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.


Co-wives, Co-widows

I am beyond delighted to have come across this gem of a book, thanks to Brittlepaper, an Instagram account dedicated to African literature. The book, originally written in French, by Adrienne Yabouza and translated by Rachael McGill, is set in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic (CAR). It’s a story of two women, Ndongo Passy and Grekpoubou, wives of Lidou. Both women live amicably in adjacent houses and are fond of each other. When Lidou suddenly dies, the women are left bereft and are forcibly expelled from their homes with their children by Lidou’s cousin and his sister, who plan on taking away all of his inheritance. The co-widows then take it upon themselves to seek justice for the retribution inflicted on them just because they are widows. However, the justice system of CAR fails them and both women are forced to return to their respective parents’ homes. But grit and determination never leave Ndongo Passy and Grekpoubou, who choose to be hopeful and don’t shy away from owning their share of joy and happiness.

Yabouza tells a very compelling and uplifting story. This is an exemplary narration of women supporting women and gaining confidence and strength from each other. Set in the backdrop of political turmoil and presidential elections in CAR, the author paints a very poignant picture of the plight of women in the country, especially widows. She highlights the deep rooted patriarchy and chauvinism in her unwavering writing. And at the same time, it’s a joy to discover and imbibe oneself in the culture and tradition of the people of CAR. I found the descriptions on food and clothes so beautiful, that I couldn’t stop romanticising Bangui.

Books can transcend borders even during a pandemic. Allow this one to take you to CAR!


The Promise

The 2021 Booker Prize winning book is piercing and provocative. It delves into our hidden subconscious racist mentalities which can seem subtle and harmless from the outside. The story is about a white South African family, the Swart’s, and is told through four funerals extending over different time periods, encompassing South Africa’s transition out of apartheid. When Rachel Swart is on her death bed, she asks of her husband, Manie, for a promise, wherein he would give the ownership of their current home and it’s accompanying land to their black caretaker/ maid, Salome. This conversation is overheard by their youngest daughter Amor. However, the promise is never kept and is conveniently forgotten or shelved citing legalities. Despite Amor reminding her father and her other siblings, Astrid and Anton, of this promise, nobody bothers to consider it. This betrayal sort of falls as a curse on this family wherein everyone, other than Amor, dies a tragic death. And that’s when, Amor hands over the property to Salome, but is then forced to confront her subdued racism and her inherent fecklessness.

The book focuses deeply on the skewed and troubled interpersonal relationships between the parents and the siblings and between the siblings themselves. The dysfunctional and patriarchal upbringing damages each of the children, as they suffer from insecurity, lack of self worth, and body image, relationship and mental health issues. The author, Damon Galgut, doesn’t shy away from addressing the reader directly in the midst of the narration to point out our prejudices and bigotry. His rendition of complex human emotions and the subliminal satire is ingenious. Restitution when not done on time, need not guarantee absolution.

This book set during the apartheid times has won the prize this year, when we are also witnessing a travel apartheid against South Africa and other African countries due to omicron.

Have we, as a world, learnt anything?


The Sanatorium

Another lengthy and laborious read from the thriller stack of Reese Witherspoon’s book club, Hello Sunshine. With this, I am beginning to doubt her choices when it comes to thrillers. Even her previous picks were duds. In this book, the protagonist, Elin, a detective in the UK, who is battling PTSD associated with the death of her younger brother; is now on a vacation with her boyfriend, Will, in a luxury hotel in the Swiss Alps. The hotel has a dark and sinister past. Before the renovation, it used to be a sanatorium for Tuberculosis patients where some questionable practices were carried out. However, Elin and Will are here in the hotel for the engagement party of her other brother Isaac with Laure. As the weather becomes increasingly harsh with an impending blizzard, Laura disappears suddenly on the eve of the engagement. This is followed by a spate of brutal murders and Elin takes it upon herself to find the murderer.

Elin, does the most shoddy job as a detective. Also her intuitions are forever wrong. Her obstinacy to remain deliberately difficult because of the traumatic past, makes her the most annoying character. Will comes across as a narcissist who keeps gaslighting Elin. It’s appalling to note that the author, Sarah Pearse, has allowed it and has shown Elin to be accepting of it.

It’s become a trend to put troubled and damaged women as protagonists of thrillers. Very few authors are able to do justice to it and hence assimilate the personal traumas with the thriller plot line. This story should have been buried in the blizzard itself. It’s so ridiculous and drab, which makes me wonder at my own weird compulsion to having completed it.




