Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Recommendations: 5 Books for Toddlers

This post was first published on Parentous.

I love reading books. Naturally, if there is one habit that I would like to pass on to my son, it has to be love of reading. So, I exposed my son to books quite early. To a newborn you can read just about anything. They just need to be exposed to the sound of words. So, I would usually read my own books aloud in the initial months. Gradually, I introduced cloth books and board books. Initially, books are also playthings for little ones, so be prepared to see the books getting abused [loved, in their way]. Now at 28 months, I cannot say my son is a reader yet but we enjoy reading books before his afternoon naptime and going to bed at night. Since now it is part of his bedtime routine, he himself gets the books he wants to read. He would usually have a pick of few favourites at one time, and it is interesting to listen to his observations while reading those books.

Here is a list of 5 books which are the current favourites: 

This beautiful picture book follows a bunch of kids [8 of them] who are starting school – their first day, their second day, the first week and how they get used to the school. The kids are shown doing all sorts of exciting activities like playing with blocks, puzzles, colours, play dough or learning new things like reading, writing, saying prayers, etc; thus creating a fun and positive image of school. This book does not dwell into negative feelings like missing home or first day anxieties, and focuses more on making school a fun experience. A few things may not be relevant in our context like involvement of kids’ parents in different kinds of activities but those things can be ignored.

Read more about this book in this review.

This is an attractive bilingual picture book from Tulika Publishers. All kids are fascinated by animals, and more so with their babies. This brightly illustrated book has bare-minimum text on each page [2-3 words on most of them] and educates about the action words like pounce, roll, drink, climb, roll, eat, sleep etc. “This book follows the playful adventures of three curious lion cubs while their mother is away. Minimal text and lively illustrations with an edge of drama skillfully introduce young readers to the fact that those we see as predators can be under threat themselves.” [Quoted from the book]    
Read more about this book here.

I am always on the lookout for Indian literature for kids. I found this collection of Indian Rhymes by Karadi Tales, and I knew I had to get it. I got Book 1 more than a year ago and it is still a favourite. I am getting the second Part soon. Book 1 has an interesting line up of rhymes very relevant for Indian kids. The most favourite rhyme from this book is called “Just like you’. It tells you about different people from different places in India, speaking different languages, and yet they are like us. Check out its video here. It is quite a catchy song. There are songs [or rhymes] about mangoes, crows, festivals celebrated in India, cricket, sari, flowers, Indian flag, etc. Essentially, the book attempts to capture the essence of India. My son makes me read all the rhymes in this book over and over again.

This book also comes with an audio CD which contains rhymes in the voice of Usha Uthup.
Read more about the book here.

I am convinced that playing with kitchen utensils and dough should be part of developmental milestones. I am certain every kid goes through that phase. Since my 2 year old loves playing with the regular dough on daily basis, when I chanced upon this book, I thought this was apt for reading to him. To add to the fun, we sometimes also keep some dough handy to make the things that the little boy, Neeraj, in the book makes.
This book is about Neeraj. He gets a little dough from his mother, and his imagination lets loose. He turns it into a snake, a mouse and a cat. This book is about how a child’s mind is full of imagination and creativity. The illustrations are extremely endearing.
Read more about the book here.

This book was a hit with our toddler from the first day. It is a lift-the-flap book. The text is minimum and prompts the child to lift the flap on each page, which reveals an animal inside. It is exciting for the child to lift the flap one-by-one and discover the animal.
Learn more about the book from author’s website.

You may also want to read: 5 Fiction Titles for Toddlers.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Review: Meena Kumari by Vinod Mehta

Title: Meena Kumari - The Classic Biography
Author: Vinod Mehta
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 248 
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Non Fiction / Biography / Films
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

I read about this book somewhere and then chanced upon a chapter in The Greatest Show on Earth. Life of a movie star is intriguing and there is a dearth of such biographies about any Indian film star. I don’t know why I wanted to read about Meena Kumari. I haven’t even seen too many of her films, and it was from my mother. I first came to know that Meena Kumari was known as the tragedy queen. In fact, people of her generation had started using the term ‘Meena Kumari’ as a word for ‘sad’ [in the way, the term ‘Devdas’ is still used]. So, when people would say “don’t be a Meena Kumari”! They would mean ‘sad and melodramatic’. Whether she was one of the best actors of all times is highly debatable, but certainly her life was intriguing.

