Book Review of ‘Rivers Run Back’, a collaborative novel by Joyce Yarrow and Arindam Roy
A Gripping, Unputdownable Saga of Humanity
‘Rivers Run Back’, the cross-cultural novel encompassing decades, continents and the physical and emotional struggles of individuals, is a thrilling narrative of how destinies of individuals are intertwined in a strange, inexplicable turn of events. The novel, a unique literary collaboration of two master storytellers from different countries and backgrounds, Joyce Yarrow and Arindam Roy, is a wonder-filled read. Every single chapter, multi-layered, crisp, is neatly woven into the narrative, intriguing us with a plethora of characters, settings and a brilliant, nuanced labyrinth of plots and sub-plots. As a reader, I felt immensely close to both the protagonists Shankar and Marilyn, the erudite, gentle academician and the talented, multifaceted yet troubled, psychologically challenged painter, the neglected, marginalized, cruel, notorious Narsimha, and Padma and Leela, the poised and the fiesty sisters who complemented each other, each of them forming a brilliant mosaic of love, intrigue, deception, abuse and villainy.
The storyline, complex, intriguing and volatile, is a true roller coaster ride with countless surprising twists, turns that baffled me, challenged me, yet gripped me till the end with its fascinating blend of psychological and mythical themes dexterously woven into a richly nuanced, multi-dimensional tapestry. The wise, aristocratic world of Shankar and Marilyn is pitted against the manipulating, villainous world of Narsimha to form myriad layers of diametrically opposing characters and settings and how they intersect to unfold some infinite, inexplicable truths of humanity. I particularly loved the way the various strands of the narrative are interconnected with a smooth dexterity which has a cinematic effect to it. It is definitely a gripping psychological thriller, a suspenseful, intriguing and bewitching tale of love, intrigue and life’s strange, unexplained surprises that will stay with me for a long time.
“Flights From My Terrace” by LOPA BANERJEE
Published in Dialogue Times
Filled with vivid, veritable expressions, descriptions connoting the joie de vivre of life in its small, yet discerning moments, Santosh Bakaya’s treasure trove of 58 essays in ‘Flights From My terrace’ comes across as a remarkable odyssey of childhood memories, nostalgia, and a vivid internal journey capturing universal human feelings. The journey of these essays combined together in an unforgettable mosaic, in her own words, is “the outcome of my ruminations on my terrace” of her snug, cozy Jaipur home, a home which pulls her away to the other homes and their assorted images, homes and realms she has inhabited with her memories, opening the doors to her idyllic childhood, replete with delight, loss, wonder, and bewilderment cried to be put into words.
Bakaya, the amazing storyteller, essayist and poet extraordinaire attains catharsis and makes perfect sense of the hubris of her mind and the memory chaos by documenting and depicting a series of diverse complex emotions in the book, starting from the exuberance of flying kites to the reminiscence of the sweet nothings of an idyllic Kashmir of her childhood to being a mother to delving in the other metaphorical truths of her life. Hers is a Bedouwin (nomadic) heart inside which churns the quicksilver flash of memories, and splashes across the zigzag crannies of the terrains she touches now, hungering, wreaking havoc.
Read the full review here:
Book Review: The Haunting and Other Stories by Dr. Sunil Sharma
Published by: Authorspress. 2016
168 Pages Haunting_Cover image
‘The Haunting and Other Stories’, a collection of short stories by Dr. Sunil Sharma, an extremely erudite professor of English, author, poet and editor starts off in an almost fable-like manner, weaving a story within a story narrated by a nine-year-old child, combining the elements of fantasy, folklore, adventure and the stark, seething world of our everyday realities. The reality of the daily ignominies of a struggling labor class family slaps us hard on the face, with the deep, haunting narrative of human trafficking that takes us to a grueling voyage to the city’s vicious underbellies. A widespread, crude, vicious world is woven with the author’s dexterous use of images that cement the apparently disparate worlds of Laxmi and Tanya, the burgeoning, sedate upper class and the trampled, anguished working class, and at the end of the story, their worlds collide in the subtly symbolic, allegorical way of storytelling.
