Lets have a mango party: A Case of Exploding Mangoes

Boom! The ending drops right at the beginning: that Zia ul-Haq will die.

Much like in the novel that is referenced, The Chronicles of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammad Hanif.

Set during the military rule of President Zia ul-Haq, A Case of Exploding Mangoes looks at the fictional events leading to his death and alleged assassination. For most part of the novel, the story  fluctuates between the President’s viewpoint and that of the protagonist, the wry and indifferent junior military officer, Ali Shigri, who himself is haunted by the death of his own father who was also in the military and who he believes was killed on the President’s orders.

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Through Zia ul-Haq’s viewpoint, we see the fears that plague him and the religiousness of the man who uses the Koran as almost a prophetic device to guide his everyday actions. Much like in Wilkie Collin’s novel, The Moonstone, where one of the characters uses the book, Robinson Crusoe, for seeing the future.

This is how we first see the President as well: ruminating over the different translations of a verse about Jonah; finding meaning in it and deciding to up his security level to Code Red.

On the other side, we see Ali Shigri, who views and comments on everything in a cold, calculating and sarcastic manner (even his own brief stint with prison) as if nothing effects him. He is portrayed as a tough and dedicated officer but who lands in trouble due to his missing roommate, Obaid, with whom it is suspected he was very close to. Both land up being held for hatching a plot to kill the President and through this we see the elaborate conspiracies and schemes wrought by the Intelligence Agencies and government to keep the many suspects at bay (or more precisely in prison!).

We know the the President is going to die. We know the moment we start reading the last section of the book titled, Mango Party. Yet, this foreshadowing does not dull any of our excitement since the narration is done at a suspenseful pace that keeps one on tenterhooks. We are racing towards that one final moment where not just the President explodes but so do many, juicy mangoes, along with a unlucky crow! While racing ahead, we see the many threads coming together, we see who is plotting against whom and how this will end!

So whodunnit?

Got to read the book, my friend!

Start with the first chapter here:

P.S. Read reviews of his  second novel, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, below:

https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/r4wrV70ARes9Q7jrX112LL/Our-Lady-of-Alice-Bhatti–Following-the-fallen-angels.html

https://tribune.com.pk/story/257182/book-review-our-lady-of-alice-bhatti-alice-in-charya-land/

 

The Quirks Of Memory

“…our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but-mainly-to ourselves-” Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending. 

So says the protagonist, Tony Webster,of the Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. In a nutshell, the novel is precisely just that-A man in his 60s looking back, retelling and re-examining his life’s story and certain events in them.  However, it isn’t a Charles Dickenish kind of a novel where Copperfield will look at each and every event of his life and bore us to death. The story of his life that Tony tells us and perhaps to himself too is quite a succinct, precise one with frequent ramblings on the importance and unreliability of memory and passing of time and life in general. And that is how Barnes’ prose also works: clean and full of precision-a kind of no nonsense, no frills, not too overtly nostalgic look at one’s life.

The novel is divided into two parts. The first part is a quick look at the Tony’s life in school with his group of friends and how they meet the intellectual and seemingly serious Adrian Finn. He talks of his college life, his girlfriend Veronica and how things get complicated in that relationship. With a witty and engaging narration, Tony gives in a good, tongue-in-cheek manner all that there is to school and teenage life-friends, love, college, partying, being together and promising a sincere lifelong contact and a kind of innocent idealism about everything. But this not in a cliched style that will make you retch and cringe with the nostalgia usually associated with those times but will make you say, “yes even I had those very same thoughts when I was a kid.” In the second part, Tony looks at back at some of those events and when unexpectedly a will bequeaths Adrian’s diary to him, he is forced to look at his break up with Veronica and his relationship with Adrian in a fresh light and come to turns with what had happened then despite his memory’s unwillingness to do so. This quest turns the story into a quasi-suspense novel without letting go of its quasi-philosophical ramblings about re looking at life.

The narration is very conversational and Tony tells his story as if he were orally narrating it to some listeners which is exactly what makes the text engaging. The reader is constantly acknowledged and addresses to and thus we feel drawn into the story and relate to it easily-who doesn’t nostalgically look back at their good times in life, who doesn’t invent memories, who doesn’t read into the past and reasons it out-aren’t we all guilty of that, of pruning the bad parts and remembering only the good aspects, of inventing our life’s story for ourselves? There is therefore a kind of universalism in his pondering about life but without making it stereotypical and without imposing it on the reader.

With many quotable quotes and witty phrases and one liners that may or may not hit you with a profound realisation, The Sense of an Ending is a brisk, powerful and moving tale of the uncertainties of life.  The end is completely surprising and revelation of a bitter truth does somehow communicate ‘the sense of an ending’ in a way. Cannot reveal more, would be quite a spoiler and would simply ruin the fun of finding out on your own. All I can say is highly recommended. But do not read it just because it won some fancy prize but because it can say a lot about the vagaries of life-more than those silly philosophical books anyhow and more importantly read it because well what could be more joyful than picking up a book and immersing yourself in it and falling in love with another author’s works?

Control Freaks

Amidst the hullabaloo of Edward Snowden’s revelations of the US government snooping on its own citizens and those of foreign countries, George Orwell’s 1984 has been mentioned countless times and how he was right in predicting the government’s role of the Big Brother. Another author depicted a dystopian future wherein the government had a different sort of control over you-controlling your violent instincts. While the government spying on one’s phone calls, emails, social networking data is not a comforting feeling, the government actually controlling how you behave is even more disconcerting.

Clockwork Orange, a novel by Anthony Burgess, explores precisely this aspect of control. Alex, the anti-hero of the novel, is a the narrator and refers to himself as “Your Humble Narrator.” He narrates his and his pals’ violent escapades in a nameless town where such violence by teens is rampant. They engage in brutal violence-assaulting, stealing, beating and sexual violence during the night. On one such escapade, Alex and his gang decide to rob a single woman living with dozens of cats. However, the plan goes awry as Alex’s usual ruse of acting like a wounded boy and fooling the woman to open the door fails. He then goes through the window and threatens her but the old woman isn’t frightened so easily. She seems to get time to call the police and eventually in a fight, Alex gives a fatal blow. The police picks him up and he is shunted to the prison for a good 14 years. It is here Alex learns of a miraculous technique that will reform him quickly and let him get out of jail in no time. The prison chaplain, the only decent person around, warns of this so-called-miraculous Ludovico Technique and of its ethical ambiguity. Due to a turn of events, Alex is eventually subjected to this technique which is torturous in its own way and has terrible consequences for our Humble Narrator.

