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AHALYA: A Feminist Retelling

Today I am sharing my thoughts on AHALYA, a feminist retelling of Ahalya, one of the Pancha Kanyas in Indian mythology.

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(This blog posts also contain a review copthat was sent to me by publishers. However, all opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced by external parties)

Ahalya, by Koral Dasgupta
Ahalya, by Koral Dasgupta
synopsis

It is known that Ahalya was cursed by her husband, Gautam, for indulging in a physical relationship with Indra. But is there another story to Ahalya’s truth? Who was Indra anyway? A king? A lover? A philanderer? The first book of the Sati series, Ahalya hinges on these core questions, narrating the course of her life, from innocence to infidelity.

In the Sati series, Koral Dasgupta explores the lives of the Pancha Kanyas from Indian mythology, all of whom had partners other than their husbands and yet are revered as the most enlightened women, whose purity of mind precedes over the purity of body. The five books of the Sati series reinvent these women and their men, in the modern context with a feminist consciousness.

my review

Ahalya was a fairly new take on a character who has unfortunately not been explored much – and to the extent that, her story is often relegated to the backseat. I admit I myself first was truly intrigued by her when Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni explored her characteristics and actions in THE FOREST OF ENCHANTMENTS, another feminist retelling of the Ramayana, from the female (Sita’s) gaze. Prior to that my knowledge of Ahalya was limited to what I knew of her thanks to all the stories I had listened to, growing up.

Initial thoughts

When I came to know about this book, thanks to PAN MACMILLAN INDIA, I was very excited to read it and delve deeper into her story. Unfortunately, this was an overhyped read, and although I enjoyed it, I am afraid it fell short of what I was expecting. I felt that this book was very philosophical in a way (overtly so) and it was the one thing that I was not extremely fond of.

Redeeming factors

However, I also cannot deny that it is due to this wordplay the author uses, that the utter beauty of the prose was rendered. There is a fantastic intertwining of the philosophies of life along with Ahalya’s own growth. This is the contradiction at the heart of it – while I did not particularly like the philosophizing much, I shudder to think what the narrative would have been like without this lyrical and poetic hand that the author has used.

Realism

The characters have also all been really humanized – no one is really good or bad. They are humans (although admittedly with some godly qualities) like us, and therefore not entirely black or white. There is so much of the gray area in their beings. I felt really touched by the insecurities and fears that hindered them in their pursuit of growth and knowledge. After all, isn’t that what happens with us too?

It is a wonderful undertaking by the author and I look forward to the other works in this series. I rate it 3.5/5 stars.

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Historical Fiction: The Orange Grove

A consuming historical fiction novel, The Orange Grove is set in 18th century France. This historical fiction is full of suspense, rivalries, and secrets!

A consuming historical fiction novel, The Orange Grove is set in 18th century France. This historical fiction is full of suspense, rivalries, and secrets!
The Orange Grove, by Kate Murdoch

Historical fiction

A thoroughly entertaining and delicious read, The Orange Grove by Kate Murdoch, is a historical fiction set in 18th century France. From the synopsis itself, I could imagine that it would be full of political rivalries, power plays, secrets, etc. So I had high hopes for the book. I am glad to say that it definitely exceeded my expectations.

Synopsis

With a glorious world-building, the plot largely takes place in Blois, in the chateau of Dux Hugo d’Amboise. Inhabited by the Duc, his wife the Duchesse, and five mistresses, it is a regal world. But this aspect itself was baffling for me – for a modern-day woman like myself, this is a curious living situation. As one would aspect, the women, although living in a more or less harmonious existence, often have certain insecurities brewing between them. The Duchesse is acquainted with the ways of her world – any respected nobleman could have mistresses. However, Charlotte is only okay as long as the Duc loves only her. But when the Duc takes on a new mistress, a young noblewoman. He seems thoroughly besotted with her and so, Charlotte feels threatened. And it is from this insecurity that rises, that the story really starts.

The setting

The author portrays the tense environment well. It is clear that the author has done extensive research on this subject and this historical era. The women resort to underhanded means and ways to gain favour at the Duc’s hand. There are various secrets which, if revealed, may shake the roots of the power relations. The setting and plot have been well constructed.

Characterization of Henriette

The character of the protagonist, Henriette, is a morally sound person, I feel. She too has secrets to keep, just like everyone else, but I admire her willingness to help and support another woman instead of viewing her as the enemy. I think this has been the root cause of disharmony among women throughout history. Women are raised to perceive one another as competitors. However, in recent times, this has definitely changed I believe.

