RIVER OF SMOKE by AMITAV GHOSH(book review)

July 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

Intricate, detailed and beautiful.

The details they hit you, they tickle you and they mesmerize you. The book is like that statue which holds your breath and makes you forget yourself. Yet there is something lacking- the warmth, that which makes you curl up in your bed and forget everything else, except the tranquilizing world of the book. The problem is with expectations, Ghosh to me is not merely an author- he is a writer, he is a storyteller; He is that boy, that uncle, that aged R who you love to listen to.

One can’t but help being lost in the pidgin speaking world of Canton. The Pearl River, the avant-garde paintings and the opium all seem to spin around the ball room, pulling us, swaying us. We are at his mercy- we want more, it does not matter what awaits us, yet just when we think we are about to be hung or lost in ecstatic love, we are shoved rashly into a different world. Familiarity breeds contempt- if only I hadn’t read Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, The Hungry Tide and The Shadow Lines(currently reading).

The book takes us across oceans, rivers, cultures, people, love it has it all. The trilogy is no doubt is an adventure like never before yet none is there to haunt me like Laakhan, make my heart beat faster like Ila and Piya or make me wonder what Tribid would say. Each character is so fit for his part that I am left wanting that imperfection that makes him human and brings him alive. The character who for me is trademark Ghosh is Paulette aka Puggly. She is quirk, beautiful and smart. If only we could have had more of her.

The artist Robert Chinnery and his letters while being a very clever way to give a different perspective, do seem to yearn the secret ingredient and at a couple of places had me longing for more of Bahram Modi.

Neel, the erstwhile ruler turns into a Munshi and is a man of his own. Nowhere do you find evidence of a fall in station; The time spent locked in a cell seems to have sucked away the royalty and yet he maintains a poise which speaks of his breeding. Bahram Modi, his employer, paces him room, brilliantly dressed and imposing with Chi Mei, always lingering, haunting and comforting him.

The characters make the story. Considering the amount of intricate detailing and the gargantuan information thrown in, the book is inspired. It is amazing how he manages to make us sympathize and hate the same person- to narrate and to be unbiased is restraint which is worth admiring.

The book engages and presents a city like none other where men stride across a maidan and smuggle opium in boats. The author enunciates the sing-song language used to trade in Canton and recreates a melting pot like none other. The city with the awe-inspiring Commissioner Lin, who takes it upon himself to try to end the opium trade, its friendly locals, stuck up Englishmen, Indians and people from around the world, is an enchantment, painted in Chinnery’s grotesque ways.

The book is a must read. Especially if you have read The Sea Of Poppies. I have refrained from talking about the story, simply because it isn’t about what happens, but who make it happen. But, there is a part of me, that wishes he wrote like how he did before. It feels like my favorite teacher has become the school principal.

Rating:- 9/10

JAYA: AN ILLUSTRATED RETELLING OF THE MAHABHARATA by DEVDUTT PATTANIK(book review)

July 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling Of The Mahabaratha

image from here. 

Crisp, precise, informative and gripping!

While Vedas and Upanishads are the ‘backbone’, epics such as Mahabharta and Ramayana are the nerves of our ‘culture’. In his telling of Mahabaratha as ‘Jaya : An Illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata’,the author informs, educates and makes sense of the massive story in a little over 350 pages.

The book has each of the important events in simple paras with the author’s interpretation(and two cents)  following it. The book moves along nice and quick with the events that have the major baring on the great war.

Don’t expect to be enlightened the book is lesser about that and more about giving a quick account of the epic to people who haven’t heard about the epic. One nice thing about the book is that the author has collected tales from different regions of India and other countries such as Indonesia and included them in his ‘explanation’.

The book is also  illustrated(by the author himself), but it probably would have been a better idea to have images from famous artists, considering the book is a 2 minute version of the epic probably aimed to impress.

Personally, I liked the book, it was like brushing up through the Mahabharata. The tales from across the country and abroad add value to the narrative. The book is pretty much no frills and does not try to glorify the Pandavas overtly. The author stays true to being impartial and provides a balanced view of the epic. It is easier to see cause and effect, especially with the author reminding us of the same, time and again.

The book was a gripping read no doubt. It had been a while since I read anything regarding our mythology and thus it was a reminder of the moralistic uncertainties and the essence of the epic. Read it if you want to remind yourselves about the Mahabharata. A quick and effective version of the epic, it cuts straight to the point albeit with some of the magic being lost.

Rating:- 7/10

STILETTOS IN THE NEWSROOM by RASHMI KUMAR(book review)

June 8, 2011 § 3 Comments

An entertaining and fast read.

To be fair, with so many insufferable books out there, I am happy to see that ‘contemporary writing’ isn’t about passing off some random nonsense for a book.

Stilettos in the newsroom is about, you guessed it- a journalist. Radhika Kanetkar, comes out as an impressionable person. We follow her travails, slow raise in the world of newspaper and finally witness her  wedding. The writing is tight enough to not bore you. There maybe a few similar books out there, but when it comes from an author who is also a journalist, it is worth reading- after all, we all are curious about that name which appears under an article.

Don’t expect to be blow away and you will enjoy the book.It isn’t a chic-lit but more of a dairy with ‘lessons’ at the end of each chapter. A really light read, which keeps you curious enough to turn the page. Not all journalists lead adventurous and dangerous lives, some just sit in front of a computer and write stories.

One thing which I didn’t understand was how some of the ‘lessons’ were ‘lessons’. Over all, the book probably won’t take you more than a couple of hours to read. It doesn’t blow your mind away, but that’s okay.

Rating:- 6/10

OVERLAND by MARK STEPHEN LEVY(book review)

May 27, 2011 § 2 Comments

Engaging, entertaining and thrilling.

Sometimes all you expect out of a book is to have fun reading it. You want it to pulsate, hold your attention, make sense and have an element of surprise- this book has it all.

On the last day of med school exam, Danny Benson receives a letter from his fiancée Heather. The girl he wants to marry informs him that the engagement is off. Danny isn’t satisfied and your home bird sets off on an adventure to find Heather. He takes the Magic Bus and though he finds his fiancée, he suddenly is caught in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and loses her again. Helping treat the injured in a make shift hospital, he discovers true love in the form of Emily- the girl he met during a childhood trip to Ireland.

The writing is simple and easy to read. Initially I expected the book to deal in detail with each and every destination the Magic Bus stopped at, i.e. more like a travel book(the blurb does say the author was inspired by his travels), but the book doesn’t. It is fast paced thriller.

The book is tightly packed and at no time do you feel that the author has taken liberty to make it easy(or difficult) for the protagonist- the story progresses naturally. Initially you get the impression of passing through too many places rather too quickly, which we do. The book first takes us to London and from there we transverse across Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and the book concludes rather romantically and fate-slapped in Kathmandu.

The characters are easy to understand and relate to. The book does not seem boring or a drag at any point. You might have guessed the ending, but it is still exciting. You can see where the inspiration from traveling comes in. Unlike other authors, Levy does not try to paint the Orient in bright romantic hues, he stays grounded.

There is also a parallel story running along, which seems to peter out, but on the whole it is a very good read. A paperback which you can read while traveling(took me about a couple of hours to finish it), it is worth it. There are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing and immersed. I just wish the book had a better cover.

Rating:- 7/10

DEMIAN by HERMANN HESSE(book review)

April 8, 2011 § 5 Comments

DEMIAN BY HERMANN HESSE

Complete, contemplative and beautiful!

The story of Sinclair the narrator how he grew up and the influence of his friend Demian on his life. Simple yet powerful, this coming of age book is like no other.

Hermann Hesse is one of favorite authors. His writing has this force which is calm yet stimulating. While his protagonist is clever, knowledgeable and talented he is still brash, raw and innocent. One cannot but help identifying with him and in my case, this book is a landmark, just like how Siddhartha was. Like Siddhartha here too the protagonist is someone who moves from the existing conventions and lives a life of his own.

Hesse gives you hope, while reminding you that there are many obstacles you have to conquer- the biggest being yourself. The writing doesn’t merely appeal to you- it talks to you. While the book was intended to represent how a generation felt(Hesse has published it under a pseudonym as he felt that youngsters would feel that an older person will not understand how they feel), it is universal and personal at the same time.

The beauty lies in the simplicity of the writing and the depth of the theme. The book brings in art, music, writing, spirituality and religion- factors that influence and have a grip on you. The book is truthful and makes you think. To me it brought back memories of earlier times. In a way it reminded me of where I am today and because of what and gave me a renewed confidence.

