A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi


Narratives on religion and the implications of shifting blame have been written time and time again. But what is extraordinary about Tahereh Mafi’s brainchild is the brandishing of a character, a 16 year old American girl of Iranian descent, whose integrity is questioned simply because she happened to exist in a time rife with terrorism and extremism. Before 9/11, Shirin led a relatively more peaceful life. But ever since the heinous incident set the world against those of Islamic faith, she too has been marked as the harbinger of all evil. She can’t set foot in public without having to hear racist slurs thrown her way, and for what? Choosing to display her religious inclination without fear?

Told from the point of view of a person of color, A Very Large Expanse of Sea is more than a YA romance. In all its honesty, it brings to us the extremely fickle nature of high school hierarchies. Even the hypocrisies that underlie societal behavior towards men and women of similar backgrounds is seen in the novel. It is apparent in the way Shirin and her brother, Navid are treated. While she is constantly battling remarks like, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”, he receives no such flak for being a Muslim. That begets the question, are symbols of diversity what propel people into deepening cultural barriers. Simply because Shirin chooses to wear her hijab and be empowered by it, she seems to remind everyone of her “otherness”. Moreover, the interactions, that Tahereh Mafi puts to paper in this book, are appalling enough to make you wonder if people are so blinded by fear as to fuel a fascist society.

Some of the things I really appreciated about this book is the inclusion of Persian words and a passing mention to a learning disability. You don’t really find that a lot in books. I was really pleased to read about a family that hadn’t allowed modernization to scrape away at their roots and traditions. The author’s writing style is crisp and straight forward. Shirin’s voice appears to be blunt at first, but her increased attachment to Ocean thaws her resolve and by the end of the book, her personality changes a bit.

One of my biggest pet peeves with regards to stories is having a character make sacrifices on the behalf of another (for the betterment of another) and I was quite afraid that was going to happen in the book. While Ocean is an incredibly supportive and open-minded character, it was Shirin’s story that appealed to me more; her struggles and her opinions. All in all, I would definitely recommend reading this book for the sake of the themes it juggles with, not necessarily for the love story aspect of it.

★★★★

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Book Review — Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Inspired by Sophocles’ Antigone, Home Fire shows us the plight of a family embroiled in modern day politics and Islamophobia. Isma Pasha has been a second mother to her siblings after the demise of their parents. But her decision to move to America marks the beginning of the disintegration of their family. The twins, Aneeka and Parvaiz, find their paths diverging as he gets roped into joining the Islamic State, while trying to follow in his father’s footsteps. Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018, this novel brings up compelling truths about human vulnerabilities and manipulation.

This was one of those award winning books that I was slightly more hesitant to pick up, because it was apparent that it tackled a serious issue, one that wouldn’t allow for an “enjoyable” reading experience, in a matter of speaking. I couldn’t smile or laugh my way through the 260 pages that it took for the author to convey the story. Once I began reading it, my hesitation proved to have been not baseless. The writing style of the author just wasn’t for me and quite often, I found my attention diverted by the flowery language. A few portions of the book felt draggy and extremely slow. So while the book on the whole wasn’t one of my favorites, I cannot deny the power that the story in itself carries. It depicts to us the gradual process of breaking down someone’s mental faculties to such an extent that they become open to any kind of suggestion. And how easy it is then to channel their inner rage or turmoil into making them do questionable things.

The book is split into different sections, wherein the story is told from the point of view of different characters. I liked that about the novel. Since it is not written from first person perspective of these characters, I didn’t feel one with the book as I usually do in the case of books with such strong themes. But I was so astonished by Parvaiz’s decisions that it pained me to read about him. If I had to pick a part of the book that had been done well, I would choose the section about Parvaiz. What I would commend the author for is taking up such a prevalent topic and spinning a story around it in such a way that you cannot ignore what’s going on in the book. Overall, I would say that this is an integral read because of its premise, but I wasn’t a fan of the writing style.

What do you get out of this book? Insight into how young men and women get persuaded to join terrorist forces and how their families and loved ones get affected by their drastic choice.

Cover Reveal — Paradise Towers by Shweta Bachchan-Nanda

Shweta Bachchan-Nanda’s debut novel is all set to leap onto bookshelves come 2nd week of October 2018. The book already has a very mesmerizing trailer that you can watch on HarperCollins India’s Instagram page. Here’s what the cover looks like:

About Paradise Towers:
Dinesh opens the door to the Kapoor flat to find Lata, the enchantress who works at Mrs Aly Khan’s, carrying a hot case with freshly made gaajar ka halwa. On the first floor, the inquisitive Mrs Mody wipes the dust off her precious binoculars to spy on the building’s security guard. The Singhs open the doors of their SUV, their four boys creating a ruckus – they are the newcomers, the outsiders. Through the peephole, the ever-watchful Mrs Ranganekar observes their arrival. Welcome to Paradise Towers, an apartment building in central Mumbai. Everyone here has a story to tell. Or maybe they have stories to hide.
Shweta Bachchan-Nanda’s quirky, intimate debut explores the intertwined lives in this building – a
forbidden romance, an elopement, the undercurrents of tension in corridor interactions and an explosive
Diwali celebration. Shweta Bachchan-Nanda’s is a dazzling voice that will draw you into the intoxicating,
crazy world that is Paradise Towers.


