Short Book Review: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

WeShouldAllBeFeministsSBR: We should all be feminists is a short book based on a TED talk by the author. It is simply written and effectively tackles all the common objections to feminism. The Nigerian experience of the author will definitely ring a bell for the Indian readers. But western world is no paragon of feminism either and Adichie doesn’t spare them.
If you have said or been told stuff like
  • Why specifically feminism and gender problem? Why not talk about all human rights issues?
  • But our culture…
  • Feminism is no longer needed. I don’t think about gender…

then this book is something you must read.

To read or not to read: Yes. And just because it has “feminists” in title, it doesn’t mean it is to be read by women only. Men also must read it.

Short Book Review: Johnny Gone Down by Karan Bajaj

Johnny Gone DownSBR: Every plot point in Johnny Gone Down is so contrived that I don’t know where to begin describing it. The self-pitying narcissism of the protagonist (which almost feels like a proxy for author’s own feelings) is nerve-grating. We are supposed to sympathize with him, but his renaissance-man-brilliance and the roller-coaster of life have not an iota of reality in it. I don’t mind escaping reality for some entertainment, but there is nothing entertaining about the story either.
To read or not to read: Don’t.

Short Book Review: Yellow Lights of Death by Benyamin

Yellow Lights Of DeathSBR: Yellow Lights of Death was originally written in Malayalam and the translation does a good job of retaining the flavor or the original. So good a job, in fact, that it became a problem for me. It didn’t translate all the relationships’ names from Malayalam (didn’t even provide a glossary). The completely fictional life created in the real-life location of Diego Garcia is fascinating enough, the whodunnit fairly interesting, but the book has its share of flaws. Not translating Chettathi and Valayapapan is not the biggest of those. A book within the book has to be pieced together to figure out the mystery. Why and how of it is so contrived that you wish the author took his readers more seriously. The book would have been better off without this meta-mystery. I also wished that we didn’t have to read so much of mundane chit-chats between the friends throughout the book. Not resolving everything in the end and leaving some of it to the readers’ interpretation was a nice touch, though.
To read or not to read: The story is interesting enough to be read. But you don’t have to lose your sleep for it.

Short Book Review: The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

The Glass PalaceSBR: The Glass Palace is a work of historical fiction spanning generations over a period of more than a hundred years. The book’s history is good, but the fiction is not. Often I felt like asking the author to relax and let his characters breathe. They can live their own lives and don’t have the obligation to jump from one historical event to the next so that they can tell us everything you have learned from your research. There can be no denying that Ghosh’s history research is solid. The insights into the curious relationship India and Burma had during colonial times were enlightening to me, and the subsequent disconnect between the countries disheartening. The characters of the book, however, are stiff and the story often sounds forced.
To read or not to read: Read for the history, not for the story.

Short Book Review: Fatherland by Robert Harris

FatherlandSBR: After The Man in the High Castle, my search for the next alternate history book, which didn’t involve magic, zombies, aliens etc. ended on Fatherland by Robert Harris. The book is based in an alternate history where Germany won the war in Europe and was established as the European superpower. If that had happened, what sense would the world and the German people themselves have made of the Nazi actions during the war and afterwards? With a murder mystery thrown in, replete with the usual fare of shocking revelations, interesting twists, a sanguine detective, and an unlikely assistant, it makes for a fun, entertaining read. In the process, we uncover the hazy realities of Nazi history in all its ghastly glory. The settings of the alternate history are in the background, not in your face, which works well for me. But apparently many alternate history buffs are dissatisfied with the lack of attention paid to the “history” part. It is also possible to point out unconvincing situations presented to the readers from time to time. But overall I liked the book.
To read or not to read: If you like mystery or alternate history, go right ahead.

Short Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick

The Man in the High CastleSBR: Watching the first season of the show The Man in the High Castle got me interested in alternate history as a genre, and the book behind the show seemed like a good place to start. That’s how I picked up the book. Not surprisingly, the book’s feel is very different from the show. It isn’t as plot driven as the show, the characters are much more loosely connected, and there is no story of the East Coast at all. I liked the book, overall, but its mystic ending didn’t sit well with me.
To read or not to read: Yes, if you are interested reading alternate history, because it is a classic of sorts in the genre. For entertainment and fun, the show does a better job by changing and adding all that it has done.

