Saturday, September 21, 2013

Book Review: Wise Enough To Be Foolish by Gauri Jayaram

Title: Wise Enough To Be Foolish
Author: Gauri Jayaram
Publisher: Jaico Books
Pages: 216  
Price: Rs 225
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

‘Wise Enough To Be Foolish’ is a ‘fictionalized memoir’ of its author Gauri Jayaram. Frankly speaking, almost always the first books are drawn from the author’s life experiences but this word ‘fictionalized memoir’ is a new one for me, and I am not complaining. She has altered a few details here and there to protect identities and make the story more interesting.

The tone of the story is personal, as if the author is narrating to you the 28 years of her life, making you privy to her secrets, thoughts and experiences. Her openness and honesty are refreshing for an autobiographical work that does not aspire to be sensational. She talks about her failures as well as her successes with equal ease and acceptance. She tells you about her many failed relationships and relationships that failed her.

Gauri takes us through her life right from the time she was born [in fact even before]. She tells us how her parents got married when her mother hadn’t even completed her degree. This line really tickled me: “a well-settled Punjabi boy from the armed forces (fauj) in hand was better than a degree in the bush.” From being an aimless teenager to a goal-oriented youth, from an insecure child to a confident young woman; Gauri’s life has several inspiring, coming-of-age moments.

Her story may not be overtly extraordinary but there are many things which will resonate with you if you are an Indian girl from middle class background. Gauri is a victim of ‘the Middle Child Syndrome’. Being the middle child among three siblings, she always craves for unconditional love from her parents. Aimless about her life in her teens, she finds inspiration to turn it around at the right time. Living on her own in Mumbai and Bangalore for higher education and career, combined with the exposure that big cities and travelling offers, helps her grow into a confident woman of the world. Sports always played an important role in her life and continues to do so. But there were too many relationships which did not work [I got confused after a while]. Gauri mentions at some point the alternative title for the book was ‘finding love’ [if I am not wrong] because eventually at the centre of everything was her unfulfilled need for unconditional love and acceptance, where she does not need to be anyone else but herself.

All these years, Gauri lets her heart decide the course of her life and not head. For the multi-faceted woman that she is now, she certainly achieved what she sought out for, with a bit of luck and faith in herself. I was thrilled how eventually everything fell into place and she found a perfect partner.

It was a light-hearted read. There are enough twists and turns which keeps the story going at a good pace, and the fact that it is autobiographical makes it more fascinating. I really liked the way she has added updates about people where she writes about them because in an autobiographical account, the reader wants to know what those people are doing now. It is unusual that she decides to do it at that point because it is usually done at the end of the book. But I liked it this way because the character is more relevant at that point. The author has also discussed social issues every now and then, which was relevant to the story like female infanticide, preference of boy child, stigma related to divorce, inter caste / religion marriage, child abuse, etc.

Moreover, the cover page is charming and perfect for the story. The title is also interesting and captures the essence of the story well.

So, the fact of the matter is it may not be a literary masterpiece but there are enough reasons to read it, if you like contemporary women fiction.

Here are a few lines quoted from the book:

 “But no day is like any other, no people are alike, and no lesson the same.”

 “And as time goes by, I’m becoming a bit like him, and he is becoming like me. It is a crazy type of love. Yet it is like a candle – that gives warmth and lasts longer..”

Note: Text in italics has been quoted from the book.

Review Book courtesy: Jaico Books
Image source: Jaico Books

News: Pune International Literary Festival [PILF] 20-22 September 2013

Finally, Pune hosts its first International Literary Festival. I have never been to any Literary Festival yet and I sure look forward to the experience. 
The Festival has already started on Friday, 20th September; and I am eager to find out how is it going. There is an interesting line-up of authors, publishers and workshops. Read all about it here.

Image: PILF

Friday, September 13, 2013

Book Recommendation: 10 Takeaways from 'Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids'

I just finished reading this wonderful book called ‘Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: HowTo Stop Yelling and Start Connecting’ by Dr. Laura Markham. That does not mean I yell. OK, sometimes I do. But the reason I like reading these books is that I don’t want my inadequacies to influence my child’s life.

Books cannot teach you how to raise a child, but they can certainly offer rational and inspiring insights to become a better parent, and therefore a better person.

