Book review by Namrata
Title: The Prospect of Miracles
Author: Cyrus Mistry
Published by: Aleph Book Company, 2019
The Prospect of Miracles revolves around the life of Pastor Pius Philipose or rather, his death. Interestingly, in this long-awaited novel, author Cyrus Mistry’s primary character is a dead man. His seemingly natural death is perceived as unexpected to his adorners while his wife experiences the opposite. The rest of the story is about what everyone including his wife think of him.
Mistry — the novelist, needs no introduction. His novel Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2014 while his other works have also won many awards and accolades. However, it must be noted that this is the first time, he has moved beyond writing about the Parsi community. Almost all his previous works revolved around the culture, with primary characters also being Parsi. His early works were clear reflection of all his observations of growing up as a Parsi in Mumbai. Few years ago, he moved to a non-descript location in South India which seems to have largely inspired him to write this story.
Set in Kerala, the story has the fragrances of that state neatly wrapped within. From lush cardamom farms, to the coconut trees swinging in the air. From the delectable flavours of the local delicacies cooked in coconut oil to the festive celebrations throughout the year — this story has it all in the backdrop while the core story unravels for the reader. While talking about the culture and traditions of Kerala, he also talks about the oppression and the staunch belief system prevalent there.
Reading Cyrus Mistry’s work is like walking through years of patriarchy prevalent in our society. Clearly reminiscent of one the many characters from Anita Nair’s literary gem Ladies Coupe, this book promises to leave a reader perplexed. With a complex array of characters and a non-symmetrical plot line, Mistry invites you in a world which is so similar to the real world and yet so different.
Book review by Koi Kye Lee
Title: Loss Adjustment
Author: Linda Collins
Publisher: Ethos Books (2019)
Loss Adjustment is a non-fiction work by Linda Collins, a New Zealander who has lived in tropical Singapore for almost three decades. Collins, a wife, mother, and copyeditor with the republic’s English daily, The Straits Times, suffered a devastating loss when her only child, Victoria Skye Pringle McLeod, decided to take her own life on April 14, 2014. She was only seventeen.
The memoir takes an unflinching look at the devastation wrought on Collins and her husband, Malcolm McLeod, as they tried to come to terms with their daughter’s death. Loss Adjustment starts with a glimpse into Collins’s normal morning routine in their home, where she, like other mothers, rises early to prepare for her daughter’s first day of a new school term. However, the routine was disrupted when Victoria (lovingly called Vic) was nowhere to be found in their condo. Before discovering that her daughter was missing, Collins had a strange dream where Victoria said: “I’m free, I’m free”.
Panicked, Collins woke up Malcolm and they started searching for her. An ominous feeling loomed over Collins as she ran towards the hill that led to other condominium blocks. As they wondered where their only child was, the building security guard, Mohan, arrived on his motorbike. But something was amiss — the burly and kindly man was sobbing. He conveyed a piece of bad news — Victoria was dead. She had taken her own life by stepping off the ledge on the 10th floor of a condominium block.
Reviewed by Neera Kashyap
Title: The Angel’s Beauty Spots
Author: K.R. Meera
Translator: J. Devika
Publisher: Aleph Book Company, 2019
Starting her career as a journalist with Malayala Manorma, K.R.Meera went onto become a prolific and acclaimed Malayalam writer of short story collections, novellas, novels and children’s books. Her very first collection of short stories, Ormayude Njarampu (2002) won several regional awards. Her magnum opus and most famous novel, Aarachaar (Hangwoman) was translated into English by J. Devika in 2014. It won the prestigious Odakkuzhal Prize in 2013, the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 2014, the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015 and was shortlisted for the DSC prize for South Asian literature in 2016. J. Devika once again is Meera’s translator of The Angel’s Beauty Spots. A writer, translator and feminist, she is a teacher and researcher at the Centre of Development Studies in Kerala.
