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Posts Tagged ‘Faiqa Mansab’

One of the books I was eagerly looking forward to, this year, was Faiqa Mansab’sThis House of Clay and Water‘. It was launched late last month and I got a copy and finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.

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The Story

The first thing I want to say about the book is that I love that gorgeous cover! It is so beautiful! Now about the book itself. The story is set in Lahore and it starts with the story of Nida. Nida is married and her husband and in-laws are well off. On the surface, life seems to be comfortable and nice, but there seems to be an emptiness in Nida’s life. The story goes back and forth in time, as we find out more about Nida’s past and try to discover clues to find out why she feels the way she does. Nida goes to the Daata Sahib Dargah sometimes, to calm her spirit, and there, one day, she meets Sasha. Sasha is a free spirit and though she is married and has two young daughters, she rebels against the confines of marriage and goes out with different men who make her feel special. Nida and Sasha meet Bhanggi, in the dargah. Bhanggi is a hijra, a hermaphrodite. His life in the past has been hard, but these days he sits under the banyan tree and plays the flute. People assemble to listen to him and they also come to pray for and receive his blessings, because he is regarded as a qalandar, a Sufi saint. A beautiful friendship blossoms between Nida and Bhanggi and it looks like it would flower into something more. The rest of the story is about how the friendship between Nida and Bhanggi and Nida and Sasha evolve and what happens between them and their families. Well, I am not going to tell you more. You should read the book for yourself and find out what happens next. 

Thoughts

I loved many of the characters in the story, especially Nida, Bhanggi and Zoya, Sasha’s daughter. Sasha was also quite fascinating – flawed and imperfect and complex. The story is mostly told from the point of view of Nida, Bhanggi and Sasha, but occasionally others join in – Zoya and for a brief while, Saqib, Nida’s husband. The novel’s depiction of contemporary Pakistani families – the relationship between men and women, parents and children, women and their in-laws – is very beautifully done. I also loved the novel’s depiction of contemporary Pakistani society – the contradictory pictures of the city, the elegance and the poverty, the position of the haves and the have-nots. The life of a hijra and a hijra’s role in culture and society is also depicted very insightfully. I also loved the novel’s depiction of the city of Lahore – the sights, the smells, the noise, the dust, the traffic, the monuments, the beautiful architecture, the history, the contradictions, the poverty, the elegance, the music, the food, the celebrations – the novel takes the reader into the middle of this beautiful city and leaves them there.

Quotes

I loved Faiqa Mansab’s beautiful, gorgeous prose – there were many beautiful lines and insightful passages throughout the book. Here are some of my favourites.

“I was an utterance in absentia. I was a forgotten word, uttered and mislaid long ago. I was the word that existed because there was another word that was my opposite, and without it I was nothing. I gained meaning only by acknowledging that possible other.”

“It is not often that I have two options to choose from. It is nice to be compelled towards something, otherwise one drifts through life unimpeded.”

“I’d morphed, altered, nipped and tucked away bits of my personality for so long, I no longer recognized myself. I feared that one day, even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to identify myself. I’d be forever trapped in an image of another’s making, and there would be no escape because I would have forgotten to want to escape.”

“When death becomes an escape, when it becomes attractive, the purpose of life is fulfilled. To teach one it’s futility, it’s worthlessness, that is the purpose of life. Incongruously, its value lies in having imparted that lesson.”

“In the nights though, I couldn’t help but weave the golden cloth of my dreams. Each stitch from heart to thought, and thought to heart, was painful to bear, even if it was joyous at times. Because each thread was fraught with the fears of being broken midway, lost and never found again.”

“I had never said those words because there were no words left. My beloved and I were both exiles from language. Our love couldn’t be expressed in words. Our love had been woven into the melodies rendered by his flute, and it was subsumed in the atoms of the air we breathed. It had been consecrated in this shrine. It had never been named. It was an unnamed thing that had remained unspoken, unuttered, unsaid. I did not need to name it when he could already hear it.”

