Archive for the ‘books etc.’ Category


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“You Beneath Your Skin” is a literary crime thriller that is equal parts whodunit and whydunnit. Set in smoggy Delhi where male aggression is just a snap away, the narrative explores crimes against women – specifically acid attacks, while cutting through patriarchy, corruption, and relationship dynamics.

“Anjali loved her face. She spent hours dolling up. He had never seen her without make-up, not even at five in the morning when she came to meet him.”

Anjali Morgan is a single mom to a son with autism and she is vain about her looks. She is Jali to her friend and landlord, Maya. She is Jelly to Maya’s brother Jatin, the assistant police commissioner who is willing to do what it takes in a skewed-up system to get ahead. On the brink of a scandal, Jatin is eager to work on a case to look good in the media. The case involves slum women who are found raped, disfigured with acid, and dead. The case gets personal when Anjali gets in the line of fire.

“Now she had Jatin: part closet-poet, part patriarchal jerk, enthusiastic bedmate and best friend: exasperating and endearing in equal measure.”

It is the exploration of human behavior that lends the novel its strength and sets it apart from other crime thrillers. The depth attained from the character development, however, doesn’t deter the pace of the novel. Biswas hasn’t shied away from the gritty details of acid attacks and the trauma of it. Her characters are flawed and very human. Anjali and Jatin struggle, especially with their experiences as children of tyrannical parents and now as parents to kids who challenge them and their beliefs. While Nikhil revolts against a perfectionist mother, Varun seethes about his father’s betrayal. Fiery as she is, Maya is always reminded that she is just a woman who needs to be protected by her brother.

“A woman must know what places to stay away from. Didn’t I just say you can’t go?”

The author also brings out the aggressive and male-dominant culture in Delhi – the novel begins in a mall where packs of men roam and can attack women in a beat. Delhi’s smog and traffic along with the contrasting cultures of poverty and power form the perfect backdrop for the novel.

“Delhi put you through extremes: be it with its weather, or its people.”

The author’s interactions with acid attack survivors and her work with NGOs have helped her portray their experiences realistically and with compassion. This, combined with masterful storytelling, makes “You Beneath Your Skin” both an engrossing and substantial novel.

Title: You Beneath Your Skin
Author:
Damyanti Biswas
Genre:
Fiction, Novel, Crime Thriller
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster India
ISBN:
9386797623, 978-9386797629

Note: All proceeds from book sales will go to the NGOs that the author supports.

© Anuradha Prasad 2019

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image: penguin india

I’m more familiar with literary movements that swept the US and Europe than the ones closer home. The first that I heard of the Hungry generation was in this book (they figure in Jeet Thayil’s The Book of Chocolate Saints too). The Hungryalists, as they were known, were a revolutionary band of poets who originated in West Bengal. They questioned the rigidity of form and exclusivity imposed by upper-class poets, the bourgeoisie. They rubbed shoulders with Allen Ginsberg when he visited India. In fact, shocked by the legal action slapped on the Hungryalists for obscenity by a few righteous literary leaders of that time, he did his best to help the Hungryalists by writing to various people in positions of power that he knew in India. The poets received recognition and support from the international community while back home, they faced harsh and unforgiving judgments.

Much of the poets’ work was destroyed. However, Chowdhury has featured what could be found through her research and interviews in the book. She has interspersed the account of the literary movement with copies of translated poems and reproduced letters exchanged between the poets and others. Their passion and urgency are still intact in these letters. Even at the worst of times, despite the persecution, their love for poetry held them strong. Chowdhury has written an engaging narrative with prose that ebbs and flows, rich in lyricism, apt for the subject.

Title: The Hungryalists
Author: Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Random House India, 2018
ISBN: 9780670090853, 0670090859

© Anuradha Prasad 2019

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image: amazon

I’m still reeling from this novel which is disturbing, funny, and heartbreaking. Trite as it sounds, it also offers us the triumph of human spirit. The novel dives into loneliness, trauma, and the struggle to integrate with what is considered as normal. It goes to show how human touch and the smallest acts of kindness can heal and restore a person.

The protagonist is Eleanor Oliphant. She claims she is completely fine. She accepts that her coworkers mock her and that’s okay because she finds them odd and they make her shudder with surprise and distaste. She has a strict routine. Calls with Mummy are on Wednesday. There’s something childish about her talk of Mummy as though the thirty-year-old woman is still trapped in childhood. It is revealed that she has a social worker visiting her. There are scattered mentions of a fire and scars on her face.