This book was written in 1972, immediately after her demise [republished in 2013]. The author confesses “I found that it was impossible to collect even one ‘undisputed’ fact about this woman. Everything connected with her life had atleast four versions" [quoted]. He never met the actor. He admits that facts and opinions were piling up and weighing him down, and without being over-ambitious, what he sought to achieve was to offer a few glimpses of who Meena Kumari really was; for who can really claim to know a person completely.

The book begins with everyone’s reaction on Meena Kumari’s death. The chapter is interestingly titled “Lies” to connote how all the reactions by film industry as well as media were superficial. The various chapters in this book tell us about the circumstances she was born into, her family, her early life, her romance with Kamal Amrohi, her journey as an actress [which started at the tender age of seven] as well as her turbulent personal life, her various relationships, her addiction to alcohol, her self-inflicted depression, the most important movie of her life - Pakeezah, Meena Kumari – the actress, Meena Kumari – the woman, and her death [few weeks after Pakeezah’s release]. Even with her disturbed personal life and poor health, she worked relentlessly and did very well professionally.

“Despite unreliable lovers, despite unreliable alcohol, despite unreliable dinner, despite unreliable friends, she had Bahu Begum, Manjhli Didi, Noor Jehan, Abhilasha in various stages of completion. All of which goes to prove that India’s No. 1 tragedienne did not live by bread alone.” [Quoted]

Her alcoholism is legendary. But surprisingly, she drank seriously only for three years. What started as a small peg to cure her insomnia later became addiction. This continued till she died of cirrhosis of the liver.

“The question is how could she stop drinking. She had as she saw it, no emotional support; her family life was not exactly ideal; and the possibilities for the future looked extremely grim. In these circumstances she needed a crutch, and for people the world over in her state the bottle has been the most potent, if disastrous, crutch.” [Quoted]

Meena Kumari as a person was known to be generous, attentive and empathetic. The author believes that most of her pain and depression was self-inflicted because she felt she was let down by her relationships. She did not get love, and fell into the trap of her screen image. Perhaps she always missed a part of her life she never lived – a normal childhood. Isn’t it widely known the world over, the fate of most of the child actors?

“The great tragedienne Meena Kumari became the great tragedienne not only in front of the camera but behind it. And this is the real sorrow, she aided the latter.” [Quoted]

I liked the book. May be I haven’t read any outstanding biography to compare it with, but generally speaking, I liked reading about the many aspects of Meena Kumari’s life. There aren’t too many biographies or autobiographies of Indian film stars, and if you like this genre, I certainly recommend it. It is always interesting to know interesting people. 

Read an excerpt from the book here.

Review Book courtesy: HarperCollins India 
Image source: Flipkart

Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review: Pakeezah by Meghnad Desai

Title: Pakeezah - An Ode To A Bygone World
Author: Meghnad Desai
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 160
Price: Rs 250
Genre: Non Fiction / Film
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

About the Book [from the blurb]

An entertaining look at one of the landmarks of Hindi cinema.

Meghnad Desai tracks the film’s tortuous journey and reveals fascinating, little-known aspects of it. He foregrounds the craftsmanship, perseverance and perfectionism of its maker, Kamal Amrohi, who would wait weeks for the perfect sunset. The director even took on MGM, because the CinemaScope lenses they supplied were out of focus by 1/1000 mm.

Desai sees the film as a ‘Muslim social’ set in a ‘Lucknow of the Muslim imagination’; as a woman-centric film with a dancing heroine at a time when they were a rarity; and above all, as a film that harked back to an era of ‘nawabi culture with its exquisite tehzeeb’, a world that is lost forever.

