Review: A Kitchen in the Corner

India, books

A Kitchen in the Corner

I really didn’t know anything about Ambai before I read A Kitchen in the Corner of the House but now, I am truly enlightened. I have read a lot of literature written in English by Indian writers but Ambai’s work was a first for me to read Indian, specifically Tamil literature, in translation.

Ambai’s work translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom can be considered feminist literature as many of her stories examine what’s it’s like to be a woman in India, particularly regarding how the female body is portrayed and treated in Indian society. In one story, adults regard one woman’s body as one that never “blossomed” because she never bore children even though children see her differently. The author also explores the traditionally female space of the kitchen as one where women think they hold power. She also re-examines the story of Sita, Rama’s wife, whose faithfulness to her husband came into question after she was rescued from her kidnapper.

Sometimes, I found Ambai’s stories difficult to follow because they were peppered with local references but overall, her work carries a somber tone and is sure to resonate with female readers.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a digital Advance Reader Copy from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Bells of Old Tokyo

books, deep travel, Japan, meaningful travel, travel books

bells of old tokyo

As a fairly new expat living in the land of the rising sun, it’s always interesting to hear the perspectives of seasoned expats who have called this place home for several years.

Anna Sherman moved to Asia in 2001 and The Bells of Old Tokyo: Meditations of Time and a City is her first book. In this part-memoir/ part travelogue, Sherman retraces the steps taken by composer Yoshimura Hiroshi in his book, Edo’s Bells of Time, listening for the chime of the old city’s bells in the silent spaces of her loud, 21st century metropolis. Her prose is both lyrical and clipped, as she meditates on seasonal time-keeping in old Edo and contrasts it with digital time-keeping in modern-day Tokyo.

She shows how the traditional Japanese conception of time as non-linear is constantly at odds with Japan’s adoption of progressive, mechanical Western time, a push and pull struggle that mirrors Japan’s juggling between its slick, contemporary image as a postmodern mecca and its ancient Eastern roots. This conflict is also evident in Tokyo’s constant reinvention of itself, forever destroying and rebuilding its spaces so that nothing ever remains permanent, even the author’s beloved coffee shop in the bowels of the enigmatic capital city.

Overall, The Bells of Old Tokyo is a fresh take on a much-admired and much-misunderstood city and highly recommended for anyone who wants to probe into what really makes the Japanese capital tick.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a digital Advance Reader Copy (ARC) from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Beyond Guilt Trips

books, deep travel, meaningful travel

guilt trips

Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World by Anu Taranath is written largely from the perspective of an individual from the Global North traveling to the Global South. It investigates why these travelers feel guilty and uncomfortable when going overseas because they start to experience how invisible global systems privilege them over others in the lesser developed countries they travel to.

The most interesting parts of the book were the actual scenarios that played out these abstract issues in real time. For me, as a traveler/expat who was born and raised in the Global South and who wrote about meaningful travel for GoAbroad, this book raised serious issues about how privileged travelers should engage with locals in the Global South and how they should deal with the attention, negative or positive, they may receive from them. For me, these are some of the book’s important takeaways:

1. We should pay attention to difference because difference is real and noticing difference is not a bad thing.
2. Some travelers from the Global North crave difference as a product, something to eroticize, commodify, and consume.
3. How far or close we are from the “mythical norm” determines how we perceive ourselves and how other perceive us.
4. We hold many identities and some of these identities are visible while others are invisible. Our identities are never fixed but fluid. We are different in different contexts.
5. Global travel often capitalizes on the legacy of imperialism, where relationships between travelers from the Global North and locals in the Global South still rest on the premise of unequal systems.
6. In the final analysis, the author says that “trips abroad must intersect with our local lives… Otherwise we’re just exoticizing difference abroad while refusing to engage with it at home.”

Overall, it was a good read that asks important questions about travel and privilege and I really hope more Western travelers read this book carefully before they take those “well-intentioned” trips to the Global South.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a digital Advance Reader Copy from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.

 

Review: Magic Realism for Non-Believers

books, Colombia, magic realism, memoir

Anika Fajardo

Published by the University of Minnesota Press, Magic Realism for Non-Believers is a memoir from Anika Fajardo, a Latinx author who was born in Colombia but grew up in Minnesota. She is the product of an American mother and a Colombian father. The crux of her story is that she, having grown up in a single-parent home, never really knew Renzo, her father, or her Latinx heritage.

The memoir details how the author gradually reaches out to her artist father through letters, eventually visiting him at age twenty-one in the homeland she never knew. This trip precipitates a recovery of memories she thought she knew and also leads to the revelation of more family secrets that shed light on the enigmatic character of Renzo.

As a Caribbean-born reader and a big fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and magic realism, I appreciated how well Fajardo uses the literary technique to tell her origin story and her reconnection with her Colombian heritage.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a digital ARC (Advance Reader Copy) from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Review: What I Talk about When I Talk about Running

books, Japan

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“In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.” Haruki Murakami

The book translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel describes itself as “equal parts travelogue, memoir, and training log” and after reading it, it certainly slots into all these categories. Murakami details key episodes in his running life including his long-distance feats in Athens, Boston, Hokkaido, New York, Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Niigata. Before reading this book, I had no idea the Japanese novelist was even a runner. Also, forget the self-destructive writer stereotype. Murakami proves that writers have to be healthy in order to write better. He writes in a very conversational style so the book is very easy to get into in the beginning. However, he confesses that the book was written in snatches over two years and as it unfolds, it does feel piecemeal at times. Overall, however, I think the book gives great insight into the man called Murakami as well as the rigors of running and the writing life.