Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Kim's Review: I Spy A Slenderman and Other Dark Tales

In the interests of full disclosure, Deepti was one of my first online editors (at desicritics), and though the website has been retired, our relationship steadily grew into a friendship over a shared love of travel, cats and books.

While I have been content writing the occasional blogpost and a couple of articles, Dee has gone on to publish FOUR ebooks - 2 novellas and 2 books of short stories. I Spy A Slenderman and Other Dark Tales is her 4th ebook.

The 7 short stories in I Spy A Slenderman, all revolve around  things that go bump in the night: vampires, succubuses, mischievous Greek Gods and werewolves.

While all the tales have slightly unexpected endings, Tryst with a God definitely goes in directions that I would never have predicted and I Spy a Slenderman has a mounting build up of suspense.

The book is an easy read and since its a book of shorts, its ideal for reading on your digital device while sipping a coffee, waiting for a flight, or whenever you have a few minutes free. If you like the genre that is not really Hitchcockian horror, but the Vampire Diaries/True Blood/Buffy version of horror, then you will love these stories.

I promise you won't be disappointed.

Rating : Dee is a friend & in the interests of friendship, we don't rate books written by friends :)

Update on 1st July 2013:
I Spy a Slenderman is now available in hard copy on Amazon and it also has my first review printed in the book being reviewed :)


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Kim's Review: God's Little Soldier

I've been a huge fan of Kiran Nagarkar, ever since I first met him in Bombay in 2006 and read Ravan and Eddie almost immediately after. My favourite book by him is most definitely Cuckold, which I bought and read as soon as we moved back to India.

The biggest problem with Nagarkar's books are the size and hence the subsequent weight which makes them difficult to carry around or read in bed. So I was waiting for God's Little Soldier to come out in paperback before I got around to reading it and it was a very long wait. I expect, I am going to have an equally long wait for the paperback version of The Extras (the sequel to Ravan and Eddie) too, unless I finally succumb and pick up an e-reader version.

What I really love about his books are that they tell stories from the protagonists point of view and even though you may not agree with the protagonist, you can empathise with him to quite an extent. There is also a gritty style of writing in Kiran's work that is reminiscent of pulp fiction at times, but for me it just makes his characters more real, more "human" so to speak.

When we met Nagarkar at JLF earlier this year, he wanted to know if I liked his latest book and I confessed that I was waiting for it to come out in paperback. Self-deprecating as always, he said "don't buy my books, they aren't worth reading. I just write for the sake of writing, call it an old mans indulgence" Anyone who has met Nagarkar would know that this is definitely not sarcasm, its just how he sees himself.

Yet he puts in so much time and effort into each one of his books and I think God's Little Soldier must have been the most difficult one to research so far. It spans countries, religions and dogmas and needed physical as much as literary research.

Kiran goes back to a familiar theme of his, as seen in Ravan and Eddie: "How do 2 boys brought up in somewhat similar circumstances react differently in similar situations?"

In Ravan and Eddie, the boys are brought up in the same chawl but in different religions. In God's Little Soldier, Zia and Amanat are sons of the same parents, but Amant being sickly from birth gets more care from his mother, while Zia is a favourite with his aunt Zubeida.

Their parents are liberal muslims, but Zubeidakhala is more traditional in her views and beliefs. How these childhood influences creep up into their behaviour later in life is interesting to watch as the story unfolds.

When Kiran wrote this book, he said it was because he wanted to show that not all "terrorists" come out of Madrasas. It is possible to have a top notch education and liberal upbringing but circumstances could still propel you into a hardline view.

The book is divided into 3 distinct parts. The first has Zia and Amanat growing up in Bombay. While they come from a fairly well to do family, they lose everything when their fathers partner (who is also their mothers brother) disappears with all the money and leaves their father with a couple of court cases hanging over his head.

Amanats frail constitution keeps him at home most of the time, while Zia goes away, first to boarding school and then to London to study. Zia is brilliant at Mathematics and numbers speak to him but his real calling is Economics and the world of financial trading. However Zia's religion is also equally important to him and a failed attempt to assassinate Salman Rushdie takes him to Afghansitan and Kashmir where he becomes a dreaded terrorist.

In the second part, constant visions of a reproachful Christ and the revalation that an aunt (friend of his parents) baptised him in a church as an infant lead him towards Christiantiy and he becomes the monk Lucens. His new crusade is against abortionists.

In the 3rd part, his plan to "correct" the world is even more grandiose and he gets even more dogmatic in his beliefs. He now comes under the influence of Shakta muni who also practices tantra and initiatesZia/Lucens into it and while outwardly he is still Brother Lucens, he also carries a diplomatic passport in the name of Niranjan.

This is the briefest summary of this 610 page novel that I can give you.

Conflict and struggle on a global scale and in the characters hearts and minds. Zia's constant belief in himself as the man who has all the answers is extremely egoistical, but he never sees it in that perspective. He is more critical of everyone and extremely unforgiving.

Amanat on the other hand veers towards self pity without actually going there. He has talents as a teller of tales and in architecture but denies them both to his own detriment.

In a way, both brothers seem intent to follow a path of self destruction.

This is a book that will leave you with as many questions as answers. At 610 pages, the size is massive but the tale will keep you engrossed. The book is well researched and a lovely piece of fiction. If you have the time, then you should definitely give it a try.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Kim's Review: The Walled City

Esther David's The Walled City tells the tale of a young Bene Israeli Jewish girl born in 1940 in Ahmedabad in the first person. This girl is surrounded by a myriad influences, customs, cultures and stories and the book tells the tale of her trying to make sense of it all.

Her paternal grandmother has adopted some Marathi customs (including the way she wears her sari)and even though she is illiterate, she knows all the Hebrew prayers and has her own strong beliefs.

Her mother Naomi's relationships with everyone in the family are strained and as a working woman, she is an abberration at her husbands house. But she has very strict views on what is the "right" way that a Jewish girl should be raised and detests any "non Jewish" influences in her daughters life.

Compared to her mothers strong influence, her father doesn't have as much of an influence/ impact on her life and he does come across as hen pecked.

Her maternal grandfather Daniel who worked with a British firm has adopted a lot of their habits and customs.

Her foreign returned doctor aunt who dresses smartly but has her own demons to face.

Her cousins Malka & Samuel who are just a little older than her and just as confused.

All of these people have a different Jewsih perspective and influence on this young girls life.

She studies in a Christian convent school. 

She is exposed to the Hindu way of life through her childhood friends Subhadra and Pratibha, who share tales from their own beliefs, teach her Indian dance and she sometimes joins them in their prayers saying she feels more comfortable praying in a temple than in a synagogue.
Living in the Walled city, they have a lot of Muslim neighbours and her uncle invites them to use their large backyard for celebrating festivals and functions where the cousins are exposed to biryanis and singing girls.
Ancestral photos show women of previous generations wrapped in the 9 yard sari dhothi/Marathi style with nose rings, armlets & anklets adorning them, but her mother Naomi has a huge fight with her father Daniel, when he buys anklets for his granddaughter to wear, saying that Jewish girls should wear no ornaments except a chain, brooch, watch or bangles.

The messages she receives about her own religion are mixed. Her uncle Menachem winks when he says that it is not permissible to mix milk & meat while happily rounding off a non vegetarian meal with pedhas or gulab jamuns. She doesn't know Hebrew and hence does not know what any of her prayers mean which she finds in strong contrast to her Hindu friends who know exactly what they are saying when they pray.

The difference in food, in expectations, in beliefs and traditions all keep assaulting this young girl but she has nowhere to get answers to the questions that plague her.. The casteist feelings between Baghdadi jews and Bene Israeli Jews brings about its own set of worries for this girl.

How does she deal with it all, how do all these people impact her life, what is the purpose of her life, will she be able to assert any kind of independence. All these questions constantly come up in the mind of the reader of this book.

Each of the characters is well etched and its very easy to sympathise with most of their perspectives since the author explains where each one of them is coming from.

Esther David changed professions (from an art critic) & wrote this novel when she was almost 50. She says she wrote this book to understand herself, her community and her religion. She confesses to not doing any research but just writing straight from her heart.

And it worked. The Walled City's largest success has been in the world of Global Jewish Literature and while there are a lot of nuances of Jewish life in Ahmedabad revealed in the tale, the tale itself could be of any young girl born into any small community in any Indian non-metro city.

The Walls of the city referenced in the book are symbolic of the walls of Indian communities, of the family and of being a woman. In Esther David's words, The Walled City is all about isolation and immense cross cultural conflict.

A lovely read, the book is not so much about the walled city of Ahmedabad but about the search for ones identity.

Does this book give a perspective on Ahmedabad the city it is set in?
Not so much, it could be set in any walled city.
Does this book give a perspective on growing up Jewish in Ahmedabad/India?
Most definitely, yes!

Rating: 4 / 5

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