Friday, May 17, 2013
When I came to know that Philip Hensher would be at JLF 2013, I started looking into his books. Kitchen Venom was touted as the Winner of a Somerset Maugham Award 1997. A stunning novel of political life, betrayal and passion, which lifts the lid on vice within the Palace of Westminster…and cost Hensher his job as a House of Commons clerk
So I was most certainly hoping for some juicy British political gossip. However, since all names are masked, it would only make sense to someone well informed of Margaret Thatchers government and its constituents.
The story revolves around a hunchbacked Westminster clerk John, his 2 daughters and the people he interacts with and his proclivity for rent boys.
I found the book extremely slow and melancholic. It took me quite some time to get used to Hensher's style of writing which includes so many double and triple negatives, that the reader often has to read the same sentence at least twice to decipher the intent of that statement. For eg : "Had he been unhappy? Or was it simply that, now that his life was more full, he was aware, retrospectively, that his before-life was not upto much? What Henry thought, he could not say to Francesca. He thought that perhaps he could not have been unhappy and not known it. Because unhappiness depends on one knowing it. And if he, had been unhappy without knowing it, there was no reason that he might not be unhappy now, without knowing it"
The book is almost lethargic in its pace and hardly moves forward. Each character is caught up in their own ennui and resistance to change of any kind. I could not identify or sympathise with the characters of either Jane or Francesca. Their presence was practically like an unremarkable picture on the wall. Occasionally commented upon, but making no difference to the lives of people they touched, if they made the effort to touch any people at all.
Seeveral times while reading this book, I questioned myself as to why I continued to read the book, even though it was a difficult read that didn't' seem to be headed anywhere, but something in the book, made me keep reading or maybe these are just the starting signs of OCD. (not being able to put down a half read book)
This is not a book I would recommend unless the topic of British Politics is of specific interest to you
Rating : 2.5 / 5
Thursday, May 16, 2013
A completely different genre of writing, that I quite enjoyed. So, I have to thank this year's JLF for bringing Author Joseph Kanon into my world and into our library.
Set in 1945 Hollywood. At the end of the war and just before the country was torn apart by Communist leaning suspicions. This book is a beautiful tribute to Hollywood Noir
Hollywood, 1945. Ben Collier has just arrived from war-torn Europe to find his brother has died in mysterious circumstances. Why would a man with a beautiful wife, a successful movie career, and a heroic past choose to kill himself? While I have watched many Hollywood Noir films, this was the first book I read written in this style. Joseph Kanon is so evocative, that I could actually visualise each scene as though he was painting the movie just for me - his reader. That's how powerful the visualisation in the book is - rich with details and atmosphere, it was a genuine pleasure to read this book.
While the story might not move fast enough for some, the true beauty and essence of this book is in its style and form rather than in the tale itself.
There are so many real life names from Hollywood and their movies that are referenced in Stardust, so a film junkie would absolutely LOVE this book, but it can also be apprecaited by anyne who has absolutely no knowledge of the movie industry too. that is the brilliance of Joseph Kanon.
A must read for sure.
Rating: 4 / 5
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Little is known and written about 1857 (the First War of Indian Independence) from the Indian perspective. Most easily available accounts today are from the British perspective and the British press of the time. So in their language, 1857 was a mutiny, a revolt by the armed forces, not a mass uprising against them and their practices in India.
Vishnu Bhatt Godshe Versaikar's 1857: The Real Story of the Great Uprising is one of the few personal accounts from an Indian perspective that has been published in English. Mahmoood Farooqui's Besieged: Voices from Delhi 1857 is a unique perspective in which Mahmood has translated correspondence between aam aadmi - common people - during the run up to 1857. Sangeeta Bhargava's - The World Beyond is set in Lucknow, during 1857, but its more about an impossible love story than history. But neither of these books speak about the strategy and the planning that went into this First War of Indian Independence and how it was scuttled by an untimely revolt in Meerut.
Kenize Mourad's "In the City of Gold and Silver" fills in this gap very well. While it is a book of Historical Fiction, the facts haven't been altered.
In the City of Gold and Silver revolves around Begum Hazrat Mahal - one of the wives of Wajid Ali Shah the ill fated Nawab of Oudh (Awadh). After facing multiple ignominies by the East India Company, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah is unceremoniously deposed and deported to Calcutta. He takes some of his wives and children with him, while his Queen Mother Malika Kishwar heads to England to petition the British Queen to restore her son's kingdom to him.
