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Jim Bennett – Amazon/Goodreads Review – February 4, 2019

This review ofI Exist. Therefore I Am by Jim Bennett was posted on Amazon and Goodreads. You can also read it below.

Customer Review

Jim Bennett

February 4, 2019

As always, do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later.
As always, Google anything you’re not entirely sure of. There is a lot of India-related culture in this work, and you don’t want to miss out on the details. Caste, for example. This is not a trivial work, and is an insight into life in a culture very different from mine.
The prejudice against females is scarily exposed. Here are a couple of quotes.
From I Exist, Therefore I Am: “How can you hate someone inside you?”
From Her Big Day was fast Approaching this ”All the money spent on a daughter was money wasted because it would be another family that benefited.”
For a horror story, turn to Arti. You will throw up when you read this.
Now for my star count boilerplate. My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent.
This is disturbingly, extremely good. Four stars feels right to this curmudgeon.
Kindle Book Review Team member.
(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)

 

 

 

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Magnolia Review – Volume 5 Issue 1 – January 16, 2019

Thanks to Suzanna Anderson for the review of I Exist. Therefore I Am in this issue of Magnolia Review. You can read it at the Magnolia Review site, at Amazon or Goodreads, or see below.

Rajapakse has traveled to India often, and these stories “…were written at two stages of my life and represents the eight years I spent in India, working and travelling to cities and also some of the remote places where I encountered many instances of negativity towards women and girls. Some of the incidents I came across or heard about are too painful to recount or fictionalize. The tales I have included here are a mere fraction of the lives touched during my stay.”

In “Drink Your Milk and Go to Sleep,” a married woman continues to carry girls while her husband and mother-in-law want a boy child. Her family takes her to a midwife who “…was famed for helping women with problems. She must be good because women from all over the land visited her to find solutions to their sorrows. She didn’t talk much. There was no time for any words as it was obvious why we were all there. She had lots of customers like me waiting to be served every day. She gave me something to drink when I got home.”

As a widow, Gayathri Devi was “…waiting to die” in the story “On Death Row.” In the beginning of the story, Gayathri Devi “…had been sitting here in the same place for a while, not caring about what happened around her. She’d seen the colors change in the sky a thousand and one times and more and was no longer interested. Was no longer overjoyed. She no longer anticipated the fading beauty of the end of the day as she did the first time she arrived.” The widows “…were a burden on the young, an unnecessary life that needed to be cared for, fed, clothed and helped along the way. There was no time, no money or room left in houses for the likes of these women that passed their expiration date and were still sitting on the shelf, when whatever little money the families had were needed for the hungry mouths to feed, the demands of school and the dowries to be collected throughout their lives. Women like Gayathri Devi were put aside and left to themselves and what better way to get rid of the unwanted than to send them to God.”

The collection’s title comes from the story “I Exist. There I Am.” Those words are the opening line and the refrain carried throughout the story. “I rest deep inside you, wrapped up tight like an old woman swathed in quilts in the desert during winter when it’s too cold to do anything but sit by the fire and wish it was summer once again.” “You see me through the folds of fat projected onto the screen and can only discern a small shape with a centre that beats like a drum. The sound and rhythm unlike the drums they played at your union, but a drum just the same. Thudak, thudak, thudak, it beats softly. You place your hand on your stomach but you can’t feel me, nor can you hear the drum beats of my heart pounding inside me. Only the machine can tell you that.”

And in “Secrets” “Rules kept the family together, rules made things work the way it was supposed to.”

Each story is heart breaking in its own way. I can’t even begin to imagine the stories that were too painful to recount or fictionalize. Rajapakse’s prose is as strong as her poetry. The characters’ pain is real and their circumstances resonate. I hope for a brighter future.

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A Chat with Annette – November 30, 2018

A review of I Exist. Therefore I Am by Annette Spratte on her blog A Chant with Annette. She also posted a shorter version on goodreads a few weeks back.

Thanks for the Chatworthy Read Badge. That was a lovely surprise.

I Exist. Therefore I Am by Shirani Rajapakse

41hVfXozwZLThis collection of short stories by highly acclaimed Sri Lanka author Shirani Rajapakse has touched me and left me with one dire, unanswered question: Why?

‘I exist. Therefore I am’ is written in a very quiet, yet poetic style. For the difficult topic it addresses, it uses no drama and no judgment. The stories tell individual episodes of lives of women in India from all ranges of society, thereby drawing a devastating picture of an entire culture. Even before I read the book I knew that women are not highly regarded and suffer a lot in India. Arranged marriages, infanticide and lack of rights or education were familiar topics. But the depth of hatred running deep in the mindset of an entire people shocked me and left me speechless.

