Splainer

Sunday, December 19 2021


Dive In

 

I think in some sense there's some level of secrecy or some level of self-deception or self-delusion in terms of the flaws we allow ourselves to see and acknowledge about our family members and then the flaws we allow to see in ourselves to be able to live with ourselves. [...] Even though in general we associate secrecy with badness, in the context of the novel it becomes a form of forgiveness and mercy and grace.

That’s author Tiffany Tsao talking about family secrets in her novel ‘The Majesties’, a thoughtful and deeply evocative book about two sisters. ‘The Majesties’ is set in Indonesia, and is about Gwendolyn and Estella, two sisters as close as sisters can be. Until Estella poisons their entire clan. Now Gwendolyn lies in a coma, combing through her memories, trying to understand what led her sister to this moment. ‘The Majesties’ is a haunting look at secrets, privilege, and the ties that bind us. 

 

In December 2020, we talked to Tsao about families, secrets, and unreliable narrators, as well as her work as a translator of Indonesian writing. Catch the conversation here


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Big Story

Indie Reads

This December, we’re highlighting some of our favourite independent publishers and self-published authors. Here, you’ll find gems of storytelling, illustrated books, fiction and nonfiction. If you’re looking for something truly thought-provoking, heart-warming, and unique, we’ve got you covered! 

 

Hidden Kingdom

Self-taught botanical illustrator Nirupa Rao teams up with Suniti Rao to bring us gorgeous watercolour illustrations of plants of the Western Ghats, paired with rhyme. Balancing the educational and the aesthetic, ‘Hidden Kingdom’ is a stunning book for children and adults alike.

 

Name Place Animal Thing 

‘Name Place Animal Thing’ tells the moving coming-of-age story of a young Khasi woman living in the politically charged city of Shillong. It’s an elegant debut by Daribha Lyndem, and a precise study of the boundaries between childhood and adulthood. It’s published by Zubaan, a feminist indie press.

 

Drawing From The City

‘Drawing from the City’ by Tejubehan is a beautiful illustrated book that comes to us from Tara Books, an indie publisher that spotlights the diversity of Indian folk and tribal artwork. This book has been printed with the risograph, an eco-friendly printing system. Tejubehan is a migrant worker-turned-artist, who illustrates here the story of her discovery of art and its importance in her life.

 

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction Vol. 1

Edited by Rakesh Khanna and published by Chennai-based Blaft, this anthology features translated short stories of mystery, romance, noir, and science fiction that were originally published in Tamil pulp magazines, along with illustrations and short interviews with some of the authors! It features everything from murder to robots.

 

Hatred In The Belly

‘Hatred In The Belly’ is a collection of speeches and essays, delivered by writers, students, and activists (called the Ambedkar Age Collective), that reflect and examine decades of Ambedkarite thinking, and resistances to the appropriation of Ambedkar’s writing. It comes to us from The Shared Mirror, an indie publisher that works to promote Dalit Bahujan voices.

 

Bird Business

‘Bird Business’ comes to us from the Bombay Natural History Society, the pan-India wildlife research organization. In its pages, science, art, and humour come together to give us a peek into the daily lives of birds around us. Illustrator and author Rohan Chakravarty is well-known for his illustrations as @green_humour

 

The Family Table 

Aysha Tanya’s ‘The Family Table,’ published by Qitaab, is a collection of recipes from the rich and varied cuisine of the Mappila community of Kerala. Retrieved from the archives of the Arinhal Karuvantevalappil family, this cookbook provides a wide-ranging set of recipes across vegetarian, non-vegetarian, sweet, and savoury dishes. 

 

405

‘405’ by Murali Govindan and Krithika Manohar, and illustrated by Vishnu M Nair, is a graphic narrative about a man as he wanders the city of Bangalore. Initially conceived as a short film, this comic is quiet and moving—and completely silent, as it contains no words! It is published by Kokaachi, a Kochi-based publisher who produce a variety of graphic comics and narratives.

 
Headlines that matter

‘Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul’ by Taran N Khan

‘Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul’ is a lyrical, personal, and meditative portrait of Kabul by journalist Taran N Khan. In the years between 2006 and 2013, as Khan worked in Kabul, she was cautioned never to walk. She did so anyway.

Without a guidebook, and with a keen acknowledgment of the unusualness of walking as a woman in the war-torn city, she finds new routes around Kabul. In her journeys, she peels back the layers of a city that holds years of history within itself. She describes the city as a palimpsest—populated by ruins, monuments, and memories, with remnants of the past co-existing with the Kabul of the present.

 

Khan explores the layers of a city that may not be apparent at first glance. This layered city is revealed to her, and she reveals it to us, in unusual ways: in Kabul’s bookstores and libraries, the subtle and unsubtle ways the city holds monuments and graves for the dead, and from the lived experiences of the people around her. A doctor she meets tells stories of the Kabul he remembers from childhood, and how it has been remade over and over again in the years since. 

 

In Microrayan, she meets two young women who used to watch Bollywood films in secret, in a room with blacked-out windows. In Kabul’s Public Library, the librarian tells them of its life under the Taliban government: “people read even then, child.” Khan recalls poetry in Persian and Urdu read to her by her grandfather, and she finds verses everywhere in Kabul: quoted to her by people she meets, as graffiti on the wall, and on the back of taxis and trucks. What emerges from her stories is a picture of Kabul that grows larger with every chapter, and a new perspective with which to view a region that we often imagine only in terms of war.

 

Winner of the Tata Literature Live! First Book Award for Non-Fiction (2019), and the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year award (2021), it was our pick for the Champaca Book Subscription as we read along the theme of travel.

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