There’s always time for books and music. Despite book deadlines, articles due, and election paranoia. The last of which seems to have exploded in all our faces, throwing up hugely existential questions. Among many, “What do you do when a friend has voted/supported a party you loathe, fear and despise?” I’ve been swaying between BLOCK ’em all (face it, if you voted Modi you’re an asshole) and “No, I mustn’t act in precisely the same manner that idiotic right-wingers do–silencing anyone whose point of view doesn’t align with mine.” To cut long story extremely short: I don’t know. For now, I’m trying to ignore their posts and tweets. Perhaps they’ll just…disappear…on their own.
And yet, the show must go on. Here, I was close to quoting Churchill (no hero of mine) saying, when asked about cutting arts funding during the war, “Then what are we fighting for”, but it turns out that curmudgeonly old man never said it. Hah.
Seahorse is slowly, steadily moving toward the final draft (*gulp* cue Munch’s Scream face), and I’ve been commissioned to write some wonderfully interesting articles this summer (more on that soon). I’ve managed to squeeze in some reading between edits, and music through it all. First, a little round up of recent literary acquisitions, which you’ll notice is an odd and exciting mix, many of which touch strongly on themes of queerness and homosexuality…and Greek myth. Research, if you’d like to call it, for my second book, but that makes it sound far more staid and stuffy than it is. And then, as a little extra, a playlist of some terrifically folksy tunes that have hauled me through the English winter (brrr…) and early spring. Enjoy 🙂
Slim, beautifully designed novella by Marathi writer Sachin Kundalkar (translated by Jerry Pinto), which I loved all the way through the first half, and then pretty much disliked all the way through the second. Told through the alternating narrative voices of siblings Tanay and Anuja, both in love with the same man, Cobalt Blue is delicate, poetic, and sensual. Kundalkar has struck upon an unusual story, but unfortunately never quite gets the tone of Anuja’s voice right. Compared to her brother, she’s ill-realised and risks falling quite flat as a character.
A cold winter’s night, a railway station, a cancelled train, five passengers stuck in the waiting room. It’s an age-old storytelling technique—think Canterbury Tales or Boccaccio’s Decameron—which very rarely fails. And this doesn’t either. The five men all confess their tales of ‘my kind of girl’, women they’ve loved and often lost in the past. I only miss a female voice amidst the testosterone clamour, but considering Buddhadeva Bose wrote this in 1951 (recently beautifully translated by Arunava Sinha), I’m presuming that would be much too much to ask
NoViolet does devastating things with language. Look. “Others with names like myths, names like puzzles, names we had never heard before: Virgilio, Balamugunthan, Faheem, Abdulrahman, Aziz, Baako, Dae-Hyun, Ousmane, Kimatsu. When it was hard to say the many strange names, we called them by their countries.“
Darling lives in a shanty (in Zimbabwe) called Paradise, with her motley crew of friends. Until she escapes to America, and grows up in the Midwest. Yes, the author seems to have a check-list of “African” themes, but what stops the book collapsing under its own weight is a rare linguistic vigour.
Baldwin’s publisher first told him to “burn” the book because the theme of homosexuality (bisexuality, to be more precise) would alienate him from his readership among black people—and thank god he didn’t listen. Giovanni’s Room is narrated by an American man David, in love with an Italian named Giovanni. The language is swift and smooth and stirring. An acute cleaving of cultures, and ultimately, about the generosity and fearlessness of love.
I picked up Tartt after a student asked me, at a reading at the University of Kent, whether she’d been an influence on Seahorse. And I had to admit I’d never yet read any of her work. I did so love The Secret History, even though the latter half of the book could have done with some strict editing. It tells the story of five closely-knit classics students in a lovely liberal arts college in Vermont (I always imagine it in Fall, with autumn leaves littering the ground). A whydunit, it starts with a murder.
The only book of short stories in this list, but one with, undoubtedly, the most beautiful title, no? Osman was born in Somalia, raised in Nairobi and lives in London, and his collection mirrors his own migration in its exploration of exiled Somalis. At a time when homosexuality is still illegal in many places in Africa (and in our very own motherland, of course. Bah.), this book is an elegant punch in the face to anyone who believes queer love is ‘unnatural’. He writes about young gay Somalis whose identities are shaped as much by their sexualities as their cultural origins. Gorgeous.
Madeline Miller did the simplest thing. She took one of the oldest, most beloved myths and made it her own. Admittedly it took her a decade to finish, but her great gift, I suppose, was to make it look simple. She re-tells the story of Achilles, that golden, half-divine warrior, through the eyes of his closest friend (and, ultimately, lover) Patroclus, in clear-as-water prose. Many have called this ham-fisted and infantile, but I relished the spare, sparse beauty of her words.
Not a book I would have otherwise picked up, but The Sunday Guardian commissioned a review. I enjoyed it, even if I felt it was a little…vanilla. The bits I liked most were her essays on writing, and her home state Tennessee. But you won’t catch me reading any of her fiction.
I’d heard SO much about Kamila Shamsie, and had been meaning to pick up something by her (six novels, where to begin?). Luckily, Biblio commissioned a review and I leapt at the chance to catch up on my reading. Admittedly, I preferred her previous novel, Burnt Shadows, but this one was quite captivating in parts—especially the first section in Peshawar, which she does well to bring vividly to life. Who wouldn’t want to live in a city with a Street of Storytellers? I think the reason why I didn’t find this as memorable was because I never did end up liking the protagonist, Vivian Rose. Hiroko is way cooler. Shamsie, though, has a knack for lovely phrases, and a wide, cross-national view of the world that’s rare and refreshing.
In the non-fiction department, I’ve been wide-eyed in wonder over Bernard Sergent’s Homosexuality in Greek Myth. Terrifically interesting, accessible, and indispensable for Seahorse. Helped me vastly with symbolism, especially. Pia Brancaccio and Kurt Behrendt’s Gandharan Buddhism is enlightening, one of the texts without which I’d never have managed to make my character an art historian.