Tag: Short Stories

The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, by Twinkle Khanna

“The weather forecast in the Indian Express had predicted a week of sunshine but on the day that Elisa Thomas was getting married for the third time to the same man, it began to rain.”

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You know when you’re at the checkout counter at the grocery store and you see a row of Tic Tacs arranged neatly? It’s some new flavour that everyone’s been talking about. You’re almost sure you won’t like the flavour, but then, curiosity messes up with all your better decisions.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Twinkle Khanna’s memoir, Mrs. Funnybones was an instant hit that placed her firmly very high up in the literary circuit. Suddenly she was the “new big name” in Indian literature. Now, I’m not saying the book didn’t deserve to be a hit. I quite enjoy Twinkle Khanna’s columns myself (although they took me quite by surprise in the beginning to be honest). But when it comes to writing fiction, nope, she isn’t cut out to be a fiction writer. A one-word review of this book would be: boring.

The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad is a collection of four short stories, mainly centred around women. The first story, from which the book derives its title is about a young girl, who lives in a village where daughters are considered burdens (story of nearly every part of India). She comes up with a revolutionary idea to change this.
The second is Salaam, Noni Appa. It narrates the story of two sisters, Noni and Binni. Binni, the younger one, loves to follow fads and trends, and Noni, having nothing better to do, participates in her sister’s newest interests as and when they come. When they decide to join yoga classes, Noni finds herself attracted to their instructor, a married man with a shrill, ill-tempered wife.
The third story, If The Weather Permits is the story of Elisa, who gets married multiple times, each time to a terrible person. Every time she returns home, her father insists that a “man is a man is a man” and she must find the right one and marry soon. The story reminded me of Susannah’s Seven Husbands by Ruskin Bond and I liked the irony at the end. I would’ve liked this story even more had it not been for the racist stereotypes used to depict the Malayalee family – I found this to be the only decent story in this collection but it got ruined because of this. However, I have to say, the opening line of this story is the one noteworthy sentence I found in the whole book (quoted on top).
The final and the longest story, Sanitary Man in a Sacred Land is based on the true story of Muruganatham Arunachalam, who is most well known for making low cost pads in a village in Tamil Nadu. In the fictionalized version, the protagonist is called Bablu and lives in a village near Indore.

The premise and the intent of each of these stories is good. But the execution is terrible. It reads like a children’s book of parables, with rigid beginnings and equally rigid endings, often with a moral. Twinkle Khanna’s signature sarcasm is missing in these stories, resulting in dull writing and narratives that sound more like the summaries of the stories than the stories themselves. The very same plots in the hands of a different writer would have had very different results.

A disappointment, this. I bought it on a whim while at the checkout counter of my favourite bookstore. And that’s where it will go back on my next visit.

Goodreads | Amazon

 

Paris for One and Other Stories, by Jojo Moyes

“Actually, I’ve had a large white wine. Which means I’m saying what I think.”
“Don’t you usually, then? Say what you think?”
“Never. Safer that way.”

cover105449-mediumJojo Moyes is a name I across all too frequently these days, after the massive success of her books Me Before You and After You. I’ve not read either of the two because at first I wasn’t too sure if I would be into them, given my experience with and opinions of popular romances (such as The Fault in Our Stars or The Notebook). Later, when I thought I might take a look, I learned the ending of the first book, so I didn’t think there was a point to going back. And you can’t read the second book if you haven’t read the first.

I’ve been in a reading slump for a while. This time last year, I had read over 12 books. This year, I’ve read 2 (and now 3). I thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Scribbles, and while Yiyun Li’s writing is nearly flawless, there’s only so much you can like a book while disagreeing vehemently with the writer’s views. The other books I picked up (for instance, The Stand and Lifting the Veil) were not what I needed at that point in time.

Paris for One and Other Stories came as a breath of fresh air during those times. I stay away from chick-lits, but this is one that surprised me. Like they say, it is all about feeding your needs.

Paris for One is the story of a girl who never took risks – she was always described as safe, stable, trustworthy etc., never bold. On a whim, she decides to take a trip to Paris with her boyfriend. She is stood up by the boyfriend, and ends up alone in Paris. She changes her mind about leaving, and decides to enjoy the city on her own.