This book is about Afghanistan, it’s people and their truths. It’s never easy to talk about a country decimated by war and various vested interests which have given rise to the Taliban. So when Afghan American author and paediatrician, Nadia Hashimi, writes, you sit up and take notice. She has authored several books on Afghans; but in this recent release, she speaks about the trying and traumatic life of a person escaping death and war. The first half of the book, shows the protagonist Sitara, as a ten year old surviving the military coup against the Afghan government that happened in 1978 Kabul. She knows her family is dead and with the help of a palace guard Shair, she lands up with Antonia, an American embassy worker, who helps her escape from Kabul to the United States. The story then fast forwards to 2008 in the second half, where Sitara has a new name and is a practising onco-surgeon in NYC. However, after so many years, when a chance encounter happens with Shair who is now her patient, it brings back the pent up rage, hidden grief and all the unspeakable traumas of the past. She now has to navigate her present by acknowledging her desire to reclaim her family and heritage, which leads her back to Kabul.

The author, through Sitara, paints a moving picture about survivors guilt. The emotional turmoil of it can be seen in every aspect of her life. The book depicts the vibrant culture of the 1970s Afghanistan which is heartwarming. But it’s gut wrenching to think of the present day grim situation. The world has watched in silence as a beautiful country stands ruined, and it’s convivial people wronged.


Misfits: A Personal Manifesto

When Michaela Coel, Emmy and Bafta winning creator/actress, also one of my most favourites; writes a book, you know it’s going to be real and cerebral. This book was inspired from Coel’s prestigious 2018 MacTaggart Lecture, a high-profile address given yearly by a keynote speaker at the Edinburgh Television Festival. Through the book, Michaela lays bare her deepest truths, fears, insecurities and idiosyncrasies.

From growing up in a poor family and as a black woman, in East London; to navigating racial slurs at drama school and not being taken seriously enough in the television industry despite two hit shows, Chewing Gum (Netflix) and I May Destroy You (BBC/HBO); Michaela describes her unconventional journey in a very poignant and purposeful narrative. She also talks about her sexual assault, which later prompted her to make the ingenious and hard hitting show, I May Destroy You, centring it on the issues of thefts of consent and rape.

Michaela refers to herself as a misfit and champions for all the misfits like her in the book. In this sensational agenda setting debut, she makes a compelling case for radical honesty and greater transparency. She believes that we as a world, need to be inclusive and respectful of every other human. She stresses on the fact that we need to constantly reflect on our thoughts, actions and words; for the betterment of humanity at large.

“ I’ve decided to embrace as many perspectives as I can, and be brave enough to update my beliefs, and discover I’m not always right. What a brilliant thing, to discover we’ve been wrong about some things, what a brilliant thing it is to grow”.

A brilliant and humbling read indeed!


A Slow Fire Burning

Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water, is back with another edgy and disturbing murder mystery-cum-psychological thriller. A young man, Daniel, gets brutally murdered in a London houseboat and now there are three suspects. Laura, his one night stand, who was last seen with him; Carla, his aunt; and Miriam, his nosy neighbour living on an adjacent houseboat. As the story unravels, so does the dark and damaged lives of the three women, intersecting and intertwining, ultimately leading to a grim climax.

The author is proficient at putting unlikeable and troubled women as her protagonists. In this book too, Laura who suffers from disinhibition, comes across as extremely unhinged. She is a victim of various childhood traumas due to which she has trouble managing her anger, emotions and behaviour. Through the various characters and plot lines, the book highlights the repercussions of PTSD, grief, loneliness and revenge.

Despite it being a page turner, the book still left me a tad underwhelmed. Maybe it’s because of the invariable comparison to the brilliancy of the author’s previous books. Nonetheless, Hawkins does create an atmospheric and creepy narrative. Do read!


A Passage North

Sri Lankan author, Anuk Arudpragasam’s second book, and also shortlisted for Booker Prize 2021, is striking but deliberately difficult. The book is a meandering tale of a Sri Lankan Tamil man, Krishan, living in Colombo, who is now faced with the news of his grandmother Appamma’s caretaker, Rani’s death in the far flung village of Kilinochchi, in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. As Krishan leaves on this train journey to the North, a region devastated by the civil war, he starts ruminating on his life’s choices and outcomes; philosophically analysing them, in the context of the inevitable truths of grief, loss, trauma and death.

