Archive for February, 2022

I was looking for short stories by Caribbean writers, recently, and I stumbled upon this collection, ‘Pepperpot : Best New Stories from the Caribbean‘ . I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. ‘Pepperpot‘ is published by Peekash Press, an indie publisher which promotes books by Caribbean writers who live in the Caribbean.

There are thirteen stories in the book. I enjoyed reading all of them. Some of my favourites are these.

The Whale House by Sharon Millar – A woman is mourning the loss of her baby. Then we learn about her past and her younger days and some beautiful secrets are revealed. The ending of the story was beautiful and perfect.

A Good Friday by Barbara Jenkins – A beautiful woman walks into a bar. A man tries courting her. It all looks quite predictable. But halfway through the story Barbara Jenkins steps on the pedal, and the story kicks to a different gear, in an unexpected way. I loved the way it ended. Barbara Jenkins has written a novel which features some of the same characters from this story, and I want to read that.

Amelia at Devil’s Bridge by Joanna C. Hillhouse – I loved Joanna C. Hillhouse’s novel ‘Musical Youth‘ and so was excited to read this. A young woman finds herself in the rocky shore of the sea and she is naked. She doesn’t know how she got there. What happens next and the truth when it is revealed is unexpected and heartbreaking.

Berry by Kimmisha Thomas – A beautiful lesbian love story. Loved it. Berry is such an awesome character. One of my favourite passages from the book is from this story. It goes like this –

“Berry once told me that she had always thought of herself as both female and male. I understand why some men are confused by lesbian logic. I’m confused too. I am sure Berry, so talented and beautiful, always has men lusting after her. I asked one time how she deals with that. She shrugged and said, “I just become their friend. They stay or they leave.” She told me her family knows about her. They neither accept nor deny it. “We just be, you know?” I didn’t know. I didn’t know whether I was gay or not, or whether this was just a phase. But maybe I did know, cause I was just being, like Berry’s family.”

The Science of Salvation by Dwight Thompson – A spiritual leader and his wife meet an old friend. This old friend has ended up on the wrong side of the law. The spiritual leader tries changing him. What happens after that is the rest of the story. Beautiful and moving and thought-provoking.

Waywardness by Ezekel Alan – It is about a person who is regarded as ‘wayward’. You should read the story to find out what that exactly means. The story was filled with dark humour and it made me laugh throughout.

“Father, Father” by Garfield Ellis – A teenager is fleeing his attackers. What happens next is the rest of the story. It is gripping and fast-paced and scary.

I loved ‘Pepperpot‘. There are stories in it about love, loss, family, being gay, forbidden relationships, faith, bad things happening. They were fascinating to read. The book has a beautiful introduction by Jamaican legend, Olive Senior.

Have you read ‘Pepperpot‘? What do you think about it?


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I discovered Jamaica Kincaid’sA Small Place‘ through Rowena’s (‘Les Reveries de Rowena’) recommendation. It was just 80 pages long. I finished reading it in one breath.

The book is structured like a conversation, but mostly with the author talking to the reader. Initially, she takes the reader to be a tourist and then she continues the conversation after that. In the initial part of the book, Jamaica Kincaid talks about how a tourist who lands in Antigua experiences the island. Then she takes the reader by their hand and shows them around and describes how the life of an actual native Antiguan is. While doing this, she also tells us about Antiguan history, the British colonialism in the past, the recent history of independent Antigua, the government, the politics, the corruption, the disproportionate influence of foreign nationals. It is a fascinating journey.

The unexpected thing for me in the book was Jamaica Kincaid’s style. Though the book addressed serious topics, there was an underlying humour throughout, and I was laughing through most of the book. I’m not able to differentiate between the different types of humour these days, but I think what was depicted in the book was either satire or dark humour or a combination of both. Kincaid trains her guns on everyone and everything and we can’t stop laughing. But when we stop to think about it, it is also heartbreaking. When we reach the last chapter and we read –

“Antigua is beautiful. Antigua is too beautiful. Sometimes the beauty of it seems unreal. Sometimes the beauty of it seems as if it were stage sets for a play, for no real sunset could look like that; no real seawater could strike that many shades of blue at once; no real sky could be that shade of blue…”

– we realize that inspite of everything, this is Jamaica Kincaid’s love letter to her beautiful Antigua. I wish that I could quote the whole chapter, but it runs into a few pages, and so I’ll let you read it yourself and discover its beauty.

I loved ‘A Small Place’. I can’t wait to read more of Jamaica Kincaid’s books.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist, an ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that, and it will never occur to you that the people who inhabit the place in which you have just paused cannot stand you, that behind their closed doors they laugh at your strangeness (you do not look the way they look); the physical sight of you does not please them; you have bad manners (it is their custom to eat their food with their hands; you try eating their way, you look silly; you try eating the way you always eat, you look silly); they do not like the way you speak (you have an accent); they collapse helpless from laughter…They do not like you. They do not like me! That thought never actually occurs to you. Still, you feel a little uneasy. Still, you feel a little foolish. Still, you feel a little out of place. But the banality of your own life is very real to you; it drove you to this extreme, spending your days and your nights in the company of people who despise you, people you do not like really, people you would not want to have as your actual neighbour…

That the native does not like the tourist is not hard to explain. For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives—most natives in the world—cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives; and they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go—so when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.”

