The Other Black Girl

This book is supposed to be a thriller. Instead, it’s weird and atrociously lengthy. I was thrilled that, the writer decided to stop writing and finished the book. The book is about a Black girl, Nella Rogers, working in an all white publishing house, Wagner Books, in Manhattan. Being the only Black person at her workplace, she constantly faces racist micro aggressions on a daily basis. However, when another Black girl, Hazel, joins Wagner Books, things start going askew for Nella. Hazel’s popularity keeps growing as she befriends all the white people at the workplace including Nella’s boss. At the same time, Nella starts receiving mysterious notes asking her to leave Wagner. Nella finds herself in this emotional and social conundrum, wherein she needs to unearth Hazel’s true intentions whilst making a desperate attempt to safeguard her job and relationships.

As much as the author tries earnestly to have a very nuanced social commentary on the realities of Black people; the racism and bigotry being a part of their everyday lives; it all gets muddled in the tedious and slow paced narrative. Nothing worthwhile happens till about 300 pages. Then suddenly, we readers are rushed into a chaotic, insipid climax which honestly I didn’t even understand. The book has other subplots too, which are abruptly abandoned. Yes, the book celebrates Black culture and language in all its glory. Yes, it’s heartening to see Black women to be the protagonists of a book. But, where is the story? Where was the editor? After reading the book, I was wondering, if I was missing something, since online reviews for this book by leading media agencies have been stellar. Later, upon reading countless reviews by Black readers, especially women, who have shared similar opinions as to mine, I decided to write this.

Interestingly, if we were to reimagine this book in an Indian context, and have a Dalit-Bahujan protagonist, the similarities would be uncanny.


The Bride of Amman

📍Jordan 🇯🇴

This debut novel by the Jordanian writer, Fadi Zaghmout, originally written in Arabic (Aroos Amman), later translated into English by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, caused quite a stir when it was released. Understandably so, considering the bold and controversial issues it explores, which are often deemed taboo and blasphemous in the traditional Jordanian society. The story is told through five characters of Leila, Salma, Rana, Hayat and Ali; all living in the capital city, Amman. Through these stories, the author tackles the persistent and pertinent issues of patriarchy, misogyny, chauvinism, incest, rape, sexual abuse, homophobia, widely prevalent in the conservative Arab community. An Arab woman’s worth is equated with her ability to get married at the right age, be a dazzling bride and bear children, especially sons. Her career and education are just an ornament. Zaghmout repeatedly asserts how women have no authority or agency over their own lives and bodies, and their choices are subject to male dominance and approval. Particularly disturbing story is that of Hayat, who is raped and sexually abused by her own father; later chooses promiscuity with multiple married men to escape this horrid truth.

Zaghmout’s narrative is a poignant reflection of contemporary Amman, however, I felt, that at many instances, he has tried to infantilise the grave problems. Hayat, as a rape survivor, is shown to forgive her father for his unpardonable crime. Her choice of being promiscuous seems to be very flippant and it seems as the only way a woman can get over her sexual abuse past. Ali, a closeted Iraqi gay man, gets married to Leila, has a child, and continues to have gay sexual encounters on the sly. Leila later discovers his homosexuality and upon confrontation, chooses to accept her life as his wife, devoid of sex, delves steadfast into her career and turns a blind eye to his indiscretions. In the book, the men are forever exonerated for their crimes and wrongdoings, by the women. There’s always some “logical” reasoning to the way the men have behaved. This almost invisible, subtextual chauvinism can’t be ignored. Also, other than Salma’s story, the others seem to have the proverbial happy ending. This smacks of immature writing.

Majority of Indian gay men remain closeted and continue to have heterosexual marriages and children under the pretext of parental pressure and culture. They also have multiple gay liaisons after marriage with gay abandon (no pun intended) and literally no remorse. Are the Indian women too, like Leila, choosing to not see the obvious because of the pressure to stay married and the stigma of divorce? Or are they truly oblivious?