The book comprises three novellas through which the book’s jacket says, “K.R. Meera explores the tragedy, betrayal and violence that arise out of the dark heart of love.” The first novella, The Angel’s Beauty Spots begins with Angela’s murder at the hands of her estranged ex-husband in full gaze of her two young daughters, the older one from him and the younger from a married ex-lover. Driven by a blind love, she had married this man only to discover the evil in him — when he pimps her to his friend in their own house. That their older daughter is privy to this, makes Angela feel that something has died within her.
Book Review by Namrata
Title: The Doctor and Mrs. A.: Ethics and Counter-Ethics in an Indian Dream Analysis
Author: Sarah Pinto
Publisher: Women Unlimited
Year of Publication: 2019
“How does one remember the future?”
Thus, begins The Doctor and Mrs. A by Sarah Pinto. Based on ethics and counter ethics in an Indian dream analysis, this book is an inspired example of thinking beyond the known.
Just before independence, somewhere in early forties, a young Punjabi woman identified only as Mrs. A decided to be a part of an experiment by a psychiatrist, Dev Satya Nanda, for his new method of dream analysis. Unbeknownst to him, she was in an unhappy marriage with a strong urge for freedom from all the bondage. Through this experiment they discovered hidden layers of her personality which included different reflections on sexuality, trauma, ambitions and marriage. Pinto revisits this conversation and explores it in the context of late colonial Indian society. Juxtaposing the past with the present, she delivers a thought-provoking analysis on gender and power.
The author, Sarah Pinto is a Professor of anthropology at Tufts University and has also authored a few books on women and inequality in contemporary India. She won the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize from the Society of Medical Anthropology for her work Daughters of Parvati: Women and Madness in Contemporary India published in 2012.
Reviewed by Rheea Rodrigues Mukherjee
(Sourced by Bangladesh country editor, Farah Ghuznavi)
Title: Dust Under Her Feet
Author: Sharbari Zohra Ahmed
Publisher: Tranquebar/ Westland, 2019
The particularly enchanting quality about Sharbari Zohra Ahmed is her ability to make under-discussed historical eras come to life while still holding potent resonance in the present era. Dust Under Her Feet, Ahmed’s debut novel, measures how much and how little we’ve changed both in South Asia and on a global scale, by drawing us into a rather cinematic setting.
The novel subverts our collective imagination of the 40s in India, a decade that was largely defined by the lead-up to Independence and the death of the British Raj. Our protagonist, Yasmine Khan, shows us a micro-culture of the second World War from her point of view. She has us compellingly engaged with the U.S army presence in Calcutta. The novel is set against the backdrop of the Chinese-Burman-Indian Theatre that evolved when the United States went in support of the Chinese against Japan.
Calcutta, because of geographical proximity, was critical to facilitate resource trade. The Allied forces built the Ledo Road that connected India to China, to deliver supplies, and a significant portion of the workforce was American. In fact, the road also came to be known as the Man-a-Mile road because of the number of American casualties during its construction. The Ledo road played a large role in facilitating the movement of US troops from India through Burma and into China during the early 40s.
Book Review by Debraj Mookerjee
Title: The Free Voice – On Democracy, Culture and the Nation
Author: Ravish Kumar
Publisher: Speaking Tiger; 2019
Ravish Kumar is India’s most widely-discussed TV journalist. You either hate him, or you love him. There is no in-between. To say he is a polemicist is an understatement – he takes sides without apology. But here is the thing. In an India that is increasingly tilting to the right, with the mainstream media marking time to the drumroll of a muscular Hindu nationalist rhetoric, his voice stands apart, speaking for those cringing in corners, or daring to love and resist and protest. His latest work, The Free Voice — On Democracy, Culture and the Nation (translated from the Hindi ‘Bolna Hi Hai’, by Chitra Padmanabhan, Anurag Basnet and Ravi Singh) presents a more sustained exploration of such themes. The book was first published in 2018. The revised edition crucially accounts for the re-election of Mr Narendra Modi as second time Prime Minister in 2019.
