Short Book Review: B is for Burglar by Sue Grafton

B is for Burglar by Sue GraftonSBR: After starting the Alphabet series by Sue Grafton on a high note with the first book A is for Alibi, I didn’t enjoy the second book B is for Burglar that much. The mystery part of the story was entertaining enough. But since the story is written from the point of view of the detective-protagonist (a female private investigator Kinsey Millhone), mystery-solving proceeds at a realistic, slow pace. We face the drudgery of the job just like her, documenting all her jogs and runs along the way. Nothing else in the story enlivens the experience. We read detailed visual descriptions of what everyone in the book wore and what their hairstyles were like. But we don’t really see them, not in any interesting multi-dimensional form well-written characters should take, not even through the dialogs and conversations. We learn nothing new about the protagonist or any recurring character from the first book of the series. Overall, I found myself plodding through the book, which isn’t an experience I seek when I am reading mystery.

To read or not to read: The series has its share of fans, but I wouldn’t recommend it moving on the top of your TBR pile.

Short Book Review: Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. CoetzeeSBR: Before I ever read Waiting for the Barbarians, I had been exposed to so much admiration for it from many people whose recommendations I take seriously that now I feel annoyed at myself not really liking it. I also feel very lonely in my distaste for the book. Ah! It feels good to be able to say that out loud.
Coetzee’s prose is beautiful and the story is an important one. But what is the protagonist of Disgrace doing in this story? Why is this story being told from the point of view of a middle-aged man who is obsessed with his sexuality, who seems to secretly loathe himself for it, but who preys upon young women all the same, and then instead of dealing with his self-loathing, tries to philosophize about it pointlessly? He achieves nothing, he can achieve nothing in the story but for some reason, he is at the center of it. It is annoying that the most important observations of the story are being spouted from his mouth. It doesn’t help that female characters exist not to be fleshed out, but only to be used (by him!). My complaint is not that the protagonist is not likable. (Who wants a goody two shoes for a protagonist?) But that he has been indulged so much by the author in a story that doesn’t belong to him. All the torture meted out to him is purely wanton. And one wonders why would he be given so much attention even as a receptacle for the violence of his captors. In a messed up system they belong to, surely they have more cunning usage for their violence.
Dusklands was great, but after Disgrace and Waiting for the Barbarians, I think I am done with Coetzee for a while. If I do pick up another book, I would need some serious assurance beforehand that it doesn’t have a self-loathing, middle-aged man philosophizing about his libido and getting off on being disgraced.
To read or not to read: Not on my recommendation. But it is an acclaimed book, so I won’t stop you from reading it!

Short Book Review: Everybody Loves a Good Drought by P. Sainath

SBR: Everybody Loves a Good Drought by P. Sainath is a book that can shake you to the core. Even if the situation of the poor and most vulnerable people in our country described there is not a surprise to you, reading the hopelessness of it all laid bare is a chilling experience.
For reading in 2018, this book is old. Published in 1996, it is essentially a collection of articles written during a journalism fellowship between 1993 and 1995. So, the data is old. Some of the developments people wished for (mid-day meals in schools, for example) are more widespread. But what is also unfortunately true is that the stories have not changed.
The one complaint I have is that the book is simply a bunch of newspapers articles collected and printed together. Some additional information has been provided by the author here and there. But there are lots of overlaps in the stories because multiple stories have been written from the same region. The book would have been much more concise, and still impactful if the content had been redone to avoid repetition and bring out the themes more lucidly for the reader. Right now, you are reading about the “third crop” or high productivity of the poorest region in Orissa multiple times and the task of connecting related information in different articles is left to you.
To read or not to read: Yes. Although if you are short on time, you needn’t read cover to cover. You can pick up a couple of stories from each section and get an excellent insight into what is really going on with the people we don’t see.

