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Review of Mrs. Pooter’s Diary by Keith Waterhouse

Review of Mrs. Pooter’s Diary by Keith Waterhouse
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan

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After reading the classic novel The Diary of a Nobody by the Grossmith brothers, I was very keen to read Keith Waterhouse’s take on the book through the eyes of Mrs. Pooter and her diary. I ordered the book from Amazon, and I was lucky to get one of the last few copies of the book, which was originally published in 1983. Mrs. Pooter’s Dairy is a very meticulous and well-crafted book which gives honour to the original classic The Diary of a Nobody. The book is funny, easy to read, and a must have for all those who have read and enjoyed The Diary of a Nobody. I found that the book was as enjoyable as the classic, and that it stayed true to the original. It is entertaining and enjoyable. Keith Waterhouse, despite sticking to the same plot, has managed to add a number of other subplots using entertaining characters like Darwitts, Misses Tipper, Oliver Tipper, Mrs. Shrike, etc. I especially liked the way the author has given importance to certain characters mentioned in the Grossmith classic, which readers may have overlooked, and are now shown in a very important and humorous light. I loved the way the author has used his imagination to interpret how a huge mark of a port glass managed to stain the invitation card to the Mansion house. The incorrigible character of Mrs. Shrike and her “weak blood” which caused so much of havoc in the few instances she was introduced in the plot, amused me to a great extent. There is also a very different side of Mrs. Pooter that we see in this book compared to the Grossmith classic which should induce readers to defiantly pick up this book to read. The illustrations are hilarious and well done. For a rather ancient book the font is gorgeous and the plot gripping. I would however recommend that the reader should first read The Diary of a Nobody and only then read Mrs. Pooter’s Diary otherwise the good old humour may tend to get lost on the reader of an otherwise very hilarious book. If you loved reading The Diary of a Nobody then this is a book that you’ve just got to read. Keith Waterhouse is a wonderful writer and I hope to be reading his Billy Liar series of the 1960s as soon as I finish the other books on my TBR list

Copyright © 2017 Fiza Pathan

Review of Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

Review of Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan

20170417_145051Spinster by Kate Bolick is one of the most enriching and well written nonfiction book that I have had the pleasure to read this year. I found this book in my local library’s bookshelf and I just had to borrow it. It’s a heavy read with a lot of in-depth analysis of situations, personality traits, decisions that we make, etc. I picked up this book because I always wanted to lead the life of a spinster and as the subtitle says, I wanted to make a life of my own. However, this book is not only meant for spinsters or people who want to lead the life of spinsterhood. This book is meant for everyone and anyone who want to enrich their lives and give importance to themselves as individuals, even if they are couples, parents, etc. Spinster analyses the idea of the word ‘spinster’ itself throughout history and especially during the early years of the 20th century. The book is a sort of unique memoir of Kate Bolick who wishes to lead the life of a well-balanced and self-actualized spinster in a world where being a spinster is something like a taboo topic. No parent wishes that their girl should not one day be married at the right time and to the right person. This is what Kate Bolick challenges. Why should we bring up children to only have marriage as the focal point of their lives? Why can’t new goals be set? Why can’t girls change their priorities? Why can’t spinsterhood become a lifestyle and not just a label? All these questions and more are answered, analyzed and debated upon in this book along with the thoughts of certain unique, independent, self-made women who touched the author’s life and made it blessed. True, the book technically focuses on only women in American society, but I think all of us from any part of the world can definitely connect with the author’s trials, tribulations and victories because as a sisterhood, we are almost the same if not totally identical people. What I loved about this book is the way being a spinster is shown as a lifestyle choice and not a terrible label one pastes on a person’s character. I am completely inspired by the literary women mentioned in this book especially Maeve Brennan, whose writings I totally relate to. Every sentence in this book is of a contemplative nature where you tend to sit back and say, “Oh what a new way of thinking about this topic,” and then look at the words in the book with a new light altogether. I loved the part about home décor, as I am also very much into the décor of my private as well as public spaces, and I love to have these spaces presented to others as a symbol of my own lifestyle choice and my sense of style. In Spinster Kate Bolick states in more ways than one that it is very important for a woman to showcase her own home décor be she a spinster, married or just living-in with someone. For those readers who love to understand changes in society like demography, this book is full of it and is very accurate. There is no doubt in my mind that this book was definitely an eye opener for me and I am so fascinated by it that I’m going to order my own copy of the book from Amazon, and keep it by my side all the time like a Bible.

A very insightful and a very thought provoking read.