Kumar is a Magsaysay Award winner for 2019, and his citation says that Kumar’s ‘Prime Time’ programme “deals with real-life, under-reported problems of ordinary people.” The citation adds, “If you have become the voice of the people, you are a journalist.” Yes, you guessed right, Ravish Kumar is a bit of a romantic, a small-town boy from the dustbowl state of Bihar who though his Hindi journalism (he’s bilingual, having studied in a missionary school) has made his mark in the national, even international landscape.
Recently, a review of Best Asian Speculative Fiction (2018) appeared in Southeast Asian Review of English positioning it as a unique collection groomed by editor, writer Rajat Chaudhuri, and series editor, Zafar Anjum, and set to mark a milestone within the genre. Read here a part of the review…
Anthologies of Asian speculative fiction are relatively few and far between and when one does get published, it marks a significant milestone in the genre itself. In addition, writers, editors and commentators tacitly recognize the importance of underscoring the source of and inspiration for such works, namely Asia. This, in turn, immediately prompts some questioning. Apart from its cultural and geographical setting, what distinguishes Asian speculative fiction from the rest? How different are the works in terms of themes, style, tropes, idiom compared with those from Europe or Africa or any other continent? Why Asian? Why now? Is there a tradition of speculative storytelling in Asia? What counts as speculative fiction in the Asian context?
These questions demand theoretical and critical responses, and this collection of speculative tales with its bold claim of being the best Asian speculative fiction for 2018 presents a singular opportunity for both the casual reader and the academic scholar to begin scrutinizing the text and, more importantly, enjoying the sheer diversity of voices and imaginings emanating from the Indian sub-continent, Southeast Asia and East Asia as well as the Asian diasporas. Both established and emerging writers regardless of whether they identify with the genre are represented in this carefully curated collection, and almost all the works were written specially for the volume.
The result is a collection that encompasses a wide repertoire of voices and tales and which is potentially at the cutting edge of the genre. In his helpful introduction to the volume, editor Rajat Chaudhuri describes speculative fiction as an “adorable, shape-shifting, slippery creature” (xiv), and true to this broad and inclusive characterization, this collection does not disappoint with its selection of science fiction, fantasy, horror, dystopia and the various offshoots and permutations of these forms. It is apparent that beyond the term’s provenance associated with and manifested in the works of Robert Heinlein and Margaret Atwood, that is, speculative seen in terms of ‘what if’ hypothetical situations and of what could happen in the future based on the technology that already exists ‘speculative’ has become a catch all term for works which challenge or extend our notions of reality and truth.
Book Review by Koi Kye Lee
Title: No Illusions in Xanadu
Author: Ruby Gupta
Publisher: Bloomsbury India (2019)
No Illusions in Xanadu is a murder mystery novel by Ruby Gupta, a professor working in Dehradun Institute of Technology, India. This is her eighth book, having published seven others comprising of fiction and non-fiction books. No Illusions in Xanadu is the second book in her mystery and crime series featuring a dapper detective, Professor Shantanu Bose.
Life in Mumbai came to a standstill when the handsome, charming and legendary Bollywood superstar Rajvir Kapoor was found dead in his study room. He was shot to death on the 30th floor of his swanky new home, Xanadu, named after the hi-tech home of Mandrake the Magician, one of the first super-heroes of the early twentieth century popularised by comic strips of the same name.
Rajvir’s body was discovered by his domestic help, Rose, who then called his wife Pallavi. A popular television host, Pallavi was at a meeting discussing her new talk show with India TV channel when she was informed of her husband’s death. Masking her shock after the telephone call, Pallavi quickly excused herself and rushed home. As she regained control and composure in her luxury car, Pallavi remained skeptical as she had seen Rajvir alive a few hours ago. Both of them had hosted the grandest party in Xanadu where the country’s elite – celebrities, business associates, family and friends – were in attendance. Xanadu, compared by the author to the Ambani home, was the place to be!
