Our Year of Maybe is an astonishingly subtle book. It’s about a toxic, codependent relationship, and what it means to be attached to another person, and the effect that can have on you. I loved Rachel Lynn Solomon’s first book, You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, and after reading Marie’s interview with Rachel Lynn Solomon, I knew that I had to read this too. It was just as emotional and deep and clever and authentic.
Uprooted is a book that I have waited for. I have seen people talking about it and enjoying it ever since it came out, and I had the vague idea that it was Eastern European and somehow based on a fairy tale, and not really about a dragon. I checked the book out from the library several times but never managed to get beyond the first few pages. It took an audiobook to change that, and then the minute I finished it, well , to be precise, several hours in, I already knew I wanted Spinning Silver.
Welcome back to ‘Tis the Season of Rereading, people! I’m back where it all began (at least, this series) in India with wintry air and slow internt and a lot of gladness. It’s approprading and reviewing one of my favourite books of this year–Strange the Dreamer, and its sequel, Muse of Nightmares.
Because I really am trying to blog this summer and be more chill about it, here is a chill post about writing, something I haven’t discussed for ages. Continue reading “Thoughts I have while writing”
Hi Virtually Readers! Remember a few weeks ago when I reviewed Dr. Huxley’s Bequest, a really wonderful exploration of the history of medicine that covers a lot of ground? It’s a fascinating book, and Michelle Cooper, who wrote it, is one of my favourite authors. She is an incredible researcher, and uses her characters and stories to bring history–and now science–to life. She was gracious enough to let me interview her (which I promptly derailed by losing her email in my spam folder). If you want to learn about Tasmanian Devil milk and Michelle’s research process, you’ll definitely want to read the interview below.
Hi Virtually Readers! I’ve been suuuuuper absent from the blogging world because literally everything else in my life has taken priority. I’ve still been reading though and am kinda sticking to a library ban. But that’s okay, I’m not gonna apologise too much. But here are some of the non-fiction books I’ve read recently, which is al ot, because I’ve hardly been reading YA which is weird, but here we are. I also will have some separate posts on Dr. Huxley’s Bequest, which will *hopefully* be my next blogging week at the end of October. It never rains but it pours, so this post is super long haha.
America for Beginners is, I think, the best book I have read this year. It is about the many forms of loneliness. It is about things which hurt. It is about forgiving people. It is about being a stranger in a strange land, and being a stranger in a familiar land, and what to do when you are both at once. It is about characters who ask questions which hurt.
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Recently widowed Pival Sengupta has never travelled alone before and her first trip to this strange country masks a secret agenda: to find out the truth about her long-estranged son.
Satya, her guileless and resourceful tour guide, has been in America for less than a year – and has never actually left the five boroughs of New York.
An aspiring/failing actress, Rebecca signed up for the role of Pival’s modesty companion; it might not be her big break but surely it’ll break her out of the rut she’s stuck in.
As their preconceptions about each other and about America are challenged, with a little beginner’s luck, these unlikely companions might learn how to live again.
A big-hearted, hilarious tale of forgiveness, hope, and acceptance, reminding us that there is no roadmap to life. (blurb, as always, from goodreads)
Pival is asking: Who am I when I am without the context of my family and my home?
Rachel is asking: Who am I if I am not what I have always dreamed of becoming?
Satya is asking: Who am I as I become a person my friends would not recognise?
These are all questions of identity, something that the human race is “desperately curious” about when we manage to pay attention to other people in their relentless existence. Identity is something that is fraught for me, as it is to a lesser or greater extent, to all people. I have never been to America; I know it only throught the fragments I have collected from books and movies and friends. But I know India, and I know what it is to belong in India and love it wildly and also be from somewhere else, and find that these facts are, to some extent, irreconcilable. Leah Franqui knows about the layers of identity and belonging too, and manages them magnificently in her novel.
I am sick of ‘immigrant narrative’ stories, written by middle class immigrants from some country that was once a colony, with families that cling hard to tradition because it is all that anchors them in a new land, and children who rebel wildly, wanting to redefine their parent’s parameters of success. These novels are important, but America for Beginners is not one of them. For one thing, Pival, the main character, is not an immigrant. She is a visitor. Rebecca is not an immigant either: she has never needed to question her belonging in America. And while Satya is an immigrant, he is not educated (whatever that means), he is not a doctor or lawyer. He has gathered the crumbs that America has left in its greasy corners and hoards them carefully.
