Love in The Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

(Translated by Edith Grossman)

I previously read Marquez' novel 'Memories of My Melancholy Whores' and disliked it thoroughly. So it was with some trepidation that I started 'Love in The Time of Cholera'. My favorite aspect of the book was how well Marquez describes the Latin American setting of the novel. The book is worth reading simply for that. The story involves complex characters and is woven beautifully as well.

The stately Fermina Daza is married to Dr. Juvenal Urbino for decades when he dies; Florentino Ariza takes the opportunity to return to Fermina Daza with his confession of love after more than 50 years. Marquez then takes us back in time when Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza were teenagers, and how Ariza had wooed her then. Knowing that she ended up marrying Dr. Urbino, the question is whether she will now accept Florentino Ariza's love after all these years.

So there is the romantic love of Florentino Ariza for Fermina Daza. There is, equally strong and beautiful, the marital love between Fermina Daza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Finally, there is sexual / emotional love between Floerntino Ariza and his innumerable lovers. None of the forms 'love' takes seems better or worse, and each is examined in great depth. Therein for me lay the beauty of the story.

The aspect that troubled me to a great extent was the one I couldn't tolerate in 'Memories of My Meloancholy Whores' - the 'love' bordering on pedophilia, especially given the sixty or greater age difference between the protagonists! In the present novel, this is further compounded by the fact that Florentino Ariza, in his single-minded wait for Fermina Daza, selfishly and conveniently forgets that a girl / woman can love him so deeply it hurts her.

The book examines death as much as anything else, and the exploration of old age and ageism in 'love' is interesting. That love can end up being companionship for the daily rituals of life is beautifully described. That death - as in the case of Dr. Urbino - can be undignified and humorous is also exemplified really well.

I will switch back to Kundera for a bit, but I might have to read more by Marquez soon!

Kari : Amruta Patil

The last graphic novel I wrote about, Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers, I didn't have much to say about it's illustration capabilities. Kari by Amruta Patil is definitely not at a loss off that. The book is absolutely beautiful to me, each page is art. It open's with an adaptation of Frida Kahlo's The Two Frida's. Just that one page says so much about these characters you meet in the coming pages.

The drawings bring forth the intense, sort of brooding nature of Kari; a young woman finding and losing herself around the sewers that is Mumbai. Mumbai fascinates me, living here is like living two lives. Stop anyone on the road and am sure they will have a totally different story to tell about themselves than you would know. Kari's story brings that forth so well. She seems to be living two lives, one in the present; at work in an ad agency and the other in her past; romance with Ruth.

I want to say so much about her drawings, her use of ink, charcoal, colors; but I wouldn't be able to give it justice.. Just read the book and see for yourself, you won't be disappointed.

This is one book, which I don't want in my library.. but framed and on my wall.

The Death of Vishnu : Manil Suri

This review is long overdue. After reading Aki's review for the book, I didn't feel like I could add more to it, so I left it. But every time I traveled through the roads of Bombay and saw the old houses passing by (some where if you stretch your hand you could probably pick up a few things!), I thought of this book. I tried to capture them in camera. The pictures don't bring out the details of people's lives that you can see, but I hope they give an idea.

I don't doubt that their lives are same as those living in the tall buildings sprouting all over Bombay, but the fact that you can almost look into their houses, makes one feel like you are in their world. The Death Of Vishnu has definitely cropped up from one such meandering thought of the author. It lets you in in the world of the people who live in an apartment complex. He has given a story to this world that passes by me while I live my life.

The center of this world is Vishnu an odd-job man who lives on the staircase of the building and who is obviously dying. It is said a person's life passes him by as he dies. What I liked about the book was how Manil Suri easily brings together Vishnu's past and his present. As Vishnu fades in and out of his memories, hallucinations, Manil Suri fades in and out of the lives of the people living in the apartment.

I especially like how he has blended Hindu mythology with life in general, which is very interesting because I've always felt that Hindu mythology has all kinds of characters which are more lifelike than godlike.

There are parts to the book where I had to force myself to keep reading because of the ramblings into faith and rhetoric of faith and life in limbo, but I mainly liked the premise of life and death being balanced around Vishnu. I am curious to see how he takes this concept forward with his trilogy.

Immortality by Milan Kundera

(Translated from Czech by Peter Kussi)

This is a first for me - a book that I found myself immersed in thoroughly, yet a book I cannot begin to write about. It is one of the most nonlinear novels I have ever read.

Kundera the writer observes a casual gesture of a woman, and this creates a character, Agnes, in his mind. The writer holds the reader's hand through Agnes' story; then at various times through the novel he lets go of the reader's hand without warning, and pulls one back into 'reality' where Kundera the writer exists and is writing a novel that he wants to name 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' but will of course name it 'Immortality' when it is done (because that's the book one is holding!). Kundera also explores numerous existential topics, and each discussion is poetic. My favorites were on seeking immortality, the characterization of different types of coincidences, smiles (and the lack thereof) in paintings, and gestures.

If all of the above makes no sense - well - how can it? I don't know how to describe this book. It is very philosophical and very beautiful. It goes into the story of Goethe and Bettina in a way I had not read before. The novel exists in the past, the present, the fictional, the metaphysical, and the afterlife! Is it then that the story itself is immortal in that it travels across time in this manner? The book in places reads like essays. The essays are written by Kundera (translated superbly, one safely assumes, by Kussi), so they in turn read like poetry to me. This is one book I know I will re-read.

On a flight back to US from India, about half an hour was left to land in San Francisco, everyone was asleep, when we heard the captain speaking over the intercom. All I heard was something about how we were about to land in Japan. In my sleepy state I assumed that something was wrong with the plane and was about to panic when my husband told me the rest of the captain's message. Apparently we were denied entry into United States because a passenger was on their no-fly list.

On landing in Japan, as we all emptied the plane, I saw a family of about 6 - a young boy, bearded, about 20, and women of different ages wearing burkha's - sitting quietly in the center seats not meeting anyones eyes. I remarked to my husband about how horrid they must be feeling, that just because they are Muslims they must have shown up on the security radar for US. Once the aircraft had been emptied out, the family was brought out with about 10 men surrounding them and taken away. We boarded the plane again and went on our way. Once there, we told our friends about our "adventure" and had discussions about racial profiling, heard stories from others about how they had been subjected to profiling. Pro's and con's of racial profiling, US government, security, prejudice, patriotism, terrorism.. I'm sure you can all imagine what was discussed and debated. I remember sympathizing with the family on the plane.

About a week later, I read that the young boy had later been sent to US and arrested on arrival. Allegedly he had gone to Pakistan and had taken part in a terrorist camp. I did not follow the case since then.

Those of you who are still reading this post, thanks :). Throughout the book, as I heard Changez (the young Pakistani protagonist) talk about his life in America, I followed him on all the various issues he tackles in the book. Be it his social identity, his professional acceptance, America's fair treatment to him and his achievements. But as I finished the book, my thoughts forked out to this incident.
I don't know what happened to the boy in the plane. How accurate were the accusations? Did he or why did he join a camp and many questions that went through my mind. Many that would remain unanswered. I did wish Mohsin Hamid had ended the book on a definite note, but then that would have made it more fictional than real in account.

This extremely fluid, unapologetic, frank, point of view had me hooked from page 1. Changez a young muslim, confident, achiever, confused, looking for acceptance, searching for identity, guilty of abandoning family, trying to define his patriotism, enjoying the fruits of his labor - all his layers come through with such clarity. I really enjoyed the narrative style. It flowed naturally. It felt like you were right there listening in on an actual conversation.

Mohsin Hamid has not held back Changez's thoughts to be politically correct, or tried to portray Changez as a victim. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an honest, at times appealing and at times disconcerting, account of a man's internal thoughts, who knows that he may be a few feet away from death and has nothing to lose by telling all.

Note: For Swati's review, go here.

I have been struggling unsuccessfully through a book I will not name yet - I gave up on it for now and picked up The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I was able to put it down only at the last page. With no exaggeration, this is one book you will want to (and can because it's short) read from cover to cover in one sitting. The narration style is very interesting, and the author excels in writing a thriller / 'first-person' life-story / political and social statement. I would recommend this book very highly.

Changez is a young Pakistani sitting across the table with an American and recounting his story. Changez traveled to America and obtained a college education there, which landed him an excellent job. He also fell in love with a woman there. What happened to Changez during his stay in America makes the story. The timeline brackets September 11, 2001.

The title gives away the changing pattern on Changez' political thinking. It makes the novel no less complex, however. There are innumerable individual / social / political / historical issues one thinks about as one reads this book. There are also several immigration policy and immigrant matters that one realizes can be more grey than black and white. I liked the fact that while I did not necessarily agree with some of the main character's thought processes, I definitely was able to respect and also at many points empathize with them. I was also reminded of how much our nationality (an accident of birth!) biases us for or against 'foreign' political boundaries.

One aspect I thoroughly enjoyed was the windows into Pakistani culture the author so seemlessly weaves into the narrative. Each time he brought up tea, jalebis, dress codes, beards, the marketplace, and culture-specific gestures, I found myself smiling as I read - part familiarity (with jalebis anyhow!), part nostalgia - Hamid succeeded as a storyteller by making it all so real.

The ending is definitely a thrilling one, and it is open to interpretation. I enjoyed that very much; despite having to think about possible endings, the book left me thoroughly satisfied in that the characters were explored and shared with the reader in depth. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, but it is very accessible and despite the complex layers is in fact a very easy and fast read.

Gifted : Nikita Lalwani

Yes, the author has succinctly portrayed the curse so called "gifted" children have to go through in life. The parents want to showcase their gifted children and bask in the reflected glory. Some want to profit monetarily from their children's God given gift and push them beyond what their age should allow. In the process the children are deprived of the joys of their childhood. They are pushed continuously to enhance and prove their gift.

I cannot imagine what fun there can be in joining college at 12 years and have no peers of your age to talk to. How do you take part in the quirky activities of college going youngsters if you are a kid who should be in school. Who of us has not gone through the anguish of being kept out of action by older siblings, older neighborhood kids and gangs of which you are not allowed to be a part because of your being too young.

If you become a doctor at the age of 17, who will come to you for treatment. Where from will you get the maturity to deal with the problems of adults, suffering from various problems, when physically and emotionally you are yourself going through the pains of adolescence. Can you be a surgeon at 14 except in TV serials?

The performing arts do provide an area where such gifts can be presented to public who will admire the gifts. But there is an element of being put up on show like a curiosity ala a bearded woman. What effect it will have on the psyche of a growing child - is very well brought out in this book.

The book has a beautiful ending which brings out the anguish of every child who was gifted and then collared by her ambitious parents to forget her childhood and work only on her gift. The child is forced to study in the cold as it sharpens the mind. Not being allowed to be a child is the biggest punishment. Of what use is a gift which takes away your childhood.

The cumin seed addiction is an artistic touch. When pushed beyond endurance the child tries to find solace in an addiction. It could have been cigarettes, alcohol or drugs if this middle class Indian child had access to that kind of funds. But end result is the same. The child runs away from her gift and even disowns the parents.

This book portrays the agony of a gifted child who failed. But what about gifted children who succeeded. Has their agony been any less?

Everybody knows of the child stars who are forced to remain a kid for the longest period by the parents and then become a wreck as adults. Many become victims of jealous competitors and are even physically eliminated or made incapable of performing.

The oldest case in India I can remember is of child singer Master Madan who was supposed to be the next K.L.Saigal, but was allegedly poisoned when he was barely 14. The most recent case is of the 5 years old Budhia of Orissa who was made to run 40 kilometers or so everyday by his trainer. What inhuman torture.
There was a swimmer called Bula Chowdhary, tennis star Chang. Where are they now?

Mythology is full of stories of gifted children who were spiritually gifted as children and ended up renouncing life and many died very young. As if they paid in years for what they received in extraordinary intellect and spiritual strength at a young age.
Rishi Ved Vyas, started growing as soon as he was born and immediately became an ascetic. Rishi Ashtavakra, was precociously learned while in his mother’s womb and dared to correct his father. So was cursed to be born all twisted up by his own father. Adi Sankara the most towering intellect of Hinduism died at the young age of 32.

Such examples are everywhere. Unfortunately, only the talent and fame are recorded, the agony of the child is seen by very few. The author has expressed the trauma with genuine emotion. To be gifted as a child may actually be a curse. The author has beautifully portrayed this dilemma of humankind.

Page 3 Murders, A Lalli Mystery : Kalpana Swaminathan

Page 3 Murders is a well written suspense thriller with no pretense at stylized writing. The whole scenario is artificial and nowhere the author has tried to make a claim to authenticity of any nature. But the storyline is well worked out and presented in such a way that all can easily follow the story line.

Having said that, the book has suspense at many levels. It is a murder mystery alright. The initial suspense is that unlike other murder mysteries, in this novel, the book is two third gone before a murder takes place. Normally such books are about who is the murderer.In this book,you are mostly wondering as to who is going to get murdered. I was afraid, that there will be no murder at all. So I heaved a sigh of relief when finally the cook gets murdered followed by a quick couple of murders one after another.

The problem arises that the murders happen so late in the book, that the solution has to be presented in a hurry and some how left me still hungry for more. The way of solving the murders is very similar to hundreds of detective books I have read since childhood, where the reader is left guessing about the identity of the murderer and made to doubt everybody except the butler who is actually the murderer as proved by the ace detective at the end of the book. Almost like a magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat. Like all such books, the detective collects all the survivors at one place and then just narrates a script which forces you to accept the detective’s theory of the murders and the murderer abjectly surrenders and is arrested.

Another similarity is the presence of the detective and the sidekick who is also the narrator. Reminds me of Sexton Blake-Tinker, Sherlock Holmes-Dr.Watson, Colonel Vinod-Hamid countless other such pairs who have been keeping me engrossed with their detection exploits for last 55 years. That the police cannot solve the murders is also a given in books of this genre.Reminds you of Mrs.Marple, Hercule Poirot and our home grown Sunil Kumar Chakraborty and many others.

The gastronomic capabilities of the author, it is almost a cookery book, are amply demonstrated.The book should have been named Khana Khazana murders in place of its title-Page 3 murders. I am sure lot of the dishes will turn out to be delicious if you try them. Only the cook may end up getting conked.

The cook himself is an answer to every housewife’s prayer .Where you get a Gem who can single handedly prepare umpteen dishes to suit individual tastes of a houseful of guests at the same time hinting at hidden secrets of each of them and even making the protagonist fall in love with him. He was so perfect that he was asking to be murdered.

The English country home atmosphere where all kinds of random people get invited for weekends and then somehow turnout to be connected in the past. By a happy coincidence the victims, the murderer and an interested audience form a part of this motley group. Reminds you of vintage Agatha Christie. The author has transposed the scene to Mumbai but the setup does not gel in Indian lifestyle. People related to each other and gathered for a family function,funeral or wedding is more Indian.

Having said that, the book is very interesting, a light reading , does not stress your grey cells and a good companion for a long train journey. A bit old world, but so what. Re-polished or fake antiques can also be a source of pleasure, so why not a detective novel remixed from old classics. I can strongly recommend it to people who like murder mysteries whatever the logic.

Death Of Vishnu - Manil Suri

Manil Suri writes well, although my feel is that he's really good at short stories. Death of Vishnu is an interesting book, at the face of it, it revolves around a character named Vishu, his death (obviously) and how it affects the eco-system that he exists in. The story seems to be set in the 80's, although the author doesnt date it - the book develops around Vishu, an odd-job man, who has a space under the staircase of a typical Bombay "building" and makes his living by doing odd-jobs for the folks in the building. Their lives are inevitably linked and as he is slowly dying it affects the players in his eco-system.

While I was reading the book, I didnt think much of it - but now that I look back on it I have to admit that there are several layers that run through this book - characters are introduced, you peek into their lives and invariably there is an element of a sexual escapade, either of the characters or of Vishnu - it felt like the author had a pattern - short story - sex - short story - sex - short story - sex. This might be due to the inordinate amount of time the author initially spends on the Pathak and Asrani households and interleaves with flashbacks of Vishnu's escapades. The story starts with Vishnu dead center, then making way for the side players to the point where you want to skip through the portions of Vishnu and figure out whats going to happen to the other players.

As the story progressed, the story took on a larger meaning, I felt like the character Mr. Jalal, looking for a sign to attribute what I was reading - Vishu was the god Vishnu and each episode was like life and death an episode ended another birthed and on and on went the cycle.

Just when I had settled on this interpretation, I felt rationally, really it wasn't a story about Vishnu at all, he was the common thread through several stories and through his death he brought about an upheaval of some sorts. Each story was different and even then it was the same - about life and how the daily routine takes it toll on aspirations and hopes that people had when they were younger.

Then again it felt like a view into Indian life in the 70's / 80's and you find references into stories that you heard from your parents about how they grew up and got married. Ah - layers.

Like I said eariler, Mani Suri writes well - there is one particular episode that will stay with me always - he uses an episode of eating mangoes as a tribute to a woman - of making love and the metamorphisis of a woman into a mother from a lover. Unlike Mr. Suri, I cant write as well to describe it. Priceless...

This book is a quick read and you'll probably come away with different perspectives, I felt that in more than a few places he was actually thinking in Hindi and translated his thoughts to English and it shows - perhaps for the global audience, but having heard those tunes and knowing the phrases and language - it dilutes the effect of his writing somewhat.

An interesting read overall, a good break while I make my way through Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson.

Animal's People by INDRA SINHA

I have just finished reading Animal’s People by Indra Sinha. Firstly I find the style of writing these days a bit strange. A novel is a way of presenting your thoughts, perceptions, doubts beliefs to your readers as a story.You use it as a vehicle to propagate your beliefs, just as parables were used to spread religious beliefs.

Then why, all award winning novels, at least most of them, are deliberately made obtuse, narrated in a complicated fashion is beyond understanding. Still everybody to his own. Who am I to stand in the way of literary development.

Coming to the novel in question, I was told that this book is about the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy. So I was very happy to get hold of a copy and diligently went through it, though I find the style rather tedious for my reading comfort.

Yes, The novel is about the infamous disaster. I had hoped that it will fill a vacuum existing in Indian English novels of ignoring Indian historical events which are of vital importance. I went through the whole book expecting that the author will throw some light on what actually happened. Some new insight was expected .The passage of more than twenty years blunts the sharp edges of the agony and maybe the reader will get a glimpse of some truth behind the events.

But this book is silent on this aspect. If somebody is not aware of the Bhopal gas disaster, this book will not educate him in anyway. The author has tried to tell the story of the survivors, their agony in his own way, so be it. But anybody who has not heard about the disaster, how does he appreciate this novel. Just for the strange way of writing, some dirty vernacular words and some sex. These are passé in every book these days.
Where is the main story, I want to ask.

It is apparent that the author feels for the victims. But do we call a cripple an animal because his deformity does not allow him to walk on his two feet.

All these years after the disaster, what has troubled us was the possibility that perhaps, the victims were not adequately cared for. Due to government apathy, callousness of the people who owned the industry, may be the victims were left fending for them selves. I hoped this novel will talk about these issues from a historical and human perspective. But, in this book the victims and their spokesmen appear to be more interested in ensuring that the company owners suffer some undefined punishment than getting some relief, medical treatment and compensation for their pain . That is why they are made to refuse treatment from a volunteer doctor because she is American. They hold demonstrations against politicians, but to what purpose. Frankly, I could not make out what the author wants to convey. That revenge is more important than relief for the victims. That is not a good message.

And Ma Franci, if the writer has modeled this character on Mother Theresa, he can only be pitied.

A Problem from Hell by Samantha Power

'A Problem from Hell. America and the Age of Genocide' by Samantha Power is a piece of nonfiction that won her the Pulitzer prize in 2003. The book is an account of genocide throughout the last century, with a focus on American policy and response in each situation. It details the genocide of Armenians in Turkey, the Jewish holocaust, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Kosovo. It explains American political thinking, policies, and action (or inaction) at each point in time.

The book is hard to read because it reminds the reader of their own passivity while thousands upon thousands of people around the world are being killed brutally. The book is, however, very easy to read in that it is extremely well written. Samantha Power writes in a very engaging manner, and explains the complex geopolitics surrounding each genocidal act very well. For the first time I clearly understood how 'special interests' often define policies in Washington DC. I also gained respect for several politicians who fought for attention toward and a response to genocide out of moral outrage and not for political gains.

While the book bashes American governments (both republican and democrat) for the most part, it is also very interesting (and important) to note that America is often 'damned if it does, damned if it doesn't'. While US world policy needs much improvement, one wonders what other developed nations wait for before they act.

This is obviously a controversial book, and it made me laugh when I realized last week the author is the same Obama aide who called Hillary a monster! Power obviously has strong views on whom she supports. In summary, I would like very much for more Americans to read this book, in order to appreciate the numerous crimes against humanity that occur worldwide, and to appreciate that NO country (including America) is on high moral ground.

