Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: The Footprints of Partition by Anam Zakaria

Author Anam Zakaria
Title: The Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians
Author: Anam Zakaria
Published: 2015 by HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 248
Find it at: Flipkart / Amazon

What is this book about? 
A researcher (and development professional and educationist) based in Pakistan has collected stories from different generations of Pakistanis and Indians on the theme of Partition (of 1947), with the purpose of understanding how people from different generations feel about that defining event. Perhaps one of the most important ideas this book tries to portray is the 'happy' stories related to Partition. The happy aspects of life before and after Partition are often overlooked because for most people, 'Partition' relates to an experience or belief that is not positive; one that brings memories of pain, torture and sadness, so much so that the first thing that occurs to anyone who thinks about Partition is the negativity surrounding it. 

My thoughts
I wanted to read this book as soon as I got wind of its existence. I had never read Partition stories before, but had heard real life stories narrated by my grandma many years ago. She was a Partition survivor, someone who left her home and all belongings to travel in an overstuffed train to a 'safer' land. Reading this book, I realized that the village she lived in was the first where the riots began, which accelerated and acted as a harbinger for Partition. 

Reading The Footprints of Partition  was an emotional experience, and also one that widened my perspective. Having been brought up in India with no contact with anyone from the 'other' side, I had learned to perceive Pakistan and Partition in a certain way, not realizing what the people being brought up in Pakistan thought about India. Sure, the two countries have always been at loggerheads with each other, specially during cricket, the sport Indians and Pakistanis literally worship. However, as I grew older and made sense of people and the world, a lot of prejudice and biases came to an end. After all, my grandma did tell me the good stories too, even if they were few. Even then, reading something on a topic we feel so emotional about, written by a person whose thoughts and experiences related to the 'other' side, was a real eye-opener to how little we know of each other.

To begin with, the book makes you look at Partition in an entirely different way. First, it talks about real people and the effect of Partition on their lives. There's nothing political in it. What did the people want? Why were they rooting (or not) for Partition? We see how millions on both sides of the border lost not just their loved ones or their jobs or their land, but also had their hearts and souls tested severely. Next, we (in India) have mostly looked at Partition that led to a loss - of homes, families, cities. It 'broke' India. We 'lost' something of 'us'. Little do we realize what Partition meant to those who wanted it. That was an entirely new thing for me! 

The author has travelled and met people from four different generations--some popular, some as common as you and I--mostly in Pakistan but also some in India. She probed them with questions about Partition. As you'd expect, the people who had lived to see it had the most heart-warming stories to narrate. It took some time to make them remember the good parts, but once they recalled how happy they had been, it had led to a treasure trove of wonderful, emotional stories. Talking to people who were forced to take an Indian citizenship due to circumstances, to people who left half of their families behind to be in Pakistan, the book talks about them all. We get a glimpse into the multicultural dynamics of the pre-Partition years, the cultural and religious identities which were overlapping instead of being so different.

Footprints of Partition is divided into four sections, one for each generation. Reading people's stories in this sequence does more than give the book a structure--it subtly shows the changed mindset and development of the Partition idea over the years. Surprisingly, the current generations seem to harbour more hatred for the 'other' nation than the people who actually experienced the horrific time and events. The author has also tried to analyze why it is so. It came to her as she started working with CAP (Citizens Archive of Pakistan) and spearheaded programs to allow the younger generations to exchange their views and become friends. The animosity between many kids was startling. Their perspective mixed with a deep-rooted fear of the others was even more so. The book also talks about certain aspects that facilitate feelings of enmity, including select curriculum taught in schools, sharing of only gruesome stories when it comes to Partition, and the leaders who are quick to reiterate the horrors of the past to justify the one-sided view of the 'enemy'.

There's a lot more than that which is uncovered, a lot of love that is dying because people carrying that love are dying and the newer ones are just taking forward a narrow perspective. Anam Zakaria, with this book, has tried to immortalize (as much as words can do) some stories that must not die. I'm sure there must be many more such stories that have remained unheard, specially as today we move so fast that we do not really care to listen to those stories, or to find them. Personally, I feel glad and thankful that someone cared enough to write and share those stories. 

I haven't got into details about the stories per se. They're varied, ranging from someone looking across the border hoping to find a loved one, to someone breaking down for not being able to see his hometown except from inside a running bus. I can only imagine the level of emotional connect people have with Partition. Growing up, I wished it had never taken place, that we were all still together, and reading this book made me wish for the same, although it also made me think of the 'whys' which I hadn't thought of before. It's complex, but hugely satisfying if you are interested in Partition stories. The author also talks about traditions that still run and at their minimal best, try to keep something 'common' between the two. One such amazing mention was that of a 'mela' that takes place each year in Sawan season. It happens right on the border, with people coming from both sides to pray and celebrate, together. Such, and other, melas (like one at Baisakhi) take place along the border at different places with people coming in from both sides and happily greeting each other. Doesn't it sound surreal? 

The manner of writing is definitely engaging, where you also see the storytellers' life's direction as it was affected by Partition. The language used is simple and lively. I absolutely love the author's honesty as an observer of what she and others felt and what she came across while working on the project. I only wish the author hadn't put in much of her own experiences of being a part of CAP or other things, because after a point, it seemed repetitive and broke the flow. Also, as the author also mentioned in the book, the stories were brought out not only to share but also to see how people 'chose' to remember. Perhaps it still doesn't offer a very wide view, as the people interviewed were largely from select few places, but it does make a difference. I was left feeling much humbled and with a much wider perspective when it comes to Partition. Like some new generation storytellers mentioned in the book, even I wish to some day travel to my grandparents' home towns to see what became of them, but again, I know almost nothing about those places, and know no people. Still, the desire to walk around and visit the 'other' side stays strong, and I hope to be able to accomplish it some day. Then perhaps I would finally feel like my own Partition story is at a comfortable close.

