Review: The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I’ll be honest this book wasn’t on my TBR and reading it was a rather spontaneous decision. It is a retelling of the Mahabharata which is a major Indian epic that is at its core, the tale of a devastating war between two clans- the Kauravas and Pandavas. It’s a very detailed, intricate tale so I’d suggest looking up the characters and understanding the basic storyline before reading this book. I never explored the genre of mythological texts much before and that’s why I only had a loose idea of what the Mahabharata was about. That was until I came across a more philosophical explanation of it and realized that this story has more than meets the eye.

For those unfamiliar with the epic: the Pandavas are five brothers and cousins to the Kauravas. A multitude of events and instances of betrayal causes a civil war between the two. The duration of this war is filled with revelations, acts of love and sacrifice and interludes of mythical stories. Moreover, it is a wonderful description of Indian culture and traditions. Keep in mind, the original book is huge and this novel talks of more of the main events and offers a new perspective on this compelling tale. It is narrated from the point of view of Panchaali, wife of the five Pandava brothers and a very important part of the epic. Although there have been various tv shows, movies and interpretations of the Mahabharata, they are for the most part male-centric. But, Panchaali plays a very crucial role in this war and she has such an interesting, unique history too. This is my mom’s favourite book and she has been urging me to read it, but I refused thinking it wasn’t my cup of tea(sorry mom).

However, when I found out the distinctive perspective this book offers and that Panchaali was no damsel in distress but an outspoken, fierce and opinionated queen,(literally) I wanted to read this book immediately. If you can’t tell already, I loved it and my mom had an ‘I told you so’ moment. Anyway, it’s surprising that Panchaali’s viewpoints haven’t been explored much before because she was the immediate cause of the war and in general, a female character not only known for her prophesized birth, but her inquisitive nature and drive to push boundaries and enter places reserved for men in ancient India. However, the thing that sets her apart and makes her known across lands is that she is queen of the Pandavas.

Throughout the book, Panchaali expresses her desire to make a name for herself and to go down in history as someone who was revolutionary or different. As her name Panchaali goes, she was one of a kind living in a time where only kings have several wives all at once. Becoming this legend of sorts is only the beginning of a lifetime of instances where she indirectly influences major events of the Mahabharata. Panchaali has some dialogue or history with almost all male characters in the book, she advises some and seeks advice from some. These moments, even if they don’t play a part in driving the story forward are still at the back of her head and we see how they affect her when those characters are on a battlefield fighting for their lives.

The author also highlights some other background female characters equally interesting as Panchaali. These women made a difference in their way and it’s great the way they all come together at the end. If there’s an emotion I noticed was very well put forth in this novel, it was regret. Panchaali often forgot the consequences of her actions in pursuit of her ambitions and these consequences would return to haunt her. Chitra Banerjee brought something new to the table in her portrayal of Panchaali’s deepest desire playing out unexpectedly. She wanted to make her mark on history and she did, but by starting a war. Towards the end, she has an almost apologetic tone as she never wanted for so many lives to be lost, women to be widowed and survivors left forlorn and regretful.

Final thoughts~ This book had a bittersweet, beautiful ending. Though mythological it is very versatile and has some great lessons to teach no matter where you’re from. The title particularly intrigued me because I couldn’t figure why the Palace of Illusions which is the name given to the extraordinary palace Panchaali inhabited, was particularly important. I think it’s meant to be symbolic because this palace was the first place she ever belonged, was ever happy and when the war and devastation began in her life; the palace, the crux of her joy was something she never saw again. I could go on about this book, but I’d rather you read it and understand where I’m coming from. I want to explore more of this genre because mythological stories are truly timeless!

“A situation in itself, is neither happy nor unhappy. It’s only your response to it that causes your sorrow.”

~Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Palace of Illusions.

Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a novel about the universal plight of refugees, no matter where they come from. Although centered around two Syrian refugees the book also touches on the situations and journeys of people that have fled from war-torn areas around Syria. This book tells the story of Nuri and Afra, a couple leading a pleasant and content family life in the populous Syrian governorate of Aleppo before they are forced to leave when the Civil War turns their lives upside down. Christy Lefteri tells the tale of their sail, trek and expedition to safety and how it changes both of them for the better and worse. This also highlights their search for a home untouched by destruction and a night’s sleep uninterrupted by the sound of bomb blasts. But, is it possible to live in normalcy after one has suffered enough to last a lifetime?

The narrator of the book is Nuri. A beekeeper who lives in the dazzling city of Aleppo with his wife Afra, an artist. Christy Lefteri’s descriptions of Aleppo seem quite accurate considering she’s never set foot in Syria because of obvious reasons. I read she gets her inspiration from listening to actual Syrian refugees while volunteering at a refugee centre in Athens. Nuri and Afra are strong, simple yet entwined in a blissful past where pain was nowhere in sight. Nuri seems calm in the midst of chaos, stable. But you can see that he isn’t and that memories of a better time and the frustration of injustice faced by his family still tugs at him beneath that calm. Afra’s grief, on the other hand, is very evident. She is literally blinded by her sorrow. We see a huge change in her persona before and after the war where she was lively, creative and right where she needed to be as opposed to when the Syrian Civil War prevails.

So, Nuri wishes to go to Britain which most people he admits this to tell him it’s an impossible journey. Yet, he is determined to reach his destination despite all odds against him. As they progress through the journey, Lefteri brings out how unimaginable loss changes the way you perceive the world and how difficult it is to adapt to a new life what with the hurry and urgency with which you’re forced to leave what was once paradise behind. Nuri and Afra endure a long journey residing in overcrowded camps, taking shelter under the roofs of NGOs in Turkey and Greece, meeting all kinds of people as exhausted as them and doubting whether Britain will even be worth it.

I read something once, on the lines of how refugees are often treated as if they are taking up space, infringing on another land and stealing homes but probably all they wish to do is go back. To be in the comfort of their own homes. A foreign land where they are hardly treated like human beings is the last place they’d long to be. Christy Lefteri used a beekeeper as the protagonist of her book. She also brought bees as a community to symbolize various things along the story. The bees act as a sort of light at the end of the tunnel in Nuri’s life. Bees thrive in their hives and with others like them. They can also build a home in any given environment over time. A bee away from the hive is often wingless and helpless, all of this much like Nuri and Afra.

The war is a topic that although is the cause of all upheaval in the book, is not mentioned much. I don’t think this is a bad thing because it just shows us that in times of such suffering, do Nuri and Afra even care about the war? Are they more concerned about surviving or who wins? I realized that they aren’t too sure about its causes themselves either. No specific incidents or parties are mentioned and it’s better that way because there’s enough coverage about that in media. I’m glad Lefteri doesn’t give us details because not only is the story alright without them but it’s also a Google search away and it pushes people to do their research about the war.

Final thoughts~ The Beekeeper of Aleppo is an eye-opening and powerful book. It is sad but it wouldn’t have as much of an effect if it wasn’t and it gives you hope and reassurance when needed. The book takes you from Syria to Britain and ties it all so well at the end. Christy Lefteri made good use of her time spent volunteering and managed to cast a light on the unheard stories of Syrian refugees.

“I wanted to set forth the idea that among profound, unspeakable loss, humans can still find love and light and see one another.”

~Christy Lefteri, The Beekeeper of Aleppo.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

for podcast listeners- The Book Club Review

The Beekeeper of Aleppo~ Christy Lefteri

Book Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Christy Lefteri, The Beekeeper of Aleppo (2019)

Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is a note-worthy work of fiction featuring two journeys that are both extremely different yet similar in some ways. Although the main focus is a love-story, it branches into so much more giving us well-rounded, brilliant but flawed characters. It shows us what finding your place in the world looks like and that it isn’t the destination, rather the journey. This is peppered with insights on racism, immigration and politics which are narrated through the characters’ experiences. The book is centered around Ifemelu and Obinze, who meet and fall in love in high school in Nigeria.

