A Review – “The Traverser’s Memoirs”

Trains are delightful and long reads on train more so. This time, I was breaching one of my personal rules again, reading through “The Traverser’s Memoirs”, by S.M.Y Rafi, an author I kind of know personally. It is a hazy territory, going in to review a book written by a friend, or an acquaintance. There is always this chance that you will sound a tad bit harsher, that one tad bit wrong and the friendship will come to a stop. This has happened before. But, thankfully this time, I can safely say, in my honest opinion, no less, that this book is good.

Being good, doesn’t translate into being infallible. However, for a person who is writing his first book, for something that has been printed hastily, “The Traverser’s Memoirs” might as well be one of the best books that could come out of the situations. The history and geography has had a lot of imagining, a lot of work behind it, and it shows. The rich culture showcases itself in moments and the way the research has been done right down to the last detail is something that you admire. Overall, you admire the story too, it’s a fabric wound around the same thread that brings along a lot of fantasy, and yet, in its own personal way it stands out, and how brilliantly.
And Epidrae is brilliantly etched. There is something personal about this huge expansive world with different cultures. Often the author sounds boastful in the foreword, but, as a fellow author I do understand. The world building is something that really resonates well for me in this book.

Yet, it has its problems. Before the story even resonates, we’re presented with a huge info dump, which makes the story a hard one to pick up. Now, this isn’t “Lord of the Rings”, which pulls you in from the first moment into its world, and then introduces you to the rich tapestry of the world, here the history is laid out in a manner. When you have done so much work on this, it is easy to appear as a show off, and I only wish that it didn’t happen this way. This happens twice over in the story too. Another problem is exposition, more often than not, action scenes seem to be a matter of more “tell” and much less “show”, to the point when I found myself wishing that I could just skip over them.

Just compare the action to the emotional scenes and you will see the difference. While, written the same way, the emotional scenes triumph. And whatever, Mr. Rafi is, he is not a mere peddler who is begging to be noticed, there is some considerable talent in parts of the book; some pages where, I felt like I was actually getting into this universe, something that I rarely experience now-a-days with fantasy.

The characters are brightly etched, even though I choose to wish for something greater in their depictions, in the way they interact. One of the largest problems with this book is the dialogue, which appears uneven throughout. Some places, the dialogues are beautifully woven, but, in others, they are so mechanical that it affects the reading of the story. It is a shame because I believe that good dialogues could have enhanced most characters to another level.

So, yeah overall, it is a good book, and I would honestly read it again. However, it does need editing, and a careful deliberation over the good and the bad. There is a lot of meat that can be cut away from the book, as there is story that can be added into. Personally speaking, this is something I would pay money for, even though it won’t be in my list of “immediate buys” from a book store. However, simply because of the scope, the world and the research done into the world, this is a recommended reading.

Rating – 3/5


The Argonauts and a meditation on Sexuality

While reading “The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson I had the image I once had while I was high bursting open through my head. It was a demon again, in the shape of a man I have recently been infatuated it. Long hairs, long fangs, all boring into me pulling me onto myself, folding time and life into intricate folds of passion. It was a vision of me that I suppressed, this is not something you tell your friends, it is not normal, it is not something they would associate themselves with. Then again, it is simply expressed by how we explain bisexuality to some friends of ours, “You know, it does not matter what genitalia they carry because I am attracted to the ass”, however, it is not like that.

“The Argonauts” is not simple either. It is not possible to contain it with simple connotations of good and bad, it is beyond that. I believe that poets are the hardest souls to categorise on any given day anyway. This book will probably come under romance, or probably even poetry. It is a look with the author’s relationship with the world really, with motherhood, with people, with Harry. Harry, her partner in this journey is an enigmatic personality, it’s a joy to see the image he draws, it’s terrifying to see the world with the lens of a person who has been in literature so long.

