#GetLit: And the Man Booker Goes to…

#GetLit
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The winner at the 2017 Ceremony of the Man Booker Prize. (Source)

…George Saunders for Lincoln in the Bardo!

Ok, I gotta admit I did not see this coming although many folks were vying for him. I read Lincoln in the Bardo in my #FinestFiction challenge and found it hard to follow. While the format was confusing to me, and I didn’t know half the time who was who, what emanated clearly from the pages was the grief Lincoln felt for his dead son. Congratulations though to Saunders, the second American in a row to win the prize. Last year belonged to Paul Beatty and you can read my review of The Sellout here.

Here are other books from the Man Booker Prize I reviewed on the blog:

4 3 2 1: A Novel by Paul Auster
Elmet 
by Fiona Mozley
Autumn by Ali Smith
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

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In this week’s edition of a new project: Books and Looks! 

I’ve always been enthralled with fashion, for as much as I love reading. So I thought why not combine the two? And instead of just doing “lookbooks” — why not do “booklooks” instead?

My photo above is a combination of things I’m currently into: metallic boots, plaid blazers (plaid everything tbvfh), and my book subscription to Book of the Month. What I wasn’t unfortunately into was Diksha Basu’s book The Windfall which I gave a measly rating of two stars. As much as I wanted to like/love it, I found myself wondering how I even managed to finish it. True, it was entertaining, but other than that fact, it was a disappointment. While the characters were at times hilariously unbelievable, there was something I can’t quite put my finger on. But more on those thoughts later…

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Photo from The New York Times Book Review weekly newsletter

In other book news… October 2017 is the 100th year since the Russian Revolution, and I’m currently making my way through China Mieville’s October: The Story of the Russian Revolution painstakingly and very, very slowly. I also just got Masha Gessen’s book so I’m looking forward to that. Haymarket Books also compiled a bunch of reading, check it out if you are so inclined.

Have a great reading-weekend!

That Big Love, with Paul Auster (A Book Review of ‘4 3 2 1: A Novel’)

Book Reviews, Fiction, Soul + Spirit

The moment you turn the last page of a book, finally heaving a sigh of relief or perhaps some dejection at the end of a journey you wanted to go on, you become a different person.

It’s funny how I can always remember the empty feeling I’m left after finishing a really good book, a kind of piercing emotion that throws me off every single time. Such as when I read Exit West, during my lunch break at work. Having to walk back to my desk was a little disconcerting, having just spent so much time, all of it memorable with Nadia and Saeed as they drifted from one place to another. It almost feels like spending a lifetime with these people, as if these characters were people whose numbers I had saved on my phone, that I could call up on and check in whenever I want.

After finishing Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1: A Novel (Indiebound) one evening, I had to take a walk. I could’ve settled for my neighborhood, a suburb south of San Francisco, but instead I headed to the nearest mall by my house. I felt like I needed to engulf myself in a sea of strangers.

The book is the story of a young man, Archie Ferguson, who lives four different versions of his life, a grand tale, a coming-of-age story.

On my short drive to the mall, I was thinking about the boy. In the eleven days that I spent with the book, not once did this character leave my mind. There’s the story, or stories I should say, the structure, and the character that struck me over and over again as I slogged my way through the brick of a book 4 3 2 1 was.

First, there was the story of Archie Ferguson, actually, the many stories of Archie Ferguson from his grandfather’s descent in New York City up until his youngest son’s marriage to the beautiful Rose Adler, Archie’s mom. Getting to know his parents’ story and his birth, his childhood in its many variants was interesting, because this way, you get to know Archie four more times as intimate as you normally would in a typical novel. Who he was was pretty consistent, a mild-mannered child whose internal world was filled with characters from the books that he read, who was incredibly drawn to the people in his childhood, people who revolved around him that he couldn’t seem to let go off. This was a common thread throughout his life, no matter which version I was reading.

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Second, the structure is seamless, as if there were events from another version or distinct scenes that would continue on to the next one, as if the four stories was one whole epic called The Book of Terrestrial Life. This is such a masterpiece in its entirety, a labor of love, except for a few quirks and the early deaths that made me wonder if they were intentional or quite frankly, if Auster just got lazy. (I mean, I’m struggling to write only one book but here’s Auster with four different versions of the same story, four books all in all). I like that he really kept it consistent, that Archie was Archie through and through, with the kind heart always looking for the big love that he always dreamt of.

#FinestFiction Wrap-Up: Who Will Win This Year’s Man Booker Prize?

