Tag Archives: Non-fiction

My Name is Abu Salem by S. Hussain Zaidi

My Name is Abu Salem by S. Hussain Zaidi Title: My Name is Abu Salem
Author: S. Hussain Zaidi
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143423591
Pages: 248
Genre: Crime, Biographies and Autobiographies
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I had heard a lot about S. Hussain Zaidi’s writing but had never read anything by the man. I do not know why. Perhaps, there was always this perception that maybe the writing will not live up to my expectations as a reader or maybe I would not enjoy knowing about the Bombay Underworld and about the other world, so to say. But I was proved wrong the minute I picked up, “My Name is Abu Salem”, the latest by journalist and writer, S. Hussain Zaidi.

Going by the title, the book is about the life of Abu Salem and let me tell you that while it does scare you as a reader to know what kind of people exist in the world, it also makes you hate the man a lot more. I mean, I can never imagine having any empathy for a man who killed people at will, who had not the slightest remorse at how he behaved and to top it considered himself to be the lord and master of everyone influential who did and did not come his way.

Zaidi’s writing style makes the book one breezy read and also makes you think about the situations (right time, right person) in which Salem grew to become an underworld don – a boy from a small town of Azamgarh to becoming one of Mumbai’s most feared Don, the one who only wanted fame, name and glory and perhaps still does.

For most part of the book, I just kept wondering: How people lead such lives? Salem had bedded a beauty-queen who then became a film-star, he had every woman he could and wanted, he never cared about his wife Sameera and his son Amir and of course the core of it all – the crimes committed by him and his men. In all of this, I could not stop thinking of the effect a man has and the control he commands. Abu Salem’s personality went beyond who he was and maybe that was another factor that added to his aura.

There are times while reading the book, you do feel that Zaidi is not revealing or telling all, but I think it has to do only with about whom he is writing. At the same time, he is just skimming through some parts, like Salem’s formative years. Zaidi does mention the main parts and there is a lot of information which otherwise no reader would know, like Sameera’s interview transcription on what was it like being Salem’s wife for ten years or Monica Bedi’s confusion when it came to him or for that matter the way Bollywood and the construction industry perceived him.

The book obviously ends open-endedly because no one knows what will happen next in Salem’s life, given that he was sent from Portugal to India and that is how the Indian Government was able to nab him. And in more than one way, that is how the “downfall of the Don” began. “My Name is Abu Salem” is a fast-paced read with a style of writing that does not once bore you or make you leave the book.

And Then One Day : A Memoir by Naseeruddin Shah

And Then One Day by Naseeruddin Shah Title: And Then One Day: A Memoir
Author: Naseeruddin Shah
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780670087648
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 328
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

There are times you take stock of life. You evaluate what is there and what is not there. Perhaps one day we will all go through this. It is but eventual I think. While reading Naseeruddin Shah’s memoir, “And Then One Day”, this was my foremost thought. The book of course is written I guess keeping that in mind and at the same time, the tone of Mr. Shah is unique to him – sometimes brash, others haughty, sometimes also hypocritical, at other times contradictory and mostly funny and true. This is probably one of the reasons why I could not stop turning the pages.

“And Then One Day” to me is a mix of both, the man and the actor, after all one cannot separate one from the other, or maybe one can, which I am not aware of. The book chronicles the life of Naseeruddin Shah – from his childhood till his marriage to Ratna Pathak Shah. I think it is the candor with which it is written is what attracts the reader to the book and perhaps the credentials he holds as an actor.

The magnificence of the personality shines on every page. There is the struggle of becoming an actor to unabashedly admitting to roles done because he needed money. I must admit that sometimes I thought the tone was condescending and patronizing even, but the writing was so good that one can ignore that.

While I was reading the book for the first time (yes, I have read it twice), I thought it was ghost-written. However, it is not. The writing is clear, crisp and almost makes you picture incidents as you turn the pages. There are also a lot of times when Mr. Shah indulges in some self-deprecating humour which is also quite brilliantly written.

It is not easy to talk about one’s life. I am sure it is very cathartic and sometimes also brings back memories that you do not want to encounter. At the same time, there is a lot of clarity in the thought process of the writer about this book. Yes, there are times when there is a lot of back and forth between the past and present, but then I also think that this is the only way to write a memoir.

Mr. Shah excels at this book and it does not seem that he does not know how to write, like I mentioned earlier. The book is practical, it is real and it also comes from the heart so many times – especially when he is speaking of his daughter and his relationship with her. “And then One Day” is a book which talks about acting, the actor, the man, the human being and it does so with no holds barred.

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Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul & Illustrated by Wendy McNaughton

Lost Cat by Caroline Paul Title: Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology
Author: Caroline Paul and Illustrated by Wendy McNaughton
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 978-1608199778
Genre: Pets, Lifestyle, Non-Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

All one needs on dreary days is a book which warms the cockles of the heart and leaves you spellbound, more so if it is a true story, and a true story of a cat at that. It is about cats and animals in general and the love one has for their pets. It is beautifully penned – simple and straight from the heart. “Lost Cat” is a true story of love, loss, and the meaning of life, written by Caroline Paul and illustrated gorgeously by her partner, Wendy McNaughton.

Lost Cat - Image 1

One fine day, Caroline was in a plane crash and life changed completely for her and her partner. She was at home for the longest time with her two cats Tibby and Fibby. Fibby was the feisty one and Tibby the silent, scared cat. Tibby disappears one day and returns home after a while. Caroline was relief beyond words and yet in some way Tibby had changed. It is then that Caroline started wondering: Where did Tibby go? What had happened to him?

Lost Cat - Image 2

This is where the book begins. Caroline decides to use modern technology to find the tracks of Tibby. She wonders what happened. She and Wendy are distraught. “Lost Cat” is the story of what happens after. The book seems to be a book for children, but it is for adults. It is about the places we go to when pets disappear, when they are back and what happens when we try to find out more about their behavior and life.

Lost Cat - Image 3

The illustrations are adorable. Wendy McNaughton has done a wonderful job of bringing their story to life through these drawings. “Lost Cat” is a story that will make you smile, make you cry, make you feel a lot more and will immediately want you to go and hug your pet – dog or cat or hamster.

Lost Cat - Image 4

Here is the adorable book trailer of Lost Cat:

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99: Unforgettable Fiction, Non – Fiction, Poetry & Humour by Khushwant Singh

99-unforgettable-fiction-non-fiction-poetry-humour by Khushwant Singh Title: 99 : Unforgettable Fiction, Non – Fiction, Poetry & Humour
Author: Khushwant Singh
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 9789383064755
Genre: Anthology
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Writers live on forever. There is this immortality which is attained when you write a book. The concept of death is then cheated on and rightly so. When Khushwant Singh passed away, there was this surge of emotions in the country and outside of the country as well. India had lost its beloved writer. I started reading Khushwant Singh when I was in school. It began with his jokes (in those days, we called them non-veg jokes). We were boys, driven by testosterone and Mr. Singh’s jokes just added onto what we were experiencing as teens. As I grew up, I realized that the man had written a lot more than just jokes. Those were just additions off-handedly thrown in for teenagers like me.

I experienced a portion of “Train to Pakistan” in the eighth grade and since then I have not stopped reading him. This according to me is one of India’s finest novels – written about the time of partition, when nothing was certain and yet all what the residents of Mano Majra wanted was peace and calm. I then moved on to his short stories, starting with “The Mark of Vishnu” and then my most favourite one, “The Portrait of a Lady” and the stories never stopped being read. His columns about the world and the way it was, clubbed with humour just had to be the thing to make me stop feeling gloomy.

And then there were other books and stories I read written by the man. And then one fine day, just like that he passed away. What he did leave behind is this body of work that speaks volumes about the man he was and the writer that we all loved. Aleph Book Company has published his body of work, parts of it, samples of it, across 99 pieces, each for the year he lived – 99 pieces of sheer joy for the reader to take in. This collection has everything in it that he ever wrote (well not whole of it but mostly covers all forms of writing) – from fiction to short stories to columns to jokes to poems and stories from his life.

“99” was published on Khushwant Singh’s birth anniversary. The book provokes thought and a whole lot of entertainment. “99” takes you to a place where you want to read more of Khushwant Singh. This book is perhaps the best tribute paid to the man who entertained us with his writing, made us relate to his characters, made us see Delhi in a different light, and also made us contemplate about death as much as he reveled in living. Read “99” if you love what Mr. Singh has written over the years. Read “99” if you want to know what he wrote and want to start off with his writing. Read “99” to see and understand what great and simple writing is all about. It is but true: Writers do live on through their writing and there is no better example than this.

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Book Review: The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders by Emmanuel Guibert

The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert Title: The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders
Authors: Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefevre, Frederic Lemercier
Publisher: First Second Books
ISBN: 978-1596433755
Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoirs
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always been a fan of Graphic novels. From the time I started figuring them out or rather discovering them. It was with Sandman I think and what a place to begin. At that time, I used to think that graphic novels only felt good when narrating a fictitious tale. I was so wrong and so mistaken. Over the last couple of years, I have read some brilliant non-fiction graphic novels – from Joe Sacco’s Palestine to Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle, these guys know how to wrench your heart through the form of drawings and words in blurbs.

