She Said by Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey: Pulitzer-prize winning journalists expose Harvey Weinstein & Hollywood’s biggest secret.

NY Times journalists broke the burgeoning Harvey Weinstein story, ending his career, and opening floodgates for change.

For months, journalists, Megan Kantor & Jodi Twohey collected hard evidence against Hollywood’s infamous and one of the most powerful producers, Harvey Weinstein, who apart from sexual harassing actresses also systemically abused & raped several of his employees. It took several late nights and early mornings for the two NYT journalists to get witnesses to speak on record. Weinstein’s legacy, his minions holding important positions in the media, the law and in Hollywood itself, kept him shielded. It’s a gross violation of a person’s autonomy, misuse of power that enabled the producer to continue as long as he did. With brilliant narrative spanning credible accounts of victim’s testimony, acquiring the contracts that legally bought the victims’ silence, Megan & Jodi fought to get the truth out in the open. Not just this, they were constantly surveilled & harassed by Weinstein, blocking every move, threatening every victim they spoke to.

Some of the weapons intended to fight sexual harassment were actually enabling it

She Said

News of Harvey’s sexual predatory opened floodgates in several parts of the world. The #MeToo movement exposed powerful men who continued to take advantage of women luring them into the promise of a career. Men like Weinstein thrive because he has supporters who enable this behavior. The lives of these women and several others who have spoken up has tremendously changed. From being threatened to having their careers ruined, women ultimately take the hit. Dr. Ford who was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court Judge, Brett Kavannaugh, still finds it difficult to get out of her house. 

Even though Megan & Jodi’s work is monumental, the question still remains; what and how much has changed systemically? It’s also something both the journalists wonder. Were their efforts fruitful? As more and more women speak up, what is being done to ensure proper justice is met? I believe it’s a question we all have no answers to. 

I would highly recommend reading She Said. It’s an important book that gives an insight into lives of the accused & their privilege & those who face the brunt of it. 


Author: Megan Twohey & Jodi Kantor

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Pages: 312

Format: Ebook

Blurb:

On October 5, 2017, the New York Times published an article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey–and then the world changed. For months Kantor and Twohey had been having confidential discussions with top actresses, former Weinstein employees and other sources, learning of disturbing long-buried allegations, some of which had been covered up by onerous legal settlements. The journalists meticulously picked their way through a web of decades-old secret payouts and nondisclosure agreements, pressed some of the most famous women in the world–and some unknown ones–to risk going on the record, and faced down Weinstein, his team of high-priced defenders, and even his private investigators. 

But nothing could have prepared them for what followed the publication of their Weinstein story. Within days, a veritable Pandora’s Box of sexual harassment and abuse was opened, and women who had suffered in silence for generations began coming forward, trusting that the world would understand their stories. Over the next twelve months, hundreds of men from every walk of life and industry would be outed for mistreating their colleagues. But did too much change–or not enough? Those questions plunged the two journalists into a new phase of reporting and some of their most startling findings yet. 

With superlative detail, insight, and journalistic expertise, Kantor and Twohey take us for the first time into the very heart of this social shift, reliving in real-time what it took to get the story and giving an up-close portrait of the forces that hindered and spurred change. They describe the surprising journeys of those who spoke up–for the sake of other women, for future generations, and for themselves–and so changed us all.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo: Of endemic sexism, patriarchy & oppression.

A south-korean woman’s plight seems to mirror that of several women all across the world.

Translated by Jamie Chang

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo is a story chronicling a woman’s desperate attempt at escaping endemic sexism. Kim’s life & her struggle mirror several women of our previous generations, and unfortunately, this generation too. Kim is every little girl who has had to adjust, be more responsible, do chores that her brother of the same age isn’t required to do. She’s every woman starting her career exposed to objectifying, reduced to only menial jobs, whereas men her age, are promoted & considered naturally more competent. She’s every woman who has had to sacrifice her career to raise a child, giving up on her individuality & forced into a life stripped of meaning. 

Kim is a 33-year-old woman who has started behaving differently. She’s taken on the identity of women in her past life, blurting out words considered inappropriate for family gatherings. She’s taken to a psychiatrist who then lays bare Kim’s journey in a linear fashion. 

