Sci-fi Feminist retellings of the Ramayana : Manjula Padmanabhan’s Three Virgins and Other Stories

Manjula Padmanabhan’s Three Virgins and Other Stories (TVAOS), a collection of ten short stories, each one weirder – in a good way –  and bolder than the other.Reading this immensely diverse collection, I was struck by the author’s capacity to bring to life such a disparate range of images and narratives. From expat vampires in Delhi to a cyber-punk feminist retelling of the Ramayana, one thing that binds these distinct stories is Padmanabhan’s subversive slant. Each of the stories push the boundaries of ‘normal’ and question the rules of storytelling that we are so used to.

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Juliet Takes a Breath : The desperate Need for Intersectionality and Otherness

Gabby Rivera Juliet Takes a Breathe really blew me away. This book blew me away. In fact it hit me so hard that I had to take a reading break for two weeks and to fully process how beautiful this piece of writing is. Obviously, it has a bit of work to do, the ending felt a bit rushed to me but apart from that

This was a really personal, revealing and life affirming read for me. So much so in fact that I have been putting off writing about this for about three weeks because I wanted to get it right. I decided that the best way to tell about all the amazing things about this book was by breaking it down into ‘things I liked’ section.

So here goes, things I liked about this:

  1. Its good to shut-up the anti-diversity brigade

While the book is centred on Juliet, a lesbian who is also Latina, it does not fixate on this. I am neither gay nor Latina but I found myself fully relating to and enjoying Juliet’s journey. The preface especially broke my heart (in a really good way). For me, this book was also about a young woman figuring out her life and her politics. A book that everyone should read and appreciate.

So if you come across people who don’t see the value in diverse literature or feel that it ‘restricts their choice’, you need to give them a copy of this book.

  1. Feminism and Intersectionality

YES! This book perfectly explains why intersectionality is the key to life!!

It articulated very clearly something I have felt a long time about mainstream feminism but couldn’t put my finger on. The feeling you get when you are trying to reconcile the theory of feminism to your real life as a brown women in the western hemisphere. The feeling that you constantly contradicting yourself.

I have always had trouble figuring out whether I’m ‘doing it right’. If I am actually practicing and living a feminist life and not just ranting about it on this blog and elsewhere. Reading Juliet Takes a Breathe was like talking to friend who was going to through the same thing. It was reassuring. It is a really useful reminder that there is no such this as universal feminism. That the intersectionality of class, race, ethnicity, gender are not just side notes but important ways in which each of us experiences things

  1. Otherness

People that have read my blog before will notice that I am obsessed with the idea of Otherness. Of how as communities and individuals we draw illusionary circles around ourselves and call that Us and everyone outside it Them.

I was completely awestruck the first time I read Stuart Hall’s essay Culture, Identity and Diaspora. His statement that ‘Otherness is an internal compulsion’ is the most revealing but also conflicting thing I have ever come across. It showed me that systems of oppression – White hetero-patriarchy in the case of this book- are perpetuated at the level of thought and culture by recruiting the very people it oppresses to the do the dirty work for them. This was also extremely depressing. It made me realise that to break a system of oppression you are not only constantly struggling against that system but also yourself. When you think about it this way things become very bleak.

But I loved the way that Juliet’s narrative challenged this notion of Otherness. She is an active participant in her life and not a victim. This book is not a story about the struggles of a gay WOC but a story about a strong woman taking the reigns in her hand. Turning that internal feeling of otherness into something she can understand and using it to fuel her.

GO READ THIS BLOODY BOOK.

 

Book Review: The Bone Readers By Jacob Ross

The Bone Readers is the first book in Jacob Ross’ crime thriller trilogy, Ross’ first novel Pynter Binder was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Regional Prize (2009) and chosen as one of the British Authors Club’s top three Best First Novels.

I have recently been reading a lot of short stories and was glad for the chance to read this really engrossing read. The Bone Readers is set in the Caribbean and follows the protagonist Michael Digson AKA Digger as he reluctantly starts his fledgling career at St Andrews CID. Digger’s work takes him to the underbelly of the island and reveals the dark secrets even the most saintly people can hold.

