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Curfewed Night and Fire on the Mountain (thoughts)

March 10, 2011

Y’all, I had no idea how far behind I’d fallen as far as posting about books I’ve read (and I still haven’t tried to update the list)!!! It’s almost a good thing that I didn’t get to that many books in February, because I have more than enough to keep me blogging for ages already. In fact, on Tuesday I sat down ready to post and was so paralysed with indecision that I ended up not writing any kind of post. And then yesterday I was exhausted! But today, I’m just going to jump in with both feet and write about two very different books, united by their authors’ Indian citizenship.

Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer is an account of life in Kashmir by a Kashmiri journalist based in Delhi. I have been interested in Kashmir since reading (and rereading) my favourite Rushdie novel, Shalimar the Clown (if you’re looking for an incredible audiobook, do pick it up), so when I saw it pop up in my library catalogue, I had to give it a go. It’s partly a memoir, with Peer describing his childhood in a Kashmir that gradually became a war zone, and it’s partly an investigative journalistic account of Kashmir’s recent history and current troubles. While I was already moderately familiar with Kashmir’s history, I think someone without any previous knowledge could learn a lot from Curfewed Night. Peer writes with a Western audience in mind, making sure that he includes enough explanations and background material so that a reader can put the events in context. The balance is quite good, and Peer excels at putting a human face on the larger tragedy of the conflict. He includes interviews and life stories from a variety of Kashmiris, including militants. When he’s writing about individual people, the book really comes to life. That being said, his writing was occasionally a bit, well, pedestrian; when I put it down, I never thought to myself ‘gee, I can’t wait to pick it back up’ or decided to sneak in a few extra chapters from eagerness. Part of this is that Peer’s account is almost entirely populated by men; he is marvelous at articulating the effect of growing up in such a conflict on boys and their fathers and grandfathers, but the women merely get a brief mention here or there as an afterthought. Obviously, as a man himself, Peer probably found himself naturally more focused on his schoolfriends and the larger male circle he was a part of. But I think the book would have been a bit more interesting, for me at least, if Peer had remembered to include a bit more about the girls and women. I’m definitely glad that I’ve read it, and I’d recommend it to anyone curious about Kashmir. But I’d also suggest reading Sudha Koul’s The Tiger Ladies for the feminine perspective (you can read my gushing description if you so desire). As for me, I have a few more Kashmiri-themed books in my sights: In the Valley of Mists by by Justine Hardy, Chef: A Novel by Jaspreet Singh, and Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace by Sumantra Bose.

While not as far north as Kashmir, Anita Desai’s slim novel Fire on the Mountain is still set in a Himalayan retreat. This was my first experience with Desai, and I was a bit nervous since I didn’t get along overly well with her daughter, Kiran Desai’s, Inheritance of Loss. But once I opened up Fire on the Mountain and read the first page, I relaxed; the writing was so powerful I knew I was in good hands. And so it proved; I adored every moment I spent with this book, and I can’t wait to read the rest of Anita Desai’s backlist. One of the neatest things, for me, is that the focus of the novel is an old woman, Nanda Kaul; it seems like most of the fiction I come across is about younger people (middle aged at most), or maybe an old man here or there. As I hope to be an old woman myself one day, I perked up to see one in literature! And Kaul’s a great character, completely memorable. Her narrative voice sounded so strong and true to me, as she reflected on a life spent caring for her family, and her fierce and unapologetic desire to dedicate her remaining time to herself and avoid other people. Of course, since this is a novel, things must change, and change presents itself in the form of her great granddaughter Raka, sent to the mountains to convalesce. Raka is also portrayed as original and memorable; Desai seems to have a deft touch when it comes to characterisation. I won’t say more, except that every moment of the story felt so real. This is a character rather than plot driven book, which I happen to love, especially when it’s accompanied by stunning writing. At only 160 pages, this is a great way to get a taste for Desai, and I’d highly recommend it. As for me, I’m reading her books that my library has in publishing order, being with the oldest (Fire on the Mountain was published in 1977), so next up for me is Clear Light of Day. I can’t wait!