The characters are deep and multifaceted for they’re predictable yet unpredictable. They i.e the author expresses things that seem profound but you realize that these observations are so obviously visible in our world. The characters are my favorite part. Ifemelu, our opinionated ‘Americanah’ is a Nigerian woman who is uncomfortably frank at times and dares to question everything. We then have Obinze, her first love, sort of the only one who could stand Ifemelu’s hotheadedness and pushed her to think ahead. Both characters are very similar in terms of their ideologies and most of all their aspirations. Growing up in Nigeria, Ifemelu and Obinze are happy but always longing for more. They talk about how it wasn’t only them but everyone in Nigeria who was conditioned to believe that prosperity, happiness and ‘the good life’ is found outside of Nigeria. However, both set out only to find that even outside of Nigeria ‘the good life’ isn’t found easily. Halfway through college, Ifemelu has enough of the protests and political instability in Nigeria and applies to a university in America. Obinze sets out years later but to the UK instead, unable to get a visa he lives an undocumented life.

There’s a consecutive struggle and depressing period for both characters on eventually settling in and it’s inspiring to see them fight through it. Ifemelu’s life in America is filled with self-discovery, great people with interesting personalities and her uncovering truths about racism. She talks a lot about the difference between being an American Black and a Non-American Black in America. These parts were truly eye-opening and brought light to a phenomenon so relevant to today’s America. These insights have been woven into the story seamlessly so don’t seem educational or preachy but a mere thought of the character. I enjoyed seeing America through Ifemelu’s eyes.

Another focus of the book is immigration in both America and England. Both places have different histories and reputations which leads to the two characters’ having contrasting experiences as well. In America, Ifemelu’s story mainly deals with racism. Her race is seen as a barrier in everything she wants to accomplish. She acknowledges Black hair politics, the Obama administration and in general America’s race divide. Obinze in London on the other hand, lives in constant fear of being deported. The author also describes the saddening lengths he has to go to in order to get his papers. Apart from them, the many terrors of immigration are shown in the form of other characters like friends and family members. The book really highlights how immigration begins to define you and remains a sword hanging above your head.

The main storyline however, is that Ifemelu and Obinze eventually return to Nigeria. Both are altered by what they’ve faced. We see how Nigeria to them is a symbol of comfort, of one another and a place where they finally find what they were looking for.

Americanah is a story of discovery, of facing your fears and of staying true to your roots. Some say it’s a classic immigrant story and maybe it is, but I think it is more of a modern take on it. Even if the characters struggled and faced what might seem like things you’ve read about before, isn’t that a sign that there needs to be change?

Final thoughts~ With reference to the name, ‘Americanah’ is what people call Ifemelu when she returns to Nigeria. It’s a reference to the fact that her persona is now Americanized and her perspective has changed. But, Ifemelu proudly takes on the title. I think it’s also a reference to the fact that America not only impacted her, but changed those around her for the better. That being said, this book is full of witty remarks and strong-willed characters with lots to say. It’s the kind of book which asks the hard questions and pushes you to ask them. After this, I’m looking forward to reading more of Chimamanda Adichie’s work!

“Why did people ask, ‘What is it about?’ as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”

~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Pages Feature: “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Thoughts on Americanah

Book Review- Americanah

Review: Miss Austen by Gill Hornby (Birthday Bookshelf #1)

Series Alert! I am so excited to start my first series on the blog. Since my birthday just went by on Christmas Eve, I received several books as gifts (which is honestly the best gift you can give me) and, reading them and reviewing them feels a lot more special than it normally would. So, let this review mark the beginning of the series- Birthday Bookshelf! Shoutout to my dad for this book:)

At first glance, my brain automatically thought of Jane on reading Austen. But, the book is in fact about Jane’s sister- Cassandra Austen: The dutiful, compassionate, often undermined eldest daughter of the Austen clan. I love reading about the sidekicks of history’s heroes- the shaping factors and often only supporters in the idols’ lives. Like Patroclus for Achilles and in the case of this book, Cassandra for Jane. The book is told from Cassandra’s point of view. Cassandra and Jane were very close, they had the kind of bond that even reading about makes you smile, they were each the other’s confidante and best friend. So, it was pretty much decided that Cassandra was to be the executor of Jane’s literary estate.

