Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Zookeeper's Wife

This book by Diane Ackerman takes us back to the 1930s. More precisely, to a zoo in warsaw in the summer of 1935 . Jan Zabinksi , the director of Warsaw Zoo and his wife Antonina met and found a common interest - their love for animals. That interest led to their wedding in 1935 and to the birth of a son, rys (polish for lynx - naturally!). Their lives were filled with zopes and dreams for the zoo and for the animals in the zoo. Little did they know that their passion would later help them save soo many human lives. World War II happened and the germans attacks poland. In their frenzy to kill all jews possible, they landed up killing around 7 million people in Poland (of which around 3 million were catholic poles). That was close to 22% of the total population of poland. Poland lost a greater proportion of its population than any other country during world war II. We all know the nazi motives- ethinic cleansing! In the author's own words,

"Nazism hoped not only to dominate nations and ideologies, but to alter the world's ecosystems by extinguishing some countries' native species of plants and animals (including human beings) while going to great lengths to protect other endangered animals."

While they were trying to wipe the entire jewish race off the face of the earth, they were also simultaneously trying to re-create some of the world's lost glory - the aurochs, the tarpans,etc. It was this motive of theirs that eventually spared the Warsaw Zoo from complete demolition.

In this book, Diane Ackerman brings us the story of a very courageous couple - Jan and Antonina. In a world where even giving water to a thirsty jew was a jailable offense, these two brave people gave them much more than just water - they gave them food, shelter, and security and hid them from the germans. They very well knew what would happen to them if they were exposed - death and that too not a short,simple and easy execution. In spite of all the risks, the two of them did all that they could to help jews they knew (and many they didnt even know!) to escape from the clutches of the blood thirsty nazis.

These are the stories that are easily lost and never surface after the wars.. these heroes are never recognized and their bravery and sacrifice completely go unrecognized. Jan and Antonina had a lucky break - Diane Ackerman. She came across the story of the zookeepers when she went through Antonina's memoirs and then researched very deeply into this subject and came up with a book full of facts - "The Zookeeper's Wife". As she herself says, her sources included Antonina's memoirs, her autobiographical children's books, Jan and Antonina's interviews in newspapers after the war, conversations with Rys, various contemporaries, artifacts in museums, memoirs and letters of secret wartime archivists,etc etc..

but by putting together all this information, she has recreated the past. A complete recreation which doesnt just include the facts about the war.. but also little tidbits about the Zobinskis. Their characters, their dressing and food habits, etc. A Complete Portrayal.

I felt that the best parts of the book were the little parts - Jan and Antonina's struggle to protect their son from the war. Their vain attempts to protect his innocence and their struggle from keeping him from learning about war too early in his life. They did not want him to know the amoral, merciless side of nature. In one part, they talk about a pet hamster that Rys had. They even hesitated before telling him about how hamsters parents can be cruel enough to kill their own children. Yet, in spite of all their efforts, they were stuck in the middle of a war, with all the bombings and killings without reason. How could they explain it all to him?

I took the Page 69 test before I started reading the book - Marshall McLuhan suggested that you should choose your reading by turning to page 69 of a book and, if you like it, read it. Well, I really needn't have done it. The story line was too interesting for me to miss. But the page 69 test did work. I got a very good grasp of the style of writing and the content by just reading that single page. You should try it the next time you pick a random book to read!

Well, i could go on and on about this book and tell you everything there is to tell. But that wouldnt be fair. I think it is an amazing book. the fact that it is a true story only seems to reaffirm your faith in humanity. A consolation that no matter how cruel the world seems, there will always be a few humans.. More Noah's with an Ark to protect you from the raging floods!

I kinda brought that up coz through the book Diane makes many references to Jan's villa as Noah's Ark.

The best part about the book though is the strength with which Antonina managed the situation. Jan left the house early in the morning and came back late after work. He was involved in the 'Underground' activities as well..even without the knowledge of Antonina! Being at home full time with the jews they were helping, even a minor slip on her part would have alerted the germans who were always at close range to the zoo and that would have been the end of them all... she not only managed to keep them all safe and sound, she even brought joy and laughter to their lives. Her idea to brings animals into the house along with the people was a good idea. They enjoyed the antics performed by the animals and that distracted them from the state they were in. Compared to the other places where many jews were hiding, the Villa was a paradise! She did all this even through her pregnancy!!

The story of Antonina is very inspiring. Her courage and strength teaches us a lot. I think this book is a must read for everyone! there's so much to learn from it..and it is also a very enjoyable book to read!

Friday, October 26, 2007


Well.. technically, i didn't read this book. I actually listened to it..i experimented with an audio book. It was a beautiful experience. there was something about this particular book that made it good to listen to. i have tried many audio books after that and havent really succeeded even getting beyond the first chapter.
For those of you who are not aware, Elie Wiesel, the author of this book is a Nobel Prize winner and a holocaust survivor..and that is what this book is about.. his time in the concentration camp in the final year of the holocaust. It is a very gripping story. It is everything that we have heard of..the ghettos, the camps, the burning alive, the separation from families, etc etc and much more. But the author connects with you in a beautiful way. You get totally into the book and you can actually feel the book .It was a beautiful experience but sad as hell.
Though he eventually survives and get away free, you don't feel happy when you finish the book. The impact of the concentration camps is too great. It leaves you feeling sad and moody for days on end. I couldn't get myself to write about the book as soon as I read it. I just had to let it totally sink in and get over it to actually sit and write about it.
It is the most amazing book ever. A glimpse into the much heard-about concentration camps through the eyes of someone who has actually been there! So many stories that I have heard about the camps were so gruesome that there were times I thought that they were just made-up! how could anyone be so cruel in the world? And then, I read this book. And i know that it is all true.
You MUST MUST get hold of this book if you can and read it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Comfort Woman

When i picked up this book, i had absolutely no idea that i was getting into something that would really haunt me for a long time to come. For those who are already familiar with the term "comfort women" from the world war II, this of course would not be too much of a surprise.. but I had never heard of the word before i had the book in my hands. A review on the back cover of the book made me Google up the term "comfort women" and the Wikipedia article that i read came as a complete shock to me.

"comfort woman" is a euphemism used for nearly 200,000 women that were recruited by the japanese army as sex slaves to serve the japanese soldiers. I am , of course, using the term "recruited" very loosely here. What started as just recruiting prostitutes to serve the army soon got out of hand. Women were deceived, taken by force, bought from their parents, etc and forced into this. Majority of these women were from Korea, China and other japanese occupied territories. Whether the japanese army was directly involved in forcibly taking these women is till a matter of debate for many historians. some claim that the army was directly involved in the "recruiting " process. Others claim that there is no evidence that the army was directly involved. They mgiht have used agents to get the women and hence, were not responsible for the way the women were collected.

