Book Review: The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

“I was still the same girl who dreamed of a destiny greater than she was allowed.”

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi is a spirited novel full of bright ethnicities and vibrant landscapes as it peeks into the life of Lakshmi Shastri, a newborn henna artist in the post-colonial city of Jaipur. The story goes on to oracle that much like Lakshmi’s intricate henna strokes, her life too, is a striking mandala of complexities in a palace full of blitz and hidden truths.

“Do you have any more questions?”

“Only the ones neither of us can answer.”

Lakshmi Shastri runs away from the barbs of an orthodox, traditional society into a world where she has a freedom of her own. She becomes a popular henna artist among the colourful streets of Jaipur, serving women of royalty. But calling her just a henna artist is undermining her value. She is also known to provide herbs and teas that can change a woman’s fate and can give her power over her prudence. But that’s not all the secrets she holds though. She discovers the secrets of the rich and the royals, secrets that can destroy their reputations in the Pink City of Jaipur; and can maybe, destroy her own too.

“My patterns were more intricate; they told stories of the women I served.”

Living in the divinity of her independence, she speed bumps over various truths about her long lost family, who had given her away into a life of an abusive marriage; a life that she had run away from, a life she propelled to leave behind. And just when her freedom had taught her enough about the world, destiny puts her to test her love.

“I had lived with Hari for only two years, but he had lived in my mind for half of my life.”

This novel carries many beginnings and ends in it’s repertoire and thus, it leaves us spinning into a thread full of ambient mysteries, leaving us unsettled, until the chaos is finally unweaned by a string of striking revelations.

Overall, a lovely read.

Quotes:

1. The darker the henna, the more a woman was loved by her husband.

2. Only a fool lives in water and remains an enemy of the crocodile.

3. But these were flaws for a husband to discover, not for me to reveal.

4. Stretch your legs only as far as your bed.

5. Freedom is relative.

6. She expected from me what wasn’t mine to give.

7. He knew the rules: we only revealed what the other needed to know.

8. Without parents to quash her dreams of romance, her imagination had allowed her to turn fiction into fact.

9. I believe you would agree that a family’s dirty laundry is best cleaned by its own.

10. She had been my personal monsoon.

11. In the pupils of his eyes, I saw what he saw: a sapling of a woman.

12. She knew no better because no one had taught her any better.

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Genre: Fiction, Romance, Suspense

“The lagoon smelled of life and death at once, an organic jumbling of promise and decay.”

Delia Owens’ first novel, Where the Crawdads Sing, is full of pulsating sunsets; each sunset, a different story, each twilight, a divergent euphoria.

“She never collected lightning bugs in bottles, you learn a lot more about something when its not in a jar.”

If you are a person who finds his or her release in a book full of doleful melancholy, this feel-good novel is not for you. This novel, however, explores certain facets of loneliness but a reader will never find himself or herself alone. This novel is all about the calmness of a ripple in the sea and about the dewy grass under a quilt of thick mist. It is these little feel-good things that we take for granted, that actually make us happy; and luckily, this novel is all about them.

“And somewhere within, she worried she was also a piece of beach art, a curiosity to be turned over in his hands, then tossed back on the sand.”

Kya or the Marsh Girl, as she is commonly known in Barkley Cove, becomes a suspect for a murder. Kya, whose soul could only find closure with the marsh waters and the seagulls, and whose only family was Jumpin’ and Mabel, folks from the Coloured Town (its 1960s), is arrested and trialled for the murder of Chase Andrews, a popular quarterback in town who was secretly in love with her. How did Kya end up in this spiral of love is what Where the Crawdads Sing is all about.

“Leaning on someone leaves you on the ground.”

In the middle of this chaos, there is Tate, the only guy who taught Kya what it means to trust someone other than the sea. There is poetry, there is philosophy and there is innocence.

“Faces change with life’s toll, but eyes remain a window to what was.”

This novel has a music of its own and it ends up tuning into your soul and leaving you mesmerised by the rhythm of your own heartbeat. A must read!

Quotes:

1. But whenever she stumbled, it was the land that caught her.

2. Go as far as you can- way out yonder where the crawdads sing.

3. His dad told him many times that the definition of a real man is one who cries without shame, reads poetry with his heart, feels opera in his soul, and does what’s necessary to defend a woman.