Have you read ‘A Small Place‘? What do you think about it?

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I was inspired by one of my friends to read Amos Tutuola’sThe Palm-Wine Drinkard‘. I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. ‘The Palm-Wine Drinkard’ is published by Faber & Faber, one of the oldest indie publishers around. (I didn’t even know that Faber & Faber was an indie publisher, till recently!)

The narrator of the story is a young man who likes drinking palm-wine. So his dad gets him a whole farm filled with palms and hires a special palm-wine tapster for him. The tapster brings him palm-wine everyday and our narrator enjoys drinking it. But one day, the tapster falls from a tree and dies. Now there is no one to tap the wine. Our narrator misses the delicious palm-wine and the tapster and he decides to go in search of the tapster and get him back. The tapster is dead, of course. So, this can mean only one thing. Our narrator has to go to the land of the dead. Before that, he has to find out where this land is. What follows is an amazing series of adventures, as our narrator has one exciting experience after another, meets interesting people and strange creatures, performs one impossible task after another, escapes from impossible situations, even saves a princess (or someone like a princess) from a wicked creature. Whether he accomplishes his original goal and is able to get back the wine tapster – you have to read the book to find that.

The Palm-Wine Drinkard‘ is a fascinating book. It is a combination of folktale, fantasy, magic, mythology. As we follow the narrator’s adventures, the pages just fly. The narrator’s voice is charming and bubbles with energy, and it made me smile throughout, as the narrator describes how he gets into one scrape after another. Amos Tutuola’s prose is very unique. He adapts and shapes and modifies language to bring out the narrator’s voice in a natural way, and it is such a pleasure to read. I read the title as ‘The Palm-Wine Drunkard’, but after reading the introduction to the book by Wole Soyinka, I discovered that it was not ‘drunkard’ but ‘drinkard’. Soyinka explains this in his introduction –

“What an imaginative rupture of spelling, to have turned a negative association into a thing of acceptance, if not exactly approval. Not ‘drunkard’ but – ‘drinkard’. Difficult to damn ‘drinkinness’ with the same moralistic fervour as drunkenness.”

I discovered that when Tutola tried publishing the book, the editors attempted to change the English to make it more grammatically correct. I’m glad they didn’t do that in the end, because Amos Tutuola’s version of English is perfect for the story. The story is just around 110 pages long, and it is over before we know it. Wish it was longer. ‘The Palm-Wine Drinkard’ was published in 1952, much before Chinua Achebe’s first book. I’m wondering whether Amos Tutuola was the first Nigerian / African author to get international acclaim. If that was the case, he is a pioneer.

I loved ‘The Palm-Wine Drinkard’. I’m hoping to explore more of Amos Tutuola’s work.

Have you read this book? What do you think about it?

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I decided to read the second and third parts of Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy, ‘The Proof‘ and ‘The Third Lie‘, and write about them together. Just finished reading the third and final part. I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. The English translations of these two books are published by Grove Press, an indie publisher based out of New York.

The second part ‘The Proof‘, continues the story from the first part. But Ágota Kristóf dispenses with Rule #2 : ‘No Names’, and gives names to all the characters. The places are still not named though. We see the events unfold from the point of view of one of the twins. New characters make an appearance in the story, as we follow the events of what happens in this small town after Hungary’s occupation by the Soviet Union after the Second World War. The story takes us to the 1956 rebellion in Hungary against Soviet occupation and goes beyond that too. Many of the new characters are interesting, and many of them show kindness, the pure kind of kindness towards unrelated people that human beings are capable of, during times of great difficulty. The weird stuff continues but it does not reach the heights of the first part, though some of them fill in the gaps which are there in the first part. The story ends in an unexpected surprise.

In the third part, ‘The Third Lie‘, Ágota Kristóf decides that she has had enough, and turns everything upside down. This part is filled with stunning revelations which makes us see the whole story in a new light, makes us question everything, makes us contemplate the nature of truth, and ask ourselves whether such a thing called truth exists. It is like reading a murder mystery which is narrated by the detective and looking at all the suspects and following false leads and reaching dead ends and discovering in the last page that the narrator is the murderer. Or it is like reading a book in which the main character has many amazing adventures and undergoes a lot of hardship and overcomes them in the end, and suddenly we discover that the whole story was a dream. This is the kind of stuff which happens in the third part. I’m still not sure about one or two details and I need to go back and review all the three parts together and see whether my understanding is correct.

I enjoyed reading Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy. My favourite was the first part, because of the narrative voice, the sometimes dark humour. I think the second part was a great sequel. The third part was a literary experiment, in my opinion. I don’t know whether Ágota Kristóf planned all the three novels together before she started writing them, or whether she wrote the first one initially and when it became successful beyond all expectations, she decided to write the sequels and wing it on the way and improvised the story. I somehow feel that she did the second thing, because there is a huge difference between the first novel and the next two. We can even read the first novel as a standalone book. But interestingly, the three books also read well together, and look like three parts of one book, though there is a big dividing line between the first part and the next two.

