Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Book World!

So here it is! It's finally done... Since I got back to reading again, I've had this thought of creating a separate book blog... Now that I managed to take time off to do this, I feel damn excited! :) Henceforth, all my book reviews and posts related to reading will be part of this blog. You can continue to visit my other blog - Mind Over Matter for the general stuff. I have migrated all my book reviews from there to here so that they are all consolidated in one blog. Happy reading! :)

I would love this start off with this quote that I came across -

He that loves a book will never want a faithful friend,
a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter.
By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently
divert and pleasantly entertain himself,as in all weathers, as in all fortunes.
~ Barrow ~

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Initially reviewed here on 21/08/2008

Author: Vladimir Nabokov

Phew! I finally finished reading this book... took me almost 2 full months, not becoz I had no time but 'coz it's one of the weirdest books I've read so far. I was determined though, to read the book till the last page just so that I dont end up missing out on something. I've read a lot of good reviews on this book so I'm not going to say it's bad - but it just wasn't my type or maybe I just didnt know how to approach the book! I ought to accept that I had a tough time reading it....

English is not english when it's written by Vladimir Nabokov. This is the first time that I couldn't grasp too much from a book written in english :) It's like learning a new language. It reminded me of my GRE/GMAT preps when I used to go thru the huge word list and wonder who on earth would really use those long-complex words! Now I know who does ;-) But I really appreciate the choice of words that the author uses. If you go dig it up in a dictionary, you'll realize that no other word could describe what he means, in a better way. It's that appropriate!The book is in a first person narrative. One of the weirdest stories I've ever read. Not acceptable on moral grounds; I just couldn't digest it. It's about Humbert Humbert, an adult-middle-aged guy who is obsessed with nymphets. He goes as a lodger in one of the lonely widow's house where he gets attracted to her 12 yr old daughter - Lolita. He marries the widow so that he gets to stay close to Lolita. After his wife's death, he seduces his 12 year old step-daughter and has an "affair" or to be precise, a sexual relationship with her for nearly 2-3 yrs.The author does know that such relationships are not acceptable by rational human beings and he brings out this acceptance through Humbert's character. He describes very well, how Humbert's and Lolita's conscience are at work...thru all this, and more importantly what effect this whole thing has on young Lolita's mind and her life. Due to the subject matter, the book was very difficult to read at times - all boundaries of ethical behavior crossed..
The story is definitely compelling and something that can really give you goose bumps, but I wish it was written in a simpler way so that I could understand and appreciate it better! But as of now, I guess I wouldn't really recommend the book ... unless, of course you are someone who is experimental in literature and wants to read a book that is very differently written!

The Bastard of Istanbul

Initially reviewed here on 10/06/2008

Author: Elif Shafak

My reading momentum had come down suddenly over the last few weeks. Am back again now with the review and more books lined up by the bedside :)After Pakistan and Afghanistan, this book which I picked up is about Turkey/Armenia. This was not on my original list but after coming across several good reviews, I was keen on reading it.

Here, Elif Shafak deals with the age old cultural dissonance that exists between the Turks and Armenians, through a complex story of two families. She indicates how even a 50-60years old history can have a strong impact on the present lives of people. In Istanbul (as well as in parts of U.S.A), the Turks and Armenians still co-exist with mutual uneasiness and hatred; with the act of genocide (during the Ottoman empire) still fresh in the memories of the Armenians whereas the Turks feel no such continuity with their ancestors or the past.Asya, labelled a 'bastard' since her birth, born when her mother was just 19yrs old, in a household full of women in Istanbul, grows up as a rebellious young Turkish woman, with the identity of her father shrouded till the end. Her only uncle who has immirated to America has an Armenian-American step-daugther called Armanoush (Amy), who later comes to Istanbul to stay in Asya's house, in search of her 'Armenian past'. Though the relationship between these 2 girls is strained, they soon become friends, intrigued by each other's culture. And during this quest, a lot of secrets tracing back to 1915 are discovered which really make the story gripping. There's a lot to learn about the Turkish-Armenian struggle history and the genocide especially, through the story of these 2 familes.I took a longer time than expected to finish this book coz I felt it became very slow in the middle.
Also, the author's writing style was quite different. There were different un-related parts of the story which were told together and I couldn't make much sense of it at that point and would lose track and end up being confused. But towards the final few chapters I could see it all come together! I really loved the book for this reason. Every small detail that was mentioned till then, just fell into place and the ending just left me awestruck!!! I didn't want to write the review as soon I completed the book, wanted that feeling to sink in and see if I really did enjoy it. Even now when I think about it, though it bored me a bit in the middle, I still love it for the complexities depicted in a very nice way!
Elif Shafak was prosecuted and acquitted in Turkey for insulting Turkishness by referring to the "millions" of Armenians "massacred" by "Turkish butchers" who "then contentedly denied it all." But finally the case was dismissed and she was back home and not in jail...

