Thursday, May 18, 2006

Stolen Lives

When you finish reading this book, its hard to beleive that its a true life story.. its hard to beleive that people can actually undergo such things in this world.. it really is! stolen lives is an autobiographical account of malika oufkir's real life. What started as a life pampered with luxury, fun, frienship, affection, joy etc etc turned to one filled with misery, hopelessness, struggle etc etc.. heart wrenching!
malika oufkir is the daughter of general oufkir, who happened to the closest aide to the king of morocco.. yes!.. the king had a daughter of malika's age and adopts malika at a tender age so that she can be his daughter's companion.. though malika lived inside the palace and had the best things she could ever ask for, she missed her home terribly.. she was allowed to see her parents very occasionally and had hardly any touch with them or her siblings.. a few of whom were born after she was adopted..(so, she didnt even know them!). she grows to think of the king as her father and he's pretty fond of her too!..her life was totally sheltered and secure and luxurious..but she was bound to the palace and didnt have her freedom.. despite all this, she lived a happy existence completely unaware of the misery ahead..

One fine day, out of the blue, malika gets to hear that her father had tried to assasinate the king. he was killed and the rest of the family was put in jail, malika included..for malika(then 19 years old), this came as a total shock..for one, she couldnt understand why the king was being so cruel with her..she was like a daughter to him and yet, he even refused to speak to her! she was shut in one desert jail after another for 20 years! the misery they experienced in the jail followed by their attempts to escape and finally their release - this is what this book is essentially about.

The story is gripping and the fact that it is a true life story gives it a totally new dimension.. there has been no exxageration of the conditions of the places where they were imprisoned and their state is really really pitiable..

for all the suffering, the book ends on a happy note.. after 20 years of torture, malika and her family have been released and now lead "normal" existences..("normal" because they are still getting used to the life outside the jail and the technological advances that happened in the 20 years).. this book is really worth reading..

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Earth's Children Series

The whole series, by Jean M Auel, is set in prehistoric times.. the neanderthal age to be more precise.. the author has done a lot of research for each and every book in this series and has tried to re-create the scenario to the best of her abilities.. a wonderful effort!
(please pick these books up only if you have a lot of time to spend reading..they are HUGE!..:) but its really worth the effort and the time spent!)

Book 1 : The Clan of the Cave Bear

When i first read about this book in hillary clinton's bookshelf, i wasn't too sure if i would like it..firstly, the name sounded wierd..and secondly, shesaid something about liking archaeology being the reason she liked this book..but despite this, i decided to pick this book up anyways.. at first sight, i was terrified.. i have read big books but this one seemed humongous..about 700 pages of small print and i wasn't sure if i would ever complete it! and complete it i did! it was more an epic than a story.. the story begins with a little girl losing her family to an earthquake.. she survives and is saved by a bunch of wandering people.. the book is how she is accepted amongst them though she is different in many ways.. she looks very different from them and this is the main reason she is shunned by them in the beginning..eventually, they learn to accept her differences and treat her as one of them..they are the clan of the cave bear and ayla, the girl, grows up with them.. the life of the clan is described in detail in this book..the clan doesnt talk..they communicate with each other using hand signals!!.. when you finish reading it, you know you'd be able to survive if you were suddenly transported back in time and left with the really would.. their customs, their mannerisms, their food habits, huunting habits etc is vividly explained.. ayla is adopted by the medicine woman of the clan and she starts learning about various herbs and their uses etc.. its really interesting to learn the ways of the people of the ice age.. things we tend to take for granted these days didnt even exist at those times.. the book ends with ayla being sent away from the clan by the new leader who has never liked her from the beginning.. you can't wait to start the next book and see what happens to her..

Book 2 : The Valley of the Horses

If i thought the first novel was gripping, the second was even better.. after getting banished by the clan, ayla learns to live on her own in the valley of the horses.. in the process of living alone and hunting for herslf, she discovers new things and makes many inventions that would benefit the future generations immensely.. she adopts a horse and a cave lion and leads a peaceful life until her fate's crossed with that of jondalar.. jondalar travels from his settlement for over 3 years with his brother.. their journey is described parallely with ayla's stay in the valley of the horses..eventually, ayla saves his life and they fall in love..only when she meets jondalar does ayla realise that the people who saved her life and brought her up are actually primitive beings called flatheads..they are not as developed as the rest of the people in the ice age..the rest of the people (referred to as The Others by the clan) can actually talk and are more advanced.. they actually consider tyhe flatheads as animals and hate them! She learns to speak from Jondalar and learns about the other things happening outside the flathead world.. by the end of this book, they decide to leave the valley and start moving.. they take the horses (the horse has given birth in the middle of all this and lion has moved away)and begin their journey..

