Posted in Books

Book Review: Boats on Land by Janice Pariat

About the author:
Janice Pariat is a writer from Shillong, India. Her work has featured in a wide number of national and online magazines and newspapers. She spends most of her time walking city streets in search of stories.

My thoughts on the book:
The power of a short story lies in its ability to keep the reader interested. That might mean delivering something that’s unique. I personally find the Indian readership of recent years to be romance addicted. I remember telling friends that I wish there was an author who could bring something new to the scene. I’m thankful to have found the collection Boats on Land by Janice Pariat.

Through the magic of her words, Pariat takes us to the lands of North East India, in the times of the British Raj. Fifteen stories of brilliance. Let me give you an inkling of what you can expect. If you close your eyes and let someone read the words to you, how good do the words have to be to turn your imagination wild and let the scene unfold? Pretty darn amazing… right? That’s what this book does, at least to me. I’ve found myself whispering the words as if I’m reading it to someone, got lost in their power.

Let me quote a line from the story “At Kut Madan”. Lucy, one of the characters says, “I used to dream of golden eggs. They fell all over like rain, whistling through the air, bursting when they touched the ground.” That the dream should be a premonition of something isn’t something that flashes, but the story is of that, of premonitions and how what we know we see and others believe we have seen varies, and how they even don’t believe.

The story “Secret Corridors” is of being different, yet somehow being just the same. It’s of a young girl trying to fit in with the “in-crowd”, and lying to do that. It’s about Natalie, who day dreams in her classroom that overlooks a serene setting, and is sent to sit next to Carmel, who is at the center of rumors at school, and in the town as well. Nat tries to fit in with Iba and her group, as they try to distance themselves from the less classy crowd, trying to find the secret passage that leads out to a boys’ school.

“19/87” talks of the rift between outsiders and locals. How in such times, the little things do seem to matter more. The little joy of flying a kite, or interpreting a dream… how they could help someone win money, or predict danger… yes, it does happen. Suleiman, the protagonist’s view is described as “he could see the town spread out before him, with its red tin roofed buildings, dark pine treetops and tangles of wires and kite strings stitching the sky.” It’s that nonchalant, sort of dreamy language that gets you into the story and makes you imagine it. That’s something present in these set of stories.

Positives:
These aren’t romance stories, or horror stories or such set genre. The point of commonality is perhaps a sense of magic. Not literally of course, not always, but Pariat’s wordplay and language is such. I love the stories for that sense of place, the beauty of the North Eastern parts of India. The stories from third person point of view still is done from the view of a youth looking at the life of an elder person, or learning some little nugget of life and wisdom. From a poet’s perspective, the language is particularly poetic too, like words put to music.

Negatives:
Other than a wish that it was a paperback rather than a hard-cover, I don’t have any faults to say.

Overall:
This book is a keeper. It was a revelation that Indian literature in English does have its brilliant points, and that the simplest ways can be the most beautiful.


Rated a perfect 10/10
Rated a perfect 10/10

Book details:
Title: Boats on Land
Author: Janice Pariat
ISBN: 978-8-184-00074-0
Genre: Fiction/Short Stories
Publishers: Random House India
Price: Rs. 399

 
 


This book was given to me for review by Random House India. This is not a paid review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with First Reads challenge at b00k r3vi3ws and Indian Quills at Tales Pensieve.


(February 24th, 2013)

Posted in Books

Book Review: Aerogrammes, by Tania James

About the author:
Tania James is an Indian-American novelist and the author of the novel “An Atlas of Unknowns” which won the San Francisco Chronicle’s Best Book of the Year in 2009.

My thoughts on the book:
Lucid language is a delight in books. You can’t be thankful enough when simple words written beautifully bring out a concept or an idea well. You don’t always need a conflict to resolve, when you have a concept to show. “Aerogrammes and other stories” by Tania James is such a collection.

There are nine stories in the book. To give an inkling of what you can expect, I share my thoughts on three of them.

“Lion and Panther in London” narrates the tale of two wrestlers who are brought to London to win over the world. Forgetting for a moment the profession of wrestling that’s portrayed in the story, this is one story that can make us realize the world doesn’t always care, no matter how much you advertise your presence. And when your presence begins to be known, others who are envious of you spread rumors. And in the complete sense of it all, you are just a pawn to many, except for those who really matter.

“Girl marries Ghost” is humorous in one way, wise in another. Imagine if you could marry ghosts, and live a normal life (I know that’s very oxymoronic, but still). For the sheer audacity of the thought, I love this story. It also makes one realize that it’s good to let go of past ghosts and not chase after present ones; literally in the story and metaphorically in life.

The title story “Aerogrammes” is a family story that lingers over issues, like being ignored by family during old-age, put in a home, yet unable to make friends there at first and being recluse, then finding a friend when you least expect it, and in the end realizing that they are more closer to you than family, who never come to visit; that believing you have a family just by an aerogramme or a photo is possible if it gives you the hope and the happiness to live on.

Positives:
Though the book isn’t one that makes you turn pages quickly and move to the next, it isn’t one that makes you throw up with its slowness either. The stories stick on to you slowly, making you look for depth, even if it is just a story to others. The language is simple, and direct, crisp to the point; the pictures from words rich in detail.

