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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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.