Friday, July 22, 2016

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves

The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Translated by Lucia Graves (Spanish)
First published 2002, I read 2005 Phoenix paperback
510 pages, gothic romance, mystery, adventure
Found: super cheap at the Kochi Book Fair 2015

A bookseller takes his 11-year-old son Daniel to a very special place: a hidden building in Barcelona where there is a collection of lost, neglected, or forgotten books. As a privilege of visiting for the first time, Daniel is allowed to choose one book to take with him. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, which quickly becomes his favorite novel.

But when he tries to find out more about this author, mystery arises. Julian Carax is unknown, and it is believed that he died shortly after the War. And then there is the faceless man who is searching for Daniel’s prized copy with the intention of burning it and any other copy of Carax’s work that appears - and who has taken on the name of a character from The Shadow of the Wind who is the Devil incarnate.

Master storytelling in the vein of nineteenth-century novels

Zafón’s work is quite obviously inspired by the best of 1800s literature. He combines an incredible feel for gothic-style literary tension with a gorgeous, poetic writing style that left me enthralled. While leisurely at first, the pace quickly picks up and drags the reader along, wondering what will happen next.

There is grand adventure around every corner in this novel. Haunted houses, magical libraries of forgotten books, and blind love interests - anyone who loves The Count of Monte Cristo or other large-hearted adventure novels will love this book as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Goat Days by Benyamin, translated by Joseph Koyippally

Goat Days
Translated by Joseph Koyippally
First published 2008, I read 2012 translation
255 pages, fictional memoir

Thank you to Penguin India for providing a review copy of this book. 

When I first moved to Kerala last year, I wrote to my contact at Penguin India asking for review copies of novels written by Malayali authors, especially ones that were translated from Malayalam. I expected that reading these novels would help me to understand the culture that I was now immersed in.

In fact, the opposite happened: my experience of living in Kerala, and especially my husband’s experiences of working closely with Keralites, has made me intimately familiar with Malayali attitudes and society, even without knowing the language at all. So instead of this novel helping to understand the society, my knowledge of the society will help me to discuss the deeper social implications of this novel.

In this novel, a poor Malayali man named Najeeb gets the opportunity to go to one of the countries in the Persian Gulf – probably Saudi Arabia – to take up a relatively lucrative job. However, when he arrives he discovers that his dreams have led him to the exact opposite of what he expected: instead of a comfortable, air-conditioned flat and a job in construction, he finds himself working as a slave in the middle of the desert, herding goats, sheep, and camels, and living without even a shelter to protect him from the sun’s heat. Set in 1991, this shows the flip side of Malayali migration to the better-paying jobs on the Arabian peninsula.

Opportunities Abroad

Going to another country to make money seems like it would be a big decision that would require planning. However, Najeeb displays an astonishing lack of forethought regarding this move. In his own words,

How long have I been here, diving for a living? How about going abroad for once? Not for long. I am not greedy. Only long enough to settle a few debts. Add a room to the house. Just the usual cravings of most Malayalis…. Can one go hungry? I have, in the past. But things are different now. Now, at [my Mom]’s insistence, I am married. My wife is four months pregnant. Expenditure will now mount up like sand.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ontorjatra, directed by Tareque and Catherine Masud

Bangladesh (Bengali and English), 2006
84 min, slice-of-life, drama
Directed by Tareque and Catherine Masud
Starring Sara Zaker and Rifakat Rashid

After 15 years abroad, Shireen and her son Sohel return to Bangladesh to attend the memorial service for Sohel’s father. After getting a divorce when Sohel was five years old, Shireen had fled to the UK and cut off any communication with her ex-husband. This included allowing Sohel to visit Bangladesh or communicate with his father in any way.

Bangladesh is not like Shireen remembers, and Sohel is experiencing it for the first time. As Sohel discovers the family that he never knew, Shireen is forced to confront her past and the decisions she made all those years before.

This is a major, well-known Bangladeshi movie. I wouldn’t call it a good movie, necessarily: the acting, in particular, leaves a lot to be desired, and there are far too many voiceovers. However, it does a very good job of showing what life in Bangladesh is actually like – and that is what I want to focus on.


I have told my husband many stories about Dhaka and Bangladesh, but he’s never been there. I was surprised when he started exclaiming about things that he noticed in this film. “The airport is so 1970s!” “The buses are so beat up, they look terrible!” “God, this is what the traffic really looks like???” I guess my descriptions didn’t convey as much as this video did.

This movie gives a good sense of what it feels like to be walking around in Bangladesh and interacting with Bangladeshi people there. Dhaka is full of too many people, too much traffic and too much pollution, and it’s constructed out of new high-rise buildings, with older buildings few and far between. But if you go outside of Dhaka, the countryside is beautiful – green rice fields stretching into the distance and the tea gardens in Sylhet.

Read the rest at The Asian Cinema Blog

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