Written in the “Nadsat” language, which is the lingo used by the teens of that world, Clockwork Orange is a gruesome look at the politics of control and surveillance and raises questions about the need for an individual to have a choice in the way s/he behaves. Ludovico Technique essentially conditions Alex to have sickening feelings for anything related to violence. It ‘cures’ him of his bad behaviour by leaving him with no choice but to be good because being bad or even thinking of violence entails a rising of aversion in him. Burgess cleverly shows how the government’s method of reducing crime by relying on such ethically questionable techniques is not a foolproof method but only raises more problems rather than resolving them. For example, if Alex is faced with a situation where he has to defend himself he is absolutely helpless since he cannot resort to violence as he has been conditioned to be averse to it.

To complicate the plot further, Alex after being ‘cured’ is used by certain individuals for their own personal gains-namely to show that the present government is using such brutal techniques in the reduction of crime. Alex becomes a trophy prize over which politically motivated parties and individuals tussle, leaving behind the core of the problem-if the Ludovico Technique is not morally correct and the usual punishment of imprisonment also fails, then how exactly to reduce the rate of crime and violence in a world where youngsters are increasingly setting up sub cultures of crime and violence.

Clockwork Orange doesn’t answer those questions outright. Instead the story explores the ideas of the nature of evil and if it is really possible for the government to control the individual’s violent inclinations and urges through conditioning techniques. The book shows how the government treats people like machines, like ‘clockworks’ that can be tweaked to make a better, crime-free society. We have already seen in the 20th and 21st centuries how the media has been effectively used to tweak people’s way of thinking and getting their support on certain politically important matters (For eg, it is thanks to the relentless media proclamations of US’ war on terror that the entire globe sees the Middle East as merely a part of the world crawling with terrorists out to attack America while completely disregarding their own unique culture. Closer home, the media is often used in India to mobilise people’s opinion for the ambiguous notions of ”development” and “growth” while cleverly trying to put down all those who clash against these ideas). It is not just the media alone, mainstream culture-whether it is books, movies or art-all are effectively used by the government to mould people’s opinions for or against something. Therefore, it is perhaps not far away that the governments all over the world will be able to control its citzens’ behaviour. And that would indeed be a scary prospect.

Though small in size, Clockwork Orange may not be a breeze to read thanks to the “nadsat” words that Burgess uses which can be understood only by referring to the glossary every once in a while. It can be frustrating because while you want to get on with the story(which moves at a good pace), you have to pause and find out the meanings first but be patient and it will definitely be worth it. It will take time to accustom yourself to the language but once you are attuned to it, it will be an easy and enlightening read. Try and read this one-it is relevant and will always be because no government has come close to curbing violence among its people. So while you figure out what “droog”, “carmen”, “chasha,” malchick,” ‘mesto” etc mean, don’t forget to also ponder over the subtexts of the story.

Oh What Perks!

Teenage years have been stereotyped and clichéd by the media so much so that being a teenager means to have a strict set of homogeneous experiences which completely undermines the capacity of teens to be so much more. Books have long fed into this fascinating stereotyped teenage experience-they have from time to time talked about teenage love, teenage angst, teenage rebellion etc.  ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky cannot be classified as just another book about teens as it uniquely reinforces as well as breaks many teen related stereotypes.

The most striking part of ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is the epistolary style of the book. Who associates teens with letter writing any more?  Or even diary entries for that matter! But in a not so distant past of the 1990s’ when internet revolution had not yet occurred, letters and diaries weren’t seen as abnormal.

Jumping now to the story, ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is about Charlie-a shy introverted boy-who is entering high school with a lot of trepidation of being able to fit in and find the right friends along with other issues of his own. Charlie narrates his experiences through letters which he writes to an anonymous friend. He eventually is able to strike up a conversation with Patrick, a guy from his shop class, during a football game and Patrick introduces Charlie to the rest of his gang-Sam, Mary Elizabeth, Bob, Dave etc. Soon he is part of that gang and partying, doing drugs, dating-all the things the world thinks teens usually are up to all the time. Along with his good social circle, Charlie is also good in his English class and his teacher, Bill, gives him books to read outside of the syllabus. It becomes one mixed adventure for Charlie as he charts out his way through one year of high school with his friends and also comes to terms with the idiosyncrasies of his family and also his past. The story thoroughly relates the anguish of teens to meet the expectations of the experiences that they should necessarily have. The story talks of how those very experiences are good to have but there is so much more to a teenage life than that. It’s more about discovering who you are and the moments, no matter how fleeting they might be, that will be memorable and the friends and classmates that you would remember.

Charlie’s language in his letters is very simple and intimate. His statements are at times so facile yet so profound. They make you sit up and acknowledge the things you take for granted. There have been speculations that Charlie is an autistic in the novel which might explain his simplistic, emotional understanding of everything around him and his emotional responses as well. ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ also has this ability to touch upon the mundane and every day, daily activities in such a way as to show that it is these little things that make life worthwhile and meaningful. The time in which it is set is the 1990s’. It is thus refreshing to see teenagers who aren’t obsessed with their Facebook profiles or addicted to their cell phones. The 1990s’ was a time of cassettes, letters, typewriters and good music which is showcased brilliantly in the novel.  The other characters particularly Patrick, Sam and Mary Elizabeth are well etched out and have their own quirks and unique personalities. The novel also highlights that it is perfectly normal to be different and to have different experiences in your teenage years.

A let down of the book is the one-dimensional aspect of Charlie and his limited responses to every situation of his life.  For every good thing, he simple feels ‘happy’ never ‘joyous’, or ‘ecstatic’ or anything other than ‘happy’ and for every bad thing, he feels like crying. It is hard to reconcile with such neutral responses from such an apparently intelligent mind. Another negative aspect of the book is that it tries to cram in a lot of issues and concerns without any concrete resolutions for them. It talks about familial fragmentation, sibling rivalry, child sexual abuse, homosexual love, depression etc. all together. These are all floating around with nothing to tie them together with.

The film version of the same name which came out in 2011 is equally engaging and stays true to the plot and story perhaps because it is directed by the author himself. The actors have done a commendable job to bring the characters to life along with the book’s focus on the lasting impression the teenage years have on the self- discovery. The setting of the 1990s’ has also been wonderfully captured by the film.

The final verdict would definitely be to buy the book and catch the movie and perhaps it will make you rethink your teenage life or make you relive it.

A Princely Read

You know about that saying-Don’t judge something by its size? Well, it’s true of books as well.  Take, ‘The Little Prince’ for example. Anyone can be fooled easily into thinking that it is a mere children’s story by its small size (and even its title for that matter). But no other book can have so many profound yet seemingly simple truths packed into its story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not philosophical neither does it pretend to be so in the guise of a children’s tale. ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine De Saint Exupery is a simple tale of two children and their own ways of looking at the world. And within these different views of the world lie the most obvious truths which often are not visible to grown-ups. (Find out some history about the book if you can).

The Little Prince’ is narrated by an unnamed child who has apparently crashed into the Sahara Desert. There he meets the little prince and they converse with each other about each other’s planets and other things which reveal their thoughts and beliefs as well-like that the narrator likes to draw but was discouraged by grown-ups who never understood them, that the little prince liked to see sunsets and never let go of a question once he asked them or that he came from a very tiny planet etc.  During these conversations, the narrator tries to fix his crashed air plane so that he can go back home. He narrates this story six years after this particular crash occurred.

Every page, every chapter will have some sort of wisdom embedded in it which somehow slips us grown-ups by. Most of these wisdoms are told simply and directly which is why they are so memorable. Quoting all of them is nigh impossible. So I will let you explore them on your own.

A unique aspect about ‘The Little Prince’ is that it is simple, direct and curt. The writing and the conversations imitate the simple, to the point behaviour of children. This directness is precisely why it’s refreshing and why it is easy to make one’s point and make the reader understand it well. It hits the reader directly as a result and that’s why these simple statements are so enlightening. There is no unnecessary beating around the bush.

I read a translation by Irene Testot-Ferry which I got from Flipkart for quite a good bargain  The translation seemed good. Since I have nothing to compare it to, I can’t be a good judge of it. Do share if you have read a brilliant translation of ‘The Little Prince‘ or if you have read it originally in French

This book is a treasure which you can open just about at any page and then read it to elicit a new way of understanding and perhaps to lighten up your bad mood. It makes you look at things in an uncomplicated manner.  You as a reader can find several layers of meaning lying hidden beneath the seemingly childish talks of the child protagonists of ‘The Little Prince.’ From them, I sincerely hope that you can take away something that can be useful in your life because this is one book that you cannot fail to learn something from-however simple or obvious it might be.

The Little Prince’ is a story one in a million which can carve a special place in your heart, a story all should read and learn from.

Men Of Power

Rephrasing the famous opening line from, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘it a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of

power, must be in want of more power.’ Power and money are often themes around which entire books or series revolve. Power and money are often motives around which detective stories revolve. But when Jeffrey Archer uses these two aspects in his best-seller, ‘Kane And Abel‘, he fuses other aspects as well such as a bildungsroman theme, ego, hatred, economic empires, economic clout and a concise history of America from the 1900s’ to the 1960s’. This curious fusion creates a thrilling page turner in the form of ‘Kane And Abel.’

The plot is as simple as can be. Two infants-William Kane and Wladek Koskiewicz- are born on the same day on two different continents: Kane with a silver spoon  in America and Wladek to a nameless mother in Poland. While William’s life is set out for him by his father who is the chairman of Kane and Cabot bank, Wladek’s life is fraught with difficulties and struggles in the light of which he discovers his strengths and weaknesses as well as his father’s identity. Kane steadily rises to the positions of power in America while Wladek embarks on a life changing journey to America to make a name and a fortune. Kane becomes part of the board of directors in his own bank while Wladek runs a hotel in Chicago after a lot of struggling in low paying jobs. Gradually, these two rise in power and stature, get to know each other by quirks of fate which cements their relation of hate and turns both on to a path to destroy each other. Are they successful in their personal vendettas? Read up the novel to find out more.

Some say that ‘Kane And Abel‘ is Archer’s best work so far. Having read only 1 other book by him, ‘Prisoner Of Birth’, I can’t really affirm this particular claim. What I can vouch for is that the novel will keep you engrossed with its breakneck speed, compelling plot, grasping writing, the twists and turns and the clearly etched out characters and situations. Spanning 60 years, ‘Kane And Abel‘ not only narrates the story of the titular characters but intersperses them with the historic moments of American history- the sinking of the Titanic, World War 1 and 2, Great Depression etc.. This proffers the reader interesting nuggets of history and manifests how history shapes human lives to a large extent.

The downside of the novel is that Archer tries too hard to make the two characters collide. There are too many coincidences that are strewn throughout the story through which their paths cross. After a point, these get too hard to believe. The occurrences of so many coincidences in real life is next to impossible. Archer also has tried to create sympathy for the two characters which at times is at odds with their sole aim for power and destruction. Moreover, there is also an impossible paradox to believe: Both William and Wladek helped each other at some point or the other despite the fact they were hell bent to destroy each other financially and emotionally. This is rather hard to digest.

The worst drawback of the novel is that it is male centric. Women have hardly any role to play in the story other than being mothers,grandmothers, daughters and wives. The only exception is Wladek’s daughter who is assertive and a working woman and not just a rich man’s submissive daughter. Perhaps to make up for this male centric vision of the novel, Archer has extended the story of Wladek’s daughter in the sequel, ‘The Prodigal Daughter.’ This constant association of power with men reiterates the stereotype of empires and power and money being a man’s domain with women only playing arm candy to the men.

Barring the above downsides, ‘Kane And Abel‘ is a fine piece of fiction, one that you can breeze through in a couple of days and elicit oodles of excitement from it as well.

Pride And Prejudice: Overrated

Satire is a style which helps us to reflect on the ills of our society. It makes us sit up and take notice of things that we might have otherwise taken for granted. Satire pokes fun while also eliciting an engaging response from the audience. It reveals a picture of things which we know exists but often ignore. It is undoubtedly a powerful tool to attack the system or simply the way things are or are taken for granted.

This is the style which Jane Austen also employs in her famous novel ‘Pride And Prejudice.’ Austen gives to her reader a delightful, detailed account of upper middle and middle class lives, their hypocrisy, artificiality and preoccupation with marriage. Simultaneously, she also lightly satirizes all these aspects, but unfortunately the satire is so subtle that it is invisible so that the novel appears nothing more than an interesting love story.

In a line, ‘Pride And Prejudice‘ is a story of the Bennetts’ rather mama Bennett’s measures to get her daughters married in good, respectable houses much like ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ or the plot lines of numerous of our own soap operas. However, the novel lacks the exuberance and comedy of the film/musical. The novel is really nothing more than that one line description. While numerous critics have upheld the novel as a good satire, lauded her writing style and attention to detail, I beg to differ. The critics are spot on about the last two aspects but the first one is laughable (no pun intended). The fact that Austen is mocking artificial pretensions of decorum and niceties is overshadowed by the marriage factor of the novel. It is the overriding theme of the plot and her satire or mocking tone just isn’t enough to gloss over that. Austen doesn’t do justice to her satirical technique. The book rather than making fun of marriage, endorses it grandly as being the sole aim if a girl’s life.

Pride And Prejudice‘ is an enjoyable read, nonetheless. But it really does not promote any revolutionary ideas about womanhood or marriage as many critics have diligently pointed out over the years. It is a light read, an ordinary love story with intricate detail and good writing but not good ideas. Enjoy the story, the characters, the relationships, the scandals but don’t expect ‘Pride And Prejudice‘ to change your ideas about marriage and other things that are stereotypically associated with it.

Growing Up and Other Things.

This summer vacation visit your childhood days again. Simply delve into the worlds of Rusty and his gang of friends in the famous Rusty series penned by our very own, lovable-Ruskin Bond. The first in this series is ‘The Room On The Roof‘ which Bond himself wrote when he was only 17 years old. It was the story that got him fame and won him the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. While the entire series is promoted as predominantly children fiction, anyone can read the books as they are simple and refreshing and not merely childish. They can take you back to your fun filled adolescence and leave you touched by its thoughtfulness.

The Room On The Roof‘ revolves around Rusty who at the start is a lonely boy of 16 who loves to take aimless walks in the forests of Dehradun. He is under the guardianship of Mr. John Harrison, a strict, intimidating British fellow who has only contempt for everything around him-Rusty, the Indian side of the town, nature, his wife even etc.. By coincidence he meets two very friendly and warm Indian kids -Somi and Ranbir- on one of his many walks. They quickly become friends and indulge in the ‘masti’ of childhood-from riding their cycles, to their daily visits to the popular chaat shops etc, to playing Holi etc. Tired of the restrictive atmosphere of his guardian’s home and the European side of the town, Rusty runs away in a moment of madness and fury to be with his Indian friends. He only later realises the gravity of his decision and what it means to be living on one’s own. The story then takes a turn from its playfulness to a more serious tone as Rusty grapples with his new situation with the help of Somi and Ranbir.

The best part of ‘The Room On The Roof‘ is that Bond very lovingly sketches the development of Rusty’s personality. Bond thus makes the story not simply about the unbridled, pure and innocent joys of adolescence but also about the certain issues that rack one’s mind at that age for eg, Rusty’s loneliness, his adolescent love, his insecurity etc.. The story is also meditative as Rusty ponders over his ‘insignificance’ and purpose of life. So dismissing the novel as simply a childish one would be wrong. It may not proffer profound truths about the world but it does provide an adolescence’s point of view of such abstract aspects which also attests to the fact that the adolescent stage is not only one of frivolous frolic and time pass. It is quite commendable that Bond wrote this when he himself was only 17. Such sort of maturity in writing is not seen today from teenage authors anymore. Many aspects of the novel are also Bond’s own and perhaps the reflective tone of the story stems from his know meditations at that time.

Another feature that stands out is the true, minute depictions of Indian life whether it is the European part of Dehra, the buzzing bazaar, the simple toys, the smoky chaat shop and its delicacies,the intoxicated playing of Holi, the myriad Indian railway, Dehra’s natural beauty and the characters connections with it, Rusty’s room on the roof etc. While many of them may seem cliched like the cows on the streets and the beggars, they are life like nonetheless and attest to a way of life that is fast disappearing. Even the characters whether it is Rusty’ friends, Mr. Harrison’s wife’s brief appearances, Meena Kapoor-Rusty’s employer, her husband-Mr. Kapoor etc are all complex and have a story to their lives that make them full, rounded people with personalities and not just one sided characters.

A story of growing up, friendship, love and responsibilities,’The Room On The Roof‘ is a charming little novel that will regale all children and even adults. It will make you slow down, think and appreciate the small things of life.

Devices and Desires

P.D James’ bestseller, ‘Devices and Desires’ is unlike any detective/thriller I have read. It is a completely atypical crime story that breaks away from tried and tested detective story conventions. Yet James manages to create an equally thrilling and compelling read.

Taken from filmizer.com

At the core of the story is a creepy serial woman killer who goes by the name of Whistler. The killings have rocked the fictional Norfolk coast and have scared the women from venturing alone at night. Then the killer strikes at Larkosen- a picturesque town of Norfolk-with one of the female workers at the Larkosen Nuclear Power Station murdered. Adam Dalgliesh of the New Scotland Yard was on a holiday at Larkosen to settle all the affairs of his aunt’s death-including blowing her ashes and taking care of the the fortune and the windmill she bequeathed him. He invariably gets enmeshed in the murders despite Norfolk not being his patch. When a 2nd murder hits Larkosen, the mystery deepens and fresh troubles surface for Terry Rickards, the Chief Inspector of Norfolk in charge of solving the case, who is desperate to find the elusive killer at all costs.

The plot of ‘Devices and Desires’ sounds like the countless detective stories that come packaged in cheap paperbacks. Yet it is vastly different. Firstly, the pace is much gradual. James takes her own sweet time to build the story, to create tension and take it to a thrilling climax.  She is as interested in the characters and setting as the plot itself which is why the reader peruses pages devoted to establishing the desolate, wild yet beautiful atmosphere of the Norfolk coast in general and Larkosen in particular and to fleshing out characters who are not merely stock characters but individuals with their own unique viewpoint and thoughtful insights.For ex. Dalgliesh is often depicted as pondering over his melancholic and contradictory thoughts about his aunt. The novel is thus very descriptive which burdens it and thus tends to slow down the story’s pace. This may not be appealing to all kinds of readers especially those who are used to their weekly doses of fast paced thrillers. Nonetheless, the novel is still worth the shot because James makes sure that the reader is both aesthetically as well as sensationally pleased with her descriptions and intricate plot.The depth in characterization and the landscape gives this genre fiction novel a literary touch (which is heightened by several references to works of literature such as ‘Dover Beach’, a poem by Matthew Arnold.

James also creates skillful contrasting moods. One moment the reader is plunged into an anxiety ridden chapter of the Whistler’s to-be-victims’ thoughts and in the next the reader dives into the cool, organized thoughts of Dalgliesh or the thoughts of the other numerous inhabitants of Larkosen. James skillfully depicts the gruesome and horrifying aspects of murder and violence as well as manifests the vicious desires and passions of ordinary humans. She has a deft writing touch that marvelously depicts both with a talented ease.

What is jarring is the sudden burst of fast paced and unexpected thrill close to the end that awakens the reader from the stupor brought on by the book’s lulled pace itself. Here James style of alternating moods begins to fail. Its as if she has realised that she needs to quickly finish the story and reveal the murderer and not go on rambling about Larkosen’s beauty or its inhabitants’ idiosyncrasies. The continuation of the same smooth and lulling pace as the whole story would have been more appropriate rather than thrusting the reader into action and more murders that seem blatantly out of place. They seem to be there only to shock the reader or to create the conventional twists in the story.