Sunday Spotlight

For the past two months, I’ve incorporated titles long-listed for the Man Booker Prize on my reading list. I tried to read every single book religiously and although the outcome is far from perfect, I’m happy to say that I met about 80% of my goal.

My #FinestFiction reading challenge was a challenge in pushing through with genres I’m not used to, and a commitment to expand my reading with work that I wouldn’t have read otherwise.

There were books that I absolutely loved. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is one, and so is Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. And then there were books that I started but never finished like Solar Bones by Mike McCormack and The History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. There were also books that I didn’t care for that I ended up loving, like Ali Smith’s Autumn and Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1: A Novel.

I had a lot of fun as I made my way through each book, and I think I’m going to do it again next year. There’s nothing like reading out of your usual picks, out of your comfort zone to push you into learning more about the world, a process that ends up with you learning more about yourself.

The short list was announced back in September and I was a little shocked that the titles I was anticipating to be on the list weren’t (!) — I thought Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad was going to be a shoo-in! Nevertheless, I’m quite happy *with* some of the titles that made it.

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Elmet by Fiona Mozley (read my book review)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (read my book review)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
4 3 2 1: A Novel by Paul Auster (book review out soon!)
History of Wolves: A Novel by Emily Fridlund
Autumn: A Novel by Ali Smith (read my book review)

At first I was rooting for Hamid, and then Smith, and then Auster, and then Mozley. Right now, I can’t really make up my mind because any of these four are plausible winners. At this point, I’d be happy for any of these titles to win the prize.

Who are you rooting for?
Sign up below to win a copy of the winning title! 

The Way We See Things, with Fiona Mozley (A Book Review of ‘Elmet’)

Book Reviews, fiction

Count Elmet (Amazon) by Fiona Mozley as an unexpectedly beautiful read, a tender tome of family and loyalty.

As with the other titles on the Man Book Prize, I wouldn’t have explored this book if it weren’t for my #FinestFiction reading challenge. This felt a little like reading Autumn by Ali Smith, to go beyond the first few pages for a book filled with luminosity, to find ways to just stay with it. And I’m glad that I stayed with it; otherwise, I wouldn’t have met the intense family of three.

Right from the start, what slowly pulled me in was the narrator. There are two narratives in the story, one told in the present, a person on the run, while the other weaves a fabric, draws the roots. The narrator of both stories is  lonesome boy named Daniel, the son of Daddy and sister of Cathy, quiet in his ways, different from other kids like his sister.

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The family lived in the outskirts of town atop a hill, away from everybody else in their village. Daddy provided for the family by performing odd jobs for different people, at times marred by violence, with prize fights every now and then. He always won. People put bets on him, and many more made money out of his victories. At the end of the day, there’s Cathy, Daddy and Daniel.

Living outside the realms of what “normal” is, him and Cathy were often bullied by other children. On one occasion where Cathy fought back, she was reprimanded and got in trouble instead of the boys who mocked and bothered them. Daddy was somber when he was told.

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Reading the World with Ali Smith (A Book Review of ‘Autumn: A Novel’)

Book Reviews, Fiction

“What you reading?”

This was the question Daniel Gluck, an older man (almost a century old) with the wisest soul would ask Elisabeth, his new, young neighbor every time they took walks. Before you go down that route, it’s not what you think.

Autumn: A Novel (Amazon | Indiebound) by Ali Smith is a novel set in the UK, not a love story but a story about love in many forms.

There’s Elisabeth and her mom, living alongside their neighbor, Mr. Daniel Gluck, and the world around them revolving in varying degrees of discovery and reconciliation.

The story starts with Daniel Gluck in reverie, washed off in an island where he is strong, he can run, and he is able to fashion suits of leaves for himself. He is beyond elated. In real life, he has been sleeping for what seems like forever while Elisabeth reads to him, watches him.

This how the odd friends met: Elisabeth was supposed to write about their neighbor but her mother advised her to make it all up. The write-up was good (“A Portrait in Words Of Our Next Door Neighbour”), so much so that her mother ended up showing it to their neighbor after all. Good ol’ Daniel Gluck was amused.

Their first meeting, a denial on the young one’s part, on account of embarrassment. Said Elisabeth was her sister.

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Theirs was no ordinary friendship, no feudal relationship. They talked about arts, books, ways of looking at the world. The ever-present question, always Gluck’s greeting to the young one was: What you reading? 

