"A room without books is like a body without a soul." ~ Cicero.

"A room without books is like a body without a soul." ~ Cicero.
"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." ~ Groucho Marx

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tuesdays with Morrie

Finally, I completed reading "Tuesdays With Morrie" and the feeling I am left with is that of a friend, philosopher and guide leaving me after staying with me for quite some time.

People like Morrie Schwartz are rare and priceless - they cannot be found in abundance - and that is why they attract people in large numbers. We have the basic instincts of getting attracted to people who can see the "real" us behind our facades. If we find one such person in the crowd of the thousand of people we get to meet in our lifetime, we try not to lose that "friend" who had the heart to look beyond our masks - who knew our fears, insecurities, weaknesses, strengths and who knew what we needed to do to get rid of our shackles.

Whenever Mitch lands up in the vicinity of Morrie, we can feel the kind of peace, positivity and serenity that Morrie makes people around him feel. That speaks volumes of Mitch's ability as a narrator - he is one of the most lucid and simple writers I have ever read.

Morrie was a blessing to Mitch and many others - Mitch has shared the "final thesis" with his "old professor" with millions of readers and I thank Mitch on behalf of each of them.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Story of Two Prisoners .. of Birth, Fate and Destiny..

Jeffrey Archer is a master storyteller. I have felt this years back when I read The Prodigal Daughter and First Among Equals. I felt the same about Archer years later, while I read A Prisoner of Birth. The meticulous plotting that he does with his characters is simply amazing! Twists, turns and surprises have always been his forte and A Prisoner of Birth is no exception.

There were times when things seemed to be happening too easily. For instance, the entire process of Danny's education in the prison may not quite appear convincing to every reader. No matter how brilliant and sincere a student Danny was, no matter how disciplined and sincere a teacher Sir Nicholas Moncrieff was and no matter how genuine their friendship was, the smoothness and ease with which Danny got educated and cleared exams, seemed quite tailor-made.
Later, when Danny got out of the prison as Sir Nicholas, once again the author made things look easy. Danny seemed to possess a magic wand with which he handled everything brilliantly. Things happened without hiccups except on the occasion when Danny was arrested for travelling abroad without informing the probation officer.

The story became very interesting after Spencer Craig worked out that "Sir Nicholas" was actually "Danny Cartwright" and it became a thrilling page-turner after Danny was arrested and the trials began.

Of all the trials that Jeffrey Archer has so brilliantly depicted, I enjoyed the penultimate trial the most. With Fraser Munro appearing as a witness, Sir Matthew Redmayne appearing as the junior counsel to his son Alex, and Hugo and Craig getting tricked into admitting truths, it was a treat to the readers.

Fraser Munro beautifully stated that very few things in this world are clearly black or white. Most of the things are in different shades of grey. His description of Danny and Nick as oaks planted in two different forests suffering different fates as we all do being the prisoners of our own births would move the reader to the core.

Despite the lack of credibility in some parts, the story is a masterpiece that cannot be forgotten easily. The language and style is typical of Archer that does not let the reader drift or wander and keeps them glued to the plot.

This is a story that reinforces our faith in friendship, loyalty, goodness of the human nature, and justice. It reinforces our faith in silent and trustworthy accomplices like Big Al.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Shadowed Existence

Being a 'Probashee Bangalee' I was never much into the Bengali culture and history and like any other 'Khotta Bangali' considered the partition of Bengal as just another historical event. Then I came across Amitav Ghosh's 'The Shadow Lines' as it was there in my syllabus for M.A. The book catapulted me from an ignorant and somewhat insensitive Bong to one who not only empathised with the victims of the partition but also wished for history to change.

With the narrator being a nameless young boy I could feel as one with him seeing the events unfold before me. Though the book doesn't have a set storyline, yet the collage of events happening one after the other and even simultaneously forced me to sit up and feel every minute detail.

Tridib's lifestyle mirrors the mindset of the youth in calcutta in the times when I wasn't even born yet I almost felt like his friend sharing his life and times.