As the novel progresses, we learn of Jiyoung’s descent into dissociative order. Right from her childhood where boys being mean to her was explained as their likeness towards her to applying for jobs only to be repeatedly rejected to facing workplace sexism. It’s a book that opens up layers and layers of systemic misogyny exposing the hypocrisy and injustice women are expected to endure. Kim’s husband, albeit cognizant of his wife’s predicament, is complicit. He merely refuses to acknowledge his own privilege, shrugging off any attempt at reversing the gender roles. In fact, he easily fits into them.  The subtle nuances in the novel explain the ongoing battle women continue to face, the suffocation and uneasiness slowly crawling in on you as you trace Kim’s road to complete madness. 

Cho Nam-Joo’s brilliant narrative rooted in fiction but peppered with substantial facts (as footnotes) unmasks South-Korea’s gender disparity despite technological advances and developments. For instance, the Huju system where the children were strictly registered under the patriarchal lineage was abolished only in 2008 to female feticide, preference of the boy child to sacrificing one’s career to further that of their brother or husbands are still pretty much a ground reality.  

This book, a culmination of fiction & reality, puts forward the triteness and nefariousness of gender discrimination that seems to share a common ground in every country, inciting collective rage and call to action. 


Author: Cho Nam-Joo

Translation: Jamie Chang

Publisher: Sceptre Books

Pages: 168

Format: Ebook

Blurb:

Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy.
Kim Jiyoung is a sister made to share a room while her brother gets one of his own.
Kim Jiyoung is a female preyed upon by male teachers at school. Kim Jiyoung is a daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed late at night.  
Kim Jiyoung is a good student who doesn’t get put forward for internships. Kim Jiyoung is a model employee but gets overlooked for promotion. Kim Jiyoung is a wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity.

Kim Jiyoung has started acting strangely.
Kim Jiyoung is depressed.
Kim Jiyoung is mad.

Kim Jiyoung is her own woman.
Kim Jiyoung is every woman

My Past Is A Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani: Identifying as a muslim feminist & dealing with patriarchy

There is gentleness in Zeba’s intimate story; the fragile relationship with her mother, the silences lingering between them, the possessive nature only a child can have for a parent, the way Zeba would want to know her mother’s movement, watching her like a hawk. Zeba grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia but both her parents were from India. This meant spending summer vacations in a small town in Karnataka, going back and forth between Sirsi( her mother’s home) and honnavar, where her dad grew up. In one of the many instances of growing up in a traditional household where the man works and the woman takes charge of domestic work, Zeba’s mother was preparing for a party but accidentally hurt herself. She was in immense pain and Zeba called her father from work. But in the evening, the guests arrived, exotic delicacies were served, the party went on as if nothing happened. The slow unraveling of the roles society has forced upon women was not lost on Zeba. Throughout her memoir, she wonders about the silence that existed in her house, so many instances where her mama resorted to maintaining peace in the family instead of confronting the wrongs. The grip of patriarchy and the unreal societal expectations that continue to suppress women, often leaning towards the adage of men being without reproach. Zeba’s dissent meant a direct insult to motherhood. It was a constant pull and push, where the fear existed between a mother and daughter, further alienating them from each other.

Growing up, the author talks about the differences in her life as compared to India. The moral police restricted the movement of women, where freedom was only a myth and since she was from a South-Asian heritage, she felt like she didn’t belong. Expressing her precarious place in Jeddah meant committing blasphemy & so Zeba kept to herself. When Zeba’s hair started thinning, her mother was appalled. She was taken to several doctors who prescribed myriad remedies, treatments & surgeries. A lot of importance is given to conventional standards of beauty especial in South-Asian communities, as if beauty alone can absolve one of sins. Naturally, the author faced bullying mainly from her relatives who wanted a piece of gossip. Zeba took to wearing her headscarf and didn’t let this define her life. 

