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 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.


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If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller – Italo Calvino

We live in a world in which our perceptibility of reality, its acute awareness, and tireless influence are embraced as if canvassed across the night sky in a spectacle of lights. Marking your own bearings on such a sky takes a lifetime.

Every star, every imprint has a gleaming light of its own; a deep and intense light. This intensity keeps changing for those who are still on earth because they look at it differently. Some look at the stars in hope, some in anguish, some in euphoria. But do we wonder if anybody is looking back at us from above? The effulgence of light manifesting a ‘telluric’ quality of sorts.

And do we then derive our passions, loves, and fervor from the energy of lights? Standing under them, one after another, embracing all its ethereal traits. The multiple voices of a thousand and more lives. The language that resonates most with our inner voice. We hear it in whispers, taste it in nondescript flavors, and see it through the eyes of our soul.

Consider Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller as a trove of those voices. It remedies the ragged edges of reality. It reclaims the unattainable in dreams, the impossibilities in feeling, and the unimaginable in expression.

The path this luminous book takes is idiosyncratic in that it has many truths and many identities. It stations you into a world no one yet knows is. Invading your mind, soul, and whole concrete being. Calvino perfectly describes the uncertainty, the murkiness, the anticipation which compels a reader to read a new book. And how each time you read, you experience the self that is you, the reader.


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Memories of My Melancholy Whores – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The truth is that every book, and in it every story, holds in its imagination a dream. The dream demands truthfulness from its reality. Separating, by a thin veil, the person hanging on to reality for clarity and the person relying on the lucidity of dreams for intense, unforeseen love.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores is the exploration of the lacunae between both worlds. It’s moving, crisp, and soul-rendering. The words ignite and wander in the land of nostalgia, love, and mortality. Reclaiming you as its solitudinous voyager, its narrator, and impersonator.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s words aren’t a measure at all. They burst forth into the recesses of a melancholic and lonely life. The book chronicles the fullness and emptiness of such a life. And soaring from its pages is the transparency of what returns to life over and over again. Tightening the threads of time strung together by mortality. The ending is the fulfillment of an unfulfilled life. The beginning of the resurrection of one.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores is about the incomplete and restless relationship of love and time. The depth of the right love met at the wrong time. And the fragility of a love that never returned when it should have. Perhaps love never does fit one like a glove. Love is time’s revenge upon death. And its own extinction.


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Kusamakura – Natsume Soseki

This book remains too ephemeral. And yet it is profoundly infused with the feeling of living in (or with) the present. It’s a book that goes on changing as a self but its characteristic motif is of lightness and timelessness. Kusamakura is Natsume Soseki’s plunge into experimental literature. It’s a first on many counts and will be the longest-lived. 

It’s a book that realizes its extraordinariness but not in the way that most books do. The present is all that the book is willing to give up and that’s what makes it a meditative read. When you step into the world of a fictional character, you’re taken through objects as if in reality. You explore new horizons, observe the map of the character’s world which a novel allows you to investigate. 

And even if you come out of this book without feeling inspired or transformed. Know that to read it is to let go of the chaos that resides everywhere around you. To read it is to appreciate stillness that grows with every page. And there’s nothing more revealing and rewarding for a reader – to be the one at the receiving end of this beautiful transaction. 


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The Night is Darkening Round Me – Emily Bronte

When what one feels is unbearably bitter, one writes to express the chaos with sweet words to the world. This is what I felt after reading The Night is Darkening Round Me. Famous for her novel Wuthering Heights – which I’m yet to read – her short collection of poems is eye-opening. With the way of the world, the undeniability of death, and loss of precious life.

It encompasses a truth that travels through generations and asks for nothing in return. The poems – like Hope, My Comforter, and Death – do not go gentle in emotional intensity. Reread each stanza and you would go on reading whether you feel the grips of reality pulling you back or not.

Recognize and imagine every conviction that spills out of this book. Its affectivity is profound, tearful, and refined.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime – Oscar Wilde

This isn’t an ordinary short story; one that conveys a sentiment that’s crystal clear or even imaginable. Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime by Oscar Wilde discreetly discusses the fate of a man immersed in his delusional fallacies. About ephemeral moments of conceited insanity. And the boundaries one crosses to seal one’s fate.


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