Pakeezah: An Ode to a Bygone World is a fitting tribute to a film that Meghnad Desai calls ‘a monument to the golden age of Hindustani films’.

My thoughts:

I love reading about films, especially Indian films. I feel there is a dearth of literature in this genre despite the fact that so many films are made every year in India and the fact that we recently completed 100 years of Indian cinema. I think it is commendable that HarperCollins India saw the need. This book is part of the recently released HarperCollins India’s Film Series, which also includes books on Amar Akbar Anthony and Mughal-e-Azam.

The author of this book, Meghnad Desai, says that “if there has been a film which has captured Muslim culture of a certain period albeit with contemporary resonance, it has to be Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah.”

His approach is methodical in analyzing ‘Pakeezah’ - what makes this movie iconic. He discusses every aspect of the film to offer a complete perspective - the story, the origins, the making, the rewriting, the many themes in the movie, the man behind the movie - Kamal Amrohi, the stars of the movie and the unforgettable music. Take for example, the story. By culling information from various sources about the film, he speculates on what the original story might have been and how it must have been modified over a period of time, considering the movie took 15 years to complete, Meena Kumari’s health deteriorated towards the end and interpersonal dynamics changed a great deal between Kamal Amrohi and his wife, Meena Kumari. Did you know that the movie initially did not get a good response on its release? But probably Meena Kumari’s untimely death within a month of its release piqued people’s curiosity and they started queuing up to watch the great tragedy queen in one of her most memorable roles of her career. If Pakeezah could not have been made without Kamal Amrohi, it is hard to imagine Pakeezah without Meena Kumari as well.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves reading about films. After all, the making of a movie is as fascinating as the movie itself; more so, a classic. Imagine we are talking about the times when scripts weren’t finalized before filming; they were developed on the sets, on locations, under the influence of a lot of things. At 150 pages, this book isn’t too long, though may be a few times repetitive. Nevertheless, I personally loved it. It offers a lot of insights, observations and information about the film, and at the same time quite easy to read.

Review Book courtesy: HarperCollins India 
Image source: Flipkart

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Featured on Random House India Blog: the Future of e-Reading

Image source:
So, the Random House India blog features a post on 'the future of e-reading' which includes my two pence. Read the complete post here.

Here are my thoughts on the future of e-reading:
For my generation, physical books will continue to play a huge part. I have several books on my Kindle but I am yet to read a single e-book. I prefer reading physical books. I like to think that e-book readers are extremely handy while travelling, when you just need to pick it up and go with all your books inside it. But it never happens that way. Personally, I leave behind the Tablet and take along a few books.

But yes, for the next generation [my son's], who is going to read e-books from a very young age; e-books, audio books, etc will be a way of life. I am also alarmed at the diminishing attention to a particular activity. In our pursuit to accomplish too many things together [multi-tasking], we are perpetually distracted. Reading needs attention. I am sure, this trend will also impact the act of reading. I wonder if the next generation will find other avenues of reading [ebooks, augmented reality, any new techno-invention] far more in tune with their lifestyle. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Review: Kaurava by Krishna Udayasankar

Title: Kaurava
Author: Krishna Udayasankar
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 384
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Fiction / Indian mythology / Alternative history
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

About the book [from the Blurb]

Nothing left to fight for is nothing left to lose...

Emperor Dharma Yudhisthir of the Kauravas and Empress Panchali Draupadi rule over the unified realm of Aryavarta, an empire built for them by Govinda Shauri with the blessings of the Firstborn and by the might of those whom everyone believes long gone – the Firewrights.
Now the Firewrights rise from the ashes of the past, divided as before in purpose and allegiance, and no one, it seems, can stand in the way of the chaos about to be unleashed on the land – not the Firstborn, not the kings of Aryavarta, and not Govinda Shauri.