I was fascinated by Ross’ ability to create characters with depth and diversity. I was rooting for our protagonist  and his rise from a school dropout to forensic expert. The entry of Miss Stanisklaus, a strong no-nonsense woman who can outperform the overly male dominated CID kick starts the action. Despite starting of a bit slow I was soon gripped by the central narrative and the chase to uncover a particularly tough missing person’s case on the island. While searching for Nathan, who has been missing for 3 years, Digger and Stanisklaus highlight how justice often has to overcome the obstacles of power and politics. Miss Stanisklaus’s talent for seeing in-between the lines allows her to make the biggest break in the case and sets in motion a chain of action that puts all their lives in danger.

While the book deals indirectly with some pretty heavy issues such (murder, sexual and emotional abuse) it does so in a respectful way. I like the way that the survivors are constructed as strong characters whose value in the narrative goes beyond labelling them as victims. Instead we are invited to think about the issues of repressed masculinity and religious fervour for ourselves.

All in all, this was a great read I can’t wait to see what the sequel has in store. Thank-you Peepal Tree Press  for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Diaspora and Poetry: Making yourself at home

Little Boy Blue was sent to me for free in exchange of an honest review. Thank you Jamal for the opportunity to read your work and also for reminding of the rebellion that is the Diaspora.


The word diaspora has its roots in the Greek words dia, meaning between, through or across and the speiro meaning to scatter or spread. In that sense a diaspora refers to a widely scattered population whose ‘origins’ lie in a smaller geographical location[1].

I have recently found that poetry is one of the best expressions of diasporic ‘identity’ that I have come across. I have begun to connect with diasporic poets, women and men who have no clue I exist but I still feel like somehow they are my soul-sisters and we could complete each other’s sentences if we ever met. And the Little Boy Blue is no exception, although in his interview the author, Jamal Mehmood, says he never intended his poetry to be ‘diasporic poetry’, it is the thing I picked up on! I really connected with his way of expressing the dual identities or side gaze[2] that I feel so much as someone whose home is split across two nations and multiple ethnicities.

I am obsessed with the ‘diasporic imagination’. I am obsessed with the talent that comes out of these international communities and truly believe that they are unique in their literature, art and music. For me, diasporic works of art are personal and as everything that is personal is political (#feminism -always the intersectional kind) so too is this collection of poetry. Little Boy Blue stands out in that it expresses identity differently to the mainstream drivel that lacks the language and insight to explain immigrant communities beyond the integration vs isolation paradigm (Cue David Cameron’s archaic English language classes). It is an individual act of rebellion that demands us to see identities as a third space[3], as something that is new altogether and will not be defined by the old/new or backward/forward binary of nationhood and ethnicity. Two pieces in particular brought this home to me:

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I was also pleasantly surprised at the way in which the poetry was both tender, powerful and political at the same time. This fierce tenderness is something I associate it with women poets (Rupi Kaur, Pavana, Nayyirah Waheed) and am used to men writing about other women (or daffodils a la William Wordsworth), but Jamal has taught me to not judge a book by its cover. Here is a snippet of ‘A Letter to Future Sons’ which I thought was so powerful:

‘A Letter to Future Sons’

weep, young man, weep

like your life depended on it

 

Jesus Wept

Muhammad wept

you are no messenger of God

so weep until until the walls come falling down

boy, you have a soul beneath your skin

so weep and water the ground

where your fathers are buried

for not producing enough tears

but still producing you

Jamal Mehmood


I highly recommend this debut collection, you can buy it here and check out the full collection for yourself!

[1] This definition is lazily drawn from Wikipedia, although I think that this obsession with geography can be challenged it was the most succinct one! So don’t be angry… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora

[2] The side gaze is an interesting concept that explains the ability to have and view things from dual or multiple identities (Sujata Moorti, Desperately seeking an identity: Diasporic cinema and the articulation of transnational kinship,2003)

transnational kinship

[3]Homi Bhabha refers to the ‘third space’ that is not backward or forward, old or new but “ innovative site of collaboration and contestation.”(Location of Culture 1994)

#WriteYourResistance: Plans for My Upcoming Anti-Trump Blog Feature

This very apt photo is from : Zamirbhimji

So I have to own up and say that I have been hiding from the news and Trump’s daily debacles. I have retreated into my mind, into books or into Netflix to avoid what is happening in the world right now because I feel like IS THIS SHIT FOR REAL?

