Book review: Ghachar Ghochar

Book review: Ghachar Ghochar

Do you know how we all hear great things about some books and when we get our hands on them, they completely disappoint us and make us question our tastes? Well, that did not happen with Ghachar Ghochar.

I heard so many good things about this one and then (surprisingly?) I found it was all that and more. And I am more than happy to recommend a translated work from my part of the world. So here we go.

About the book

Ghachar Ghochar

Book Name: Ghachar Ghochar

Author: Vivek Shanbhag

Genre: Fiction – Drama, Literary, Translated work

Characters: The unnamed narrator, Anita, Malati, Appa, Amma and Chikappa

Setting: Karnataka, India

The plot

Ghachar Ghochar begins with the young narrator sitting at the Coffee House mulling over his life. He is particularly fond of a witty waiter Vincent with whom he shares the happenings of his household. His family consists of his older parents, elder sister Malati, his paternal Uncle and his newly wedded wife Anita.

Their living situation, though a common practice among Asians, is more out of convenience and habit rather than out of love. But they were not always like this. Until a few years ago the family was close knitted. Though not affluent they shared the smallest joys with each other and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. 

When the father of the narrator (Appa) loses his employment, his uncle (Chikappa) had to start his own business venture to support of the family. This lead an ascent in their economic status which changes the family dynamics. Each member makes their choices, but how often they turn out to be right? 

My initial thoughts

Ghachar Ghochar means entangled and the title fits perfectly to the story. Aren’t we all tangled with the chaotic mess that our loved ones are? Even though the book is set in India, I am sure the plot will be relatable across the world.

I loved the characters that were real and raw. The unnamed narrator could be anyone among us and that is what makes Ghachar Ghochar personal and beautiful. If you love open ended plots, you are in for a treat!

Things that worked for me

  • I loved that every character has a grayer shade.
  • I think the simple narration and elegant writing style won me. 
  • The translator did a great job to retain the author’s style of writing.

Things that didn’t work for me

  • As much as I loved reading Ghachar Ghochar, I thought it was too short (is that even a negative thing?)
  • Ghachar Ghochar is not a plot oriented novella, so if you expect a lot of twists and turns you might be disappointed.

Bottom-line

Ghachar Ghochar definitely is one of the top picks on my Asian reads ever. I am gonna look out for more translated works in the future. 

Pin me!

Ghachar Ghochar

Let us chat

Do you like translated works? How often do they satisfy you? Which is your favorite translated reads? Let us talk.

Book review: Ghachar Ghochar

One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan: A Book review

It has been a while since I reviewed a translated work I think. And if you are doing the Year of Asian challenge, read this review of One Part Woman and then the book right away. 

About One Part Woman

One Part woman

Book Name: One Part Woman

Author: Perumal Murugan

Genre: Fiction – Drama, Literary, Translated work

Characters: Kali, Ponna, Muthu, 

Setting: Tamilnadu, India

Plot summary of One Part Woman

Set in the southern part of India, the story revolves around Kali and Ponna who have been married for twelve years. They are ridiculed and ostracized for not conceiving a child by their family, friends and the entire village. They have been called names and shamed about their fertility at every instance. Despite having doubts about having a baby, they try to save their face in front of the society. 

They have met with many astrologers, made offerings to the Gods and done every ritual sacrifices to their deities but to no avail. As a last resort, their families ask Ponna to take part in a specific festival celebrating the half-man-half-woman deity, when any man and woman can consensual sexual relationship with one another. 

Will the couple take up the offer? What effect would this offer have on their relationship. You should read One Part Woman to know more. 

Book review of One Part Woman

Though initially written in my mother tongue Tamil, I read One Part Woman in English and I am glad I did that. While I have heard high praises about the original, I am not sure if I could have digested the rawness in the story. 

One Part Woman portrays emphatically the society’s stand towards a couple who are childless, or God forbid choose not to have one, especially in the rural areas. 

There are a lot of racial and sexual slurs (not more than other novels of the genre though), but nothing that called for the riots and calls for banning the book. I think the political and casteists should leave the literary world alone.   

Things that worked for me:

  • I loved the layered and flowery writing style of the author. 
  • All the characters are well thought and fully developed. I loved Ponna’s strong and fierce character.
  • The book ends in a kinda cliffhanger and continues in the next part, the end worked for me.
  • The rural life in the south India is perfectly etched.