Yet, apart from these few unexpected jolts, the actual unraveling does happen in a controlled, casual way almost as if a picnic was being discussed and not a murderer’s confession. ‘Devices and Desires’ is still a good, the narrative powerful and stimulating enough to hook all detective fiction lovers and fans.

Elephants and Actresses

The queen of crime strikes again with two easy to read detective novels-‘Elephants Can Remember‘ and ‘Lord Edgware Dies.’ Both are a thrill to read and have trademark Agatha Christie elements and both are Poirot novels. However, the former is rather predictable.Perhaps this comes from having read several Christie novels.

Elephants Can Remember‘ rakes up an old case of a double suicide of the Ravenscrofts. The police had declared that the husband and wife had perhaps entered a suicide pact and either could have killed the other and then oneself.  However, the godmother to their daughter, Mrs. Oliver, an esteemed detective writer herself, is asked by Mrs. Burton Cox at a literary luncheon whether it was the mother or the father that had committed the crime. This query seems initially very trivial and unnecessary but gradually gets Mrs. Oliver’s grey cells rolling as well. She gets her friend Hercule Poirot to help and relies on all her acquaintances who might have known the Ravenscrofts to help her find out what really happened between the doomed couple. The novel looks into the past  and relies on the memories of ‘elephants’ to solve this peculiar case. An interesting aspect of ‘Elephants Can Remember‘ is that Mrs. Oliver is a writer in general and a detective novelist at that. Also, the play on elephants is quite amusing.

Lord Edgware Dies‘ has all the essential things one needs for a mystery-money, love, marriage, the film community, the rich and famous and plenty of motives for murder. One day, Lord Edgware is found murdered and his wife and famous actress, Jane Wilkinson, is suspected because not only did she the night before claim that she would have no qualms about killing him but the butler of the Lord’s house recognized Jane entering the house. In fact, Jane  announced herself and went into Edgware’s room that very night. The police are cocksure about the case being very straightforward. However, the one glitch is that Jane was present at a dinner party that very night. How could she be at two places? The plot begins to boil and thicken with two more murders and a chance remark comes to the rescue of Poirot’s flummoxed grey cells.

Taken from openlibrary.org

They may not be her best work but are a breezy read nonetheless. All Agatha Christie, Poirot and detective novel fans will love them. And if any reader is smart enough, she/he can easily predict the killer in both the books. The suspense is much muted and even though the reader will most probably not be hanging at the edge of their seat, ‘Elephants Can Remember‘ and ‘Lord Edgware Dies‘ are bound to be good reading companions to while away the time or when one has absolutely nothing to do!

A Dystopian Future

Written in 1949, Orwell’s last book, ‘1984‘ is a well known classic, featuring prominently in most, usually all 100-books-to read-lists. The novel is unquestionably Orwell’s masterpiece. A definite must read because of the brilliant ideas presented in the novel along with the lucid narrative and uncomplicated writing and plot.

Taken from themodernworld.com

1984‘ is set in well the year 1984 in London where the state brutally controls everything-from your relationships,language, thoughts and memories-literally everything! This bleak aspect is immediately impressed upon the reader when the novel’s protagonist, Winston Smith is introduced. The government is the ubiquitous Party along with the founder, Big Brother, whose omnipresence is one of the tools with the Party to control the people through fear. Winston is a sort of a quiet rebel against the Party. He knows that the Party is controlling them and falsifying history yet he doesn’t know how to rise up against this subtle oppression and constant surveillance. His first step in a small rebellion is writing a diary, his second step is falling in love with a Party member, Julia-something which isn’t allowed. His last step of rebellion is meeting up with another Party member, O’Brien, who Winston thinks about rebelling too. What perhaps the readers think might actually become a one man showdown with the Party doesn’t come to pass as the Party with all its might suppresses Smith into complete submission and acceptance of its ideology.

A prominent dystopian novel, ‘1984‘ will shock us even today because those ideas of control and tweaking public opinion are relevant today too and are quite applicable in all forms of government till today. The ideas are unnerving and one shifts uneasily in one’s seat while reading the novel, but this does not take away from the fact that the ideology Orwell puts forward is bloody brilliant! Orwell was perhaps inspired by the totalitarian regimes of the 1940s’, the Stalin regime later on and even the British Labour Party’s policies during WWII. However, reading this novel as only an allegory of the Stalinist brutality or an anti-communist tirade or future-predicting sci-fi novel is a grave mistake. The reader must acknowledge that the ideas manifested are quite universal and relevant and that Orwell did not intend to solely malign Communism or predict the future but to provide its readers a sort of a warning about the direction the world societies were heading towards and therefore why it what important to not let such blatant control of humanity ever take place.Its so easy to say that ok, ‘Animal Farm’ was an allegory for the Russian Revolution, so ‘1984‘ is for Stalin but that is hardly the main purpose of the novel.

This marvellous novel of ideas is not a conventional one with a traditional plot, climax and perfect ending in place. It is a speculative novel wherein Orwell envisages the world of 1984 rather pessimistically, using his imagination to invent new technologies and languages. The whole novel more or less focuses on presenting an ideology and thus many dialogues are simply a way to exchange ideas of some ideology. This makes for a fascinating read and one just cannot resist when it comes to comparing Orwell’s fictional future with the real world as so many ideas are very much applicable even today.

No wonder this book figures in those silly 100-books-to-read lists!

A classic case of human madness!

Getting stranded on an island and surviving there until rescue from the civilized world is a theme commonly used in both literature(Robinson Crusoe,Swiss Family Robinson,Coral Island etc.) and cinema(Cast Away).Most often these are meant to be adventurous novels/films. However, one gripping novel that explored this theme veers away from this norm and manifests a completely new idea. It depicts a bleak picture of humanity.

And this path breaking novel, often considered a classic, was published in 1954 written by William Golding who titled it, ‘The Lord of the Flies.’

Taken from goodreads.com

The plot focuses on a bunch of boys ,who seem to have survived a plane crash, are stranded on an island with no grown ups around. None of the boys are older than 13 and they quickly figure out that they are on their own and there aren’t any elders around. So it is they who have to take care of themselves. Among the many boys, Ralph, who possesses a distinct leadership quality and a conch shell he found on the island, is voted as the boys’ leader. He successfully is able to take this mini election away from Jack, another older boy who is the leader of a choir group and is vying for the post of chief.  Piggy, a fat, sluggish boy gradually becomes Ralph’s side kick cum assistant and later on, Ralph’s only true,rational support. These three along with another one named Simon explore the island and realise it is not inhabited. Ralph sincerely hopes for rescue for which he orders all boys to light a fire up on the mountain. While Jack is mostly motivated to hunt and provide everyone with pig meat. Gradually, Jack begins resenting Ralph’s powerful status and his obsession with the fire and rescue. Jack forms his own tribe who only hunt and enjoy and forget all about being rescued. Savages are what Jack’s party turn into and Ralph becomes very much alone in his quest for rescue with little support from Piggy who constantly keeps reminding him of the need to be rational and civilized. So what began as a peaceful, fun loving society among these innocent boys gets degenerated into savagery and violence. Will they ever be rescued? Read on to find out all about it.

‘Lord of the Flies‘ is an allegorical novel that has numerous quite obvious symbols. Golding does not present the readers with an adventurous tale of survival and rescue. Instead what he does is to show the many pitfalls of humans and how power corrupts. The novel shows the depraved, devious ways the human mind can function in. Golding examines human nature and the inherent evil that lies within everyone. ‘The Lord of the Flies‘ shattered the myth that children are innocent, that they are incapable of doing anything evil. In the book, we see numerous instances when these mere schoolboys are turned into violent monsters who will do anything for power, who love to control each other, love to inflict pain etc. We can also see these boys as symbols for the warring countries. Certain subtle hints in the novel do suggest that a war is happening in the civilized world. Perhaps then, ‘Lord of the Flies‘ is a biting commentary on the WWII and how nations ripped each other apart senselessly. Another view could be the book’s intention to make the reader realise of the evil present within each one of us.

There are a multitude of ways of reading this wonderful,thought provoking as well as questioning novel.

Providing a glimpse into human’s defects and the society’s, ‘Lord of the Flies‘ is highly recommended for readers of all ages. And those looking for just pleasure reading will be stupefied by the profound message that the novel puts across with its storyline.

Yours criminally!

Crime was never so bloodthirsty, brutality never so horrifying,loyalty never so exaggerated, mafia never so goddamn cunning than in the super famous, ‘The Godfather‘ penned by Mario Puzo. Everyone or almost everyone has read the book. It is included even on BBC’s top 100 books to read! For sure, it is a phenomenal novel that traces the American-Italian mafia in New York City with a chilling, nasty, story involving murders, shootings, family, loyalty, and the ubiquitous Mafia.

The story begins on a light note with assorted Americans asking Vito Don Corleone for help at his daughter, Connie’s wedding in 1945 just after WWII. However there is an unmistakable undertone of the macabre right from the beginning. The reader would quickly know that Don Corleone is a dignified, respected superior wields a powerful influence in New York, that his is an empire of crime and that he is a man not to be meddled with! This immediately sets the tone for something explosive to happen, something thrilling. The story moves on while giving the reader a quick, brief bird’s eye view of the characters and the situations. Then, a meeting with Vincent Sollozo, who wants Don’s help in starting a drug business, goes awry as the Don refuses to help out feeling that the drug business is too risky. Don being too old fashioned would rather stick to gambling, bookmaking etc. An all out war ensues between the five mafia families of New York wherein a lot of blood is shed and Don’s two sons, Sonny and Michael are unwittingly dragged. There are losses on both the sides and the Corleone family goes into decline and eventually the Don offers peace quite reluctantly only after a great personal loss which he promises not to avenge. But, being a foresighted man, he sees to it that all of Corleone’s families losses are restored and all revenges settled in the future. His son, Michael, takes up this job quite successfully and recovers the power and influence of the Family as it was in the pre-war days.

This 450 odd pages family cum Mafia saga is an intricate novel that will engage all sorts of readers of all ages. While it is at times violent and rather graphic, it is nonetheless a brilliant work of fiction that chills the bone with its lightning speed narrative and excessive doses of murders, crimes, beat ups and revenges. The writing style helps increase the speed-it is precise, to the point, does not meander and sticks to the point and Puzo does not go into elaborate descriptions when unnecessary. The pace of the story thus never slows down- a must for any thriller novel to be worth a read!

The story though quite gruesome and seemingly murderous, is quite sophisticated with an awesome plot, an astonishing ending, a complex chronology and an elaborate and labyrinthine narrative that marks the zenith of an extremely captivating crime novel.

What is rather difficult to overlook is the male centered plot of the novel. Women characters have no substantial role to play except be loving, obedient, and religious.

Other than that, ‘The Godfather‘ is a must must must read for all as it is carefully written with an eeriness that is omniscient and suspense that will make everyone keep turning the pages. Its a recommendation you don’t want to refuse!

 

 

 

Crime in Corrupt India

The dearth of Indian crime fiction has been partially saved by the novel ‘Six Suspects‘ written by Vikas Swarup, better known for his novel, ‘Q and A’ that was adapted into the Oscar winning film, ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’ While ‘Q and A’ was a rather amateurish, not at all researched book with bits of faulty writing, ‘Six Suspects‘ is a tad bit better. While it has its own flaws, it is nonetheless a pretty good detective/thriller story that exposes the corrupt India and has a story that will be lavished by detective fiction lovers/fans.

Taken from fantasticfiction.co.uk

The plot revolves around Vicky Rai’s (the son of the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh) murder that took place while he was partying at his farmhouse in Delhi to celebrate his acquittal in a Jessica Lall style murder case(only in the book, the girl who was shot dead by Vicky was named Ruby Gill). There are essentially six suspects that are detained by the police as they were found carrying guns. Then, aptly, Swarup goes on and gives elaborate descriptions about all the six suspects and their motives to kill Vicky Rai. The six suspects are a motley crowd-including a sexy actress, an American,a mobile thief, Vicky’s own father, a tribal from Andaman and a former chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh. These stories are cleverly interconnected and intelligently converge at Vicky Rai’s farmhouse. In the end, an investigative journalist, Arun Advani, solves this murder mystery and the end is, I might say, quite unanticipated! The murderer is an unexpected one.

The story is well structured, with quite a few twists and turns that are definitely surprising.

Along with giving massive details about the life stories of all the six suspects, which by the way takes up a large chunk of the novel, Vikas Swarup also highlights the corruption rampant in India’s politics, displays the divide between the rich and poor and the different classes, the world of powerful contacts and influences and several more such instances that reveal the sleazy side of India.

Despite ‘Six Suspects‘ being a good detective read, it still has certain weak spots. Firstly, Vikas Swarup tries to put in a lot of information about India in the novel and most of it is sadly lifted from ‘breaking news’ sessions of the Indian tv channels that can get monotonous. This aspect makes it look like ‘Six Suspects was written for foreign audiences and Swarup was aiming for this book to be made into a film as well.  It seems there is a lack of originality. Secondly, certain ideas are rather stereotyped like the American’s view of India when he comes for the first time, the bit about Islamic fundamentalists is also very cliched(all Muslims are terrorists and all that crap). Although the story has an unpredictable end, there are times when the stories of the six suspects get predictable-for example, the tribal from Andaman has to be foolish and get duped by several people in India. Why can’t the tribals be intelligent for once?And there are several such examples.

