Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: Stoner by John Edward Williams

First published:-1965

Republished by:- Vintage Digital, 2012

Star rating:-

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” - Henry David Thoreau

The triumph of this work lies in its self-effacing world-weariness, its tone of presupposed indifference even to the prospective reader's concerns. Like the inexorable stoicism of its protagonist in the face of misfortune and persecution, the narrative revels in its own lacklusterness, its state of diffused melancholy. 
William Stoner, first student and eventually English professor at (fictionalized) University of Missouri lives a life of flawed choices, unrealized potential and innumerable regrets, witnessing the world go through a period of tremendous sociopolitical ferment in the 20th century, and remaining invisible in the eyes of history. He breathes his last, just as silently, alone in a hospital ward, feebly flipping through the pages of a scholarly work. But do not for a moment think this deceptively drab synopsis encapsulates the essence of 'Stoner'. John Williams, through his luminous prose and by the aid of a vision which is as solemn as it is lucid, reminds us of the quotidian battles fought every moment anywhere by faceless individuals against the forces of oppression and moral laxity - that the fate of civilization is dependent on the capable or incapable shoulders of an individual.

He found himself wondering if his life were worth the living; if it had ever been. It was a question, he suspected, that came to all men at one time or another; he wondered if it came to them with such impersonal force as it came to him. The question brought with it a sadness, but it was a general sadness which (he thought) had little to do with himself or with his particular fate; he was not even sure that the question sprang from the most immediate and obvious causes, from what his own life had become.

An ode to literature? Yes. A story recounted with conviction and a quiet dignity? Undoubtedly. A sincere attempt at proffering acknowledgment on a seemingly inconsequential existence? That too. But more than anything else this is a literary toast raised in honour of those small, often unnoticed, acts of courage and compassion which somehow realign the moral order of the universe but are blotted out from memory and consciousness easily.
There is sadness here - boundless in depth and overwhelming in intensity - but hope glimmers occasionally too. Hope that the world may go to pieces and things may fall apart irrevocably yet a man may summon the strength to endure the tragedy of existence by discovering a true and unbreakable love. The currents of time weather away all past disappointments, longing, old grudges and anger. Only the love of the written word casts a glow in the eternal darkness.

A kind of joy came upon him, as if borne in on a summer breeze. He dimly recalled that he had been thinking of failure--as if it mattered. It seemed to him now that such thoughts were mean, unworthy of what his life had been. Dim presences gathered at the edge of his consciousness; he could not see them, but he knew that they were there, gathering their forces toward a kind of palpability he could not see or hear. He was approaching them, he knew; but there was no need to hurry. He could ignore them if he wished; he had all the time there was.


**much gratitude to Netgalley and Vintage Digital for providing a free e-copy as ARC**

Review also posted on Goodreads & Amazon.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review: Broken Harbour (Dublin Murder Squad, #4) by Tana French

First published:- 2012

Read in:- June, 2014

Star rating:-

There are certain things I pride myself on - the ability to read through a tremendous racket without losing my thread of concentration, the audacity to share my blasphemous distaste for pizzas with pizza worshippers who then proceed to shoot me death glares, and more pertinently, the way I don't balk at rating a piece of mainstream literature 5 stars if it has shown the grit to discard gimmickry and preserve that golden human touch. 

How ingeniously Tana French subverts the formulaic plotting of a 'psychological thriller', poking and prodding at the darkness we prefer to bury under the gloss of make-believe contentment until it becomes a threat of gargantuan proportions. How masterfully she paints this picture of a family marooned at the thin divide between normalcy and utter chaos, dangling precariously from the edge of oblivion. How mercilessly she concocts such a heart-wrenching tragedy where the lines between culpability and innocence are blurred to the point that both merge into a single entity, where the victims are just as unwittingly drawn to the dark side as the perpetrators and the ones entrusted with the task of rectifying the wrongs done. 

