Book Review by Nabina Das
Title: Bulletproof: A Journalist’s Notebook on Reporting Conflict
Author: Teresa Rehman
Publisher: Penguin Random House India, 2019
Conflict journalism is a term that evokes certain hard-hitting images in the head. These are mostly to do with the news coverage of militaristic activities, hyper-masculine behavior and code of conduct, and a breakdown of order in a state or society. And the immediate corollary that follows is that a male journalist must be at the helms writing about wars and skirmishes across countries and continents, an extraordinary brave and exclusive act. This nearly is a post-colonial post-truth — if one may use such jargon — even in the 21st century. The first thing that comes in the reader’s mind after reading Teresa Rehman’s Bulletproof is the sense of foreboding laced with hope and empathy. Unlike a lot of war or conflict journalists we have known and read, she shuns frills or any show of sensationalism. More than conflict, her focus is peace.
An award-winning journalist specializing in combat reporting from the Northeast and Kashmir, Rehman recounts in this book her dangerous forays in a matter of fact tone. The chapters are each devoted to major assignments she undertook as a fulltime journalist. The book starts with the meeting with Th. Muivah, the vastly charismatic leader of Naga liberation, chief of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah). It’s a fascinating account full of details one doesn’t see in run-of-the-mill reports on Naga insurgency from especially mainland India. Here one sees Muivah not simply as a militant Naga leader, but as a human being with a sense of humor, and “Uncle” to his followers.
With most accounts of conflict journalism being a male bastion that is also loud and demonstrative, Rehman writes in a remarkably balanced voice sans any overt dramatization. As a woman writing about experiences that normally would have any seasoned journalist all warped and twisted, her accounts flow with grace and human consideration. The reader also gets glimpses of places like Dimapur, its dingy hotels, the alleyways, and even of the accompanying driver or attendant (who apparently had no clue why Rehman was visiting Nagaland).
Book Review by Mitali Chakravarty
Title: Not Native
Author: Murali Kamma
Publisher: Wising Up Press, 2019
Not Native is a collection of short stories by Murali Kamma, an accomplished short story writer and the managing editor of Khabar, an American Indian magazine. The stories are of “Immigrant Life In An In-Between World” we are told in a subtitle on the title page of the book.
What is this ‘in-between world‘? It is the world created by migrants to America between 1983 and 2018 — both in America and India. Like the characters in his stories, Kamma with these narratives “straddles” between his country of birth, India, and the country he migrated to, America.
Kamma has divided his book into four parts — perhaps to focus on subjects that he felt were important for the immigrant population. The first part, ‘Sons and Fathers’ has four stories centering around the topic mentioned in the sub-heading. They address unique situations; in one the abandoned son on a holiday to India rediscovers his father in an ashram; in another death rituals of his father make the immigrant who returns to India feel more isolated and there is yet more tellings on the different worlds occupied by the fathers and sons. The one that is most poignant one, in which a bridge is built through generations, is set in US. The bridge is built with a story about the world’s oldest man and a proposed “interview” to be conducted by the granddaughter.
Book Review by Koi Kye Lee
Title: The Mad Man and Other Stories
Author: A. Jessie Michael
Publisher : Maya Press Sdn Bhd
The Mad Man and Other Stories is a collection of short stories written by A. Jessie Michael, a retired Associate Professor of English. No stranger to writing short stories since the 1980s, Michael has also received honourable mentions for the Asiaweek Short Story Competition. Her stories have appeared in The Gombak Review, The New Straits Times, Malaysian Short Stories, Her World, Snapshots,and 22 Asian Short Stories (2015).
The Mad Man and Other Stories contain 13 short stories she has written over the last 30 years, and it involves events she remembers during old and contemporary Malaysia. The book was launched in 2016 at the sixth installment of the Georgetown Literary Festival.
In the volume’s titular story, “The Mad Man”, four children observe Govindasamy paying obeisance to Hindu gods. One of the children, Joe, says that he is mad, while Pauline dismisses her cousin and claims that Govindasamy is just “a little crazy when it is full moon”. Inviting them into the outhouse after his prayers, Pauline notices the statues of Hindu deities and comments that Govindasamy is praying to the wrong God. Irritated, he responds:
“Your god, my god, it’s all the same.”