There are eleven short stories in this collection, all with uplifting, positive endings. My favourite is the first and the longest story – the one I’ve talked about above. Two close contenders for the top position are Margot and The Christmas List.

Margot is the story of Em, who meets the titular character – a boisterous American lady – at an airport and learns something important. The Christmas List is about a harrowed housewife who is fed up of her demanding husband and mother in law. A conversation with a cab driver convinces her that she needs to turn her life around.

If you’re going through a dull time, and need something to lift you up, I think this book would just be perfect. It certainly helped me! I wanted this review to be posted on Valentine’s Day, but unfortunately, I couldn’t finish the book in time. Nevertheless, here it is. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.

Amazon | Goodreads

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from Penguin UK-Michael Joseph/Netgalley. My review is honest and unbiased.

 

Homesick for Another World, by Ottessa Moshfegh

29779229What a sick, twisted, perverted little book!

I will not rate this book. The writing is excellent. Since this is a collection of short stories, I cannot reveal much. But I will say this: rarely do I feel so affected by unpleasant situations in fiction.

Here’s the thing though. I nearly DNF’d this one – I put the book down so many times, because it just went from gross to worse. Only a faintly disgusted curiosity kept me going. Like I said, the writing is good. The stories though… You know when you first watched a movie like, say, (off the top of my head) Trainspotting (I haven’t read the book – only watched the movie adaptation) and you weren’t sure whether to keep watching or just stop, but you kept watching anyway? Reading this book was like that.

I have a habit of reading at mealtimes. If you’re like me, then let me warn you, reading this book during lunch may cause you to throw up.

Ottessa Moshfegh’s voice is powerful and her stories are well-rounded and articulate. But you do begin to wonder if a lot of it was just done for shock value. The stories reminded me of Carver’s works minus the annoying open endings. Moshfegh’s stories reach somewhat satisfying conclusions, thank goodness. You don’t feel “this is incomplete”. You just hold your hair back and hurl.

I’m conflicted about yet another thing: I want to recommend this book to people, but I also feel I shouldn’t because really, should I choose powerful writing over how disturbed this might make people feel?

If you decide to read it, let me know what you thought about it!

I also have a copy of Moshfegh’s Eileen, which has been shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker. I won’t lie – after reading her short stories, I don’t know if I have the courage to face a full-length novel by her.

Goodreads | Amazon

PS: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley/Random House UK

Dark Things Between the Shadow and the Soul, by Sudha Kuruganti

It’s difficult to fight when you have no idea who your enemy is.

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When I read the title, I thought it was a collection of passionate romances, my thoughts colored heavily by a poem by Neruda from which this book derives its title. When I saw the cover, I thought it was a collection of horror stories. But Dark Things Between the Shadow and the Soul: Fractured Fairy Tales from Indian Mythology is a darkly colorful mix of everything – romance to horror to fantasy to even humor. All based on, as the subtitle states, Indian mythology.

The book is divided into five parts – Vedas, Trimurti, Ramayana, Mahabharat, and Urban Legends & Myths. There are a total of 22 stories and an introductory chapter that summarizes the Indian myths and epics. This chapter is useful for those who are not well-versed in the epics. There is also a note at the end of each story which describes which specific episode from the epics was the basis of the story. I have, in the past, felt rather lost while reading stories of a similar kind without these background notes, such as in the case of this book.

About the stories themselves – some stories are told from the perspective of a character different from the traditional narrator of those stories, some are modern retellings, whereas others borrow the central theme and/or character names from the original stories but have wholly unique plots. My favourites in the book are To The Victors, Soul Eater, and Storyteller. To The Victors is from the Ramayana section of the book and it tells the story from Surpanakha’s perspective. While I am by no means a member of Ravana’s recently formed fan club, I always firmly believed nothing can ever be as black and white as the epics portray. Of course, I also never believed in Rama’s oh-so-ideal-glory-be-me-can’t-touch-me name and fame. Of course, as a country, clearly we have a warped view of what’s “ideal”. But that’s a discussion for another day. I loved Soul Eater because a) I never knew such a tribe or clan existed in Bihar (please read the story to find out more about this tribe) and b) this story isn’t based on any existing episodes; it’s fresh and very interesting. As for Storyteller, the last chapter of this book – it’s a famous story that every Indian is familiar with, but the way it is told made me laugh – and also made me look over my shoulder! I won’t reveal anything other than that. Nice way to end the book though – with a smile and a chill.

