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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?

Well, we all just had another Mother’s Day go by yesterday. Hope you all pampered and showed how much you love your mothers yesterday and continue to do so throughout because just one day isn’t really enough to show your gratitude and affection, is it?

There are countless books, plays, poems and stories on mothers-whether they celebrate them or stereotype them or show their complexity of roles, relations and personality. Many of these works were highlighted in yesterday’s newspapers and magazines.

Another marvellous work of literature produced by one of the most celebrated German playwright of the 20th century that takes a hard and critical look at the role of a mother amidst a crushing war is ‘Mother Courage and Her Children‘ by Bertolt Brecht. Written in 1939, Brecht superbly hits out at the capitalism of war through the lens of the titular character-Anna Fierling who is more popularly known as Mother Courage.

The plot is simple and straightforward. ‘Mother Courage and Her Children‘ is set in the 17th century while the grim Thirty Years War rages on. It is divided into 12 scenes which corresponds to the span of 12 years across which the play is spread. Mother Courage makes a living in the war through her trusty wagon and the food, drink and war equipment she sells to the officers and soldiers. She has three children- Eilif, Swiss Cheese and Kattrin who is dumb. Mother Courage works very hard at making a living so that her children and she can survive during the war. She is shrewd and business minded. The play opens in Dalarna where a sergeant and a recruiting officer converse ironically about the necessity of war and about recruiting soldiers. Just then, Mother Courage happens to pass with her children and her wagon. The sergeant wants Eilif to join the war and he is quite willing to do so but Mother Courage objects saying he is not made for war. Nonetheless, the sergeant too is shrewd enough to involve her in a bargain for a belt while the officer whisks Eilif away and entices him to join the war. Similarly her Swiss Cheese also becomes part of the war and Kattrin suffers a fate much worse.Then the play wounds through the other places like Poland, Bavaria, Italy, Moravia etc. that Courage goes with her wagon and her children selling her goods and making more business transactions. In the course, she meets a Chaplain, a cook and a prostitute-Yvette who become part of the entourage and aid her while also living with her.

Throughout the play, Brecht has shown the war’s brutalities and Mother Courage’s struggle to survive and protect her children from the war through her wagon. She is courageous in as much that she struggles and strives hard in the face of the most bitter adversities and yet she fails to notice that it is the war that feeds her and sustains her. He creates a crucial paradox in her character and Franz Mennemeier has aptly called her ‘merchant mother.’ implying that while she has her motherly instincts, they are inseparable from her business instincts. Brecht shows the futility of war through the futility of Mother Courage’s actions and struggles. He plays on the idea that had then gradually emerged that war is a business, something initiated by the big, fat capitalists for their own vested interests. He was a life long socialist and his abhorrence for all thing capitalist comes through in the play as he projects how small people like the characters of the play get caught up by the conflicts of the big people and the former lose a lot while it is only the latter who gain and profit. He attacked the Nazi regime through this particular play.

Brecht had developed his own non-Aristotelian form of drama called epic theatre which uses a plethora of techniques, most predominant being the ‘estrangement’ or alienation’ technique. The other one is the use of songs which were always used by Brecht to comment upon the situation in the scene. ‘Mother Courage and Her Children‘ adheres to the tenants of epic theatre by and large. It is peppered with songs and alienates the audience particularly by making them compare the 17th century war with the 20th century Nazi regime.  The play is also episodic-each scene exists for itself. It also does not have clearly good or bad characters as Brecht rejected the Aristotelian idea of a ‘hero’.

Thus, ‘Mother Courage and Her Children‘ provides the reader thoughtful insights with the aid of epic theatre’s tenants. It makes the audience think critically and apply the situation of Mother Courage to their own bleak and oppressive reality. Even today, the 21st century readers can think about the way in which wars are fought and who it is that really starts them? Is there really an enemy or war is just another business? There maybe no Hitler today but the play is very relevant to the politics of war raging in the world today. This universality of the theme of Brecht’s play is what can appeal to the modern audience and if on reading the play, s/he is aroused to change her/his situation, then Brecht would be really happy in his grave now because that is what he believed that plays show do-make the audience active participate and change their world for the better.

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!

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.

Taken from 43things.com

‘The Glass Palace’ written by Amitav Ghosh is a massive account of the lives of several unique, interesting people over the span of a century from about the late 1800s’ to the 1990s’.

The book’s size maybe daunting for many novella addicted readers but it is surely worth perusing. The book’s size should not be a deterrent for reading it because believe me it is one heck of an interesting read!

The story starts with an Indian, Rajkumar, who works in a food shop in Burma and parallel to this story runs the story of the King and Queen-Thebaw and Supalayat- of Burma and the latter’s maids, specifically Dolly. Rajkumar later on goes into the timber business along with Saya John, a close friend of sorts. Rajkumar tracks down Dolly, who had gone to British India with the exiled royal family of Burma. Rajkumar predictably finds her and they predictably get married. The story then superbly weaves itself around their lives as well as their children and other significant people of their lives like Uma Dey, who Dolly had met during her stay in India, Saya John’s son, Matthew; Uma’s sister’s kids-Arjun and Manju and Bela and many more myriad characters. Ghosh closely follows each person’s story but at no point does it get drab or boring. Ghosh takes us into the hearts and souls of each character, giving us intricate details of several emotions, several nuances and much more. The novel also deftly manifests how world events or incidents beyond one’s control affect individuals in a way that they can’t even imagine.

Ghosh uses simple short sentences and keeps it brief yet conveys the intensity of the  situation or the emotions quite marvelously. However at times he tends to run away with unnecessary descriptions that veers off from the actual story.

The best part of the book is that it is soaking, literally dripping with history/past. It brings alive an era gone by, how lives were interconnected even then, how even then the world was globalized! It is extraordinary to see the Burmese and Indian interrelations that operated at that time and how porous those borders were until the British took over.

‘The Glass Palace’ is a multicultural and family saga that stands out because of its beautiful depiction of human lives-their vulnerability, invulnerability, their courage, their emotions, their thoughts, their culture-with so much depth and sensitivity that is hardly seen in many books today. It draws the reader into the story, makes them feel like they are part of that era, that family, that life and culture.

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!

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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