Ghosh has vividly narrated the whole story oscillating from the Present to the Past and then back to the Present. Though I don't remember the details,but what touched me the most was the part where Thamma goes to Dhaka to bring back her uncle. The way Ghosh has described the view from the aeroplane is marvellous. How just a line on the map can result in so much of bloodshed and violence is disturbingly thought provoking. From up in the air one couldn't even demarcate where one country ended and the other began. It forced me to contemplate on the futility of any kind of aggression over something which wasn't even there for one to see. How hatred clouds one's thought process and overshadows his sensibility.

Thamma's pain in seeing her house taken over by strangers could be felt deep within. Tridib's brave attempt to save May from the muslim mob in Dhaka and his susequent death stirred me from my emotional slumber.
The riots and the insane mob violence depicted in the book made me yearn to be out of it. I wanted the madness to stop, yet was unable to do so. The feeling of rootlessness of one forced to live away from his origins kept echoing in me the whole time. 'The Shadow Lines' affected me in an unexpected manner. The sheer horrifying depiction haunted me for days and sensitizing me towards our kind at the same time.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Height of Passion

Wuthering Heights is the best book I have read till date. The overwhelming passion floods out from the book and engulfs you into it like a whrilpool. I share my feelings for this all consuming book in the tiniest possible hope that you might share the same. I was overawed by it even before I read the first page. Actually this book belonged to my late grandfather, who had bought it with the plan of reading post his retirement. But, as fate would have it, he passed away even before his superannuation. The tragedy in this book and that of its owner kind of overlaps, doesn't it? Well! it sure holds a special place in my heart.

Emily Bronte is perhaps one of the very few lady writers to have written from the male point of view with Heathcliff as the protagonist. Wuthering Heights is the name of the place where Heathcliff is brought as a toddler and is ill treated especially by Hindley, the son of Mr.Earnshaw. The novel revolves around the passionate love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw and how a misunderstanding, stemming from a deep-rooted class insecurtiy, ruins not only their lives but the lives of all those around them as well.

Though Heathcliff is termed as a 'diabolical' character, yet I couldn't but fall in love with him. Bronte's powerful potrayal of the setting, the characters and their emotions made me a part of the whole saga. It took a while for me to get started, but once the drama unfolded it felt as if I was sucked into the book and could see everything happening in front of my own eyes.

While reading the book I could almost feel like Alice, except that this Wonderland was a tragic one. I wanted to scream out and stop Heathcliff when he rushed out of the house on that stormy night. I felt sorry for Linton and at the same time hated him for marrying Catherine Earnshaw. Towards the end, when Heathcliff suffers a mental breakdown and desperately seeks to meet the dead Catherine Earnshaw, I felt as helplessly desperate as him.

Bronte has weaved the whole story so inrticately that I missed the book when it ended, though, throughout, I was hoping it to end because of the pain I felt. Hareton and Catherine Linton's love not only redeems the novel in the end but also acts as a much needed breather. I hoped to have the sweet taste of their love to linger on after the book ended, but it was Heathcliff who occupied my thoughts as soon as I closed it.

He is still ruling my thoughts even after so many years and looks like he will continue to do so for many more years to come.

While declaring her love for Heathcliff to Nelly, Catherine Earnshaw says "I am Heathcliff". While reading the book I felt it and even now I feel that "I am Heathcliff".

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A fine collection of short stories

I like reading Jeffrey Archer’s works and have read a few novels and collection of short stories before. I particularly liked the collection “36 short stories” I borrowed from my friend’s father. The stories were dramatic and contained all the good qualities of short stories. This time I read “And thereby hangs a tale”.
This collection is a different one in many aspects. Firstly, most of these stories (ten out of fifteen, to be precise) are based on true incidents. He gathered these stories over a period of six years while traveling all around the world.
The stories contain slices of lives of people from motley of backgrounds and make an interesting read. Though they may lack the usual drama and twists that come with imaginative stories but most of them contain a surprise that unfolds itself in the end. These surprises will bring either tear to your eyes or a smile on your face.
I found myself amused by most of them and could not but appreciate Mr. Archer’s capability of presenting them in such a light. He has captured the essence of Ireland, Germany, Italy, India and even England with such grace.
His choice of words, how he refrains himself from divulging more details is quite praiseworthy.
Although I liked all of them but my particularly favorite ones are the “High Heels” in which an enthusiastic insurance agent saves millions of dollars by finding out the little secret behind burning of shoes, or a simple story like “Blind Date’ which left me imagining for a while, or the “Better The Devil You Know” which is about a ruthlessly ambitious businessman and which has a cunning twist.
There are some characters that are intelligent and emotional and a few who are cunning but they are endearing and seem so close to us.
Jeffrey Archer has shown his class time and again through his novels and this time also he has succeeded, much to the enjoyment of his readers.

