Sunday, 19 November 2017

Origin - Dan Brown

Date of Reading: 11/10/2017
Author: Dan Brown
Publisher: Transworld
Place: London
Year: 2017
Rating: 3/5

        It is a truth universally known that in mystery novels the real villain will never be the one we are prone to suspect, but most likely s/he will be the one we put utmost trust to. Dan Brown novels never waver from this fact and this new addition is no different. But truth to be told, until the very last few pages, I thought I picked the wrong one . . . was almost hoping actually. Nope! That was not to be.
        As for the 'thrill' element, the novel was a bit disappointing. It is nowhere near 'Angels and Demons' or 'Inferno'. There is not much play with symbols either as is usual with Langdon series which was another let down. But the detailed tour of the country on which the story is set with lots of historical explanations will still glue you to the book. Spain was never one of my dream destinations, but thanks to 'Origin', it sure is now. . .

       Robert Langdon has flown to the Guggenheim Museum in Spain to witness his famous student Edmond Kirsch presenting his historic discovery to the world. Before the event Kirsch had revealed his secret to three prominent religious leaders -- Bishop Valdespino, Rabbi Koves and Allamah Syed al-Fadl -- as his discovery will have a strong impact on all religions in the world. They opposed his venture and Bishop Valdespino even went to the extent of threatening him with a voice mail.
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
        Unperturbed, Kirsch goes on with his plans. However, before the event, Syed al-Fadl is killed by Luis Avila, a former Spanish Navy Admiral. He is instructed by a man named Regent and his next target is revealed to be Edmond Kirsch.
         Admiral's name is successfully added to the guest list as a last minute addition. Meanwhile, all the guests are provided with customised headsets through which they are given a tour of the museum. Langdon's help identifies himself as Winston. Later he reveals that he is a computer program developed by Kirsch, trained in observing and imitating humans.
        Kirsch's presentation progressed well with advanced audio-visual inputs. But as he was about to demonstrate his discovery, he was shot down by Avila. Langdon is shocked and so is the museum director Ambra Vidal as she had added the name of Avila to the guest list at the request of Prince Julian, her fiance.
        Though the royal guards urged her to return to the palace, Ambra tricked them and escaped with Langdon, Winston guiding them along the way. Since Kirsch's presentation is a pre-recorded one, they hoped to activate it again from his home in Barcelona. What they need is a forty-seven letter password which is a line from Kirsch's favourite poem. In another part, Rabbi Koves is also killed by a hired assassin leaving Bishop Valdespino as the only survivor prone to the secret of Edmond Kirsch.
At Edmond's home, Langdon finds the outer cover of Blake's complete works in its first edition. It has been donated to the church Sagrada Familia and they head toward that place with the help of Ambra's bodyguards who had by then tracked them down.
        In the outside world, rumours abound as to the secret Kirsch might have uncovered and the reason for his murder. Bishop Valdespino and even the royal palace is counted as suspects. A website called gives out the details with the help of someone only identified as By then Ambra had realised that Julian's involvement in the murder is unlikely since she didn't get the request directly from the prince.
        Luis Avila is found to be a member of Palmarian Church, a group of anti-catholics with whom Edmond had a fierce rivalry. His mother, being influenced by the church, had died because of their severe ways of penance. Avila had lost his family in the bombing of a cathedral. The Regent had informed him that the bombing was inspired by Kirsch's speech making him partially responsible for the act. This is Avila's time for revenge.
         Father Bena escorted Langdon and Ambra at Sangra Familia to Blake's collection of poems which is displayed open on page 163 under Kirsch's strict insistence. They find that the password is the final stanza of "Four Zoas": "The dark Religions are departed & sweet science reigns". With the word 'et' replacing the '&' symbol, this makes 47 letters. 
Sagrada Familia

