Book club, Book review

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Statistics

The Handmaid's Tale.jpg

Format: eBook (Kindle) 

Length: 352 pages

Genre: Dystopian, Fiction, Feminism, Science Fiction, Classic

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Date of Publication: 17th February, 1986

Rating: 5/5 stars


I am a part of a book club where we read women-centric books every month or books by women authors. The book this month was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I had been wanting to read this book for a long time and was overjoyed by the choice.


The Blurb

Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men of its population.

The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

The Book

The book reads like a memoir of a Handmaid in the dystopian world of the Republic of Gilead which was earlier the United States of America. The protagonist has no name of her own and is only called Offred after the commander who is in possession of her. When she is moved to the house of another male, her name will change to take on his name. Like Offred notes in the latter half, this is a very effective way of erasing the identity of a woman since no one will know or remember her real name.

The book gives a sense that the events happened suddenly and without warning. The Handmaid is among the first generation of women who are subjected to the new rule. At the beginning of the book, I wondered how it was so easy to manipulate the entire population of a country to accept something as crazy as this new monotheocratic government. As I read more of the book, I realised that this is exactly what happened during Hitler’s governance and what is currently happening in North Korea and some of the Islamic countries. It does not take a century to turn the entire history of a country around. It only takes a person with extreme views and fanatics who follow.

The reading of the book was a very traumatic experience for me because I kept comparing the old life of Offred to my own life. I kept wondering what I would do if such a thing was to happen to me. Would I make the same choices? It was very scary to think that a country that was as focused on individuality as the United States was so easily turned around. What hope do the other more conservative country have?

What was great about the book was how much the author borrowed from the real experiences of citizen escaping from tyranny. The threatening of their loved ones, the physical abuse of those suspected of breaking the law, the absence of freedom of speech, the confiscation of property and identity were scarily accurate. I was moved to tears in a number of places and was paranoid about the news that I was seeing on television for quite a while after I finished this book. This was my first Margaret Atwood book and I now understand why she won so many awards for her writing.

The Author

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College. She currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid’s Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood’s dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth ­ in the Massey series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood’s work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.

Margaret Atwood was President of the Writers’ Union of Canada from May 1981 to May 1982, and was President of International P.E.N., Canadian Centre (English Speaking) from 1984-1986. She and Graeme Gibson are the Joint Honourary Presidents of the Rare Bird Society within BirdLife International. Ms. Atwood is also a current Vice-President of PEN International.


TL;DR: A moving tale that makes the reader wonder how easily it could be their own story and keeps them wondering if they would make the same choices


Do you like dystopian settings?

What is your favourite novel in this genre?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

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Book club, Book review, Readathon

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Statistics

Format: Paperback

Length: 430 pages

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historic Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Del Ray

Date of Publication: 5th October, 2017

Rating: 5/5 stars


I received this book as a part of the January 2018 Aurora Box of Dreams. I had in fact, requested this book in place of their BOTM but as happens with the best laid plans, I just didn’t seem to be able to begin reading this book for nearly a year. With the end of 2018 fast approaching, I had a few book blog goals to complete. One of them was to read books that were on my shelf for too long. First of such books was All the Bright Places which I received as a birthday present from my Bookstagram buddies and next was The Bear and the Nightingale.

Even with this goal in mind, I did not seem to find the inclination to start reading the book. I knew it received good reviews, I was sure that I would love it but I just did not seem to begin. Finally I saw that ecstatic yet chaotic had a readathon planned for this book and the next book in the series and I took it as an opportunity to begin reading. We also plan to read the next book in the series, The Girl in the Tower in time for the release of the last book of the trilogy, The Winter of the Witch.

The book is the first in the Winternight trilogy and has won several accolades like Locus Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2018)Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy & for Debut Goodreads Author (2017)HWA Debut Crown Nominee for Longlist (2017)


The Blurb

“‘Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.’ 