I’m sharing a couple of my favourite excerpts from the book.

Excerpt 1

Young Man : “I know what you’re talking about. I saw things like that with my own eyes, right here in this town.”

Old Man : “You must have been very young.”

Young Man : “I was no more than a child. But I forgot nothing.”

Old Man : “You will forget. Life is like that. Everything goes in time. Memories blur, pain diminishes. I remember my wife as one remembers a bird or a flower. She was the miracle of life in a world where everything seemed light, easy, and beautiful. At first I came here for her, now I come for Judith, the survivor. This night seem ridiculous to you, Lucas, but I’m in love with Judith. With her strength, her goodness, her kindness toward these children who aren’t hers.”

Young Man : “I don’t think it’s ridiculous.”

Old Man : “At my age?”

Young Man : “Age is irrelevant. The essential things matter. You love her and she loves you as well.”

Old Man : “She’s waiting for her husband to return.”

Young Man : “Many women are waiting for or mourning their husbands who are disappeared or dead. But you just said, “Pain diminishes memories blur.”

Old Man : “Diminish, blur, I said, not disappear.”

Excerpt 2

What we print in the newspaper completely contradicts reality. A hundred times a day we print the phrase “We are free,” but everywhere in the streets we see the soldiers of a foreign army, everyone knows that there are many political prisoners, trips abroad are forbidden, and even within the country we can’t go wherever we want. I know because I once tried to rejoin Sarah in the small town of K. I made it to the neighboring village, where I was arrested and sent back to the capital after a night of interrogation.

A hundred times a day we print “We live amidst abundance and happiness,” and at first I think this is true for other people, that Mother and I are miserable and unhappy only because of the “thing,” but Gaspar tells me we’re hardly an exception, that he himself as well as his wife and three children are living more miserably than ever before.

And when I go home from work early in the morning, when I cross paths with people who themselves are on their way to work, I see happiness nowhere, and even less abundance. When I ask why we print so many lies, Gaspar answers, “Whatever you do, don’t ask questions. Do your job and don’t think about anything else.”

Have you read Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy? What do you think about it?

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I was inspired by a friend to get Ágota Kristóf’sThe Notebook‘ and read it. For a long time, I thought that Ágota Kristóf was the European / Hungarian version of Agatha Christie 😊 Ágota Kristóf is a totally different author, of course, and very different from Agatha Christie. I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. The English translation of ‘The Notebook’ that I read is published by Grove Press, an indie publisher based out of New York.

The story told in ‘The Notebook’ happens during the time of the Second World War. A mother takes her two young twin sons and leaves them at their grandmother’s place. The grandmother is a tough customer but the twins manage to handle the situation. The story is narrated by the twins together as they describe their life at their grandmother’s place, the people they meet, the new things they learn, the friends they make, how the war years pass, and the challenges they and their grandmother face together. In such a short book, Ágota Kristóf manages to squeeze in Hungarian small-town life during the war, Kristallnacht, the Holocaust, the relationship between the German soldiers and the Hungarian citizens, how the life of a gay person was at that time, the meaninglessness of war, the Russian liberation of Hungary and its not-so-nice aftermath. It is fascinating.

All this assumes a powerful significance, because Ágota Kristóf does a fascinating thing – she follows Rule #2 religiously and meticulously till the end. Rule #2 is ‘No Names’. There are no names in the book! None of the characters have names, none of the places or countries have names, none of the events have names! Nothing! Nada! It is amazing! I don’t know how Ágota Kristóf manages to pull this off, but she does! I still can’t stop marvelling at her ingenuity! It just shows how little a talented writer needs to tell a powerful story.

The other interesting thing about the book is the twin narrators’ voice. I have never read a book before in which two narrators speak in one unified voice. It is fascinating. The voice of the two twins is beautiful and charming. It had a simplicity, innocence and directness to it, that it made me smile throughout the book. The narrative voice was one of my favourite things about the book. The way the twins navigate every tricky situation in simple, direct ways is wonderful to read.

I’ve shared a couple of chapters from the book below, to give you a feel for the beautiful narrative voice. Hope you like them.

I loved the depiction of the relationship between the grandmother and the twins – how it starts and how it grows, and how the grandmother and the twins love each other, and how the grandmother’s love is old-fashioned, tough and gruff. It was my most favourite part of the book.

My review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention this. There are some weird things which happen in the middle of the book. But like a nice, well-behaved kid, I’m going to sweep that below the carpet and not talk about it  But if you are planning to read the book, I thought I should warn you – there is some weird stuff out there.

The story ends in a kind of cliff-hanger. I can’t wait to read the second part, ‘The Proof‘, and find out what happened next. The second part was originally published two years after the first part. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for the original readers to wait for so long, to find out what happened next.

