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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.

(This blog post may contain affiliate links. That means I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links. It does NOT COST you EXTRA)

(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.

  1. Add it on Goodreads!
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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.

Add it on Goodreads!

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!

Get it on Amazon!

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 .

Mid Year Book Freak-Out Tag!

It is July and I know you have heard it everywhere, read it everywhere and felt it yourself too – but my god, the year has passed by in a flash! I mean it was just a few days back, it feel like, when I was preparing for the university fest in February and now, it’s the end of my 4th semester! From August onwards, I will be starting with my 5th semester and that would mean that I will have only a year left for the completion of my Bachelors degree! Whoa! I am feeling as if I woke up on the wrong side of the bed – I was in senior year just a few days ago and it does not feel like 2 years have gone by at all!

So since it is July, I thought why not jump the bandwagon and do the Mid year book freak-out tag myself! Everyone is doing well, and I think it is a great way also to come across new books that might interest you as well! As of June 30th, I have read 119 books in total.  

  1. Best book you have read so far in 2019 – Okay so I am going to cheat on this one and state the best books I read from various genres. I fell in love with LORD OF THE BUTTERFLIES by Andrea Gibson (Poetry), THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE by Samantha Shannon (Fantasy), CITY OF GIRLS by Elizabeth Gilbert (Historical Fiction), DARK TALES by Shirley Jackson (Horror), BRAVE, NOT PERFECT by Reshma Saujani (Non-Fiction), FINDING ESME by Suzanne Crowley (Middle-Grade), THE LUPANARIUM by Adele Leigh (Dystopian), and THE STILLWATER GIRLS by Minka Kent (Thriller/Mystery).
  2. Best sequel you have read so far in 2019 – for this I shall go with THE KINGDOM OF COPPER by S. A. Chakraborty. It is the sequel to THE CITY OF BRASS, from THE DAEVABAD TRILOGY, and I rated it 5/5 stars. I am very excited for the last book in this series to come out!
  3. New release you haven’t read but want to – Ah I am hoping to pick up AURORA RISING by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff this week! I have heard nothing but great reviews about this book and I am excited!
  4. Most anticipated release for the second half of 2019 – oh my god! I have a really long list for this one but I’ll include a few ones which I think not very many people are talking about:
    1. WAYWARD SON by Rainbow Rowell, September 2019 – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44017627-wayward-son?ac=1&from_search=true
    2. THE WATER DANCER by Ta-Nehisi Coates, September 2019 – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43982054-the-water-dancer?from_search=true
    3. NINTH HOUSE by Leigh Bardugo, October 2019 – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43263680-ninth-house?from_search=true
    4. BLOOD HEIR by Amelia Wen Zhao, November 2019 – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38205707-blood-heir?from_search=true
    5. THE DEEP by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, November 2019 – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42201962-the-deep?from_search=true
  5. Biggest disappointment – well, I cannot really say that there was any such big disappointment. Sure, there were some not great enough reads, but thankfully, I did not come across any book i hated.
  6. Biggest surprise – I will go with POETS, ARTISTS AND LOVERS by Mira Tudor for this. I rated it 5/5 stars and had not at all expected to be bombarded by its excellence. It was an amazing and welcome surprise.
  7. Favourite new author – I am really loving Kerri Maniscalco and Maureen Johnson and I’m slowly going through all their books.
  8. Newest fictional crush – might I say Thomas Cresswell? If you do not know who he is, well, please please please do pick up the STALKING JACK THE RIPPER quartet by Kerri Maniscalco. Its a mix of historical fiction , murder mystery and romance. Amazing series.
  9. Newest favourite character – I think this has to be Vivian Morris from CITY OF GIRLS by Elizabeth Gilbert, Angelique from THE DUCHESS by Danielle Steel and Alexandra from THE RIGHT TIME, also by Danielle Steel. I have been loving these amazing women!
  10. Book that made you cry – this has to be YOU WILL BE SAFE HERE  by Damian Barr. It is a wonderfully tragic book and I rated it 5/5 stars. It was an emotional rollercoaster and I was full-on sobbing at some points in the story. If not for the story (which is impossible), you need to read it for the social and historical perspectives. It is so very important.
  11. Book that made you happy – for this, I am going to mention CIRCUS FOLK AND VILLAGE FREAKS by Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal, a collection of absurd and weird poetry. So much so, that it is really funny and made me laugh a lot, and very happy at the end.
  12. Favourite book to movie adaptation you saw this year – I’m adding my own twist here. I don’t really watch that many movies and prefer series. So, I watched A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES,  based on the ALL SOULS TRILOGY by Deborah Harkness. Matthew Goode and Teresa Palmer are amazing. Somehow, Diana Bishop’s character gives me Bella (from Twilight) vibes. But it was a great season 1 and I’m excited for the next season to come out in late 2019 or early 2020.
  13. Favourite review you have written this year – well, I have three reviews to share. I loved the books and I loved writing about them. And they are CITY OF GIRLS by Elizabeth Gilbert, CIRCUS FOLK AND VILLAGE FREAKS by Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal and AN ATLAS OF IMPOSSIBLE LONGING by Anuradha Roy. (PS. I loved AN ATLAS OF IMPOSSIBLE LONGING so much that I even gave a class presntation on with. With reference to Indian Writings in English)
  14. Most beautiful book you bought so far this year – for this, I will go with the FingerPrint Classics edition of ANNE FRANK: THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL. It is a beautiful hardcover edition with silver embossed cov er on blue, and silver edges! I simply love it.
  15. What books do you need to read by the end of 2019 – some books I hope to pick up by the end of 2019 are: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC trilogy by V. E. Schwab ( https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22055262-a-darker-shade-of-magic?from_search=true because I loved her writing in THE NEAR WITCH), THE THORNBIRDS by Colleen McCullough ( https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/830793.The_Thorn_Birds ), THE WAVES by Virginia Woolf ( https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/863768.The_Waves ), ESCAPING FROM HOUDINI by Kerri Maniscalco ( https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37539001-capturing-the-devil?ac=1&from_search=true ), and REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM: THE WOMAN ( https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17532.Rebecca_Of_Sunnybrook_Farm?from_search=true ) by Eric Wiggin.