Book review by Gracy Samjetsabam
Title: RESET Regaining India’s Economic Legacy
Author: Subramanian Swamy
Publisher: Rupa (2019)
Subramanian Swamy is a well-known Indian politician, economist, and statistician. He is a Member of the Parliament in Rajya Sabha. A founding member of the Janata Party, he served as its president till 2013. He has also served as a member of the Planning Commission of India, has been a Cabinet Minister in the PM Chandra Shekhar government, and also been a Chairman of the Commission on Labour Standards and International Trade in the PM Narasimha Rao government. He has made contributions on India’s relations with China, Israel, Sri Lanka, and the USA and is considered as one of the most prominent voices in Indian foreign policy and diplomatic relations. He has a number of books, research papers and journals to his credit. He has written more than 20 books. Some of his most read books include: Economic Growth in China and India 1952–70 (1973), India’s Economic Performance And Reforms: A Perspective for The New Millennium (2000), India’s China Perspective (2001), Financial Architecture and Economic Development in China and India (2006), Hindus Under Siege: The Way Out (2006), Rama Setu: Symbol of National Unity (2008), 2G Spectrum Scam (2011). RESET: Regaining India’s Economic Legacy (2019) is his latest book.
In 1939, Dr. Swamy was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu and brought up in New Delhi, where he completed his graduation in Mathematics from Hindu College, University of Delhi. He attended Harvard University as a Rockefeller Scholar and under the guidance of Nobel laureate Simon Kuznets received a PhD in economics, on the thesis titled “Economic Growth and Income Distribution in a Developing Nation” in 1965. He returned to India to pursue a career in academics. However, his interest in market economy at a time when the government of the day was tilted more towards the Nehru brand of socialism and command economy pushed him to change path and move towards a political career.
Subramanian Swamy was one of the masterminds in presenting a Swadeshi Plan in 1970, amongst other Jan Sangh leaders that included Jagannathrao Joshi and Nanaji Deshmukh. The monograph vocally directed that socialism be replaced with a competitive market economic system to ensure India’s economic growth at 10 per cent to overtake China by 2030, achieve self-reliance, full employment and produce nuclear weaponry. The plan was deemed “dangerous” by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and was dismissed. This sets the premises for the book RESET: Regaining India’s Economic Legacy. Fifty years hence, this seminal work provides a fresh look into his pioneering ideas on India-specific economic development.
Book review by Shah Tazrian Ashrafi
Title: Letters of Blood
Author: Rizia Rahman
Translator: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Bengal Lights Books (2016)
Rizia Rahman was one of the most eminent authors of Bangla Literature. Among others, she received the Bangla Academy Literary Award, Ekushey Padak, and Arannya Literature Award for her outstanding contributions to literature. An author of more than 50 novels, she passed away on 16 August 2019.
Presented by Library of Bangladesh and translated by Arunava Sinha, Letters of Blood —Rokter Okkhor (1978) — is a novel by the late Rizia Rahman that explores the lives of the women who have been (directly and indirectly) forced into prostitution, and examines how the intricacies of their lives hold them captive in a physically and mentally hostile ecosystem. It is a window into a system that lives on the fringes of the society constantly bobbing on fickle grounds.
The novel is populated by characters from as young as twelve to as old as being on the brink of death — a feat that reflects the reality seen in the brothels.
Kusum is a fourteen-year-old, often starving and sick, whose “undernourished body hasn’t amassed enough capital”. Because she hasn’t received any customer for two days, she hasn’t been able to eat. For many women in the brothel, who are still under the control of their pimps, life is like that — the more the customers, the further the shadow of starvation. When she steals a little food, out of desperation, Kalu, her pimp, beats her black and blue as everyone else goes on about their business. No one bats an eye. The pimps are free to kill the women in their clutches without anyone sparing a glance.