As the author builds Krishan’s narrative, he also introduces us to the relationships he shares with all the women in his life including mother, grandmother, Rani and his former girlfriend Anjum. Anjum is an Indian girl, he meets while in Delhi. Though they share a “friend with benefits” relationship, more so from Anjum’s perspective; Krishan feels drawn to her romantically. Since separated and not in touch, Krishan keeps reminiscing about her; he remains in denial about the unrequited love and his inability to come to a closure.

Through the story of Rani, the Tamil woman, who loses both her sons to the war and is now battling severe clinical depression, the author brings to fore the turbulent times of the country when the Tigers and the military were engaged in a destructive duel. The book also has detailed multi-page recountings of Tamil poems, Buddha, and television documentaries.

Through the book, very little happens. While the author is adept at illustrating our most private and everyday emotions and thoughts lucidly; at the same time, it also feels like rambling. The dialogue-less prose, is full of long, laborious and word-y sentences. The character of Krishan comes across as inconsequential, indecisive and tedious.

To summarise, the book feels more like an indulgent experience, than immersive.


The forty rules of Love

This magnum opus by Elif Shafak, is all Love. The author puts Love as the protagonist here and weaves in two parallel narratives; one involving Rumi and Shams of Tabriz taking place in the 1240s, and the other, a contemporary one, taking place in 2008 and featuring an American woman, Ella.

Rumi, a privileged and celebrated scholar in Konya, lives a protected life, revered by everyone but often oblivious to the sufferings and miseries of the poor and the disadvantaged, and nurturing a void in his soul. Shams, a wandering dervish and an enigmatic heretic, lives a life practising sufism and has dedicated his whole being to the unfathomable power and purity of Love and kindness. Upon meeting Shams, Rumi undergoes this spiritual transformation that makes him unlearn all his beliefs; which causes tension and animosity with his followers and even his family. However, their relationship is ill fated. The loss and heartache transforms Rumi into this mystical poet, that the world has now come to know him for.

Ella’s story has her as this uninspired housewife in a loveless marriage who has discarded every notion about the existence of love. Her chance encounter with Aziz, emboldens her to question her life’s choices. It unravels as she continues to seek her agency and authority.

This book is an ode to love. The forty rules are life affirming and triumphant. Love, compassion, honesty and empathy are the lingering subtext in every rule. The book also presents the Sufi interpretation of Islam; which is all encompassing and ethereal. For the troubled times that currently the world is in and for all the islamophobes; this book is a necessity.

Shukran, Elif!


At night all blood is black

This 2021 International Booker Prize winner, is a sordid telling about a Senegalese soldier during the First World War. Alfa Ndiaye, is a strong and handsome man, recruited by the French against the German troops. Mademba Diop, with whom Alfa shares a brotherhood with, gets brutally killed and disemboweled during one of the attacks. Alfa sees him pleading for death and writhing in agony during his last moments and feels helpless and responsible about not providing him death sooner. This event destabilises Alfa which makes him seek gruesome revenge on the Germans. Every night he kills one of them and brings their severed hand as a medallion. Initially, his own troops and the French captain laud him for his bravery. But as his grotesque killing continues, the same people, now deem his bravery as savagery; call him dëmm, the devourer of souls and avoid him. All of this, makes Alfa have mental breakdowns and hence is ordered by the captain to be sent to an asylum. Slowly Alfa starts losing his memory, gets delusional and forgets his own identity.

The author, in the second half, throws light on the friendship and brotherhood of Alfa and Mademba. The relationship of Alfa with this mother, Penndo Ba, who leaves him at the age of nine, remains constrained with an unsaid love and resentment. The book describes the culture and traditions of Fula people of Senegal. The words and the narration get deliberately repetitive, probably to keep it authentic to Alfa Ndiaye’s thoughts.

Through the story, Alfa emerges as this brute force who only knows, blood, death and violence as the language of love, care and loyalty. In his delusional state, when he commits a rape; he believes it to be his act of making love. Narrated by Alfa himself, the story gets intentionally disturbing, making you squirm.

The book is translated from French by Anna Moschovakis, who shares the Booker Prize with the author David Diop. The story is a slice of the unspoken brutality of the First World War. As also, it’s an unflinching account of the life and mind of a soldier, facing the trauma of a war.