When I Hit You – Meena Kandasamy – Tasha Mathur Reviews

Meena Kandasamy boldly addresses marital violence against women in her latest novel.meena

SINCE publishing just a year ago, Meena Kandasamy’s latest novel was quickly shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize 2018, Women’s Prize 2018 and longlisted for the Dylan Prize 2018. Set in southern India, When I Hit You has gained global attention as an honest account of domestic abuse in a country which unfortunately still shies away from addressing the problem.

Due to the taboo surrounding domestic abuse, statistics rarely offer an accurate picture of how widespread the issue is. However, according to a recent survey, 31% of married women have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence by their spouses in India.

While many women quietly endure this abuse, Kandasamy bravely spoke about her former abusive husband in an article for Outlook Magazine five years before publishing When I Hit You. And although the novel is considered a fictional piece, it’s hard to ignore the similarities between the female protagonist and Kandasamy – making the story a harrowing and realistic read.

The story follows an unnamed female writer who finds herself abused by her husband shortly after getting married. As a university professor, he twists ideologies to his advantage as he tells her,

“The problem is your feminism…that refuses to recognize that we are a couple…you cannot see me as anything other than a man and men as anything other than selfish scoundrels.”

Using intellectual arguments to manipulate her, the verbal abuse builds to actions such as deleting her Facebook and all of her emails. As he begins to wear her down, the physical violence increases as he starts to rape her when she attempts to defy him.

The full title of the novel is When I Hit You Or The Portrait Of The Writer As A Young Wife as Kandasamy emphasises the fact that this story is through the eyes of a writer. And it is writing that becomes this young wife’s biggest weapon.

Finding herself helplessly trapped in a tortuous situation she uses the power of words by writing letters to former lovers – even if it means deleting them before her husband comes home.

However, these small acts of defiance are rare as we see a strong, young feminist writer, slowly broken apart by her forceful husband. While most of the violence is alluded to and not explicitly described, Kandasamy writes of the emotional consequences of rape as the wife wonders, ‘How do I let another person know how it feels to be raped within marriage? Death is all I can think about when I lie there….A rape is a fight you did not win. You could not win.”

As if that wasn’t enough, she finds herself fighting alone as her parents encourage her to suffer through it rather than face the humiliation (perhaps more for her family than her) of divorce. Unfortunately, a response that is still far too common in India.

On the surface, this novel is a matter-of-fact story of a young wife beaten and raped by her husband. However, Kandasamy cleverly reflects on how that affects the woman’s reputation and the fact that even the strongest of women have endured the worst of their husband’s physical violence.

While this story is a difficult read it certainly carries a lot of hope. Essentially the book itself is the ultimate act of defiance as Kandasamy fearlessly uses her own writing to call out male abusers, the families who tell women to stay, the policeman who won’t do anything to help and many others. When I Hit You shows us that this story can happen to anyone but that there are ways of making it out the other side. And with the amount of attention it’s received, let’s hope this book is the start of open discussions around physical violence against women in India and encourages others to share their stories.

TASHA MATHUR

When I Hit You. Published by Atlantic Books – 256 pages.

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When I Hit You – Meena Kandasamy – Tasha Mathur Reviews

Dance of The Jakaranda: Peter Kimani GloBooks Reviews

A Kenyan writer  known as a poet, novelist, journalist & teacher, awarded the prestigious Jomo Kenyatta Prize for literature in 2011, Peter Kimani now brings out his latest novel, The Dance of the Jakaranda. Globooks journalist Tasha Mathur read the novel and was lucky enough to swap marginalia notes with the author 

Kimani explores Kenya’s colonial legacy within a love story, which brings the past back to life, in more ways than one Ia rich, multi-layered piece of work, not only are the characters and their stories captivating but the context of the colonial setting offers a window into a dark part of Africa’s history.