The language used is simple and the book is a quick read. In some places, it could have been more descriptive, more firm than airy. I suspect it would have slowed down the pace a tad, but that wouldn’t have been an issue. For instance, in the first story, it took me a while to gain a footing; similarly with stories such as By The Numbers and Dreams, I felt I was plunging headlong into them.  The descriptions would have actually helped. While there are no glaring errors in language, and it isn’t at all tedious to read, I felt in one or two places, it could have used an extra bit of proofreading.

I understand this is a self-published  ebook, but there were some Wiki links in the notes section of some of the stories – this seemed a bit odd to me, from a reader’s perspective, especially because on my Kindle, they didn’t work and appeared only as underlined words (I realized they were links when I opened the pdf file on my laptop).

This book is a good choice for anyone delving into Indian mythology for the first time. As the author states in her introduction, there are very few books in this category. Well, very few good ones, anyway, in my opinion. And this is a good one. Give it a read!

Goodreads | Amazon

Note: I was given a PDF copy of this book in exchange for a review. This review is unbiased and honest.

New Release | Manipulated Lives, by H. A. Leuschel | Summary and Excerpt

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Manipulated Lives
Five stories – Five Lives

Blurb

Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?

Manipulators are everywhere.  At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way.  They are often masters of disguise:  witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.

In this collection of short novellas you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual.  First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father.  Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.

Genre: Novellas, Psychology, Literary

ISBN: 978-1534708976

Date of Release: 8 June 2016

Word Count: 85,445

Amazon | Goodreads

About the Author

Helene Andrea Leuschel was born and raised in Belgium to German parents. She gained a Licentiate in Journalism, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. Helene moved to the Algarve in 2009 with her husband and two children, working as a freelance TV producer and teaching yoga. She recently acquired a Master of Philosophy with the OU, deepening her passion for the study of the mind. Manipulated Lives is Helene’s first work of fiction.