(This also makes me think how "important" such stories are, how their preservation is necessary to be able to allow the newer generations to have a wider perspective and not one dictated by propaganda and public opinion. Mutual feelings of distrust only get stronger, and we need something to bridge that gap, or the real history will elude us forever.)

Recommended for: All Indian and Pakistani readers, anyone interested in history and Partition, readers trying to understand the effects of Partition on the common man.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Book talk: Moonfleet by J.M. Falkner

J.M. Falkner (1858-1932)
Book details

Title: Moonfleet
Author: John Meade Falkner (English novelist and poet)
Published: 1898
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
This book is about: a silent countryside, smugglers and contrabandiers, adventure, love and loss, human relationships, pursuit of lost treasure

Some cool facts around this book
1. The village of Moonfleet is inspired from East Fleet in Dorset in England.
2. The author, J.M. Falkner had an affinity for weapons and interest in the supernatural.
3. J.M. Falkner had other interests, but is known for his three novels, the most popular of which is Moonfleet. He wrote a fourth novel but it was lost when he left the only copy on a train and never saw it again (*sigh*)

How I came to this book
(I really like listing down such things as how I came across particular books. Some books are loved even more because of the way they came to your life, is it not?)

I had an old, yellow-paged copy of Moonfleet among my first ever book collection, which makes it date back to 2003 (approx.). I forget who gave it to me, with the most probable person being the aunt who has often gifted books in my early years (note to self: be such an aunt to someone!). I think I remember dad telling me how it was my aunt's and how she had enjoyed reading it and thought that I would like it too. 

Honestly, I was intrigued by the book (look at the cover! Plus, it was a battered copy, which is even more alluring) but it has taken me twelve years to get down to read it. I have tried picking it up quite a few times, but either found my way across to another book, or found it difficult to get through more than two pages. A few days back, finally, I picked it up and decided to start reading it during my long metro-train travel to work. I think it was one of those books that you wait to read at the right moment, as I don't think I could have enjoyed it more had I read it somehow on my earlier attempts. It was a delight to read Moonfleet, and I am grateful to whoever made me have this wonderful copy. (Still, I do not forgive the brat who has doodled on some pages. The nerve of some kids!)

What is Moonfleet about?
There is a fifteen-year-old boy called John Trenchard living in the Moonfleet village in Dorset (south of England) with his aunt. John's aunt is strict, though caring, so that John doesn't learn to love her much, though he was affectionate. Until one day, she deserts him for getting into mischief--when John was only following his curiosity and instinct--and leaves John fending for himself. 

Elzevir Block is a man most respected by some village folk, while some kept well away from him, including young John. He knows that Block's son, David, was shot by a Customs Officer, namely Maskew, after which Block had turned even more formidable. Yet it is Block who shelters John and cares for him as if he were his own David. Mr Glennie is the village priest and admin. head while Master Ratsey is the sexton, involved with the smugglers. 

Then there's the whole mystery of the Mohune vault, where Blackbeard, the last of the Mohunes (who had created Moonfleet) also rested and had cast a curse. Like most villagers, John believes in the story of Blackbeard's spirit digging the cemetery grounds looking for his lost treasure, until the time he discovers the secret, and finds a clue that, at first, leads him nowhere close to the cursed treasure. The story, however, is more about the paths John's life takes as he starts living a life among smugglers (of liquor) and his quest to find the lost treasure.

Why do I like Moonfleet so much? 
Writing style: This book is a classic story for children, teenagers and young adults, written in first person with John being the narrator. There's something of a mystery driven in each sentence, purely because of the sentence structures! Here and there, where something of importance would arrive at a later place in the story, the author stresses on the points by tagging those as things John would be discovering later. The language is beautiful, the characters' distinct voices made for by their tones and individual characteristics, and the descriptions detailed and wonderful. 

The story: I like how the author somehow makes it not just an adventure story, but a mix of adventure, mystery, thrills of the sea, and human complexity. I love how he uses the perspective of smugglers to describe all the events that take place, which makes you think quite kindly of people in the smuggling business (just because no one wanted to pay excise for good liquor! You can't be too strict about that, specially in 1750s, when the story is set). It makes a lawful person, who might think of those who follow lawlessness as inhuman, look at the other perspective. A hardened man much respected among the contrabandiers because of never being accused of felony taking immense pain to shelter a boy he barely knew anything about. The story is about John's increasing love and respect for 'Master Block', who had saved his life on more than one occasion. It is about greed, love that is incredibly patient, fatherly love, repentance, friendship, luck and perspective on life. All these themes are beautifully integrated in this story of a small village, sailors, prisoners and shipwrecks. 

I have read a few books based around pirates and ships, and though this one was not strictly only about that, I still will keep it in that category because of the sheer importance of the sea in this story. I hope I would read this book again sometime and enjoy it even more! Recommended for: teenagers, young adults, lovers of mystery, adventure, classics, ships and the sea.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Review: Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud

Title: Ptolemy's Gate (Bartimaeus #3)
Published: 2006 by Random House
Pages: 515
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
My Rating: 5/5

Review Highlights: High on fantasy, gripping, perfect ending to trilogy, great writing style, amazing story

Blurb from Goodreads
Three years have passed since the magician Nathaniel helped prevent a cataclysmic attack on London. Now an established member of the British Government, he faces unprecedented problems: foreign wars are going badly; Britain's enemies are mounting attacks close to London; and rebellion is fomenting among the commoners. Increasingly imperious and distracted, Nathaniel is treating Bartimaeus worse than ever. The long-suffering djinni is growing weak and vulnerable from too much time in this world and is nearing the end of his patience.
Meanwhile, Nathaniel's longtime rival Kitty has been stealthily completing her research on magic, demons, and Bartimaeus's past. She has a daring plan that she hopes will break the endless cycle of conflict between djinn and humans. But will anyone listen to what she has to say?

