First Page is a feature that shines light on new book releases.
February, ever since discovered in the 18th century English Calendar in India, has always been famous for being the month of all kinds of exams. Let that it be any grade or class, school or college, academy or university, state or national, all come upon with their lightning rods of exams in this lunar 28-dayed month.
Among the most impacted ones in this month come readers, who are still students or graduates. for their reading schedule is severely hampered for the exams and a bloody late in their personal reading goals and reviews fall due which are to be cleared down in the month of March, which I am doing here, my slow readings for the exam month.
The books I read in the previous month were basically novels of hardly 200 pages (with just one book of 400 pages, that too a fast-paced read), so basically if we sat down with one book in hand for an hour of reading you could easily complete the book in just three to four seatings. But some books held my imagination captive, like the book by Sharanya Manivannan (thus had to read before the Maths exam), while some made me question my own identity like Less by Andrew Greer ( which I read before the first Science exam, I do not know why, but I did). Some were too lovely bits of thrillers yet very intriguing stories, and thus read before English and Social Science exam ( where you would urge to kill the teacher if he or she does not give you marks, books will surely help in that)
Talking of the present, here are some of the February releases (some old too) that you should check out.
The Queen of Jasmine Country ( received from HT Brunch)
The Queen of Jasmine Country is a tribute to Andal, the only female Alvar among the 12 Alvar saints of South India. Andal is famous for renditions such as Thiruppavai and Nachiar Tirumozhi which are recited by devotees during the festival season of Margazhi. The traditional story of Andal views her as a divine incarnation but the novel is the life of Kodhai, found in a tulsi grove as a baby and adopted; the young teenager who later on in life becomes Andal. As talks of marriage drift in the countryside talk, she decides her love is reserved for the lord and not for a mortal man.
Love does not leave mortals, it is not easy to find love inside divine. But Andal did. Manivannan paints her novel in colors of sensuality and love, she paints her beautifully and intricately, every detail is seen in the novel. But her sensuality is not to be confused with erotica. It is devotion, devotion for the lord that turns into love. Manivannan traces the journey of Kodhai to become Andal, journeying through all the phases of womanhood, devotion, and love that makes it sprout in divine and miraculous forms.
“…in the place from which the blood of the moon had blossomed from my body, everything turned to nectar. I closed my eyes and summoned his image: chest like a mountain, navel sprouting a lotus, lips that I envied the conch in his hand for having kissed. Come to me. To me. Come.”
But Queen of Jasmine Country shows you the power of language when poets pen down a novel, this is where the play of language and the elegance of poetry comes into play. Here sample this:
“I felt as though a peacock had suddenly swept in from a place of camouflage, tail unfolded, and rearranged the world with its resplendence.”
Sharanya Manivannan’s new novel gives us a cast of unforgettable characters, caught up in the tide of history, each in search of a place of safety. It is at once a love story and a provocation, an emotional embrace and a decisive demonstration. It is told in a whisper, with a shout, with tears, and with a laugh. Its heroes, both present and departed, human as well as animal, have been broken by the world we live in and then mended by love. And for this reason, they will never surrender.
The Queen of Jasmine Country celebrates both love and womanhood like never before.
My Sister, The Serial Killer ( received from Atlantic Books)
I really enjoyed Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel. It follows two sisters, Ayoola, the flirtatious beauty vixen who has a penchant for stabbing boyfriends and Korede, the protective older sister who cleans up the mess (aka corpses) of her younger sister. This was a glittering murder story with deadpan humour and chapters often as short as a single page. It is set in the modern age of hashtags going viral, Instagram selfies and Snapchat updates.
The book flows down the stream of the story too fast and sweeps out of your hands before you feel its presence or get into the depth of the story. Braithwaite focusses in her latest more on ‘Why?’ rather than ‘What?’ Korede did. Inside the story, there is every feel you need to get from it, revenge, happiness, sadness, love, hate, purgatory, discrimination, loneliness, exclusion, slaughter, sly yet all this boils down to be feverishly hot and delicious.
For a thriller, that is part novel, for the flow of language, its vocabulary, the strength of the plot, the hidden messages all intends and points that Oyinkan’s book is not simply a thriller full of blood and murders, but rather a novel that focuses on why Murderers need to murder. The title of Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel, “My Sister, the Serial Killer,” is simultaneously accurate and misleading. The book is indeed about a serial killer and her sibling, but it is not at all the pulpy slasher story you might expect. Instead, it is a playful yet affecting examination of sibling rivalry, the legacy of abuse and the shallow sexism of Nigeria’s patriarchal society.
From the narration of the quotidian Lagos life, the novel takes you on a roller-coaster ride of feminism, of sexism, of patriarchy, of sibling rivalry, of abuse and what not.
The triumph of Braithwaite’s book is that it straps you into your seat and makes you ride the rollercoaster for yourself so that you are jolted out of any pity or derision you may feel, and shaken into a sense of genuine empathy. Every stupid, horrific question of ‘why didn’t you’ and ‘why did you’ is efficiently invoked, comprehensively slain and feminism modeled as a way to stay breathing in the face of patriarchal dehumanization. Unlike the Tumblr posts and comic gifs you may have ignored at your peril, this book shows far more than it tells. After reading it, you really have no excuse for not getting it.
