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[personal profile] brainwane
I've been recommending this book to friends recently and realized I never posted my review of it here. It's a mimetic/realistic fiction novel set in modern-day Bangalore, with two main plot threads: a guy who wants to expand his business honestly but faces the impossibility of doing so without bribing creeps, and a servant in his house who walks multiple figurative tightropes to maintain some sliver of personal autonomy and keep her son from falling in with creeps.

I'd previously read Sankaran's short story collection The Red Carpet, which I also recommend. (I picked it up in the Manhattan public library when I was looking for Dorothy Sayers and saw Sankaran's book near Sayers alphabetically. Most English-language Indian fiction isn't about Bangalore, so this is an ultra-specific YES YES SO RIGHT YES. Sankaran hooked me a few pages in by using the Kannada/English slang "one-thaara" ("a kind/type of"), which I'd never seen written down before. The title story is so sweet! I see [personal profile] rydra_wong also liked it and [ profile] glitter_femme liked it too.)

I loved The Hope Factory -- what a specifically Bangalore story, getting the texture of class, gender, and location so right. (I wonder whether the flashback chapter about one protagonist's day laborer past would work as a standalone story; it sure has a Crowning Moment of Awesome that I will remember for a long time.) I honestly do not know whether I should recommend this book to non-Indians or even desis who are not Karnatakan or Kannadiga, whether it will sparkle quite as bright to people who have never been to that particular dosa restaurant, who don't think "wait I think I have relatives in that square mile of Mysore." But if you're looking for an English-language novel set in modern-day Bangalore, spanning rich and poor, family and business and politics, check this out.
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[personal profile] delfinnium
(recommended to link here by Deepad. First post, first review thing!)

Thanks to [personal profile] deepad, I'm currently reading the series Gameworld Trilogy by Samit Basu. (can be found here. It can be bought here!)

And it does start off a little slow, in the beginning, especially if you're like me, and have very little familarity with the Ramayan other than a very vauge understanding of 'something happens, Demons evil attack! Princess is involved, there is a vanar, Lord of monkeys and a damn good archer, involved somewhere, there is a lot of fire, and a chariot happens to be there somewhere', you might be a little thrown by all the terms there.

And it's GOOD!

I like that!

I mean there are some books (like the God of War series) that use terms so obscure and strange that it is hard to actually understand what is going on in the world unless you read it several times (and I'm not so sure I'm drawn into it), but this world is not like that!

I mean there are creatures whom you don't know what they are - vaman, pashan, vanar (though since I know passingly from School the ramayana, i know what vanar are), khuldran, and so on and so forth, and Samit doesn't explain, not at first.

But then as the story opens up, you start to realise what they are. Vaman are the equivalent of dwarves, vanar are monkeys/apes, pashan seem to be troll types, asur are... I'm not sure what they are, really, other than that no one likes them and they do all the dirty shitty jobs that no one wants.

( Yet longer incoherent flailing review here! )


You like POC cultures and fantasy? Sick of male dominated Generic White Medieval Fantasy?


Genre: SFF, fantasy, parody
Subject: parody, trope inversion, non-white fantasy
Author nationality/ethnicity: Indian
ext_48823: 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything (Default)
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1. Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
2. Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch by Dai Sijie (translated by Ina Rilke; white)
3. Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
4. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley
5. The Circle of Reason by Amitav Ghosh

Read more... )

tags: a: selvadurai shyam, a: dai sijie, w-t: rilke ina, a: swarup vikas, a: o'malley bryan lee, a: ghosh amitav, chinese, french, indian, canadian, sri lankan, novel, fiction, graphic novel, young adult, china, india, toronto, sri lanka, glbt, mysteryr
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In a voice mellifluous as a gentle shower of honey, without faltering, without throwing in filler words, very gracefully, the goose made a highly learned presentation. […] She also demonstrated her proficiency in poetry, dramaturgy, poetics, music, and erotic science.

