Sand ‘n Ashes by Paul Tait


Title: Sand ‘n Ashes

Author: Paul Tait

Publisher: Book Baby

Date of Publication: 1 June 2017

Genre: Poetry

Rating: 3/5



“Five o’clock in my mind
Every day
Is Saturday”

From the writer of Stray Lines, Markings in the Cave and Pirate Conductor, comes this remarkable piece of post-modern poetry. Drawing on themes of pain, death, time and unreciprocated affection, the poems are a lot beyond the ordinary mix of cosmopolitan chaos and romanticised history. Their charm lies in the balance between depicting passionate emotions within glimpses of modern reality.

The poems reflect the post-modern dilemma in trying to reconcile the excesses of developmental façade with the inner human instincts. The book opens to reveal a ‘Table of Consented’ with its oxymoronic, numeric or simply ironical titles. Brief and succinct poems are presented in three parts. There is a unique amalgamation of the sorrows of the past and the worries of the future that leads to the existence within a convoluted present. It is the emotions that lie behind this ‘present’ that is particularized by the poet. He seeks to hold onto his values and not lose faith. It is his uprightness that holds the book together.

Most of the incidents and emotions dealt within the book are very relatable. Almost all the poems present some sort of graphological deviation in a staircase or mosaic pattern. Tait uses heavy word play that not only offers dual meanings but also reflects the duplicity of the world. A few instances include “Applause Pause, Pepperoni Pepperoni-oni, Enunciate, Enunciate-ate, Kerosene Spleen”. He uses free verse without any particular rhyme scheme. The poems are more conversational and informal making them quintessentially post-modern. Hate, Faithlessness, Double facedness, Deceitfulness are few of the vices of humanity that Tait explores. Though he heavily uses wordplay to hint at several meanings simultaneously but his tone is never satirical or expletive. He candidly portrays the ills of society and his own outlook towards them seen in the line “Time lies” from Dispatch. At all times there is a sense of honesty and desire to provide a solution as reflected in “Within us/ Rests the Demon” that is probably the moral of the entire collection. Tait asserts the notion that no society can progress towards faithfulness without self correction. Tait boldly conveys the truth despite the fears of censorship lurking about in a world that faces constant policing. Contrasts are pitted and internal debates held to humanize a broken humanity. Holistically they are echoes from an aching soul best seen in Choose a colour.
Towards the middle of the book, the poems get very intense. They seem like a rant about unreciprocated love and heartbreak but nostalgia overflows in each of these. Tait takes Fragments to a whole new level where Time is personified as a woman being chased by her lover. The imagery gets denser when modern metaphors intervene such as the comparison between a racing heart and a rail road. The poems in this section are more autobiographical with notions of man’s journey in this world, path to a Christian redemption, God’s grace and man’s innate desires towards worldly things that take him away from God. All these battles are to be fought in periods of absolute loneliness during which writing is the only refuge for the poet. Snippets prevail in Fragments II. They are akin to witty raps or late 1960s heavy metal rock. Single word lines aim to reinforce the poet’s voice. Here towards the end Tait discloses his emotions without any apprehension. It has touches of personal autobiographical elements as seen in the memoir to his mother.

Short, sweet and musically modern.


Joy in a Box and Other Stories by Sally Hanan


Title: Joy in a Box and Other Stories

Author: Sally Hanan

Publisher: Fire Drinkers Publishing

Date of Publication: 24 October 2014

Genre: Short Stories

Rating: 5/5



A must read collection of soul soothing tales.

It fills you on the inside completely. It makes you puff your chest up and stand tall in a crowd. At times it makes you jump high in the air. It makes you euphoric but most of all it becomes the reason for you to continue along the tiring journey of life. It is the feeling of ‘joy’ and Joy in a Box is a joyous read.
The collection encases a number of stories that are poignantly presented to charm the reader. The stories are emotionally captivating and realistic. Some of them are based on real life incidents that had been reported. Others are explications of Biblical narratives. The short stories deal with varied themes of pain that is felt at the loss of a dear one, the difficulties of overcoming the grief of a child’s disappearance, the happiness of childbirth, the shade of parental care, the quirkiness of marital relationship and teenage infatuation. Each story is an emotionally mature representations of human relations which makes the book highly easy to connect with. Most of the instances joy is never devoid of sorrow and vice versa. It is in the balance of both that the little joys of life are felt.
The varied angularity of the stories helps to give newer perspectives. The narrative is fresh, non-repetitive and swift. The stories move in a linear manner and unfold gradually. The style is simple and profound that tugs at the heart. Descriptions are vivid and detailed. The book doesn’t try to impose its views on the readers. All things unnecessary are avoided. It is the surprise endings that leave a sense of pathos. The book instils supernatural nature of faith that is personified in Jesus.

Sensitive, relevant and a mature collection providing a relaxing break from the mundanity of urban lifestyle.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Title: The Art of War

Author: Sun Tzu

Translator: Thomas Cleary

Publisher: Fingerprint Classics

Date of Publication: First published in 5th Century

Genre: Classics

Rating: 4/5





Words of wisdom straight from the horse’s mouth.

Originally written with ink on bamboo in circa 500 B.C., The Art of War by Tzu is of vital importance in a world of insurmountable conflict. Also known as The Thirteen Chapters, the text is laid out in 13 chapters of almost equal length. Each chapter begins with a broader title which confines straight forward postulations presented in a discrete, point wise manner. The text remains so readily comprehensible that no background to military fiction is required. A linearity of reading may be dropped to grab random points at a single go. Each point presents highly speculative sub themes requiring closer analysis. Despite its title, the text presents strategy which will be applicable in public administration and planning of modern Althusserian State apparatuses. Most theories of battle advocate diplomacy and cultivation of good relationship with other nations and their leaders. The points cover a broad sphere of planning, execution, manoeuvring and strategic tactical dispositions. Calculative speculation is considered analogous to the larger motive at hand. The text is highly didactic, argumentative and logical. Chapters of special importance include strategies of dealing with tough geographical terrain and the use of spies. With ideas such as “divine manipulation of the threads” juxtaposing “forethought”, it totally negates the notion of a Machiavellian fate working with a negative oppositional force to human endeavours. Victory is to be achieved through persistence and proper planning. Applicable at interpersonal and international levels, the text utilises the basics of human psychology to reinforce the combined impact of inner mental strength and physical endurance as the very essence of combat. The larger impression is that managerial skills can only be mastered through discipline and calm in the face of disorder. In teaching self-possession, Tzu musters the idea that the ability to utilise strengths and weaknesses of the opponent in equal proportions makes an eminent leader. Control is to be earned by clever administration, direct communication and visionary leadership.

Epigrammatic and profound.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino

Title: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller

Author: Italo Calvino

Publisher: Vintage Classics

Date of Publication: 1998

Genre: Modernism and Post Modernism

Rating: 4/5




Dodging from story to story in a periphrasis of what if(s) and would be(s).

In this experimental piece of fiction, Calvino deals with the theme of quest in a uniquely circular fashion. The book begins with an omniscient narrator addressing the reader in a welcome note to begin an unguarded reading experience of this much awaited release. Although initially it may seem that the narrator is guiding the reader towards a better understanding of the contents of the text but it is in reality a lure. The omniscient narrator is a split between Calvino and a narrative voice that further dichotomises into a narrator-traveller and the reader’s own self- reflection. It creates a beautiful mirroring effect which blurs the distinction between the reader inside the book and the real reader outside. This travel is like a ride through the book and also through the vastness of life in general in which reading is the only constant companion. Travelling at a railway station is juxtaposed with notions of time travelling in a world encased in lexical structures that entraps anyone who enters it. “Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade,” almost serves as a tagline.
Calvino engages the reader in the reading process that is both empirical and cognitive. Reading begins much before the book is opened; in the cover picture, the size of the book, the quality of pages and blurbs. The text is then more in the mind of the reader than in the words on the page. Reading is not restricted to texts alone. It also engages people just as the Reader is engaged in understanding the psychology of the Other Reader, her reasons behind choosing a particular book and estimating her tastes. Both the Reader and Other Reader have to constantly deal with the frustration of printing errors as the first section of each book they buy is repeated over and over in subsequent pages. Though the book stores guarantee to replace faulty copies, the new print editions are equally damaged. The books end abruptly at key junctures and climaxes are dashed to unfold a whole new set of characters in an unfamiliar setting with a completely different storyline. Chapters are titled alternately with numbers and names. While adding to the suspense and absurdity, it coalesces the usual spacio-temporality leading to jolts of inertia as we are thwarted in and out of tales. Though the book endlessly weaves up tales which never conclude but that should not be assumed as supposedly meaningless.
The text is episodic but contiguous. The Reader exchanges numbers with the Other Reader Ludmilla who is a voracious reader. Her phone is answered by her sister Lotaria who is of an opposite nature. She is grim and grumpy. From her the Reader learns of Ludmilla’s experiments at the Lab of Cimmerian Languages run by Professor Uttzi Tuzzi. The episodes combine comedy and satire while reflecting the difficulties of research in extinct languages or the loss of importance in the study of languages that has been replaced by scientific experimentation. The Non- Reader is a highly memorable figure who vows to never read even sign boards. This is his manner of silent protest against the indoctrination of reading as a compulsion since childhood. Another important figure is Silas Flannery and his suffering of the writer’s block. Echoing J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, this episode sets into motion the relation between the real and the illusion as also that of the writer with the reader, the audience, the publishing house and the cultural image of authorship.
Calvino’s style is analogous to the elasticity of his themes. He glides between ideas just as each incomplete story flows into another incomplete story repetitively. The suspense that is built initially is elevated and held till the very end. The last chapter being the shortest, sees the marriage between the Reader and Other Reader as this engaging process of reading and interpreting becomes never ending. Travel does not lead to physical displacement but a mobility in and out of textual nuances enclosing poetic fluidity.