Final Thoughts

I loved ‘This House of Clay and Water‘. It is a beautiful, unconventional, unique love story, a spiritual love story. It is also a story about families and human relationships.  It is a brilliant, debut novel and Faiqa Mansab is a fresh, new, exciting voice in Pakistani literary fiction. It is one of my favourite books of the year and I can’t wait to find out what she comes up with next.

Have you read ‘This House of Clay and Water‘? What do you think about it?

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I had a not-so-good reading year in 2016. I read only 18 books. That is not not-so-good. That is bad. I left some of the books half-read. Not because they were not good, but because I was distracted or got into a reading slump. I could finish reading only 18.

That is the bad news. The good news is that I liked most of what I read. Actually loved most of them. That makes me very happy. That means, my list of favourites will contain most of the books I read 🙂 I don’t have to differentiate between them and choose some over others for arbitrary reasons. That is one of the great pleasures of reading less number of books. That makes me very happy.

So, without much further ado, here is the list of my favourite books from 2016, in no particular order.

Short Stories / Short Prose Pieces / Novellas

(1) A Game of Chess and other stories by Stefan Zweig

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My first proper book by Stefan Zweig. The title story was exceptional – it had some of the best passages I have read. There was also a beautiful description of the Riviera in another. Loved the whole book. I can’t wait to read another Stefan Zweig book.

(2) The Steppe by Anton Chekhov

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Chekhov’s love letter to the Russian Steppe. Also his longest story. My most favourite of his.

(3) A Dreary Story by Anton Chekhov

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One of Chekhov’s longer short stories. Loved it.

(4) The Walled City by Zeenat Mahal

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One of my favourite discoveries this year was author Zeenat Mahal (the nom de plume of Faiqa Mansab) and her novella The Walled City. It is a love story set in the beautiful city of Lahore and evokes the sights, sounds, smells, people and culture of the city so brilliantly. It also had one of my favourite passages :

“Saqib watched his work with forced detachment. He’d put his dreams to sleep on canvas after canvas, crystallized in a vice of color and form. Some had emerged as twisted nightmares, others as singed vestiges of shattered hopes.
     This painting was both.
     Like the woman, it had exacted much from him. He could almost feel the weight of the palette knife in his hands again, as he’d mixed and smeared, brushed and stroked in a frenzy of ecstasy or despair, until she’d emerged out of its blankness in the arms of another man, a faceless lover. But her almond shaped eyes that had held him captive for so long, gazed out at him, even now. He wasn’t just the painter; he was voyeur and conspirator, sinner and judge, plunderer and savior. The man in her arms didn’t matter, not to her, not to him.”

If you want to read ‘The Walled City‘ online, you can find it here.

Faiqa Mansab’s new book “This House of Clay and Water” is coming out in May. I can’t wait to read it.

(5) Strange Tales from the Make-Do Studio by Pu Songling

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There is a story plot which I have been fascinated by. In this story, a character from a book jumps out into the real world. (Or conversely a real world character jumps into a book or a painting). When I first heard this story, it gave me goosebumps. I discovered that Jasper Fforde has written this. Jodi Picoult has also written this. Then I discovered that Cornelia Funke has written this before them both. I was amazed to discover that Woody Allen wrote a story with this plot in the ’70s. (In his story Madame Bovary jumps out of the book into the real world and falls in love with the reader). Then I further discovered that Raymond Queneau wrote this in his book ‘The Flight of Icarus’. I thought this must be the earliest form of this story. I let it be. Imagine my surprise, when I discovered that Pu Songling had written similar stories. In the late 17th century! He seemed to be saying from the distant past – “Experimental writers from the 20th / 21st century – Take that! All these innovative plots that you think you invented (or copied from others without acknowledgement) – it has all been written and done and dusted.” Songling’s book is made up of ghost stories and stories of the supernatural written for grown-up mature readers. There are probably 500 stories of his. I probably read around 30 in this book. Many stories involve the main character, who is a scholar, who falls in love with a beautiful woman, but who turns out to be a ghost or a fox fairy or flower fairy. In many stories, the beautiful woman loves our scholar back, they get married and have children and live happily everafter 🙂 It is the kind of ghost story that I have never read before. This book deserves a proper review. Highly recommended.

