Short Book Review: Gujarat Files by Rana Ayyub

GujaratFilesSBR: Gujarat Files by Rana Ayyub is the result of some brave work. Going undercover with a different identity, a different religion and doing stings operations on some of the top government officials in a state known for its vengeful ways of governance is not a job for the weak of heart. The stories that come out are chilling, even though not surprising for people who are not blind fans of our prime minister, his party, and his associates. What was slightly surprising for me was that she was able to get people into such controversial and intimate conversations with the ostensible objective of making a film on Gujarat (its glory, it seemed implied, and not the dark underbelly that she was really researching and managed to get people to talk about). Unfortunately, the book is not well-edited. A rewriting to tighten of the narrative was required. This vitiates the book’s potential impact. The untranslated Hindi parts of the transcripts can pose a challenge to non-Hindi speakers and hinder their understanding.
To read or not to read: It is not a must-read with any urgency. But do buy it, even if it is just to show a middle finger to the Internet trolls who have been hard at work on Amazon reviews since the moment the book has released.

Book Recommendation: One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan

One Part WomanEveryone knows about the controversial novel One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan thanks to the hooliganism of the self-appointed guardians of Indian culture. But controversy, although it introduced me to the book, is not why I am recommending it here. The reason for the recommendation is simple. It is a beautiful story and a well-written one. The English translation by Aniruddhan Vasudevan reads smooth, and hence even though I can’t read the original, I am convinced that it does justice to the original work.

The descriptions and the characters transport you hundred years back to the little, sleepy village in Tamilnadu, which is the scene of the aching story. In a time and society where children are the sole reason and purpose of a marriage, and fertility treatments are several decades into the future, what happens to the lives of a childless couple? The medicines are not working. The gods ae not listening. Another tradition offers a way out. A tradition that acknowledges the primal emotions and instincts, as well as the social necessities. But already, at the time of the story, the morality is changing. The tradition may not be conducive to a “modern” couple’s relationship.

You get sucked into Kani and Ponna’s love, their pain and their dilemma. And before you know it, it has become your own story, the story of people around you. The struggle for living up to societal expectations, the cruelty in the event of failure, the difficult choices presented, occasional philosophical realization of the futility of it all, it is everyone’s story. Read it.

Book Description

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

All of Kali and Ponna’s efforts to conceive a child—from prayers to penance, potions to pilgrimages—have been in vain. Despite being in a loving and sexually satisfying relationship, they are relentlessly hounded by the taunts and insinuations of the people around them. Ultimately, all their hopes and apprehensions come to converge on the chariot festival in the temple of the half-female god Ardhanareeswara and the revelry surrounding it. Everything hinges on the one night when rules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman is sanctioned. This night could end the couple’s suffering and humiliation. But it will also put their marriage to the ultimate test. Acutely observed, One Part Woman lays bare with unsparing clarity a relationship caught between the dictates of social convention and the tug of personal anxieties, vividly conjuring an intimate and unsettling portrait of marriage, love and sex.

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Book Recommendation: City of Spies by Sorayya Khan


City of SpiesBelated Post for May 2016

City of Spies by Sorayya Khan has a surprisingly benign and soothing spirit to it belying the turbulent times and events it is set in. The point of view is also curious. It isn’t that of an insider defending Pakistan. It isn’t one of an outsider berating it either. The protagonist – a young girl – is simultaneously an insider and an outsider. There isn’t much of a plot in the story, and things that do happen are mostly historically known. But it keeps you riveted to the pages (screen in my case, as I read it on Kindle). The reason is that the protagonist Aliya’s struggle to make sense of the world around her is not only her own. We all struggle with that, and not just as children or adolescents. But well into our adulthood, perhaps all our lives.

It is coming of age story for people of all ages. Not to be put aside as meant only for young adults.

Book Description

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

‘God was everywhere, but so was the general.’

It is the summer of 1977 and Pakistan swelters in the unrelenting heat. Weeks after her eleventh birthday, Aliya Shah wakes up to the news that there has been a coup d’état, General Zia has taken over the country and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is in jail. Although the shadow of the general and his increasingly puritanical edicts threaten to disrupt their comfortable existence, life goes on for Aliya much as before as she attends the American
School in Islamabad.

However, when a much loved young boy, the son of the family retainer, dies tragically in a hit-and-run accident, her world is turned upside down, especially when she discovers the terrible secret of the murderer’s identity.

City of Spies is coming-of-age story that explores Aliya’s conflicting loyalties and her on-going struggle to make sense of her world. Set in late 1970’s Islamabad and Lahore, City of Spies is a gripping novel that unfolds over thirty months in Pakistan’s tumultuous history.

