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.

Agnyatha by Krishnamurthy Hanuru: The memoir of Tipu’s Unknown Commander

A memoir of Tipu’s Unknown Commander.

Translated from Kanada by L.S.Shankar Swamy, and written by Krishnamurthy Hanuru, this novel traces the life of a commander under Tipu Sultan’s reign.  This book also won the prestigious Karnataka Sahitya Academy Award.

The unknown commander was very close to the Sultan, and was responsible for maintaining law and order in the kingdom. The novel starts off with Tipu Sultan offering his commander to bring real tigers to be kept in the palace. Afraid of letting him down, the soldier sets off with his troop into the interiors of the forest and spends days on the lookout for one. Finally, the commander emerged victorious and took back a ferocious tiger, caged, and hungry. This is just one of the many instances where the commander showed utmost courage. However, the commander’s life was a series of brutal killings, merciless acts carried on the innocent villagers, and animal-like behaviour with the women. He would loot the poor, treat the women with scorn, and show no remorse. It was when the commander was faced with the same fate, he realized his deeds.

In politics, trust or being trustworthy is similar to a cat lovingly licking its newly born young one to death.

We also get to read about the commander’s family life, his relationship with his father that was always volatile, and how he didn’t care about his wife or having a family.  His rash nature, fueled by the desire to win and please his kind overruled any emotion for him.

The novel has a blend of history, folklore, and myth giving the readers wonderful insights about India’s rich heritage.  The cover illustration has been beautifully described inside the book by the author with each and every detail mentioned with precision.

However, despite the rich context, I was finding it difficult to concentrate on the book. That’s the downside of translated books. It loses its essence. There were a few chapters that seemed confusing.

If you’re into historical fiction and keen on learning about India’s folklore, myths, and traditions during Tipu Sultan’s time, this would be a good pick.


Author: Krishnamurthy Hanuru

Publisher: Bee.books

Genre: Historical fiction

Pages: 177

Format: Paperback

Rating: 3/5

Source: Review copy

Blurb: 

“There is nothing like this novel in Kannada literature. Starting as a chronicle of a soldier’s life in the times of Tipu Sultan, the narrative moves with astonishing vitality across time and space. Its supple structure, its shifting locations and perspectives, the freedom with which the narrative roams over different and seemingly irreconcilable genres—such as myth, history and folklore—create a world which is at once mesmerizing, baffling and yet deeply ‘real’. Hanuru’s scholarship and imagination enable him to place each episode in a precise time and place. Yet these worlds, which seem so apart and autonomous, morph into each other and open up a vast canvas, rich and vibrant, leavened by the writer’s sensitivity to human foibles.

 

Author Interview: Shazia Omar

Candid interview with author Shazia Omar.

I had the great opportunity to interview the author of Like a Diamond in the Sky and Dark Diamond, Shazia Omar, who not only has established herself as a prolific writer but is one of the most humble human beings I had the pleasure to interact with. There’s a lot more to her than what meets the eye. I was really skeptical about asking for an interview but Shazia Omar was happy to be a part of my blog. (Author goals, you guys)

If you want to know more about her novel, head back to my blog to read a detailed review.

Get to know the Author:

Shazia Omar is not only a Bangladeshi novelist but is also a social psychologist,  developmental professional and Pilates instructor. Her debut novel Like a Diamond in the Sky was published by Penguin India and Zubaan in 2009. She studied in Dartmouth College and London School of Economics and is currently residing in Bangladesh.

 

Let’s get straight to the interview: 

Hello, Ma’am, Thank you so much for taking out time to do an interview for us.  Did you always dream of becoming a writer?

Yes!  Always. I started writing stories when I was 9 or 10, in little notebooks. And I read all the time.

 

  Where did the idea behind Dark Diamond stem from?

I wanted to write a story about Bangladesh’s rich past that looked back beyond the 1971 war of independence, much further back, to a time when Bengal was at the peak of its power. My grandmother lived near the Lal Bagh Fort so I grew up hearing about the handsome Mughal Subedar Shayista Khan, who built the fort. As a child, I was curious to know more about him, but there were no storybooks or movies about his adventures.

 

dark diamond front cover.jpg

 

Tell us about your book Dark Diamond.

