Posts Tagged ‘book review’


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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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image: via pinterest | a pretty accurate picture of my home

On Bengaluru Review:

Read my review of Sylvia Plath’s short story, “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom” here –

https://bengalurureview.com/2019/05/11/sylvia-plath-mary-ventura-and-the-ninth-kingdom/

On The Bookish Elf:

Three hours of book shopping and thirty-five books later this piece happened: Yoga for Bookworms

“Any bookworm worth their salt would know that reading books, buying books, and obsessing about books require physical effort. It is not all about flexing those mental muscles to plot twists and climaxes. Reading makes great demands on the body. There’s nothing sedentary about it. Enter yoga, a cure-for-all, book worming included.”

https://www.bookishelf.com/yoga-for-bookworms/