Editor’s note: We feature the brilliant recommendations of our partner, the Champaca Bookstore, in the Read section twice a month. FYI: Champaca is an independent women-run and -founded bookstore and children's library in Bangalore.
Champaca’s Book of the Month
In the Champaca Book Subscription, we are reading books that explore our connection to the world around us, in times of loneliness. From April to June 2023, we’re reading about meaningful relationships. This month, a book for you about grief, a dog, and writing.
The Friend: by Sigrid Nunez. This book is about more than one friend. When the narrator, a writer, loses her best friend (also a writer) to suicide, she is left with his bereft 180-pound Great Dane dog, Apollo. Even as she is consumed by her own grief and calls herself a ‘cat person’ she adopts and is adopted by this unlikely companion who comes to live with her in her small apartment. While navigating threats of eviction, they are connected by a mute and mutual grief and the book follows the course of this reluctant yet inevitable relationship.
The book is fiction that feels autobiographical and sometimes reads like a letter to the friend the writer has lost. The narrator writes, often using literary references to explore her feelings and understand the unknowable emotions of this aged animal she now lives with, trying to cross the bridge between human and animal—“They don’t commit suicide, they don’t weep, all they can do is fall to pieces. They can and have their hearts broken”.
While the process of writing is cathartic for the narrator, she also laces it with acerbic commentary on the process, writing community and literature, adding further nuance to the story.
In her exploration of the dog’s quiet grief, the writer crafts a poignant story on friendship, love, death, art and literature. We loved this book for being a balm to our souls and for making us wonder if what we lose, what we mourn and what we miss makes us what we truly are.
A fine collection from our shelves
Are you reading with us in the Champaca Reading Challenge? We’ve put together a list of prompts designed to help us, and you, read widely and more diversely. This month, we’re reading a book that consists of interlinked short stories. Read on for our recommendations.
Half Gods: by Akil Kumaraswamy. At the heart of ‘Half Gods’ is a story of a family displaced by the Sri Lankan civil war. Through ten interlinked short stories, it holds a mirror to the family, the new friends they make, their loves and the after-effects of the many losses that stay with them forever. Through these stories, we meet two brothers, named after demi-gods from the Mahabharata, whose origins and destinies are entwined more than they can imagine, a man who loses his son to the war and is consumed by grief, a fellow immigrant who turns to stealing and murder before adopting a baby girl, and the story of the girl who tries to make sense of the quiet civil war brewing between her parents.
Love And Other Thought Experiments: by Sophie Ward. In this book we meet Rachel and Eliza who are hoping to have a baby. One day Rachel wakes up screaming that an ant has crawled into her eye. Eliza, a scientist, is sceptical and their relationship starts unravelling. What follows is a set of uniquely imagined short stories that discuss themes of love, loss, and philosophy from various perspectives. This book was long-listed for the 2020 Man Booker Prize!
City of Incident: by Annie Zaidi. A favourite at Champaca, this is a novella comprising 12 interconnected stories. These are snapshots of 12 inter-connected people in an unnamed city, “which will forgive anything and anyone, except for those who delay the trains”( presumably Mumbai). We meet a cop, a bank-teller, a security guard, a fragile woman having an affair, her lover, and his ex-wife and each of them reveal parts of themselves, their thoughts, observations, how they see other people, how others see them, while the train runs in the backdrop. If you are curious, you can read more in this blogpost by Anjali from our team!
Life at Champaca:
It's been a very busy time at Champaca! We spent Sunday mornings listening to storytelling and going for a walk to Cubbon park with Roopa Pai. We had invigorating conversations centred around two books and two women authors we absolutely love, ‘Black River’ by Nilanajana Roy and ‘The Book of Everlasting Things’ by Aanchal Malhotra. It was heartening to see our store packed with curious readers and their questions that made for insightful conversations. Summer is here and the Jacaranda tree outside our window has exploded into a beautiful mauve and our avocado tree is looking lovely too with a bounty of flowers. If you’re in Bangalore, we invite you to come to our lush, leafy store and browse through our shelves with a warm cup of coffee.