Monday, August 9, 2010

2 states: The Story of My Marriage- Chetan Bhagat's latest book

I received “2 states: The Story of My Marriage” as a birthday gift. I have read all of Chetan’s books before and was happy to have this one also. But somehow for months the book lay on my table unread with a pile of other books. Then last Monday, as I was arranging those books my eyes fell on this book and I started reading it.
I finished the book in two days, not a feat at all considering the length of the book (only 294 pages), and of course, it being Chetan Bhagat’s books- one of the accomplished story tellers of our time.
From the prologue itself the book carries the signature mark of Chetan, that same style of writing which intrigues the reader and takes him in its folds. I think “unputdownable” is the apt word.
The story is set against the backdrop of IIMA where a Punjabi boy, Krish meets Ananya, a Tamil Brahmin and they fall in love.
Like in his previous novels here also Chetan raises some pertinent questions about our education system where subjects are crammed into complex mathematical equations to be mugged up by some of the best brains of the country just to earn good grades which translates into fat pay packages. Everything is measured in terms of money and why not? That’s what the young generation is taught by their parents.
Krish’s mother places high value on big houses, luxury cars and want to possess those at any cost-even by marrying off her son against his will. All of Krish’s elder relatives take notice of Ananya when they come to know about her salary.
Hey, if this seems like serious stuff then wait. All the stereotype ideas and social customs and norms are taken potshots at by Chetan but suggestively. On the surface you have a racy and sweet love story in which Krish and Ananya try to coax their mothers to accept their relationship. Even though Krish takes up a job in Chennai to woo Ananya’s family yet things do not turn as they have planned and the parents do not approve of their marriage.
Chetan is a master story teller. The way he gives minute details of lifestyles of Punjabi and Tamil households is praiseworthy. Add to it all his tongue-in-cheek comments which leave you laughing all the way. Krish’s mother keeps on referring to Ananya as “Madrasi girl”, much to the annoyance of Krish.
Chetan’s books always create feel good factors. So at the end an abusive and insensitive father changes dramatically and the boy and girl get married with much fanfare which is described hilariously.
I have always felt that Chetan is heavily influenced by Hindi films. His story lines, the narrative and the visual effect that he creates resemble films that Bollywood churns out in scores every year and is lapped up by the audience.
I think this is where Chetan scores. He understands the psyche of the urban Indian youth so deeply that he never fails. This makes him the most popular Indian writer of present times.
I felt that the Chennai episode was a big dragged, but there were funny incidents which give insights into the Tamil lifestyle and their view about others.

At the end the feel good factor prevails and as you finish reading the book you will find yourself smiling. That’s what counts, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

a beautiful post on Jane Austen

I am an ardent Jane Austen admirer, having read Pride and Prejudice at the age of 14 ... I was overwhelmed by this post that I found while roaming around in blogosphere.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Diary of An Extraordinary Girl

A lot has been said and written about this book since its first version was published in 1947 under the Dutch title Het Achterhuis.
Later, it had been published throughout the world, the English title being "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl". It has been made into plays, movies and television adaptations besides being translated into thirty-one languages.

I have heard about this book since my childhood, but, somehow, had never got the chance to read it. Last August, during my stay at my aunt's place, I borrowed this book from my cousin. And finally I have read it!!

Anne Frank had received the diary as a birthday present on June 12, 1942, the day she had turned thirteen. Her first note was, "I hope I shall be able to confide in you completely, as I have never been able to do in anyone before, and I hope that you will be a great support and comfort to me." She had begun her entries from June 14, 1942.