This book essentially believes in the simple philosophy that kids are people too, and they deserve empathy, respect and connection. See, on the face of it, we all agree with this philosophy but when we are really having a tough time, we get caught up in ‘trying to discipline’ or ‘teaching the right thing’ or such trappings of being a parent. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Title: The Fault In Our Stars
Author: John Green
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 316  
Price: Rs 399
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Contemporary
Rating: 10/10
Format: Paperback

I had already read such rave reviews about this book on the internet and from friends that the moment I opened the book, I knew something special was going to begin. And it sure did. Reading ‘the Fault in our Stars’ was an emotionally moving experience. It is an extraordinary book and restores my faith in fiction. I am not going to forget it for a long time.

16 - year old Hazel Grace Lancaster’s and 17-year old Augustus Waters’ stars cross for the first time at the Cancer Support Group. Hazel thinks Augustus is hot, while Hazel reminds him of Natalie Portman from ‘V for Vendetta’. He invites her to watch the movie together, she tells him about her favourite book ‘An Imperial Affliction’ by Peter Von Houten, and so begins this beautiful story of love. ‘An Imperial Affliction’, a fictitious book, almost becomes a character in their story with the kind of significance it eventually has.

Their love is magical. When they converse, you feel as if they are complementing their thoughts, as if they are always on the same page and as if soul mates exist. Their conversations are sometimes philosophical, sometimes frothy, sometimes intellectual, but all times in perfect sync with each other. The terrible truth is that you know both of them have very limited time. You don’t want it to end but perhaps the beauty and preciousness of all great love stories is that they are so short.

It is hard not to feel for both sets of parents [extremely likable and loving] who see this young love blooming, although happy that their son / daughter got a chance at love and yet knowing well that someone is going to hurt.

Till 240 pages, I read it at a breakneck speed but after that I intentionally slowed down. I did not want it to end. But it had to, and let me also assure you, it is one of the most satisfying, not necessarily happy, endings I have read.

Be assured that you will be deeply, emotionally invested in this book. When Hazel and Augustus will fall in love, you will have happy tears for the mushy, teenaged, young love, and you will cry buckets when life will take its toll. At least I did. I haven’t cried like this since a long time while reading a book. But this remarkable book is just not a tear-fest, it has humour, playfulness and mush in good measure too, which you would find heart-warming. One tip I want to give you is that start this book only when you have enough time to finish it. If you don’t, you would not feel your heart in anything else. Trust me.

A few of my favourite lines from the book:

“What a slut time is. She screws everybody.” 

“Some people don't understand the promises they're making when they make them," I said.
"Right, of course. But you keep the promise anyway. That's what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway.” 

“You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful.” 

“Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.”

Read more quotes here.

And if you have not understood in so many words, READ IT.

Review Book courtesy: Penguin India
Image source: GoodReads

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Book Review: Compass Box Killer by Piyush Jha

Title: Compass Box Killer [An Inspector Virkar Crime Thriller # 1]
Author: Piyush Jha
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Pages: 234  
Price: Rs 195
Genre: Fiction / Crime / Thriller 
Rating: 6/10
Format: Paperback

About the Book [from the blurb]

‘Akurle is just the first to die,
To find out who is next, find me first.’

One muggy afternoon, a senior police officer is found murdered at his desk. When Inspector Virkar from the Crime Branch arrives at the scene, he finds a cryptic note that spills out of a student’s compass box. Then begins a series of killings and in each, a telltale compass box reveals more clues.

Accompanied by the attractive, ambitious TV reporter, Raashi Hunerwal, Virkar has to race against time to catch the Compass Box Killer before the bodies pile up. As the investigation shuttles from Mumbai to Khandala to Belgaum, Virkar is taken deep into a labyrinth of backroom deals that lead to shocking revelations about the ruthless killer’s motives.

Slick plot twists and high-adrenaline action mark the first of the Inspector Virkar Crime Thrillers—part of the Mumbaistan series. Tough, daring and relentless in his pursuit of justice, Inspector Virkar is a policeman one wishes every city had.

My thoughts:

Honestly speaking, till first couple of pages, the setting felt straight out of some popular 70s film – the busy police chowki, the chaiwala, even Inspector Virkar’s entry is very filmy [and it includes a Dance Bar and rescuing an underage girl], the glamorous female journalist, et al.

Inspector Virkar is entrusted with the responsibility of handling the curious case of a dead police officer. This leads him to a series of Compass boxes which give him clues about the killer’s subsequent targets. The only problem is finding the person and protecting him before the killer gets to him. There are no apparent connections between the targeted individuals, and thus, forms a maze of people and places in a sort of ‘Catch-me-if-you-can’ scenario.