In one long paragraph she tells us of Harry how the Ms. had to be fixated onto the name because otherwise, New York Times would not publish the article written about the person. A prison released and another built because there is no other way about it. It made me realise how scary classification, labelling becomes and how some times our complexity cannot be treated simply with one word or a few. For me “The Argonauts” is not simply a meditation of a person and their relationships, it is the eternal meditations we all have, this urge of breaking free that we all cherish in our souls.

You see that is just it. I don’t want to conform anymore, to the traditional ideas of relationship at the very least. I wish to love for the sake of loving and that some days requires a partner and some days it does not. Some days are whole night orgies in to the beats of a Ginsberg poem, and other nights are days where I would torture my soul till it breaths out of myself. I wish to leave gashes on the lovers body, a mark of me, a territorial cut of the wolf, and I wish to leave lipstick marks on his or her soul that they would not be able to erase. I want to do this all for myself, not because some guy imagines me this way.

I do not seek validation for my passions from you in the form of labels. I wish for you to understand me yes, but, I also want you to understand that most days understanding my sexuality is not a study in academia but, simply a practice in letting go.

Words have a power to free, and they have a power to contain you forever into their boxes.

In a passage where she describes Schyumayer, the author goes into talking about the flaccidity and impotence. It is left there to hang, and his poetry is a testament to that.

We’re obsessed with different things. I am supposed to like the breasts and labia and I appreciate them but, I don’t like them. I do not love the male genitalia either. I like the body and the way it fits into pieces of a puzzle when it is late at night. I am turned on by the birth mark down the side of my butt that watches the open worlds hoping that someone would find it and bestow a kiss.

Heck, even kisses change. I wish that some days I could kiss like the whirlwind my lover and I lost in the intricacies, and other days it is me softly bending over the mirror to leave behind a lipstick mark that I spend the other half of the day in erasing.

Conformations hurt I believe, because we are not chemical structures bound to reacting in the same way.
There is a talk about a performance artist who through her act of blowing dildos to the eternal tune of rude voices repeating “Suck it”, “You bitch” and other expletives, and yet, she only gets up to receive prizes and adoration. She was a prostitute earlier, but, the performance, her past, does not define her now. She is more and she is complex.

We’re human before we are fitted into any of our labels. Some days my sexuality is not defined, my love for a person might be more than my love for a person overreaches the conformations that my labels give to me. Thus, labels can’t describe me, I’m not a bisexual I am a terrible poetry written out in anger and passion over the face of my lover with yesterday night’s ejacuate. Yes, that is me, unadorned by labels, thorns and roses and erotic.

Our freedoms are just as precious as yours and it is not something we should get along with cages, however, spacious you might think them to be at the end of the day.

I want you to read “The Argonauts” but, do not approach it as a riddle you have to unravel. A life is more than that at the very least. Approach it with an open mind, let it take it to places she has visited. The literature that has embodied her, and listen to those pieces.

I want you to see beyond my sexuality, give me a chance to be more by opening your eyes and seeing my whole being.

Read Maggie like you would read poetry. If you have time, give me that chance too.

I should have found Tea Obrehdt by any case. She was not an author who had attracted me, and she definitely did not attract me at the first sight. Yet, as I stood before the monuments created by second hand books, I found “The Tiger’s Wife” alluring, and there I was reading it at 6 AM in the morning with my heart content like it hadn’t been since, forever.

It is not that I loved the book too much, or even that I am going to recommend it to everyone I know. It’s just that, it was something I never thought I would read, and I did end up reading her. As I did with Elena Ferrante, suddenly she was in my radar, and I found a copy of her book with me, and I felt like that was quite inexplicable. Then, I read about her and I was in love.

In the era of curated lists and online content which is at the tip of our fingers, we have somehow become less experimental. Stuck in the endless cycle of recommendations which are maintained by algorithms and a media which highlights only select books throughout the year, we never experiment. We don’t go the one step farther.
It’s scary really, as an author, as a person, to see that before me, the endless possibilities dying because we just won’t go out of our zone.

