Short Book Review: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

SBR: The English Patient is another one of those award-winning books that didn’t work for me. The film of poetic, dreamy writing never allows you to penetrate into the characters. And since there was an Indian character in it, I could identify the non-authenticity of the skills and feelings ascribed to him. So I doubt that the author fared better with other characters. None of them have a distinct voice of their own. The reaction of the characters to the infamous world-war-concluding event, which brings about the climax of the book too, is so ex post facto. There was no way those characters could have realized so quickly what exactly had happened and what its aftermaths were.

To read or not to read: Not unless you are a lover of poetic writing for the heck of it, or you are on a mission to read all award-winning books.

Short Book Review: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthSBR: Man Booker Prize notwithstanding The Narrow Road to the Deep North is incredibly pointless in the first 200 pages. And it’s not like these pointless pages make more sense after the book does get interesting. Most of those pages should simply not have been there. They are devoted to stretching out a love story in a way that neither arouses sympathy, nor repulsion. It’s just pages after pages of boredom and heavy-handed writing trying to elevate mundane to mystic and failing. When the book comes to its actual subject, the treatment of prisoners of wars in the Japanese camps during WWII, it is quite riveting. You can have a vicarious experience of the horrors, the contradictions, and the futility of life and war through this book.
To read or not to read: It’s too long and if you are not a fast reader, it may not be the best use of your time. These subjects have been covered in other better-written books. But if you are fine spending with a lackluster attempt at romance to get to the point, this is a Man Booker Prize-winning book; so treat yourself to the intellectual indulgence.

Short Book Review: The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan

The Twentieth WifeSBR: The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan is a well-written book, but it falters as historical fiction. I’m pretty sure that the court language by the time of Akbar and Jehangir was Persian and not Turkish, hot chai was not partaken in India at that time, and Mehrunnisa wouldn’t have been affectionately addressed as ‘beta’ by her parents. Salim’s character development doesn’t make sense and romantic situations between Salim and Mehrunnisa are created forcibly by arbitrarily playing with the norm of purdah. Although sufficient research seems to have gone into the life events of the characters, the settings and details are anachronistic.
To read or not to read: No need to go out of your way to get the book. It can be an entertaining read, but is not a must read.

Short Book Review: Hello Bastar by Rahul Pandita

Hello BastarSBR: Hello Bastar: The Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movement is a brave and important book. Whether you are a supporter or Maoists or a criticizer, whether you are ambivalent or opinionated, it is important to know things before taking a stand. This book can help you do that.
The only issue with the book was its haphazard narration, which kept going back and forth for no obvious reasons. It read like a collection of journalistic pieces instead one coherent book. That made the stories difficult to follow, and characters difficult to keep track of.
To read or not to read: Yes. It is on an important issue.

Short Book Review: The Light of His Clan by Chetan Raj Shrestha

the light of his clanSBR: Chetan Raj Shrestha continued to shine as a writer in his second book The Light of His Clan. This is another Sikkim novel, affectionate but unsparing with its subjects, which brings a smile to your lips even when the characters act like complete losers. Even at their absurd best, they are always relatable. Despite the pervasive Sikkim-setting, the protagonist, Kuldeep Chandanth, could have been an aging patriarch anywhere in India who is clinging to what he sees as the past glories of his own self as well as his clan, while the world is passing him by.
The writing in the book is also delightful. The novel is a worthy successor of author’s debut book The King’s Harvest, which is one of the recommended book on Worth a Read.
To read or not to read: Yes, it is a delightful read.

Short Book Review: The Girl from Krakow by Alex Rosenberg

The Girl From KrakowSBR: The Girl from Krakow is yet another second world war book, but sets itself apart because of its Eastern European setting. There is history in the book and there is philosophy, apart from the fiction. History appears to be good. Philosophy is something I identify with, but the craft of fiction writing falters. Hence you have the same philosophy being spouted by too many unrelated characters as if the author can’t stop himself from pushing it down your throat. So despite identifying with it, after a while I could not stand it. The fiction is too fanciful at times, too many convenient coincidences happen. The language is also awkward in places, perhaps because the author is not a native English speaker.
To read or not to read: Yes – for the history and philosophy, not for the fiction.

Short Book Review: Hindi Nationalism by Alok Rai

hindinatinoalismSBR: Hindi Nationalism by Alok Rai is an important book to understand the history of Hindustani, Hindi and Urdu in India and also the politics around languages that still consumes a significant portion of our political, administrative and intellectual resources. Unfortunately, the book’s language is far too academic. The author can’t be faulted for it, however, because he hadn’t set out on writing a popular book. It was supposed to be scholarly. Another book of similar character targeted at lay people would be wonderful to have.
To read or not to read: Yes, if academic jargon and language don’t daunt you.

Short Book Review: Gods, Kings & Slaves – The Siege of Madurai by R Venkatesh

Gods, Kings & SlavesSBR: Gods, Kings & Slaves is one of those books that had great potential, but it fell far short of it because the very first draft was published where severe rewriting and editing was needed. The characters are inconsistent, narrative jumpy, language awkward and even wrong due to the incorrect usage of words and phrases apart from bad sentence construction.
The book is set in the time of the rise of Malik Kafur, Alauddin Khilji’s famous general, who attacked the Pandyan empire’s heart in Madurai. It follows the lives of Malik Kafur and Vira Pandyan until they collide. But apart from the interesting historical context, the book falls flat.
To read or not to read: No. Unless you are keen on reading up just anything about the period in the history that this book covers.

Short Book Review: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn GirlSBR: The Other Boleyn Girl is another of those best-selling books that should not be read. It is historically inaccurate, the characters who are known to be vibrant, complex and multi-dimensional have been reduced to the single dimension of black and white and the author’s attempt to show Mary Boleyn as an innocent woman victimized by her family and Anne Boleyn as a vicious, revengeful shrew are pathetic. Deviating from historical facts is fine in a work of historical fiction, but those deviations should serve the story. That doesn’t happen here. The idea of seeing Tudor history from Mary Boleyn’s point of view is an interesting premise too. But the story ends up reading like a shallow historical romance. The characters of Mary and Anne Boleyn from the book could easily be adapted for a contemporary Hindi soap opera, where the ambitious woman can only be a vamp and the simpering doormat gets the heroine’s crown. That should tell you how flat the characters and the book are. The writing craft has nothing to redeem the pointless story.
To read or not to read: No. Please don’t.

Short Book Review: Farthest Field: An Indian Story of Second World War by Raghu Karnad

Farthest FieldSBRFarthest Field talks about Indians in second world war, an aspect of the history that is usually ignored within as well as outside India. Because in India, Indians fighting the war for the British doesn’t fit the national narrative. And outside India, the exploitation of natives in the European war is an uncomfortable subject. But Indians comprised the largest volunteer army in the second world war and the people involved need to be talked about.
My only gripe is an odd mixture of genres in the book. The author set out to write a personal history, for which he didn’t have enough material. He could have written a non-fiction about the role of Indians in the war (which is what the book eventually reads like, but less comprehensive because the author is following his character and not history). A historical fiction on the subject would also have been great.
Of course, it is the author’s prerogative what he chooses to write. But I would love to see a historical fiction on this background. Amitav Ghosh’ The Glass Palace includes this period and this aspect of Indian history, but only on the Eastern front of the war. This book covers Eastern as well as Western fronts.
To read or not to read: Yes because it deals with a most interesting aspect of Indian history.