This book by the very acclaimed author, Joanne Harris, left me with quite a bitter aftertaste. The story is about a single mother and chocolatier, Vianne Rocher, who arrives in the quaint French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes at the beginning of Lent with her young daughter Anouk. She sets up her chocolaterie, La Céleste Praline, just opposite the village church. Her flamboyance and audacity irks the village priest Francis Reynaud, who takes it upon himself to boycott her business and also sees to it that he publicly denounces her in front of his congregation. However, Vianne goes about her day despite the seething disapprovals from Reynaud and his loyal cronies. In fact, she manages to charm many of the villagers through her irresistible confectioneries and gains their unflinching support, admiration and confidence. This further infuriates Reynaud to the point of psychosis and paranoia leading to spiteful actions ultimately causing his own tomfoolery.

The plot does sound tempting as does the evocative prose on chocolate and decadent French confectionery. However, Joanne Harris gets a little too carried away and forgets trying to reign in her condemnation of the church. Her forever babble on the proclivities of the church and its believers is extremely one dimensional. It almost seems as if the author is pushing forward her beliefs onto the reader. The characterisation of the priest remains a caricature. The various other characters in the book are poorly etched with uninteresting plot lines. For that matter, Vianne’s character itself appears to be quite implausible. Despite a very unconventional and irrational childhood, tethered on anxiety and dubiety, and now facing the villagers’ ire and reproach; she seems to appear overtly secure, unaffected and very mundane. Though the book talks about patriarchy, sexism and gender based violence, none of it is dealt with the nuance and sensitivity that it deserves. If anything, it’s a very kindergarten approach at that. Yes, the language in the book is rich and exquisite. Although, I wish that the author had tempered her story to perfection as Vianne does her des chocolats.

This chocolat is a Cadbury presented as a La Maison du Chocolat. Eat at your own risk.


The Desert and the Drum

📍 Mauritania 🇲🇷

Mauritania is a sovereign country in Northwest Africa. It is the 11th-largest country in Africa, and 90% of its territory is situated in the Sahara. It achieved independence in 1960 from French colonialism but has since experienced recurrent coups and periods of military dictatorship. Despite an abundance of natural resources, Mauritania remains poor. It was the last country in the world to abolish slavery, in 1981, and criminalised it only in 2007. (Source Wikipedia)

This book is the first novel ever to be translated into English from Mauritania. It was originally published in French in 2015 and translated by Rachael McGill in 2018. The book won the Ahmadou Kourouma Prize in 2016 (the prize was established in 2004 in honour of the Ivorian writer Ahmadou Kourouma, and it is awarded annually to works of fiction and nonfiction concerning Black Africa).

The story traces the journey of a young Bedouin girl, Rayhana, who has run away from her tribe and is on a mission to find the thing that has been snatched from her with force and deceit. While running away she has taken the sacred, symbolic and pious drum, rezzam, that belongs to her tribe and represents their pride and honour. She embarks on this perilous journey through the unforgiving Sahara and reaches a small town, Atar, and finally to the capital, Nouakchott. During this sojourn, she encounters various people who help her in their own ways, in achieving her mission, and also protect her from her tribe who are in search of her to retrieve their prized drum. Standout characters include that of the slave girl, Mbarka, who has now become a sex worker; and the very colourful and jovial queer guy, Hama.

The book is a raw, unapologetic and uncomfortable narrative of Rayhana’s turmoil. The chapters oscillate between the past and the present as does Rayhana’s thoughts from her secure yet stifling existence in her tribe, to the unknown and unwelcoming mores of the city life. She is torn about the fact that, she still cradles the belongingness she feels towards her tribe whilst despising the carefree and untethered cultural values of the city. She still remains a prisoner of her unpropitious upbringing, though freedom is now within her reach.

The author, Mbarek Ould Beyrouk, originally from Atar, is a journalist, who has written four books and has founded the country’s first ever independent newspaper. He gives an honest portrayal of the Bedouin life and their customs, and has kept the story rooted in Mauritanian ethos. The issues of patriarchy, misogyny, gender based violence, caste based oppression aren’t exclusive to Mauritania. Let’s get off our high horse, shed our condescension and pomposity, and examine the issues closely. They are as much prevalent behind the façades of glitzy high rises and modern lifestyles as they are in the humbling desert.


