Sunday, March 27, 2016

That Woman You See by Sujata Parashar : A Review


BOOK TITLE: That Woman You See

ISBN/ASIN: 978-9383938193

AUTHOR: Sujata Parashar

GENRE: Fiction / Short Stories

NUMBER OF PAGES: 120

FORMAT: Paperback

SERIES / STANDALONE: Standalone

HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: I thank Writersmelon for this review copy

SUMMARY:

The book attempts to explore the heart and mind of the modern Indian woman; who is tired of suppressing her true nature, dreams and desires (in the largely patriarchal society) and wishes to express herself and do her own thing even at the cost of appearing odd and unconventional in front of her family and society at large. The flavour of each story is different. And the author has experimented with narrative style and form. The themes in the book include: humour, pathos, love, infidelity, arranged marriage, colour bias, hope and joy. Giving it a whole new twist, the collection ends with a poem titled - 'That woman you see,' which is also the title of the book and gives out a brief description of the collection.

FIRST IMPRESSION:

When I received the book and held it for the first time, the first thing I noticed was the book's slim size. Wondering how much power could such a small book pack, considering the theme it was supposed to be dealing with, I went through it. To say I was intrigued would be an understatement. The book had a simple and alluring cover that worked well for me. The black and pink tones seemed fitting for the theme of the book.

REVIEW:

Women centric books are rare, and those that glorify women are rarer. It is hard to find a well written book that does not
  • make a woman a man's (sometimes powerful) sidekick
  • stereotype women and make them follow certain 'traits' - women are weaker, are compulsive shoppers etc.
  • objectify women into mere mindless of desire and attraction
  • write about 'women protagonists' who fall in love with that arrogant man and wait for him to reciprocate (hate / love stories)
  • become a mushy romance where damsels in distress wait for their (dark, black, sad, brooding) knight in shining armor to save them
Yes, that above list got increasingly horrific on purpose. Many 'novels' today fall into either one of these criteria. Which was why it was a plesant experience to read 'The Woman You See'. Not because it did not make women impervious to the above mentioned things but at least tries to show the forever hidden 'other side'. Special thanks to the author for this particular reason. The collection of nine stories, each in a different flavour managed to hold my attention. Some worked, some didn't. Which is why I am going to comment on each individual story rather than the book as a whole.

Ganga - she who is pure

It is a simple but powerful story. Not unique, and definitely not the best start for the book. But the name and the tagline, referring to the holy river and the underlying euphemism about how a purity of a woman is not in her body but in her soul is the highlight of this story. The end that captured the selfishness of the male mind was written well but the story fell flat in the narration at places. Ganga was not as strong as I expected her to be.

Gauri - she who is fair

A brilliantly crafted narrative. A really welcome change from the monotonous, boring common saas - bahu sagas 'with the evil mother in law trying to kill her daughter in law and the younger woman trying to one up the older one'. This story deals with one of the most important problems women face even in modern society - their skin color. Excellent imagination, a fair mother in law and a wheatish daughter in law and how the women interact. Lack of quotation marks that made me confuse between dialogues and narration was my main complaint.

Radhika - she who is successful

A story that would have worked wonders if it were dealt with rightly. Women in politics are always so versatile and give more material to ponder. But though Radhika was a successful woman who teaches the men who ruined her a lesson, the story loses its impact because of two major things. One dimensional characterisation where Radhika talks about her suffering and the decisions leading to it - without talking about the man who was responsible for it does not help the reader sympathise with her. A little more detail about the man would have connected well with the story. The decisions she finally takes aren't what you would expect a strong woman to take - especially one who has been through all that and then some.

Riddhima - she who is full of love

Simple narration, but a powerful point about how most women seldom realise that they are lovable and worth every bit of affection they get. The 'good for all' happy ending makes this a likable read but the length could have been easily reduced by making off with few characters (like Hema - whose main purpose was to introduce us to the fact that Riddhima was lovable but she did not realise it. I was expecting more to her role and was disappointed to know it was not the case). If it were not for the roundabout approach, this story would have become one of my favorites.

Sheeba - a promise

Dealing with the evergreen office politics and betrayal theme, this talks about a woman who holds a man to his promise. Subtly hinting about how women are taken for granted in most workplaces even nowadays, and carefully hinting at how a strong willed woman could sidestep backbiting and slimeball flattery and get what she needs is what makes this story a good one. Lack of quotation marks, yet again, is the reason why I got really confused between Sheeba's thoughts and the story - so much so that at times I was confused if it was a first person narrative.