The basis of the book was one of Cassandra’s doings as executor, which was that she burned some of Jane Austen’s letters. This is something that has set historians and scholars against her for years because those letters would be priceless in this day and age. The book revolves around a few months in Cassandra’s life as an old woman, where she comes to her (and Jane’s) best friend’s home to find the letters. As she reads them, they take her back to her youth and bring back fond memories of her life and her sister as well as some painful memories she’d wished to forget. Towards the end of the book, it’s understandable why Cassy chose to burn those letters. You resonate with her as she simply performed her duties as executor and chose to maintain her sister’s perfect image at a time when her novels were just beginning to flourish and a lot of vengeful folks would do anything to bring her down using somewhat controversial aspects of her life.

That being said, this book is an ode to the Jane Austen style of writing and the setting and way of life described was exactly like the kind in her novels. Throughout the book, I drew many parallels between the happenings of the life of Jane Austen and that of her characters. For instance, Cassy and Jane Austen’s relationship and their personalities seemed immensely similar to Jane and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. It goes to show how she took inspiration from her world and expressed it so well.

The main focus of the book is Cassy though, and I adored her. Cassandra Austen was the more popular sister in society. She was ever-ready to help anyone who needed it and being dutiful and loyal towards her family was what she took pride in. She did have her share of difficulties though and there was this phase in the book where it felt like nothing seemed to work out in her favor and she became a pushover of sorts. It saddened me to see that even though she helped everyone, she never received any gratitude in return. However, things did pick up towards the end and I could not put the book down. The best part of the book was seeing the situation through the hopeful perspective of Cassandra. Making the reader feel what you’re writing about is hard, so kudos to the author for making me nostalgic when Cassy thought of her family and pensive when she described what women, especially unmarried women went through and how she wished people understood that she was happy even without a husband.

The book dwells upon themes of family, love, faith- which we often forget how simple yet fulfilling can be. Another theme that the book often mentioned but didn’t entirely focus on was that of women, especially in the Austen sisters’ time being ignored. Cassandra talks of how she read novels of men and their terrible lives but never of the difficulties in society or even in their homes that women went through. To an extent, I think the popularity of Jane Austen’s novels increased for that reason. Women longed to be represented, to see main characters they relate to. Jane Austen gave them that, she told their story for a change.

The letters included in the book are fictional and written by Gill Hornby. This was a fact I did not know until I read the Author’s Note at the end and I was surprised that Jane’s essence was captured so well, the words felt real. I adored the Austens as a family, they supported Jane and Cassandra in every way and were in general a vibrant family. I will admit though, that at some points this book was slow and there wasn’t anything interesting happening. Some parts just seemed unnecessary.

There have been many retellings about Jane Austen’s life but this was a fresh perspective because Cassandra saw Jane’s mistakes, saw everyone’s mistakes but remained admiring of them. They don’t become lesser in her eyes, or yours instead you resonate with them. That’s what I found unique about Cassy’s character.

Final thoughts- This book answered many questions about the misses Austen’s lives. It showed us why Cassy burned some of her sister’s letters, it showed us how Jane became what she became and who got her there. Cassy was defined (back then) by the fact that she never married, so were a lot of the other characters we read about. The book shows us that there was so much more to her, to them than that. Lastly, Miss Austen shows us why Jane called Cassandra the sunshine of her life. It also highlights how you can find perfection in imperfection, happiness in mundanity. Even if this book, doesn’t scream a strong message, it makes you smile and is the perfect light and winter read. If you’re looking for a book to snuggle up with, this one’s for you!