In this glorious conclusion to the Bartimaeus trilogy, the destinies of Bartimaeus, Nathaniel, and Kitty converge once more. Together the threesome faces treacherous magicians, a complex conspiracy, and a rebellious faction of demons. To survive, they must test the limits of this world and question the deepest parts of themselves. And most difficult of all-they will have to learn to trust one another.

My Thoughts!

I love reading books by Jonathan Stroud. Before I picked up this trilogy, the only book by Stroud I'd read was called The Leap, which had intrigued me for many years afterwards. Reading the Bartimaeus trilogy, I'm mighty convinced that Stroud is a writer I greatly admire. Ptolemy's Gate, the final book in the series, brings everything to a satisfying conclusion. Although the book is divided into stories of Bartimaeus and also those of Nathaniel and Kitty, I found the first book to be more of a Nathaniel's book, while the second seemed to focus more on Kitty. The third book focuses more on Bartimaeus--we get to know about the past of this beloved and unique djinn, his favourite master, and how the past relates to the present.

Meanwhile, the story is progressing with Nathaniel finding himself in thick soup in the government ranks. He needs to desperately find out and bring an end to the rebellion among the commoners, and for that, he is using Bartimaeus recklessly, so much so that the djinn's essence is nearly gone doing Nathaniel's bidding. That's not all, the excitement gradually mounts up as Stroud narrates parallel stories in a finely balanced fashion, so that the greatest mystery of the book is unveiled at the time when everything suddenly comes together and makes sense, and it is fantastic! 

The book was gripping right from the beginning, which is why I love the author's writing style. Bartimaeus' narrations were fun as usual. I absolutely hated Nathaniel when he was being such a one-sided guy, but his actions were the result of a stressed state of mind, so that somewhat became all right in the end. When it comes to Kitty, though, she absolutely steals the limelight! She has taught herself magic for the purpose of defeating it, she manages to find out secrets no one else could work out, and she plays a major role in bringing an end to the savage destruction being inflicted in London, and which has left even the government in tatters.

I really loved the way the story has been presented in this trilogy. Each book has a certain theme, but the connecting stories and characters grow and develop throughout, which makes the whole story connect and go forward. Even though I didn't prefer the ending to be exactly the way it was, it was still nicely wrapped up. Thank goodness Jonathan Stroud wrote a fourth Bartimaeus book (The Ring of Solomon) that has nothing to do with Nathaniel and this story. I'll be reading that next!

Recommended for: Fantasy lovers, Young Adult readers, Teenagers, anyone looking for a fantasy-trilogy. You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Review: The Golem's Eye by Jonathan Stroud

Jonathan Stroud
Title: The Golem's Eye (Bartimaeus #2)
Published: 2004 by Corgi Children
Pages: 592
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
My Rating: 5/5

My Thoughts
The Golem's Eye is the second book in the Bartimaeus series, after The Amulet of Samarkand. Nathaniel has now been in the government job for two years under the guidance of Jessica Whitwell, a high level minister in the Department of Internal Affairs. Nathaniel has become overly ambitious, and detests people in the government who seem to jeer at him for his young age and lack of experience. He hasn't seen Bartimaeus in two years, because of their previous pact to not come across each other again, but when he is assigned the arduous task of finding the mysterious, terribly destructive creature or group roaming around the streets of London, he feels no one but Bartimaeus would be up to the job.

Popular magical places have been destroyed around London, and the Night Police or any magical security could detect no trace of a djinn or any being of magic. The suspicion goes to The Resistance, a group of youngsters who go around stealing magical artifacts to annoy the magicians. Nathaniel, however, does not think teenagers could have managed destruction of such magnitude. There is something far more sinister, something the magicians have believed to be extinct. 
Inspired artwork by

The London government is run by magicians, and the commoners are grateful to them for providing them security. Well, not everyone is grateful, however. Some 'commoners' have suffered at the hands of magicians, like everyone else, and resent their power to the extent of attempting to overthrow them. Kathleen (Kitty) Jones is a young teenager who appeared briefly in the first book and occupies a large part of The Golem's Eye. She is part of The Resistance, and is slightly disconcerted by the fact that the major attacks are being attributed to them. The Golem's Eye takes us into two parallel worlds - one of Nathaniel and the magicians, and the other of The Resistance and the commoners. The back-story of Kitty and the members of The Resistance comes up in this book, and makes the whole story very, very interesting.

Bartimaeus is, as usual, his witty, humourous self. It's hard not to smile at his dialogues or footnotes. It's even harder not to be inspired to adopt that kind of attitude in real life situations as well. Bartimaeus is one of my favourite magical characters in literature! As for Nathaniel, I did think he was being a prick in a lot of instances. What happened to his character? He seemed totally influenced by his hunger for power and recognition, and the barely-decent boy in him seemed to have vanished, as Bartimaeus rightly observed.  