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods… “

The Book

The book begins with the description of little Vasya and her rebellious excursions to the forest. I didn’t like the heroine much in the beginning but she grew on me as the story progressed. The book is fast paced with plenty of fantasy creatures that delight the reader. The influence from Russia for the landscape, the names, and the culture was very intriguing. The monsters and the demons were quite different from what we usually find and I found some of them particularly cute.

I was very glad that the author included both strong and open-minded men as well as weak, power-hungry, and superstitious ones in the story. I was even more glad to see strong female characters for  the little girl to draw inspiration from. What I really loved though, was the world building. It made everything come alive, especially the Winter King and his treasure. I was also intrigued about the subtle message to the reader regarding the importance of tradition and the call to not discard the old ways in favour of the new but to integrate them both together.

The Author

Born in Texas, Katherine studied French and Russian at Middlebury College. She has lived abroad in France and in Moscow, among other places. She has also lived in Hawaii, where she wrote much of The Bear and the Nightingale. She currently lives in Vermont.

Her work include:

  1. The Bear and the Nightingale (2017)
  2. The Girl in the Tower (2017)
  3. The Winter of the Witch (2019)

TL;DR: A fast paced book with plenty of fantasy creatures that delight and a world building that makes everything come alive.


Have you completed your reading goals for 2018?

What were they?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @thefoodandbooklife

Book club, Book review

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Statistics

Format: eBook (Kindle) PicsArt_08-18-03.09.33-min

Length: 378 pages

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fiction, Mental Health

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Date of Publication: 6th January, 2015

Rating: 5/5 stars


All the Bright Places was one of the BOTM for the Book Club. I love reading for bookclubs and readlongs because it is an almost sure thing that the books are going to be great. WE also find a lot of different interpretations of a story which makes for interesting discussions.

The book is apparently also being adapted into a movie which will be interesting. I am always on the look out for more books that deal with mental health because it cannot be talked about enough so I was very excited about reading it.


The Blurb

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
 
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
 
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The Book

On the surface, All the Bright Places is a tried and tested story. A troubled boy and a sweet girl with a tragic past are brought together for a project and each one helps the other in ways that they do not understand and they fall hopelessly in love with each other. We have read hundreds of books and watched thousands of movies with the same plot. What makes this book different is the way each issue was handled. Mental health was not made trivial nor was it romanticized. It was reiterated that professional help is required and an individual cannot fight his way out without a strong support system.

I loved the character of Violet. She was not inherently good or bad. Her shades of gray made her endearing. Her struggles with guilt and trying to put on a brave face for her parents were moving. I did not take to Finch’s character so easily. I did not like the way that he expected the world to dance to his tunes while he did what he pleased. This issue cropped up again when Finch threw rocks at Violet’s window and threatened to wake up the whole neighbourhood if she didn’t go out in the middle of the night with him to god knows where. I wish authors would stop turning situations like this into something desirable. It sets a bad precedent when a girl who is clearly not comfortable with a situation is coerced into doing something because ‘it is good for her’.

I was glad that the author stayed true in descriptions of depression and manic. She did not try to miraculously find a cure for it nor suggest that falling in love with Violet and having those feelings reciprocated could cure Finch of his disease. I grew to like his character towards the middle of the book especially with the running for flowers scene. Having said that, I must applaud the author for painting this realistic picture and showing that dealing with mental illness is no joke.

The Author

All the Bright Places is Jennifer Niven’s first book for young adults. By the time she was ten, she had already written numerous songs, a poem, two autobiographies, a Christmas story, several picture books, a play, a series of prison mysteries, a collection of short stories and a partially finished novel.

In 2000 she started writing full-time, contributing to her web magazine and dabbling in TV. Although she grew up in Indiana, she now lives in Los Angeles.