There are certain creative bits as well like the English Literature professor ,which the former Chief Secretary met in jail, who expresses himself by uttering book titles only.

So the final verdict would be that ‘Six Suspects‘ is definitely worth a read, a good crime novel that unfortunately shows only a newspaper version of India and does not delve deeper into India’s chaotic soul. From the writing it becomes apparent that the India of ‘Six Suspects’ though very real still has a touch of being seen from a distant lens. The lack of research shows through. So if one knows nothing about India, one can probably grab this book to know about its underbelly and get some background on all the wrong things that happened in the country in the past decade or so.

Moth like love story

When the world hears about Pakistan, the first thoughts that comes to mind are terrorists, fundamentalists, terrorism etc thanks to the biased media.Nevertheless, a peek into Pakistan’s literary world shows that the country is much more than just that, much more complex with a labyrinth of different people and a varied society. Similarly, a glimpse into Mohsin Hamid’s debut novel, ‘Moth Smoke‘ will reveal something beyond that, will narrate a story of an ordinary man whose story could have be set in just about any country of the world. Its an engaging read depicting Pakistan’s society in an unmistakable Gatsby like manner.

Taken from indiaplaza.com

The prologue of ‘Moth Smoke‘ indicates that the story is loosely based on Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s sons’ rivalry. But with a twist. And that is that the protagonists are in an era of nuclear testing in the year 1998 in the modern city of Lahore. And the only resemblance they have to Shah Jahan’s sons are their names and rivalry-Aurangzeb and Daru. And in the end, it is Aurangzeb who turns out triumphant as was the case in the Mughal era when Aurangzeb defeated his brother.

Esssentially, the main protagonist is Darashikoh Shezad or Daru who is a banker living in Lahore. He gets fired from his job and from thereon begins his slow, drug filled downfall. He falls for his best friend Aurangzeb’s (Ozi in short) wife Mumtaz which have severe consequences for him. Daru is unable to find a job which results in loss of self respect, loss of electricity, loss of a faithful servant, loss of family, loss of almost everything that was once important to him. He begins to sell drugs to get his income ticking and even partners in a crime. With Ozi and Mumtaz as friends, he is able to get by and even get into classy, super rich parties where Hamid shows the rot that festers not only in Daru but also in Pakistan’s elite. Behind all the alcohol and drugs and sex lies a decline that is hard to miss.

But the story is more about Daru’s decline. ‘Moth Smoke‘ is about love, passion, idealism and jealousy. Hamid takes an old storyline-an unhappy wife, an uncaring husband, a caring friend and an steamy extra marital affair- and sprinkles his own charm over it to weave a novel story about love as an obsession and the lengths people go to achieve it and destroy those who take it away from them.

A prominent motif of the novel are moths who enter Daru’s house constantly after his electricity is cut off. They circle around the candle flames knowing that is is dangerous , that it will singe their wings. Yet they continue to romance with it, enjoying the risk that entails. Similarly, Daru loves Mumtaz knowing very well that she is a flame who can annihilate him because if Ozi came to know about their relationship it would bring on his ire on Daru.

The other themes could be corruption in society, nuclear war, the problem of unemployment among the educated youth, the elite’s superficial appearance and several more. Just like a variety of themes, ‘Moth Smoke‘ also has a number of characters apart from the love triangle like Daru’s servant-Manucci, the rickshaw driver/criminal-Murad Badshah, Daru’s family, Daru’s professor-Julius Superb and several more that add to the eclectic Pakistani contemporary society. We hear their stories through their own voices and also get to know about Daru’s personality a little more from these multiple narrators.

Moth Smoke‘ is a commendable novel, written in an unique style, blending in history with the present, presenting the story as a presentation in the court, mingling several voices to tell a single story yet at the same time bringing in tales of a great many myriad people! A promising read that touches upon an old theme in an excitable novel way. Go ahead and grab it!

Getting the blues!

We all have read stories of abusive families, violent relationships and we are bombarded with it even by the television media. We are exposed to it to such an extent that it gets morbid. Now suppose there was a book that looked at these aspects from a different view, a subtle view;wouldn’t that make the novel with a used storyline, well, quite, ‘novel’? But well, you’ll ask, is there such a book??  But of course there is…there are always all kinds of books to be read!

Taken from paperbackswap.com

And this one is called, ‘The Blue Bedspread‘, a debut novel of Raj Kamal Jha which chronicles a tale of a abusive family history and incestuous relationships. And it is quite a quick, interesting read that still manages to evoke a spectrum of touching, depressing, momentous, happy emotions!

The story starts with an unnamed narrator who hears of his sister’s death during childbirth. His sister gave birth to a baby girl who he takes home for the night. Fearing that some other people might want to adopt the girl, he begins writing his family’s story so that the baby knows of its background, knows more about her mother and the family she came from. As he begins to write, the stories initially revolve around innocuous, childlike tales but gradually they begin to reveal the rot that festered in his family. The narrator opens a can of worms and the reader finds out about certain dark secrets of the abusive father, of the bold, defiant sister, of his mother, of the narrator himself. He talks of a blue bedspread that symbolizes the intimate relationship between his sister and him. That blue bedspread comes to symbolize a different world, away from the trauma of a dysfunctional family. In the end, the reader sees the shocking, exact nature of that relationship.

Raj Kamal Jha in ‘The Blue Bedspread‘ has skillfully written vignettes about the narrator’s family. It comes across as a jigsaw puzzle that the reader has to solve to view the complete picture.  Each vignette has its own mood, emotion, feel and yet each is interconnected with a thin strand of the narrator’s memory and facts. The novel could have worked well as a collection of short stories as well because of this aspect. The writing style is sparse, straightforward, precise and to the point. It does not mimic other more famed Indian writers like perhaps Salman Rushdie or Siddharth Dhanwant Shanghvi who use either countless descriptions or a flowery prose.  Yet, the book seems, at least to me, very similar in terms of structure to Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things.’ It might be written by an Indian author but the subject of the book is universal and though it is set in Kolkata, the narrator’s abusive family could be from any part of the world-be it Delhi, Mumbai, Shanghai, Nairobi, Milan, or any other corner. ‘The Blue Bedspread‘ has a non linear narration, no fixed time line as it moves from one time span to another.

Unfortunately, this jumbled up narration can get confusing, jarring and even nonsensical. Certain vignettes also seem very inappropriate as they do not help the story to move forward nor are they very cohesive. The lack of a cohesive narration and structure of vignettes mars the effect of the story.

Its a great book to read, with Jha giving soft touches to a melancholic scenario, giving it a fresh look, yet gently showcasing the immense, long lasting impact of such family violence. But be wary of its narration and structure.