Cover *_*
The other thing that made me give this book a five-star review is the manner of writing. It's engrossing, gripping, and in one of the crucial scenes, downright scary. In hindsight, it doesn't seem that horrifying, but it nevertheless made me gasp and shudder, and that's what matters. Who cares about reality anyway? I had been thinking that The Amulet of Samarkand would be superior to its sequel books, but Jonathan Stroud is excellent in all his books. I have to admit that the beginning of this book was a little confusing, and not entirely gripping, because of new information of the past in Prague and about Kitty Jones, and also the lack of Bartimaeus, but it soon picked up pace as the background was set in place, and from there on it was a non-stop reading gala. 
I'd highly recommend this series to fans of fantasy and young adult fiction. If you're looking for a mix of old magic and modern taste, this is the book for you! If you've read The Amulet of Samarkand, you have to continue this series. Now I'll be waiting for my copy of Ptolemy's Gate to arrive, and devour it in one go. The quotable quotes from the book are mostly dialogues by Bartimaeus, such as:

“Hey, we've all got problems, chum. I'm overly talkative. You look like a field of buttercups in a suit.” 

“I wanted to wake you straightaway, but I knew I had to wait several hours to ensure you were safely recovered."
"What! How long has it been?"
"Five minutes. I got bored.”  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Everyone must have heard of Frankenstein, even if they never knew that it is a book by Mary Shelley, who started writing it at the age of eighteen, and publishing it when she was twenty. Even fewer people would know that the idea for this book came from an evening's pass-time activity when Mary, her fiance and poet Percy Shelley, friend Lord Byron and John Polidori were sitting in Geneva during a tour of Europe, and had to invent a way to spend their evening. They came up with a contest among themselves for the best ghost story, and the idea of Frankenstein was conceived in Mary's dream that night.

Written nearly 200 years ago, Frankenstein is the story of a young and ambitious man who is taken to the natural sciences at a very young age. Contrary to popular thought (and this is why it is crucial to read books), Frankenstein is the name of that young man rather than that of the creature (or 'monster', 'devil', 'demon', 'fiend') he created. The story has no name for the creature, and probably that's why the cartoon and film versions have named the monster Frankenstein for convenience (and it hurts to know that movie versions would, naturally, differ from the text). Victor Frankenstein belongs to a well-bred family, and his keen curiosity, facilitated by two professors at University, brings him to his doom. He discovers the secret to life, and attempts to create a being to whom he would provide life. The story takes a turn when the creator is appalled by his own creation as soon as it comes to life, and Victor abandons it. 

Frankenstein is not really a story of a monster and his evil deeds. It's more about the side-effects of knowledge, meddling with nature, trying to play God, and how unkindness and being loveless can turn one into a monster. The creature is at first loving, and very much like a new-born (except for the minor defect that he looks like an eight-feet tall and gigantic man). However, he has no one to take care of him, and his creator has abandoned him, so the creature goes out into the world on his own and realizes how man would despise him because of the way he looks. He learns to live in the wilderness, and gradually facing rejection from every kind of being he meets, he turns bitter and seeks revenge against his creator. 

The story follows the acts of the creature and Victor's increasing despondency. Though the creature acts cruelly, one can't help sympathizing with him. When you read about how much the creature craved love, and how frequently he was denied the basic need for existence, you do feel that his acts were justified and, strangely, human.

Frankenstein is a compelling read. It's written in an epistolary form - that is, in the form of letters. The initial introduction is made by a third observer, a Captain called Walton, who is travelling in the North in his ship. He comes across Victor Frankenstein, lost and barely surviving, and that's how he gets to know his story, and records it in his letters to his sister. 

I found Victor's lamentations to be a bit tiring towards the end and too frequent, but apart from that I couldn't help reading all the way. I was also amazed that the author was so young when she wrote the novel, which, apart from being Gothic in theme, also addresses topics like intolerance, delicateness of human nature, and effects of knowledge and ambition. I'm also listing facts about Frankenstein I got to know as a result of reading the book:

1. Frankenstein is the creator, not the monster. His full name is Victor Frankenstein, and he is not a mad scientist either. He's just an ambitious man driven over the edge.

2. Mary Shelley's father was the philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. 

3. Frankenstein created the creature in a makeshift laboratory in his hostel room. Unlike the movies, there is no lab on a cliff, nor is there a hunchbacked assistant. 

4. In the book, the creature neither has green skin nor bolts protruding from his neck. The physical description describes him as a gigantic, eight-foot tall man. Frankenstein had chosen handsome features for him, but his eyes were white and his skin stretched across his body in a contorted manner so that it made him look very much like an anomaly. 

5. The creature was never evil from the beginning, nor was it in his nature. It was the circumstances and lack of empathy that led to him being a monster inside.

6. The novel was originally called: Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus. It was first published anonymously in London in 1818.

7. There is really a Frankenstein Castle around Germany, where it was known that a scientist (alchemist) was engaged in experiments. Mary Shelley had traveled there with her group, and had thus come across it before writing her novel. 

8. The first theatrical production of Frankenstein was a twelve-minute silent film, in 1910. (Watch on YouTube here

Cool, isn't it? If this is not enough, let me share some quotable quotes too:

“How dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to be greater than his nature will allow.” 

“I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.” 

“The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature.” 

“What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man?” 

“How many things are we upon the brink of discovering if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries?” 
Mary Shelley

Book Title: Frankenstein
Author: Mary Shelley
Published: 1818 (and many subsequent editions)
Pages: 273
Genre: Classics/ Gothic/ Horror
My Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Jonathan Stroud
Title: The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus #1)
Published: 2003 by Disney-Hyperion
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart 
My Rating: 5/5!

(Read the blurb at Goodreads)

My Thoughts
The Amulet of Samarkand is the first book in the Bartimaeus trilogy - a magical book where magicians rule Britain and it is common for them to use imps and djinn of all kinds for their 'magic'. Magicians have an apprentice each, a child brought from willing parents at a young age, to be educated as a magician and possibly hold a reputable post in the government. Nathaniel is six when he is brought to the magician Arthur Underwood.