A thrilling topsy turvy ride compressing the existential exuberance within the literary community and book loving circles.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Title: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Publisher: Penguin

Date of Publication: First published in 1967

Genre: Modernism and Post-Modernism

Rating: 4/5

An enticing tale of love, lust and kinship of a generation doomed to eventual solitary confinement.

Embedded in a magically realistic world that hazes the distinction between the real and the illusive, One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the best outcomes of the Boom Literature. Condemned to repeat the mistakes of their previous generations, Marquez has given his protagonists a very limited selection of names. The men are named Jose Arcadio or Aureliano and the women are named Ursula, Amaranta or Remedios. This not only foregrounds the cyclical repetitiveness of historical events that obstructs chronological order but also highlights the circumlocutive narratology. The patriarch of the family Jose Arcadio Buendia is impulsive and inquisitive. The novel opens with the necessity of avoiding the conception of a child with a pig’s tail that serves as a Barthian “narrative enigma”. The entire novel takes place between this fear and its fulfilment although it remains metaphorical as most characters don’t even think about it. Lust abounds with consanguineous marriages while aunts seduce nephews. Set in the idyllic paradise of Macondo, Melaquides’ gypsies bring along a set of inventions that increases Buendia’s obsession to establish contact with civilisation. The innocence and ignorance of isolation is wrecked as Ursula discovers a route to the outside world. She returns with fashionable outfits that are totally unknown to Macondo.
This channelizes a series of events generating a domino effect. The residents of Macondo suddenly realise their link to the greater world and the impressionistic effect of this world on them. It leads to the mysterious arrival of Rebecca who eats mud and whitewash. Two Indian siblings suffering from the insomnia plague arrive and inflict the town which slowly begins to lose memory that is restored by Melaquiades’ return from death. It is the first death they have ever heard of. This short lived joy is overshadowed by civil war between the Conservatives and Liberals amidst the influx of modern technology and arrival of the railway creating a capitalistic society and the eventual murder of peacefully protesting banana plantation workers.
There is a parody of organised governance that is only outwardly democratic. Capitalism provides increased employment but it takes away the true value of the worker who is reduced to a neglected tool of the administration. Violence grips Macondo as Amaranta dies a virgin while Meme turns mute and is interred into a convent. Incessant cleansing rains eat away all of Aureliano Segundo’s fortunes as Aureliano’s (II) newborn is devoured by ants. Fulfilment of Melaquides’ prophecies abruptly ends the novel in ruthless solitude. A work of true genius imbibing unrealistic dimensions into a holistic, thought provoking masterpiece.
The narrative is turbulent and fast paced. The oft recurring names can lead to a lot of confusion. Events from Columbian history have been mixed with magical occurrences that call for some knowledge of Latin American history and politics. On the whole, One Hundred Years of Solitude is not a book for leisure reading. It requires close attentive reading to avoid confusions that may arise due to unfamiliarity. Metafictionality adds to the black humour and satire of real political events.

Recklessly gripping with tinges of dark humour and pathos.

Click the book cover to grab your copy. Happy Reading!