Gifted : Nikita Lalwani

Gifted, Nikita Lalwani's debut novel is an effortless read. Nikita balances the strong immigrant theme and that of a child's angst (at a time when the child is too young to even understand such emotions) very naturally.

Rumi is 5 when she is identified as a gifted mathematician. A label that takes over her life, her thoughts and her family. Mahesh, Rumi's father, channels all his immigrant insecurities into making sure that Rumi is his proof to his adoptive country. The proof that his rigid belief's are the right way to raise children.

Rumi's daily life from the young age of 5 is not unlike a bootcamp. Her rigorous schedule reminded me of my study timetables, just that mine started in the 10th grade and her's, when she is barely in the 1st grade. Her thoughts and emotions are peppered with numbers and equations. Her affinity to use maths to even understand and explain herself is endearing. She equates her dad's expression to an approximate sign (~), trying to decipher if that indicates his mood as "approximately happy, or sad".

Nikita has captured the Indian family of the 80's very well. A strict disciplinarian father who sees excellence in education as the only way out. An emotionally tuned in but clueless mother,Shreene, who can see her child's changing personality but is incapable of understanding why. An impressionable child, who is living in two cultures, yet is complete withdrawn from both. Her only release from her anguish being an entirely odd addiction.

Nikita has bluntly etched out the characters of Mahesh and Shreene. I thought that was a very bold move. There are no late realizations about being open to their daughter's feelings or turning a new leaf and finally being together as a happy family. To the end each character stays very real. Just as in real life, the generation gap coupled with immigrant sentiments is too strong to just come out of.

I was very curious to read the book since it was long listed for the Booker 2007. I have to say Nikita has brushed through so many issues, loneliness in a new country, the quintessential confused child balancing two cultures, parenting, without forgetting that which is core to the story. The little girl and parental expectations. That which makes it universal. I think the simplicity through all of this makes it a good book.

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

At the outset I want to post a disclaimer: I am not good enough a thinker / writer to review this book as comprehensively as I am sure it has been reviewed elsewhere. These are my personal thoughts on the book.

The Golden Notebook is Lessing's most well-known work, a novel about a woman (Anna Wulf). The book tells us about Anna's current life and the people in it, as well as the notebooks Anna writes in: a black notebook about her experiences in Africa as a young woman; a red notebook about her politics; a yellow book that is a novel-within-a-novel, or autobiographical stories of the main character Ella written by Anna; a blue notebook that is Anna's personal diary; and finally, when these notebooks seem to Anna to not inter-connect at all, she writes in one notebook, the golden notebook.

My first thought upon finishing the book is, how did Lessing keep this extremely complicated technique straight in her head as she wrote this book? It was amazing to me how she took us through this maze of thoughts / stories with such ease. The book is not at all inaccessible or confusing or boring (because of the author's energetic writing?) despite how much substance one goes through. If for nothing else, one is impressed by the technical brilliance of this book.

The novel is a deconstruction of the person known as Anna Wulf. It talks of Anna the writer, the mother, the communist, the ex-communist, the lover, the ‘unthinking’ female when she runs after ‘happiness’ with men, the landlady (!), the friend, the psycho-analysis patient, and the person fighting madness. Every single dimension of Anna is dealt with in immense detail. It is not simply what Lessing the author writes of Anna; it is what Anna thinks of herself, what the men in her life think of her, what other people perceive her to be. At times I get the feeling that Anna is the very center of a sphere, and Lessing allows the reader to circumnavigate the sphere that is Anna – her physical, emotional, social, intellectual state. It is obvious that when you finally put the book down, you feel that you know Anna as well as you’ll ever know a person besides yourself. There are aspects of the book that any woman reading it has always known, and yet for them to be thrust onto the reader’s conscious thinking is, for me, the brilliance of this writing. For example, when Anna / Ella has a negative thought that she immediately suppresses, or irritation about something banal and everyday that she will deal with but that changes her by an immeasurable amount, one empathizes and (speaking for myself) one has flashes of similar memories from one’s own life. I do not understand men, and therefore do not know if this rings true for male readers as well.

