Apurba is fond of reading remote narratives about obscure places and people. This time she chose a Hebrew writer called Isaac Bashevis Singer who wrote in Yiddish. Love and Exile is the story of Singer’s own life from his childhood in Poland until the time he went to New York. It’s the story of the birth and growth of a writer, a Yiddish one at that. Once Hitler came to power, his family fled from Poland; he finally ended up going to the US following the heels of many of his friends who had emigrated to other countries including Palestine because they had the money. Apurba identified with this Nobel Prize Winner’s candor. In his late 20s, he was as disillusioned and clueless about life as many of us are. He wrote in Yiddish, which was a dying language. Even when he was in the US, he found it difficult to gel with the east coast Jewish population. His older brother was more established than he was. In fact, the first thirty years of his life were pretty unremarkable. This was heartening to Apurba as here was a man who lived an ordinary life and talked about, including all his failures and the alienation of displacement.
Here’s a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer if you want to get hold of his fantastic prose right now. Click here.
Abhaya got a children’s book this time, a delightful read called Dear Mrs Naidu by Mathangi Subramanian. The story revolves around Sarojini whose best friend moves out of her basti. She now wants to go to his school which is better than hers; the Right to Education Act then makes its appearance and using the story of a friendship and letters to the freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu, Mathangi Subramnium creates a very informative and educational book with the message that good intentions alone are not enough for implementation. Comparisons of the book with the Bollywood movie Hindi Medium were made. Although the book is for children, Abhaya found it well worth a read to make sense of this controversial act.
Swimmer Among the Stars, a collection of short stories, by Kanishk Tharoor did not disappoint. Sowmya looked forward to yet another Tharoorian waft of prose. and she was delighted. “He’s a master with words,” she gushed, ” His stories are simple but very different. In fact, my favorite story is one about an eyelash.” His stories are diverse featuring elephants, cooks, space and armies. His historical epic take of the world is punctuated by myth and folklore and influences of Italo Calvino and Borges appear from time to time.
Click here to read an interview with the master craftsman.
More books in Part 7.
There was a crime thriller edge to the BYOB Party this time. Kshitija spoke about a unique crime thriller called The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. The reason for its uniqueness is that the book is no conventional whodunit and the thrill lies in the power play of human psychology. The storyline is uncomplicated and even though the book is a translation from Japanese, Kshitija enjoyed the writing style. Here’s an interview with the translator Alexander O’Smith if you want to understand more about the how this novel was translated.
The story throws light on the little details of day-to-day life in Japan. Yasuko Hanoaka is a divorced single mother who lives with her daughter. Her abusive ex-husband shows up one day and ends up being killed. Detective Kusanagi suspects Yasuko but needs Professor Galileo’s help to find the culprit. The ending is wowing and Kshitija spoke in breathless excitement about the cleverness of the title. This is one psychological crime thriller you do not want to miss out on.
Aditi also got her hands on a unique literary historical crime thriller by Orhan Pamuk called My Name is Red. This book is a translation as well. Pamuk meshes love, crime and art with sixteenth-century Turkey as the backdrop. One of the miniature artists commissioned by the Sultan to create a book of his glories has disappeared. What makes the book unique besides its ambitious plotline is the fact that the point of view changes from chapter to chapter and requires a great deal of staying power to finish and do justice to as a reader. If you stick with it, this is a book that is hard to forget.
Here’s a link to an interview with Orhan Pamuk where we look at the author who brings life to Turkey’s past, present and future, using the Bosphorus river as the setting for his imagination.
Sourajit, a scientist working at ISRO on the moon mission talked about another Nobel Prize winner’s work. A House for Mr. Biswas is V. S. Naipaul’s masterpiece. The story is biographical — an unflattering farcical tragedy of his own father, one who fights against an unrelenting destiny.
“The problem with the book is that it is far too episodic and so if you skip a couple of chapters, you aren’t missing anything. His style, on the other hand, is terrific. There is nothing that his observant eye misses- be it the socio-political or the cultural. The other thing that I noticed is that he is very rude. He says the meanest things about communities and mines the personal tragedy of his own family. In spite of all this, you know that he is not glossing over anything either good or bad. And so you empathize. It’s almost as though he has an obligation to be honest, although I honestly don’t know if he is misguided or not in this endeavour.” Saurojit arrived at the gist of what has made a man who is undoubtedly judged and judgemental a great writer whose prose is nuanced. He read out a passage from the book that throws light on his writing style:
Soon it seemed to the children that they had never lived anywhere but in the tall square house in Sikkim Street. From now, their lives would be ordered, their memories coherent. The mind, while it is sound, is merciful. And rapidly the memories of Hanuman House, The Chase, Green Vale, Shorthills, the Tulsi House in Port of Spain would become jumbled, blurred; events would be telescoped, many forgotten. Occasionally a nerve of memory would be touched – a puddle reflecting the blue sky after rain, a pack of thumbed cards, the fumbling with a shoelace, the smell of a new car, the sound of a stiff wind through trees, the smells and colours of a toyshop, the taste of milk and prunes – and a fragment of forgotten experience would be dislodged, isolated, puzzling. In a northern land, in a time of new separations and yearnings, in a library grown suddenly dark, the hailstones beating against the windows, the marbled endpaper of a leatherbound book would disturb: and it would be the hot noisy week before Christmas in the Tulsi Store: the marbled patterns of old fashioned balloons powdered with a rubbery dust in a shallow white box that was not to be touched. So later, and very slowly, in securer times of different stresses, when the memories had lost the power to hurt, with pain or joy, they would fall into place and give back the past.
In case the contrarian views of V. S. Naipaul put you off, you may like to know what women think of him (everyone knows what he thinks of women writers).
More books in Part 4.