“Happy endings are there for us somewhere, woven into the mix of life’s fabric. We just have to search the detail, follow the pattern, to find the one that should be our own. ”

~ Gill Hornby, Miss Austen.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Book Review: Miss Austen

Book Review: Miss Austen

Cassandra Austen, Clergyman’s Daughter: Miss Austen, Gill Hornby

Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles is a historical fiction that features the retelling of the story of one of the greatest heroes of Greek mythology: Achilles from the point of view of his most ardent admirer, Patroclus. If you’re familiar with Homer’s ‘Illiad’, you probably know of Achilles and Patroclus. Achilles- the prophesied warrior, best of the Greeks and a man who was idolized throughout his life. Patroclus- quite the opposite, an exile who was mostly deemed a coward because he abhorred the battlefield. There’s not much mythology tells us about Patroclus. I think the situation is so because he wasn’t a warrior, and lived in a society which then revolved around war, regarding any other qualities in a man insignificant. But Patroclus never wanted to be in the spotlight. We see how in the book too, he hardly draws any attention to himself.

I was skeptical about reading this book at first, having never been too fond of Achilles according to what I’d read about him. But Patroclus’ narration is such a refreshing perspective that it changed the way I saw Achilles, it even made me feel sorry for him. Mythology only saw Achilles as a fearless, skilled warrior and a ruthless savior. But Patroclus saw him as more than that. He knew Achilles before anyone cared about him. While most stories only talk about Achilles during the Trojan War, this book begins when he was still a child. When Patroclus was first exiled to Phthia, the kingdom of which Achilles was prince.

Patroclus loved him for many reasons. Achilles befriended him when nobody would, he always said what he meant. While others longed for that twisted game they called honour- he didn’t care about it. He pushed Patroclus to embrace himself for who he was. The book names countless other reasons as to why he stuck by him and they’ve been expressed almost poetically to the extent that I wanted to read them again and again. One of the biggest things I realized from reading this is that Patroclus shaped Achilles to be who he was during the Trojan War. It seemed like he was not only his confidante but conscience, shaping his actions and making him the hero everyone loved. Without Patroclus, Achilles would’ve been lost, and he was.

I was curious to see how the story would move along after Patroclus’ death. According to the Illiad, revenge for Patroclus’ death was the reason Achilles went on a killing spree and ultimately ended the Trojan War. The last few chapters of the book are heartbreaking, when Patroclus watches Achilles as a spirit, begging him to stop. The Illiad’s focus on the Trojan War was to show the loss, grief, and suffering war causes. The Song of Achilles also highlights the same because the Trojan War changed Achilles and Patroclus’ lives. The two were unwilling to go in the first place.

After I read this, I wondered why classics like the Illiad and stories of heroes like Achilles and the world he lived in, are still relevant today? But that could be asked of any classic or epic. Maybe it’s because they gave rise to ideas which we continue to value today, or love stories and figures we can still idolize. For instance, Patroclus’ longing to fit in, how the Greeks would do anything to maintain their honour and pride, their belief in togetherness and numbers, wars over differences. I can’t figure out if that’s the world refusing to learn from history or just the way it’s meant to be.

Final thoughts~ I love that the author sheds light on storylines and characters which are mostly ignored in the classics. They add a new perspective instead of the monotonous ones. Instead of descriptions of the battlefield and bloodshed we get to read about the atmosphere on the sidelines, where wives and workers anxiously waited for the war to end. I strongly suggest this book even if you’re unfamiliar with Greek mythology because the author provides sufficient background.

“Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another. We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory. Who knows?”

                                                                        -Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles- Book Review

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This book is a great work of fiction, spanning over nearly 100 years and two countries. It begins in Korea, 1911 and by the end, we’ve reached Japan, 1989. But the author has blended the storylines very well and seamlessly taken the story along, so the change in characters and periods doesn’t seem abrupt at all. Since the book ranges across four generations of characters, it highlights how one’s history plays a huge role in a person’s life and how, as the phrase goes- has a tendency to repeat itself. It shows how a defining moment of one’s life continues to define and affect the actions of generations down the line.