The Dance of The Jakaranda
Peter Kimani`s novel explores Kenyan`s colonial history

The  Dance of the Jakaranda surrounds the construction of the railroad from the inner Kenyan countryside to the trade port of Mombasa – a project that was started by the British in 1896. Enlisting the help of thousands of Indians from the former British Raj, the venture was eventually dubbed the ‘Lunatic Express’ due to the danger and large expense. Not only did many of the workers lose their lives during construction, an unspoken hierarchy formed amongst all involved with the British at the top, Indians in the middle and Africans considered at the bottom. Kimani cleverly illustrates this through a literal separation of Black and Asian workers within the carriages of a train, which ironically rides the rails that they have essentially built together.

The novel follows the lives of four main characters – the British colonialist in charge of the railroad construction Ian McDonald, the Christian preacher Reverend Turnbull, the unintentional Indian hero Babu and his musician grandson, Rajan. Each character’s story branches off from the winding train track, transforming into their own complex narratives yet each interweaving with each other. In an exclusive interview with Peter Kimani, he explained to GloBooks, his intentions behind the novel,

The basic premise is a love story, and a search for belonging. All the characters, without exception, are invested in one pursuit of happiness or other.”

It’s certainly true that all of the characters in The Dance of The Jakaranda have extremely rich backgrounds, which makes it easy to relate and sympathise with them all at some point in the novel. Despite the British oppressor Ian McDonald`s warring with the Indian worker Babu throughout the novel, it’s not so easy to pick sides as you would think, as Kimani develops each back story to such great detail that you can’t help but consider all perspectives.

PeterKimani
Author Peter Kimani

However, while there are many strong male characters in the novel, the female voices seem to be slightly lost. Although we hear of Sally, McDonald’s estranged wife and Fatimah, Babu’s industrious wife, it would have been interesting to hear more about these women – especially as much of the novel is driven through their love stories.

While many may know of the colonial history of Kenya, Kimani is able to offer us a very personal and human element of the struggles that were involved. And as he tells us, one of these was very much an aspect of belonging, particularly with Rajan, a brown man in a black world which had been had placed under white rule all his life.’ This is complicated even further, when the police can’t decide where to deport him, as his ancestral home of Punjab had been divided into two – India and Pakistan – yet another direct result of British colonial rule.

The Empire Windrush
The so called”Windrush Generation” were in fact migrants travelling from Jamaica to London in 1948 on the Empire Windrush ship.

The idea of deportation echoes the current state of the so called Windrush generation of Caribbeans , who arrived in Great Britain on the Empire Windrush ship in  1948 – enticed to work in Britain with the promise of a great quality of life, similar to the Indians who had been enticed to work in Kenya. In the novel, the new Kenyan government enforces a rule for each person to register themselves as citizens of the country, similar to those from the Windrush generation needing to prove their right to remain in a country that they’ve lived in most of their lives.

Once again, it questions the idea of identity and where does one truly belong. Kimani shares another reason for writing The Dance of The Jakaranda,

the novel is interested in re-telling the story of Kenya’s colonisation. In fact, I think mine is an act recovery; restoring the agency of Kenyans, and Africans at large, in telling their story, after centuries of subjugation.”

And the way Kimani tells this story is unique as the form of the novel jumps between two time frames throughout, both during and post colonial rule – showing the parallels between the subjugated and freed citizen. Kimani celebrates the oral tradition of African story telling, which often involved stories being passed from one to other until it’s hard to tell fact from fiction. While some may find it difficult to follow, it adds an atmosphere of buzzing activity to the story as we become privy to what smaller characters gossip about – with the narrator eventually confirming the truth of what actually happens.

Kimani ambitiously attempts to tackle many themes within the novel – colonialism, postcolonialism, racism, social hierarchy, love, lust, belonging, deception and many more. While some have worked more successfully than others, Kimani does illustrate each scene through his beautiful use of language from the snake like movements of the train chugging through the countryside (a motif that’s wonderfully illustrated on the front cover) to his descriptions of the flamingos coming to their new home in Lake Nakuru – a staple tourist site to this day. His poetic descriptions truly bring the African landscape to life, making it easy to imagine the settings of this exotic continent.  According to Kimani, not only can it entertain purely as a piece of engaging fiction but hopefully educate those on the facts of Kenya’s colonial legacy.