Whatever the case is, what happened after that is completely heart wrenching. Nora Okja keller attempts to bring this cruel practice to light by basing her fictional story, comfort woman, around this scenario. The book tackles many issues at the same time.. on one side there is a korean woman with her daughter in hawaii who lives with a secret past..a past that she is ashamed of..a past she would never EVER talk about in her life.. on the other side, there is the daughter, living in hawaii and dealing with her mom and her obsession with korean traditions..the very same traditions that seem to alienate her from her american peers. She is ashamed of her mother and her peculiar ways and doesnt make an attempt to understand her.

"On the fifth anniversary of my father's death, my mother confessed to his murder" begins the book.. that line caught my attention and of course I couldnt free myself until i finished the last page. There are two narratives through the book - the voice of beccah, through which we get to know her deep affection for her mother, her obvious pain at being shunned by her peers, her confusion at being forced to follow traditions that she has no link to..traditions that are bring scorned at by her peers. All that pushes her to the extent of being ashamed of her mother. Somehow, she forgets the fact that her mother had a life before she married her father. She never bothers to inquire about it.. until it is too late..
the other voice is the voice of akiko, the mother.. and she talks about her frightful past as a comfort woman- the tortures she underwent in the camps, her escape from the camp, her guardian angel , induk, who is created out of her guilt. guilt due to the inability to do anything when she should have actually done something.
Nora beautifully brings out the life of a comfort woman, not only during the war times but also when the ordeal is over and they return to seemingly normal lives. Going through such an ordeal can either make or break a person. Difficult times always do that. Your first reaction would be to think that it definitely broke Akiko. She seems to have lost her mind in many situations and goes through phases where she can connect with the dead (i am still VERY skeptical about people who claim the ability to do this.anyways, thats a completely different story). She even seems to have buried herself deeply in traditional customs which might have seemed out of place in present day Korea, let alone Hawaii. But then thinking more deeply about it, I personally feel that it actually made her a stronger woman. It definitely takes more than courage to put what has happened behind you and never ever bring it up with people you love. It shows her determination to be in charge of herself and her emotions and not wallow in self pity. That again, is just the way i see it. I can esily see people's arguments about how her decision to keep it to herself could have been her weakness - she did not have the courage to face the reality and come to terms with it. I am hounded by this question too. It is really tough to figure out what the braver thing to do in such a situation would be.
Sometimes, I go back to thinking about Induk and her decision to end her life rather than go through shit in the hands of the Japanese. Was that her way of saying "I am in charge of my life. No one can mess with me and make me do things I don't want to do" or was it more like "I can't handle this torture anymore. I don't think I can survive this". Sometimes, i am forced to go with the latter and that is only because she preferred to instigate the soldiers into killing her rather than ending her life herself.. was that a sign of cowardice?
The book is not necessarily a literature masterpiece. Signs of a debut novel are written all over it. But what seems to be more important in this case is the content. By making a fiction out of the situation, Nora has brought a stigmatized and hidden truth more into the open. She has exposed more readers to the concept of comfort women and we have to commend her for that!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns

After reading The Kite Runner, there was no way i was going to miss reading khaled hosseini's second book.. but i was kinda apprehensive too. the kite runner was sooo good.. would this be able to match it?? well, i worried needlessly.. i thought the kite runner was as good..and in some ways, way better than the kite runner..
firstly, it was AS gripping as the kite runner was. i couldn't do anything else once i picked this book up. everything about the book completely held my attention from the beginning to the end..
The story line was awesome..i remember reading a few days ago, a review that said that this book was similar to the kite runner in many ways..that kinda put me off.. i didnt want to read the female version of kite runner.. i enjoyed the book..yes..but wasn't going to read another book just like it.. luckily for me, hosseini gave a completely new story.. i mean, if you wanted, you could pick out similarities between the two books but i don't really want to do that. this book is dear to me in its own special way.
One thing i am amazed about is his ability to write about women and their emotions and do a great job out of it. I usually am very skeptical about male authors who try to revolve their stories around female protagonists. They some home give them a very male attitude in life..but hosseini did a beautiful job of keeping his women women.
the story, in a typical Hosseini way, was entertaining and at the same time heart wrenching. I found myself laughing with them, crying with them, hoping and praying with them, practically living with them for the one day that i spent reading the book.
There's one thing i really like about both his books. He makes you think about the people from Afganisthan as people..just like you and me..people with emotions, thoughts and feelings.. not just victims of a war ravaged countries.. Individuals, not just a group of people. Set against the stormy political background, you get a perfect mix of the two - the reality about the situation in Afganisthan and at the same time, a fictional story that keeps you gripped from the first page to the last!
In the middle of the REALLY interesting story line, there is still no way you can turn a blind eye to the atrocities of the taliban rule. Pregnant women being turned away from a hospital because it was a hospital for men. so women, in their pregnant states had to travel to get to a hospital for women!! how crazy was that!!
well, as though tyranny was not enough on a national scale, we encounter a pig of a man, the villian of the story. His treatment of women is totally despicable and you can't help but feel sorry for the women who had to face his brutality. His narrow mindedness irritates you but it makes you face the fact that this is a reality..there are still a few people in this world who havent caught up with modernization...people who still believe strongly in traditional values..not just in Afganisthan but in many countries around the world.
Anyways, as expected, A Thousand Splendid Suns was a fabulous read.. can't wait for his next book!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Anil's Ghost

Michael Ondaatje. Anil's ghost. Sri Lanka. Forensic Anthropology. Archaeology. Political killings.

These were the first few clues i had about what the book had i store for me.. and i definitely HAD to read the book. It was well worth it. Anil Tissera, a forensic anthropologist is basically from Sri Lanka. Left it when she was 18 and never had any need to return to it.. until now.. to take up a job assigned by the human rights commission in Geneva. A job to investigate numerous disappearances and murders happening under suspicious circumstances. The government has approved her entry into the country with the knowledge of the work she is about to do and is watching her secretly recording every move of hers..
She comes out of the airport unaware of everything she is about to face in the days to come. We see Sri Lanka in its rawest form.. and something in all the cruelty endears us to the place and to the characters we meet in the book -
Sarath - The archaeologist she is assigned to work with. A mysterious person and she is unable to trust him from the beginning. She is unsure whether he is against her and the work she is about to do. In spite of the tension, they develop a bond..a bond that can only come out of surviving gruesome stories and witnessing grossness in its crudest form. He has a life of his own. A wife. A teacher. A brother. A responsibility to society. And he never shows out even one emotion.

Gamini - Someone who is introduced to us as a near psychopath. A doctor who lives in the hospital. Someone with no life apart from saving others lives. A shabby man with a black bloodstained overcoat, bloodshot eyes with the look of death in them..someone mad. And then, suddenly he is reintroduced..and this time, we see him in a completely different light.. a mouse, a shadow, a lover, a husband..One line he says stays with us as a line that defines his private life..
" dance at my wedding. A romantic moment. It was a wedding after all and you could embrace each other. I was getting married. She was married already. But I was the one she should have loved.."
Of course, these more to him than just what these lines say. To many he becomes God..a saviour..someone worth naming their child after..

