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 Vol. 1:  On Isolation 

Reading List

 Reading List  

Vol. I - On Isolation

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SWEET BEAN PASTE by DURIAN SUKEGAWA, translated by ALISON WATTS

Sentaro is disillusioned and forced into running a dorayaki confectionery for the sake of paying off a debt, his dreams of becoming a writer long gone. Stuck in a job that brings him no joy, he half-heartedly employs Tokue - a curious elderly woman with bent fingers, who happens to have the skill to turn his business around. While Sukegawa’s novel earns enough credit for building an unlikely friendship between Sentaro, Tokue, and Wakana - the lonely schoolgirl who finds solace at the dorayaki stand - it also beautifully encapsulates how even in the loneliest of times, there is always someone in the world willing to listen. Sweet Bean Paste, with sincerity and feeling, perfectly captures the struggle and aftermath of lives lived in seclusion. 
 

EXTRACTING THE STONE OF MADNESS by ALEJANDRA PIZARNIK


A collection of poems from 1962-1972 including those posthumously published, reading this is an immersion in the life, loneliness, and emotional fragility of the ingenious Argentine poet, who described herself as having “many voices, many languages, including silence”. Exploring pain with lyricism and a laborious ease, the devastation in these poems reverberates on your tongue long after you have read them.

MOURNING DIARY by ROLAND BARTHES

Written in short, painful bursts of nascent grief, one can visualise the heartache Barthes endures as he struggles to make sense of the loss of his mother. Put together from index cards between 1977 and 1979, and whose publication remains contentious on an ethical slant, these tender, aching words offer glimpses into the influences and effects on Barthes’ writing, and reinforces the idea of the solitary experience of grieving. “A single person is missing for you and the whole world is empty.” - Joan Didion.
 

LEAVING YUBA CITY by CHITRA BANERJEE DIVAKARUNI

Although better known today for her works of fiction and folklore, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni began her career with this anthology of poetry that went on to win a Pushcart Prize, an Allen Ginsberg Prize and a Gerbode Foundation award. An engrossing story on each page, the author skims through childhood memories, invokes arresting imagery reminiscent of old Indian films and photography, and finishes with the piece de resistance called Leaving Yuba City. Dealing with immigration, isolation, persecution, art, and womanhood all kneaded together, the anthology is emblematic of the author’s literary prowess.
 

MEMORY POLICE by YOKO OGAWA, translated by STEPHEN SNYDER


Set in an island town, the story follows the life of a lonesome writer, finishing up her latest novel as the world around her disintegrates. Riddled with disappearances of objects and all memories of them, the narrative, layered with excerpts from her book, perpetuates a sense of seclusion and impending doom. Like survivors in an invisible war, supportive bonds are formed between those who share the loss of loved ones. The pages are warm with these newfound affections, amidst the cold desolation of life. Hidden away from society in a show of resistance,  those in possession of memories of forgotten things ruminate in solitude, disconnected from those unable to remember. Like a moth to a flame, the writer is drawn to these intoxicating remnants of things that no longer exist. Countless dystopian novels have been written over the years, a lot of them singing tunes of isolation. But none have captured the helpless camaraderie in the face of inevitable loss as well as The Memory Police.
 

UPSTREAM by MARY OLIVER


Skillfully crafted by Mary Oliver, “Upstream” is a collection of essays on nature, solitude and the introspective notions fueled by them. She writes as one seeking escape, to enter a realm devoid of social obligations that chip away at the creative spirit. Respite is found deep in the woods, with instances of shedding human tendencies in an attempt to be a part of the wonderful synchronicity of nature. With witty and poetic observations through the philosophical lens of cause and effect, Oliver delivers this bundle of insight on what it means to be intimate with oneself.

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