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Excerpt

The Spell

He had a small, delicate body, thin legs and arms, and a torso that was short and fragile. He almost looked supernatural, like a beautiful version of an elf, with his startling light blue eyes and hair as dark as charcoal. Later on, when we were as familiar with each other as a mother and son would be, he wrapped himself warmly around me like a shawl or a small monkey anchored to his mother’s body for the day. His lightness added to my initial impression that he looked like a beautiful, fantastical character who’d walked straight out of a children’s picture book, yet I quickly found out that my female instincts to protect him were undeniably linked to a human child whose cheeks reddened with exertion and whose occasional stroppiness could only be found in the very young. And I need to tell you right from the start that he is not my son, because I am not his biological mother. Yet, we would have both liked to have been each other’s family and, for a short while, we actually were. I know that because of the way he looked at me, the way he snuggled up whenever he saw me, and the way he always saw goodness in me. He had the capacity to make me melt there and then and I would forgive him instantly for small tantrums or cheeky retorts. He seemed to endear himself to my laughs and smiles and I loved his thin, fine fingers reaching out to claim a hug, one of so many he desperately needed.
You will wonder whose son he was and why he is no longer with me; and I will tell you why, so that I don’t go crazy with grief and so that our story, and the stories of those who were involved in it, may come to convey how life can deal you a difficult card.
I met Leo’s father shortly after meeting my little guy. That was a nickname I’d frequently use for my new and very special friend. Leo was a grand name for a small person with fluffy, wispy dark hair and a voice that never carried far, yet if you took the time to lower your ear towards his words, you would be enthralled by their wisdom. This child was unusual in so many ways. Leo loved to sing and that was exactly how I noticed him, sitting by himself in the kids’ play area which was part of the private sports club I frequented. He was singing a little song to himself and seemed very happy with his own company. I had just turned thirty and was already well acquainted with young children, thanks to my sister’s and my brother’s growing families. I just loved being their hands-on, and fun-loving auntie, and therefore making eye contact with strangers’ children came naturally to me.
However, when I turned my head towards the sound, the owner of the voice was nowhere to be seen. I was relaxing in the club’s café, adjacent to the play area, and had just ordered my usual cup of matcha green tea latte with a slice of fresh cake, well-earned, I thought, after a very demanding and dynamic yoga session. I looked at the green mix of tea and foamed almond milk and took a sip, enjoying the bitter-sweet taste. I was half-way through the thick raspberry-filled cheesecake when I heard the singing again. My fork stopped in mid-air as I listened more carefully. It was the funniest melody I had ever heard. He was copying the lyrics of a popular song, frequently aired on the radio at the time, so I caught on to it very quickly. However, it was unusually out of tune. Not only was the voice squeaky and mouse-like but the intonations were all wrong. I stifled a laugh, telling myself that this was incredibly cute, and I looked up once more to try and find the unusual singer. I couldn’t see him fully at first, but a few of his black wisps of hair were sticking out above a large, soft cushion which gave him away to my probing eyes. Convinced now that he was the singer I was looking for, I lowered my gaze further and widened my eyes with surprise. I had locked onto a big set of blue eyes, peeking round the corner of the cushion, looking straight at me. It was as if he’d deliberately sung again, to see whether I’d notice him. Questions were forming in my mind. Did he notice that I had been listening? Worse, did he know that I had been amused? I was taken aback, to say the least, and made sure he wasn’t actually looking at his own parent, by checking the people sitting beside and behind me. No one seemed to take any interest in the little fellow. So, I just smiled and he smiled back and our first meeting was sealed.
We had somehow found a secret understanding which was the base for a series of encounters that led me to talk to him, ask his name, and find out why he was on his own and query who was looking after him. He told me not to worry because his dad had left him to play while he was doing a ‘round’. That’s how he had put it anyway. I know now what he meant by rounds but, initially, I had been appalled. To leave a small child to his own devices was bad enough, but to do it for a few hours was criminal in my view. Why I had not reported it then, I don’t know. My excuse was that I’d built up a special relationship with a little chap, who became my friend before his dad did. Had he not been there, I don’t think I would ever have spoken to David. I imagined him as a small person himself, maybe even a Woody Allen type of a man, pale and skinny with big glasses, but my imagination was proven wrong when I finally did set eyes on him.
It had been a dark and rainy day when I eventually ran into David. I had decided to not only linger a bit longer at the sports club in the hope that the torrential rain would ease off, but also because I was wondering who the mysterious dad was. When I finally laid eyes on him I was pleasantly surprised. The man was tall and broad, his eyes blue, and his face was surrounded by wavy black hair. I could tell that he’d only just left the shower because his hair smelled clean and moist. His cheeks were still flushed from doing exercise and a big smile revealed a set of straight white teeth. He was a good-looking man, but with a strange insecurity. I would notice later that he did like to keep his T-shirt on to hide his waist, only slightly pudgy, when sitting by a pool or walking down a beach. Despite being ten years my senior, he had kept well-toned arms and legs and his voice carried far. The fact that I had met his son before I’d met him was the reason why we struck up a conversation.
‘Oh, so you’re the amazing Sophie who my son’s in love with!’ Of course, my cheeks burnt upon hearing this, as if I had been found out doing something illegal. He hitched his sports bag over his shoulder and we exchanged a few pleasantries, heading to the warmth of the café with a beaming Leo in tow. After some small talk, we ended up in front of two glasses of wine and an apple juice for Leo, who was chatting happily over a plate of pasta bolognaise. To this day, I cannot tell why being fond of a little boy had meant that I trusted his dad more quickly than any other stranger.
‘I must admit that I wouldn’t have picked you among a group of potential dads,’ I said eventually, with a cheeky grin. Alcohol had that effect on me that even half a glass of wine could easily loosen my tongue.
‘Yes, I know you probably wonder how this little fellow could be my son.’
I reassured him that I had met a family with three children as a child and had seriously wondered for years how they could even be remotely related to their parents. They each looked so different; had features that could not be connected to the others.
‘He must take after his mother,’ I said casually. David instantly seemed to change. My words must have struck like lightning because, as soon as they were out of my mouth, they took a life of their own and caused him to hunch up, lower his eyes, and twist his fingers. I also noticed a nervous tapping of his foot, which added to the overall unease. I had said the wrong thing or, at least, I must have said it in the wrong way, I thought. David’s friendly, jokey mood had changed to a clammed-up posture and the atmosphere turned awkward. What if Leo’s mother had died? Or maybe he was his step-dad? Many scenarios were plausible. How insensitive of me.
‘I’m very sorry for saying that.’ David raised his hand and waved it dismissively, reassuring me that no harm was done. No further word was mentioned about the mother and I decided to leave it at that until he would maybe be ready to explain himself. Looking from David to Leo, I concluded that at least their hair colour and the lightness of their eyes were strikingly similar, two features that could connect them clearly as father and son. But what I was really thinking about at that very moment was, Is there something wrong with the little fellow? He’s so small. I was curious to know why Leo was the way he was. I knew I had spoken too quickly, but sensed that talking about Leo’s mother was completely taboo.

 

Wages of Love, by Kamala Das

“Like other women writers of my class, I am expected to tame my talent to suit the comfort of my family.”

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I remember reading a poem by Kamala Das in school. It was part of the English literature syllabus. I had heard Kamala Das’ name whispered conspiratorially between my parents, but I never knew why. (I had also heard Arundhati Roy and Neena Gupta’s names mentioned in those very same tones, on different occasions). So when I found a poem by her, I was wildly curious. I hoped to find a glimpse into the adult world of literary gossip. I found nothing; I did not even like the poem very much. I was perhaps too young to appreciate Das’ direct way of expressing thoughts, being more used to as we were back then to rhyming poetry about sunflowers and daffodils and such.

When they saw me read a poem by Kamala Das, my parents casually remarked how she wasn’t very good. I was easily influenced (still am) and so I nodded my head in agreement. Similar casual (snide) remarks followed, with my mother going rather ad hominem and colouring Kamala Das as an example of what a writer – and more importantly, what a woman – must not be. I did not press for details, but I smelled a scandal.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago, when someone (who intensely dislikes me) read my blog and commented that I write like Madhavikutty (Das’ pen name). I felt proud, humbled, and insulted all at the same time! The childhood bias was still present, I suppose; however, being compared to a splendid writer such as herself did wonders for my ego, even though I knew I was nowhere near as good. The sad thing was, I had never read any of her works, apart from that one poem.

Fast forward again to last week, when Amazon Kindle decided to treat us all with some cash to buy any ebook of our choice. As to why I chose a Kamala Das book, I’ll never guess (given that I have several other books on my TBR, and hers is one name that never really crossed my mind), but that is, as you can see, what I chose. Sometimes, our instincts know.

Wages of Love is a collection of short stories, plays, poems and essays compiled by Suresh Kohli. It starts with the short piece “The Fair-Skinned Babu”, the story of a contract killer. Its ending gave me goosebumps. And with that, I was hooked. Das’ writing is as raw as it gets. Poignant and melancholy, set against a sepia tinted background. Stories such as Neipayasam will tug at your heartstrings and leave a cloud of sorrow over you. There are other stories and plays that question traditional notions of morality and holds a mirror over society’s rigid and frigid laws.

It’s the non-fiction section of the book that I absolutely loved above all else. If there’s one thing you must read, it is Das’ thoughts on religion. She wanted to get the fields “Religion” and “Caste” removed from all government forms, a view I completely agree with. Every time I go to a hospital, and their registration form has a “religion” field (most do), I make sure that my displeasure is obvious. Another essay worth noting is Shattering Misery’s Silence. It talks about how the matriarchal and matrilinear society of Kerala went on to become a patriarchal one, and how the bold women of previous centuries gave way to meek, submissive ones. She talks about how clothing is used to judge people. The slightly sardonic tone in which Das writes is quite gut wrenching.

