Sidharth Vardhan

Mouthful of Birds – a review

(A review of ‘Mouthful of Birds’,a collection of short stories by Samantha Schweblin long-listed for International Booker in 2019 for English translation by Megan McDowell) Most of these short stories have a sort of nightmarish qualities about them, much like another Intentional Booker nominee from author, Fever Dreams (but ‘Fever Dreams’ had a far better execution IMO and, to be honest, should have won International Booker that year). Sometimes the nightmarish quality is due to environment or because of the perspective of a child narrator while others really have a somewhat Kafka-like dream-realism (unpredictable sequence of surreal events) with an which is the thing I enjoy most about this author. The unease one feels during a nightmare is common to the narrators of all the good stories in here. ‘Headlights’, ‘Butterflies’, ‘Preserves”, ‘toward the civilisation’ etc are some of the best ones. There a few less enjoyable stories (the titular story, incidentally, was one of those I enjoyed less), but the 5-star ones are too difficult to ignore. A bad sample, bad not because it is a bad story, but because it doesn’t have this nightmarish quality, can be read here.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead – a review

(A review of ‘Drive your Pow over the bones of the dead’by Olga Tokarczuk long listed for International Booker 2019 for English translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones ) There can be spoilers in here for it is supposed to be a whodunit, though the whodunit is so painfully that calling it a whodunit seems to be a crime against humanity. This book employs a theme that is close to me and seems to be explored more and more often by writers worldwide – that of cruelty towards animals and how it has become ingrained in our lifestyle and how little a thought we spare to it. Anna Sewell’s ‘Black Beauty’ is the first novel I remember that explores this theme and you could see it reflected in a lot of works of Coetzee (specifically ‘Elizabeth Costello’) and most recently Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian’ (Elizabeth Costello looks at it in more logical way, while The Vegetarian is all pathos). Much of what haunts these authors can be summed up in a single quote: ‘Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.’ “Auschwitz start when someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks they are just animals” Theodor W. Adorno (btw a much

Annie Ernaux’s ‘The Years’ – the story of a generation

(A review of ‘The Years’,a novel by Annie ErnauxEnglish translation by Alison L Strayer nominated for International Booker 2019 First written on March 25, 2019 ) “We were mutating. We didn’t know what our new shape would be.” Annie Ernaux (The Years) I love the International Booker Prize’s new version. They always have at least a couple of gems in their long list. And this book is such a gem. You could start introducing it by saying that it is an autobiography, however, it ain’t just biography of a single person, rather it is a biography of a whole French generation born around 1940. Since the industrial revolution, generational differences have widened exponentially. And a single person can live to see the world change many times in his or her life and that is the case with the generation the author talks about. The generation which is the protagonist of the novel (the pronoun used is ‘we’) was raised in a peasant conservative family and grew up through second world war, cold war, death of philosophers (philosophers are to French what babas are to Indians and authors are to Russians) liberalization of economy, metro, consumerisation of society, television, sexual revolution,

Of White Things

(A review of Han Kang’s novel ‘The White Book’, the English translation by Deborah Smith was shortlisted for International Man BookerFirst written on March 15, 2019) “In the spring, when I decided to write about white things the first thing I did was to make a list. Swaddling bands. Newborn gown. Salt. Snow. Ice. Moon. Rice. Waves. Yulan. White bird. “Laughing Whitely”. Blank paper. White dog. White hair. Shroud. With each item I wrote down, a ripple of agitation ran through me. I felt that yes, I needed to write this book and that the process of writing it would be transformative, would itself transform, into something like white ointment applied to a swelling, like gauze laid over a wound …… I step recklessly into time I have not yet lived, into this book I have not yet written. Han Kang (The White Book) Warsaw After World War II Warsaw Now Han Kang is a genius. I could give her a noble prize. This book sits somewhere in the subset between a novel and the act of writing it and a collection of prose-poems and between truth and imagination. The fragments are themed on white objects as the author is

On Violence – A review of Arendt’s essay

(A review of ‘On Violence’,an essay by Hannah Arendtfirst written on February 18, 2019) “Violence can always destroy power; out of the barrel of a gun grows the most effective command, resulting in the most instant and perfect obedience. What never can grow out of it is power.” Hannah Arendt (On Violence) Arendt refuses to define power as mere ability to do violence as some of the old authors she quotes has defined it to be. The book is written in times of cold war and during fears of mutually assured destruction. Arendt refuses to see violence as something that goes along with political power. She seems to think that the very fact of the presence of nuclear weapons makes the world a more violent place. There is no weapon humanity ever created that it didn’t use and all that. The best part is where she tries to define like sounding words – power, strength, authority etc. Violence Naturally, words themselves are mere symbols and you can use them to mean whatever you like but it enhances the ability to communicate better if each word described a unique abstract concept and every abstract concept has an exclusive word to signify

