A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee

A not easy novel about life in India.

I grabbed this book at Words, our local bookstore, because it looked interesting and because it had a sticker that noted it was one of the NYT’s 10 Best Books of 2018. I brought it to Florida and tried to dive in after I finished the Andrew Yang book.

It was a tough ride.

The book is broken into five sections that read as stand-alone stories but are interconnected by characters. They are set in various locations in India, and the predominant feelings I got from reading the book were heat, crowdedness and despair.

The very first part that I read that first day was short and depressing. I had to put the book down and didn’t pick it up again until I had read 4 “easier” books (see last post LOL). It’s about an Indian ex-patriot returning with his young son to see tourist sites. I put it down for 7 days after that section.

The second section was more interesting – it concerned an upper class son and his interactions with the maids and cooks that his parents employed. I found the intricacies of the household tempo and daily housekeeping fascinating.

I did not like the third section. It’s about a peasant and a bear that he captures and trains to “dance” as they wander around trying to make money. These characters appear as a clause in the first section.

The fourth section tells the backstory of one of the maids in the second section. It is more readable than the other sections but still tough.

The last section is the shortest and honestly I skimmed it as I was about done with the book. The narrator is connected to the first and third sections as far as I can tell.

So overall – I don’t really recommend this book for the faint of heart, unless you are into the nitty gritty of basic peasant life in India. This book was raw and while maybe well-written and meaningful, I was distracted by the feelings of “omg”. I may try it again in the future…

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez Wasn’t On My Radar…

Quick review of The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

…Should It Be On Yours?

Last Sunday evening a friend who reads a ton and who happens to be a published author (i.e. knows much more than me) offered me her copy of The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (2018, 212 pages). At some points in my life I’m more in tune with the NY Times reviews, news of literary awards and lists of best-of books, but now is not one of those times. So I totally hadn’t heard of the book even though it won the National Book Award for fiction in November.

(No, Rocket is not in the book but he’s cute and I needed some more visual interest.)

I found it very compelling and gobbled it up fast. Set in NYC, the narrator is mourning a very dear friend’s death by suicide. While confronting her own sorrow she is then asked to care for the dog he left behind…a Great Dane that weighs 180 pounds and is also seriously distraught over his master’s demise. And her rent-stabilized building does not allow dogs….

The dog, Apollo (the only named character in the book), and the narrator slowly grow accustomed to each other and in so doing, they both begin to heal. (Dog Lovers please note that the book is not solely focused on the dog so if you’re in it just for him you may be disappointed in spots.)

The writing style can seem quirky. Written in 12 parts with some sections written almost in snippets, it seems at times like Stream of Consciousness ramblings. However there are generally points to the streams that support the story, make a point, or inject humor. They didn’t bug me that much. Plus the entire book is slim, so if you find it annoying it’s only for 212 pages.

There are also many, many literary references. The narrator teaches writing and is an author, and her deceased friend was similarly a writer and a teacher. O’Connor, Simenon, Flaubert, Woolf, Keats, Auden, Coetzee, Ackerley, Kafka, Patterson… these are just a few of the authors whose words, works or ideas or mentioned or discussed in more detail. I knew some of them but had to look many up!

As we near the end of the book, tension mounts over the health of the aging, arthritic Apollo. There is a surprise in store for the reader which I didn’t see coming at all. It gives cause to more carefully contemplate the book title. To which friend is Nunez referring?

I recommend it! Give it a whirl! (Mine is a borrowed copy so unfortunately cannot lend out!)