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Half Of A Yellow Sun is a brave book; brave because of its heartfelt, honest writing; brave because it highlights truthfully the colossal loss of everyday life during war; brave because it is clear in the political points it wants to make.
The novel written by Chimamanda Adichie is a story of three individuals-Ugwu, Olanna and Richard- caught in the three year Biafran war in the 1960s. But you may ask what is new
about novels written about war-there are gazillion of them out there and this is just one needle in a large haystack? True though that is, Adichie’s novel is not the average run of the mill book about the war because what stands out in the story is her heartbreaking, close portrayal of the all the main characters so that you are immersed in their lives and war’s turmoil as they are thrown into it and face it everyday. She gives a remarkable, intimate portrait of them and of other marginal characters too who provide multiple viewpoints of the ravages and the sufferings of war. And that’s the power of this story-to make the reader feel the suffering, sense the shattering of relationships and the immense tests they go through. And isn’t that in a more broader perspective-the power of literature? To proffer a humane perspective to any crisis, to portray the human element of it and not just as a drab and dry report. In a way it is similar to what Manto did for the Partition of India-his stories depicted its horrifying consequences on the individuals and did not treat them as merely a statistic. To read my review on Manto’s stories, click here. Every individual has a story to tell and Adichie’s novel shines through with the ordinariness of her characters and how they deal with that falling apart during the Biafran war. She doesn’t make the story into a sob story to garner attention but emphasises on the everyday emotions and how they go on despite the crisis raging on.
Ugwu is a poor village boy who is brought by his aunt to Nsukka to work as a houseboy in her master, Odenigbo’s house. Olanna, a smart intelligent woman, has had a life of privilege in Lagos but still sets to live with her lover, Odenigbo who is a professor in Nsukka University. Richard is the Englishman staying in Nigeria and slowly as he gets caught up in his love for Kainene and the war, he drifts apart from the stereotypical, white colonial view of Nigeria and comes to love the country. Their lives intersect as tensions simmers between the Hausa and Igbo tribes. The story is very well structured with each chapter focusing on one of the three character’s point of views. Each chapter plunges us thoroughly into their lives as we are allowed to take a peak into their thoughts and apprehensions and feelings. Adichie doesn’t use the omnipresent narrator and leaves a lot for the reader to interpret. We therefore see a bunch of characters with all their imperfections and doubts and emotions as most human beings actually are. We see them as introspecting themselves; searching for who they are; negotiating their selves, their identity, their relationships to other people and the world and the war. The story is also open ended with a hopeful ending but that which is tainted by heartache and hurt along with a tragedy and loss that comes in the wake of any war.
Half Of A Yellow Sun has an interesting feature-Adichie has incorporated snippets of book written by one of the characters and the revelation of who that character actually is makes quite a strong and brave point as to who should actually be writings stories about Africa and that brings into consideration the whole idea of a white, colonial, racist appropriation of history. In writing Half Of A Yellow Sun Adichie takes a bold step of depicting the Biafran war through the eyes of the people actually being affected by it. In using the feature of a book within a book she subtly makes a scathing comment on the Western idea of war, of Africa and its people and how they created and used the tensions among the tribes for their own vested interest.
Need I say more?
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.
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.’
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.
The book ‘ The Historian‘ was hailed as a thriller, a splendid debut by Elizabeth Kostova. Every time I read a review of this book, I felt I would adore this book which was steeped in history with apparently a daughter in search for her roots. The summary appealed to me but unfortunately, the book did not live upto my expectations.
The story begins with the daughter proclaiming about the legacy her father left her behind. Then the 1st chapter goes on to how she stumbled upon this legacy. The story then continues with the father, Paul, narrating stories from his past that are connected to his horrific legacy. Paul had happened to come into possession during his university days, a book with only a single woodcut of a dragon. His curiosity led him to his academic adviser, Barthlomew Rossi, who infact had the same book! Rossi’s curiosity and his own book had led him deeper into a mystery of vampires, of Vlad Dracul, the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s novel, ‘Dracula.’ Rossi’s disappearance, soon after this meeting plunges Paul into a wild goose chase across most of Europe where he is being watched and followed by either vampires or communist party members. The story keeps shifting from past to present as and when Paul narrates. In the present, Paul’s daughter, after Paul is finished narrating his story, sets out to find more of this intriguing brutal, medieval legacy.
Firstly, the book’s exploration into history is brilliant. It is obviously well researched. Of course, not all of it is true. But simply the fact that Elizabeth Kostova has put history in the forefront of a way to delve into past mysteries makes the subject, often hailed as redundant, quite relevant. This historical aspect that suffuses the book is superb. One of the few good points of this novel.
The negative points however are a long list. Firstly, the story is rather slow paced. For a thriller, such a pace can do nothing but disappoint the reader. The pace picks up only after 200 pages or so and then slows down again.
Secondly, the book seems more like a tourist magazine in the initial pages. Kostova spends many pages describing each place that Paul goes to in great, rich detail. While there is nothing immediately wrong with this, it however does hamper the story’s pace.
Kostova tries hard to use shock tactics to enchant the reader. They do work initially but later on she reiterates the same tactics- like ending the chapter with an appearance of a man who looks gaunt, scary with fangs or having Dracula’s or the dragon’s image at the end of the chapter. These do elicit shock in the beginning but they soon become monotonous and the shock wears off. The reader can even easily predict when she will use those same tactics.
Another disappointment was the discrepancy in the simultaneous narration of the father and daughter’s story. Kostova tends to run away with the former’s story as if she has forgotten about the latter completely. She also seems to have a penchant for libraries and librarians because there are descriptions of several of them and form a major part of the story but somehow it seems a bit inappropriate. The book should have been called ‘The Librarian’ instead of ‘The Historian.’
To conclude, ‘The Historian‘ is not a completely pathetic or ridiculous book. It is worth reading once. It has a unique scholarly touch to it, a great historical novel but in terms of literature or writing skills, ‘The Historian‘ could be a great disappointment. It is also not exactly a thriller, does not pump the reader with jabs of excitement. It is a rather careful narration of a different perspective on one of the most cruelest rulers of the middle ages and his alluring legends that draws writers to pen down stories about him!
‘Such A Long Journey‘, the debut novel of Rohinton Mistry was in the news due to it being banned by the esteemed vice chancellor of Mumbai University. Leaving aside all the political crap raked up by the Shiv Sena, the book is an exceptional work of literature and no one should be denied the right to read such a fantastic book.
‘Such A Long Journey‘ in general is a story of a Parsi man, Gustad Noble, livng in the then Bombay in a Parsi Khodadad Building. It is set during 1971 when East Pakistan was at war with West Pakistan and millions of refugees poured into India, particularly Bengal, due to unspeakable crimes committed on them by brute forces of West Pakistan.
Gustad is a bank clerk whose eldest son, Sohrab, gets into IIT but wants to continue his BA much to the dismay of Gustad, his other son, Darius is a sort of a body builder while his daughter, Roshan, falls ill constantly with bouts of fever and diarrhea. Gustad had known better times, more prosperous times. If his family troubles weren’t enough, his old friend Jimmy Bilimoria sends a letter asking him to help out in a preposterous, somewhat heroic, somewhat illegal manner.
In between all these happenings of Gustad’s life, Mistry exposes the reader to an assorted motley of characters whose lives are entwined with Gustad’s. For eg, his homely , superstitious wife-Dilnavaz,the fumbling, handicapped-Tehmul, the bipolar Ghulam Mohammad, the philosophical pavement artist, his college friend-Malcolm etc. The best thing about Mistry’s novel is the apart from the realistic and episodic descriptions of the main character’s lives, he also imbues even the most trivial and seemingly unimportant character with stark and singular qualities that immediately make them memorable. He is skilled in the way of characterization.