Copyright © 2017 Fiza Pathan

Review of In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

Review of In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan

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It would not be an exaggeration if I say that In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri was one of the most different books I’ve read in my life. It is Jhumpa Lahiri’s first nonfiction piece actually penned in Italian and then translated into English surprisingly not by Pulitzer Prize-Winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, but by Ann Goldstein another acclaimed translator and writer. In order to understand why Jhumpa Lahiri did something like this, when she could have easily translated her own book into English, you will have to read the book to find the answer to that question. The book describes in scaled down narrative form, compared to the author’s The Namesake, the affair that Jhumpa Lahiri is having, not with a person, but with a language that is not related to her in any way. The language is Italian, and Jhumpa Lahiri has been smitten by it and wishes to dedicate the rest of her life to studying Italian, and writing books in that language. When I read the book, in the beginning I got a terrible shock when I realized that apparently Jhumpa Lahiri was perhaps going to give up writing in English. ‘No!’ I thought to myself, ‘I’ve just discovered you, and you’re amazing and you can’t stop writing now!’ However, as I read on, I understood and realized the reasons behind her decision and I respect them. Those of you who have read Jhumpa Lahiri’s English prose, will be in for a shock when you read In Other Words which does not resemble the author’s earlier style at all. Yet, you will be compelled to read the book about the relationship that transcends all other relationships, and that is the relationship a person, especially a writer, has with the language which she wants to express herself in. The book also talks about the importance of a mother tongue or language, and the stereotype attitude one has towards people who don’t act the way we do, and how we wash them off. The book is thought provoking, soul searching and it can sometimes make you cry.  After I read the book, I thanked my stars that unlike Jhumpa Lahiri who does not have a language which she ‘belongs totally’ to, I have Hindi which is my country’s national language, and which I know pretty well. When you read In Other Words, you can actually feel the anguish and agony and yet the bliss and satisfaction Jhumpa Lahiri feels when she is trying to write in Italian, which she had to learn from scratch. The theme of belonging and not belonging to a particular region and language boldly crops up here, which informs the reader of Jhumpa Lahiri’s ultimate quest to find that language and region which she can truly feel is her own. There are two fiction stories originally penned in Italian here in this book which are a treat to read. The book ends with a question, and I hope Jhumpa Lahiri finds an answer to that question as soon as possible, and achieves her desire vis-a-vis the Italian language, the language she has courted for a long time. A very well written part memoir and part self-reflection. Kudos to the writer on a job well done.

Copyright ©2017 Fiza Pathan

Review of The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Review of The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan

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When I was twenty years old and still in college, I and my friend Tanya, would often conduct discourses and events centered on the current trends in English Literature for the English department of our college. It was on one such cold November afternoon that our English department professor gave us the VCD of the movie ‘The Namesake,’ directed by Mira Nair, to be shown in our audio visual rooms  for the members of the English department and some junior college students. I hadn’t read the novel on which this movie by Mira Nair was based. The movie was shown, college students were chewing gum, and I at that time felt that the main actress Tabu was definitely one of the best actresses I have ever seen. It would take me nine more years and a book penned by Jhumpa Lahiri titled The Clothing of Books to make me read The Namesake which I did this year just after my 28th birthday. The Namesake was unputdownable, and so rich in its prose that I lived the book, and not just read the book. The plot is original and the book so perfectly written, this will make you fall in love with the writer. After finishing the book, I realized that the movie which I saw nine years ago was not even the tip of the whole gigantic iceberg of a story that The Namesake is. The characters were real and though there are very few dialogues in the story,  one tends to know the characters so minutely better than most of the prose fiction one reads today which is so dependent on dialogues. All the senses are used to create the story in our minds as we turn each page of The Namesake. The mundane lives of Gogal Ganguli, Ashoke Ganguli, Ashima Ganguli, Moushima, Maxine, Sonia Ganguli, etc., become our own as we go through the prose– the perfect, meticulous and artistic prose of Jhumpa Lahiri. The main theme of the story is partly fiction and partly related to the reality of Jhumpa Lahiri’s life as an Indian living in the USA and not belonging to either world. On the flipside, this book also tries to bring out the idea of home, love, and acceptance which is partly given, and partly denied to the characters of this amazing story. (Ironically, Jhumpa Lahiri’s book does not even find a real home even as book category—I’ve seen The Namesake being kept in bookstores or libraries in different sections, all the time, every time—like Indian fiction, American fiction, literary fiction, bestsellers, etc.) Thus, Jhumpa Lahiri has managed to bring out the fact that most of our lives, we belong to no one and yet everyone. Her book can be read by anyone and yet create an impact. The day I finished reading The Namesake, I sat in my easy chair and wondered about how I’ve changed as a person since that movie by Mira Nair which I watched nine years ago. I, unlike Gogal Ganguli and the other characters, am not an NRI but yet I’m not the same person I once was and I am not going to be the same person few years hence. Thus the tags and names we carry with ourselves throughout our lives keep on changing or being exchanged for something else. In that sense we all are very different people throughout our lives and thus our names, tags, personalities, habits, feelings, are all ‘namesakes’ through this journey called life. If you’ve ever felt or feel the way I do, then this is the book meant for you. Wonderful story telling, and thought provoking prose, that is The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Copyright © 2017 Fiza Pathan

