Monday, February 01, 2021

'Bread, Cement, Cactus': some reviews

Bread, Cement, Cactus: A memoir of belonging and dislocation is available in the USA, UK and in India, in print as well as in ebook format. You can buy the book at a bookstore or look it up online. 

A free download is also available at the Cambridge University Press (UK) website.

"In the author’s world, there is space to learn from family and strangers, boatmen and historians, poets and gangsters. She paints a vivid picture of the people she encounters in person or hears about from others. If they come from a different set of life circumstances, she uses that moment as an opportunity to reflect on her own position in society based on gender, language, marital status, religion, parentage and property. This inward gaze is missing from a lot of political analysis about the current state of the country, and that is why this book stands out for its sincerity. It is not a rant; it is sensitive and sophisticated."

- The Hindustan Times 

"In the end, the architecture of the book attempts to lead us towards a counter-resolution that will establish home instead in the paradise of personal experience – in “the morning mist” for example – but this is never as convincing as the lasting sense of indignation and injustice that Zaidi evokes. “What belongs to whom?” she asks. “Who pays the costs of what is taken and cannot be returned?” These are questions perhaps more powerful than the answers Zaidi can provide, but it’s through questions such as these that she points towards the deeper mysteries of our human condition."

- The Guardian 

"Zaidi is keen to tell the stories of people who lose power, and then have to give up ground. The migrants who live on the margins; the Adivasis, who “displaced often, end up in cities where they are reduced to penury and homelessness”; and minorities, including Muslims who face bias in everyday life.

So, this safe place called home, does it exist? For her, a home is where she wants to return to, the heart being a compass. Sometimes, she thinks of home as morning mist, wispy and beyond her grasp."

- The Hindu

"Zaidi shines a light on the horror of what an androcentric society is, yet reiterates the concept of dislocation not only to emphasize the pain women go through but the healing and belonging they could find when following their own path."

"The disenfranchisement of women, anti-migrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, ghastly incidents such as how the body of a Dalit person was airdropped from a bridge to avoid the upper caste section of a crematorium, and the British legacies that still enable the displacement of forest dwellers and exploitation of natural resources, are juxtaposed alongside personal meditations. At one point, the author recalls how an experiment of living on the urban poverty line of Rs47 a day, even as a person without dependents, made her quickly realise: ‘…all the things that lend me a feeling of home—language, history, memory—would dissolve into the overwhelming consideration of hunger. Food would be home.’

In prose that is admirably both poetic and compact, Zaidi creates in Bread, Cement, Cactus both a memoir of her own multiple belongings as well as a tract that sets out India’s various modalities of displacement. ‘Dislocation can be abrupt but the internal compass dissolves slowly,’ she writes. This book ponders not only that slow dissolution, but a subsequent reassembling too—but always, with the sober acknowledgment of fragmentations yet to come."

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