Sidharth Vardhan

Rumi and Forty Rules of Love

(A review of ‘Forty Rules of Love’,a novel by Elif Shafak Review first written on June 11, 2019) “Eternity does not mean infinite time, but simply timelessness.” Elif Shafak (The Forty Rules of Love) I had my doubts about the book. It looked like a love story with just amorous interpretation of selected Rumi quotes thrown in to produce some cliche rules. It is those things – Ella a married woman and housewife for years fall in ‘oh so forbidden’ love for a dashing Sufi writer with (no points for guessing) a tragic life while translating his book. This book, novel within the novel, ‘Sweet Blasphemy’ is about Shams To be honest, the author seems to be using Shams and Rumi to show her own views but in the end, I didn’t mind. Author’s use of mysticism often results in so many beautiful quotes and forwards a philosophical system in its own right. “it has been such a long time since I last knocked on God’s door that I’m not sure if He still lives in the same place.” Elif Shafak (The Forty Rules of Love) “The sharia is like a candle,” said Shams of Tabriz. “It provides us with

Jokha Al-harthi’s Celestial Bodies – a review

(A review of Jokha Al-harthis’s Celestial BodiesWon International man booker 2019 for English translation by Marilyn BoothReview first written on June 3, 2019) When it comes to diversity, International Man Booker presents nice trends – 3 of 4 winners have been from the third world and 3 have been women. That said, Jokha Al-harthi’s Celestial Bodies ain’t the most deserving one in my arrogant opinion – Annie Ernaux’s ‘The Years’ is the best of 5 books listed in the long list this year that I have read. The summary saying it is the story of 3 sisters might suggest it is a family story – which it is, but it manages to capture a lot of Onami life including the slave trade, politics, changing education scene, smuggling, etc. In fact, at times, it seemed like the book might as well be described as the story of Abdullah who has to his credit the biggest number of chapters. The stories of 3 sisters, by themselves, get a much smaller number of chapters – in fact, the stories of two younger sisters don’t start till much later. Jokha Al-harthi For the most part, the book occurs in flashbacks. Alharthi would pick a

The righteous ways of ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’

(A review of ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, a novel by Anne BronteReview first written on May 20, 2019) Of course, it is an excellent book and was definitely ahead of its time – to the point that it aroused much criticism in times it was written. The fact of a woman walking out on her husband must itself have been sensational during those times. I am really curious about the lives of Bronte sisters. I could really like to read a common biography of them or see a Doctor Who episode based on them. All that said, I am gonna focus on why I didn’t like this one as much as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Part of the reason why I have avoided reading ‘The Tennant of Windfell Hall’ this long is that I had read Agnes Grey and was worried that the protagonist here would be just as righteous. It is one of the most dislikable qualities a person can have in my opinion. Now there are two reasons I hate righteousness. First, righteous people will cause themselves unnecessary suffering. Helen, for example, will suffer gladly for this righteousness. First, she chooses to stick around with a

Of Han Kang’s ‘Human Acts’

(A review of ‘Human Acts’a novel by Han Kang) “I still remember the moment when my gaze fell upon the mutilated face of a young woman, her features slashed through with a bayonet. Soundlessly, and without fuss, some tender thing deep inside me broke. Something that, until then, I hadn’t realised was there.” Han Kang (Human Acts) A semi-fictional account of unnecessarily violent supression of a student uprising in Han Kang’s home town, Gwangju, South Korea in 1980 through point of view of inter-related characters. I guess it would have been brutal to expect another ‘The Vegetarian’ from her but this is beautiful in its own way – showing what it means having to live through such incidences – how it changes the way one sees the world: “Is it true that human beings are fundamentally cruel? Is the experience of cruelty the only thing we share as a species? Is the dignity that we cling to nothing but self-delusion, masking from ourselves the single truth: that each one of us is capable of being reduced to an insect, a ravening beast, a lump of meat? To be degraded, slaughtered – is this the essential of humankind, one which history

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 short 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

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