Characterization

The characterization when it comes to the others too is well done. We see the characters escalating toward a certain point, the climax so to say, and then follows their rise or downfall. What is also commendable is how wonderfully the author has kept the reader engrossed throughout – whether it is in the case of Henriette, her daughter Solange, Solange’s cute friendship with Tomas, the other mistresses, the tarot reader Romain, etc.

Themes

The themes of friendship, enmity, status and power, morality, loyalty, etc. have been thoroughly played through the characters in the book. In the end, it was thrilling to see how these people support and hate or pull tricks on one another all for the sake of power. Fashion, culture, sexuality, entertainment, culture, etc have also been shown throughout the lives of these characters. It has been a consuming read and I enjoyed each and every page of this novel. I rate this 4.5/5 stars.

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Recommendations:

  1. City of Girls
  2. The Duchess
  3. Emperor Chandragupta and Emperor Vikramaditya
  4. Delayed Rays of a Star
  5. Hunting Prince Dracula and Escaping from Houdini

Greek Mythology: A Retelling

A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys is a retelling of 6 popular stories from Greek mythology. The author lends his humourous spirit to this collection!

Photo of A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys
A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys

Greek Mythology: Stunning art pieces

First off, I want to just spend a moment to rest my eyes on the stunning cover! I love the yellows and the browns and it is just so aesthetic! The warm tones provide the perfect spot of colour in this dismal weather.

A Wonder Books for Girls and Boys

A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys is basically a retelling of 6 popular Greek stories – The Gorgon’s Head, The Golden Touch, The Paradise of Children, The Three Golden Apples, The Miraculous Pitcher and The Chimaera. Most of us have already heard of Medusa and Midas in some morality play or moral stories, in one way or the other. This, Hawthorne’s method, too, proved to be a hearty experience.

Writing style

The stories are written in the story-within-a-story format and in this way, the author has involved a brilliant framing device. ‘Cousin Eustace’ a bright lad of 18, is telling these stories to his younger cousins, adding his own flavours to the curry, so to speak. Hawthorne’s blend of humour abounds this collection.

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Greek Mythology versus this retelling

The stories are not truly ‘faithful’ to the actual Greek legends, but instead, Hawthorne has added his own spirit and essence to these. He has rewritten these stories in a gothic or a romantic style. Although essentially the same, there are many funny instances that will make you laugh out loud at times. Each of these stories provides an exceptional experience to the reader and makes for one hell of a time!

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Verdict:

Although there are also morals clearly thrust forward, it is not overbearingly so. Thus, it proved to be an interesting read and not preachy at all! I rate this book 4/5 stars and recommend it to you all. It is quite short and you can read it in an hour. You could also read it out to your children or siblings and I am sure that they will love them as well.

Recommendations on Indian Mythology:

  1. Narasimha
  2. Upon a Burning Throne I
  3. Upon a Burning Throne II
  4. Ashwatthama’s Redemption

NonFiction November Recommendations!

Nonfiction November is here and I have got some amazing nonfiction recommendations for you all! I hope you all have a blast reading these books!

nonfiction november
NonFiction November recommendations

Reading nonfiction is hard!

I feel like 2019 has gone by so fast. November is here; half of it is already gone and it is only now that I am making the #nonfictionnovember recommendations post! I know from personal experience that reading this genre can be quite intimidating for some of us. But for those of you who read non-fiction very often, I applaud you!

How to ease into this genre

Since easing into this genre may take some getting used to for many of us, I decided to compile a list of some non-fiction reads, which do not really read as such. So without further ado, here are some books I have read and some that are on my radar!

Craft!

Embroidered Life: The Art of Sarah K. Benning – a splendidly created coffee table book, Embroidered Life follows the work process of Benning. Benning is a self-taught embroidery artist nad this book is a wonderful book to leaf through. If you are looking for something creative to pick up to while the harsh winter months away, this might just be the book for you. I for one, am currently working on an embroidery project of my own, which I hope to complete and show you all soon! (Goodreads)

Sci-fi!

Lost Transmissions: Science Fiction and Fantasy’s Untold, Underground and Forgotten History – a book which I am absolutely thrilled to pick this month is this insightful behemoth. It is rightly regarded as the bible of science fiction and fantasy’s most interesting and least-known chapters.   I have very high hopes for this mixture of essays, interviews, and stunning visuals! (Goodreads)

Memoirs!

