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“…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?

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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.

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.

Taken from faber.co.uk

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.

The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini is his first novel and it is simply extraordinary. It is rare to read a story about Afghanistan and even rarer for the that story to not be about war in Afghanistan. It is infact a story on deep friendship and love. ‘The Kite Runner‘ is a marvellous, honest story. It is a must read.

The two main protagonists- Amir and Hassan- are playful, fun loving kids living in the 1970s’ in Afghanistan. Amir is the son of a rich man while Hassan is the son of Amir’s servant, Ali. Despite that, Amir and Hassan are like brothers. They play together and frolic together and fly kites together . Hassan is an excellent kite runner and in the days when kite flying was a legal past time, it was a great talent to have. Amir, unlike his father, is not brave while Hassan can easily fend off bullies and other rascals bravely. Once in 1975, a shattering event occurs during the kite fighting tournament that alters both their lives. In 1981, Amir and his father move to America to flee from the violence in Afghanistan. Amir’s life is pretty secure then and he tries to forget that 1 event but it haunts him and it eventually makes Amir go back to Afghanistan to undo the wrong he had done back in 1975.

The Kite Runner‘ rendered me speechless. It is one of the best stories that I have read. It is immensely moving, emotional and heartbreaking. The splendid and beautiful description of prewar Afghanistan makes me realise how much the country has lost because of power, war and unending politics.

P.S. Do not watch the film, ‘Kite Runner‘ because it has none of the nuances and emotions in the book the touch the reader’s heart. It is quite a horrendous film. The book is thousand times better!

Switzerland Alps are world famous. For us Indians, they have captured our imaginations through endless Bollywood movies where the hero and the heroine romance in them. Many have seen them in travel shows and many know the Alps only for endless snow sports or Roger Federer. However before the advent of films and travel shows there was an amazing, innocent book called ‘Heidi’ by Johanna Spyri that extolled the Swiss Alps beautifully.

‘Heidi’ is a marvelous classic and a must read.

‘Heidi’ is the name of the protagonist, a five year old orphan who is sent by her aunt, Dete, to live with her gruff, old grandfather in the Swiss Alps. As time goes by, Heidi merges with the surroundings and comes to love the mountains dearly. Her grandfather’s rudeness and hostility also begin melting by Heidi’s copious warmth and innocence.  However, all does not remain blissful up in the mountains. One day, her aunt comes back to take Heidi to Frankfurt to be a loving companion for a rich invalid, Clara. Over there, in a big city, away from the mountains which she sorely misses, Heidi becomes good friends with Clara but she can never forget her beloved Alps. She eventually falls grossly ill and the only remedy for her is to return. In summer, Clara visits Heidi in the Alps. Clara’s stay and the healthy mountain air help cure her.

‘Heidi’ is an immensely touching story. Its vivid and mesmerising descriptions are memorable  long after the reader has finished the book. Heidi’s cute adventures, her simple mountain life with Peter, her grandfather and the goats, her love  and her charm for everything are perfect. The Swiss mountains are more than just picture perfect; they are nothing short of paradise in the book.

‘Heidi’ has a childish feel to it and that is its strongest point beside the scenic Swiss Alps where it is set. Even though you will find this book tucked away in the ‘Children’ Classic’ in most bookstores, it can be read by anyone: an adult or a child. It will appeal to any age group. Anyone who loves nature, children, the mountains and their sense of purity, will find ‘Heidi’ pleasurable and three times better than any Bollywood film or travel show!

It is difficult to describe in words what I exactly felt and thought about ‘A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS‘ by Khaled Hosseini because it was so unique and personal. I will still attempt to write a review on the book. Hopefully it will be useful.

It is one of those rare gem of a book that elicits a thousand emotions-from deep despair to breathtaking bliss to anguish and anger to innocent happiness. This book is simply-and there is no other word for it-REAL.It is not based on a true story but the incidents could and have happened to millions of people in Afghanistan. I really loved this book simply because it is deeply moving and touching and in a sense it is not just a book but a reality-a harsh one- that Afghans faced and continue to face after the Russian invasion in 1979.

The story is about two girls-Mariam and Laila and how their lives intertwined as a result of circumstances. Mariam is a bastard. Her father, Jalil Khan, is a rich businessman in Herat(Mariam’s birthplace) who got his housekeeper(Mariam’s mom, Nana) pregnant. Mariam is conveniently married off in Kabul to a tyrant, Rasheed, at a tender age of fifteen. Laila, by a brutal turn of circumstances, ends up in Rasheed’s house. Initially hostility reigns between Mariam and Laila but gradually, they become close and a marvelous friendship amidst utter breakdown and destruction develops. The end of the story is hopeful, a poignant display of love and survival.

One of the misunderstandings about the books is that it is entirely set during the Taliban’s rule. However, in fact, only a part of the book is set during that time period. The story spans from 1960s’ to the early 200s’. The story, thus provides a brief history lesson of Afghanistan.

For me, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns‘ was absolutely flawless. The narrative was beautiful. It essentially deals with the brutality that women face in Afghanistan due to harsh patriarchy. These themes can be relevant among indian readers as even in India, women are still suppressed and denied freedom(although perhaps not at such an extreme level as in Afghanistan).

For many people, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns‘ was depressing because of the sad events. It was painful, yes, and it did leave me shocked at some passages but I did not find it depressing. To only read happy books with cliched and predictable endings is stupid for me because then you are not being aware of the problems around the world. I agree that is is highly emotional, very sad but then it is reality. Countless women have faced and still face such horrors and discrimination in their lives. I was crying throughout the book and I do not think there is anyone who wouldn’t be moved by this singular story.

It is definitely a must read and if you can’t even read it, just think about those for whom it was not just a book they could ignore but life that they faced every single day.

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