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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.

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‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ written by Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi is a beautifully conjured novel, a moving tale of singular people and their extraordinary lives.

Taken from scholarswithoutborders.in

The novel begins in the early 1900s’ with Anuradha’s story. She is going from her hometown Udaipur to Mumbai to meet Vardhaman Gandharva, a potential marriage partner. Just when it seems that things may not work out, Vardhaman openly admits his love for her and they predictably get married. Their love blossoms splendidly like a lovely flower. However, later, an unforeseen tragedy strikes them both tearing them asunder and changing Vardhaman irrevocably. Anuradha goes back to Udaipur where she dabbles and masters over the music and the wondrous songs that are an integral part of her soul. In the course of this stay, she meets other extraordinary people like Nandini who is an unusual artist and an even unusual woman having her own tragic tale. Will Anuradha and Vardhaman overcome the tragedy that ripped them apart? Will their love blossom fruitfully once again or will it be lost forever?

‘The Last Song of Dusk’ abounds with comparisons which increases the depth of the emotions, thoughts, situation etc., helps in understanding it better. The novel is replete with romanticized descriptions. Sanghvi has a very flowery style of writing. He infuses great grandeur and oodles of opulence not only in the story’s setting but also in the copious descriptions. Everything in the novel is exquisite. There is great abundance whether it is the character’s emotions, the royal settings of Udaipur or British city of Bombay or just the  physical beauty of a human. Everything is made out to be insanely beautiful and he uses exquisite words and expressions to convey that beauty to the reader. For eg, pashmina of exquisite remembrances. (pg. 80). There are instances of magic realism suffused in the story. Sanghvi has also made music an important part of the story. It is manifested literally in the many songs, symphonies and musical instruments that are described. There is also a certain kind of vibrant and even melancholic musicality in Sanghvi’s writing that is hard to miss or dislike.

There are certain sexist stereotypes that the books has-like Anuradha’a need for marriage, the tiffs between her and her mother-in-law etc.  Granted that the book is set in the 1900s’ where woman were treated inferior but if Anuradha can be bold enough to leave her husband’s house, Sanghvi should have been bold enough to write something more than the overemphasized importance of marriage in a woman’s life.

Leaving that one negative point aside, ‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ is undoubtedly a marvelous debut that spins together a lavish, grand love story that is bound to charm any reader. It is not the usual tale of love and sorrow, of man and a woman being in love, being happy, having troubles and reconciling them. It is much more as it infuses a portrayal of different sides and aspects of that one ubiquitous emotion called love. The novel reflects and gradually reveals layers and layers of that emotion between Anuradha and Vardhaman and other characters too like their son-Shloka or Nandini’s  idea of love and safety etc. The reader, if attentive enough, can easily pick on these ideas, learn that love can have two sides just like anything else and know that it can teach us all one lesson or two.

Its a poignant love story that depends on the stark emotions for its narration; its beauty, its invulnerability, its vulnerability, its magic, its pain and countless other things. It is  painfully beautiful, musical and aptly touches the right chord in the reader’s heart. ‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ is one story that will be in the reader’s heart long after its been perused.

 

Ken Follett is a well known writer. There is some famous trilogy of his which I am yet to read. He had recently come to a Mumbai bookstore too-I think it was Landmark but I can’t be sure. Anyway, so I heard a lot about him then. I vaguely knew his name too but somehow I associated him with only fantasy related novels which is a genre that after a good dose of Harry Potter, Ursula Le Guin, Narnia series, Eragon trilogy, Hobbit I do not want to read much. But when I read some interviews of his in the newspaper and then some blogs, I realised that my association of Ken Follett and fantasy novels was misguided. He seemed to write mystery novels and historical ones. This obviously got me interested!

Taken from goodreads.com

So I ended up reading ‘Modigliani Scandal‘ which I found in my library.  The book was really well written and I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was appropriate for my thriller/mystery taste of books.

The story is sort of complex with a smattering of characters that have interestingly just one purpose. The novel begins with Dee Sleign, an art historian, looking for a thesis and decides to do one on how drugs induced painters create different paintings than their usual ones. This line of thought somehow leads to a person her boyfriend knows who in turn gives her some information about some Modigliani paintings that are lost somewhere in this world. This gets her brains working and she decides to hunt this lost painting to start work on her thesis. She then feels an urge to tell someone about this. So she writes a postcard to her uncle, Charles Lampeth, a gallery owner. He obviously would love to get his hands on this painting as it would be a valuable prize to display in his gallery. He sends a detective to search for her.

Meanwhile, Dee sets out on a wild goose chase in search of that elusive painting. By coincidence or a pure quirk of fate, several other people get involved in this same mission like Peter Usher, an artist who wants to take revenge on Lampeth, his former employer; Julian Black, who wants to get this painting to impress his father-in-law so that he will invest in his art gallery and so many more people. Who will eventually get the Modigliani?
To find out, read the book yourselves.

Modigliani Scandal‘ is a good read, a treat for those who have a penchant for thrillers.

The book’s pace is always a good one. Follett introduces many characters initially and establishes their situation and their background in the plot. But this surprisingly does not drag the novel’s pace. It adds to its complexity and makes the plot thicken and bubble with an impending thrilling search for a lost treasure. A sense of foreboding about a mystery brewing is clearly established when after receiving Dee’s letter, Charles Lampeth hires a detective. The reader will want to turn the pages to know more and get to the end of this mysterious search.There are several loose ends that are also manifested with the introduction of so many myriad characters which Follett ties up brilliantly in the end. It is amazing to know that so many characters are connected in some way to each other and have one single aim that will fulfill their different goals.  The end brings all these connections a full circle. When the book is nearing its end, if the reader is smart enough, then she/he can guess who gets the painting and the ingenuity behind a well planned and money making scheme.

One small point I loved about this novel is its distinct sense of an old world charm, of history in the first few chapters which merges with the modern art world-its pros and cons.

Modigliani Scandal‘ is divided into four parts and the title of each one is related to painting and gives a glimpse of the basic core of that particular part. I found this aspect quite creative.

There’s one small negative point. Follett has put in several stereotypes about many natives of countries. This is uncalled for and it is sadly reminiscent of several other thriller novels that are liberally sprinkled with such stereotypes-be it about Italians, French, Oriental or British.

P.S. There may be some errors in the plot summary because I read the book long ago and my memory has faltered a bit. For example, I am not sure if Charles Lampeth is Dee’s uncle or father or some other relative. I am 75% sure he is the former.

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.

Taken From sodahead.com

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!

Agatha Christie is no doubt the queen of mystery! Even though there is a recent flood of detective novels in the world over from diverse backgrounds, she manages to be the most popular detective story writer along with Arthur Conan Doyle. And she is my favourite too.Till recently I had not read a single Agatha Christie book in a long time. I saw one of my classmates having one big fat Agatha Christie book with her and I borrowed it from her. It was titled ‘Miss Marple Omnibus-Volume 2.’ This omnibus has 4 novels featuring Miss Marple, Christie’s much loved, old, shrewd detective dame! These 4 novels are-1) A Caribbean Mystery 2) They Do It With Mirrors 3) The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side’ 4) A Pocket Full of Rye.

All the four novels are really good and till the end they keep you guessing as to who the culprit is. The reader perhaps seldom finds out the real culprit as Christie always manages in most of her novels to direct the reader’s suspicion to characters who are not the culprits at all! 

Taken from blogadda.com

The Caribbean Mystery‘ as the title suggests is set in the Caribbean with Miss Marple enjoying a vacation in an opulent hotel. Now this doesn’t sound dramatic though, does it? But well, Miss Marple has the uncanny ability to get tangled in crimes that happen in the oddest of places! The murder of Major Palgrave, who was also staying in the hotel, and the disappearance of a photograph of a murderer about which Major Palgrave was telling a story to Miss Marple, sets a chain of events rolling! That story is connected to Major’s murder and other ensuing sinister murders! The story has a chilling end and I am sure if the reader is smart and keeps an eye out for things, they can guess who the murderer actually is. If you can’t, then you will certainly smack yourself in the end of the story for not solving such a simple mystery!

The second novel, ‘They Do it With Mirrors’ is equally riveting. This one is very predictable if you use your brains. Miss Marple stays as a guest in a friend’s house, Carrie Louise’s house to be precise after the latter’s sister insists that there is something sinister brooding in the house. And I suppose, the sister’s intuitions are right because Miss Marple feels the same too and eventually a murder does take place in the most queer fashion when a hot, violent argument between Carrie Louise’s husband, Lewis and a deranged patient of his! It seems that the police would handle it but fame precedes Miss Marple and her help is sought out. It is predictable but still reading how Miss Marple arrives at the solution is marvellous.