Inspector Virkar has been handpicked for Crime Branch because he has the acumen and inclination. He is quick-witted and courageous. Though he seems to be a serious sort of person but he has the amusing habit of throwing in situational one-liners in colloquial language.

The book is an out-and-out page turner. There is no moment to pause and think about, you are just on a chase along with Inspector Virkar. It is a neat thriller, keeps you glued till the end. The book is certainly Bollywood-material with liberal doses of twists and turns and in the absence of a more suitable word, masala. Suspense, mystery, romance, betrayal, skeletons in the closets, drama and so much more are packed into this taut thriller.

This book is something which you would want to finish in one sitting - while travelling or during Sunday afternoons. Its strong points are plot and pace. Its weak point for me was too much of it, and I generally felt it lacked depth. But that is usually the case with most crime thrillers.

If fast-paced crime thrillers are your thing, you will like it.

Review Book courtesy: All About Books Global
Image source: Rupa Publications

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Book Review: My Name is Parvana by Deborah Ellis

Title: My Name is Parvana
Author: Deborah Ellis
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 216
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Literary Fiction / Young Adult
Rating: 10/10
Format: Paperback

About the Book [from the blurb]

Close down your school... or you will pay the price. Close down your school or we will kill you.

Locked away by American military soldiers in Afghanistan, Parvana refuses to talk to her captors. Her silence only baffles and angers those in charge, leading them to question the innocence of this young silent rebel, snatched from the ruins of a bombed-out school. Their only clue is her diary and a series of names in it that they hope will help them figure out what happened.

Through Parvana's story, you will see how lives are shattered and scattered like shrapnel in a country devastated by war. You will encounter people waging their own crushing battles: a single mother striving against vicious tradition to run a school for girls; young girls growing up with grimy realities and dreams of free skies; and students struggling to get an education that will give them wings.

Most of all, you will meet, and never forget, a feisty girl who believes that even in the darkest hours of death and destruction, hope shines forth like the desert sun.

My Thoughts:

‘My Name is Parvana’ is the story of a brave, intelligent and spirited teenage girl Parvana. The story is set in war-torn Afghanistan, after Taliban’s rule.

 What I loved the most about this book is the way the story has been laid out for the reader. It starts at a point that instantly hooks you. This teenage girl has been picked up by the American soldiers from an abandoned, bombed-out school with an old bag which contains a half-eaten copy of ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird and a battered notebook. Nothing makes her say anything. The story moves back and forth in Present and Past until it merges beautifully at the end, and the story takes complete shape.

Parvana’s mother, an ex-journalist, makes educating young girls her goal in life, completely supported by her own daughters. Though the Taliban rule has come to an end, we find that life has not gone back to normalcy. There are people who are still stuck to those philosophies or are afraid to anger the Taliban. Once accosted by some villagers in the market, Parvana tells them fearlessly “you are all living in the past”.

Parvana is an extraordinary girl. She is headstrong and gritty. She dreams of becoming an architect. “What she really wanted was to build things – things people could live in that would make them feel safe and happy...”

She is extremely imaginative. When she is held captive by the soldiers in a cell, her fertile imagination weaves up a lot of situations like she comes up with an idea of printing poems or chapters of a novel on packaging so that soldiers could read the entire book.
Parvana is independent, compassionate, sensitive and strong-willed. She is confident and taking control of her situation comes naturally to her. “I was born to be in charge.”

It is difficult to imagine life of people in war-afflicted areas, how their hopes, their dreams, their normal lives get shattered every day. Each day is a struggle, even for something which should be every person’s right – education.

Her life had gone from battle to battle, and she was never ever sure that the future would not be terrifying.”

“Afghanistan had so many armies now -the foreigners, the Taliban, the people who hated both the Taliban and the foreigners, the drug people and the people who had their own private armies just because they could.”

This is the story of how Parvana and her family brave threats, challenging circumstances and even resistance from the villagers to fulfill their dream of educating girls, because they truly believe that only education has the power to transform their circumstances. They also embrace anybody who reaches out to them, making them their companions in the journey of life. Despite the setting, it is certainly a story of hope. Because there are people who care; no matter what are the hurdles, the world is still a good place to be in.
This book is meant for Young Adults and therefore it does not dwell too much into the gore and bloodshed. The book focuses on lives and circumstances.

It is a deeply moving book, and one of the best I have read in a long time. All I would say is you have to meet Parvana. You would not forget her. You would not want to.