In between standing up for herself, and moving to India for her graduation to pursuing MA in publishing in Germany to later moving to UK, Zeba talks about her faith, being a Muslim feminist in a world that’s hell bent on saving ‘Muslim women’, racism, lack of representation and radical selfcare. Throughout the entirety of the novel, Zeba tenderly discusses the ramifications of patriarchy on the generation of our mothers and also the generation that has come after. We’re still reeling from the shackles put in place, often putting each other down, when the problem has never been us. 

I was rooting for Zeba, cheering her on whenever she felt stuck, but I was rooting for her mother too. The silence that stretched between them, ended when her mother spoke for her. It broke so many layers of oppression because one woman decided it would end here. For the many women who have come before us, and the many woman who decided to choose their own path, I hope we continue to find the courage to be ourselves in a world that’s trying hard to stifle our voice. I felt seen, I felt represented, I felt I didn’t need to pander to values I didn’t believe in and for that I’m really grateful to Zeba.

Latest Posts

My Past Is A Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani: Identifying as a muslim feminist & dealing with patriarchy

There is gentleness in Zeba’s intimate story; the fragile relationship with her mother, the silences lingering between them, the possessive nature only a child can have for a parent, the way Zeba would want to know her mother’s movement, watching her like a hawk. Zeba grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia but both her parents … Continue reading “My Past Is A Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani: Identifying as a muslim feminist & dealing with patriarchy”

Loading…

Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

How To Pitch Articles to Magazines/Online Publications

Follow these easy tips to pitch an article!

I started freelancing last year & ever since, pitching articles has always been the most intimidating process for me. Now that I have applied to multiple places, multiple times, it’s no longer as difficult as it appeared earlier.

If you’re thinking of pitching to magazines or online publications, here are a few tips to keep in mind!

 Article idea:

Only having an article idea isn’t enough. You have to research and be able to back it up with facts. Once you have an idea, spend a day or two mulling over it, looking up for sources online, or making sure your idea is unique or hasn’t already been attempted. It’s important to ensure you’re invested in the article to be able to write from the heart. 

Understand the requirements:

Before you start sending out pitches, please go through the magazine websites to familiarize yourself with their submission guidelines, the kind of articles they publish, and whether or not they’re commissioning articles at the moment. A lot of the times a magazine already has enough materials & they’re not looking for articles. You can pitch the same article to multiple magazines if they fit the submission guidelines. Prepare in advance: This is something I prefer doing but you can choose to skip it. If I’m sure of the publication I want to pitch an article to, I always have a first draft written. It gives me an idea of what the article will look like, the estimated word count, and the structure. This is helpful when you sit down to write the email. 

Writing Samples

  If you’re starting out, look for publications that accept writing samples that are not published. Most of them want experienced writers who have had their articles published somewhere. But it’s okay, don’t feel disheartened. There are several more platforms where you can submit unpublished writing samples. 

 Choose carefully:

When you’re attaching the writing samples, choose the ones that mirror the ideology and style of the publication or is the closest to their agenda. You may write a sample that fits their requirement if you really want to hear from them( but it’s not mandatory). 

Now that we have the basics out of the picture, let’s get down to writing that cover pitch.

· Subject

Mention the name of the article in your subject line. The editors are flooded with emails everyday and they mostly don’t spend much time on a single email. To make it easier for them, it’s better to write the title of the article and get it over with.

· Body

Now every submission guideline is different, but most publications want you to give a short summary of 50 words explaining what the article is about. Here is where your creativity and email writing skills come to use. Is it a personal essay or a feature or literary criticism? Why should they publish your article? What is unique about your story? What will be the target audience? Why will the readers want to read it? The idea is to perk the editor’s interest in the beginning itself. Be as direct as possible. 

· Estimated word count

Remember how I asked you to have the first draft ready? Here is where it comes to use. Giving an estimate word count is always helpful and prepares the editor. A lot of magazines require you to give the word count. 

· Offer a proposed deadline:

Don’t be too ambitious & say you’ll submit the article in a day. But think carefully and give a proposed deadline. This makes the editor feel you’re not fooling around and that you’re serious about the work. Your deadline will also depend on your research; the people you want to interview, the field-work (if any) required for your article. 