She never knew that this diary of a thirteen-year old schoolgirl, where she wrote about her school, teachers, friends, family and the boys who used to fall in love with her, would one day turn into a priceless document about the World War II.

Life was becoming difficult for the Jews since the previous decade, because of the increasing anti-Jew decrees and laws enforced by Hitler. Anne's father Otto Frank and the family used to live in Germany when Anne was born in 1929 in the city of Frankfurt.
When Otto Frank had sensed the impending Nazi persecution, he had left Frankfurt, with his family, in the summer of 1933. He went to Holland where he established himself in the food products business and the Franks were settled in Amsterdam, by the spring of 1934.
During the next few years, Anne and her elder sister Margot grew up in Amsterdam like any other Dutch girl.

But things changed when the Germans invaded Holland in 1940. Initially, the impact was not felt by Anne - being compelled to leave the Montessori School and attend the Jewish Lyceum was the only change that she had to face.
When the Nazis began and continued with the roundup and deportation of Jews in Amsterdam in 1941, Otto Frank arranged for his family's safety. Although, he was forced to leave his business by a German decree, his Dutch employees and associates remained loyal friends. A group of rooms at the top and back of the building (on Prinsengracht Canal) that served as an office and warehouse for the business, was secretly made into a hiding place. - - - - - -

- -  If I start telling you about this intriguing account, I don't think I would be able to stop myself.

The last entry of Anne's Diary was made on August 1, 1944. And what an entry it was! Such introspection, self-evaluation and meditative thoughts coming from a mere fifteen year old is bound to amaze every reader!! In fact, the entire diary is amazing, more so if you keep in mind the age of the writer and the conditions in which it was written.
It contains a poignant and detailed account of those 25 months that were spent in hiding by that group of eight people. The living conditions,the challenges, the deteriorating menu and the oppression of the Jews would weigh heavily on the readers' minds. At the same time, the reader would draw inspiration from the intellectual quality of the life that was led in the "Secret Annexe". They gifted each other books, they wrote stories and poems for birthdays, they received books as gifts and as a regular supply from the library from the people who helped sustain them. Anne studied everything that a teenage girl should study. She read history and made family trees, she did maths, she learnt French words and their pronunciations. She always had her hands and mind full and was always busy.
She dreamed of returning to school some time soon, when things normalized. She wanted to go places and had visions and plans. She despised the life of a housewife that other women might like. Could we have blamed them, had they lived a life of utter dejection and resignation during that period? I do not think so! But the kind of life they led makes our hearts bow down with respect. We should feel ashamed of ourselves every time we give up easily.

This account would be incomplete if I do not put in a special word for Anne's maturity and will to improve. Throughout the period in hiding, we find Anne analyzing her weaknesses and trying to shed them - she tries and tries to become a better human being. I wonder if any teenager living in stable, peaceful and predictable conditions have ever done the same.

The Gestapo penetrated into the hiding place and imprisoned the inhabitants on August 4, 1944. The pages of Anne's diary and notebook were strewn on the floor when Miep and Elli, two of Otto Frank's associates, found them.
They handed these to Otto Frank when he returned to Amsterdam, months after the war ended in May 1945. The rest of his family had been obliterated by then.

Initially, Otto Frank made copies of Anne's diary and privately circulated them. Later it was published in Amsterdam in June 1947.

I gathered from the Miep Gies website that after the Bible, the diary of Anne Frank is the most widely read book in the world.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Storytelling at its Best

I don't think I am qualified enough to write about this book and this authoress. But I am tempted all the same as I love her writing-- her "Namesake" went straight to the heart and her "Unaccustomed Earth" kindles the soul. I got hold of this book in May last year at a bookshop at the Mumbai Airport on my way back to Kolkata from Goa. 
It is a collection of stories - stories that have the wonderful Jhumpa Lahiri flavor. The book is named after its first story of Part One, Unaccustomed Earth. The way Lahiri writes about the dilemmas, crises, insecurities and pressures of the people who have gone from India to settle in an "unaccustomed earth", the way her poignant stories portray how the vast differences between the within and the without haunt them is exquisite.

