Splainer

Sunday, May 29 2022


Dive In

 

The colour red. The sound of a trumpet. The bodies of human beings: the navel, the shin, the shoulder, the toe. That, despite everything, we go on opening and opening and opening ourselves to one another. Neil Armstrong's observation about the clouds resembling white lace. When I've been at a loss in life, this returns to me, almost like a prayer or incantation, white lace, white lace, white lace, and brings me peace. Now I offer it to you.

That’s from Vauhini Vara's debut novel, ‘The Immortal King Rao,’ a unique story about ambition, family, memory, and capitalism that spans decades—from our past to the near future. We love this quote specifically because it highlights the universal nature of humans, and the relationships we cultivate with each other. Throughout the unusual circumstances that the book presents, the beating heart of the story is the relationship between a father and his daughter.


Editor’s note: This excellent newsletter is part of splainer’s partnership with the wonderful bookstore Champaca. Founded by Radhika Timbadia, this women-run enterprise epitomises all the values we advocate: integrity, independence, a genuine investment in quality, and great care for their customers (read more about their philosophy here). In a world ruled by Amazon, we need more Champacas! We’ve come together to champion each other’s businesses, and help serve each other’s patrons better! Do let us know what you think of their newsletter—which you receive one Sunday every month as a splainer subscriber. PS: splainer does not make any revenue if you buy from Champaca. This isn’t about money.

 

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We Recommend

Love and Compassion: Across the Spectrum 

This month, we're thinking of how compassion, love, and care shape our worlds. How do we inspect our own lives and the people around us with curiosity and empathy rather than judgement or harshness? How do we inculcate love and compassion as daily practices in our life? Here is a selection of books that can help in understanding the complex layers of love and care, and how it plays out in our everyday lives.

 

Labours of Love

Madeleine Bunting travelled through Britain for over five years speaking to charity workers, doctors, nurses, and social workers to understand the language of care and its value in our society. In ‘Labours of Love,’ she blends these insights beautifully with her own experiences of caregiving for the young and old in her family. Through these testimonies, Bunting examines how undervalued and underpaid care is, especially the caregiving labour of women. She sheds light on the crisis of care—and the problems of lauding profit over compassion and empathy. 

 

Who's Loving You

Edited by Sareeta Domingo, ‘Who's Loving You’ is a collection of ten love stories written by women of colour. The stories, centred around passion, desire, and longing, tap into romance in its intense, messy, joyful, and electric forms. There is something for every woman in this anthology. 

 

The Vanishing Half

Spread across nearly half a century, Brit Bennet's novel is a heart-wrenching multi-generational family saga that revolves around twin sisters Desiree and Stella Vignes. It is a riveting exploration of racial identity, community, and how the past informs the present. The novel uncovers the desires of each character, the contradictions that people hold, and how we manage to love each other against all odds.

 

Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History

Edited by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai, this is a collection of writings that spans two thousand years of Indian literature. It draws from Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and contemporary fictional sources to demonstrate that same-sex love has flourished and been embraced in India since ancient times. The book includes excerpts from devotional books, biographies, letters, memoirs, plays, and poems. For anyone interested in queer culture, this anthology is a pioneering book in Indian history and gender studies. 

 

I Kissed Shara Wheeler

Casey McQuiston's newest novel ‘I Kissed Shara Wheeler’ is a story about finding love in messy ways and the most unexpected places. Chloe Green, who wants to be valedictorian of her class, ends up kissing her only rival—prom queen Shara Wheeler. But a month before graduation, Shara vanishes. Chloe furiously hunts for Shara and discovers that she is not the only person kissed by Shara. On her unlikely quest, Chloe realises that there is a lot more to the town she lives in—and to Shara Wheeler too. 

 

We also recommend Casie McQuinston's best-selling debut novel ‘Red White & Royal Blue.

 

Devotions

A definitive collection of Mary Oliver's poetry from her first book ‘No Voyage And Other Poems’ published in 1963, to ‘Felicity’ published in 2015. These 200 plus poems, in Oliver's simple yet wonderfully crafted verse, offer passionate and inquisitive observations of the natural world. The profound poems in this collection are packed with Oliver's love for the physical world around us. 

 

Five Morsels Of Love

Food in itself is a language of care, love, and nourishment. In 'Five Morsels Of Love,' Archana Pidathala offers a collection of 100 heirloom recipes from her grandmother Nirmala Reddy’s 1974 South Indian cookbook Vanita Vanṭakālu. Alongside the family recipes are heartfelt anecdotes that introduce readers to the various flavours of Andhra Pradesh. From fiery biryani, and home-style chicken curries, to sweets and all-day snacks—this book is a warm and wholesome curation of recipes. 

 

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone

Lori Gottlieb is a therapist whose own life comes crashing down when a lover leaves her. Unable to make sense of her crisis, she lands up in the office of another well-seasoned therapist—Wendell. In this candid memoir, Gottlieb takes us into the inner lives of her clients and breaks down her own therapy sessions. We meet a young woman diagnosed with a terminal illness, an arrogant TV producer, and a twenty-something who's always making the wrong choices. Gottlieb beautifully unpacks how each one is looking for truth and meaning and how their struggles of wanting to be seen, heard, and loved intersect with her own. 

 
 
Book of the month

‘The Immortal King Rao’ by Vauhini Vara

Vauhini Vara’s debut novel ‘The Immortal King Rao’ is just under 400 pages, but it spans decades—from a humble past in caste-divided India, to an alternate (but vaguely familiar) technological history, to a speculative future under late capitalism.

 

We meet our protagonist, Athena, daughter of the titular King Rao, who has lived much of her life in isolation from the rest of the world. The world she lives in—our near future—is a dystopia in which there is no concept of the “public.” Instead, it is run by corporations, and every citizen is a “shareholder.” We read of the King’s upbringing in a Dalit family in a coconut grove (inspired by Vara’s own family history), his growing interest in technology, and finally, the emergence of this new, dystopian world. 

 

It is a novel brimming with ideas and one that taps into many of our current anxieties. Where could technological capitalism be taking us? What does “privacy” mean in a world like this? Instead of just being a vision of our future, it also examines our past and present by asking questions about the structures we live in today. 

 

An ambitious and thoughtful novel, this is a highly interesting read by a new writer. We also recommend ‘Sea of Tranquility’ by Emily St John Mandel, and ‘To Paradise’ by Hanya Yanagihara, two other titles that explore similar questions in expansive, unique ways.

 
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