In the stories that follow, including ‘A Teen Daughter’ and ‘An Indian Police Station: A Philosophical Thought’, ‘At The Party And After’, we see the subtle and timeless manifestations of various multi-faced urban voices that coalesce as a collective consciousness. The voices, that of the anguished daughter missing her mother in a critical, apathetic parochial family, the harrowed woman trapped inside the police station, looking into the inherent doom and catastrophe of humanity inside the surroundings, the bespectacled bald loner trapped as an odd display amid a vain, wealthy social gathering are pitted against each other as emblems of diminishing humanity, of a skeptic and brutal moral world where essential human values are dead and replaced by a sinister, decaying reality. The collective psyche of the protagonists of each individual story embraces a subtle, essential suffering, the suffering of a burdened human existence. The burden of the mutilation of a world of emotions, a world of deep-rooted human values lies heavy on their shoulders.
The protagonist of the story ‘At The Party And After’ mutters to himself over phone: “I am unwanted everywhere…In my family, by my brothers and sisters. In my office, in my neighborhood…..” In an interior monologue that follows, the author sums up his plight. “He knew he was trapped inside a hopeless social situation….he felt he was neither inside or outside. He did not belong…. felt like a permanent outsider.” With deft strokes, here the author highlights the pain, the alienation and the internal crisis of the ones living on the fringes of an emerging Indian society, a merciless, ruthless and banal society.
In the story ‘Borderless’, the fluid, multi-faceted visages of humans intersect with each other in a surreal, almost seductive journey into the Alphs, where each of the travelers, including the protagonist discovers his self-identity in an uncharted territory miles and miles away from their ancestral moorings. In the process, he, along with his co-travelers, rediscovers the true meaning and essence of ‘home’. “Janaab, home is where you truly get a feeling of belonging. Where you are able to do what you want to do. Where you feel respected, wanted and loved. Not a place, even if it is one’s home country, where there is always a sense of dread amongst the people and in the streets.” The introspective lines from Sahil, the immigrant from Pakistan sums up the human need for looking into the essence of our self-identities as integral parts of a country, a race or in terms of an overarching humanitarian landscape that defies spatial boundaries. Also, as humans, we are trapped into a lot of human-constructed parameters, and the evils of those parameters keep lurking from the nooks and crannies, the fissures and crevices of our mundane urban existence, which is evident in the immensely sad, dichotomous depiction of the urban India he portrays in this rich, dynamic collection of stories.
For me, personally, some of the most haunting depictions of the collection include the fictitious young waiter at the wayside hotel, who later is transformed into a ruthless hunter, the vulnerable, emotionally fraught parents of the little girl Smita in ‘Change’ who disguises herself as a boy in a desperate bid to earn acceptance and love from her gender-biased parents, the ruthless male chauvinist tormentor Sukumaran and his coy, timid wife Sudha in the story ‘Dream’, the guileless Ram Babu and his vain wife who had to pay an extreme price for her frailties and life choices in ‘Second Chance’. The author’s touching, gripping vision of suffering of the urban characters takes us readers on an unforgettable voyage, where he explores the dwindling emotional fabric of humanity. In the entire short story collection, the characters, images and their subtle representations are born out of the inimitable passion and instinct of the author/storyteller consumed in their complex, emotionally fraught microcosm. These are the stories that draw us to our own dark pits, where the author weaves the urbane human journeys of getting lured and sucked into common human frailties.
While the emotional journeys of the characters and their subtle epiphanies are riveting and profound, the author’s depiction of those journeys are unique and remarkable, as he leads us to some quintessential universal truths through those journeys, with his deft, inimitable use of images and metaphors. The images and metaphors are mostly the nucleus of these poignant narratives, and through them, Dr. Sunil Sharma, the academic and the author weaves his open-ended, deep, visually rich stories with a highly discerning emotional lens. Through this lens, he reflects on the decomposing fabric of a contemporary India, pitted against the relentless struggles of a socially conscious author.