‘Why?’ I asked myself after every story. Why would a mother poison her newborn child, just because it was a girl? Why would a girl spend all of her family’s money just to get a socially acceptable husband? Why, oh why would a woman douse her daughter-in-law in kerosene and burning oil and watch her burn to death? And why are these things not only accepted by the majority, but passed on through generations?

For me, the most striking piece of the collection is the one that gave the book its title. The reader gets to share the thoughts of an unborn girl from first awareness to the point of abortion. As a Christian and a mother of two (I would be highly esteemed in India, having borne two sons!) it is inconceivable how women can be put under so much pressure (by other women!) that they begin to hate that which they are called to love and protect, nourish and raise.

It makes me sad and calls me to pray for a nation hopelessly lost and without love. This is a far cry from Bollywood!

I read the book knowing it was not an easy topic. I’m glad I read it because I cannot close my eyes to the fate of millions, even if they live far away. The author has done a marvelous job in portraying each of the women without making it garish sensationalism. Her calm recounting of facts and feelings make the stories digestible, despite their often cruel contents; and her poetic language give the thoughts and feelings depth and beauty.

In the introduction she states that she has lived in India for eight years, taking the risk of leaving the tourist trails to discover the true heart beating in that big and wildly differing country. I commend her for that and for her aim of raising awareness on behalf of women who are so deeply suppressed they often have no way of standing up for themselves.

I highly recommend this book. It has filled me with gratitude for my own loving family, the respect I am treated with and the freedom I may enjoy every day. I am also deeply grateful for my faith in Jesus Christ, which has given my life purpose and meaning and has established an identity and value as a person that nobody will be able to take from me. I exist. Therefore I am – able to love with the freedom to do so.
My prayers go out to women in India now more than ever.

BadgeTLI

For the beautiful language used, the touching storytelling that kept me turning the pages and the depth of topic I gladly award ‘I exist. Therefore I am’ a Chatworthy Read badge.

Congratulations to the author!

 

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Renaissance Writer – November 25, 2018

This review of I Exist. Therefore I Am by Gordon Long was posted on Renaissance Writer as well as on Goodreads.

“I Exist. Therefore I Am” by Shirani Rajapakse

This is a book of short stories chronicling the unremitting horror of being a woman in India. It is poetic, descriptive, and unrelenting in its portrayal of what life is like for the unlucky woman who is poor, unable to produce sons or widowed. Each separate story outlines one possible scenario where a happy person is brought to despair, poverty or death through the cruelty of people who use the system to prey on the weak.

But these are not really stories with plotlines. The only important event that happens in any of them is when the victim dies. Otherwise, each is a rich portrayal of misery, described in elegant poetic detail.

A strident torrent of damnation of the Indian social system that condemns the innocent to suffer.  A difficult read for anyone with any sensibilities, but an eye-opening experience. Beautiful writing, best read in small doses.

(4 / 5)

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Always Write Again – November 24, 2018

A review of I Exist. Therefore I Am by Natalie Wood on her blog Always Write Again. You can also read it on Goodreads.

Natalie Wood’s Reviews > I Exist. Therefore I Am

I Exist. Therefore I Am by Shirani Rajapakse

I Exist. Therefore I Am
by

Shirani Rajapakse (Goodreads Author)
4390236

Natalie Wood‘s review

Nov 24, 2018


A whimsical travel feature in India Today advises readers not to visit the mountain beauty spot of Ladakh.

Correspondent Samonway Duttagupta says the locale is remote and that India boasts far prettier destinations. What’s more, it is overcrowded, everything there is ridiculously expensive and much worse – the climate can become cold enough to cause ill-health and even death.

But he does not describe the large numbers of Kashmiri Muslims who have migrated to the area and whose growing presence has adversely affected the centuries-old Buddhist traditions of those born there. Inevitably, the women are most badly treated and have been brutally shoved to the bottom of the social heap.

So much emerges from Shirani Rajapakse’s A Chill Flew across the Mountains, the penultimate tale in her short story collection, **I Exist. Therefore I Am.

There is never a good moment to read a book like t his and several times I delayed posting my review as I found more and more comparisons between the domestic serfdom that Sri Lankan Rajapakse’s fictional characters endure and the oppressed reality for too many women worldwide.

Believe me: it does not happen only in dramatic fashion to forced labourers in Uzbekistan or to Yazidi sex slaves. It occurs over and again every which way in modern democracies like the UK or even in Israel where following the murder of a Netanya housewife by her husband – a police officer – nationwide public demonstrations were held urging action to stop violence against women.

