Monday, October 24, 2016

Praktan, directed by Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee

India (Bengali), 2016
143 min, drama
Directed by Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee
Starring Rituparna Sengupta, Aparajita Auddy, and Prosenjit Chatterjee

Content Warning: Discussion of Emotional and Physical Abuse

Ten years ago, Sudipa and Ujaan divorced after a difficult marriage. Today, Sudipa finds herself in a first-class train carriage from Mumbai to Kolkata with Malini, Ujaan’s new wife, and their daughter. During the course of the two-night train journey, Sudipa finally deals with the pain from years before.

Meanwhile, we see the stories of people in other rooms in the same carriage. Four famous Bengali musicians (Surojit Chatterjee, Anindya Chatterjee, Upal Sengupta, and Anupam Roy, playing themselves) serenade each other with new compositions. An elderly couple returns from Mumbai after seeing their son off to the US. And last but not least, a couple of newlyweds put the trip in a private cabin to good use.

Both an intimate story of pain, heartbreak, and healing, and a glance at the things that happen in first class, this is a new, great train movie from West Bengal. However, the ending left a bad taste in my mouth.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett

A. Igoni Barrett
2015, I read PDF review copy
304 pages, social satire, speculative

Many thanks to Kachifo Limited for providing a review copy of this novel. 

Furo Wariboko awoke this morning to find that dreams can lose their way and turn up on the wrong side of sleep. He was lying nude in bed, and when he raised his head a fraction, he could see his alabaster belly, and his pale legs beyond, covered with fuzz that glinted bronze in the cold daylight pouring in through the open window…. His hands were not black but white… same as his legs, his belly, all of him.

Thus begins this Kafkaesque satire about race relations in Nigeria. Furo wakes on the morning of a big job interview to find that he has suddenly turned White – complete with red hair and blue eyes. Escaping from his house, he turns up at the job interview and, as a White man, finds that not only his job prospects, but every other aspect of his life has significantly improved.

Being White in a post-colonial society

Furo encounters all of the things that I, myself, have experienced or witnessed as a White person living in a post-colonial society (in my case India). Using the same qualifications that had lost him numerous opportunities in the past, as a White man he is immediately offered a good job. People trust him enough to give him money within two minutes of meeting him.

He also receives intense stares everywhere he goes:
Lone white face in a sea of black, Furo learned fast. To walk with his shoulders up and his steps steady. To keep his gaze lowered and his face blank. To ignore the fixed stares, the pointed whispers, the blatant curiosity. And he learnt how it felt to be seen as a freak: exposed to wonder, invisible to comprehension.
As a White man, Furo is expected to act a certain way; when he doesn’t fulfill people’s expectations they become surprised and start to question him. When he tries to eat in a roadside restaurant, for example, people stare and ask why he is there. To escape the stares, he goes into one of the city's fancy shopping malls (which he has never previously entered), and fakes casualness while drinking an incredibly expensive coffee. As a White person, he is not only expected to have a lot of money, but also to fit naturally into high society.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

In Memorium: Parthasarathi Neogi

My father-in-law, Parthasarathi Neogi, died suddenly last Friday night, September 23, 2016. After a day spent visiting old friends, he had a sudden stroke and died within a few minutes.

My husband Tintin and I were in Kerala, and were woken up at 11 PM by a phone call from his mom. We flew home on the first flight at 5:30 AM, and completed the funeral by that evening. We just finished the last of the rituals to give him peace.

I called him Baba, the Bengali word for father.

I couldn't have asked for a better father-in-law; he truly loved me. He would do small things to show his love, such as bring big chocolate bars to have on hand whenever I came. I was supposed to come to Kolkata (alone) on October 12th, and he had offered to pick me up from the airport. He had also, I discovered when I came, bought three new bedsheets for me to use while I was here.

These may sound like very small things, but when put together they added up to a very good man who loved me very much. And I miss him.

I will be in Kolkata for the next few months to take care of affairs while Tintin returns to Kerala for work. It will be hard to be separated for such a long time, but it is necessary right now.

Rest in Peace 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Kickstart These: La Raza, Moonshot Vol. II

There are two excellent, diverse comic anthologies waiting for funding on Kickstarter right now.

La Raza Anthology: Unidos y Fuertes

A collection of comics by Latinx creators! Pledges start at US $2, and you can get a copy of the book for $15(ebook)/$25(hardcopy).

I love the artwork.
The last day to pledge is September 29, 2016.

Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Vol. 2

I loved the first volume of this series of comics by Native American artists, mostly from Canada. You can read my review here. The second volume promises more of the same excellent work. In fact, 
Each of the 15 short stories included in this c.200 page Volume will be based on a tradition from the author's own tribe/community. These stories highlight present-day traditions, and diversity, in indigenous peoples today.
 As always, the artwork looks absolutely breathtaking, and you can get prints as a backer award.

Pledges start at $5 CAD, and you can get a copy of the book for $10(ebook)/$20(hardcopy). 

The last day to pledge is September 30, 2016

Go get your copies before time runs out! 

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Timehrian by Andrew Jefferson-Miles

The Timehrian
Andrew Jefferson-Miles
110 pages, post-modern, speculative

Thank you to Peepal Tree Press for providing a review copy of this book. 

After awaking from a six-year madness, Leon-Battista Mondaal writes to his cousin in an attempt to express what he has experienced. The result is this poetic novel that can never tell a straight story, but nevertheless reaches toward the truth - of Guyana’s colonial and post-colonial past, of ethnographic practice, and of the relationships between people.