That's the basic premise of the story. 

The basic, because you would ask, "What's Bartimaeus?" unless you have already read the books. (I've been a laggard. This book first came out in 2003) Bartimaeus is a 5,000 year old djinni who has lived through, and witnessed, the world's great civilizations, wars, hideousness and humour. He's really intelligent, to say the least. And powerful. That is why Nathaniel, aged 12 and very ambitious, decides to call the famed Bartimaeus to do his bidding - stealing the Amulet of Samarkand from his enemy.

The edition I have
One of the many cool covers for this book

The book opens with Bartimaeus entering the scene in what he hopes is a dramatic way. It worked on Nathaniel to some extent, but it works at multiple levels for a reader. We are immediately introduced to this ancient magical creature, who has seen so much of the world that he decided to be totally modern and 'keeping up with the times'. The entire book is narrated simultaneously from Bartimaeus and Nathaniel's perspectives, going back and forth (to the past and present) in between. Yet, it isn't confusing. If you happen to love Bartimaeus from the very first page (like I did), you'll simply look forward to his POV. 

Why? It's not only interesting and full of action, it is also incredibly funny. 

That's what struck me more than the story. From the very beginning, Bartimaeus had me in splits. Be it direct narration, dialogue, or footnotes, it was written and presented so well that I couldn't resist smiling at the way he talks (and what he says). A major part of what we see in the story (minus the back story) comes from Bartimaeus, including Nathaniel's description, and whatever action is taking place. 

As events unfold and we realize why Nathaniel wants to seek revenge on a powerful magician, we're travelling to many places and witnessing many secrets. Nathaniel has no idea that the thing Bartimaeus has stolen for him would make him run around the city and facing its many dangers. It's not only personal revenge, but a huge machination to overturn the government. It is a pretty interesting story, but more than the plot, it is the elements that are appealing and add weight to the story. Die-hard Harry Potter fans would relate certain instances/plot/ideas that seem similar, but isn't it true that after Harry Potter, most YA fiction stories, especially if those happen to relate to magic, seem somewhat similar? I wouldn't take that against this book, however. It has a decent enough plot, it keeps its focus on central characters, and Bartimaeus takes all the credit for making us laugh. Full marks to that.

PS- I had the fourth book, The Ring of Solomon (received as a gift) since years, but about two weeks ago, I found this book sitting in the 'Free Reads' section of a fantastic sale in a fantastic bookstore. I would have been crazy to not pick it up, right? You have to admit that my impulse book-buying decisions turn out well. ;)

Now I'll sit and begin reading The Golem's Eye, part 2 of the Bartimaeus trilogy. Yay!

Psst: I would recommend this book to readers of all ages, if you're interested in fantasy, that is. If you still need proof, take these quotes from the book:

“A word of friendly advice could have saved him, but dear me, I was too busy watching him unravel to think of it until it was far too late.”

“He was transfixed at the sight of the lords and ladies of his realm running about like demented chickens.” 

“And then, as if written by the hand of a bad novelist, an incredible thing happened.” 

“When I set out from the boy's attic window, my head was so full of competing plans and complex stratagems that I didn't look where I was going and flew straight into a chimney.

Something symbolic in that. It's what fake freedom does for you.” 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Love Among the Bookshelves by Ruskin Bond

When you read a book you really enjoy, and you feel it has become your ultimate favourite (like the previous ultimate favourites), what do you do? Ask your friends if they've read it, in the hopes of sparking a new, interesting discussion; search the web to find people who've read it; read up book reviews and secretly hate those who hated the book; and then you read up on the author. Who is/was he/she? What did they like doing? What were their views on stories and literature? Did they give any interviews? Can I read those?

From what I believe, these are the typical traits of a reader who loved a book and doesn't seem to have had enough of it. The most ardent readers would not only savour the book over and over, but would also read about the author's story, imagining a person who created a story they could associate with so well. 

Therefore, if you are a fan of legendary author Ruskin Bond, the Indian writer who wrote his first book in London at the age of seventeen and decided during childhood that he would be a writer, this is the book that chronicles his reading and writing experiences, and loves. Ruskin Bond begins the book with a clarification - this is not a seamy love story that happened behind a bookshelf, but one person's love of books, reading and writing that happened throughout his life. 

Ruskin Bond was a small boy (of eight, I think) when he accompanied his father in a hunting group. They stayed in a wilderness resort for a few days, when Ruskin realized that he found hunting as a sport rather distasteful. He preferred to stay behind in the lodge and spend time with the caretaker, who left him to his own account for the most part. She did, however, tell him that the books Ruskin discovered there belonged to an old Englishman who had lived there previously, and now belonged to the lodge. By then, he had already read some popular books, but with nothing else to do, he found those books as treasures that opened a whole new world for him. "He reads too many books," complained one of his father's friend, but little did he know how wonderful that habit was.  

Throughout the book, Bond narrates his personal relationship with certain books: books that shaped his ideas, that appealed to him in some way or the other, those that held special significance, and nearly all that helped him learn more about the world, or made him experience beautiful emotions. In a writer's life, the books he/she reads matters a lot. Those books are telling of the writer's sources of information, ideas, thought-processes, likes and dislikes. These help a reader grow close to a favourite writer. 

It's not even just about Bond being a favourite, but about how someone who identified, against all social expectations, early during childhood that writing would be his sole career focus, managed to do it. And do it spectacularly. Ruskin Bond takes us into his growing years, his years in London, and even shows us a glimpse of his favourite passages/pages from his favourite books, telling us more about those books, those writers, the era they lived in, and why they are still relevant. An ardent reader would enjoy discovering titles they never knew existed, and get a better idea of how it all shaped Ruskin Bond's mind, if one is interested in that kind of thing. 