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Short Book Review: ABC of Relativity by Bertrand Russell

ABC Of RelativitySBR: A Physics course in the very first year at IITK had taught me the formulae related to the special theory of relativity.  But my interest in philosophy has kindled in recent past and I felt that puzzling on metaphysical questions in the 21st century is insincere without some intuitive understanding of things like relativity and quantum physics. And it was to gain this understanding, beyond Mathematics, that I picked up ABC of Relativity. This book might very well be the best attempt to explain relativity as non-mathematically as possible. But here is the heart-breaking truth. There is no understanding relativity without mathematics. Things became unintelligible after a while unless I started seeing them mathematically. If the intent is to explain relativity to a non-mathematical mind, beyond a limited point, the book fails. But what must be said here is that perhaps no other book will succeed half as well. Also, Russell’s is a brilliant mind. So sometimes what he mentions casually in a few sentences, as if it is the most obvious thing in the world, needs a lot of concentration and deliberation to understand.
To read or not to read: So long as you don’t expect to curl up in the bed and gain a breezy understanding of relativity, this book can be a good starting point. But don’t expect to avoid mathematics.

Short Book Review: This Unquiet Land by Barkha Dutt

This Unquiet LandSBR:  This Unquiet Land is a historical account of  a bunch of issues faced by India today, the content mostly deriving from the author’s work as a journalist. It covers issues like our wars with our neighbors, Kashmir, religious tensions, caste, class, gender justice, liberalization, politics etc. It makes for a pretty good read, although there is no extraordinary insight you get if you are a regular consumer of news. Once in a while, you get to see something of the personal side of important people, or Barkha Dutt’s impression of them, but that isn’t something I would read the book for. It is also surprisingly uncontroversial, the tone that of strict journalistic neutrality, and judgments, when passed, reserved for the non-contentious issues. The right-wing Internet trolls wasted their time in writing those one-star book reviews on Amazon as soon as the book came out.
The pages spent chronicling her personal growth, or her long replies to her critics can tire you, but otherwise it is a well-written summary of the issues it intends to summarize.
To read or not to read: If you are bewildered with 24/7 news like me and find it difficult to keep track of even the important issues, this book is a good way to catch up. Else you won’t benefit much and can skip.

Short Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahreinheit 451SBR:  I read Fahrenheit 451 to brave out the disappointment that Brave New World had been.  And I was fairly successful. The book is partly futuristic and partly metaphorical. For a book-lover, there is something inherently identifiable in a dystopia brought about by burning of the books! But that can also be a criticism of the book. That it is excessively partial to books as the carriers of good things in life. Books disappearing need not mean everything meaningful and intellectual disappearing from life. However, Bradbury seems to anticipate this criticism. Hence, the elderly Faber says in the book, “It’s not the books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books … The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not.”
To read or not to read: If you are someone who goes all gooey inside at those grand or sweet quotes about books, you must read this book! And if you think that the society is increasingly producing people who are intellectually dumb, you will find a companion in this book for sure.

Short Book Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New WorldSBR:  Despite it being a classic, and being credited with predicting so many things about future correctly, and being compared and contrasted with 1984, I did not like Brave New World. Because the futuristic world Huxley creates is very shallow and the story he narrates pretty flat. He takes some of the prevalent moral dogmas, turns them on their heads and creates this brave new world. But if you do turn the moral dogmas on their heads, the world cannot remain the same otherwise. For example, it is difficult to digest a society that treats promiscuity as the norm for both the genders but has the same gender equation as our current society. The author forgets to consider the effects of the changes he has brought in the society. The world is unconvincing, not for being futuristic, but for being devoid of any character. At no point does the story or the characters evoke any feeling (apart from boredom) in you.
To read or not to read: Read only if you need to complete your to-read classics list.  It isn’t a good read as a dystopian fiction.

Short Book Review: The Devotion of Suspect X by Kiego Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect XSBR: I decided to read The Devotion of Suspect X because when I looked around to see what people were saying about my previous Higashino read, those who had liked that book, and even those who hadn’t, were recommending this one. I don’t know if it is about the order in which you read things, but I liked Salvation of a Saint better than this one. It could partly be because the quality of translation might not have done justice to The Devotion of Suspect X. What is interesting in this book, however, is that you know within the first few pages who committed the crime and how. Still the book manages to hold your attention.
To read or not to read: Yes if you like mysteries. Otherwise, there is no reason to start reading with this one.

Short Book Review: Devices and Desires by P. D. James

Devices and DesiresSBR: Devices and Desires by P. D. James is a different sort of a mystery fiction in the sense that most of the book is not focussed on the detective activities, but the affected characters and their lives. While I liked that, overall, the book didn’t work for me. The same things were being said about the characters again and again in the beginning and it made for a boring start. Even though the story did become interesting later on, the lack of enough detective work became a weak point at that stage. Only the reader gets to know the complete story, which by itself is an interesting plot device, but the way reader gets to know it is all forced and contrived. It was as if at one point of time the author realized that too much has been written and now the story needs to be wrapped up. So she quickly starts introducing conversations which would explain it all.
To read or not to read: Some of the Amazon reviewers who didn’t like this book still  liked the earlier ones in the Adam Dalgleish mystery series of which this is the eighth  book. So if you haven’t read the series it might be better to start with one of the early ones rather than this particular book.