Things that didn’t work for me:

  • The rawness in writing goes in hand with a lot obscene sexual and racial slurs. That is one reason I am glad I didn’t read it in my mother tongue. 
  • I didn’t get many of the slurs and slang, despite it being my mother tongue. 
  • There are times the flowery writing might seem overdone and drags the pace.

Bottom-line:

If you want to read a translated work that portrays rural south India then One Part Woman should be your choice. I am definitely reading the part two soon. 

Similar reviews you might like

Pin me!

One Part woman

Let us chat:

Have you read One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan? What was the last translated work you read? Do you read Asian books? Let us talk.

Book review: Ghachar Ghochar

Book review: Cobalt Blue

Once during an intense conversation, a friend of mine told me that the Indian regional literature is much more forward thinking than what it appears to be. Far far more than what we are still fighting for in English. And then he recommended me Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar.

I didn’t think much of it and put it in the back burner, like I usually do. Out of a whim I picked this without much expectations, thanks to the weird experiences I had with other Indian books written in English. So let us see how the Cobalt Blue turned out, shall we?

About the book

Book Name: Cobalt Blue

Author: Sachin Kundalkar, Translated by Jerry Pinto

Genre: Fiction – Drama, romance, LGBTQA

Characters: Tanay, Anuja and Aseem Joshi, the tenant aka the painter

Setting: Pune, Maharashtra, India

Plot

Set in Pune, a tier one Indian city, Cobalt Blue revolves around siblings Tanay and Anuja and their typical middle class Maharashtrian family. Their elder brother Aseem conforms to the norms of the society in every sense.

And to make their ends meet they taken in a youthful painter whose independent, carefree attitude is almost infectious as a paying tenant. He occupies the single bed room that their grandparents had used when they were alive and still has the lingering scent of Amurtanjan, (a pain relief balm) used by them. 

The book consists of two parts. The first is a second person narrative of Tanay addressing the tenant and talks about their loving relationship and how hurtful it is to live without him. And slowly the reason why the tenant is not living with them anymore is revealed.

The second part forms Anuja’s narration, set about six months after she returns home after her elopement with the tenant. Her diary entries tell us more about the events that led her to fall for the tenant, their elopement and him subsequently abandoning her. 

Both Tanay and Anuja hadn’t realized that they had fallen for the same person. How their conservative family handle to the fact their young children falling for the same person and how the siblings handle their broken hearts form the rest of Cobalt Blue. 

My initial thoughts

I loved the unusual story and it was not very apparent initially that the siblings loved the same person which made it more interesting. I felt connected to their family setting almost immediately. I was fascinated how seamlessly the author interwove not only the themes of homosexual and heterosexual love, but also the family’s love to their off springs despite how difficult and new it was for them. 

It was quite ironical to observe who easy for the tenant and Tanay to spend hours with each other alone in their separate room and nobody questions their actions. On the other hand, Anuja has a very difficult time finding ways to talk to him, without the prying minds and questionable comments. 

But when the table turned, Tanay is forced to hold his feelings for the tenant as well as his emotions to himself, while Anuja’s emotions are relatively unbridled. She suffers with depression and suicidal thoughts and her family remains supportive (comparatively) despite her rebellious actions. Yes it is a sad truth that the Indians at large are still outright homophobic (though it is mostly the elder ones), let us not even go there and the author captures the Indian mentality perfectly. 

The best thing about Cobalt Blue was how the author handled the theme of homosexuality in such a matured way. Cobalt Blue is not a lot about discovering, exploring or even defending sexuality but just accepting it as is. I can’t believe this book was first published in 2006 and the author was a mere 20 year old at that time of him writing this book. I am swept away!

Things that worked for me

  • All the characters and the relationships were handled matured. You can’t just paint a person in the bad light, (yes even or especially the tenant).
  • Remember the last time I was let down by translation? Jerry Pinto, of Em and the Hoom fame, did a great job. 
  • I loved how things were left unsaid and undone. Sometimes less is enough. 
  • The book stayed true to the Indian culture and still if you change the city to any other developing nation the story would still work. 

Things that didn’t work for me

I had a hard time thinking of something to talk about under this heading and I was at loss, which you know is rare. Anyway here it goes.

