Saturday, 30 June 2012

Messenger of Truth - Jacqueline Winspear

Date of Reading: 24/8/2007
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Publisher: Readers Digest (Selected Editions)
Place: Australia
Year: 2007

           This is the fourth book of the famous Maisie Dobbs series, a fact I was completely unaware at the time of reading. To make the matters worse this ubridged version has put out the flavours of the original and I actually thought it a waste of time. But a judgement is not possible without reading the original, and so I won't venture it.
          Maisie Dobbs series is much more than a mere detective story or so I have been told. The recurring theme is the effects of  the World War I in the British society, and here the focus is the Depression era - the 1930's.
           A controversial artist, Nick Bassington - Hope has been found dead on the eve of his eagerly awaited new exhibition, and it's Maisie's job to discover why. Police considers this as an accident, but his twin sister Georgina doubts a foul play and seeks the help of Maisie.
          Nick has participated in the World War I and is a witness to the death of Godfrey, his sister Nolly's husband. For Nolly, he is a war hero; the truth is to be revealed in the exhibition with one of Nick's pictures. So it turns out that their father Piers killed his own son to prevent the picture from coming out. Godfrey was killed and humiliated by his own soldiers for showing friendliness to a German soldier. Piers knew that the truth will break his daughter's heart. 

Friday, 29 June 2012

Shopaholic and Sister

Date of Reading: 07/06/2012
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Title: Shopaholic and Sister

         I do love Becky Bloomwood, she never fails to surprise. At the end of each book, she resolves to get rid of this shopaholic nature, but here she is again same as always with new problems. It seems she is taking on Matthew Arnold's words,
  "Resolve to be thyself; and know that he,
   Who finds himself, loses his misery".
Even among Harry Potter series, I have my favourite, but when it comes to shopaholic novels everything gets better and better. Bravo! Kinsella.
          After ten months of fabulous honeymoon Becky and Luke are back to the life in London. Luke is same and businessy again, going after a new client, Arcodas. But Becky will have to wait for another three months for her new job.
          So it comes as a surprise when her parents announce that she has got a sister in her Dad's former relationship. Her name is Jessica (Jessy), a geologist doing Ph.d. Becky is full of excitement. She has wanted a sister always and now they can go for shopping together. When it turns out that Jess hates shopping and is a terrible miser who will even beat Scrooge, Becky won't give up; this is her long-lost sister.
           She invites Jess for the weekend to make them bond, but it turns out to be a disaster. They seems to have nothing in common; Luke is impressed by her computer knowledge though. In the end Becky loses her temper and in anger they separate.
           Luke gets the Arcodas deal, but the celebration crashes down when Nathan Temple, a notorious gangster, unexpectedly turns up. He has once helped Becky to purchase her famous Angel bag and now asks that favour to be returned. Luke is to be the PRO of his new five star hotel in Cyprus. As he seems to take over the Daily World, Luke consents hiding his resentment. He won't talk to Becky.
           Her husband's words ring in her ears: " You could learn a lot from your sister". So in order to save the supposed to be shattering marriage, she goes to Jess but the furious sister won't accept her. She even says there has been a mistake and they are not sisters after all. But the villagers totally love her, particularly the shop keeper there. When Becky finds her rock cupboard, she realises that she has found her soul mate. Jess has an obsession with rocks as she has with shoes; she just hides it better. They are sisters for sure.
          She needs to tell her; Jess is in a mountain expedition and she follows though she has never climbed a mountain before. Both are trapped due to the storm, Becky suffers a fall, breakes her ankle but it doesn't matter as Jess is there; they are bonded. Mission accomplished.
           Suze and Tarquin comes to the rescue with their helicopter. Luke was dead worried and he couldn't leave Cyprus due to the storm. Becky is right again; Nathan Temple is a good man. 
           For Jess, Becky leads a protest march against a new shop which may  cause problems to the environment. This shop turns out to be owned by the Arcodas group; Luke manages the situation to both of their advantage and as an icing to the cake, Becky realises that she is pregnant.    

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Such a Long Journey - Rohinton Mistry

Date of Reading: 19/08/2007
Author: Rohinton Mistry
Publisher: faber and faber with Penguin Books
Place: London
Year: 2002
(Shortlisted for the 1991 Booker Prize and the winner of the 1992 Commonwealth Writers Prize)

          Anita Desai and Rohinton Mistry are my favourite Indian authors. Mistry is actually diasporic and he seems to have an addiction towards the Emergency era which is the background to this novel and also to 'A Fine Balance'. The other book 'Family Matters' looks different; I have to lay hands on it too sometime.
           We do not hear much about Parcys nowadays except in the business arena. Here in Southern India they are almost extinct. So a wonderful novel like this is always welcome. Books on Emergency period are also scarce.
             In 2010, the novel made headlines when it was withdrawn from the University of Mumbai's English syllabus after complaints from the family of Bal Thackeray. Well, its still in our syllabus here. There is also a film version of the same name directed by Sturla Gunnarsson.
             Novel is set in Bombay against the backdrop of war in the Indian subcontinent and the birth of Bangladesh, telling the story of the peculiar way in which the conflict impringes on the lives of Gustad Noble, an ordinary man, and his family.
            Gustad is a Parcy. He works in a bank and the family includes his wife Dilnavaz, sons Sohrab and Darius and daughter Roshan; they live in Khodadad Building. When Sohrab passes the entrance exam to IIT, the father is overjoyed. But contrary to his expectations Sohrab is determined to continue his BA; this pains Gustad and an angry Sohrab leaves home. (No wonder he is pissed off, IIT is the dream of every parent in India. Or do they tend to forget that parents are just keepers, not the owners of their children?)
             Dinshwaji is his best friend in the bank. Outside it is Jimmy Bilimoria who once helped him in an accident. He was a retired Major and had once lived in the building. But one day the place is suddenly vacated without any word; nobody has seen or heard of him since then.
            Then out of the blue a letter arrives announcing that Jimmy is working in RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and he advises Gustad to take a parcel from his friend Ghulam Mohammed which contains ten lakh rupees. Jimmy wants that to be deposited in the bank secretly. He hesitates but Dinshwaji is there to help and they do it in parts.
            News comes that Jimmy is arrested in Delhi for stealing sixty lakhs and so the ten lakh has to be withdrawn. Gustad is angry at having been involved in a theft business and he won't listen anymore to Jimmy's news. Money is taken back with great difficulty; time passes and Dinshwaji dies of cancer.
            After the persistant requests he visits Jimmy in Delhi. He is in the hospital wing of the prison and the real story unfolds. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi has tricked him to take the sixty lakhs convincing him that it is for the army in Bangladesh borders; but it goes to her private account. So Jimmy steals the ten lakhs hoping that they won't find out as leakage is common in goverment channels. Obviously the plan failed and he has a prison sentence of four years. He dies of heart attack and Ghulam brings the body to Bombay to give him the customary Parcy burial.
            Along with this main plot there are stories of all people connected with Gustad - Tehmul, Miss Kulpitia, Dr. Paymaster, Inspector Banji, Mr. Rabadi, Malcolm Saldanha. They are all unforgettable.   

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

David Copperfield

Date of Reading: 12/08/2007
Author: Charles Dickens
Publisher: Rohan Book Company
Place: Delhi
Year: 2004
Rs. 95

             Our college library had a vast Dickens section, the only hitch being that we require some lenses to read. Letters are too small (like in small English Bibles which send us to sleep within five minutes). But someone has lost a book once (not me!) and there is this replacement copy with pictures and of course readable letters and that's how I first met David Copperfield. Book indeed had a nasty smell which I was allergic to, but the story was that gripping and I was prepared to suffer a few sneezes. I went on to read some of his other novels too - personal copies - but never could I find the same spirit again. This is simply the best.

Daniel Radcliff as David Copperfield

             David Copperfield is born on a Friday midnight after six months of his father's death. His mother marries Mr. Murdstone who never found anything to like in little David and he forcefully sends him off to a boarding school (this bit is actually a little sentimental, so better keep a hanky beside while reading the original). His nurse Miss Peggotty and her family - Mr. Peggotty, Ham and Emily - are the only consolation.
             At the boarding his friends are Steerforth and Tom Traddles; but when his mother dies suddenly, he is withdrawn from there and is sent to work in London as per his stepfather's instructions. There he comes to know of the Micawbers and on finding that his rich aunt Betsy Trotwood is at Dover, he runs away. She adopts him on the condition that his last name should be changed to Trotwood.
              He stays with Mr. Wickfield and his beautiful daughter Agnes to continue his studies under the supervision of Dr. Strong. Here the villain of the piece, Uriah Heep is introduced as the clerk of the family. After he passes in flying colours in the exams, he takes the profession of a proctor and meets his first love, Dora Spenlow.
              Tragedy strikes when his aunt loses her property; David leaves the present profession and starts writing books along with other odd jobs. Marriage with Dora takes place after the death of her father who was set against it. Meanwhile Uriah Heep is growing (in greed and in money) and is now in partnership with Mr. Wickfield; he even demands Agnes' hand in marriage to avert the ruin that will come soon to her family.
            After three years of happy marriage Dora dies. Micawber as the new secretary finds the forgeries of Heep and Wickfield and aunt Betsy gets their money back. Micawber family along with the Peggottys migrates to Australia to begin a new life. David travels far and wide to reduce his pain on Dora's death and his reputation as a writer is established.
              When he comes back after three years of wandering, he marries Agnes. They have three daughters - Agnes, Betsy and Dora. News also comes from Micawber informing that he has become an eminent magistrate.
            Story is highly autobiographical and it is said that the character of Micawber is drawn after Dickens' own father.


