Ladders to Fire – Anais Nin

This book is proof that words contain within themselves, emerging from scattered streams, whole words, whole emotions, and whole dreams. Anaïs Nin’s Ladders to Fire seizes you faster than the speed of an electric current puncturing flesh. The book is essence over substance and the dissolution of that substance into a surreal dream.

What Anaïs Nin offers is closer to a prophecy – a timeless and pulsating beat – in which the toughest feeling is that of a nostalgic remembering. A recalling of love once ripe and soft – now, impenetrable and cold. A passion once ignited and breathless – now deep and obscured. Yet all this exists, within one’s internal fabric, as if part of one’s skin. The exterior remains concealed in plain sight; shifting and responding to the change of every wind, of every whisper imprinted into the skin.

It’s comforting to keep this book under covers; it is for you that this book lives. And nothing will extinguish its fire unless you stop reading it. So keep it under covers, hide it from piercing eyes. Perhaps you will not be able to forget this book. You will love it so you can let it go but only after you’ve bandaged the book’s dissonant cries as if it’s an old wound festering the veins of your own soul.

The book is about several women, each navigating the depths of her fears, desires, guilt, memories, and happiness: Some awaken to self-reflection as when light enters the mind at the end of every dream. The wakefulness of the narration is in contrast with the murkiness and mystifying appearance of these women. And it’s the realization of this quality that conveys the book’s extraordinary genius.


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The Face of Another – Kobo Abe

The loyalty of a face is so inveterate against the reality of identity. We’re lost in the maze of misplaced, forgotten, or abandoned identities. And no other Japanese author understands the significance and crisis of this fable better than Kobo Abe. In his book, The Face of Another, this part of our humanity is most chronic and ablaze.

The book rises to the challenge of an experiment. This experiment is as much in the protagonist’s mind as it is in the reader’s. It’s a dormant state followed by a line of questioning. Though we can escape anger or loneliness, can we strip the face that holds on to these emotions? We may not look at other faces and turn our gaze to nature and reflect in its mirror, but how is it that we cannot turn away from the many faces we ourselves cannot bear to remove? Is it a disguise even if it feels more real and closer to reality than nothing?

The protagonist strips each layer of identity and then of its masks. He loses his ability to distinguish person from person, object from object, music from music. These sights, sounds, and smell flood his inner ecosystem. And to redeem it, he chooses a different identity in order to meet the world and himself. Kobo Abe’s literary style – in The Face of Another, The Box Man, The Woman in the Dunes – feels like a black hole in space. Inside it are different pulsating soliloquies suspended over a vast space of empty air.

Have you ever read a book that feels the right kind of nihilist, perhaps even cynic? Kobo Abe’s chilling and classic fiction scrutinizes a man’s suffering and reawakening. The most absurd and existential of catastrophes is the confrontation of your inner mind’s eye with your outer. This book is humanity’s letter of admission to the world. It’s brutal and brisk in the way it breaks down superficialities.


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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – Patrick Suskind

A deeply disturbing story that evolves through time as it shifts and surpasses the boundaries of literary worlds. What if what we perceive as the boundaries of our objective universe isn’t the only space we inhabit? The story of Perfume and the provocative and redolent sphere it creates definitely makes a good argument for it.

It inhabits a blip in time; a black hole of the universe’s most cruel joke which is to become an accessory to fragrance. Now, we think of fragrance as having a more meek quality. Imagine a world where we were the meek ones. It can be mystifying, titillating but knuckled under a growing horror. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer discovers the atoms and molecules of such a world in its every breath. It’s a celebration of the living world but carried out through its destruction.

The book is full of effulgent descriptions, the poetics of perfuming, and finally, murder blanketed as a sensual remedy for isolation. The path it takes is profoundly imaginative, horrific, and unpredictable. It’s not a historical tale, not a mystery, not a crime novel, nor is it horror. Most of the time, the stamp of a book is not what it is for the world, but what it becomes, detached, for itself. And that’s exactly the kind of book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is.


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The Dichotomy of a Culture

In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories, you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.

That is their mystery and their magic.”

This was an excerpt from one of my favorite reads…. A book that is the measure of loving and the subtraction of it. It carries the weight of a heavy soul… kept in a jar… tightly sealed… full of anguish, regrets, misplaced memories, and shattered kinship. You see glimpses of it through cracks in the surface left behind by the piercing eyes of one’s political, cultural, and historical predispositions.

The book is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

The book reads like a melancholic and secretive diary. A diary that you never bring out into the world; keeping it safely tucked away under a mattress or behind a mountain of personal belongings. A diary that is cradled too close to the heart, brutally and yet fervently expressive; the honesty of which even frightens you. It’s the flesh of the wound that runs the deepest and that bleeds on those blank pieces of paper; but in the end, it is bandaged by only you. This is it. The enormity of Arundhati Roy’s compass pointing us in so many glued-together directions. Having read this book three times, tucked between periods of days, weeks, months of staying away from a book that I, who am inclined to always pick up a new book because there’s always so much to read, go back to it every time for some sentimental and perceptive consolation. 