Unaccustomed Earth

Initially reviewed here on 17/05/2008

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

This book, from the author of 'Interpreter of Maladies' and 'The Namesake' is one of the nicest short story collections that I've read so far. It's hard to pick which one is better, 'Interpreter of Maladies' or 'Unaccustomed Earth', both of which are collection of short stories, but I still favour this one a little more.
Lahiri is one of the finest Indian authors that I've come across. She has something new to offer in every book and every story of her's. Her style of writing is very unique (with her attention to detail she creates a lasting image in your mind), thought provoking and gripping; none of her stories have a perfect ending, it leaves you thinking at the end... always, and that's what brings it close to reality coz more often than not, you dont see a 'perfect end' to situations in life.
Unaccustomed Earth, is again a set of 8 short stories intrically woven with their themes...Bengali families who have migrated to US of A. That's the author's focus in all her books, but each story has something different to offer.... Be it a daughter's dilemma whether to give shelter to her father after her mother passed away, discovering some secrets during the time he comes to visit her; or a married woman falling in love with a stranger who comes to stay with them and becomes a family friend, only to be discovered by her daugther much later in life; or a sister trying to help her alcohol addicted brother who is rejected by his family and the society but at the end starts doing it herself, Lahiri has mastered the intricacies of human emotions and put it across in the most simple and subtle way.
The first part is a set of 5 distinct stories and the second part, is a set of 3 intertwined stories forming a trilogy - where two people (Hema and Kaushik) meet at different stages in their lives - during childhood, in their teenage and later in their 30's. The ending is very touching, though somewhat contrived.
The only criticism would be that she tends to get a little melodramatic sometimes in her narrations and becoz of the only central theme she uses - NRI bengali families who are academic over-achievers (everyone is a PhD), economically prosperious and always in mixed marriages, the stories sometimes seem to lack variations.
Nevertheless, I still rate this book 4.5/5 and highly recommend it. It is well worth the time...

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Initially reviewed here on 05/05/2008

Author: Khaled Hosseini

Here is the link to the author's offical website. He has a blog in there too, pretty interesting.
After reading 'The Kite Runner', there was no way I would have missed out on this one. A couple of reviews that I had read initially indicated that this book is very similar to the the previous one and has nothing different to offer. That put me off a bit, but am glad I still picked it up, coz it was amazing in its own way!
Without writing much about the plot, I would like to say that Khaled Hosseini really does know how to make your heart ache!! The last 2 days when I read this book during bedtime, I found it hard to sleep...some of the things described in the book really haunted me, day and night. If the very description of Taliban and life in Afghanistan could make me go thru this, I wonder how people in there would have endured it all... I have foregone hours of sleep, just so that I get to read one more chapter, and that never ends... hard to keep the book down.
The author's style of writing is something that I enjoyed - very clear, simple and effective. The way he has described the emotions of the two women in the story, a peek behind the burqa, is really commedable.....In one of the lines he writes about friendship, which I felt was nicely expressed - "Boys, Laila came to see, treated friendship the way they treated the sun: its existence undisputed; its radiance best enjoyed, not beheld directly"
I will definitely remember this as one of 2007's best novels and would look forward to reading more of his books..

