I thought I would write about few of the books I read in the past month or so, because I am going through a phase of what I like to call Lead Brain. My brain feels clunky and no ideas seem to be able to make their way to the top through the heavy metal.
Eve Out Of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi; Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
When I saw this book in the World Fiction shelf at the library, I was a bit intrigued. The author’s name sounds Indian, and yet the book was originally written in French. I learnt she is from Mauritius. I enjoy these little discoveries. This is a novel set in the other Mauritius, the one you wouldn’t find in a tourist brochure. It is the seedy underbelly, the dirty streets with the gangs and abuse, the sewage that flows freely, the poverty that is hidden behind the glossy villas.
The story is narrated from the points of view of four teenagers. Eve, a girl who understands the power her body contains. It is her weapon and currency. She trades it for her needs and wants. Savita, the one person Eve truly cares for. Saadiq, who is hopelessly in love with Eve. Clelio, whose anger threatens to destroy him and everything around him. There is another nameless and italicized narrator, a perpetrator of cruel delights.
When Savita is witness to an act that shouldn’t have happened, she is murdered. This sets in motion a series of terrible events, hurtling everyone towards what appears to be their end. The future is hypothetical for all of them, but we want them to escape and carve for themselves a better life, even if violence is the only way to get out.
This novel brings to us the lives of those who are rarely seen, the outcasts and the desperate. The prose is beautiful and stark, shifting with ease from one voice to another. There are some tender moments, but these are drowned or disfigured by the chaos of everyday life. Eve is both fragile and brave, she isn’t afraid to move forward even if life has only shown her disappointments and trauma until then.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
I am often nervous to read wildly famous books. I fear I have to spend a lot of time explaining myself, if I find I did not enjoy the book. This is based on the assumption that everyone I meet is eager to hear me talk at length about books I like or dislike. Please note the assumption is faulty at best.
Swing Time is a story about two girls that is also an exploration of race and gender, the personal, the political, and the line that distinguishes or connects the two, colour and class, the vicious and generous nature of friendships.
The unnamed narrator and Tracey, two brown girls growing up in an undesirable part of town, are friends at first sight. There is an unspoken understanding, and the author captures this precisely. This is something I came across many times in the novel – the sharp portrayal of a character trait or a thought process that left me wondering how the writer managed it. The teenage years, the sexuality, the volatile relationships that we cannot escape from, the search for an identity – written in such glorious detail.
Later, the narrator starts working for an international pop icon Aimee, who is a sensation even though she does not possess much singing talent. Aimee is modelled after pop stars of our times – performing all over the world, dating younger men, having children outside marriage, adopting African babies on a whim. When Aimee takes over an African village with the intention of developing it, the narrator feels conflicted. She is not certain if this sudden dumping of wealth on a village will be beneficial, especially because Aimee is mostly clueless about how the world works and isn’t interested in understanding context.
For all its brilliant observation, I found the novel too long and meandering. The characters aren’t particularly likeable either. Maybe I should read another novel by Zadie Smith to understand her work better.
Hateship, Frienship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
It turns out Alice Munro is widely read and loved by many, so I started reading this collection of stories with some expectation. That is never a good thing.
The stories follow the gentle rhythms of life – the misfortune and grief, the fleeting happiness, the pleasures, worries and monotony. The title story is one I liked best, in which two children play a prank writing love letters to their housekeeper, leading her to think a man is in love with her and waiting for her. But the prank takes an unexpected turn when the housekeeper ends up finding love and companionship with him.
Most stories are variations on the same themes – death or the search for partnership. I felt frustrated after a while, and tried reading faster than usual so I could finish the book.
There are a few more books, but I might write about them some other time.
The review of Swing Time you see on this page was published in the October issue of the Parent Voice.