Short Book Review: The Last Question and The Last Answer by Issac Asimov

The Last Question by Issac AsimovSBR: The Last Question and The Last Answer by Issac Asimov are two short stories, not full-length books. I am not a science fiction reader and these were recommended to me by a friend and her science fiction loving Mom. I have to admit that I am not the right person to review the genre and to top that Asimov is Asimov! But even as a non-reader of the genre, I enjoyed the stories.
To read or not to read: Yes. You have, perhaps, already read them if you are a science fiction reader. If not, why not take a peep into the world through these stories?

A Tricky Kindle Prime Day Deal: Poonachi by Perumal Murugan

Poonachi: Or the Story of a Black Goat by Perumal Murugan is available in Kindle version for ~Rs. 97 and hardcover version for Rs. 102. The hardcover version is slightly tricky though, because as of now, it is the regular price that shows us as Rs. 102. If you click on the “Deal of the Day” link, it actually takes you to the higher priced version! So stick to the regular price one, if you are buying hardcover (I just did!).

Kindle Prime Day Deals: Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra and Others

If the launch of the Netflix show, controversies around subtitling and a PIL to defend Rajiv Gandhi’s honor has not made you curious about Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra, I don’t know what will! It is a voluminous book (I own the paperback). So, while you may not be able to finish it before watching the series, you might want to grab a discounted version on Kindle (Rs. 139)!

Also available for only Rs. 17.70 is Krishna’s Secret by Devdutt Pattanaik if you are a fan of his mythological research.

My Husband and Other Animals by Janaki Lenin is available for only Rs. 9 too. This book was discussed in BYOB Party once. You can read about it in this post.

Another book I came across is The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty by Kavita Kane. It is priced at Rs. 69. I don’t know anything else about the book, but the premise of a book on Mahabharata with Satyavati as the determined protagonist sounds interesting. Check out if you would like to give it a try.

Short Book Review: A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

A is for Alibi by Sue GraftonSBR: Sue Grafton is famous for her “alphabet series” of detective novels. But I got introduced to her only with the news of her death last year (because of which the “Z” novel of the series will never be written now). A is for Alibi is, predictably, the first one of the series. The protagonist of the series is a female private detective, which is refreshing for the genre. The story is fairly interesting and has enough deaths and twists and turns to keep you interested. Some plot points are unbelievable (like the initial conviction for the murder being investigated), but I don’t bother much with them. This is a genre I read for entertainment. I would have liked to know a bit more about our good detective though. There was very little in this one. But I am hoping that more about the character will be revealed in the other books of the series.
To read or not to read: Yes, if you are looking for an entertaining read and detective fiction is your genre.

Book Recommendation: From the Ruins of Empire by Pankaj Mishra

From the Ruins of Empire by Pankaj MishraWhether it makes you feel rambunctious, resigned or resentful, the reality is that in the modern world the only perspective on history, political discourse as well as moral imperatives that commands legitimacy has been the western one. The reason for that is not profound or surprising. It is the old story of history being written by the victors. And despite the decolonization in the 20th century and waxing and waning fortunes of individual nations, the West, as a whole, has managed to remain powerful in the world order. So has their perspective.

The resentful attempts at reverting this intellectual domination shoot themselves in the foot by failing to distinguish between the message, the messenger, and the method (of arriving at that message). They disparage the message, because it came from the western messenger, and as far as the method is concerned, who cares? At least in India, we have known everything since Vedic times. These attempts also tend to be very narrow in their outlook. Their wet dream would be to replace the western domination of ideas with their own. It isn’t aimed at exploring and accepting multiple different perspectives before trying to come up with a universal theory if one is at all possible. At their core, these attempts are defensive and expose deep-seated insecurity and inferiority complex.

In this context From the Ruins of Empire is an important book.

It is Important because it challenges the western perspective by using the methods that have legitimacy in the modern world (you can call them “western” if you will). The result is a book that isn’t marred by defensiveness or any kind of inferiority or superiority complex. It doesn’t feel the need to achieve an outright victory for an alternate perspective, but it goes out and states the perspective boldly.

