Short Book Review: Dusklands by J. M. Coetzee

Dusklands by J. M. CoetzeeSBR: Dusklands‘ language is beautiful to the extent that it can be hard to read sometimes. But the darkness explored through the themes of imperialism, war, and adventurous exploration in the two stories of the book has the ability to send a chill down your spine. I suppose I don’t need to make more of a case for a Nobel-prize winning writer.
To read or not to read: Yes, unless you spurn darkness in your reading material.

Short Book Review: Three Daughters by Consuelo Saah Baehr

Three Daughters by Consuelo Saah BaehrSBR: Three Daughters is interesting in the beginning. Set at the turn of 20th century in a Christian village near Jerusalem, it takes you to a time and culture you may not know much about (remember, this is pre-Israel). But as a long multi-generational saga (The three daughters of the title are from three generations) it later becomes repetitive, boring and pointless. I would have been happy to read the story of the just the first daughter and then a half, with more information on how historical changes of unprecedented magnitude were affecting people in the region. As for the daughters themselves, the author’s approach to their love life, which initially seemed like a way to assert a woman’s desires and sexuality, later turned into sordid, gratuitous sex scenes. Despite initial promise, the length and multi-generational story is the undoing of the book.
To read or not to read: Skip, unless you really have lots of time to kill.

Short Book Review: A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne

A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne BerneSBR: A Crime in the Neighborhood has a story that promises revelations, but ends up being the tale of a young girl strangely unapologetic about destroying an innocent man’s life. There is some charm in the description of a quiet, middle-class neighborhood, everything ordinary, petty and pointless about the life there on display. But it becomes too much pretty quickly. Beyond a point, I wasn’t sure why I was reading the book.
To read or not to read: I don’t see the point of it unless you are nostalgic about life in a Washington DC suburb in the 1970s.

Short Book Review: The Second Girl by David Swinson

The Second Girl by David SwinsonSBR: The Second Girl is an interesting piece of crime fiction featuring a closeted drug-addict ex-cop as the private investigator. Not much can be said without revealing the plot, but it makes an entertaining read. You may not like the protagonist. That is not a bad thing in my world, but some readers seem put off by that.

To read or not to read: Yes, if you are looking for a light, entertaining read.

Short Book Review: The Prisoner by Omar Shahid Hamid

The Prisoner by Omar Shahid HamidSBRThe Prisoner is completely different from another book by a similar name I have read and reviewed. This one is a suspense-thriller based in modern Karachi and takes you into the underbelly of the city. Unabashed about the corruption and police-crime-politics-army nexus, it makes an enlightening read. I don’t think that there is any extraordinary merit in the story or plot. But I liked reading the book just for the setting. Plus the characters are unapologetically gray. They are in an environment where survival is not possible without becoming a part of the corruption in the system. So the basic level of corruption in innate in everyone and doesn’t give rise to any dissonance. Despite that overarching amorality, they have their system of showing, judging and rewarding honor, loyalty, friendship and a sense of justice.

To read or not to read: Not if you are looking for a great thriller, but worth a read for insights into Pakistani society and politics.

Short Book Review: The Greatest Bengali Stories Even Told by Arunava Sinha

The Greatest Bengali Stories Even Told by Arunava SinhaSBR: Arunava Sinha is a terrific and prolific translator of Bengali literature. So if there is a translation of Bengali stories done by him, I guess you have to pick it up. The stories are from various Bengali authors, many of them famous and well-known, spanning multitudes of genres. So there isn’t much to review. It’s a good book to have.

To read or not to read: If you are not set against reading short stories, there is no reason why you shouldn’t.

Short Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

Earthsea - the first four books by Ursula K. Le GuinSBR: We are talking about the first three novels of the Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin. My fantasy reading before this is limited to A Song of Ice and Fire series and Harry Potter. The former is more drama than fantasy, and the latter, hardcore fantasy readers don’t consider fantasy at all. Meaning, I am not a fantasy reader. That might be the reason why these acclaimed books didn’t work for me. I hope I am not blaspheming here, but I found too much fantasy and too little plot or character in the books.

To read or not to read: Going by the fame, fantasy readers will not want to miss it. Others may not want to start reading fantasy here. Or they may want to. Because apparently a lot of latter fantasy writing took inspiration from Le Guin.

Short Book Review: I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh

I Let You Go by Claire MackintoshSBR: I Let You Go is a fairly well-received crime-suspense novel, which didn’t work for me. The suspense was maintained not so much by the story, but the way the author decided to offer or withhold crucial information from the reader. As a police procedural, it was perhaps a fine story. Looking to read a suspense novel, I felt cheated.

To read or not to read: I don’t give a strong yay or nay to this one. Read it if you are an avid suspense reader. Else you won’t miss much.

Short Book Review: The Princes by Manohar Malgonkar

The Princes by Manohar MalgonkarSBR: The Princes is a charming, well-written book that doesn’t pretend to make a grand statement. It is narrated in the first-person voice of the heir-apparent of one of the small, deteriorating princely states of pre-independence India. It’s a bitter-sweet story of an old patriarch clinging to the old ways of life and his son feeling torn between his feelings of love and respect for his father, and his understanding of the changes coming with the rise of nationalism in the country that will inevitably sweep the parasitic class of prices away.

To read or not to read: Yes. An interesting subject and good writing. But we got hold of a second-hand copy. It might be difficult to come by as the only edition I see on is a ridiculously priced imported edition.

Short Book Review: The Prisoners by Jorasandho

SBR: The Prisoners is a Bengali book, translated into many languages. I read it in English. It is a collection of short stories. Each story is about a prisoner in one of the Indian jails. The stories are set in pre-independence days and draw their inspiration from the author’s real-life encounters as a jailor. In today’s era, when we are used to hearing insider stories from all kinds of institutions, jails and judiciary included, the book doesn’t come across as particularly striking for its subject matter. Stories also feel too sanitized to my jaded mind. But it is an interesting read nonetheless, given the different kinds of people he talks about. From royalties and middle-class bhadra-lok to outlawed freedom fighters and outright criminals. The emotions can be complex and circumstances weird, and he captures them all.

To read or not to read: We got hold of it in a second-hand bookshop. Can’t find it on; so it might be a bit difficult to get hold of. You don’t need to go out of the way to find it, but if you do get it, it makes a decent one-time read.