Falling Hard for September’s Book List

Sunday Spotlight

With each new season comes the promise of new releases and must-reads — consider me stoked as I explore this month’s book list!

I’ve been hard at work with my #FinestFiction reading challenge and a few things I’ve learned from immersing myself in the Man Book Prize 2017 longlist:

  • Reading Irish literature was a new experience, although I originally started with John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies which isn’t part of the list.
  • I don’t think I’m smart enough for some titles, because I just don’t get them. Case in point: George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo.
  • I had to put a book down without finishing it, because it bored me to death. Do I just need to be more patient? I was about 1/3 into the book before I realized that it wasn’t really working out for me. Sorry, History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund.

I’m down to the last few titles on the list, and I’m eagerly anticipating the announcement of the shortlist on September 13.

But back to this month’s goodies. The titles from the longest are included and I’ve been really purposeful as well about other titles that I wanted to include. I want my reading list to always reflect the social and political realities of the day, an ode to one of my core beliefs: the power of literature to shape and influence change.

A lot of the titles are around immigration and the struggles that come along with it. As an immigrant myself, I gravitate towards literature that explores and illuminates this topic, a universal theme of life and survival.

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33621427Home Fire: A Novel by Kamila Shamsie
Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed. 

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The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
In 1980, a rural Cuban family is torn apart during the Mariel Boatlift. Uxbal Encarnación—father, husband, political insurgent—refuses to leave behind the revolutionary ideals and lush tomato farms of his sun-soaked homeland. His wife Soledad takes young Isabel and Ulises hostage and flees with them to America, leaving behind Uxbal for the promise of a better life. But instead of settling with fellow Cuban immigrants in Miami’s familiar heat, Soledad pushes further north into the stark, wintry landscape of Hartford, Connecticut. There, in the long shadow of their estranged patriarch, now just a distant memory, the exiled mother and her children begin a process of growth and transformation.

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Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
Once a year, on All Souls’ Day, it is said in Ireland that the dead may return. Solar Bones is the story of one such visit. Marcus Conway, a middle-aged engineer, turns up one afternoon at his kitchen table and considers the events that took him away and then brought him home again. Funny and strange, McCormack’s ambitious and other-worldly novel plays with form and defies convention. This is profound new work is by one of Ireland’s most important contemporary novelists. A beautiful and haunting elegy, this story of order and chaos, love and loss captures how minor decisions ripple into waves and test our integrity every day.

35711376Elmer by Fiona Mozley
Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned sour and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted. When they were younger, Daniel and Cathy had gone to school. But they were not like the other children then, and they were even less like them now. Sometimes Daddy disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn’t true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. All the while, the terrible violence in Daddy grew.

32569560The Windfall by Diksha Basu
For the past thirty years, Mr. and Mrs. Jha’s lives have been defined by cramped spaces, cut corners, gossipy neighbors, and the small dramas of stolen yoga pants and stale marriages. They thought they’d settled comfortably into their golden years, pleased with their son’s acceptance into an American business school. But then Mr. Jha comes into an enormous and unexpected sum of money, and moves his wife from their housing complex in East Delhi to the super-rich side of town, where he becomes eager to fit in as a man of status: skinny ties, hired guards, shoe-polishing machines, and all.

302446264 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
Nearly two weeks early, on March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four identical Fergusons made of the same DNA, four boys who are the same boy, go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Athletic skills and sex lives and friendships and intellectual passions contrast. Each Ferguson falls under the spell of the magnificent Amy Schneiderman, yet each Amy and each Ferguson have a relationship like no other. Meanwhile, readers will take in each Ferguson’s pleasures and ache from each Ferguson’s pains, as the mortal plot of each Ferguson’s life rushes on.

1734867Luha ng Buwaya by Amado V. Hernandez
A novel. Barrio peasants led by a local schoolteacher fight greed and oppression and discover a new faith in themselves.

 

 

33283659Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Midwinter in the early years of this century. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home. Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed. The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must.

30212107Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
Thomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars—against the Sioux and the Yurok—and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in.

I’ve got some major reading to do this month! Are you diving into any of these books? Share them in the comments below and happy reading!

#GetLit: Labor Day & Pan Dulce

#GetLit

Two book reviews in one week — that’s a first! I guess that’s what happens when your writing can’t keep up with your reading. This week, I published my book reviews for Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel on the blog. Check them out if you’re deciding what book you’re going to read next!

