Book Review: We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo

When a book is shortlisted for an award, the fact that it is good is known. A jury of critics wouldn’t select the book for an award if there wasn’t some facet of it that was worth the nomination. An award-shortlisted book makes me ask the questions, “Is the nomination deserving?” and “What was that facet which helped it get the nomination?” Sometimes, both questions feel the same. After all, one might say that it was that facet which made it deserving of a nomination, right?

we_need_new_names_noviolet_bulawayo

NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut book is titled “We Need New Names”. Frankly speaking, it was the title that made me take the book rather than the book being shortlisted for the Man Booker 2013 Award. At first glance, the cover doesn’t appeal to me much, and it feels very muddled. Yet I pursue the book, not judging by the cover. Discussing the book with other book lovers as I read, I hear the word memoir crop up. It makes me see this book in a new light, wondering if it is.

The narrative is simple. It’s short, but not sweet. It speaks to me, like it is meant to. The voice is of a young girl, ten years old, and her world with her friends. The characters names are quite interesting, because it gives me a sense of carelessness. As in the world around them doesn’t care what they are called, as long as they are called something. But why can’t this narrative be sweet, I wonder? Isn’t that an age where sweetness is still present in abundance? Why not get the reader into that feature of the character? It’s a question that I haven’t found the answer to yet. The best I could come up with was that sweetness wasn’t part of that world. Sounds strange when I tell it out loud, but what I feel strange might still be true. From the group of six, one little girl is pregnant. NoViolet starts to narrate this world then and there, a hard world, one that I’ve only read of.

That hard world being brought to life in words is possibly the facet that helped it get the nomination. It’s not absolutely easy to picturize in your head what this world of Darling’s looks like, but that’s because the world is hard to live in, and the slow, measured tone of the author actually puts that difficulty across. It makes the read heavy. Through the narration and the plot, we’re taken to that hard world… from plucking a few guavas, to seeing death and even having no pity for the dead, and an escape from the land you were born because it just didn’t feel like you were meant to be there. Unfortunately, the point that makes this book a deserving nomination is the point that also makes it quite dull. Oxymoronic, I agree, but it’s true. In an attempt to bring out that harsh world well, the author ends up putting a lot of things in the story, and dilutes the plot to an extent. Too many little things, rather than one or two things in focus.

A book with beautiful, touching narration that takes us into the world called Paradise, with questions on a sense of belonging and survival. Yes, the nomination was deserving, and congratulations to the author on a fine debut.

IN A GIST:
Positives: Poignant, beautiful narrative which makes me ask questions, interesting character names and plot.
Negatives: Muddled cover design, Interest wavers as I enter the second half of the book, mostly because of the heavy theme.

About the Author:
Elizabeth Tshele is a Zimbabwean author who writes under the nom-de-plume NoViolet Bulawayo. She has won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story Hitting Budapest about a gang of street children in a Zimbabwean shantytown. Her novel entitled We Need New Names was released in 2013 and shortlisted for the Man Booker award.


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

Book Details:
Title: We Need New Names
Author: NoViolet Bulawayo
ISBN: 9780701188047
Genre: Fiction
Publishers: Chatto & Windus / Random House India
Price: INR. 599

 
 


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.


(Dec 31st, 2013)

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Book Review: A Calamitous Chinese Killing, by Shamini Flint

Humor in crime fiction is something that I feel is difficult to execute. If the humor becomes too much and overwhelms the crime, the genre loses out on something special. The detective’s character is what makes this mix successful or otherwise. Recently, I had read Tarquin Hall, and his central character, Vish Puri is one such delightful detective. When this book fell into my lap, I was expecting another such character.

There are similarities between the two detectives that can be seen. The pride/arrogance that they are the best at what they do is very striking. Both love to eat and both have sassy wives. Inspector Singh however comes out a little less convincing to me, possibly because of the setting (in this case, between Singapore and China).

a_calamitous_chinese_killing_shamini_flint

In A Calamitous Chinese Killing, it’s the pride/arrogance that brings him many nicknames in the media, like Poppadum Policeman, and build his reputation as Singapore Police’s best detective, and which leads to him being summoned when a brutal murder happens to a relative of the chief at the Singapore Embassy in Beijing, China. Though the local police are keen to brush off the case as something small, the chief sees otherwise.