Problem remains that reading things that show the world in colors that we think it already is dangerous. For most times the only reason we do not accept other people is because we have never seen their viewpoints. It is scary really. Works of art are a lesson in real life and that helps us.

Maybe, I am not educated about the Balkan states by reading “The Tiger’s WIfe” and probably Elena Ferrante is not going to make me fall for Italy. Yet, it had given me an outlook to the world I did not cultivate earlier, and that aids me in understanding them better, seeing them better.

We need to peek out of the covers and stare at the world around us, and read new things. It could begin with a visit to the library or to a second hand book shop. Something where you have the world before you and you go towards a stranger book with a smile on your face. Some times you need to take a jump to find the romance at your lips and that is necessary.

Audre Lorde, A Discussion about Feminism

I am sorry I misjudged Audre Lorde so early on. First glance at the book, and I felt distanced, I felt like she had nothing to offer me. What would a Black lesbian woman offer to a gay man living in India?
I received “Sister Outsider”, a collection of essays and speeches by Audre Lorde as a birthday present from NJSays, who has been a constant companion, and a sister through the difficult and writer-y years of my life. And I decided that making it the first book of the year was only fair.
The first chapter seemed to re-affirm my beliefs too, while I enjoyed the Russian landscapes rolling by my mind, and seeing their social structures, I could feel that her voice was way too harsh for me.

However, throughout the book, I have fallen inexplicably in romance with her writing and her voice. What Lorde encourages is conversation, which I believe is very necessary in this case. Throughout the years it seems that we have forgotten the simple power of conversation, of togetherness between people of the same community. This causes our movements to fail. When you are fighting among yourselves you are definitely losing the war with the oppressors.

This is not a difficult thought pattern to come into. Brotherhood and sisterhood within communities is needed for any movement to succeed and when you exclude someone for being a bit different from you, that means you have ensured a larger loss too.

Then, there is the talk about us and them. How even Lorde feels difficult to converse with white women because no matter how she expresses her opinion, the white woman will be more comfortable if it was by some peer of her own race. How we automatically try to silence some thoughts, because they come from someone who is inherently different from us. This is the distance I felt when I first encountered this book. The understanding of differences is very crucial to our understanding of these issues, of our inspection of these issues.

When Lorde spoke of the power of the erotic it moved me. For, I have been speaking about this as well. We have been made to hate our own bodies, hate sensuality and romance and told that it can only be a certain way. I agree with her stance on pornography, about how it is so completely separate from the erotic.
Sexuality, passion, all these are vital elements of our being, and yet, it has been suppressed much too long. As Lorde speaks of this, I feel a kind of solidarity with her, which, I did not expect at all.

Then again, the topic comes back to sisterhood, to communication and love between people. This book addresses that and I understand it too. Talking of feminism, anger should play a part in it. People should be angry about these things. This is something I say from my place of privilege as a man too. For, talking about this without rage, without passion makes the talks a failure. This is what Lorde is too me, beyond a woman who is an eloquent author, she is a black lesbian poet who is filled to the brim with passion about the movements she is a part of.
I have the same anger, and yet, I am not as vilified as the women who support feminism would have. I could go right into the night with outrage, and it will still be the women who would be painted into memes and posters which mock them.

Lorde’s book is relevant in this context. Far from a preaching it seems to be based on understanding the reasoning behind the movement, the passion that ignites the flame. When she talks of the dynamic between the sisters, where she is rejected for being a lesbian, there is pain in her voice.
She would be pained too, seeing the LGBT community failing to include bisexual people, seeing a lack of representation of colored LGBT people.

We are a voice that is not brought out much and that needs to be changed. Our viewpoints need to bend to include other people, and we need to lend a voice to our feelings, as well, as lend an ear to the voice of others. As Lorde says, silence won’t protect us from the eventual death.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Bedtime Stories.”