Have you read Ágota Kristóf’sThe Notebook‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Ida Jessen’sA Change of Time‘ sometime back and decided to read it yesterday. I read it for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. The English translation of this book is published by Archipelago Books, one of my favourite indie publishers. I’ll tell you why, soon 😊

Ida Jessen’s book is in the format of a diary. The person who writes this diary is a woman who has just lost her husband. As we read her diary entries, we discover how our narrator navigates life, grief and loneliness after this heartbreaking personal loss. In a soft, gentle voice, the narrator shares her thoughts on life, love – both requited and unrequited, loss, grief, loneliness, friendship, the passing of seasons, the beauty of nature, the beautiful relationship between teachers and students, the charming behaviour of people in a small village – how everyone knows everyone, how everyone is curious about other people’s lives and there is no privacy, how people are kind and help each other during difficult times, the way only small-town and village people do. Ida Jessen’s prose is beautiful, gentle and meditative, and is a pleasure to read. There is even a delicate love story woven into the book, which we might miss, if we blink. I nearly did.

I loved ‘A Change of Time‘. Ida Jessen’s book shows why Danish literature is awesome and continues to rock. It is one of my favourite reads of the year. I want to explore more of Ida Jessen’s work.

Now, a little bit about Archipelago books, as promised. Archipelago books have a very unique design – they are in the shape of a square, rather than a rectangle, which is how a typical book is. I hope you can see this square shape in the picture. I’ve seen table-top books which are shaped like squares, but have never seen regular books, which are filled with text, in this design. This square design is one of the reasons I love Archipelago books  This design poses interesting creative challenges to booklovers and book collectors in how to shelve their books, because bookshelves are not designed for square books. I love the way Archipelago books have defied convention and designed their books in this unconventional square shape.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from Ida Jessen’s book.

“I was not a frequent churchgoer in those years. I will not say I am a stranger to the church, for I am familiar with it and with what goes on there, as one might be familiar with an aging aunt whom one has not visited in a very long time, and when eventually one does, one recognizes straight away the smells of her kitchen and the way in which the old armchair so snugly accommodates the frame as soon as one obliges the invitation to take a seat: everything is exactly as it was when one was a child.”

“I feel like a person standing in a landscape so empty and open that it matters not a bit in which direction I choose to There would be no difference : north, south, east, or west, would be the same wherever I went.”

“Bitterness is a very soft and comfortable armchair from which it is difficult indeed to extract oneself once one has decided to settle in it.”

“With age comes a certain naivety. Perhaps we no longer can bear the things we know and must smooth them away, leveling ourselves in the process. The differences we even out are evened out by human hand. The very old say so very little, not because they are unable, but because they cannot be bothered.”

“Widows are a community. I have been aware of it ever since I was a child. It can be seen in the way they seek each other’s company, in the pews for instance, where often they will sit in pairs. They do not speak much, for they have no need, and after the service they go their separate ways. In my childhood home, the widows sat together at meals and at work in the workroom. It is a matter of having lived with one person for most of one’s adult life, and to have lost that person. To have been set free. Freedom is not always a good thing. There is a freedom in which one is unseen. Such is the life of the widow. When the days of mourning are gone, and grief has become tire some to one’s surroundings, one ceases to be an interesting person and must accept the fact. Widows possess an expe rience that is not understood by others. They must live with becoming grey in the eyes of the world, and have lost their right of protest, for they are outside the common community. As outcasts they stick together. But this not the only reason. There is a warmth there, and understanding. They are acquainted with things. We have our dead. Our hope is that we too will be someone’s.”

Have you read ‘A Change of Time‘? What do you think about it?

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I stumbled upon Ann Petry’s books sometime back and decided to read her first book ‘The Street‘.

Lutie Johnson is a single mother. In the first scene in the story, she is looking for an apartment to rent. It is in a street which doesn’t seem to be nice, but that is the only place where she can afford to rent an apartment. She doesn’t like the Super of the apartment building, she doesn’t like her potential neighbours, the apartment building and the apartment she looks at are both dark without many windows and not good ventilation, but she takes it. We learn that Lutie used to have a husband and they were happy, but then he lost his job, and she found a job as a maid in a rich household, and she could visit home only once a month, and unfortunately, her husband cheated on her and this led to the breakup of her marriage. Since then, it has been hard for her. How Lutie navigates life as a single mom living in a poor neighbourhood, with weird and dangerous neighbours, when the street is everyday trying to get its hands on her and her kid, and whether she is able to triumph over the street and over her circumstances, forms the rest of the story.

The Street‘ is a powerful, moving book. Watching Lutie trying to protect herself and her kid from the street and from their neighbours and from their economic circumstances, and watching her work infinitely hard to achieve small gains, and seeing her efforts stymied by people who hold the reins of power in her little world is heartbreaking to read. When I reached the end of the book, I couldn’t stop crying.

I’ve seen heartbreaking movies during my teens in which a woman is trying to do her best to keep her head above water and is trying to progress in life in small ways and the system crushes her. I can see now where the inspiration for those movies came from. Ann Petry’s book was first published in 1946 and it was a bestseller when it came out. It was the first book by an African-American woman writer to sell more than a million copies. It is a pioneering book, because of the way it describes the life of a black woman who is a single mom who struggles in life and fights against the system. Ann Petry’s prose and the way she describes events is fresh and contemporary and it is hard to believe that the book was published in 1946.