Book 3 : The Mammoth Hunters

In the third book of this amazing series, ayla and jondalar stop at a cave of the mammoth hunters.. they get along beautifully with the mammoth hunters and soon the whole cave is soo fond of them.. they learn to love ayla despite the fact that shes been with flatheads all her life.. they become so attached to the two and ayla's adopted by them.. ranec is a handsome man in that cave and he falls in love with ayla.. she finds herself attracted to him too and doesnt quite seem capable of making the decision between Jondalar and Ranec.. Ranec and Ayla plan to get married. but then, a mammoth hunt and circumstances make ayla realise her true love.. at the end of the book , ayla and jondalar leave the mammoth hunters to go back to his place..

Book 4 : The Plains of Passage

The first book in this series that kinda dragged a little.. i personally thought it was a little below par.. but i guess it was unavoidable... the fourth book is about ayla ande jondalar's travels.. they leave the mammoth camp and start travelling towards jondalar's home.. now, basically, the whole book is set in europe.. jondalar lives somewhere around where france is right now and the mammoth camp is roughly somewhere to the left of czech.. but i am not too clear about that.. i didnt study the map in that much detail.. so its basically a pretty long journey and it has been described in detail.. they meet all the camps that jondalar met on his way south and those were the interesting bits.. and they also have na encounter with a "bad" camp.. that was pretty interesting too..but the part that dragged was the travel bit.. i was not too interested in the flora and fauna description of europe of those days and detailed descriptions of the different kinds of vegetation and the animals that survived there etc etc kinda got to me after a while.. i soon started skipping the description bits..(just a cursory glance so i dont miss anything) and that kinda helped me finish the book faster too!:)
by the end of the book, ayla and jondalar finally reach his camp.. wonder what the next book has in store!!:)

Book 5 : The Shelters of Stone

yet to read...:)

A Fine Balance

Rohinton Mistry, (though personally, i'd prefer calling him Rohinton MISERY), came out with his much acclaimed second novel, A fine balance, in 1995.. it was very highly acclaimed and praised by the time magazinre, new york times, wall street journal, the guardian and any other famous reviewer in sight in the US! Rohinton was brought up in bombay and his novel revolved around india..
ever since i crossed the seven seas and came over to the new land, i have had an inscrutable urge to bond with anything even vaguely indian and to an extent asian.. it somehow links me to home and i derive satisfaction from it.. my reading has also followed the same trend...mills and boon, robin cook, sidney sheldon, wilbur smith, jeffrey archer etc have been replaced by bharati mukherjee, naipaul, r.k.narayan and chinese novelists like amy tan and jung chang...anything to give me a feel of home..:)along the same lies, i picked up the much raved about novel - a fine balance.. with absolutely no itroduction to it whatsoever, i had absolutely no idea what i was getting myself into.. really..
the book is completely indian.. in fact, when reading it, i've even had the funny sensation of being able to smell the oil dripping vada described in the novel! you're transported totally to the streets of india..
the beggars on the streets, the crowded trains and the inane conversation happening between randoms, desperate attempts at making "fresh" conversation in hot and sweltry chennai buses and mumbai trains.. well, its all so familiar.. the hawkers in the station, the irresponsible police, the crowded streets, the dirt on the road, the hawkers, politics talk, over-friendly aunties!! - havent we seen them all?? we have! and the book is full of such descriptions.. descriptions that make you yearn for home.. i thought i only missed my family, my friends, the places i studied in, the coffee places we hung out in, the theatres we watched movies in etc etc.. but while reading this novel..i realised that i was missing more than that! i was missing the road side pani puri stalls, i was missing the "sundal" in the beach, i miss having beggars haunt us all the time.. i miss fighting tooth and nail with chennai auto drivers for 5 rupees.. i really miss all that!!
well, i can go on and on about the stuff the book made me miss.. it does seem like a beautiful book right?? but, it actually wasn't.. it turned out to be rather depressing and pessimistic.. when i finished reading the novel, my first reaction was to hate it.. i've always liked the "and they lived happily ever after" endings and the way this novel ended was a rude shock.. and in many ways, i thought he was portraying the wrong india to the people here..a complete novel about the miserable life of beggars in india, the poverty, the unhygeinic conditions, the politicl plays.. it seemed so unfair that he was portraying just just side of india to the americans..
but as time passed, i began to appreciate the book more.. it was an honest portrayal..nothing was falsified.. it was a true depiction of the poor india.. a true depiction of the lives led by soo many indians.. when in india, just closing my eyes would make me forget that though there were barristas, mcdonalds, pizza huts, subways etc etc, there was a major part below the poverty line.. and this book hit me with reality.. made me realise what i've been pushing out of my brain.

