Archive for April, 2022

I discovered ‘All About Sarah’ by Pauline Delabroy-Allard recently and was finally able to read it today.

The narrator of the story is a single mom who has a young daughter. She and her husband divorced sometime back. One day she goes to a party and bumps into a woman called Sarah. Sarah is loud, talkative, unconventional, doesn’t care what people think. Our narrator is drawn towards Sarah and is deeply attracted towards her. And Sarah responds to that. And as they say, it is the end of life as they know it. I won’t tell you anything else about the story here. I’ll let you read the book and discover its pleasures.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part describes the love story between the narrator and Sarah. It has short chapters and it is mostly a happy story. The second part is a bit sad, is a bit dark. It has chapters which are a little longer. I liked both the parts, but I loved the first part more. The attraction, the seduction, the love, the fights, the making up were so beautifully described there. Though I loved the first part more, one of my favourite scenes came in the second part in which a minor character appeared and said some beautiful things. My favourite passage from that scene goes like this –

“Isabella insists on taking me to see the castle. When we stop briefly at a café, we talk about love and the agonies you have to experience in order to appreciate the joys. She doesn’t ask any questions when I start to cry silently. She just says – gently, in her irresistible accent – you have to get through the nights and be fulfilled during the day.”

Pauline Delabroy-Allard’s prose is a pleasure to read and there are many beautiful passages in the book. I’ve shared some of my favourites below. As Sarah is a violinist who performs in classical music concerts, the whole book has a musical backdrop and Beethoven and Schubert and Vivaldi and others make guest appearances in the book which adds to the charm of the book.

I loved ‘All About Sarah‘. It is one of my favourite lesbian love stories. Pauline Delabroy-Allard is a beautiful, new find for me and I’m looking forward to reading more books by her.

I’m sharing below a couple of my favourite passages. The second one has three parts from three different places in the book, which I’ve stitched together, because I felt that they read beautifully together.

“Passion. From the Latin patior, to experience, endure, suffer. Feminine noun. With the notion of protracted or successive suffering: the action of suffering. With the notion of excess, exaggeration, intensity: love as an irresistible and violent inclination towards a single object, sometimes descending into obsession, entailing a loss of moral compass and of critical faculties, and liable to compromise mental stability. In Scholasticism, what is experienced by an individual, the thing with which he or she is associated or to which he or she is subjugated.”

“It’s January but yet again the miracle happens. Yet again winter admits defeat, drags its heels a little longer and tries one final flourish, but it’s too late, it’s over, the spring has won…It’s a spring like any other, a spring to depress the best of us…It’s a spring like any other, with impromptu showers, the smell of wet tarmac, a sort of lightness in the air, a breath of happiness that sings softly about the fragility of it all.”

Have you read ‘All About Sarah‘? What do you think about it?

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I’m a huge fan of Franco-Belgian comics which are called Bande Dessinées. I’ve wanted to read this Bande Dessinée called ‘The Old Geezers‘ (‘Les Vieux Fourneaux‘) for a while. I read the first part of this series today.

Three old friends meet. The occasion is sad because the wife of one of them has just passed.  They catch up and reminisce about old times and the grown-up pregnant granddaughter of the grieving husband also joins in the conversation. The departed wife has left behind a letter which contains a secret. The husband is livid with anger after he reads it and takes a gun and rushes away somewhere. The other two friends and the granddaughter follow to prevent him from doing something bad. What follows is an amazing story of friendship, a commentary on today’s world, some cool banter, many hilarious scenes. I laughed through most of the book. The three old geezers have a devil-may-care attitude and are hilarious and adorable. The granddaughter is a kick-ass person, and one scene in which she offers her thoughts on the current situation in the world is amazing and inspiring to read. It was one of my favourite scenes in the book.

I loved this first part of ‘The Old Geezers’ (‘Les Vieux Fourneaux’). It is definitely one of my favourite comics discoveries this year. Can’t wait to read the next part. Am sharing the first few pages  so that you can get a feel for the story and the artwork.

Have you read ‘The Old Geezers’ (‘Les Vieux Fourneaux’)? What do you think about it?

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When I discovered that Jelena Lengold’s new book ‘Lightfooted Day‘ was coming out, I was very excited. I loved the two earlier books by her that I had read – the short story collection ‘Fairground Magician‘ and the novel ‘Baltimore‘ – and so I was looking forward to reading her new book.

Isidore is a writer who has just published his new novel. He is busy with the launch of the novel and looking at the reviews, when he receives an email from a stranger. This stranger talks about deep, complex things and Isidore finds the mail interesting but he doesn’t respond. But this stranger is persistent and he sends another mail and at some point Isidore replies and a conversation starts. Then Isidore and this stranger decide to meet, and this stranger tells Isidore about someone from Isidore’s past, and Isidore is surprised and stunned. He mind goes back to a time when he was eighteen and he was in the middle of a tragic event for the first time in his life. The rest of the story moves between the past and the present as we get introduced to the people in Isidore’s life, especially this particular person, and how the past impacts the present and the future and the surprises that are revealed form the rest of the story.

