Mental Health Issues, Secrets and BRICS @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 8)

Image result for the bell jar amazonRoheet spoke about a book that has been described by many readers as chilling. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath who wrote under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas is the tragic story of a poet who loses her mental health. The book is autobiographical and this adds to its authenticity and accuracy in capturing the dark. Plath committed suicide within a month after writing this book, a cry for help. The plight of mental health patients in as recent a time as the 1960s was terrible as adequate treatment methods were still not available. Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953 and she is hopeful about her dazzling future as a writer but she slides. Plath takes a snapshot of her emotional spiral with dark humor and honesty. Little did she know that her work would become a bestseller.

Image result for crow blue amazonPiya has been reading books from the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries. She spoke about a book called Crow Blue by Adriana Lisboa. The story revolves around Vanja who has lost her mother and goes in search of her biological father. The book is a timely read, what with all the headlines about immigration. Vanja is half-Portuguese, half American and she’s a teenager. ” It’s a coming of age story, very well-written and smoothly done. You could finish it in four-five hours straight. The book goes back and forth, covering the gory history of Brazil and the guerilla wars. If you are unaware of the history of that time, is a good book to read. What I particularly enjoyed were the way the author picked up generalizations that were made. For instance, Brazilians do not speak Spanish; they speak Portuguese.”

What happens in the story? “Well, all I can tell you is that this not your typical Bollywood movie ending; it’s a mature ending. It goes beyond the Indian immigrant experience and is a light book, though I wouldn’t say that it is not layered. It is and satisfyingly so.”

Image result for beyond the secret amazonChethan spoke about a book called Beyond the Secret by Brenda Barnaby. He liked the way the author dealt with the Law of Attraction and how the world and the individuals populating it could be changed. The author uses various philosophies from across the world to find solutions within the subconsciousness.

More books in Part 9.


Light and Letters @ BYOB Party in April 2017 (Part 7)

Shruti continued with the Jerry Pinto theme, having spoken about  Em and the Big Hoom at one of the previous BYOB Parties. She then found another book on mental health issues compiled by Pinto called A Book of Light: When a Loved One Has a Different Mind. He wrote the foreword for the book as well. What he found difficult about the process was getting the stories right. It’s one thing to tell a story and quite another to put these painful real-life incidents into print. So he kept checking the facts, making sure that the people whose stories were published did not have to compromise with their emotions. So there was a very human side to the making of this book.  Even arriving at the title was extremely difficult. Shruti outlined many painful incidents in the book. Reading the stories of those whose family members faced mental health crises, she was inspired to appreciate her every day as for some people the every day is filled with impossible battles that can not be won, just endured. It is difficult to read this book in a stretch, she says, and also a tad disturbing.

Arup got a book called Letters to a Young Poet by the renown poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. The book comprises ten letters Rilke wrote to Franz Xaver Kappus, a 19-year-old officer cadet at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt. The duo corresponded about all matters poetry and it Kappus who eventually compiled and published the letters three years after Rilke died of leukemia.

Here is the content of one letter:

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself.

More letters here and more books in Part 8.

Book Recommendation: The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph

The Illicit Happiness Of Other PeopleThe Illicit Happiness of Other People is melancholy, humorous and philosophical, all at the same time.  When I first read the book a few weeks ago, I found the first few chapters a drag. I was, perhaps, wondering why I am being presented with bits and pieces of a decently smart, but an intellectually megalomaniacal teen’s philosophy, which, in its entirety, would most likely be borrowed wisdom that sounds profound, but means nothing. I held on because the writing was good and the dig at the typical middle-class Madrasi’s life* humorous. I am glad I did. I read the initial chapters again recently to see if there were other reasons for finding them such a drag. Surprisingly, I no longer found them so, perhaps because by the time the novel ends, the author ties up many of the threads he introduces in these chapters. So I was discovering a purpose in them now.

The philosophy of Unni Chacko, the dead teenager around whom the plot revolves, won’t help you find the ultimate truth, but it will make you smile, or think or wonder if there is any difference between wisdom and mental illness and what really defines normal vs. delusional.

