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THE PROMISE by Damon Galgut : Four Funerals and one promise

Third time Booker shortlisted South African writer Damon Galgut’s The promise is structured in 4 parts, each concerning the funeral of a member of a white South African family outside Pretoria. The title the promise is the dying wish of the mother of the family of giving a house to a black family caretaker.

What’s most intriguing about this novel is it’s narration. Truly the style of the book is unlike I’ve encountered recently. The narrative shifts constantly through various perspectives giving a deep look at every member of this family.

Galgut’s prose filled with dark humour and sometimes quite surprises makes the reader gripped.

But the most extraordinary thing about this novel is it’s depiction of the four decades in the history of South Africa. What’s amazing about this is that it’s not doing at its central pin, like lecturing us about the political timeline of that period but it shows the history through the prism of family dynamics of a one South African white family.

The promise – Damon Galgut Published by Chatto & Windus, Penguin random house Uk

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THE FORTUNE MEN by Nadifa Mohamed: A gripping and important book

Nadifa Mohamed’s absolutely remarkable 2021 Booker shortlisted The fortune men (would be a deserving winner) follows the story of Mahmood Mattan, a Somali seafarer wrongfully accused of murder of a shopkeeper in 1950s Tiger Bay, Cardiff.

First thing about this magnificent book is that it’s utterly gripping. With the subject matter and the context you would expect something slow burning but it’s a page turner which is quite rare in historical novels.

The novel has an extraordinary sense of place, 1950s Cardiff is brought to life magnificently to life with it’s different populations and descriptions.

Mohamed has managed to treat every character with compassion and a vivid glimpse into their everyday life and their past.

The story is of Mattan is told in a very moving and beautiful way and she brilliantly depicts the injustice being carried out and as readers we are completely immersed and furious about this and there’s nothing you can do till the end and it brilliantly shows an extraordinary example of injustice being carried on an individual and for that reason it makes for a very powerful read.

The fortune men by Nadifa Mohamed Published by Penguin Viking

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AN ISLAND by Karen Jennings – A little gem of a novel

Karen Jennings’ short 2021 Booker Longlisted novel follows Samuel, an old man living on an island in an unknown African country and one day his routine is abruptly disturbed by a body of a refugee being washed up on the shore of the island.

This is a powerful little novel by a small independent press ( Holland House Books). The book definitely is not pitied by Booker judges due to its small publication but is selected because it’s an absolutely marvellous novel by a writer who has something important to say.

It’s remarkable how Jennings in such a small novel conveys so much about the post colonial perspective and rebellion against dictatorship in an African country but leaves much room for interpretation. I loved how she is touching political themes, environmental themes but not going into the depth of it, but just touching a surface level.

The book is a great portrait of loneliness and trauma of past difficult times. Past memories floods constantly in Samuel’s mind, about his childhood when his families ancestral lands were confiscated during dictatorship, his shift into city and life in prison and most difficult time after getting out of prison.

The author remarkably shows how a person’s mind is affected after suffering so much cruelty and injustice.

I think it’s a very powerful and a very strong contender for this year’s Booker prize.

AN ISLAND – Karen Jennings. Published by Holland house books. A big thank you to Holland House books for review copy of this book.

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GREAT CIRCLE – Delightful Storytelling

Maggie Shipstead’s extraordinarily 600 page ambitious and epic novel longlisted for 2021 Booker prize follows two stories in parallel, one of an obsessive aviatrix name Marian Graves and her journey spanning a long time and another of an Hollywood actress Hadley Baxter portraying her in the biopic that’s in development.

This book surprised me in a lot of ways, I didn’t expect to be so moved by this. The book is so immersive and so interesting and is written so cleverly that I literally couldn’t put this down.

The book is remarkably structured and really amazingly researched concerning different time periods.

I mean, the characters are beautifully drawn, not just Marian and Hadley but the supporting cast of characters are given great space for their development.