Attach your writing samples, preferably 2-3. 

· Follow-up:

Magazines or any online publication receive hundreds of emails every day which makes it humanly impossible to reply immediately. If you haven’t received a reply, send a polite follow-up email, inquiring about the pitch you sent. A lot of editors don’t revert, so take this as a reply, and try sending out more pitches. But do not be disrespectful and hound them. 

· Be patient:

These are just tips. At the end of the day, your writing is what’s going to get you that writing gig. A lot of the times, it gets frustrating and you may want to give up. But that’s part of being a writer. Just keep at it.

I hope the above tips were helpful. If you’ve got something more to add, please let me know!

Till then, keep writing!

Meanwhile, check out this personal essay: Of Losses; big or small

Finding the ‘new’ normal: Dealing with uncertainty and navigating through life in the midst of a pandemic.

I gave myself six months at the start of 2020 to figure out a career plan. I quit my full-time job to pursue writing and editing as a freelancer. Naturally, I was skeptical and uncertain. It’s always nerve-wracking leaving the certainty of a monthly paycheck to dabble in something as shaky as freelancing. But I … Continue reading “Finding the ‘new’ normal: Dealing with uncertainty and navigating through life in the midst of a pandemic.”

A River In Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa: One man’s escape from North Korea

One man’s escape from the hermit kingdom, North Korea

Translated by Martin Brown & Rise Koyabashi

I looked up the author online. That’s the first thing I did when I finished reading the book. There’s no trace of him anywhere. No clue as to how the book came into being. As Masaji writes in his memoir, he felt invisible in North Korea, people looked through him, as if he wasn’t there. And in real life too, perhaps, he is invisible.

In what can be called a cursed fate, Masaji’s world was divided as soon as he was born; His mother was Japanese and his drunk, wife-beating, abusive father was Korean. He spent most of his childhood in Japan where his family lived from meal to meal but there was dignity in his daily life. During 1950s mass propaganda by the Japanese government led to most Koreans living in Japan to believe that North Korea was ‘a paradise on land’, ‘a land of milk and honey’ , where ‘a first-class education for your children’ was guaranteed. Most Koreans were racially discriminated, poverty gnawing at them at every step. Naturally, the promise of a better life, and most importantly, food, was enough for people to reconsider. Kim Sung II proclaimed he was building a socialist utopia known as the Chollima Movement. This period saw mass repatriation, in fact the only time in history where people moved from a capitalist country to a socialist country. When Masaji’s father announced they were repatriating to North Korea, he knew it would be the end of his family.

North Korea is a totalitarian government, functioning on mass paranoia of people, uncontrollable propaganda, barbaric laws and policies that get you killed, or sent to camps as political prisoners for being a ‘capitalist’ or a ‘liberal’. Since Masaji wasn’t born in NK, he knew what a liberal democracy looked like unlike the people living there. They were brainwashed to become slaves to a pseudo -religious cult as soon as they were born and came to revere their supreme leader as god. Masaji’s life only got worse. Starvation was the number one reason. There just wasn’t enough to eat. They barely scrapped through by boiling rice gruels, eating tree barks, sometimes cabbage that had rotten, other times stealing or picking up leftovers from trashcans. Since they had moved from Japan, they were called ‘returnees’, the lowest of the lows. Despite over-working, they barely got enough food ration. His family was barely surviving, the bodies of his children looked like skeletons. That’s when he decided to escape North Korea, after 36 years. Masaji left his family in hopes for a better life in Japan but his home country didn’t do anything for him either. There’s still no information if he was able to get his family back with him. His wife died a futile death, waiting for him. I have no idea where his children are. I want to say that the book is a testimony to indomitable human spirit but why must humans be reduced to such a pitiful state? Why are thousands upon thousands of North Koreans surviving because they have nowhere else to go? It’s a gross violation of human rights and absolute contempt of a county for its citizens. It’s a harrowing tale of one man’s escape from the evil, evil country that is North Korea

Finding the ‘new’ normal: Dealing with uncertainty and navigating through life in the midst of a pandemic.

