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Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

By Monica Arora

Exit WestTitle: Exit West

Author: Mohsin Hamid
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 229
Price: ₹ 599

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Mohsin Hamid weaves a compelling saga of love, loss, identity-crises, immigration, personal and worldly conflicts and much more in his latest book Exit West. Set in “a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war”, it could be an allegory of any nation such as Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan or another, perched precariously at the brink of civil war yet discovering pockets of peaceful life whilst turmoil lurks nearby. The story revolves around the protagonists Saeed and Nadia, and the reader gets instantly drawn into their world when they meet at “an evening class on corporate identity and product branding” and eventually end up having coffee followed by a Chinese dinner and start the process of getting to discover each other.

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Book Review: A Tenant of the World by Madhura Banerjee

By Nilesh Mondal

A Tenant of The World_COVER-1Title: A Tenant of the World

Author: Madhura Banerjee
Publisher: Power Publishers
Pages: 79
Price: Rs 110

 

“The world is but a book, and those who don’t travel read only one page”, Augustine Hippo said, thus making travelling and literature two sides of the same coin, one a necessity for the other. Travelling doesn’t just open up new places to us, it also opens our eyes to newer perspectives, enables us to see the same places in a different light. Madhura Banerjee’s debut collection of poetry, A Tenant of the World, published by Power Publishers, aims to do just that by introducing us to familiar places, and helping us look and familiarise ourselves with them through her eyes, an attempt in which she succeeds to a large extent.

Madhura establishes from the beginning of the book itself what her idea of travelling is: the mingling of myriad cultures and taking the stories from one city and spreading it into the corners of another. Poetry for her is akin to the traveller’s spirit, unperturbed by boundaries and borders, spread across a range of geographical dissimilarities. The scope of her poetry stretches from the mountains of Kashmir, Himachal and North Bengal, to the age-old cities of Lucknow and Calcutta and even the illustrious desert of Rajasthan. Her voice is bold and seldom constricted, easily shifting from the dreamy narratives about the majestic Himalayas, to the nostalgic ruminations about changing cityscapes. This versatility of narration is in all probability, the most interesting part about her book.

This becomes apparent when we consider two very different poems, the first one called ‘If Pahalgam Were Love’, where she writes:

“Love is the conical shaft of highway highlights
Caught mid-flicker, against the wicker of fir,
Letting the red molten wax of daybreak
Flow into the valley of flowers mid-bloom”

The serenity in her tone however is swapped for one that depicts a sense of urgency in the poem ‘Bengali Jetties’, where she writes:

“When it rained at an unusual hour
In an unusual time that April,
It filled the trails of your footprints-
A muddy assurance of your departure-
Weighing down the red dust,
Making agony resist the summer wind.”

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Book Review: The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

By Imteyaz Alam

golden-legendTitle: The Golden Legend
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 376
Price: Rs 599

Reading Nadeem Aslam is like living with the characters of his novel. The words keep echoing, the scenes keep flashing and the characters stay with the readers much after one finishes the book. The author has a penchant for detailing scenes, events, emotions and expressions in his writings. The reader experiences and visualizes colour, smell, sound, pain, fury, and cries, smiles, and laughs in the course of reading his stories. In fact, the portrayal is so vivid and engrossing that the reader is transported to the imaginary world created by the writer. Without rousing the sentiments, the author lets readers simmer with the empathy and sympathy for the characters.

“Many things in my books come from real life; but a novelist has to be careful in transporting a real event into the landscape of a novel. It is patient work, like moving a lake from one place to another with a teaspoon,” writes Nadeem Aslam about his own craftThe writer of five novels including Maps of Lost Lovers and The Blind Man’s Garden, and the winner of several coveted awards, has powerful context and content in his writings. His technique is that of meticulous weaver birds, of a master chef, of a music composer and of a brilliant painter. His sentences are lyrical, profound and precise. No word is out of place, no sentence is out of context. He involves the reader by the gripping content and by powerful imagery. Reading stirs the heart and mind. No wonder if he is associated with several literary movements; realism, postmodernism, imagism, and post colonialism.

Nadeem Aslam migrated to England from Pakistan at the age of 13 with his communist father who escaped persecution at the hands of General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. He enrolled at college but dropped out, never to complete it. He lives in England but closely monitors the development in South Asia. The same is reflected in his writings too.

The Golden Legend is a timely, relevant and captivating novel. The story, set in the fictional city of Zamana in Pakistan, covers religious extremism, hatred and intolerance in society. There is a suffocating environment for religious minorities and also for liberals. The hatred in the society is so ingrained that even an eleven-year-old refuses to accept a drink from Helen, a Christian lady. Later on, the boy sneaks in, wielding a knife to attack and check whether Helen has a different colour of blood, as told to him by his mother.