“If wrappings of cloth can impart respectability, the most respectable persons are the Egyptian mummies, all wrapped in layers and layers of gauze.”

Finishing this book has filled me with a quiet restlessness. Why had I not read her books for so long? Why was I advised against reading her, when of all the writers I’ve read, she seems to be one of the fearless ones that need to be read. Yes, her work NEEDS to be mandatory reading. She spoke her mind; how many of us do? What holds us back?

For far too long, I have placed Sylvia Plath and Anais Nin on the pedestal of honest and bold writers. For far too long, I have revered Anita Nair’s skills as a writer. Today, I place Kamala Das on that pedestal. Or perhaps on an even higher one.

Amazon | Goodreads

A Place of No Importance, by Veena Muthuraman

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A Place of No Importance (APNOI, for the rest of the post) is collection of 13 short stories set, along the timeline of the Tamil Calendar, in the little village of Ayyanarpatti. The book begins in the month of Aipasi (mid-October to mid-November) with the story A Festive Suicide, Attempted. As the book (or the year) progresses, the reader learns of the characters who live here, and their idiosyncrasies.

As the author mentions in her note at the end, most of us are accustomed to reading stories with an urban setting. APNOI with its rural setting is refreshing, not only because it offers a different viewpoint (the “other India”, as some people call it) but also because the customs and traditions of the characters in the book give the reader a whole other-worldly charm. Not an unfamiliar one, just a forgotten one. In Ayyanarpatti, caste and gender roles are still strictly defined – the lower castes cannot own houses on the main street (there is only one main street that runs through the village – The Upper Street), the women marry young and stay in their kitchens, the men work in fields and send their sons abroad for work.

The stories in this collection are:

A Festive Suicide, Attempted – A drunkard attempts suicide on Diwali to show his villagers that his family does not take care of him.

Possessed – A boy believes that a ghost from a banyan tree has possessed him.

God’s Own Country – Muthu buys land from Rathinam to set up an international school, but Nithya gets suspicious

A House On Upper Street – A man from the lower caste returns from Singapore and decides to buy a house on the main street.

A New Release – A young wife, whose husband is abroad, and whom she has only known for 2 weeks, awaits the release of her favourite actor’s new film.

Scenes from a Scandal – The village’s only divorcee and an old widower set tongues wagging (this story is my favourite in this collection)

A New Beginning – An old farmer’s wife goes missing one day.

A Love Story, starring Councillor Muthu – An inter-religious love story with a political background

Prelude to a Wedding – A mother and daughter try to dissuade their family from marrying the daughter off to someone she does not like.

The Demon Wind of Adi – A farmer thinks of the “olden days”

A Yank in Ayyanarpatti – An American builder gets confused and fascinated with the village’s politics and superstitions.

The Amman of Saris – A sari seller hatches a plan to sell more saris to the naive and pious villagers.

Macondo Thatha: Origins – A man decides to get married for the second time, but his plans go awry.

APNOI is the literary equivalent of a lopsided grin. The way the author has captured fine details with her evocative prose, the stories are a clever and satirical portrayal of life in this little village that few have heard of. The stories aren’t interlinked, but several characters appear in multiple stories, such as the witty Nithya or the wily Muthu. Some stories have tragic ends, but are so well written that the reader applauds the author’s skill even while mourning for the characters. Some others have elements of black comedy in them, while yet others bring a smile to the reader’s face.

APNOI has been compared to R. K. Narayan’s famous Malgudi Days, and it does not come as a surprise. Veena Muthuraman’s sentences do sound post-colonial with a smear of vernacular thrown in, the kind of language one does not get to read nowadays. It is utterly captivating and a joy to read.

Highly recommended! Rating: 4/5

The book is available on the Juggernaut app. The book has not yet been added to Goodreads. Will update the link once it’s available.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the Juggernaut team for an honest review. This has in no way affected the review and my opinions are personal and unbiased.