I encourage you all to try out this tag!

PS. I am not the creator of the tag; I do not know who that is.

Moromor Deuta/Dear Father, by Bhabendra Nath Saikia

Title: Moromor Deuta / Dear Father

Author: Bhabendra Nath Saikia

Publisher: Nayantara Prakshan

Genre: Children’s literature

Format: Hardcover

Language:  Assamese

No. of pages: 95

Recommended for: All Ages!

My review:

Moromor Deuta is truly a book that I suppose almost every Assamese youth has read, and if not, then it is surely something that I would recommend them all to.

So this year, I have my very own reading challenge #readyourmothertongue wherein, I read at least 1 Assamese (I am from Assam, and my mother tongue is Assamese) book each month. Now I do not read as many Assamese novels as I do English ones and as such, my proficiency in considerably less in this language. I am trying to get better at it, however, and that is why I had picked up the famed Burhi Aair Sadhu by Lakshminath Bezbruah, for my beginner’s pace in January. In February, the book that I picked up – Moromor Deuta – is s story for kids, with its easy language, but the meaning is universal and it touches all of us.

I was first introduced to this story years ago when I was sick (I had the pox) and I had to rest and I was so bored that my mother bought me new books. One of them was ‘Dear Father’, a story which was originally written in Assamese, but Mom had got me an English version. I had loved the seemingly simple plot then and continued to pick it up again and again over the years. But this time around, as I read the real version in my mother tongue, it touched me deeply. This story will resonate within all the readers’ hearts.

The plot, while seemingly a simple one, encompasses a variety of morals and various themes. The family bonding, parents’ and siblings’ love is by far the focal one in my view and the author leaves with a bang. The reason why I read the English version, again and again, all those years back, is simply why this book, and this time in my mother tongue, did not fail to strike me – when I used to be angry with my parents, I inadvertently used to pick this one up and the message, which was loud and clear, continued to calm me down – it is simply that no matter how harsh one’s parents may seem at times, they never even once fail to think of the betterment of their children. And even if their rules and their authority may seem too much at times, we kids need to understand that they always have or good in mind.

The language used by the author is simple and easy to understand – I certainly did not find much difficulty in reading this book, considering that I haven’t read any ‘novel’ in Assamese before. I am truly enjoying this reading challenge and I hope it will be successful in bringing you closer to your roots as well.

Verdict:

I rate this book a solid 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 .

The Lupanarium, Book 1 of The Many Trials of Matt-Lin and Jak, by Adele Leigh, 2018

Title: The Lupanarium

Author: Adele Leigh

Publisher: Crooked Berliner

Genre: Dystopian, Adult Literature, Satire

Format: Paperback

Language: English

No. of pages: 127

Recommended for: Warning: Graphic content; not for the light-hearted

Synopsis:

In a reimagined Ancient Rome, during the last days of the republic, enslaved prostitutes are brainwashed to eat and sleep only after sex. 

Matt-Lin—a surly teenage girl—is trafficked to the world’s preeminent brothel, the Lupanarium. 