The 3rd novel,’The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side‘ is a brilliant detective novel. The revelation of the murderer and how Miss Marple gets to it will leave the reader shell shocked. Miss Marple’s friend, Dolly Bantry, has sold her house to a famous actress, Marina Gregg. She holds a party in that house to commemorate her stay in it and an inexplicable murder takes place. The solution is far from simple and Miss Marple stretches all her talent to the limit to find out the murderer. This novel is by far the best among all four in terms of its shock value

The last novel, ‘A Pocket Full Of Rye’ is another excellent novel. Rex Fortescue dies of poisoning. And so does his wife. Some rye in the former’s pocket and some other eccentric and strange incidents that happened in the house, allow Miss Marple to connect the crime to a famous rhyme. It is uncannily similar to it and Miss Marple gets down to helping the police in search of the cold blooded killer. The end is surprising as usual. This is because, Christie constantly tries to put suspicion on other members when in fact the culprit is someone else altogether!

This omnibus is wonderful! An engaging book. A must read for all fans of Agatha Christie.

Bookshops are many in Mumbai. From chain stores like Crossword and Landmark to the roadside stalls which sell books dirt cheap! The only problem however with them is that they are limited in their collection. The former only has bestsellers and not old books such as those from the 80s’ or even the early 90s'(unless they were bestsellers they won’t have those books). While the latter do have huge collections and some roadside booksellers will also have that one rare book you are looking for!

There are a cluster of old bookshops located in South Mumbai. And before you stop reading this post, thinking that I will write about the Strand Bookshop, then you are quite wrong, my friend. Strand Bookshop is quite a homely bookshop, agreed but this post is about a really good, old, yet rarely acknowledged bookshop in Kalbadevi. Its name is ‘The New And Secondhand Bookshop.‘ I will make a bet that not many people have heard of this place before.

Firstly, this bookstore was established in 1905 and is therefore over a hundred years old, 110 years old to be exact. Unlike the chain bookstores or roadside book stalls, this place has a phenomenal collection. As the name suggests, it has both new and second hand books. From obscure textbooks to national geographic books to forgotten poetry books to valuable history, psychology, anthropology books and to fiction of course, this bookshop has it all! They even have a few books that are priced at only Rs. 10. It is two storeyed shop and it can be easily missed if one doesn’t pay attention.

The best aspect of this bookstore, apart from its huge collection, is the atmosphere. There is a lingering smell of dusty books that pervades the shop. As you browse through the long, endless shelves and come across books in beautiful bindings, hardbound, leather bound, you get the feeling that you are transported back in time, wandering in a lost library that has some how managed to salvage its books in a pretty good condition. The seclusion of these shelves allows you to feel that you are about to explore or discover a new book. And trust me, you are bound to stumble upon some rare book or an old one at least if you look diligently. This feeling of seclusion and exploration is heightened on the first floor where it is rather dark but not dingy. Here there are some research/encyclopedia type books. Not many people come up here and you are mostly alone browsing these shelves.

The prices may not be very cheap and bargaining may be difficult, but I suppose all book lovers should come here at least once just to breathe in its musty, library like atmosphere. However, if you are addicted to swanky, plush bookstores with perfect lighting that sparkle off brand new books neatly displayed on polished shelves kept on carpeted floors, then skip this shop completely! ‘The New and Secondhand Bookshop‘ is not the one to cater to your luxury needs of bookstores. They are only there to cater to your bookish needs and the store owners are quite helpful if you ask them about one particular book. They know their books thoroughly and their affection for them can be seen which is lacking in many owners of chain bookstores who see books only as a means to an end and have no attachment whatsoever with them.

The New And Secondhand Bookshop (NSB)‘ is located on the Kalbadevi Road, Kalbadevi,Mumbai, 400002. Furtados and Metro and Edward Cinema are close by landmarks. The nearest station is Marine Lines on the Western Line and CST on the Central Line.

My suggestion for all book lovers would be to go here not only to buy books but also for the pleasure of simply browsing through the rows of shelves.