The thing about reading tragedy is that it becomes your own. Or that you claim that it is your own. How else would you feel it? The triumphs of loneliness, isolation, despair, and anger run deep into the well of your emotional tendencies. The characters are waiting for you to peel back their layers, upon a surface that makes up a story’s setting. The inadequacy of such a task is ironically what brings you closer to Arundhati Roy’s fiction. You read the words, maybe in whisper-quiet echoes. But you feel it pulsating in every muscle and their hollow spaces as if those very echoes mimic the speed and the color and the density of blood.

The book is set in Kerala, ingrained in its language; the dichotomy of a culture, of lives that were born too soon (or that shouldn’t have been born at all). The narration is restless with religious and political descriptions. Arundhati Roy has a unique way of defining these descriptions through her characters. The role of a mother, of a child, of a brother, a cousin, a lover, it’s in their history that one remembers the history of Kerala. If you’ve read the back cover of the book; the description hits the nail on the head. Amid the ruined, the forgotten, the misplaced – you won’t find a book this expansive in its depth and yet the characters live lives that feel quite the opposite.

It goes on for 340 pages; enough to contain decades and decades of survival. As a reader, you will diligently surrender to the writing style and tone of the book. It’s fast in its narration and yet you feel like it holds back time. Dropping an anchor in anyone who evaluates a book not only by its unpredictable structure but by its understanding of emotions – and their lyrical reminiscence. 

The ‘Somebody’ That Is You

In Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter.

My first reading of this book was last year. My second reading was around the mid of this year. And my third reading was a few weeks back. From what I gather, reading a book as intense, mesmerizing, and inspiring as this one, – it isn’t fulfilling to have just read it once. The book carries such intimate confessions and it’s such a stimulating read, I fell in love with it. And not just that, it’s an experience to read about a woman’s conscious and self-awakening life. Her childhood, education, friendships, the temptation of ideals, the rejection of them.

We’re told ambition is a destination, a solid rock upon which we scratch our names forever. But it’s really not. I see it as a passage to infinity. We can drop our bags, give up, resist, doubt, analyze, and hit the road again. The journey stretches itself out in myriad directions. Only that being on one of the routes gives us no choice but to assume that there aren’t others.

There’s so much that resonates with me. Despite the fact that Simone’s life in no way stacks up against mine. But underneath the exterior, what roused in me, while reading the book, was Simone’s sharp incision into the becoming an individual person. It’s one thing to see in front of you the difference between a self and reality. It’s a whole other thing to feel it and have that drive you and make you ambitious… even emotionally and intellectually abundant. And that’s the exact presence of this book. It doesn’t have boundaries the way many books do. You feel infinite while reading it. And it sort of coincides with you realizing the scope of the ‘somebody’ that is you.

If you’ve read my reviews, you know that I never give away the plot of the book; the events that transpire as you read it. I mean, you could just as easily search for the book on Google and get that for yourself. But what I love to focus on is the experience of reading a book, the numerous nuances, the telling revelations, it sort of threads a book together. Nor do I criticize or explicitly rate any book as if I’m supposed to as someone who writes and talks about books.

Now, if you’ve never read any feminist literature or a memoir about a French philosopher, especially of such a distinguished school of thought, I highly recommend this book. It’s candid, thought-provoking, and definitely grounded. There are so many passages that I’ve highlighted. Generally, we have more takeaway in non-fiction than a fiction read. But reading this book feels so rare and rewarding that it’s hard to resist not re-reading those passages every now and then. It reveals philosophy, literature, existentialism, individualism, and such grave necessities of life, it’s hard not to think about it.

One of the things that really stood out, for me, was her admiration for other people’s intelligence. The books they read, the conversations they had, the opinions they kept, basically the fidelity to have a choice and exercise that choice. It’s not enough to have a thought in your mind. But to sharpen it as unerringly as if it’s a muscle in your body. Well, our mind is a muscle but somewhere we lose the existence of it. Its physicality as much as its abstractness. So, in a way, to see it reflected in somebody else, you do feel the pulse-quickening within you to be able to do the same. Perhaps the whole point of human interaction is this. You justify your own self as having a solitary existence. And yet there’s nothing heavier that pushes us against the many selves we inhabit.

Euphoria (2019) – Sam Levinson

First off, to describe the core of this TV series as plainly as a “group of high school students who grapple with issues of drugs, sex, and violence” is not even cutting it. It definitely deserves a better introduction on all streaming sites and IMDB.

From start to finish, every second, every transition, is heavy with unimaginable confrontations. And of all kinds including mental, emotional, visceral, and carnal. This show incarnates the essence of conscience as it is best defined by the turmoil it causes in one’s psyche. Euphoria is gratifying, disturbing, and intrepid in its making.