One of the things I loved about the book was the way Ann Petry depicted the characters. None of them were black-and-white but were complex and fully fleshed out and flawed. Even one of the characters whom I regarded as a proper villain had a side which was unexpectedly childlike. The characters were just people who were thrown into difficult circumstances and each of them had a complex story and they were just struggling to survive and some of them were kind sometimes and not-so-kind at other times, while others were just plain ruthless because that was what was required to survive in the street. It was hard to love many of them, but it was hard to hate them too. Lutie, of course, towers above all of them, and she is one of the great heroines of 20th century literature. I loved her and cried when things didn’t go well for her. There were two other characters whom I found fascinating, Min and Mrs.Hedges. I loved Min and her small acts of rebellion and was happy when she won sometimes. Mrs.Hedges showed that even in these difficult circumstances one can be a kick-ass person, and can also be kind.

I loved ‘The Street‘. It was moving and heartbreaking, but I loved it. When I’m feeling brave, I’d like to read Ann Petry’s ‘The Narrows‘ next.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book. It is featured on the first page, and it is a premonition of the things to come and it is what pulled me into the book.

“There was a cold November wind blowing through 116th Street. It rattled the tops of garbage cans, sucked window shades out through the top of opened windows and set them flapping back against the windows; and it drove most of the people off the street in the block between Seventh and Eighth Avenues except for a few hurried pedestrians who bent double in an effort to offer the least possible exposed surface to its violent assault. It found every scrap of paper along the street—theater throwaways, announcements of dances and lodge meetings, the heavy waxed paper that loaves of bread had been wrapped in, the thinner waxed paper that had enclosed sandwiches, old envelopes, newspapers. Fingering its way along the curb, the wind set the bits of paper to dancing high in the air, so that a barrage of paper swirled into the faces of the people on the street…It did everything it could to discourage the people walking along the street. It found all the dirt and dust and grime on the sidewalk and lifted it up so that the dirt got into their noses, making it difficult to breathe; the dust got into their eyes and blinded them; and the grit stung their skins. It wrapped newspaper around their feet entangling them until the people cursed deep in their throats, stamped their feet, kicked at the paper. The wind blew it back again and again until they were forced to stoop and dislodge the paper with their hands. And then the wind grabbed their hats, pried their scarves from around their necks, stuck its fingers inside their coat collars, blew their coats away from their bodies. The wind lifted Lutie Johnson’s hair away from the back of her neck so that she felt suddenly naked and bald, for her hair had been resting softly and warmly against her skin. She shivered as the cold fingers of the wind touched the back of her neck, explored the sides of her head. It even blew her eyelashes away from her eyes so that her eyeballs were bathed in a rush of coldness and she had to blink in order to read the words on the sign swaying back and forth over her head.”

Have you read Ann Petry’s ‘The Street‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Selja Ahava’sThings that Fall from the Sky‘ through a friend. This is my first ever Finnish book, I think. So, Yay! 😊 I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from ‘Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings’ and Lizzy from ‘Lizzy’s Literary Life’. The English translation of this book is published by Oneworld, which is an indie publisher based out of London.

Saara is a young girl who lives with her dad and her aunt. We discover that her mom died sometime back. The book starts with Saara narrating the story. She describes her life at present and then goes back in time and describes life when her mom was around. As the story goes back and forth we try to piece together what happened. At some point in the story, a new narrator comes in and continues the story and we see things from a different perspective. There are four parts in the story, and in the final part, it comes full circle, as Saara comes back and tells us what happened in the end.

Things that Fall from the Sky‘ is a beautiful story about family, love, loss, grief and its aftermath, and finding love again. It is also accidental happenings in life, both good and bad, and whether they have any meaning. I loved the whole book, but I loved most, the first part, which stretches to nearly half of the book. The child Saara’s voice is so beautifully rendered by Selja Ahava in that first part. It is unique, beautiful, authentic, charming. Saara tells us the story in the way only a child can – directly, with childlike innocence. She grieves in the way only a child does, and it breaks our hearts. Saara’s mom has a starring role in this part, and she was one of my favourite characters in the book. Talking about characters, I loved all the characters in the book, Saara and her mom and dad, and her Auntie Annu, and Krista who comes later in the story. I even loved Saara’s favourite sheep Bruno. Saara’s first description of Bruno always makes me smile 😊

“Bruno is tame because when he was little, I fed him with a baby bottle. Now he thinks I’m his mum, and when I walk past, he always comes up to the fence and bleats.”

Selja Ahava’s prose is spare and beautiful and we can feel the shift in voice as the narrator changes, which is beautifully done. There is even a difference between the voice of the young Saara at the beginning of the book and voice of the little bit older Saara at the end. That subtle change in voice is so beautifully rendered. It is pitch perfect.

I loved ‘Things that Fall from the Sky‘. It is beautiful, charming, moving, heartbreaking, life-affirming. I’m so happy I read my first Finnish book. I can’t wait to read more books by Selja Ahava.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“I’ve considered time a great deal. I have grey cells in my brain. I use them to think about how time marches forward and heals. Grown-ups say time heals and that means that when time passes, what’s happened changes into a memory and you remember it less and less clearly. When you can hardly remember it at all, you’ve been healed…Dad says time heals is a load of shit. According to Dad, the only people who say that don’t understand anything about anything. They’ve never been through anything. And my grey brain cells think Dad may be right because, at least so far, nothing’s healed, even though the summer holidays have already started. And so I sit on the back seat and say ‘nothing’ and think about the healing power of time. To be on the safe side, I decide to remember Mum every day, before time has the chance to do too much healing.”

“In spring, the manor house groaned and creaked. The warmth brought the timbers to life and got the house’s blood circulating. It sounded as if someone were walking about all the time. This didn’t scare Auntie Annu. ‘Extra Great Manor is just stretching its limbs,’ she’d say. The groaning and creaking went on till warmth spread throughout the structure. Then the house settled down and the sound of steps upstairs went away…When a house is young, you have to look after it as if it were a child. It needs adjusting, patching up, care and maintenance. But when a house is, say, two hundred years old, it can look after itself. Everything that’s inclined to rot has already rotted. Everything that’s inclined to sink and split has already sunk and split. You just have to live in it nicely, which means living as people have lived there before.”

“Spring sets off tapping and popping on the roof; sometimes the noises go on for several nights before anything happens. The roof prepares for an attack, like an army: it moves and drips quietly. Then, finally, comes the night when the mass of ice that has formed on the roof works itself loose: it begins to move, a single sheet hundreds of kilos in weight, to slide, rumbling, down the tin roof. The chunks of ice fall past the windows on to the ground. The din is so great that, for a moment, I think the world is coming to an end. The loosening of the ice is followed by silence. The house is full of silence; the walls rise from wintry heaviness; the shed door opens again.”

“The ancient Greeks used to lower the gods on to the stage when the plot of a play got into a knot and the characters weren’t able to work it out themselves. Gods in white clothing in their little box, descending creakily to the middle of the stage with the help of a rope. There they could declare judgement. It wasn’t thought to be quite as skilful an ending as one where the characters solved their problems themselves, but it was better than nothing.”

“If the end of the world doesn’t work out, there’s always an alternative: Paradise. Auntie Annu said she heard Paradise will only come if all the people in the world are without sin for one moment. One moment would be enough, but it would have to be the same moment for everyone. A world without sin for one small, shared moment, and Paradise will pop out. A trumpet will sound, angels will swoosh and the world will end. I’m not sure about Paradise. I don’t trust angels… Sometimes, in the manor house, I used to lie in my metal bed and imagine ways of getting Paradise started. If everyone could be made to sleep at the same time, it might work, because you can’t sin when you’re asleep, even if you’re having a nightmare…Maybe not everyone wants Paradise. Maybe most people don’t want any kind of ending because they’re afraid of death. And that’s why Paradise doesn’t come, and things just happen. And perhaps, after all, that’s why the world goes on: because things happen. Overlapping, at the wrong time, at different times, in the wrong places. If everything were in order, as the angels command, if the angels said ‘don’t look’, and everyone obeyed, we would end up in Paradise with one blast of the trumpet. But the world goes on and life happens, because there’s always a person who peeks all the same. Someone forgets to watch the news, someone starts a quarrel when they shouldn’t, someone else just doesn’t feel like being good, and someone happens to be standing at the edge of the garden when a lump of ice falls. And that’s why we’ll never reach Paradise.”

Have you read ‘Things that Fall from the Sky‘? What do you think about it?

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Michael Holding – Mikey to fans and admirers – is one of the greatest cricketers who ever played the game. He was a much admired and feared fastbowler during his playing days. A few years after he retired he got a call from someone asking him whether he would like to commentate on the game on TV. Mikey said ‘Yes’ and before long he became a well-respected and admired and popular commentator. Legend has it that female fans loved his voice and he was a big hit. I couldn’t follow Mikey’s cricket career, because I was too young at that time, but I followed him when he commentated during matches. The thing I loved about Mikey was that he was fearless. He didn’t care what people thought, or if it would offend them – if he had opinion during the game he commentated on, he shared it. Sometimes, I didn’t agree with him, especially when he criticized his home team, the West Indies (for me, it doesn’t matter whether they win or lose, I’ll always love the West Indies cricket team. I’ve loved them since I was a kid, and I’ll love them till the end of my days. Before me, my dad loved them since he was a kid. It is a family tradition in my house ), but I always admired Mikey for being fearless. He was one of the few commentators who didn’t kowtow to the Indian cricket board (the only other commentator I know who was similarly fearless was Ian Chappell – I love him too), and I always get goosebumps thinking about that.

So, sometime in 2020, Mikey was commentating during a test match in England, and play was cancelled that day due to rain. Such rainy days are good times for commentators in the studio to have a cricket conversation. Someone asked Mikey what he thought about the Black Lives Matter movement. It opened a dam and Mikey opened his heart out. Viewers who were disappointed that the day’s play was rained off, were engrossed listening to Mikey, and soon the messages started pouring in. The next day Mikey was interviewed on a live TV news channel and he spoke more about it. People started telling Mikey that he shouldn’t stop with this, but Mikey felt that he had said everything he wanted to say. At some point his friend who helped him write his memoirs a few years back, told him that with the voice and platform he had, he can write a book about this and that will reach more people. So Mikey decided to write this book, ‘Why We Kneel, How We Rise‘.