I gave myself six months at the start of 2020 to figure out a career plan. I quit my full-time job to pursue writing and editing as a freelancer. Naturally, I was skeptical and uncertain. It’s always nerve-wracking leaving the certainty of a monthly paycheck to dabble in something as shaky as freelancing. But I was convinced of the path I wanted to take, so I took the plunge. Things were going smooth as far as freelancing was concerned and then everything came to a halt. It was as if I was in the middle of a performance where minutes before the end scene, there was a technical difficulty and the lights went off. I’m standing there bewildered, nervously glancing here and there to find answers, surrounded by equally anxious actors on stage, who, just like me, have absolutely no idea what went wrong. Suddenly the lights come back, I can see the relief pass through the faces of my teachers, standing in the wings, frantically waving their hands to go on as if nothing happened, as if the temporary halt was part of the plan. 

 But when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, the end seems elusive, your part in the play never ending. You’re the audience and the actor. 

 I see my father reading the news or watching as the number of coronavirus cases go up exponentially. I wonder what goes through his head. As a man belonging to the era of extreme hustle & blind commitment to the business, he has never taken a day off. ‘I feel better when I’m at work,’ he’d retort when questioned about putting strain on his health every time he’s sick. The show must go on has always been his way of dealing with life’s curveballs. He switches to another news channel, clutching the remote, as if trying to have some semblance of control. We sit silently in the room, the news anchors yelling obscenities in the background. I have a book in my hand, and my dad is pretending to hear the verbal diarrhea projected on screen. None of us is registering what’s happening but we’re too afraid to address the elephant in the room, too afraid to admit the uncertainty.  

The first week of the lockdown sent us into the pits of anxiety-induced confusion. Every household is built on a system that enables the smooth functioning of everyday lives. But when the system itself is forced to change abruptly without a manual, adapting becomes wearying especially if you’re living in a joint family—where every chore is assigned, and every task is mechanical. We ran around like headless chickens on the first day of the lockdown, trying to put in place an order. What the order was, we didn’t know. My mother took charge as she always does, reassuring us, believing everything would work out. I could see the hesitancy in her eyes, the lines on her forehead telling a different story. 

That’s the thing about the precariousness of life—your carefully crafted plans seem flimsy, as if a strong wind will collapse the very foundations on which you’ve built your life. We unlearned our habits, inculcated new routines albeit forcefully, and started rebuilding what we thought would never break. A new order was soon put in place. 

The second week of the lockdown didn’t seem as taxing. We still didn’t know how things were taking shape but whatever we were doing was working. For now, it was enough. At the back of our heads, we knew the lockdown was necessary and there was a silver lining of things getting back to normal after 21 days. Holding onto this sliver of hope, helped us get through the uneasiness that had spread like wildfire. But soon enough, the inevitability of extension, drew nearer. We rallied through, praying fervently, for the worst to pass. At the end of the day, we had food on our tables, our loved ones safe with us, and a shelter on our heads. It was more than we could ask for.

Days turned into weeks, and we started making adjustments, as many as we could, to find a new normal. Our mornings seem to have fallen into a new rhythm, getting used to having the entire family together at meal times, bumping into each other more often, wondering at the closeness we didn’t think was achievable. Evenings, these days, have a quietness of their own. We indulge in evening snacks, sipping teas and discussing nothing in particular as the world continues to move forward. Board games now dictate our lives as we gather around to pass time, laughing at the madness of it all, letting our competitiveness channel itself in mild banters. Life events are now measured in pandemic terms—pre-pandemic, where our mundane lives were uninterrupted, and post-pandemic, where our pent-up desires will play out in the form of excessive physical interactions and new-found appreciation for the outside world. The middle is where we linger, in the confines of our homes. 

We all go back to playing the designated roles every single day. Whether it’s taking online classes, editing a manuscript, completing the assigned menial jobs and making sure there’s movement in our lives, there’s hope in our hearts. A new order is finally in place, this time, waiting to be disrupted. 

These days my dad passes by my room and stops for a minute, smiling and nodding his head. He then leaves. There is no need to exchange words anymore, we both understand and prefer the silence that is familiar and comforting.

