Book Review: Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (2012)

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Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Forgetfulness was a gift, a talent to be nurtured.

In the war of remembering and forgetting, what side do we choose? Or do we choose at all? Isn’t life that, which happens when we are busy planning it? In the seductively opiated heavens of narrow-alleyed Bombay, a membrane-like life of a eunuch is stretched between her dreams and reality. The prima donna of a famed whore house, Dimple regales her customers with her melancholic eyes and business-like primness and efficiency. Wallowing silently in the memory of her departed lover, she wilfully insulates herself from her present state and instead falls back on books for sweet mental chaos. Come an unusually besotted patron one day and she switches her address in his favour. But does life change? Does the things worth remembering pile up and those worth forgetting, diminish? Continue reading

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Book Review: Nutshell by Ian McEwan (2016)

Nutshell by Ian McEwan
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

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

 

Pessimism is too easy, even delicious, the badge and plume of intellectuals everywhere. It absolves the thinking classes of solutions.

This wonderfully sapient insight springs somewhere in the middle of this book and almost gives away the rationale behind McEwan’s choice of protagonist – a fetus.

Yes, this 200-odd pages of scheming a murder is seen through the eyes of a fetus from the womb of his mother, a party to the hatching game. The other party is her lover, who is also incidentally her husband’s brother. They huddle together in the former’s house, conspiring to kill the husband. Sounds familiar? Continue reading

Book Review: The Book of Chocolate Saints by Jeet Thayil (2017)

The Book of Chocolate Saints by Jeet Thayil
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars

Aut insanit homo, aut versus facit. – The man is either mad or he is composing verses.

But what verses, would you say, emanate from the bosom of passion that borders on delirium? What timbre of voice floats in the smoked air held dense between intoxicating fame and inebriating oblivion? What fumes of rage charge the pen that knows its limits like a bird does the sky’s? Ask Xavier and he shall reveal the seething hearth, one ballistic verse (or painting) at a time.

When journalist Dismas Bambai embarks on expounding the poetic scene of post-colonial Bombay in an anthology, he excavates his known and obscure sources to put together the chapter on the Newton Francis Xavier. Xavier is a liar, a womanizer, a consumed painter. And he is also a loner, a masochist, a celebrated poet. Chronicle this 62-year old’s story across India and America, with cultural attendance of Bombay in full glory, is what the book does. Or not? Continue reading

Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017)

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Wounds must not be pitted against each other since it is not their severity but the victim’s reception of them that defines their impact on the body (and soul). So, I must not put together displacement and immigration next to each other for I haven’t experienced either (or so I think). But there is a little elephant in the room of ‘displacement’ that makes its abode more gruesome than ‘immigration’– that it is, without exception, enforced.

The young Saeed and Nadia hail from an unnamed country where the former is a praying liberal and the latter, an atheistic rebel. Their paths, however, meet and after all the dust of doubts and apprehension settle down, they find love. But guns find their town too, and soon, go berserk. Saeed’s and Nadia’s love story might have suffocated and withered under raining bullets and choking curfews and turned into an ordinary one had there not been the ‘door’. A door to exit. Exit West. Continue reading

Book Review: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda (1924)

41iokieyzpl-_sx310_bo1204203200_Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Tempting as it may appear to wrap the poetic pearls from this collection of Neruda’s heartbeats into a warm shawl of erotic wool, do resist it and pause.

These loquacious verses that assemble at the nape of a lover or ripple playfully across the soft mountains of a beloved’s waist, magnify when viewed through the dual lenses of night and water .

I have said that you sang in the wind
like pines and like masts.
Like them you are tall and taciturn,
and you are sad, all at once, like a voyage.

You gather things to you like an old road.
You are peopled with echoes and nostalgic voices.
I awoke and at times birds fled and migrated
that had been sleeping in your soul.
Continue reading

Book Review: Ignorance by Milan Kundera (2000)

41gljwkfwil-_sy344_bo1204203200_Ignorance by Milan Kundera
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

“The more vast the amount of time we’ve left behind us, the more irresistible is the voice calling us to return to it.”

In this poignant recount of two people, forced to bid goodbye to their native country, in the diminished, yet flickering hope of finding a brighter tomorrow in an alien land, almost 20 years ago from the present, unravels a story replete with more questions than answers. Irena and Josef have found comfortable refuge in their respective abodes at Paris and Copenhagen and have led a fairly decent life, battling through tags of émigrés and periods of insuperable doubts. Irena has outlived her husband, Martin, reared her two daughters dutifully and seems comfortably living her life with her partner, Gustaf , many years her senior. Josef, after leading a few years of blissful matrimony with his Danish wife, had to surrender her to death which clutched the hands of a severe disease to bring down the curtains. Continue reading

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARCEL PROUST!

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It’s not a belated birthday wish. It’s a continuing one. Breathing in the Proustian air is one of my most favorite stress-busters since the time I have been introduced to it. An air so rich yet so clear, it permeates into my lungs with its slight, caressing bend, filling me with a sense of beauty that no amount of dark inhalation can pollute. Proust was special, even as a child. Which 14 year old would scribble such answers to a random, vanilla questionnaire after all? Even if I squeeze my most refined juices, I won’t be able to drench his intellect an inch. Continue reading

Book Review: Embers by Sándor Márai (1942)

783505Embers by Sándor Márai
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars

My fingers were interlocked around my Baba’s arm and my head was resting on his shoulders. I was stealing a glimpse of his face every now and then, convinced that the lines of exhaustion were going to creep upto his tongue any moment, tendering me an apology to relieve him of our evening chatter for the day. However, my apprehensions were misplaced. The exhaustion stood defeated in the face of the radiance that slowly, ever so gradually, filled his visage, displacing the fatigue like a magic potion, as he reached for the cassette player and put one of his most favorite songs in loop. He also fondly went on to explain me its meaning.‘Smruti Tume’, originally composed in Oriya language, is an ode to ‘memories’; in Oriya, the two words literally translate to ‘Memory, You’. The translated lyrics go like this: Continue reading

Book Review: The Waste Land and Other Poems by T S Eliot (1922)

400412The Waste Land and Other Poems by T S Eliot
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thomas Stearns Eliot. A lot is hidden between those three words. A whole world perhaps. A depth measured by many oceans, a mystery viewed from bewitching lenses, a song marrying numerous notes, a candle thriving on inexhaustible wax.

During his writing season, that spanned over three decades, T S Eliot penned many evocative and luscious poems, with his pen always leaving a signature cryptic mark over his dotted sheets. Often a source of delusion to an enthusiastic poetic heart, his labyrinthine lyricism was like a lashing downpour on a parched heartland: one surrendered to the torrent at the risk of bearing undecipherable strokes on one’s soul. I belong to this clan. Continue reading

Book Review: Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (1912)

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My Rating: 5 of 5 stars

As long as we breathe, we live. We do not possess the power to embrace death at will. So, we live. And for living, we cling to a purpose. The purpose may be clear or clouded, animate or inanimate, expressed or hidden, stable or fickle but we have it nonetheless. Even the person accused of leading a purposeless life is surviving on the shredded purpose of vagrancy.

So it doesn’t come as a surprise that even Gustav Aschenbach, notwithstanding the fame and dignity safely held in his bag of accolades, gropes for purpose in his new found state of ripe mind. Nothing is a bigger curse for a writer than to have hit a plateau from where all the previous works appear a distant dream and the present air leaves nothing for the fertile imagination to latch on. Continue reading