The plot is centered around one Sunja, a woman born in a small town in Korea. It begins with her father, whose memory and wise words are remembered by her till the end of the book. Her grandparents ran a lodging house, which is passed down to her parents, whose story we are told too. That’s another thing I liked about the book- everyone’s story and point of view is told. In any situation, we read about what each person involved is thinking at that moment, even if it’s just a few lines. Anyway, Sunja spends the first sixteen years of her life at the lodging house until she marries a kind pastor, staying there, and goes with him to Japan.

The story then moves to the city of Osaka in Japan where Sunja stays with her brother and sister-in-law and her husband. We are then introduced to another dynamic and focus of the book which is the treatment of Korean immigrants in pre-WW2 Japan. I didn’t know this tension between the two regions existed and it was a saddening insight into what so many families must have faced.

We see how Sunja’s new family who were rich in Korea are made to live in a ghetto and work odd jobs in order to survive. Not only them, but she tells us about all the Koreans she knew in Japan who were reduced from riches to rags and who struggled to make ends meet. Every character faces some form of prosecution and discrimination at some point. But despite all they were facing, the family made the best of what they had and found a way to be happy.

At certain points in the book, it seemed like their situation was impossible and there was no way out, but somehow they survived, rising like a phoenix from the ashes. Of all things, the characters’ resilience and survival instinct was in my opinion, portrayed very well throughout the book. It was shown in various contexts and not only inspiring but well-thought-out as well.

The book ends on a sad note for most characters, but there is a ray of hope and an assurance given to us, letting us subtly know that the characters will be alright. As always, I loved reading about a new culture, a new history. Pachinko also passes the Bechdel test

Final thoughts- I didn’t realize the relation between the name of the book and the story until the last few chapters. Pachinko is a Japanese pinball game and a gambling business of sorts. Both of Sunja’s sons were involved in the pachinko business and it eventually becomes the family business. Many relations are made between the game of pachinko and the game of life in the book. So, I felt the name was a smart pick because, in a way, pachinko represents the life of Koreans in Japan and life in general as well!

Which other books with similar themes to Pachinko have you read?

Living every day in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.

~ Min Jin Lee, Pachinko.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: A Great Epic

PACHINKO- A REVIEW

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

The Bechdel Test: A Call for Representation

No study of female representation in media is complete without the Bechdel Test. Advocacy for diversity in every field is increasing, as it should. Yet, few understand the need for it in movies. Everybody loves movies, they tell stories that leave us crying, laughing, and always longing for more. They’re a different kind of comfort food. There’s a movie about anything you could name. But, we see a pattern in most of them. A code of conduct that a majority of filmmakers follow.

The Bechdel Test created by Allison Bechdel in 1985 is a test of the representation of women in fiction. Although it can be used to analyze books as well, its original focus was cinema when it was introduced in the form of a comic strip by Bechdel who credited the idea to her friend Liz Wallace and the writings of Virginia Woolf. There are three criteria a work of fiction must include to pass the Bechdel Test:

Do you see how little the test asks for? Note the words ‘at least two named women’ and ‘anything besides a man’. On first reading this, I thought; How hard could it be? We’re in the 21st century! I’m sure 80% of the movies I’ve seen easily pass it. You will be surprised at the number of movies you consider ‘hits’ and ‘blockbusters’ which barely pass the test.

Take a look at the numbers- a report shows that just 33.1 percent of speaking roles in 2018’s top-grossing films. We see an improvement in the 2019 numbers where 45 to 54.9 percent of all speaking roles were women. So, we have two or more women who talk to each other- you’re almost there just one more step and your movie has passed the test. But here’s where most films fail. According to the criteria, these women must have at least one conversation (this conversation only has to happen once for a film to pass) about something, anything besides a man. It leaves so much to the imagination!

