The lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The lowland cover by Jhumpa Lahiri

The lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Indian fiction

Source – Review copy

 

 

Boy, you’re going to carry that weight,
Carry that weight a long time
Boy, you’re going to carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time

I never give you my pillow
I only send you my invitations
And in the middle of the celebrations
I break down

I choose this Beatles lyric because sometime we do have to carry a weight for a family member

Well I ‘m going back here to late 2013 to review this book , I had a quick reread of it in bits over the weekend .I decide to finally review it because Lisa had ask me to join her in doing a Shadow Jury for the DSC south asian book prize , which I said yes as I had read two this book and Mirror of beauty (longest book on the list ) , I also had Noon tide toll on my shelves and could order another from Library leaving me one book to get when Amanda gets paid in a couple of weeks just before the prize .It’s nice to be judging with Lisa and Tara  .Now why didn’t I review this book , well it wasn’t that I didnt’ like it far from it was good but not stand out enough to be saved from Mount unreviewed .I had read Lahiri before both her short story collections , I was always nervous that her style wouldn’t work on the change from short story writer  to Novelist .Anyway to the book at last

So many times Subhash and Udayan had walked across the lowland .It was a shortcut to a field on the outskirts of the neighbourhood ,where they went to play football ,Avoiding puddles and stepping over mats of hyacinth leaves that remained in place .Breathing the dank Air

From opening page that gives rise to the book’s title the Lowland ,si near where the boys grew up .

The lowland is a classic story in many ways , a story of two brothers growing up , but also growing apart as they do so .Now the two brothers Udayan and Subhash , split apart from each other  one drawn into a world of politics the other drawn into a life far away from the India they grew up in .The brother drawn to Poltics Udayan is drawn to this protest at the poverty with in the country , this is 1967 and they are just following what had happened elsewhere in the world , but will it have a lasting effect on his life and his family , to a young wife and his parents .Meanwhile his brother Subhash has left to study in the but a moment of madness means , he comes home marries his brothers now widowed wife and returns with her to America , leading to a knock on for the next generation and the parents .

He was unwell ?

He was killed .

How ?

The paramilitary shot shot him .He was a Naxalite .

I’m sorry .It’s a terrible loss to bear .But no you’ll be a father .Yes .

Listen it’s been too long ,Why don’t you and your wife come to dinner one day .

Just after he lost his brother Subhash back in the US

Well The  lowlands , takes a classic story of brothers going  on different paths in their lives  .Then throws into it a real  event from  Indian history” the Naxalite cause “and the protest around that time .Brings this vast story down to the family level and looks at how politics ,l families and loyalty to ones loved ones .I loved that Lahiri managed to capture in a novel what she does so well in her stories and that is the interpersonal relationships between people on a daily level .At the core the brothers and the way the lives diverge but also cross each other again after one event leaving one gone and another with a new life and direction .I ‘m not sure it is the winner of the prize but it deserves it place on the DSC shortlist .

Have you read this book ?

The Mirror of Beauty by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

the mirror of beauty

The Mirror of Beauty by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

Urdu fiction

Translated from Urdu by the writer himself

Source – copy via Musharraf Ali Farooqi

Well I have raved about this Epic written by the renowned Urdu Literary critic , publisher and editor Shamsur Rahman Faruqi .He is the publisher of the well-known Indian Lit journal Shakhoon .This is his debut novel but he has in the past published a four volume study of the well-known poet Taqi Mir .The reason I held of on my review of the book is a feeling that this book would at some point get a Uk release but a few months on it seems not yet and I really want to share my love of this book .Which for me is easily the best piece of Indian fiction since and if  not even better than midnight children .

Wazir Khanam ,ALSO and perhaps better known as Choti Begam (Younger lady ) , was born around 1811 .She was the third and youngest daughter of Muhammad Yusuf ,maker of plain gold ornaments .She was born in Delhi but Muhammad Yussuf was not native to Delhi .His ancestors were from Kashmir .How and when these people reached Delhi , and what befell them in Delhi is a very long story .

The intro to the book explains where Wazir came from .

The novel is set just as India is changing the East India  company is gaining a foothold and the Mughal’s are still about  but their power is on the wain .We see this world through the eyes of Wazir Khanam ,she is a rare beauty and a rare women .Through the book she takes two lovers , also has two husbands along the way gives birth too a number of children among those is  Dagh a well-known poet .But this is his mother’s story she is a women that has lovers from both sides of the India she lives in both  British and Indian .She is almost a new women, not a figure we have been portrayed in other books about Indian  in this time ,no this is a strong-willed women that loves her life and her world and likes to be in control of it as much as she can .She first meets and marries a charismatic English man  called Blake, so  she moves away from Delhi but the marriage ends when he is killed and she returns to that  city .She then meets Nawab Khan and she also has many other lovers .This also sounds like a well lived but actually Wazir life is a battle and a lot of her loves end badly .But she loves her world the world she lives in is moving from the regal Mughal empire into the commerce and chaos at times of the British and the East India company .We see a world of painters ,carpet makers ,the desert of India  to the valleys of Khasmir and finally the chaos of the Metropolis Delhi through one women ,her husband ,lovers and children .We she her effect on the world a ripples in time and the people she touched and her family touch move in this changing India ,rather like the children born on the stroke of midnight in Rushdie’s midnight children Wazir and her family and friends move the world  of their time .

It took a great deal of argument before Wazir could persuade Marston Blake to approve the name Badshah Begam for their first daughter ,He refused to consider any other name than Sophia ,a name that identified her as a Christian .After a great amount of discussion in the first instance , he agreed to Masih Jan a name that was vaguely Muslim and could also be taken as Christian .

She cross the western and Asian world so well at times and fought for what she believed in

Well as you see this book some how captures a world now gone and little written about  .Faruqi is like an Indian dickens ,or even Hillary Mantel the lives touched in this book are the ones you don’t know a lot about ,the ones just down from the top Nobel men ,high-ranking officials but not the big ones ,but people near the top and how this women effect them and her .He captures a world I  loved that of the Darlymple books. But he brings it  to life of the page .I feel the fact he took six years to translate from his original Urdu book to this  English translation has made every word seem as thou they were written originally in English it is flawless .I feel this is maybe the greatest Indian novel and feel my heart sink that it isn’t even getting an Uk issue you can buy it via Amazon and I strongly urge you to buy it as like me you will no doubt be blown away by its beauty and world .Faruqi really weaves 19th century India he said in an interview his love of Urdu poetry at the time lead to the figure of Wazir and as he wrote he check up facts and built the story that way .I really enjoyed the arts and crafts described in the book from poets to carpet makers their jobs and lives opened up .

Nacropolis by Jeet Thayil

Narcopolis

Nacropolis by Jeet Thayil

Indian fiction

Source – Library copy

Jeet Thayil is from Kerala in India ,he is the son of a well-known editor .This meant he grew up in Hong-Kong and New york .He has a degree in Fine art ,he has written Poetry ,librettist and now a writer Nacropolis is his Début Novel .The book was shortlist for the Man booker prize this year and also I m reviewing it as the last of this year’s Man Asian short list .The book also recently won the DSC prize for south-east Asian  Literature .

Bombay ,which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face ,is the hero or heroin of this story ,and since I’m the one who’s telling it and you don’t know who I am ,let me say that we’ll get to who of it but not right now ,because now there’s time  enough not to hurry ,to light the lamp and open the window to the moon and take a moment to dream of a great and broken city .

The opening prologue of the book .

Nacropolis is set in the 70’s and 80’s ,the book is set in a darker and old Bombay ,than I have met in Indian fiction before .This book is a story of drugs and that city how drugs effect the everyday life of a group of people over twenty year .The group we meet are all connected in some way to Rashid’s opium house on a street in Bombay .The people living in this book are the short of mish mash of characters and show that drugs can effect one and all .,Dimple a castrated prostitute who has been at Rashid’s since she was a girl .The book in a way shows her journey and the changing face of drug taking within India from opium to heroin . We also see China a bit as well as one of the regulars is from China and we learn about the communists taking of China in flashback  .Thayil used his own experiences to build this book .This is the story of the real city of Bombay before it changed and became a new city .

I went back the next day and found Rashid in his room ,sitting in his chair by the window with prayer beads in his hands .I asked if he was feeling better .

I’ll never be good or better .I’m past the age of it ,Now there’s only bad or worse

I said I had come to pay my respects

Rashid said ,”I’m an old man . I don’t want talk about the o,ld days ” but he brought it up himself .

The end of the story as Rashid house is gone and the city is changing

I found this book dizzying at times Thayil is a very frank writer ,this isn’t drugs dressed up and beautified ,no Thayil is a former drug addict and has used this book to show the harm drugs do to people .As much as in place it is horrifying in others it is touching it is like watching a car crash in slow motion you want to look away but can’t as you are transfixed by the action .Thayil has done for Indian drug culture and opening it up for what it is ,the same as Irvine Welsh ,William Burroughs ,Robert Bolano and numerous other writers ,the more you read about drug taking you see that if it Edinburgh ,,Mexico city or Bombay the fallout from taking drugs is just the same .Thayil,has said in interview he wants this to be a view of addicts that makes people have empathy with them for being real people .

Have you read this book ?

What did you think of the books on this years Man Asian shortlist ?

Rebirth a novel by Jahnavi Barua

Rebirth by Jahnavi Barua

Indian Fiction

Jahnavi Barua is a Bangalore based writer this is here second book ,the first being a collection of short stories .She has had many short stories published in collections and anthologies .she grew up in Assam the setting for the novel ,is a doctor .Rebirth is on the man Asian long list and is another of the my shadow man Asian reads.As part of the shadow man judges .

“Maybe you can write about Kabini ,no ?” Preeta waves towards the river “why not ? ” indeed ,why not.

“What about Ron ? ”

I am angry suddenly .”What about him ?”

“what is going to happen ? you may need to actually earn a living ”

A conversation between friends about a childhood incident

 

 

Rebirth follows Kaberi ,she is newly married and now with child .Her marriage to Ron is on unsteady ground over the course of the book we find Kaberi talking to her unborn child about her marriage but also what sort of father Ron would make .It’s fair to say Kaberi has fairly rose-coloured glasses in regards her husband,one main things about this book is it is modern India we talk about she her friends Tarun and Preetha  at coffee shops ,they wear and talk about sports  wear .Her friends and family also see here husbands faults more than she does .Also she is going for doctors check ups ,we see Ron grow into an  awful husband over time we spend with him in the book  . We see her childhood as well as a prelude in some ways to how she end up where she did  .For me this a novel of self rhetoric as Kaberi talks her self round to the fact that her husband isn’t the dream man she had wanted ,she even says this and the fact that she idolized him slightly only made things worse .So the title has a duel mean both the birth of the new-born baby but of a  Kaberi  as well  .I also got a real sense of place this the north-east part of India which the writer is from which gives real credence to the settings as it is the places she grew up in and obviously knows well .Even thou this is an arranged marriage and set in india I feel the main themes of this book are universal worry of marriage ,idealizing one’s partner and having a baby are the same all over the world .I did say on twitter the other day and Lisa picked up on this that I felt on one level this is a book females would feel more empathic for than men  .I m struck by what Harold Bloom said

” love tempered by ambivalence ” is a fitting four word quote for this book .

Many thanks to Penguin India that sent a copy to me for the shadow man .

Here is fays review

The painter of signs of R.K.Narayan

Source – own copy

R.K.Narayan was one of the first writers from India to break the british market ,he was mentored in the early days by Graham Greene ,after one of his early manuscripts was given to Greene .he won many awards and in later life spent time in the higher parliament of India for his contribution to Indian literature .

Like a  lot of Narayan’s book this book is set in  the fictional town of Malguldi ,this town in southern india the area Narayan came from ,well the painter of signs is about one of the inhabitation of the town Raman a well educate man ,whose job is to paint signs .He takes great pride with this advising his clients on style of calligraphy and colours .Now early on we find Raman is a single man and happy being a single man a well-known figure in the town as he has painted many signs . he one day is asked to do a sign by a feisty young women Daisy ,she intrigues Raman ,he gets slowly drawn tp this women and her fresh way of thinking she is a forthright women ,she runs family planning clinics ,thus needs a frequent supply of signs and chance to meet Raman as they travel to these different clinics as Raman needs to see the location before deciding on the sign as they do this they grow closer  .Eventually leading to Marriage .

“A very simple ceremony ” he did not wish to explain to her that they had resolved to do without any formality .He had explained to daisy the five kinds of marriage he had read about and they had come to the conclusion that the system called Gandharva was most suitable one for them ;that was the type of marriage one read about in classical literature .when two souls met in harmony the marriage was consummated perfectly ,and no further rite of ceremony was called for .

Raman and Daisy discussed marriages .

Narayan was a brilliant story-teller this is a simple story a couple meeting, but told with such delicacy and subtle tones ,he was very influenced by the western literature he grew up reading ,this is like those moved to India ,it has a slight humour running through it but also a feeling of the time it was written in the mid 1970’s as india was changing becoming more western Daisy shows this face and in some ways Raman is tied up with the traditions of Indian life ,but also the roles are flipped Daisy forthright confident with her self ,Raman reserved and in lots of ways Naive .I read another book many years ago set in Malgudi by Narayan ,he was included with his short stories in recent Penguin mini classics ,which was good to see as he is a writer that needs to be read ,he gives you a window into post colonial india from independence  to his death ,a country awakening shown through this colourful indian town and the people who live there .

Have you read Narayan ?

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