I was really by how Shipstead’s ability to write and create such deep characters and storyline, because it’s so immersive that you feel that you get to know these characters so deeply over the course of the novel and I think that’s a great feat of writing.

Yes this novel is traditional storytelling ( many novels on the longlist this year) but Maggie Shipstead has captured something special here.

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. Published by Doubleday books

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No one is talking about this : Ambitious debut

Patricia Lockwoods’s extremely innovative Booker 2021 longlisted title is divided into two parts, first half is a series of extremely funny series of Twitter-esque style of prose about being on the internet today and second half is a story of extremely personal story of grief in a real world.

What is extremely interesting about this book and the reason it’s divisive is fragmented writing. The whole novel is written in fragments reminiscent of Twitter here referred to the world as portal.

I think this is the only experimental writing I’ve encountered on the longlist so far, Lockwood has taken a huge risk here and I personally think the result an absolutely ambitious piece of fiction.

I was absolutely bowled over the book. It doesn’t take itself seriously and shows that we live in a age where we are obsessed with internet and information online and what Lockwood has done so magnificently here is combining this element of living in the internet world today and living a real life so cleverly and the result is a work of savage brilliance.

No one is talking about this – Patricia Lockwood. Published by Bloomsbury circus

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THE SWEETNESS OF WATER: Interesting debut

Nathan Harris’ Booker longlisted debut follows newly freed brothers Landry and Prentiss during the end of the Civil war forced to hide in the woods of George Walker, who recently lost his son in the war.

The storytelling here is traditional, simple prose with deep interest in characterisation, but it’s done quite well here.

Reading this reminded me a little of Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End which I didn’t like at all, but I really enjoyed Harris’ storytelling due to its simplicity.

The novel is set in an interesting time period during the immediate aftermath of Civil War, which is quite a rare timeline in storytelling.

The novel handles hidden sexualities, race, violence, grief in small fictional town in Georgia in a very interesting way due to great characters.

One of the strongest emphasis by the writer is on the characters. They are extremely well developed and the dialogue as well as relationships between these characters is done in an impressive way.

The Sweetness of Water- Nathan Harris Published by Tinder Press Thanks to Hachette India for copy of this novel.

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SECOND PLACE – Rachel Cusk : A masterwork

In Rachel Cusk’s 2021 Booker longlisted Second Place a woman invites a famed artist to a coastal landscape where she lives so that his vision may penetrate the mystery of her life.

Cusk is an extraordinary writer, her prose truly is masterful, there wasn’t a single sentence that was displaced in the book. Her prose is remarkably deep and psychologically very strong and sentence to sentence, it’s the most beautiful thing and if you return to it and read it again, there’s a lot more depth and layers in her writing.

There are many themes running through it but at the centre of it is freedom. Cusk constantly through her narrator points out what freedom is? What does it feel to be free? There’s a line in the novel: “That’s all I’ve managed as far as freedom is concerned, to get rid of people and things I don’t like

Freedom through art is touched by Cusk here that whether art can free or save you (as it did M, the narrator when she saw the landscape painting of L, the artist in Paris) and can it destroy you ( which it also did as we learn in the book)

These themes including the theme of motherhood is tackled so remarkably well.

There is a lot of buffoonery going on in the novel that is quite comical and sometimes uncomfortable and that leads to the aspect of social observation in the book. The cast of characters stuck in the marsh, their behaviour, their acts, everything is done so well by Cusk here.

Truly, a masterful book but yeah it might divide people.

Second place- Rachel Cusk. Published by Faber & Faber

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A PASSAGE NORTH – Deep Philosophical and political quest

Anuk Arudpragasam’s Booker 2021 longlist title has a simple premise of a young man on a journey to the north of Sri Lanka in response to receiving an unexpected call regarding the death of his grandmother’s caretaker.

This is one of those books that is not deeply focused on the plot but the psychology of the character.

The writing is almost full run on sentences without any pause and very stream of consciousness.