I guess, I have always been able to relate to Lahiri's stories better, as a part of my family had gone and settled in the US years ago(long long before my birth) and I have had my uncle and aunt and cousins visit us here in Kolkata during my childhood and adolescence. 

After enjoying the first story, I had skipped to the third one, titled "A Choice of Accommodations". I had read the second story "Hell-Heaven" earlier in an issue of Graphitti. The poignant tale had haunted me for days and I wanted to read it later. 

I was unwell and kept the book aside to resume reading it later. That "later" came only a week back, when I dug the book up from a pile of books and magazines, dusted it and started reading "Hema and Kaushik" - throughout the three stories, "Once in a Lifetime", "Year's End" and "Going Ashore" I was reminded of what Lahiri does to her readers. Her characters are so true and dignified- her characters are all so real! One moment I knew how Hema felt and the other moment I could feel what Kaushik went through. The stories are churned out of life and they linger with us.

Sudha and Rahul of "Only Goodness", Sang, Farouk, Paul of "Nobody's business" are people I got to know and understand intimately. Their lives, situations and stories- their strengths and weaknesses- their fears and worries are our own. The world today has become too small and the boundaries and differences have blurred. A reader sitting at any corner of the world today would be able to identify with Sang and Sudha, would be able to see through Farouk and Rahul, would be able experience the upheavals that the families experience.

I went on with the "Choice of Accommodations" before I started with "Hell-Heaven" last night just after dinner. I stormed through it just as I had the first time when it was published in the Kolkata periodical and it was over in around 40 minutes. This story of Usha's mother and Pranab Kaku, Usha and Deborah still remains my favorite. I was surprised to see how well I remembered it from the first time I read it

As I have said earlier, it would be inappropriate of me to say anything about Jhumpa Lahiri's literary talents. She has a refined prowess of the language and her art of storytelling is flawless. She is undoubtedly one of the best writers we have today!

Trivia: The paperback I read is a Random House India (www.randomhouseinda.co.in) publication. It was a winner of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and a New York Times, Time and Outlook book of the year. Priced Rs 295, this paperback is nothing but priceless.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I remembered the rainbows I have lost

I finished reading "Where Rainbows End" by Cecelia Ahern, a few days back. I had bought this book from a cheap bookstore in Golpark, the same day I got myself "Johnny Gone Down".

This 592-paged novel is written entirely in an epistolary fashion and it comprises of only letters, e-mails, online instant messages, texts, birthday greetings, travel postcards and some newspaper articles. This was my first meeting with the epistolary structure and the idea appealed to me- maybe because there was a time when I loved writing letters- maybe because there was a time when I loved messaging.

Cecelia had intended this story to be a tale of fate and destiny - how two soul mates journey through life and finally find their ways to each other amidst myriad changes of fortune. But, I felt, at some points the story became a bit forced. The way the authoress was molding the two journeys was often becoming obvious and predictable. This beautiful story could have been more beautiful- had Cecelia kept certain things subtle- had she made certain surprises more incredible and certain twists more ironical- had she made certain flow of events less predictable.

The cobweb that destiny often spins by bringing people together and taking them apart and keeping love alive through ups and downs has been well portrayed by Cecelia. But it could have been better.

The writing at places is beautiful and at places pretty mediocre. Of all the characters, the reader obviously befriends Rosie and Alex, the two principal ones. I also loved the characters of Katie and Rosie's parents. One with Rosie's kind of destiny indeed needs parents like those. The relation between Rosie and Katie also earns a special place in the reader's mind.

Of all the letters, emails and messages the novel is made up of, Alex's letter that reached Rosie after so many years and Mr. Dunne's letter that reached Rosie after his death were the two that touched me the most! I read the latter a number of times!
Some exchanges between Rosie and Stephanie were very moving. I could identify with the friendship that they shared.

All in all, it is an enriching story for emotional and romantic people who believe in soul mates and who have still not lost faith in love!! Those of us who know how destiny plays games with people who love each other are bound to relate to this story.

I think younger readers will love this story more!