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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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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COVER

 

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.

 

 

Spectre Museum

After having read a humongous amount of books from a wide variety of genres, I have finally figured out the genre that pleases me the most. *DRUM ROLLS* No other genre of literature quenches my thirst for reading as much as Historical Fiction.

Observing the love being showered on the Pulitzer Prize winner of 2015, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I decided to give this fiction a try. Doerr brings into life the siege, bombardments and the terror of World War II through the memoirs of his two young protagonists, Werner and Marie-Laurie. He sketches the voyage of Werner from his little home in a French countryside to tracking radio waves for Hitler’s army and Marie-Laurie’s sightless journey from Paris to Saint-Malo with the Sea of Flames.

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Needless to say, I adored the work with all my heart and I am happy to have read this masterpiece. I loved the descriptions the author paints to delineate the cruelty experienced by people at the outset of the war. Very few authors have talked about the pain France had to undergo during the war, at least I haven’t read anything related to France being victimized during the World Wars. My heart went out to all the characters in the book, be it the German or French, victims or the terrorists, because everyone had the other side to their story. Each character lost something crucial in their lives because pain never felt the need to resort to only one. However, I wouldn’t say this is my favourite historical fiction set in World War II, there are other books I liked better.  Anyway, it was a good read and I rated this book 4.75/5 on goodreads.

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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Love; for the Explosion to Begin

‘Home is where we have to gather grace.’ – Nissim Ezekiel

Human Beings start their first day of life with their family, their home. Over the years, our home is what shapes us for the years to come. It is the place where you have a place and will always have a place ever and forever. However, we often forget that our home is not us when we are lost in it; each one has their own role to play, each one of us is a separate branch sprouting from the expansive tree. We forget the fact that we define home, the home doesn’t define us.

Focusing on the aforementioned thought, Nicola Yoon penned down the story of Natasha and Daniel in her latest, award-winning novel The Sun is Also a Star. Natasha’s father’s wish to lead a beautiful life in America has toppled down when they get the notice of their deportation to Jamaica in the next twenty four hours. Daniel’s parents’ wishes to see their son become a doctor are worrying them as they see Daniel being reluctant to pursue the Dream. Daniel and Natasha, both under their family’s pressure, seem to have forgotten that their Home is depleting as the family push them ahead and ahead until they are lost.

Are they going to survive the calamity?

What is going to happen when these two stars collide?

Would the universe witness the saddest or the happiest stories of two innocent, confused teenagers?

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I am glad to have not been disappointed by Nicola Yoon after her debut novel. My expectations were pretty low with this story but the satisfaction surpassed the expectations as the story came to a sensible close. I love the premise of Nicola Yoon’s novels, she drops her characters in one of the most complicated situations possible and it pushes me right at the edge of my seat to know what is going to happen with these characters. Besides the minute cheesiness, this story was good. I liked the fact that she brought forth the perspective of various characters into view and how they are important for the movement of the story of these two protagonists. The ending was a little exaggerated, yes, it was sensible and okay but I somehow thought it was an unnecessary add-on to the already well written story. Last but not the least, the cover of this novel is beyond pretty. I can’t but fall in love with the cover over and over again.

‘Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.
Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.’

-John Masefield.

 

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THE COVER OF THE BOOK IS everything, everything.

Lost in Oblivion

‘Tear it up, tear it down
Gettin’ lost in the sound of our hearts beatin’
Take me here, take me now
Gettin’ lost in a crowd with you’

  -Jonas Blue, By Your Side

It is spring already and I like to read something which is light, not too long and stories which brings in the colours and feels of the season. I had been hearing a lot about Kasie West on Book Tube and I decided to lay my hands on her recently published Young Adult fiction, By Your Side

By Your Side follows the story of Autumn Collins who gets stuck in her school library before leaving for camping with her friends. Amidst books and the snow showering outside she gets worried as she realises that the library is going to remain closed for the next three days and she has nothing to eat or a phone to inform her parents about her situation. In the moment of terror, she finds that she isn’t alone; there is someone inside the library as well.

Who is Autumn with?

What secrets are going to unveil between the stack of books and closed doors?

Is she going to make it out safely?

I listened to this book as audio book and I do not regret not buying the physical copy at all. I really liked it in the beginning but then it all started to get cheesy and way too romantic for my taste. It felt as though cubes of Mozzarella, Gouda, Cheddar, and Parmesan were splattered all around and that was overwhelming. However, I liked the fact that this book dealt with a mental illness and how its acceptance and tolerance is required among adolescents.

Buy the book By Your Side“>here.

Everything Beyond Nothing

Love, a theme or a feeling which has given birth to wonders of literature and shall remain the core of literature for ages and beyond. It amazes readers to find how interestingly authors deal with the indispensable theme by merging it with lesser known situations. One of the most common situations is when one of the protagonists is sick and their future seems bleak. Books like The Fault in Our Stars, Me Before You are a few to suggest with a certain storyline.

Nicola Yoon, an author who stepped into the world of writing with Everything, Everything warmed the hearts of cheesy, mushy, love story fanatics through her debut novel. ‘Everything, Everything’ follows the story of a girl, Madeline Whittier aka Maddy who is suffering from a disease which suggests her being allergic to the world outside her home. She keeps to her home with her caring mother and her loving nurse. She lives her life through her books and the window overlooking her air-filtered bubble of a room. Incidentally, a new family turns up in the house opposite hers and then she discovers the cutest guy she has seen in her life, Olly.

“It made me think that everything was about to arrive- the moment when you know all and everything is decided forever.”

-Jack Kerouac

I was really looking forward to the ending; it kept me at the edge of my seat. I loved the way this book was written. Admittedly, I was enjoying the first two hundred and fifty pages. Unfortunately, I was pretty dissatisfied with the climax and the unprecedented turn of events. Nonetheless, I really liked the illustrations, snippets of conversations attached to the story; they made the reading enjoyable and fun.

READ IT BEFORE THE FILM HITS THE CINEMAS!!!!!!

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Still from the Film