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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