it feels like you are in a dark tunnel and somehow you know there's light at the other end..its right can just almost see it..its dark now and you know somehow that everything is going to be alright..and then suddenly, the tunnel ends..there is no light at the other end..its been closed..there is no exit..its just darkness.................
thats no fair you might say.. unfortunately, life doesnt always necessarily become better for everyone..
its a gripping tale and a book so honest is hard to come by..

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Color Purple

I heard about the movie before i heard about the novel.. in fact, i even heard about the broadway show before i heard about the book.. and then , i saw the book in hillary clinton's bookshelf.. i just HAD to pick it up.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker..
Somehow when i read the reviews, i had formed an opinion that the book revolved around the life of this strong willed courageous black woman ho stood up for her rights blah blah blah.. and i was totally wrong! there's nothing strong willed about Celie.. maybe except for her determination to live.. raped by the person she beleived to be her own dad repeatedly since she was 14 years old.. has two children but both are taken away from her and she has no idea about their existence..and then she's separated from the only being she loved, her sister nettie to marry some man who's in love with someone else and all that she has to do is clean his house and take care of his chlidren.. you keep thinking she's going to get the courage to break free..but no..she never does..she resigns to fate and seems to be happy that she's alive..doesnt ask for anything more from the world.. and then, hr life turns around when her husband's lover comes to stay with them.. this is not the end of the tale.. the book is the form of series of letters... letters from celie to god, and then from her to nettie and also letters from nettie to celie..just letters.. it starts with the first time she's raped by the person she beleives to be her dad at age 14 and just goes on for more than 30 years!!
the story is about opression.. black opression and opression of women.. of women who'd tolerate any behaviour from men and the society just because they are black women..the lowest strata of society..
its a powerful book and transports you from the present to the age this book was set in.. the crude language and the grammer and the spelling only adds to the power of the book..its surely not a book that would ever be included for a literature non-detail in school..never.. it feels like you'll forget english before you're done with the book..thankfully that doesnt happen..:)
somehow to me, the character of sofie stood out more than that of nettie herself.. sofie's the strong one..the one to resist male domination and white domination..the one to stand up for her own rights.. sofie's the strong one.. even when you read about her, you wish celie would be more like her..stand up for herself.. but celie is just who she is..a typically opressed black woman.. it a beauty to see her come out of shell with the help of her husband's lover.. you can feel the transformation.. you can sense the change in her can feel her confidence..all from just the way she looks at the world around her..
i loved the book.. i really did!:)

Friday, May 5, 2006

Miguel Street

When in India, you can't miss a slum.. slums are an integral part of your life.. you see it everywhere.. you just choose to ignore it.. what does a slum represent? poverty? depression? unhygeinic conditions? uneducated children?.. well, all this..and you realise.. much more!
when does a slum look like a clolorful attractive place? i guess, only in a V.S. Naipaul novel..
thats miguel street for you..

Miguel street is just a slum area in a corner of port of spain, trinidad.. (but somehow, as i read the book..the picture that formed in my mind could have easily been in chennai/bangalore..i dont know what it is that makes me indianize his books.. maybe its because i always thought he was a indian or maybe he does have that "indian author" touch to him.. i would never know.. my mind is prejudiced now!)..

Its just a noisy little street and its really funny! the story is narrated by a little boy who grows up in this street.. he describes the people as he sees them.. he describes incidents as he sees them.. he grows up in miguel street and one fine day finally leaves the place (end of book)..naipaul has the amazing talent of depicting poverty in a colorful and joyful manner.. drunken jobless men, nosy neighbours, bullying husbands...the list just goes on and on..
the narrating boy is highly perspective and has a keen observation and doesnt miss anything tha goes on in this little street..
never once during the book does the poverty and the living conditions affect you in the wrong way.. the residents dont seem to mind it and you forget to mind it..and when you finish the book..all that you can think of is a happy place with happy people..(thought they dont exactly seem too happy!)..

reading this book is a joyful experience!!:)

Dancing in the dark

"A searing new novel that reimagines the remarkable life of Bert Williams, the first black entertainer in the United States to reach the highest levels of fame and fortune".. said the cover of this book.. and i picked it up..Dancing in the Dark by Caryl Phillips.
As i read the book, i realised that the theme of the book is there in the title.."dark".. in this book, you are made to see beyond the success of the first successful black entertainer in the US.. you are made to see beyond the applauses, the accolades, the awards, the fans.. you are made to see beyond it all..
all that you see is a man torn..torn apart by the guilt that he has let his parents down by becoming a comedian.. torn by the rejection of the black community that considers him someone who makes them all look like fools.. torn by the fact tht he cannot give his wife what she wants - love..

a man who makes the rest of the world forget their troubles and laugh heartily while watching him is plagued by the worst feelings.. none of the applauses, the awards, etc have brought him the peace of mind that he is looking for.. and that is how this novel proceed from beginning to end..

it is a very strong book.. fiilled with strong dark emotions.. makes you feel gloomy..but yet there's something about it that makes you go on reading. you know that there's just more gloom ahead.but there's some invisible force that keeps you moving till the end..

The style of writing doesnt make it any simpler.. if i thought any of the previous books i read had a "discontinuous" style of writing..i was obviously wrong..this book defines "discontinuity".. ech paragraph is different.. sometimes its in first person, sometimes its in third.. sometimes, its bert williams talking, sometimes its his partner walker..sometimes its his wife lottie and the rest of the times, its aida..the wife of walker.. you start reading each para without knowing where you are heading..after the second line you realise who's point of view you are seeing..and then you are forced to go back and start the para again and read it from that person's perspective.. and the paras are not too big too..every few minutes you are made to stop, think, re-read and process.. the flow of reading gets cut at the end of every para..

why read the book amidst so much confusion you might the book and then you'll know..

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

A Million Little Pieces

When one browses the oprah website in search of books to read, its very tough to miss this one - A million little pieces by James Frey.. I eventually picked the book up from the library and sat down to read it.. it is one of the fastest moving stories and you just cant put the book down until you hve actually finished reading the whole thing.. its not a suspense or anything even remotely close that keeps you glued to the book.. its the narration and the story itself..
This book is an autobiographical account of the six weeks the author spent in rehab after having been an alcoholic and a drug addict for more than a decade! right from the age of 12! when kids around the world were concentrating on computer games, tests, assignments etc etc.. our buddy here was getting high over and over again.. by the time he reached his early 20s he was done for.. a valuable life totally down the drain!
as a last chance to save his life, he decides to go into rehab.. and the book is just all about his struggles and the lives of others he meets in the rehab.. the strength and the determination prtrayed throughout the book is really commendable.. it sure is a life saver for millions of people out there in the advanced stages of addiction..those who think that they've reached the end.. here's a book to save them all..the book with the message" no matter how deep in shit you are, there is always a way out..and all that you need is determination"..
it sure does give hope!
there was a big controversy about the book a few months after its publishing.. it was discovered that there were parts in the book that were actually not true but were altered.. oprah winfrey even had the author over for a second interview where she ripped him apart for his crime..
personally, i dont think it matters.. the truth is there.. an addict, in his advanced stages managed to save his own life with just determination and the will to live.. and that is the main essence of the book..the minor petty details dont really matter..
this is a short and extremely powerful tale and takes you to a world you have heard of vaguely but dont really know.. reality hits you hard!!
a must read for all you bookworms out there. if you've missed reading this, grab a copy immediately..:)