The novel became an important piece of feminist literature, and one understands upon reading it why that would be true. The story is very female, and unfortunately the male characters are extremely weak. I found this irritating toward the end of the novel, because it seemed like a string of really spineless men repeatedly popping into Anna’s life. Admittedly I did not judge Anna for any of this (my feminist bias?).

Of course the book isn’t simply about Anna. The layers include discussions on history, war, politics, individual and social values (and how they vary among say Africa, England, America), sexism, and the extremely difficult topic of relationships between man and woman. The book is lengthy and meaty, and is not a quick read. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and would recommend it very highly. It is truly deserving of the accolades it has received. It definitely makes me want to read more of Lessing’s work.

Confessions Of A Shopaholic : Sophie Kinsella

Confessions of a Shopaholic was just the book to get me over a book hangover. It is a quick and funny read.

The book follows Rebecca Bloomwood who is deep in debt solely because of her shopping excesses. Her weak and naive attempts at controlling her shopaholic nature have as much success as... as doing yoga while gorging on potato chips would. The irony of all, she is a financial journalist writing for Successful Savings magazine. Sure the book is quite predictable, but that doesn’t take away from the entertainment of watching her stumble through tricky situations and come out clean. Makes me wish I was a character in a book.

Bridget Jones Diary is a personal favorite and I found myself comparing the two, and Confessions lagged behind. However, if you want to read something in this genre, then pick it up. But be warned it is not for the weak-hearted(read weak-walleted). All the shopping expeditions... made me feel like I just spent a bomb at a mall.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is narrated by Kathy, a 31 year old woman. The other main characters are her friends Ruth and Tommy. The story starts normally enough, in an exclusive boarding school in England. The children in the school are 'special', and some of their experiences are truly weird (giving the reader clues as to what may be different about these kids) whereas some of what is described is very close to what one may remember from one's own childhood / school experience. Kathy takes us through her recollections of Hailsham, followed by the youths' transition into 'Cottages' where there is relatively unsupervised interaction with the world around them, and finally to their lives as adult carers / donors.

The reader is given clues throughout the book as to what the dark center of the plot might be. Ishiguro brilliantly unfolds the story for the reader, one clue at a time; the clues are embedded in beautifully narrated incidents that Kathy recollects. The stories don't always follow each other in time, but the author writes exceedingly well - despite the many unanswered questions in the reader's mind, the book is never confusing to follow. And the style of his writing holds your attention such that you will want to read this book in one sitting.

The issues the book raises range from free will, ethics in science / society, and the 'soul' i.e. what makes us who we are. The two things that stood out for me were: i) how well the writer conveys to the reader the emotional repression throughout the lives of the characters
ii) how, towards the end, the reader is made to see that even with the horrible wrongs done to the Hailsham children, their 'guardians' were in fact trying to give them a better environment than their counterparts in other 'schools', and were in fact fighting for a respectful place for them in society.
This second point of course in no way redeems any of why the Hailsham kids were created. The truth is simply terrible.

This book is one of the best futuristic / sci-fi books I've ever read. In fact it is one of the best pieces of fiction - period - I've ever read. I liked it at least as much as 'The Speed of Dark'. Ishiguro deserves all the praise he has received for his work.

Salaam Paris : Kavita Daswani

Salaam Paris is about a 19 year old Indian Muslim girl, Tanaya Shah, from a conservative family. She leaves Mumbai to go to Paris under the guise of meeting the man she has been promised to. Once in Paris, she breaks away from her family. Ignoring the gnawing guilt of behaving unlike a good Muslim and to find the her individual freedom that she romantically links with Paris, having dreamed of achieving Zen-like satisfaction a la Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina.

She goes on to become one of the most sought after models in the Paris fashion industry. The book follows her rise and super stardom and her time amongst the rich, beautiful and famous in Paris and New York. Sounds promising for a quick fun read, doesn't it. I thought so. I was wrong. Its an absolute bore.

For a book with so much to play around with, there is no flavor or pizazz to it. It gives no more insight into the orthodox Muslim world than the 2 words themselves "orthodox Muslim". The same goes for the "fashion industry".

For a story that revolves around exciting and beautiful cities, Mumbai, Paris, New York, the book is a real drab. I was hoping it would be full of insights into the fashion world, or maybe some tender thoughts of a young Muslim girl abandoned by her family for wanting to be an individual. Instead it reads more like a Women's Era story. It may sound harsh but there was not a single line which made me laugh, enjoy the moments or cheer for her in her quest for freedom.

Do I even have to say what happens in the end. Like every unimaginative Hindi movie, this too ends with Tanaya leaving her (pretty cool, I think) job for a husband. All that rebellion for nothing! Don't get me wrong, I am not against her choice, just that somehow a lot of books/movies tend to focus and preach on the struggle of a woman to prove herself and then show her ending up with the very life she was rebelling against. As if a woman is only truly satisfied with a husband and kids. The only thing I agreed with was when she slightly redeems herself in the end by trying to live her own life finally and not be bogged down by guilt passed on by her family.

Kavita Daswani tries to pull off a compelling let-me-live-my-life book but it's very weak. I think I had high expectations seeing that she had been a fashion editor.

I would have been better off reading one of the raunchy Shoba De books.

Number 10 by Sue Townsend

I read this book on a flight (and while stranded at an airport). It was an easy read even under the circumstances. The book is a satire on politics and politicians, very British, and very funny. It follows a week in the life of the British Prime Minister and the sharp policeman accompanying him as the PM (incognito) attempts to reconnect with the common person. The story lays out how different life is for the rich versus middle class versus poor. It is just plain funny most of the times. The author makes the point that the PM is totally out of touch with day-to-day problems in his country (he doesn't know the price of milk), but she overdoes it along the way; one starts expecting something to go horribly wrong in every single incident (waiting in long lines, poor service, you name it), and one is proved right. Barring that one irritation, the book is a good read. Also, the PM is obviously not a bumbling idiot or a scheming politician; he really is a thoughtful man concerned about everyone's welfare. The central as well as peripheral characters are described in much detail. My favorite ended up being Ali, the Pakistani cab driver trying to fit in; his biggest concern is returning home with appropriate presents for his family (what are his children more into, Winnie the Pooh or Noddy?).

So - enjoyable, funny, pretty light reading. Her other books (Adrian Mole) are very good. Number 10 is worth reading because it does make you laugh.

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is a story about the intertwined lives of several people, more specifically about three friends in their 30s. It is set in New York City and tells a story from March - November 2001. At a personal level I felt glad that other people exist besides myself (so what if only in Claire's imagination) who are in their 30s and are still figuring out their careers and personal lives, and are constantly re-adjusting their moral compass!

The book reminded me of others (A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth comes to mind) in that it describes vividly and in detail incidents, surroundings, and feelings in each character's life. It is very funny in parts, and definitely thought-provoking. And just when you start to wonder (even as you enjoy the story) if it is simply a gossipy tale of its characters' lives, events unfold and put the trivial (and not so trivial) human tribulations and angst in a balanced perspective. I agree with all the mighty newspapers that added The Emperor's Children to their 'notable book' list!

The Man Who Counted : Malba Tahan

This is one of the quirkiest books I've read. If you are one to hit the papers first thing in the morning to solve Sudoku, Kakuro, Mind bender, then go ahead and read this book. This is definitely your kind of book.

The Man Who Counted is about a mathematician Beremiz Samir and how he solves different problems with his knowledge of mathematics. Sort of like your Arabian Sherlock Holmes, just that the problems may not be that gory in nature. More like fights over camel distribution and such. He is not your regular human calculator, rather someone who sees romance in mathematics just as he sees it in nature, poetry. It is a collection of logical puzzles, stories, observations, anecdotes. The stories are written by Malba Tahan in the manner of storytellers of old.

The quirkiness doesn't end there. Malba Tahan is a fictitious person. The book is really written by a Brazilian mathematics professor, Júlio César de Mello e Souza's. This isn't just your regular pseudonym, Julio Cesar created a complete persona of an Arabic traveler Malba Tahan and wrote the books completely from his perspective.

The book uses interesting fables like dividing inheritance of camels amongst brothers to show how seemingly complex mathematics can be so simple and used in ordinary things. I think it can be a good tool for teachers, when mathematics becomes a chore for kids, to them the "cool" aspect of mathematics.

For those who enjoy solving logic puzzles, or even those wondering the point of Microsoft interview questions, this will be a good read. The problems may not seem like much, but the combination of storytelling with mathematics is an amusing read.

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