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Book Nook - 27-11-2017

Monday, November 27, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

The Girl And The Sea
Anna Kerrigan and Dexter Styles do not belong to the same world, but their paths cross in Pulitzer prize-winning author Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach, a sprawling historical-cum-crime novel, set during the Depression and World War II.

When the novel begins, 11-year-old Anna Kerrigan accompanies her father Eddie to visit Dexter Styles at his house in Manhattan Beach. She plays with the host’s kids, charms Styles and almost forgets that strange meeting. What she does not know the is that Styles is a gangster, and that Eddie who has fallen on bad times, which force him to work at low wages for a corrupt union official, has approached the mob boss for a job. He needs money to buy a wheelchair for his severely disabled younger daughter, Lydia. Anna’s mother used to be dancer, but now stays home to care for Lydia and does some sewing for money. Lydia is lovingly cared for by her mother and sister, but Eddie is always uncomfortable around her. One day, he disappears and leaves the family to cope by themselves. Anna is heartbroken, but after days of grieving, stops waiting for him

Years later, when Anna is 19, she works as the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The War has taken away all the young men, and women are doing what was always considered men’s work. But Anna is not satisfied inspecting ship’s parts like an automaton; she fights discrimination and ridicule to be allowed to be a diver. At the yard, divers wore very heavy outfits and went underwater to repair ships. Nobody believes that a woman could move in a 200-pound costume, leave aside dive in it, but Anna shames the men into respecting her determination.

She run into Dexter Styles, who is more powerful than ever, and single-mindedly pursues him to find out what happened to her father.

The story elaborates on Anna’s life, as well as Styles’s complicated marriage and relationship with his wife’s family, particularly his father-in-law. Egan gradually reveals events from the past that have an impact on the present, and brief encounters in the present that change lives forever.

There are is a large chunk in the book, set on a ship that is a dull read, but whenever the focus in on Anna, the story sparkles. Egan brings the thrill of diving alive—for Anna is not just a challenge to prove herself in a man’s world, but an almost spiritual path to fill the void in her life. Anna is such a remarkable young woman that the soap opera-ish fate Egan charts for her in the end comes a disappointment. Still, there are passages of exquisite prose, that make Manhattan Beach worth a visit.

Manhattan Beach
By Jennifer Egan
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 448


 

Excerpt of Manhattan Beach
Driving along Eighty-sixth Street in Brooklyn, Dexter Styles saw Badger check his wristwatch and then extend a hairy hand toward the radio dial, presumably to turn on the five-thirty a.m. news. Dexter knocked the hand away.

“What’d you do that for?” Badger groused. “You don’t touch a man’s car without his permission. Or did they not teach you that in Chicago?”

 “Sorry, boss,” Badger said meekly, but his stubborn, merry eyes told a different story. Sure enough, he went on, “It’s just that . . . I’m touching the car by sitting in the car, if you take my meaning. I’m touching the seat when I lean back.”

“If you want me to smack you, why not just ask.” “Say, you’ve been sore at me all night.”

Dexter glanced at him. Among Badger’s maddening traits was a fair degree of accuracy at reading Dexter’s moods. He was sore—why, he couldn’t recall. Maybe it was the fact that Badger was clogging up his car at what would soon be Dexter’s favorite hour: the pause between night and dawn when you felt the possibility of light before any was visible.

“The girl,” he said, remembering. “You were rude to the girl who approached my table. Miss Feeney.”

Badger gaped incredulously.

“At Hell’s Bells, that’s one thing,” Dexter said, referring to his roadhouse in the Flatlands, which they’d visited first after leaving Moonshine. “Even at the Pines, although you won’t hear Mr. Healey talk that way to a customer. But not at Moonshine.”

“Too high-class?”

“Something like that.”

Badger heaved a sigh. “It was different in Chicago.”

“So I’m told.”

For seven nights running, Badger had yakked his ear off about Chicago’s swell gin joints and incomparable dames and dishy lake; above all, the silken accord between Syndicate and Law. Badger loved Chicago, but Chicago did not love Badger. Something had gone very wrong in the Windy City, and a less lucky kid would be feeding fishes at the bottom of Lake Michigan. But Badger’s mother was a favorite niece of Mr. Q.’s. Conversations had taken place, and Mr. Q. had secured his great-nephew’s safe passage to Brooklyn, where he’d handed him over to Dexter for education and guidance. The normal thing would have been for Badger to drive him, but Dexter would sooner have made the kid his lawyer. He never let another man behind the wheel of his new Series 62 Cadillac, painted Norse Gray, one of the last to roll off the line before Detroit moved strictly into war production. Dexter loved to drive. He doubted there were ten men in New York who drove as much as he did, or went through more black-market gasoline.

“Say, you’re going the wrong way, boss.”

“That all depends where I’m trying to go.”

“I thought you were taking me home.” Badger meant Bensonhurst, where he was sleeping in the spare bedroom of Mr. Q.’s ancient maiden sister.