  • It might feel a little, very little, slow initially but the simple and lyrical prose would get you through. Just read this!
  • Once you get to the point of all or most knots unraveled the story becomes predictable and ordinary. But the simple and lyrical prose would get you through. Just read this, already. 
  • Sometimes, Anuja does come out as annoying, during her acting out phase, but it kinda understandable when you are ditched by someone you loved.

Sigh, I can’t think of anything else to say in the negative light.

Bottom – line

I totally loved this one and Cobalt Blue has definitely made more receptive
to translated works, especially from the Indian writers. I would recommend Cobalt Blue to anyone who loves a contemporary romance set in a family background and LGBTQA themes.

Pin me!

Let us chat

Have you read this book? Do you like translated works? Have they ever let you down or you one of those ever lucky people? Let us chat. 

Book review: Ghachar Ghochar

Book review: Kitchen

There is something with South East Asian Literature that I can’t put my finger to, they always leave me confused whether I like them or not. I picked Kitchen by Yoshimoto worrying if I will get it, especially seeing that it has several raving reviews on Goodreads.

I didn’t want to read the blurb and jumped directly into the book. Read on to know how that went.

About the book

Kitchen


Book Name: Kitchen

Author: Banana Yoshimoto

Genre: Fiction – Modern Classic, Literary,

Characters: Mikage Sakurai, Yuichi and Eriko Tanabe

Setting: Tokyo, Japan

Plot


Kitchen begins with Mikage Sakurai grieving the death of her grandmother, in their kitchen. Yuichi and his mother Eriko takes her in as she has no other family left. Mikage throws herself into cooking and food, which becomes part of her heart and dreams.

Eriko is a transvestite, who runs a gay night club and lives with her son Yuichi who studies at Uni. He was a man for a long time until his wife died and then he changes ‘her face and her everything’ with the help of operations. The busy mother – son gets closer to Miakge through her home cooked dinners, until Mikage moves away to pursue her culinary dreams. 

A few months later Eriko is murdered by a smitten man. Tides change and it is now Yuichi that has to face the loss and grief. How Mikage helps Yuichi to cope with the loss and how her passion for food keeps the friends sane forms the rest of the story in Kitchen. 

Kitchen is followed by a shorter tale named Moonlight Shadow in which the theme of grief and loss of beloved ones continue. Satsuki lost her boy friend Hitsohi to an unforeseen road accident. She picks up running to push her sorrows away. Hitoshi’s brother who lost his girlfriend in the same accident dresses in her favorite costume as a cope up mechanism.

Satsuki meets Urara who tells her a way that can help her find a closure. Read the story to know if they find what they seek. 

My initial thoughts

Yoshimoto’s Kitchen is full of eccentric characters and I can’t think of a better word than weird right now to describe the plot. 

The leads in both the tales attempt to seek hope and overcoming of their destitution after the death. But how they attain that is way different.

Though both the stories are very minimal and to the point, I loved them like a fresh breath of air. Some stories make us long for more but Kitchen in all its incompleteness felt complete. I don’t want to know what Satsuki or Yuichi, who stayed in my mind long after I finished reading, did anymore because I know (and hope) they will be better. 

Here is where I am lost. I dunno if I love or hate Yoshimoto’s writing. There were places when the writing felt right and there were places that were just off. I might have to read more of Yoshimoto’s to conclude whether it was the writing or the translation that failed to make me love it. Or maybe that was how the book was intended to be. 

Things that worked for me

  • The simplistic narration talks about ordinary people leading a mundane life but had profound effect on me. 
  • Yoshimoto’s writing is not polished or lyrical, in fact it does not even mince words (but that might be just the translation), yet the simple prose hits the point at most places. 
  • I loved the usage of Kitchen as a metaphor and letting it play a character in the story.

Things that didn’t work for me

  • Kitchen is not a plot driven novel. And if you are looking for one with lots of twists and turns, you will be severely disappointed. 
  • I felt the translation seemed off at places but I am not sure if it was intentional.
  • I am still not sure if the usage of transvestite and transgender is accurate. I think they were used interchangeably in the book, I might be wrong.

Bottom-line

If you liked The Vegetarian by Han Kang, you might like Kitchen as well.  You may like this one or not, but I am sure it will leave a lasting memory either way, just like it did for me.

Pin me!

Kitchen

Let us talk

Have you read this or anything from Japan? Do you like books that are not plot oriented? What other countries do you like me to read about? Let us talk.