Thursday, 31 May 2012

Kim's Review: Habibi

At over 670 pages, Habibi took Craig Thomson over 6 years to illustrate and write.

This was one of the most difficult books I've read recently. The problem is that the story is so compelling that it drews me in and I wanted to keep moving forward, but the illustrations were so beautiful they were pulling me back to keep taking a closer look at them and get drawn into their intimate details and intricacy.

The story is set in a fictional land with juxtaposition of the monotheistic religions Islam, Judaism and Christianity. There is the modern and the ancient - Sultans guards wearing sunglasses and driving trucks as well as camels. The costumes travel the world with the protagonist Dodola wearing harem pants, saris, Spanish skirts, the Hijab at times and sometimes a burqa. Hijras(as they exist in India) also have a significant role to play with their Bahuchari Mata.

But at the essence of it, the story line seeks to elucidate how we create differences amongst ourselves based on religion, financial muscle, caste, creed, colour, land of origin. Its also about the struggle for resources and in this way can also be construed as an "end of days" tale.

There are so many layers, so many meanings and lessons that one can learn from this or one can just sit back and admire the beautiful calligraphy and art work.

I can't say enough about this book and what I write, can never be enough. So I've just added a few of the pictures of pages from this book that I found in the public domain. (via google image search)

Rating : 5 / 5
I keep going back and opening the book on a random page just to enjoy the art

Brajesh's Review: Going Places - India's Small Town Cricket Heroes

Legends like MSD, Viru & Bhajji or rising stars like Dinda, Abdullah & Jadeja or disasters like Sreesanth & Munaf or hopes like Raina, Praveen & Vinay .... Obviously a very diverse set of cricketers, visible thread of the book was the small-town up-bringing. However Guruprasad also brings a lot of other common themes in this well researched book. Pride of place for the first coach, family support, initial struggle, need to know the system of selectors and giving back to town post success makes this book different.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, 28 May 2012

Brajesh's Review: Palace Of Illusions

Wow , what a ride. A powerful, balanced and thrilling voice of Draupadi. Not laced with the usual "Urban Feminism" and gives another unique perspective on the great story. The construction is so beautiful that itself is a reason to pick this one up. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni uses absolutely brilliant technique to turn a story which I know by heart into a thriller for me. Can't praise enough

Rating: 4.5/5

Also read Kim's review of Palace of Illusions and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's One Amazing Thing.


Saturday, 26 May 2012

Kim's Review: Mastani

Mastani is Kusum Choppra's 2nd novel after "Beyond Diamond Rings".

Mastani is often relegated to a footnote as a 'dancing girl' in most references to Peshwa Baji Rao I, but Kusum Choppra's historical research discovered that she was actually the daughter of Maharaj Chhatrasal of Bundelkhand whose source of unlimited wealth was partly due to the mines of precious stones under his command.

While Maharaj Chhatrasal himself was an intelligent, tactful king and an excellent strategist, his sons unfortunately did not take after him. Due to old age he had to request the help of Peshwa Baji Rao I to release his son Jagatraj who was taken prisoner by Mohammad Khan Bangash when he mounted an impetous and unplanned assault against them.

As part of the treaty with Peshwa Baji Rao I, Maharaj Chhatrasal offered his daughter Mastani as a dola or upstri (mistress) to him. But Baji Rao I shrewdly asked to be married to her, so he could reap the benefits of being a son-in-law of the Maharaja.

Bundela women learnt self defense at a young age and kshatriya women who showed aptitude were given further training. Mastani had shown immense potential as a child and learnt all the skills that were traditionally the domain of kshatriya men along with all the feminine skills required of living in a zenana.

Maharaj Chhatrasal followed the Pranami Dharm (as a disciple of Mahamati Prannathj) popular in North India at that time which combined both Hindu & Islamic teachings & practices. So while their kshatriya family were Krishna Bhakts, they also performed the namaaz.