As sinister plans are put in play and treacherous alliances emerge, Aryavarta transforms into its own worst enemy. Dharma Yudhisthir gambles away his empire, the tormented empress is forced into a terrifying exile and the many nations of the realm begin to take up arms in a bid to fight, conquer and destroy each other.

His every dream shattered, Govinda is left a broken man. The only way he can protect Aryavarta and the woman in whose trusted hands he had left it is by playing a dangerous game. But can he bring himself to reveal the terrible secrets that the Vyasa has protected all his life – secrets that may well destroy the Firstborn, and the Firewrights with them? 

My thoughts:

I felt I was at a little disadvantage in reading this book before reading the Aryavarta Chronicles: Govinda [Book 1] because sometimes Firewright - Firstborn thing would be baffling. Nevertheless, the good thing is that we all know the basic Mahabharata so over all I enjoyed this book.

The story in this book begins at the time when Dharma Yudhisthir is the emperor of Indraprastha while Govinda Shauri [Krishna] has been shunned from the empire. In the turn of events, Dharma, his brothers and Panchali are invited by Syoddhan [Duryodhan] to Hastinapur, where he [Dharma] gets into a game of dice. This legendary game of dice is the one in which he loses everything including himself, his brothers and Panchali. The book ends with the promise of impending war in the third part of the series, aptly titled ‘Kurukshetra’.

Mahabharata, as we have known it, has been a story of larger-than-life men and women, and difficult-to-believe sequences. Now the unique aspect of this book is that it explains everything logically, and does not demonize anybody unnecessarily. In author’s own words, through this series, she attempts to offer “a plausible narrative with reasonable internal logical consistency. Something that could well have been history, something that stands firm not just on faith but also on logic and science.” She has imagined several new angles to the original story without compromising on what is widely known. Her research work has been meticulous and extensive, and therefore what you get is a book [and probably the series] which is compelling and very contemporary in its appeal. The author has spent sufficient time in building up characters like Shikhandi, Ashvatthama or Sanjay.

There are so many characters that the relationship chart in ‘the Dynasties of Aryavarta’ is not just a luxury but a necessity. ‘The Cast of Characters’, also provided in the beginning, tells us about the main characters in this book. The author has intentionally used alternate names so that the characters don’t have to carry the unnecessary baggage of their fame / notoriety. So, Krishna is Govinda Shauri while Duryodhan is Syoddhan Kauravya. It took me a while to understand that Vasusena is Karna. A reader well-versed with Mahabharata will find several characters in a different light. For example, Syoddhan is a largely positive or at most a grey character here while Dharma is too smug.

I loved the cover page. It reminded me of Hachette India’s another fabulous series Empire of the Mughal. The narrative is largely fast-paced barring a few times when certain things have been described in too much detail. I also found use of swear words funny like “Who in the name of an elephant’s backside are you talking about?”

I will certainly recommend it to readers who love exploring different facets of the epic tale ‘Mahabharata’. But you must have an open mind towards the author’s imagination. Meanwhile, I eagerly look forward to the next book in the series ‘Kurukshetra’. 

If you are yet to read the series, I suggest you begin with the first one: 
The Aryavarta Chronicles: Govinda (Book - 1)

Review Book courtesy: Hachette India 
Image source: Hachette India

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Review: Looking For Alaska by John Green

Title: Looking For Alaska
Author: John Green
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 272
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Contemporary
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

About the book [from the GoodReads page]

Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (Fran├žois Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

My thoughts:

Once I read the brilliant ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green, I was eager to pick up another book by the author. Someone suggested ‘Looking for Alaska’ and I jumped at the chance. Though this book is not in the league of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, it is certainly a good read. I started, finished and reviewed this book in a single day, despite my limited reading hours. That itself tells a lot about it.