Of losses; big & small

Experiencing loss, one memory at a time.

I was in school when I first felt loss. I couldn’t find my favorite pencil that had a scented eraser at the back. Before leaving the classroom, I had kept it on my desk. After lunch break was over, I went back to my desk only to find it empty. I was hysterical. I cried, and cried. I asked my friends, who shrugged and then started a search for the missing pencil. We looked everywhere; under the desk, inside the dustbin, I also raided everyone’s pencil box. It had disappeared. This wasn’t the first time I had lost something in class, and this wasn’t the first time I struggled dealing with the loss of something I cherished. As a child, getting attached to inanimate objects was easy. Loss, as a concept, seemed confusing to me, and somehow I still haven’t wrapped my head around it. My teacher complained to my brother one day, annoyed at how sensitive I was. She said, ‘Your sister starts crying every time she loses something,’. I was baffled at my teachers’ lack of understanding. Crying was the only way I could explain what it felt. How else was I to make her believe how much it meant to me? For a seven-year old, it seemed too real, too personal. Sure, it was something I could replace but it was loss nonetheless. As I grew up, the losses took the shape of a lost tooth, of a lost book, of a lost friend, of a lost dream. One day, it was a pet rabbit that didn’t survive, on another occasion, it was a plant I had forgot to water. Each time I lost something, it hurt less but I felt like I had changed. The losses represented something I no longer had, but whose absence felt ephemeral. The losses didn’t stop. They only kept changing shape, presenting itself in unique ways, intensifying in magnitude. The response to these losses also changed.  Grief, somehow, found an outlet. It channeled its way every time I mourned the death of a fictional character, every time I would hear about a child learning to hear for the first time, every time I would cry during movies & every time a person I looked upto passed away. It would mold itself like water; fitting, squeezing, expanding & contracting wherever there was enough space. It ebbed & it flowed. But it kept coming. 

Nobody grows up learning how to mourn. No one teaches you how to weep. Grief is universal. It can be found in every household, in every corner. The death of a loved one, the death of your old self, the collective loss of our identities. Loss makes you confront your worst fears, it brings out everything you hate in front of you, and asks that you dine with it. Your worst fears, your worst self, is suddenly out in the open, staring at you, almost smiling. But somehow, you deal with it. You look grief in the eye, and shake hands. You discuss what must be done. You’ve felt loss before & you’ll feel loss again. You’ll grieve over the things you could have done, the dreams you can no longer dream, the loved ones you can never bring back. But then one day, you feel the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, and you learn to walk freely, you learn to dream big dreams. 

Loss is inescapable—it’s a fair-weather friend that keeps coming in and out of our lives. We just learn to accept it. 

The Empty Room by Sadia Abbas: A story of love, art & loss in the midst of political turmoil.

Art connects. Art brings you back from the depths of the earth, shakes you and makes you step outside of your little world, and create something you didn’t think you were capable of. The beauty & power of art is infinite, it’s capacity limitless. It transforms and recreates and gives birth to revolution, to freedom, the ability to defy. Art is all encompassing. 

The Empty Room by Sadia Abbas takes us through Pakistan’s tumultuous political scenario between 1969-1979 where power and state sanctioned brutality displaced, killed and tortured thousands of people. While the prolonged civil war and formation of Bangladesh as an independent country took shape, we see the union of two separate individuals belonging to wealthy Karachi family unfold, and how the societal demands and expectations are loaded on Tahira, who ultimately surrenders but finds solace in art; her precious paintings.

From the start, you can feel the bitterness, the uncalled criticism meted out to Tahira by her husband and in-laws. Tahira, a young, educated girl withers away under constant jarbs and marital expectations, realizing with growing contempt that her life has been snatched away, reduced to dust. The only solace given to her by her in-laws was the freedom to paint only because it would add to their status obsessed image. It was infuriating to see Tahira undergo so much trauma, injustice and disrespect at the hands of her in-laws. 