Pakistan maybe known all over the world only for terrorism and dictatorship (and this is thanks to a very biased media) but as a country it is so much more than that-culturally and socially. Pakistan has a lot of history, tradition and the potential to churn out good writers as well. Mohsin Hamid is one such Pakistani writer. His book, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is a gem of a book, a satire yet Hamid gives it a touch of seriousness. It is a well written book that delves into the Pakistani psyche, displays Pakistani perspective, a perspective quite different from the typical American one.

Taken from fantasticfiction.co.uk

A Pakistani man, Changez, converses with an American stranger in a restaurant/cafe in Lahore and tells him about his life story and how his life changed post 9/11 attacks. He talks of his life in America, being a student in Princeton, falling in love with Erica, having a steady job in New York. He seemed to have the perfect life which was interrupted by a nostalgic need for his home in Lahore. He seemed at ease in America, didn’t suffer from any identity crisis, any cultural conflict whatsoever. But that changed after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Thereafter the paranoia started mounting, discrimination began and when America went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Changez felt like he was betraying his homeland by earning in America. He thus returned to Lahore, got the post of a lecturer where he encouraged students to become activists.

The most unique aspect of ‘Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is the fact that it is a monologue. Changez is the only person who is speaking. There are a few, rare dialogues spoken by Erica but essentially it is Changez’s voice, his narrative. We see everything from his eyes, his perspective.

‘Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is a satire on the mistrust, the disharmony between the east and the west and America’s interference into the affairs of many Islamic nations. Mohsin Hamid subtly berates America for its policies, for being paranoid, for stereotyping all Muslims, all bearded Pakistanis as terrorists and for waging war when victory is impossible.

Its a brilliant read that takes on a very contemporary political issue and manifests the issue from a lesser known voice’s version. The writing style grasps the reader into the story thoroughly. Its a witty book with an intelligent title, a title that suggests that Pakistani people unwillingly become what the Americans call ‘fundamentalists’.

Sidney Sheldon’s books are famed for their super exciting pace. The novel, ‘The Sky Is Falling’ lives upto that fame. Its an awesome thriller which rapidly navigates through the book’s murder mystery.

taken from fantasticfiction.co.uk

In ‘The Sky Is Falling’, the protagonist is a famous TV reporter, Dana Evans, who has just come back from her stint on war coverage in Sarajevo. The Winthrop family’s last member, Gary Winthrop is murdered in his home by a couple of burglars. This gruesome act sends shock waves through the world as the whole family had been wiped out in less than a year in several accidents. Dana Evans strongly believes that the deaths of the Winthrop family were not coincidental and believes that they were all murdered. She is determined to find out and begins her investigation. It makes her travel to all possible places like Italy, France, Russia etc. Her mission gets more and more dangerous as she gets closer to the truth. Will she find out the cold-blooded killer or will she get eliminated in the process?

‘The Sky Is Falling’ is a thrilling read, a well written, rapid paced novel. A definite treat for all who love reading thrillers. All the innumerable twists and turns keeps us guessing wildly till the end and shocks us with its unpredictability and surprise!

‘The Tales Of Beedle The Bard’ by J.K Rowling is a short novel of 105 pages. It has 5 tales of fantasy that make for an interesting read and a great companion to Harry Potter series.

Taken from bargainbooks4kids.com

The tales in the book are similar in terms of structure to the Aesop’s fables and Jataka tales i.e. as well as being entertaining and childish, they also give a message. In other words, they are didactic. After each tale, a note by Albus Dumbledore, the former headmaster of Hogwarts school, is written which furthers our understanding of the tale. It provides a unique glimpse into  Harry Potter’s world and its history. The tales are excellent anecdotes that prove once again J.K. Rowling’s imagination is superior and simply marvellous. Her ability to weave a tale and connect it with the main Harry Potter series is incomparable.

‘The Tales of Beedle The Bard’ is a fast read, a book that can be read in an hour or so. Its a bit expensive for a book so thin but considering that the royalties will go to charity, Children’s High Level Group(CHLG), it seems justified to buy the book.

When one reads ‘The Tales of Beedle The Bard’, one feels like one is reading in Hogwarts library and has come upon a quaint treasure of tales of olden times. Its a definite must rad for all Harry Potter fans who are curious to know more about Harry’s magic world, that goes beyond the seven books. It is a great collection to owe, a real prize.

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