This would have been number one: 'A Book You Haven't Read' in 2015 books for last week.
'Sea of Poppies' By Amitav Gosh (J):
Sea of Poppies is the first of Amitrav Ghosh's trilogy on mid 19th century India and the opium trade, and probably the best. I was excited by it, most of all by his lovely use of language(s). I know, and thoroughly enjoy that English is contributed to by many many other languages, and perhaps because I have a colonial background myself, I particularly enjoy the relatively recent imports from Hindi, Cantonese and other ex-Empire languages. Ghosh adds to this by having his characters use many words and phrases in their languages of origin. Sometimes I guess this is to show that they wouldn't have been speaking English, and often I think it is just for the joy of different sounds and possible meanings.
He also imparts a lot of history, big and small scale, as his characters move from their villages of origin into the big world, down mighty rivers, across oceans, and meeting up in later generations and far from home. So now when I meet someone from Mauritius I have a sense of the multiple cultural and linguistic inputs there have been to that little island.
This makes it sound a bit like a textbook, which it most definitely is not. The characters are alive, believable, often wild and always vivid.
Read it, and go on to read the others!
'The Tiny Wife' by Andrew Kaufman (E):
(read May 2015)
This is a novella (?) that has been languishing on my Kindle shelves for a while, and I couldn't remember anything about it. To be honest, I didn't expect much.
Actually, 'The Tiny Wife' was a revelation to me.
I have always disliked short stories. There it is, out there. It's a genre that I enjoy to write, but reading them has never been enjoyable. They generally feel unsatisfactory, an inferior form to novels, drama and poetry, not enough depth, not enough character development. Yet, I selfishly write them because I enjoy the writing process. A form that is more enjoyable for the writer than the reader: a narcissistic pleasure.
Oh, how wrong I was. This was different. This, was fantastic. I think, technically, it is a novella - but it still not novel length, and I actually enjoyed it. Thoroughly enjoyed it in fact. Completely different than any short story (novella?) I have read before.
It is wonderfully bizarre. Crazily, exuberantly bizarre. The opening is fairly innocuous. It opens with a bank robbery; not for money - the robber asks for each person to present him with their most treasured possession. The first man gives him a wad of notes, but the robber knows he is lying. Treasured possession, money? No, there is something more than money in his life. The items they give him are various: photos of family, heirlooms, items that have been with them at significant life events. These are the things they give up.
Then it gets weird. Each person who was at the robbery starts to experience something completely unbelievable in their lives: a baby that shits money, a lion tattoo coming to life and stalking, being turned into chocolate, shrinking bit by bit each day.
Brilliant, engrossing book. Loved it from start to finish. I have had another Andrew Kauffman languishing away on my Kindle shelves for a couple of years ('The Waterproof Bible') but I've never got round to reading it. Well, that will change.
As has my opinion on short stories. Done well, they can be excellent. Thank you for challenging my prejudices, Kauffman.