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I’m thinking about so many folks out there affected by Hurricane Harvey, and I’ve been debating how I can best help. One thing’s for sure though — do not donate to Red Cross! After this report from NPR and ProPublica came out, I’m not sure I trust the organization to actually do its job. Instead, check out this list compiled by the Crunk Feminist Collective which features organizations focused on people of color and other marginalized communities.

I know most folks are heading out this weekend since it’s a long way, in commemoration of Labor Day. Don’t forget though that this holiday was only invented after governments around the world decided to take the historical significance of the labor movement away from May 1st, away from any Communist ideology. Instead, we get a random date on the calendar which has been synonymous with picnics and retail sales.

Fret not though, Libromance got something for you: read up on posts around the struggle of workers around the world and get educated.

Speaking of workers, here’s a story that brought me to tears this week: as Hurricane Harvey pummeled Texas, I came across an article about four Mexican workers at the El Bolillo Bakery trapped by the heavy rain.

What Alvarado didn’t know was that the four bakers trapped inside the bakery would grow restless.

“They were desperate to get to their families and they couldn’t,” Alvarado said.

So they turned to what they knew best: baking.

For two days, the trapped bakers churned out hundreds of pieces of bread, filling the shelves again with bolillos (a Mexican sandwich bread), kolaches and their signature pan dulce.

You can donate to the workers and their families here directly — a great way to honor workers like Jorge at the bakery this Labor Day.

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Here’s a quick update on my #FinestFiction reading challenge: I am on book no. 8, Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire! So far, my top picks are (still) Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West and Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. I’m also thinking of Ali Smith’s Autumn, which I have yet to review. I’ve got about a month until the winner is announced (October 17)!

Me and my #FinestFiction stack. 

Happy Fall reading! 

On Love & Refuge, with Mohsin Hamid (A Book Review of “Exit West”)

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love

When Warsan Shire, Nigerian poet wrote No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark, I knew that in spite of my experiences as an immigrant, I knew nothing about being a refugee.

Since the refugee crisis broke in the Middle East, I’ve read different stories about the forced migration of millions of people from Libya, Syria and other countries to neighboring nations and particularly Europe.

Much of the focus in the media has been the trek itself — from buses of refugees in the Balkans, boats carrying migrants capsizing in the Mediterranean sea from Libya to Italy, where they could be met with people smugglers and human traffickers.

Over a year ago, I wrote about how I’ve always turned to literature to try to make sense of things. As I plow through my #FinestFiction reading list, the refugee crisis came to light again as I picked up Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (Amazon | Indiebound).

The book follows the lives of reluctant lovers (at first), Nadia and Saeed in the process of living, of leaving. Saeed is very much the son of his parents, timid and reserved, while Nadia is out on her own, having left the roof of her parents’ house as soon as she was able to. She dons black robes for protection, as she rides her motorcycle through the city of an unspecified country.

ExitWest - QuotesIt is a love story as much as it is a story of migration and transitions. Instead of focusing on the journey out, what Hamid focused on was how wars move and change people. In Exit West, he showed this up close.

The unfolding war within the city felt personal. It felt incredibly intimate. One day Nadia and Saeed would meet after spending the day in their respective offices, the next day they were left wondering why one of their bosses stopped coming to work, eventually closing down the business.

Electricity went out. People locked themselves in, bolted their doors. Neighbors became militants. With attacks happening daily and fearing for their lives and safety (and sanity), the two sought to find a way out.

Doors, which became prominent throughout the book, became the mode of transportation. I found it funny that I was reading about doors again, after just having read Magda Szabó’s The Door. After paying an agent and putting their trust in a man they barely knew, they waited and prayed for passage.

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Soon they were in settled in a camp in Mykonos. And then in a mansion in London. And then in another camp, where they worked daily to build homes for other refugees. And finally, in the Marina past San Francisco.

They passed through many doors, as other people around the world did in search of home, of love, of safety. With each time they emerged from the other side, they became more of themselves. That even though they went through the same horrific situations, as victims of xenophobic and racist attacks, Hamid focused more on the ebb and flow of their relationship.

I once read a Goodreads review that summed up this book in a phrase: quietly brutal, quietly beautiful. This book was a brilliant read that made me tear up multiple times. Hamid’s language is simple, his words sparse but searing as he narrates a tale of love and refuge, of how we seek safety and comfort in foreign places, in each other, from strangers.

In her poem, Warsan also wrote no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying – leave, run away from me now, I don’t know what I’ve become. As much as time changes all of us, being far-flung changes the dynamics and the chemistry of love. Nothing is ever the same, and the key is to let it all out in the open, whether it changes us or not.