In this book, Mikey interviews leading black and indigenous athletes of contemporary times, all of whom are legends in their fields, and asks them to share their experiences when they were discriminated against because of their race. Some of the famous athletes interviewed are Usain Bolt, Thierry Henry, Naomi Osaka, Michael Johnson, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Hope Powell, Adam Goodes, Makhaya Ntini. Mikey also shares his own experiences when he was the target of racism.

But Mikey doesn’t stop with this. If he had done that, this book would have been a collection of interviews. He also talks about the history of Black people across the centuries till the present day and covers the recent violent incidents by the police against innocent Black people. It is essentially Black History 101. If you have read books about it before, you would know most of it. But, like me, if you have read about it in a scattered fashion, you’ll find many new things in it. As Mikey says in his preface –

“Just finally, before we get started, I want to be clear : this is not a book of complaints. It is a book of facts. I hope it will enlighten, inspire, surprise, shock, move. And, above all, help to bring about real change.”

If we are not familiar with the facts Mikey describes, it will make us angry, it will make our blood boil, we’ll find them unbelievable, it will break our hearts, it will make us cry. All these happened to me. I knew some of the facts, but it was unbelievable that some of these bad things, pure evil things, were happening well into the 20th century. There were two chapters called ‘Dehumanisation’ and ‘History Lesson’ which were very hard to read, because what they described was heartbreaking. It was unbelievable to read about some of the things, that scientists and philosophers that we admire from previous centuries, had said.

Mikey describes every important word and concept be uses, in simple language, so that you don’t have to Google or search for the dictionary if you don’t understand them. For example, when talking about Jim Crow laws, be describes who exactly Jim Crow was, and what these laws exactly said. In another place Mikey describes what ‘redlining’ exactly means. This enhances the reading flow of the book and makes it a beautiful experience.

After talking about bad experiences by sporting legends and giving us a history lesson, Mikey also shows the way forward. He talks about how education is important, how teaching history which is unbiased and factual and which doesn’t sweep the past below the carpet, is important, and how this will help in changing people’s minds and help in making our shared future better and more equal for everyone.

Why We Kneel, How We Rise‘ is a beautiful book, a powerful book, a heartbreaking book, an inspiring book. Mikey is famous for being fearless and for speaking his mind, and he does that in every page of this book. He sometimes turns his critical, unflinching gaze on himself, and describes how he sometimes failed to protest against racism and fight back, during his playing days. It is stirring to watch. The book is filled with anger, of course, the anger of the right kind, because of the inhuman things that happened, but it is not an angry book. Mikey’s tone is neutral and pitch-perfect, and he doesn’t make sweeping judgements and generalizations but sticks to the facts. I still don’t know how he managed to do that, because in a book like this, it is easy to get into an Us Vs Them mode, but Mikey doesn’t do that. His analysis is based on facts and it is nuanced. It is perfect. At the beginning of the book, he says this to make his point –

“this is not a story about hating white people. The word I used on Sky Sports was ‘brainwashed’. White or Black, pink or green, we have all been indoctrinated to believe that one colour is the purest and best. The further down the colour chart you go, the lazier the person, the more aggressive, untrustworthy, less intelligent. Of course it is ridiculous to blame ‘white people’ for that. They don’t know any better and have been to the same schools and colleges and lived in the same societies and cultures as the rest of us. You are a product of your environment. As I said on Sky that morning, this thing gets into your head and psyche almost by osmosis. It happens without you being aware.”

Later in the book, he says this about Tony Greig, which I found very interesting –

“Tony Greig, the England captain, had said he intended to make us ‘grovel’. I wince at the word. Tony, as I realised once I got to know him much later when we worked as co-commentators, was not a racist. But he was ignorant of the slave era connotations of the word. Particularly spoken by a white South African who was only playing for England because the country of his birth was banned from international sport due to apartheid. It was incredibly insensitive. I may only have been twenty-two, wet behind the ears to the ways of the world and just be beginning to understand racism, but I knew what he said was wrong.”

In another place, while talking about the informal quota system which is prevalent in some sporting teams he says this –

“but discrimination – positive or negative – to my mind does not work. What if that Black person who gets picked purely because of the colour of his or her skin, rather than his or her ability, is shown up to be hopelessly out of their depth? And this goes for any industry – not just sport. It is counterproductive. If you start filling positions in sport, business, industry or whatever because you need to tick a box based on ethnicity, gender or age, instead of employing the best person for the job, you don’t solve a problem, you create one. In fact, you create lots of problems. For a start that person might not be capable of doing the job and, in a high-profile area like sport, that person is embarrassed. How is that good for inspiring someone or being a role model?”

Very surprising, unexpected and beautifully said.

Why We Kneel, How We Rise‘ won the William Hill prize in the UK in 2021. The William Hill prize is given every year to the best book on sport in the UK, and it is the sports book equivalent of the Booker Prize or the Pulitzer Prize. Typically a book on cricket or football wins this prize, because these are the two biggest team sports in the UK and both have a rich literature. But ‘Why We Kneel, How We Rise’ is no ordinary book on sport. It is much more than that. It looks at racism through the lens of sport, but then goes much beyond that. It is a book about our contemporary world and it is an important, powerful book. This book is a bestseller in cricket-playing countries, because of Mikey’s background in cricket, but it is not just a cricket book. It deserves to be widely read by readers across the world. It is destined to become a classic.