The goose Sucimukhi was taught by Saraswati, Goddess of Learning and Speech, and given the title “Mother of Similes and Hyperbole.” In this gorgeous, witty, sensual fifteenth-century novel from south India, she helps resolve a war in Heaven by match-making between Pradyumna, Krishna’s son, and Prabhavati, the daughter of a demon king.

If you skim the genealogies at the very beginning, you don’t need to already have a background in Indian traditional tales and religion to appreciate this short novel, which can be enjoyed on many levels: as a love story told in luscious, Song of Solomon-like metaphors; as a love story punctuated by metafictional commentary and sly parodies of the overblown conventions of love stories; as myth; as a small taste of a literary culture that I suspect many of you haven’t encountered before. (I mean fifteenth century Telegu literature, not Indian literature in general.)

Unlike a lot of literature which was clearly hot at the time but not to modern readers’ erotic tastes… this is still hot. At least, I thought so. There are many more explicit passages, but I was particularly taken with this one, in which Prabhavati’s girlfriend helps her arrange her hair for her first meeting with her beloved, and breaks into spontaneous poetry:

If you let your hair down, you look beautiful.
When you let it hang halfway, you look beautiful, too.
If it gets tangled, you’re beautiful in a different way.
If you comb it down, even more so.
You can braid it, roll it into a bun, or better still
tie it into a knot on the side.
You’re beautiful with that hair every which way.

It’s long, black, and so thick
you can’t hold it in one hand.
No matter how you wear it,
you’ll trap your husband with your hair.

Translated and with extensive historical notes by Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman.

The Demon's Daughter: A Love Story from South India (S U N Y Series in Hindu Studies)
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The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson by Jo Ann Gibson Robinson.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It )

The Bandit Queen of India: An Indian Woman's Amazing Journey From Peasant to International Legend by Phoolan Devi with Marie-Therese Cuny and Paul Rambali.

The Bandit Queen of India )
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6, 7, & 8. Three poetry collections by Moniza Alvi: Carrying My Wife, A Bowl of Warm Air, and The Country At My Shoulder (all three collections are available together in an omnibus also called "Carrying My Wife"). I have to admit, out of about 150 poems, there were three that did anything for me. I mostly found the expression of content incomprehensible, possibly due to the author reaching for innovative imagery, and the aesthetics of form uninteresting, but she's a comparatively popular mainstream Establishment poet so my judgement is extremely questionable (and I haven't heard her read her own work live). There are two of the poems, which did speak to me, at my dw journal.

9. The Redbeck* Anthology of British South Asian Poetry, edited by Debjani Chatterjee, is a nearly 200 page collection with a wide variety of content and style, which I enjoyed. There are two example poems at my dw journal and a third example poem but, of course, three poems can't reflect the breadth (or depth) of this anthology.

* I keep misreading it as "Redneck". ::facepalm::

10. The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan didn't appeal to me visually as much as the previous Tan books I've perused but the gist, that it's more important to be happy than to fit in, is another good theme, especially for kids.

Note to tag wranglers: "british-asian" and/or "british-south-asian" is correct usage and, yes, some of the authors (and/or their subjects) are also caribbean / african / &c.

Tags: women writers, poetry, anthologies, asian, british-asian, pakistan, britain, british, caribbean, african, bangladesh, india, indian, indian-british, pakistani, bangladeshi, pakistani-british, bangladeshi-british, british-south-asian, asian-australian, australian, chinese-australian, picture books
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2. Sarita Mandanna, Tiger Hills

Devi is a beautiful, strong-willed young girl, growing up in Coorg, a rural, mountainous area of South India, in the late 1800s. She's in love with Machu, a warrior famous for having killed a tiger single-handedly. Devanna, Machu's younger cousin, is a quiet, intelligent boy, studying to be a doctor, who's in love with Devi. As you might expect, things don't turn out well.

