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We That Are Young by Preti Taneja
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We That Are Young

by Preti Taneja

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332474,330 (3.67)5

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I’m just not lidderary enough for this one.

A [2] average is the best compromise as my rating sense ranged from [1] to [3].

Intro
It was a real challenge to read and finish this book and I was proceeding for only 10 or so pages a day for the longest time. There were only brief segments that were compelling enough to get through more. I still find it an interesting exercise to try to define what my problems were, even if they might only be my own and no one else’s.

Structure and Pacing
The book is divided into 6 sections, 5 are each assigned to the 5 major younger generation characters and a 6th general titular section represents a summing up. The patriarch character has occasional interjections into the younger generation sections. The beginning I “Jivan” and II “Gargi” sections were slow going, III “Radha” started to really pick it up, IV “Jeet” slowed it down all over again, V “Sita” crept to a tragic catharsis, VI “We That Are Young” seemed to just fizzle out into an obscurity where you are not quite sure what happened to everyone.

Characters
Since it is already telegraphed in the title (which is part of Edgar’s concluding speech) and as part of the synopsis and blurb information, there is no spoiler in saying that most of the WTAY characters have a parallel in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Depending on your level of familiarity with that play you can proceed without a refresher or do a quick survey through various online plot summaries. That of course may increase the predictability of the plot for some but I still found increased suspense from anticipating what the modern twists would be.

I rather enjoy The Fool as a favourite King Lear character so I was disappointed that there wasn’t an equivalent in WTAY. Bapuji’s mother Nanu is with him most of the way, but she doesn’t play anything like ‘the speaker of truth to power’ role.

Really, almost all of the characters were pretty shallow and unsympathetic most of the way through. Only Jivan in his ‘fish out of water’ character at the start and Jeet in his ‘Edgar at the end’ were at all enjoyable. That ratio of unlikeability seems like heavy odds. Although you'd assume that the Cordelia and King Lear characters are meant to invoke some sympathy and audience identification, I never felt that for Sita and Bapuji. It is possible that a more cynical view was intended though.

Untranslated language
There is hardly any concession to the reader here. Only very rarely is an interjected Hindi or Urdu word or expression explained right away with its English equivalent added to the text. Some of the untranslated words will have a identifiable meaning in context in that they are obviously a food or a drink. Many can be interpreted by a guess, e.g. “Chup” seemed to be the equivalent of “Shut up” because people were silenced by it. There are no footnotes or afterword notes to explain anything.
This might not seem that daunting if the reader is prepared to accept some degree of language immersion, but there is rarely a page where several such words or expressions did not occur. I started marking them with the intention of looking them up but that was so slow and frustrating and was delaying my reading progress so much further that I ended up going back to the blur of guessed definitions by context for most of the book. That may not matter to some readers, but not understanding what I am reading is quite a giant dislike for me.
Sidenote: I had a brief hope that the North American edition which is due to be published August 28, 2018 might include some footnotes for the non-UK non-India reader. Its now promised 496 page length doesn’t make that very likely. This present UK edition was 553 pages without footnotes.

#ThereIsAlwaysOne (or More)
With so many foreign words and expressions it is hard to judge the full extent of the typos and copy-editing errors but these ones jumped out for me i.e. were enough to stop my reading and cause me to go back to try to understand what was wrong with the sentence.
Pg. 140 “every grainstore and damn…” (s/b “dam”?, context seems to be that of building structures) Pg. 208 “And Deepak’s grins form his place on the floor…” (s/b “from”?, context seems to be what location he is at).
Pg. 339 “an almost infinite variety meanings” (s/b “variety of meanings”?)
Pg. 368 “First I will explain to you the crore value of beauty…” (s/b “core”?)
Pg. 388 “He tries to reach the forth circle…” (s/b “fourth” based on the context of the nine circles of the slum that are mentioned)
Pg. 397 “She gives harsh laugh.” (s/b “a harsh laugh”?)
Pg. 405 “Nanu’s hands at grab at him” (s/b one extra “at”?)
Pg. 437 “each doorway covered with a think crewl-work curtain” (s/b “thick”?)
Pg. 481 “Bend your head, licks your lips…” (s/b “lick your lips”?)
Pg. 543 “Radha brings folds herself up…” (double verb seems to indicate that an editing choice was never made)

10 or so errors may not seem like many in a 553 page book, but when each of them causes you to stop dead and take the time to decipher what is wrong they become a regular distraction that takes you away from the magic of immersing yourself in a book.

Conclusion
This is a rather extended review to try to pin down my problems with this book. It seems clear that I’m in the real minority here based on the many 4 and 5 star reviews and also the novel being shortlisted for several literary prizes so it is my own quirks and bugbears that took me out of this book. I applaud Preti Taneja for the ambition of her first novel and would certainly read her again. My thanks to the Republic of Consciousness 2017 Shortlist Perk donation incentive and to Galley Beggar Press for my book copy. Both organizations are to be commended for their propagation of new indie publishers and writers. ( )
  alanteder | Apr 28, 2018 |
This massive novel set in New Delhi and Kashmir features the financial wranglings of three sisters, two half-brothers, and a totally malevolent oligarch/crime boss/corruption magnate. Each of the siblings gets a chapter in their voice, and each is both sympathetic and pathetic in turn. It's too long by half, but its primary strength is the history of the city of Srinagar and of father Devraj, whose mother was a Maharini and whose wife was murdered during a time of ethnic violence. The plot centers on the opening of a family new hotel in the Kashmiri city of Amritsar, and on how each family member and their numerous employees are affected when the patriarch tries to divide the family holdings and force his youngest daughter to get married. The ending is too ambiguous, and the foreshadowing so slight that I had to go back and skim it again after finishing it. The writing is excellent, but an editor with a sharp knife would have been a blessing. ( )
  froxgirl | Jan 1, 2018 |
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