The BBC List of 100 books to read!

Top 100 books chosen by viewers (re-edited and remastered from the BBC site) The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. Copy this , Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read an excerpt.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen 

The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible  (Some of it)

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials –  Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare  (Some of it)

15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34 Emma -Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis (Btw this should  be in the Chronicles of Narnia)

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

65 The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

76 The Inferno – Dante

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession – AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery (English)

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas (Unabridged and all three volumes)

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Additional books that seemed to have been excised from the list above and replaced with some others.

28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving

31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson

33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett

41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery

45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian

50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher

53. The Stand, Stephen King (Some of it)

56. The BFG, Roald Dahl

57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome

58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell

59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer

64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough

65. Mort, Terry Pratchett

66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton

67. The Magus, John Fowles

68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett

72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell

73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett

74. Matilda, Roald Dahl

79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens

80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson

81. The Twits, Roald Dahl

82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith

83. Holes, Louis Sachar

84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake

85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson

88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

89. Magician, Raymond E Feist

91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo

92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel

93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett

94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

95. Katherine, Anya Seton

96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer

98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson

99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot

100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ is a fabulous book written by Salman Rushdie that can be interpreted at varying levels by the reader. It can be viewed simply as a creative fairy tale written by a father(Salman Rushdie) for his son(Zafar) or can be seen as a commentary supporting free speech or as a postmodern fairy tale  or a criticism of the postmodern novels or whichever way one wants to see it. The book will nonetheless not fail to enthrall the reader as Rushdie takes you into the realms of an exuberant, richly created magic world.

Taken from penguinbooksindia.com

The story has two protagonists-Rashid and Haroun. Rashid has a gift of telling stories upon stories to anyone who would request him one. This talent earned him the sobriquet, Shah of Blah. However, one day, his wife,Soraya, leaves him for a better life with a Mr Sengupta who was their neighbour. As a result of this tragedy, Rashid loses his ability to tell stories. He just simply runs out of them and cannot summon the magic with which he used to narrate his never ending stories! His only son, Haroun, therefore sets out to restore his father’s talent. However, Haroun soon realises that this task is far from easy. His father’s stories come from a subscription to the water supply to the Gup City in Kahani. This subscription has been canceled and now Haroun must go to Kahani, to the Gup city to renew it which will renew his father’s story telling gift as well. While over there, Haroun finds himself embroiled in another adventure. The princess of Gup city is kidnapped by Chup city who forbid people from speaking and where it is always dark. He and Rashid discover these two cities while saving the princess and helping Rashid to once again become the Shah of Blah.

‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ is an upbeat, imaginative, buoyant fairy tale that works as an allegory along with drawing parallels between Rushdie’s and Rashid’s life. Rushdie has used references from several past books as well like ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Wizard of Oz,’ ‘One Thousand and One Arabian Nights’ etc. Rushdie’s brilliant writing, lucid style and imagination and copious humor will appeal to all readers-from young to old, to literature students and scholars. There are so many layers to the story and can be seen from so many numerous perspectives that one can can get lost in the depths of the story. Each character has a parallel in real life and the some of the places mentioned in the book are obviously inspired from real life places.

It is a wonderful book to peruse, a delight for all bookworms the world over.

Go grab it and fly along with Haroun to the Gup and Chup city!

A Literary Memoir

Reading Lolita in Tehran‘ is a poignant, personal story penned beautifully by the author, Azar Nafisi, about her own life during the revolution in Iran, her own touching memories, her remembrance of these times interspersed with the books she taught in her classes in Iran. An engrossing book, a moving story that provides a glimpse into not only the political turmoil in Iran but the torment and anguish experienced by Nafisi herself and many of her students.

The story begins with Nafisi’s formation of a secret class that studies literature, discusses it and puts those stories into the context of their lives. The members were chosen by Nafisi-all were females, former students who showed great interest and enthusiasm about literature. The narration then reverts back into the past, recording Nafisi’s early days, first in the U.S. and then when she returns to Iran-the beginning of strife, dissent and the eventual establishment of the revolution over the country. In this way, the story gives the reader a more intimate glimpse(although a one sided glimpse) into life during those times-an intimacy that no reporting could ever hope to accomplish. The novel ends with Nafisi going back to the U.S. with her husband and two children, leaving behind her secret classes with whom she had so personally become involved, yet persistently aiming to cherish those beautiful memories even after she leaves Iran.

As the title suggests-‘Reading Lolita in Tehran-A Memoir In Books,’ its a memoir but not just any memoir but rather a memoir that looks at her life through the lens of several literary books penned by Nabokov,Austen, Fitzgerald and James. Therefore, one condition for readers of this novel is that they should have a passion for literature, to comprehend literature’s ability to help people deal with their real life and gauge its shortcomings, only then will he reader appreciate the books and understand why Nafisi so effortlessly mixes her real world with that of the literary. Otherwise the book will appear like a sordid literature class, which is not Nafisi’s intention. Having read the books by the aforementioned authors will further widen the reader’s understanding of the interspersing of literary and real lives that Nafisi had incorporated in the book. ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran‘ is not just about her students, her secret classes and her life but also about how literature affects them and how it enables them to know each other and their lives better, allows them to live more freely etc.

The book also helps us to know the different views people held about the Islamic Republic of Iran, about the revolution, about the veil, about Ayatollah Khomeini etc. These opinions could be interpreted anyway that the reader wishes them though some are heavily colored by Nafisi’s own judgment. For example,initially, there is a constant repetition of the curtailment of women’s rights specifically of  being forced to wear the burkha/veil/chador. Nafisi mentions it in almost every sentence which is unnatural, almost like the publisher forced her to perpetually put them in along with her story so that it not only enlarges their suffering but also reinforces the West’s idea of how backward Islam is and how it must go and save these women from such atrocities. Its only later on that such repetitions reduce, that she begins giving concrete reasons for her defiant opposition to the rule forcing her to wear her veil. It is only then that the reader can see a broader context to the whole issue.  Nafisi was clearly against the totalitarian regime that the revolution ushered in that clamped down on women’s rights as well as freedom of expression and this is manifested in the book lucidly.

The parallels that Nafisi manages to make between their life in Iran and the great literary works shows her unbridled passion for literature. The novel is thus in parts a story narrating the author’s personal life before, during and after the revolution and in parts it is like a literature class fascinating in its own rights for it broadens the reader’s horizons of great works of English literature in an Iranian context.

Reading Lolita in Tehran‘ is a mesmerizing recollection of a life steeped in the love of literature and in inculcating and encouraging that love in other fellow students, in making others including the readers, see that literature’s role in real life is far more valuable then we believe.