Margaret adopts the Muslim name Nargis and wears a false identity all her life to avoid harassment, and remains in disguise. Massud, a fellow architect, falls in love with her in college and marries her. The architect couple later on employs Lilly and Grace for help in their work. Helen, daughter of Grace and Lilly receives the best possible education in Zamana with the help of the architect couple. Grace is killed by a person who is freed from jail when he memorizes the Quran in jail. Massud is killed in crossfire during an assassination attempt on an American citizen. The American retaliates by reckless firing that kills Massud and others. Later on, Nargis is tortured by a General from military intelligence to pardon the American and accept blood money invoking sharia law. A young Kashmiri terrorist, Imran flees from training camp in Zamana when he realizes that militants of training are up to brutal killings. He donates blood to Massud and later on comes closer to Nargis and Helen. Aysha, daughter of a cleric is widowed when her husband is killed in an American drone attack in Waziristan. Being a martyr’s wife she is prohibited to remarry. She falls in love with Lilly. The city Zamana is facing a dreadful new phenomenon that the secrets of people are revealed by a mysterious man from a mosque’s loudspeaker. One day, the loudspeaker announces the affair of Aysha and Lilly. Lilly escapes but the wrath of believers fall on his fellow Christians. Nargis, Helen and Imran escape when the frenzied crowd attacks Nargis’s house. They take refuge on an island designed and developed by Massud and Nargis.

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In ‘Murder in Mahim’, Jerry Pinto Pours out His Anger, Without Being Didactic

By  Shreya Ila Anasuya

murder in mahimYou can read Jerry Pinto’s latest novel as a noir mystery that could only be set in Mumbai, a city upon which darkness sets but cannot completely settle. Or you could read it as a heartbroken, searching political study about the people that are sucked in and spat out by the city’s dark fissures. At its best, the novel can be read and enjoyed as a potent, deft mixture of both, with a tremendous amount of compassion engulfing but never completely overwhelming the voyeuristic, fearful thrill of a murder mystery.

The retired journalist Peter Fernandes and police inspector Shiva Jende, who made their debut in a story by Pinto in Altaf Tyerwala’s anthology Mumbai Noir, reprise their roles as a detective duo as they discover that a young man (called Proxy) has been found murdered in a toilet in Matunga station. This is only the first in a series of deaths, and Fernandes – with the dogged determination of an old-school reporter – uncovers the stories behind each one, uncovering layer upon layer of the city he has presumably called home all his life. Pinto uses his discoveries to give voice to his own anger about the consequences of criminalising queer sexuality in India and about inequalities of class and caste in a metropolis that is opening up to neoliberalism even while clutching on to its parochial obsessions. It is to Pinto’s credit that the curiosity, and the anger, feel genuine, and never preachy. Read more

Source: The Wire

 

 


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Book review: Where death plays like a broken record

By Meghna Pant

small townAnees Salim’s new novel The Small-Town Sea is the story of an unnamed boy in an unnamed town who grapples with the consequences of his unnamed father’s death.

The novel begins ominously enough. On the first page itself the 13-year-old narrator loses his father, referred to only as Vappa. The rest of the first half is narrated as a flashback where the cancer-stricken Vappa, nostalgic in the face of imminent death, decides to leave the unnamed city where he resides with his family and return to the unnamed town where he grew up.

Vappa longs to get a front-page obituary that transcends the boundaries of his small town and artistic insecurities. You see, he is an almost famous author who has won an unnamed, but almost famous, award for which he is convinced he must be acknowledged in life as in death. Hedonism of the writer? Understandable. Halfway through the book he finally gets the obituary he wants only to have it turned into a paper cone for peanuts later that day. Such is our ephemeral life. Read more

Source: The Asian Age


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Book Review: Perumal Murugan’s ‘Current Show’ is a novel about the uncertainties the young feel

By Anjana Balakrishnan

current showThere is a scene in the television series Breaking Bad where brother-in-law cop Schrader is brewing beer in his garage. I knew right away that he would hurt himself while capping the bottles. Because Perumal Murugan wrote about the dangers of bottling soda in his book Pyre. The spell Murugan casts gives me the ability to consider the realities of his characters as my own, though it is far removed from my reality.

Who knew that there was joy in the glint of a soda bottle well-washed or the artful perfection of bottling soda until Murugan told us so? In Current Show, he made bile rise to my mouth with similar ease as he describes the theatre grounds squishy with stale urine. When he talks about the crowds for an MGR movie, I could feel the stickiness of sweat against my clothes and the push and shove of being in that crowd.

