Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016)

61ug-qlo6nl-_sy346_The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

[Originally appeared here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/books/reviews/review-the-underground-railroad/articleshow/56417934.cms?]

Shaping a work around the theme of slavery and its many tentacles is a bit like shaping a lump of rigid clay into something cohesive and stable. On one hand, excessive pressure on misery squashes the vein of the narrative and on another, a voice too rebellious, hollows out the inherent pain of its victims. Drawing that line which does justice to this divide is certainly not an easy task and that is precisely where Whitehead shines.

‘The Underground Railroad’ is an allegorical tale, spoken through the life and times of Cora. Her grandmother, Ajarry, from Western Africa, was a worker on the sprawling Randall plantation in Georgia, where, eventually, she passed on the tarnished legacy to her daughter, Mabel and granddaughter, Cora. Slave owners measure their success in the amount of tyranny they exert and Randall was not the one to walk against the league. However, 16-years old Cora was made of sterner stuff than most around her and harboured a burning desire, every instant, to break free. Continue reading

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Book Review: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (2017)

51chitfapol-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
My Rating: 3 of 5 Stars

[Originally appeared here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/li…]

How does a lament sound? Like a distorted sonorous wave? Hitting the crest with a shrill cry and falling to quietude with mangled whimpers? Or like a prolonged stream of soiled garble, comprehensible only to its beholder?

I don’t know on which note of the spectrum this book might fit in, but I do know that this book is a lament – lament on the daily struggles for (dignified) survival borne by the scarred populace of war-torn Kashmir, which unfortunately I can’t talk of in past tense, and the marginalized of the society (taking the transgender as the pivotal link).

The book, from where I see, is about two characters – A transgender, Anjum and a riot victim, Tilottama. Anjum, born Aftab in Old Delhi but discarded by her family for socially- unacceptable biological makeup, is adopted by a whore-house. Continue reading

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (2017)

9780393609097_p0_v5_s192x300Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

[Originally appeared here]

Of all the fiction in this world, I find the ones rooted in mythology the most enticing; not because there is an element of otherworldly magic in them but because somewhere deep down, a bewitching veil of truth hovers above them. The characters we read of, the prowess we fall to, the betrayals we appal at and the spells we dive in, have all a debatable root which almost like our very own samudra manthan of the Hindu mythology, can be twisted this way or that. As most myths are made lesser of primary evidence and more of a secondary interpretation, there is a hidden little room of sorts from where you can see as far as you can, like Heimdall in this book. He is a kind of parallel to Mahabharata’s Sanjaya. Continue reading

Book Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang (2007)

51bdxkezzol-_sx325_bo1204203200_The Vegetarian by Han Kang
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

[Originally appeared here (with edits)]

Many of us, if stretch a little, can recall the question that appeared in our science textbooks in primary schools: choose the living and non-living thing from the following options. While we conveniently tagged all humans, animals and plants to the ‘living’ side, everything else chugged to the ‘non living’ side. But did the divide stand the test of time?

Han Kang pushes this very divide to scintillating heights, reducing the line into a mere fissure, facilitating travel from one living form to another. So, we meet a young Yeong-hye in South Korea, a compliant wife in a patriarchal society, suddenly renouncing meat at the behest of a curious dream. Continue reading

Book Review: Autumn by Ali Smith (2016)

28446947Autumn by Ali Smith
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

 

[Originally appeared here.] 

She has done it in the past; and she does it again here. Ali Smith’s fixation on, and a visible mastery of, story-telling across timeline, in no particular order, shines in this experimental, breezy novel as well.

Centred around the 30-something Elisabeth Demand and her centenarian friend, Daniel Gluck, Autumn is a long, vibrant, occasionally melancholic, sometimes acerbic but entirely warming season of their friendship. Elisabeth, with a ‘s’, is a history of art professor, whose interest was originally kindled in the subject she currently teaches, by the liberal hours she had spent with Daniel, her then-babysitter. As a genial neighbour to Elisabeth’s busy mother, he had agreed to be her caretaker, and in turn, had relished the artistic discourse with the little Ms. Demand. Fast forward a good twenty plus years and Daniel is now a patient in a day care, under the constant vigil of nurses and in wait of, perhaps, the same palliative cacophony of Elisabeth’s inquisitive murmur. Continue reading

Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)

41jfvzl72yl-_sx336_bo1204203200_When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi                                                             My Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

[Originally appeared here (with edits)]

It has been a few days since I turned the last page of this book. But the numbness reappears the instant I allow the pages to unfold in my memory. The silence which suddenly parts to let these memories seep in and cloud my vision, fills the air. Even as I grapple to make ‘sense’ of what it means to lose a dear, dear one, I, ironically, already know that very‘sense’ to be ephemeral. No part of my being accepts death; they all adjust the lens to view it as a part of life.

Paul was a neurosurgeon by profession, and passion, at Stanford University School of Medicine. Standing at the threshold of seeing his dream come true, one built on a decade and half of relentless academic pursuits and tireless hours at residency, he witnesses a cruel twist of destiny; he is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, just months before his scheduled graduation. Continue reading