Book Review: Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

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Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

For long now, Khaled Hosseini has cemented his position as an author who imparts a subtle yet searing voice to the victims of war, riots and displacement, especially in the Islamic countries. We have clutched our hearts and have sobbed silent tears at his Hassan’s redemption and Mariam’s journey.  And Sea Prayer, at its core, harbors a similar cry for life.

A father with his young son, Marwan pressed to his chest, is awaiting a ship that shall take them away from home. Because their home, Syria, has been bombed and violated beyond dignity, the residents must abandon it for dear life. Continue reading

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Book Review: Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski (1982)

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Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
My Rating: 2 of 5 Stars

Ham on Rye is flanked by sauces of happenstance and its delectability depends on the preferences of one’s reading tongue. Mine, for one, could not bear its sour, unsavoury ingredients.

In this bildungsroman, which is semi-autobiographical too, the protagonist, Henry Chinaski loads his bag of dilemma and expletives, and throws its weight around with nonchalance and non-disruptive disdain. The backdrop of the Great Depression, fuels the negative sentiments and Chinaski finds its shackles, throughout the novel, difficult to break away from.

This was my first Bukowski and it didn’t go entirely uneventful, thankfully. Continue reading

Poem Review: मधुशाला by Harivansh Rai Bachchan(1935)

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मधुशाला by Harivansh Rai Bachchan
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

यह १३५ बेशकीमती रुबाइयाँ मात्र किसी मधुशाला के लिए एक क़सीदा नहीं है अपितु गाती हुई रूपक है ज़िन्दगी की , वह ज़िन्दगी जो उजाले और अंधेरे से, न्यायनीति और भेदभाव से ,आलिंगन और अभाव से परिपूर्ण है |

अपनी कलम को नीली स्याही में डुबाये, हमारा दीवाना सा वर्णनकर्ता लिखता चला जाता है; लिखता है गुनगुनाते हुए जीवन की नीरसता की गाथा, जिसमे उसके विचारों की टोकरी को मात्र एक हाला का प्याला, किसी मधुशाला का निवाला, संभाले हुए हैं | एक छेड़ती हुई प्रेमिका की तरह मधुशाला शानदार अमृत-पान के वादे के साथ आकर्षित करती है लेकिन उन मदिराओं को ज़रा दूर सिरका देती है; शायद मिलन से पूर्व उस दीवाने के पैरों की स्थिरता की अपेक्षा में | लेकिन जीवन की शासकों के नीति के विपरीत, यहां लोगों के अपने सपनों के पीछे भागने पर कोई पाबंदी नहीं है | जाति, संस्कृति, धर्म और स्थिति भुला कर , मधुशाला सभी को समा लेती है और इसी अदा से उसका आकर्षण बहुत गुना बढ़ जाता है | हमारा वर्णनकर्ता यह मानता हैं की हवा में उड़ी कोई स्वाश भी उन्मादता से अनछुई नहीं है ; अरे वह शहीद भी तो आज़ादी के नशे में जिया करता है ! Continue reading

Book Review: My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman (2013)

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My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

[Originally appeared here (with edits): http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/li…]

Ah! What have I read here? A delightful take on life? A sensitive take on grief? A wise take on relationships? Perhaps all of it. And more.

At the centre of this book, is an almost-eight-years old, Elsa. When her best (and quirky) friend, her grandmother, leaves her a series of letters upon her death to be delivered to their intended receivers, she sets onto a thrilling journey of discoveries. What was the primary purpose of the letters you ask? You guessed it. To say sorry.

Among Elsa’s neighbours are eccentric chatterboxes and drunken workaholics, weird hounds and mysterious lurkers. Her mother is her punch-bag over teen issues (if Elsa can be called a teen that is) and her Dad is her word collector who can stand everything except a grammatically incorrect sentence. Well, mostly. Continue reading

Book Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (2016)

Commonwealth

[Originally appeared here (with edits)]

How does a car-ride feel across a long, stretched road? Bumpy? Restless? Exhilarating? Tiresome? While a whole bunch of elements might prompt us to arrive at one or many words, there is, perhaps, a single word that can bring the responses of most of us onto a common plain – unforgettable.