Book Review by Kaiyi Tan
Author: Marc Nair
Photographer: Tsen-Waye Tay
Publisher: Math Press, 2019
I must first confess that I did not like Sightlines when I first read it. As I absorbed this book of poems with photography by Marc Nair and Tsen-Waye Tay, I couldn’t help but feel that a certain song-like lyricism was missing. Usually, my first instinct is to judge verses based solely on the quality of sound alone. Meaning can be secondary, as long as the words form a particular harmony. Knowing that Marc Nair is an established poet in Singapore with a huge reputation for spoken word, I was slightly disappointed.
But on my second reading, something very simple happened.
I followed the recommendation in Mr. Nair’s introduction: I read the poems with the images in mind. And suddenly, like Blake’s experience of seeing a world in a grain of sand, the entire book changed for me. Mr. Nair’s words, together with the stark and beautiful photography of Ms. Tay, emerged as mini-narratives of their own.
Book Review by Dr. Anisur Rahman
Book: Till the Next Wave Comes
Poet: Sarita Jenamani
Publisher: Dhauli Books, 2018
A poem is not
a luminous firework
It is a lonely shooting star
from the forehead
of the firmament (“Poem”, 69)
(Excerpted from A Poem is Not a Luminous Firework: Sarita Jenamani in Her Poetry Workshop)
Constructed around four vibrant images, this definitional piece made me wonder if a poem is a curious construct for Sarita Jenamani. A moment later, I turned curious to find whether the poem comes in her grip, or gives her a slip, in a moment of becoming. To test this, I moved back and forth with seventy nine poems included in her collection Till the Next Wave Comes. In doing so, I found myself defining and redefining her poetics as any curious reader would do in the process of reading poetry. While reading the poems with shorter and longer breaks, I confirmed that a poem to her was a unit of a larger body of expression called poetry that sought its strength from sharp images and mixed metaphors, as also with acute turns of expressions and implied silences.
Jenamani’s poetry has allowed me a passage to a rich habitat of people and a veritable range of moods and modes of living. She chooses to draw upon locations near and far, conditions real and eerie, and people alive and lost in time. As she turns her words into images and images into metaphors, she transforms her memories into fantasies and conditions of living into those of loving. Her long and short poems are like breaths punctuated with regular strokes of strength. She survives through drifting and static scenarios that most of her poems represent.
Jenamani is a poet in English and Oriya. She lives in Vienna, Austria. She is the general secretary of Austrian Chapter of PEN International. She is the co-editor of an Austria based bilingual magazine for migrant literature Words & Worlds.
By Mitali Chakravarty
Title: Reluctant Editor
Author: PN Balji
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish, 2019
The Reluctant Editor has a forward by the prominent Singaporean lawyer and diplomat, Professor Tommy Koh, which tells us that the author, P N Balji “is one of Singapore’s veteran newspaper journalists and editors, and a very good one”. The narrative is not just an account of the Singapore media seen through the eyes of a veteran journalist as stated obviously on the book cover, but also a quick sketch of a man who is introverted and self-effacing.
We do not find the author talk much of himself or his work, but he does give an extensive report on the media history from the early 1970s to the early 2000s in Singapore, including episodes like the Toh Chin Chye case, where a false allegation was made in a newspaper report on an ex-minister of Singapore. PN Balji had been in editorial positions in The Straits Times (ST), The New Paper (TNP) and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Today.
The historic evolution of all the newspapers in Singapore and the government’s involvement in monitoring the media is clearly spelt out — even to the point of deciding what kind of newspapers were necessary for communicating with people. Described as a “brash” newspaper, The New Paper was started to bridge the gap between those who read and comprehended the one hundred and seventy-one-year-old newspaper, The Straits Times, and the people who don’t understand the ST. The New Paper was started to “speak the language of blue-collar workers”. A tabloid and later a morning daily, it needed a set of different writing skills as Professor Koh tells us in the foreword. His article in simple English had to be rewritten by the editor to make it comprehensible for the readers of TNP.
Book Review by Gracy Samjetsabam
Title: Indigo Girl
Author: Suzanne Kamata
Publisher: Gemma Media (2019)
Indigo Girl is a coming-of-age novel by Suzanne Kamata, an award-winning novelist who resides in Japan. A sequel to the young adult novel Gadget Girl, a book that won multiple awards including the APALA (Asia Pacific American Award for Literature) Honor award in 2013-2014, the story centres around the life of the protagonist, Aiko Cassidy.