Monday, 11 June 2012

The Scarlet Letter

Date of Reading: 06/08/2007
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Publisher: Harper & Row
Place: New York
Year: 1958

              One of the best books I have ever read; well, the vocabulary could cause a problem to those who are not used to classics, even so . . . its worth a try. There is history, romance (oh, not that much) and the story can be classified as one of  sin and its punishment ones, when man forgets that rules are for men, not men for rules.
             Story is set in 17th century Puritan Boston which is dominated by a stern code of behaviour and an unrelenting judgement on those who sinned against it. The code was inhumanly rigid and the judgements so literal they were blind; the result was a special evil of its own.
             Hester Prynne is the wife of a learned man, English by birth. He has dwelt long in Amsterdam but in a time decides to cross over and cast his lot with the Massachusetts. To this purpose, he sends his wife before him, remaining himself to look after some necessary affairs. But even after two years no sign of this man is found; Hester becomes pregnant by someone and gives birth to a girl child.
              She is trialed and is sentenced to wear the scarlet letter 'A' on her breast so that everyone will know and despise her as an adulteress. But even under great pressure, she doesn't reveal the man. On the very day of the happenings of these events her long lost husband comes back to town and is appalled by these turn of the events. His sole aim now is to find the secret lover and for that he takes the disguise of a physician and introduces himself as Roger Chillingworth. Hester unwillingly promises to keep his true identity  a secret.
           Her child is named Pearl and the story continues when she turns seven years old. Chillingworth has by then achieved his fame and is now the personal physician of Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, the minister who suffers from poor health. Chillingworth is convinced that something troubles Arthur's mind which causes the ill-health and concludes rightly that this is his wife's lover. His way of revenge is to increase his mental torture.
            Hester watches this painfully and confesses the truth to Arthur and they decide to leave the place together. But at the end when he sees that his time is near, he confesses his secret guilt publicly from the same spot where Hester stood convicted and dies in her arms. On his chest they find the letter 'A' marked in flesh.

 Nathaniel Hawthorne

            Chillingworth is touched and when he dies most of his property is left to little Pearl. She and her mother leave the country and Hester comes back after many years and spends the rest of her life in helping poor and needy. Pearl is married off and is well settled in the continent. Hester is buried beside Dimmesdale's grave.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Wuthering Heights

Date of Reading: 11/07/2007
Author: Emily Bronte
Publisher: The Zodiac Press
Place: London
Year: 1961

           I have read this novel two times, hoping against hope that at last I will begin to love this just like all my friends. It never happened though. Book is horrible, a story of hatred with bizarre atmosphere, which I loathe to touch again. Each time I could feel the hate running through my veins, incapacitating the limbs and it makes me think "Why was I ever born to this wretched place?" It always took a few days to recover.
           Story does not have any poetic justice -- in fact, all good ones die too easily while evil Heathcliff thrive. Well, not everyone counts him as the villain; for me it seems that a love failure between two people has almost destroyed two families - fate haunted even the children. 'Wuthering Heights' can be called as a ghost story without ghosts.
             Mr. Lockwood, the narrator, is a tenant of Thrushcross Grange which is owned by Mr. Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, a strange, rough fellow. He even catches a cold on visiting his inhospitable house. Staying in bed as an invalid, he listens to the story of Heathcliff and other inmates of Wuthering Heights from Mrs. Dean, the housekeeper, who was brought up there.
             When she was a child, the place was owned by Mr. Earnshaw and his two children - Hindley and Catherine. He adopts Heathcliff from the streets. Though Hindley hated him, Catherine was much in need of his friendship. After the death of his father Hindley takes charge and treats Heathcliff like a servant he should be. He never minded as long as there is Catherine; he was in love. But Catherine was practical and she chooses money over love and marries Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff, heart brokenly leaves the country.
               Hindley's wife dies after giving birth to Hareton and Heathcliff comes back rich, takes advantage of the despaired, drinking Hindley and Wuthering Heights comes under his possession. To fulfil his revenge on Linton family, he flirts with Edgar's sister Isabella who has a crush on him. They run away. Catherine dies after giving birth to a young girl; she is christened after her mother - Catherine Linton.
               By the time Isabella comes to her senses it was too late; she runs away from him and gives birth to their son, Linton Heathcliff. He was weak and when his mother dies, Edgar takes him home. Thus begins the story of the second generation.
              Heathcliff claims his fatherly rights and takes Linton to Wuthering Heights where his health worsens. His father's plan is to marry him with the young Catherine so  that Thrushcross Grange too will come under him. All goes according to the plan except that Catherine loves her father too deeply to agree for such a marriage though she is in love with Linton. Edgar is seriously ill. So Heathcliff locks up Catherine when she comes to visit, beats her and she marries. By the time she escapes somehow and comes home, Edgar is near death and dies contently in his daughter's arms.