America for Beginners is not a novel of simplistic identity. I appreciated Franqui’s examination of what it means to be Bengali, and how a border has fractured that identity. The interaction of religion worked very well too: Rebecca is Jewish, Pival and Satya are Hindu, but there are Muslims in the story too. The complexities of sexuality, and what Rahi’s upbringing did to his understanding of who and how he loved, was painful, but so well done (and I thought that the lens of Jake, his lover, made that so much better). The way that language dictates identity in context, the difference between North Indian and Bengali food: wherever Franqui writes, she adds nuance. I appreciated, for instance, Satya’s thought that
“Sideways had been the only way to approach anything.”
when he has washed ashore in the land of the brash and direct, prices, like other things, fixed and inflexible It is exquisite. As someone who has spent most of her life in India, I find that immigrant stories do not satisfy me, because I do not share any of that experience. But this felt like it really reflected my understanding of a country I can sometimes call my own.
Leah Franqui is the best kind of writer. She uses frequent figurative language. Her prose is beautiful without being vain, which is honestly so hard to do (it’s something I struggle with so much in my own writing!). All of the sentences make sense, the writing is never distracting, but it does evoke that sense of awareness that good writing does, where it makes you want to notice things in new and surprising ways.
“Everything was fine, everything was great, everything was so light it could crush you.”
“Pival wondered if that’s how ghosts were made, angry spirits whose bodies had been destroyed by time rather than fire.”
“The dirty fading glory of Kolkata crumbling under the weight of modern life.”
Franqui writes gracefully, using third person past tense, the best way to deal with multiple perspectives. The shifting from person to person never feels wrong, which it has in essentially every other novel like this I have read. Only once does she end a chapter with an opening door and an expansive unknown. Usually, I find this a cheap trick; but the use was so restrained as to be all the more compelling for it. The writing has moments of humour, too, like
“The man could find rice in a pasta store.”
I cannot recommend this novel enough, and I could write much more about it, but I have already stayed up late for this book once. I plan to buy it (I got it from the library) and reread it, and cherish it in every way. Being Indian is complex, and so is travelling, and so is death. America for Beginners is a book that deals tragedy as liberally as comedy, and it ended in the best way: with a river as dense as America, characters who were able to move on, but not without me caring a whole lot more in the process of their doing so.
[tiny disclaimer: one of the reasons I picked this up is that I had a Skype conversation with the author a few years ago for unrelated reasons, and she was amazing to talk to and I thought that she was fantastically cool and so I vaguely followed her online since then and she is kinda #goals to be honest and so smart and funny and I love that she sews her own clothes (and probably a mess on the inside just like all other human beings, but wow I would like to be her friend), so you could say that I’m a bit of a fangirl. But even if you know nothing about Leah Franqui, her writing speaks for itself.]
What is the best book you have read this year? and if you’ve been to America, or even if you just know it from books, what advice would you give to beginners there?
Neal Shusterman seems to often write about death. Unwind was one of the few books that has truly scared me—I remember staying up late reading it when I was about twelve, feeling sickened and enthralled at once. In that book, he examines what it means to have someone else choose your death. In Everlost, he explores what might happen after death, the things that are able to change and the things that don’t. Again, it’s spooky, atmospheric, and very, very compelling. I’ve been hearing about Scythe for a long time—mostly, people raving about how good it is—and so, after checking it out from the library, not reading it, waiting in the holds list, checking it out again, not reading it etc. about five times, I have finally finished it.
I am growing to love non-fiction. I know that not everyone reads non-fiction, which is fine, but if you don’t have much idea where to start, I thought I’d do a post pairing books popular in the blogosphere with some non-fiction books I love. If you recognise these books, or think you’d enjoy them, then definitely see if you can pick a copy up. I’ve tried to group books that are similar in content and tone, even if they come at it from totally different angles.
Final Draft is one of the best books I have read this year. It was an Experience, and I mean that in the best way. I genuinely believe that were this not marketed as YA it could easily pass as literary fiction. Not that YA is bad, and neither is literary fiction, but Redgate’s cerebral story is just really, really tersely written. and really Deep. Effectively, Redgate uses the form of a YA contemporary (on the surface, this book is pretty standard high-school-senior-comes-into-herself stuff) to interrogate that same form, and the use of cliche more broadly. I finished it last week and I already want to reread it.