         Avila arrives in pursuit of the group, getting instruction from the Regent but dies by falling off the steps of the church in Langdon's unexpectedly brave attack. Using Winston's self-portrait in Guggenheim museum as a clue, Langdon locates him in Barcelona Supercomputing Centre. There they find Kirsch's massive supercomputer 'E-Wave' and with the help of Winston, they resume Kirsch's original presentation with more viewers in attendance as Kirsch's murder had aroused a worldwide interest in his discovery.
          His presentation claims to show the answers to two very important questions: "Where do we come from?" and "Where are we going?". He takes the failed Miller-Urey experiment to explain the origin of life on earth. The experiment was intended to create life in a laboratory using artificial circumstances, but it ended up in failure. Kirsch explains that its failure is due to the lack of time -- creation took place with millions of years. So with the help of his E-Wave, Kirsch re-creates the original conditions at the beginning of planet earth's formation and finds that it eventually leads to the origin of life finally proving that it was not a divine act.
         He then uses the same method to trace the future of mankind. The computer shows that if things progress like this, humanity and technology will merge together to form a better future devoid of conflict with regard to religion. This presentation was in contradiction to the one shown to the three religious leaders where it warned them of an imminent apocalypse.
        The presentation becomes a great success with debates going on in every media. Meanwhile Bishop Valdespino and Julian meet the dying King who confesses his homosexual inclinations and love towards Valdespino though they kept it on an entirely platonic level. The King dies soon after and Valdespino takes his own life to join him in the afterworld. Julian promises to Ambra that they will start over again and she returns to the palace. Langdon is cleared of all charges. Winston reveals that he will self-delete at 1.00 PM next day as per the former instructions given by Kirsch. Being a cancer patient, he was expecting his death and therefore had made all the preparations.
Dan Brown

        Next day, it suddenly dawns on Langdon that the mysterious Monte who was leaking things to the media is Winston. Monte and Iglesia mean 'hill' and 'church' in Spanish, alluding to Winston Churchill after whom Winston is named. Winston confirms his theory and says that he wanted to make Kirsch's presentation a success and turning him into a martyr was a sure way to attract an audience. So he hired Avila in the guise of Regent. He wanted him to be arrested at Sagrada Familia which did not go as planned. Winston self-deletes himself at the decided time, leaving Langdon to wonder about the dark side of technology.       

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Bharathipura - U. R. Ananthamurthy

Date of Reading: 18/03/2017
Author: U. R. Ananthamurthy
Translated by: Susheela Punitha
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Place: New Delhi
Year: 2010
Price: Rs. 375

          I did once hear that "Moby Dick" was originally intended as a scientific study on whales which was later wrapped up in an adventurous story to make it more palatable. I went through a similar sensation while reading this particular novel which could rather be called a philosophy treatise. Arguments and debates abound throughout, with the story patching it together to form an interesting read.
            'Oppressed class', 'untouchability', 'Dalit' -- all these words have become a part of common vocabulary nowadays, providing a platform for many a fancy seminar and conference. How many really empathise with them . . . is another matter to consider. Siding with the marginalised has become the new fashion lately just like the charities offered by the multi-millionaires to enhance their social profile.

       The novel presents its protagonist Jagannatha in the same mould. Being a western educated young man, he comes back from England carrying a new version of "white man's burden". His efforts to educate the Holeyaru, or the untouchables in Bharathipura, appear ridiculous as many instances reveal that his actions revolve around impressing his white girlfriend. He plays the hero by assuming the position of the light bearer to the untouchables whose names he keeps forgetting. His intended actions were noble but the hollowness behind it makes him less likeable.

          But that doesn't dim its charm as the story gives one of the beautiful and realistic portrayals of village life in Karnataka. It discusses the role of religion in the continuance of age-old and sometimes illegal customs and also mocks the lofty politicians who take advantage of this ignorance. All in all, it is slow but still, an enjoyable read penned by one of the popular Jnanpith awardees. 
         The story is set in the town of Bharathipura which is noted for its famous temple with its deity Manjunatha and his henchman Bhootharaya, the God of the untouchables. It is one of the major pilgrimage sites in the country. Yet even after independence, the place has retained its attitudes toward untouchability.

         Jagannatha, the son of town's wealthy landowner comes back from England after six years, determined to alter these situations. He wants to transform the town by leading the Holeyaru (the untouchables in the place) to the temple. The people there believed that if Holeyaru dares to enter the temple, he will spit blood and die.
         But these rebellious decisions of Jagannatha are not purely selfless. He also wants to impress his girlfriend Margaret that he can also be the tool of change. He writes long letters to her detailing his life in Bharathipura and the course of action he is planning to take. Margaret doesn't show the same enthusiasm as she later leaves him for his friend Chandrashekar towards the end of the story.
         The upper caste people are not happy either. They isolate him when he starts training a group of Holeyaru youth for temple entry. Even his mentor and lifelong family friend Sripathi Rao thinks that this attempt won't make much difference in the general attitude of the society. Jagan is also shocked by the way the educated and employed Dalits behave toward their own caste people. They insert maximum effort to alienate themselves from their caste and to become a part of the upperclassmen.