My novel questions the idea of European colonisation of Africa as shining ‘light’ on the continent…”

However, in the Dance of the Jakaranda, Kimani successfully redirects the light to shine on the story of European colonisation in an engaging manner, which will keep you reading from start to finish. 

The Dance of The Jakaranda by Peter Kimani. Published by Saqi Books

Tasha Mathur is a blogger and member of The Books Without Borders Bookclub part of http://www.globooks.net

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Dance of The Jakaranda: Peter Kimani GloBooks Reviews

The White Book – Author Han Kang

Pioneering  Korean  Author Receives  her  Second ManBooker  Prize nomination with her latest book, The White Book.

 

Many will know of author Han Kang as the first South Korean writer to win the Man Booker Prize in 2016, for her novel, The Vegetarian. And now she continues to break down barriers, with her latest book, The White Book, also being longlisted for this year’s £50,000 Man Booker Prize. While the world of Korean fiction may be relatively small on the global scale, The Vegetarian certainly put Han Kang on the map. Published in 2007, it was her first novel to be translated and into 13 different languages; a testament to the popularity of Kang’s writing. Translated by the talented Deborah Smith (who also translated The Vegetarian), the autobiographical, The White Book, gives us a unique insight into Kang’s life, which she has successfully kept quite private in the past. And with the Man Booker Prize winner prize being announced in May, all eyes are on former winner, Han Kang, once again. white

On first glance, the most noticeable aspect of The White Book is the form in which it’s written. As Kang reflects on all things white, she dedicates a new page to a certain white object or concept explained in small paragraphs. Interspersed with black and white photos of Han Kang’s performance of the book, the contrast of the images as well as the black text makes the white spaces even more prominent. Kang alludes to this as she titles one section, ‘Black writing through white paper.’

 

While some may find this form difficult to follow compared to the usual prose of most books, it’s a refreshing change of pace, which gives you room to stop, ponder and muse on each white object she talks about – from the ‘white, pondering face’ of the moon to the ‘billowing whiteness’ of a flowing lace curtain.

In some ways, Kang uses the book as a form of therapy to reconcile with past trauma – in this case, the death of her older sister, who passed away just two hours after birth. The short musings almost read as extracts of a diary, commonly used to help people navigate their inner psyche and reveal repressed thoughts. And the death of her sister certainly seems to have been buried deep inside her as Kang explains the story of her deceased dog, rather than her sister in a recording studio the year before.
She describes the process of writing the book as something that ‘would itself transform, into something like white ointment applied to a swelling, like gauze laid over a wound’, suggesting that writing The White Book is a form of healing. This transformative element also implies Kang may not have known which direction the book would take her but allowed us to be a part of this journey; creating an intimate relationship between reader and writer. Despite The White Book surrounding the death of a sibling, it is  surprisingly life affirming. She explains to her sister,

‘I wanted to show you clean things. Before brutality, sadness, despair…clean things that were only for you…’ By addressing her sister directly, Kang almost brings her to life – sealing her existence amongst the permanency of the printed pages.

Kang uses the event as a way of describing various forms of life to her sister such as the white wings of a translucent butterfly. It’s by pausing to appreciate the small things in life that can keep us going. And in a world that’s becoming increasingly fast paced, it’s refreshing to be able to focus on things as miniscule as one white snowflake. We almost see the objects through the innocent, newborn eyes of Kang’s sister – reminding us of the beauty and purity of all things white.

Han-Kang-The-White-Book-web
Author: Han Kang has won critical praise.

The White Book is a deeply meditative text, which allows us to reflect on our own day-to-day lives and all the small things in it. While reading, I found myself paying greater attention to the little details around me, particularly those that bring life. Even though the death of Kang’s sister may be personal to her, the universal themes of life and death are relatable to many. Kang must be commended for her bravery in laying her thoughts and emotions bare for all to engage with. We can certainly sense Kang receives some closure as she vows to continue focusing on the pure white things, yet to be sullied by life and ‘breathe in the final breath you released.’ The book leaves us with the same life affirming message that Kang’s mother repeated to her sister on that fateful night, ‘Please don’t Die’. Live.