The protagonist of this novel is constantly reckoning with the past. The past might be protagonist’s relationship with an activist while his days in India or his life in India prior to moving in the northeastern Sri Lanka.

The book is very philosophical on various issues about war and violence and what it does to people.

There is an interesting political point of view of Sri Lankan Civil war as the protagonist himself was not involved in the war but views it from outside. So this adds a really interesting perspective on how the protagonist realises why he should move back to his country?

This book handles both philosophical and political elements in a very deep and wise way.

A passage north – Anuk Arudpragasam Published by Granta books

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BURNT SUGAR by Avni Doshi – a wonderfully unsentimental toxic mother daughter relationship

Avni Doshi’s remarkable debut is truly unsentimental potrait of a woman who’s struggling with the relationship with her mother who has dementia and who never really cared for her.

The main theme running in this book is around memory in families. The main protagonist is an artist in contemporary India who has this very interesting art project where she’s redrawing the same potrait and she never looks back.

The book is tracing around what can we remember about past and how past stucks someone’s present in some way.

The main character Antara is constantly struggling that should she get closer to her mother, should she abandon her mother, how she deals in relationship with her American husband.

I thought it was very powerful book with very sharp and caustic with running throughout the novel. I loved how it handled very technically intellectual issues about memory and past and very human issues about abusive family relationships.

Burnt sugar- Avni Doshi ( Penguin Hamish Hamilton)

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THIS MOURNABLE BODY by Tsitsi Dangarembga : a truly unforgettable piece of fiction

Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Booker shortlisted This mournable body is completing a very long trilogy starting with the acclaimed Nervous conditions. But I looked it as a stand alone novel and it was so powerful and so complex.

This is brilliant piece of fiction written in second person ( which was difficult for a lot of readers) but for me it was the strongest part which made it so compelling.

The novel takes us into the inner mind of its central character Tambudzai who’s approaching middle age and we connect to the things she has to go emotionally and politically.

I was so deeply in awe of the unexpected African main protagonist who is having a mental breakdown in contemporary Harare, Zimbabwe. This is a type of writing that deserves all acclaim because it’s quite unlike something I’ve come across before. It’s a book i think will leave impression on anyone who reads it.

This mournable body: Tsitsi Dangerembga (Faber)

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SHUGGIE BAIN by Douglas Stuart- destined to become a classic.

Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize winning remarkable debut absolutely blew me away. It creates an amazingly intimate portrait of addiction, courage and love.

This follows Shuggie Bain, a young boy living in 1980s Glasgow and the story mainly follows his relationship with his mother, Agnes who’s struggling with alcoholism.

Firstly I was deeply moved by the portrait given of the mother Agnes and her futile struggle with addiction and rigid gender norms of the society.

This book is so masterful in a way it puts you so deeply inside the Glasgow society. This book is a heart rending portrait of Thatcher’s Britain at its darkest.

Despite its subject matter there is humour in it has such extraordinary relationship between mother and son that makes you want to read more. And there is such a sense of place in the novel. Glasgow is painted like a beautiful portrait in the novel.

I couldn’t let go of the characters, the place, the emotions, this is such a stunning achievement, that it stayed with me so longer that I couldn’t fathom reading another book for a couple of days. I love this book so much that there are no words to describe this other than saying it will be termed as classic for a very long time in future.

Shuggie Bain- Douglas Stuart Picador

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REAL LIFE by Brandon Taylor – a beautiful study of micro aggression’s

Brandon Taylor’s Real life is an unusually written beautiful debut novel which is breaking a very long tradition of campus novels and giving such a fresh and nuanced look.

This extraordinary debut follows Wallace, a biochemistry student in post grad university during one weekend and how he grapples with trauma of his past and possible future.

It is written beautifully from first sentence to the last. What is loved the most was the deep study of micro aggression’s in a young black queer man. This book is so nuanced and emotionally powerful dealing with someone serious issues like race, class, homophobia. Brandon Taylor is truly a writer to watch.