The problems he faces are many, the primary ones being that he doesn’t know the language, and the crime scene is not fresh when it’s given to him. Other than these, the case becomes bigger than it actually seems to be and he’s not helped in his investigation by other local factors as well.

Inspector Singh has investigated many crimes before this, none of which I have read, but I soon hope to. I liked his character, and he brings the humor element alive quite easily. The story however lacks a tight plot, maybe because there are just a handful of characters in the story. Sometimes, the change in point of view during narration doesn’t help the reader understand. It confuses, and that’s something I felt was a touch irritating. Shamini’s language is quite simple though, and that helps in no small amount to make this book more appealing.

All in all, a fun crime fiction. Nicely done.

In A Gist:
Positives: Simple narration and language, humorous protagonist
Negatives: Loose plot, predictability


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

Book Details:
Title: A Calamitous Chinese Killing
Series: Inspector Singh Investigates #6
Author: Shamini Flint
Genre: Crime Fiction
ISBN: 9780749957797
Publisher: Piatkus/Hachette India
Price: INR. 399

 


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


(Dec 31st, 2013)

Book Review: The Other Side of the Table, by Madhumita Mukherjee

I’ve always felt that there is no dearth of love stories in Indian literature. I’ve wondered about the same and how a good book in that genre must be to stand out of the umpteen others it competes with on the bookshelves. We don’t get time to know the book before we buy it. So it’s a spot none of us might like to be in.

This book, a love story written through exchanging letters, was maybe my first experience in reading an epistolary novel. Or maybe second at most. And it stands out of that crowd of books because of this. Let me try and put into perspective why that makes a difference.

Usually In love stories, the protagonists meet each other often, and express their love face to face, looking into the eyes of their loved ones and bringing into our minds, a picture of sometimes adorable and sometimes overdone proportion. In this novel, the two protagonists Uma and Abhi never meet often. They do, but only through their words. It is their description of their world that brings to life the setting both to each other, and to us, the readers. They do not stay in the same continent, let alone the same city. It’s a bond between two excellent friends that is shared through letters, and it’s a bond that grows through distance.

If you forget the fact that it is a letter, the book feels just like a conversation between two friends. Uma writes about her life as a student, stepping into the world of medicine that Abhi is already a part of. He’s in London, and she, in Calcutta. He starts the letter exchange by writing to her about his experience in the OT, and she responds back with her news. From thereon in, she tells him of anything and everything. In the frank, confident role that Madhumita has cast her in, Uma calls a spade a spade and shares with Abhi every little detail upfront, be it her attraction toward a guy or questions on sex. You can see her character progress as her life moves ahead, from a young girl to a married woman, and through her letters, you see how she stands up for what she believes in. The subcharacters in her world are well formed too… her mother who can’t understand some choices she makes, and her father who does and supports her even when his wife doesn’t. Through her world, we are taken through many “norms” of India that most of us know or have heard of. And through her world, we are also shown that she can and does survive those “norms” that become obstacles for her. Abhi on the other hand, is as mature as she is brash, as thoughtful as she is impulsive and as direct as he needs to be to answer her queries and understand her decisions. “I don’t know if you are right or wrong, Uma, but as always I am on your side.” Abhi’s words quite sum up his feelings for her.

the_other_side_of_the_table_madhumita_mukherjee

The Other Side of the Table is a beautiful journey through emotions and leaves me quite happy as a reader. To read love, friendship, affection and life itself through a series of letters, that was quite an experience. There were perhaps a couple of places where editing might’ve been better. As a reader, I didn’t understand the medical terms and that kind of dampened the read a little. And also, the last letter felt out of sync when Abhi signs with his full name. The last one is the happiest one of the lot, so that felt quite out of place. This is a love story from an Indian author that I wouldn’t consider as a one-time read, and I found this very enjoyable.