I could completely identify with Sinclair, though Demian and his mother seem rather mystic. But that is part of the book- as everyone else except the author are influences that appear in the person’s life. There are some among humanity, who live with, for and because of a greater force, the characters in this book are such.

Simple and powerful, this is a must read book.

rating:- 9/10

HICKORY DICKORY SHOCK by SUNDIP GORAI(book review)

March 19, 2011 § 5 Comments

HICKORY DICKORY SHOCK

Threatens to takeoff but keeps taxing along.

“The Tale Of Techies” pronounces the book cover,the techies are there alright, but there isn’t enough about  them. A rather interesting starting and you are curious, but sadly, the book doesn’t turn into what might have been a really fun, gripping, entertaining and interesting story. The problem is while the story is good and the author is clever(what with Kamasutra cipher, Klondike etc) the book isn’t ‘tight’ enough, just when you except to be in awe and be captivated, it just fizzes out.

The story revolves around LoRD, a software which once finished will save SHIVAN computers from the hole it has gotten into(looks like Mr.Gorai has done research on the Satyam scandal) but a corporate espionage, with stops them from doing so or does it? A techie sees a conversation between a Hickory and a Dickory discussing this(er..I never got the shock part though) and then suddenly your beer sipping techie, turns into a Holmes.

The characters seem undecided. There are times when the lead character seems frail, especially with a name like 210, you just can’t think of him as a Techie and someone who would know all about Indian history and solve a case like Holmes. If you are moving away from stereotypes, it is necessary to build the characters and make them identifiable. While a mom who almost made it to the Kabbadi team for the ’82 Asian games is different, I was still stuck with a fat lady in my head, who towards the end out runs a couple of goons.

As said above, the book does threaten to excite you, but it lets you down, exactly at the moment you expect it to take off. As someone who has read a lot of mystery novels, it was just too easy to guess. On the positive side, there are many interesting elements and concepts which the author calls upon. If it had been better ‘packed’, it might have fulfilled its true potential.

There are a few glaring errors(Alphabets, really? ), which seems to suggest the editors haven’t really gone though the motions properly – probably another reason why the story leaves you wanting.

A pretty decent read, not boring or terrible, just not exciting and fun enough. I have to admit, I was looking forward to reading this book on “The Tale Of Techies”. Overall, it just lacks that bit more to get you excited. Writing paperbacks isn’t easy, specially when there are millions of them out there. Mr.Gorai has lots of potential as a writer, I am sure he will get it right in his next book.

Rating:-5/10.

P.S:- These are just my views. The book has also got a lot of positive feedbacks and reviews, you can find them at the author’s website.

CHANAKYA’S CHANT by ASHWIN SANGHI(book review)

March 5, 2011 § 8 Comments

CHANAKYA'S CHANT by ASHWIN SANGHI

Well researched, exciting and clever.

There are two plots in the book one set in a time about 2300 years ago during the time of Chandragupta and one in present day. The two protagonists have different backgrounds but soon you can see a common thread. The author uses a mantra to connect the two and they share the same umbilical cord, so to speak.

The book is well researched and the story is compelling. It does not become predictive, simply because though the actions taken by Chanakya and Gangasagar maybe the same in essence, their circumstances are completely different. Both the characters develop with the story- in the end we finally see the full picture of two great men. While the nexus is conspicuous, the reason isn’t-we come to understand it only in the end.

The style is simple and the protagonists’ observations and dialogue are sharp and witty. The plans are extensive and well thought out- each move is calculated and meticulously planned. At no point do you feel, it was all too easy. Chandini(Gangasagar’s protegee) and Chandragupta are no means puppets to the mentors, they are genuine leaders.

I like the fact that, the author talks about doing good to people, even when the politics is back bending and ridiculously unscrupulous. The success of the plots is dependent on other characters’ trust on the two king makers and it isn’t blind trust but one of mutual understanding.

The book shows us that politics is not about only pulling each other’s hair, but involves much more and requires the understand of a lot of varied fields. Overall, a well researched, thought out and written book exciting, thrilling and an enjoyable book.

Rating:- 8/10

FATE, FRAUD AND A FRIDAY WEDDING by BHAVNA RAI(book review)

February 23, 2011 § 6 Comments

FATE,FRAUD AND A FRIDAY WEDDING by BHAVNA RAI

Fast, exciting and thrilling!

The book begins with a flurry of activities, skipping across various places both home and abroad confusing, but nevertheless exciting. We dwell into the lives of various people and we reach the climax at the wedding. The book gives us what it promises Fate, Fraud And A Friday Wedding.

One thing I liked about the book was the simplicity. The  demography chosen is what we are familiar with Higher middle class/Rich Indians. The author has avoided long descriptions and tells the story- and pretty well at that. The beginning was slightly nebulous and confusing, but this adds to the excitement and has you wondering. The chain of events take shape pretty well, albeit the chapter where everything merges, seems badly edited(not badly written the editors could have given better spacing and had demarcations when shifting from one person/scene to another).

The style is simple and the voice suits the characters. There are times when you can feel the tension and sympathies with the characters. The book flows without any inhibition and does not meander.

A thriller which is thrilling. A book which I would recommend, if you want something light and entertaining to read, probably when on the move.

Rating:- 6/10. There are places where I feel the editing could have been better. I read The White Tiger before this book and  this book was surely more engaging(as is this book).

P.S:- The author’s website.

1984 by GEORGE ORWELL(book review)

February 2, 2011 § 11 Comments

 

1984

 

 

Terrifying, Horrific, Brutal and almost real!

Winston Smith is a rebel- but then to even think about doing anything against the party is a crime- thoughtcrime. Yet, he dares to step out of line and even starts a diary! He meets a girl- Julia and they fall in love- again something which would get them killed or worse. In the end they do get caught and are put through horrifying torture. The purpose as O’Brien says is not to merely kill the rebels, but to make them accept and love the party and Big Brother before they are finally shot.

The idea of Big Brother(the iconic leader) is based on Joseph Stalin. But unlike the latter, we do not know if he is a living person. Yet, Big Brother is everywhere, he listens to everything to you say, he watches everything you do(somewhat like God?). The world is constantly at war and though the statistics say otherwise, people’s ration are decreased almost every week. There are four ministries which rule Oceania(the world has three super powers- Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia), i.e. Ministry of Love, Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Truth and Ministry of Plenty, which deal with controlling people though constant monitoring and torture, war,  falsification and propaganda and controlling rations respectively.

You can feel a sense of despair through out the book, not only is it palpable, it starts affecting you. the arguments and ideas are driven through with pain and anguish- what if the world turns out to be like this? Or are we really heading to a world like this? Maybe not, hopefully.

The book flows much like a saw does through wood, slicing and making you question the motives of the world you live in. While it may seem the author is nihilistic- there is enough of salt in there to see what he sees. If in the last 60 or so years(since the book was written), the world hasn’t moved one bit of the knife-edge in terms of falling into a world of hatred and war, then surely there is something we need to think about.

Even in an age of democracy- you can’t but help draw parallels to the present day situation. The picture is no way pretty. In the end you are left with a damning silence, wondering what is reality. The characters are almost alive, in fact you believe they are real. You live every second of the book and know through out what awaits you. It doesn’t matter, what you know, all that matters is what ‘they’ think you have to know. 2+2=5.

A must read book, but be prepared to answer questions which you never thought you would ask yourself. There is no happy ending- there is nothing that makes you smile anywhere in the book. Big Brother is watching you.

rating:-10/10

THE TIME MACHINE by H.G.WELLS(book review)

December 7, 2010 § 28 Comments

The Time Machine by H.G.Wells

What a book! Crisp and fascinating!

You can’t help admire, imagine and feel inspired by the book. This first person narrative(we do not know the name of the narrator) tells us about the time-travelers journey into the future.

In the year 820,701 humanity has divided into two spices- Murlocks and Eloi.The Elois are a childish, androgynous and small people, who live in what seems like a perfect communist society. The Murlocks are the labour class transformed- they live underground, provide for the Eloi and eat them(cattle class, anyone?).

The Time-traveler’s time machine is stolen by the Murlocks and he goes about trying to recover it. He rescues Weena from drowning and with her explores the London landscape. In the end, he falls for what surely is a bait, but reacts fast enough to escape.

I love the concept, the thought and the representation of the future humanity. I used to shy away from fantasy and Sci-fi, but now I have come to love them! The authors use the setting to talk about their times, the socio-political, religious, economic and scientific climate. Empirically, we still face many of the problems faced back then. No wonder this is a classic!

A must read!

Rating:-10/10

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