Begum Hazrat Mahal is left behind in Lucknow, with her son Birjis Qadar. With the help of a few loyalists like Raja Jai Lal, the endorsement by Bahadur Shah Zafar, and allies like the Rani of Jhansi, Nana Saheb and Maulvi of Faizabad she launched a formidable defense and attack against the British.
In the City of Gold and Silver is the tale of a dancing girl who grew up to become one of the most powerful women in India in the 19th century and one of the few people who actually threatened the might of the East India Company. Politically astute and a leader of the masses, she successfully unites the masses and the gentry to repel the invaders. However, in the long run, the First War of Indian Independence did not succeed in driving out the British and Begum Hazrat Mahal and her son were finally exiled into Nepal.
Kenize Mourad has researched this book, very thoroughly, quoting both British and Indian sources. But the tale she spins, is so masterfully crafted, that while it brings history alive, it also keeps the reader hooked into the story. The present continuous style of writing is a little tedious at first, but I soon learned to ignore it as the story was so gripping and captivating.
The success of a book for me is in how emotionally involved it makes me and this was a book I got very emotional when reading. I am not easily prone to anger, but some of the facts and the callous nature of the East India Company when it came to dealing with the "natives" quite enraged me. I was completely unaware of the role of the Nepali Prime Minister and the Sikh regiments during 1857 and it was quite a shocking revelation for me. I always thought of the Salar Jungs as wealthy philanthropists who gifted their collection to the country in the form of Hyderabad's Salar Jung Museum, so it was equally shocking to learn that Salar Jung I - Prime Minister of the Nawab of Hyderabad in 1857 was an Anglophile and prevented the Nawab from joining the war.
I just wish history in schools was taught with details like these that make characters come alive rather than just rote memorisation of names and dates.
This book in the wrong hands could be quite incendiary, but what the reader needs to realise is that this is history, its time has passed. The generations of today cannot be held responsible/accountable/liable for what happened 150 years ago or what their predecessors did. The only thing that we can learn from history is how not to repeat the mistakes from our past.
This is a definitely a book worth reading.
Rating : 4 / 5
Friday, April 12, 2013
With a title like Tantra, the first thing people in the West associate with it, would be Tantric Sex and in India the immediate mental association would be with black magic - kaala jadoo. It is this generalisation and obscuration of the essence of tantra that prompted Adi to center his first novel - Tantra - around the other aspects of Tantra.
If that paragraph sounded confusing, don't worry because that's just me, not the book.
I think this is the first vampire slayer novel written by an Indian Author in English, set in India that I have read. Of course Indian mythology and fantasy is filled with vampires, vetaals, chudails, daayans and the like, but those stories are normally penned in regional languages or Hindi. So for me this was a first.
If you are expecting a mythology and fantasy filled book, you will be surprised. While there are strong mythological underpinnings to the skeletal structure of the story, it is set in an extremely contemporary setting.
So, our heroine - Anu Aggarwal, a leather outfit clad, New York bred Indian origin Guardian (vampire slayer - a la Buffy) requests a transfer to the India office in Delhi for reasons of her own, which she conceals from the guardian bureaucracy without realising what lies in wait for her.
The Delhi office is woefully understaffed (only 3 employees) and they have reached a truce of sorts with the vampires, which Anu can't wrap her head around. However the scenario that scares her more than this unnatural alliance, is her aunts single point agenda to get her married to a "nice Delhi boy"
Anu is forced to navigate dekhaan dikhais and marriage minded parents of eligible young boys at elaborate Delhi weddings, with more agility than staking vampires.
The battle of Good and Evil in Delhi is much more complicated than it was in New York, where to paraphrase Arya Stark - all she had to do was "stick em with the pointy end" Here in Delhi, alliances have to be made for the greater good. There are stronger forces in play, that are not easily comprehensible and she can use all the help that she is given.
People familiar with Delhi and its party/wedding scene, will find themselves nodding vigorously in agreement with a lot of the scenes. Hence Delhi is almost another character in the book. This installment couldn't have been set anywhere else in India without losing its humor.
Tantra is extremely easy to read because the writing style flows naturally and easily. The plot holds up very well, with enough information being withheld to make this a page turner.
Adi has also very smartly, not resolved the major motivational scenario in this book, ensuring that readers will definitely ask for more in the series.