A BBC Analysis of the Oscars revealed that fewer than half of the 89 films named best picture passed the test. Why is this the case? Why are filmmakers still struggling to fulfill the most minimal criteria? Besides, if the largest and most influential film industry in the world can’t implement the Bechdel Test in its award-winning movies, how should we expect the rest of the world to follow?

I think the most common misconception people have of the Bechdel Test is that it asks for ‘feminist’ and women-centric movies. But the plot of a movie does not have to revolve around the conversation of its characters. A movie needs to have some reality to it, so why doesn’t the scene cut to the female supporting characters talking about the news, or their favorite show, or even the game last night? Instead of how cute that guy is, should I text him? Women have other things to talk about too, you know.

When it comes to having two named female characters, I think a well-rounded personality is all we’re asking for. Someone who isn’t just defined by that one line they said or the plot of the movie.

Now I’m not saying all films should have the same characters, the same storyline. But a little representation wouldn’t hurt. Diversity makes this world stronger, it’s the sundae and the rest is the cherry on top. There are some great movies out there made by some talented people, but their uniqueness gives them that wow-factor. Although its criteria seem quite normal, the Bechdel Test asks for something different in today’s film industry. I think it’s time we see that change!

Which of the movies you’ve seen pass the Bechdel Test?

P. S- If you’d like the names of some movies which pass the test I’ve included a link under sources.

This is a line from the ‘Carry On’ series by Rainbow Rowell. It’s one of my favorite series and the first place I read about the Test!

SOURCES:

2019 Statistics| Women and Hollywood

2019’s Bechdel Passing Films

What is the Bechdel Test and why are movies still not passing it?

It’s time to move beyond the Bechdel Test

OTHER BLOG POSTS ON THE TOPIC:

The Bechdel Test: Is It Still Relevant Today?

Movies I Like That Pass The Bechdel Test

Review: The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

According to me, the one thing which makes cultural fiction engaging and one of my favorite genres are the picturesque descriptions and eloquent language used, which is a common thread in most novels of this genre. It’s something I mentioned in my review of Girl, Woman, Other as well.

The Bastard of Istanbul is another such masterpiece of vivid writing and the author takes us deep into Turkey, highlighting its history and the lifestyle of its people. The plot revolves around two families interwoven by fate and it begins and ends on the same note, which is something you wouldn’t expect. Although the character’s experiences and stories are the essences of the book, a large aspect that moved the plot along was its focus on the Armenian Genocide of 1915. This was, which is something other bloggers wrote about too- a topic most of us don’t know about. But I think that’s one of the best parts of any art- it pushes you to learn more about an area you may know zilch about because, without knowledge of it, you wouldn’t understand what the artist is telling you.

The two families of the book are- the ‘Kazancis’ and the ‘Tchakmakhchians’ who are Turkish and Armenian Americans respectively. The book, however, goes into more detail on the Kazancis, a family rooted in Istanbul and female-dominated.

The Tchakmakhchians on the other hand, are based in the States having moved there after the genocide. But they remain authentically Armenian, with their culture and religion vibrant in the household.

The two main characters are Asya – namely the ‘bastard of Istanbul’ and Armanoush or Amy who’s half Armenian and whose American mother marries into the Kazanci family. Thus, begins the series of revelations as Amy visits the Kazancis in Istanbul. We see how both the girls have goals of their own which progress throughout the book.

To some extent, I did feel like some characters and their experiences were clichés. For instance, the main characters- Asya, the rebellious, outspoken girl in a conservative family and Armanoush, the shy, goody-two-shoes who loves to read. The author also includes many stories and perspectives, which became confusing and boring at times. Yes, each member of the family had a history, had something going on but some of them had no connection to the plot.

There were some aspects and storylines of the book which I think were very well expressed. The centuries-old bond and enmity between the Turks and the Armenians, and how the former denies the genocide ever happened which from what I’ve read, is what the Turkish government does to date. I liked the way the link between both families was ultimately shown.