Do you have a favourite Indian author?

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41 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2011 3:23 pm

    oh rushdie my favourite by far ,these both look good eva not read either ,all the best stu

    • March 13, 2011 8:03 pm

      Rushdie’s one of my faves too! It’s hard to pick just one though. ;)

  2. Therese permalink
    March 10, 2011 3:40 pm

    What a great review of all these books. I had avoided Anita Desai’s books because I just couldn’t finish Kiran’s Inheritance of Loss, one of the few books I have not finished. I was excited to read it because I have been to the town she writes about and tried mightily to stay with it. I’ve also been to Kashmir before much of the war and I’d be hard pressed to name a more beautiful spot on the earth. Thanks for the other recommendations. I’m anxious to read them now. My favorite Indian author hands down is Rohinton Mistry because of A Fine Balance. But another lovely and poigniant book is Climbing the Mango Trees, Madhur Jaffrey’s memoir. It not only is a book not to be missed for it’s vivid descriptions of food, but also paints a portrait of the privileged Indian class that summered in the Himalayan hill towns. Finally, it takes us through the disappearance of a way of life that came with Partition and the friends and families it separated. Please savor the films of Deepa Mehta, especially Water. Scenes of Water are among the most moving of any film I’ve seen.

    • March 13, 2011 8:05 pm

      Thanks Therese! So are you going to give Anita Desai a go now, since I didn’t like Inheritance of Loss either? I’m SO jealous you’ve been to Kashmir; I’ve seen it on a couple of travel documentaries, and it just looks stunning.

      A Fine Balance ripped my heart out, and I still haven’t really forgiven Mistry. ;) But Climbing the Mango Trees sounds great: I’ll put it on my TBR list! The film suggestions will go into my Netflix queue; I’ve read Train to Pakistan, which was a stunning novella about the Partition, but I haven’t watched many Indian movies.

  3. March 10, 2011 4:12 pm

    I’ve read Clear Light of Day but don’t remember a huge amount about it…it was pre-blogging and I think its short length may have meant I read it too quickly & didn’t devote enough thought to it. As I recall, though, it too involved at least one older-woman character (though don’t remember whether middle-aged or elderly). Maybe your eventual post on it will inspire me to revisit! Whenever people discuss Desai’s style it sounds right up my alley, so I suspect I would love her if I gave her another chance.

    • March 13, 2011 8:08 pm

      I think I do that with novellas sometimes too! I’ve thought about having myself reread a novella once I’ve finish it, just to make sure I’ve spent enough time with it.

  4. March 10, 2011 5:01 pm

    I second Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. And I also like The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga and getting to know what corruption can make out of a man. As for movies (I know you didn’t ask for them) I liked The Darjeeling Limited.

    • March 13, 2011 8:09 pm

      I’ve read both of those! :) And watched The Darjeeling Limited; I lurve Wes Anderson, hehe.

  5. March 10, 2011 8:44 pm

    First off, it’s so good to see you here again! :) We always miss you!

    I can’t believe you didn’t like Inheritance of Loss?!? I must have missed it somewhere along the line. I’ve read mother and daughter (Fasting, Feasting by Anita) and liked them both for different reasons. I wasn’t aware of this book though and really have to read it. I’m actually getting ready to read Baumgartner’s Bombay, so hopefully I continue to like them. :) Thanks for sharing this one!

    • March 13, 2011 8:11 pm

      Thanks Becky! You didn’t miss anything; I think I read Inheritance of Loss pre-blogging days (wait, I just checked, I read it in 2007 but didn’t blog about it). I can’t remember why I didn’t like it, but I do have another Kiran Desai book on my shelves somewhere, so I’ll give her another chance eventually. Also, is that the book with the scene where the guy is constipated and uses his finger to get things moving? Because I totally resent her for that imagery staying with me all of these years. Ugh.

