Milkman by Anna Burns : BOOK REVIEW

‘Coffin after coffin

Seemed to float from the door

Of the packed cathedral

Like blossoms on slow water.’

Seamus Heaney

Northern Ireland has been a state fraught with conflict and violence since time immemorial. The period of The Troubles (late-1960s to 1998) has been one of the most significant periods of unrest in Northern Ireland which had its origin in the Catholic-Protestant fiasco. The former vouched for the rule of the Catholics giving Northern Ireland independence from the British rule whereas the latter believed in the goodwill of the monarchy of the ‘over the water’ in Northern Ireland. The civil war that struck the landmass had rippling effects across Europe and the land ‘over the water’ too. The magnitude and the catastrophic impact of the unrest were widely captured by Irish poets and writers. To name, Seamus Heaney in his collections North (1975) and Field Work (1979) has captured the apocalypse that had struck Northern Ireland and the loss of innocent lives due to the political turmoil engulfing the nation.

The war may have subsided but its impact still resonates in the families residing in Northern Ireland. Born and bred in Northern Ireland, and The Man Booker Prize Winner of 2018 for her book Milkman, Anna Burns excavates the political unrest and turmoil during The Troubles in an unnamed city of Northern Ireland through her 18-year old narrator in the aforementioned, award-winning novel. The novel captures the feud and its consequences in the lives of the people in the most brutal and realistic manner. The book begins with the narrator making her circumstances known to the reader- about her may-be boyfriend, her rendezvous with the milkman and her resolution to keep mum about it, however, things don’t turn out the way she intended them to and gossips of her strange meeting spill out in the war-torn society and the narration gradually starts to uncover the aspects of the social situation persisting around her.

Anna Burns’ resolution to delineate the atrocities of the civil war is praiseworthy. In my opinion, the author has covered a multitude of themes and aspects of social life in the historical fiction unmasking what a war could do to a society and its individuals in general, and a religiously orthodox society in particular. What stood out most in the story was the fiercely involved yet a peculiarly detached voice of the narrator, an 18-year old girl viewing war and society around her; I could imagine Saoirse Ronan excellently pulling off the role of the narrator if a film were ever to be made on this book. However, I would admit that in the first 150-180 pages the willingness to continue with the book would not develop and one would want to put it aside because of the world-building that goes into the narration. The narrator grasps the attention of the readers by narrating an incident taking place that moves the plot and then the narrator goes into recollection or traces the historicity of the incident and that did get slightly dry but once one crosses 150-180 pages, one gets attuned to the world the narrator has chalked out and the story starts to fall into place. The author has brilliantly mapped a dogmatic, war-torn, orthodox society and yet a society of the West by emphasising on the aspects of child marriage, teenage pregnancies leading to irresponsible parents and juvenile delinquency, sexual violence against both men and women, toxic masculinity, the mental impacts of stalking and gossips in society, exploration of the catholic faith, social exclusion, insecurity of old age most importantly, the feminine identity. Burns’ modicum to bring out the identity of the woman and a girl in society through her narrator is one of the highlights of the novel. The book deals with the status of a girl in society, the threats they are continuously posited owing to their feminine identity on a day-to-day basis, and the insecurity with losing the charm and being less attractive for the man; the author has shed light on it by the use of various characters in the girl’s narration. My favourite aspect of this book would be the love stories in the novel; some broke my heart into pieces and some warmed my heart. Alongside, the characters, Milkman and the real milkman, the contrast both the characters offered were crucial to the story and in a way both the characters were symbolic, one symbolised the turmoil killing Northern Ireland and the other represented the people of Northern Ireland and the humanity that lay underneath the rebellious, dystopic façade.

‘I who have stood dumb

when your betraying sisters,

cauled in tar,

wept by the railings,’

Seamus Heaney

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The Only Story by Julian Barnes: A BOOK REVIEW

‘True love can survive absence, death and infidelity.’

-Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

To write a review on Julian Barnes’ novel is a challenge that I shall partake in the following minutes because what more is left to say when you have read a book that pushes you into a valley of question when all you wished to do was read a story, a story about some people whose lives throws questions smack into your face. Barnes’ latest novel The Only Story published in February 2018, is a tale told in 200-pages piercing and penetrating into the life of nineteen-year old Paul falling in love with forty eight-year old, unhappily married Susan. It is a story exploring a young boy’s first love; the one that starts as excitement, fun, smiles, sex and love, lots of love which gradually develops and grows as years pass by and love starts placing demands when all he thought was love fulfilled all his demands, love starts asking more than what his youth had foretold.

The book is tender; it is a tender, delicate work of fiction that is written with different and intelligent narratives in all the three sections of the book. The book begins in a typical Barnes’ style and the voice of the narrator rings in your ear as you peruse the book and you immediately know you are in for something that’s not going to be a typical boy-falling-in-love-with-a-girl love story. The way the author develops his story through the use of flashbacks in no chronological order is noteworthy, initially I was sceptical if that would work well but one can never go wrong when one has a book of Barnes’ in hand. The themes of youth and maturity are not new in Barnes’ work. The Booker Prize Winner The Sense of an Ending does come into mind while reading Paul’s story. Paul and Tony Webster are two characters that Barnes has intelligently used to understand and map the trajectory of the process of growing up, of understanding that what we see in life at youth is something entirely different when one looks at it with the years falling down on them as they get nearer to the inevitable. In all honesty, Paul and Susan’s relationship also reminded me of Geoffery Braithwaite and his relation with his wife from Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot, the anagnorisis both the men experience can raise questions about human beings and their hearts; which is one reason why I believe Barnes maps the human heart in the most realistic manner. What is most touching in Barnes’ book and all his other books are the truth, the truth about human beings, the truth of our existence, the honesty that flows throughout his story which one cannot deny and at the same time is so painful for one to accept. In The Only Story, the author has very skilfully dealt with the themes of domestic violence, toxic masculinity alongside the themes of youth, love, growth and maturity. The story tore me apart; it made me cry with every turn of the page. Admittedly, the story is not something you have never heard of, it is not a story the ending to which one would not know but what makes this novel one of my favourite Barnes’ composition is the manner in which the story has been told, the way Barnes tugs right at the most delicate strings of your heart and dismantles it into tiny fragments that shall come back together but not in the way it was pulled tight earlier, Barnes changes something; for better or worse it is for the readers to decide.

‘It is only a metaphor- or the worst of dreams; yet there are metaphors which sit more powerfully in the brain than the remembered events.’

-Julian Barnes, The Only Story

 

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Our Voice Matters

‘Weakness is treating someone as though they don’t belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.’

-Yaa Gyasi

Today, contemporary literature is gaining massive importance and with that the Young Adult genre is winning hearts of youth, hence, it becomes imperative for writers to talk about long-standing social problems that don’t seem to draw to a close after years of stagnancy. Racism is one such problem that still haunts lives all around the world. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement and the death of innumerable black youth in the USA, Angie Thomas stepped into the world of book writing with her novel The Hate U Give.

The novel begins with a sixteen year-old girl witnessing her friend being shot by a white policeman when they were on their way back home. The novel traces the racist dogma that exists in the so-called developed American society where the life of a white man takes precedence over coloured folks. It traces the journey of a sixteen year old girl who sets out to seek justice for her friend and many other lives that have been erased from the pages of history.

‘We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print… We lived in the gaps between the stories.’

-Margaret Atwood

I had heard a lot about this book ever since it was published. Instagram, YouTube was flooded with praises for this book. Every so often, when this building up of hype takes place I often end up feeling disappointed after reading the particular novel. Surprisingly, that didn’t happen with this book. I loved this book; I loved how it talks about the prejudices, injustices existing till date. There was so much of truth in the story she has written, peeling out all the cloaks of sugar-coated ideas and beliefs to reveal the inherent hypocrisy deeply embedded in the system. In my opinion, this is one of the best Young Adult Contemporary books I have read till date, and I would urge authors to write books like The Hate U Give, that will make the youth think and that shall stay with the individual in the years to come. I would suggest all you readers to go ahead and read this book irrespective of any social constructs you identify with.

