HT Picks: The most interesting books of the week
This week’s reading list includes a graphic retelling of a terrible conflict, a chronicle of the lives of three generations of sex workers, and a collection of stories from the tea plantations of south India
VANNI BY BENJAMIN DIX AND LINDSAY POLLOCK
271pp, Rs 799, Penguin
In the tradition of Maus, Persepolis, Palestine and The Breadwinner, Vanni is a graphic novel documenting the human side of the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers. Told from the perspective of a single family, it takes readers through the otherwise unimaginable struggles, horrors and life-changing decisions families and individuals are forced to make when caught up in someone else’s war.
Set in Vanni, the northern region of Sri Lanka that was devastated by the civil war, this graphic novel follows the Ramachandran family as they flee their home after the 2004 tsunami and move from one displacement camp to the next, seeking an ever-elusive haven and struggling to keep each other alive. Inspired by Benjamin Dix’s experience working in Sri Lanka for the United Nations during the war, Vanni draws on more than four years of meticulous research, official reports and first-hand interviews with refugees. It depicts heroic acts of kindness and horrific acts of violence, memorializing the experiences of the Tamil civilian against the forces that seek to erase their memory.
Elegantly drawn by Lindsay Pollock, this exceptionally moving graphic novel portrays the personal experiences of modern warfare, the process of forced migration and the struggles of seeking asylum in Europe.*
AN ELEPHANT KISSED MY WINDOW BY M RAVINDRAN AND SAAZ AGGARWAL
269pp, Rs 500; Black and White Fountain
This collection of stories from the tea plantations of South India is a fascinating journey back to a forgotten era. Colonial rule has ended, and the British have left behind a nation of tea producers and tea drinkers. Charming anecdotes from the transitional period are presented showcasing archaic rituals alongside the pranks of the high-spirited young men privileged to have inherited them. This book takes you deep into pristine jungles where you will meet chevrotain, hornbills and panther; and rural areas where people catch snakes, perform ‘black magic’ , and identify thieves using fascinating traditional methods.
Sometimes politically incorrect, sometimes verging on controversy, always thought provoking - who would ever imagine that all this could possibly go into the making of that staple of our daily lives, a simple cup of tea?*
NOT JUST ANOTHER STORY BY JHIMLI MUKHERJEE PANDEY
202pp, Rs 399; Aleph
When the rags-to-riches hit movie Slumdog Millionaire swept the Oscars in 2009, a young Kolkata journalist was tasked with tracking down Lakshmi, a young girl from Sonagachi who had been part of an award winning documentary about sex workers and their children. When the journalist finally tracked down the elusive Lakshmi, she was surprised to see how much the young girl had changed. Lakshmi, now called Anjali, was a high class escort - astute, beautiful and ambitious, she had found peace with her place in the world. As the journalist slowly got to know Lakshmi, she found out more about her mother and grandmother and the circumstances that had brought them into the brothels of Kolkata’s red light district.
The poignant chronicle of three generations of sex workes - Saraju, Malati and Lakshmi - takes us from a village in Bangladesh to a refugee camp in India in the years before the Bangladesh War to the murky alleys of Sonagachi to the posh Salt Lake area in Kolkata. At the heart of this compelling narrative is Lakshmi’s tenacious struggle to lift herself out of the squalour and unpredictability of Sonagachi’s brothels to find power and stability in her life.*
*All copy from book flap