Sometimes the ugliness of visible reality is nothing but the tip of the iceberg and the truth is like a lightning bolt from the blue, capable of shattering the glass mansion of denial we prefer to live in. The truth runs much deeper, past the shallow defenses offered by skin and flesh, inexorably slicing through our bones.

"In that moment I thought of Broken Harbor: of my summer haven, awash with the curves of water and the loops of seabirds and the long falls of silver-gold light through sweet air; of muck and craters and raw-edged walls where human beings had beat their retreat. For the first time in my life, I saw the place for what it was: lethal, shaped and honed for destruction..."

'Broken Harbour' is about the proverbial monsters of our own creation lurking in the shadows biding their time to harm what we cherish the most, the slow disintegration of that 'good life' we have put together bit by bit and how sometimes cause does not precede effect. And it is a sad acknowledgement of the fact that a horrendous fate may lie in ambush for the sinless and unsuspecting. 

For the ones who steer clear of 'murder mystery novels' for their stereotypical compartmentalization of crime and detective work, I dare you to read this particular Tana French creation and remain unaffected.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Review: The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad, #2) by Tana French

First published:- 2008

Star rating:-

Read in:- March, 2014

"We had worked together seamlessly, she and I. I had drawn her to this house, this life, every bit as neatly and surely as she had drawn me."

Tana French knows how to conjure up the most charmingly creepy characters out of thin air like nobody's business - damaged individuals who go about life like sentient, breathing time bombs about to go off and leave a trail of wreckage consisting of wounded hearts and shattered illusions in the wake of their committed mistakes. Call this tale of blurred identities a flight of her fancy where the basic premise induces one eye-roll after another. Call this The Secret History redux. Call this anything at all. But a beautifully worded commentary on the unpredictability of human behavior will remain as unputdownable under any other name, all criticisms notwithstanding.

A murdered girl with a fake identity made up and used by an undercover cop and her superior years ago, and that same undercover cop destined to unravel the mystery of her murder by pretending to be the dead girl brought to life - who are we kidding here? All of this sounds ridiculous on several levels.

But hey it's Tana French! When she tells you a story, you deferentially suspend disbelief, snuggle into the comfort of your blanket, and read till you hear the first bird gleefully chirping outside your window signalling the onset of yet another morning.

'The Likeness' is a story about people who breach forbidden boundaries in search of the ultimate freedom, refuse to fit into some generic, pre-determined cog in the wheel of society and develop a hermetically sealed, secretive world of their very own where no outside forces are allowed to operate. And it depicts how this painstakingly achieved state of domestic harmony comes apart at the seams when the personal needs of an individual jeopardize the unity of the close-knit group. Thus in the same vein as its predecessor, 'The Likeness' ingeniously utilizes its characters and events to introspect on the fallout of human foibles. But it is important to note here that it is not much of a standalone mystery. It is essential that readers acquaint themselves with the happenings of the first book in the series to grasp the motivations behind our headstrong, kickass female protagonist's actions and the fragile state of her mind. 

It has been 6 months since the spectacularly eerie and depressing events of 'In the Woods' and Operation Vestal blew up in the face of Detectives Rob and Cassie, damaging their relationship beyond any hope of salvation, and leaving them with emotional scars that run much deeper than they care to admit to themselves. Cassie has moved from the Murder Squad to Domestic Violence, Rob is stuck in some other unknown branch of the police department, both no longer on speaking terms. In the midst of this irredeemable mess, a baffling murder case surfaces where the victim resembles Cassie down to her last lock of hair and carries an alias Cassie had used years ago on an undercover drug bust and gotten rid of later on. With no leads to follow and the mystery over the girl's true identity steadily deepening, Cassie decides to revisit her undercover roots (much to the chagrin of her gentle and considerate detective boyfriend Sam O'Neill) by masquerading as the victim, who somehow survived the assault, and returning to the secluded Whitethorn House with its assortment of 4 other inhabitants who are all PhD students of Trinity like Lexie, the murdered girl. Cassie aka Lexie's return under extraordinary circumstances triggers a set of curious events which, in turn, reveal alarming aspects of the lives of the 5 students whose closeness not only hints at something inexplicably disturbing but reveals darker sides of their past lives.