The book is highly recommended for lovers of literary fiction, for those who love the presence of a subtle intertextuality running through seemingly benign narratives, also for those who love layered, canonical reproductions of literary classics with a subtle and unthinkable twist.
The Amazon link to buy the book:
A Thousand Unspoken Words: A Seething Saga of Love
Title: A Thousand Unspoken Words
Author: Paulami Dutta Gupta
Genre: Fiction / Romance
Love, the oft-used and abused four-letter word, especially in the context of a man-woman relationship often has nuances and layers in it, that can be both intimidating and incisive, as it can be enlightening and transcending to a new realm altogether. While being part of Tilottama and Musafir’s jagged journey to explore their seething, heart-rending chemistry, we the readers of ‘A Thousand Unspoken Words’ are tossed and turned over a thousand times, while looking into the meaning and essence of their mutual yearning, their drifting apart, the crescendo of their acceptance of each other. The book, authored by the national award-winning writer/screenplay writer of ‘Ri: Homeland of Uncertainty’ and the recently acclaimed and award-winning ‘Onatah’, Paulami Dattagupta, and published by Readomania is a rare treat for those discerning readers of romance and drama who love to read unique, psychologically gratifying journeys of the protagonists. ‘A Thousand Unspoken Words’ is undoubtedly such a journey that will make them yearn for more.
Musafir, the unrelenting, the fiercely anti-establishment author and later, the grave opportunist and ambitious writer, entrepreneur one day walks into Tilottama’s wet, ardent world in a crisis situation in Kolkata (which will always remind me of how Captain Bluntschli entered the mushy, private world of Raina Petkoff’s bedroom in George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Arms and the Man’ and becomes her endearing ‘chocolate-cream soldier’). As the ‘fateful’ night subsides, he tears her apart when he leaves her with a letter professing his situation and his identity. Later, when they meet years after, and Tilottama is tormented to see her Musafir transforming from the idealist, crusader and hero to the failed, yet humane Riddhiman, it is the strength of the fervent passion and emotions inside her (at times too obsessive to be true), which ultimately leads both Musafir/Riddhiman and his love Tilottama to their catharsis/culmination.
Tilottama’s love for her Musafir and the ideologies that he represented as a crusader is at times dreamy, verdant and too good to be true, while at other times her palpable, raw and multi-dimensional feelings for her fire-brand hero who has failed both himself and her becomes an intense, moving inner quest for her self-discovery. Together, as they meet and estrange, only to be reunited later, they twist, sparkle and burn, and Paulami’s deft narration of both their inner and their outer worlds, comprising of the other minor characters in the narrative, wins hands-down. The various strands of the narrative are woven so seamlessly and so effortlessly that one wonders if it is all a movie being played in front of his eyes, portraying a saga of emotionally burdened, yet soulful characters. In the end, when both Musafir and Tilottama solidify their bond, yet their ‘thousand unspoken words’ still hover in the arid air between them, the reader is left with both the music of spoken words and the music of inexplicable silence that lends a scintillating aroma to the story.
As a reader, I would highly recommend this page-turner of a novel to all those who love intense, substantial storytelling and real-life depictions of the protagonists rather than mushy, implausible and feel-good romances.
Available in Amazon India, Amazon worldwide and at leading bookstores in India.