Though the book is about Ammani women, one can’t miss the fact, how close this hits home. Indian women, are still governed by the cis men around them, and it remains an ongoing struggle for them to establish their equality and agency.


The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from inside North Korea

📍 North Korea 🇰🇵

This book has shocked me like no other. I am still astonished about the fact that, there still exists a country in this world like North Korea. A one of its kind country which has the lives of it’s citizens staged. A country where the autocratic leaders expect performances and accolades from their ‘captive’ citizens for simply existing in their thrones. A country which denies and violates all human rights, is akin to an open air prison.

Bandi, meaning firefly, is the pseudonym for the North Korean writer who might still be living under the oppressive regime. The book, shrouded in controversy over its origins, was written from 1989 to 1995, and was eventually published in 2013 in South Korea, and was later translated by Deborah Smith. The process involved in its publication which included smuggling the clandestine manuscript out of the country was an adventure in itself.

The book is a collection of seven short stories, the underlying theme of each being misery. What makes it even more heart wrenching is the fact, that the miserable and oppressed North Koreans can’t even utter a word about it, let alone against it. The autocracy has cast such a spell on everyone that many are unable to even recognise their plight and suffering. For them, this is the normal way of life. Two stories stood out for me. In So Near, Yet So Far, a young man Myeong-chol is desperate to see his ailing mother who is in a remote village, but is denied permit to visit because of a Class One event. Despite his futile attempts to hoodwink the authorities, he’s unable to see his mother and ultimately ends up in a torture prison. In the story, The Red Mushroom, Hoe Yunmo, is a newspaper reporter, who has been entrusted with writing an article on N town’s bean paste factory returning to normal production levels. However the truth is starkly different. During his investigation he discovers the deplorable conditions of the workers involved but is never able to write about it. The story portrays a writer’s helplessness and frustration in North Korea.

The book can be an eye opener for us. North Korea prides itself on its totalitarian leadership and propaganda. As you read the book, you get an idea, that other than the capital, Pyongyang, the rest of the country is battling severe famine, malnutrition and disease. However, propaganda by the Great Leader and the media, paints a completely different picture. If we contemplate, it won’t be too difficult to draw parallels with our own present situation. We are voting for propaganda, hailing religious sentimentality and jingoistic media and journalists, centering divisive rhetoric, celebrating non performance disguised under the veil of fanaticism and radicalism; and dismissing democracy, criticism, opinions, and humanity at large. Are we under a spell too? Is there a way out?

I hope every Indian reads this book.


Grey Bees

📍 Ukraine 🇺🇦

Andrey Kurkov, is a prolific Ukrainian author and independent thinker who writes in Russian. He is the author of 19 novels; the latest being Grey Bees, which has been translated by Boris Dralyuk. The story is about a middle aged, disabled pensioner and devoted beekeeper, Sergey Sergeyich, from the war torn region of Donbas in Eastern Ukraine. He is living in this three street village, Little Starhorodivka, along with its only other resident, Pashka, which falls in the grey zone, between the Ukrainian army on one side and the separatists supported by the Russians on the other side. Sergeyich has become accustomed to living without electricity; making do with whatever food is available. Bees are the only thing he truly cares for. Now with spring approaching, he needs to take the bees away from all the bombing and shelling happening in and around his village. As he sets off on this journey, which soon becomes an adventure, in the pursuit of providing his bees a secure environment, he lands in the Russian controlled territory of Crimea. His Interactions with a Crimean Tatar family whilst in the Crimean village of Albat, who provide him and his bees shelter, make the Russian officials suspicious of his intentions. Despite the bureaucratic surveillance on his activities, he takes it upon himself to help a young Tatar girl cross the Crimean border during the return journey to his home, in the grey zone.