The characters – Rue, Jules, Fezco, and Cassie being some of my favorites, build a sense of acute awareness for the world they’re living in. They’re in it, there’s no escape, and no reason why one should escape.

The show is salvaged by its brutal renderings in a way that feels as if you’re the one experiencing it. The gripping cinematography and the courageous soundtrack respond more to the inner voices of the characters. It’s the version of a story society wants you to pretend to forget. The addiction, the betrayal, the bullying, the body-shaming, the insecurities, and concocted sexuality.

It’s a fable of truths – a string of hard truths – plucked out one by one from a system too cruel, selfish, and monumental to bring to a screeching halt. The aftermath is a twisted show that defines the undefinable with its trembling honesty.

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) – Alain Resnais

A mysterious film that redefines the intimacies of visual storytelling. Hiroshima Mon Amour is the first time a film has had a deep melancholic impact on my understanding of time. The film blends into its dire past, ill-fated present, and uncertain future. It instills in the viewer indescribable spontaneity to experience the unstudied moments of life.

The kind of curiosity that hesitates to step out of its shadow and play with the light. You can feel this game of shadow and light as you watch the film. Its poetic capacity lies in its execution. But its soul is in the way the director, Alain Resnais, has realized the scope of the story, its characters, and its philosophy.

Hiroshima Mon Amour remains, to this day, a reminder of the scarred footprints of time abandoned after the winds of war have passed. The cinematography is rememberable. Some scenes in the film, subtle and visceral, reveal the vulnerability of a historic phenomenon. While the others are charged with intellectual and temperamental vigor.

It’s a film that yearns, remembers, and celebrates its singularity. It stops the flow of time. Sharpens your presence through the lives of its characters. And allows its viewers complete scrutiny and soul-searching as instances of death, survival, and memorabilia are meditated upon.

Roma (2018) – Alfonso Cuaron

It’s fracturable enough to feel emotions. The tide of which unravels slowly until a deep sense of grief envelops us. Now imagine what it would be like to exteriorize that withdrawal from reality. What manifests is a colorful and enigmatic film about all forms of rejection in society and inconsolable bearings.

Roma is about women with a touch of soul-crushing humane contradictions. The kind that questions motherhood as much as it does upbringing. Lives that shoulder the weight of an uncertain and restless history wrapped in nuances that are difficult to go on with. But life goes on.

The film is deeply imaginative and characteristic. Shot in black-and-white, Alfonso Cuaron, being the film’s director, writer, cinematographer, and editor, has understood the fragility of the setting against the ruggedness of its characters.

The true mark of filmmaking is when you can glimpse and meditate on one’s depth through the most ordinary acts of the story. Like scrubbing the floor, standing under the shower, kissing a loved one goodnight, or even looking for someone in a crowd. Every filmmaker knows this but only a few are able to employ it and make it unnoticeably real. Films like Roma, Capernaum, The Lunchbox, Wong Kar-Wai’s films are some of them.

The Beauty of Italo Calvino

To possess such acute imagination and to work to elevate it to such incredible paradoxes – in such enduring and ordinary yet unexpected concepts and to be able to connect the heart of the universe to its prescient moments is what makes Calvino extraordinary.

Through his words, his characters, his reality, Calvino embeds eternities that both slow down and accelerate time. His oceanic sentences, sentimental vocabulary binds consciousness with time.

Storytelling is an experience. Its language, form, and life are stamped by the recesses of memory. It frees you from obscured visions. And a writer like Calvino, his memorable, poignant, poetic compositions ricochet you into stories quite unlike this world.

Make the time to possess some of his mesmerizing works.

A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro

Buy A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro on Amazon

A rare ghost story, buoyant in nature, A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro is most remedying. The book draws its courage and simplicity from its narration. How deeply it strings together the forceful stream of memory upon a person’s solemn and intriguing life. The book, in many ways, teaches you how to live and do nothing else. And in that lies the means to live wholly.

Inspiring patience in monotomy and resonance in upbringing. And the roots of a family that plant one another at unforeseen moments, unremembered but never erased. This book is beautiful but sad. It maps the distance between such self-aware relationships. The fragility of them, how they once grew toward each other, and now they seem to grow apart. Isn’t that how most things in life transpire?

We all wish to re-live a few past memories while also welcoming the forgetfulness of them. Could that be more than dwelling on the past? Like navigating the gradual weaving of time. The phenomenon we know to be inevitable and yet feels as surreal as dreaming. The book dwells on the past and present in a way that it enriches the vivid presence of Etsuko. Possessing a quaint, vibrant, and soulful quality.


To buy the book and support this review, buy from this Amazon link.


For The Public Eye is a participant of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This affiliate advertising service allows me to receive commissions for the book purchases you make.

Without you having to pay a single rupee more – I just get a certain percentage cut of the price of the book sold on Amazon. Click through this Amazon homepage link to buy more books.