Ruskin Bond
The writing style employed in this book is refreshing, articulate, informative and appealing. I'm not just using these adjectives for the sake of making this look like a book review, but because Love Among the Bookshelf truly deserves all these! I found the beginning chapters really, really interesting, and the level of interest slightly petered out towards the end, but that is entirely personal. You could end up loving it all the more. 

There were instances where I had to stop and look for a pencil to mark certain passages or sentences, because of course, Ruskin Bond is good, and when you come across strong these-completely-makes-sense words, you are left with no other alternative than to mark those out. 

"In time I was to learn that it's the onlooker who sees more of the party than the party-goer; that it's the man on traffic duty who sees more of the passing show than the man behind the wheel; that the man on the hilltop sees the curvature of the earth better than the man on the plain; that the hovering vultures know who's winning the battle long before the opposing armies; and that, when all the wars are done, a butterfly will still be beautiful." 

Details of the book are thus:
Title: Love Among the Bookshelves (as is evident from the post title and the post itself)
Author: Ruskin Bond 
Published: April 2014 by Penguin Viking
Pages: 185
Genre: Non-Fiction; Memoir
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Talk: Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

Jean Webster
Author: Jean Webster
Published: 1912
Find it at: Amazon ebook / Amazon 
My Rating: 5/5

There was something about the title that appealed to me. It was also a title I remembered having seen somewhere, apart from having heard of, so when I came across it while loading up my Kindle with classic ebooks, there was no reason to overlook it.

Goodreads Blurb
Laugh out loud at Judy's charming and unforgettable letters
Young Judy Abbott has been saved from life at the orphanage by a generous--and anonymous--guardian. He will pay for her education if she promises to write to him every month. Judy writes the most exuberant and lively letters--packed with laughs, and tales of friendship and college life. Judy's having so much fun she can scarcely stop writing...
My Thoughts
Boy, was it the best impulse-reading-decision or what. Daddy Long Legs is an epistolary novel chronicling the story of Judy (Jerusha) Abbot, a seventeen year old orphan from the John Grier Home. She has stayed two years more at the home than most kids, and even though she has worked for her boarding, the Home cannot keep her much longer. At the home, the first Wednesday of every month was a day of great trepidation, as the trustees would visit and dine with the matron, looking at the children to see if all was well. On one such Wednesday, Judy had barely entered her room after an arduous day when she was called by the matron. On the way, she saw the shadow of an extremely tall man in a suit and a hat - a trustee, most probably - and his long legs in the shadow were all she knew about him.

To her great astonishment, as the matron informed her, the man had decided to send her to college. He usually despised girls, but the matron had spoken of her intelligence and prowess at English, and the trustee had decided to send her to college so she could be an author. There was one condition - Judy had to write at least one letter to him each month, informing him of her progress in studies. He wished to remain anonymous, and would never write back, but Judy was to address him as Mr John Smith and keep him updated.

The story follows Judy's letters that bring out not just the happenings in the four years of her college life, but also her development as a girl who literally sees the world for the first time. Judy Abbot is quirky, full of life and curiosity, guarded about her past, yet open to making friends. She writes way more than the stipulated 'one letter a month', because Mr John Smith is the only one who could be called a relation, even though he is only a sort of guardian for her. Nevertheless, she grows close to him, calling him Daddy-Long-Legs, and respecting his wishes (that he sent through his secretary in one-sentence-messages) for the most part. Gradually, the book explores much more than teenage or a parent-child relationship.

As she studies harder and tells Daddy Long Legs about the subjects she has undertaken, her friends - the kind and the conceited, her new dresses and things courtesy Mr Smith, she presents to him a picture of a young, empowered woman. She refuses to follow his orders if she found those unfair, or at least frankly letting him know of her opinion. By way of such a relationship and her personal development, Judy represents the power of education, and how men cannot decide to own any woman or make her do as he wished. She also builds an interest in Mr Jarvis, a kindly man whom she befriends. Despite Mr Jarvis being 14 years elder to her, she feels a strong sense of connection with him.

I found the book's language and writing style immensely refreshing. It was a surprise that this book was written so long ago, as it seemed quite 'contemporary'. It was initially categorized along with chick-lit books of the age and gradually came around to being tagged as a children's book. It is a book for all ages, I believe. There is good humour, sarcasm and intelligent conversations - the perfect ingredients for readers who feel put off by dumb dialogues. Daddy Long Legs is extremely well written! Some might find a few gaps in the story, but the essence of the novel is in the letters and including just that what is important, so I did not mind those at the least.

Jean Webster came from a family of women who strongly believed in education of women, and worked for the cause. That was undoubtedly her inspiration, as the theme of the book relates of social ideas, and presenting those ideas in a light manner, yet being able to drive home the point. (And oh, she happens to be Mark Twain's grand-niece) I'm glad I read this book, and I would recommend it to everyone.

There were so many wonderful lines in the book that I was continuously highlighting paragraphs after paragraphs. Some of my favourites are listed below:

“It isn't the big troubles in life that require character. Anybody can rise to a crisis and face a crushing tragedy with courage, but to meet the petty hazards of the day with a laugh - I really think that requires spirit."

“I think that the most necessary quality for any person to have is imagination. It makes people able to put themselves in other people's places. It makes them kind and sympathetic and understanding.” 

“I believe absolutely in my own free will and my own power to accomplish - and that is the belief that moves mountains. ” 

"It seems to me that a man who can think straight along for forty-seven years without changing a single idea ought to be kept in a cabinet as a curiosity."

"The world is full of happiness, and plenty to go round, if you are only willing to take the kind that comes your way."