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Feats of Valour, Wicked Horns

‘Something, someone, some spirit was pursuing all of us across the desert of life and was bound to catch us before we reached heaven.’

-Jack Kerouac

Being born to a family in a metropolis, fortunately, I have never felt religion being imposed upon me. However, the drawback of this lack of imposition is that I have heard very few stories mentioned in the Vedas and other religious texts. Nonetheless, I believe nothing can be out of one’s reach if one is a reader. My belief was proven by an email I received from one of India’s best-selling author, Anuja Chandramouli. She blessed me with a copy of her widely acclaimed novel Yama’s Lieutenant.

The novel opens up with a scene unfolding one of  the sweetest bonds a human being ever gets to share with one another in her/his lifetime. The story starts gaining momentum when the readers are slowly brought face-to-face with the forces of hell, heaven and earth colliding and the universe heading for war and destruction. Agni Prakash, the protagonist, picks up a manuscript left by his twin sister and realises a new dimension to his life that he has never discovered before.

What does the manuscript contain?

What will Agni Prakash realise?

Will his realisations be any good for the world that is leading to an apocalypse?

‘But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?’

-Anthony Doerr

To begin with, I really liked the way the novel began and I couldn’t have asked for anything better to prepare a reader for a book packed with fantastical and mythological adventure. I was impressed by the author’s inclusion of caste violence as it seems to be an issue persisting in the Indian society since time immemorial. On the down side, I seemed to be a little confused with the story as there were a lot of characters and I had to re-read things to get it clear. Being a reader not akin to fantasy, I did feel lost in between the world-building. Admittedly, I took to the chapters in the manuscript and I loved the way the novel drew to a bitter-sweet close. Lastly, I would like to thank Chandramouli for letting me read her work as I got to know about a varied set of characters from the Rig Veda that I hadn’t known before.

 

Shifting Winds, Static Thunderclaps

The frame around which one builds one’s life is a brittle thing, and in a city of souls connected one snapped beam can threaten the spikes and shadows of the skyline.”

-Lisa McInerney

8th of July, 2017 would always be a day remembered and cherished by me because I finished reading the first series or Trilogy of my reading life. Yes, it does sound a little stupid and funny but I am proud of it nonetheless. The trilogy was none other than the great Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh.

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For starters, the Ibis Trilogy consists of three books namely, Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke, and Flood of Fire, published in the aforementioned order respectively. The books are set in the Early 19th Century Asia and India in particular. It is an epic tale of a multitude of characters from different race, caste, class, sexuality, sex, nationality (basically, all the social constructs one could think of) woven intricately into a tale of wonder and adventure. Sea of Poppies sets the stage for the epic, bringing into light the various characters and the beginning of the journey on the ship named Ibis that would change their lives forever. River of Smoke takes the reader to Canton where the Opium War is fuelling up and the two boats Anahita and Redruth starts writing a different story of the characters altogether. Lastly, Flood of Fire starts preparing the reader to bring the story to an epic close when the Opium War is at its height in China and lives are at stake.

I cannot begin to describe how much I loved each book. The journey has been unforgettable and this trilogy shall forever remain close to me. The characters have made me think about a lot of things again and the author has thrown a light upon the lives of people when the English was dominating the world. I liked the amount of diversity the author has showcased in his books. I think this is what makes an author great, when you throw in characters with varying colour, religion, sexuality even when the book is set some 200 years back. It is pretty difficult for me to point out which one I liked the best so I’d suffice it to say that the three books are equally close and dear to me and I would encourage all you readers who are into historical fiction to grab these beasts soon and relish in the amount of work and research that has gone into making these word-filled pages a masterpiece of literature.

Summer Shenanigans

“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”

-Kurt Vonnegut.