But I was distressed to note that the protests did not embrace the sort of non-physical but public humiliation meted to some female members of the religious Zionist B’nei Akiva youth movement, whose staged dance performance at a recent event in Katsrin near the Golan Heights was allegedly blacked out for spurious reasons of ‘modesty’.

I was also dismayed that the one woman who actively campaigned to be Karmiel’s new mayor was absent from the local demonstration.

Why did this well-known woman city councillor appear so indifferent to domestic abuse? Was her personal background to blame?

It is often noted that the affairs of the Jewish Diaspora and Israeli communities are a reflective microcosm of what happens outside. Should the answer to the conundrum therefore be the same as to that posed at the heart of Rajapakse’s book?

Why, as we near the close of the eighteenth year of the 21st century and vast numbers of us enjoy the countless advantages that implies, are so many young adult women still bound by antiquated tribal traditions of land, property and paternalism?

More important: why are these outmoded, unwritten laws sustained with such ferocity by family matriarchs so haunted by personal status that they despise the births and then continuing presence of any infant girls?

Must they be reminded of the difficulty of producing future generations without them?

In her introduction, Rajapakse cites a June 2018 global poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation that ‘ranked India as the most dangerous country in the world for women’. No-one will deny that it has plenty of stiff competition!

She also refers to the December 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandeh (variously nicknamed ‘Nirbhaya’ and ‘Damini’) and other similar incidents that may have helped to change Indian law. But legislation has never altered constitutional prejudice. Only time and patience will do that.

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Unlikely Stories – November 10, 2018

This was posted about Chant of a Million Women in Unlikely Stories on November 10, 2018.

It’s always interesting to read what others think of my work. The reviewer mentions bad editing and superfluous elements. Must take it up with me editor. 😉

What saddens me is the reviewer assumes just because I’m Sri Lankan that all the poems are about women and men in Sri Lanka, when the examples of people I mention as well as places clearly indicate it is not. What  really surprises me though, is the misunderstanding of two of the poems mentioned. Sometimes context is important to understand the nuances and the reason some words are used, or not used, or said in a certain way. So how do you portray something that is local in a way non-locals understand while still preserving the local identity?

Read below.

On reading Shirani Rajapakse’s “Chant of a Million Women”

In Shirani Rajapakse’s Chant of a Million Women (self-published, 2017) we have poems that narrate the lives of Sri Lankan women and their relationships with men. It is at its core, a criticism of the innate sexist culture of Sri Lanka and the poems vibrate with action, gesture, and compassion, describing horrible realities. However I have to note that, sadly, there are too many faults of language, concision and sentimentality. The author, I have to say, is guilty of bad editing. Where perfect endings, lines or stanza breaks, could exist, the author adds too many superfluous elements, sometimes whole stanzas that unbalance otherwise perfect poems. The ideas and content discussed and described in the poems are incredibly moving and hit close to home to a third world native like myself, but the bad editing fails the book. Too many examples of this; in the poem “She Thought She Knew it All,” a poem about poetic identity in the said country, the failed editing surfaces. The lines “and feel the solace that someone / empathized in a world / full of no meaning” are sentimental in the expression of the emotion described and have a grammatical error, things not forgiven to poets. The emotion expressed feels childish, unedited, uncrafted, and I am left confused by the line “full of no meaning” where ‘meaningless’ could have done fine. Lines should be crafted by necessity and this is a recurring problem in the book: the author is guilty of superflux. Then the poem continues and still holds effect up to the 27th line, the perfect ending having been nailed at “No one else gave a damn,” but the author adds 5 more unnecessary lines which prolong this spirit of sentimental superflux and my negative criticism of the book. Instead of being charmed, I am left regretting.

“They rode in cars with tinted glass.
They read a different verse.
She was not counted.
But she didn’t know.
Ignorance is such bliss.”

What about the “tinted glass”? How is it relevant to the poem that “She was not counted”… or couldn’t there be a better expression, one with more poetic cadence and that also solidifies the trajectory of the poem? The last line crushes whatever effect the poem had created, and I am left wondering about its necessity and also about the author’s command of her craft. If we take the poem, “In The House at The End of The Road,” it was full of potential, but some unnecessary lines hurt it as well.

“She plucked
her breasts because
she said they didn’t fit.
She was
meant to be male, but

they had grown on their own,
large and voluminous
sticking out for all to see like buoys in the sea.
Obstinate, rude and beckoning
to all. Come see me
defy the rules.

I stand up to gravity.

They cramped her style.
She couldn’t move her arms
or bend down to touch
the ground.

