Book Review: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Friendship

“She gave me nothing less than my entire world.”

Elizabeth Gilbert is a prose doyenne. Her novel City of Girls is an ode to relationships that the world miracles you into.

“To be honest, I didn’t understand what I was doing at college, aside from fulfilling a destiny whose purpose nobody had bothered explaining to me.”

Vivian Morris decides to spend the summer of 1940 in the limitlessness of the New York City with her Aunt Peg who runs a theatre called the Lily Playhouse. The Playhouse is a theatrical troupe full of life that makes Vivian come to life herself. She strikes an irrevocable friendship with Celia Ray, a spectacular showgirl, that twirls Vivian’s life into a glamorous vaudevillian show. Soon her life is overtaken by veracity and every shot of spiteful tequila gives her life a different high. With every glass of sparkling champagne comes a celebration of every flaw and a glassy hangover of indulging in more wrongs. What comes next when the city is taken over by girls like Celia and Vivian is only for the readers to find out.

“Youth is an irreplaceable treasure, and the only respectable thing to do with irreplaceable treasure is to waste it.”

There comes a day when life chooses to deprive you of whatever you take from it, and Vivian is forced to pay the price of her reserve. Whether she gains the city’s trust or loses it all is what only time can tell; and whether time heals or creates an illusion of normalcy is what Vivian is soon to find out. The city can either reborn Vivian’s quintessence or can give her spirits a euthanasia from all.

“It was more important for me to feel free than safe.”

The City of Girls holds captive of all the unwarranted feelings you might have had when you were an ingenue. It is a zephyr of all the expressions you would want to thunder on the world after you finally set your music free. It makes you want to spend your evenings with a glass of wine and with a hopeless dream of being a young soul in the heart of the New York City in the 1940s.

Quotes:

1. She was a keen horsewoman, and given that I was neither a horse nor fascinated by horses, we’d never had much to talk about.

2. Anyway, I arrived in New York City safely – a girl so freshly hatched that there was practically yolk in my hair.

3. Celia never met a mirror she didn’t love.

4. The two of us went digging for trouble with a shovel and a pickax that summer, and we never had the slightest trouble finding it.

5. Because I am not a child, I told myself – the way children always do.

6. A costume is a landscape, not a portrait.

7. It was a decision that left nobody happy – which is what my father might have called a successful business negotiation.

8. Yet she was a woman who bravely played the game of life anyhow – and allowed the game of life to somewhat play her.

9. Because I was an idiotic child, Angela, and at that age, I would have followed a stop sign.

10. My actions had failed me so I stopped taking action.

11. I believed that I was a good person, if not a good girl.

12. But maybe that’s where love grows best – in the deep space that exists between polarities.

13. She’s more church than Church itself.

14. The world just happens to you sometimes.

15. There’s a level at which everyone’s grief is exactly the same.

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: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Genre: Historical Fiction, Love, Coming of Age, Loss, Political Fiction

Ogbenyealu is a common name for girls and you know what it means? “Not to Be Married by a Poor Man.” To stamp that on a child at birth is capitalism at its best.’Adichie

Adichie is one of the greatest revolutionary writers who possesses the ardour of a person who holds reverence for the soil that has shaped them. The constructs of her novels, make us bleed for more stories from her cultural skies. Half of a Yellow Sun is a eulogy of a novel for the wings of the resigned freedom of Biafra, that sweeps you with an admiration for the history of Africa; the history that doesn’t dwell on struggles but instead, flights on courage.

“He would be Biafran in a way he could never have been Nigerian.”

Half of a Yellow Sun pays homage to the Biafran war (1967 to 1970) and it’s staggering consequences. No information on Wikipedia can do justice in deciphering the true reality that was suffered by the Biafrans, but this novel gesticulates its every detail and reflects all of its truths. Its frankness awes me and grips me to an extent that makes me angry about where the humanity of the rest of the world was lost when Biafra was suffering. Right from the plight of the untrained soldiers who raped young girls as a sign of manhood, to the deadly kwashiorkor disease that gripped the lives of children who were the only innocent facets of the entire war, Half of a Yellow Sun shares respect for the calms and the storms of the Biafran War. 

“Grief was the celebration of love, those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved.”

Like every other novel written by Adichie, this novel too, shares an endless metamorphosis of love – between Olanna and Odenigbo, a love that turns to family and then into implausible faith, between Olanna and her twin sister Kainene, a hate that turns to love and sisterhood due to the concerns of the war, between Richard and Kainene, a gatecrashing love that is left incomplete right when it was perfected and between Ugwu and Eberechi, a love that transcends the war and finds its end in it too. These relationships are put to test and the war pliantly breaks down every little emotion the people have ever held, until all that has been left later, is just the melancholy blues.

“..perhaps that shade of blue was also the colour of hope.”

As a Gen Y, I have only had first hand witnesses of riots, strikes and snippets of communal violences. But after reading this novel, I have now witnessed war; the one that is not just fought for the country but also, for the five million souls and more that died as a culmination of the war.

Master should have lowered his voice; he should know very well that a beggar did not shout.”

Almost all the wars that have been fought, have been fought for peace (I mean, was history always so ironic?) You turn towards violence to get answers for your qualm towards peace. Honestly, what exactly is peace? Is peace the quiet swoops of winds over the dead bodies during an air raid, whose families, after not being able to recognise the shelled and disheveled bodies, would bury empty coffins, as a funeral not for someone who died for the country, but for someone who was murdered for the consequences of his country? Or is peace the haunting silence of the bombed people with charred faces? 

But perhaps it is the whole point of being alive? That life is a state of death denial?”

For now, I think that peace is the sunshine on the orange trees of Nsukka, on the day the half of a yellow sun ceased to exist, and Biafra was erased for the sake and the victory of the leftover humanity. 

‘NO TELEPHONE TO HEAVEN’

Quotes:

  1. She had already told him he spent too much time around women cooking, and he might never grow a beard if he kept doing that.
  2. But she feared that this was because theirs was a relationship consumed in sips.
  3. Greatness depends on where you are coming from.
  4. ‘Have you ever been to the market in Balogun?’ She asked. ‘They display slabs of meat on tables, and you are supposed to grope and feel and the decide which you want. My sister and I are the meat. We are here so that suitable bachelors can make the kill.’
  5. She’s trying to make her way in a new world with skills that are better suited for the old one.
  6. This was love: a string of coincidences the gathered significance and became miracles.
  7. And it is wrong of you to think that love leaves room for nothing else. It’s possible to love something and still condescend it.
  8. They had not planned to have him and, because of that, they had raised him as an afterthought.
  9. Of course, we all hate somebody, but it’s about control. Civilisation teaches you control.
  10. They may have collected the firewood, but we lit the match.
  11. A basis for unity does not exist.
  12. She wanted to ask him why they were all strangers who shared the last name.
  13. Does inequality have to mean indignity?
  14. I think love comes first and then reasons follow.
  15. Starvation was a Nigerian weapon of war.
  16. He writes about the world that remained silent while Biafrans died. He argues that Britain inspired this silence.
  17. He had read somewhere that, for true writers, nothing was more important than their art, not even love.
  18. Death is the price of our liberty.
  19. I was told that Biafrans fought like heroes, but now I know that heroes fight like Biafrans.
  20. Richard had told them that a country born from the ashes of injustice would limit its practise of injustice.
  21. There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable.
  22. Richard would write about this , the rule of Western Journalism: One hundred dead black people equal one dead white person.
  23. The more he wrote, the less he dreamed.
  24. His life would always be like a candlelit room; he would see things only in shadow, only in half glimpses.
  25. How much did one know of the true feelings of those who did not have a voice?

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.