary people’s peculiar ailments, which do not draw much consideration in the conundrum of conventional continuance.