Ann Patchett takes us on one such ride. In Commonwealth, she takes two families and follows their six children across a time span of 50 odd years. When Beverly Keating chooses to marry Bert Cousins, walking away from her husband, Fix and two daughters, Caroline and Franny, she is resolute in staying connected to her girls. Bert, on his part, shares a similar sentiment for his four children, Cal, Holly, Jeannette and Albie. But six growing children with untamed streams of inquisitiveness and opinions prove more than handful for the parents. It is their estranged dreams, shared failures, collective successes, rigid silences, futile questions and mismatched lives that form the crux of this novel.

During the early parts of the novel, the pages moved with a burden on their bodies; the noticeably lax pace almost reflected a tired family that was compelled to drag itself into the act, being devoid of interest in the ride. The ride was, thus, just dragging along. But it wasn’t without the occasional spotting of coruscating life:

Prosecutors should insist the trials of murderers and drug lords be held in economy class on crowded transatlantic flights, where any suspect would confess to any crime in exchange for the promise of a soft bed in a dark, quiet room.

Like the cacophony of a garrulous bunch of kids, too many characters were vying for the chisel in the author’s hands and consequently, appeared rough and flustered. But towards the second half, the narrative surreptitiously came together, almost like how a journey makes so much more sense when it comes full circle.

The discreet pull between siblings, even step-siblings, finds a tender meaning when expressed in the deep-seeped delicate and measured prose of the author and the conversations carry an endearing warmth of their own. Patchett does a masterly job in depicting the ease of embracing pain that invariably is a legacy of ripe age. From heartaches to aimlessness, from reunion to illness, the families have a real fabric to them which make them spring out from the book and nestle next to us. It may not be wrong to say that this book is a subtle song about the many colours of a ‘family’ and how it continues to reflect crimson and grey skies around our existences despite the many whirlwinds of time.

When the drive finally ended after multiple deviations, maneauvered by the many drivers of the Keating and Cousins family, accommodating many lift-takers, there was a sense of contentment; not the one which sets the heart at ease and brings the feet to rest but the kind that thanks for a largely memorable ride, despite the many thorns that continue to stare from the punctured tyres.

 

[Image courtesy atelierdore.com]

Book Review: Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima (1958)

Yukio Mishima: The Turbulent Life Of A Conflicted Martyr

Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima
My Rating: 3 of 5 Stars

Confession , as a word, has a strong connotation – prelude to its utterance is a hesitation, and that hesitation alone, is sufficient to engulf the confession-maker with an odour that reeks of both delay and guilt.

But Mishima’s protagonist can take the liberty, because he is behind a mask. His frail body that fails him in school, denigrating his boyish flavour to a handful of jokes, holds up its masculine remnants at nights, because he is behind a mask. His impressionable juvenile mind that refuses to be grinded between familial ties bordering on love and authority, surrenders to erotic one-upmanship of images on discarded and hidden magazines, because he is behind a mask. His hasty, dubious shot at making a girlfriend and heaping her with a partner’s touch despite wriggling out of it mentally (and physically), continues to go unreprimanded because he is behind a mask. His unexpected but secretly nurtured corporeal attraction towards his senior, Omi, survives the onslaught of conservatives, because he is behind a mask.

It is not pain that hovers about his straining chest, his tense abdomen, his slightly contorted hips, but some flicker of melancholy pleasure like music. Were it not for the arrows with their shafts deeply sunk into his left armpit and right side, he would seem more a Roman athlete resting from fatigue, leaning against a dusky tree in a garden.
I had a presentiment then that there is in this world a kind of desire like stinging pain. Looking up at that dirty youth, I was choked by desire, thinking, “I want to change into him,” thinking, “I want to be him.

But masks fall, and with them, fall something that cannot be defined in lumps of clay or words.

Mishima’s tale is an exploration undertaken by a young man into the lanes of his sexuality. This journey turns daunting because during it, he encounters, not just his homosexuality, but his homosexuality hanging as an ugly prop over the backdrop of a war-ravaged land in WWII. Part-autobiographical, part-allegoric, Mishima rips open his heart to bare his innermost battles and jumps in its midst as the lone wager from both sides. Even in his salacious exploits, one can notice his disdain towards the outcomes of war.