Book Review: In the Light of Darkness by Radhika Tabrez
Published by: Readomania. 2016
A luminous debut of Radhika Maira Tabrez, In The Light of Darkness, published by Readomania is a gripping, heart-rending tale of estrangement and reconciliation in the most esoteric, inexplicable way. What hooked me to the book from the start to the end was a unique, heartwarming catharsis, the catharsis born out of the myriad hues of complex human emotions manifested through the tale of a vulnerable, yet rock-solid mother Susan Periera and her son Matthew, headstrong, flawed, yet victorious in his pursuit to seek a closure. The strength of the mother-son dynamics in the narrative lies in the undercurrent of tragedy woven seamlessly in the storyline, in the raw beauty and truth embedded in Matthew’s life choices, his moral dilemma and his repercussions of unraveling the truth of his harrowing past, leading to a heart-wrenching self-discovery.
An endearingly delineated tale of love and loss, set in the backdrop of the idyllic, fictitious coastal town of Bydore, In the Light of Darkness also centers around two women unrelated by blood, but brought together by the strange turns of destiny: Susan Periera and Meera Vashisht, both with hearts of gold come closer and unite through their excruciating individual sufferings, complementing each other in their pitfalls and their rising, in the complex tangled web of their lives laced with subtle, unforgettable emotions. They become the beautiful, intrinsic parts of a jigsaw puzzle carved out in the novel with such warmth, hope, beauty and uniqueness that the readers are left with a sense of the classic “calm of mind, all passions spent”, the chasms in the hearts of these two women resonating so deeply within them.
The estrangement between the mother and son and their murky past, intertwined, prepares the readers for the collective journey of emotional conflicts and Déjà vu from the very start of the novel. After Susan’s death, the letter which Matthew discovers, handwritten for him by her bears the seamlessly woven imprints of the unswerving resilience of her spirit, a resilience that shakes the very core of his beliefs, his existential questions. The catharsis is attained bit by bit, subtly and organically, as Matthew comes closer to and acknowledges the ravaged, yet resplendent spirit of his mother and the heart-rending beauty, pathos and truth of Meera who had filled in the vacuum of his mother’s life amid her most trying times. It is a collective journey of Susan, Matthew and Meera, and the friends who have been deeply touched in their life journey, attaining the final closure–Attraversiamo, in their own unique, enriching, edifying ways.
With a razor-sharp editing, an effortless narration that sometimes borders on excessive introspection, yet never loses the emotional prowess and the characteristic candor in the depiction of an unforgettable tale of human emotions, the book will linger in our hearts long after reading. There are frequent sparks of literary brilliance in the author’s delineation of characters, her visualization of the scenes and her deft handling of human relationships, which makes it a must-read book for lovers of contemporary literary fiction.
Book Review of ‘Lakshmi Unbound’ by Dr. Sanjukta Dasgupta
Celebrating ‘Lakshmi Unbound’: a cherished gift to me by Dr. Sanjukta Dasgupta, my former professor of Indian English Poetry at Calcutta University from where I graduated decades back. A short review, my humble attempt.
“Mrinal like her elder sister Nora
In a far away world
Shut herself out from hypnotic
Humilating, terrifying sacred space
Mrinal erased the lines of conrol
Mrinal spread her arms like wings
She spun wildly on her toes
Her heart sang like a koel in spring
As she mailed her first letter
To her husband of fifteen years–”
(From the poem ‘Mrinal’s First Letter’: From Dr. Sanjukta Dasgupta’s collection of poems, ‘Lakshmi Unbound’)
In solidarity with Tagore’s Mrinal, Chandalika and Chitrangada, with thousands of Lakshmi’s bound in the lakshmanrekha of honour and a vain sense of chastity, in solidarity with the women who, with all their elemental creative energy, break those shackles and create a rainbow of their joyous, sensuous, lingering femininity which transcends borders, boundaries and spatial as well as temporal limitations, Dr. Sanjukta Dasgupta’s fiery book of poems, ‘Lakshmi Unbound’.
A renowned academician and former Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Calcutta, Dr. Dasgupta’s book was a precious gift to me, her ex-student of Indian English poetry, during my trip to the city of joy this year. A gift that shook me to the core while reading and internalizing the travails of the women she essayed in the book, the quintessential pathos with which she delineated those trajectories, and the aura and essence of women that was etched in her verses, when women, in Virginia Woolf’s voice, cease to be the “Angel of the House” and transform themselves as “active agents of social change”. It is the small baby steps of the salvation of these women accomplished through ages and eons in the most organic of ways that the poems celebrate.
