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.