Peshwa Baji Rao came from a family of traditional Chitpavan Brahmins. The Brahmin community was already seething at the Chitpavan's being made Peshwa over other Brahmin communities, so they lost no time in making a hue and cry over Mastani's Islamic roots and practices.

Peshwa Baji Rao's mother Radhabai and his first wife Kashibai were also not happy about his second marriage. His brother Chimaji Appa who controlled the administration and finances for Baji Rao, wasn't pleased with Mastani advising her husband on matters of strategy, administration and finance. Baji Rao's eldest son Nana Sahib who was being brought up by his uncle and grandmother while his father was off fighting and winning wars, was quick to take their side too.

Kusum's novel about the life of Mastani shows how their jealousies and pettiness were responsible for keeping Mastani's name out of all references in their family chronicles even though she was his favourite and accompanied him everywhere including fighting wars by his side.

The book is well written blending fact with fiction. The 2 alternate endings was something new. One ending follows the commonly belived story and the 2nd ending Kusum says came to her in a dream but took into account most of the facts of that time.

My only problem with the book is that at times, she stops writing the story as a novelist and drifts into the role of commentator interspersed with her reasoning. This interrupted the flow and feel of the story for me.

On her blog, Kusum Choppra says: As a history buff, every reading of Maratha history left me bewildered at the steadfastness of historians in never failing to mention Mastani as leading influence in Baji Rao’s life; and then leaving that mention as a single sentence or paragraph without any elaboration of such a ‘towering’ personality, so to speak. Hence the research to explode all the myths and legends that surround Mastani, to expose her tragedy, her true character and her royal background.

Mastani was perhaps inspired years ago by a fellow traveler in a Mumbai-Pune taxi, discussing the absurdity of all historians remembering to mention Mastani's influence on Baji Rao's life and then dismissing her in one paragraph with no mention of her antecedents or whatever. That sounded strange enough to embark me on what was to become my life's mission... about 30 odd of my 61 years.

Mistresses have been the rule rather than the exception amongst rulers, usually more than one. His father, Balaji Vishwanath and his king Shahu Maharajswami had them too. How many mistresses have been mentioned in history books? Even as a footnote?

History records an Indira Gandhi, Razia Sultan and Nur Jehan; Mumtaz Mahal is more a footnote because of the Taj Mahal. And the Rani of Jhansi found mention thanks to British applause, more to show up Indian manhood of those times wanting, especially in contrast with the British. But Roshan Ara, Jehan Ara, Anarkali…

My MASTANI was written to blow away all those cobwebs that surrounded Peshwa Baji Rao I’s second wife who is portrayed by historians as a ‘dancing girl'. Legends that have outlived their lives now.

The book establishes her royal persona from the house of the Bundelas of Madhya Bharat and the original benefactress of an otherwise impoverished Peshwa household....... plus much more that stands standard maratha history on its head.

25 years of research and 3 of writing reveal a dramatic tale that turns the entire Mastani dancing girl on its head. That nugget egged me on but i could only devote x amount of time on it, along with my duties as a working journalist, wife and mother. So it carried on over years, the Pune side of the story whenever I visted the city .

There were also trips to Indore and Mhow to seek out the descendants of Baji Rao and Mastani to get that side of the picture.

Now comes a bombshell. Several weeks after the finish of the book, one night I saw a dream in which Mastani's story unspooled with an ending that was startling. It offered answers to all the unanswered questions that plagued Mastani's story. Making swift notes of recall before the dream vanished, morning saw me reviewing all my material to find that it actually made a lot of sense, even if it was dramatically different and quite controversial.

That is how the book is two endings, one taking the conventional path of Mastani dying after Rao did and the other that takes a very different and controversial route. Another controversy will be my interpretation of the material on the fatal illness of Baji Rao, based on a lot of medical interpretation of the record of his symptoms.

Now I hope Mastani gets a new lease of life and her rightful place in history.