Complex political decisions regarding geographical issues need not colour human emotions. The characters in the book have their humanity intact despite a ravaging war surrounding them. The author beautifully constructs their simple emotional arcs, at times peppering it with wry, dark humour. Kurkov takes times to build the narrative. He makes it atmospheric by indulging us in the mundane, boring yet terrifying life of Sergeyich. The moments at Border control and various checkpoints are so nerve racking, and described so viscerally, that you can feel Sergeyich’s anxiety and panic in you. That’s the brilliance of Kurkov. Through the characters of Aisylu and Bekir, he highlights the plight of the marginalised group of Crimean Tatars under the Russian regime, who are an indigenous people of Crimea. Not to forget, the honeybees are as much a central character in the book, as Sergeyich is. The author weaves in their life cycle, behaviour and discipline into the narrative in the most scientifically accurate and fascinating manner.

It’s evident that the whole of Ukraine has become a Donbas now. In a flash, citizens have become refugees. Because one day, a megalomaniac called Putin decided to assert his autocratic zealotry over the region. Not just Ukraine, there are so many countries (Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine) and regions (Tigray in Ethiopia) that are devastated by war. Wars have happened since time immemorial. Will this present war too become a piece of history for posterity? Or will we learn and strive to prevent such wars from happening again? Will we try to be humans first?


Crimson by Niviaq Korneliussen

📍Greenland 🇬🇱

First published in Greenlandic in 2014 as Homo Sapienne, the book was then translated by the author into Danish, a version that went on to receive Nordic acclaim, being nominated for the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize. In 2018, the UK translation, Crimson (released as Last Night in Nuuk in the US in 2019) was published, converted from Danish by Anna Halager. Events unfold at a startling pace in this book, told through the lives and stories of its five protagonists. Fia, has no love for her longtime boyfriend, and is now repulsed by his touch and presence. She breaks up with him, only to fall head over heels for Sara. Inuk, Fia’s brother, is a closeted gay guy and is in a secret relationship with a prominent personality from Nuuk. Arnaq, Inuk’s best friend and who is temporarily hosting Fia at her apartment, has unresolved childhood traumas which has lead her to alcoholism and a self destructive “party” lifestyle. She is smitten with Ivik. Ivik, who’s story is the most heartwarming and queer affirming, is struggling with the label of being a lesbian and sexual intimacy with girlfriend Sara; later realises his gender dysphoria. Sara, who actually makes Ivik realise the above, is grappling with loss of the relationship, the birth of her niece, and her simmering attraction for Fia.

The book is an exploration of various nuances of gender and sexuality. The author, a queer woman and native Greenlander herself, asserts that queerness cannot be explained by a stringent and linear definition. Queer individuals define it for themselves. Through it’s myriad characters, Niviaq, makes space for an unbridled queer narrative that’s messy, flawed, imperfect, inconsistent and even inconsequential at times. Their internal dialogues and personal struggles, conveyed effortlessly by the author, is reminiscent of every queer person’s journey, irrespective of their country of origin. The book also gives us a glimpse into Greenland (a former Danish colony which became self governing in 2009 after a referendum), it’s culture and life in its capital city, Nuuk. I feel, the original in Greenlandic, was way ahead of its time, since queer discourses and identities have become and are becoming mainstream only since the last couple of years. Bravo, Niviaq!


Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah

📍East Africa (Kenya/ Tanzania)

Nobel laureate, Abdulrazak Gurnah, needs no introduction. He won the Noble Prize in Literature in 2021, for his uncompromising and consistent retelling of stories from East Africa. He was born in 1948 and grew up in Zanzibar, and arrived in England as a refugee in the end of 1960s. Gurnah has published ten novels and a number of short stories. However, his fourth novel, Paradise; was a breakthrough, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award in 1994.