Some minor editing work still needs to be done to clear up a couple of mistakes, but all in all it was a good read.
The book has a few pages of adult content (sexual fantasy), so I can't recommend it for younger readers, which is a pity. Because the book could have been written without those scenes, without losing anything, and since the language is so easy to read, it would have appealed to the tween reading audience too. But that is a decision that is the authors to take and parents will have to read and decide if they are comfortable with their children reading the book or not.
I am definitely looking forward to the next in the chronicle and fortunately for me, unlike Game of Thrones or the Shiva trilogy, there is some sense of closure at the end of the book. Which makes the waiting easier to bear.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
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Friday, March 15, 2013
After "Persuader", I plan to stop rating Lee Child :) It always gets a 4/5 from me. Although on this one, I really debated a 4.5, but in the name of consistency I stuck to 4.
I'm not sure if the concept of “comfort book” like “comfort food” exists. But if it did, Jack Reacher would be my “comfort food/book”.
"Persuader" connects heavily to the past of Reacher. A villain returns on page one, but gets his first dialogue after 400 pages ... What an interesting construction of story.
This book also introduces us to his first serious love affair from the past, so obviously its a must read for every Jack Reacher / Lee Child fan.
Rating : 4 / 5
Thursday, March 14, 2013
OMG! OMG! OMG! What a phenomenal book! What a suspenseful ending and absolutely no clue when the next in the series will be out. So many cliffhangers and no book 6 on the horizon.
At the Start of Book 5 of a Song of Ice & Fire, George Martin revealed that, he split Feast for Crows from Dance with Dragons, geographically rather than chronologically and thats why some characters were missing from Feast for Crows.
A Dance with Dragons is massive at 950+ pages and may seem daunting to begin, but after reading the first 4 books, there was no way I could postpone reading book 5
This is the first time, I finished a book and felt bereft. I was so engrossed in this series over the last few months (on & off), that now that I've finished reading every published book and the 3 chapters released by George R R Martin online (and read out to fans at comic con), I miss it. I miss the characters, I miss the storyline, I miss everything about the books. I guess this was part of the reason I waited over 4 weeks to write this review. Because writing a review, for me, means that I am done with a book. And I'm not ready to be done with the Song of Fire and Ice, yet.
Parts of me are still living in Kings Landing where Cersei's fate is unknown, on the wall where Jon Snow's fate is unknown, beyond the wall where Bran Stark's fate is unknown, in the North where Asha Greyjoy, Theon Greyjoy, Jeyne Poole, Roose Bolton, King Stannis Baratheon and Rickon Starks fate is unknown (Rickon isn't mentioned in this book either and I'm so worried for him). Catelyn Tully is missing in this book and Jaimie Lannister has gone off with Lady Tarth and no one knows where.
Princess Myrcella is hurt and the Prince of Dorne has sent his children and his brothers children all across the realm on their missions, how many of them will reach safely and how many of them will be able to fulfill the duties entrusted to them?
Beyond the narrow sea, Daenerys fate is hanging in the balance. Who are the 3 who will finally ride the dragons?
George Martin says that book 4 was a bitch & this book was 3 bitches and a bastard.
Since I've come to the end of book 5, here is my guesswork on what could be a possible plot line. (Spoilers ahead, don't read if you haven't read the previous books)
Since book 2, I have suspected that Jon Snow is not Eddark Stark's son, but that of his sister Lyanna Stark who was raped by Rhaegar Targaryen. Making Jon of Targaryen descent.
Hence Jon Snow, Young Griff who is actually Aegon Targaryen (Rhaegar's son from his lawfully wedded wife Princess Elia of Dorne) and Daenerys Targaryen will be the 3 Targaryens who will ride the 3 dragons.
Jon Snow needs to die and rise from the dead so he can freed from his oath to the Nights Watch. If this were to happen, then Jon will be free to marry Val and rule the North. While Daenerys & Aegon can be married to each other in true Targaryen style and rule the South.
Benjen Stark is Coldhands who led Bran, Meera and Jojen to the Last Greenseer.
Sam and Crasters daughter have an important role to play.
Tyrion is obviously too interesting a character to kill off in book 6, but maybe in book 7?
I also heard an interesting POV that since Joanna Lannister was in love with Aerys Targaryen - Jaimie and Cersei could actually be his children. Since Joanna was a Lannister before marriage too and the Lannisters always have golden hair, it could be a gene more dominant than the silver hair and purple eyes of the Targaryens. This could also partly account for the streak of madness in Cersei.
This book was 959 pages long. Add on the cast of characters and it is 1016 pages long. George Martin has envisaged that books 6 & 7 will be around 1500 pages each. On the conservative side, he estimates that he will take 3 years to write each book. How can I wait that long? But wait I shall and content myself with watching the diluted TV seasons as well, with Season 3 releasing later this month.
This book is epic and what makes it more epic than say a Lord of the Rings is that the characters all have shades of grey. No one is truly good or truly evil and Martin has done a brilliant job of telling tales from different perspectives, so the reader can empathise with the different characters. Its an extremely powerful kind of storytelling.
Should you read the books? Most definitely YES! But it may be a good idea to wait for the entire series to be out before starting to read them, because these hanging plotlines are too much to handle.
Rating : 4.5/5 (-0.5 for leaving me waiting indefinitely)
Also see my review of :
1. A Game of Thrones
2. A Clash of Kings
3. A Storm of Swords (Steel & Snow, Blood & Gold)
4. A Feast for Crows
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
This one gets the lowest rating in the trilogy.
The language jarred a lot especially stuff like Shiva saying "holy crap" and Ganesh & Kartikeya mouthing "son of a b^#%+". I am assuming the background of war and conflict led to these.
Beyond that, Amish neatly ties-up most loose ends in the last book. He also leaves sufficient open ends like Egyptian, Persian Mythology and introduction to Mahabharata as possible plots for his 5 Crore book deal.
Clearly a commentary on use/abuse of nuclear technology and gene cloning in the mythological context is a great and relevant debate for our times. Not giving much away in my review, if you have read the first 2 you will have to add this and if you haven't read the first two, get them now :)
Rating : 3.5 / 5
Kim's Reviews :-
The Immortals of Meluha
Secret of the Nagas
The Immortals of Meluha
Secret of the Nagas
How can anyone tell a true story of great suffering, pain, torture & loneliness with such tenderness, care, equanimity & love?
It's a miraculous attempt by Benyamin. Originally written in Malayalam, this translation has done great justice to the story. I can only imagine how beautiful the original work must have been. Anyone who has traveled to Saudi Arabia or has basic knowledge of Kerala exodus to KSA would relate to this hugely. Even if one is totally ignorant of these phenomenon, they will still fall in love with Najeeb (the protagonist) by the time they are half-way through. For me this is one of the books of 2013.
Rating : 4.5 / 5
Sunday, March 10, 2013
"Breaking the Bow" is a brilliant series of 24 short stories - each one, a work of speculative fiction inspired by the Ramayana and curated by Anil Menon and Vandana Singh for Zubaan.
Anil Menon in his introduction to the book has written a wonderful note on "What is speculative fiction (spec-fic) ?" Speculative Fiction includes science fiction, fantasy, magic realism, slipstream, surrealism, neo-modernist, post modern literature and many other sub-genres. What makes a story speculative? A simple answer, not entirely accurate, is that a speculative story is a non-realist story. In a realist story, the story's context is this actual, common sense world. In a non-realist story, there are no guarantees. Navi Mumbai could be a video game, the belly of a whale or the renamed capital of Sweden.
"The tradition of the Ramayana is to depart from the tradition" and this forms the background for each of these spec-fic stories.
Some of the stories are written by well established names like Abha Dawesar, Priya Sarukkai Chabria, Manjula Padmanabhan and Tabish Khair, but there are many authors who have been published for the first time and the authors are from across the globe.
Quite a few of the stories in this book, center around the story of Surpanakha or that of the Golden deer leading to Sita's abduction. To me personally, the Surpanakha episode, Rama renouncing Sita and Rama defeating Vali by deception have been the 3 main incidents that I find difficult to reconcile with the rest of the Rama's behaviour in the Ramayan. So I wasn't surprised with the number of stories concerning Surpanakha
Kuzhali Manickavel's - The Ramayana as an American Reality Television Show (Internet activity following the Mutilation of Surpanakha) is hilarious in its insight. Capturing the absurdity of reality shows, the language used in online chat rooms, the trolls, the commenters on youtube videos. This story is as much a social commentary on modern online behaviour, as it is about this episode in the Ramayana.
Neelanjana Banerjee's - Exile is a piece of science fiction. Sapna who plays the role of Surpanakha in a neo-modern game world is a single woman trying to put her game face on and deal with life the best way she can with what she is given.