Rating: 4/5

Friday, 25 May 2012

Brajesh's Review: The Sins of the Father

 Interesting, not a typical Archer but still a wonderfully crafted book. The story is simple, the cast has a clear-cut good and evil divide. Narrative & structure is uncomplicated. The book still holds you tight. I will call it a "sweet" Archer book. The ending is simply stunning and I am sure a sequel will follow.

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Kim's Review: It Can't Be You - A Spiral of Vengeance

Prem Rao is an Alumnus from my college - XLRI. After 36 years as a Management Professional, he entered the NaNoWriMo and 'It Can't be You' is the first fruit of that challenge.

Retired Colonel Belliappa is found dead in his room in his Roseneath Estate on 23 December 2000. His second wife - Elena (a German who is also his partner in his successful armaments firm), his daughter Shefali (a successful professional and impressive shot, with a questionable boyfriend whom she wants to marry) and his son Pritam (a creative type like his mother, hooked on drugs) are in the house befcause the Colonel wanted them there for Christmas and New Years. Bahadur who saved his life during the war and attached himself to the Colonel forever after is the only other person on the premises, or was there anyone else?

The story is told via 4 first person accounts: the Colonel, Elena, Shefali & Pritam. It would have been interesting to also hear the whole story of the Colonel's first wife, mother of his children - Dinaz Dastoor in her own voice. So while we can piece together her story from the other accounts, how much of it is clouded by jealousy, childlike innocence or post-demise deification?

Is the Colonel a psychopath? Is he a traitor to his country - selling sensitive information to his armaments clients? Are his wives unfaithful? Does he know? Were his tactics for stemming terrorism the answer to our current cross border problems?

So many questions, some of them are answered and some answers are only hinted at.

It was quite a good read. I finished it in 2 sittings. There is obviously a lot of research into Indian military history that has gone into this book. Most of these wars were before my time and while I was aware of bits and pieces, the flow in the book was logical and linear and hence a condensed history lesson too.

This book is on quite a few bestsellers lists and its a quick easy read. The ending was unexpected, but not improbable.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, 21 May 2012

Kim's Review: Chanakya's Chant

I had absolutely loved Ashwin's Rozabal Line and my mind was boggled by the connections and cross connections in that book. For this reason I had postponed reading Chanakya's Chant for quite awhile as I waiting for the chance to have enough time on hand to absorb multiple layers and research cross connections like I had needed to with Rozabal Line. A relaxed trip home to be pampered by mum, seemed like the right time and so it was in my purse with the ipad (for easy googling) as I headed to the airport.

Chanakya's chant interweaves 2 stories of different eras - the time of Chanakya and modern day India and follows the politics, the strategies and compromises that have to be made during a leaders ascent to the top.

The book is extremely well written. Both stories kept me on tenterhooks when I finished one chapter about the ancient time and wanted to know what would happen next, I was whisked away to the present age in the next chapter and vice versa.

If you are expecting another Rozabal line, you will be disappointed. Ashwin himself said that the first book was a story that he was itching to tell, his second book he started out wanting to write a bestseller. As a stand alone book it is brilliant, but if compared to Rozabal line, Chanakya's chant lacks the complexity and mutiple thread lines. So set aside your pre-conceptions and read it without thinking about the authors previous work and you will definitely love it.

Also read Brajesh's review of Ashwins first book and masterpiece - The Rozabal Line and his review of Chanakya's Chant.

Rating: 4 / 5

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Brajesh's Review: Between The Assassinations

The only reason the book gets 3 is due to my knowledge of Mangalore as a society and a few city landmarks. Can't really comment on how authentic a description the author has painted, but the narrative is labored and drags in a few places. The construction is innovative with short stories threading together and common actors. 

Net net didn't quite work for me.

Also Read my Review of White Tiger.

Rating: 3 / 5

Friday, 18 May 2012

Brajesh's Review: Our Lady of Alice Bhatti

By the time I read this book I was already a complete fan of Mohammed Hanif. Partly due to "A Case of Exploding Mangoes" but more so after listening to a one hour interaction with him on NDTV. An unmatched sense of humor with an amazing insight into human psyche the man was a riot on the show. The book is a angular look at the life of a Christian nurse in Pakistan. The nuances are brilliant and the narrative racy. Only reason the book lost 0.5 points was due to the sky high expectations I had pre-built. Also want to thank my team from ANE who gifted this to me on my farewell. Memorable book for a memorable occasion.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Brajesh's Review: Marathon Baba

Utter cr@p. Avoid this book at all cost. A smart marketing ploy with some awesome stuff on jacket made me pick this book. Reminded me of the old adage "never judge a book by the cover". I am not sure who published this book and for what reason. The writer obviously wrote this in a haze of dope, but publishers should have better sense. Actually I should have had better sense. Won't waste any more words on this useless print.

Rating: 0.5/5

Monday, 7 May 2012

Kim's Review: The Devotion of Suspect X

This book has sold over 2 million copies in Japan, has been made into a cult film and has become a national obsession was the tag line that greeted me as an introduction to "The Devotion of Suspect X". Obviously, that piqued my curiosity and interest. So I went a step further to google this book. The Times called the author - Keigo Higashino "The Japanese Steig Larsson" and that was enough for me.

Inspite of being frantically busy setting up house in a new city (We just moved from Guwahati to Ahmedabad), I just HAD TO apply to review this book, since I knew I was going to order it, even if I wasn't selected to review it. Lucky me, I was chosen by as one of the reviewers.

Today being Sunday, I awarded myself a day of rest and started to read a book after almost 2 months. The startling thing was that the book jumped right into the murder within the first 30 pages itself after giving a complete introduction into the victim and the murderer and a clear glimpse into the motive for the murder. So where can a 'murder mystery novel' go from here, when its no longer a 'whodunnit'?

And in the answer to that question lies the genius of Keigo Higashino.

Yasuko Hanaoka is a hardworking nightclub hostess turned cashier at a bento deli. She has a daughter Misato from one of her previous marriages. Her last marriage to Shinji Togashi ended in a divorce 5 years ago when his company fired him for skimming and he turned into an abusive alcoholic. Yasuko finally gathered the courage to divorce him and stay focussed on her job and raising her daughter, however Togashi kept reappearing in her life with demands for money.

On his final visit, he turns physically abusive against Yasuko and Misato and they kill him in self defense, and Yasuko is on the verge of turning herself in to the police when her genius mathematician neighbour Mr Ishigami offers to help her out of her predicament.

What follows next is a brilliant game of cat and mouse between Mr Ishigami, Yasuko and Misato on one side, and detectives Kusanagi, Kishitani and their chief Mamiya on the other. If anything can disrupt this balance, it is the involvement of Ishigami and Kusanagi's classmate (and friend to both) from the Imperial University - the Physics Professor - Manabu Yukawa.

The Devotion of Suspect X, is engrossing and I finished it in one sitting. It is very well written and its easy to for a reader to get immersed in the story. I did begin to have my suspicions about the ending a few chapters before the end, but it still came as a stunner.

The city of Tokyo sets an interesting background to the story and is almost a character in itself. There aren't too many new terms bandied about in the book, so it can be easily read without reaching for a dictionary or google/wikipedia.

I would have loved a little more detail into the bento boxes being sold at Benten-Tai and more details into the culture and customs, but I think the author initially wrote the book with a local rather than an international audience in mind, so he just glides over these aspects.

Also in the final chapter, Misato's character is left hanging in the balance and I wondered how Yasuko takes the decision that she does. In the entire book she is an extremely concerned mother, trying to protect her daughter from everything, in light of this and her other circumstances, her final decision comes as a surprise - Is assuaging her own guilt more important to her than protecting her daughter?

I do not know how much has got lost in translation, but the story is still a very good one and definitely worth a read if you like good crime/mystery fiction. I'm also looking forward to watching the movie.

Rating: 3.75 / 5

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