Mistry provides the reader with a glimpse of the way of life at that time, gives fleeting images and vast descriptions of certain peculiar aspects of Bombay like the House Of Cages, Mount Mary Church and most importantly, a middle class Parsi way of life in Bombay.
‘Such A Long Journey‘ has no clear cut divisions, like many other novels, of prologue, climax, epilogue or conclusion. The story goes on with a smooth flow, carrying the reader through Gustad’s and others’ lives. There is no obvious climax, no resolute conclusion. In fact, the end of the book suffuses one with a sweet lingering feeling of nostalgic happiness and sadness. There are no shades of excitement in the book except for parts when Gustad is engaged in helping out Jimmy. There are flecks of suspense in those parts. Other then that, ‘Such A Long Journey’ has no proper plot, no climax, no thrills and frills. This is not a disadvantage but for those who prefer the above aspects may find the book largely monotonous. ‘Such A Long Journey’ depicts Gustad’s life. It portrays it realistically and it is as if the reader is being taken through his life. And in real life, there are hardly any clear distinctions of plot and climax and such stuff. Thus the story tries to mimic this aspect and Mistry has thus created a unique novel.
The rest can easily pick up the book, sit cozily on an armchair, cuddle up and let Mistry draw you into the ups and downs, highs and lows of Gustad’s life. Let yourself journey through ‘Noble’ Bombay.
Ever wondered how a child reacts to violence? What are the effects of cruelty, brutality on a child’s mind? His/her psyche? How it scars them? What they think of it ? How they interpret it? Ok..now you must be wondering why I am babbling child psychology cum emotional talk in a book review blog. But don’t worry I intend to write a book review only which will partially answer a few of those above seemingly unrelated questions. So what’s the book? Is it a psychology book? Or a EQ book?
Definitely NOT! Its a fictional novel produced by an astonishingly talented writer. The book’s name is ‘Ice-Candy Man‘ or ‘Cracking India’ written by Bapsi Sidhwa.
Partition was a big blot on Indian history. A lot of books were written during that time that were devoted to the sentiments, pain and grief of the common people. While most Partition literature prominently deals with adult perspectives, ‘Ice Candy Man‘ provides a rare child’s perspective of the Partition. Of course, this perspective is more or less colored by Sidhwa’s adult perspectives and ruminations too but nevertheless the book is essentially from a child’s point of view.
In a nutshell, ‘Ice Candy Man‘ is narrated by a Parsi girl, Lenny Sethi, living in Lahore. She has polio and an Ayah-Shanti-looks after her. Shanti is an attractive female constantly surrounded by a medley of male admirers who are mostly employed in Lenny’s house. Lenny learns about the news of the division, the spread of hatred as they unfold through the events she herself witnesses or hears from adults. But mostly Partition is represented or personified with Ayah’s life. How Partition, how one person’s love for her ruins her life to a large extent is a metaphor for how things turned from bad to worse, how religion got entangled with love during the Partition. Sidhwa has cleverly represented Ayah as the complex inter-cultural and inter religious background of Lahore in the pre-Partition days. Lenny’s thoughts not only reflect her childlike, sometimes confused, innocent perceptions but also depict Partition in a different light. Its gruesomeness is heightened when a child describes it. It seems even more mindless, awful and unnecessary.
Sidhwa’s style of writing can be difficult to digest as it seems desultory, jumping from one topic to another, one time frame to another in a flash. It can appear unconnected and difficult to keep track of but perhaps through this style, she is trying to portray a child’s mind and how rapidly it jumps from one interesting aspect to another. The randomness of children and their short attention span is marvelously portrayed in their writing style.
‘Ice Candy Man‘ is worth reading. it may be hard to find as it was first published in 1988. But one can easily get it online and if one searches diligently, one is bound to find one copy in some well managed library.