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body – Roxane Gay’s searingly honest memoir of food, weight, and self-image has been described as being intimate, vulnerable, and bracingly candour. Having read excerpts of Bad Feminist, I am pretty excited to see how this much-acclaimed memoir will be for me. (Goodreads)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft. I decided that no matter what I write could trump this brilliant description of the King’s book. I have yet to read any of his books so I think I will change that situation by picking up this one. (Goodreads)

I’m Not Here to Give a Speech – Garcia Marquez is already a much well-acclaimed author. And I think it is an ironically named book! This is his collection of speeches span from his high school days to his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize. If you have not yet read any of Marquez’s words, perhaps this could be great for you to start with. (Goodreads)

Important works!

City of my Heart – a 4 star read for me, this book is a translation of four texts that talk about Dilli (or Delhi, as it is now known), following the downfall and the fate of royalty following the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, with the capture of Bahadur Shah Zafar. (Goodreads)

I am Malala and We Are Displaced – Malala is the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the fact that I have yet to read her books, meant I just had to get to them this month. Both of these two books are a conglomerate of the global issues of terrorism, the utter destruction it causes to the innocents of lives all around, immigration crisis, etc. It also speaks of the displacement issue that crops up with it,  war, the refugee situation, border conflict, etc.

Feminist works!

Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More and Live Bolder – a 5 star read that I’d recommend to all! It was a fundamental and impactful read that I loved. It talks about the unexplainable need for perfectionism (which is prevalent in all of us), albeit a bit more obsessively in girls. Please pick up this book! It would be a shame if we fail to read it and realize the way most of us limit ourselves. (Goodreads)

Feminist Rani – Can I brag that I have already met the author and got this signed? Shamefully, I haven’t read it yet! Perhaps there is no better time than this November! It shares the stories of 15 women – women who have strived to fight for their own rights to stand as equals to men. They talk of issues such as identity, the need for the realization of selfhood, etc. (Goodreads)

A few other recommendations!

Some other books I could recommend are Becoming (I personally think all schools should make this a compulsory read), Soliloquy of a Small-town Uncivil Servant, Girl Power, Between You And Me, etc. You can also check out Can You Die of a Broken Heart?, Kashmir’s Untold Story, The Case that Shook the Empire, The Intelligence Trap, etc.

Please don’t forget to comment below and recommend the nonfiction books that you have read as well.

The Dark Side of the Moon: vOLUME 2, by Shubham Arora, 2019

Title: The Dark Side of the Moon Vol.2

Author: Shubham Arora

Genre: Short-Story, Horror

Format: Ebook

Language: English

Synopsis:

The Dark Side Of The Moon is a collection of short stories that is dark, grim and flirts ambitiously with notions of the unexplained. 
Volume 2 marks the return of the series with another set of three thrilling, crisply narrated tales – 

DECEMBER

Cold. Rainy. Windy. A typical December night in Mussourie. The police receives a distress call. Typical for stormy nights, as they say. But this night will be different. This night will be longer. This night will remain unexplained.

THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON – THE STORY
Humans haven’t been on the moon since 1972. They have decided to return – though this time to the dark side of the moon, where no human has ever set foot before. What does the unknown hold?

SEVENTY METERS
The swift morning breeze soothes her hair. The tinkling wind-chimes call her to the window. She looks at him smiling in his sleep. She smiles too. But that’s been a rarity for them. 
Does love, like time, wither away as it’s consumed?

My review:

I received a review copy from the author in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

I have not been much of a horror fan but… Shubham Arora had me hooked with his first volume. And when he reached out to me for the second one, I was already jumping with joy. That is another story in itself so we’ll keep that aside for now.

In comparison to the first volume, I think the author’s writing has improved immensely. Most importantly, he knows how to deliver a punch at the end, just as succinctly.

In the first story, December, the writing is very atmospheric and is enough to give you the chills. When the story actually starts, and we venture into the mansion, I almost felt as if something is going to jump out of the shadows, at me. As a reader, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was a part of the story itself and the instances were happening to me too.

The stories have become creepier, with the eponymous The Dark Side of the Moon being the creepiest of them all. I loved how he has taken on this urban myth and given it his own twist. The idea itself, when you sit back and think about it – being stranded on a strange place (the dark side of the moon, for God’s sake!) The way this story is told – especially in day counts, is one that really makes you tensed up as if awaiting the climax, the twist you know is coming.

The last story is Seventy Meters, and from the name, I could guess what the ending would have been. Although the least favourite from all three, this was, a good story too, although I did not think it was scary. In a strange sort of way, it was actually sad.

Verdict:

It was an enjoyable read and I hope to read more of the author’s writing. I rate it 4.5/5 stars.

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .