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The Dove’s Lament- Kirthi Jayakumar :10/52 (Book by a female author)

Painful. Reality.

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When I was asked to review this book, I groaned. Yet another chicklit, I thought to myself and rolled my eyes. But a quick search told me that this wasn’t chicklit. It wasn’t even fiction.  It is a book about something so real, something so horrifying, something so sad. And something that we think is so far away, but it is something that is actually knocking at our doors.

Each story begins in a place that need to be magnified on the world map, places that most of us can’t identify offhand. Can you point out to Israel on the world map? Wait. Palestine. Wait. Umm…that area. Maybe. Rwanda? Somewhere in Africa. Bosnia? Is that still even a place? And that country in South America? No idea; I can only identify Brazil in that entire continent. So there you go. Lesson One: Geography. But that’s not what this book is about. It is about history. And current events that will someday be buried in the dusty archives of history.

And it is not just history. Or other people’s conflicts. Or war. Last year’s headlines, the Peshawar massacre is retold through the eyes of siblings who have just discovered each other. You take a diversion from the more known horrors of a Taliban-suppressed Afghanistan and are shown the ugly world of Bachha Baazi, a market where young boys are sold to be dancing ‘girls’ for the rich and perverted. And closer home, the horrifying reality of the Balika Badhus whose stories aren’t as lovable as Anandi’s. There is the never ending saga of the Israel-Palestine conflict; one story, For the Love of a Motherland, shows the irony of how one man’s oppressed is another man’s oppressor. And of course, a book about horrifying conflicts won’t be complete without Kashmir and Srilanka.

The format of this book is interesting, a short-story set in the backdrop of a shameful era of human history like the Srebrenica Massacre ( Go Google it) or the Rwandan Genocide which is then followed by a write up about the the actual conflict. And given the nature of these shameful eras in history, most of these short-stories may not even be fiction.

I remember the 90s when every single day the news reader used to talk about a bombing in Bosnia, a headline that I had no idea about. Fire in a Ring of Ice throws light on an issue that has been so vague to me for the past two decades. A friend’s grandmother used to watch Ulaga Seidhigal for news about Kashmir where her grandson was posted; she thought Kashmir wasn’t a part of India. Is it? I still don’t know. Even in this book, Kashmir has a sad story of its own. With a separate map.

The writing is very good, but I found that the parallel tracks of narration in every story were a bit repetitive and somehow predictable. That style works better for novels; in short stories, there isn’t enough time and space to bring out the depth of each character this way. Though they are all independent short stories, they are gripping enough to keep you going from one to the other without a pause. Makes you  want to know if the next horror is more horrifying than the horror you just read about, and so you keep reading till the very end.

What bugged me? The the urls as footnotes in the print version of the book. It made no sense. Like hashtags on paper or carbon copies in emails. Also, I didn’t understand the cover. Maybe I am not arty enough for it, but I would have preferred a more jarring cover, one that reflects the sadness and pain of the tales inside and stands out so that you take notice of the book in crowded stands.

It is a small book but it covers the entire world. Fly with that dove in search of a safe place to perch, find none, and lament. No, I won’t say that there is hope. I don’t believe in blue skies and rainbows.  I’m a pessimist, so I’lI say that this book has scope to become a trilogy.

You can buy the book here.

Kurukshetra- Aryavarta Chronicles 3 : Krishna Udayasankar

Disclaimer:  Forced review. The real one will happen later.

Ok. I hate Blogadda for doing this to me. It is like giving me a nice cup of steaming hot coffee and then asking me to gulp it down in one minute and tell them how it tasted. I burnt my tongue. Yeah.

I know, when I signed up for this Book Reviews thingy, I know that I agreed to the terms and conditions and that I must keep my word and finish the review within 7 days of receiving the book. But I think it is unfair to both the reader and the author if you have Blogadda breathing down your neck and nagging you with reminders (bordering threats: ‘ you won’t be selected next time’ ) asking you to review the book. I have half a mind to send a cheque for Rs.350 and tell them to go to hell and let me read and enjoy this book at my own pace. Being a Mahabarata junkie, this book is exactly what the doctor prescribed to help me get out of my reader’s block. But because of all that Blogadda pestering, I picked it up with the same resentment I used to pick up my civics text book a day before the social studies exam, and said to myself ‘Let’s get this damn thing done with’

Maybe because it is the third of the Trilogy and my OCD kept telling me that I should have read the first two books first, I found it a bit difficult to comfortably settle into the book. And then, I found it difficult to relate to familiar characters with new names and worse, characters with surnames. Sanjaya Galvwhatever, Govinda Shauri,  Partha, Pritha… It bugged me like anything. And don’t even get me started on the yog names like Dron and Dhrishtaydymn. Call him Drona in English ya. And then things like Secret Keepers and Firewrights and such felt very fantasy fiction types and it didn’t make things any better for me. Ok. But these are just the small things. Not important. After awhile, it got better and the pace picked up.

I loved the Abhimanyu-Uttara part, it was so, for the lack of a more descriptive word, cute ( and I mean cute in a good way). It makes me want to read a book solely from Abhimanyu’s point of view now. So was the role of Shikandin, a refreshing change after the recent Shikandhi book. Someone had recently coined the word Amished for this current trend of books that dumb down mythology. Thankfully, this book is  totally the opposite of Amished. It makes you think and look at the epic through a totally different set of eyes. While the war is not exactly my favourite part of the Mahabarata, it has been an excellent read so far. No, I haven’t finished the book yet. What I’ve written so far are just a few thoughts based on what I’ve read until now. Maybe I’ll sit this weekend and finish it, maybe I won’t. This isn’t a book that can be read in one sitting or two. It is gripping, it is something that will keep you up all night. But I want to read it at my own pace, because this is the Mahabharata narrated in a way I’ve never read before. I don’t want to rush through it and skim past. I want to savour it and enjoy it. Bully me all you want, Blogadda. And I’m not applying for any more free phenyl from you after this.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Private India- Ashwin Sanghi & James Patterson

This is an outsourced review

I got this book for review as as part of the Blogadda program, but since I was on holiday in my hometown, I gave them that address to deliver it to. But it reached late and I was back in Chennai by then. So I asked my mother to read it and review it for me. I’ll read when I get my hands on it next week.

Below are her reactions to this book

When she started reading it , she sent me this text message ‘ The book is light. Like Perry Mason or some Tamil detective stuff. Too early to tell yet’.

The next message said ‘ It is ok, but not all that exciting or anything‘.

It has been a week now and today she texts me this ‘ Not such a great one. Had all the sophisticated devices. A bunch of detectives. Murders. Politicians. Underworld. Policemen. Stuff. Not a non-putdownable book. I would not give it 25/100′

And another text ‘ If L or S take that book from my bookshelf and don’t return it I won’t feel sad or ask them to return it’ . L and S are serial borrowers who raid our bookshelf whenever they visit.

Ok. So she’s rated it out of 100. That’s not even 4/10. How many not stars is that out of five? Do the maths.

Maybe it is not fair on my part to post an outsourced review. So let me call it a guest blog post curated from text messages. Now that’s a new method of reviewing, right? And it gives a potential reader a basic picture of the book. And that picture is Meh.

But I’m doing this just because I promised to review it, come rain or shine. Blogadda shouldn’t give us such a strict deadline of 7 days to finish reading a book sent for review. And they even have strict wordcount rules and this review needs to be in 500 words or more.  I would like do do some shameless cheating and post what the blurb says and add the ISBN code and the Flipkart or Amazon link to this book. I actually did that, then deleted it. I’d rather increase wordcount with my own blah rather than someone else’s. So if you want to know what this book is about, do a Google search.

I haven’t read any of Ashwin Sanghi’s or James Patterson’s books before, so I have nothing to compare it with. A friend who also got the book  from the Blogadda program texted me that the book was ‘the worst’. So I’m not sure if I’m in a hurry to get my hands on it soon. To keep my conscience clean, I’ll most certainly  read this book. But not tomorrow, not this month. I want to end my 52 books challenge with  a biggie and I’m still deciding which one it will be. Also, I’m not logging all these light reads as part of the challenge. Sorry Blogadda, let me off easy this time. Please don’t stop sending me free books.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

The Deliberate Sinner- Bhaavna Arora: 42/52

A Woman’s Era short story in 150 pages.

You know those stories that appear in Woman’s Era? The forced language that seems to be thought-in-Hindi-written-in-English, the attitude of the characters, their names , the weak and disconnected plot, the confused protagonist, the attempted ‘modernity’. Everything in this book reminded me of Woman’s Era. But instead of having the kind of predictable ending those short stories usually have, this book follows the current trend of women breaking free from unhappy marriages. Yeah, that trend. Or maybe it reminded me of one of those never ending soaps that drag on pointlessly for years.

Rihanna is rich, happy, carefree. She has doting parents, a dog and her personal bodyguard-cum-driver-cum-Man Friday. She takes a solo trip to Thailand and Veer, the richhandsomehunk who happens to be sitting next to her also happens to be her friend Raj’s friend. Nothing more Veerwise happens during the trip. Then one day she meets Veer again at the swimming pool and he swims a hundred laps just to take her out for coffee. But instead of coffee, he proposes to her. That very evening she tells her parents about him and they get engaged. Huh? Is this to be categorized as a love marriage or the cliched love-cum-arranged marriage? Then she realises that Veer is not suitable for her, but instead of breaking the engagement and bringing shame to her family she finds solace in Raj, her friend who becomes her friend with benefits. But he is too dark complexioned for her to marry.He vanished from the plot after that and gets mentioned only once later. Blah blah and blah later Rihanna and Veer get married. When he plays a prank on her and stages a terrifying dacoity and almost rape (!) on the Gurgaon highway, she thinks nothing of it. But then as the days go by she realises that he is an insecure drunkard and a selfish jerk who refuses to give her pleasure in bed. Since the day they were married he has given her just three orgasms, something which she innocently reports to her aunt (!). Then he goes on and has an affair with a girl who called him a Tiger because he did it eleven times with her. Numbers. Blah blah and blah some more she leaves him and goes to Mumbai to stay with her uncle who is a Bollywood producer and becomes a fashion designer or something. Then a change of heart happens and she comes back to give him another chance. Then they fight, make up fight again. Then another character is suddenly introduced, a police officer Avinash.  And the predictable you-know-what happens and she is finally set free.

Let me be honest, I skimmed through this book. Everything was so repetitive and predictable that I know skipping sentences did not make me miss out on much. Blogadda sent the copy of the book signed by the author. ‘ Hate the sin, not the sinner’ she had written. I have no clue what the sin was or who the sinner was. So I’m playing it safe and not hating anything here. Not even hating the book. Because you can like or hate something only if you’re involved enough.

Verdict: Nah.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

 

 

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie : 35/52

Judgy. Preachy. Self Righteous. Borderline. But readable.

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I’m not a big fan of isms or anti isms. It makes people big bores. Like when I open Twitter at 6 am and I see a flood of 1/n feminist tweets going on and on about patriarchy- misogyny -blah. Or a conversation about communalism vs ‘sickularism’ with 234 replies that has been going on since 9 pm the previous night. Not denying that these are serious isms that need to be addressed, but as I said, it just makes people big bores. I digress. This is about Americanah and the ism that made this book a small bore: Racism.

It starts off on a interesting note. Ifemelu has decided to return to Nigeria after fifteen long years in the USA. The story unfolds as she sits in a hair salon, getting her hair braided, a six hour long process where she is forced to make conversation with the girl doing her hair. An immigrant from Senegal, the hair girl wants to marry any one of her boyfriends, both Igbos who refuse to marry her since she’s not an Igbo. (It is not just the Indian immigrants who stick to culture-caste-clan rules) Hair plays a very important role in the book. It is a symbol of individuality, conformity, rebellion, acceptance, submissiveness. Hair was what started off her Race blog, the one with a long name : ‘ Observations of an African Black on racism and African American blacks formerly known as negroes’ . Or something like that. That’s where the book got boring. She judges Americans, judges them for everything right from not scrubbing while showering to eating bread for lunch. It always angers me when racism and stereotyping is Racism and Stereotyping only when done to Them. It is perfectly fine when it is the other way round. ( Again, not denying the seriousness of anything, it all exists, but still.  And Them here can mean anyone who suffers any -ism. Ok. I’m not making sense )

Having read and watched a lot about Indian immigrants in the US; most of them ,barring the heavy Jumpa Lahri, being self deprecating comedies , this book gave a different and interesting perspective of immigrant life through the eyes of an African who enters the land of Whites, Hispanics, Asians and African Americans and suddenly discovers her blackness. A unique kind of identity crisis that she isn’t able to come to terms with till the very end. She develops and undevelops her American accent, relaxes and unrelaxes her hair. She gets into a serious relationship with a pale white man and later, with a serious intellectual African American. But there is something always missing in her life: Her life.

And on the other side, her America crazy boyfriend who is denied an American visa and lives through a more tangible kind of torturous life in London, cleaning toilets, working illegally and watching his friends slip into fake English lives until he gets deported minutes before his sham marriage takes place. He returns to Nigeria, gets rich and hires a white man as his general manager. But that’s not some kind of sweet victory. The white man is hired just to add ‘value’ to his business. Vicious circle.

Back to Nigeria, as an Americanah, Ifemelu again does a whole lot of judging the New Nigeria. Their wannabeness, their shift from fresh potatoes to frozen ones, their shallowness, their corruption, their morality. Two minutes towards the end of the book , when you’re waiting to know if they Did or Didn’t, there is a painfully long conversation between freshly introduced characters just to plug in thoughts about the current economic trends.

I would have liked more about Dike, the  African Born America Bred Confused Black American Teenager. His story wasn’t given closure. Similarly, Ifemelu’s relationship with her white employers started off on a promising note , there was scope to explore a different kind of friendship. But Kimberly and her family disappeared abruptly, again, no closure. Blaine, his sister and his friends were plain boring.

Another thing that stood out for me was the casual attitude towards infidelity. Now I’m not judging here, but there was something not quite right in the way she took it for granted about how she could pick up from where she left off with her now married ex. Or when she cheats on Curt with no solid ‘excuse’ or ‘reason’.  Yes, it was the fictional character doing it, but her lack of guilt and the confidence was mildly disturbing. And the trend of being an unapologetic mistress for material gains, right from Aunty Uju and The General to  Rainyundo and the Banker or Obinze’s offer to Ifemelu . Again, if it is a reflection of reality, it is disturbing.

If  I could give this book stars in parts, the first half would get four stars. And the second half , with the series of long conversations and blog posts, essays on racism masquerading as fiction, gets two stars.

Still a fan of Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche, but Purple Hibiscus will remain my favourite book.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia- Mohsin Hamid : 34/52

Written in typical Mohsin Hamid style: Totally different from the other two novels.

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It is a hot, humid weekend and you don’t feel like stepping out of the house. So you plan to stay indoors and read all weekend. You have in front of you, on your Kindle, a book written by an author whom you’ve read before. You’ve loved one of his books and liked the other. So you wonder what emotion this book will evoke. When you finally finish the twelve chapters, you will realise that what you feel for this book is something in between love and like.

You don’t understand the snark behind the way this book was written in the format of a self help book. But then, you have never read any self help books and so find it difficult to compare it with a real one and understand the sarcasm. You also don’t like the way the chapters are titled ‘ Don’t fall in Love’ ‘ Learn from a master’ ‘ Become a patron of the arts’ etc because there is not much relevance to  the actual content except for the first couple of paragraphs in each chapter.

But you are a fan of the author and you therefore expect to be a fan of the book. So you look beyond the small things that bug you and focus on the bigger picture : The Story. You find the story unremarkable, but narrated in a very remarkable way. A few pages into the book, you settle down comfortably into the second person style of narration and follow the rags to riches story of an unnamed boy and his unnamed family and friends in an unnamed city in an unnamed country. But since you know where this story is actually set, and you live in a country close to this unnamed country, in Rising Asia, you are able to relate.

You read about the poor boy from a village who moves to the city, gets an education, works in a shop that pirates DVDs, meets a pretty girl and does not fall in love with her. Then you read about how the boy  becomes a man, learns the tricks of the trade by first selling expired food products with new labels and then becomes his own boss, running a successful bottled water business with nothing but a stove and tap water. You then see him getting richer and richer right before your eyes, thanks to unscrupulous politicians, bureaucrats and the god-created economic and social imbalance in Rising Asia. You also follow the  progress of the pretty girl, the one he didn’t fall in love with, from being a beauty parlour assistant to a model to a TV cookery show host to an imported furniture dealer. You wish his wife, a  woman with a mind of her own, something you don’t expect from women in that unnamed country, could have gotten more black squiggly print in the book.

After the twelfth chapter, you close the book with the satisfaction of having read a satisfactory book. But it does nothing to evoke any strong emotions from you. None of the characters will linger in your mind nor will they fade away soon. You then update your blog and your Goodreads page with your thoughts about the book, try to be creative and attempt to write your blogpost in the same style the book was written in,  tick off one more book in your Reading Challenge for 2014, and move on to the next book.

 

 

 

Love Kills- Ismita Tandon : 33/52

A dead woman. A dead man. A bunch of suspects. A determined police officer. Same old?  Oh no. It is dark and twisty interesting.

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Not an edge of the seat whodunnit, but an engrossing read nevertheless.

Thy Will is a deaddiction center run by a psychiatrist Johnny Will who had a disturbed childhood. His ways of ensuring that his patients stay sober are unethical and questionable, they say. I found it a bit contrived. But between him, Sera his psychologist and Zac his half brother, they run a tight and successful ship, catering to The Rich and Famous addicts. Things seem all rosy in the quiet little hill station of Monele until Mira, Johnny’s fiance is found dead due to a morphine overdose.  And when  another gruesome murder happens a few days later, things heat up. Fifteen years ago Johnny’s father was found dead under mysterious circumstances and Officer Ray who had his hands tied wasn’t able to nail Johnny in the crime. But this time, he is not letting him off that easily.

The narration did seem a bit cluttered with each chapter being written from the perspective of each character. I would have preferred longer chapters and lesser characters in this format. But the book keeps you going till the end without breaking the pace, keeping you guessing till the very end. Everyone seems to have a motive and the means, Johnny, Sera, the cousin Azaan, Zac, the evil aunt Adele. At one point I even wondered if it was Marie, the housekeeper. And everyone tells their story, trying to convince the reader of their innocence until finally, one of them reveals the truth. But is it the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Ah.

Three things bugged me in the book. One was the fictitious town of Monele. But this has nothing to do with the actual book. Rather, it was the local in me who found it difficult to accept a picture perfect town full of rich party people and a hotel called Seven Seas an hour or so away from where I actually live. I just got a bit picky. Faraway imaginary Malgudi and Brahmpur were perfectly fine with me. But a Monele that claims to be next door? A Ketti Palada, maybe.

The other was the excessive use of Westernised names. Agreed, Ooty is full of Anglo Indians, maybe even people with wannabe western names. I won’t be surprised if there is a house actually named Thy Will, we have a The Tryst there. But this setting, totally removed from ‘Indianness’ and Ootyness did seem a bit odd to me. Not a deal breaker though. The actual plot was interesting and made up for this, so I let it pass.

And ouch, ‘The lesser known poet’ being plugged in obviously and less obviously in more than one place. That made me cringe. The author’s poetry blog should have stayed in the About page, not in Officer Ray’s narration or in sly plugs elsewhere.

I don’t usually like to use the genre/category ‘Indian author’, but it was such a nice change to read a gripping murder mystery by an ‘Indian author’ instead of the current trend of  ‘humour’ or chicklit. I read the reviews of the author’s previous book, Jacob Hills and will definitely pick it up.

This book has been reviewed as a part of GetPublished program by IndiBlogger