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Exit West (Amazon | Indiebound) by Mohsin Hamid
Riverbed Books (240 pages)
March 7, 2017
My rating: ★★★★★
Exit West

Books for Days: My August Reading List

Sunday Spotlight

A quick update: I met my reading goals last month! Every book in my July reading list was crossed off, with a day to spare (which gave me a good head start for August).

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You can find my book reviews here, with another one coming out next week for Magda Szabó's The Door:

I Paint My Reality by Frida Kahlo
The Botany of Desire 
by Michael Pollan
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
 by Arundhati Roy
Gagamba: A Novel by F. Sionil José

I usually read 4-5 books a month, giving myself a week to finish each one. But my #FinestFiction reading challenge has actually challenged me to change it up a bit, so that I can meet my goal of reading all of the books longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize by October.

And I'm off to a great start! I've already finished two on my list, and I'm slowly making my way through two new ones. Two of the books on the list are actually advanced reader copies, and I'm so delighted that I got the chance to read and review them. I also started using Book of the Month, which lets me buy copies at a much cheaper price.

I'm doubling my reading efforts this month, and already I feel a slight tinge of anxiety because I know I'm on a schedule. So how do I manage to read up? The biggest thing is cutting up screen time. If there is any indication of how I should find more time to read, the previous week was a successful trial.

In a day, I managed to find about 2-3 hours of reading time — on my breaks at work, when I'm moving my car (which is every two hours), after dinner, before bed. On days when I'm not in meetings, you can usually find me curled up on the couch, with a book in hand and a cup of tea in the other.

On Tuesday last week, I finished Mohsin Hamid's Exit West on my lunch break. It felt so disorienting to be immersed in the life of the main characters of the book, this couple who fled their homeland, and know so many intimate details about them while I slowly walked back to my desk.

I also noticed how a thread of connection in each title coarses through what I read: the edition of The Door I have is written with a preface by Ali Smith, whose book I'm getting ready to read in a couple of weeks. Doors were also a common theme in Exit West, as I stared at many, many entryways in my physical realm.

With each book I finish, my world gets bigger. And I am humbled by the fact that the more I learn, the less I know. I let it all sink in. I like to think that there are many, many rooms within my body, where each of the most memorable characters I've read live. Emerence from The Door lives somewhere in my chest, Anjum from The Ministry of Utmost Happiness behind a door in my left shoulder.

Here are this month's titles:

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Amazon | Indiebound)
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (Amazon | Indiebound)
The Fix by Jonathan Tepperman (Amazon | Indiebound)
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry (Amazon |Indiebound)
Tuwing Ikatlong Sabado (Every Third Saturday) by Words Anonymous, edited by Juan Miguel Severo (Goodreads)
Autumn by Ali Smith (Amazon | Indiebound)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Amazon | Indiebound)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Amazon | Indiebound)

If you've read or are currently reading any of these titles, let me know in the comments below. Happy reading!

#GetLit: Galaxies & Universe

#GetLit

After Saeed, one of the characters of Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (Amazon | Indiebound) made a reference to a French photographer who manipulated his photos in such a way that only the night sky lights up entire cities, I knew I had to look.

A quick Google search and finally, I came upon Thierry Cohen. His series called Darkened Cities imposed two different elements: a vibrant night sky and the outline of famous cities. The results are astonishing. Peep a few of the series below, and read an article from WIRED here.

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San Francisco

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New York City

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With my #FinestFiction reading challenge as well as new book subscriptions, I can’t ignore my reality at the moment: I’m running out of room to put my books in. I’ve tried different ways — converting certain spaces to make room for bookshelves, filling corners with books, stashing some in the garage but as of late, I’ve been just piling them in stacks in my bedroom. If you’ve got any ideas, let me know! For now, I can only ogle at these interiors — so warm and generous and intentional towards book lovers.

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More of these here.

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I receive a weekly newsletter from Austin Kleon, author of a number of creativity books and I always look forward to what he shares. Today’s newsletter included these images and a worthy tip: never pay for wifi.

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Keep these things in mind on your next flight!

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“D’you know why God made Hijras?” she asked Aftab one afternoon while she flipped through a dog-eared 1967 issue of Vogue, lingering over the blonde ladies with bare legs who so enthralled her.
“No, why?”
“It was an experiment. He decided to create something, a living creature that is incapable of happiness. So he made us.”

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy