Book Review by Gracy Samjetsabam

Earthquake Boy

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.

Reviewed by Anushka Ray

scorpion_cvr

Title: The Scorpion (Trans)
Author: Kim Won-il
Publisher: Kitaab International, Singapore
Pages: 445
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There is a throbbing ache of subdued anger throughout The Scorpion, an ever-present bitterness, which seeps through the most deadpan of narration and into the hearts of the readers. The Scorpion by Kim Won-il finds its footing with this: a constant pragmatic voice, but full of resentment, to emphasize the loss of desire to romanticize the world in which these characters find themselves.

The novel follows Kang Jae-pil, his father Kang Cheon-dong and, briefly, his father’s father Kang Chi-mu, as each man navigates the tension he faces in Korean society. Each alternate chapter adopts a different perspective as a way to seamlessly and organically transition between timelines and generations. We venture into the narrator Jae-pil’s thoughts and feelings as he grapples with life right out of prison. Kang Jae-pil’s matter of fact observations are riddled and tangled with acute detail, giving way to a man who perhaps has deep sensitivities, a startling recognition of guilt and gratitude for the family he let down. Jae-pil’s meetings with his step-sister Myeong-hee (who holds greater importance as the story continues) as well as his grandmother, excel in showcasing glittering remnants of humanity that he holds onto despite his seven years in prison.

Jae-pil vows to leave behind his gangster lifestyle in Seoul as he travels to meet his family and eventually begins writing his deceased grandfather’s biography as a way to show his respect and perhaps as a way for him to move on from the years he spent behind bars. His story is by far the most engaging, largely attributable to the first person narration, a man who feels regret and has potential. Won-il travels in time through flashbacks and dialogue to explore Jae-pil’s perilous journey and brings alive the Korean society as it morphs through the ages. As the novel unfolds, Won-il seems to gain in confidence and fluidity with Jae-pil’s character and begins to introduce more graceful description of the beauty found in nature. Despite this, at its core the story remains dark – Jae-pil is haunted by vices, much like his father was; we find ourselves screaming at him to resist his temptations when he begins turning to drinking and crime. While the lack in build up does not prepare us for this, it’s not surprising in the context of the character’s past. Regardless of this, Jae-pil stays the most likeable man of the three.

Frenchman Julien Columeau reading in Urdu at a bookstore in Lahore. PHOTO: AFP

Frenchman Julien Columeau came to Pakistan at the age of 30 as a humanitarian worker – but a knack for languages and love for books have made him one of the country’s most innovative Urdu novelists.

Writing mainly historical fiction with a prose described as vivid and forceful, critics say that Columeau, now 41, has injected fresh life into the literary scene.

His works have featured at the country’s most prominent literature festivals with three novels published and more in the pipeline.