Palipana - Teacher of Sarath. Lover of stones and carvings.. A self proclaimed epigraphist. So invoved in recreating the past, that at one point, he loses distinction between what is actually the past and what he wants the past to be. That is when society called him a mad-man. No one understood him. He withdrew from life and retreated to the woods with a child tormented by a chilling past..his sister's daughter. They provide support for one another. Respected by all in the field of archaeology for his knowledge. And that is what he remains till the end - revered.

Ananda - A prestigious eye carver. A drunkard. A underground miner. Like many around him, he has lost his motive to live. He has lost the love of his life and doesnt know if he will see her ever again. He helps Sarath and Anil in their quest and they help him in ways they would never realize.

Sailor - A nickname given to someone who might help them achieve the truth they are looking for, but not sure they want to know. Through out the book, we get to know more and more about him.. his life being recreated in bits and pieces - until he ceases to be a common "bag-of-bones" as we are frequently used to referring to them. He becomes alive again.. with a name of his own and a story..

Any more than these disconnected sentences will definitely take the joy out of reading this book. IT is amazing how michael ondaatje has brought extremely complex situations together and woven a simple story out of it. The raging political unrest in Sri Lanka is protrayed at its bloodiest and most cruel form. And yet, between all the terror and the bloodshed, we get to see human emotions - friendship, love, passion and separation being the main focus here. It feels like you are caught in two tornadoes at the same time and yet, he manages to bring you safely back to earth by the end of the book - without actually tearing you apart. How he manages to tackle so many issues in one book is amazing. Every character is fully defined. In fact, defined so well that I feel that i know them personally. I feel aas though i can actually recognize Gamini lying on the hospital bed taking his little nap before being woken up to deal with an emergency. I feel that I have known Anil Tissera all her life- from the time she was a mini-celebrity because of her swimming feat through her heart-breaking incidences to her journey back home.
All this accomplished with minimal words. Just 307 pages of large sized lettering. The parsimony of words has totally appealed to me. This could have been narrated in detail covering more than a 1000 pages, conveying the same message and would have been equally successful. What makes it great is the author's ability to be brief and yet tell you everything there is to say..

Anil's Ghost.. a book that has made me want to abandon everything I am doing right now and run to Sri Lanka - time unknown.. to bond with people only in the book.. to cry with them and laugh with them and be a part of everything they go through.. no book has ever touched me the way this has.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Cairo Trilogy

I started this book on the first death anniversary of Naquib Mahfouz - August 30th. What date could be more appropriate than that to read one of the famous books of the famed Nobel laureate.. famous / notorious.. upto us to decide.. Once i began to read the book, i learned a lot more about him. His trysts with Islam fundamentalists because of his controversial writing came as a total surprise to me because in The Cairo Trilogy, religion was omni-present. His different views on religion was brought out beautifully in discussions and arguments between pious and atheist characters of the book. One interesting thing i read was the connection with Salman Rushdie. Ever since i enjoyed Midnight's Children, i have been partial towards Rushdie. It was interesting to note that Naguib Mahfouz defended Rushdie when the Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned him to death. It was not that he supported Rushdie's views. He criticized Rushdie's work about insulting Islam but he just felt that the book did not give the fundamentalists the right to take Rushdie's life. Intersting..

Well, coming to the book.. the Cairo Trilogy was unlike anything i have ever read before. Describing the book would not do justice to Naguib Mahfouz and his efforts (which were not little considering the book has 1315 pages.. yes! Front and Back!!)..
It is definitely a long book and at first sight i hoped i wouldn't be as disappointed with it as i was with "A Suitable Boy" by Vikram Seth.. In many ways, A suitable boy was a stepping stone and i dont think would have this half as much had i not read that book before..

The reason why it is called a trilogy is that, initially, publishers were apprehensive about publishing such a monstrously large piece of, he decided to break it up into three smaller books - Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street. The three books were published and received immense acclaim.. and then publishers started putting the three together again. Though it is still a collection of three books, it is one continuous story.. the second book takes off from where the first book left and its like you've moved to a new chapter. there is no definite end to any of the books.. not even the last one. It is as though he has stopped with a chapter and will be continuing the story soon..

The story revolves around a magnificent personality - al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad. It sarts with his life as a young man married to Amina, a submissive obedient lady. they have 3 sons and 2 daughters. From the first few chapters, which are detailed descriptions of their everyday lives, we become familiar with each character and his/her uniqueness. The book is set in the early 1900s in Cario, Egypt. An age where most people were still conservative and women had strict rules to abide by and live with. Not surprisingly, in the male dominated society, no rules bound the husbands to their marriages and homes as it did women!

Amina seems to be the personification of submisiveness and devotion. She has never stepped foot out of her house in the 25 years that she was married to al-Sayyid. as-Sayyid leads a double life. On one side, he is a tyrannical strict father whose strictness at home verges on the border of cruelty. No one dares to talk to him, let alone disobey any of his orders. What his family members have no clue about is his second life.. a life that begins after the sun sets. A life filled with drinking, music and women. Here we see a man respected and loved by his friends. No signs of his strictness. He becomes a very humorous man cracking jokes all the time, flirting with singers, etc..and the minute he enters home after midnight..his strictness comes back to him naturally, even in his drunken state. Amina bears his cruelty to her without an sign of discomfort, anger or complaints.

The story then moves forward slowly and without realizing it, you become a silent member of the al-Sayyid family. you share their joys during weddings, sorrows during deaths. You laugh with them when they joke and you cry with them when they are hurt. IN the most beautiful manner, Naguib Mahfouz covers ALL aspects of life in just this one book. birth, life, death, friendship, love, marriage, separation, divorce, affairs, obedience, revolt, religion, patriotism, fanaticism, communism, aging, senility, health issues, women's liberation, freedom, sibling rivalry, enmity, jealousy, passion, anger, joy, sorrow,..anything you can think of will be covered in this book.. and in the most amazing manner..
Naguib Mahfouz doesnt take a stand in any of his opinions. For every character's strong opinions regarding anything from religion to love to marriage to philosophy.. there would be the views of other characters contradicting this character.

All this is set among major political unrest in Egypt. What starts in the form of occasional news heard when al-sayyid talks to his friends slowly starts seeping into the family. His son Fahmy is killed during a demonstration and this is the first msjor set back for the family. But much to the surprise of everyone in the family, life doesnt end with a death. Though they thought about him frequently ands spoke about ihm.. Fahmy soon became a distant memory and every one moved on in their lives.. marriages happened and girls moved away. Soon the kids have lives of their own - their families to handle, their issues to deal with, their lives to live. al-Sayyid once a formidable character slowly mellows down with age. Seeing him age is as painful to us as it is to him.

Naguib Mahfouz's interest in philosophy surfaces in the middle of the book with the growth of little kamal as we see him when the book begins. Mahfouz explores philosophy through kamal - anything from darwin's theory to latest science and human nature and behavior.

When i started reading the book, i started making notes of things that i particularly enjoyed reading about in the book.. by the time i finished about 100 pages in the book, i realized that it was not going to work coz my notes would be a minor novel in itself!!