THE WHITE BOOK Published by Portobello Books

Tasha Marthur is a freelance journalist and member of Books Without Borders Bookclub

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The White Book – Author Han Kang

Women Who Blow On Knots: Ece Temelkuran

After being criticised for her writings, journalist and author, Ece Temelkuran hits back with her latest feminist novel, The Women Who Blow On Knots.

ece

Outspoken Turkish reporter, Ece Temelkuran is known for her controversial opinions, which have often threatened her safety and ultimately culminated in losing her job from The Haberturk Daily in 2012 after openly criticising the Turkish government However, this didn’t deter Temelkuran and out of adversity, has come her latest novel, The Women Who Blow On Knots – which follows four strong, independent women travelling from Tunisia to Lebanon during the Arab Spring.

The narrative begins as three Muslim women meet in Tunisia – Egyptian Maryam, Tunisian Amira and a Turkish journalist (similar to Temelkuran herself)– who, although they meet by chance, seem almost drawn to each other and form a fast friendship. Before they know it, they find themselves on an unexplained journey across the Middle East led by septuagenarian, Madam Lilla – a mysterious yet compelling woman who takes an unusual interest in the three women. Each one of them is running from a secret pasts, which slowly unravel throughout their journey.

As they travel from Tunisia to Lebanon, Temelkuran successfully humanises the politics of the Arab Spring when many had become desensitised to the daily media coverage of the various protests. Along their journey, the women are met with a number of people who have close connections to the Arab Spring or the effects of it, bringing it to a more personalised level and allowing the reader to reflect on the individual people who were affected.

The novel, which has now been translated worldwide, is another piece of Temelkuran’s writing, which some have considered controversial. Speaking in an interview at a recent Books Without Borders Bookclub event on the novel, Temelkuran explained, “When I named this book, everybody was so furious, especially my publisher in Turkey. Everybody pushed me to change the title to something like ‘The Journey of Witches’ or something that would be a more sexy title in term of sales.”

However, an undeterred Temelkuran insisted on the title, derived from the Quran (which she studied for a year) and explained to us why and where it came from:

TEMEL

There’s an expression in one of the verses which says ‘Beware of those women who blow on knots.’ – those women who do witchcraft by praying and tying knots then would blow on these knots to seal the prayer. So I thought if the holy book of Islam believes in the strength of breath of women there must be something magical in it. And this was a very hard year for me, I was in Tunis, I was alone and meanwhile I was fired from my job. So the only thing I could believe in was the strength of my own breath.”

Madam Lilla is a true delight in representing this strength in women as Temelkuran tells us about the inspiration behind her character,

She’s a combination of many women I met through my years of journalism because I met some amazing women – extremely strong and resilient women. She’s a mother that I constructed for myself and even now, when I have hard times I go back to Madam Lilla in my head and speak to her. Thank God I created this character so there’s someone in my head to talk to – someone who properly answers my questions!”

The story consists of a multitude of layers, which cover a range of themes and crosses both literal and metaphorical borders that can be interpreted in many different ways. But is there an overall message that Temelkuran aimed to communicate through the novel? “I wanted to create a message about motherhood and how we adopt new mothers during our lives,” Temelkuran explains,

 

“At the end of the book, there’s a sentence where it says something like ‘we don’t even need a God to love us if we had a courageous mother.’ The ultimate message is that.”

Temelkuran’s brave decision to fuse politics with the power of women, despite her reputation being at great risk, is one to be admired and this defiance can be felt throughout the novel. Describing the struggle she often faces, Temelkuran tells us, “Trying to protect yourself as a writing woman, feels like you’re having a sword fight with the ghosts when it comes to such attacks. It’s not easy but I think we’re going to find a way through solidarity and creating awareness about the situation.”

And The Women Who Blow On Knots embodies such solidarity with a powerful message of not only the strength of women but how to use this strength. It’s a novel that can inspire people from across the world to defiantly challenge injustices and unequal societies just as Maryam, Amira, the Turkish journalist & Madam Lilla did.