"But what's the use of arguing with a man? You belong, Mr Smith, to a sex devoid of a sense of logic. To bring a man into line, there are just two methods: one must either coax or be disagreeable. I scorn to coax men for what I wish. Therefore, I must be disagreeable."
^ This one is a favourite. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Classic Talk #7: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte
Title: Wuthering Heights
Author: Emily Bronte
Published: 1847
Pages: 337
Get it at: Flipkart / Project Gutenberg for free!
My Rating: 4.5/5

My relationship with Wuthering Heights is recent, and a beautiful one. It's also a difficult one. Like most difficult relationships, it started off with disinterest and procrastination to even look at it. I always knew it as the book my mother had loved reading and enjoyed very much. I got a copy about a year ago and set it carefully among other classic paperbacks, skipping it each time until a few weeks ago. 

It so happened that my next project at work pertained to Wuthering Heights. I finally had a chance to not only read, but study it as well. The first few pages were deeply confounding. What was happening? Who is this narrator? Who are all these characters and what is their relationship with each other? This book requires patience to get through the first few pages. I started drawing a character chart and pasted it on the desk, referring to it whenever a character was mentioned, so it was easy to understand the context of dialogues. It's not the ideal way, but it was a great help. I would recommend it if you find the confusion too much to read further, because it is worth reading further. Once you enter the story, it's hard to get out.

This is a story of Heathcliff and Catherine, two people who love each other passionately and believe they share the same soul. It's not that easy, though. Heathcliff was an orphan boy adopted by Catherine's father, Mr Earnhsaw, and despised by her brother Hindley. When Mr Earnshaw dies, the story turns into a series of psychological events, abuse, jealousy, revenge, social class, and love. Shunned by society and having lost the love of his life, Heathcliff's strong and unforgettable character spearheads actions aimed at annihilation of two entire families and generations, driven by revenge.

This book is unforgettable primarily because of characters' portrayal. The entire story is set in two houses - Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, yet the story is large. It is intense, and painfully real. Even though Heathcliff is monstrous in his actions, one can't help sympathising with him. Even though Catherine - both first and second - seems barely improving in the maturity department, one cannot help understanding her. The dialogues, setting (dark houses on desolate moors, viewing apparitions, Gothic in setting) and characters are so deeply woven that you can't help but imagine it happening for real, in a real Yorkshire countryside. 

One of the most remarkable aspects is the way it has been narrated. It runs in multiple narrations, starting and ending with the present, and narrating two generations' worth of story in between. The main narrator is Nelly, who has worked as housekeeper at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, and is more of a relative than a servant. The narration is not entirely free from bias, as we see many instances where Nelly's personal opinion is stronger than facts. That adds an interesting dimension to the whole thing. Personally, I have mixed feelings for Nelly, reprimanding her for being too intrusive in the personal lives of her masters, but perhaps that was the way it was. 

When the book first came out, it had mild reception. Critics called the book amoral, because the character's actions seem to have no consequence with respect to law and morality. It gained popularity gradually, and ended up being a classic novel and one of the best known love stories in literature.

Wuthering Heights is Emily Bronte's only novel. When you read about Emily Bronte, you feel as fascinated with her own life and personality as you feel for her book. A deeply reserved person by nature, she is one of the Bronte sisters (Anne Bronte of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Charlotte Bronte of Jane Eyre). She first brought out her book by the name of Ellis Bells, and it was only when Charlotte accidentally let slip her real identity, did her real name appear on the book's cover. She died at the age of thirty due to tuberculosis, for which she had refused any medication until it was too late to save her. If you feel interested, you might like to check out videos on her life and death on YouTube. Some really good ones are out there!  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: Confessions of a Murder Suspect by James Patterson

James Patterson
Title: Confessions of a Murder Suspect (Confessions #1)
Published: 2012 by Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 372
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
My Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads Blurb
James Patterson returns to the genre that made him famous with a thrilling teen detective series about the mysterious and magnificently wealthy Angel family... and the dark secrets they're keeping from one another.

On the night Malcolm and Maud Angel are murdered, Tandy Angel knows just three things: She was the last person to see her parents alive. The police have no suspects besides Tandy and her three siblings. She can't trust anyone -— maybe not even herself. 

Having grown up under Malcolm and Maud's intense perfectionist demands, no child comes away undamaged. Tandy decides that she will have to clear the family name, but digging deeper into her powerful parents' affairs is a dangerous -- and revealing -- game. Who knows what the Angels are truly capable of?

My Thoughts
I've read several James Patterson mysteries, but few have as exciting and intriguing a set up as the first book in the Confessions series has. The last book by the same author I read was called Invisible, and it turned out to be my favourite James Patterson so far. I had really high hopes on this one just as the story began, but it did not live up to those high expectations.

It's a good story, actually. The Angels have always been high achievers, above normal, exceedingly smart. Malcolm and Maud Angel are demanding, strict parents, but they have their children's best interests at heart. With their careful and calculated manner of parenting - watching strictly educational movies, learning foreign languages and geography, having exceedingly high IQ levels. The children excelled in their fields, but they didn't know what it was to be normal. What would happen when their ultimate support system is ruined? Are they strong enough to handle that?

Tandy Angel, the sixteen year old daughter of Malcolm and Maud, addresses the reader and gives the story from her perspective, beginning from the night her parents were found dead in their room. She realizes that apart from the Angel kids and Maud's personal assistant Samantha, no one was in the house. That is a terrorizing thought, and soon enough, the Angel kids, especially Tandy (Tandoori) Angel, are suspects in their parents' murder.