Magpie Murders

This book is so indescribably clever. It’s a book within a book, mystery within a mystery. The plot is incredibly intelligent, so much so that, trying to give a synopsis of it, would be a complete killjoy and a spoiler. After a really long time, I have come across a murder mystery that’s taut, sharp, compelling and a page turner from the word go. The narrative is atmospheric whilst the attention to detail is phenomenal. The language used is rich, articulate and eloquent. And for once, there isn’t a damaged and dysfunctional woman as a protagonist here. Thank you, Anthony Horowitz, for bringing the joy back to reading thrillers and for keeping it so unpredictable. Also, can’t thank Read a Kitaab Bookclub enough for picking this gem as their December Book of the Month. Now, I can’t wait to read the next one in the series; Moonflower Murders.

Must, must read.


Daisy Darker

Daisy Darker, the protagonist, is born with a broken heart. And now, she has come over to her Nana’s house, Seaglass, for her eightieth birthday which also doubles up as a family reunion. Her estranged family, which includes her parents who are divorced, her two elder sisters and her niece all land up at Seaglass one after another. Seaglass is an old house on the Cornish coast, on an isolated island at the bottom of a cliff that’s only accessible at low tide. As the night progresses, Nana lays out her feast and reads out her will, which displeases all of them. Soon, someone is found dead. This is followed by more murders with every passing hour. Nobody is able to leave the house till sunrise because of the high tide. Everyone who hasn’t been murdered is frantically trying to save themselves whilst also trying to find out the killer.

The above plot does seem very intriguing and has been written in a gripping manner. However the climax is a major letdown. Honestly it’s laughable and extremely frustrating. The explanation for all the killings is so simplistic and so juvenile that you end up feeling exasperated for the author having wasted your time. How is this book even a best-seller? Who are these people who are liking this idiotic mystery?

Total trash! Avoid.


The Paris Apartment

Lucy Foley’s latest is another one of her slow burn thrillers that keeps you hooked till the last page. This time the story is set in the stylishly seductive city of Paris. The main protagonist, Jess, has run away from her dysfunctional and troubled life back in London. She has come to Paris to be with her brother Ben, who has always maintained a distance from her. She lands in Ben’s uber luxurious apartment located in the most upscale neighbourhood of Paris, only to find him missing. As time passes by, Jess begins to worry and starts searching for her brother with whatever little clues she’s able to decipher. She finds herself in the midst of extremely unfriendly and brusque neighbours who vehemently refuse to divulge any details regarding him. She begins to wonder if Ben is even alive and suspects each one of the residents of this Paris apartment, responsible for his disappearance.

The story has all the requisite elements, making it an edge of the seat thriller. The narrative is told from each of the characters’ viewpoint. The setting is atmospheric and deliberately dark. Paris becomes this silent hum in the background and its mysterious beauty etched ever so beautifully in Lucy Foley’s writing. The climax, just like her previous book, The Guest List, did make me wanting for more; but nonetheless, it’s definitely worth the read.


Kurdish Women’s Stories

📍 Kurdistan

Kurdistan is a roughly defined geo-cultural territory in Western Asia wherein the Kurds form a prominent majority population. It comprises the following four regions: southeastern Türkiye (Northern Kurdistan), northern Iraq ( Southern Kurdistan), northwestern Iran (Eastern Kurdistan), and northern Syria (Western Kurdistan). Certain Kurdish nationalist organisations seek to create an independent nation state while others campaign for greater autonomy within the existing national boundaries. Iraqi Kurdistan first gained autonomous status in a 1970 agreement with the Iraqi government, and its status was reconfirmed as the autonomous Kurdistan region within the federal Iraqi republic in 2005. There is also a Kurdistan Province in Iran but it is not self ruled. Kurds fighting in the Syrian Civil War were able to take control of large sections of northern Syria and establish self governing regions in an Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (Rojava). [ source: Wikipedia]

This book is an anthology of 25 stories, told by Kurdish women themselves. The book spans five generations and starts with the oldest woman and ends with the youngest. There are voices from each of the four regions of Kurdistan. The book is a nuanced, poignant, first person account of the lives of Kurdish women, a nation without a state; fighting authoritarian governments, patriarchy, discrimination and gender based violence. But more importantly, it’s an inspiring and reverberating narration of the resilience, courage, determination of these fierce and independent Kurdish women. These valiant women wore their Kurdish patriotism and pride on their sleeve and fought for their region through art, poetry, education, whilst braving grief due to death and separation from their loved ones. None of the women, in these stories portray themselves as victims, despite the adverse circumstances; instead only speak about their outstanding valorous actions in an understated and pragmatic way. The stories edited and put together by Houzan Mahmoud, is a testament to the brave, crucial and exceptional women revolutionists and crusaders who are often forgotten by the media and the world at large.


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.


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?



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.