I loved many of the characters in the story. There are many strong women characters in the story who come into Isidore’s life, all in different ways, and they all play important parts in the story. There is Maja who first comes in the beginning, and then there is Olga who plays a big part in Isidore’s life, and then there is Irma who plays a big role in the story, and then there is Benedetta who makes a brief appearance but who leaves a big impact and then there is Trine who is a wonderful character. It is hard to pick one favourite character because they are all amazing and kick-ass. Then there is Isidore’s dad who is a quiet person and doesn’t talk much, but there is more to him than meets the eye. One of my favourite characters is a man called Kjetil who appears for a brief while, but who is mysterious and fascinating, and he has some interesting things to say about Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

The book is a story of a quest in which the main character travels across time and geography to find meaning and prise out some of life’s secrets. It is beautiful and contemplative. Jelena Lengold’s prose flows smoothly like a river and there are beautiful passages in every chapter, which her fans have come to expect now. Isidore’s sense of humour is cool and stylish and he makes us smile many times.  I’ve shared some of my favourite passages in the comments. The whole book has a musical backdrop and music plays an important role in the story. I loved that aspect of the book. There is a section in the end which has a description of all the music referenced in the story.

A word on the translation. I got the Serbian edition of the book and used Google Translate to translate it and then polished some of the sentences. I’ve read many essays and articles and book reviews like this, with the help of Google Translate, but this is the first time I’m reading a whole book like this. It was an interesting experience. As English doesn’t have gender for inanimate objects, sometimes objects got translated from the Serbian to English as ‘he’ or ‘she’. There were a few other issues. But outside of that, the translation was pretty good. I could follow the story, I could enjoy the humour, and I could catch the beautiful passages. The translation was not perfect, but it was readable. For a software based translation which doesn’t involve humans, it was pretty impressive. This opens up a whole new world for me, because many European books are not available in English translation or they take many years to come in English translation. I’ve been frustrated many times in the past because of this. Now I don’t have to be. I need to just get the original edition, translate it myself using software, fine-tune the sentences and I have the book ready to read. I am very excited at this possibility.

I loved ‘Lightfooted Day‘. Can’t wait for Jelena Lengold’s next book.

I’m sharing some of my favourite passages from the book below. Hope you like them.

“It’s been a few days since I’ve been trying to start a new novel. Still above me, like some heavy clouds, stood all those days, three years to be exact, in which I wrote Lakonogi dan. I would sometimes think of scenes from movies in which the protagonist writes a book. We usually see him at the computer or typewriter, in uncomfortable, impossible poses, sitting on the bed with a laptop on his lap or lying on the floor and writing something in his notebook. Only music is heard, and then the frame occasionally goes to the window, we watch the seasons change through bright music, leaves fall, the writer writes, it snows, the writer writes again, this time in a warm sweater with sleeves which are too long, people have Christmas trees, we understand that it’s the New Year, the writer is still writing, a steaming cup of tea is next to him, it’s already spring, we see the sun in the park across from his building, because in movies the writer’s apartment mostly overlooks some magical park or lake, and not even thirty seconds into the film, he triumphantly types in capital letters THE END in the middle of the last page.

In reality, it’s all much different. Time drags on and often nothing happens for hours, except that the windows are occasionally shaken by the vibrations of a tram or some heavy plane that flies over the city. Immersed in that quiet wrestling with the outside world, I sometimes see the lights in the windows go out. The seasons really change, but autumn will last as long as autumn must last, before it turns into winter. Anxious magpies crouch on the bare branches of the trees. In the morning I would be awakened by the cries of children in the streets, the barking of dogs, the ticking of clocks, distant church towers and the poisoned fumes of the city. I would sit at my desk for a while, then I would go to wash the dishes, fry eggs, make coffee. The total senselessness of this empty apartment would sometimes fall on me like a torrent of all the replicas and noises that once filled it. Those were hard days. Boring and tiring.”

“What was good is forgotten devastatingly quickly, as if it didn’t even exist. Those who break things up should keep that in mind, that terrible truth, that creation takes much longer than breaking up. And therefore we must be guided by this truth before we decide to break up anything in the world.”

“And I was convinced that I was telling the truth. The truth, obviously, is not what we naively consider, something unchangeable, provable and factually indisputable. The truth, by all accounts, has its moment, as does everything else. And it lasts for a while, and then it disappears.”