Miles Halter’s life has been ordinary and uneventful until he moves from Florida to Alabama to join Culver Creek Boarding School. There he makes friends with the brainy and brawny Chip Martin [called ‘Colonel’ by everyone, who is his roommate], the witty Takumi, and the unpredictable Alaska Young [‘the hottest girl in all of human history’, as Miles puts it]. From that time onwards, Miles' life is a maze of attending classes, studying, playing pranks, smoking cigarettes, drinking booze; while also falling in love with Alaska.

Each one of them has a talent. Miles likes to learn the last lines of famous people. Colonel is good at memorizing things, especially about countries, their capitals, population, etc. Takumi is a rapper, while Alaska just likes being an enigma. She is moody, without feeling the need to explain herself. Alaska claims to be in love with his boyfriend Jake, but she is often flirty with Miles.

The book is in 2 parts – Before and After [of an event]. The story begins at ‘One Hundred and Thirty Six Days Before’ and ends at ‘One Hundred and Thirty Six Days After’, and everything is in-between - excitement, curiosity, love, friendship, trust, guilt, love, loss.

Well, in short, the book was emotional, funny and sometimes also philosophical. It will appeal to you if you like Young Adults genre – the vulnerabilities, the innocence, the mischief and the beauty of young love.

Here are a few of my favourite lines quoted from the book:

I’d never been religious. But he told us that religion is important whether or not we believed in one, in the same way that historical events are important whether or not you personally lived through them.”

 “You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you'll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” 

 “I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.” 

Image source: Flipkart

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Book Review: The Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan

Title: The Mountain of Light
Author: Indu Sundaresan
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 352
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 6/10
Format: Paperback

About the Book [from the blurb]

As empires rose and fell and mighty kings jostled for power, its glittering radiance never dimmed. It is the “Mountain of Light” - the Kohinoor diamond - and its facets reflect a sweeping story of love, adventure, conquest and betrayal.

Legend has it that Lord Krishna gave the Kohinoor to a devotee as a reward for his meditations. But the first recorded mention of the diamond is in the memoirs of Emperor Babur, who received it from a Hindu raja he had defeated. It then slipped out of India and was possessed briefly by the Shah of Persia – who gave it its name – and the king of Afghanistan, Shah Shuja, who surrendered the Kohinoor to Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Punjab Empire as a reward for helping him regain his kingdom. Here begins The Mountain of Light.

The novel takes us through the sprawling gardens of nineteenth century Lahore to the palaces of the six-year-old prince Dalip Singh who, on his father’s death, loses his empire and the Kohinoor to the British. The diamond is secreted out of India once more and, at the age of sixteen, the boy king follows it to London, where he is feted and petted until he realizes that nothing can replace the loss of his lands and his diamond – which now belong to the Queen of England.

My thoughts:

The book begins with a map of the Punjab Empire and British India c. 1823, a very handy list of primary and secondary characters and an Author’s Note which introduces readers to the background of the book. The narrative starts from 1817 and continues selectively [as per relevance to the Kohinoor story] till 1893. The Kohinoor touches several lives over the years, beginning with Shah Shuja and his wife Wafa Begam trying their best to hold onto the coveted diamond despite promising it to Maharaja Ranjit Singh for his help; and eventually ending with the Queen of England.

There is no doubt in my mind that Indu Sundaresan is a fabulous writer of historical fiction. All her earlier books have been beautifully-written narratives of historical fiction, but personally, this book did not work that much for me [there, I said it]. Wherever she gets a chance, the author makes the characters come alive and creates a vivid imagery of the setting. The characters in themselves were interesting but since they did not have a lasting role with Kohinoor, they had to be left behind, moving on to next set of relevant characters. Jumping years is also for the benefit of Kohinoor but it does nothing for the narrative.