Among uncertainty and doubting each other, the kids grieve in their own ways, strange to an outsider but perfectly normal to each other. Uncle Peter, their guardian, arrives at the scene, now the sole owner of Angel Pharmaceuticals, previously co-owned by his brother, Malcolm. Maud was a high profile financial agent. Tandy is distrustful of everyone around her - her twin Harry, her younger brother Hugo, her elder brother and NFL superstar Matthew, Uncle Peter, Samantha, their neighbours, and even herself. She's been raised in a way that made her emotions nearly non-existent, a good thing according to Malcolm and Maud, for it improved focus. Her memory of certain events of the past is hazy, thanks to countless sessions with their counsellor.

The atrocity of her parents' deaths, the rude intrusion into their apartment, and their life, makes Tandy pledge that she would find out the killer, even if her siblings hate her for asking such questions. She begins her very own investigation, throwing into focus the dysfunctional manner of the Angel family, the past and many hidden secrets. She discovers her own secrets in the process, trying to figure out the identity of the real Tandoori Angel.

Even though the ending was a bummer, it was a good story with respect to a family driven into the quest for perfection, and going to any limit to achieve it. What was disappointing was the manner of narration and writing. Regular questions that seemed familiar, delaying information consistently by saying 'that's for later', hinting that the killer could be Tandy herself, are things that somewhat marred the fun of reading. I get that those hints were meant to keep the reader guessing, but because it happened very frequently, it succeeded in pissing me off instead. Not a very impressive tool, really. Perhaps it would have been more effective had it been used only a couple of times.

I liked how the story involves a personal history and development of the siblings along with solving the mystery. Even though for a crime thriller, it should have been more focused on solving the crime with lots of twists. There were twists, but very few of them. I would see this more as a mystery intertwined with emotions and family drama than a thriller. It is the first book in a thrilling teen detective series. At the end of the book, Tandy decides she wants to become a detective, so I guess more stories are in progress. I'm hoping they would be better and up to their potential. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining read for when you have nothing else. At least till the end, it keeps your heart pacing. 

“Anne Frank wrote, ‘How true Daddy’s words were when he said: all children must look after their own upbringing. Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.'” 

Thank you Random House publishers for this book. :)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Book Talk: Across Many Mountains by Yangzom Brauen

Yangzom Brauen
Title: Across Many Mountains: Three Daughters of Tibet
Published: 2011 by Harvill Secker (Random House)
Pages: 312
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
Genre: Memoir

My Rating: 4/5

There was very little about Tibet that I had known until a few weeks ago. It’s strange how little we really see in the world around us, even when we’re surrounded by so many things, each a different story. I’ve come across people originally from Tibet in my own city, but apart from the fact that they were refugees, I knew little, and didn’t even pause to reflect why they were here. I was aware of the Chinese invasion, but what I’m trying to say is that even when we have our facts right, we might not have considered the reality behind it.

Across Many Mountains is a memoir, written by actor and activist Yangzom Brauen, a Swiss-Tibetan young woman. This book chronicles the lives of three Tibetan women belonging to three different generations, their relationship with Tibet, their homeland, and how their lives revolve around it.

Kunsang is six years old when she lost her mother to food poisoning in old Tibet. There are no doctors, only self-quarantine and prayers. Sonam, Kunsang’s daughter, is six years old when her parents realize it is no longer safe for monks and nuns to stay in Tibet, because the Chinese are destroying their culture, and lives. They travel with a secret group through the treacherous Himalayas for the safety of the land that gave refuge to the Dalai Lama, their guru. Kunsang carries her smaller daughter on her back while her husband Tsering carries their belongings. Little Sonam treks alongside, trying to keep up. Yangzom, Sonam’s daughter, is six when the three women return to old Tibet for the first time, a deeply moving experience for them.

This story does a lot more than talk about a girl, her mother and her grandmother hailing from Tibet. It is an attempt to capture the full magnitude of an event of the past, and how it has affected not just thousands of Tibetans and their future, but also the world. Vivid descriptions of Kunsang’s life as a nun in the high mountains, her beliefs similar to those of her fellow Tibetans, rituals and traditions, and simplistic lifestyles and beliefs make a reader aware of a long-lost world, a world that was real for thousands of people but was crudely wrenched away from them.

Kunsang is a figure of bravery, strength and perseverance. She’s also my favourite person in this book. No matter where life takes her, she has continued believing in her faith. Sonam represents a person who’s always in search of something bigger than herself. Since she left Tibet when she was six, stayed at refugee camps in India and different places like Shimla and Mussoorie, she had grown up trying to find a place to call home. When young Martin Brauen, who had fallen in love with her, wanted to take her and Kunsang to Switzerland, Sonam wanted to buy their own home, a place she could confidently call her very own.

Yangzom’s life was spent learning Swiss German and Tibetan at home, living in a family with mixed cultural values, and finding her family actively participating in peaceful protests for liberation of Tibet. All these early influences, along with a trip to Tibet, influenced her deeply. When she became an actor, she realized that she wanted to do something else too, something that would be meaningful. There was nothing better than dear, old Tibet, so Yangzom found herself leading the Tibetan Youth Association in Europeand anchoring in The Tibet Connection.

The language of the book is simple and easy to comprehend. It might seem a little difficult if you’re completely unacquainted with the culture of Tibet, but it will get better with careful reading. I finished the book on the second attempt, after I had done a bit of research on the Dalai Lama and Tibet for work. It seemed quite simple and very interesting the second time around. If you are keen on learning more about the people who practice Buddhism, or about Tibet and its culture, or simply because you like a good, real-life story, this book will give you a lot to learn and appreciate.

"'Being reincarnated as a human is as rare as gold,' she always says. 'If you are born a human, you must not waste your existence.'"

Thank you Random House publishers for this book! :)


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