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.

Short Book Review: First They Killed my Father by Loung Ung

SBR: First They Killed my Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers was another one of our Cambodia-trip picks. The description of life under Khmer Rouge and vivid and chilling. It feels almost insensitive to critique a book that details the personal experience of a horrifying genocide on its literary merit. But as a book reader, I can’t help it. The first-person account from the point of view of a little girl does not come across as authentic in the book. The thoughts are too complex and far-reaching (as if she could see a better future back then) under the circumstances. Those are definitely the author’s adult thoughts. And from some reviews I find online, the historical events, as well as her personal history, might have been changed slightly to fit into a narrative.

To read or not to read: Yes, even if only for its subject – life under Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Short Book Review: Orlando by Virginia Woolf

SBR: Q: Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf?
A: Me!
Holy cow! Orlando is supposed to be the most accessible work of Virginia Woolf. I guess I can’t read her. I suppose it was the fabled stream of consciousness writing that fried my brains. It’s not like I didn’t understand anything in the book. But getting through it was a torture. And I am fully aware that I am saying this of a celebrated writer and a celebrated book.

To read or not to read: I don’t know. I can’t judge or review this book. Listen to someone more qualified.

Short Book Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

SBR: I wanted to read a nice love story and since modern romance novels don’t seem to work for me, I ended up resorting to this 19th-century book at the recommendation of a friend. And North and South was a nice, entertaining read. What made it more interesting was that the love story meanders through the changes that industrial revolution was bringing about in the society. So you get a glimpse into the political and social effects of the changes. Although the descriptions and resolutions might be simplistic, that part of the book is valuable.

To read or not to read: Yes, if you like a feel-good love story.

Short Book Review: Watching Cambodia: Ten Paths to Enter the Cambodian Tangle by Serge Thion

SBR: This book was picked up, not surprisingly, during our trip to Cambodia last year and I read it soon after coming back. Don’t be fooled by the tourist friendly cleanliness and maintenance of Angkor Wat, modern Cambodia is a mess and how it became so is a sad and pathetic, almost unbelievable, story. If all you know about Cambodian politics is that Khmer Rouge were the bad guys, then you need to read more. This book, a collection of ten articles written over time, is a good way to get a peek into the how it came to be, what factors were at play, and how utterly incompetent everyone has been in fixing things. But it does need a basic understanding of the modern history of Indo-china and some of the pieces are very academic in nature because of which I had to give up on a couple of them.

To read or not to read: Not for the beginners. If you know something about the tumultuous modern History of Cambodia and are in a mood to go deeper, then you can pick up this book.