The beauty of this book lies in the creation of other characters who I was equally fond of. We have Tahira’s childhood friend, Andaleep, who encourages her to take up painting with renewed gusto. Always looking after his sister, Waseem, defines masculinity in a new light. He considers himself a socialist distressed by the unfortunate path his country was heading towards. Both Waseem and Andaleep grappled and disappointed by Tahira’s submissiveness distance themselves for fear of losing her completely. 

It’s commendable how Sadia Abbas has encapsulated the internal and external activities of Pakistan and its people, delving into the political and social constraints, of personal and private lives being uprooted, and has brilliantly captured the intimate and most vulnerable of human emotions. 

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson: A personal memoir of lost loss, and the search for love.

Winterson says, ‘Adopted children are dislodged. My mother felt that the whole of life was a grand dislodgement. We both wanted to go home.’ A harrowing childhood of being locked in a coal-hole, punishment by means of sleeping on the front porch all night, undergoing exorcism for having an affair with a girl, and spending most of your life feeling like you didn’t belong. With sheer courage and honesty, Winterson in her personal memoir, talks about being adopted in a Pentecostal family bordering on religious fanaticism. Mrs Winterson, as the writer addresses her mother throughout the book, was suffering from depression, fighting demons of her own and waiting for the Apocalypse. She believed she was brought into the world to suffer. 

Mrs Winterson despised happiness, as the word in itself was tainted with sins. Perhaps, she didn’t know how happiness felt like so she stopped her daughter from pursuing it herself. Jeanette’s love for the written word was soon stamped and punched to the ground by her mother who burnt all her textbooks. It didn’t deter the author because she started memorizing the texts. How can her mother snatch the words that were now written in her soul?

The title of the book is taken from Mrs Winterson’s admonition upon finding out Jeanette’s affair with a girl. She retorts, ‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?’

But the author also talks of the way words saved her from herself. The more her mother tried to drown her, the more she felt liberated. The power of language, of stories, of escape, wasn’t lost to her. The first half of the book is a tale of a wounded childhood, of the desperate need to belong somewhere. It’s also filled with lessons learnt the hard way. The second half, according to me, was written hurriedly as if the author was trying to see how it ends. Winterson went on to becoming a successful author, falling in and out of love before finding the ‘one’. All her life, Winterson felt, she wasn’t loved. How could she? Her biological mother gave her up for adoption when she was six-weeks old, and she was brought up by a tyrant who couldn’t see her as human. 

The quest to find her biological mother, Ann, turns into a rigorous path as Winterson comes to a painful realization; she maybe be adopted but her identity is shaped by her upbringing. She feels as far away from her own mother as she did with Mrs Winterson.  She says, ‘ I notice that I hate Ann criticizing Mrs Winterson. She was a monster but she was my monster.’

Despite the violent childhood and a series of ‘lost loss’, this memoir ends with acceptance. It directs you to march ahead, to always seek love where ever you go. 

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

In a remote Norwegian island, a sea-storm has wiped out 40 fishermen. As Maren watches the sea swallow all the men including her brother and father, the women are left to fend for themselves. As their days pass in a lull, haunted by the ghosts of those drowned in the reckless storm, the women learn to carve a life for themselves until three years later a sinister figure arrives at Vardo, uprooting their very existence. Absalom Cornet has arrived from Scotland, where he has built a kind of a reputation of burning witches. He is accompanied by his wife, Ursa, who is young as much as naïve, unware of the man she has married, and clueless about life in Vardo. 

Soon enough, Absalom demands for strict adherence to his rules. He believes Vardo to be possessed by witches, where women who roam freely, and run entire houses on their own, are untouched by god. Ursa is terrified of her husband’s authority and utterly lonely till she finds solace in Maren. Absalom’s growing power and blind belief by some women of Vardo lead to a devastating result. 

The Mercies is a feminist story of the threat women pose even when they’re just existing in their own skin, of how unchecked power and systemic oppression has led to abuse and ostracization of one gender. It’s a reflection of how rumours  and hearsay can have catastrophic results. Kiran’s writing is hauntingly beautiful; it’s visually appealing in a sense that I could smell the sea breeze, feel the force of the waves as they crash and submerge in a rhythm, and the way the women powered through despite gut-wrenching loss.