Monday, December 28, 2015

Year in Review: 2015

For my year in review post, I decided to split my selections into award categories. So here are my selections, published both before and during 2015. They are in no particular order within each category, and links go to my reviews (and the original story, if online). If there is no link, my review is probably still in the works.


Best Speculative Fiction (Long Form) 

The Devourers by Indra Das
A Planet for Rent by Yoss, translated by David Frye
Tantrics of Old by Krishnarjun Bhattacharya
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, translated by Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
Cult of Chaos by Shweta Taneja

Best Speculative Fiction (Short Form) 

"Thirst" and "The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet" by Vandana Singh from The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories
"The White Mask" by Zedeck Siew from Cyberpunk: Malaysia
"A Village of Cold Hearths" by Sheng Keyi, translated by Brendan O'Kane from Chutzpah!
“Retracing Your Steps” by Zhu Yue, translated by Nick Admussen from Chutzpah!
“No Man Is” by Ng Yi-Sheng from LONTAR volume 5
“Siren” by Amanda Lee Koe from LONTAR volume 5
“The Spurned Bride’s Tears, Centuries Old, in the Rain” by Gord Sellar from LONTAR volume 5
"Psychopomp" by Indrapramit (Indra) Das

Best Literary Fiction (Long Form) 

Dry Season by Gabriela Babnik, translated by Rawley Grau
The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden
The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan, translated by Howard Goldblatt
The King's Harvest by Chetan Raj Shreshta
I am Istanbul by Buket Uzuner, translated by Kenneth J. Dakan

Best Literary Fiction (Short Form) 

“The Failure” by Aydos Amantay, translated by Canaan Morse from Chutzpah!
“Dust” by Chen Xue, translated by Howard Goldblatt from Chutzpah!
"Blue Hawaii" by Rizia Rahman, translated by Niaz Zaman and Musharrat Hossain from Caged in Paradise
"Mother Fatema Weeps" by Rizia Rahman, translated by Shirin Hasanat Islam from Caged in Paradise
"Caged in Paradise" by Rizia Rahman, translated by Niaz Zaman from Caged in Paradise
"The Balloonwala" by Anirban Bose from Mice in Men

Best Humor and Satire 

The Black Box by Alek Popov
Dangerlok by Eunice de Souza

Best International Films 

The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi
Nueve Reinas by Fabian Bielinsky
Aguner Poroshmoni by Humayun Ahmed
The Lives of Others by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
English Vinglish by Gauri Shinde
Dil Chahta Hai by Farhan Akhtar
Kadambari by Suman Ghosh
Castaway on the Moon by Lee Hae-jun
The Orphanage by J. A. Bayona

My goal for next year is to read more speculative short stories online. You might see an occasional short review on here. :)

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Uttarer Sur (The Northern Symphony), directed by Shahnewaz Kakoli

Uttarer Sur (The Northern Symphony)
Bangladesh (Bengali), 2012
113 min, drama, social commentary
Directed by Shahnewaz Kakoli

Chan Miya is a traditional folk musician who plays the dotara, a stringed instrument, and performs songs from the "Bhawaiya" tradition of Northern Bangladesh. He lives in a rural village with his wife Ambia and their daughter Ayesha, who is learning to perform as well. While the amount of money he earns from playing his music in train stations and markets is quickly diminishing, he has pride in his art and is hesitant to take up the more lucrative manual labor that is available in the village. Chan Miya dotes on his daughter and finds it difficult to refuse any of her requests - even when she wants to buy pet pigeons with the little bit of money they have for food.

Ambia, an orphan with skin that is considered far too dark, comes from an abusive background. The lack of food and her societal role as the artist's wife is taking a toll on her, and she is angry with her husband and daughter when they spend their tiny income on frivolities. She wishes she could go to work herself, but it would be a shame for the family if people know that Chan Miya is unable to provide for them through his art.

While this movie has some major flaws, I have chosen to review it because it depicts the difficulties faced by traditional musicians in a rapidly changing part of rural Bangladesh.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa, translated by Danny Hahn

A General Theory of Oblivion
José Eduardo Agualusa
Translated by Danny Hahn (Portuguese)
Originally 2012, I read 2015 Harvill Secker hardback
243 pages, literary fiction

Many thanks to Archipelago Books, who found a review copy that could be sent to India! Archipelago’s edition was released in December 2015. 

Ludovica, or Ludo, is a solitary person who does not like to go outside the house. When her sister marries an Angolan man, Ludo moves with them to the new country (they are originally from Portugal). But then her sister and brother-in-law go missing as Angolan independence draws near and the terrified Ludo protects herself by bricking herself into her apartment. She stays there for almost 30 years, but surprisingly her actions within her small sanctuary have wide-reaching consequences.

Apparently based on a true story, this novel started as a script for a movie that unfortunately was never made.  The novel is a wonderful piece of fiction, tightly controlled and cinematic.

Silences and Omissions

The beginning part of the book, when Ludo is bricked into the apartment, is full of breaks and silences. We don’t really know much about what she did by herself for so many years. She wrote poetry on the walls. She figured out how to catch pigeons using shiny diamonds (a fortune that her brother-in-law had hidden in the house). But a majority of her activities are missing. Absent. Perhaps this is most appropriate for a novel about someone who has essentially chosen not to exist.

I’m not sure that Ludo is actually the main character of this novel. It seems that the main character is, perhaps, the absence of one.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The King and Queen of Comezón by Denise Chávez

Denise Chávez
2014, I read paperback edition
309 pages, character study, psychological

Thank you to the University of Oklahoma Press for providing a review copy of this book, part of the Chicana & Chicano Visions of the Américas series.

It is really important to me to include works by marginalized writers from the United States on this blog. I think it sends the wrong impression to only feature novels from “foreign” countries, whether in translation or in English; this blog is about the global diversity of literature and film,  including the native diversity in the US. That is why I have chosen to include this book by a major Chicana writer.

In Comezón, a small town on the Mexico-New Mexico border, everyone has some comezón – a yearning for something that will never happen. In this series of interconnected character studies, the author examines what each individual wants – and what, exactly, is keeping them from getting it.

The main focus is on the dysfunctional Olivárez family. Arnulfo, the aging father, is slowly (and quietly) dying of lung disease and alcoholism but continues to take the stage as master of ceremonies at the local Mexican-American festivals of Cinco de Mayo and 16th September. His wife, Doña Emilia, is disabled and cannot control Arnulfo, but she has the patience of an angel even when he doesn’t deserve it. Their daughter, Juliana, though bound to a wheelchair, has a rich inner life of reading and painting and a hidden love for the local Spanish priest. Arnulfo’s daughter by an affair, Lucinda, knows that she doesn’t quite fit into the family and wants to escape as soon as possible, running away with the son of Comezón’s Chief of Police. And then there is Isá, the housekeeper, cook, and best friend of Doña Emilia who also helps take care of Juliana.

With these and other characters from the town, the author takes us on a journey into the trials and tribulations – and loves and passions – of a small town on the Mexican border.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Pethavan: The Begetter by Imayam, translated by Gita Subramanian

Pethavan: The Begetter
Translated by Gita Subramanian (Tamil)
xxxiv + 57 pages, drama, psychological

Thank you to Oxford University Press India for providing a review copy of this and other novellas from the Oxford Novella series. 

The young girl Bhakkiyam has fallen in love with a Dalit (untouchable) boy, breaking caste boundaries. The village will not stand for this, and has gathered in front of her father’s house to demand that he kill her this time. Her father, Pazhani, promises the mob that he will kill her the next day.

Then he considers what to do.

This is a story of a man put in a terrible position. His daughter has done something outrageous according to the ideas of the villagers. Pazhani, his wife, and the other women in the family have tried to change her mind for three years. But Bhakkiyam has held firm to her decision to marry the Dalit boy, despite being beaten nearly to death multiple times and suffering constant abuse from the members of her own family.

Pazhani does not want to kill Bhakkiyam. He has already promised to do it three times and not followed through. This is the fourth time, and the villagers will not let him escape without carrying out the deed. They will come and kill Bhakkiyam themselves, and her father as well. It has reached the point where something drastic must be done.

This terrible tale of caste anger and mobs is told in very simple language, mostly in dialogue with the bare minimum of description. This is incredibly effective, since it puts the characters’ words in the limelight – words that are sometimes contradictory. The characters are in such a terrible psychological state that they really don’t know what to do with themselves.

The translation is somewhat stilted and awkward. This is probably because of the difficulty of the text. Like many Bengali-language stories that I have read, much of the meaning of this novella is conveyed through using a local dialect, making it difficult, if not impossible, to convey effectively in English. The translator has chosen to render it into simple English, a decision that I think was the best possible under the circumstances. But the text seems a bit stilted as a result.

This was a really powerful novella about caste violence and a father’s love. Unfortunately these events are all too real, and happen too frequently in many parts of rural India. The author manages to convey the terrible impact of such an attitude, both on a family and on the village as a whole.

Pethavan: The Begetter is available in India from Amazon, in the US from Amazon and Indiebound, in the UK from Amazon and Hive, and worldwide from the Book Depository. 

Further Reading: 

"Truth and Lies," a short story by Imayam, translated by Lakshmi Holstrom (Words Without Borders)
"When hate begets hate," review of Pethavan by K. Srilata (The Hindu) 

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Monday, December 7, 2015

The Patience Stone, directed by Atiq Rahimi

The Patience Stone
Afghanistan (Dari), 2012
102 min, drama, war, psychological
Directed by Atiq Rahimi
Starring Golshifteh Farahani

When her warrior husband is shot in the back of the neck, leaving him unconscious, a woman must care for him as much as possible while in the middle of a war zone. While she takes care of him, she is surprised to find herself confessing everything to him, telling him everything about her cares and desires – even about her sexual explorations - for the first time.

Woman’s roles

The most striking thing about this film is the way women’s roles are depicted. This woman is a good wife – she was engaged to her husband since childhood, married his dagger while he was at war, gave him two children, and is now taking care of him while he is in a coma, despite the risk to herself. She is devoted to him as a good wife should be, begging him not to leave her alone.

At the same time, she has been abandoned by his family. When he was injured, his mother and brothers did not help at all. They left her behind to take care of her husband, knowing that their neighborhood was going to be an active war zone. She quickly runs out of money and has to take refuge with her own aunt. While she fulfills her wifely role to the letter, she is apparently seen as disposable by the rest of her husband’s family.