Women Who Blow On Knots – Published by Parthian Books

Blogger Tasha Mathur is also a member of Books Without Borders Bookclub.

Women Who Blow On Knots: Ece Temelkuran

Dark Chapter Winnie M Li

chapterVivian Tan is 29. She is a London-based Taiwanese-American film producer whose passion for Irish culture has earned her a prestigious scholarship and ultimately an invitation to the tenth anniversary of The Good Friday Agreement in Belfast. Vivian is bright, talented and self-confident.

She’s fulfilled her immigrant parents’ dream of graduating from Harvard and is now trying to find her own path, whether on the red carpet or on hiking trails across the globe. She’s looking forward to completing a hike in West Belfast before flying back to London for the film premier she has to attend on Sunday.
Johnny is 15. He is an Irish Traveller. His parents have separated and he now lives in a caravan with his alcoholic father and his delinquent older brother. He eats the candy bars he steals, with the occasional meal brought over by a neighbour. He has been treated like dirt his whole life. He is at best invisible to the world outside his family and at worst an upcoming statistic of a society that has failed him. His head is still throbbing from his regular Friday night cocktail of cheap weed, pills and booze. He’s in a predatory mood. He goes to his regular hunting grounds, Colun Glen Forest Park in West Belfast.
High on a hillside over the city, Johhny stalks Vivian and attacks her, threatening to smash her head with a rock. He strangles her. He rapes her twice. Vivian is not his first, although she is unusual. Older, stronger, foreign. Still at his mercy. Vivian does what she can to survive.
The alternating quick-cut dual point of view works better here than later on during the climactic courtroom scenes.
What follows is both unsurprising and riveting at the same time. We are so inured to the rape culture we live in that I expected the victim to be put on trial. The real insight comes from realizing that the harshest cross-examination comes not from the defence lawyer but from Vivian herself, as she tries to make sense of her trauma. WIN
She’s been raped by a teenager, in broad daylight. She has to repeatedly vocalize the absurdity of it all as she goes through the procedural hell of the immediate aftermath. How did this happen to her? Could she have done anything to prevent it? Did she maybe not fight hard enough? She knows she wasn’t “asking for it” by wearing a hiking outfit, although it does not deter Johnny’s defence from trying to claim she seduced him.
A word to the wise: this book is written by a rape survivor and does not shy away from the grim reality of sexual violence. What it absolutely does not do is swell the ranks of crime fiction, cinema, fantasy books, TV shows (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones) et al which use the brutalized female body for titillation and / or in order to drive the male protagonist in his quest for justice. Stories matter. It is little wonder that we still teach girls that the onus of not getting raped is on them and their fashion choices or their lifestyles instead of teaching boys not to rape. It’s not my place to sermonize about rape culture and I believe that no matter how outraged we are, it’s crucial to listen to rape survivors instead of speaking over them.

One of the most poignant moments of reading Dark Chapter was seeing Vivian wonder if Johnny’s racist language during his confession would get any reaction out of the overwhelmingly white audience. “You do wonder,” says Li, laying bare the double dose of dehumanization that women of colour are subjected to.

These are the types of conversations that Winnie M Li has been involved in as an activist and cofounder of the Clear Lines festival, a four-day event which brought together artists, activists, survivors , therapists and the general public to discuss sexual violence and consent. Perhaps the most startling element of learning about Li’s stories from these conversations has been the coda in which her real life rapist is granted bail despite fleeing custody. The same judge goes on to deny the same treatment to a man accused of damaging a painting. All in a day’s work.
The book itself started as a short story written a few weeks after the attack, and grew into a fictionalized exploration of themes around misogyny, rape, social exclusion and recovery. Although it is at times imperfect in its execution, what Dark Chapter does best is incredibly important. The book is an eye opener about the burden of shame and silence society places on rape victims and a good starting point for realizing that talking about rape culture is the first step we can all take to fight