And then she falls in love and saves a man and makes a friend. All very unexpected. Eleanor begins to navigate through a normal life and discovers what kindness and affection feel like with child-like wonder. But the edge of a traumatic past is a tricky place to stand on, a fall is imminent, so is the possibility of rising out of it. It begins with Eleanor accepting she is not fine. Not completely anyway.

Gail Honeyman has done a brilliant job in understanding what trauma and loneliness can do to a person. A few details seem far-fetched and as you near the end, you’re left with the feeling that you’ve reached the finish line and you’re still going, looking hither and thither for the end.

Title: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Author: Gail Honeyman
Genre: Novel/Literary Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2017
ISBN: 0008172110

© Anuradha Prasad 2019

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image: simon & schuster

“What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence” is an anthology of essays, in which fifteen writers share their stories about what they never had the opportunity to talk about with their mothers. The collection of essays is edited by Michele Filgate. It gets off the ground with her own essay about what she wants to share with her mother. The essays reveal how relationships between mothers and children are never clean and straightforward. There are wounds that go deep, there is love, there are things left unsaid which eat you up slowly, skin to flesh to bone.

Of the mother and child relationship, Filgate writes:

“That mother-and-child connection is a complicated one. Yet we live in a society where we have holidays that assume a happy relationship.”

Why rake up the mud when it can settle down at the bottom and we can pretend all is good, or when we can simply look the other way?

Filgate says:

“The more we face what we can’t or won’t or don’t know, the more we understand one another.”

The essayists hold the bull by the horns and risk being gored as they delve into their personal experiences of abuse, immense love, confusion. It is not all roses and greeting-card odes to mommy dearest. Each of the essays in the anthology pulsates with courage and honesty. Disparate though experiences may be, they are unified by the theme of what these writers have not shared with their mothers until now.

Title: What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence
Editor: Michelle Filgate
Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2019
ISBN: 978-1982107345, 1982107340

© Anuradha Prasad 2019

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A short story that Sylvia Plath penned as a student at Smith, “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom” takes the reader on a familiar journey marked by the conflict between light and dark. While Plath’s descriptions at times are overdone, the story is ripe with symbolism that is largely expressed through color, the train journey, and the natural views.

The story’s beginning reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” It too begins innocently enough. The first scene is of Mary boarding a train despite her better judgment. She meets an unnamed woman and over the course of the journey, her will and awareness sharpen and she realizes that she does not want to be on this journey.

While the language lacks the intensity and concision of Plath’s later work, the themes of darkness to light, apathy, and free will are familiar and hold the reader to the story. Though it isn’t one of Plath’s best works, it is relevant as part of the author’s entire body of work and in tracking Plath’s growth as a writer.

Title: Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom
Author: Sylvia Plath
Genre: Short Story, Fiction
Publisher: Faber Stories
ISBN: 978-0-571-35173-2

© Anuradha Prasad 2019

Thank you, twenty-eighteen. It was nice knowing you and let’s not meet again.

Natural Disasters: One that involved getting stranded in the Kerala floods and many, many poppadums

My-Made Disasters: Two…three…four??

I peered through
lennon frames, rose-colored,
looked past and over
red flags waving.

Extrication Rate from All Disasters: 100%

Love: That stretchy feline, Rosa, uff!

New Things, Fun Things: Learned French poetry and music | Went on a writing retreat to Pondicherry | Conducted a workshop on blogging | Volunteered for art things | Learned the flamenco

Overdose: Family things…what with Sunshine all tied in knots and hospitals.

Call Out to the Universe: Whatever happened to courtship? Come back, we miss you.

Books Read:

There was a good mix of short fiction, novels, poetry, and a trickle of non-fiction.

Read the first two of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggles series: A Death in the Family and A Man in Love. He sure knows how to work magic as he goes into inane details and still keeps you hooked. Srabani Basu’s The Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan narrates the story of Noor, who was the first Indian woman to win the George Cross. Enjoyed reading Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Misfits Manifesto that came after her TED Talk. Resonations aplenty.

What’s a short fiction marathon without Anton Chekhov? It began with A Dreary Story. It was good to go beyond Lolita and read more Nabokov in Nabokov’s Thirteen. Margaret Atwood was as always brilliant in Wilderness Tips, each story is a condensed novel, full and rich. Japanese authors continue to amaze me with their easy style and complex ideas and strangeness; there was Yukiki Motoya’s The Lonesome Bodybuilder Stories, Haruki Murakami’s Desire, and Granta’s Japan edition. Granta’s India: Another Way of Seeing was an interesting collection. Speaking of seeing, Raymond Carver’s Cathedral was an interesting read on the ways we see and the ways we don’t. Hemingway’s Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories was another revelation in style. I dipped into Grace Paley and Lydia Davis who redefine storytelling while Kate Chopin defines it in The Awakening and Other Stories. Letters of Sylvia Plath so far has not been as interesting as Woolf’s diary. Also reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Flappers & Philosophers, more of Zelda and Fitzgerald’s relationship in it.