“One of the human traits that I couldn’t understand and that became more and more repulsive to me over the years, was this : people want to tell you something at any cost. And if they do, it’s hard to stop them. Why exactly, and why exactly to you, remains an enigma. But they are persistent in that, and until you listen to what they have to say, there is usually no salvation for you. Either let them tell everything, or you will be classified as an uneducated weirdo who turns around and leaves in the middle of someone’s sentence. Truth be told, I’ve done that in my life, but I didn’t feel good after that. There is a small person living in me who does not allow me to behave the way I would like. And that is why I have listened to so many stories that did not interest me, that sometimes I have the impression that one precious part of my life has gone to it irretrievably, a part that I could spend blissfully doing anything else. At a certain age, all of us, willingly or not, become a dump of other people’s stories. They lead some of their lives in us, and as it happens in every other landfill, they emit heavy, unpleasant odors, rot, and occasionally, on their own, catch fire. Because of them, because of all these stories, we can never live a clean, naive, carefree life again. Even if our life is a paradise garden  without any worries.”

“Those people who write all their emails exclusively in lower case! Oh, how they always annoyed me! There is some badly disguised pretentiousness in their manner, some false modesty, some arrogance that actually says that they are better than others, that they never and nowhere mix with intruders and self-advertisers. They have overcome all that, haven’t they, and small letters are enough for them to say what they want, because their words are important in themselves, and they don’t need capital letters anymore. These fake epistolary ecologists, convinced that in this way they are acting less aggressively than the rest of humanity, the one that overwhelms you every day with its bold thoughts.”

Have you read ‘Lightfooted Day‘? What do think about it?

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I discovered Jason Reynolds sometime back and I decided to read this book of his, ‘Long Way Down‘.

Will is talking to his friend Tony when they get caught in the middle of a gangfight. When the smoke clears, Will discovers that his big brother Shawn has been shot dead. In Will’s world, there are three rules. Or The Rules. They are 1. Don’t cry 2. Don’t snitch 3. Take revenge. So Will decides to follow the Rules. He feels he knows who killed his brother. So the next day morning, he takes his brother’s gun with him and decides to kill his brother’s murderer. He gets into the lift which goes down. On the next floor someone gets in. This new guy stands behind Will and keeps staring at him. Will gets uncomfortable and asks this guy whether they know each other. And this new guy smiles. And Will suddenly recognizes this guy. And his whole world turns upside down and amazing, unexpected things happen after that.

Long Way Down‘ is a novel written in verse. I thought it will be challenging to read because of the format, but the poetry flows smoothly and the pages move fast. The story is gripping and we can’t wait to find out what happens next. Jason Reynolds has written it in free verse which seems to be the format favoured by poets today, but occasionally he experiments on the way the poem appears on the page, in the style of e.e.cummings, and it is fascinating and beautiful. I’ve shared one of my favourite pages below, which has this style. Hope you like it.

The ending of the story is surprising, and not at all what I expected. One take on it could be that it is open-ended, but the other take which seems to suggest something totally unexpected and makes us go back to the book for clues, that looks more fascinating. I can’t tell you more. If you read the book, I’d love to discuss the ending with you.

I loved ‘Long Way Down‘. So happy I got to read my first Jason Reynolds book. Hoping to read more.

Have you read ‘Long Way Down’? Which is your favourite Jason Reynolds book?

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I wanted to read some comics and so picked this SODA series. There are 13 books in this series. The first came out in 1986 and the most recent one came out in 2015. It is a Belgian comics series and it was originally published in French.

Solomon David (SODA of the title) is a detective with the NYPD (New York Police Department). He lives with his old mother who has a weak heart. So David makes his mother believe that he is actually a priest 😊 So everyday morning, he leaves home in priest’s attire and comes back home in the same way. In between he is a police officer who catches criminals and sometimes has to shoot them down. His mom doesn’t know anything about this though 😊

I read three volumes of SODA’s adventures. They were Tuez en paix (Kill in Peace / You are at Peace) (Volume 8), Et Deliveré-Nous Du Mal (And Deliver Us From Evil) (Volume 9), and Lève-toi et meurs (Stand Up and Die) (Volume 7). I enjoyed reading them all. The artwork was charming in comic style, and the relationship between SODA and his mother makes us smile. The bad guys all make us laugh. Though the stories are all serious, there is an underlying humour throughout, which makes us smile. Every story starts with a spectacular scene, and typically there is a surprise in the end. My favourite opening scene was from Tuez en paix – it is cool and stylish and spectacular. My favourite story was Et Deliveré-Nous Du Mal. In this story SODA goes with his mom to his hometown in Arizona for a short visit and the consequences of that are hilarious. The ending of the story was complex and not black-and-white and that made me like the story even more.

I loved these three volumes of SODA’s adventures. Hoping to read more.

Sharing the first three pages of Tuez en paix, which has that spectacular opening scene. It is in English. Hope you like it.

Have you read the SODA series? Do you like it?