I can’t think of any sportsperson, present or past, who would have written this book. Sportspersons might make individual gestures on particular occasions or even share their experiences, but writing a full-length book like this, they’d avoid. Because it is filled with inconvenient truths and would offend a lot of people. Maybe Serena Williams might write a book like this after twenty years. I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. But Mikey was brave and fearless and stuck his neck out and wrote this book. I don’t know whether there were any repercussions. I’m sure he lost some friends because they were offended. But sometime after the book was published, Mikey suddenly announced that he was retiring as a cricket commentator. It came out of the blue and was totally unexpected. It was heartbreaking for fans like me. Somehow one felt that there was some connection between his book coming out and him retiring. They happened too close to each other to have been a coincidence. It was almost as if Mikey thought that this book was his parting gift to his fans and admirers. The truth might just be that Mikey wanted to spend more time playing with his grandkids, tending to his garden, and taking walks with his wife to the beach. I hope that is the truth. I want to believe in that.

Thank you for this precious gift, Mikey. We’ll miss your fearless, wise commentary. Have fun playing with your grandkids 😊

Have you read ‘Why We Kneel, How We Rise‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Melissa Valentine’s memoir ‘The Names of all the Flowers‘ recently, through Olga’s recommendation, and I just finished reading it.

When Melissa Valentine moves back to Oakland after being away for many years, she gets in touch with her childhood friend and they catch up. Then this friend’s brother and their cousin also join and Melissa looks at this friend’s brother and remembers her own brother, whom she calls Junior, whom she loved very much, who was shot dead by unknown assailants when he was nineteen. The rest of the book is about Melissa and her family, and especially her brother Junior, the good times and the bad, and how things happened which ended in this heartbreaking tragedy.

Melissa is biracial – her mom is black and her dad is white. Her mom’s side relatives treat her and her siblings as one of their own, and they even accept her dad as a part of the family, while her dad’s side relatives attempt to show affection, but it looks like condescension. This adds to the complexity of her and her family’s experiences, because frequently they are treated as outsiders, both by the black and the white community, and so things are doubly hard and challenging for them. It is especially hard for the kids, especially Melissa’s brothers, and her favourite brother Junior gets beaten up in school for not being black enough. The book starts with this complex background and gives a perceptive and sensitive depiction on what it means to be a black teenager in today’s America. Melissa’s love for her brother Junior shines through in every page, and Junior comes through as a complex character, someone who is happy and cheerful to start with, but whom the system and society harass and pigeonhole into a box, and when Junior tries protecting himself by any means possible, it all ends in tragedy. It is moving, poignant, heartbreaking. I cried after I finished reading the book.

I loved ‘The Names of all the Flowers‘. I can’t wait to find out what Melissa Valentine will come up with next. This book is published by the Feminist Press and they continue to rock – this is the third consecutive amazing book by them that I’ve read.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“Dad is a poet in the way he believes in life, the growing of things, of children. But his poetry is the kind people don’t understand, maybe he doesn’t either, the way it grows out of control, the desire for life so great it escapes even him; he cannot control this life. He loves children, which are another kind of life. I have observed the way he admires babies. He holds them awkwardly, kind of like the way he dances, as if his joints do not easily bend, moving choppily to a rhythm only he can hear. Instead of the normal way of holding a baby—bringing it to your chest, rubbing its back, smelling its skin—instead of the cooing and pleasantries most people make in the presence of babies, he stares into the child’s eyes lovingly, with reverence, while holding its head in his sandpaper palm. I have seen him do this with my baby cousins in Alabama. I have felt the discomfort of the people around him, wondering what this white man is trying to transmit into the skull of this black child. It is usually a black child he holds up with this kind of reverence.”

“She warns us not to show our true colors, warns us regularly—before we go to the neighbors’, before we go to school, before we go to Grandma’s. What color is that? Sometimes it is the color of desire—don’t show hunger, don’t show need or want of any kind to outsiders. But often it is something else—the color of the city, the color of the cement, the color of the curse words that often slip from our mouths, the blackness of our bodies that mixes with the white to make us what the little Southern kids call bright. “Why are you so bright?” they ask in earnest, and I look at them bewildered, wondering with my literal city ears what brightness they see in me. Bright, but still very much not white. Is that the color Mom means? The not-white? Or is it another color? She would prefer we act like we don’t come from the city, like our feet were born dusty, like we came from roads, not streets. She would prefer we act full, satisfied. Junior doesn’t care; he always shows his truest colors.”

“I know by now that nice and good are myths. There is no good, no nice. And if there is, it is impermanent. There is proof all around me : a homeless summer and a burned-down house full of trash that was masquerading as good, as nice; a brother whose bad follows him wherever he goes, no matter how nice—there is no protection from black boyness. Good and nice are only illusory feelings, but, at least for a moment, I enjoy wrapping myself up in the illusion.”

Have you read ‘The Names of all the Flowers‘? What do you think about it?

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