Sofia Fara – International fiction blogger. For latest foreign fiction news, events and reviews go to www.globooks.net

Dark Chapter Winnie M Li

Women In Translation Month August 2017

August is Women in Translation month. Thanks to the effort and dedication of book blogger Meytal Radzinki (Bibliobio: http://biblibio.blogspot.co. uk/), literary social media is celebrating works in translation written by women. Stats regarding translations as a share of books published in the UK are depressing enough, but it gets worse when you realize that whatever does get through the general apprehension towards the great wide world out there tends to exclude a great deal of women writers. Only one third of translated books are written by women and even fewer are promoted and talked up for end of year lists.
Enter the hashtag.
#WITMonth has developed into something of a reader activism campaign, but as important and necessary as it is, it’s also F U N. I love checking the latest round of recommendations every evening and this year I’ve made myself a map. We’re only one week in and I’ve discovered writers from Cape Verde, Macedonia, Finland, Sudan, Nicaragua and Indonesia. These are not just places on the map. They’re cultures I know little or next to nothing about. Luckily, there is no better cure for ignorance than reading.
So here is my #WITMonth Challenge, my way of joining in the fun. I’m looking forward to seeing more maps and suggestions for each category.

A BOOK WRITTEN BEFORE YOU WERE BORN
Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin translated by Patsy Southgate / Serpent’s Tail
FRANCE
The first time I’ve ever picked up a book based solely on the writer’s bio:
Albertine Sarrazin (1937-67) was a French-Algerian writer. At an early age she abandoned her studies and turned to a life of crime and prostitution. She wrote her first two novels in prison and died at twenty-nine.
…100% worth it. Best female anti-hero I’ve read in a long time.

A BOOK FROM AFRICA
Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated by Melanie Mauthner / Archipelago Books
RWANDA
Because Melanie Mauthner pitched this beautiful, engaging bildungsroman by an award-winning Rwandan writer and got rejected by eight different UK publishers. See what they missed out on.

A BOOK OF 400+ PAGES
The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky / Penguin Classics
BELARUS
My planned ambitious read for this #WITMonth is Alexievich’s oral history of the million women who marched into war with the Red Army: snipers, cooks, pilots, laundresses, anti-aircraft gunners, all unacknowledged their lifetime and censored when the book first appeared in 1985.
Because I know already it’s going to wreck me (see also: Second Hand Time, Voices of Chernobyl, etc.)

SHORT STORIES
Family Room by Lily Yulianti Farid, translated by John H. McGlynn / Lontar
INDONESIA
Because the only other translated piece of Indonesian literature I’ve ever read was one of the short stories in this collection (‘The Kitchen’) and I’ve wanted to read more ever since.

A BOOK BORROWED FROM THE LIBRARY
Women of Algiers in Their Apartment by Assia Djebar, translated by Marjolijn de Jager / The University of Virginia Press
ALGERIA
Because a friend borrowed it for me and recommended an Algerian classic from a fiercely political writer.

A BOOK FROM SOUTH AMERICA
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane, translated by Megan McDowell / Atlantic Books
CHILE
Because I read the US edition two years ago and I still think about it a lot. Globooks review here:
It’s still a punch to the gut.

GRAPHIC NOVEL
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, translated by Mattias Ripa and Blake Feris / Pantheon Books
IRAN
Because I can’t wait for my niece to grow just a little bit older so we can reread it together.

A BOOK TRANSLATED FROM PORTUGUESE
The End by Fernanda Torres, translated by Alison Entrekin / Simon & Schuster
BRAZIL
Because I want to discover Brazilian writers not named Clarice Lispector. (Also, because it’s been impossible to find Angolan or Cape Verdean female writers in English in time for #WITMonth…)

MYSTERY / THRILLER
The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto, translated by David Hackston / Arcadia Books
FINLAND
Because an ex-Yugoslav immigrant detective in Finland sounds like a fun start on my quest for more modern European stories.

NON-FICTION
Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers by Anabel Hernández, translated by Iain Bruce and Lorna Scott Fox
MEXICO
Because Anabel Hernández, a winner of the Golden Pen of Freedom, lives under armed protection after exposing not just the drug cartels but also the politicians and businesspeople who enable them.