This novel has some beautiful descriptions of scenery (apparently Coorg- spelled Kodagu today- is known as 'the Scotland of India'), but the plot is a bit over-the-top, with tragedy following tragedy. I enjoyed reading to pass the time on a long bus trip, but I'm not sure I can genuinely recommend it, unless you're looking for something to read that won't require a lot of thought.
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1. Bharati Mukherjee, Miss New India

Anjali Bose is a small town girl in rural India who has big dreams. Her teacher, an ex-pat American, encourages her to make something of herself by heading to Bangalore, which they both see as the best new city in India. Anjali eventually heads there, and ends up in more trouble than she anticipated.

The writing in this novel is quite good, very poetic, in the first few chapters, but gradually heads downhill and becomes very pedestrian by the end. The problem, I think, is that there is just way too much plot in this book. The main characters deal with rape, international terrorism, false charges of murder, police brutality, arranged marriage, teenage runaways, divorce, gay men in India, botched back-alley sex change operations, prostitution, art theft, suicide, the role of outsourcing in the Indian economy, riots, the art of photography, homelessness, telecommunication centers, and more. By about the fourth major plot twist, there's no time for poetry anymore, and even for much of a reaction from the characters, because there's just too much happening. I think it could have been a much better book if it had just focused on a few of these issues instead of all of them.

That said, many of the characters here are quite appealing, particularly Anjali. And it certainly seems to be a very current look at Indian society (I learned, for instance, that the cool new dessert is cold coffee with ice cream, which I promptly went out to try, and I can inform you that it is delicious). Overall a fun read, but not a particularly deep one.
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44: Swami and Friends by R. K. Narayan

Although it was his first novel, I'm not sure I would have chosen to begin my exploration of R. K. Narayan's work with Swami and Friends -- I was rather hoping to read his retelling of the Ramayana one of these days -- but I just happened to stumble on it in a charity shop, for the princely sum of €2. So I snapped it up, and I greatly enjoyed it. It is one of those books that one hesitates to call "a children's book" because although the protagonist is a child, there are lots of glimpses of the adult world and adult sensibilities peeking through the narrative, and it could be enjoyed as much by adults who can see the wider significance (or lack thereof) of Swami's little dramas as by children appreciating a story about their peers.

It put me in mind of the William books, which were staples of my childhood. Swami and Friends was first published in 1935, and Just William was published in 1922, so it's possible that Richmal Crompton was an influence on Narayan, though I wouldn't want to put money on it; quite likely anyone writing about young boys at that period would produce a story with a similar sort of atmosphere. Like the William books, Swami and Friends is very funny, but there's a more serious side that the William books lack; Swami is growing up in an India struggling for independence, and at one point he gets caught up in a patriotic demonstration that turns into a riot. Yet, Swami being only ten years old, this riot is no more important in his eyes than the fact that he has to miss cricket practice because of Scout drills after school. It's that shift in perspective to a child's-eye-view that makes Swami and Friends so charming and effective.

45: Emiko Superstar written by Mariko Tamaki with art by Steve Rolston
I loved Skim, which was written by Mariko Tamaki with her cousin Jillian Tamaki, so I had high hopes for Emiko Superstar. And it's good; not as good as Skim, but still clever and entertaining. Like Skim, the main character is a slightly geeky Japanese-Canadian teenage girl who longs for something more than her boring, mundane life. The "something more" comes in the form of the Freakshow, a local performance art night positively custom-designed to appeal to teenagers. Emiko is at first intrigued, then scared, then drawn in by the Freakshow; the wildness of it is seductive, even if it has its unsavoury side. Meanwhile, she's got herself a job babysitting for an outwardly-perfect suburban couple, but there's more going on with John and Susan than meets the eye.

Emiko Superstar is part of DC's ill-fated Minx line of short graphic novels aimed at teenage girls. I have mixed feelings about the Minx line; some of the titles were good, and they were all obviously well-intentioned, but they often came across as slightly thin and underdeveloped, as if they needed either twenty more pages or six extra months of rewrites and redraws to get up to snuff. None of the ones I've read were bad, exactly, they were just... flat. Uninspiring. Emiko Superstar is one of the better ones; it doesn't feel flat, and it doesn't feel uninspiring, but by comparison to Skim it's a bit wordier, a lot less subtle, and a great deal more predictable. Where Skim was the kind of work where every word and every line seems to bring with it a meaning behind the obvious meaning, Emiko Superstar pretty much all happens on the same level. It's a well-constructed, well-told story that doesn't have much in the way of depth or layers. Still, I did enjoy it.