Sister of my heart

Initially reviewed here on 29/04/2008

Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The next stop in my Orbis Terrarum Challenge was India. As per my list, I was supposed to read R.K Narayan's book but my eyes fell on this one and the reviews were so amazing that I couldn't resist myself from picking it up. I had read 'Mistress of Spices' by the same author and was not too impressed with it, but the story and reviews of this tempted me to try her book once again and I am surely not disappointed this time!
The story is about a bengali family, two sisters, cousins - Sudha and Anju, born on the same day... growing up in a household of 3 widowed women in Calcutta. The story is quite typical and cliched, but what makes it different is the way in which it is told, the events are so interlocked and it goes zigzag across time and alternates between India and America (the 2 places where the story is set up). Both Sudha and Anju are inseparable and so attached to each other that you can hardly say where one begins and the other ends. Both of them are forced into arranged marriages under different circumstances and their lives takes a drastic turn when each of them gets to know of some hidden truth. The bond of love and friendship that they share is very heart warming and their relationship shows to what extent one can be selfless and find happiness in sacrificing for someone you love. The story is full of unexpected events and surprises. It just keeps you at the edge of your seat and I found it hard to put it down every night and would eagerly wait to read it the next day!
About the author, I have heard that she gets very stereotyped in her stories and focuses only on bengali women and their issues. Maybe if I pick up another novel of her's I might notice the same but nevertheless, I enjoyed the way she has chosen to tell the story. The chapters alternate b/w Sudha and Anju - one chapter from each person's perspective, yet the story is so smoothly flowing; you dont feel left out... searching for details. I loved the way she has used the right words to describe each situation or emotion... and it defnitely has an impact. Even if you dislike this author, you will still surely enjoy this book! By the time I finished the book, I was left craving for more.... I've heard there is a sequel to this and would love to read it!

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Initially reviewed here on 18/04/2008

Author: Mohsin Hamid
As part of the Orbis Terrarum challenge I picked up this book first, though it was not on the top of my list and am glad I did. It's one of the most interesting books I've read so far. A very short one, just about 180pages and something that you got to read in one sitting to really follow and enjoy the plot. You just cant put the book down till the end 'coz every page u read makes u want to read further to know what happens, till u reach the end. This is one such book that you should read before reading any of the reviews. Because even a one-liner on what the book is about is going to spoil your whole experience. So if you are planning to read this book at any point, then warning - *do not read the next paragraph *

I loved the way the author has written this book 'coz I found his style of expression very unique. The whole book is complete first person narration; a pakistani talking to a stranger from America about his experiences in the US of A and how his life changes after the World Trade Center comes down. The main character, Changez, has gone to America for higher studies, graduates from Princeton and joins one of the top financial firms in the US. He falls in love with an American girl - Erica and their love story, built amidst the growing tension between US/Afghanistan/Pakistan, is something that really touches your heart. The author's command over language and the way he has played with words is just awesome. The way he takes you back and forth, between the past and the present, in his narration is downright amazing. I feel, in a monologue, it is very tough to keep the reader's attention and curiosity alive thru out the book and the author has done it really well.
The ending is something that I really loved, coz it is not perfect, it keeps u thinking what really could have happened! Sensitive topics like the war between Afghanistan and US after the WTC bombing, the perception of the US in middle east and other parts of the world and the plight of a lot of people who were part of this disaster, are described in a subtle yet thought provoking way. The emotions are complex and the characters are something that you will not forget as soon as you finish the book... Overall, a very nice read and really worth it.So, my book for the month is done :) Before I pick up one more for the next month, which is most probably "Reading Lolita in Tehran", I have a couple of other ones to finish... one of which is Shantaram :)

The Kite Runner

Initially reviewed here on 02/02/2008

Author: Khaled Hosseini

One of THE BEST books that I have read so far... and I guess the only book which got my tears flowing as I read it. I could see myself thinking about it most of the time, long after i finished reading it....such was its impact. Two things that drew me to this book - awesome reviews and the fact that it was based in Afghanistan. Am sure all of us are aware about the political upheaval in the Afghan land but the way this book described every detail of life out there during the ruthless Taliban regime, just sent shivers down my spine... I almost thanked god that I wasn't born in that land!!

It's a story about friendship between two people, Amir and Hassan, whose lives change completely after one incident on the day of a kite flying tournament. You come across a lot of twists in the tale to finally see how Amir achieves his redemption by returning back to Kabul, from America. I wish I could write more and more about it but it's only going to spoil your read, if you haven't read the book yet... The depth of sensitivity and the power of feelings in this book can only be experienced by reading it!

