HT Picks: The most interesting books of the week
This week’s good reads include the story of young doctor as he negotiates love, sexuality and family, a history of the schism within Islam, and a retelling of the RamayanaUpdated: Jan 11, 2019 21:39 IST
MY FATHER’S GARDEN BY HANSDA SOWVENDRA SHEKHAR
Spanning half a life, My Father’s Garden tells the story of a young doctor – the unnamed narrator – as he negotiates love and sexuality, his need for companionship , and the burdens of memory and familial expectation.
The opening section, ‘Lover’, finds him studying medicine in Jamshedpur. At college, he discovers an all-consuming passion for Samir, a junior, who possesses his body, mind and heart. Yet, on their last morning together, when he asks Samir to kiss him goodbye, his lover tells him, ‘ A kiss is only for someone special.’
In ‘Friend’, the young doctor, escaping heartbreak, finds relief in Pakur where he strikes up an unusual friendship with Bada Babu, the head clerk of the hospital where he is posted. In Bada Babu’s house they indulge in a shared love for drink, delicious food and convivial company. But when government bulldozers arrive to tear down the neighbourhood, and Bada Babu’s house, the young doctor uncovers a sordid tale of apathy and exploitation – and a side to his friend that leaves him disillusioned.
And in ‘Father’, unable , ultimately , to flee the pain, the young doctor takes refuge in his parents’ home in Ghatsila. As he heals, he reflects on his father – once a vital man who had phenomenal success at work and in Adivasi politics, then an equally precipitous downfall – and wonders if his obsessive gardening has anything to do with the choices his son has made.
Written with deep empathy and searing emotional intensity, and in the clear, unaffected prose that is the hall mark of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s style, My Father’s Garden marks a major talent of Indian fiction writing at the top of his form.*
CONCISE HISTORY OF SUNNIS AND SHI’IS BY JOHN MCHUGO
The 1400-year old schism between Sunnis and Shi’is has rarely been as toxic as it is today, feeding wars and communal strife in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and many other countries, with tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran escalating. India, too, has not emerged unscathed from this schism, and has witnessed periodic violence between the two sects throughout history.
In this richly layered and engrossing account, John McHugo reveals how this great divide occured. Charting the story of Islam from the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad to the present day, he describes the conflicts that raged over the succession to the Prophet, how Sunnism and Shi’ism evolved as different sects during the Abbasid caliphate, and how the rivalry between the empires of the Sunni Ottomans and Shi’I Safavids contrived to ensure that the split would continue into modern times. Now its full, destructive force has been brought out by the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for the soul of the Muslim world.
Definitive, insightful and accessible, A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi’is shows that there was nothing inevitable about the sectarian conflicts that now disfigure Islam. It is an essential guide to understanding the genesis, development and manipulation of the great schism that for far too many people has come to define Islam and the Muslim world.*
THE FOREST OF ENCHANTMENTS BY CHITRA BANERJEE DIVAKARUNI
The Ramayana, one of the world’s greatest epics, is also a tragic love story. In this brilliant retelling, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni places Sita at the centre of the novel: this is Sita’s version. The Forest of Enchantments is also about women’s struggle to retain autonomy in a world that privileges men, as Chitra transforms an ancient story into a gripping contemporary battle of wills. While the Ramayana resonates even today, she makes it more relevant than ever, in the underlying questions in the novel: How should women be treated by their loved ones? What are their rights in a relationship? When does a woman need to stand up and say, ‘Enough!’*
*All copy from book flap.
First Published: Jan 11, 2019 21:38 IST