This book is essentially a prose poem, for better or for worse. At times, it becomes almost incomprehensible, such as:

The tidal wave that swept all away possessed a sort of hybrid vigour that reached over our best attempts at correction. It exhibited an evenhanded kind of intervention in our affairs, entangling and suborning layers and institutions and environments. Former legacies are converted into new bodies whilst old shapes enter the squall and masquerade of memory, whose disguises enact majestic instability in our conception of ourselves. It is a complex, a charged phenomenology of practice and custom intensifying communities diverse in their origins, orientations, dictions.

I don’t usually enjoy reading poetry, but I will try my best to pull out what I understood from this text.

Colonialism and ethnography

Immediately before the tidal wave that caused Leon-Battista’s descent into madness, he was working with an ethnographic team recording the traditional Christmas masquerade in a Guyanese coastal village. However, he seems to be uncomfortable with the whole process, and especially with the functionalist and colonial attitude of Laban, the group’s leader and a renowned anthropologist.

Part of what Leon-Battista points out is a common critique of early forms of anthropology (before the “reflexive turn”). As he notes,

Conventional epistemes for the study of man (social relativism in anthropology, ethnolology, ethnography) tend to benefit least those about whom the study is made. Those about whom the study is made rarely get to participate in it. 

As a discipline, anthropology now recognizes these issues and does its best to rectify them (or at least to be aware of them and their effects on a study) through participative modes of ethnography and research.

However, it seems that Leon-Battista is also referring to the colonial attitudes of some ethnographers, who treat the people they study as a way to produce knowledge, nothing more. Laban is a “native anthropologist:” originally from Guyana, he has returned as a celebrated academic to study his “native” culture. Despite this apparent belonging, he still treats his research participants as subjects of study rather than real, three-dimensional people.


Another issue that Leon-Battista brings out is the complicated history of the area, from both an ecological and cultural standpoint. Apart from the colonists that came from Europe, the people in the area are also the descendants of African slaves, Indian indentured servants, and the Amerindian inhabitants of the area. As all of these groups have combined to form the society of present-day Guyana, so has the environment of the country changed under their influence.

Overall, I did not enjoy reading this book. It was only after I finished it that I realized how thought-provoking it is. If you enjoy reading poetry and/or are interested in experimental writing, you might want to give this one a try.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

What Sunny Saw in the Flames by Nnedi Okorafor

What Sunny Saw in the Flames
Nnedi Okorafor
2016, I read pdf review copy
315 pages, YA, speculative

Many thanks to Cassava Republic Press for providing a review copy of this book!

Sunny Nwazue is a young girl who does not quite fit in. She was born in the United States to Nigerian parents, but is growing up in Nigeria. She is also an albino, which is a big deal in Nigeria where they are sometimes considered witches or people who talk to ghosts. Her skin’s sensitivity to sun also prevents her from playing soccer, which is one of her passions.

She discovers that she actually does have some magical abilities: she is a “Free Agent,” or someone able to do magic (a Leopard Person) who is born into a non-magical (Lamb) family. Now, apart from learning about her abilities with her new friends, Sunny has to keep her new identity a secret from her family, do twice the normal amount of homework, and deal with a magical serial killer who is targeting children.

Magical Universe

In this story, there is an alternate society of Leopard People: some live in the Lamb community, and others live in special, magical places, such as Leopard Knocks. In Leopard society, Free Agents like Sunny are discriminated against, as evidenced by the obvious racism in the in-universe book Fast Facts for Free Agents which Sunny uses to learn about the magic community. Most of the chapters end with an excerpt of this deplorable book, providing a glimpse into the racism that Sunny will experience.

The magic here is juju, and it uses a lot of blood and sacrifices. The most-used magical implement is a juju knife, which is about the size of a child’s hand and is unique to each magical person. Each individual also has a “spirit face,” which is considered very private and is the source of their power.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Westerly 61.1: The Indigenous Issue

Westerly 61.1: The Indigenous Issue
Guest edited by Stephen Kinnane
August 2016

Westerly, based at the University of Western Australia, is a literary magazine publishing new writing from Western Australia since 1956. I would like to thank them for providing a review copy of this issue. 

[O]verwhelmingly, the work submitted and collected here sought to witness – some the past, some the present, many their hopes for the future. This act of telling as testimonial is not something fragile. It is a robust and vibrant energy, charging each unique voice, and demanding a space in which it can be felt. – the editors’ introduction

There is a huge range of pieces in this issue, far too many for me to review each one individually. Instead, I will just mention a few of my favorites. They are presented in the same order as in the magazine.

“The Yield” by Tara June Winch

My absolute favorite piece is “The Yield,” an excerpt from a forthcoming novel. In this excerpt, we meet the main character, a mostly-Indigenous woman whose grandfather has just died. She has to travel back to Australia, back to the place she grew up, to deal with the funeral arrangements and to support her grandmother. This also means that she has to confront aspects of her past that she has avoided for a long time, especially her sister who mysteriously disappeared during their childhood.

The writing is dense, tightly-packed and absolutely beautiful.
During the flight I watched the GPS, the numbers rising and steadying, the plane skittering over the cartoon sea. At the other end, having reached a certain altitude, crossed the time lines, descended into new coordinates, I’d hoped it would be enough to erase the voyage. Erase the facts of the matter; erase the burials rites due reciting, erase all the erasures of us, and that family we once were in the stories could exist. Not us, as we were now, godless and government housed and spread all over the place.
From what I have read so far, this story is absolutely ordinary, and yet entirely profound. I have added Tara June Winch to my list of authors whose works I want to read as soon as possible, and am eagerly waiting for the novel form of The Yield.