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Coraline- Neil Gaiman: 12/52 (Book a friend recommended )

In what twisted universe is this a ‘children’s book’?

Ok. Reading more about the book, it looks like the author started this off as a children’s book and then it turned out to be a children’s book for adults. And apparently, it scares the daylights out of only us adults, not children. And coming to think about it, all those Enid Blyton books where the toys in the nursery coming alive at midnight seemed so delightful at age seven, but the very concept does sound creepy now.

So. Coraline. The book that gives you disturbed sleep that’s filled with dreams of pale women coming at you with a needle and thread, trying to sew a button into your eye. Coraline is a strong, independent, inquisitive child. She doesn’t like it when people get her name wrong and she doesn’t like ‘recipes’. So on one bored rainy day, she explores her house and finds a door that opens into another world. A world where everything is the same, yet different. And different like you would never imagined.

In any situation, when you have two elderly spinsters living together, there is always a little room for crazy. The two ladies, the delightfully named Miss Forcible and Miss Spink who read Coraline’s tea leaves, give her a stone with a hole and later perform for dogs in the alternate universe, don’t disappoint you with the crazy. The mouse man, for some reason, I pictured as Mr.Heckles. But both him and talking cat I found to be a tad too predictable.

Towards the end, I felt sorry for the other mother though. All she wanted was a little girl of her own, one she could love, cook for and sew button eyes on. But I felt worse for the other father. Somehow, the father seemed to play the same role in both universes, a person just living life and going through the motions.

I don’t think I’ll be watching the movie, I liked they way I pictured things in my head while reading the book and I don’t want to spoil that. But I’ve finally discovered Neil Gaiman and the Ocean at the End of the Lane has come highly recommended as the next Gaiman that I should read. I’m not sure if I’m ready yet, but soon.

Growing up, I did live out my quota of Fantasy World. Like when I tried to stay up past midnight to see if the dolls come to life and such normal things. But this book reminded me of the creepiest thing I did as a kid. I beheaded a pretty little imported doll, a golden haired one named Bonnie that came with a tiny feeding bottle ( a gift from Mrs.Martin, a missionary, whom I remembered when reading about Miss Mitten in GOST) and buried the parts in a wooden chest while the road was being dug up and tarred. I don’t know why I did it, maybe I wanted the doll to go live in some alternate universe or maybe it was some repressed psycho killer tendencies that I was exhibiting. I should make that into a creepy little story like this someday.

PS: Thanks for the recco, The Visitor. I’m ticking this off my reading challenge now.

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Aarushi-Avirook Sen: 11/52 ( Set in a place where I’ve lived)

Infuriating

Aarushi

First, repeat after me : My name is Reader and I am not a Judge. I am reading a book, not hearing evidence. I promise to read with an open mind, an open mind and nothing but an open mind so help me god. 

Ok. Yes, I’m a fan of American legal dramas and I wish that this book had been written by John Grisham or the case had been argued by Eugene Young, Plan B-ed and all. But then, who needs fiction when you have Life

This book reminded me again of why and how much I detest Noida, NCR and North India in general. Noida was still synonomous with the Nithari killings when I was planning to move there. A week after I moved, a former airhostess Sheeba Thomas was shot dead for, allegedly, her mobile phone. Two days later, there was a shootout in a society near my place. Less than a month later, Aarushi happened. And the nation still hasn’t recovered from that. I lived in Sector 25 for some time, and made sure I took only the bus to work. But then, that was when I believed that buses were safe and December 2012 hadn’t happened. Later, I moved just across the road from my office building, but I still can’t get over the fear and tension I felt just walking across the park back home on dark winter evenings, looking left and right for Pan Paraag haired men who might rob, rape and kill. Paranoid? Maybe. But NCR continues to haunt my nightmares even now

That day in May 2008 and what followed is still fresh in my memory. The murder, the shock, the pandemonium on TV that night and then the verdict by a rag (TOI or HT?) the very next day, complete with a graphic representation of how Hemraj murdered Aarushi. A few days later, the media verdict was re-verdicted, complete with a graphic representation of an Aarushi in a ‘compromising’ position with Hemraj and an enraged Rajesh Talwar killing them both. (Seven years later, still not having learnt to calm the fuck down, rags will continue such graphic representations; the latest being the Sunanda Pushkar case where we saw a reconstruction of the scene,compete with a floppy haired Shashi Tharoor graphical man). Then came Nupur Talwar’s interview on NDTV where she spoke, calm, collected and cold faced. Yes, I admit it; the fact that she didn’t break down weeping on national television did seem a little unnerving. We all commented on that. But then again, we are a generation so used to seeing public meltdowns on TV when a participant in a dance competition gets eliminated.

This book takes you back to that day in 2008 and tells you the story once more, but this time it tells you what the Talwars want you to hear. There is nothing new actually, most of this has already been reported in some website or the other. Ofcourse, it paints the picture of innocent Talwars. You have little pieces of information passing off as casual narration, but you will read later about how this ‘casual moment’ becomes crucial to the evidence. Like how Aarushi went to bed that night and undid the naada on her pajamas because ‘the elastic was enough, she thought’. An entire section later, you will learn that the undone naada would be invoked by a witness to imply that the pajamas were pulled up after the murder. Or how a golf club, one that would later become part of the actual murder weapons, was ‘casually found while clearing things out and replaced in the set’. Anyway, this book is from the Talwars point of view and this is what you should expect. (Repeating the first line again and moving on)

But it also opens the Pandora’s box of the ugliness of the entire legal system in India, right from the lowly policeman who photographs the evidence and dusts for fingerprints and then says ‘‘Dhyan nahin hai’ to all questions asked in court to the honourable (?) judge who writes about Hemraj’s ‘turgid willy’ and ‘swollen pecker’ in the judgement. Sweepers whose statements are taken as authority in postmortem reports, bloodstained pillow cover evidence that gets mixed up due to ‘typos’, mysterious women and a curious magistrate (who had no business to be there) doing casual disaster tourism to survey the crime scene, multiple lab reports with jarring contradictions, judgmental witnesses who talk about Nupur Talwar’s dressing sense and her ‘looking at herself in the mirror’ at the murder scene, sick mindgames like sending emails to Rajesh Talwar from an id ‘hemraj.jalvayuvihar@gmail.com’ … the list is endless. The casual way in which crucial evidence was mishandled makes me believe that since the police thought they had a clean cut case of Hemraj killing Aarushi, they took it too easy on Day One. And that initial inefficiency and bumbling had a domino effect that went all haywire and led to this. This being Nupur Talwar and Rajesh Talwar in jail, convicted and sentenced to life for honour killing their only daughter. Sounds heavy when you actually spell those words out.

Uglier, are the character assassinations. Building a character judgement based on a teenager’s Orkut communication, getting cheap thrills at the thought a wife swapping group, and using a confession about an extra marital affair during a narco test to blackmail are just the tip of the ugly iceberg. But here again, the author casually drops in bits of information about the caste of the investigating officer to emphasise the point that he takes honour killings for granted.

Did Rajesh and Nupur Talwar do it? I don’t know. Did Krishna and Rajkumar do it? I don’t know. I may never know what happened, but I also don’t know what to believe. There is evidence, lack of evidence, planted evidence, missing evidence, destroyed evidence and then, the truth.

I have grown up, so I am not going to play judge, jury, executioner and gossip columnist. But one thing that this book has proved beyond all doubt is this: The justice system in India is fucked up beyond redemption. And there is no hope.

The Rape of Nanking- Iris Chang: 57/52

The forgotten Holocaust. One of the forgotten Holocausts

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I swore off all real war book after This Divided Island. But then, the masochist-voyuer in me didn’t allow it. I wanted to read about more horrific horrors that happened  in other wars. So I Googled to find more such books. And I realised that there is no dearth of such books and such horrific horrors and such wars in this world.

This book happened in between my trips to China and Germany. It shook me up badly and I wanted my emotions to settle down a bit before I wrote about it. But then I went to Germany and visited Dachau Concentration camp. And suddenly I wasn’t too sure about which horror was more horrific. The relatively unknown WW2 horror of Japanese soldiers slaughtering Chinese civilians in killing competitions and bayonet practice or the well known WW2 horror of gas chambers and Hitler’s Hate. And again, I waited for my emotions to settle down. But now I’m actually too numb and that moment of horror has passed. One more war book and I think I’ll be vaccinated for life against Feeling. So what I write now is not what I initially felt.

When I think China, I think of only Tiananmen Square, Bamboo gulags, Inhuman Rights. The land without Twitter and Facebook and Google. Enemy country. I don’t know anything about Chinese history before 1989. And when I think of Japan, I think of hard work and perfection. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tsunamis. A country of phoenix birds rising from the ashes to greater heights each time. The victims. Our friends. But now, I can think of just one thing when I think China. Nanking. And when I think Japan, again, Nanking. (  A Tale for the Time Being had that chapter from the Kamikaze pilot’s life. I wasn’t that moved then. But now I should read it again to understand Japan’s cruelty. )

The most horrific part of the Rape of Nanking is not the cold blooded massacre of 50000…100000…300000…prisoners or war and civilians because the Japanese Imperial army didn’t know what to do next; not the rapes of women from 8 to 80; not the killing competitions or the mass burial grounds; not the mountains where the  soil turned into metallic red slush or the Yangzte river that turned red with the blood of the beheaded. The most horrific part of the Rape of Nanking to me, is the fact that most of the world is still unaware about it even now.

It is like a ten line article tucked into page 30 of the WW2 newspaper where the Jewish holocaust and Hiroshima and Nagasaki are on the headlines. More sad is that China itself has tried to forget and remove all traces of the horror and move on to other self inflicted horrors instead of throwing open their doors for the world to see. And saddest is that the USA, self appointed guardians of humankind,cared only when Pearl Harbour happened, and even afterwards only made amends for their own wrongs to Japan instead of telling the world what Japan had done to their neighbours. And Japan, Japan with its denial, false propaganda, school books with twisted history and a right wing that still intimidates anyone who wants to share the truth. Oh, Japan, you’ve fallen from that pedestal I had you on. And how.

On my next trip to China I wanted to plan a quick visit to Nanjing. But after Googling a bit, I decided against it. Even if I can make that overnight train or expensive flight for the weekend, I think I’ll be going into a city that has erased her scars and painted herself over with a new shiny gloss. A city that has buried its past and moved on to the future. But then, maybe that’s what China is all about. And to some of us here, Nanking will continue to be nothing more than that authentic Chinese restaurant.

Edit: On the anniversary of the Rape of Nanking, I got some uninvited attention on Twitter from some Japanese. Some keywords led them to my tweet about the book. I was open to discussion and they shared some photos showing the Japanese-Chinese ‘friendship’ in Nanking. Three happy propaganda photos do not erase the horror that it actually was. These were some of the links they shared to debunk the ‘myth’ of the Nanking Massacre.

This–> http://www.howitzer.jp/nanking/page01.html Seriously? If you say so.

This, obviously, is the Ginling College Safety Zone –> http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15799coll123/id/33881/rec/50

This, I don’t understand the language, but yes Chiang Kai Shek was to blame too. Although he was just a pawn in the bigger picture –>  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c66d9WKRwk

We Need to Talk About Kevin: Lionel Shriver- 52/52

My biological clock just left the building.

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There is a reason why I picked up this book. I started it a few months ago, but the first couple of chapters were a drag, so I abandoned it. Then something happened last Thursday that made me feel I just had to read this book. And I couldn’t put it down until that very last chapter, that very last line. That very last line that left me stunned.

At first, I thought Lionel Shriver was a man and that is why Eva Katchadourian came out as un-womanly as ever. No woman, I thought, can even think of writing about regretting a pregnancy just because she had to stay off wine. But then, Lionel Shriver is a woman. A woman who wrote a book so stark, so honest, so unapologetic, so bonechilling and so shockingly real.

I hated Eva. If only she had put in half the effort she put to get Kevin her surname into actually understanding and loving Kevin, Thursday may not have happened. Or would it have? Maybe she shouldn’t have wanted the answer to the Big Question. Maybe she should have just let the page be, not turned it. Turned it to reveal the horror on the next page. Maybe. And I hated Franklin. For all his denial. For all his good intentions. I hated him for just wanting to have had Kevin. But Kevin, I couldn’t hate him. I couldn’t love him. I couldn’t feel anything for him.

An unborn child can hear, it can feel, it is scientifically proven. An unborn child can learn the secrets of warfare from his mother’s womb, it has been mythologically proven. And now I believe that an unborn child can hate. A minute old Kevin shuns his mother’s breast. A four year old Kevin destroys his mother’s favourite wallpaper. A six year old Kevin plays mind games with his mother. A fourteen year old Kevin disgusts his mother. An almost sixteen year old Kevin destroys her life. And his. And eleven more.

The writing was not so great, so many digressions. Letters of confession, unsaid words, unthinkable thoughts all poured out to Dear Franklin. But those digressions were probably necessary. You need to know how much she loved her job and her company and her travels , loved those so much more than she loved her son. You need to know about her agoraphobic mother, maybe that mental condition manifested itself in another way in Eva. You need to know about her contempt towards American society, the very society she brought up her son in. You need to know how much importance she gave to her Armenian ancestry and the genocide. You need to know. Because only then you’ll understand the other genocide. That high school genocide.

Devastating. Haunting. Shocking. Mindnumbing. The book kicked me in the pit of my stomach. The book reached inside my heart and squeezed it till it clogged up. The book reached inside my mind, my soul and made me introspect. Yeah.

PS: Two things I didn’t buy. How does Kevin mention ‘flying planes into the World Trade Center’ in April 2011? How does he manage to keep that object he gives his mother in the end? Doesn’t juvi have the same squat and cough rules as in other prisons?

 

Afternote:

Now let’s get personal.

Last week I got a frantic call from a friend. Her 16 year old son had just called the child helpline number and complained about her just because she refused to buy him a laptop. No, not refused. She just didn’t buy it for him the moment he asked for it.

Five years ago, I wrote this 55 word fiction piece.

 “Half that blood is your father’s. How else do I expect you to behave?”She slapped him. “As long as that bitch’s blood runs in your body, don’t call me Appa” He shouted. The mother’s still remained inside when they found him. The father’s blood had coagulated as a pool around that eleven year old wrist.

That was when the same child had threatened to jump off the balcony.

Two years ago, I got this email from my friend. She had fractured her leg and was immobile without her crutches.

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That was when she had asked the boy to study.

And last Thursday, I took calls the whole day. From the mother, from the father, from the aunt and from the child himself. Horrible language was used, tears were shed, family was disowned, death threats were made. The rage resonated across 600+ kilometers and sent a shiver through my spine.‘ Oru savam inniku vizhum paarungo’. And I thought to myself, ‘If only this was America, this boy would have grabbed a gun and shot a dozen of his classmates’. And that is why I picked up the book from where I had abandoned it. No, he is not Kevin, she is not Eva and he is not Franklin. Thankfully, there is no Celia. This is a more complex story. But in some way, they are too.

We take it for granted in India that ‘good news’ questions are in order two months after the wedding. Why India, even George Clooney’s father-in-law wanted babies even before the wedding pictures were sold to a tabloid. And of course, no woman can not want a baby. She is either a monster, a career minded bitch or just plain hormone deficient if her uterus doesn’t skip a beat whenever she sees tiny crocheted socks or catch a whiff of Johnson’s baby powder. Maybe our society, culture and complex family network helps such monsterwomen overcome their true feelings and go on to make happy families. But you can’t deny that such women do not exist. Or that such thoughts do not cross the minds of some women, even fleetingly.

And then there’s postpartum depression. Maybe our oldwives call it something else. But another friend wept to me five years after her daughter had been born. About how she couldn’t touch the baby for a fortnight, how she hated her husband for feeling so comfortable with the baby. About how when she was alone, she slapped the week old baby. Slapped. The. Week. Old. Baby. Again, our family system complete with gushing mothers and mothers-in-law, neighbors, extended family and long paid maternity leave help tide over this kind of crisis. This child has ofcourse turned out alright.

But I’m afraid. Very afraid now. Is there a Kevin walking among us? How many?

 

52 done. And what a book to finish with!

 

Thinner- Stephen King :28/52

A dieter’s dream? Nope.

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You can take it two ways. Clean creepy horror or deep socialist message.

This fat rich whitemanfromtown lawyer is getting frisky with his wife in the car and runs over an ancient gypsy woman and kills her. The local policeman and the judge who sits on his case don’t take it seriously and let the killer lawyer off without any punishment. So justice is served, the Gypsy Way. Thinner, Scalier, Pimplier. While Scaly and Pimply surrender to their fate, Thinner goes on to fight it.

I swayed back and forth in my loyalties throughout the book. At one point I felt sorry for the poor fatman who keeps dropping pounds every day and is almost a skeleton by the time he reaches the gypsies to get the curse undone. But then when I read about how how badly the gypsies are treated, getting chased out of every town, getting their dogs killed, their cars exploded, I felt sorry for them. I wanted both sides to win.

Stephen King wrote this book as Richard Bachman, but you see his signature style all over the place.  But then his ego goes and describes Billy Halleck’s situation as ‘ a Stephen King novel’ .

This was not a nightmare inducing book. Just a creepy story that will make me think twice before brushing away the ‘lower classes’ next time.

 

The Reluctant Detective-Kiran Manral: 22/52

Chicken soup for the Masochist’s soul
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What is the longest it has taken for you to finish a book? A 180 page book?

Circa 2012
In which I buy the book: A Twitter celeb wrote a book and it was all over the place.I decided to buy said book out of curiosity, mildly combined with a twinge of jealousy since I feel jealous of all people who write and get published.

In which I start reading the book:  I read a couple of paragraphs, struggled through the first chapter and threw the book in disgust.
In which I attempt to read said book again:  I tried. Honestly tried.

Circa 2013
In which I consider throwing the book away:  Just like my fake Jimmy Choo handbag with the torn lining that I picked up on my trip to China, the trip just before I went on that trip to Bangkok where I wore my golden shift top and black trousers to the fancy nightclub where I saw a Man In Something Something make eyes at me inspite of my fat backside that refuses to shrink even when I wear my shapewear knickers, and my bottle of Insert Long and Fancy Brand Name of an Expensive and Fancy make up product that I cannot bring myself to throw away, I couldn’t bring myself to secretly slip in this book along with the newspaper pile to the raddiwalla.

Circa 2014
In which I succeed (Finishing it, not throwing it away) :
I saw a retweet of the tweet that the author twittered about said book being on some offer in Amazon. I checked said offer and it was Rs.128. I cursed myself for having purchased the book for Rs.One Sixty something when I could have bought myself a shade of Kill Me Now nailpolish from a footpath stall selling poisonous lead laden nail paint for the difference in price.

I woke up one Saturday morning in spring aka summer in Chennai and checked my schedule. I had no lunches or shopping trips or meetups with The Girls aka my BFFs planned. They have been my BFFs since we were in pigtails. Insert long winded extremely common incident that happens in school. So I put on my grey T shirt, the grey being the shade of a pigeon’s backside, and pyjamas in the colour of an awesomely cool colour that goes perfectly with said grey TShirt. I bristled around and made myself a cup of green tea and sat with said cup of green tea and willed myself to finish the book come what may. While said tea aka Weight Loss Tip number gazillion of trazillion that I follow sat on the Urban Ladder Fancy Name coffee table, I skimmed through the pages of the book with the determination of a one legged mosquito climbing Mount Everest on foot.

In which I cannot do this anymore:
Ok. I can’t write as badly as this book was written even if you hold this book to my head and make me write. But I finished it. It is about a woman’s life in a Mumbai apartment complex, her cliched husband aka The Spouse ( yeah, that’s still a thing) and her son aka The Brat ( as someone said, that’s the new Munna) who speaks in retarded SMSese ( shoot me for using the R word, but dat iz how she madd d kid tak thru oud d boog) and her entire wardrobe.
And some murder and something.

In which I challenge you to finish the book: Hah.

Disclaimer: I am in no way responsible for the Lobotomy/Extreme Aarghing/ Banging your Head on the Wall/ Project Write My Own Book Because If She Can So Can I venture/ Deathbeatings that you subject yourself to afterwards.

In which I ask you to read this first: If you enjoy the review, thank you. If you were not able to read the whole review, you’ll get what I’m trying to say.

Carrie- Stephen King : 19/52

Take a Mean Girls or a Vonnie and Monique or any high school story. Add a dash of darkness. Then add some more. And some more. Oh, empty the whole damn bottle of darkness into it. What do you get? A deliciously dark thriller that will keep you feeling deliciously dark.

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I started hating dogs when I read Cujo. Dogs hate me back. My cat Sajni still haunts me in my nightmares  with that Pet Sematary effect . Her last days were really sad and smelly. Now Carrie will make me Flex each time I see someone I hate. (o o I hate so many people)

The horror unfolds through a series of interviews, book excerpts, research studies and news articles. A sad little high school girl, a misfit with a freakishly religious nutcase mother. A gang of rich snob bullies with one of them growing a conscience. Boys. Root beer. Good gym teachers. A prom. Sounds all pink and frilly, doesn’t it? But then there’s also the colour of blood. Lots and lots of blood, different types of blood. There’s some eerie telekinetics that rains stones, turns on sprinklers and blows up gas stations.  Black Bibles. A dark closet where you repent for your sins. There’s sin and the punishment for sin. And when you close the book, kind of shaken up and feeling something in the pit of your stomach, you look at the chair in front of you and Flex.

I got this book as a similar to recommendation when I finished Dark Places. Stephen King’s first book, one he almost abandoned. It is kind of funny that the book was written in 1974 and set in the then future of 1979, but you don’t feel any time gap when you read it. It could have been set in 2014 and been as freakishly eerie as it was. I’ve rediscovered Stephen King now picked up Salem’s Lot and The Shining . Like Joey, maybe I should keep the books in the freezer until I start reading them.