She is tasked to perform a dangerous live sex-act in the arena with Jak—the Lupanarium’s most popular male prostitute and gladiator. 

Jak attempts to mentor Matt-Lin, but she proves unwilling to please her clients, and she vigilantly seeks a way to escape, putting her life, and his, in danger. 

The Lupanarium is the first book in The Many Trials of Matt-Lin and Jak, a series about trauma survivors learning how to love. With the amount of sex in the series, it would be easy to categorize it “erotica” or “pornography.” However, this book’s primary function is not to titillate. Instead, it comments on, critiques, and satirizes these genres, which often serve to normalize rape culture.

This book comes with a graphic content warning for its depictions of sexual assault and child rape. Adult readers only, please.

My review:

The Lupanarium, Book 1 of The Mnay Trials of Matt-Lin and Jak, is not a light-hearted read at all. It has rape, child-rape, sex, and gore. What I would like to also add, is that despite the inclusion of all of these acts, it would not be right to simply categorize the book as erotica.

The author introduces us to an entirely different world. It a dystopian novel, with a world where rules are perversely made and followed. And at times, it was harrowing for me to read as well. The themes and plot, the events – the narrative in itself, is so raw and what scares one is that who knows if this might be true one day?

This is a world where rape is glorified. And people pay to watch these inhuman acts. The poet truly has written a satirical piece keeping in mind the degeneration spreading rife today. The corruption of power – we see officials use these ‘slaves’ rather, ‘sex slaves’ and in this world, it is ‘normal’, it is what is ‘expected’ of them. These slaves do not know the concept of love. They are made to think that they do not deserve love. Looking from a socialist viewpoint as well, we see the vast differences among the ‘elites’ and the ‘slaves’. Moreover, there are again so many layers to these social classes. 

I suppose I could go on and go about all of these issues which the author has successfully portrayed in mere 127 pages.

Matt-Lin is a what you would call a ‘prodigy’ in this world. Perversely, she is famous because she has survived the 9-layered heel to be known as the ‘niner girl’. As a survivor, we see her coping with the world doing what she is expected to do. However what the world does not know, is that, despite coming out alive of the tests, she still is left with her ‘fighting spirit’.  I am definitely looking forward to see her growth in the sequel. Jak is another character with depth. There is still the humanity left in him, which seems to have been lost and absent from the rest of the people in society. Joanna is another intriguing character whom I loved reading about and look forward to her appearance in the sequel.

Verdict:

This was a really through-provoking book and I look forward to the sequel. I rate it a 4/5 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 .

City of my Heart, selected and translated by Rana Safvi, 2018

City of my Heart
City of my Heart

Title: City of my Heart

Trnslated by: Rana Safvi

Publisher: Hachette India

Format: Hardback

Language: English

Pages: 247

Synopsis:

In September 1857, the Indian way of life changed for ever, after the overnight downfall of the Mughal Dynasty, with the capture and exile of Bahadur Shah Zafar. This book, translated by Safvi, presents translations of four texts that talk about Dilli (today, Delhi) on the eve of the downfall and the fate of royalty following the uprising of 1857. Invoking nostalgia, chronicling both beauty and hardships, it is a gemstone to understand exactly how the royal household functioned and how it ceased to be. 

My review:

City of my Heart is a chronicle, a romance, and history all mixed in one. It is a scenery of a time rich in cultural and intellectual activity in Dilli as it was then known, the multifaceted aspects of the Mughals and their reign that made it a paradigm, and it is a nostalgic read- almost as if one’s relatives had lived and loved in those times, as if this illusion is just within one’s grasp in a few years in the past and not in the actual centuries that separate them and us.

City of my Heart has a beautiful cover, and it catches the reader’s eye at the very instance they fall on it. Had I not been given a review copy, I am sure that I would have picked up the book just for the sake of the cover, without having even read the synopsis. But this book is one of those rare ones, for which the covers and the content go hand in hand.

While the stories are wonderful, as a non-Urdu learner I cannot possibly waive aside the diligent work of the translator, without the presence of whom I would have still been believing Dilli of that time to be a mere decadent one.

As I so vividly found out, the first half of the nineteenth century has been very much misunderstood, and this book truly sets that to right. No words I utter today can possibly pierce the pregnant thoughts I harbor for it – full of calm yet sorrow, awe and some strange, perhaps misplaced (or not), sense of nostalgia. It is a masterpiece, and apart from the actual academic importance it has got, this is a must read for those wishing to know more about our country’s past, from the works of actual people of those times, and translated by a master storyteller into a language that is easy to understand, and a portrayal of a world just as easy to slip into.

Verdict:

I quite enjoyed this book and I rate it a 4/5 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 .