A BOOK FROM A COUNTRY YOU’VE NEVER READ
A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska, translated by Christina Kramer / Two Line Press
MACEDONIA
“Zlata and Srebra are 12-year-old twins conjoined at the head. It is 1984 and they live in Skopje, which will one day be the capital of Macedonia but is currently a part of Yugoslavia. […] Treated as freaks and outcasts–even by their own family–the twins just want to be normal girls. But after an incident that almost destroys their bond as sisters, they fly to London, determined to be surgically separated. Will this be their liberation, or only more tightly ensnare them?”
I’m sold.

Sofia Fara is a Foreign Fiction Blogger. Get The latest news on http://www.globooks.net

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Women In Translation Month August 2017

Panty By Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay

Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay is a Kolkata-based Bengali author, columnist and film critic with nine novels and over fifty short stories to her name. Any google search will spit out at least a dozen reoccurrences of the phrase: “credited with reintroducing hardcore sexuality to Bengali literature”. If you’ve already read Panty, you might be a little confused about what’s hardcore about it. I was. And then I read her account of the reception this discomfiting novella received in her own country back in 2006:
PNOVEL

“I succumbed to a provocation in writing Panty, and it was undoubtedly a serious mistake. For this novel not only maligned me, it also played havoc with my son’s school-life and destroyed the reputation that my publisher Ananda Publishers had acquired over the years.

It made me face numerous questions, it brought me into disgrace. Nor was it particularly pleasant for Arunava, who translated the novel into English.”

I was far too used to rolling my eyes out at Fifty Shades of Grey and the huge disservice it has done to conversations on female sexuality and / or decent writing to even begin to imagine how Panty might be controversial. Bandyopadhyay’s frank account of the stigma of writing highbrow, not-particularly-hardcore erotica in India has opened my eyes. Author: Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay

Female sexuality is only one aspect of Panty, but acknowledging it alone seems to have created a storm. Now that I think about it, there aren’t many Western novellas that start with the protagonist getting her period. (We seem to be still at the stage where “icky” girl bodily functions can’t even be mentioned in a novel’s title. See the recent re-branding for the UK market of Kopano Matlwa’s beautiful South African novel “Period Pain”).

Panty’s unnamed narrator finds herself in a bind when she checks into a dark, deserted Kolkata apartment and needs a change of underwear. She has travelled alone and with no baggage other than the emotional variety. She finds a leopard-print panty in the closet and puts it on, thus slipping into the life and desires of this woman who may or may not have been her current lover’s ex.

There are moments of intense voyeurism and fantasy, but not of the titillating variety. Instead, there is a complex blend of sexuality and women’s agency, social issues and meditations on a failed relationship – whether with her lover or her country or both.

The chapter numbers are scrambled, matching the feverish tone of the narration. The protagonist is alone and waiting for an unspecified procedure in the big empty apartment among the sprawl of Kolkata. She is haunted by the specter of a relationship with a man (inferred to be an affair). She watches a homeless family with young children who sleeps on the pavement in front of her high rise building. She becomes fascinated with their little girl. In a passage that resonated profoundly with me, she rides a bus full of religious men heading towards an unknown destination.

“The blood in her veins had been quickened by the fact that she was the sole representative of her faith on this bus—much more so than by her being the sole woman. Was her religion then a stronger and more primal factor than her womanhood?”

Some of the strands of the story worked better for me than others and, inevitable for any experience as personal as reading, your reading experience might differ greatly. However, it will not be difficult to agree on Arunava Sinha’s translation, which is consistent and engaging. Perhaps the most interesting item in my personal “This worked” column for this book is the concept of mōn in the novella’s intro as explained by Sinha. The language is fluid and tender, hitting all the right notes of Bandyopadhyay’s bold voice.

Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay. Translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha

Published by Tilted Axis Press / 122 pages

Sofia Fara is an International Fiction Blogger and novelist.

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Panty By Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay