Category: Book Reviews

Book Review: The Namesake

The Namesake.

How much impact does our name have on our lives?

My name ends up being my ‘last name’ to those unfamiliar with how Muslim names work in a lot of occasions. Not only that, the varied pronounciations and phonetically ‘right’ way of saying it, does make names sound different than it actually is. Not such a big problem for many who, like me, like their name.

Now, imagine someone hating their name!! Holding a grudge against their parents for doing that to them and especially when that someone is a first-generation American. That’s the central theme of this Pulitzar-prize winning book by Jhumpa Lahiri.

The one thing which I hated about the book was the Cover! Any book which has the cover of its film adaptation is something I hate. It deprives you of forming characters in your own head.

Other than that, the book is a breeze to read. Jumpha Lahiri is a good story-teller and she captures the life and times of the Indian diaspora, struggles of first-generation Indians and their immigrant parents, how they perceive India during their once-a-year India, but more importantly how the name which our protagonist has: Gogol, affects his outlook. There’s a back-story as to why Gogol was named Gogol which he does not know of, and is adamant of shedding off his Bengali origins (unlike his parents) and being an American only. The problems of this cultural identity occupies a major portion of this book by displaying the shift of Gogol’s parents: Ashoke and Ashima, from Calcutta to Cambridge.

Apart from this backdrop of culture, the book focusses on the Dynamics of family, relationships and issues where cultural identities play a pivotal role.

I loved reading the book, the introduction to a mixed cultural landscape and intrinsic struggles of families to remain together. And now, I look forward to watching the film as well.

Book Review: Godan

Godan.

This happens to be the first Hindi Novel (of such length) that I’ve read. I’ve read a few excerpts before and even watched the on-film version of this long back, but reading this book has been an experience that I’m glad to have done.

Premchand is a genius. Probably, as everyone already says, the greatest Hindi novelist. This definitely piques my interest in reading more of Hindi literature.

Godan, or more phonetically ‘Gau-Daan’ or ‘The gift of the cow’ as the translated version is referred as, is ideally on how a poor farmer’s innate desire to own a cow, so that when he dies, can be given away to a Brahmin as is customary. Of course, the death acts as a metaphor for the countless deaths that the farmer (and his family) go through.

The book largely paints the terrible state of farmers in the pre-independence era, the zamindari system, caste system, society’s treatment of the poor and low-caste, the lifestyle of the rich and their own problems and how all of this constantly crosses each other’s path.

The language in the book floats from the hindi-urdu to hindi, and is reminiscing of the way it’s spoken in the Oudh region (around Lucknow) and helps in the transition of the stories along with the characters’ laments.

Even though the book is set in the pre-independence era, it doesn’t meddles too much into the freedom struggle. In a way, this symbolises how cut-off the villagers were or how engrossed they were in their own problems.

I’m still amazed at the numerous stories stitched together to portray the life and times of that time. Godan has been a wonderful read and not only because it was in Hindi, which is another reason to love it, anyway.

There’s a translated version of Godan available and if you cannot read Hindi, you should give that a try.

I loved it. Hope you’ll love it as well.

Book Review: Kafka on the Shore

If I’d known that all of Murakami’s work are translated versions, I probably would’ve shied away from reading one. I’m glad I didn’t.

This book has been a revelation! I’ve been blown away by the unique storytelling that Murakami has essayed through Kafka on the Shore. I’ve become such a fan, already.

Kafka on the shore captures the life of ‘Kafka’ who runs away from home at the age of 15 and ends up near the shore and a parallel story of an old Nakata who can talk to Cats. How are these two stories related and how the two protagonists cross path towards meeting each other, along with paranormal activities, UFOs, mystics and shady characters in their journey is what the book is about. There’s so much to this book that I cannot put it down without it being too lengthy of a review to read.

What I loved about ‘Kafka on the Shore’ is the increase in curiosity level as you progress in your reading. The book ends with loose ended answers and yet you feel like capturing the essence of the world which Murakami wanted to portray. I’ve never been intrigued by Japanese culture before, but reading this I feel like spending time in the library like Kafka to get all I can.