I grew up on Bengali fiction as a kid, and to be honest my favourite book is “Chander Pahar”, or “Mountain of the Moon” by Bibhutibhusan Bandhopadhay and yes, it did influence me as I grew up. A story of adventure with vivid descriptions of nature, I blame the book for whatever love of nature I do have. It also influenced my walking practices. Somehow, I have always equated walking with a form of adventure, walking through the streets as a form of knowing the place, and falling in love with it.
Also, Shankar remains curiously fresh even after all these years. An inquizitive mind and an impeccable manner is what makes him so dear to me even now.

The Bluest Eye – A review

The crowning achievement of a story is when it stops being just a collection of words and transcends into reality. With Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”, crosses that boundary easily. In her debut novel, Morrison creates reality and mixes it up in words that drop like music. She makes the narrators speak, she makes them croon in blues, when a character moves, she makes the movement a jazz melody. Her lyricism is subtle, but, you feel it run deep into your soul. The novel becomes a mark that you wouldn’t brush off no matter how hard you try.

The novel is a exploration of the meaning of beauty through the life of Pecola, a little girl who believes that she would be more beautiful only if she had blue eyes. However, it also lays bare the hard dislike the colored men and women harbor within themselves. The novel begins with Claudia as a narrator. She narrates sometimes as a young child living through the events and sometimes as a grown woman looking back on her childhood.

Her narration introduces us to the protagonist. She paints with bright strokes a picture of a girl who is subdued in nature, a girl who is bullied and left alone. Claudia is not a girl who despises herself, in her fierce pride she almost shadows Pecola, but, the contrast humanizes our little protagonist too. We see a tortured soul who feels alone, and is bullied, a girl who is led easily into anything that comes her way. Then, we see the narrator, in all her innocence describing things that are adult, and we let that resonate with our very souls.

Morrison works in contrasts, she paints prostitutes and pious women, she creates happy families and unhappy ones and makes us breathe in the pain that her protagonist suffers from. A pain she drives through the descriptions of Pecola’s closed ones. Yet, she is cautious to keep Pecola just out of our reach, she is cautious in making her mysterious, never hiding her and yet, giving the account of her through the eyes of others. She paints her family, a family which takes pride in their ugliness, to the point that they try to make it their own, they try to emphasis on the ugliness. This becomes

Pecola’s downfall, the unhappiness of her parents spreads to her and she wishes she could just disappear. Where Claudette’s innocence wishes to explore and is unabashed, Pecola’s innocence avoids and wishes to disappear.

Mrs. Breedlove, Pecola’s mother, pushes her daughter is subtle ways. Morrison humanizes her as the woman who blames her misfortune on her husband and on her ugliness. Here lies the author’s brilliance. Even when she creates someone like Cholly, a drunk man who would not care for any of his family, she still manages to humanize him, to make us sympathize with him. In this way the Breedloves are created as a dysfunctional family, but, at its heart a human one.

In its humanity the novel breathes. When a laughing prostitute lets go of a jar of liquor nly to make it burst at the feet of some young girls. When a little woman discovers she is menstruating and she asks if she was dying. The instances become part of something living.

The author says in the foreword that she wrote the story after her friend expressed her wish to have blue eyes. However, the book delves into her own life too, and in a way that is painful and aso eye opening, she creates something spectacular. “The Bluest Eye” is a living novel, it grows on you and consumes you, leaving behind a changed person and in that Morrison conquers. She asks questions about whether the beauty we assign to people is a representation of the truth, and then she makes us investigate that ourselves.

“Lord of the Flies” – A review

“Lord of the Flies” sketches out a human narrative that brings civilization as a whole under inspection. Through the actions of kids stuck in an island, William Golding tries to emulate a society without laws, and then draws out a story that is spine-chilling and introspective at the same time. William Golding’s universe is not unfair, however, it does erase the boundaries of good and bad quite easily.
When, the children land on an island, the first response is to panic and scatter. Here is where we find Ralph and Piggy, both voices of reason in a group of boys who tend to go towards anarchy. The civilization starts. Till this point, Golding is fun, he makes Ralph and Piggy be high-nosed English boys who have been conditioned by the society to be perfect in following the rules.