I enjoyed the author's writing style... no language tricks or a complex plot. Just a conventional but a gripping story told in a simple and subtle way that touches your heart. No fairy tale endings... He gets the message out very well that redemption and reconciliation are never easy. Also, many times he doesnt state the obvious.. he first gives u a hint and only when u continue to read u figure it all out..

I am waiting to watch the movie based on this book, with the same title and even more eager to read the author's other book ' A Thousand Splendid Suns'.
If you are looking out to read a good book, then this is the one you shud pick right now.

The Inscrutable Americans

Initially reviewed here on 16/01/2008
Author: Anurag Mathur

Writing book reviews is tough. One thing I’ve realized after writing reviews for a couple of them is that a review is not just about writing what the book is about but write it in a way which generates enough curiosity and interest for the reader to pick up that book and at same time not letting out the essence (keeping the suspense on) in it. So that’s what I’m trying to do :)

Picked up Inscrutable Americans last night and just couldn’t keep the book down till I finished it. One of the most funny and hilarious books that I’ve read after Five Point Someone (by Chetan Bhagat). This is also made into a movie which, now I am dying to watch!It’s a very simple but a common story about a small town boy (Gopal) from a conservative family in India going to the US of A for his higher studies and the kind of culture shock that he gets – his fascinations, enigmas and the whirl wind of emotions during the span of 1yr of his life there. What makes it different is the way the author has brought in the unique aspects of both Indian and American cultures and the comical contrasts and comparisons between the two. The American lingo and the way it is interpreted by the Indian (Gopal) is truly hilarious…!! Well, I’ve also read some negative views from people who feel that the sense of humor in the book is cheap and cranky but

I felt that the author has done justice to the character that he has created. Maybe a little extrapolated but so what? it is a story being told… Primarily it’s all about America as seen through Gopal’s eyes… Towards the end you will really end up empathizing with this character to a great extent! :)It’s a very light read and can be finished in a day or two…

My Feudal Lord

Initially reviewed here on 15/08/2007
Author: Tehmina Durrani

.... a book that I read over the last few days. It brought in some sleepless nights and still leaves me a bit disturbed. This was the first time I read such a book, about women abuse and traumatic experiences... there were points where I just kept the book down and couldn't read further.. coz I felt so disgusted abt things described in it. Authored by Tehmina Durrani, a Pakistani woman, the book is a real life story about her life... her traumatic experience in her marriage with Ghulam Mustafa Khar, the former chief minister of Punjab and a famous pakistani politician during the time of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Mustafa was also known as the 'Lion-of-Punjab' and came from the Feudal background ..... There's also a lot of info on the political scenario in Pakistan between 1950-1980...

If you look at the book as a literary critic, then you will be quite disappointed... becoz Tehmina is not a writer by profession. The chapters are not well organized, and the paragraphs are quite unstructured. If I left a chapter unread and had to get back to it in the middle, then there was no way I wud remember the context of the story. Anyways... she says that her aim of writing the book was more to break the silence and let the world know about the male dominated pakistani society, the plight and misery of the women, where they had to constantly go thru a lot of mental and physical abuse.. ......and... expose the hypocrisy of the elite ruling class in pakistan...

What really surprised me was the fact that Tehmina always went back to her husband even after going thru all those violent abuses, sometimes nearing her to death. She reasons that this was becoz a female divorcee in the muslim society was treated with no respect... and her life wud have been made hell... But still, would someone go thru so much, just coz of the societal pressure?!?! Well, I guess even these days there are women who do not raise a concern when they are physically abused by their husbands, for the sole reason of protecting their marriage... I guess it is easier said than done.... But hats off to her that she did not give up till the end, and finally managed to get out of the living hell and got a divorce from her husband...

I admire her courage for writing this book 'coz am sure it wud have been a difficult task for her to have exposed all those big names in the political domain and the finer details of her personal life... The book, when released, received a lot of negative criticism ... She says she had to even go thru some investigations and trials in the court becoz of some info that she revealed in her book...

All in all... it's definitely worth a read... a heavy book.... might put u into lot of introspection and trigger some 'deep thinking' about various aspects of life... especially about personal relationships

The Hungry Tide

Initially reviewed here

Author: Amitav Ghosh

A friend of mine had given this book to me, authored by Amitav Ghosh, about a year and a half back. Due to lack of time I was never able to read it and didn't carry it to ISB either. I just found it yesterday lying in my cupboard and started reading it in the morning and just couldn't keep it down till I finished reading it in the night... True to all its reviews, it's really fascinating!