4. Barkley Cove served its religion hard-boiled and deep-fried.

5. Sand keeps secrets better than mud.

6. There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.

7. Time ensures children never know their parents young.

8. Needing people ended in hurt.

9. Touching someone meant giving a part of herself away, a piece she never got back.

10. She hung like the sail where the wind just went out.

11. Why should the injured, the still bleeding, bear the onus of forgiveness?

12. It seemed to Kya that when Chase played these melancholy tunes was when he most had a soul.

13. Perhaps love is best left as a fallow field.

14. The next tide, the next current would design another sandbar, and another, but never this one. Not the one who caught her.

15. In another time and place, an old black man and a young white woman might have hugged. But not there, not then.

16. I guess some things can’t be explained, only forgiven or not.

17. She held it against her heart. Where else would one need a compass more than in this place?

18. Many times she’d seen marsh waters swallow yesterday’s story.

19. A lesser male needs to shout to be noticed.

Book Review: The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Genre: Fiction, Romance, Bildungsroman

“It was as if he had suddenly been made to see that the Incredible Hulk was really just green paint.”

Adichie can even make jargon sound urgent and important, so imagine what an already urgently set agenda novel would sound like; more like scream like. 

“The Tanzanian told her that all fiction was therapy, some sort of therapy, no matter what anybody said.”

The Thing Around Your Neck is one those books that makes you feel maudlin for all the people you never knew existed, who struggled with such condor, that it makes you let out a silent prayer; not just for other people out there but also for yourself, to have the same everlasting courage that radiates off most Africans, in surviving through this black hole of an endless struggle we call life. 

“Is it a good life, Daddy?” 

“It is not good or bad,” I tell her, “it is simply mine.”

I wouldn’t have believed someone if they had told me that twelve short stories were enough to rip my world of leisure and comfort apart; that my world of leisure and comfort is just a dream that looks too real, a dream that will be broken once I wake up into the dawn of real life battles. It takes just twelve stories to believe that the world is unapologetic to all the independent women, who are powerful today as a result of fighting through sexual abuse and commodification, to all the people who have died while striving to challenge the heathen society’s misleadings (their graves still flowerless) and to all the men who live everyday with the knowledge that they could soon be murdered and yet continue to voice out the falsities set up by a histrionic government. It takes just twelve stories to realise that the world is not just full of glamorous people, but of those people who hold dignity of their myriad journey of struggles and who hold sovereignty of their strong opinions; people who are truly glamorous with freedom of expression and compassion. 

“It was as if he was performing his life instead of living his life.”

The Thing Around Your Neck chokes you enough to make you realise about life’s worth.

A handful of my favourite quotes:

  1. The British had a way of using words like “expedition” and “pacification” for killing and stealing.
  2. It is one of the things she has come to love about America, the abundance of unreasonable hope.
  3. It is what America does to you, she thinks. It forces egalitarianism on you.
  4. Perhaps he was mourning a time immersed in possibilities.
  5. It is our diffidence about afterlife that leads us to religion.
  6. “You speak such good English,” he said, and it annoyed her, his surprise, his assumption that English was somehow his personal property.
  7. Ujunwa thought she might like her, but only the way she liked alcohol – in small amounts.
  8. White people who liked Africa too much and those who liked Africa too little were the same – condescending.
  9. You can’t use human reasoning for God.
  10. Everybody has a crisis of faith. It’s normal.
  11. How can you love somebody and yet want to manage the amount of happiness that person is allowed?
  12. How can a person claim to love you and yet want you to do things that suit only them?
  13. I read a book that says that we don’t fall in love, we climb up to love.
  14. People ruled over others not because they were better but because they had better guns.
  15. It would cause her to make a clear link between education and dignity; between the hard, obvious things that are printed in books and the soft, subtle things that lodge themselves into the soul.

Book Review: Milk Teeth by Amrita Mahale

Genre: Literary Fiction, Romance

“She had tried to replace him with others, but they had only doodled, left mere doggerel on the warped pages of her heart.”

Milk Teeth by Amrita Mahale is a playlist that celebrates the songs and rhythm of the city; not just of Mumbai, but of Bombay. Reading this book is like having a 3AM conversation with the streets of the city – conversations that are raw, surreal, uncaged and free of the consciential laws of right and wrong. Milk Teeth has the audacity of revealing the secrets of the city by celebrating the honest eccentricity of its life and the diverse realities that it has given its loyal inhabitants in the most fun and comical way.

“The seesaw of their friendship had seed-and-sawed plenty, never getting a shot at the equilibrium that adulthood sometimes brings to childhood friendships.”

Ira Kamat is a journalist and a beat reporter unveiling the soul of the city. She believes that in discovering the heart of the city, she might as well discover the essence of her own heart. Kartik Kini has a corporate job and works with an MNC. He believes that in the rustic identity of the city, he might one day find his own.

This is not a love story, this is a story of two lovers whose hearts beat for a city they call home; a home of the broken-hearted, a home of the outcasted, a home of the rebellious lovers, a home of the prodigals, a home of the piteous orthodox, a home of the new-age liberals, a home of the self-fashioned warriors, a home of the zealous dreamers, a home that belongs to all (but whose people only warmly welcome a few.)

“There was a clarity, a certainty of purpose behind everything she said and did; it could only come from knowing your place in the world.”

One of the best parts of this novel, is its ending- it is not a normal cliffhanger, but it gives the reader the liberty to construct the fate of the novel by themselves, just the way how they construct the fate of their lives around this city. It makes you fall in love with Mumbai over and over again. And for those who remember it as Bombay, it makes you reminisce the city that taught you how to love- with its lit up Queen’s Necklace and its intolerant bustling locals, with its familiar faces at the Iranian Cafes and its memories embracing the Worli Sea Face

I must say, at the end of this spirited novel, I found myself even closer to my city.

A handful of my favourite quotes:

  1. This incident was going to become a fold in the dull pages of their days; no matter how one flipped through the volume, one would land on this dog-eared episode.
  2. A divergence of interests and concerns was inevitable, it was believed, and when that happened, what else but romance could hold them together?
  3. You could put all the French or Italian you wanted in their names, but you couldn’t take Mumbai out of the buildings: the clothes drying outside the windows would remain, and so would the mud streaks from flowerpots on windowsills.
  4. Shobha Kamat was a petite woman who appeared apologetic about even the little space she occupied.
  5. He was the perfect match. On paper, that is.
  6. It was this lightness of pocket that gave her more leads than any lightness of conscience.
  7. There was plenty of anger on offer in Mumbai and it was easy to look away. But every once in a while, someone with imagination crafted their fury like origami into something delightful.
  8. New money shouts, old money whispers.
  9. Try as hard as you may, the first coat of paint shows.
  10. Just because you know something’s going to happen doesn’t mean you look forward to it.
  11. The third cup of coffee was a special weapon in her arsenal, like the brahmastra from the epics, to be welded occasionally and against the most insidious of enemies, one’s own demons.
  12. The details of his face remained hazy but the idea of him had taken root.
  13. If he touched her then, it would flood her being with all the colour there was and the world would turn black-and-white and fade into nothingness.
  14. They were curled up like two commas placed together, a typo in the story of their universe.
  15. Bombay has seen centuries of plurality and only a few years of bigotry.
  16. The communal violence that started after the Babri Masjid fell came to an end after the blasts, but the spell of peace that followed felt like hate was only shedding its milk teeth.
  17. History had become a wholesale shop for excuses-thats why you need a statute of limitations.
  18. Beauty is nothing but a promise of happiness.
  19. But how much; how much of the city can one rightly claim, in exchange for sweat, for blood, for life itself?
  20. Passion was temporary, she repeated to herself, like ink over the skin, like the memory of a dream.
  21. Doesn’t looking at the sky make you think that we are all equal in the eyes of the universe?
  22. To love was to protect, even from yourself, and yet, she had crushed him.
  23. You needed two things to succeed in this city, Kartik had heard, dress and address.
  24. Her expressions changed rapidly as if she were browsing through a catalogue to find a look she liked.
  25. Like archaeologists, we are delicately brushing off dust in order to excavate what remains of our friendship.