(tags: a: tamaki mariko, w-i: rolston steve, a: narayan rk, india, graphic novel, young adult, children's books, japanese-canadian)
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14. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Mistress of Spices

A sort-of fantasy novel about Tilo, a 'Mistress of Spices'- immortal, mystical women, trained in magic and secret knowledge, sent out into the world to help people. Tilo is sent to Oakland, California, where she slowly becomes personally involved in the lives of the people around her, and begins to reveal her own backstory.

This novel is very hard to describe, because it doesn't have much of a plot for most of its length. Instead, it's full of beautiful, poetic descriptions of spices and food, magic, Oakland and imaginary places like the Island where Mistresses are trained. Some parts are very realistic; others involve rampaging pirate queens or singing sea serpents. It took me a while to get into this book, because the beginning is very slow, but by the end I was in love. The language is incredibly evocative, and the resolution felt just right. I really grew to like the characters, particularly Tilo, who shows herself to be much more of a flawed human than any mystical fairy.

Highly recommended.
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13. Pico Iyer, Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East

I love travel books, and this is a fantastic one. Iyer visits several Asian countries (including India, China, Tibet, Burma, the Philippines, Bali, Thailand, Hong Kong, and probably a few more I'm forgetting) with the goal of seeing how they've been affected by Western pop culture and tourism. Iyer is quite good at describing places, and seems to have really made the effort to get to know local people and include their viewpoints.

This book is a bit out-of-date now (it was written in the early 80s), but to me that just added to the appeal. This is a China and Tibet newly opened to Westerners, a Hong Kong which is still a colony, Burma before it was Myanmar. So many of the places he visits no longer exist- at least, not as they did at the time- that it makes for an intriguing historical snapshot.

Iyer uses the 'Modern, Masculine West meets Traditional, Feminine East! However Will They Understand One Another?' trope a bit too much for my tastes, but you could easily skim those parts and focus on the descriptions of places and people, which are quite well-written. Recommended, and I'd love recs for other travel books, if you have a favorite!
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (books)
[personal profile] zeborah
Swati returns with his wife's ashes to his childhood home, where (though British colonialism has made the title more or less meaningless) he and his ancestors were kings. There he learns of the existence of a cousin he never knew about, and more.

The book mingles his journey and memories and the mythology and history of the kingdom in a way that reminds me a little of Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits (though chronology isn't quite so... liquid here as in that book). Part 2 dragged a bit for me (partly the point of view change, partly that I wasn't interested in that setting) but it all came together in part 3.

(Warnings for possible triggers: skip) Contains descriptions of violence, including description of sexual violence.)
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I'm way behind on posting here and, for various reasons, all but one of the following books are currently not in my possession - so these are pretty short reviews.

4. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, Paper

The back made it sound wonderful: a scribe in central Asia searching for the perfect paper, while his town's location at a crossroads of travel and politics impacts upon his life. While it is about that, the execution is not as good as I'd hoped. A lot of time is given over to the Scribe's unhappy musings about his life and how he's just not capable of writing the perfect book. Events unfold sometimes slowly, sometimes offstage, with the overall effect of not particularly gripping me. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani's language is lovely in places and some of the characters are interesting, but I felt like the novel isn't quite as focused as it could have been: it muses, it tells, but it doesn't quite work. Certainly interesting, though, and I intend to re-read it sometime because I suspect there are layers to be found. Also there's a chronology of paper-related history at the back which is marvellous.

5. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo & Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio, eds. Why I Travel and other essays by fourteen women

Now this was a find! It's a collection of travel essays by Filipina, with a section focusing on local destinations and another on international ones. A small section at the back considers the how of travel in particular; one my favourite essays is here, concerning how a wheelchair-bound woman has discovered that she shouldn't feel too limited by her situation, and she tells all about her adventures in a Moroccan souk on donkey-back and other experiences around the world, where the help of a few people has resulted in her having a fantastic time. The essays sometimes describe the places visited, sometimes dwell on personal history in that places (especially in the local section), and are almost all engaging and interesting.

6. Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Sightseeing

A collection of short stories by a Thai author. This means, crucially, that you're getting stories about Thailand as a complex and real place, not the magical land of golden temples and hookers often described by farang writers. Rattawut is concerned with the regular Thai person, not particularly wealthy, often in a perpetual balancing act just above poverty. He writes about a young boy's relationship with a Cambodian refugee whose now-dead father put all their wealth in her gold teeth; he writes about a young man whose mother is on the verge of going blind; he writes about a teenaged girl whose poor father is losing his cockfights to a rich bully, and the various consequences this has on their family; he writes about a wealthy teenaged boy dodging the draft while his poorer friend cannot; and so on. In some stories, the plot itself is not particularly innovative. The entire emotional arc of the draft-dodging story was predictable, for instance. But the way Rattawut writes allows you to really get into his characters' heads and understand their various decisions, so they are not distant or simple stories, and the Thailand he writes about is a difficult, interesting, complicated place. Definitely recommended, especially for readers of realist fiction or those interested in Thailand/SE Asia as depicted by a local.

7. Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red

Oh, My Name is Red, I did want to adore you. Those long beautiful passages on the nature of art and miniaturism and history are, in my opinion, worth the price of admission alone. (Especially if you, uh, got it for cheaps at an Indian pavement book stall.) Yet the characters are almost all un-captivating and parts of the plot progress strangely. A character is tortured and, within pages of the torture ending, decides that the man who gave the order is going to be his new mentor and father figure, and Pamuk spends the rest of the book telling us that they have a deep and meaningful bond. We're told a lot about characterisation in this book. I enjoyed reading about historic Istanbul (and I can't imagine the city under snow!) and, as I said, his tangents were divine, and parts of the murder plot were pretty interesting. Overall, though, a bit of a flawed package.

8. Githa Hariharan, When Dreams Travel

A novel about storytelling and storytellers, especially female, typically powerless ones. Hariharan takes the myth of Shahrzad and begins after it ended, with her sister Dunyazad returning to Shahrzad's palace to help her husband construct her tomb. Echoes of the Taj Mahal in its vast splendour and the Sultan's obsession and the consequences. Dunyazad and a scheming maidservant with a peculiarly hairy mole meet and share stories, including many of a hair-covered woman who was eventually ostracised by her community -- revolving around the possibility that Shahrzad escaped and they can too, from the entrapments of the old 1001 Night story and the present concerns of their lives. When Dreams Travel is a curious, meandering book, beautifully written.
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11. Farahad Zama, The Marriage Bureau for Rich People

Mr. Ali, a recently-retired Muslim man living in a city in South India, finds he has too much time on his hands. So, what to do but open a marriage bureau? It's sort of like a dating service, but with an emphasis on caste instead of personality-matching quizzes (emphasis on looks and occupations are universal, though). Secondary characters include Mr. Ali's estranged son, Rehman, who is a human rights activist; Aruna, a poor Hindu girl he hires as a secretary who is secretly worried about her own marriage prospects; and, of course, Mrs. Ali.

This book is being marketed to fans of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series, and I have to agree that if you like them, you will almost certainly like this new book as well. They share a similar simplistic-but-charming writing style, a focus on traditional values, and evocative descriptions of the beauty in rural and natural scenes. Zama's book is a bit marred by a heavy reliance on "As You Know, Bob" language to convey information about Indian weddings and marriages to the reader, but hey, if you don't know much about that topic, it's certainly an easy way to learn.

A fun, breezy book, with a very predictable happy ending. However, it's clearly aiming itself at an audience who's only looking for light reading, and it achieves its goal of being pleasant read.
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10. Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games

If you ever wanted to know the Mumbai slang terms for 'motherfucker', 'ass-fucker' 'sister-fucker', or just plain old 'fucker', well, this is the book for you!