Paradise tells the story of Yusuf set during the late nineteenth century. Born in a remote village in East Africa, Yusuf gets sold off as a child, by his parents, to a wealthy Arab merchant, Aziz. The story then tracks his journey as he grows into his adolescence whilst being a servant and unpaid labourer to Aziz. As the region becomes increasingly colonised by the Europeans, the book draws parallels to the captive life of Yusuf. When he accompanies Aziz on one of the caravan journeys to the interiors of African hinterland, he encounters trading, enslaving, combat, and forms of human misery. This is when he also gets introduced to the Quran and the Muslim way of life. As Yusuf questions his purpose and principles in life, he seesaws between feelings of love and bereavement for his parents and the angst over his abandonment. He is also embittered by the cruel systems of patriarchy overwhelmingly prevalent in the region. Whilst toying with these mental conflicts, he also experiences nuances of romantic love. The climax is unnerving and surreal as Yusuf voluntarily chooses captivity over freedom. With this Gurnah makes this poignant observation of how humans would prefer their comfort zones, even if that meant being enslaved. Paradise can be paradoxical.

The book is unapologetically African in its presentation. The author takes us on this uncomfortable tour through parts of Africa, where poverty, classism and slavery remain cornerstones of the societal narrative. He doesn’t shy away from presenting differing opinions on various religions and their beliefs spoken through a myriad of characters including an Indian. He also vehemently discusses imperialism through the lens of a marginalised and colonised race. Stellar!

Gurnah’s latest book, After Lives, released in 2020, takes up where Paradise ends. Can’t wait to read!



After having read the brilliant “fusion fiction” book, GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER by the astute and dynamic writer, Bernardine Evaristo, which was a vibrant and unapologetic narrative on race, intersectional feminism, ageism, gender, sexuality told by a plethora of Black women; it completely shifted my understanding about the said things. The book also won the Booker Prize in 2019 and hence she became the first Black woman and first Black British person to have won the award. I personally feel, Bernardine Evaristo, is one the best writers of our times who doesn’t shy away from decoding false narratives surrounding complex sociopolitical issues. Her unabashed truth telling jolts us from our stupor and makes us see the world through a more humane lens. And now, the writer’s latest book is a memoir manual, wherein, she talks about her life from growing up years to relationships to her writing methodology, in the most candid manner. The book is divided into seven chapters and through this she takes us on this journey of self exploration and growth. Growing up as a mixed race woman in a white-washed London society of the 1960s and 70s, was challenging. However her bold and nonconformist attitude made her convert these challenges into moments of opportunities. She says, up until the Booker Prize win, there were people who never took her seriously despite having published seven books by then. While describing her flings and romantic relationships she doesn’t shy away from taking ownership of her flaws in a particular relationship, and at the same time also acknowledges how each relationship, whether good, bad or ugly; has shaped her to be the woman she is today. She ponders over various aspects of her sexuality from being a lesbian lover to currently being married to a man. A greater part of the book, she meticulously describes her writing process; how she evolved from being a poet to a prose and fiction writer. She brazenly admits to having insecurities and fears regarding her writing. It took years and lots of self assurance and self belief to negate her own scepticism. As she elucidates the process of owning her agency on her creativity, it serves as a manual for all the writers and creative professionals who are stuck and keep questioning their ability to write and create.

Memoirs can be tricky. It can become very indulgent. It’s always a fine line to tread from it not seeming like a boastful venture. However the ingenious and modest, Bernardine Evaristo, does this job with utmost precision. As you read the book, through all her experiences and expertise, you get a sense of humility and grace that’s at the core of her writing and existence. This isn’t one of those flippant and narcissistic autobiographies; instead, it’s intelligent, intuitive and incandescent. You come out of it feeling restful and seen.


The Tale of Aypi

Country : Turkmenistan 🇹🇲

This book set in Turkmenistan, focusses on the lives of the inhabitants of a small Turkmen fishing village located on the banks of the Caspian Sea. As the story begins, the people have been ordered by the central government to relocate to a nearby city and have been forbidden from fishing, since the government plans to build a hospice in the village along the coast. As the villagers acquiesce to the pressure, and lament on their loss; there’s one defiant man though, Araz, who takes it upon himself to fight the authorities against their autocracy, and also his own village folks against their docility and subservience. Araz’s story is interwoven with the fable of Aypi. Aypi was a girl from the same village known for her beauty and is wrongfully killed for her so-called transgressions then. Now, centuries later, Aypi comes back to haunt the villagers and confronts their unconcerned, chauvinistic and vapid behaviours. Through Aypi, the author depicts society’s nonchalant normalisation of patriarchy and misogyny. With its myriad other characters and their interpersonal dialogues and arguments, the book constantly debates the traditional versus modern ways of living.