From this book, i have learnt so much about Egypt and its people - their religious beliefs, their customs and traditions, their political history and it has been an enriching experience. There are soo many similarities between India and Egypt. Their struggle for freedom from the british reminded me our struggles. The change in their cultures as western habits seeped in reminded me about how india changed due to western influence and is still gradually changing. Family values and so many traditions including fights between mother in law and daughter in law reminded me of india of those days.. the days i have heard about from my grandparents and read about. But of course, there are soo many differences too..too many to list and that was what made this such an interesting read. On the whole, i have had the best couple of weeks comparing and contrasting egypt and india.. it has been fun. I would definitely miss knowing what happened to their lives after the book ended.. i am already missing them..:)

If you notice my blog sidebar, you'll see a quote by Earnest Hemingway that descibes a good book.. This book is a perfect example. You become a part of the book and even when the book is over, it continues to be a part of you.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


pulitzer prize winning novel from a nobel laureate...that's beloved by toni morrison.. i picked this book up after reading about it on oprah's bookshelf. Having enjoyed all the books I was excited to pick this book up because i thought it held great promise. It was very different from what i expected it to be. Firstly, there was a 'horror' element to this that somehow didnt seem to blend with the rest of the theme.. All those who know me would know that I am not a great fan of horror.. tales of dead people coming back to life tend to creep me out and this, being a book, creeped me out a little lesser than the movies did..but creeped me out nevertheless..
The book is set in the times after the civil war. This is when black slaves were starting a free life in America..either after legally buying their freedom or after running away. The story line is pretty interesting..It revolves around Sethe, a woman who has lived all her life as a slave. She gets married to Halle who is also a slve at Sweet Home and doesnt really think beyond life in the farm.. a free life..
Suddenly, life in the farm changes after their liberal master dies and the strict schoolteacher takes over..
Sethe escapes from Sweet Home with three children and fully pregnant with the fourth. Halle, her husband, had worked outside the farm and saved enough money to free his mother- baby suggs.. Sethe intends to escape and go to her. A young white girl helps her deliver her baby girl in the middle of the escape and she names her daughter "denver" in memory of her..
She eventually gets to Baby Suggs place and they begin to lead a free life when suddenly one day, the school teacher comes searching for take her and her children back...
This is when Sethe is torn. She doesnt want to take her children back to the life she escaped from. She knows how hard it would be for them and decides that she would not let them experience what she did.. She decides that there is only one way to protect them from soon as she kills her baby girl, beloved..she is stopped from killing her two boys.. and then taken to jail..
I somehow admire Sethe for having the courage to do what she did. She chose death over slavery for her own kids and she had the courage to take her daughter's life with her own hands.. I totally admire her for that..
But the whole "horror" aspect of the book kinda put me off.. Beloved, the child who she kills, comes back to haunt the house.. Sethe somehow finds peace in the presence of her daughter's ghost. When the ghost is ridden from the house by an aquaintance of Sethe from the past, it takes the form of a teenage girl and comes to live with them.. Now thats where the book gets spooky and illogical.
I can understand memories of the girl haunting you..but the girl herself?? thats a little too much to take..
The book as such is well written.. and i neednt say it..the pulitzer and the nobel prizes say it all.. towards the end, the book has multiple voices.. Sethe speaks, Denver speaks and Beloved speaks.. they each have their own versions of the story to say.. their feelings..their thoughts..
Inspite of the horror element, the book is gripping.. the state of the slaves is pitiable.. The joy that they get out of living a free life is something that we would never experience in life..
I would definitely recommend this book to anybody who wants a good read.. maybe the horror aspect of it would make more sense to them than it made to me..

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Song of Kahunsha

I had never heard of "The Song of Kahunsha" nor had i heard of "Anosh Irani".. Then how did i pick this book up? Well, i was jobless one day and homesick enough to search for books with the tag "india" in my local library.. of the numerous results i got, the name "kahunsha" stood out. It wasn't a name i had ever heard and out of sheer joblessness, i googled it to see what it meant.. to my surprise.. all hits returned only this book and its reviews.. kahunsha was a name Anosh Irani had come up with.. his name for paradise..a land with no sorrow.. That made me pick the book up. The story starts in an orphanage in bombay. narrated in third person, it mainly revolves around an inmate in the orphanage - chamdi. A small thin weak looking boy with big dreams about the world outside the orphanage compound walls.. Just when you start pitying the conditions in the orphanage and thinking how lucky you are that your life is protected, he leaves his shelter and goes out into the city. He runs away from the orphanage searching for his father who left him as an infant on the doorsteps of the orphanage. Chamdi has no clue about the outside world. From inside the gates of the orphanage, he has often dreamt about how it would be outside the gates. He gives the land outside the gates a name - Kahunsha (City of no sadness).
Armed with just this dream, Chamdi leaves the orphanage. What he finds in the city is of course, no where close to what he had in mind.
But Chamdi is lucky. He finds himself companionship on the streets of Mumbai - Sumdi and his sister. At this point, we are taken into an even more cruel world- the world of forced bondage. The world where thugs like Anad Bhai literally "own" street beggars and get daily commisions from them.
The Song of Kahunsha is a brilliant book - harsh, cruel, unforgiving, without any mercy..but still gripping and heart wrenching.

Midnight's Children

If you want to read a book solely to appreciate the author's command over the english language, Salman Rushdie should be your obvious choice. The very characteristic which made me dislike his books the first time i read them many years ago made me enjoy the book this time when i read it - the language. His command over the language is very impressive.. I enjoyed the book thoroughly just for his writing.. its amazing how just the right pick of words can make ANY incident interesting.. i never thought it to be possible. Had ANY other author picked up this storyline and decided to make a book out of it, he would have, most probably, been a terrible failure...coz I don't think anyone else could have done this much justice to the concept.

While i enjoyed the complicated language use, i also enjoyed the story of the white bedsheet with a hole in the center and the 3 spots of blood staining it.. the smelly old boatsman tai.. the story of a man who loved the different parts of the woman he saw but of course, when they came together, she was nothing like the parts had made her seem!.. the story of another woman who in an attempt to love an man she couldnt get herself to love decided to love him in parts.. concentrate on one aspect of him until she fell in love with it before moving on to the next.. the story of the birth of midnight's children.. the brass monkey.. a telepathic brain holding midnight conferences between witches and other 10 year olds with super powers.. the voice of pakistan..the constant references to hindu mythology.. and the list just goes on and on..

