Thursday, 31 January 2013

Kim's Review : Red April / Abril Rojo

The author of Abril Rojo - Santiago Roncagliolo is from Peru, but his father being a political analyst was forced to leave the country with his family because of tensions with the then government. It is heartening to note though, that his father Rafael Roncagliolo is now back in Peru, serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2011.

Santiago himself resides in Barcelona, Spain since 2000.

We were introduced to Santiago Roncagliolo because he was one of the invited speakers at JLF 2013. The session with him and Ariel Dorfman, was outstanding. And it amazed us to learn that they had met each other just an hour before coming on stage. The chemistry they shared was electric and the following session was filled with laughter, insights, sharp wit and a ton of recommendations of Latin American writers worth reading.

If I had to describe Red April in one word - that word would be - Brilliant!

Red April is set in the season of Lent of 2000 when Alberto Fujimori Fujimori was serving the tail end of his 3rd consecutive term as President of Peru and fresh elections are about to be held. Santiago gives the reader a clear insight into the workings and political/military tensions simmering in Peru in that year before Valentin Paniagua came to power.

Edith Grossman is the Award Winning translator of Cervantes' "Don Quixote" & Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Love in the Time of Cholera" among others, so I was quite shocked when the opening paragraphs of "Red April" seemed stilted and saddened that this would be a tough read. However, after eading a few more lines, I realised that the language was that of Assistant District Prosecutor - Felix Chacaltana Saldivar writing his official report and it all made perfect sense. Thus, the brilliance of Santiago Roncagliolo and his translator Edith Grossman was evident right from these first 2 pages.

While our initial introduction to the lead character Chacaltana, is stilted in its language, it perfectly fits his personality. And its easy to identify him among junior bureaucrats in other countries too.While as a reader I was initially frustrated with Chalcatana's behaviour and reactions, I slowly found myself empathising with him except in one scene towards the end. His personality grows as the novel progresses, from being an ineffective report writer he becomes more hands on and learns to work the system to his own benefit.

The beauty of Red April was that it made me curious to know more about the politics of Latin America, the religious customs around Lent that they follow (which are so different from what are practiced around the rest of the world), the Senderista and the history of the freedom struggle in this region. The book also touched upon Incan customs and depicts how these customs have been included into Christian rituals.

While I read the book itself in 3 hours flat. Somewhere mid way through the book, I stopped to google more about the above topics, just so I could fit the story into a framework. What I did, isn't necesarry to understand or enjoy the book, but it did help me put the entire series of events into context.

It is no suprise then, that Red April won Santiago Roncagliolo the prestiogious Alfaguara Prize.

The author says at the end that "The methods for Senderista attacks described in this book, as well as the counterterrorism strategy of investigation, torture and making people disappear are real. Much of the characters’ dialogue is, in effect, quoted from documents from Shining Path or from the statements of terrorists, officials and members of Peruvian armed forces who took part in the conflict. The dates for Holy Week in 2000 and the description of the celebration are also true. Nevertheless, all of the characters as well as the majority of situations and places mentioned here, are fiction, including the factual details that have been removed from context of place, time and meaning. This novel narrates, as do all, a story that could have happened, but the author does not attest to it having been thus."

So is this novel a work of historical fiction or just fiction set at a point in history?

Whatever it may be, the book is definitely worth reading just for the joy of reading. The peek into life in Latin America, the gripping suspense and the plot are all just additional bonuses.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Kim's Review : All That Glitters

I bought Aita Ighodaro's - "All that Glitters" just before visiting Jaipur for JLF 2013, as she was one of the authors scheduled to visit during the fest. The synopsis of "All that Glitters" was great and it seemed like an interesting whodunnit.The 1st chapter that I read on Amazon via "Read inside" was also quite gripping.

Unfortunately, this book did not live up to my expectations. More than half of the book consists of parties at Oxford,debates, fashion shows and art shows. The plot development is heavily skewed, as nothing of significant import happens until the end and then the book concludes in a rush.

Other than the character of Isabel, none of the other characters were developed at all. "All that Glitters" would fall in the chiklit rather than the whodunnit genre, so its not the kind of book that I usually enjoy. But I'm sure it must have a large readership of its own.

Rating: 2 / 5

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Brajesh's Review : Witness The Night

Kishwar Desai's - "Witness The Night" is a strong idea with a dark story. but which has a happy ending.

I particularly liked the way each chapter is constructed. The first part is from the diary of a girl child, the second is an account of investigation into 13 murders conducted at a house during one night and the last is an e-mail exchange between the investigator and a widow living in the UK.

It would have been easy to get all self indulgent in such a construction but Kishwar Desai keeps the story central and fast paced.

There are a number of social issues raised in the book, but the central one of female feticide in Punjab is depicted in all its darkness. "Witness the Night" is a depressing account of our society, which is deeply disturbing but worth a read.

Rating : 3 / 5

Monday, 21 January 2013

Brajesh's Review : The Edge of Desire

Tuhin Sinha's - "The Edge of Desire" just didn't work for me.

I feel this book will sell only due to its topicality. The premise was strong - on how an IAS officer's wife gets raped by goons in Bihar and then plots her revenge.

Unfortunately no one told the author about strong characters. The weakest character in the book is the protagonist !!! All that happens to her is always destiny and never in her control. Circumstances, political upheaval, nature, God, even the weakest character in the book have the power to define and guide her life, but she never-ever, even once, does anything to chart her own path. It is impossible to hold any reader with such poor characterisation.


Rating : 2 / 5

Monday, 14 January 2013

Brajesh's Review: The Hard Way

I have totally turned into a Jack Reacher Junkie ;) I need a Lee Child book every month to get my fix :). So the next two have also been ordered and are ready to be ODed on ;).

The Jack Reacher movie just didn't live up to my expectations - as a result One Shot will probably lie on our shelf unread :(). Jack Reacher in my minds eye (as imagined from the book description) is blond, bigger and beefier. More like Arnold Schwarzenegger than Tom Cruise.

The appeal of the books for me is the insight into Jack Reachers mind and the understanding of how it works. Obviously, the movie couldn't do justice to this aspect.

Hard Way is another standard Jack Reacher in every way - unexpected beginning, seemingly simple yet complex plot, parallel options at every turn, pretty women in bed with Jack Reacher, surprise turn of events and gun fight to end the novel. So for a Jack Reacher junkie, "The Hard Way" is the right balanced dose.

Rating : 4 / 5

Click on this link for our other Lee Child - Jack Reacher Reviews

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Brajesh's Review : In Search of King Solomon's Mines

The quote on the cover of Tahir Shah's "In Search of King Solomon's Mines" says "A splendidly entertaining book .... Inspired" and I think these words best summarise this book.

Tahir Shah is the best travel writer I have ever read. After reading each of his books I feel that, that one is the best and the feeling came back with "In Search of King Solomon's Mines".

I wish I could live the life Tahir Shah does, going in search of legends, traversing countries, hopping continents, while constantly adding to his unending treasure of stories, human nuances and insights. Gosh it is overwhelming!

In this book he breaks all the stereotypes of a famine ridden Ethiopia that I held and I am sure most people I know, hold as well. Now Ethiopia has a completely new portrait for me, the source of Solomon's Gold, Kingdom of Queen Sheeba, Country of Haile Selasie, Arena of Frank Hayter's Adventures, Mythical location for Garden of Eden & Hiding place of the Ark of Covenant.

Above all Ethiopia turns out to be a rainbow country filled with contraindications not very different from India, and I am so happy my monochromatic view on the country has been destroyed with this book.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Monday, 7 January 2013

Brajesh's Review : The Shadow Throne

It was so appropriate that I finished Aroon Raman's - "The Shadow Throne" while watching the 3rd India-Pak ODI which turned out to be a thriller as India defended a paltry 167.

The book is a similarly fascinating thriller but plotted against the current backdrop of political paralysis in India. From this real landscape emerges the plot of a possible Nuclear conflict.

I haven't read such a fastpaced thriller by an Indian author and was totally surprised by the plot and characters which kept me turning the pages. Aroon Raman has left enough towards the end which points to a sequel and I can't wait for the same. The trio of characters at the center of the book, Hassan the police inspector, Chandra the reporter and Meenakshi the history teacher are real and believable. A great start to 2013 where the book happily surprised me. I hope more such wonderful encounters with books await me through 2013.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Also read - Kim's Review of the Shadow Throne

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