The book touches upon how the past, present, and future work in tandem with one another, shape one another. How something like the Armenian genocide affected the Tchakmakhchians greatly when it occurred in 1915, but also troubled Armanoush generations later as she bared the burden of her family’s oppressive history while trying to embrace the place which oppressed them.

Final thoughts~ Apart from certain far-fetched aspects of the plot, the book is captivating and takes you through every alley and street of Istanbul. Besides, even if you don’t like the story at least you’ll learn the names of various Turkish and Armenian dishes- which will be a mouthful to say at first, but soon you’ll be well-acquainted with the dishes and tempted to try them!

Which other Turkish authors have you read?

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL- REVIEW

The Bastard Of Istanbul- Elif Shafak

A Goodreads Review

All Book Marks Reviews

Review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

I’m open to reading all genres but by far, my favorites are historical and cultural fiction. These past months I’ve been trying to read and learn about black culture, history and educate myself in any way I can. So far, I’ve always found a book for anything I need to know and that’s first source I turned to. While diversity and representation still struggles to thrive in films, it has been prevalent in literature for years!

Now, I’m not saying that this one book taught me all I need to know. But it certainly taught me something new in every chapter. Girl, Woman, Other spotlights the stories of twelve, black and British characters across the age, gender and class spectrum. It won the Booker Prize in 2019 and I’m not surprised, this book totally deserved it. It’s witty, engaging and impossible to put down.

The book is divided into five chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter revolves around the stories of three characters, who are all connected personally. They are all primarily black, female and some are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Apart from their experiences we see how their race, shapes their personality in a large way. The book begins with Amma, a lesbian playwright whose currently fifty years old and nervous for the premiere of her newest play. She looks back on when she first came to London in 1980, a fierce feminist ready to oppose anyone who puts her down. She meets Dominique, whose story is told later in the chapter and the both of them start a theater company with the aim of telling black and Asian women’s stories. If I told you the rest, I’d be spoiling it but Amma’s play is the basis of the book. The characters of the other chapters are all connected to her play in some way- from its watchers to its critics.

Another thing I’d like to highlight is the poetic telling of the book. The punctuation is unique and confusing at times but it’s what keeps the story going. I noticed that the characters in each chapter are so similar yet different. For instance, as the first chapter goes on we read about Amma’s daughter, Yazz who is nineteen years old and quite like the young version of Amma we read about earlier. The three women of the chapter are strikingly similar in terms of the what they stood for, what they’ve gone through. Each of them were disliked for being outspoken. Yet, Yazz never connected with her mother. Even though, both women stood for the same cause, they were never on the same page.

I observed this pattern across the book where characters in such relationships went through the same. I think it simply shows how we as human beings often struggle to communicate or find common ground with one another and looks for our differences rather than or similarities. It goes on to tell us of Carole, a successful banker who went to Oxford. She rejects her Nigerian roots and her background having had a traumatic experience, leaving her mother, Bummi disappointed. Then there’s Shirley who wishes to be more while her mother, Winsome wishes her daughter would stop whining. There’s also Penelope, the main focus of the epilogue. She’s adopted and brought up in a white family but not knowing her true heritage bothers her.

This book is inclusive on so many levels. One of the first things that compelled me to read the book was the acknowledgements. (I’ve attached a picture at the end) Something which I feel should be normalized and seen more often is stories like the last chapter- about a non-binary person called Megan/Morgan. A certain part of the chapter is written under the pronouns ‘they/them’ and it was great.

I also realized how we have managed to categorize an entire community by one word. Take ‘black’. It stands for a community of Nigerians, Somalis, African Americans, British Americans, Ethiopians and that doesn’t begin to cover all the people of different faiths and ethnicities.

Final thoughts~ I highly recommend this book if you wish to learn about black history and culture or if you’re interested in books which raise timeless questions about feminism and race.

The compelling acknowledgements