June has finally come to a close and with that summer is slowly ebbing away leaving way for monsoon to draw in. Decidedly, I had kept a book aside which I had gotten last year for the summer of 2017. I intended to get it done with by May but it didn’t happen and when I realised July is about to begin in a few days I stopped piling it for the next month and picked it up. June wouldn’t have been anymore good without the queen of summer contemporary, Morgan Matson’s Since You’ve Been Gone.

The Kelly Clarkson song inspired book title follows the story of Emily who finds her best friend, Sloane, missing without any notice just when summer is about to begin. Incidentally, Emily finds a letter left by Sloane scribbled with the things she has to do. Assuming the tasks would lead her to her best friend, she starts considering the tasks enlisted but…

Kiss a stranger? Umm…No..ugh

Sleep under the stars? WOW… done!

Go Skinny-Dipping? Wait… whaaaat!???!!!

All these cumbersome mileposts without Sloane to guide her or be there with her?

“…sometimes staying free required unimaginable sacrifice.”

-Yaa Gyasi

To begin with, I cannot begin to describe how much I adored the cover of this book! The cover showered vibes of summer with greenery, ice-cream, pizza, clear skies, the girls moving about giggling and the fonts; it is so gorgeous that I could stare at it forever.

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Moving toward the content of the book, I liked the story a lot. I was worried when it was apparent that I had started to reach the end because I didn’t want it to end so soon. Matson’s writing is like butter sliding along the edges of a sharp knife; it is smooth and doesn’t make you feel lost at all. Additionally, the book is pinned with a couple of playlists which kept me even more excited. In spite of such praises, I gave this book a 4.75/5 stars on goodreads because of the lack of diversity in the book. Considering the fact that it is a Young Adult Contemporary book written a few years ago, it didn’t have the theme of diversity we want authors of the present day to talk about. There was no presence of people of other colour or races other than white Americans, there was no mention of any LGBTQ characters; this was book all white and heteronormative and Christian just like all her other books which is totally a turn-off factor for a reader like me who loves books that subsume a variety of characters. Anyway, I would recommend the book despite the minor faults as it will make you smile and jiggle with happiness with every turn of the page, i.e. if you are looking for a teenage fiction with friendship, love and family.

 

 

Vale of Unforgotten Memories

“For I have known them all already, known them all-                                                     Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,                                                                 I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

-T.S. Eliot

Some ten or twenty years hence, when we would look back at all the events that have shaped us into who we would be, we’d smile to look at all those times we had laughed at the tiny jokes, enjoyed a drink with a friend or two, cried at the times we thought we had lost everything; and realise how much we’ve changed. And it is this realisation that shall keep us alive even when our weakening symmetry might start giving up.

Arthur Golden has written one of the most beautiful memoirs I have come across until now. No, it isn’t a recollection of his life events. Surprisingly, it is a memoir of a woman, to be precise, a geisha. Memoirs of a Geisha is a work of fiction that brings into light the life of one of the geishas of Kyoto, her journey from a small fishing village called Yoroido to being one of the best geishas of Japan. Sayuri, a fisherman’s six-year old daughter comes across a man named Tanaka and that meeting changes her life forever. The day she met Tanaka was the “best and the worst” day of her life.

Was her name really Sayuri?

 What was that about the meeting that changed her life?

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 Golden’s literary composition is beyond praise, he has written this book in first person narrative. Besides, it took him six years to finish this masterpiece as he had written it from three different perspectives before finally coming up with Sayuri’s point of view. The memoir will leave you amazed. There was so much to acquire from this book, the Japanese culture, the lifestyle of geishas, their best times, their worst times. Especially, the get-up of these ladies, believe me you’d urge to be dressed as a geisha and visit Kyoto at least once in your life after reading the spectacular images Golden paints. Honestly, this is one of my favourite books and I would highly recommend you to go and read it as soon as possible. Admittedly, I was flipping through the pages without any hesitation and I could not bring myself to believe that I had finished reading a five-hundred page book within three days.

“We rise; shapes cluster around us in welcome, dissolving and forming again and dissolving again like fireflies in a summer evening.”

-Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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