And for me, I am going to read the much talked about ‘the Breadwinner series’ by the author.

Note: The text in italics have been quoted from the book.

Review Book courtesy: Hachette India
Image source: Hachette India

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Book Review: The Serpent's Tooth by Alex Rutherford

Title: The Serpent's Truth [An Empire of Mughal # 5]
Author: Alex Rutherfordl
Publisher: Headline Review [Hachette India]
Pages: 432
Price: Rs 599
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 9/10
Format: Hardbound

I have been fascinated by Mughal era since the time I read The Feast of Roses and The Twentieth Wife, both by Indu Sundaresan. Though the cover page of this book wasn’t really drawing me to it, yet I intended to read it. Fortunately, this book starts from the time Shah Jahan is the emperor. Though I am yet to read the last 4 books in this series [this being the 5th one], because of Indu Sundaresan’s books I was aware about the story preceding this.

About the Book [from the blurb]

The new Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan reigns over a colossally wealthy empire of 100 million souls. Yet to gain his throne he has followed the savage 'throne or coffin' traditions of his ancestors - descendants of Genghis Khan and Tamburlaine. Ever since the Moghuls took India, brother has fought brother and sons their fathers for the prize and Shah Jahan has been no exception.

As his reign dawns, now is the time for Shah Jahan to secure his throne by crushing his enemies. Instead, devastated by the death of his beautiful wife Mumtaz, he becomes obsessed with building an epic monument to their perfect love - the Taj Mahal. His overwhelming grief isolates him from his sons and he does not see the rivalries, indeed hatreds, building between them. When he falls ill, civil war breaks out - ruthless, murderous and uncontrollable - and the foundations of the empire itself begin to shake.

My thoughts:

‘The Serpent’s Tooth’ is about Shah Jahan as an emperor, his ambitions to expand Mughal empire, his passionate love for Mumtaz and her untimely death, his dream of building an architectural wonder commemorating her [Taj Mahal], the intense rivalries among his sons to succeed him as the emperor, and finally Aurangzeb dethroning Shah Jahan and anointing himself as the 6th Mughal emperor of India. This book is an extremely fascinating and deeply absorbing account of a time few hundreds of years ago.  

Like his grandfather Akbar, Shah Jahan was tolerant of all religions. He had alliances with several Hindu Kings. He also had a deep understanding of architecture and thorough knowledge about various kinds of gems and jewels. He was himself deeply involved in the designing and building of the Taj Mahal. Through this book, we also get to know that as a ruler he was kind and just.

The love between Shah Jahan and Mumtaz is legendary. In an era when emperors used to have harem full of wives, concubines, slave girls; Shah Jahan was deeply attached to Mumtaz. After her untimely death during childbirth, Shah Jahan becomes aimless. In his depression and lack of interest, he could not spot the growing jealousy between his sons for succeeding him as well as starts losing his hold on his allies.  

We read about 7 of his children in this book. Dara Shukoh was the eldest son. Like his father Shah Jahan, he was open-minded and curious, with leanings towards Sufism. Jahanara was the eldest daughter, who had her mother’s courage and gentle persistence. Aurangzeb on the other hand was fanatical and extremely ambitious. He was deeply religious and intolerant of other religions. Shah Suja and Murad are the other two brothers; while Roshanara and Gauharara are the youngest sisters.

The narrative is deeply engaging and illustrative; and deftly woven around true historical facts. The author has been successful in creating vivid imagery of the battlefield as well as life in general during Mughal rule. It is an extremely well-written book and its beauty is in detailing. The conversations sound real, and the sights and sounds of the battle field come alive.  
If you are intimidated by history, let me assure you, I am one of you. Trust me; this book is extremely reader friendly. There is a map in the beginning about the extent of Shah Jahan’s empire; and also there are character names at the end, so you are saved of the need to remember characters. There are ‘Additional Notes’ at the end, where author informs you chapter-by-chapter about facts from fiction. 

I highly recommend it to every reader of historical fiction. Why only historical fiction? If you love a good story, this is for you.

[Shah Jahan reflects on finding his sons fighting for the throne]

“Now it seems it was all for nothing…the old cycle of blood, of father against son, of brother against brother, has begun again. I blame myself. I was complacent when I should have been vigilant. I believed that the rivalries that have cursed the Moghuls for generations could never happen in my family.”

Review Book courtesy: Hachette India
Image source: Hachette India