This is one of those books, which goes into my re-read list. Loved it. Look forward to more of Murakami!

Catch 22 Book Review: Clever, Humourous and worth a read!

Catch-22!

This is one of the most clever books I’ve had a chance to read. We’re so used to using the paradoxical idiom of a Catch-22 in our real lives. This is THE origin of the terminology. And what an amazing read this has been.

Catch-22 has its origin in the US Air-force rule that doesn’t let the airmen leave the services even when they wanted to, or even when they’ve flown a certain number of missions. The only way to get themselves out is to become crazy and then you’d not be allowed to fly planes. But, (here’s the catch) a crazy person won’t say he’s crazy as well ask to not fly. Hence, anyone saying he’s crazy really isn’t! And that’s Catch-22.

The book revolves around the central character of Yossarian, captain in the US Air force during WW-2( near Italy), for the most part. But usually takes in the POV of the entire characters one-at-a-time to show a continuous event.

The book has a range of interesting characters, each struggling through the war.

It’s Satire and Dark humour, with an exaggerating narrative on how war affects people. It’s a fight between individualism vs the collective good, a social commentary of the business of War, Corporate interests and a whole lot of unresolved human emotions.

It’s fun to read with full of aha! moments when you connect parallel narratives. Worth a read.

Loved Joseph Heller’s writing style. Highly recommend!

Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye

We all go through that stage of pointlessness in our lives. A goalless appraoch without a clear path and unsure of everything. ‘The catcher in the Rye’ by J.D Salinger is an extended rant of a teenager going through a similar phase where he doesn’t hold back anything.

Imagine describing every emotion, every feeling about other people or situations being blurted out without thinking twice. The entire story is an exact depiction of that very feeling. The unsaid being said out loud or at least thought of in contradictory fashion. The Main Character’s (Holden) views shift from one extreme to another. Typical bipolarity, if you can term it. He’d hate someone for a while and then miss not being with them. He’ll call almost everyone a phony for sticking to the traditional or conventional system.

What I like about the book is the sheer audacity to not hold back anything. It can be wrong in thought but not wrong on the front of being honest to oneself, which is an achievement.

The story is a first person account of Holden Caulfield who is struggling to adjust with the set processes of his various schools from which he gets kicked out of. From the day of this being known, how every encounter with people: roommate, hostellers, teachers, random co-travellers and even family and how he terms them all as ‘phonies’ and ‘lousies’ and questions their motives all the time.

I found myself laughing at a lot of simple inferences spread through the narration. Spread over 5 days, this is a brilliant way to bring to life the complexity of a teenage mind .

It’s a very easy read over a lazy afternoon and highly recommended. It’s approach towards philosophy is directed towards asking questions and constantly re-evaluating life’s choices.

Go grab a copy of this masterpiece.

Book Review: George Orwell’s 1984

This book is the stuff of which nightmares are made of. An Orwellian Nightmare to be precise.

The dystopian nature of this puts you in a headspace you don’t want to keep yourself in.

I’m not sure how I would’ve reacted to this, had I read it few years back. Now, it’s a reality check. Like, we’re either in the midst of one or being taken towards one.
The book throws up a question, ‘What if your government monitored everything you did?’

And of course, control everything. From your thoughts, to media to altering history  (rather manufacturing a parallel one) and make you believe in the existence of an enemy that doesn’t exist. By not only shifting agendas at will but making you believe that it was never changed.
Taking the economy to a bad state and yet making you believe that ‘we’re doing better than before’.
Bizarre execution of ideas that are normal for the citizen of the fictitious super-nation of Oceania here. This includes, conducting ‘hate-week’ where you shout profanities at the enemy of the state. Children trained to be spies to ‘rat-out’ their own parents for any ‘anti-state’ activity and making them all believe that it is all for the overall good of their nation.
It’s a book that must be read to know what absolute power can turn nations into.
George Orwell, you’ve again succeeded in  giving me a few nightmares for which I won’t even have to sleep.

