Short Book Review: Lord John’s Dilemma by G.G. Vandagriff

SBR: My mood was particularly bleak and I didn’t think I could handle anything with even a whiff of the real world in it. Lord John’s Dilemma by G.G. Vandagriff is a romance novel that came in handy. Inspired by and compared to Georgette Heyer’s books, this is a Regency romance and paying due respect to the period, the protagonists do not jump into the bed from the very first page, which is such a relief. It has the feel-good, happy ending you want to read in the genre, where good people get all they deserve, namely money and their chosen life-partner. It tamed my bleak mood sufficiently.

To read or not to read: Yes, if you are a romance reader.

Book Recommendation: Aapka Bunty by Mannu Bhandari (आपका बंटी, मन्नू भंडारी)

Once again, I am recommending a Hindi book for which I can’t locate an English translation (See earlier recommendation – Ghumakkad Shashtra by Rahul Sankrityayan). According to Wikipedia, Aapka Bunty by Mannu Bhandari has been translated into many languages, including English. However, I don’t know inside which moth-eaten cupboard those translations are gathering dust. But this is the kind of book that makes being a multilingual reader worth it.

It is the story of Bunty, a young boy in 1970s, dealing with the separation, eventual divorce, and the remarriages of his parents. That such a relevant and contemporary, but controversial and difficult subject was picked up by the writer in Hindi is an achievement by itself. But it is only the first of the many merits of this book.

It is considered a classic study of child psychology. The author, perhaps, had no such academic goals in mind but has succeeded none the less.

The opinion of the author or the stand of the story on the issue of divorce itself is ambiguous. Because although once in a while we are served the mother’s point of view, the story otherwise is seen solely from Bunty’s eyes. And hence the focus is on the child and the world as it takes shape in his head. The result is a story that goes far beyond the description generally used for it: effect of a divorce on a child.  It is a story of the child’s mind itself. And it is a story of how the adults around him absolutely fail to understand that mind. It is the story of the adults who expect mechanical behavior out of children. If you give them a gift, they are supposed to become happy. If you put them in a room with other children, they are supposed to make friends. They are also supposed to immune to everything that is going on in the life of the adults around them, even when it affects them deeply. They are supposed to behave well without ever being given the tools to deal with the changes. The adults will not talk to them because they are children. But their reactions are treated as adult reactions. If they are showering love at you, it is because they understand everything great about you, even though you haven’t thought it necessary to communicate with them. If they are acting out, it is because they want to hurt you, even though they are the helpless, dependent ones in the relationship who would achieve nothing and lose everything if the adults turned their backs of them.

The author shows us what the adults in the story are refusing to look into. No wonder I almost rebelled on Bunty’s behalf as him being a problem child turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. I kept screaming: “Talk to him!” By the end of it, it wasn’t a story about the effect of a divorce on a child. It was a story about the adult world refusing to communicate with the children’s world and destroying it in the process. It was the story of any family crisis that can turn a precocious, healthy, intelligent child into a “problem child”.

A must-read story.

Book Description

Below is the description from the book’s cover.

आपका बंटी आपका बंटी मन्नू भंडारी के उन बेजोड़ उपन्यासों में है जिनके बिना न बीसवीं शताब्दी के हिन्दी उपन्यास की बात की जा सकती है न स्त्री-विमर्श को सही धरातल पर समझा जा सकता है। तीस वर्ष पहले (1970 में) लिखा गया यह उपन्यास हिन्दी की लोकप्रिय पुस्तकों की पहली पंक्ति में है। दर्जनों संस्करण और अनुवादों का यह सिलसिला आज भी वैसा ही है जैसा धर्मयुग में पहली बार धारावाहिक के रूप से प्रकाशन के दौरान था।

बच्चे की निगाहों और घायल होती संवेदना की निगाहों से देखी गई परिवार की यह दुनिया एक भयावह दुःस्वप्न बन जाती है। कहना मुश्किल है कि यह कहानी बालक बंटी की है या माँ शकुन की। सभी तो एक-दूसरे में ऐसे उलझे हैं कि एक की त्रासदी सभी की यातना बन जाती है।

शकुन के जीवन का सत्य है कि स्त्री की जायज महत्त्वाकांक्षा और आत्मनिर्भरता पुरुष के लिए चुनौती है – नतीजे में दाम्पत्य तनाव उसे अलगाव तक ला छोड़ता है। यह शकुन का नहीं, समाज में निरन्तर अपनी जगह बनाती, फैलाती और अपना क़द बढ़ाती  ‘नई स्त्री’का सत्य है। पति-पत्नी के इस द्वन्द्व में यहाँ भी वही सबसे अधिक पीसा जाता है, जो नितान्त निर्दोष, निरीह और असुरक्षित है – बंटी।

बच्चे की चेतना में बड़ों के इस संसार को कथाकार मन्नू भंडारी ने पहली बार पहचाना था। बाल मनोविज्ञान की गहरी समझ-बूझ के लिए चर्चित, प्रशंसित इस उपन्यास का हर पृष्ठ ही मर्मस्पर्शी और विचारोत्तेजक है।

हिन्दी उपन्यास की एक मूल्यवान उपलब्धि के रूप में आपका बंटी एक कालजयी उपन्यास है।

Purchase Links

Other Books by the Author

Mannu Bhandari is a prolific writer. Check out her Amazon page for her other book.

 

 

Short Book Review: Poonachi, Or the Story of a Black Goat by Perumal Murugan

SBR: Having read and admired One Part Woman, I was looking forward to reading this “comeback” novel by Perumal Murugan. The most interesting part of Poonachi, Or the Story of a Black Goat, however, is its preface and not the actual content. The author’s frustration takes a witty turn in it when explains why he chose to write about a goat. The actual story itself seems to be concerned with too many things at once – poverty, authoritarian and paranoid regime, parental oppression, the lot of women in the society, agrarian distress, etc. A few more were left dangling some of which I could make out, others I couldn’t. The issues are all important, but they seem to be forced down the reader’s throat one after the other and I couldn’t quite connect with the story.  I am happy that the author has come back after the pathetic and dangerous controversy around One Part Woman had made him swear to never write again. But he appears to be in a hurry to write about everything to make up for the lost time.

To read or not to read: You can skip. Read One Part Woman, if you haven’t already. Perhaps other earlier books by the author would also be better picks than this one.

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.