Shikha - she who is powerful

A good story that thankfully deals with the most neglected segment of womenfolk - the housewives. While the crux itself reminded me of a famous tamil / malayalam bilingual movie that released last year, the narration made it passable. Points given to the theme - not so much for the content. And of course, there was the confusion between Rishi and Ritwik, making me wonder if the story must have been proofread some more.

Shivangita - she who has courage

Everything from the story's narration style to the content to the crux is unique and this story will remain in my memory mainly for its boldness. Written in the form of a dead mother's letter to her son, and his reactions to it, this story deals with the ultra sensitive issue of dissatisfaction in marriage and how a couple might go in search of other avenues and why a marriage doesn't necessarily mean compatibility. I liked how Shivangita as a character made an impression on me without ever being present in the story. No real complaints in this story.

Shruti - she who hears

A first person narrative with a surprising twist. Again a bold story, of longing, yearning and how love can be found in the most unlikely of places at the wrongest of times - in a client meeting when it has become too late to love. An office romance style of story that happens in a coffee shop. Transient life at the parting of ways, with nice narration.

Sona - she who is valuable

Again a letter or a heartfelt story written from a lady to a man. Bittersweet love clearly based on memories and how a woman's love is deep and sometimes unreciprocated. Given all the other stories in the book, this one gave a smooth ending to the book as a whole but failed to show why exactly Sona was valuable.

Finally, the poem that sums up the book and its purpose, impacted my review in more ways than one. My favorite verse, something that I take back from this book would be:

The woman you see
is not the woman you know
for the woman you know
has sides you've yet to see

Overall comments:

The collection of stories has different flavors and realistic characters. Some make an impact, some don't. But the book is in need of some real proofreading. While the language is good and pleasant to read, the lack of punctuation seriously ruined my enjoyment of the stories. Missing quotation marks that separated dialogues from the story passages, sometimes even sentence fillers hamper the smooth flow of words, making me wonder if the printing of the book would have an impact of how readers perceive it, and take the focus away from the brilliantly crafted and painstakingly collated stories.

WHAT I LIKED:

  • The theme. Special mention to that
  • The simplistic narration - attractive to even casual readers.
  • Writing about normal everyday women instead of superheroes and concentrating on their lesser known sides was a great idea
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER:

  • The book needs some serious proofreading to correct obvious printing errors
  • Certain stories fail to make much of an impact but are still likeable
  • The summary could have given a bit more detailed idea of what was inside.
VERDICT:

A book for people who want to read women centric stories that aren't objectifying mushy romances about 'apparently strong' weaklings. A nice break from monotony.

RATING: 4/5

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sujata Parashar is a novelist, poet, short story writer and social worker. Her bestselling debut novel, ‘In Pursuit of Infidelity,’ explored the man - woman relationship outside the institution of marriage from a modern woman’s perspective. The second in the series, ‘In Pursuit of Ecstasy,’ studied the youth – parent relationship in modern times and made an attempt to portray how the seeds of dissension between the two impacts society at large. The book was long listed for the Economist Crossword Book Award 2012. Her latest novel, the third in the “Pursuit” series, ‘In Pursuit of a Lesser Offence,’ was released in 2014 and explores the relevance of the institution of marriage in current times. Her first short - fiction, ‘Wake me only when the Sun is high’ (2011), and her first book of poems in the series, ‘Poetry Out and Loud’ (2012) have won awards. She is active in literary circles and contributes to literature as a member of the planning board of the Kumaon Literary Festival (KLF) and Delhi Poetry Festival (DPF).

Sujata holds a Masters in Human Rights and is a certified Travel and Tourism professional. She also has a rich and diverse professional portfolio: She has worked for a European airline, a business hotel in India and a seaside resort in Singapore before joining the social sector as a social worker and trainer. She is currently on the board of Empowering Minds; a national level NGO located in Delhi.

This is her first collection of short stories. The nine stories in the collection focus on the modern Indian woman, who is bold, aspirational and expressive. The themes vary from office politics to colour bias, love, marriage and modern day relationships et al. Sujata loves to travel and unwinds by watching a period film.

EDITIONS AVAILABLE: Paperback, Kindle

PRICE Rs. 195 for Paperback, Free on Kindle Unlimited

BOOK LINKS: Amazon

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