Ruminate over the following, if you like.

It is the misanthrope alone who has clarity.

Or this.

Truth usually shows humanity in a poor light.

And here is the delusion explained.

The fundamental quality of a delusion is that it is contagious. The very purpose of every delusion is to transmit itself to other brains. This is how a delusion survives. On the other hand, truth can never be transmitted, truth can never travel from one brain to another. Movement is a quality of delusion alone.

In case you are wondering why?

Truth is not consistent. It changes from brain to brain. The truth of every neurological system in unique and it cannot be transmitted. It cannot be told, it cannot be conveyed, it cannot be searched for and found.

And sainthood deflated.

The distinction between a delusion and a lie is the very difference between a successful saint and a fraud.

And if you thought language was the best thing that happened to humankind.

Language was created by nature to guard its secrets, not to reveal them. We are trapped in language. Even thought has become language.

The reference to a wife plotting to kill her blissfully unaware anarchist husband (overstated) in the book description, a cartoon for the cover and the publisher calling it a ‘darkly comic’ story gives an impression of a very different kind of book. You might go in expecting a satire. But that’s not the case. There a dry, dark humor in the book, but it is very different from satire. The overall tone, in fact, in rather pessimistic despite the humor and wit. It is possible to get depressed with the wise pessimism. But you will survive it. Do read the book.

Book Description

Below is the book description from the publisher’s website.

Seventeen-year-old Unni Chacko has done something terrible. The only clue to his action lies in a comic strip he has drawn, which has fallen into the hands of his father Ousep, an anarchist. Ousep begins investigating the extraordinary life of his son, blissfully unaware that his long-suffering wife is plotting to kill him. Set in Madras in 1990, this is a darkly comic story involving the relentless pursuit of a failed writer who has found purpose, an adolescent cartoonist’s dangerous interpretation of truth, the plots of a brilliant housewife, and the pure love of a twelve-year-old boy for a beautiful girl.

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Other Books by the Author

Manu Joseph’s first book Serious Men was widely praised and won multiple awards. I have not read it, but by all indications, it is a satire worth reading.

  • It could have been a dig at the typical middle-class life pretty much anywhere in India, except perhaps Karnataka, where the JEE craze was not there, at least until a decade ago.

Book Recommendation: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell JarI recommend this book with some trepidations and a trigger warning. If you are prone to depression this book may hit close to home. It is not surprising that the novel is partly autobiographical. The picture Sylvia Plath paints of the world inside a depressed young girl’s head is so vivid that only someone who has experienced it first hand could know it. And her talent with words ensures that what words express is faithful to what really goes on in the head.

The book was published in 1963 and one has to be thankful that the understanding of mental health issues are much better today and somebody with an issue like Esther Greenwood’s in the novel might get a better treatment.  But the universal interest I have in mind in recommending this book is that it can help the reader understand the situation depression puts someone in. If you find yourself shaking your head at the fatalistic way in which the protagonist behaves and just can’t get a head or tail of her motivations, then know that she can’t either. And that’s how depression works. It can help you cope and help better if, God forbid, someone close to you is suffering from depression. It should also be treated as a warning against stigmatizing mental health problems, which is far too common in our society. Reaching out for treatment and help if one is depressed is nothing to be ashamed about.

Apart from all these, the work is eminently read-worthy for the beautiful writing too.

Book Description

Below is the book description from the publisher’s website.

When Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing she will finally realise her dream to become a writer. But in between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther’s life begins to slide out of control. She finds herself spiralling into depression and eventually a suicide attempt, as she grapples with difficult relationships and a society which refuses to take women’s aspirations seriously.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s only novel, was originally published in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The novel is partially based on Plath’s own life and descent into mental illness, and has become a modern classic. The Bell Jar has been celebrated for its darkly funny and razor sharp portrait of 1950s society and has sold millions of copies worldwide.

Purchase Links