So she ripped them out,
one by one.
Unlike the Amazons, they only removed one.
It was an occupational hazard.
That’s what they said.

They couldn’t aim their bows
to defend their realm.
But she had nothing to defend.
Except her annoyance at
being female.”

Some minor changes in line preserve the humor and meaning of this poem while not killing the effect and main intention on the reader.

She plucked her breasts
because they didn’t fit

they had grown on their own
large and voluminous
sticking out for all to see like buoys.
Obstinate, rude and beckoning
to all. Come see me
I stand up to gravity

They cramped her style.
She couldn’t move her arms
or bend to down to touch
the ground.

So one by one
she ripped them out
unlike the Amazons
who only removed one.
An occupational hazard
is what they said.
They couldn’t aim their bows.

But she had nothing to defend
except her annoyance
at having breasts.

Just minor editing modifications bring back an element of sharpness to the poem and preserve its humor. As we travel along with the author into places where few Americans have been, places where men feel entitled to a woman’s body, places where money and status can also make you own people, the poem “Dream of the House Maid” captures the purpose of the book beautifully. It is both a tender and direct poem that tells the tragedy of a housemaid tortured by her employers. I think lines 4-6 capture this well:

“You got much more than you bargained for,
with a salary paid in nails.

Hard as hell.”

This poem is sharp and takes the reader to a place of emotional torment. The poem following that poem, “Mutilated,” also grounds us in the abuse this sexist culture imposes on women. It is a heartbreaking portrayal of womanhood and the imagery is powerful, that of a woman’s lips sealed shut and the woman left seeing the world through “vermillion tears / in the rain, running all over.” These are two of the good poems in this book and they show the poet’s talents: “Lips, inviting, delicious pink, sealed / shut. / Words are damned, can barely trickle / out. / Sewn up tight, threads crisscross an / ugly /design like embroidery by / an unknown hand done hurriedly…” (“Mutilated”). She creates a powerful and symbolic image in the poem’s main persona, a Madonna who, instead of bearing a son who will die for others, is herself the martyr who “finds it hard / to sing sweet songs of longing…”

I am not saying that all the poems in this book are bad. Nor am I saying that the poet is bad. I am, however, saying that the book as whole is bad because the poet failed at editing too many poems that seemed like first drafts. I hope Shirani Rajapakse takes my criticism as constructive and pursues poetry. And that next time, I’ll be writing a praise instead of a criticism.

 

Darryl Wawa

Darryl Wawa is a Port-au-Prince born Haitian-American who studied Photography and Creative writing. He enjoys chocolate and good books. That said, maybe a movie is a good book. He loves to work with images and words and their pairing.

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Bibliophiles Cafe – November 17, 2018

This review of I Exist. Therefore I Am was posted on Bibliophiles Cafe by EverydayGoddess today. You can read it below.

Book Review: I Exist. Therefore I Am.

 

I Exist. Therefore I Am by Shirani Rajapakse is a collection of disturbingly moving short stories of the atrocities women in rural India confront and the hope they have for a brighter future. The author’s evocative and unforgiving style of writing is what pumps life into the characters as they walk through life fighting various battles.

Gayathri Devi was waiting to die. She had been here for a long time, but it
appeared as though death was in no hurry to come and take her away. Dressed in dirty white with her head shorn, she was one of the many widows
shunned from her family and forced to live a non-existent life.

From the very first page, the pleadings and laments of the oppressed can be heard; the shocking and immoral crimes committed made my hair stand on end. Each story was heart-wrenching, the egregious and grisly ways these women were treated for just being was horrifying. Shirani unrelentingly portrays the plights of women and the atrocities they face due to baseless religious, cultural, and tribal taboos imposed on them. These are a gigantic obstacle, and removing these iniquitous taboos is essential.

Each story highlights the atrocious and odious ways women in rural India are forced to live. In her story Death Row, Shirani portrays the slow and terrible way older widows await death when they are no longer wanted by their families. In her story Drink your Milk and go to Sleep, Shirani highlights unflinchingly the taboo against female child, the awful environment created for women if they birth a daughter.

“There are maggots inside you,” maaji said staring daggers at me.
She let her eyes rest on each one of the family sitting in the room and raised
her voice for effect.
“It’s stuffed with maggots! Her womb is full of maggots!”

Following her award winning poetry collection Chants of a Million Women, these edifying stories highlight the alarming conditions of women in rural India. The beautiful imagery, heart-wrenching truths and the endless hope that women have for a better future makes this an eye-opening read. This book is for the ones who are not afraid to ask questions and ready to dissect baseless beliefs to uncover the layers of trauma and anger that women carry everyday.

You can buy the book here.