Dark Diamond is the story of Mughal Viceroy Shayista Khan who rules Bengal in 1685. He was not only superbly rich (a billionaire by today’s standards), he was also a Sufi poet.  He faced many enemies: Arakans, the East India Company, Marathas, rebellious Zamindars, religious zealots… Oddly, I discovered that all the enemies he faced then are the enemies we struggle with today, so writing the story felt immediate and real. Also, magic realism is perhaps my favorite genre, so I played with that a bit. 

Can you give us some tips to overcome  writer’s block?

Eavesdrop on someone’s conversation. Preferably a heated argument.
Try introducing a new character.
Read.
Turn off Facebook.

 

Writing is a solitary process and requires a lot of perseverance. How do you keep yourself motivated to write?

Coffee. Chocolate. Almonds.

 

If you were stranded on an island and you could choose only one book, what book would that be?

Dummies Guide to Build a Boat.

 

 Are you planning on writing another novel?

Yes. I have a few ideas but I’m not sure which one will finally blossom.

 

 Tea or coffee? (This question has a potential to start a war)

Ha ha, Tall, Skinny, Latte, hot. =)

 

 

Lastly, if you could, what advice would you give to your teenage self?

Learn yoga! (I did eventually, but I wish I had started earlier.)

512
A striking pose by Shazia Omar as she gives us fitness goals.

 

The author also had a really fun time answering my questions as stated by her (I am not lying, okay).

Thankyou ,Shazia Omar, for gracing my blog with your presence. We hope to see more of your writings in the future.

Review: Dark Diamond

“History is not objective. Facts are changed, truths are lost.”

Author: Shazia Omar

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury India

Format: Paperback

Pages: 229

Rating: 3.5/5

 

“Whosoever possesses Kalinoor shall suffer its curse: all that they cherish shall perish.”

Shazia Omar takes us deep into the forgotten history of Bengal, unraveling parts of the country and its heritage that have never been discussed before. She has beautifully captured the Mughal history, the neglected treasures, the lives of the people living in that period. While reading you can very well understand how detailed the descriptions are; how extensive the research is. Dark Diamond is filled with exotic adventures, brutality and drama.

From the start of the story, it becomes clear that there is a diamond, Kalinoor, that is cursed. Whoever possesses this diamond seldom survives. Lord Shayista Khan, the Mughal Viceroy of Bengal, has acquired the diamond which is slowly leading to Bengal’s destruction. Shayista Khan soon realizes that everything he holds dear is slowly slipping from his hands; his true love, his daughter and the fate of the people of bengal. Under his jurisdiction, Bengal has soared to great heights becoming a hub of commerce and culture and now he has to fight his enemies; Arakan Rajas, Hindu zamindars, Marathas and even East India Company to protect his Empire. There is a lot of magical realism in her novel. There is a vicious Pir whose main motive is to capture Kalinoor and ruin Bengal. I am not really an ardent reader of magical realism but Shazia Omar made it look real without going overboard.

“Power corrupts completely. If you want power, you have to play by power’s rules: you have to play from the head not the heart. Release the desire for power. Desire is from the ego”

The existence of the diamond soon spreads all over the country and everyone wishes to acquire it. Hence, the quest for the dark diamond, Kalinoor, begins. While Shayista Khan is dealing with loss, battles and longing for his daughter, his enemies are conspiring to posses the diamond.

There are several other equally strong characters in the novel that make it even more gripping. The female characters surely had my attention. Despite the torments and destruction, they held their grounds and kept fighting for their rights, much like the women of the 21st century.

“Lightness and darkness both exist within us.”

The author’s writing style is appealing, she takes the readers along with her on an adventure that’s captivating and informative. It is a quick read shuffling between the POV’s of the characters making it fast paced. The ending was satisfactory, justifying the fate of the characters and their journey. The political upheavals, religious intolerance, the secular nature of Bengal during the Mughal empire have been artistically narrated by the author.

I was really intrigued by the character of Bengal’s viceroy, Lord Shayista Khan, who relentlessly worked to bring about prosperity and peace in Bengal but was caught in a web of curses. Despite his forceful nature and extreme anger, the readers would be able to connect with him. Deep down inside is a man who is broken and suffers emotional trauma while on the outside is a man who is strong, brutal to his armies and devoted to the welfare of his people.

I have a thing for historical fictions and Dark Diamond was surely up my alley. Shazia Omar has a lot of potential and I really hope to read more of her works in the near future.

 

Which is your favorite historical novel?

“I wish I could show you,

when you are lonely or in darkness,

the astonishing light of your own being.”