Now you know what to pick up in October for a fun read. I can’t wait to snuggle up with this book and hopefully, I’ll have a review post live soon.

Book Review — A Girl, A Stolen Camera and A Borrowed Bike by Nikhil Singh Shaurya

Nikhil Singh Shaurya’s debut novella, A Girl, A Stolen Camera and A Borrowed Bike tells the story of Sonali who, upon stumbling across some photos captured by an unknown man, realizes that traveling is her true calling. She jumps at the chance to leave her mundane life behind, and dons the skin of a wanderer, moving from place to place without any planning in advance. As her journeys allow her to view life from renewed perspectives, she gets closer to learning about the man whose passion and creative output altered her life so drastically.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

This book would’ve had so much more of an impact if it hadn’t been this short. With just around 80 pages, I felt that the potential of the theme was at a disadvantage. It was really interesting to read about Sonali’s sojourns, but I wished that the author had elaborated on the events to give us a satisfactory understanding of the story. There’s a section in one of the pages where Sonali lists out all the new experiences she’s had ever since she embarked on this journey – I would’ve LOVED to read about those in detail.

The writing style is simple and innately Indian. There aren’t a lot of complicated words used. However, the editing of this book wasn’t up to the mark and that, sort of disrupted my reading experience. I wasn’t a fan of any of the characters or their decision making capabilities. Sonali herself doesn’t make for a very reliable protagonist. We’re introduced to atleast 3-4 male characters, all of whom take on the role of being her love interests.  On the whole, it was an okay read. There were quite a few aspects of the book that I didn’t really like. If you’ve read it and enjoyed it, let me know your thoughts?

Rating – 2 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A rushed, brief account of a woman who finds meaning in life through her extensive travels.

Thank you Nikhil Singh Shaurya for sending me a copy of your book in exchange of an honest review.

Book Review — Jasmine Days by Benyamin

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

Jasmine Days tells the story of Sameera as she gets accustomed to living in a Middle Eastern city with her father and relatives. This shift away from home and her new job as an RJ brings her closer to assimilating with people of different backgrounds. Her friendships take on new definition when the city gets torn apart by religious conflicts. In this contemporary fiction, the author draws up a raw and gritty picture of the effects of communal tension and violence.

 

This novel surpassed my expectations and grew on me rather quickly with its unusual style of narrative and the subject matter it dealt with. Politics and religion are not themes that make for an easy read, but Jasmine Days has the power to keep you hooked to its pages. The apprehensions of being an outsider, the inevitable culture shock and the patriarchal notions concerning gender roles are all aspects of the plot seen through Sameera’s perspective. The style of writing in this translated work is crisp and not flowery. Many disjointed events and instances are strung together to form the overall story. There are no chapters, only subheadings within broad sections.

In a way of recounting incidents that gave rise to the growing rivalry between communities, the novel draws your attention towards the Arab Spring. Themes of corruption, religious intolerance, women’s rights and protest culture are explored in this novel. It also addresses the topic of media transparency during conflicts; how people in power become gatekeepers of news. There are a lot of characters in this novel, only a couple of which take precedence over the others. Sameera has firm opinions about what’s right or wrong, she enjoys music and has never really considered what her religious identity might mean on a larger scale. Jasmine Days brings out the jarring truth about revolts; how innocent people have to bear the brunt of the actions of a few. I CANNOT STRESS THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS BOOK ENOUGH. Highly recommend reading it!!

What do you get out of it? A moving story about individuals caught in an uprising, not knowing if they are safe within their own homes.

Ratings – 4.25 out of 5 stars

Thank you Juggernaut for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.

Book Review — Goodbye Freddie Mercury by Nadia Akbar

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

Nadia Akbar’s debut novel, set in Pakistan, narrates the stories of the youth, as they grow up in a society ripe with corruption, volatile politics and gender bias. Nida and Bugsy are two such teenagers whose lives get entangled when they meet at a party. After her brother’s death, Nida has grown estranged from her family and chooses to spend her days smoking one joint after another. Bugsy is an RJ trying to harmonize rock music into the music scene in Lahore, a place that is still clinging to the tunes from years gone by.


Other than its hypnotic cover, the title and the premise of Goodbye Freddie Mercury were what drew me to the book. As I kept reading, I began to realize that there wasn’t a specific plot governing the storytelling. There was no discernible start, mid and end to the narrative; no conflict or climax driving the novel forward. Instead, it flowed with the ease of a story gradually unraveling at the touch of a reader. The author’s writing style is very poised and at the same time, makes frequent use of Hindi and Punjabi slang; thus catering to the readers of our subcontinent. It is also observant in its descriptions and fills in necessary details of the surroundings during a scene.

