Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

handmaid tale

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It took me a while to digest Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale. When I first start reading this novel, I had no clue what world I was about to discover and let me tell you it was all doom and gloom. The storyline was disturbing and stayed with me for days.

The Canadian author has hit all the right buttons to stir up the reader’s uneasiness. The dystopian world she describes in the novel is stark and skewed by religious fundamentalism. Written in 1985, the story revolves around Offred, a handmaid (female slave) in the new Republic of Gilead. The Gilead was formed after attacks on US government. The totalitarian state that took control has rigid laws against women. Women rights like equality, sexual reproduction rights and general human rights are deemed punishable by the men of the society. The fictional world has food rationing, class hierarchy and public hangings for wrongdoing especially for women. Does this ring a bell?

Offred (not the real name) is part of class called the handmaids. The purpose of handmaid in the society is to conceive and bear children for the families. They are dressed in red colour and symbolism of fertility. Women here are only considered for childbirth and taking care of household. The Commander, where she lives as handmaiden, sees her as more than simply a surrogate.  Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife, is naturally jealous of Offred, but she is desperate for a child so, when Offred fails to become pregnant, Serena Joy arranges for her to sleep with Nick, the chauffeur.

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Offred is reluctant to accept this world and she cannot suppress her desires. This is why she thinks about her past life and how one day she can leave this dark world. The end of the story leaves you in suspense of whether Offred has found the freedom or prison.

The narration is very erratic as it jumps between past and present, and at times makes you confused due to obscure description. It is what author has emphasised to show in the novel. She wants readers to be perplexed while reading the novel because the world of Gilead is extremely disturbing and secretive.

The story is about power, fundamentalism and misogyny. It’s horrific but somewhat true to reality. I felt hopelessness and sadness while reading this story.

A word of caution: This is not a happy read. So if you want to have a nice weekend, do not pick this novel.

“Remember forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest. Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven.” – Excerpt from book

The Handmaid’s Tale

By Margaret Atwood

Vintage Fiction, London

ISBN: 978-1-0-099-74091-9

320pp.

 

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Book Review: Typically Tanya

typically tanya

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While attending the Karachi book fair in December 2018, I went to one of the book stalls. There I saw a book with yellow bright cover and a girl with red shades and fonts, and I instantly decided to buy the novel.

Coming back from the book fair, I began reading this novel but then I shelved it because I didn’t find it interesting. At that time, I was only five pages in and I got bored. However, last weekend, I picked this novel again and honestly I finished it in one go. With few more pages in, the story starts making sense and believe it or not, I actually find it interesting.

To be fair, the story paints a dysfunctional setup which is why I decided to try it one more time. Living in Karachi and being a journalism student myself, it was nice to read about the other side of the bridge, which is surreptitious.

Taha Kehar, an author and journalist, is based in Karachi. Typically Tanya is his second work of fiction. The first I haven’t read it, but this novel revolves around young journalist Tanya Shaukat who is juggling her way through career, love, friends and family in a metropolitan city of Karachi.

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She works in Karachi’s Daily Image newspaper as a sub editor. Her work requires her to edit the news reports filed by journalists or emailed by independent news agencies. She also writes and covers events which is assigned to her by her sleazy city editor Hassan. She is friends with Sonia and Hafiz. There are few tiny problems with her friends; her friend Sonia’s shaadi is called off and partly she blames Tanya for this as the protagonist got intimate with Sonia’s ex fiancé Saad in a drunken state. Whereas, Hafiz is someone who likes her but he is confused in his own emotions.

I also liked how Tanya’s relationship with Khirad (her colleague) developed. Though they are contemporaries, they understand each other very well, more than her friends.  Tanya’s mother is also lovable as she is full of drama and fun.

While reading this story, I felt that the writing is somewhat inspired by Saba Imtiaz’s Karachi You are Killing Me and Moni Mohsin. I like the way Kehar depicts a realistic picture about relationships, friends and workplace. The author has touched a few topics for example workplace harassment by the boss and how Tanya quits; media rule by male dominated scums, a gay man marrying to a woman because of family pressure; the blind love of Insafian for his party, and several others.

The writing is crisp and riveting which do not let you put down the book. Kehar’s knack of describing the mundane routine is exciting and funny. This book is a light read and for all those looking for something to take their minds off for a while, this one will surely not disappoint you.

I will rate this novel 3.5/5.

Book Review: I Have Lost My Way

i have lost my way

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“They maybe complete strangers, with different lives and different problems, but there in that examination room they are measuring sadness the same way. They are measuring it in loss.”

The excerpt is taken from Gayle Forman’s latest novel ‘I have lost my way’. The novel is about friendships, taking chances and transforming your loss into your gain.

Has it ever happened with you that you are lost? By lost I don’t mean you lose your way to home; what I mean is that you are lost, you are at crossroads where you don’t know where to go from here. You are standing at the tipping point and you need a clue or hint from anyone any where so that you can find your pathway.

The story revolves around three young adults, Freya, Nathaniel and Harun, who have never met, find themselves in the same spot, connected to one accident in a park in New York City.  Even though they belong  from different backgrounds, different families and different lives; the only link that join them together is the quest for their identity and be content with who they are.

Freya, an up-and-coming singer, is hurt because she has lost her voice. She didn’t know what to do because this is the only thing she is good at. Harun has lost the love of his life. Nathaniel has lost the most important person to him, his father.

What is the instant connection is that all three are going through the grief in their lives. But there is also sense of fear in all of them. Freya is scared that what if she can never sing and she may lose her fans which she gains in a short time period. Harun is devoted to his family but feels the need to run away to be who he truly is, and Nathaniel has lived his whole life alone with his (mentally unstable) father who due to overdosing lost his life. He is here in New York all alone with a secret which I cannot share as it will reveal the end of the story.

The story takes place over the course of one day and is broken up with flashbacks that reveal how three teenagers have all lost something important to them. All three meet by coincidence, but they understand each other so well. And in a one day span, they have become each other’s strength; and a lighting guide for each other to help find their lost path.

I also like the diversity in the characters. Freya is a half-Ethiopian girl who has a complex relationship with her older sister, Sabrina. Harun, a Pakistani boy, is figuring out how to reconcile his sexuality with his family’s religion. He’s expected to marry a Muslim girl, but Harun is hopelessly in love with his ex-boyfriend, James. Nathaniel is blind in one eye and struggling with depression after his father’s death. All his life, Nathaniel has coped with his father’s strange childlike tendencies: his inability to live in reality and his insistence that they are a ‘fellowship of two like Frodo and Sam’ in The Lord of the Rings.

I finished this novel in two sittings and though it is slow at the start, it gains its pace after few pages. This is the first time I have read Gayle Forman and I would say she writes very well. Forman has touched on human emotion and connection; her writing is lyrical and riveting which keeps one hooked to the novel till the last page. Although this story targets young adults, I am sure young minds will love this novel and probably few adults like me as well.

I will rate this novel 3.5/5.

 

 

 

Book Review: Stephenie Meyer

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If you are a fan of Twilight series and curious about Stephenie Meyer and how she came up with the idea of her novel. This book is for you.

This book also saves your time because a lot of things which have been mentioned in the book are taken from Meyer’s interviews. The chapter, where author mentioned about Forks where the protagonists of Twilight lived, is interesting. One of the best part is to know about the creative toil Meyer has to go through before becoming an accomplished novelist.

The downside of the book is its contradictions, incoherent lines and weak sentence structure. At times, it was boring and I had to skip a few pages to finish it off. There was also repetition which kind of ticked me off.

The author of this book, Marc Shapiro, who is known for writing biographies including the New York Times bestselling J.K Rowling: The Wizard behind Harry Porter, has not done a good job for this one.

It is disappointing and therefore I rate this book 2/5.

Book Review: Norwegian Wood

“No truth can cure the sorrow you feel from losing a loved one”

Sad but true!

I have never read a book like this, which is so depressing. The novel is

Norwegian Wood

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about young people who have to deal with vicissitudes of life. It seems that the transition into adulthood seems stressful. It talks about youngsters who fail to make transitions and life takes its toll, forcing them to end their lives.

The story revolves around three main protagonists: Toru Watanabe, Naoko and Midori.

Watanabe was the central character and flipping through the pages of the novel, you come across his emotional tale of growing up, his learning to accept responsibility for his actions and his ability to deal with loss and rejection. He lost his friend Kizuki, who committed suicide in high school. Toru, later on, went to Tokyo to pursue his studies. There he met Naoko (Kizuki’s girlfriend)

Naoko was sensitive and vulnerable, definitely influenced by the people around her. She lost both a sister and her boyfriend Kizuki  as they gave up their lives. Afterwards, she developed a romantic relationship with Toru. However, she knew she has psychological problems, and therefore checked herself into a mountain retreat.

Her letters to Toru was a depiction of sudden enthusiasm of youth, followed by capricious silences and sometimes philosophical musings.

While Toru and Naoko were having a beautiful bond, the complication arouse when Midori stepped in. Midori was the opposite of Naoko, she was outspoken and an optimistic soul. She was audacious to express her fondness for Watanabe.

Delving into Midori’s life, she had her own struggles to face. But she is not a pessimist, and therefore, she refused an easy way out to her struggles. To see her perspective about life, there is one quote which I want to share here:

“You know how they’ve got these cookie assortments, and you like some but you don’t like others? And you eat up all the ones you like, and the only ones left are the ones you don’t like so much? I always think about that when something painful comes up. ‘Now I just have to polish these off, and everything will be OK’. Life is a box of cookies.” 

Other exception was Reiko, an older woman, who became best friend of Naoko in mountain sanatorium. She was the one who gave the kernels of wisdom that Toru gets to keep after all his emotional journey in the novel.

“Death is not the opposite of life but an innate part of life”

The novel is set in Japan in the late 1960s, which were the most politically chaotic period in Japan. Like in USA and Europe, Japan witnessed its share of sexual revolution, radical socialist movements, and anti-Vietnam War protests, etc.

NorwegianThe title of the novel is inspired by The Beatles song ‘Norwegian Wood’. Murakami’s obsession with western classics and music is reflected in the countless references to Beatles numbers like “Yesterday”, “Michelle”, “Something”, Bach, Mozart, Scarlatti and literary works of Joseph Conrad, Fitzgerald, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx and so on.

The novel’s structure looks like reading someone’s personal journal. There are some moments of touching sadness, but that’s all the book is really, just moments of sadness strung together.

This is my first foray to Haruki Murakami’s world, though it is not his best work , however, Murakami’s writing is subtle and beautiful. I am sure that the other book of Murakami (Wind-up Bird Chronicle) in my reading list will be much better than this one.

I rate this novel 4/5

 

 

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

” There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or badly written.”

Last night, I finished with ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, and I must say that the quality

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of this novel is nothing short but a masterful work of art.  I closed the book and start contemplating for a few hours as it was mind-boggling to sit back and penned down my thoughts.

Imagine, if you realize that every sin you commit, will leave the ugly scar on your visage, what would you do at that moment?

It begins with a simple realization, and perhaps an obvious one. But, for Dorian, it is completely life-changing. He realizes that beauty is finite. It won’t last forever. It’s like a flower, temporary and splendid. So if you’re a young man whose appearance is your singular quality, then this is some damn scary news. It is scary to even think that people are with you because you are attractive, and they are near to you only for your looks.

The novel is a reflection of life and societal ugliness. The level of cynicism and societal disregard that Wilde’s characters display towards humanity is simply staggering. It is a study of how the sins we commit cannot be hidden, even if we lie to ourselves about that.

There are three main characters: Basil Hallward, Lord Henry Wotton, and Dorian Gray. Basil Hallward is an artist who after painting a picture of Dorian Gray becomes obsessed with him because of his beauty. Dorian then meets a friend of Basil, Lord Henry, and becomes enthralled with Lord Henry’s world view. Dorian Gray, once he becomes aware his portrait will bear the scars of his corruption – thus leaving his actual appearance unstained – feels free to ignore the pious morality.

Mr. Wilde does not elaborate on what vile acts Dorian committed. One is left to their own expansive imaginations to surmise the bulk of what he had done.

With this novel, Oscar Wilde has produced one of the literature’s greatest study of shallowness, vanity, casual cruelty and selfishness.

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There is an underlying side to Wilde’s character Dorian Gray which probably leads to his homosexuality.  This novel was published in 1891, which was the time when Wilde fell in love with Lord Alfred Douglas and started a clandestine affair. Wilde was always persecuted by others and himself for his homosexuality.  Rarely any work of fiction seems to mirror the life of an author.

Despite what this novel implies, one thing is for sure,  youth is an adventurous phase where one’s actions yield to its whims; while maturity enables a person to be introspective of their past deeds.

I would recommend this novel to all those readers who want to read a beautiful fiction with a few moral lessons, here and there, between the lines.

I rate this piece of art 5/5

Book Review: My Feudal Lord

Living in Pakistan one is well aware about feudal system. It is deeply rooted in our society feudal-lord-1which has eaten up the lives of the ordinary masses. Feudalism has brought ruins to the nation and ongoing cycle of the rich becoming richer while poor pushes down to the pits, needs to end.

Tehmina’s autobiography ‘My Feudal Lord’ depicts an invaluable insight of women caught up in the complex web of feudal system. While reading this novel, what intrigues me is the struggle she had to face which is rare for a Pakistani woman this educated and elite, especially one whose life was fairly public, to be abused to this degree.

Tehmina Durrani was brought up in a privilege milieu of Lahore society. She was the daughter of former Governor State Bank of Pakistan and former Chairman of Pakistan International Airline S.U. Durrani.

Durrani’s first husband Anees came off as a polar opposite to her lover and second husband Ghulam Mustafa Khar. Unlike Khar, Anees was gentle, honourable, and treats women with respect. When Durrani asked for a divorce, though much pained, Anees granted one without much of a fuss. From first marriage she had one daughter only.

After divorce, Durrani married to former Chief Minister and governor of Punjab, Ghulam Mustafa Khar. She was in love with him and marrying him was like a dream come true

Her first encounter with Khar’s assault left her shocked. She was violently attacked by her husband every other day. He had a charming personality which is why people adored him, oblivious to the fact that this person behaved like an animal within his four-walled house.

Tehmina endured the physical pain which Khar gave her but her world was shattered when she got to know that Khar was in clandestine relationship with some girl. She was flabbergasted to know that it was none other than her own younger sister Adila who physically seduced Khar and put her older sister’s marriage at stake.   Tehmina and Khar had four children.

Constantly lying and being physically involved with Adila, Tehmina was gradually losing her sanity and could not endure his brutality. She ended her marriage of 13 years in divorce.

Her parents ostracized her for a quite long time. They weren’t happy of her decision because they believe in the notion, once the girl is married; she should come back in a coffin to her parents’ house.

Following her divorce, Tehmina wrote autobiography on her post-marriage life with the feudal. Originally published in 1991, the book was co-authored by William and Marilyn Hoffer.

In Pakistani society, where the Muslim patriarchs dominate, the entity of women is that of inferior beings, both intellectually and socially. Her main purpose seems to be an instrument for the satisfaction of the man’s sexual desires and perpetuation of the species.

Feudal system is uprooted in Pakistan. I wish women of Pakistan would stop bearing the torture after marriage and actually start living. I wish women would stop breaking the tradition of silence.

As in the words of an author in a novel: “Silence condones injustice, breeds subservience and fosters a malignant hypocrisy. Mustafa Khar and other feudal lords thrive and multiply on silence. Muslim women must learn to raise their voice against injustice.”

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In between reading

When her novel came out, it instigated uproar within the country because it was one of the  first times that a woman from the elitist of the elite revealed the deep dark secrets of the feudal society and politicians. Initially the book was derided but then with the passage of time, receiving an international acclaim, the book became an instant hit amongst the readers particularly women.

Agreed that Durrani’s novel reflected the lives of feudal system in the country, and it has ruined the foundation of our country. But I do have some issues while reading this novel. Why? Simple, Durrani bashed feudal culture and then again she married to a feudal lord, the present Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif.

I am glad that there are women like her who do not give in to the bigotry rather she fights back and challenges injustices of the patriarchal society. However, her third marriage to the feudal lord questions her narrative of whether what she said was true or it was an exaggeration.