I developed an interest in indian fiction after I read Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Namesake" and "The Interpreter of Maladies". I had heard a lot of praises about Amitav Ghosh's writings from friends who've read his books... this was the first time I was reading his works.. and I am glad that I picked up this novel. It does take a lot of effort and talent to create that undying interest in a novel, for the readers and Amitav Ghosh is one such novelist. I have all praises for him!

The Hungry Tide - is a simple story told in a very vivid way. The author's attention to details, the style of description, the choice of words all created a moving picture in my mind. The story is set in the archipelago of islands near the bay of bengal, called the Sunderbans and the backdrop of the refugees from Bangladesh coming to India. The story revolves around the 3 main characters Kanai - a delhi businessman and a translator, Piyali - an American Indian in search of the rare river dolphins and Fokir - a local fisherman..... the story is all about their encounters in the tidal country. The characters portrayed are very intense and memorable and the emotions described are very subtle and touching. This ain't a thriller - there is no constant suspense or action but this does not slow the pace of the novel! However, towards the end of the book there is too much detail on the scientific research about the dolphins which could have been cut short.. but that doesn't pull the novel down in any way..If you want to see the Sundarbans painted vividly in words and know a bit of history and myths about the refugee camps and the dolphin species amidst those intense emotions of love, hatred, trust, faith, pride, jealousy...... then this is the book to read!

Snapshots from hell

Initially reviewed here

One of the nice(st) books on the B-school experience, that I have read recently.

We all agree that an MBA is a tough grueling experience that places huge demands on the individuals embarking on the challenge. Snapshots from Hell is one such book which answers “What is life at a B-school like”? This book authored by Peter Robinson, who was a speech writer at White House, describes his first year’s experiences at one of the country’s elite business schools, Stanford GSB. Poets, in a B-school lingo, are those few people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds – English majors or track-jumping corporate types, as in the case of the author. In a B-school the poets compete against Chartered accountants, Investment bankers and consultants who are already familiar with discounted cash flows, stocks, options and other quantifiable cryptics. Overfed with jargon and number crunching, Robinson always felt under prepared, uninspired and inundated while tackling the compulsory core subjects. He struggled to understand the supply-and-demand curves, decision trees and influence diagrams and also discovered his classmates' appalling unawareness of economic philosophy- be it Adam Smith or Karl Marx.A very well written book, which captures the essence of an MBA very brilliantly, with humor and reality in all aspects described. Every B-school student will be able to relate to – random “cold calls” by professors in class, impossible exams, competition, and camaraderie. I highly recommend this book to every MBA student – current or prospective! It is a very quick and light read, covers both personal and professional experiences of the author at Stanford that are compelling enough to interest and entertain the readers.

The Namesake

Initially reviewed here

I came across a review of "Interpreter of Maladies" in our to-be-published-ISB newsletter today and that reminded me of "The Namesake" by the same author - Jhumpa Lahiri. I happened to read this book about a year back and was really impressed with her writing. A very subtle story told in the most simple and interesting way. The strength of her writing is her exquisite details - be it describing a meal at the dining table or the interiors of a room. It is still so fresh and vivid in my mind!!

The book is about a Bengali family - Ashima and Ashok Ganguly who are in America, but are strongly tied to their roots, rituals and customs in India. They are blessed with a son, whom Ashok names "Gogol" (after the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol who inspired him). The book centers on how Gogol detests his name given by his father. His parents form a wide network of Bengali friends who meet often and celebrate the special occasions ..keeping up the Bengali tradition. Gogol, is more drawn towards the American culture and torn apart with his dual Indian-American life. But after a few relationship failures and few successes, his perspective changes over years and Gogol starts to connect back to his origin.

Jhumpa has done an awesome job in portraying the subtleties of many relationships - most importantly the bonding between Ashima and Ashok and the mother-son relationship, in addition to describing the culture shock that Ashima goes through when she moves to the U.S soon after marriage - the pain of leaving home and years of tradition. This Pulitzer-prize winner is a must read and a treat to the heart.