Category Archives: Hyphen Magazine

Review: The Watch by Joydeep Bhattacharya

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 Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya tackles the uncomfortable topic of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. In telling the story of a young Afghani woman who only wants to claim her slain’s brother’s body so she can give him a proper burial, he draws out the real heart of the conflict: who is the enemy and just who is the defender? I like this book, despite the heavy Antigone references (which, I’ll admit, I had to look up) because it feels real. Not just in terms of dialogue- which is peppered with Army slang, American slang and, of course, those long passages where Lt. Nick Frobenius quotes directly from Antigone; but also, in the way that the soldiers, both American and Afghani, deal with ethical and moral dilemmas. We see, for instance, how the Americans mistrust the Afghani soldiers, the cultural complexity that is Afghanistan, the difficulty of telling the Taliban from other Afghani fighters.

Actually, now that I’m writing about it, I’d really like to read a story from the Afghani perspective. If you have any recommendations, let me know. 🙂

The Watch will make you dizzy with a narrative that circles a central event but spirals off every now and the into these hallucinatory nightmares, dreams and fantasies of the characters who are suffering in their own way. There is loss of life, love and limb- and in the end, we are still no closer to understanding the war or the events that are taking place inside it but what we do get a glimpse of is the humanity that survives even in the desert.

Below is an excerpt, click here to read the full review at Hyphen Magazine:

“When Nizam, a crippled Afghani woman, arrives at an American military base looking for her brother Yusuf’s body, she sets off a chain of events that tests the convictions of the soldiers. As they speculate over whether she’s a Trojan horse, a spy sent by the Taliban, or whether she is simply what she says she is — a sister who wants to bury her brother’s body — Nizam holds her ground, refusing to leave without Yusuf’s body. Meanwhile, the war, or rather, the waiting and watching that characterizes the war in Afghanistan, is taking its toll on the soldiers. In many ways, The Watch is a classic anti-war narrative. Bhattacharya takes great pains to paint a realistic portrayal of war, the camaraderie between the men, and the emotional support that they so badly need from one another.”

Here is the book trailer, because it’s a thing people do these days. I may be the last person left on earth who’d rather skim a written review than watch a trailer unfold second by second… ha.

Review: ‘The Newlyweds’ by Nell Freudenberger

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Nell Freudenberger was 28 when she was published at The New Yorker. Since then, her rise to the top (she made Granta’s ‘Best Young American Authors’ in 2008 and The New Yorker’s own ‘20 Under 40‘ list in 2010) has been inspiring and, to use the oft-abused metaphor, “meteoric”. (It’s late. I’ve been reading psychology texts all day. Metaphorically, I’m not very good this night.)

Anyway. I have not read her debut publication- a collection of short stories titled Lucky Girls but I DID get to read her utterly enchanting second novel, ‘The Newlyweds‘. I reviewed it for Hyphen Magazine.

‘The Newlyweds’ was inspired by a Bangladeshi woman that Freudenberger met on a plane to Rochester. The narrative follows a young Bangla woman named Amina who meets her American beau through on online dating service and consequently flies to Rochester to marry him. Expectedly, this cross cultural romance is about culture shock, love across borders and all that. But what I liked most about the book was that it was a pretty realistic portrayal of an immigrant woman’s experience in the U.S.A. I guess, I could say, that I identified with Amina’s story- especially her struggle with finding employment and the fact that it didn’t matter how educated she was, she still ended up with a minimum wage job at Starbucks.

Such is life.

Below is an excerpt of my review. Click here or on the picture to read the full review at Hyphen Magazine.

“On a surface level, Freudenberger is literally telling someone else’s story: that of Farah, a Bangla woman whom she met on a flight to Rochester, with whose consent and approval she developed the narrative. On a deeper level, Freudenberger places herself in an alien context. As a white, Jewish, American woman she is writing about a brown, Bangla, Muslim woman’s immigrant experience in America. Does she have the right to do this? More importantly, does she succeed?”

Review: American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar

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Image: Hyphen Magazine

For some odd reason (read: school!), I forgot to post this review of Ayad Akhtar’s debut novel American Dervish. Akhtar is primarily a screenwriter and this influence is especially visible in how he handles plot and plot twists but sometimes, it seeps into the writing itself, which I wish it didn’t.

Despite its flaws, American Dervish is a strong debut and tells the story of growing up Muslim in mid-western America. It’s a coming-of-age story that is complicated by forbidden love, religious tension and a clash of cultural values. Below is an excerpt and click here for full review.

“Ayad Akhtar’s first novel, American Dervish, is a coming-of-age story about a young American Muslim, Hayat Shah, who grows up in 1980s Milwaukee. Raised by secular Muslim parents, Hayat’s first real encounter with Islam begins when his mother’s best friend from Pakistan, Mina, arrives with her five-year old son, Imran, to live with the Shahs. For years, Mina has been nothing but a photograph to Hayat and a character in his mother’s romantic reminiscences of her childhood in Pakistan. Upon entering his life, Mina not only captures Hayat’s heart but also his soul, acting as his teacher as she navigates him through the world of Islam. Through their nightly readings of the Quran, Hayat — who is captivated by Mina’s beauty — also falls in love with the religion. His religious awakening is thus painfully and often confusingly enmeshed with his sexual awakening. When Mina begins dating a Jewish doctor, Nathan, Hayat’s jealousy rears its ugly head. At the same time, Hayat is exposed to anti-semitic sentiments from within his own community, and soon he begins to regard Nathan not just as a competitor but also as an unfit human being. Determined to save his beloved Mina, Hayat embarks on a path of destruction that will not only tear their love apart but also leave him emotionally scarred for the rest of his life.”

Review: The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

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New Review! This time, it’s not a graphic novel. It’s a regular book with no pictures even! O_0

This time, I reviewed Thrity Umrigar‘s The World We Found. Umrigar teaches Creative Writing at Case Western University and has written six books so far. The World We Found was just released. I’ve never read any of her other books, so if any of you have- let me know which ones you liked best.

 

Below is an excerpt and click here for the full review.

In late 1970, Armaiti, Nishta, Laleh and Kavita were best friends in college. They were rebellious, free spirited young women with a taste for political activism. Fast forward thirty years and they have all drifted apart. Laleh and Nishta marry their college sweethearts, Armaiti moves to America and marries an American, while Kavita, a successful architect, is a closeted lesbian. Once inseparable, they now live lives dominated not by political activism, but by the more urgent and delicate responsibilities of marriage, family and work. Yet Armaiti notes in her internal dialogue, “The four years of college now seemed to have gone by too quickly. There was no real explanation for why she had not stayed in closer touch after leaving for the US. Unless it was this: coming to America itself was a kind of defeat — the inaudible admission that their days as young radicals had drawn to a close.”

Review: Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary

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New review! This time I had a chance to read Keshni Kashyap‘s witty comic ‘Tina’s Mouth- an Existential Comic Diary‘. It’s about an Indian-American high school student whose English project is to keep a diary on existentialism.

I went to some pretty straight forward schools in India where all we did was sit and listen to our teachers read aloud from textbooks. It was only until I moved to Madras and went to Sishya that I was in a school where teachers worked really hard to engage us. Point being, I really like how in this book the teacher tries to engage his students by creating innovative projects.

I mean existentialism is a pretty heavy topic.

My first encounter with it was when I was read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, which is basically a book about a young girl who starts receiving mysterious postcards from an anonymous source. The first one simply asks, ‘Who are you?’ The book then sees Sophie pretty much take a whirlwind tour of the history of philosophy. Her anonymous source is a philosopher called Albert Knox (whom she doesn’t meet or know anything about yet) and he acts as her philosophy tutor teaching her about all the great philosophers from Plato to Descartes and Kierkegaard. It was very engaging and to me, at the time 17, pretty mind-blowing. The climax- about the nature of reality, gave me goosebumps.

I’m not sure how much I would like the book as an adult though and that’s the same way I felt about Tina’s Mouth. I think, though, that teenagers would like it. The book greatest strength is Kashyap’s writing.

Here’s an excerpt of my review.

Fifteen-year-old Tina Malhotra’s life is thrown for a loop when her best friend since kindergarten, Alex, deserts her and starts hanging out with the popular kids. Alone but defiant, Tina chooses to spend her time on her existentialist diary — a project created by her teacher for his English class. Spouting wisdom straight from Jean Paul Sartre’s books, Tina attempts to navigate high school and life using Sartre as inspiration, mentor, and friend. Although Tina is certain that she is not like any of the other teenagers in her school, the existentialist project does spur her on a journey of self discovery. Interestingly, this self-discovery revolves around the one obsession that she does share with all the other teenage girls in her school: the hallowed, mysterious and magical first kiss. Or, in Tina’s case, the lack of one.”

Click here to read the full review at Hyphen Magazine.

Review: ‘Zahra’s Paradise’ by Amir and Khalil

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For the last eight months, I’ve been reading nothing but graphic novels and comics. I figured that if I was going to write one myself, I’d do well to immerse myself in that world as much as possible. During that time, I’ve read some iffy ones, some good ones and some that made me want to curl up into a little ball and give up any and all dreams of ever writing again (see pic).

Zahra’s Paradise by Amir and Khalil is one of those books…

Zahra’s Paradise started off as a free webcomic but the power of social media turned that little webcomic, about life in Iran after the 2009 elections, into a literary phenomenon. It has since been published by First Second Books. Below is an excerpt of my review for Hyphen Magazine or click here for the full article.

“Zahra’s Paradiseis a fictionalized account about the search for a young university student, Mehdi, who fails to come home one night after participating in the protests. It is also the story of his mother, Zahra, and brother, Hassan, as they navigate through Iran’s labyrinthine bureaucracy in an attempt to track him down. The book is written and illustrated pseudonymously by ‘Amir’ and ‘Khalil’ — an Iranian American activist and an Algerian artist respectively — and is packed with literal and figurative criticisms against the Islamic Revolution, Ahmedinejad, and the Ayatollah. They are depicted variously as vultures, scarecrows, and at one point, even as cannibalistic machines intent on “feeding their morgues.” So, it comes as no surprise that both the author and illustrator have chosen the protection of pseudonyms.”

Review ‘The House Baba Built’ by Ed Young

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The House Baba Built. Img from: Hyphen Magazine

Sometime in late August, Hyphen Magazine contacted me and asked me if I would like to do book reviews for them. Naturally, I said ‘yes’. I mean, I already read way too many books, why not write reviews about them as well, right? The best part about this gig is that I get to keep the books and they’re usually first editions. This particular copy I received of Ed Young’s The House Baba Built is actually uncorrected colour proofs. Honestly, at first I thought something had happened to the book. I picked it up and it fell apart in my hands! It was only then that I realised I was holding something kind of rare: a book in the final stages of editing. I’m sure the actual book does not look radically different from the one I have with the exception, I suppose, that the book has now been stitched together.

Anyway, click here to read my review. Below is an excerpt:

“Using a creative blend of collages, old photographs and  pencil and ink portraits to tell his story, the author implies that one’s memory of events does not really present the truth of those events. What we remember is colored by the mind’s ability to reorder events, assign personal meanings to them and revise entire sequences to fit in with our own perception. Young himself remarks in his Author’s Note that he “also learned to come to terms with the limits of human efforts in recreating reality — any human creation, no matter its completeness or point of view, is at best a mere fragment of life itself.” In keeping with that idea, Young populates the pages with family portraits right next to cut-outs and photographs pasted onto sketches.”