A young boy is prised away from his friends, his daily habits/routine, the streets he has grown up on, and taken to a place where his house is the only one on one side of a fence, where there aren’t any other children to play with, and where he cannot find any roots.
Some books are only heard of, and not read. But the good things spoken of the book still make a mark on the mind and when heard, or given a chance to read, that mark begins to shine and bring the book silently into your shelf. I’m part of a group of book lovers who love reading and sharing thoughts on those books. This book, Memoirs of a Geisha, came to me through that group, but from a friend who I’ve known since much before.
Chiyo, who lives with her siter Satsu and her parents in an old shack by the sea. Their lives, like the shack, are on the verge of collapse, so when a businessman offers to take Chiyo and Satsu to the city, the father is convinced quite easily. But do their lives change for the better or worse? Satsu, who is fifteen, is put in a brothel. Chiyo, who is nine, is deemed worthy enough to become a geisha, and neither girls are given the choice to choose. Chiyo, placed in the Okiya house, finds a friend in a girl nicknamed Pumpkin, and with her good looks, also finds an adversary in Hatsumomo, the ill-tempered geisha of the Okiya house. The story follows Chiyo’s journey from the little girl to the geisha Sayuri. It narrates her training, her life at the Okiya house, her rivalry with Hatsumomo, her “sister” Mameha etc.
I did not think this novel would engage me from start to finish, but it did. The narration is that good, but it is the emotion which draws me in as a reader; be it the helplessness of Satsu and Chiyo when they are examined by Mrs. Fidget, or the bond between the sisters, or the deceptive Hatsumomo. Though not happy, the world from Chiyo’s perspective is interesting to read, in that writing style. Characters have their strengths and their flaws too, like Chiyo’s father, who loves his wife and children but is helpless in a way, and easily convinced by the offer from the businessman. The story feels a reality too in some ways, like there being a price for virginity and such. How Mameha explains sex to Sayuri is also well done, feeling as if there was consideration given for Sayuri’s age. The novel also shows the possibility and the power of love, how that feeling motivates. The life of the little girl is not one I’d praise, but with who she is, maybe one that seems to go with who she wants to be.
The only flipside perhaps is that when the author tries to share the history or explanation of some facts of a Geisha’s life, the narration tends to sound like a documentary, rather than fictionalizing that in Sayuri’s voice. But that doesn’t dissuade or break the reading, so it’s only a minor point in my book.
A book that I’d definitely read again, albeit after a while, I feel Memoirs of a Geisha is quite well-written and realistic.
|Title: Memoirs of a Geisha|
|Author(s): Arthur Golden||Genre: Fiction|
|ISBN/ASIN: 9780099282853||Publisher: Vintage|
(© 29th September 2015)
To take a sensitive issue and write a wonderful story on it is not easy. Tania James has taken the illegal ivory trade as the issue and produced this story, The Tusk That Did the Damage. The novel, unique in its subject, is also unique in that it tells the story from three different viewpoints, and leaving the reader (me) thinking that all three make sense.
The Gravedigger’s (elephant’s) point of view is best for it gives voice to the animal. We don’t think of that. From the moment that Gravedigger witnesses the poaching of his tribe, not just for the tusks but the tail too, the sections from this point of view are done well. The poacher and his family, that point of view comes next best. The emotions and the background story of the poacher are vivid, and interesting. And in these two sections, the story moves quickly, and strongly. I could see the story headed somewhere. Unfortunately, the filmmaker’s part doesn’t have as strong an appeal as the other two. Right from the first chapter that talks of the path through the ghats, it didn’t hold my interest as easily. It made me wonder if the author could have left it out, and alternated between poacher and the poached.
The novel is one that I’ll re-read again at leisure, for it is one of a kind and carrying with it, a lesson.
|Title: The Tusk That Did the Damage|
|Author(s): Tania James||Genre: Fiction|
Vintage Books / Random House India
|No. of Pages: 240||Price: INR. 499|
(© 23rd April 2015)
I think the most interesting aspect of humanity is relationships. Friends, siblings, lovers… whatever it may be. Some books bring that aspect of life to life and explore it very well. One such book is The Fifth Man by Bani Basu. It revolves around Ari, who is Neelam’s husband. Neelam’s hysterectomy changes their relationship between her and Ari. Fate conspires to bring the duo, their college professor Mahanam and Ari’s ex-girlfriend Esha together, testing their relationship even further.
The book came by my shelf quite unexpectedly. The book, translated into English by Arunava Sinha, is a beautifully woven tale. It explores not only the relationships, but the emotions that come along with the decisions they make. It didn’t read like a translation, which helps it a lot. I liked the character sketching too, and the cover design which felt simple but still mysterious. The book, on a genre level, didn’t appeal to me much, and after a while, it felt heavy to me. But I don’t think it is a bad book at all.
