Category Archives: Book reviews

Perineum: Nether Parts of an Empire by Ambarish Satwik


On one of those nights when you usually look for something on TV to watch along with your dinner, I came across  a news channel’s panel discussion – a rare well-moderated session on pornography. Certain members of a state  government had been caught watching porn mid-assembly, and there were heated discussions across channels. There were only 2-3 people on this particular panel whose opinions were intelligent and nuanced, and one of them was Delhi-based vascular surgeon Dr. Ambarish Satwik. But I was more than intrigued when I heard he was also an author of pornographic fiction. Naturally, I had to check him out, and Google scrolled up the tantalisingly titled Perineum: Nether Parts of an Empire. I knew I had to get it.

Also, the guy is hot. Yeah, I’m shallow like that.

Apart from this Tehelka review, and an interview in The Hindu, nothing much of either Ambarish or the book is on the internet. Several online booksellers offer customer reviews at most, but nothing really detailed enough to give you an idea of where this book could  sit on your bookshelf.  Is it literary? Is it historical fiction? Is it light reading / popular fiction? None of those questions were answered for me when I decided to purchase it.

Also, book blurbs – overburdened and vague at best – label Satwik’s writing as “feverish fictions lit by Kafka, stage-managed by Manto” (by Mukul Kesavan). Another description inside says he concocts a “Borgesian fictional labyrinth” that just made me scoff in disbelief.

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Of a certain Kuzhali Manickavel and other insectoid thoughts


So, I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but somewhere online I stumbled across the gold nugget that is Kuzhali Manickavel’s blog. I suspect it is through the Café Irreal website where she is published, or perhaps through the network of hyperlinked blogrolls that exists across WordPress and Blogspot, but it no longer matters, because I suspect there has been an inner Kuzhali in me all along, just waiting to be discovered.

Kuzhali is what is known as an emerging writer; she hasn’t written a full-length novel or book yet. But she has flash fiction and short fiction published across the Internet and the wonderful Blaft Publications found her and published most of those stories as a collection, Insects are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings. Blaft also tweeted twice about my Charu Nivedita review, so I am gratefully (and shamelessly) plugging another worthy book of theirs.

I have long maintained that writing humour is one of the hardest genres to write, satire even more so. I have also secretly harboured a dream of writing the modern Indian version of A Modest Proposal. Well, I was SO wrong; clearly, Kuzhali should be the one to write it. Not only has she got the incision skills of a surgeon with her words, she has that sense of tragicomedy, a certain je ne sais quoi that makes satire tick. Read the rest of this entry

‘Bartleby, the Scrivener’ — Herman Melville


This is not a review, so much as some delayed contemplation.

I took a course in my Masters called “The Literature of Sadness: The Mind-Body Crisis”. Of course, it wound up being my favourite subject. One of the elective readings was Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener. Having come across Moby Dick, and not been too blown away by it (as an angsty, fantasy-obsessed teen, mind you) I was skeptical about how good this book would be. But as the only other option was to write a paper on Freud and melancholia, I opted for what I assumed was the shorter, simpler Bartleby. Needless to say, it is probably one of the most disturbing tales I have ever read and that came out in the 19th century, no less. Read the rest of this entry

On Charu Nivedita’s ‘Zero Degree’ (Trans. by Pritham K. Chakravarthy & Rakesh Khanna)


NOTE: This review quotes some adult content and contains text that may be offensive to you. Please do not read further if you’re easily offended by dirty language, bodily functions or graphic  descriptions of sex. Also, this is a LONG review, so you may want to make some time for it.

If you are now compelled to read on even more, I like you already. 🙂

This novel gave me nightmares, literally. And I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing.

First, remember everything you are told and have believed a novel is, particularly the Indian novel. Some things on the lines of:

  • A novel is a work of fiction.
  • It contains several common elements such as character, plot, narrative.
  • It explores what is loosely called the human condition.
  • It  may sometimes be an instrument for social change.
  • It is a socio-political reflection of its times.
  • It entertains, informs, educates, etc. Read the rest of this entry

Yevgeny Zamyatin – ‘We’ (Trans. by Natasha Randall)


It’s hard to believe that this is a book that was written in 1921 and came out  first in English in 1924, as it was banned in Soviet Russia. We  reads like it could have been written any time in the last fifty years. But that a book written in Soviet Russia four years after the Bolshevik Revolution should be able to predict the nature of nation-states of the 20th century so accurately, is astonishing.

In the evening, later, I found out they had taken three ciphers off with them. However, as with all occurrences, no  one would talk about it aloud (the instructive influence of our invisible, ever-present Guardians). Conversation, for the most part, concerned the rapid fall of the barometer and the change of weather.

The book begins at an unknown time and place introducing the central character D-503, the Builder of the Integral, and one of the mathematicians of the One State. People’s names have been replaced by numbers, called ‘ciphers’ in this translation. D-503 narrates the sequence of events as diary entries, or a kind of log kept by the Builder, building a sort of spaceship for the One State. In the very first record, D-503 tells us that these records exist to keep the facts, tell us — the readers — the truth, tell us what the people of the One State think. And this makes D-503 acknowledge something:

As I write this: I feel my cheeks burn. I suppose this resembles what a woman experiences when she first hears a new pulse within her — the pulse of a tiny, unseeing, mini-being. This text is me; and simultaneously not me. And it will feed for many months on my sap, my blood, and then, in anguish, it will be ripped from my self and placed at the foot of the One State. Read the rest of this entry

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky: The Branch Line


So over the last few months, I have been obsessing over a Soviet/Ukranian/Polish writer from the 1920s. He’s only been brought out of KGB cold storage into publication in the 80s, and translated into English only in the last 4-5 years. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, along with zhis unpronounceable last name, was a Pole, born in Ukraine who wrote entirely in Russian and never saw his work published in his lifetime.

Most of the stuff I have seen around the web are reviews of K’s set of short stories (Memories of the Future also out as Seven Stories ), seven of which are in translation and circulation. But there’s hardly much on the Internet about my favourite from the lot: The Branch Line. Read the rest of this entry