To be fair, this installment of the Dublin Murder Squad series is slightly underwhelming compared to Ms French's brilliant debut. None of the occurrences narrated are as bone-chilling or spooky and an awareness of the wafer thin nature of the logic presented creeps in once in a while. The very Secret History-ish list of ensemble characters (Daniel is Henry, Justin is Francis, Rafe is a cross between Charles and Bunny while Lexie and Abby have shades of Camilla in themselves) evoke a keen sense of déjà vu and the ending disappoints since the emotional aftermath of the crime(s) is much less affecting here compared to the climax of 'In the Woods', which begs the question why I have still rated this 4 stars despite the flaws. 

A good way to answer this question will be to put my finger on French's accurate reconstruction of that feather light feeling of not being tethered to worldly considerations yet and that firm, transient belief in the fact that we'll always remain young and invincible, forever unyielding to civilization's ruthless demands - the wonderful friendships of student life which slip right through our grasp and melt away into oblivion like treacherous mirages as 'real life' hurls one gauntlet after another our way. And it is this thoughtful portrayal of that unavoidable tragedy, of having to grow up and grow out of the optimism of youth, that all of us eventually experience at some point of time which tugs at the heartstrings the most and transforms 'The Likeness' into more of an homage to the intrigue and vigor of youth from just a preternatural murder mystery.

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

First published:- August, 2014

Published by:-Viking Adult

Star rating:- 

Few other books have conjured up the ghost of my teenage years as successfully as this one, dredged up the hazy remembrance of that first, most agonizing heartbreak, the subsequent amateurish cynicism summoned up to preclude the hassle of emotional hangups and the feeling of having only just the foggiest notion of how the world works.

It is awe-inspiring how Tana French continues to incorporate such authentic sociocultural commentary into narratives which are usually taken to be written for the sole sake of providing cheap thrills. So blame her if I end up sounding like a smitten fangirl every time I review a book of hers. She is just that good even when she is writing out a logically fallacious scenario.

The teenage girls of 'The Secret Place' are much more than what C-grade teenybopper flicks and stereotype-riddled YA books make them out to be. They are capable of as much cruelty as kindness, as much self-sacrifice as vindictive selfishness. Here, the conniving, bitchy and backstabbing blonde isn't a cardboard cutout 'mean girl' symbolizing pure evil just as the archetypal good girls aren't as puritan. And a private boarding school turns into a zone of ineluctable conflict of interest where the realm of the personal frequently dovetails into that of the collective forming the intricate web of high school politics which implicitly governs the place.

...a place like this is riddled with secrets but their shells are thin and it's crowded in here, they get bashed and jostled against each other; if you're not super-careful, then sooner or later they crack open and all the tender flesh comes spilling out.

More impressive is how the four girls who lie at the heart of the mystery do not let their budding sexualities define their lives, or even sacrifice individuality on the altar of some contrived requisites of 'coolness' which teenagers are prone to do since rarely do they know any better at that age. Instead, they defy odds to carve out a private utopia for themselves, a clique which doesn't require the glue of some common ideology to survive - a secret place neatly tucked away in an obscure corner of their minds where they can be wholly unabashed of the unflattering sides to their personalities, sure of the fact that they will have each other's backs even when the world goes to pieces. 

...the whole point of the vow was for none of them to have to feel like this. The point was for one place in their lives to be impregnable. For just one kind of love to be stronger than any outside thing; to be safe.

In a way, the narrative of friendship and loyalty in the aftermath of a terrible crime is reminiscent of an earlier book in the series -The Likeness - which in turn was inspired by Donna Tartt's The Secret History. So fans of any of the former will be sucked right in even if they may have reservations about stories involving teenagers, specially teenage girls who are forever being dumbed down by writers looking to make a quick buck. Ms French here, true to her gift for impeccable characterization, adds many dimensions to their personalities. 

As the common refrain goes, calling books of the Dublin Murder Squad series mere 'crime novels' is almost like an outrageous insult. And this one's certainly no exception in this regard. There are two parallel 'before' and 'after' narratives devoted to uncovering the truth of the same murder. A story of the tragic collapse of a close-knit group of teenage girls who, even while trapped in the complicated tangle of sexual politics, fight to ward off influences which threaten to destroy their fortress of solitude. A celebration of the bond of friendship, how powerful and all-consuming an affair it can be and how unpredictably it can turn dangerous and even life-threatening. And, in the end, a poignant tribute to those charged years of adolescence, a unique phase of our lives we look back on with equal parts terror and fondness.

They are a forever, a brief and mortal forever, a forever that will grow into their bones and be held inside them after it ends, intact, indestructible.
**I received an ARC from Viking Adult via Netgalley**

Also posted on Goodreads and Amazon.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Review: The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King Jr.

First published:- 1998

Star rating:-

I had to keep reminding myself that it's not the civil rights movement I am rating and reviewing, because the spectrum of legitimate excuses, let alone justifications, which could explain the withholding of a star or two is rather limited. It comes as a kick to the gut every time a young, unarmed Clifford Glover or a Travyon Martin or a Michael Brown is shot for no valid reason and the realization sinks in that the process of integration which was initiated by Lincoln some 150+ years ago and furthered by Martin Luther is yet to reach its completion. So the essence of this book and MLK's doctrine of nonviolent agitation are now relevant more than ever. 

In a way this is Martin Luther's own account of the movement he helped steer in a direction which not only sought to free an entire community from socioeconomic and political servitude but prevented America from becoming synonymous with the ultimate hypocrisy of all - preaching the infallibility of human rights abroad (by waging wars against Communist totalitarianism) but carrying on with its tacit agenda of institutionalized discrimination back home. 
"I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."

How the spirit of rebellion - which found expression for the first time with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in '55 (unwittingly started by Rosa Parks' act of denying her occupied seat to a white passenger) - trickled into the hearts of oppressed millions in Albany, Georgia, Birmingham, Alabama, Florida, Chicago, Boston, and Washington culminating in the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, is recounted by King himself.
That aside, there's a brief autobiographical sketch patched together from the fragments of writings gathered from the Stanford University archive by Clayborne Carson. Excerpts from King's speeches (sometimes even the full text) also make appearances in between the accounts of all the non-violent movements of civil disobedience he gave leadership to. 

To put it more accurately, this is less of an autobiography (since King didn't live long enough to write one) and more like a montage of every single written document or important oratory piece which King left behind. So lucidly written are these that Carson's work must have been reduced to simple editing and piecing together a coherent narrative out of the vast amount of material at her disposal.

And yet there are such glaring mistakes here which marred my reading experience. Consider this excerpt from King's personal writings after his visit to India in '59 which cemented his faith in the inviolability of civil disobedience as an effective tool to usher in socioeconomic and political change -
"On March 1 we had the privilege of spending at the Amniabad ashram and stood there at the point where Gandhi started his walk of 218 miles to a place called Bambi."

It's not Amniabad. In all probability, it's the Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad King is talking about, while the historic walk was to 'Dandi' - a coastal village in Gujarat (the state our present PM hails from). Not Bambi, the iconic Disney deer. 

Even if it was a memory lapse on King's part or a sad apathy for geographical names, as a King scholar looking to publish a work of monumental importance Carson should have been more vigilant for inconsistencies such as the above, especially since Gandhi gets mentioned several times by virtue of his being King's role model. 
(Some quick googling led me to the unhappy discovery that the Stanford archive still retains the unedited, therefore, incorrect information derived from the original sources. I can understand the significance of preserving King's writings exactly as he authored them but the insertion of incorrect facts diminishes the integrity of this work.)
Also occasionally 'Gandhi' is spelled as 'Ghandi'. (Aaarrrrggghhhhhh!)

In addition to these turn-offs, nearly all of King's speeches are so chock full of archetypal metaphor after metaphor that I felt it weakened the gravitas of the narrative. Perhaps, they would have been better off being included in shortened formats. The fact of God's mercy and benevolence being invoked (quite natural since King was a pastor) in every alternate sentence also served as an effective irritant. These are undoubtedly the primary reasons why it took me a whole month to finish reading this. 

But these causes of botheration aside, there's plenty of good to be found in this compilation. Like the way MLK expresses his disappointment with 20th century capitalism in a letter addressed to his wife, Coretta -
"...I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a noble and high motive, viz., to block the trade monopolies of the nobles, but like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes."

or his critique of the Vietnam War and correlation drawn between American militarism and the dangerously skewed nature of race relations in the deep south-
"I do not believe our nation can be a moral leader of justice, equality, and democracy if it is trapped in the role of a self-appointed world policeman."

The absence of that missing star, thus, should be attributed to my personal aversion to factual inaccuracies, overused metaphors and bad analogies. Otherwise no rating system in existence can measure MLK's significance in American history and all that he stood for.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Review: The Royal Family by William T. Vollmann

First published:- 2000

Star rating:-

Some books are very obviously flawed, contrived in ways which slow down the reader's progress and heavily tax his/her ability to dredge up empathy over the headache-inducing frenzy of loaded work-weeks. And yet these narratives are so divine in their earnestness, so far-reaching in their scope, that you are filled with this overwhelming, earth-shattering zeal to shower them with a holy love and not let even a drop of your skepticism dilute your admiration for the writer's boldness. Your cowardice and inaction dictate you honor his unstated wish and this is the least you can do anyway. Embrace it all - the two-faced treachery perpetuated by the torchbearers of civilization, the endless cycle of degradation and corruption and the myriad sorrows of all the characters which bleed into its pages. Take one swig after another from the truth flask until you have been purged of all your self-indulgent guilt-trips and left with nothing but a crushing hopelessness which devours all other emotions with a vindictive fury. 

There's us, cocooned in the warm illusion of security, dissecting the politics of injustice from our ivory towers, wholly in denial of our bubble of happiness feeding off the despair of others. In an effort to scramble toward whatever glamourous concept of affluence it is we consider salvation, we do not see the charred wreckage of lives strewn all around. 

There's the woman of flesh and bone who becomes a grotesque assimilation of mere genitals, who can only be an abstract embodiment of the abuse with no human face - a walking, breathing cunt for hire whose existence you acknowledge only when you require its use. Every once in a while she leaves crack-addicted babies with no fathers in the maze of foster care or dumps them like inanimate blobs of flesh in seedy abortion clinics. She only lives in those documentaries harbouring Oscar-nomination ambitions, at the precipice of our segregated utopias merging with the abyss of the Tenderloins of the world. And the sanctimonious laws state with conviction, that the Tenderloins and the red light areas do not exist. 

There are the hobos, the panhandlers, the bums, the destitute - not allowed to be anything other than victims of their own ineptitude, worthy of a stray sympathetic glance and a few seconds of pity, to be religiously warded off our vaunted inner sanctums. There is Henry Tyler, a pathetic loser bearing the Mark of Cain, wallowing in eternal self-pity, choosing to live as a homeless man to find his Queen, his antidote to a desiccating loneliness. And then there's the Queen of the Whores with her magical powers and her crack pipe - just an emblem, a protector, a redeemer, a guardian angel, a modern day Jesus - and law-abiding respected founder of 'Feminine Circus' Jonas Brady, with his multi-million dollar franchise of selling men the right to rape, torture, and mutilate disabled girls, her nemesis. 
They are all actors in an absurd pantomime. They are all real. 

'Part biblical allegory and part skewed postmodern crime novel', the blurb announces with relish. But that doesn't even skim the surface of this tome.

I call this Vollmann's gift to the perpetual outcasts of society, the ones we have pushed so far beyond the edge bit by bit in our own mad dash for the center that they exist in a kind of parallel netherworld where all humanly concerns are put to rest, where violence and deprivation are the order of the day. I call this his sincerest attempt at chronicling their stories the way they may have approved of, however alien to our feral cravings for taint-free reputations, routine and fake dignity, however repulsive to our faux-fragile sensibilities. I call this a searing critique of the hypocrisy of the ones holding the reins of the civilized world, who would sputter with mock indignation when asked to legalize prostitution. 

However small or insignificant, I call this book an act of redemption.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

First published:-2006

Star rating:-

It came to me as an epiphany as I barreled through the last few pages of this book, blanketed in my Sunday evening lethargy, marveling at Adichie's graceful evocation of a forgotten time and place and feeling the embarrassment of having known nothing about the Biafran war, that somewhere in the Gaza strip the maimed bodies of children must lie strewn amidst the debris of their former lives while vicious debates rage on twitter in which people pick a side - Israel or Hamas - to defend from criticism. As if that's what matters.

Somewhere at this very moment there may be a terror-stricken, weeping child, fleeing to find cover, unaware of what she is running from, unaware of the finality of death, shielded by the caprices of the same history she is living, perhaps. Someday she may grow up well to become another Chimamanda to write the story which is hers to tell, and time, circumstances, and health permitting, I am going to be reading that book and be reminded of the umpteenth 'war' that not even my generation of enlightened, Nobel-peace-prize winning heads of state did enough to prevent, the damage that could have been preempted, and the children who could have grown up to carry the weight of civilization some day but didn't.

The farce of this relentless cycle of mayhem, killing, pillage, rape, and starvation will hit us time and again and yet leaders of the first world will continue to look dapper in their crisp suits and appear dignified while justifying their sale of high-tech weapons to warring parties because revenue is to be earned from the spilling of blood. For the sake of self-made demarcations, for the sake of that ridiculous nonentity called national pride, for the sake of righting wrongs done in the past we'll bury our children and future in mass graves and commit more wrongs.

This book deserves 4 stars in my eyes. It's not a flawlessly written work with its frequent straying into the territory of melodramatic personal relationships and cliched characterization and Adichie's writing seems to lack polish in places. But in no way does that stop this from being a highly important work of fiction that the annals of literature ought to acknowledge with a gleaming appraisal.

This is the past transcending the barriers of time to appear before us in a surely pale imitation of its true grotesqueness. This is Adichie leading us to history of a corner of the world we only associate with food programs, the UNHCR, unstable governments and inexorable ethnic conflicts. This is Adichie telling us that history ignored isn't history blotted out.

I didn't know Biafra at all; there are not enough books on Biafra (as confirmed by Goodreads and Google Books), because only those horrors of war survive oblivion which are fortunate enough to receive the world media's stamp of approval. Not all death and devastation caused by 'civil wars' are worthy of the glory of 'crimes against humanity' like Nigeria's smooth war tactic of starving Biafran children with tacit British support wasn't. 

"Starvation propelled aid organizations to sneak-fly food into Biafra at night since both sides could not agree on routes. Starvation aided the careers of photographers. And starvation made the International Red Cross call Biafra its gravest emergency since the Second World War."

But there was a Biafra. Not the transient existence of the nation represented by half of a yellow sun but the reality of the people who, in the paroxysms of misguided idealism, picked the losing side in a war. 
Chimananda's Olanna, Ugwu and Richard, all of whom weave their way in and out of manifold conflicts of morality, identity, and survival, serve as our guides in this landscape of kwashiorkor-plagued children with pot bellies while trying to make sense of the muddle of mutual Hausa-Yoruba-Igbo animosity. And along with them the reader navigates the maze of wartime barbarity, political allegiances, and interpersonal relationships with a growing sense of unease and uncertainty - who are the ones truly responsible? who are the perpetrators? who are the victims? what was the war for and what did it achieve?

"Grief was the celebration of love, those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved. But it was not grief that Olanna felt, it was greater than grief. It was stranger than grief."

In the end any such attempt at such neat compartmentalization makes little difference to the truth of lives destroyed in a fit of murderous passion. In all likelihood, there will be more Biafras and Srebrenicas and Rwanda-Burundis and Syrias and Gazas as there will be the burden of future tragedy and loss to be borne by hapless survivors. But there's the small assurance that there will be the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichies of the world to give a human face to the solemn formality of statistics every time.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review: The Black Unicorn: Poems by Audre Lorde

First published:-1978

Star rating:-

These poems are like shards of glass refracting the blurred image of some sombre new insight into the human condition - the agony of love, the pangs of coming to grips with the idea of racial segregation in a world one previously thought had no demarcations, the pervasive pessimism of living as reaffirmed by the morning newspaper, an elegy to the memories of a childhood friend whose time on earth ran out too soon, the melancholic ruminations of a prostitute, the absurdity of children of today being raised like slaughterhouse pigs to be sent to the war-front tomorrow. 
Coming in and out of cities
untouched by their magic
I think without feeling
this is what men do
who try for some connection
and fail
and leave
five dollars on the table.

If the annals of literature are to be consulted, most of these are time-worn subjects which other more renowned poets have regurgitated throughout their distinguished careers, after molding them in accordance with their perceptions of the world and its many idiosyncrasies. And yet Audre Lorde's words, imbued with despondency, regret, hope and fortitude at the same time, tempt you to read them again and again. Her lines flow effortlessly despite their innate simplicity, maintaining an enviable rhythmic symmetry, rendering the reader's tendency to puzzle over esoteric references unnecessary since there are almost none. 
There are a handful of poems here, in praise of the female and androgynous forms of divinity worshipped by the inhabitants of the historical kingdom of Dahomey and the Yoruba people of western Nigeria, which bring to light the oft-overlooked aspects of the cultural ethos of African people. But there's a conveniently provided glossary of African terms at the end to better facilitate complete understanding of these. 

You were not my first death.
but your going was not solaced by the usual
rituals of separation
the dark lugubrious murmurs
and invitations by threat
to the grownups' view
of a child's inelegant pain
so even now
all these years of death later
I search through the index
of each new book
on magic
hoping to find some new spelling
of your name

The implications hidden between her verses do not reinforce a kind of self-obsessed confessionalism as often found in Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton's works or the heavy-handed inclusion of so many allusions that the poet's urge to communicate is buried under towering ambitions of dismantling poetic conventions. 

Sometimes, her words give the impression of mildly cryptic messages casually scribbled at the back of a notebook, perhaps, while she may have been staring out of her window distractedly. Sometimes, they are her anguished lament, her impassioned protest, wrenched out of her by the brutality of the world or the injustice perpetually dished out to those clinging to the lowermost rungs of the societal ladder for dear life. Her 'Power', one of the most influential and well-known poems from her entire oeuvre, simmers with a righteous rage, intense enough to blow a hole through the edifice of 'white supremacist patriarchy' aside from being a tribute to the memory of young Clifford Glover, a 10-year-old African American boy shot dead by a white cop on duty in South Jamaica, Queens, New York in '73, who was later acquitted by a white-majority jury with a single black female judge.

Today that 37-year-old white man with
13 years of police forcing
has been set free
by 11 white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one black woman who said
"They convinced me" meaning
they had dragged her 4'10" black woman's frame
over the hot coals of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go of the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.

Lorde remains one of the few poets in American history who had to contend with the tyranny of conforming to the demands of too many labels conferred on persecuted minorities - black woman in a white man's world, radical feminist, lesbian, civil rights activist. And yet she managed to breach the boundaries of these individual identities by singing in a richly resonant voice whose musicality still holds the power of bridging gaps, relaying the stories of the voiceless and the marginalised, healing the scars left by turbulent times and smoothening out our countless differences across continents and timelines. 
In my eyes, that makes her a hero more than a poet.


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