I was the only one who did not have genuine lung trouble. I was pretending instead that I had a bad heart. In those days, one had to have either medals or illness.

His initiation of the reader into the Tokyo of 1940s is authentic, and unenthused, and thus, not without merit. The beauty captured in his language dances to its master’s intent, which is, yet again, expectedly tainted with hues of melancholy and unfulfillment.

And later, as I looked down at the city from a window of the elevated train, the snow scene, not yet having caught the rays of the rising sun, looked more gloomy than beautiful. The snow seemed like a dirty bandage hiding the open wounds of the city, hiding those irregular gashes of haphazard streets and tortuous alleys, courtyards and occasional plots of bare ground, that form the only beauty to be found in the panorama of our cities.

In his account of beauty and love, affection and bravery, friendship and isolation, lies a seething pain that is not hungry for an antidote; instead, it breathes on its charred body, heavily and without restraint. The narrative turns, in time, raucously masochistic, and this is precisely where I leave his company for my errands. His obsessive relationship with the nature of his confessions, which emerge dyed in dark, dingy varnishes, run like a treasured vinyl but repeated runs rob it of its haunting melody and its crushing palpability. But one doesn’t discard such souvenirs because….

The moment for parting stood waiting eagerly. A vulgar blues was being kneaded into time.

Read all my reviews.

 

[Image courtesy culturetrip.com]

Book Review – Ties by Domenico Starnone (2014)

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Ties by Domenico Starnone
My Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Validation is a monster we carry within us – we seek it in abundance for the tiniest of things to the biggest of matters; and in the sordid event of its unavailability in external sources, we turn inwards and grab it nonetheless. We validate ourselves; we justify ourselves. Human mind has long been at the end of its wits, attempting to sieve the validation in a pragmatic funnel against a narcissistic one. But the success has been fleeting and regularly, illusional.

And within these enchanting webs of illusions, Domenico Starnone weaves a riveting story of love, infidelity, greed and futility.

In case it’s slipped your mind, Dear Sir, let me remind you: I am your wife.

Continue reading

Movie Review: The Preparation by Cho Young-joon (2017)

 

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The Preparation | Directed by Cho Young-joon | Starring Go Doo-shim, Kim Sung-kyun
My Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Journeys are eventful – whether they cap a bout of tedium or open the vistas to serenity, they make their presence felt.  And sometimes, they do both.

On a recent long-haul flight, I did what most people on such flights do – watch movies. But I also watched what most people on this flight didn’t – “The Preparation”.

The Preparation is a South Korean movie, released during 2017, and tells the story of a mother and her son. Ae-soon runs a small shop in the city; it is no posh delicatessen and gives her meagre to average income. But her astute handling of the money and indomitable spirit to live keeps her and her 30-year old, intellectually disabled son, In-gyu, afloat. Continue reading

Book Review: Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (2018)

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Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

 

When the weapon inflicting a wound is done with its work, it hops onto to its next victim with a repugnant nonchalance. It doesn’t look back, it has barely any emotion. But it does not do the disappearing act before leaving behind the story of the ‘scar’ – the scar hidden inside the wound. And the thing about scars is that they are permanent, or nearly so.

Nathaniel was unfortunate to receive one such scar early on in his life, in 1945, when he was 14-years old to be precise. Continue reading

Book Review: The Only Story by Julian Barnes (2018)

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The Only Story by Julian Barnes
My Rating: 3 of 5 Stars

“Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.”

This sentence, which introduced this most recent book of Julian Barnes to his potential readers, was pretty much my Achilles heel from Page 1. I don’t quite understand how you can adjust the levels of love, like making marks on a burette and letting the content drip as per your desire of colour and consistency of the final emotion. Quantifying love is beyond my comprehension.

And yet, there is a certain granular tenderness in this story of a young man and his (almost) thirty years senior lover that prevents this love story from turning into a chore. Continue reading