Her work include:

  1. The Ice Master (2000)
  2. Ada Blackjack (2003)
  3. The Aqua Net Diaries (2009)
  4. Velva Jean Learns to Drive (2009)
  5. Velva Jean learns to Fly (2011)
  6. Becoming Clementine (2012)
  7. American Blonde (2014)
  8. All the Bright Places (2015)
  9. Holding up the Universe (2016)

TL;DR: A beautifully written book that made me cry and put me in a big time book-coma


What are some of the books that you liked that dealt with mental health?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book club, Book review

All About Love: New Visions by Bell Hooks

Statistics

Format: eBook (Kindle) all about love-min.jpg

Length: 240 pages

Genre: Self-help, Non-fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Date of Publication: 30th January, 2018

Rating: 2.5/5 stars


All About Love was the book of the month for September in the book club hosted by Rashi. We read woman-centric books and focus on non-fiction as much as fiction. In August we read THUG and in July, When I Hit You. As a person who needs an extra push towards the non-fiction genre, I was glad that I found it here.


The Blurb

“All About Love offers radical new ways to think about love by showing its interconnectedness in our private and public lives. In thirteen concise chapters, Hooks explains how our everyday notions of what it means to give and receive love often fail us, and how these ideals are established in early childhood. She offers a rethinking of self-love (without narcissism) that will bring peace and compassion to our personal and professional lives, and asserts the place of love to end struggles between individuals, in communities, and among societies. Moving from the cultural to the intimate, Hooks notes the ties between love and loss and challenges the prevailing notion that romantic love is the most important love of all.

Visionary and original, Hooks shows how love heals the wounds we bear as individuals and as a nation, for it is the cornerstone of compassion and forgiveness and holds the power to overcome shame.

The Book

I am not usually a fan of self-help books and non-fiction does not usually excite me. This book is a combination of both of those genres and reiterated to me why I prefer to stay away from them. The book is divided into thirteen chapters on different kinds of love and how they play a role in the growth of a person. While this concept seemed interesting to me, I was sorely disappointed in its execution. The author was repetitive and self-centered and I was tired of all the self-praise that I saw throughout the book. I do realise that the book is the manifestation of the author’s life experience but I would have loved to read more of the author’s loses and not just her triumphs. It would have definitely made the book more believable to me.

In the introduction, the author says “When a woman over 40 talks about love, the sexist thinking is that she is ‘desperate for a man'”. I see this in every walk of life. Any woman who does not have a man in her life after a particular age is dubbed ‘frustrated’ and her every action is linked to not being happily in love. When was it decided that a woman requires a man in her life for happiness? Not everyone’s goal in life is to snare a man. This kind of thinking needs to stop before the society can make any real progress.

Later, in the first chapter, the author says “learning faulty definitions of love when we are quite young makes it difficult to be loving when we are older”. This is one of the chapters that I liked in the book. It opens a lot of dialogues like the counter-productiveness of teaching children that a boy who pulls a girl’s hair or pushes her down in the playground is only doing it because he likes her. Both boys and girls must be taught the right way to express their feelings and to stop the destructive behaviour before it becomes the norm. I liked how the author explains that when we invest feelings and emotions in a person, we form a cathexis which makes us believe that we love them even when they hurt or neglect us. The thought of ‘I have invested so much time and energy into this relationship to just give up on it’ is one of the reasons that many people stay in an unsatisfying relationship. The quicker the people realise that time is wasted in such relationships the better.

My favourite thing in this chapter was when the author said, “care is a dimension of love but simply giving care does not mean we are loving”. Care is just one of the properties of love and not love itself. It is very important to realise this especially when faced with a narcissist who appears to be caring but in reality, is only manipulating the expression of love.

What I did not agree with is the author’s claims that two parenting figures are necessary for the child to appeal to the second parent regarding any misunderstanding or miscommunication. But this goes against all the popular parenting theories which claim that the parents need to present a united front when making any decision for the child. If we are to use the author’s theory, how does one parent not undermine the other? I also did not like how the author gave an example of fixing the problem regarding a friend’s daughter’s allowance. It was an isolated and rare incident that not many others can emulate. Not every mother would allow a friend to determine things like giving an allowance to her child. This is another example of how the author used exemplary instances of her life to generalise rules for the readers.