There are some books that become better with a second or third read. I feel this book may be one in that category for me. It is definitely interesting, but I don’t quite know if it is very engaging.
Title: The Fifth Man
Author: Bani Basu
Translator: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Random House India
Price: INR 299
(28th December 2014)
The value of simplicity seems to be going down these days, at least when it comes to books. There is preference to deep set plots, depth in characters (to an extent that they seem out of this world), and a high level of English that makes it necessary to have a thesaurus nearby while reading. I do not mean to say every book needs to be run-of-the-mill stuff, but just that simple ones are rare.
For that reason, this book, Fire Under Ash stands out because the book is, mostly, simple. It has a love triangle in a college, and a couple of other characters whose lives and decisions make the storyline. Ashwin, set for higher education abroad, decides on a whim, a fancy, an infatuation if you would, to cancel those plans and study at the college where Mallika, the object of the infatuation, studies. The move doesn’t sit well with the family or friends, obviously. Mallika is pretty; the lead singer of a band that played at Ashwin’s farewell, also soon becomes the object of another guy’s infatuation. Lallan also arrives at Azad College to complete his MA degree, but falls in love with Mallika even though he’s engaged to another girl. But can Ashwin and Mallika find their way with Lallan tagging along? On another angle, we see Ashwin’s sister Meera’s story playing out in New York, with a work vs love theme there.
The title and cover are what catch your eye immediately. Both are well thought of. The characters seem believable and not too fictional or out of the world. Though the idea is not new, the author manages to polish it well and keep the reader interested. It takes some time for the interest in the story to develop, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was boring. Good language and good detailing goes hand in hand here, but there are some details that feel amiss. It’s easy to imagine the scenes in mind.
A good debut work that manages to entertain for sure… but it’s a one-time read for me.
Title: Fire Under Ash
Author: Saskya Jain
Publisher: Vintage/ RHI
Price: Rs. 499
(14th November 2014)
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
To continue the quote by Martin Luther King Jr., “Hopelessness cannot drive out hopelessness. Only hope can do that.” That’s my belief, and I know for a fact that it is true.
India is a land of diverse cultures, with each culture bringing their own customs and traditions into the palate of the land. Not all of these customs and traditions are as sweet tasting though. Looking back, I remember reading about Sati in my history text book. Having researched it for an assignment, I had felt it to be a very unfair custom, and had been thankful that it had been abolished. Recently, I attended a meet-up organized by an NGO. The discussion there brought about another one of the not so sweet traditions, the Devadasi system. The Devadasi system was (and even these days, is) a system wherein young girls are trained in the arts, then when they reach teenage, they are dedicated to the temple to worship and service a deity for the rest of her life.
Through her book “Servants of the Goddess”, Catherine Kermorgant takes the reader into a journey, one that shows that the Devadasi tradition is not completely abolished. Initially, her trip to India and to the village where she meets the devadasis is for her documentary. But when that doesn’t materialize, her research comes out in this book. And I feel that the research is well done. From the troubles she faced at the first stages, to hearing from the devadasis about their troubles, the book covers it all. I’d rather have read about the latter than the former, but that’s part and parcel of the book I guess. The book also gives the attitude of the public to these issues as well. Like the talkative driver feigning illness to get rid of some people, or the elderly villager warning the women not to talk to Catherine and Vani (who’s her helper). The stories of the devadasis bring forth how their life changes once they are forced into the tradition as well. Through the book, we also get a perspective of the history behind the tradition, some of which is interesting. It was a little queer how engaging in sexual intercourse with a particular knowledge is likened to performing a “Soma sacrifice” which helps the man attain a great world.
The book is one to be read. It ends up almost like a project paper, but the topic is one that needs to be read. It makes one wonder if those traditions that we felt were abolished completely actually do continue to be practiced silently in some part of the country. The book brings out the horrible conditions that those forced into this tradition are experiencing. It makes me wonder, if a foreigner came to India to learn of, and change, this tradition, why do we continue to stand by and do nothing at all? If changing the tradition isn’t in our hands, the least we can do is help those who are affected by it, right?
Why should you read it?
Non-fiction that sometimes feels like an incredulous fiction, this well researched book is to be read to understand a tradition that is thought to be abolished but still continues to be practiced silently.
What you may not like…
Well researched as the book is, the way it is presented may not feel too appealing sometimes.
Title: Servants of the Goddess
Author: Catherine Rubin Kermorgant
Publisher: Random House India / Vintage Books
Price: INR. 400
(2nd May 2014)