IN A GIST:
Positives: Beautiful cover, quick read, emotions done justice and speaks of more than a love story.
Negatives: Medical terms were confusing to read, and the last letter ends oddly.


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

Book Details:
Title: The Other Side of the Table
Author: Madhumita Mukherjee
ISBN: 9788172344474
Genre: Fiction / Epistolary
Publishers: Fingerprint Publications
Price: INR. 195

 


The book was purchased by me. No payment was taken for this review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with
1) First Reads Challenge at b00k r3vi3ws
2) Indian Quills Reading Challenge at Tales Pensieve.


(30th Nov, 2013)

(Book Review) D: Ten Years. Two Lives. One Café, by Aniruddha Mahale

Sometimes a book jumps out at you for one reason… that’s the cover. It makes you think of what unfolds in the book. It stays in your head even if you don’t buy the book immediately, like a reminder… “Remember me? You loved me at first sight. Won’t you come back and buy me soon?” Funny but true, that’s what a good cover does.

d_aniruddha_mahale

I hadn’t heard anything about this book before a friend added it on Goodreads, and it came up on my home page. D: Ten Years. Two Lives. One Café. What a beautiful title. But the cover… it was the café on the cover that invited me to read further, and wonder what had happened between the two characters in that café. It took me a while to buy it, but buy I did. What can I say? Must be serendipitous that just as I was thinking what to purchase, I win a gift voucher and this book fits the bill. Do you believe in love at first sight? This book is somewhat similar. But no, it’s not your run of the mill love story. It’s a journey of memories that start from a chance meet between a spunky teenage girl D and an introvert young boy A at a cafe, and proceed over the next ten years.

So, what makes this book different from any other love story? Well, it’s not mushy for one thing. For another, it doesn’t feel like a love story, more like one that can happen between two friends as well. The editing is well done for the most part, and the book moves from scene to scene, meeting to meeting very easily. If the cover can make you imagine a café, their dialogues can make you imagine the scene of their meeting. The images just pop up into your mind. It has a lot of philosophy that is put across in a light manner, and that makes you smile as you read them too. Especially the ideas of destiny, and a bucket list to solve problems. A different thought, that I quite enjoyed reading.

The flipside is that it sometimes feels dull, and repetitive. I wish there was more than coffee and croissants in their scenes. It’s a good touch to indicate their choice of food, and affection for each other, but that could have been done some other way perhaps. The dullness thankfully doesn’t affect the pace of the book too much.

Quite worth reading, I feel, is this tale of two lives and one café. It might even be worth revisiting sometime soon. Thanks to that friend who brought this book to my notice!

IN A GIST:
Positives: Beautiful cover! Not mushy, easily imaginable, quick read with few editing errors (if any).
Negatives: Scenes feel repetitive after some time.


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

Book Details:
Title: D: Ten Years. Two Lives. One Café.
Author: Aniruddha Mahale
ISBN: 9789332421103
Genre: Fiction
Publishers: Paperclip Books
Price: INR. 100

 


The book was purchased by me. No payment was taken for this review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with
1) First Reads Challenge at b00k r3vi3ws
2) Indian Quills Reading Challenge at Tales Pensieve.


(29th Nov, 2013)

Book Review: Selected Poems, by Rabindranath Tagore (Translated by William Radice)

selected_poems_of_tagore

There are certain poets you look up to for some poems they wrote. I admire Davies’ for his poem Leisure which is my all-time favorite, and Nick Virgilio for his lily haiku, which has the most wonderful depth in three lines. Then there is Tagore, who I admire for his poetry collection Gitanjali. I find it humbling that people tease me with his name, because my surname is very similar to his.

This book came into my possession quite by chance as much as intent. But I was happy to have it, and it is my second collection of Tagore’s poetry after Gitanjali. It’s never that nice to read a translation, because it doesn’t quite get the same emotions the original work does, but I think Radice does his best to do it. And to an extent, he brings out atleast some of the effect that Tagore’s poems have. I couldn’t help but compare the work with Gitanjali, and in that respect, this book falls quite a way short. Whereas the former had no notes from the translator, this book has quite a lot, and in the end it feels like we’re reading more of Radice than Rabindranath. Not something that is particularly liked or enjoyed.

Words like soulful and mesmerizing are usually what I hear when friends talk of Tagore’s poems. That’s because his images are strong. This book, however, didn’t feel like it merited those words as much. Still… a good collection.

IN A GIST:
Positives: Strong images as always conveyed by the poetry.
Negatives: Translation not as magical, the effect only partial.


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

Book Details:
Title: Selected Poems
Author: Rabindranath Tagore
Translated by: William Radice
ASIN: 9780140449884
Genre: Poetry
Publishers: Penguin Books

 


This book is a personal copy. No payment was taken for this review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with Indian Quills Reading Challenge at Tales Pensieve.


(28th Nov, 2013)

Book Review: Never Say Never, by Anjali Kirpalani

With 2014 around the corner, quite a few of us I’m sure are thinking about resolutions for the New Year. Not that we live up to every resolution we take, but it feels like tradition now doesn’t it? Now that I think of it, maybe another part of tradition is to break resolutions. More often than not, that works out in our favor, doesn’t it?

So do we really need New Year to make and break resolutions? Nope. This fiction and its main character Nikita is an example for that. Nikita makes a list of things that she will never do, and she makes them on the night of her cousin’s wedding. She’s hopelessly in love with a guy who’s her best friend’s boyfriend. She doesn’t like her own boyfriend but stays in that relationship. She’s unemployed and her relatives start to throw hints about her marital status (single, just to be clear). So she doesn’t have much going her way when she makes the list in her head.

She decides that she will never marry for money. She decides to do just that, but pulls herself back in time to keep that resolution. But her other resolutions… never to doubt her abilities, have feelings for an unavailable man, stay in a relationship with a man she doesn’t love, never to get drunk in public and never to wear velvet… all those resolutions go for a toss. How? You can read the book and find that out.

never_say_never_anjali_kirpalani

Never Say Never is Anjali Kirpalani’s debut novel. It’s a fast read, and can be finished in a few hours. It’s not very mushy, and even at places where it feels like it may be turning that way, the scene is delivered with a little humor and it helps to get through that. Though there’s an absence of too much mush, there is enough drama and emotions to keep interest in the story. There’s nothing very new about the plot and you can see certain things coming, but that being said, there is a little unpredictability too, so keeps things in balance perhaps. I liked the narration. It was crisp where it needed to be, and delivered with love and wit at the places that needed that. It didn’t have much issue in editing at all, nothing that stood out at least.

I’ve never been a big fan of pink, so the cover was one thing I didn’t like. That’s just a personal perspective of course; it doesn’t bring the book down in any way. Story-wise, I feel the change in point of view suddenly to other characters makes the story a tad confusing at that point, because the majority of the book is in first person view of Nikita. Anjali has titled the chapters appropriately to help clear the confusion, but when reading in flow and pace, the title isn’t really something I look at (and I feel most readers also read similarly). It’s especially confusing when it changes from Nikita’s POV to Shweta’s POV because that’s the first time Shweta’s character actually comes into the picture.

Overall, an engaging story that brings a smile as it is read. Not an excellent debut, but a good one nevertheless.

IN A GIST:
Positives: Quick read with crisp narration, not overly mushy, few editing errors (if any).
Negatives: Cover page color, change in POV becomes a little confusing.


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

Book Details:
Title: Never Say Never
Author: Anjali Kirpalani
ISBN: 9789381841327
Genre: Romance Fiction
Publishers: Grapevine India
Price: INR. 100

 


This is an author-requested review, given for a review copy of the book, but no other payment.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with
1) First Reads Challenge at b00k r3vi3ws
2) Indian Quills Reading Challenge at Tales Pensieve.


(26th Nov, 2013)