From Gravesend, where they’d just visited the Pines, Dexter had driven unthinkingly into Bay Ridge. He’d discovered an excellent view of the Narrows a few weeks ago, after visiting an associate on a hilly street above Fort Hamilton. He’d been about to get back in his car when he found himself staring into the dark of the Upper Bay, where boats and waterfront were blacked out. He’d perceived a new, dynamic density in the darkness. All at once his eyes had organized the mystery and he’d seen it: a procession of immense ships slipping from the harbor at regular intervals like beasts or ghosts. A convoy headed out to sea. There was something profound, unearthly, even, in its muted passage. Dexter waited until every ship passed—twenty-eight, he counted, but who knew how long the parade had gone on before he’d arrived. At last, the little gate boat had come along to close the anti-submarine net. After that, he’d made a habit of returning to this spot every few nights, hoping to catch sight of another convoy.

“You’re young and healthy, Badger,” he said as the engine idled.

“Why haven’t you signed up?”

“I’m not a soldier, that’s why.”

“A soldier is exactly what you are. As am I.” “Not that kind.”

“Your great-uncle is our general.”

“Not the marching kind.”

Dexter turned to him sternly. “If Mr. Q. told us to march, we’d march. If he told us to wear monkey suits, we’d put them on. You wouldn’t happen to be 4-F, would you, Badger?”

“Me?” Badger said shrilly. “Why, I’ve eyes like a Siamese. From the roof of the Drake Hotel, I could read blinker signals all the way from the middle of Lake Michigan.”

Chicago again. Dexter watched the harbor while Badger rhapsodized, thinking over what he’d just heard at both Hell’s Bells and the Pines: business was down. Men hadn’t enough gasoline to drive to roadhouses. It would likely be the same story at the clubs on Long Island and the Palisades, which he would visit tonight and on Monday.

Heels, his man at the Pines, had told him something else: a former card dealer, name of Hugh Mackey, was making trouble. He’d gambled too much, borrowed too heavily, stuck his paws too deep in the till, and gotten canned. Now he was threatening Heels with blackmail if he didn’t rehire him at a better salary. Claimed he’d seen enough in eight months to put them all in Sing Sing. Dexter tried to picture Hugh Mackey. He could always put a name to a face, but a name alone sometimes wasn’t enough.

“What did she want in the end?” Badger asked lazily. “That twat who kept coming back.”

“Watch your mouth.”

“She can’t hear me.”

Dexter marveled at his insolence. It made him grasp something that had eluded him until that instant: Badger thought he was protected. He’d mistaken Mr. Q.’s helping hand for immunity of some kind—apparently unaware that Mr. Q.’s own brother had vanished in the course of his ascent, along with at least two cousins. This misapprehension explained Badger’s exaggerated deference toward Dexter, the twist of mockery inside it.

“Get out,” Dexter said.

Badger looked bewildered.

“Beat it. Now.”

 

ALSO RECEIVED
Readers who take an interest in Urdu literature would have read the works on Premchand, Saadat Hasan Manto, Ismat Chughtai, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Qurratulain Hyder and Sajid Rashid in some anthology or the other. Muhammad Umar Memon, who has worked extensively with Urdu short stories in other collections, has now compiled The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told.  There are some obvious picks, like Manto’s Toba Tek Singh; there has to be more than one Partition story, and some about oppression of women, but there are hitherto undiscovered gems, in the 25 selected by Memon, that make this volume a valuable addition to any book shelf. If there’s something lacking, it is inadequate representation of humorous writing in Urdu. Perhaps that merits a separate collection.

According to the introductory note on the book, “Every story in the anthology illustrates one or the other facet of the form in the Urdu literary tradition. But even more than for their formal technique and inventiveness, these stories have been included because of their power and impact on the reader. Death and poverty face off in Premchand’s masterpiece ‘The Shroud’. In Khalida Asghar’s ‘The Wagon’, a mysterious redness begins to cloak the sunset in a village by the Ravi. Behind closed doors and cracks in the windows lies desire but also ‘a sense of queer foreboding’ in Naiyer Masud’s ‘Obscure Domains of Fear and Desire'. The tragedy and horror of Partition are brought to life by Saadat Hasan Manto’s lunatic (in ‘Toba Tek Singh’) and the eponymous heroine of Rajinder Singh Bedi’s ‘Laajwanti’. Despairing, violent, passionate, humorous, ironic and profound—the fiction in The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told will imprint itself indelibly on your mind.”

The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told
Selected & Translated By: Muhammad Umar Memon
Publisher: Aleph
Pages: 346

 

Writing News
In a first of its kind initiative, Crossword Bookstores has conceptualised a program “I Want to Be an Author.” Students from Mumbai's schools can submit their short stories, which will l be shortlisted and published in a book format by The Write Place (the publishing arm of Crossword Bookstores). The process also involves mentoring and felicitation of the young authors by some of the most reputed and renowned authors of India.

Budding authors from Std 5th to 10th, across Mumbai’s schools can write to: authorconnect@crossword.in

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