Short Book Review: Gujarat Files by Rana Ayyub

GujaratFilesSBR: Gujarat Files by Rana Ayyub is the result of some brave work. Going undercover with a different identity, a different religion and doing stings operations on some of the top government officials in a state known for its vengeful ways of governance is not a job for the weak of heart. The stories that come out are chilling, even though not surprising for people who are not blind fans of our prime minister, his party, and his associates. What was slightly surprising for me was that she was able to get people into such controversial and intimate conversations with the ostensible objective of making a film on Gujarat (its glory, it seemed implied, and not the dark underbelly that she was really researching and managed to get people to talk about). Unfortunately, the book is not well-edited. A rewriting to tighten of the narrative was required. This vitiates the book’s potential impact. The untranslated Hindi parts of the transcripts can pose a challenge to non-Hindi speakers and hinder their understanding.
To read or not to read: It is not a must-read with any urgency. But do buy it, even if it is just to show a middle finger to the Internet trolls who have been hard at work on Amazon reviews since the moment the book has released.

Short Book Review: ABC of Relativity by Bertrand Russell

ABC Of RelativitySBR: A Physics course in the very first year at IITK had taught me the formulae related to the special theory of relativity.  But my interest in philosophy has kindled in recent past and I felt that puzzling on metaphysical questions in the 21st century is insincere without some intuitive understanding of things like relativity and quantum physics. And it was to gain this understanding, beyond Mathematics, that I picked up ABC of Relativity. This book might very well be the best attempt to explain relativity as non-mathematically as possible. But here is the heart-breaking truth. There is no understanding relativity without mathematics. Things became unintelligible after a while unless I started seeing them mathematically. If the intent is to explain relativity to a non-mathematical mind, beyond a limited point, the book fails. But what must be said here is that perhaps no other book will succeed half as well. Also, Russell’s is a brilliant mind. So sometimes what he mentions casually in a few sentences, as if it is the most obvious thing in the world, needs a lot of concentration and deliberation to understand.
To read or not to read: So long as you don’t expect to curl up in the bed and gain a breezy understanding of relativity, this book can be a good starting point. But don’t expect to avoid mathematics.

Short Book Review: This Unquiet Land by Barkha Dutt

This Unquiet LandSBR:  This Unquiet Land is a historical account of  a bunch of issues faced by India today, the content mostly deriving from the author’s work as a journalist. It covers issues like our wars with our neighbors, Kashmir, religious tensions, caste, class, gender justice, liberalization, politics etc. It makes for a pretty good read, although there is no extraordinary insight you get if you are a regular consumer of news. Once in a while, you get to see something of the personal side of important people, or Barkha Dutt’s impression of them, but that isn’t something I would read the book for. It is also surprisingly uncontroversial, the tone that of strict journalistic neutrality, and judgments, when passed, reserved for the non-contentious issues. The right-wing Internet trolls wasted their time in writing those one-star book reviews on Amazon as soon as the book came out.
The pages spent chronicling her personal growth, or her long replies to her critics can tire you, but otherwise it is a well-written summary of the issues it intends to summarize.
To read or not to read: If you are bewildered with 24/7 news like me and find it difficult to keep track of even the important issues, this book is a good way to catch up. Else you won’t benefit much and can skip.

Short Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahreinheit 451SBR:  I read Fahrenheit 451 to brave out the disappointment that Brave New World had been.  And I was fairly successful. The book is partly futuristic and partly metaphorical. For a book-lover, there is something inherently identifiable in a dystopia brought about by burning of the books! But that can also be a criticism of the book. That it is excessively partial to books as the carriers of good things in life. Books disappearing need not mean everything meaningful and intellectual disappearing from life. However, Bradbury seems to anticipate this criticism. Hence, the elderly Faber says in the book, “It’s not the books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books … The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not.”
To read or not to read: If you are someone who goes all gooey inside at those grand or sweet quotes about books, you must read this book! And if you think that the society is increasingly producing people who are intellectually dumb, you will find a companion in this book for sure.