(6) Contemplations by Franz Kafka

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I read ‘ The Metamorphosis‘ and many other stories by Kafka this year. My favourite was this one – his first ever published collection containing short one or two page prose pieces. Very beautiful.

Novels

(7) A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler

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A novel about an introverted, shy man whose life story it tells. Very beautiful. It got into many award shortlists. Wish it had won some.

(8) The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

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I got this book years back when it first came out. I finally read it. It is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in post Second World War America. The difference though is that our American Hamlet cannot speak and his parents rear dogs.  So, while we are expecting Hamletian madness to happen, we get one of the most beautiful dog novels ever written. Almondine is one of my most favourite dog characters ever and Easy is another favourite. There is a black pup (of which animal we never know) which our Hamlet’s dad saves from the flood. It refuses to eat or drink anything and the part of the story where it comes is beautiful and heartbreaking. I really should have written a proper review of this beautiful book.

(9) The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

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This much awaited novel from one of my favourite writers is set in the aftermath of 9/11 and tells the story of ordinary people who show extraordinary courage. Gae Polisner says that the manuscript of her next novel has gone out already. I hope that novel comes out this year. We readers are always greedy!

(10) A True Novel by Minae Mizumura

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The longest novel of the year for me (862 pages). The longest novel I have ever read on the Kindle too. It has been called the Japanese Wuthering Heights. It was long and epic and I loved it.

Graphic Novels / Manga

(11) A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin (graphic novel – part 1)

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I got this because I was planning to watch the TV show. Before long the show took over. But till then, the graphic novel version of the book was good, very good.

(12) Barakamon (part 1) by Satsuki Yoshino

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A Manga comic about a young calligrapher who goes and lives in an island and his friendship with the islanders. Very charming! Can’t wait to read the next part!

Science

(13) The Universe in your Hand : A Journey through Space, Time and Beyond by Christophe Galfard

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Stephen Hawking’s former student gives his own version of the history of the universe. And I can confidently say that the student has excelled the master here. Galfard’s book is very readable. (Hawking’s book is unreadable after the first chapter – believe me, I tried). He uses storytelling techniques and science-fiction-movie-style narration to bring the most complex concepts alive. Probably the finest book on physics written for the general reader. One of the wonderful things that I learnt from this book was about the things we don’t know and which we will never know. This is a book that I will be reading again.

(14) The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg

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Weinberg’s book has been called the finest account of the Big Bang theory ever written. Weinberg being a Nobel Prize winner himself, this book has been well respected. I have wanted to read it for years. Finally got to read it. The initial few chapters are easy to follow. The book then gets more challenging. The thing I loved about the book though was reading Weinberg’s thoughts on physics and why it is important and why we should be doing it. Weinberg’s humility as a person and as a scientist shone through when he talked about the larger issues in science and his confidence as one of the great scientists of the 20th century shone through when he talked about the science we knew and could predict. It made me fall in love with him. I will be reading those parts of the book again.

(15) Mr Tompkins in paperback by George Gamov

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One of my friends has recommended this for years. I finally got around to reading it. It has two parts  – Mr.Tompkins in Wonderland and Mr.Tompkins Explores the Atom. Beautiful book on relativity, radioactivity, structure of the atom and quantum mechanics. It has one of the finest descriptions of radioactivity that I have ever read. The book also has a foreword by one of my favourite scientists Roger Penrose. That doubled my pleasure! Great book to gift to your young ones at home. I wish I had read this when I was in school.

Have you read any of these? Which are your favourite books from 2016?

Happy New Year! Hope you have a wonderful year filled with great books and beautiful reading moments 🙂

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