I loved how the author pointed out that the power and privilage are accorded to men simply because they are males with a patriarchal culture. With the very essence of feminism being threatened every day, this is a very important statement that all of us would do well to remember. However, I certainly did not agree with the author when she claimed that women gossip more than men. Even with the reason that she gave, it does not give her the right to make such claims especially when surveys like the ones conducted by Telegraph and Daily Mail in the UK say the opposite.

The concept that most workers do not do the work that they love but we can all enhance our capacity to live purposely by learning how to experience satisfaction in whatever work we do was interesting. I will try to emulate it to my work but I think that it will be easier said than done in the present day work culture and the pressure that we are all under.

The Author

Bell Hooks (born Gloria Jean Watkins) is an African-American author, feminist, and social activist. Her writing has focused on the interconnectivity of race, class, and gender and their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and domination. She has published over thirty books and numerous scholarly and mainstream articles, appeared in several documentary films and participated in various public lectures. Primarily through a postmodern female perspective, she has addressed race, class, and gender in education, art, history, sexuality, mass media and feminism.


TL;DR: A thought provoking read which you will need to take your time with


What are some of your favourite non-fiction reads?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book club, Book review

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Statistics

Format: eBook (Kindle)

eleanor oliphant is completely fine.jpeg

Length: 299 pages

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary

Publisher: Harper Collins

Date of Publication: May 18th, 2017

Rating: 5/5 stars


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and All the Bright Places were the books of the month for a book club that I was a part of for the month of August. I love reading in book clubs because it guarantees discussions. I had been meaning to read this book for some time now and was glad to have got a push towards it.


The Blurb

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

The Book

There are some books that you grow to love as you continue to read and then there are some that grab you and pull you along right from the first sentence. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was the latter for me. I cannot explain what exactly it was about the beginning but I was hooked!

Eleanor is a thirty-year-old woman who has learnt to live alone and she loves it on most days. I instantly connected with her even though (or because?) she is a bit weird. She takes things literally and does not believe in small talk. I could totally understand where she was coming from and wondered what it said about me. Isn’t that one of the best things about reading though? You identify with characters and thereby manage to understand yourself a little better. What other form of entertainment lets you do that?

I loved the character of Raymond. He is non-judgmental and supportive even though Eleanor insinuates that he disgusts her on more than one occasion. He gets that she does not mean for it to be mean and that is just who she is. It is wonderful when you have someone like that in your life, someone that you can be yourself with. It was also nice to see that her co-workers mean her no harm even though she makes it perfectly clear that she thinks that they are all intellectually inferior. The scenes with the counselor felt a bit too fast to be believable but that is a creative liberty that the author is allowed. It was necessary to keep the story moving and it did not take anything away from the story. I really appreciated the way that mental health issues were portrayed in the book.

I was very moved by Eleanor’s backstory. I did predict the ending but that might just be a result of me having read a bit too many books in this genre. The book put me in a book hangover for an entire day and my emotions were in a turmoil all through its reading. That, in my opinion, is the proof of a well-written story by an accomplished writer.

The Author

Gail Honeyman lives in Glasgow and wrote her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, while working a full-time job. It was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress. She has also been awarded the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award 2014, was longlisted for BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines, and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize.


TL;DR: A moving story that is sure to pull you along for the ride right from the very first page


What are some of the books that you have read which deal positively with mental health?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book club, Book review

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Statistics

Format: eBook (Kindle)

Length: 322 pages

Genre: Historic Fiction

Publisher: Knopf publishers

Date of Publication: 7th June, 2016

Rating: 5/5 stars


I read homegoing as a part of a readalong on Instagram along with Nikhat, Nikita, Unnati, Orishtha, Vasudha, Geethika & Debbie, Aanvi, Miss Literateur and The Book Knight.