Salman Rushdie is a master story teller.. he's awesome! when you manage to get beyond the complex barrier created by the vocabulary (i have never heard of phantasmagoria before in my life!!), the story that is weaved is magical..

it is evident that he has laboured over each chapter, each page, each paragraph, each line..yeah..each line! and all the constant references between chapters all over the book makes you wonder if he had the whole book charted out in his brain even before he definitely didnt seem to be the case of "pick up the pen and let your thoughts flow and lo! the book is complete!".. it was something much much more complicated than that. Each chapter is so disjoint from the one before it or the one following it and yet..they are all connected and tell the same story.. the story of the midnight's children..

and that brings me to another point.. the intertwining of saleem sinai's life and the life of india after his own words.."actively-literally, passively metaphorically, actively-metaphorically and passively-literally, I was inextricably entwined with my world" and then he goes on to explain this random choice of words..and suddenly, this random combination of nonsensical seeming words suddenly make sense!! the casual attitude with which political references are thrown in alongside trivial incidences of his childhood is soo they all coincide and merge!..i love the way he brings in important political landmarks in a single line in a "matter-of-fact" manner while describing something totally unrelated about saleem's life..
for's one of my favorite examples..
"Via Ceylon we flew, avoiding overflying India, and thus losing our chance of watching, from twenty thousand feet, the celebrations of Indira Gandhi's New Congress Party, which had won a landslide victory.."...
i don't know why that line appealed to me soo much.. it somehow seemed to be the perfect example of the casual references to important political landmarks..

Another thing i loved about the book were the little details.. the details that could have been easily ignored but what salman rushdie thought were important..the very details which made reading the book such an enjoyable experience.. For example, when saleem was putting together an anonymous letter from newspaper cuttings, rushdie gives a detailed list of the news items from which he obtained the different letters he used in his little note.. eg, "DER was concealed in "nehru consiDERs resignation at congress assembly"..etc etc.. his own special way of adding more political tidbits to the already interesting story..

My favourite character in the book..thats a tough decision to make.. but i think i'll settle for the dung goddess.. Padma.. her innocence and her enthusiasm is listening to saleem's story is very endearing. the way she sits at his feet and urges him to go on with his story.. she's quite a dear..

Though at times, the story line did seem to border on absurdity..(i mean, talks of child that can change sex by just having a dip in water etc don't really appeal to my senses), the language and the way the absurd story was spun was awesome. I loved the way, the whole books seems like a web.. there are references to different part of the book in every chapter..just a word dropped in the middle that would immediately take you a few chapters back.. he talks about stuff from previous chapters and stuff that's going to happen in the future chapters.. and they are all sooo linked! Reading such a book with full comprehension was quite an experience.

I am glad of that feeling that made me pick this book up and read it again inspite of not liking any of rushdies works the previous time i tried reading them.. i was not prepared for his works then.. i seem to be in a better state now..

will i read another rushdie soon??? definitely yes..:)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pride and Prejudice

How can i NOT write about this book.... The first time i read the book, i was too overwhelmed by the english to enjoy the satire, the comedy and the story of the book.. i started enjoying the book from the second time i picked it up and have liked it ever since.

I suddenly felt like picking it up again and i was scared that reading it for the nth time would definitely spoil its taste.. but that was not the case.. i totally enjoyed the book.

I love the romance between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr.Darcy. For the longest time in high school, i wanted to grow up be as strong willed as Elizabeth and meet with my Mr.Darcy.. it was my idea of a perfect romance:) Now after all these years, i still enjoyed the romance and the quirky twists in tale. Mrs. Bennett's stupidity(for lack of a better word) amuse me. Even when her youngest daughter had totally put the family to shame by eloping with a squadering man, all that she could think of amidst her tears was to pass on a message for her NOT to buy her wedding gown without her mother around.. Mr. Bennett mocks her throughout the book..guess that is his way of putting up with her stupidity..

I think this book has been analyzed and re-analyzed by literary enthusiasts of all ages. Every known "literature-enthusiast" talks about Pride and Prejudice when talking about classics.. and all that talk, i think, gives it a status that i don't think even jane austen imagined!

The old english language is refreshing. The lifestyle of "high society" and "middle class" english are quite comical.. For the longest time in life, i always wanted to have a house with a cozy drawing room with a fireplace and a piano and dreamt of a life where we would "retire" to the drawing room after dinner to read, play the piano, write letters, or play games..:) and ofcourse there would be all those exciting balls where I would be asked to dance:)) hehe!

Reading Pride and Prejudice has evoked all those memories in me now and thats what makes the book more dear.. it transports me back in time to an age where nothing occupied my mind more than tea parties and dancing and lengthy letters..and of course Mr.Darcy and Rhett Butler.. My affections were always divided between the two..:)

It is tough to come across a book with soooo much character these days.. irony, comedy and satire fill the pages along with quaint phrases and amusing descriptions of lifestyles..

My favorite part in the whole book is where Mr.Darcy proposes to Elizabeth.."In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently i admire you and love you".. this of course has to be said in an hurried and agitated manner..:)

Pride and Prejudice.. one of my all time favourites..even the thought of the book brings a smile to my lips:)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Shopaholic series - 5 books

There are times when you are in desperate need of a light book - something like a chick flick.. something that you can read, smile, finish and not think about about later. It happened to me when i was reading epics like Shantaram, A suitable boy, etc.. and happened again yesterday when i needed to get away from the complicated writing of Salman Rushdie in Midnight's children.. For times like this, Sophie Kinsella gives you the best solution - The Shopaholic series of books.

There are 5 books in the series:

1. Confessions of a Shopaholic (The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic)
2. Shopaholic takes Manhattan (Shopaholic Abroad)
3. Shopaholic ties the knot
4. Shopaholic and sister
5. Shopaholic and baby

** in brackets - names of books in the UK edition..

and each book is a master piece.. you have to read the books in order to get the little references to the past that is continuously made in all the books.. but if you do pick one out of order, its not a big deal.. the books are entertaining no matter what order you read them in( thats what i think..i read them in order and so i wouldnt really know!)..

The main character in these books is becky brandon.. yes..the shopaholic.. a person who's addiction to shopping drives even you crazy! and the irony of it all, she worked as a financial advisor! in this series, she meets luke, moves to manhattan with him, marries him, and even has a baby.. and through all these "maturing" changes in her life.. she remains -the shopaholic..
In the middle of all this, she even meets a sister she never had (a half sister actually) and all her dreams of going shopping with her sister crazh when she realises that her sister is a sensible, level headed, frugal geologist..who hated shopping and would have nothing to do with barneys, tiffany's or any other brand name!

The book are hilarious.. Ad of course, like in a typical chick flick, in the middle of all the shopping and nonsensical activities, she manages to do something brilliant by the end of the book (usually unintentional) and that finishes the books with the "happily ever after" tag..until ofcourse, the next book in the series comes along and you realize that she hasnt changed one bit..:)

Becky brandon, for all her dumbness and shopping addiction, is quite a darling..

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Namesake

And I am officially the last one to read the book!:(.. EVERYONE i know has already read it and i don't know what took me soo long to actually get the book and read it even after hearing all those awesome reviews for the book and the movie!
so i am not going to say much about it..coz i know you've already read it..
but it was a great book..jhumpa lahiri brought out the true feeelings of an immigrant woman soo perfectly..everything she said hit soo close to home!
i somehow found the whole process of naming "gogol" very hilarious.. ashima's and ashoke's vain attempts to differentiate between "pet name" and "good name" had me rolling on the floor..don't know why!!
and yet there were parts that made me cry.. the worst was when ashoke dies.. tha pain of separation was depicted soo clearly in the book..not just ashima's pain..she was ofcourse completely dependant on ashoke and her pain was obvious.. it was gogol's pain that touched me the most...the hours he spent in the apartment that his dad last occupied and all the thoughts that went through his mind when he was there were soo touching..
it is soo easy to drift away from your parents when you grow get involved in your life and you have your own issues to take care of that their presence seems to be merely a hindrance.. and yet you fell guilty for thinking that way.. i guess every person goes through this stage at some point or the other in their lives and no one could have described it better than jhumpa lahiri..
the behaviour of all second generation indians in the US has also been brought out beautifully.. their lack of attachment to India is understandable as they have none of those nostalgic memories their parents have..
i totally enjoyed reading the book and weeping through it..
and when i finished the book, i decided NOT to watch the movie.. movies are also quite disappointing after the book..whether it was the da vinci code or the harry potter series.. and somehow the images from the movie tend to stick with you..
somehow, the images formed in my mind while reading "the namesake" are beautiful and i do not want to spoil them by watching the movie..coz i know it is not possible to get all the minute details of the book into the movie and that is what i'll miss the most.
amazing book!!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Just A Guy - Notes from a Blue Collar Life

** Bill Engvall is a stand-up comedian and a member of the Blue Collar Comedy Group.

When all that you are looking for is light meaningless reading, "Just a Guy" by the comedian Bill Engvall is not a bad pick. The book caught my life in the library bookshelf when i was browsing for something light to pick up..and not one more sophie kinsella..:) After having seen him on tbs ads for his new comedy show, i decided to pick the book up.. and it was more or less what i wanted.. a really light book that didnt need too much atention, too much thought, but entertained me nevertheless.
The book wasn't spectacularly humourous.. it didnt make me roll on the floor with laughter.. coming to think of it, it didnt even make me smile.. it was just a collection of memories from his life..right from when he was a little boy till when he was married and had kids and a successful career as a comedian..and it was very simply written..
One thing that totally bugged me how he typically like most other comedian men chose the "men-have-only-three-things-on-their-mind" comedy.. i hate that! I mean, why do sitcoms and books have to have irresponsible, foolish men and sensible, intelligent wives to be a succesful comedy sitcom/book?? Bill Engvall bases his book on the theme - I am just a guy.. i have only three things on my mind - water, sleep and sex.
oh come on.. give me a break..that is not even funny any more!
I wouldn't recommend this as a great read.. but it definitely doesn't suck.. so if you are looking for something to keep you occupied for a couple of hours..something that you dont really have to give a thought to ever again after in your life.. you can pick this book up!

The Story of My Life

* This book is the winner of a contest in ABC's "Good Morning America". It is a true life story of Farah Ahmedi, a refugee in the US from Afganisthan.

When you read books like "The Namesake" and "Colony", you are struck by the similarity between the two completely different books...they both involve stories of women..their lives..and both books start AFTER their wedding. The significant things that happen in their lives seem to happen only after the age of 25.. after reading the books, i started to wonder about my own life..these 24 years i led, how significant would they be when look back at my life many years down the lane? my question remains unanswered.. but there is one girl who has experienced more of life/death/sorrows/separation/etc..than many would even dare to imagine in their lives..and all this before celebrating her 18th birthday!

Farah Ahmedi was born in Afganisthan in 1987.. Her childhood was nothing like the sheltered childhood i have experienced. There was always an under current of war and unease in their seemingly normal lives. She lived with her parents and 4 siblings and they seemed to have a pretty normal life according to her.. inspite of hearing bombing occasionally and hearing stories of rockets hitting someone's house and killing just a few people..
School was a two hour concept during the day that was more often closed than open ..thanks to "bad bomb days"..
One day, Farah steps on a land mine that just short of kills her.. the appaling medical conditions of war-ravaged Afganisthan i protrayed through the eyes of an injured 7 year old. She is sent to Germany for a couple of years to get treated. It is here that Farah sees a "normal" life.. women with freedom to do as they please is a new concept for her and peaceful days with no bombings and talk of death.. a surprise!.In spite of missing her family, and a leg (she is put on a prosthetic leg and her other leg is fitted with an artificial knee), Farah begins to enjoy the freedom.
She eventually gets healed and has to return to Afganisthan at the age of 9. Now she begins to see the lacking in all their lives. She talks to her father about moving to a different country.. one with peace..but he is settled in kabul and does not want to move from things that he has been familiar with all his life..
Farah continues to miss germany and scornes at everything Afgani..everything that was her life until she had tasted the freedom.. and then one day, she realizes that her dreams of germany and a free life would remain what they were- a dream.. She decides to shun the german clothes she has been wearing and decides to return to Afgani clothes - her way of showing her family that she has finally accepted reality.
She makes a trip to the clothes store with her mother to get new fabrics for clothes for her..and when they come back from the store..they realize that their lives have been changed for ever.. a rocket bomb landed on their house killing her dad - the pillar of the family..
what follows is years of suffering, an escape to pakistan, and just more suffering there until they suddenly see a light at the end of the tunnel.. The possibility of escape to the US. They eventually land in the US to realize that life here is not a bed of roses.. we realize how diificult life in the US can be for two women who know no english and have been left to fend for themselves..

This is a really touching story.. experience makes Farah soo mature that while reading the book, you have to contantlyremind yourself of her age.. what she has had to go through at such a tendr age is appaling.. makes you realize how gifted you are for leading such a sheltered life..

This story also gives us a better understanding of the state of affairs in Afganisthan than "The Kite Runner" did..

Awesome book..:)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Every list of good english books by indian authors had shashi tharoor's 'Riot' in it and that made me ant to read the book.. just to see what others had enjoyed so much and to see if i would react the same way to the book. Now that i am done with the book , i don't know what it is that i have to rave about more - the style of writing, the content, the characters, the plot.. everything about this book was amazing.
I have never been one for the news papers.. my love for reading unfortunately did not extend to reading news papers and that has always left me lacking in knowledge of affairs happening around me.. i would always know the gist of everything but never really bother to find the details.. due to that careles attitude, events did not have a significant impact on me...Only when i read Riot did i realize how much i missed by not knowing indian history.. i learnt soo much from just that one book and what i liked best about it was the opinion was unbiased.. the babri masjid incient was talked about in detail.. but not from one particular person's point of view.. we got to know how a muslim professor felt about the issue and also the views of a hindu judgements were passed..
the sikh police officer talks aboutoperation blue star and the golden temple in amritsar.. the gory details of innocent sikhs losing their lives as soon as indira gandhi was killed by her own body guards tugged at my heart..
the image of a poor little boy burning alive inside his ambassador car haunts my dreams even now.. the images of indi that this book brings to my mind are ones that i have unconsciously ignored...but can't do so anymore..
somehow, it only makes me miss home more..
one more thing that i liked about this book was that all these facts were presented around a fictitious story. the story of an american public health worker.. a girl who comes to india to help in the upliftment of poor rural women.. she falls in love with a married south indian man and that brings up the differences in american and indian cultures... the difference in views when it comes to marriages, love and life..
the writing style of the book needs special mention.. riot is not a conventional novel.. it is a collection of news paper articles, diary entries, interviews, transcripts, etc.. there is no flow to the story.. you know what happens at the very beginning.. an american girl is killed in a riot in uttar pradesh.. and her parents travel to india to visit the place where she last lived and died in an attempt to find closure..
you can read any chapter in any order and even ignore chapters and you wouldnt really miss the story.. you have the freedom to select and read what you want to know.. it is really nice!
i totally enjoyed reading this books..easily one of the best books i have read by any indian author.. unlike some indian authors who leave a bad after-taste of india once you are done with the book, tharoor leaves a good impression..inspite of the fact that all that book revolves around is a riot! the way, the book has two for the indian edition and one for the american edition.. took the image of the indian edition cover though i read a book with the other cover. this somehow seemed to tug at me more..