      • March 13, 2011 10:07 pm

        I don’t remember that scene at all! Huh, if it was, then I missed it. :) Actually, I read Inheritance of Loss several summers ago for a read-a-thon, so I read it in one sitting. It was intense, but I think that created an experience where I really fell into it.

        Having said that, I remember Anita’s book more. Weird, eh? Maybe that says something. (Although I was more shocked by the treatment of the “ugly” daughter in that book than anything else! It totally convinced me that marriage just might be a big sham. LOL.)

  6. March 10, 2011 9:37 pm

    Both these books sound amazing! I especially want to read Anita Desai. I haven’t read Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss (hype and all, y’know?). I haven’t really stuck with one Indian author in all my years of reading Indian books. I’ve skated over many of them. I’ve only read one of Rushdie’s and sadly do not dig him. I like Jhumpa Lahiri though. I seem to have read more of her books than any one else’s.

    • March 13, 2011 8:13 pm

      Totally get the hype thing! And I see how Rushdie wouldn’ t be for everyone, hehe. My own Indian (and Indian diaspora) reading tends to be more broad than deep as well. But I have read all of Lahiri’s books!

  7. March 10, 2011 11:12 pm

    I really like Adiga’s White Tiger and Ghosh (sp?) the author of Sea of Poppies.

    • March 13, 2011 8:14 pm

      I lurved Sea of Poppies, but I didn’t get along perfectly with my second Ghosh try. I don’t think it’s his fault, though; it was a sci-fi-ish medical thriller, which isn’t my usual cup of tea. So now I’m going to pick up another one of his historical novels so hopefully I can fall back in love!

  8. March 11, 2011 12:12 am

    I wasn’t able to finish The Inheritance of Loss, with only 100 pages left. The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence is another novel about an old woman and it’s a Canadian book.

    • March 13, 2011 8:15 pm

      I have The Stone Angel on my shelves somewhere! I’ll have to grab it. :)

  9. March 11, 2011 4:23 am

    Anita Desai is my favourite Indian author! I love her work. I read Fasting, Feasting for a contemporary fiction class when I was in college and was utterly transfixed by it. I still think of it now, particular scenes have remained with me powerfully. I also really loved A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth from the same class, although I’m sure you must have read that already. Oh, and Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra. Wonderful!

    I’m one of those people who really liked The Inheritance of Loss, although only after a battle with myself. I blogged about it: http://evesalexandria.typepad.com/eves_alexandria/2007/06/a_sieve_of_his_.html

    • March 13, 2011 8:17 pm

      Thank you for the link Victoria! I can’t wait to read what you have to say. :) I read A Suitable Boy last year and absolutely loved it. :D I haven’t read the Chandra, though, so I’ll put it on my TBR list!

      Also, transfixing is a GREAT way to describe Desai’s writing.

  10. March 11, 2011 7:58 am

    I’ve read two Rushdies and have Shalimar on my TBR for ages. The summary in the back cover was interestingly enough to get me to buy it, but somehow it has laid forgotten since then. This is a great incentive to pick it up soon!

    • March 13, 2011 8:17 pm

      Remember that I’m already a Rushdie fan, but Shalimar is definitely my favourite of his! Other than Haroun and the Sea of Stories. ;)

  11. March 11, 2011 8:40 am

    Oh my goodness, favorite Indian authors? Besides Rushdie and Desai there is Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy and Vikram Chandra. I have a copy of A Fine Balance in my TBR pile and really must get to reading it. And now there are Kashmiri authors on the TBR list. I read Chef last year and enjoyed it and want to read Curfewed Night and The Tiger Ladies!

    • March 13, 2011 8:18 pm

      Chandra is the only one you’ve mentioned that I haven’t read: I have to fix that! I didn’t get along well with The God of Small Things, but I do want to give Roy another chance one of these days. As for A Fine Balance, stock up on the tissue boxes.

      So glad to hear that Chef is enjoyable!

  12. March 11, 2011 12:06 pm

    Hi there! :) Like a few of the bloggers here, I think Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance is wonderful. What I really loved however was his other, perhaps less well known work, Family Matters. The book is about a family taking care of an elderly father and the resultant domestic crisis. I would highly recommend a wonderful classic, Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. Its a giant, doorstop of a book (1,349 pages!!) about marriage in Indian society. It will engage you on all levels :-)

    • March 13, 2011 8:19 pm

      Hi Reeta! I read A Suitable Boy last year and just adored it. :) I had mixed feelings about A Fine Balance, but Mistry’s writing was wonderful, so it sounds like I’ll need to give Family Matters a go. Thanks for the rec!

  13. Therese permalink
    March 11, 2011 12:35 pm

    What good recommendations from everyone. Good to hear about Family Matters and all the others. I know of these authors, but have not read them. Intriguing comment about A Suitable Boy.

    • March 13, 2011 8:20 pm

      If you haven’t read A Suitable Boy yet, it’s SOOOO good. :D

  14. March 11, 2011 1:49 pm

    Both of these sound very good. I haven’t read a lot of Indian authors, but I really enjoyed “Sea of Poppies” by Amitav Ghosh. I have a copy of his “The Glass Palace” sitting on my bookshelf to read and am looking forward to it!

    • March 13, 2011 8:20 pm

      I already told you this on Twitter, but The Glass Palace is going to be my next Ghosh! :)

  15. March 11, 2011 9:49 pm

    I haven’t read any of these books but I’ve been wanting to read something by Anita Desai for the longest time. Book set in the Himalayas sounds divine

    • March 13, 2011 8:21 pm

      There’s something about hill stations that’s just magical, isn’t there?

  16. March 12, 2011 5:12 pm

    Favorite Indian writers? Hmm, I’ve liked everything by Jhumpa Lahiri I’ve ever read.Its been a while since I read Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, but I really loved the book. And I loved Inheritance of Loss, too, so Kiran Desai is another favorite. :) I’m yet to read Anite Desai, though.

    • March 13, 2011 8:21 pm

      Sounds like we might have slightly different taste; I couldn’t get along w Inheritance of Loss or God of Small Things! lol But I have enjoyed all of Lahiri’s books, so it’s not a lost case. ;)

  17. March 13, 2011 7:39 am

    A favourite indian author… hmmm, do you know what at the moment I really dont and that is not great is it. In fact actually I havent read anything with an indian setting for quite some time, I think you have just given me the impotus to read one pronto! Thanks Eva!

    • March 13, 2011 8:22 pm

      It’s funny, pre-blogging I went through a stage where almost all of the international fiction I read was by Indian authors! I consciously tried to cut back so I could more diversely, but I do still love the subcontinent. :D

  18. March 13, 2011 8:39 am

    Curfewed Night sounds really interesting and like a book that I would want to read at some point. I’m so glad that you are back to posting Eva and adding to my huge wishlist already :)

  19. March 13, 2011 11:10 am

    Ooh, I’m loving the sound of Fire on the Mountain. I actually think I’m going to add that one to my wishlist. :) I’m so happy to see you back and posting, Eva. Have missed your posts.

    • March 13, 2011 8:23 pm

      Thanks Ceri! I hope you love Fire on the Mountain has much as I did. :)

  20. Heqit permalink
    March 16, 2011 9:20 am

    ooooh, Indian novels! Most of my favorites have already been mentioned here (add me to the list of people who couldn’t get through Inheritance of Loss, though), but one that hasn’t is Sister of My Heart, by Chitra Banerjee Divakuni. It’s so good, and I loved how she explores and develops the close relationship between the two girls.

    And if you want Indian movie recommendations, let me know — I watch almost nothing else!

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