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Reading List 2018

This year is going to be about targets instead of resolutions. Resolutions that get recycled every year instead of getting accomplished. Targets that I’m going to put out there to help achieve them for the sake of ‘my word’ if nothing else.

One of my many targets is to read more. The target is 24! Yes. Pretty Humongous. But I figured, if I stick to the good books, it should be pretty easy. What say?

Reading List 2018

Hence, I sat down to jot down a list of 18 books that I plan to read in 2018. I’ve selected 18 different books by 18 different authors from across the globe. There’s a scope for adding 6 new titles to the list, including non-fiction, but maybe I’ll just pick something up as the year unfolds. Maybe, Khaled Hussaini will finally come out with his 4th book? Although, there’s hardly any Internet chatter on that!

I’ve included 2 Hindi Novels to the list as well. A few excerpts of Godan were part of our Hindi Books and I do remember watching a tv-series on Doordarshan back in the day, so, that’ll be interesting. Apart from Comics, I’ve not read a good Hindi book. I’m actually looking forward to these.

Apart from George Orwell and Mark Twain, I’ve not read any of the other authors yet. But, hey, that’s a start.
I’ve already watched, The Great Gatsby, but I’m still interested in reading the book. It’s always fun to compare the book and the movie.

The biggest hindrance to reading more is the habit of indulgence to Visual Medium and I’ve been guilty of spending time in that. Most of my reading last year happened when I was traveling or away from my laptop. With more trips planned, the laptop can be replaced with the extra book, and resisting myself from starting any new television series might do the trick.

The Goal is pretty big and unrealistic to some extent. But, what’s a goal if it isn’t out of your reach. Or, was it something else? 

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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Shattered stories of our times

‘How to tell a shattered story?

By slowly becoming everybody.

No.

By slowly becoming everything’.

True to this, Arundhati Roy is able to become the shattered selves of each of the characters she pens down in the book. It is a story of one, and it is the story of others, as we read.

‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ is a fiction about current affair calamities woven together into a book about the modern conflicts. It mirrors through the length and breadth of the country’s many tragedies like a pendulum swindling across unsymmetrically.

 

I’d still rate ‘God of small things’ as a better book but this is still one amazing book I’ve read in a while. Although, full disclosure, I read only a select few. The half-read books on my shelf are now shouting, ‘Say..finish reading only a few’. However, if you are looking for a recommendation, then I’ll say, yes, go ahead and buy one!

It has been a few years since I read ‘The God of Small Things’ which was Arundhati Roy’s first novel. A Booker prize winning debut novel. When I first read it, it was a fascinating insight of Kerala, at least a little, Communism, caste-system among other things which formed the backdrop of the lives of two twins. They were central and everything else was background.

‘The Ministry of utmost happiness’ keeps the background running parallel along with the many protagonists that are scattered through the storyline.

It has an interesting ensemble of characters. There is a ‘hijda’ Aftab who became Anjum, who is central to her world of other characters, ranging from her gharana, to people who walk through and along with her, literally to the graveyard. A graveyard which gives refuge to the shattered souls of the world. Then there is Tilo, the non-beautiful dark skinned woman, who is loved by three distinctive men with shattered stories of their own. Each of the characters walks across others’ lives. Making a difference, to their own, and others they touch.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness captures the unrest in Kashmir as well as the plight of ‘naxals’. It talks about transgender lives and their conflicts, changing face of our society, communal riots, political commentary, and things which as a subject, you won’t tag as fiction.

Yes, sometimes, Roy seems to go overboard in blurring the line between political commentary and fiction, and if you’re acquainted about the happenings, appears like a view point pushed deliberately. But this happens in the case of issues, I’m familiar with, the ones I’m not; seems fascinating for the lack of a better word. But, even with this, the commentary does work in giving you an overview of the times.

The joy of reading the book was in how the characters appeared to say so much without telling it. The book is like a narration of a theatre play where the actors are very emotive, grabbing your utmost attention and giving you a semblance of happiness, grief and more importantly an understanding of their worlds.

Thank you, Arundhati Roy for your second novel!

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