Aiko is a biracial and a bicultural teenager with cerebral palsy. Raised by a single mother, who now has a new family, she questions her idea of belonging and home. She yearns to know more about her biological father and the many questions that shroud her existence.
Aiko is excited about her summer break and looks forward to the solo trip from Michigan (USA) to Tokushima (Japan). It is her first visit to Japan, the place she describes as “where I belong” as she pictures it as “the land of Ghibli and iced matcha lattes, land of indigo and cat cafes and manga and J-pop”. Although she is 15 and has cerebral palsy, she is independent and confident like any other teen and thinks that she is old enough to speak for herself. The trip that was meant to be a summer getaway — to connect to her biological father and to inspire the book she was working on — ends up opening a whole new window to life for Aiko.
Book Review by Namrata
Title: Animalia Indica –The Finest Animal Stories in Indian Literature
Editor: Sumana Roy
Publisher: Aleph Book Company (2019)
Edited by Sumana Roy, Animalia Indica is a first of its kind collection of animal stories in Indian literature. From classic story tellers like R.K.Narayan, Premchand, Rudyard Kipling to the most recent maestros like Kanishk Tharoor, Perumal Murugan, and Nilanjana Roy, this collection features them all.
Sumana Roy is a Siliguri based author whose previous works include a non-fiction title (How I became a tree), a fiction novel (Missing) and a poetry collection (Out of Syllabus). She went on to win the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize and the Tata Literature Live! First Book Award in 2017 for her debut book How I became a tree.
This anthology, with its beautiful cover, has twenty-one stories about humans and animals. It can easily be called a collector’s edition with the who’s who of Indian literature featured within. Not all of the collection is made of short stories. There are some poems; excerpts; two are novellas and one is an entire novel in its own. The selection is classic! It includes stories translated from regional languages and from Indian writing in English, with interesting end-notes about the narrative, authors and translators. The magic of the stories makes something written in 1981 an equally intriguing read as one written recently. What makes the book even more eye catching and unique, are the sketches by Rohan Dahotre before each story (he has also done the stunning cover). Depicting the animal/s featured in each story, these black and white sketches set the tone for every tale that follows.
Book Review by Richa Mohan
Title: Lone Fox Dancing, My Autobiography
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher and date of publication: Speaking Tiger, 2017
Ruskin Bond is an award-winning author. He won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957, for his very first novel, The Room on the Roof. Since then he has been honoured with various awards including the Sahitya Akademi Award for English writing in India in 1993, the Padma Shri in 1999, and the Delhi government’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. He was conferred with the Padma Bhushan in 2014. In fact, his autobiography, Lone Fox Dancing, won the 2017 Atta Galatta-Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize.
So how do you review the work of a master? Actually, you don’t. You simply flow with the magic of the master weaver of tales and feel lucky that you had a chance to, once again, experience the power of beautiful storytelling.
It is said greatness is born of suffering, and the story in the book is testament of that. You are transported to a simpler time and life, such that you actually end up yearning for them — for the days when pen and paper, and tales in the night, were an everyday reality.
Book Review by Suvasree Karanjai
Title: Best Asian Speculative Fiction
Editor: Rajat Chaudhuri
Series Editor: Zafar Anjum
Publisher: Kitaab, 2018
Speculative fiction can no longer be dismissed as low-brow, trashy or pulp, or at the very least, unimportant and weird fantasy if one reads the collection edited by Rajat Chaudhuri, The Best Asian Speculative Fiction. To many readers’ surprise, this marginalised genre has lot to contribute philosophically to the dream of a technocrat’s world. The present age that can be well-described as an era of artificial intelligence (AI) is surely complementary to human intelligence developed with the purpose of mitigating our works in future. But the rise of AI and the philosophy of technocracy have, at the same time, given rise to multiple speculations regarding future of humanity — the fear of Frankenstein.
Speculative fiction is too large a subject to be represented exhaustibly in a book or a collection of Asian speculative narratives. The unique character of this specific genre lies in an impossibility to hold all its threads within a watertight definition. It encompasses several genres under its shed. Chaudhuri’s The Best Asian Speculative Fiction is indeed a suitable example of this broad compass. We are on an enchanting rollercoaster ride as we leap from one imaginative narrative to another coming from diverse authors from sixteen countries of Asia plus more diasporas.