Monday, July 2, 2007

A Breath of Fresh Air

Reading an Amulya Malladi novel is like a visit to Saravana Bhavan/ Udipi restuarant.. it is what you turn to when you miss india all that you want is to taste and smell it.. the previous book of hers, The Mango Season did remind me of homemade raw mango pickles and ripe fleshy mango pulp!! and with it came memories of hot indian summers.. and home..
it wasnt just the mango that made me miss home.. it was the story line and the authentic characters.. and that was what made me pick up "A Breath of Fresh Air"..
The book starts with the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, 1984 through the eyes of a victim in the prologue.. and the actual book is set 15 years later.. a complicated web of marriage/betrayal/compromise/sacrifice is woven throughout the novel..
the dreams of young girl getting ready to be married.. hopes of a romance like the ones she's read in Mills and Boons.. meeting a guy through common friends.. and for sometime, she actually believes that her dreams might come true when she realizes that the guy picked for her was from the army.. a very smart and stylish young army officer..a grand wedding takes places and then she is forced to face reality.. behind the facade of a the smart smiling army officer is someone she does not recognize nor like..
the marriage does not survive much beyond the gas tragedy..
Just when she's settled in a different life, 15 years later, she meets her first husband again.. all of them involved are thrown into the confusion together..
And anything more that i say about the book would just reveal everything there is to the book!
The thing that i liked best about the book was the genuineness of the characters..Though we get frustrated at anjali confusion, i guess every woman would go through the same feelings..
the style of writing is very simple and that makes you concentrate wholly on the plot of the novel.. the best part of the book is the accurate portrayal of emotions..
it doesnt take you too long to finish this novel.. but once you are done with it, it stays with you for a while..
another bonus for me in the story was that the second part is completely set in ooty, and it brought back wonderful memories of my childhood.. and made me closer to the book than i expected:)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Bride

So..who is Bapsi Sidhwa? never heard the name before and then she came to speak at the local library here in Atlanta.. That was when i knew that she had all that association with deepa mehta and all those movies enjoyed - earth, water,etc.
the only book my local library had of hers was "the bride" and so i picked that up.. the book started with the india-pakistan separation and i was apprehensive.. i wasnt in a mood for some muslim-hindu banter.. but it turned out that after the first few pages, it was a completely different story.. the story of a man and his little adopted daughter and the strict customs regarding women in the male chauvinistic society.. "the bride" is based on a true, tragic story and through the novel it is quite surprising that the story is actually true.. were women really expected to be like that?? are they expected to be like that even in these days??
zaitoon is all that you expect from a young girl from the indian subcontinent in the 1950s.. uneducated, coy, shy, full of dreams and hopes, filled with a zest for life... as all her friends got married in lahore, zaitoon couldnt help but think of her own future.. and then one day her father announced that he had decided to get her married.. not to one of the men from the plains that she was used to..but to someon from the hills..from the hills of konistan.. from where he originally was..
their friends in lahore are against this idea.. they are not sure that zaitoon would be able to get adjusted to the rough and crude tribal ways after leading a mellow life in lahore..but blinded by his love for the tribal life and his homeland, qasim, the father, decides to keep up his promise and marry zaitoon off to a crude mountain lad..
after the wedding, zaitoon finds herself in a black hole. married life turned out to be nothing like what she expected.. she had definitely not expected it to be filled with suspicion, beatings, lack of trust,etc..
her only choices are to respect her father's decision and endure the cruelty or to go against his wishes, against society and run away.. and running away from the tribal folk was not a good thing...they'd hunt you down and kill u for humiliating the boy.
so what does she do??? thats for us to find out after reading the book..
bapsi sidhwa has a very simplistic style and makes you concentrate totally on the story.
if you've enjoyed watching 'water' and 'earth', you would definitely enjoy this book..
read it!!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Witch Of Portobello

Ever since i read and re-read the Alchemist, i have been wanting to read some other book by Paulo Coelho. So when i found "The Witch of Portobello" i couldn't resist picking the book up.. It had the author and a unique title. I actually liked the book..though it had all the components i dont really enjoy..religion, philosophy, inane theories, etc..
the first thing that drew me to the book was the narration.. interviews, tapes, stories etc have been complied by a narrator(whom we do not know until the end) and thats his way of writing a biography.. he feels that the author's view would give a biased biography and he decides to let different people talk and then he records their views..
the biography of athena.. the enigma, the saint, the sinner, the leader, the mother, the lover, the bank teller, the gypsy,....the witch of portobello..
one other thing that i really like about the book is when paulo brings out the current adaptation of religion.. it longer is what it was intended to be and this is brought out very strongly in this book..
from the beginning you are told that athena was murdered..and you keep turning the pages to figure out why that happened.. and the story of athena from birth to death is told by people who knew her..they either loved her or hated her or just knew her or taught her or learnt from her..
i am not a very philosophical kind of person and concepts such as that of the vertex, etc..concepts that the book is basically built on did not sit very well with me..
but i guess you dont have to completely agree with a book to totally enjoy it.. the style of writing, some kin of vague mysterious element in the story, the strength of athena's character more than made up for all the philosophies..:)
since we are not given one view, we are allowed to reach our own conclusions about athena...its refreshing to have that kind of a freedom when you are reading about a person..
if you have read or are going to read this book..i'd love to have a discussion about it.. if you can ever figure out why she had the urge to give birth , or where she got her predictive powers from, or why she discussed "diet" in her last sermon, or...(the list is kinda too big!).. let me know!!:)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Dispatches from the Edge

This is definitely not the best time to write about a book you just read...or is it? the images are fresh in your mind and you have soo much to say. I just finished "Dispatches from the edge" by Anderson Cooper..yes, THE CNN Anderson Cooper. It is his memoir of war, disasters and survival. Andy Cooper doesn't talk about anything new.. the stories covered are all the same old stories we've heard over and over again.. the tsunami, wars in rwanda, bosnia, iraq, starvation in somalia, hurricane katrina, etc. THough we've heard about all these, reading the crude brutal facts makes you want to cry.
Why is it that when i change channels from a war report to a comedy-sitcom, i feel like the world's become a happier place? people dying are still dying..its just that i chose to change channels.. move away from their reality. i have done it soo often that its become a habit for me.. by not listening to the horror stories of attacks and disasters, i feel that those incidents have not happened.. and i know i am not the only one who shuts out the truth.
So what does it feel like to be in these places right in the middle of action? how does it feel to constantly face death? how does it feel to watch people cry after losing someone special in life? Anderson Cooper has been through it all and his crisp desxriptions are heart rending. It makes you feel guilty for curling up in the couch ready to watch "the break up" , when there are millions of people dying all around the world..
the book is of course not just a description of events..there is a human side to it.. he writes about his feelings as he moves from war sticken iraq to starvation filled somalia to flooded new orleans. What makes the book more personal is ofcourse his personal story.. the loss of his father when he was 10 years old and the even more tragic suicide of his brother when he was about 10 years older..
the book definitely does fill you with grief. in this book, cooper reveals for the first time how deeply affected he has been by the wars, disasters and tragedies he has witnessed..who would'nt be?
another endearing quality about the book is the honesty that is displayed in it.. the reality is not covered and the truth is exposed.. very honestly.
being a public health student, i have come across various talks about the inefficiency in disaster management that was displayed after 9/11 and yet again after hurricane katrina. the reality about how bad it actually was, is brought out in this book. cooper spends about half the book duscussing katrina.. first covering the disaster and then covering the disastrous management of the disaster. the scenario seems so unreal..
i think this book is a must read for all.. it is rather depressing..but i guess it is something that al of us have to face sometime in our lives. we cannot go on living like life's a bed of roses..
it is a definite eye opener..
go read it right away!!:)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Prince Of Tides

I didn't know Pat Conroy.. never heard of him or his books and then i saw his review on the cover of Shantaram and friend commented that he was her favorite author.. that made me pick up "The Prince of Tides".now i can't wait to read his other famous book - Beach Music.
Prince of Tides is about Tom Wingo (who is as southern as southern can be)..from South Carolina.. He comes from a highly dysfunctional family with parents who don't understand each other and a brother,luke, and a sister,savannah. The story line shifts easily between past and present. the present is pretty unhappy - savannah is in the hospital after one more of her numerous suicide attempts and tom goes to new york to meet with her psychiatrist, susan lowenstein. savannah has lost large parts of her memory and susan is trying to help savannah by making tom re-create her past.
if you are looking for a happy book, this is definitely not your pick...i don't think even one character in the book is happy. everyone is plagued by their own worries. Each one deals with their issues in a different way..savannah goes crazy, tom shuts it all in, his wife has an extra marital affair, etc etc. i kept waiting for something happy to happen till the end and i didnt get it. but that of course didnt stop me from liking this deep and emotional book.
the book is very well written and characters are very well defined. by the end of the book, it was as though i had known the wingos all my life.
the book is definitely not dry.. every incident is deeply imprinted in your brain . one of the most unforgettable scene is where tom discovers savannah with her still-born sister in bed one night when they were kids. i guess this is where you start knowing that she's very deeply disturbed..
i dont think any amount of describing will bring the essence of the book out. you have to read it to feel it.
i think that this novel is brilliant and very powerful. the book is like a collection of various short stories.. there is the story of the white porpoise, the story of their grandfather's religious parade, the story of the giant and the black widow spiders,etc.
finding out who the 'prince of tides' of tides is half the suspense in the novel..and the author enthralls you with teasers as he narrates the past and those teasers make you want to complete the novel to find out what actually happens.
i totally loved this book and i truly dont know why.. this is not the kind of book i would typically like.. but i loved it. if you ever get to read this book..let me know what you thought of it!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Shantaram the much talked about shantaram..after of course the whole world was done talking about it. It definitely was a great book. it took forever to finish, but there wasn't a single part where i was bored. its amazing how someone who's not from bombay can write so passionately about the city. and it wasn't just bombay..the mannerisms he described were applicable to people all over india! he's such a keen observer and little things that we so take for granted have amazed him. really interesting to read all that!
one particular part that i enjoyed reading was the part where he travels by the local train for the first time. it totally reminded me of all my train travels. it was really nostalgic. his description of the whole scene was perfect, as expected, and i dont think any one could have described it better than he did.
if you are reading this review and you STILL havent read shantaram (i'll be glad that i am not the worst ever!) definitely have to go and pick it up immediately.. you're not going to put it down fast, i can assure you, but its a real experience.
For the uninitiated, shantaram is a novel by gregory david roberts, a convicted australian bank robber and heroin addict who escapes from prison and finds himself in bombay and later moves to afganistan,etc. the novel is based on his own life. its not just a narrative.. throughout the book, there are these little philosophical interludes that blend into the story. i am not too much of a philosophy person, i really did enjoy reading it in the context of the book.
the main characters in the book are really intense. unknowingly, you get totally get absorbed into the book. you begin to look forward to prabakar's entries coz they definitely bring a smile to your lips and you start admiring abdel khader khan, you cry when something sad happens (Atleast i did)..and when you are finally done with the book, you miss them all. i definitely missed the book and characters for weeks after i was done with the book. i did feel drained enough and i couldnt read another book for a while..but it was really worth all that!
the movie can never ever do justice to the book because the best part of the book is not the story, but the way the story has been told and i dont think any movie can capture the essence of that. so i am not really looking forward to the movie..but i think i'll watch it anyways.sometimes looking back at the book i wonder if it had been shorter, would it have had the same impact? was the deep bonding you felt with the book partly because of its length and the time you took to complete it?? i dont know..
it definitely wasnt as boring as "a suitable boy" though.. that book bored me to death and i couldnt wait for it to get over..this was definitely different..
in short, i think i liked it:) not a "best book i EVER read" category.. but definitely nice!:)

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Kite Runner

Iknow this blog's been left idle for a while.. its not like i havent been reading.. i have managed to pick up a few books amdst everything else thats been happening but frankly, none of them were really worth writing about.. I have already written about a couple of the Sophie Kinsella books i read and i managed to read some more of her books.. but there was nothing different about them...nothing really worth writing about. And then finally, i got my hangs on a book..and it definitely is one of the best books i have EVER read..the kite runner by Khaled Hosseini. One raving review about this book and i definitely wanted to read it. The first thing that drew me to the book was the fact that it was based in Afganisthan. I definitely wanted to read about the political unrest in Afganisthan and what better way to do it than read about it in a fiction novel with a strong story line????I was warned before hand about the pathos in the story and i am thankful for the warning.
In case you havent read a "good" book in a while and you are looking for something "deep"..this is definitely it! IT is a really touching tale focusing on the friendship between two little boys. The story is about Amir who is suddenly thrown far away from his normal life.. Everything seemed to be fun and happy and normal until one winter day suddenly starts changing his life and before he realises it, he finds himself in America..Life moves on and finally things fall into place. Everything seems to be finally normal and settled when a phone call from Pakistan changes the momentum of his life again..
i dont think i can ever do justice to the description of this story..its power and sensitivity and genuinity can only be experienced first hand.
There are definitely no frills and "comic-relief"s in the story.. it comes like a bomb out of the clear blue sky. I loved this book and if you ever get to read it, let me know what you thought of it too..:)