I love readalongs and book discussions because it opens your mind to other possibilities and interpretations of the same written words. It always amazes me that the same sentences could mean so many different things to different people.

Historic fiction is one of my favourite genres and the growth of a culture is always interesting to read. African history is steeped high with the intermingling of cultures and races and it is tragically beautiful while being infuriating at the same time. I have previously read books on the same subject and was curious to see what this book held and I was certainly not disappointed.


The Blurb

The book begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

The Book

A sentence that makes sense even now with all the oppressors and the religious wars-“The white man’s god is just like the white man. He thinks he is the only god, just like the white man thinks he is the only man. But the only reason he is god instead of Nyame or Chukwu or whoever is because we let him be. We do not fight him. We do not even question him. The white man told us he was the way, and we said yes, but when has the white man ever told us something was good for us and that thing was really good? They say you are an African witch, and so what?”

“The white man’s god is just like the white man. He thinks he is the only god, just like the white man thinks he is the only man. But the only reason he is god instead of Nyame or Chukwu or whoever is because we let him be. We do not fight him. We do not even question him. The white man told us he was the way, and we said yes, but when has the white man ever told us something was good for us and that thing was really good? They say you are an African witch, and so what?”

Homegoing covers the lives of eight generations of Gold Coast residents in West Africa. It begins with the arrival of the whites for trade in the form of barter of goods and continues to show the brutality of the slave trade, the atrocities of the whites over the blacks and finally the life of blacks in segregated cities after the Civil War. I had recently read The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas where she shows how much of inequality still exists in the world based on skin color. To read about the reason for the development of that racial discrimination was enlightening. I had previously read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs and watched Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino, both with brutal visuals of the plight of slaves and this book reminded me of some of those scenes that I had trouble getting out of my head again.

The book is written from the points of view of various characters, some powerful men and women, others helpless slaves. I love books that discuss a situation through all the different characters who have been affected by it. I loved how the author linked every chapter to something that happened in one of the previous chapters. It gave the book a continuity that made reading it a treat. The brutality of the living conditions, the whippings, the burnings and the very concept of owning another human being were gut-wrenching. I had to stop reading a couple of times because the imagery was so powerful. It was great that I had the other girls reading along with me to discus what we felt and to just be there for each other.

The book is divided into exactly two halves though I do not see the necessity. The last quarter of the book was not as powerful as the rest of the book but I attributed it to the fact that it covered parts of history that I already had read about. It was a beautifully written story with complex characters and it is one of my favourite reads of this year.

The Author

Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She holds a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. Her short stories have appeared in African American Review and Callaloo.


TL;DR: A powerful book that takes the reader on a journey across generations and continents and challenges some of the pre-set notions in history.


What is your favourite book in the historic fiction genre?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book club, Book review, Readathon

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Statistics

Format: eBook (Kindle) IMG_20180714_140632880-01-01-01-min.jpeg

Length: 453 pages

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins (Blazer+Bray)

Date of Publication: 28th February, 2017

Rating: 5/5 stars


I read The Hate U Give as a part of the book club hosted by Rashi. We read When I Hit You last month and had a great discussion on it. This month too we picked something with a social message and I loved it. This was also my read for the second prompt (A book received in a Books N Beyond Box) for the #bnbreadathon for the month of July. I had heard a lot of good things about the book and I was very excited to read it.