More seriously, this enormous novel is the story of two men: Sartaj Singh, a world-weary, slightly corrupt, recently divorced, low-level policeman; and Ganesh Gaitonde, the head of an organized crime syndicate, and probably one of the most powerful and wealthy men in India. The novel opens with Singh receiving a phone call from an unknown source, who tells him that Gaitonde is in Mumbai and gives an address. When Singh arrives, he finds a strange building, a sort of concrete bunker; a short conversation between the two men via intercom later, the police break down the door and inside find Gaitonde, dead by his own hand.

The rest of the novel follows two threads. The first is (mostly) Singh's, who is given the assignment to figure out why Gaitonde was in Mumbai and what he was doing in that building. This half of the novel is a crime thriller, particularly as it picks up speed near the end as consequences and meanings start to come clear and events take on an urgency (I admit, I didn't figure out the mystery at all, and once the truth comes out, it's genuinely scary and exciting). Despite that, other characters occasionally speak, ones usually related to the plot, but who fill out the world of the book. I found a chapter from Singh's mother, remembering her childhood during Partition, particularly moving. Partition and the violence then show up repeatedly throughout the novel as a recurring theme. The second half of the story is Gaitonde's; he speaks in first person, directly to Singh, though it's never clear if this is meant to be a ghost, the proverbial "life flashing before your eyes as you die", or what. He retells the story of his life, beginning as a child without a name or past, up through his struggles to get his first few followers, the growth of his mob, gang-wars with rival organizations, several stints in jail, advancing to become an international figure, his dabbles with Bollywood, his struggle with faith, and finally the explanation of how he ended up in a small building in Mumbai and why he killed himself. I liked the Gaitonde sections better than the Singh ones, if just because Gaitonde appealed to me more as a character; he has a incredibly engrossing voice and point of view. And his story is just more exciting, at least until the discoveries Singh makes at the end. The tone of the novel ranges from melodramatic gun shoot-outs or spy adventures to high-minded discussions of religion and the meaning of good and evil. There's lot of sex and violence, but just as many epiphanies and golden moments, and some seriously beautiful turns of phrase.

Highly, highly recommended, though be warned: this is seriously a massive tome of a book (my copy had nearly a thousand pages), so don't start it if you're on a deadline for something.
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9. Gita Mehta, Snakes and Ladders: Glimpses of Modern India

Snakes and Ladders is a book of short essays (very short; I'd guess the average was three pages) on the modern history of India, written to celebrate the country's fifty anniversary in 1997. If you don't know anything about modern India, I think this would be a great place to start. If you already are familiar with the topic, this is probably not really the book for you, although it is certainly written in a very engaging style.

My favorite essays were the ones that didn't deal with history or politics at all, but recounted personal moments from Mehta's own life: how her mother was out at a club at 3am, dancing the foxtrot and the tango, when she went into labor to have Gita; the effect on her parents' marriage of their involvement in the Freedom Movement; how she grew up with a love of reading, thanks to the booksellers of Calcutta.

Recommended as a lighthearted but educational read.
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8. Anne Cherian, A Good Indian Wife

Leila is a teacher in a small South Indian town, who's beginning to worry that she might be too old to find a husband. Suneel is a doctor in San Francisco with a white girlfriend and no interest in returning to India. However, when Suneel goes to visit his sick grandfather, family machinations arrange a marriage between the two almost before they know what's happened. Now Leila has to adjust to her new husband and life in America, while Suneel strives to change as little as possible (including continuing the relationship with the girlfriend) and plots ways out of the marriage.

This book is a bit of a fairy tale, but despite that, it was a fun, quick read. I never felt very sympathetic to Suneel (HE'S TOTALLY A JERK, COME ON, HE DIDN'T BREAK UP WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND), but Leila is a great, interesting character, and I really enjoyed spending time with her. The writing is very good, and I was okay with the predictable plot for the sake of the vivid descriptions of food, clothing, sight-seeing, and Leila's gradual adjustments.