While the events in the book take place during the country’s Soviet past, the author’s depiction of its authority then, is as much a social commentary on modern-day Turkmenistan’s totalitarian governance. This book is one of the first from Turkmenistan to be translated into English (by W.M. Coulson) for the international market. Despite being the country’s most internationally recognised and appreciated authors, A K Welsapar’s books have been banned in Turkmenistan. He was exiled in 1993 and currently lives in Sweden.

Though this story is about Turkmenistan, one can draw parallels to current day India. That’s the most disturbing bit.


The Maid

This story is so much more than just a murder mystery. At the heart of it, it’s a story that encapsulates the human spirit; celebrates humanity and drives home the message that all of us are the same and kindness matters to each one of us. The protagonist is Molly Gray, a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel. She’s proud of her job and takes it seriously. Her personality and traits show similarities with Sheldon Cooper from TBBT. She finds it difficult to read people and surroundings, interpret their emotions, and decipher sarcasm. Hence she has a structure to her day and goes about it in the most meticulous manner. One day, when Molly discovers the dead body of a wealthy businessman, Mr Black, whilst cleaning his suite; she becomes caught up in the aftermath of the event, soon becoming the prime murder suspect.

Throughout the narration, Molly comes across resilient and determined. Despite her inability to understand the world around her, which does chip away at her confidence and makes her question her self worth; she stands tall and never lets go of her pride and dignity. Her command of the English language coupled with requisite politeness, makes Molly Gray, the most lovable character.

Kudos to the author, Nita Prose, for portraying such a delightful character like Molly and centring her in the midst of a murder mystery. Through her, the author makes a strong case for, how assumptions based on someone’s appearance and station can be detrimental to them. The narration is fast paced and by the time it’s the end, you are rooting for Molly and the real murderer remains just an afterthought.

“It’s not your station in life that matters. It’s how you conduct yourself that counts.”

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”



Wahala in Nigerian Pidgin (Naija) means trouble. The three central characters of this book are mixed race women, Anglo-Nigerian; Simi, Boo and Ronke; who live and work in London. Simi and Boo are married to white men, Martin and Didier respectively; while Ronke’s boyfriend, Kayode is Nigerian. Enter wahala aka Isobel, a friend of Simi’s, who is now hell bent on being ‘best friend’ with each of the three women. Isobel is adept in creating a world of misunderstandings and the women find themselves embroiled in this mayhem. What had seemed to be a smooth and perfect friendship pre-Isobel, had now morphed into an ambiguous, erratic and frustrating experience lacking mutual trust and respect, post-Isobel. Isobel becomes this catalyst in exposing their dark secrets, emotional infractions and lies. As a master puppeteer, she manipulates their insecurities and fears and makes them dance out of their friendships and relationships.

Nikki May, writes this captivating story about flawed friendships with brutal honesty. She keeps it emotionally fertile while exploring its various psychological aspects. She drives through the point that just because a friendship has survived many years; it needn’t be the best. For that matter, any relationship that hasn’t nurtured a feeling of equality amongst its members, is destined for an upheaval.

The book is full of rich Nigerian culture. Food forms an important part of the narration and it has been written in the most visually delectable manner. At the end of the book, recipes for the most famous Nigerian dishes have been mentioned too. Though the climax felt a bit hurried and a tad dramatic, the book in itself is striking.

Of course, we don’t need an Isobel in our lives to cause Wahala and hence realisations. Maybe a keen insight would do!