The book has won multpile awards and with good reason! For example- National Book Award Nominee for Young People’s Literature (2017)Odyssey Award (2018)Los Angeles Times Book Prize Nominee for Young Adult Literature (2017)Edgar Award Nominee for Best Young Adult (2018)Coretta Scott King Award Nominee for Author Honor (2018) Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction (2017)Lincoln Award Nominee (2019)Kirkus Prize Nominee for Young Readers’ Literature (2017)Goodreads Choice Award for Young Adult Fiction & for Debut Goodreads Author (2017)Carnegie Medal Nominee (2018)NAACP Image Award Nominee for Youth/Teens (2018)Michael L. Printz Honor Award (2018)


The Blurb

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

The Book

Starr is an African American kid from a poor neighbourhood who goes to a predominantly white school in a white suburb. She has learnt to have two separate versions of herself- the Starr around the people of her school and the Starr around her family and neighbours. She works extra hard to not appear ‘Ghetto’ to the privileged kids in her school. She has been instructed on the correct way to act around cops when she was only 12. Even with all of this to keep in mind, she is a happy 16-year-old who spends her days doing school work and playing basketball. That is until she sees her best friend Khalil get killed by a cop over nothing.

The book deals with the difference in people’s behaviour to people of different races. Some people are watched more closely than others, some people are accused before acquiring proof, some people are expected to be subservient, some people are supposed to take what comes and keep mum about it. When they fight back, they are dealt with more severely than other people who have committed actual crimes.

The title of the book is drawn from the explanation by the rapper Tupac for THUG LIFE which is sometimes misinterpreted and taken as a philosophy to create trouble for the authorities. But as Khalil and Big Mav explain, it is actually about the marginalization and differentiation of the downtrodden that comes back to bite the society. The everyday fight against racial discrimination, the need to do things that are illegal just to survive even though they know better and the constant fear in the face of authority are realistically described. The first person narrative by Starr makes the book even more heartbreaking. The book had me reaching for the tissues from the very beginning, for instance when she sees Khalil being covered by a sheet she says, “he can’t breathe under it, I can’t breathe”. Her guilt over not being able to help Khalil and not being able to speak up enough for justice to be given to him was hard to read.

The adults explaining to the youngsters of the need to be better and to be careful reminded me of a dialogue in a movie where an immigrant parent tells the kid that they need to be twice as good at everything that they do since they are under scrutiny both by their motherland as well as their country of residence. The police brutality shown here, unfortunately, is much too common an occurrence to be shoved under the rug. When Starr decides to speak up, she has to deal with not only the backlash from the society in general but also from the drug lords who want nothing more than to keep their businesses safe. This is, unfortunately, a sad reality with most of the people who speak up against inequality or corruption. Living in such an environment cannot be healthy and I was glad to see that a lot of people like Big Mav work their hardest to help improve the conditions in the neighbourhood. Being a young-adult novel with such a heavy theme, the book was also peppered with humour, especially with Starr’s white boyfriend Chris trying to fit into her world. The book made me think, made me cry and also made me smile. I absolutely loved the book even though (or because?) it has left me in a two-day book-hangover.

The Author

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.


TL;DR: A beautifully written book that deals with many important social issues with a strong female lead. A must read for everyone


What are some of the books that have affected you a great deal?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book club, Book review

When I Hit you, Or A Portrait of The Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy

Statistics

Format: eBook (Kindle) IMG_20180625_110802_483-min.jpg

Length: 256 pages

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Feminism

Publisher: Atlantic Books

Date of Publication: May 4th, 2017

Rating: 5/5 stars


A book club that I am a part of, hosted by Rashi, had When I Hit You as the Book of the Month. I had been wanting to read the book since a long time but was apprehensive because of all the trigger warnings. So this presented the perfect opportunity because I knew that I would have other people reading along with me in case I wanted to talk about something. The book was also shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018. I buddy read this book with my fellow Book Diva- Unnati.


The Blurb

Seduced by politics and poetry, the unnamed narrator falls in love with a university professor and agrees to be his wife, but what for her is a contract of love is for him a contract of ownership. As he sets about reducing her to his idealised version of a kept woman, bullying her out of her life as an academic and writer in the process, she attempts to push back – a resistance he resolves to break with violence and rape. 

Smart, fierce and courageous When I Hit You is a dissection of what love meant, means and will come to mean when trust is undermined by violence; a brilliant, throat-tightening feminist discourse on battered faces and bruised male egos; and a scathing portrait of traditional wedlock in modern India.