Not a deep book, but an enjoyable one. Recommended.
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After reading Vandana Singh's story "Oblivion: A Journey" - aka the Ramayana IN SPAAAACE - in Clockwork Phoenix 1, I wanted her short story collection. It doesn't reprint that story, but offers ten others.

The stories range widely in genre, from "Conservation Laws", a story-within-a-story about a mission on Mars that took a strange turn, to the not-quite-everyday "Hunger" and "The Wife", to the wonderful "Three Tales from Sky River", a collection of far-future folklore of settlements on other worlds, and "Infinities", a story of advanced mathematics and real-world religious tensions.

"Delhi", one of my favourites is about a man who glimpses the past and future of Delhi, who sees a woman he's been given a picture of from a strange organisation that stops suicides by offering them an unusual reason to live in these pictures of individuals they must try to meet. He tries to find out whether he can interfere in the events and lives he glimpses - especially the mysterious woman's. Not all of it is resolved by the end. If only Singh would write a novel that starts with "Delhi" and keeps going!

The language is often beautiful, sometimes strange. I wish I had my copy with me so I could quote extensively; the only line I copied was: The apartment, with its plump sofas like sleeping walruses... (The second sentence of "Hunger".) Singh evokes her settings, usually India, such that they feel real, with all the attendant complexity, beauty and harshness, and so on.

Singh clearly loves India, loves writing about it and its people, while engaging critically with its expectations of women. In "The Woman Who Thought She Was A Planet", Kamala's husband, Ramnath, is concerned with the way her planetary state makes her act in public, almost more than he's concerned about her mental health. Towards the end, when events have turned quite fantastical, a judge taps Ramnath on the shoulder and tells him how reprehensible this is. It's probably more surreal than what Kamala is doing. In "The Tetrahedron", Maya develops a relationship with an interesting young man, based on discussion of the tetrahedron, and realises that she really doesn't want to follow the path already laid out for her: newly acquired fiance who doesn't especially like or understand her. In the appropriately titled "Thirst", Susheela is drawn to the water, away from her married life. The mysterious woman Urmila in "The Room on the Roof" is bitter that her friend Renuka, formerly a skilled sculptress, is now content to only inspire her husband; events later take a sinister turn. And so on.

Ian McDonald may fill his books with "exotic" detail, but Vandana Singh's India is the one I want to read about. Her work is intelligent, interesting and, above all, real - even when it's about a woman-naga or a mysteriously appearing alien shape.

This is one of the best books I've read recently. Highly recommended.
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5. The Mahabharata: a Modern Rendering by, um, it's complicated? Trditionally ascribed to Vyasa (who is also a character in the story itself), probably actually composed by multiple people at various points in time, this version translated and edited by Ramesh Menon.

The Mahabharata is one of the two major Indian epics (the other being the Ramayana), and I've been meaning to read it for ages. And I'm very happy that I've now done so! (Though I guess that means I need to read the Ramayana next.) I picked this translation off of a recommendation on this community, and though I can't compare it to any others, I did really enjoy it. It's quite long- two volumes of about 800 pages each- but it's a fantastic, compelling story, full of all kinds of awesome stuff: gods and secret identities and earth-destroying weapons and reincarnations and gender-switching and so much more!

To completely over-simplify the plot, there are two sets of cousins: the Pandavas, who consist of five brothers who are all the sons of gods, and the Kauravas, who consist of a hundred brothers who may be demons. The eldest son of each group wants to inherit the throne, and the machinations and secret assassination attempts and broken promises eventually lead to Kurukshetra and the Greatest War Ever, which causes the end of the age. My favorite characters were Amba, who holds such a grudge that she kills herself and is reincarnated as a warrior to kill her enemy; Draupadi, who marries all five of the Pandava brothers and is amazingly fierce; and Kunti, who is able to summon gods, and who uses this to sleep with them.

There's so many characters and sub-plots and side stories and so forth that it's hard to even describe the Mahabharata. But it's AWESOME, and I loved it.


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