The pace Golding establishes is sluggish, he uses words that create an atmosphere of horror and adventure. At once, you almost feel like you are reading a teenage fiction book. However, the pace changes almost suddenly and you are smack at the middle of everything again. Ralph is driven by his need to be civilized and often times becomes the sole voice of reason in the Island, but, in such extraordinary circumstances, the boys seek fun, they seek freedom, and there comes Jack.

Jack is a character whose caliber might be comparable to that of Arnold Friend’s from Joyce Carol Oates story “Where are you Going? Where have you Been?”. He is an enigma, a person who desires to have a following and be called strong. In his craving for authority, for power, he leads a group of men to hunt, an occupation that automatically gives him a ruling role, and also puts him away from the voice of reason, Ralph. In his struggle he embraces his primal instincts and thus, the organized society descends into madness.

William Golding investigates the parts  of human psyche that we do not discuss even when we are behind doors. He puts children in a position that demands them to form a society and descends the entire world into anarchy. The tension rises with the killing of the sow. A mother sow who is killed by the group of hunters in a moment of passion. They enter her and she dies, her head to put atop a wooden stick. The sow in this case is a catalyst, and the killing begins the tumultuous pages that put the violence out there, naked for all to be seen.
Here, Golding does a master trick, he puts the rational people with the primal beasts and he lets the desires flow out into the open, an experiment that makes this book transcend into new territories, and to some extent, dissolve the boundaries of good and evil.

If the sow represents the innocence, Simon represents the morality of the society. He is always there, he understands the pain and the ultimate fate that awaits them and he fights it. At the end, he becomes a sort of catalyst too, he is portrayed as somewhat of an icon, who is doomed to fail. In the mastery of words, Golding transforms the whole world which seemed so real into fantasy and in that fantasy he plays along really well.

There is a reason why this is a cult classic, the atmosphere, the components and the characters all add to the story creating literary brilliance. Golding creates characters that one might see in any school and he uses them brutally. Written by Golding in the aftermath of the second World War it depicts humanity as a whole. It might be interpreted as a saga of the civilization itself, or just a document on what goes on inside the human mind whose civility we have come to take for granted. He does not employ flowery language and the book carries no tedious descriptive passages, instead in a taut story which has all the making of a childish adventure he throws in his ideas to create something that has survived the test of time.
Characters here do not merely represent human beings, they become symbols of a greater moving civilization, a representation of integral parts of any society.
In doing this, Golding creates a genius masterwork that would be remembered through the ages. The only problem I see with this novel is that the pace, which is uneven throughout. In the middle the pace whizzes out and we are left with sluggish writing that makes reading a chore.

Overall, this is a work that is brilliant and would probably be remembered through the years for being one of the best novels ever written.

Do Books Change Too?

Last year, while I read “The Lover’s Dictionary” by David Leviathan, I cried. It was spontaneous, it was acceptable. Somewhere, the heartbreak that he had described had seemed very very personal tome. So, when I read it smack in the middle of a city that seemed to me as increasingly alien, and with the rain falling all over the ground, I had fallen in love. In a fit of love, I had claimed that it was beautiful, the greatest novel out of the modern writers.

But, then impulse wears out. Today, as I sat down for the re-read I found that the magic was missing. In a year, the love showed in large words and complicated vocabulary had been replaced. And it made me think that I was not reading something profound but, something pretentious. The same feeling I had had while I read a John Green novel during a late late night that seemed to consume everything around us. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get past the initial pages. It was breaking me, but, the words seemed distant, unromantic.

But, “Lover’s Dictionary” is a harder blow overall. This is a book that I wholly loved, this is a book that defined me. Somewhere everything about the break up seemed to have been written in this smallish novel. But, then perhaps I grew up, and the cold anger, the sudden grief seems to have subsided. And when the emotional drunkenness is gone, this novel does seem so so empty as a whole. As if it had been written to serve only the drunk. What is the value of such a novel then? When you cannot get anything out of it except the emptiness of the all consuming soul?