So, while you warm up to Wafa Begam and Shah Shuja, and wonder about their life, etc., the Kohinoor has gone to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Soon the story shifts to a couple of years later when you discover that Maharaja is dead and his 4 grown up sons have been killed in their quest for succession, leaving the very young Dalip Singh as the successor. There is Henry Lawrence [a guardian of child king Dalip Singh] who is enchanted with Roshni [who was betrothed to Dalip Singh]. Then a section is about how the Kohinoor reaches England towards the end. In fact, the last 100 pages are fairly interesting. In between, there are interludes of romance but nothing becomes of them as the central theme of the story is pursued.

I feel the main problem is that the story is not character driven. It has Kohinoor at the centre. It lacks a central character as an anchor on which the book could have been rooted. It just moves from character to character. I was not able to sink into the story, I always felt on the surface.

Over all, it was an interesting take on history and I enjoyed it in parts, when the narrative dwells into the characters. If you love history, you will love it in any case because the author crafts a beautiful tale around the historical facts.

After I finished the book, I found that actually there are many people who have absolutely loved the book. Catch a few more positive reviews on GoodReads. After all, reading is a very personal experience.

Review Book courtesy: AuthorHarperCollins India 
Image source: Flipkart

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Review: Bones Of The Lost by Kathy Reichs

Title: Bones Of The Lost [Temperance Brennan # 16]
Author: Kathy Reichs
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 336
Price: Rs 599
Genre: Fiction / Crime / Thriller
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

About the Book [from the blurb]

The body of a teenage girl is discovered along a desolate highway on the outskirts of Charlotte. Inside her purse is the ID card of a local businessman who died in a fire months earlier.

This is no ordinary hit-and-run. Who was the girl? And was she murdered?

Dr Temperance Brennan, Forensic Anthropologist, must find the answers. She soon learns that a Gulf War veteran stands accused of smuggling artefacts into the country. Could there be a sinister connection between the two cases?

Convinced that the girl's death was no accident, Tempe takes courageous action to find justice for the dead. But her search throws her to the centre of a conspiracy that extends from South America to Afghanistan – and places her in terrible danger.

My thoughts:

First few pages were a blur for me, may be because this is my first book featuring Tempe Brennan [this is the 16th in this series, by the way]. But I quickly got the hang of the plot.

Dr Brennan, like the author herself, is a forensic anthropologist. It is intriguing how much she finds out about people only through bones, sometimes badly damaged bones.
Dr Brennan actually finds herself amid three completely unrelated cases [on the face of it]. One is about a hit-and-run victim, a young girl. Since Tempe also has a young daughter, far away from her; this case tugs her emotionally because she wants to find out who the victim is and send her [her body] home to her people. It disturbs her all the time to think that somewhere the girl’s parents would be waiting for her.

Second case is about seized mummified dogs and a possible case of smuggling. The third case takes Dr Tempe Brennan to Afghanistan, where a Marine has been accused with the murder of 2 Afghan nationals. She is supposed to conduct skeletal autopsies of the dead and find out if the victims were shot from behind or from the front.

On personal level, Dr Tempe’s life isn’t really settled. Her only daughter, Katy, is in Afghanistan. Her current boyfriend Ryan is non-existent, while her ex Pete [though officially still her husband] is about to marry a bimbo.

Over all, though the book wasn’t as addictive as several thrillers are, yet it was very, very interesting. Every chapter ends with a compelling sentence that would make you read the next chapter. 

It was only towards the end that I found that the American crime series ‘Bones’ is based on Dr Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs. I certainly look forward to reading more in this series. The only thing I was confused about was that why was Dr Brennan solving the cases. She isn’t a detective; she is an anthropologist. But frankly, if forensics intrigues you, this book [or the series] is for you. This book will also appeal to those who read crime / thriller genre, in general.

Here are a few lines quoted from the book:

"I see violent death on regular basis. I know the cruelty and stupidity and insensitivity of which humans are capable. And yet, every time, the same question.

"I try to be open-minded, to judge each individual on merit and accomplishment. I hold no bias against any belief system, sexual orientation, or skin color that differs from mine. I do not hate in stereotype."