As far as the content is concerned, the book follows the history of Asia in the 19th and 20th century, which first saw its subjugation by Europe and then independence in one form or the other. But more importantly, it traces the evolution of Asian thought through the period. Here we see the birth, evolution, struggles, contradictions, adaptations, appropriations and suppression of ideas like Pan-Asianism, Pan-Islamism, value of Confucianism or ancient Indian thoughts, Islamic Revival and others which played an important role in resistance to the West. Many of these don’t get enough attention in the conventional narratives. Even in the Asian countries themselves. In India, for example, the desperate need of nation-building after independence has led to a flattening of the history – the creation of a simplified story starring bad foreigners and good freedom fighters. The inconvenient and nuanced thoughts, even when native, are suppressed or completely removed. We sing Tagore’s national anthem but do not know the apprehensions he had about nation states. The West has, of course, done its own whitewashing. By bringing all that out this books gives the various non-western perspective of history strong legs to stand on. Western intellect has not given us all the answers we need. At the same time, bravely, this book recognizes that the alternate perspective doesn’t really give all the answers the modern world needs either. The following quote is an important one:

The rise of Asia, and the assertiveness of Asian peoples, consummates their revolt against the West that began more than century ago; it is in many ways the revenge of the East.

Yet this success conceals an immense intellectual failure, one that has profound ramifications for the world today and the near future.

It is simply this: no convincingly universalist response exists today to Western ideas of politics and economy, even though these seem increasingly febrile and dangerously unsuitable in large parts of the world.

We need more books like these, covering more aspects of history, politics, economy, and morality of it all.

Book Description

Below is the book description from the publisher’s website.

Viewed in the West as a time of self-confident progress, the Victorian period was experienced by Asians as a catastrophe. As the British gunned down the last heirs to the Mughal Empire or burned down the Summer Palace in Beijing, it was clear that for Asia to recover a new way of thinking was needed. Pankaj Mishra re-tells the history of the past two centuries, showing how a remarkable, disparate group of thinkers, journalists, radicals and charismatics emerged from the ruins of empire to create an unstoppable Asian renaissance, one whose ideas lie behind everything from the Chinese Communist Party to the Muslim Brotherhood, and have made our world what it is today.

Purchase Links

Other Books by the Author

I haven’t read any other books by the author, but here is a list on his wikipedia page. Many of them have received great acclaim.

 

 

Short Book Review: Post Mortem by Peter Terrin

Post Mortem by Peter TerrinSBR: When a writer decides to write a novel about a writer who, in turn, writes a novel about a writer, it shouldn’t be surprising that you get a book with rich, imaginative language, but self-indulgent content. There is a father struggling with a sad tragedy in his beloved daughter’s life. But if the reader was supposed to feel connected, that just doesn’t happen. There are a novelist and a biographer with their own journeys, but in the end, I felt like I didn’t care for any of it. It’s not about not liking the characters, it’s about feeling rather indifferent towards them and bored with their story.
Peter Terrin is a Belgian writer. Post Mortem was originally written in Dutch. The English translation is pretty good.
To read or not to read: No. Unless you like navel-gazing novels.

Short Book Review: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace ThackeraySBR: In the second decade of the twenty-first century, sitting in the thoroughly modern Indian city of Bangalore, the cares and concerns and games of British elites and social climbers of the early nineteenth century, even in their earnest, read like satire. Vanity Fair happens to be a satirical look at that society written in the middle of that century itself. Hence, reading it is not particularly an eye-opener. But it is a reminder of how we also live in our own Vanity Fair. The fashions and languages and vogues may change, but Vanity Fair remains. It is a well-known and acclaimed classic and justifiably so. Be warned, though, it is fairly long (and was originally published as a serial).
To read or not to read: Yes, if you are a reader of classics. Otherwise, don’t bother pushing it on the top of your to-read list. You can peruse it at your leisure if you so fancy!