As the day for the temple entry draws near, others too join the mission. Neelakantaswami and Ranga Rao, members of the Mysore Socialist Party organise it as a movement. Ananthakrishna, a former freedom fighter also joins hands with them. A few days before the planned entry the Holeyaru huts catch fire though the source of this arson is never found. One boy dies in the fire. But Jagannatha was determined to continue his mission. He was even accused in an anonymous letter that he is an illegitimate son to his mother. Jagan suspects that this could be true, but looks ahead with all the strength he can muster.
        Meanwhile the chief priest's house witnesses another set of incidents. His son, Ganesha Bhatta supports Jagannatha inwardly as he is tired of the customs Manjunatha's presence impose. His father treats him as a mere boy and he craves for some freedom. The day before the temple entry he decides to put an end to all this. He goes to the inner sanctum and somehow dislodges the deity and throws it into the river. Then he attacks his father and shuts himself in the temple waiting for Jagannatha.
         The next day the Holeyaru hesitate before the temple gate. Neelakantaswami pulled the first man, Pilla, inside while Jagan stood there motionless. Others followed Pilla inside the temple. But they found that the deity is removed by Ganesha who opens the door only when he hears Jagan's voice.
U. R. Ananthamurthy
        Rumour soon spread through the town that the deity is not polluted since the priest's son removed it through some divine inspiration. They refuse to accept that Ganesha had a nervous breakdown. The glory of Manjunatha heightens as the preparations to reinstate the deity progress.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Twilight in Delhi - Ahmed Ali

Date of Reading: 01/02/2017
Author: Ahmed Ali
Publisher: Rupa
Place: New Delhi
Year: 2007
Price: Rs. 295
Rating: 4/5

          It is in a second-hand bookshop that I had my first glimpse of 'Twilight in Delhi'. In spite of the tattered and dusty shape it was in, the book was intriguing and that made me buy a personal copy. The story of a pre-independent Delhi told through one of its affluent families; it doesn't offer any breathtaking mystery or thrill, but just the drama of day to day life.
          This is a delightful read from beginning to end with its slow paced rhythm that will definitely take you into the world of Mir Nihal and his family. Trust me, you will even feel the heat of Delhi's summer!!! And in the backdrop we get the colours of Delhi with its pigeon and kite fliers and as the story progresses the place too transforms by the imperialist hands.
          Mir Nihal is an orthodox Muslim family man who leads a comfortable life with his two sons being a part of the government service. Another of his sons, Asghar, leads a love lorn life as he wants to marry Bilqueece, a girl from a lower social class family.
          In order to get permission from his parents he seeks the help of his elder sister, Begam Waheed, who comes home to arrange the marriage. Begam Nihal tries talking to her husband about this but Mir Nihal remains adamant. So the women of the house plans for the wedding secretly, thinking Mir Nihal can be persuaded later. Asghar goes to Bhopal with Begam Waheed to wait out the year before he can marry Bilqueece.
         Meanwhile Babban Jan, Mir Nihal's mistress, dies leaving him desolate. In his hurry to see her for the last time, Mir Nihal forgets to lock the pigeon coop and most of his beloved birds become the food of one stray cat. Both these incidents affect him deeply. He gives permission for Asghar's marriage to Bilqueece and takes up his old hobby of studying alchemy.
           On the day of King George's coronation, Mir Nihal goes with his grandchildren to watch the parade. On the way back he comes across a beggar who happens to be the son of the last Mughal Emperor. He gives him some money and walks away meditating on the change in Delhi.

       Asghar and Bilqueece get married but the romantic spark he had for her soon disappears. He gets a job and a separate home and a daughter, Jehan Ara, is born to the couple. Bilqueece's father dies causing her great distress. This worsens as she feels the disinterestedness of her husband also. She becomes weak due to tuberculosis and dies soon after.
         Bilqueece's younger sister Zohra helps him to look after the child. He gets infatuated with her and eventually she too returns the feelings. Asghar takes his parents' blessings for the marriage, but Zohra's mother opposes the proposition as she had often seen Asghar ill treating Bilqueece.
        Asghar's brother Habibuddin is brought home sick. Mir Nihal had been denigrated to the state of an invalid by then. Habibuddin dies and after his funeral Asghar finds Zohra's servant waiting for him with a letter. It informs him that Zohra is being married off to someone the next morning. He weeps bitterly with a broken heart.

Something to ponder . . .

"In spite of griefs and sorrows a man gets used to life, for its flow must always go on." - 120

"For if it were not for Hope, men would commit suicide by the scores, and the world would remain a barren desert in which no oasis exists." - 125

Ahmed Ali
"Life goes on with a heartless continuity, trampling ideals and worlds under its ruthless feet, always in search of the new, destroying, building and demolishing once again with the meaningless petulance of a child who builds a house of sand only to raze it to the ground." - 150

"And Izrael, the angel of death, had not a moment to spare. From house to house he rushed, from door to door, snatching the souls away from human beings burning with fever yet hungry after life, wanting to live on in a world which did not care about them at all." - 233

Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Illicit Happiness of Other People - Manu Joseph

Date of Reading: 02/04/2016
Author: Manu Joseph
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Place: New Delhi
Year: 2012
Rating: 3.3/5
From: Prachand Narayan

          This is my second book of Manu Joseph and I was surprised to find how dissimilar they were  -- both in theme and in its expression. In terms of story, I will always prefer 'Serious Men', but this particular one is not without its attractions. Manu's vivid diction has successfully captured the day to day life of a Madras society with the Chacko family occupying the centre point. But the mystery element that weaves the whole story together lacks the necessary pull. . . and is kind of boring . . . (I must confess that I did have a peek at the ending in the beginning itself).
          What makes it memorable and unique are some interesting scenes that many a household may witness; a despaired father coming home drunk pouring abuses on the neighbors, a young Thomas gathering courage to face the world every morning, and Mariamma pouring out her troubles to the silent walls. The all too optimistic Unni Chacko looks aloof and out of this world, but not his family and friends and they make the real story of this work. Now to the story:
          Three years after the suicide of seventeen year old Unni Chacko, his father Ousep receives an unfinished comic of his son by post. It was returned undelivered as a fire in the post box had burned the delivery address. Ousep's restless mind began to hope as this may finally lead to what he always ached to find -- the reason of his son's sudden death who until then had lived a very happy life.
          He starts interviewing Unni's friends again and through their words a picture of Unni emerges for the readers as well as for Ousep. As a cartoonist he showed wisdom far beyond his years, but while his fellow classmates sweated for the IIT-JEE exams, he led a carefree life focusing more on the pursuit of the metaphysical. 
    Ousep himself is a journalist whose unaccomplished writing career has turned him into a drunkard who coming home at night enact dramatic scenes for their neighbors in Balaji Lane. His wife Mariamma secretly wishes for his death and pours down all her complaints loudly to the silent walls. Amidst this drunkard father and half witted mother the youngest son Thomas Chacko leads a life of shame, frightened to meet his neighbors' and friends' gaze. Along with this he cherishes a secret crush towards Mythili, their beautiful neighbor who has gone aloof after Unni's death. But on Mariamma's request, Mythili agrees to take tuition to Thomas and gradually he grows bolder.
            When Ousep gets admitted to hospital on a sudden heart attack, Sai Sankaran, one of Unni's close friends decides to confess the story of the comic. It is about a man named Philippose who had tried to molest Mariamma when she was a little girl. When Unni came to know about this incident, he secretly travelled to his mother's place in Kerala to take revenge. But Philippose was already dead and Unni comes back disappointed.
          As the secret of the comic is solved Ousep reaches a dead end. The only other option is Somen Pillai, the other close friend of Unni, who refuses to meet him. Ousep's enquiries reveal that he is affected by corpse syndrome where the person thinks he is a corpse and leads a completely depressed life. Due to his constant pestering Soman comes out of his secluded room to narrate what happened on Unni's last day. They had spent thirty minutes in a room with a naked woman without touching her in order to test their strength against temptation. Later Unni leaves Soman's house and after a few hours kills himself.
          Meanwhile Mythili learns the story of Philippose from Thomas and her comment startles him -- "Philippose should have killed himself, not Unni." Ousep stitches the facts together and rightly assumes that after leaving Somen's house, in a fit of passion he tried to seduce Mythili. Ashamed of his act he kills himself thinking that everyone will soon come to know of his crime. But Mythili kept everything to herself and Ousep believes that soon she will be ready to mend the broken ties with his family.

Something to ponder:

"A scooter in Madras is a man's promise that he will not return home drunk in the evening." - 4

"But then the fate of shy people is that all their fears usually come true" - 5

"The most foolish description of the young is that they are rebellious. The truth is that they are a fellowship of cowards" - 9

". . . the ultimate goal of comics is the same as the purpose of humanity - to break free from language" - 18

Manu Joseph
". . . the fate of love in Madras is neatly divided into four kinds of suicide. Lovers who know that their parents will never let them marry go to a cheap hotel room, get into wedding clothes, and eat rat poison. If they elope instead, their parents will consume the same rat poison. If it is only the girl's parents who object to the marriage, she is most likely to immolate herself. Men who are spurned by girls almost always hang themselves from a ceiling fan. Men very rarely set fire to themselves for a girl" - 248

Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Ordinary Princess - M. M. Kaye

Date of Reading: 18/05/2016
Author: M. M. Kaye
Illustrations: M. M. Kaye
Publisher: Puffin Books
Place: New York
Year: 1980
Rating: 4.5/5

           You could never be too old to enjoy this amazing fairy tale novella. In a world which considers external beauty synonymous with internal purity this is a novelty to cherish. As the author informs us in the foreword our fairy tale genre keeps silent on the situation of gawky, snub-nosed, mouse coloured hairy princesses. It looks like the cutey princes had eyes only for those "lissome Royal Highness with large blue eyes and yards of golden hair and probably nothing whatever between her ears!" (Blimey! Is the real life any different???) 
          So Kaye has come up with the story of Princess Amy who is gifted with ordinariness in her birth, a gift that made her free from the boring courtly life of rules and restrictions. I have never found a book so wickedly funny and even if you know how it will end (as always with all fairy tales), the narration combined with the wonderful illustrations will keep you engaged throughout the story.
    Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne is the seventh princess of the kingdom of Phantasmorania. As per tradition a grand christening was scheduled as she was the seventh child and even the fairies were invited who gave her gifts of charm, courage, health etc. But the last and the most powerful of fairy godmothers gave her the gift of ordinariness and her life changed from that moment onward.
         Unlike her six beautiful elder sisters, seventh princess now called as Amy grew up as a brunette with snub nose and freckles. And unlike them she enjoyed life playing in the woods not bothered by the court life etiquette. While all the others were married off to handsome princes, no one came to seek the hand of ordinary princess, not that she was worried about it. In a desperate stage, king decides to bring a dragon to lay waste to the countryside and the prince who slays the fiery creature can be offered the hand of Amy provided that he never sets eyes on her before marriage.
         Appalled by this news Amy runs away from the palace to live in the Forest of Faraway where she makes friends with Peter Aurelious, the crow and Mr. Pemberthy, the squirrel. When her clothes get shabby and torn she obtains the job as 14th assistant kitchen maid in the castle of the king of Ambergeldar where she meets Peregrine, a man-of-all-work. They become great friends and enjoy the picnics in the forest.
         He soon finds out that she is a princess and Peregrine, it turns out to be King Algernon of Ambergelder who is as ordinary as Amy. Peregrine sends her home so that he can send a betrothal request to her parents and they are married to the great joy of everyone.

Something to ponder . . .

M. M. Kaye
". . . for though she was ordinary, she possessed health, wit, courage, charm and cheerfulness. But because she was not beautiful, no one ever seemed to notice these other qualities, which is so often the way of the world. Not that it ever worried the Ordinary Princess" - 17

"Doing things you aren't supposed to do always seems more fun than doing things you are" - 48

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Mistress - Anita Nair

Date of Reading: 08/02/2016
Author: Anita Nair
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Place: New York
Year: 2006

          I can still remember the countless times I put back this enticing book with its kathakali cover page to its shelf in DC book shop. It was not the time I guess, and partly I was afraid to take a book bearing the title 'Mistress' in front of my parents' watchful eyes. Well, now the little child has grown, finally to grab a copy to relish the mysteries inside. 
          Two stories unfold here simultaneously: one featuring Shyam and his wife Radha who is in love with the charming travel writer Chris. Other story is told by Koman where he narrates his life story devoted to the service of his demanding mistress -- Kathakali. The whole work is another peep into the beauty of Kathakali with its nine sections divided according to the nine rasas and the story thus proceeds from sringaaram to shaantam.
      There are some works that leave you speechless, gripping you from beginning to end and the snippets of  wisdom that you gather with it will remain as your new companion. 'Mistress' possesses the same magic and the real treat lies with the chapters introducing the nava rasas where you will be amazed by the vibrant imagination of Anita Nair. From the posture of the kathakali artist she goes on to find instances of each rasas in nature, and in seasonal changes. And as Radha travels from the tumultuous passion of Sringaaram to the calmness of Shaantam, we move along with her, Shyam and Koman and gains an understanding of what it means to be an artist for art's sake or as in Shyam's case love for the sake of love hoping one day it will be returned.

          Travel writer Christopher Stewart arrives in Shoranur to the resort called Near the Nila to meet the famous Kathakali artist Koman. There he is greeted by his niece Radha and her husband Shyam who owns the resort and has agreed to provide cheap accommodation to Chris hoping that his book will add to the resort's publicity.
          Radha who leads an unpleasant married life with a husband to whom she can feel only contempt is instantly attracted to the handsome foreigner and his cello. She had been used by an old man during her college days with the promise of marriage which soon proved to be false. After aborting the child resulted from this affair she returns home and is married off to Shyam to preserve the family name.
         Shyam has another story. Being the member of a destitute family living under the mercy of Radha's father, he had a very miserable childhood. But his hard working nature soon reaped its rewards and as he was planning to go to Dubai Radha's father came knocking at the door for help. He married Radha knowing her past and believed that she will one day realise his love, enough to love him back.
          Radha and Chris starts a passionate affair which is noticed by the wise eyes of Koman. He realises how it will end but restricts himself from warning them. Instead he starts narrating his life story beginning with the tales of his parents.
         His father Sethu had run away from home as a boy to Sri Lanka. He is seduced by his benefactor and later when he stabs his best friend in a moment of rage there was no way to escape but to run again. Assuming the name Seth he works under a Christian doctor -- Dr. Samuel -- in Tamilnadu and in one of their trips he meets Saadiya in Arabipattanam.
          When their relationship comes out to public Saadiya is outcasted from her hometown and with Sethu she tries to build a new life. After the initial months of passion, she gets haunted by guilt and on Koman's birth she wishes to bring him up as a Muslim. Discords arise and Saadiya drowns herself. Disheartened Sethu heads back to Kerala leaving Koman with Dr. Samuel. Years later he was brought back to his rich father who had by that time remarried. The new family accepts him without protests and he finds his true talent in Kathakali.

          As these narrations progress during evenings Shyam notices the relationship between his wife and Chris and is deeply hurt. His rage even results in a marital rape. But Radha soon realises that her adventurous affair is only based on lust and nothing more. She breaks up with Chris without informing that she is pregnant. She decides to leave Shyam too as it is worthless to continue their loveless marriage.
          Chris' real intention was to know whether Koman was his biological father as he once had an affair with Angela, his mother. But Koman assures that he is not his father and Chris leaves Kerala disappointed. Story ends with Shyam thinking of pursuing his affections accepting Chris' child as his own. Meanwhile Radha finds a new meaning in life with the child growing within her.

Some catchy quotations:

"Don't let someone else decide for you what is within your reach or what is beyond you" - 4

"You cannot make someone see the truth unless they want to" - 33

"Fear makes one do things one would never do otherwise. Fear lets you compromise." - 294

Anita Nair
"But a true artist is also someone who is able to sustain his belief in his art, and knows that what the world thinks of his art is irrelevant." - 354

"People make mistakes. There is nothing wrong in admitting you made one. But to continue making a mistake when you know it is one, now that is wrong." - 454

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Peony - Pearl S. Buck

Date of Reading: 09/01/2016
Author: Pearl S. Buck
Subtitle: A Novel of China
Publisher: Open Road
Place: New York
Year: 2012
Format: Epub
Rating: 3.5/5
        Nothing can substitute the calm, soothing voice of Pearl S. Buck's works for me and though 'Peony' didn't live up to the expectations, it is still an amazing story of devotion and love. Buck's stories are far from being ordinary, but her elegant narrations keep down the heart beats even at the most thrilling moments giving the impression that this too will pass.
          Like all her other works, this is another testimony of the Chinese culture, a valid example of the difference in perspectives when it comes to Jews. While half of the world butchered them mercilessly, the lightheartedness of  Chinese ways found another solution and as the author informs us in foreword "today even the memory of their origin is gone. They are Chinese". They say the best way to eliminate your enemies is to make them your friends, and Chinese used the same approach; they transformed the foreigners to natives.
         Novel is set in the city of Kaifeng which was once a centre of Chinese Jews who are now gradually getting disappeared by being assimilated to the local culture. Peony is a Chinese bondmaid in the prominent Jewish family of Ezra ben Israel. As a kid she is bought from the slave market as a playmate for Ezra's son David and thus they grew up together.
         Though she loved David dearly, her circumstances demanded them to stay apart as she is just a bondmaid and David never realised the full extend of his love to his playmate and constant companion. He is to be married to Leah, the daughter of the Rabbi, as per his mother's wishes but he also had a secret crush on pretty Kueilan, daughter of the Chinese merchant Kung Chen.
         Fearing Leah's staunch religious beliefs which may further alienate the family from Chinese society, Peony encouraged his love towards Kueilan. David was also confused about the treatment his people receive in other parts of the world and found the answer from his father's wise friend that this occurred due to her separatist ideology. His attitude irritated Leah and in a fit of anger she attacked David with a sword. When he fell down wounded, she realising her mistake cut her own throat.

         David recovered and eventually married Kueilan with the blessing of his parents. But after his mother's death he became restless again and to remedy this he traveled to Peking, the new imperial city, with his wife, sons and Peony. While they were visiting the Empress, Peony is noticed by the lusty Chief Steward and he offered to buy for one of the ladies of the court. Without replying to his proposal David and his retinue soon traveled back home. He started realising his love for Peony but as a Jew he was not allowed to take a concubine and Peony comprehended this predicament.
         The order of the Chief Steward pursued them to their home town and in order to escape her fate Peony joined the Buddhist abbey. Gradually she came to be regarded as a wise woman in the town and David's family too depended on her advice. Story ends with Peony pondering over the transformation of Ezra family who are now completely assimilated to Chinese traditions.

Something to ponder . . .

"A man's wife is his ruler, whether he likes her or not." - 91

"To hate another human being is to take a worm into one's own vitals. It consumes life." - 111

"When foreigners come into a nation, the best way is to make them no longer foreign. That is to say, let us marry our young together and let there be children. War is costly, love is cheap". - 112

"None on earth can love those who declare that they alone are the sons of god" - 166

"Some love a human being too well and are made subject by that love; others love their gods too wel and are subject to that love. Man should be subject to none. Then we are free." - 185     

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Mannequin - S. G. Rogers

Date of Reading: 03/10/2015
Author: S. G. Rogers
Publisher: Idunn Court Publishing
Place: Savannah
Year: 2015
From: the author through Ebooks for Review

          Well begun but abruptly ended; I think that pretty much summarizes my reaction. Usually I side with the young heroine (those ignored wall flowers who finally land their true mate, not because of their beauty or conversation skills but due to a clear heart and extraordinary courage), but not on this one. Aubrey Whittingham is clearly no Mr. Darcy; the young Duke is sure of what he wants and goes for the girl not for her title, but for her. Well, may be this is what distinguishes a hero from an ordinary man. And clearly the notion is accentuated with the role of Joe Fiddick who ardently woos Rosamund eventually to be distracted by the glamour and pomp of London ladies.

        With a clear lucid prose timed with impeccable dialogues this is clearly a fun read which can be finished in one sitting. I would have preferred to prolong Rosamund's adventures as a mannequin but still its worth the time.
Now to a short summary:

          Rosamund Ashfield lives as a poor relation with her Uncle Ferdinand, Aunt Lucretia and her three cousins. Even though her grand father was a viscount she is disowned due to her mother's love marriage to someone beneath her class. Her only friend in the household is Joe Fiddick, the coach man's son who has now cleared his entrance exam to Oxford. He declares his love for her which takes Rosamund by surprise.
       When the family leaves for the London Season, Rosamund gets a job to entertain Aubrey Whittingham, the young Duke who lost his entire family in a boat accident. Her company brings him back from his depressive state and the mutual friendship leads to love, which is encouraged by Aubrey's grandmother. Leaving Aubrey to recover completely Rosamund and the Dowager Duchess travels to London for the Season. They expect the support of her Viscount grandfather for her appearance but he shocks them by revealing that Rosamund is not his granddaughter as a childhood disease had made his daughter incapable of conceiving. 
A shocked Rosamund leaves the household and attains the job of a mannequin with Madame Montana. Meanwhile Aubrey hearing the news form Joe pursues her to London and begins to court her in spite of her position. He stands firm behind her even when her malicious cousins played a ploy to humiliate her. 
         Meanwhile Vivien, the goodhearted cousin who sided with Rosamund visits her grandfather with Mrs. Williams, their head cook who is aware of the facts on Rosamund's birth. She was indeed his granddaughter as Mrs. Williams is an eye witness to her pregnancy and her late sister was the midwife. The Viscount was misinformed by his other daughter.
         With matters cleared Rosamund is accepted by her grandfather and she accepts the proposal to wed Aubrey. Joe remains as her faithful friend.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

Date of Reading: 01/09/2015
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
Place: New York
Year: 2012

         I was never a fan of romance novels. . . until recently. But when you are stuck with a work which demands undivided attention, this is a sure stop for your addictive brain which screams for some pleasure reading. Plots are predictable, and the tit for tat talks before the falling in love episode is a major attraction combined with the fact that you can finish one story within hours.
        And there are always the cute surprising tales which stick to our hearts even without the happily ever afters. Well, only rarely we get the chance to meet a Segalian love story and 'Fault in Our Stars' is definitely one such fine encounter. Green has taken a challenging scenario with cancer fighting characters whose sardonic and sarcastic comments lifts up the gloom and on passing the last page we may whisper, "surreal, but nice".
         Sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster is affected by thyroid cancer which has spread to her lungs. She breaths with the help of on oxygen tank who is addressed as Philip. Diagnosed at the age of thirteen her cancer is deemed incurable and she faces imminent death everyday.
         To cheer her up her parents forces Hazel to attend a support group where she meets Augustus Waters. One of his legs are amputated due to osteosarcoma but he has managed to outlive the disease. Hazel reminds him of his former girlfriend Caroline Mathers who died of cancer and the two bond immediately.
         Augustus becomes a fan of Hazel's favourite book An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten. Its the story of Anna, a girl struck by cancer and the novel ends without a conclusion frustrating the readers. The author has retreated from public life ever since the novel's publication.
        Augustus manages to track down his assistant, Lidewij and through her manages an appointment with the author who now resides in Amsterdam. Hazel couldn't afford such a journey so Augustus uses his Wish for cancer patients to obtain tickets for both of them. Meanwhile Hazel's condition worsens but after a few days in ICU she is allowed to travel for her dream meeting.
They enjoy a beautiful dinner together at Amsterdam and go to Van Houten's home with high spirits only to realise that he is a mean drunkard who has no answers as to the ending of the novel. But the time together brings Hazel and Augustus close and they make love in the city of sin. Augustus reveals the reappearance of his cancer and his health deteriorates after the trip eventually leading to death.
         Van Houten shows up at the funeral to apologise to Hazel and she finally learns that the novel is about his daughter Anna who died of cancer at the age of eight. From Isaac, Augustus' best friend, Hazel learns that Gus was writing a sequel to the novel. Guessing that he might have sent it to Van Houten she contacts Lidewij for the letter. It was an eulogy to Hazel where Augustus proclaims his love.

Something to ponder. . .

"You do not immortalize the lost by writing about them. Language buries, but does not resurrect. " - 76

"Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin". - 104

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Em and the Big Hoom - Jerry Pinto

Date of Reading: 08/08/2015
Author: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Aleph
Place: New Delhi
Year: 2012
Rating: 4/5
From: An owl eyed friend 

          Not the usual kind that I pick from a book store. For one thing its on depression (blimey! clearly in my 'not-to-think-about-it' list) and to make it worse its advertised with the comments of two well known writers who are not my favourites -- Amitav Ghosh and Kiran Desai. But the cover looked appealing and so were the words inside; besides it was a birthday present. Definitely something that I have to give a try.
           And I took an instant liking to Imelda or Em as she is called throughout the story. She has her worst moments but when she regains her socially-detached-I am a critic mode, her words shatters everything, never missing its mark. And that forms the beauty of the text and dispelling our fears of a tragedy it glides smoothly into a story of family and relationships.

           Pinto is endowed with an enchanting style and the images he creates haunt you even after the final page and the sweet-bitter taste it delivers remain for a long time. But the publisher or the layout man deserves a huge deal of applause too. The special fonts, the designs at the beginning of each chapter and the dark purple colour surrounding the borders make the book all the more special. A new take on mental illness and trust me, this won't make you depressed. . .
           Mendes family, consisting Imelda, Augustine and their two children Susan and the narrator, lives in a one-bed room-hall-kitchen in Mahim, Bombay. Imelda or Em as she is called, suffers from frequent maniac depressions and the novel is framed on how her family copes with this situation.
         From her letters and her sometime sensible talks narrator manages to stitch together her story. She was the bread winner of her family and she marries Augustine who is also her co-worker after a long courtship. She refers to him as LOS - Limb of Satan - as according to her he makes her sin. For his children Augustine is the Big Hoom, the pillar of their otherwise crumbling family. Without lamenting on the condition of his family, he takes care of everyone silently permeating hope that makes them survive.
 In spite of her hurting words everyone loves Em and keep vigil on her bad days. Their days go on in this tireless routine with Em sometimes attempting suicide or getting her hospitalized where she feels herself at home. Narrator too often haunted with the fear that he too might eventually end up like his mother. 
         Story comes to a halt when Em dies of a heart attack. Mendes family gradually returns to a quiet routine without her.

Something to ponder. . .

"We confess to men who've never had to worry about a family. Naturally, it's a huge sin to them, this abortion business. What do they know? They probably think it's fun and games. Let them try it." - 5

"We were told that men were dangerous. Unpredictable. Violent. You could never be sure what would happen if you were alone with them. They could not be relied on if they had had something to drink. A girl had to be ready for anything. Then, as soon as you were all ready to get married, the same people told you: close the door and be his wife." - 158

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