Most of all, the book reminded me how poetry can be the language of not only critical studies and rhetorical dissection (through which I was introduced to her many years back), but also the language of salvation, the language of yearning, the language of knowing our own identities as a text, acting as the bridge between both of us as women, seeking our own distinct sun-rays in the same firmament. Honored to share the book with you all, published by Chitrangi, Kolkata.
Book Review: ‘A Treatise On Poetry For Beginners’ By Dr. Ampat Koshy
My book review of Dr. Koshy’s ‘A Treatise On Poetry For Beginners’ has been published at ‘Learning And Creativity’, an online resource on literature, films, music and the arts in their ‘Literature’ section. Do have a look, friends, if you can! Thankful to Dr. A.V. Koshy for the wonderful book and to Antara Nanda Mondal, editor of L & C for publishing it.
Excerpts of the review:
“Dr. Koshy’s ‘Treatise’ is a journey to make his readers understand why and how, poems through the ages, through their similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, alliteration, euphony and cacophony, are actually meant to cater to our hearts, our emotions and finer human feelings.
Characterized by refined, superior poetic sensibilities, a keen eye for details into the minutest structural and aesthetic aspects of poetry writing and a signature wit, Dr. Koshy’s ‘A Treatise on Poetry For Beginners’ can be defined as a complete, comprehensive manifesto on poetry writing with a possibility of diverse readership. It is, first and foremost, for amateur poets striving to enhance their craft. It is also meant for mature poets who love looking into the art and evolution of poetry into its present times, and last but not the least, for the aficionados who love reading poetry for its richness of sounds, metaphor, imagery and a huge variety of poetic styles.”
Do visit this page to red the full review of the book:
Book Review: ‘Farthest House’ by Margaret Lukas
It has been an immense pleasure knowing Margaret Lukas, or Margie Lukas, as she is known by. We had crossed paths at the Annual authors’ fair in a public library in Downtown Omaha on January 2014, where I came to know her as the author of her debut novel ‘Farthest House’, published by WriteLife LLC, Omaha. Lukas also happens to be a professor teaching fiction at The Writer’s Workshop program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. After the initial introduction that day, our interactions grew in a local writers’ meeting and workshop conducted by David Martin, the Editor of ‘Fine Lines’ journal, where we met as writing peers, shared the drafts of our latest short stories, essays et al. I happened to buy her book at the authors’ fair of Omaha, and was in love with it instantly due to the evocative richness of the narrative. I knew I had to write a review of this outstanding, multilayered mystery novel, and my review is a result of both the reading of the book and a detailed question-and-answer session I had with her that addressed her writing process in general and the book in particular.
Sharing excerpts of the review published at ‘Prairie Fire’ newspaper, dated July 2014.
“On the third of May, 1960, a girl child is born in a home delivery filled with complications and questions. As she is miraculously “harvested,” her mother dies. In the opening chapter of Margaret Lukas’s debut novel, Farthest House, readers are transported to a tragic, moving, and suspenseful world of family secrets. The narrative, complex and lyrical from the start, becomes spine chilling the moment we know that it is told by none other than the spirit of Amelie-Anais, dead nineteen years. From the opening, the novel is a roller-coaster ride of powerful, unsettling emotions as the ghost narrates the account of the baby’s birth, connecting the story to her own life in eastern France and the Plains of Nebraska. The girl, named Willow, born with a minor physical handicap, instantly becomes the narrator’s focus, and the story moves forward from there in layers, recounting Willow’s transition from a helpless baby to a bewildered young woman and a passionate painter.”
