Archive | February 2014

Moth Smoke -Mohsin Hamid : 10/52

This book has attitude.

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First, gasp!  A Pakistani woman who smokes, drinks, does drugs and has a secret identity, all with the acceptance of her husband and right under her father-in-law’s nose!  Where are the Moral Police?  Now that she’s broken the stereotype, let me say, ‘Mumtaz, whatte woman’.

Daru isn’t black and white or grey. He is the colour of colourless mud. Frustrating. You feel no sympathy towards him, except maybe when he loses his mother due to lack of air conditioning; air conditioning being an important character in the book. He sweats it out in the darkness, swatting moths, slapping servants, selling drugs, getting beaten up, robbing boutiques. And yet he doesn’t want to take on a job that pays tenthousand or work in a car dealership. And on top of all that, he  has an affair with his best friend’s wife without an iota of guilt. Frustrating.

I didn’t quite get the connection between the Mughals and the characters that are named after them. But the connection between Daru and Ozi and the nuclear tests that form the subtle background to the story, I did. Or am I reading too much into it? India was not specifically spelled out in the book, but it was there. Right there, mocking Pakistan with its nuclear tests, looking  all arrogant and cool. Pakistan’s insecurity, (what if our bombs don’t work) , the underlying jealousy, the hurried rush to equal India and the smugness when they also do it reflected Daru and Aurangazeb. Again, in Daru’s sense of being given a raw deal, is perceived superiority, his urgency to catch up with the rest of them, and in his unscrupulous and unapologetic foray into crime just to get even with Aurangazeb, I saw the two countries.  And Aurangazeb’s next move? Well, I can’t draw parallels to that. Maybe (hopefully) not just yet.

Once you start reading this, you won’t put it down until you’ve read the last chapter and said your final ‘what the…’

Girl, Interrupted- Susanna Kaysen : 9/52

It makes you wonder.

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After having watched the movie a dozen times and having loved it, I finally got my hands on the book. No, though I’m tempted to, I will make no comparisons. Because both aren’t the same.

Everyone goes through a phase, be it at 18 or at 38. Do we really need to give that phase a name and put it into a textbook? That was the question that I kept asking myself long after I closed the book. Were all those cups of medication pumped into her for no reason at all? Is Borderline Personality Disorder actually a disorder? I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to these questions. And that’s what she asks herself throughout the book. Was I really sick? The Brain vs Mind chapter provided some deep insights from a layperson’s point of view, in pretty simple language.

After the much hyped The Bell Jar made no impact on me, I braced myself for another disappointment, since this book too hovered on a similar theme. Sylvia Plath gets a mention in this book, having been an inmate of the same mental hospital earlier. But the simplicity of Girl, Interrupted was stark, rather than bland ( which was what I felt about The Bell Jar)

Short chapters that read like a shuffled diary, no flowery prose.  She was just saying it like it was. What she did, what she felt, whom she met, whom she liked, whom she didn’t.

Small characters like the Other Lisa, Alice Calais and Torrey made an impact, and left me wondering what happened to them. The meeting with Lisa Rowe after her release seemed more cinematic than real, and I was slightly worried about the fate of her child. I sincerely hope he turned out ok.

This is a kind of book that I will pick up again whenever I feel like it and just read random chapters.

PS: I loved the story behind the book’s title. Here is the painting. 

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The Appeal- John Grisham: 8/52

Some light reading after a depressing book like The Siege. Warning : Spoilers ahead

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Huge verdicts usually end in an anticlimax. Wasn’t that what happened in The Rainmaker?  So I had a bad feeling about this one from the start.

An evil chemical plant, toxic waste dumped into the water, a cancer epidemic. David lawyers and Goliath lawyers. All ends well. But wait. The happy ending is just the beginning. There is the classic evil corporate king, one who buys grotesque sculptures for 18 million dollars to please his trophy wife, one who is willing to pay a shady organisation 10 million dollars to rig an election but one who never thinks twice about the victims of the Cancer County his company has created. You then have an elaborate plan to fix an election so that the sympathetic judge doesn’t get reelected, thus getting the odds up for a verdict in favour of the evil corporate giant. And in between the Davids become victims of evil spite and are put through all kinds of hardships. Seemed a bit far fetched to me, the way the election campaign was played out. But then, I guess that’s how elections in the US work. Lots and lots of fluff.

The story began to lag after a while. Oh, get on with the election and get us to the verdict already, I say. And then a sudden twist, a human angle , a change of heart and an anticlimactic climax.

My verdict? The book worked ok for me.  Two sleepless nights well spent.

The Siege- Helen Dunmore : 7/52

Dark. Cold. Depressing.

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Soviet Russia has always fascinated me. So has the Second World War. What happens when both meet? Unimaginable horror.

Two years, four months, two weeks and five days of hunger, cold, fear and death. Not necessarily in that order. That was what the Siege of Leningrad was about. There’s hunger that makes your stomach rumble as you read it. And cold that makes you reach out and switch off the fan.

Anna, a twenty three year old nursery assistant who grew up overnight when her mother died . grows up again. This time, to look after not just her mentally disturbed father and five year old brother, but also her father’s lover and her own. She survives the bread queues, she barters food for warmth and warmth for love. She scrapes out frozen sludge from chamberpots and scours burned down buildings for floorboards. She sacrifices pieces of bread and drops of honey for the five year old child, while the father of the child lies in the next room, refusing to want to live. Books that once warmed her soul, warm the room. Leather straps and wallpaper paste become food.

And in this fight for survival, you see the human spirit triumph through people like Evgenia, and the same spirit die when you find people prepared to kill for a crumb of bread or a log of wood. You don’t actually feel the entire duration of the Siege in the book though. It somehow seemed to end too easily ( compared to the real horror that I read about after I read the book) The deaths don’t hit you hard enough, except maybe, the baby’s. Probably because you have not been given a chance to relate to the characters long enough. But it is horrible enough for you to have nightmares. I did.

After reading this, my first thought was that Anne Frank had it easy. Locked for more than two years, in a city with no food, no warmth and no hope, the people of Leningrad didn’t.

And then, if it is even possible, you hate Hitler some more.