Sadly, it is. I feel like we are heading for a train wreck that everyone can see but can’t stop. Reading this article that tells us what happens when a narcissist gets into power sent chills down my spine.

But I have been heartened by the activism and energy of the literary and book blogging community, from #WriteYourResistance to Malory Blackman refusing to set foot in the US till the ban is in action and indie publishing houses taking a stance[1]. So I’ve decided to come out of my hiding place and fight the Trump non-sense and maintain my sanity by doing what I do best; READING!

My plan is to read books from the countries that Trump has ‘banned’ and review them on my blog. Book Riot started me off with their list of recommendations I hope to do some research and add to this. But it’s pretty hard to reach these literary cultures sitting from my room in London so please add your recommendations in the comments section below or on your own blog and let me know!

 

 


[1] The publishing house Comma Press has announced it will only translate authors from Trump’s banned list

 

‘To all the misfits who dare to tilt worlds’ – Irenosen Okojie’s Speak Gigantular

It really is true what they say about the universe: you ask and it delivers. Just when I was thinking I needed to find more BAME/ethnic minority (I hate both these terms but am forced to use them) writers from the UK, specifically from London, Irenosen Okojie’s Speak Gigantular landed in my lap.

I don’t know why Amazon categorises this book as ‘erotica’, yes there was like ONE story about a foot fetish, but Speak Gigantular has many more layers. While I can immediately draw parallels to the work of Isabel Allende, Helen Oyeyemi and Angela Carter, it is SO much more. It is a weird and wacky collection of short stories with elements of magic realism, feminism, erotica overlaid with a big chunk of horror. Okojie has managed wildly diverse but well developed characters ranging from vigilante chickens, serial killing women and ghosts that haunt the Victoria line.

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Translated Lit in the Shadows

Over the last few weeks I have gone into hibernation, I just want to be warm and sleep for days on end. So I’ve been feeling like I’ve been slacking a bit, and not just in terms of the blog… My reading lists for this month (or year) didn’t get completed because I suddenly got really busy doing other life things and neglected reading. I  also got Netflix so that didn’t help much. It also looks like I wont be finishing my goodreads reading challenge for the year.

On the bright side though…maybe its quality over quantity?! This year, I have read more widely than before and took my passion for literature and its power for representation more seriously (et voila this blog!). I have also recently started a book club with a few like-minded friends scattered around the globe. I’m really excited about it and the possibility of reading more widely and getting  to know everyone’s taste in literature.

The first book of our book club is ‘One Hundred Shadows’, another Tilted Axis publication, a Korean translation written by Hwang Jungeun and translated by Jung Yewon.

OHS is about of Eungyo and Mujae and their growing relationship, the changing landscape of urban cosmopolitan cities and specifically the electronics park that they both work in. Although it is a very short book, it took me a while to read because of the slow and slightly confusing narrative. The book only starts getting interesting halfway through when you realise that the author has merged the urban, technological and modern city with supernatural folklore. It paints a unique picture of the city that is both surrounded by modern technology and also supernatural forces that threaten to lead your mind and body astray.

This book explores both socio-economic struggles of the modern city; such as poverty and loneliness but also philosophical issues through the metaphor of the ‘shadow’. Here, shadows are dangerous malignant forces that can detach themselves for your body. Everybody in in the OHS world is wary of their shadow ‘rising’ away from their body and leading them astray, almost to the point that it strips you of who you really are. Instead of being inanimate products of light, reflection and darkness, shadows are the very essence of you… it makes you think what is my shadow? What is the one thing that if taken away from me would strip me of my life but leave me alive?

As I mentioned this was a slow read for me, I didn’t feel fully drawn in and wanted the characters to be developed a bit more. However, I wonder if that’s because it is a piece of translation and because I don’t speak/read Korean I missed out on a lot of the cultural knowledge required to appreciate this work fully. For me language is more than the written word but a set of cultural and historical codes. Even Yewon, who translated this, said in an interview that she “was almost sad that I couldn’t just have people learn Korean and read this book in the original”[1]. Do you guys read translated works of fiction? How do you feel about it?


[1] http://www.thelondonmagazine.org/interview-yewon-jung/

http://www.tiltedaxispress.com/books/#/one-hundred-shadows/