The Book

When I Hit You is a raw rendition of what happens inside a woman’s mind when she sees no means of escape from her abuser. Told in the first person narrative, the story involves a newly married couple who move to a city where the wife knows no one, cannot speak the language and cannot step out of the house without dealing with her husband’s ridicule. What really got to me was the relatability of the narrator. She is an 80s child who grew up on communism in an overbearing yet loving family. She is an educated young woman who reads books of social importance, who has achieved financial independence, who has had her share of relationships and who knows what she wants from life. She could easily be any of us. She chooses her life partner. She is not a naive doe eyed girl who is forced into marriage. The fact that she knows her fiance and loves him only to discover immediately after the wedding that he is a wife beating sadist is really scary. Who do you trust if it is so easy for people to fool you?

The story shows us the everyday perils of a strong willed woman living with a man who believes that it is his duty to ‘correct’ and ‘educate’ his wife on what a perfect couple is. His sociopathic tendencies is visible in him resorting to calmly burn himself in order to pray on her sensitivities and to get her to do things his way. He has no scruples about bad mouthing his wife to his co-workers and neighbours. Her writing is ridiculed and critiqued till she agrees to delete them, her phone calls, emails and texts are monitored, she is only allowed half an hour everyday with the internet. She is made to decommission her Facebook account even though she needs to stay in touch with her contacts to receive further work. The part that really tore me up was how he deleted all her emails in one fell swoop in order to ‘free’ her. It is very difficult to imagine what she must have gone through in that moment. The tone of the sentences surrounding that incident speaks volumes.

Like the narrator says at the end of the book, people are amazed that something like this could happen to someone like her. They do not comprehend that the mindset of someone stuck in an abusive relationship is of trying to survive each day, to avoid pain in any way possible and to not anger the abuser. Add to this the fact that her parents urged her to stay with her husband at all costs, her isolation from the rest of the world, the strict meagerness of her surroundings to cure her of her petit bourgeois lifestyle, the daily rape and beating and the threat to her life, it is not surprising that she endured her punishments for four months. It is only natural to feel disbelief that a person could change so quickly and become so monstrous after appearing to be the perfect son, boyfriend, husband and son-in-law.

The book, although only 256 pages in length, cannot be read at one go. It needs time to be assimilated. I was horrified and wanted to stop reading at several places but the need to find out how she survives kept me going late into the night. I also noticed that the book greatly affected my mood and made me very agitated. The book drew upon the author’s experiences in an abusive marriage and strives to lift the veil of silence that surrounds domestic violence and marital rape in modern India. Often times I find that a book with first person narrative gets a bit too self-centered but this book was brilliantly written. I went into a book-hangover of two days following the completion of this book. The short listing for Women’s Prize for Fiction was truly deserved.

The Author

Meena Kandasamy has actively sought to combine her love for the written word with the struggle for social justice through poetry, translation, fiction and essays for the last fifteen years.  drew upon her own experience within an abusive marriage, to lift the veil on the silence that surrounds domestic violence and marital rape in modern India.

She grew up in Chennai, India where she lived most of her life before moving to London in 2016. She was a fellow of the International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa in 2009, and a British Council Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow at the University of Kent in 2011. This year, she was the Hope Street Writer-in-Residence at the University of Liverpool in May. She is also one of four London ‘City of Stories’ Writer-in-Residence, as part of a project run by Spread the Word and the Association of London Chief Librarians to host creative writing workshops around the capital.  She holds a PhD in sociolinguistics. Her work has appeared in eighteen languages.


TL;DR: A brilliant rendering of the fate of a person’s spirit when faced with daily abuse; an eye opener regarding social stigmas of a failed marriage; a gut wrenching story of a young woman trapped with no signs of exit visible.


Have you read anything so powerful that you were unable to start reading anything else for the next couple of days?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life