On the surface, this is a typical youth drama fiction. There’s a whole lot of drug and alcohol use, sexual content, petty rivalry, stereotypical characters. The extent to which the characters in this book are shown to be inebriated is quite alarming, considering the fact that they are barely young adults. Nida is your quintessential new girl, who quickly gets assimilated into this group of friends when she starts dating Omer, the supposed leader of the pack. The impression I got from her character depiction is that she is often not mindful of her actions, she doesn’t really stop to think what’s good for her and make choices based on sound judgement. Omer is a rather distasteful spoilt character, objectifying others and paying no heed to consequences. I had placed all of my faith on Bugsy to be somewhat more mature than the others. He is a lot more approachable and considerate.

All throughout, I was wondering how the title connects to the novel. Towards the end, you begin to understand the deeper meaning and I was super impressed. I wished there weren’t as many stereotypes in the book. On the whole, I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to everyone solely on the basis of how different the style is. It is more realistic and raw than you’d expect it to be.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A novel about teenagers from the upper echelons of Lahori society, where insobriety and abuse of power are the norm of the day.

Thank you Penguin India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review. 

Book Review — The Soldier Prince by Aarti V. Raman

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In The Soldier Prince, we come to read about Prince Alexander Heinrickson of the Royal House of Stellangard, who is not in the least bit interested in putting on the princely attire and carrying out the duties of the royal family. The loss of a loved one pushes him to swap that life for one in the military as a soldier. But when a fated catastrophic encounter with the attractive Sasha Ray threatens to expose his true identity to the world, he must rush back home and let his family handle the matter. Sasha is a waitress who, apart from being curious about her regular customer, has no clue as to what she is dragging herself into when she jumps at the chance to save Alexander from a possibly fatal incident.

I actually really enjoyed this book, more so than I’d thought I would. It’s much more than just a romance. It’s about one’s duty to their family, their nation. It has a couple of action scenes as well. The writing style is compelling and makes use of sufficient descriptions, which had me really excited because well, a majority of the book is set in the snowy clad terrain of the Swiss Alps. We’ve seen and heard a lot about forbidden love stories and so, the main plot wasn’t very unique.

My favorite part of The Soldier Prince is not the inevitable romance between Alexander and Sasha, but the subplot involving the royal family and their lives. The setting also added to my enjoyment of the book. I even liked Sasha and Alexander separately because of their character compositions. But their relationship was not something I was entirely convinced about; parts of it were downright cliched. And while you could take this book as being just about their connection and how their relationship evolves over time, I was able to set that aside and appreciate this book based on its stories about individual characters.

I really liked the bond between the three siblings – Michael, Alexander and Lena. The little glimpse of Princess Lena that we get from this book interested me enough to want to know more about her. The treatment of the royal family is not stereotypical, which is something that impressed me. Because usually when you talk about monarchies, there’s atleast one snobby person in the family who looks down upon commoners and is arrogant, but in this case, all of them were very welcoming towards Sasha, they’re polite and respectful towards others.

Depending on how much you enjoy romance – contemporary fictions, I would surely recommend this book to you, because it’s a delightful read! I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A charming story about love, family, and duty.

Thank you Aarti V. Raman for sending me an eARC of your book in exchange of an honest review. 

Book Review — A Cage of Desires by Shuchi Singh Kalra

Shuchi Singh Kalra’s A Cage of Desires comments on the state of Indian marriages within a conventional family, while giving wings to the sexual identity of a woman. Renu is a married woman who, between taking care of her children, her father-in-law and the house singlehandedly, finds no relief for herself. Her loneliness and lack of affection in a loveless marriage urges her to get lost in the words of renowned erotic fiction author, Maya. This novel draws parallels between a woman subdued by patriarchy and a woman who is unafraid to give voice to her fantasies.

From the synopsis itself, I was intrigued by the premise of this novel because it promised a contrast in female character types that I’ve never read of before. We are introduced to the two personalities and how they differ from each other. Renu is shown to be meek, she doesn’t speak up for herself when she is mistreated by her father-in-law and husband. This habit  of hers doesn’t prepare her for the continued suffering she gets subjected to. Maya, on the other hand, is someone who knows how to put people in their place, is extremely confident and unapologetic about her desires.

I didn’t like any of the characters in this book except for Renu’s friend Akriti. From the moment we are introduced to Arjun, I knew he was a good for nothing character. All of his portrayed charm signaled warning bells in my head. Renu, to me, came across as someone very selfish and often negligent of how her actions would reflect on her children. She has no self-respect and clearly doesn’t care enough about herself to keep from going back and forth between two horrible choices. The writing style is not flowery and distracting; you can breeze through the book. The chapters are short and comprise of some colloquial usages.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

There’s a hint of mystery in the beginning that gets resolved by one third of the book. What I liked about the book is that it highlights the plight of married women doing thankless jobs and that it also strongly puts forth the idea of women owning their sexuality. But maybe if it had done so in a more appealing and ethical manner, I would have loved reading this novel. As of now, it’s my strong dislike for the characters that left a bitter taste. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad book, but I’d hoped to enjoy it a lot more than I did.

Ratings – 2.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A taste of hypocrisy and patriarchal beliefs held by old-fashioned Indian families; a glimpse of what women have to go through to be heard and accepted for who they are.

Thank you Shuchi Singh Kalra for sending me a copy of your book in exchange of an honest review.