Short Book Review: The Extras by Kiran Nagarkar

The ExtrasSBR: Although I am a die-hard fan of the author, this book just doesn’t work. It is the sequel of brilliant and hilarious Ravan And Eddie. The former was absurd, funny and hard-hitting, as it traced the childhood of two boys residing in the same chawl in Mumbai but separated by their floors, religion and ‘family feud’! The Extras takes us into their adulthood, but fails to keep up the absurdity quotient and jarringly alternates between being bawdy plus funny and being overly reflective plus serious, the latter becoming more common as the book progresses. I like what the author has to say about the life, the movies, (the) God and everything else well enough. But he thrusts his thoughts in the mouths of characters and in the situations where they don’t fit. The tone of the book has become a confused mish-mash of the two earlier brilliant books by him – the first being the already mentioned prequel Ravan and Eddie and the second the expansive saga called God’s Little Soldier.

To read or not to read: Read Ravan and Eddie. This book can be skipped. Or for completely different works of genius from the same author, read Cuckold or God’s Little Soldier.

Short Book Review: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J K Rowling)

Career of EvilSBR: When you have a detective with turbulent enough a past that he can think of four different people who would be up to sending him a severed leg, there can be no lack of adventure and thrill in the story. Career of Evil, third book in Cormoran Strike series by J. K. Rowling’s alternate avatar Robert Galbraith, keeps you engrossed as the genre is supposed to do. Her writing is charming as usual. What doesn’t work for me are the chapters narrated from the criminal’s point of view. They contribute to the story well, making you do your own detective work as you the book, but they don’t read like you are in the psychopath’s mind, but like the profiles they create in Criminal Minds. On the other hand, I like the romantic tension between Strike and Robin better than almost any romance novel I have read.
To read or not to read: If you are a mystery/crime genre reader, or a Rowling fan, do read it. If you are neither, this may not be the one book of the genre you need to read.

Short Book Review: Geek Heresy by Kentaro Toyama

Geek HeresySBR: I was hoping to make Geek Heresy one of my monthly recommendation, but decided against it because the second part annoyed me to the hilt. It was the typical padding material that non-fiction publishers seem compelled to put in a book to reach a certain word-count goal. The first half of the book is a must-read though. It denounces technology, and more generically what it calls packaged intervention, as the ultimate solution to widespread social, political or economic problems. Despite the hoopla around Arab spring, facebook or forced elections can’t establish democracies, not stable, functional ones anyway; computers in schools cannot educate children better; and microfinance cannot magically eliminate poverty. Democracy needs strong institutions and aware citizens; better education needs good teachers and adult supervision; and microfinance needs handholding and training the beneficiaries to enable them to make the best use of credit. It doesn’t mean technology and packaged interventions are not useful though. When exactly are they useful and how is convincingly argued about in the book. Technocrats and bureaucrats will do well to stop looking for silver bullets and easy scale in solutions to hard problems. Creating positive change will continue to require hard work. Technology can help, but it cannot be an alternative to human factors.
To read or not to read: You must read it if you work in the social sector – for-profit or otherwise. The first part is also a must-read for others, especially if you are a blind devotee of technology as the ultimate solution to everything.  If you aren’t a hopeless case, it might open your eyes. You should also read if you are a complete technology skeptic. Because you need to know where exactly technology can be of real help. Then start reading the second part. If you find the first few pages pointless, you can safely skip the rest. Else read on and finish the book.

Short Book Review: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty

Lonesome DoveSBR: Lonesome Dove was recommended to me by a voracious western (genre) reader. “If you read only one western book, read this one,” he (and some major newspaper reviewer) said. I have not read any other western, but I am inclined to believe that they are right in their recommendation. Bar shootings, cattle herding and cowboy hats aside, the (often raw and crude) emotional journey of the characters makes you ache. McMurtry predates and rivals Geroge R R Martin in killing off characters. There is much hardship, death, pain, unfulfilled longings and adversities. But life goes on, bitter and sweet at the same time. As the wittiest and most talkative character aptly puts it “It’s a fine world, though rich in hardships at times.”
To read or not to read: If you read only one western book, read this one 🙂

Short Book Review: The Folded Earth by Anuradha Rao

The Folded EarthSBR: The descriptions are charming in The Folded Earth and the emotions draw you in. But the secrets revealed towards the end are predictable and the climax doesn’t work for me. The creation of the villain in the story is forced. It’s narrative one-sided, but conclusive. The attempt at non-linear narrative once in a while is jarring and doesn’t make sense.
To read or not to read: The author’s first book An Atlas of Impossible Longing was praise more equivocally. I think I should have read that book first. That’s what I’d recommend doing. Then, if you really like the writer, you can read this one as well.

Short Book Review: Solo by Rana Dasgupta

SoloSBR: One one hand there are the books like Doctor Zhivago or Half of a Yellow Sun. While reading them, I almost lived the lives of the protagonists through some historical moments. For me those moments will never again be what history books or wikipedia articles dryly tell me they are. They are now defined by the individual, human experiences the books me experience.

On the other hand there is a book like The Orphan Master’s Son. While reading it I was constantly frustrated by the feeling that it is an outsider imagining the story and I am not hearing the genuine voice of the characters, much less live their lives.
The experience of reading the first part of Solo falls somewhere in between. It feels real enough, not artificial. But it gives only a bird’s eye view of the protagonist’s erratic life as well as Bulgaria’s chequered history. You don’t really feel the moments. It is not a shortcoming of the book though. Because the story is in the form of reminiscences of an almost centenarian man (who has lived in Bulgaria through the upheavals of 20th century). When you are recalling people and events from long back, you do tend to remember things as blocks of time, not individual moments. It happens to our own memory too. We often have an overall feeling about our stay at a certain place, or the years spent in a particular school, and an overall story to go with it, which started with situation A and ended with situation B with xyz feeling in between. That’s what those reminiscences read like. I think it is captured very well in the book.
The second part of the book is what makes it strange, as even Salman Rushdie’s blurb call it. It starts off like a different story, and then inexplicable parallels with the first story start surfacing. Ultimately the parallels are explained well enough. But the story of the second part doesn’t feel right after that explanation.
To read or not to read:  It might not leave you awed, but it is a good experimental read.

Short Book Review: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master's Son
SBR: One would pick this book up simply because how often you get the opportunity to put real human faces on those mythical people living in North Korea? Unfortunately, the book ends up putting an American’s words into North Korean mouths. Irrespective of whether you agree or disagree with what those words imply, the sentiment isn’t authentic.
Admittedly, the author didn’t have it easy. I read an interview with the author, where he described how difficult it was for a foreigner to get access to a common man living in North Korea (we only hear those who fled). So, he tried his best. But didn’t succeed.
To read or not to read: Skip unless you are really running out of reading material. If you are curious about North Korea, look elsewhere, probably in non-fiction.

Short Book Review: The Sceptical Patriot by Sidin Vadukut

The Sceptical Patriot
SBR: High on intent, low on content. The idea is good. The Sceptical Patriot wants to find out how authentic the patriotic claims about India’s greatness you keep receiving  in email forwards and Facebook posts are. But there just isn’t enough content about the issue at hand for it make a book. It would have been better off published as an article. To create a book the content has been padded unbearably with personal anecdotes that have no connection whatsoever with questions at hand.
To read or not to read: Wait for a better book on the topic. Or try to find out if the author has written an article on the subject. That might be enough.

Short Book Review: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin
SBR: There can be no doubt about the quality of writing given the Margaret Atwood’s reputation. But The Blind Assassin leads to nothing and is still super-long. So, it’s difficult to justify the time it takes to read the book. The suspense, which is the meat of the story, is manipulated, not natural at all. You feel cheated in the end.
To read or not to read: This is the only book by the author that I have read (decided to start with the Man Booker Prize winner!). But my guess is that I would have been better off reading something else. So would you, I think, unless you are a fan and want to read all of her books. In which case, go ahead!