Aishwata Subramanian's - Making is based on the premise that Raavan (Vishravan) asked for 10 years for a city of his own and using his skills and knowledge and that of Surpanakha's he fabricated a beautiful city. Everything is created with their skills, the city, the deer, and the automaton built to look like Surpanakha.
Abha Dawesar's - The Good King is a brilliant read, focussing on Ravanas technical expertise and knowledge gained through boons which allows him to travel across time and exist in simultaneous universes. I really loved the ending of this story.
Julie Rosenthal's - Mango Grove was the most offbeat story in this book for me. This is a new story as opposed to most of the others in the book, that are re-interpreted / re-imagined stories.
K Srilata's - Game of Asylum Seekers is a Sita story, being played in a game world akin to the "Hunger Games" with the last line being the most poignant and telling.
Lavanya Karthik's - Day of the Deer is a very different twist on a very familiar tale.
Tabish Khair's - Weak Heart is about the burden Rama faced of being a God on Earth. And the final question that he asks, sums up Rama's dilemma in its entirety.
Indrapramit Das's - Sita's Descent is science fiction of a completely different kind than the others in this book. His Sita is a man-made artificial nebula.
Abirami Velliangiri's - Great Disobedience is one of my favourites in this book. Based on Rama & Lakshmana's foray into the forest to help Sage Vishwamitra its a tale of manipulators and puppet masters and how legends are born.
Pervin Saket's - Test of Fire is a short sci-fi piece with Sita as the Hero.
Manjula Padmanabhan's - Other Woman is a brilliant tale and another of my favourites. Centered on Mandodari who comes to earth to talk to a TV journalist - Ms Basra Dott - and give her side of the story.
Lavie Tidhar's - This, Other World is a sci-fi retelling of Rama & Lakshmana's hunt for Ravana.
Priya Sarukkai Chabria's - Fragments from the Book of Beauty is a beautiful collection of conversations between Pushpaka & Ravana, Hanuman & Vayu, and Mandodari & Sita.
Molshree Ambastha's - Kalyug Amended is a a familiar tale set in modern times. The Ramayan if it were to happen today, so to speak.
Sucharita Dutta-Asane's - Sita to Vaidehi - Another Journey is the tale of Vaidehi - a modern day idealist/activist inspired by Sita.
In Sharanya Manivannan's - Petrichor - Sita tells Hanuman a tale of how she comes to be where she is .
Mary Anne Mohanraj's - The Princess in the Forest is another modern day retelling of the dilemma faced by Samiksha/Sita and an insight into why Sita went to Valmiki's ashram after being rejected by Rama.
Deepak Unnikrishnan's - Sarama is a retelling of the Ramayan through the eyes of one of Sita's demon protectors in Lanka.
Swapna Kishore's - Regressions is another of my favourites. A sci-fi tale tale of how different factions are trying to adjust the tale of the Ramayan to suit their own purposes. Was Rama truly God or the boorish son of a local chieftain
Tori Truslow's - Machanu visits the Underworld is a tale of Hanuman's son Machanu. This was the least engrossing tale for me, in the book. It could be because I am not familiar with most of the characters she has used in her story.
Vandana Singh's - Oblivion is a sci-fi tale with Hirasor being the Ravan-like oppressor.
Pratap Reddy's - Vaidehi and Her Earth Mother wanders around leaving you unprepared for the crux of the ending.
Shweta Narayan's - Falling into the Earth is also a modern day retelling of a modern Sita's dilemma.
I quite loved the collection overall, even though I am not a huge science fiction fan, I do love speculative fiction. Its a beautiful collection to carry when traveling, because the beauty of short stories is that you can stop at the end of each one.
Pick it up if alternate Ramayans appeal to you. Do not pick it up if you are easily offended :)
Rating: 4 / 5
Saturday, March 9, 2013
Through my life I have known so many Razdans, Bhans, Mattoos, Kauls and Panditas as friends, colleagues and acquaintances and they never held any identity for me other than their friendship. I was always curious, but never intrusive about the traumatic chapter in their lives. Thanks Rahul for laying it out bare, cold and raw. I feel we must "forgive" but never - ever "forget" the chapter of Kahmiri Pandit's exodus. In remembrance we respect and through memories we heal. This is the non-fiction book of 2013 for me.
Rating : 5 / 5