Negatives:
Sometimes, the stories end suddenly when you just seem to be getting into it, and looking forward to reading more, and there are some characters that make you wonder, “What was this character for? How did he/she fit into the scheme of things?” It’s not always a complete turn-off though.

Overall:
A good book for reading in bed; they are somewhat like fairy tales, but with a more reality touch to them. They aren’t one particular genre, this point is somewhat contradicting, since at times I find that to be endearing, and other times confusing.


A rating of 8/10
A rating of 8/10

Book details:
Title: Aerogrammes and other stories
Author: Tania James
ISBN: 978-8-184-00301-7
Genre: Fiction/Short Stories
Publishers: Random House India
Price: Rs. 399

 
 


This book was given to me for review by Random House India. This is not a paid review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with First Reads challenge at b00k r3vi3ws and Indian Quills at Tales Pensieve.


(February 24th, 2013)

Posted in Books

Book Review: Chanakya’s New Manifesto, by Pavan K Varma

About the author:
Pavan K Varma is an acclaimed Indian author whose chosen niche is non-fiction. He is at present the ambassador of India in Bhutan. Some of his other works are Ghalib: The Man, The Great Indian Middle Class, The Book of Krishna and Being Indian. He has also translated poems of Gulzar, AB Vajpayee and Kaifi Azmi into English.

My thoughts on the book:
Non-fiction is not my favorite genre, but sometimes a book comes along that would merit attention and make sense. Chanakya’s New Manifesto is a book that speaks of change, and how the nation needs it very urgently. The book brings ideas to the fore as to what must be solved in order to progress quickly, for the present and for the future. Like the blurb at the back says, “We cannot continue as we are, and must gather resolve to bring in effective governance, a true democracy, a corruption free State, a security conscious nation and an inclusive society.”

The author calls upon the ancient treatise Arthashastra written by Chanakya and takes from that some ideas that youngsters can imbibe to stop the reverse progress. That change needs to happen in 1) Governance, where he says the coalition form of governance cannot help progress because to each person, each faction in the coalition looks at themselves and puts the coalition’s decisions at a knife’s edge. Such decisions taken to keep the coalition happy would put the nation at risk because the people elected to manage crucial agendas would not be those who are actually having expertise in that area. 2) Democracy, where we as people who elect those who govern us, must start to question the way they are governing us. So far we’ve accepted the way they are, and lived with it, though we know it isn’t right. 3) Corruption, which can be stopped if we force the governments to, if we step up and say that it is possible and tell the government they must be willing to act on that change. 4) Security, the present state of which in our country is lax. It’s time now to enforce a vision and start a system that can respond quickly and efficiently when breached.

Positives:
The book proposes strong ideas that if taken up and acted upon by us can bring about change in the constitution of India. The voice the words project is strong, and it brings our attention to it. Not that we don’t already know of it, but the book pushes it in, makes us want to act on it. What the book does is bring the points we usually disregard into focus, and tell us what can be done to remedy it.

Negatives:
Personally, I feel that change in any country depends not just on the people at the helm, but also on the people, and in no meager proportion either. Whereas the book does tell that it is we who must change too, it also puts it on a level of English that even I might need a dictionary at the side to refer to. If the book could have put it on a simpler level, then it would have catered to a much wider audience. I would also think the security lax is more inward. We as a society have let ourselves down more often. The book speaks of Kargil, lack of offensive and defensive armory, nuclear power etc. but the inclusion and strengthening of that would be protection from external attacks; that would stop the rot from coming in, but what about the internal rot, the security we can’t give to ourselves? Even that needs focus. I couldn’t find anything on that.

Overall:
The book is strong on what can be done when it comes to governance and military at the helm. Perhaps this is indeed what might have transpired if Chanakya would be alive today and devising an updated treatise for the country. It’s a good book for seeing what is wrong, and what needs to be made right.


Rated a 7 on 10!
Rated a 7 on 10!

Book Details:
Title: Chanakya’s New Manifesto
Author: Pavan K Varma
Genre: Non Fiction
ISBN: 978-93-82277-09-5
Publishers: Aleph Book House
Price: INR 295

 
 


This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced. This isn’t a paid review.


Also for the First Reads challenge at b00k r3vi3ws and Indian Quills at Tales Pensieve.


(February 21st, 2013)

Posted in Books

Book Review: The Room on the Roof and Vagrants in the Valley, by Ruskin Bond

About the author:
An Indian author of British descent, Ruskin Bond has written over a hundred short stories, essays, novels and more than thirty books for children. For his book of short stories, “Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra”, he was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1992. For his contributions to children’s literature, he was awarded the Padma Shri in 1999.

Impressions off the back:
The story of a young boy seeking adventure, getting tired of the rules and restrictions put at home. Over the two novels, I think the boy will find friendship too. I’m eager to begin, for this story seems to be like one of any teenager. I can relate with the thought of breaking free and seeking adventure. I’ve been down that road before.

My thoughts on the book:
The name Ruskin Bond is quite famous in Indian literature. I’m sure there are lots of people who have read his work and loved it a lot. For me, this book was the first step into the world of this author. And I must say I’m quite delighted.