BROWSE: The World in Bookshops edited by Henry Hitchings

BROWSE: The World in Bookshops edited by Henry Hitchings
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan

20170331_132901When I saw this book in one of my most favourite bookshops, without even checking out the synopsis or the editor or publisher of the book, I plucked it off its stand and went bought it. I’m a bookaholic; some people even call me a book reading dragon. I can’t live without books. I need to read them every day, because they are my closest friends and teachers. So obviously, this indicates that if I am a passionate book lover and reader, then I also love to read about my favourite authors take on their lives and in this case, which were their favourite bookshops and library haunts. BROWSE is a book published by the erudite Pushkin Press to chapter the favourite book haunts of authors who wished to contribute towards this venture. When I was reading BROWSE, inwardly I was rejoicing for having picked this book, to enrich myself and my working with books. If you are a hardcore lover of books and writing, this is a book you’ve just got to read. BROWSE contains the writings of authors: Ali Smith, Alaa Al Aswany, Pankaj Mishra, Iain Sinclair, Elif Shafak, and so many others which are a joy to read and very educative. I had to keep on taking notes in my diary of the books these writers read and which changed their lives for the better. Each writer has his or her own unique bookshop experience to share with us through BROWSE, which let us know how important a real bookshop and library was in making them the writers they are today. Sadly, most of the essays describe how those book haunts and treasure troves have disappeared without a trace, because of the constantly dynamic shifting tides of modern day consumerism; in simple words, it was becoming too expensive to keep a hold on these bookshops after the digitalization of books. Many of the essays describe how writers tried to return to their earlier book dens to find the bookshops and their proprietors with whom they had had an unspoken friendship, all gone, lost to a very competitive market. The essays in BROWSE speak about bookshops on a busy market square, second-hand bookshops, bookshops where revolutionaries used to congregate, famous bookshops, etc., which taps into that foundation stone deep down in every book reader who owes his or her accomplishments to the places that honed in on their intellectual needs. I especially loved the essay by Saša Stanišic, where she talks about bookaholics as if they were like drugs that takes you to the ‘heights of ecstasy’ but one which never fades away. Yet still, the authors do voice their opinion about e-books, e-libraries, and the numerous incidence of bookshops and libraries in the old physical form drastically closing down. Some of the authors don’t mind the closure, while others beg to differ as they feel that a bookshop experience is a form of education which does not limit a person to only certain books, as does buying of e-books or kindle version on the internet, where you get what you want and only what you want; not what you can get in the form of an educational awakening. Want to know more? Go buy BROWSE as soon as possible and read it immediately. Don’t put it down on your TBR list for a later time. Stop what you are reading right now and read this non-fiction piece that answers questions about books and bookshops we’ve all wanted to ask but were diffident to do so. More importantly, if you’ve ever loved a special library or bookshop which now has been razed to the ground or disappeared for good that’s left a gaping hole inside of you which you cannot describe because after all, ‘they were only books’ . . . please order a copy of BROWSE and read it. I have to admit: I cried while reading it. I cried because when I was a child I had a library that meant the world to me. It made me the writer, teacher, and publisher I am today, and now all those books have all gone. To tell you the truth, when I visited the library a few years ago, and found it bare without its centuries old tomes, I could have just died! That library was my father. What my real father could never do, those books did for me. They fathered me and now they have taken my father forever away from me. But who cares? They are just a bunch of old books—right? Maybe in the veins of other people, their father’s blood flows. But for me, my father was my school library and the dark black of printer’s ink runs through my veins. Go read BROWSE! GO NOW!

Copyright © 2017 Fiza Pathan

 

Review of The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri

Review of The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan

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This nonfiction piece was the very first book that I read, penned by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri. I discovered the book in one of my favourite bookshops, tucked away between other good classic works, and I bought it immediately.

The Clothing of Books may be only seventy-one pages long, but the author Jhumpa Lahiri opened my mind to the importance of a book cover, where a writer as well as a publisher is concerned. Have you ever been disappointed by a book with a really good cover? If you are a writer, have you ever been disappointed by the cover of your own book chosen by the publisher? Have you ever felt that the cover of your book misrepresents the matter of your story? If you have felt anyone of these emotions, and if you are a person who picks up a book to read because of nothing else than the attraction you have towards the cover of the book, then this book is meant just for you. Jhumpa Lahiri, who always manages to put into words the most soul searching questions in her other books, does the same in this tiny book as well. I am a publisher, so I get to choose and sometimes design the covers I believe best brings out the main idea of a book. Yet, could I be wrong? Could my judgement of a book’s content be inaccurate and thus I shouldn’t really design covers without consulting a lot of other people, especially the writer of that particular book? Jhumpa Lahiri manages through this book to put into focus the fact that at all times, it is important for book publishers and book cover designers to also involve the writer of the book in the process of designing the cover, for who better knows the pulse of his book than the writer himself? The Clothing of Books also shows us the reality behind the designing of book covers today, where reviews, awards won by the author, etc., also have to be printed on the book cover for the reader to pick up the book to read at the bookstall or library. This tiny container of soul searching questions and answers about the covers of books also states that it’s no longer a norm that ‘a book should not be judged by its cover.’ No! In fact in today’s modern book business, the cover is everything else than just a book cover! However, that’s only for regular hardcovers and paperbacks. What about eBooks and Kindle editions? Does a book cover play any importance at all for the reader or the writer? All these and more questions are deliberated upon and answered by Jhumpa Lahiri in her usual down to earth style that we have all started to admire and love. After I finished reading this book I immediately started reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s much acclaimed novel The Namesake, and then her first nonfiction book In Other Words. I read these books one after the other within two weeks’ time and I am so glad that I did.

If I’m not mistaken, then right now Jhumpa Lahiri is undecided, whether she should continue to write in Italian, or return to writing in English. Whatever her decision maybe, I know from The Clothing of Books that Jhumpa Lahiri is a writer who doesn’t let her brain rule over the decisions of her heart and soul. Therefore, whatever be her decision regarding the language through which she wants to express herself, Jhumpa Lahiri will always be read by me. Kudos to The Clothing of Books, so small and yet so impactful.

Copyright ©2017 Fiza Pathan

Review of Father Dearest by Neelima Damia Adhar

Review of Father Dearest by Neelima Damia Adhar
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan

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Father Dearest: The Life and Times of R. K. Dalmia, is one of the finest biographies I’ve read this year. I really felt it was a book well written and very insightful. I’ve always had an interest in contemporary Indian history, especially the history of India’s freedom movement and the aftermath, and even as a student I was impressed by R. K. Dalmia as a great financial, religious, and political personality of that era. The book has been artfully penned by R. K. Dalmia’s daughter, Neelima Dalmia Adhar, which describes her life as a daughter of the ‘once almost first finance minister’ of newly independent India, as well as the decisions that led to his almost non-existent mention in the annals of Indian history. She also describes the lives of the women he married, six women in all, and the eighteen children he begat through them. I as a history student, and now a teacher, had always assumed that R. K. Dalmia was just a religious business magnate of the early twentieth century India, but the biography Father Dearest has made me know R. K. Dalmia better than I had earlier presumed I knew. Neelima Dalmia Adhar has shown the readers of this non-fiction piece a side to the intertwining lives of so many people, whose focal point was a man who is presumed could have prevented the partition of the country India, into present day India and Pakistan. Through the pen of Dalmia’s daughter, we see a new side to Indian politics during those early years and about the psychology of a most revolutionary man devoted to orthodox Hinduism, yet who married and illtreated all the six women in his life. I love the way the biographer has narrated the history of the past Dalmia’s as well as the present. I was pleased to read about her mother, the sixth and last wife of R. K. Dalmia, the poet, Dineshnandini Dalmia, who was an extraordinary woman in her own right. The book is racy and simple to read unlike other more serious biographies and is only 304 pages. It is a great read for those interested in contemporary Indian politics, history, and the great personalities of that time like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, etc., to name a few. I’ve personally enjoyed and have been enriched by this book. An intriguing and novel read indeed.

Copyright © 2017 Fiza Pathan