" Some burials were still mounded, but most slumped. The newly dead, the long departed. All were aligned in rows, as in farmer's field. But bones, not seeds, lay beneath the ground."

Note: You can also read a Free Chapter Here.

Review Book courtesy: Random House India 
Image source: Random House India

Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Title: The Storyteller
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton [Hachette India]
Pages: 480 
Price: Rs 695
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction 
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

About the Book [from the blurb]

Sage Singer has a past that makes her want to hide from the world. Sleeping by day and working in a bakery by night, she kneads her emotion into the beautiful bread she bakes.

But when she strikes up an unlikely friendship with Josef Weber, a quiet man old enough to be her grandfather, and respected pillar of the community, she feels that finally, she may have found someone she can open up to.

Until Josef tells her the evil secret he's kept for sixty years.

Caught between Josef's search for redemption and her shattered illusions, Sage turns to her family history and her own life for answers. As she uncovers the truth from the darkest horrors of war, she must follow a twisting trail between betrayal and forgiveness, love and revenge. And ask herself the most difficult question she has ever faced - can murder ever be justice? Or mercy?

My thoughts:

To begin with, it is a big book, which deals with the subject of forgiveness woven around the Holocaust. Though I have only read [and loved] ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ by Jodi Picoult, yet I feel with this book she has attempted a major feat. Writing historical fiction cannot be easy. There are many things to consider – the factual correctness, the characterizations, the story graph, keeping the readers glued; in no way it could be a small feat.

On the face of it, Sage is the main protagonist of this book. A recluse by nature, she is drawn inside her shell by the ghosts of her past. A baking job ensures she works through nights. In her self-pity mode, she is also involved with a married man because she feels she does not deserve better, and this could be her only chance at love. Sage is part of a group therapy class, where she befriends a nonagenarian Josef Weber. A respected figure of town, Sage feels that in Josef she has found a friend who understands her.

But things take a surprising turn when all Josef confides in her about his role in the Holocaust and asks her to help him end his life. Since Sage is a Jew, Josef believes that it will be his redemption from the several crimes he committed during Holocaust as a Nazi SS guard.

Sage also has a paternal grandmother Minka who is a Holocaust survivor. Minka’s story, in fact, is the central part of this book. While Josef gives an account of his role in the Holocaust [perpetrator’s perspective], Minka’s story offers a victim’s experience through those terrible times. This book delves into the psyche of the perpetrator; what made them do what they did, how so many men went about systematically killing fellowmen. The nature of crime is so inhuman that sometimes it feels that it really never happened, but there are survivors to tell the disturbing stories of those horrifying times. Minka’s story will unsettle you, even move you to tears for the sheer helplessness of the situation.

Once you read Minka’s story, Sage’s character feels frivolous. I felt Sage was too caught up in self-pity. Sage eventually finds love in Leo, the Deputy Chief of Human Rights and Special Prosecutions, who she teams up with to bring Josef Weber to book; but that looks very convenient for a happy ending.

There is a third story that runs almost parallely with Sage’s and Minka’s stories. It is an allegorical story created by Minka - of Ania, her baker father and a monster [a bloodsucking upiory] - which in a way is a reflection of her own life.

There are portions which may drag for a bit but trust me, your patience will pay off. It took me a couple of pages to warm up to the story, [and though I am not 100% happy with the ending] yet the book was certainly worth reading. I will recommend it to others too.

Here are a few lines quoted from the book:

“That’s the paradox of loss: How can something that’s gone weigh us down so much?”

“He listened so carefully that it made me forget that outside there were guards abusing prisoners and people being gassed to death and men pulling their bodies from the shower rooms to stack like wood in the crematoria. When I was reading my own work, I got lost in the story, and I could have been anywhere….”

“Sometimes all it takes to become human again is someone who can see you that way, no matter how you present on the surface.”

“If you lived through it, you already know there are no words that will ever come close to describing it.
And if you didn’t, you will never understand.”

Review Book courtesy: Hachette India
Image source: GoodReads