Racism in Americanah

(A review of ‘Americanah’,a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie First written on Septemeber 24, 2016) Weak as a love story but powerful in its social commentary. I found a lot of similarities between people of Nigeria described here and that of India- people wanting to migrate to developed countries and real estate being the only investment that attracts the rich. ” There are many different ways to be poor in the world but increasingly there seems to be one single way to be rich.” – Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Then, there are migrant problems – the social and psychological stress they have to bear. The best parts though are Ifemelu’s sometimes angry blogs about racism in U.S.A. It is not always about the dark racism that is pointed out in the book, sometimes it is nice white people trying hard not to be racist: “Kimberly was smiling the kindly smile of people who thought “culture” the unfamiliar colorful reserve of colorful people, a word that always had to be qualified with “rich.” She would not think Norway had a “rich culture.” – Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Adichie is powerful and honest in her social observations and it

On Nationalism and ‘Imperialism: Part Two of The Origins of Totalitarianism’

(A review of’Imperialism: Part Two of the Origins of Totalitarianism’by Hannah Arendtfirst written on September 15, 2018) My one and the only objection is that it should have been named ‘Nationalism’ instead of ‘Totalitarianism’ because this book discusses various consequences (mostly negative) of Nationalism and imperialism was one just such consequence. Moreover even while studying imperialism, she is only interested in white men aspect of it – its effect on Europe. Moreover Arendt’s larger concern is studying origins of Totalitarianism which seems to me more connected with Nationalism than imperialism. Among consequences of Imperialism, she included are Imperialism, totalitarianism, refugee problems and wars (including two world wars). Imperialism Nationalism somehow continues to be thought of good when it is just a beautified name of narrow mindedness. Much like religion or racist ideologies, it is basically an act of limiting responsibility by creating a limited ‘we’ group based often on language, race or religion. It gives a false superiority complex- you are supposed to feel proud just because you belong to particular group (often people who are good for nothing else, chose these causes to take pride in). And a pride in belonging in such groups always comes along with a

On ‘Antisemitism: Part One of the Origins of Totalitarianism’

(A review ofAntisemitism: Part One of the Origins of Totalitarianism’by Hannah Arendtfirst written on September 15, 2018) antisemitism sidharth vardhan review analysis hannah arendt Arendt brings out a brief history of anti-Semitism with a special focus on the way it came to be used as a propaganda device by Nazis. There is much in this – like the argument that a wealthy section of society is tolerated by the rest only as long as they serve a function. And to be able to serve a function, power is needed. Some of the richer Jews (mostly bankers) were themselves first to accept the differentiation given to them by state. This differentiation attracted prejudice, first, when the customers of the bankers become middle class rather than upper class (middle class people take loan out of needs and won’t ever like bankers) and the stereotypes created because of a single family – Rothschilds. You can add to this, the conspiracy theories. Thus Nazis found a ready prejudice to take advantage of when they came into power. Hannah Arendt It is all very interesting but it isn’t as much hard hitting as other Arendt works I have read. May be because it is much

Of Svetlana Alexievich’s Zinky Boys

(A review of the book ‘Zinky Boys’,by Noble Laureate Svetlana AlexievichFirst written on November 3, 2018) “‘I cried when I read your article, but I shan’t read the whole book, because of an elementary sense of self-preservation. I’m not sure whether we ought to know so much about ourselves. Perhaps it’s just too frightening. It leaves a great void in my soul. You begin to lose faith in your fellow-man and fear him instead.’” From Svetlana Alexievich’s Zinky Boys This is the second book I have that is written by Svetlana Alexievich and her books really do make me wonder about why I read. On one hand, her books are about truth – and plain, ugly truth at that which needs to be told or it would be suppressed, and thus exactly the kind of books that should be read on the priority basis. On other hand, her books are so depressing – being full of accounts of lost and wasted lives; making one wonder whether there really is any point in reading them. Svetlana Alexievich Zinky boys sidharth vardhan review analysis Though not as depressing as Chernobyl diaries, this one is full of sad accounts of all those whose

The Driver’s Seat – a SPARKling thriller

(A review of ‘The Driver’s seat’ a novel by Muriel SparkFirst written on August 16, 2018) A kind of novella that spends more time in your mind than on the page. Spark does it brilliantly by working under-the-hood. It is no spoiler that it is all about Lise executing her plan to kill herself. And so it is “it’s a whydunnit in q-sharp major and it has a message: never talk to the sort of girls that you wouldn’t leave lying about in your drawing-room for the servants to pick up.” – the lines Lise used to describe the last book she read. But the why never gets answered clearly. Elizabeth Taylor in cinematic adoption of The Driver’s Seat By the end, we get clear clues that she must have suffered some psychological problems. And mental illness can describe her problems and one can easily dismiss it at that, but from Shakespeare to Plath to Gogol to Grass to Han Kang, writers have long held habit of putting methods in madness. I will forward two theories, not mutually exclusive. Suicides, especially those who have been planning to kill themselves for a long time, tend to be dramatic (think ’13 reasons

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