When you read this book, watch the ferocity of craft at work. Not the beauty of the prose – as much an entry fee demanded of women writers as well-formed breasts on women who are actors – but the labor the structure of the book performs. Oyinkan performs no sleight-of-hand, no plot twist; she tells you unflinchingly what she is going to do to tell this story, and why, and then she does it (sometimes this order is reversed).
Less (received from HT Brunch)
The challenge of the novel, as what Greer said to me when we met at the Jaipur Literature Festival, was to make it humorous and funny, to make it a novel full of happiness and joy. Andrew Greer achieves this very well and even thus adds up to his story, a story of a novelist struggling, a story of a homosexual struggling, story of an old man struggling, a story of a man struggling to make his presence be felt in this world.
Greer takes some bold steps by choosing to write on novelists, his work talks vividly about how novelists live, eat, talk, sit and he makes sure that all the technical crap s out of the book in just a small beginning paragraph. Sometimes when you write about novelists in your work, you are sure to be reprimanded of writing about yourself in a manner of a fictional memoir. Greer too takes another step forward of boldness when he mistakenly so, criticizes Pulitzer Prize and its winners, yet, voila! he gets the prize and the committee asks him nothing about this! A safe game, Andrew, I said to him.
But Less takes you on a ride through the tyranny of the modern world on novelists and that too homosexual novelists. Andrew maybe secretly so even tries to fight his fight for gay rights through his novel and he does so beautifully without a twist of hand or some fancy vocabulary, just simple and eloquent prose and that too humorous. Here sample this:
“ Arthur Less is the first homosexual ever to grow old. That is, at least, how he feels at times like these. Here, in this tub, he should be 25 or 30, a beautiful young man naked in a bathtub. Enjoying the pleasures of life. How dreadful if someone came upon naked Less today: pink to his middle, gray to his scalp, like those old double erasers for pencil and ink. He has never seen another gay man age past 50, none except Robert. He met them all at 40 or so but never saw them make it much beyond; they died of AIDS, that generation. Less’s generation often feels like the first to explore the land beyond 50. how are they meant to do it? Do you stay boy forever, and dye your hair and diet to stay lean and wear tight shirts and jeans and go out dancing until you drop dead at 80? Or do you do the opposite – – do you forswear all that, and let your hair go gray and wear elegant sweaters that cover your belly, and smile on past pleasures that will never come again? Do you marry an adopt a child? In a couple, do you each take a lover, like matching nightstands by the bed, so that sex will not vanished entirely? Or do you let sex vanish entirely, as heterosexuals do? Do you experience the relief of letting go of vanity, anxiety, desire, and pain? Do you become a Buddhist? One thing you certainly do not do. You do not take on a lover for nine years, thinking it is easy and casual, and, once he leaves you, disappear and end up alone in a hotel bathtub wondering what now”.
Murder in the Monastery ( received from Rupa Books Co.)
The most important part of a thriller I feel is its pace when it goes up till the crescendo in the climax and then it feels joy in your heart. Murder in the Monastery is fast-paced and racy. It promises something new at the turn of every couple of pages and that is what makes it compelling. Barun Chandra uses simple language and the book can be easily read in a single sitting.
A fast-paced novel at the start and turned out to be a slow but with a reasoning narration on the backdrop. The narration is unlike the other thrillers. A practical approach all the way down the book. The narration was not hero-centric entirely which very much attracted my attention towards the story. Detectives who believe in his instincts and training to survive at crucial times. I thoroughly liked that thought.
Chandra’s third-person narration of what follows, the landscape of Sikkim and all other plot play and murder, is what makes for an interesting read. Of course, he’s no Robert Ludlum, but the fact that he seamlessly manages to weave in a story of a heroic detective who solves the mystery of the murder inside the monastery and even of the hidden, secret and stollen manuscript is commendable.
Barun Chandra chronicles precisely this gripping tale in his espionage drama, Murder in the Monastery. The setting is undeniably thrilling and Chandra’s novel unfolds more like a chamber drama. However, it lacks a sense of urgency and immediacy that comes with it. The original story, so startlingly brave, never quite blends in with the narrative style adopted by Chandra. There is a perceptible sense of detachment in the way Barun narrates the tale. Presumably a narrative ploy, this could have worked in creating a sense of intrigue but it only ends up distancing the readers from Avinash Roy in a story that is essentially his and his alone. Chandra, to his credit, refrains from spoonfeeding the readers but this approach leaves several gaping holes in the narrative and subplots are not developed well.
Disclaimer: Much Thanks to HT Brunch for sending me a bunch of books of which The Queen of Jasmine Country and Less were a part, on behalf of winning the Brunch Book Challenge 2018. The 19′ challenge is out and go on Twitter to participate! Many thanks to Atlantic Books and Rupa Books for sending the books too. All opinions are my own.