To read the rest of the review at ‘Prairie Fire’, visit:
Featuring Nebraska-based award winning author Lisa Knopp and her latest book ‘What the River Carries’
[Sharing from my blog post dated February 16, 2014]
“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” — Joyce Carol Oates
Since my early initiation into the world of books and writers, I have believed that both writing a book and unfolding its myriad mysteries by reading it are solitary pursuits. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that as I went on with this pursuit, this journey myself, I came to discover that while reading every new book, I somehow became one with the psychological, spiritual journey of the author himself. As a young reader fresh out of college, I still remember how passionately I used to read the classic English as well as regional novels, short stories and other works in prose, while the fictional world created by the authors used to sweep me away in so much charm and stupor that it became an alternate world where I could see myself inhabiting easily, effortlessly. I guess what resonated with me in that charmed state, like billions of other readers, was that the work was a projected reality born out of the writer’s faith, conviction and vision of life.
I had been initiated into the world of nonfiction, memoirs and autobiography a little later in life. While exploring the world of nonfiction writing, I had been more compelled to understand or grasp the spiritual journey of the authors, the challenges and the incentives of crafting moments, experiences of their own lives that mattered to them and the readers. The nonfiction works that I found most appealing during this period were quite vast and varied in their content and scope. My readings included the wide gamut of autobiographical nonfiction writing, memoir writing and creative or literary nonfiction writing like ‘The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass’, the seething document of Douglass’ life and struggles in a white-dominated America or ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ and other memoirs by Maya Angelou, chronicling her own life’s journey. At the same time, I have been intrigued by the experimental narratives and the unmatched prowess of storytelling by modern essayists including Joe Ann Beard, Joan Didion, Anne Lamott, among others.
For quite some time, while being a graduate student engaged in reading and writing creative nonfiction, the thought of writing book reviews and conducting author interviews was pressing me. I was intrigued by the idea of unraveling some of the great, unknown moments of epiphany which transpired in the mind of an author while in the process of creating a particular nonfiction work. I did previously interview award-winning fiction writer Patricia McCormick about her two acclaimed novels, which were written as works of fiction, but were based out of some real-life experiences the writer was part of. While starting to talk to Nebraska-based award winning author and essayist Dr. Lisa Knopp, who also happens to be my thesis adviser, about her latest collection of personal essays, ‘What the River Carries: Encounters with Mississippi, Missouri and Platte’, I discovered that her spiritual journey with the book has been as much enriching, awe-inspiring and gratifying as that of a writer of fiction. What I was looking for while trying to understand her journey with the book was, how much did the subject matter of the three rivers appeal to her metaphorically, and how did her personal narrative and the greater truths of the Midwestern American landscape and its ecology fit into that metaphor.
While working with Dr. Knopp step-by-step into knowing the answers to these and much more, it was an enriching learning experience for me as a reader as I attempted to understand her own creative process, her unique, innovative way of exploring truths about her physical surroundings and how they merged with the truths of her own life.
You can read the full review of the book here:
Read on here to find out what Dr. Lisa Knopp herself has to say about my review in her website:
In near future, I wish to be part of more spiritual journeys of authors in the same way, while discussing their rich, multi-layered experiences that have been instrumental in shaping the books, being one with them in treasured moments in time.
Book Review: Exploring the Fiction of Patricia McCormick, the Crusading Journalist and Writer for Young Adults
My review of the bold, cutting-edge fiction work of award-winning novelist/author Patricia McCormick published in ‘Prairie Fire’ newspaper Volume 6 dated July 15, a commentary based on my interview with McCormick, the National Book Award finalist. In our brief discussions, we talked about her novels, ‘Sold’, based on her odyssey to Kolkata, India and her visit to the brothels that depicts the underbelly of the city and ‘Never Fall Down’, the narrative of Arn Chorn Pond, a rare survivor of the Cambodian revolution of the 70’s in Khmer Rouge, Cambodia.
To read the entire review, do visit this page from the July 2014 archive of ‘Prairie Fire’: