Month: May 2016

I Wrote This For You, by Iain S. Thomas

“I need you to understand something. I wrote this for you. I wrote this for you and only you. Everyone else who reads it, doesn’t get it. They may think they get it, but they don’t. This is the sign you’ve been looking for. You were meant to read these words.”

sreesha-divakaran-iain-thomas-pleasefindthis-wrote-this-for-you

When you read an intense, packed book like the last one I reviewed, you want to read something that makes you feel you’re flying through it to even it out. I wanted something short enough that I could read it within a few hours, yet something that gave me something to chew. I was, in particular, looking for something like The Lover’s Dictionary. Unique, short, yet not “silly”. I picked up another Levithan from my collection, but it didn’t quite stick. I may go back for it another day. Instead, I found I Wrote This For You, by Iain S. Thomas (who goes by the name pleasefindthis on GR and his blog).

I Wrote This For You is a collection of photographs (by Jon Ellis) and quotes/poems/aphorisms/observations. It begins with the quote above. It is interesting to note that each person who reads it will interpret it in his or her own way. As for me, while some of it did not resonate with me on a personal level, this is one book in which I went furiously highlighting a sentence or passage on nearly every page, especially in the first half. I felt like it was an intimate conversation between two people and I was an observer. Detached, but not eavesdropping. Like I had every right to be there, yet it was not a story to call my own.

There were some passages though, that I desperately wished were part of my own story – words I wanted hear, but never did, perhaps. Words I wanted to say but never found the courage to.

“I read what you leave in public spaces. The songs you reference. The quotes you quote. I know it’s about me. I can feel you thinking of me. I want to tell you that I know and admit that I feel the same. But I can’t.”

There are quotes like that that hit you hard.

Now, given the fact that I went looking for something like The Lover’s Dictionary, a comparison of some sort is natural, though unfair. I liked Levithan’s book for its uniqueness, and its layers. The fact that it had a story that you had to piece together like a puzzle. I Wrote This For You is honest, insightful, observant and almost makes your scars bleed. But it reads like a blog, not a book. That put me off a little bit. There’s no real connection between the chapters, though you can try hard to find some, or even fool yourself into believing there is, but they are all separate pieces. If it weren’t for that, I’d put both on the same level. A good read, nevertheless. Made my weekend!

Goodreads | Amazon

 

 

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson (Millennium Trilogy # 1)

“She was perfectly content as long as people left her in peace. Unfortunately society was not very smart or understanding.”

Publishers advised Joanne “Jo” Rowling to use two initials instead of her real name because theysreesha-divakaran-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo feared boys wouldn’t read a book written by a woman.

More recently, and closer home, someone I know refused to read The Girl On The Train just because it was written by a woman. This is someone who usually holds my book recommendations in high regard.

These snippets tell you a little about the world we live in, don’t they? But how are they relevant to the book I’m reviewing today? Because nearly every person who recommended The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to me is male. The exact same book, same plot, same words could have been written by a female author, and these same people might have very well dismissed it as a rant. Why? Because this book comes down hard on crimes against women. It does so in the sharpest, yet most chilling way possible.

The original Swedish title of this book, when translated to English, reads “Men Who Hate Women”. At first glance, that might sound like an outrageous, MRA title, because a book generally favours those mentioned in the title, or so we’re conditioned to believe. For instance, if a book is titled “Men Who Made History” or some such, you’d automatically assume the book is a favourable commentary on the lives of these men. However, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (or Men Who Hate Women) contains some of the angriest, most violent commentary against misogyny and hate crimes. Let’s discuss the story, shall we?

Summary: On his 82nd birthday, Henrik Vanger, former CEO of the Vanger Corporation, receives a framed flower, Leptospermum (Myrtaceae) rubinette. It is revealed that he has been receiving these for years, always on his birthday. He is convinced that the murderer of his niece is sending them to him to taunt him, as she once gave him the same flower before her disappearance and suspected demise in 1966. He has been obsessed about her disappearance ever since.

Mikael Blomkvist, a famous journalist and founder of the Millennium magazine is convicted of libel against Hans Erik Wennerstrom, a rich crook against whom Millennium did an expose of sorts (I kept imagining Trump) but were unable to provide evidence. He co-founded the magazine with Erika Berger, a former classmate and occasional lover. Post discussions with her, he steps down from Millennium’s board.

During this time, Henrik’s lawyer has asked for an investigation to be performed on Blomkvist, because he wants to hire him to solve the mystery of his niece’s disappearance. The investigation is performed by the other protagonist of this story, Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four year old hacker with a terribly troubled past.

Blomkvist, albeit reluctantly at first, accepts Henrik’s assignment. After a certain course of events, Blomkvist decides to meet Salander when he finds out she is the one who performed an investigation on him. He also discovers she has hacked into his laptop. Soon after, they become partners and try to solve the case together. They unearth several skeletons in the Vanger closet, and compile a list of murders and hate crimes against women that took place around the same time Harriet Vanger disappeared (give or take a decade). Do they solve the mystery? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

In short, this 465 page book has everything – half of the Vangers were Nazis, the remaining half were torturers of all other kinds imaginable. Nearly all the women have been subjected to domestic violence, rape, every crime possible, and yet, most of them emerged stronger (not a spoiler) (also, the book is divided into 4 parts, and each part gives you a statistic about violence against women). There’s politics, journalism and an intriguing financial crime drama. And of course, the whodunit plot that holds the whole thing together. It’s all intertwined into a seamless fabric.

That said, the book isn’t without its faults – some of the things seemed too convenient (for example, Blomkvist became famous on the basis of a hunch he had about some bank robbers). In some places, Larsson seemed to be trying too hard to push the point of strong women (to go back to how this review began, Blomkvist reads only novels by women authors). Not that this is a bad thing, but it sounds like he’s gone beyond driving home a point, that he just wants it drilled into people’s heads (why am I complaining? From a purely literary standpoint, of course). While I loved how all the various plot points closed, I felt Salander’s bit was a little cliched. But this one’s just me.

Overall, I give this book a 4.5 and recommend it to everyone. Be warned though, there is some disturbing content, and some scenes of brutality.

Goodreads | Amazon

PS: This review only covers the first book of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.

We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Twitter4838603I was ten years old w23301805hen one evening during dinner, I asked why was it that my mother ate after everyone else. Why was it that she did not eat with us? Why was it that when she did eat, no one asked her if she’d like more gravy, like she always asked us? Simple questions that only a ten year old could ask. My brother, then twenty three, responded with a smirk, “You sound like a feminist.” I asked him what that meant and he told me it was someone who asked such questions. A vague explanation, and a tone that taunted more than appreciated. My mother chimed in saying how feminism is wrong and shouldn’t have a place in the world, because it was a woman’s place to compromise, to see her family was well fed, with selfless devotion. It was a woman’s place to eat last.

I can’t say why but even at that age, this caused a lot of rage within me. This went beyond something I could accept or even comprehend or make peace with. But so much of social conditioning and internalizing goes on within that far too many times, I accepted certain injustices because I thought that was normal. That normal must not be questioned.

A couple of years ago, a good friend told me that while he respected women very much (I can say for a fact, he did, and more than most men I know) he wished women would just stay at home. He did not mean this in a sexist or malicious way; at least, that was not his intent. He said men with their fragile egos get only more riled up and feel threatened when women compete with them at the workplace. This leads them to turn more violent in order to keep women “in their rightful places”. In short, the way to curb sexual politics was to go back in time when men hunted and women cooked. Cos men, it seemed to my resigned friend, were reluctant to change.

We keep hearing about this: men and their fragile egos. Men almost seem proud of it. I don’t see why anything described as “fragile” should be cause for pride, but whatever. Around the same time as the above conversation happened, I came across the quote I’ve shared at the beginning of this post. And I thought, “Holy shit this is so true!” I did not know the quote was from a book. I had not even heard of Purple Hibiscus or Half of a Yellow Sun at the time, so even the author’s name did not ring a bell. I was just struck by the simple, stark truth of the statement. Which is of course why I still have that image on my phone, though I have changed three phones since I first saved it.

But enough about me. We should be talking about this wonderful book. Originally a Tedx talk given by Adichie, it was later published as a book. Short as it is, it covers all the right topics, and may I begin with this first:

“Some people ask, ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that. ‘Why does it have to be you as a woman? Why not you as a human being?’ This type of question is a way of silencing a person’s specific experiences. There are particular things that happen to me because I am a woman.”

The number of times I have had this argument (interestingly, almost always with other women who think feminism is something other than what it really is) has sapped me of all my energy. At this point, it’s like I’ve given up trying to explain to these women that standing up to that sexist boss is also feminism, standing up against the man who groped you on the street is also adding to the feminist dialogue. I mean, come ON! What is so difficult to understand?

As for the fragile egos, she says how men are pressurized into believing they have to be a certain way, and the stronger they’re told to be, the more “masculine”, the more pressure there is, and the weaker their ego becomes. Sad, really. Equality takes that pressure off of men. Equality means a happier world, just simply stated.

Adichie describes how she is never greeted by waiters at restaurants, but they always greet the man she is with. Something similar always happens to us at the supermarket. At the exit gate, quite a few guys rush to the Mr. imploring him to fill out credit card applications. They ignore me completely. Like I’m invisible. When I pointed this out to the Mr. one day, he asked, “Do you even want a credit card? I thought you hated credit cards.” I told him that was not the point. The point was, they assumed I need not be asked, cos as a “woman” what use would I have of anything like a credit card or money, when there’s clearly a man with me. Adichie says, “Does it occur to you to ask the waiter, ‘Why have you not greeted her?’ Men need to speak out in all of these ostensibly small situations. These are little things, but sometimes it is the little things that sting the most.”

Sometimes when I see anti-feminist slogans, I sulk for whole days. I slowly begin to understand why Sylvia Plath killed herself. I go through the same emotions – an intense desire to put my head in the oven. Then every once in a rare while, a Trudeau or an Adichie come along to lift up my spirits. Adichie says in the book that at first she believed her talk would not be appreciated, but the standing ovation she received gave her hope. Essays like this one give me hope. I wish it was longer. And I wish people who currently have no clue about feminism picked this up.

May we all read this book. May we all be feminists. 🙂

Goodreads | Amazon