On the novels front, I finished Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. Is it just me or were Don and Betty in Mad Men inspired by the protagonists from the novel?

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image: vanity fair

Yoko Ogawa explores the darker side of sexuality in Hotel Iris, while Emily Fridlund took on the question of healthcare and negligence in History of Wolves. In Aminatta Forna’s Happiness, the foxes and those who exist on the periphery of society come to focus. Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere brings up motherhood and the various ways it is expressed. In Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees single mothers are made, by accident and by choice. John Barth’s The End of the Road follows Jake Horner’s life and his ‘cosmopsis’ while shining light on societal issues, all of it laced with black humor. A love story unfolds against the Yom Kippur War in A.B. Yehoshua’s The Lover. Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick is a memoir interwoven with contemplation of womanhood and feminism. Andre Sean Greer’s Less was brilliant as Less runs away from heartbreak and sets off to travel, epiphanies and mishaps abound. Anne Frank is brought back to life in Philip Roth’s The Ghost Writer when an upcoming writer visits an award-winning writer and encounters a woman who could very well be Anne. Meanwhile, a man lies dreaming in Lavie Tidhar’s A Man Lies Dreaming, which weaves a fictitious alternative history where Hitler is a low-brow detective in London after the fall of the Nazis.

In Janwillem van de Wetering’s Outsider in Amsterdam, a murder is solved and in Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam, secrets take a deadly turn as does a young girl’s anger at her father’s lover in Bonjour Tristesse by Francois Sagan. A story is spun over a love that can never be in Alessandro Baricco’s Silk. More murder and mayhem in Pierre LeMaitre’s Irene, that ends with an unexpected twist. Keigo Higashino’s mystery thrillers filled in between the literary reads; there was Malice and Salvation of the Saint. A school boy competes to win an audience with Hemingway in Tobias Wolff’s Old School and learns a thing or two about being who he is to write his best as does Kugy in Dee Lestari’s Paper Boats but it gets a tad sentimental. In Irving Stone’s Lust for Life, Vincent van Gogh struggles to create art and dies in its quest.

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image: smithsonian

Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry is narrated in three parts: a love story, a story within a story, and an interview on Desert Island Discs. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is a commentary on the seduction of America and the layers of racism that Ifemelu encounters. Among Indian authors, there was Sudha Nair with The Wedding Tamasha and Priyamvada & Co; both are stories about families and love and loss. Ajay Sachdev with Operation Al-Nagrib, a thriller about a counter-terrorism team trying to prevent a terrorist attack masterminded by the still-alive Sheikh. Radhika Oberoi recreates the events following Indira Gandhi’s assassination in Stillborn Season: A Novel. Jugal Mody’s Toke was hilarious, what with Vishnu and Shiva and their stash. As the author says, toke, toke, toke.

I ended the year with Fran Ross’ Oreo, a funny and brave and jewel of a read. It’s a tightly knit commentary of -isms and light of wit. Recommended.

I got to listen to a lot of poetry and picked up a few collections at the Bangalore Poetry Festival, among them Shikha Malaviya’s Geography of Tongues. Gili Haimovich, Alvin Pang, and Ulrike Almut Sandig were part of the Beyond Shores segment. I also got my hands on a copy of Poetry at Sangam House with some remarkable poems, which included translated work of poets writing in regional languages. Ulrike Almut Sandig’s Thick of It opened up a whole new world of seeing and being.

Screen Things I Binged On:

  • I, Tonya: The real-life story, shot as a mockumentary, of a competitive figure skater who sabotages her rival.
  • Short Cuts: A series of interconnected stories build up to a climax as LA is hit by a quake – not the big one, but shake, it does, the many lives.
  • American Hustle: How I loved the wife.
  • A Poet in New York: Dylan drinks himself to death.
  • The End of the F**** World: Alyssa and James, a pair of oddballs, fall in love.
  • SKAM: A high school series whose highlight was the chemistry between Isaac and Even.
  • Raw: Not for the faint of heart. Cannibalism runs in this family.
  • Revenge: Starts with objectifying a woman’s body, the same body that gives her the strength to hunt her assaulters down.
  • Gloria: An older woman looking for love and living life to the fullest.
  • Wild, Wild Country: A revelation of how the cult-like Rajneeshpuram worked and the hypocrisy of Americans.
  • Killing Eve: Villanelle is super creepy.
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  • Collateral: A well-made mini-series with excellent performances; about immigrants and the fear of terrorism.
  • Molly’s Game: A skier, after an accident, runs a high-stakes poker game.
  • Zodiac: An account of the Zodiac murders and tracking down the killer.
  • Becoming Jane: A biographical account of Jane Austen and the possible inspiration for Elizabeth and Darcy.
  • In the Fade: A woman tracks down the people behind the terrorist attack that kills her husband and son.
  • Wind River: A murder mystery set in Wyoming.
  • The Americans: The final season. Miss the Jennings already.
  • The Shape of Water: A fantasy thriller. The apartment scenes with their aqua are spectacular.
  • Ocean’s 8: I’ll take Clooney any day.
  • Get Out: The horror of racism.
  • Perdida: A girl gone missing, sex trafficking, old secrets resurfacing.
  • Fight Club: Why, why did I wait so long to watch this? A brilliant commentary on consumerism.
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  • The Motive: How far will you go to write?
  • The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society: There were many faces from Downton Abbey (which by the way is being made into a movie).
  • Barry: About Barack Obama as a student in Columbia.
  • The Angel: About Ashraf Marwan who spies for Israel and may have just diverted a whole lot of casualties.
  • 22 July: A terrorist attack in Norway in which students at a camp are targeted.
  • Operation Finale: An account of how Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina.
  • Fugitiva: A woman runs from her abusive and influential husband, and keeps trusting the wrong men along the way.
  • Battle: SKAM’s Lisa Teige as a dancer who chooses to enjoy dance over discipline and competition.
  • You: There’s a writer and a bookstore and John Stamos. Hard to resist. For the next round, I’m getting the book first, on which season two is based, Hidden Bodies.

© Anuradha Prasad 2019

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so the goal was to buy books under inr 200 and by authors i haven’t read with a little room to cheat. the result was this. © Anuradha Prasad 2018

books

Loved the narrative voice in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and reading Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep was like reading a movie. Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary offered more than a glimpse of the writer’s intense writing process. James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man didn’t really capture my imagination until the later pages. There were two books about genocide, a nonfiction Elie Wiesel’s Night and fiction, Edna O’Brien’s Little Red Chairs that moved between Ireland, London and Bosnia. Jack London’s The Call of the Wild evokes the inherent wildness in us. Orhan Pahmuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind takes us into the life and mind of a boza seller who married the wrong girl and loved the right one. Vivek Shanbag’s Ghachar Ghochar, a translation from the Kannada, promised Chekhov-like writing, and came with a live ant (!) Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was about how a woman turns vegetarian, taking it to the extreme, and the way she affects her husband, brother-in-law, and sister.

Andre Breton’s Nadja is surrealism personified, and Katie Daisy’s How to be a Wildflower is a vibrant treat. The insights in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own are still relevant, and the honesty and courage in Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water has made her one of my favourite writers. Read Neruda’s Selected Poems, and 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair aloud in Spanish and English to taste the textures in their entirety. Sarita Mandanna’s Tiger Hills brought alive Coorg, and there was a whiff of Gone with the Wind in its pages. Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi made me realise that this was the first book of fiction I have read that was set in Australia. I read Vita Sackville-West’s Joan of Arc the first week of May; the same time in the 15th century, Jeanne brought about the fall of Orleans. It was on May 30 that she was burnt at the stake.

Stories on screen –

movies

Telly

© Anuradha Prasad, 2017

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There were many stories…told, listened to, read, watched, imagined, written.

 Print:

  • Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye – on being bullied
  • Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying – on finding your identity as a woman
  • Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth – on trying to find a place in society as a woman
  • Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost – on the many ways of being lost
  • Jonas Jonasson’s The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden – on travelling with nukes and being a math genius
  • Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared – on unusual adventures

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  • Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children – on war, inside us and outside us
  • Patrick Suskind’s Perfume – on murder and scents
  • Hiromi Kawakami’s Strange Weather in Tokyo – on an unconventional love story
  • Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer – on being a writer and broke in Paris
  • Banana Yoshimoto’s Asleep – on the many ways we sleep
  • Abeer Hoque’s Olive Witch – on cultural identities

Screen:

  • Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde
  • Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette
  • Spike Jonze’s Adaptation
  • Bernardo Bertolucci ‘s Stealing Beauty
  • Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight
  • Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers

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  • Woody Allen’s Café Society
  • Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol
  • Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys
  • Park Chan-wook ‘s The Handmaiden
  • Woody Allen’s Crisis in Six Scenes
  • Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere
  • O.J: Made in America

And live at the Ruhaniyat 2016, Nohon Shumarov –

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There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.