This book in particular is filled with intricate words, excerpts that would be in place even in the cheesiest movies. Yet, that part that makes it click is missing. It seems like Bollywood without that trademark humour, or even rom-coms without their cheesy moments. The book lacks the soul that makes romances tick. A soul that even I haven’t found till date.

But, then I hope someday I will.

Till then as I grow up, I will see more and more love stories become stale and irrelevant. And perhaps, someday even Rumi shall seem to be trash. But, that’s part of growing up I guess. Then again that scares me, that everything will become irrelevant one particular day. That, the world would end in a disaster for me. Do you ever wonder what would happen if romance itself ceased to exist?

If all the copies of Neruda and Keats burned in the distance and anyone who read Austen was exiled because the romance was gone, what remains? If books change too, then what is constant?

Seoul-Mates – A Review

Before I begin let me lament a bit about how short a novella really is. Being a person who has tried to put his thoughts into a novella before, I know of the limits. Specially when you’re trying to get through the entire story. So, even if I complained with all my heart and wished to know more, I could understand why it was the way it was. And this book, “Seoul-Mates” was glorious in it’s own way.

seoul-matesFirst of all, congratulations to Neha Raza for preparing this beautiful cover. The visual effect woos you the moment you see it and it welcomes you in. Also, the entire naming part and the publicity of the book was tip top. Indireads is a relatively new publisher in the market and the work they are doing has been splendid. I have read some of their titles in the past and would definitely recommend them to you. Specially, “Loves Labor” by Andy Paula. You can check out their books at this site.

Coming down to the review, I do admit that my experience with the romance genre has been severely limited. But, then I started reading. What hit me first was the pace, even and polished, it moved on with comfort. That aided in reading a genre pretty low on my to read lists. Also, what helped were the characters.
While, the length of the novella, and the nature of the genre, didn’t allow for much back story  The little things were all there. Katia’s helplessness abroad, the attachment with the only friend are common enough feelings and thus, make the story very relatable. Also, while the author wrote carefully, the passion didn’t weather as is often the risk with these things.

This book is an accomplishment in its own way. It runs beautifully across it’s length and breadth, and only falls short in some moments in between.

My grievances were not many. Only thing I really wished for was a better epilogue. it was too short for the story itself. Also, I would have appreciated if the author had fleshed out the side characters more.

Overall though, it did work. And even if the resolution is not to my liking, it is well and good.
I want to read more from this author. Also, kudos to Indireads.

I hope the writer keeps writing ahead and works harder and harder, and with that hope…

Rating – 5/5

“Missing Person” – A review

192378Sometimes you meet this novel, this drunk stranger who stops in front of you when you are walking on the street. Now, this one isn’t drunk on itself, it does not speak of the exquisite changes it holds, it doesn’t have a magnificent record to show when you look at it, but, it breathes in fire. It is drunk on it’s own language and sometimes when it loses itself, it speaks of beautiful things, it is almost spiritual. And you are intrigued, and heart broken, for the largest time you just stare, and listen.
He leaves soon, perhaps too soon, and then you stare into space.
You forgot to even ask his name.

This novel, my first my Modiano, who won the Nobel Prize this year is a gem. And for the longest time as it ended, I looked at the last line, trying to make sense of it. I could feel it tearing apart my heart, there was so much it was to be and so many things but, nothing had really measured up had it?
There was still this thumping that wanted more pages but, it was there.
And then I came in terms with it.

The greatest novel is the one which converses with you and leaves you open, for the very nature of art makes it a mirror on self, so when the narrator asks himself “and do not our lives dissolve into the evening as quickly as this grief of childhood?”, you ask the question to yourself, and it is answered with silence. You introspect for days at an end, sometimes you just look out onto the world from the verandah and you feel the change coming from inside.

I had never read Modiano before, and I do not know if I will read him after this, but, for now, he is there, and I have questions I need to answer.