The book has two novels, the first one is The Room on the Roof, and the second, Vagrants in the Valley is the sequel to the first.

In the first book, we are introduced to Rusty, a sixteen year old boy from the Anglo-Indian community. Rusty is an introvert, not very talkative or wanting to make friends outside. He’s the center of attention in his community, but is a very lonely boy, lost in his own world of fantasies and dreams. On his way back home, he enjoys the light rain that falls around him.

He is hailed by another young boy, Somi. As the rain gets heavier, Somi asks Rusty to hop on to his bicycle. They are joined by two more, and from there begins a new friendship. Rusty, who previously shied away from making friends, suddenly finds himself happy in the company of Somi, and others like Ranbir and Suri. In the elation of friendship, Rusty even finds himself being unusually brave, and raising his voice against his guardian, Mr. Harrison, and running away from home.

The adventure then begins for the young boy, as for the first time, he is forced to fend for himself, find work and stay by himself. He finds another friend in Kishen, and falls in love. When his friends leave the town, he feels lonely and follows them, finding more adventure.

The second book is the sequel to the first, and shows the return journey of Rusty to Dehra. He finds his guardian is no longer at Dehra, and his old lodgings have been given away to someone else. Once again, he finds adventure. When his friends still have not returned, he finds new friends and seeks relatives he’s previously not known or met. Whereas the first novel is more about the feelings of the adolescent heart – the thirst for adventure, the first crush etc. – the second one is also about the characters finding maturity and understanding life’s little nuances too.

Overall impressions:
These were the first two novels written by Ruskin Bond. I thoroughly enjoyed both, and it was a refreshing read. Like I expected before, I could relate to the thirst for adventure in that age, especially given the restrictions that were imposed on his life style by his guardian. A read to bring a smile to your face, not that it is a humor novel, but the characters with their life will make you smile just thinking at times, “If only life was like that”.


A rating of 8/10
A rating of 8/10

Book Details:
Title: The Room on the Roof / Vagrants in the Valley
Author: Ruskin Bond
Genre: Children’s Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-140-23959-1
Publishers: Penguin India
Price: INR 275

 
 


The book is a personal copy. The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Also shared with the First Reads challenge at b00k r3vi3ws and Indian Quills at Tales Pensieve.


(February 12th, 2013)

Posted in Books

Book Review: Mice in Men, by Anirban Bose

About the author:
A doctor by profession, Anirban Bose is the author of the book Bombay Rains Bombay Girls. Other than writing, he is passionate about guitars, cricket and music. He is currently Assistant Professor of Medicine and Nephrology at the University of Rochester.

Impressions off the back:
Short stories that range from the unexpected to the bizarre… the back cover already invites us in to read the stories to find out what is bizarre. One thing the stories might have in common is medicine… each of the descriptions feel leading into that commonality.

My thoughts on the book:
Short stories are deceptively difficult I feel, not only to write but to hold the interest of the reader, or leave him wanting to go to the next story, or even to make him read the story again.

In the book, “Mice in Men”, author Anirban Bose brings together a collection of ten stories. They are interesting, but I’ll speak of the ones I liked the most.

My favorite in the book is the story titled, “The Right Way to Eat a Mango”. I liked it because it tells us how our thoughts, how a life can change in just one moment. The protagonist contemplates leaving the country because he finds a lot of things wrong with his country. In his obsession to find things wrong, he doesn’t realize he himself is doing something wrong. He realizes that when he meets a little girl not much younger than his own daughter, and his experience then changes his thoughts.

Another favorite is the story, “The Balloonwala” about a balloon seller. Spoken from the perspective of a doctor, who watches the balloon seller at work, this story brought out contrasting viewpoints of life… what we think of someone might be the same way they are thinking of us. We might not know it, but then again, we hardly ever do. It also tells me of the way we react when we’re under pressure or think something might go wrong. It is how we react to the situations that change the moments that follow after that.

The title story, “Mice in Men” is another good one. It gets my favorite vote because of the way one event leads to the other, and also because of the ending to the story. The protagonist has a humorous name, and the way his character revolves around time sort of reminded me of a villain in a Batman episode who also kept to a timetable very meticulously. The story however is more than about time. It is about kindness and love as well. A very interesting read that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

Overall impressions:
Not a heavy read… these stories can be read when we want a break from seriousness. Some don’t hold your attention all the way and you skip that story halfway, but there are others that are written quite well, meant to result in a thought that is meaningful, it won’t leave you disappointed. No complicated characters, but it is simple life stories that could have happened too, so that doesn’t feel out of place. A mixed bag of stories that is border-line good… one that you’ll enjoy if you’re not expecting complex out of the world stories every time you want to read.


Rated a 6/10
Rated a 6/10

Book Details:
Title: Mice in Men (Short Stories)
Author: Anirban Bose
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 978-93-5029-025-5
Publishers: Harper Collins
Price: INR 199

 
 


The book is a personal copy. The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Also for the First Reads challenge at b00k r3vi3ws and Indian Quills at Tales Pensieve.


(February 9th, 2013)