Sathivel is a poor, young soda seller at an old theatre past its prime. He sells colour soda during the interval and spends his free time with the other theatre boys, doing odd jobs or smoking ganja. Including their next meal, there are few certainties in life for the boys to rely on. Sathi’s friendship with Natesan is one of his certainties. They look out for each other, sharing food and cigarette butts. These boys are willing to get into fights, steal slippers off cine-goers, sell tickets in black and to do the bidding of anyone who will give them money, food or drugs. This is where we begin to see how poverty changes their worldview. Read more

Source: The News Minute


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Book review: Nanavati, the gentleman killer

By Bhaichand Patel

bachi 2On April 27, 1959, Kawas Nanavati, a young handsome Parsi commander in the Indian Navy, dropped off his wife and three children at the Metro cinema in Bombay. While they watched Tom Thumb at the matinee, he went back to his ship, INS Mysore, and requisitioned a revolver and six rounds of ammunition from its gunnery. He then drove to a posh flat off Napean Sea Road and fired three shots that took the life of Prem Ahuja, a Sindhi bachelor and somewhat of a ladies man. Once the deed was done he handed himself to the police.

The criminal case that followed grabbed the attention of the country like few others have before. It went from the sessions court to Bombay high court, and then all the way to the Supreme Court. It required the intervention of the topmost echelons of power, including the Prime Minister, the defence minister and the admiral of the Indian Navy. These interventions were not necessarily on behalf of justice. During the trial, the accused was put under naval custody, not police lockup. He remained in uniform and continued to receive all the salutes due to a naval officer.

At least two films have been made on this sordid story, none of them any good, and there have also been a number of unsatisfactory books. Now Bachi Karkaria has dug deep and ferreted out details of the case that were previously unknown. She is a master storyteller who keeps us under her spell, beginning to end. In Hot Blood: The Nanavati Case That Shook India reads like a thriller. She keeps her sentences short and simple — no humbug — with an occasional dash of wry humour. It’s a style of writing she learnt at the feet of Khushwant Singh, her editor at the Illustrated Weekly 50 years ago. Read more

Source: The Asian Age


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Memories of the father: Book review of Ruskin Bond’s Looking For The Rainbow

bondIt is almost customary for Ruskin Bond to surprise his readers with a subtle reference to his childhood. The readers on the other hand – having devoured most of his works – tend to assume they know all about the life and time of this timeless writer. But every time you think you know all there is to know about the writer, who has been writing for well over six decades now, there is some new bit of trivia that he surprises you with.

The elegance with which he does so is perhaps what keeps us intrigued. What do we already know about Bond’s early days? That he did not have a very happy childhood, that his parents were separated and that he was often lonely. But one splendid year from Bond’s life escaped the public eye and his new book ‘Looking For The Rainbow’ that releases on his 83rd birthday on May 19, lays bare the sheer joy that the then eight-year-old boy experienced living with his father. Read more

Source: Hindustan Times


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Book review: Hassan Daoud’s No Road to Paradise – a prize-winning exploration of human struggle

By M Lynx Qualey

hassanLebanese novelist Hassan Daoud is a master chronicler of bodily illness, uneasy relationships and social isolation. In No Road to Paradise, these themes are brought together in the life of a small-town imam whose father cannot speak, whose children cannot hear and whose wife doesn’t like him. The 2013 novel has been translated into precise, understated English by Marilyn Booth, who previously worked on Daoud’s challenging Penguin Song.

It was two years after its publication, in 2015, that No Road to Paradise won the prestigious Naguib Mahfouz Prize for Arabic Literature. The judge’s comments highlight the contradictions of Daoud’s work. Judge Tahia Abdel Nasser said the novel “evokes a state of non-action”, while prize judge Rasheed El Enany remarked on its “slow, meticulous, stagnant narration”.

It’s not often that a book described as “stagnant” wins a major literary award. Yet the apparent inertia of No Road to Paradise, like that of Penguin Song, also bristles with the desperation, hope and unhappiness of ordinary human life. Read more

Source: The National


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The significant other

By Tabish Khair

nameless3

A collection of Urdu stories that question implicit generalisations about writings from small towns

An anthology of Urdu short stories translated into English is rare enough these days. An anthology of 20th century Urdu short stories written by writers mostly based in Bihar and translated into English is almost unheard of. That is why Nameless Lanes, translated and edited by Syed Sarwar Hussain, deserves attention.

Nameless Lanes contains 18 stories by Urdu writers based for much or all of their life in places like Patna, Kako, Gaya and Bhagalpur. Of these, I knew one well and had heard of two. All the others are new even to me, a writer from Bihar. It redounds to Syed Sarwar Hussain’s and his Singapore-based publisher’s credit that such an anthology has been published at all, along with the required introductions to the authors and their works.

Like all anthologies, this is a mixed bag of stories, some of which appeal more than others. They also range from stories that are closer to the traditional dastaan form in sensibility and stories that are entirely modernist in ethos, as well as many in between. Read more

Source: The Hindu