RELATIONSHIPS MAP ( courtesy : Wikipedia)

             Heathcliff takes her to Wuthering Heights and her position is much like a servant as does Hareton's -- Hindley, his father was dead by then due to excessive drinking. Linton also dies without being given a proper medical care. This is the situation when Lockwood comes. When his illness passed, he returns to London and the story is left in a stand still. After a year he passes through the place and story resumes; Heathcliff is dead and Catherine and Hareton are getting married. Peace has come to Wuthering Heights at last.   

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Tales of the Trojan War

Date of Reading : 17/07/2007
Retold by : Kamini Khanduri
Publisher : Usborne Publishing Ltd
Place : London
Year : 2002

           This is an excellent prose for beginners interested in Greek myths, covers almost all parts of 'Iliad' and the pictures provide an enjoyable reading. No worries on forgetting the stories or mixing it up after reading.
           The wedding of Thetis, the daughter of Nereus the sea god with King Peleus is about to take place and Eris, the unpopular goddess of spite is not invited. Enraged goddess throws a golden apple engraved "for the fairest" among the guests. Queen Hera, Athene and Aphrodite make their claim and Zeus leaves the decision to the shepherd Paris. Hera offers power and wealth, Athene victory in war and Aphrodite (Venus) the most beautiful woman in the world as bribe; after a moment of hesitation Paris passes the apple to Aphrodite.
             One day he goes down to the nearby city of Troy for the contests and wins almost everything. King Priam and Queen Hecuba recognise him as their son who is left to die on the mountain as it was foretold that he would bring about the destruction of the city. Priam has another son Hector and a daughter Cassandra.
          Paris is welcomed home and is sent to a mission to Greece to recover Priam's sister, Hesione who is captured by the Greeks. Aphrodite alters the wind to Sparta where Helen lives as the life of Menelaus. They fall in love and Helen runs away with Paris to Troy.
            Menelaus summons his brother Agamemnon and the Greeks prepare for battle; Ulysses and Achilles also join. Achilles is the son of Thetis and the prophesy was that Greeks could not capture Troy without him and he will be killed in the battle. Hector dies fighting alone with Achilles and Paris in turn kills Achilles with the help of Apollo.
             Then Ulysses comes up with the idea of the huge Trojan horse inside which they all hide. Other ships sail away. Trojans, thinking that they are gone for sure, takes the horse inside the city gates and start their celebrations. At night Ulysses and his companions come out and open the gate for others. They burn Troy down, Paris is killed and Menelaus accepts Helen.
            'Iliad' is much like 'Mahabharata'; but while in the Indian epic there is a good distinction between good and evil, here we don't know which part to take. Fate of Troy is too painful; do they really deserve that?
--- There is a film 'Troy' starring Brad Pitt as Achilles which almost gives a good version of the story.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Shopaholic Ties the Knot

Date of Reading : 31/05/2012
Author : Sophie Kinsella
Title : Shopaholic Ties the Knot

           The usual case is romance stories end with the joining together of hero and heroine. Its all "happily ever after" that follows. As our matrimonial sites show (only applicable to arranged marriage system countries), the main expense/trouble is to find the bride or groom. But could the wedding itself be problematic - after all the hardships of reaching the altar? That is what this third novel in the shopaholic series is about. As someone has once said, "marriages are enjoyable,... if they are someone else's".
           Becky and Luke are living together for a year now and he proposes on the day of Suze and Tarquin's wedding. Wedding date is June 21st and her mother is running wild with preparations. Meanwhile Luke's mother Elinor has other plans for a huge Plaza wedding; on seeing the amazing Plaza hotel Becky herself is confused, 'which one should she choose?'. Neither Mum nor Elinor could be stopped.
            She goes home to Oxshott to call off that wedding, but there. . . Plaza's artificial beauty dims. She leaves a message to Robyn, the wedding planner, announcing her withdrawal from the New York marriage. During this Suze had her child - boy Ernie; and Becky is the godmother.  
            When she comes to New York at last . . . there Luke is having a midlife crisis at the age of 34. From his mother's apartment he has got his Dad's letters, begging her to meet the boy Luke and realisation at last dawns that mother has never cared. To impress her, that was all he wanted and now it is like ' what to live for?'
            Becky is also in trouble; her message hasn't reached Robyn and even so she cannot withdraw as a financial penalty of hundred thousand dollars are attached. All she can hope for is a miracle.
            It does happen when Luke announces his plan to withdraw as he does not want to cross paths with his mother ever again. Elinor is angered with humiliation and Luke, Becky realises, is not the same anymore. So she makes a secret pact - Elinor must confess her love for her son (she even gives her a note on the things to say) and in exchange she will be wed in Plaza.
           Everything goes splendidly. She has a fake wedding at Plaza (no one suspects) and flies to Oxshott that night itself and marries for real on next day amidst parents and friends. She has cashed in their wedding gifts and buys two first class tickets for a world tour - their honeymoon to last a year.
           Too much Kinsella makes me dizzy as though I am stuffed with chocolates; better to read them in intervals or after a serious reading. The last three books can wait I think.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Shopaholic Abroad - Sophie Kinsella

Date of Reading : 30/05/2012
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Title: Shopaholic Abroad (aka Shopaholic Takes Manhattan)

          European or American, white men are attributed with some notions in the East (at least in my place!). They are:
1) They all speak fluent English irrespective of their nationalities
2) They don't stock for future
3) No stable marriages - divorces are common and the kids are OK with it as they are with seasons
4) They drink too much ( a horrible mishap if u r religious)
5) No crimes there - there would have been no police if it is not for the terrorists
           We all are not financially supported to have a round about tour to check these, so books are the only way. As all jokes are not really jokes, there is no fiction that is completely fiction. They are much like history books with an individual perspective. Kinsella books might belong to chick lit (not a negative word for me), but they have their place as everything else. True about this second book in the Shopaholic series.
           Becky's rich boyfriend Luke is planning to open a branch of his PR company in New York and they are moving abroad to the land of Tiffany's, Barneys and Saks Fifth Avenue. Luke has arranged interviews for her with TV producers and he himself is busy to get backers for the company. Not a matter for her. . . shopping here is nothing like London. New York is great except for Elinor, Luke's mother.
           Luke's family is a little complicated, nothing like hers. His parents split up when he was little and mother never cares or visits him - for which he blindly blames her new husband. Annabel, his stepmother brought him up and he calls her too 'Mum'. She is a loving lady but Luke still earns for his mother and literally worships Elinor Sherman. To be noticed by her, that is actually the drive force behind this New York venture.
          In their first meeting itself Becky has understood her cold, ruthless nature, but she can't open up with Luke. Meanwhile her debts are piling up and Luke is also in trouble as a rumour has spread, declaring that Bank of London his main client is withdrawing.
           Their world topples down when The Daily World features Becky in "Are They What They Seem?" as a spendthrift knee deep in debt - much in contradiction to her job as financial adviser. Luke flares up as this ruins his New York plan and Rebecca returns home alone; she has lost her job. But there is Suze and her parents with support.
           She finds Luke's London office in turmoil and discovers that Alicia, her rival who is in charge is the root cause in spreading the rumour and appearance of the article. Becky discloses everything to Michael, their friend; Luke flies home and the company is saved; she auctions her stuff, pays off the debts and takes a job in New York. Luke comes in the airport with her Denny and George scarf which he has secretly collected from the auction and begs to return, but she is determined to go.
           Two months later they meet again. Luke has opened up his branch in New York at a small scale and Becky is doing fine as a personal shopper in Barneys; she helps others in finding the right dress - the job he loves. They start afresh.
           Apart from Becky and Luke relationship, the interesting part is the cultural differences between New York and London; Kinsella succeeds in mocking the misconceptions. This novel is a little bit serious in line but as charming as others.  

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