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I discovered Olive Senior through a friend’s recommendation. I was very excited to read my first book by her, ‘The Pain Tree‘.

The Pain Tree‘ is a collection of ten short stories. The title story ‘The Pain Tree‘ is about a young woman who comes back home after a long time and thinks about her childhood, especially about someone who brought her up. It is a beautiful, haunting story and one of my favourites from the book. In ‘Moonlight‘, the narrator likes getting up at night and going out in the moonlight, but one day she sees something that she is not supposed to, and her world turns upside down. ‘Silent‘ is what happens to a kid and his family who get caught in the middle of a gang shootout. In ‘A Father Like That‘, the narrator almost sings the story in Jamaican English, and it is such a pleasure to read. ‘Coal‘ is about a young woman, her housekeeper and a silent boy who works in their home. I learnt from this story that we can make coal out of wood, but the process is delicate and complex. I always thought that coal is only there in coal mines. The longest story in the book which runs to more than forty pages is ‘The Country Cousin‘. It has everything we’d expect from a long story – a wonderful start, interesting characters, conflict between characters, people plotting against each other, good characters suffering at the hands of the bad, a surprise ending. Whether the ending is happy or sad, you have to read the story to find out. The last story ‘Flying‘ is beautiful, sad, haunting, and has folkoric and magical elements in it. It made me think of one of my favourite books, ‘Root Magic‘ by Eden Royce. There are more stories, but I won’t say anything about them, but will let you discover their pleasures when you read them.

I’m glad I read my first Olive Senior book. I loved it. Hoping to read more of her books.

Have you read ‘The Pain Tree’? What do you think about it?

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Anuradha Ramanan was one of the popular Tamil writers during her time. She mostly wrote novels and short stories. She was quite prolific and wrote hundreds of novels and I think her short story count is beyond a thousand. In other words, if you are a completist, you can’t read her entire work – there is too much. I’ve seen my mom read her novels and gush about her as a person, but I never got around to reading an Anuradha Ramanan story till now. Whenever my dad saw my mom reading an Anuradha Ramanan story, my dad used to ask my mom why she was reading this rubbish. Anuradha Ramanan herself replies to that in her introduction to this collection. She says that her stories may not be great literature, but they are definitely not rubbish. She says that a normal person’s life is reflected in every story in the collection. She says that there is a resounding ring of truth in every story. She hopes that readers will like them.

There are 15 stories in this collection. Most of them are about women who are suppressed by their family, culture, society. Many of them defy the restraints imposed on them, sometimes quietly, sometimes with fire. In one story a woman continues to be happy, when society expects her to be unhappy. She is defiant with her happiness. Some stories have happy endings, others are dark. Some stories end in an unexpected surprise. Occasionally, the main character in a story is a man.

Anuradha Ramanan’s most famous short story, ‘Sirai‘ (‘Prison‘), is featured in the book. In this story, a young woman gets married and moves to her husband’s house in the village. One of the influential men in the village eyes her from the first day. One day when the husband is not at home, he enters their house and rapes her. When he comes out, the husband sees him and he immediately realizes what has happened. The husband is a spineless coward. He doesn’t have the courage to fight with the rapist or complain against him to the police. But he is not ready to ignore this and live on as if nothing has happened. So he does what cowards do – he abandons his wife and leaves the village overnight. The wife doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t have anyone. She requests people around for help, but she doesn’t get any. She has to live in the temple and the post office and the railway station like a homeless person. One day she decides that she’s had enough. She takes her things and walks into the rapist’s house, and occupies part it. When her rapist tries to get in to find out what she is upto, she looks at him with fire in her eyes, and stops him at the entrance. Then she tells him that she is going to live there from that day onwards. Her rapist fears her and respects her and so do his servants. What happens after that, when these two people live in the same house in this strange, uneasy situation, forms the rest of the story. This story was made into a movie by the director K.Balachander, who liked making movies about unconventional, defiant women. I think the actress Lakshmi, who is an unconventional, defiant person in real life, played the main character in the movie.

Anuradha Ramanan was herself an unconventional, defiant person. She lost her husband at a young age, but refused to behave like a heartbroken widow (which was what was expected in her conservative community). She dressed up, was always happy, her enthusiasm was infectious. She worked as a staff writer in a magazine, wrote stories, became a popular writer, brought up her two daughters as a single mom, inspired young women who read her stories and her essays. In other words, she kicked ass. When we read her introduction to this collection, we can feel her warmth, her affection, her energy there. It feels like our big sister is talking to us. And we feel this warm and affection throughout the book, even when the stories are sad. Anuradha Ramanan was a happy person and it shows.

I loved this collection of Anuradha Ramanan’s stories. Hoping to read more.

Have you read any of Anuradha Ramanan’s stories? Which are your favourites?

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