The Photographer - Image 1

This is what intrigued me about the first book in the “A Year of Reading the World” challenge which I have undertaken (inspired from the blog of the same name, started by Ann Morgan) – and the country to start with was Afghanistan. I did not want to start with the usual Khaled Hosseini (I love the guy’s writing but I wanted to discover something new). I had already read, “The Patience Stone” by Atiq Rahimi and loved it and yet I wanted something new. I then saw a title which intrigued me and that was “The Photographer” by Emmanuel Guibert.

Now let me tell you something about the book. This is not your regular graphic novel. It is definitely more and in the way that a reader would love to explore more books of this nature (if they exist). The book is a graphic novel mixed with pictures as taken by the said photographer in the title – Didier Lefevre.

The Photographer - Image 2

Didier left Paris at the end of July 1986 to go to Afghanistan. It was his first project as a photojournalist, documenting the journey of Doctors without Borders into war-torn Afghanistan. That was the time; the Soviets were fighting the Afghan Mujahedeen. This was the time the US of A was supporting Afghanistan, unaware of how it would backfire years later. The book though is not about that. The book is about the war and help and moments of respite as seen through Lefevre’s lens.

“The Photographer” is all about the perception and unbiased (mostly) perspective of a man with a camera and the need to capture it all. The book is created and compiled by Guibert along with Didier’s photographs. The war-torn Afghanistan as seen by Didier makes a perfect setting alongside its history. The people, the places, and their stories are beautifully captured and Guibert does justice to every single word and illustration – to go with the photograph. This book is a great beginning to how it all started – to how a country was ravaged, torn and how some selfless doctors also tried to save it. Most of all, it is about a photographer and how is life changed completely.

Next Up in this Challenge: Albania: The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare

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Book Review: Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family by Najla Said

Looking for Palestine Title: Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family
Author: Najla Said
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
ISBN: 9781594487088
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It must not be easy being torn between cultures. To also live through them and find an identity of your own cannot be easy. Najla Said, the daughter of a prominent Palestinian Father and a Lebanese mother did not have it easy. I somehow love stories about conflicts when it comes to identity and culture. I like the revelation and how did it all end for the person narrating his or her life.

“Looking for Palestine” is Najla’s account of her life – growing up in Manhattan, living with strong parents – not to forget Edward Said and his opinions on she should be brought up. She then decided to see her identity for herself and what she stood for besides being a Jew and living in times which are volatile and ever-changing.

The book is about Najla’s experiences – growing up in her father’s shadow and for the longest time trying to find her own voice. She did not want to be just another Jew. She took marked steps to separate herself from her heritage and in the end she ended up finding herself in her culture and roots.

Najla Said’s writing is marvellous. It is full of irony, heartfelt moments and about how life is conflicting at almost every single step. The book is about her personal struggles and bittersweet to a very large extent, which I love in a memoir. It cannot all be sugary. Nor it can be all bitter and dark. There has to be a balance in it, which Najla provides very well.

There is a lot of complexity to the book. In fact, at most points, I had to go and read up on Palestinian history to make sense of what Najla had to say. But all said and done, it is a great memoir – of discovery, loss and finding oneself all over again.

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Book Review: A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books by Alberto Manguel

A Reading  Diary by Alberto Manguel Title: A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books
Author: Alberto Manguel
Publisher: Canongate
ISBN: 978-1841958217
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Books, Reading
Pages: 272
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

We all must keep a reading diary. Something that chronicles what we read and its impact on our lives or what lives we lead and its impact on what we read. Basically, the idea is to make notes, and not on a laptop or any other electronic device, but handwritten notes, which are so important in today’s time and age.

“A Reading Diary” by Alberto Manguel is one such book. It is about the twelve books that Alberto read or rather reread in a year. Those are his favourite books or at least some of his favourites. He makes the reader sees ways in which time can be spent with a book and good quality time. He makes us see how the mind wanders with one reference made in the book to several made or recollected from memory in other books. That to me is pure genius when it comes to his writing.

There are lists as well in the book – random and some not quite random. There are snatches from Manguel’s life which is a treat to someone who is an ardent fan like me. He speaks of his favourite books and with great passion he tells the reader what he likes and perhaps even does not like about them.

There are so many possibilities in this one for the reader. To take a chance and read all the twelve books listed by him and more that you would come across. He treats his favourite books with great care and could talk endlessly about them and to me that is the beauty of this book. He attaches memory to books, which most readers, should do. He takes memories and conjures them to something magical in front of readers.

“A Reading Diary” is highly recommended by me to most book lovers and people who know the value of life and reading and its true integration.

List of Books read by Manguel:

1. The Invention of Morel (Adolfo Bioy Casares)
2. The Island of Dr. Moreau (Wells)
3. Kim (Kipling)
4. Memoirs From Beyond the Grave (Chateaubriand)
5. The Sign of Four (Doyle)
6. Elective Affinities (Goethe)
7. The Wind in the Willows(Graham)
8. Don Quixote (Cervantes)
9. The Tartar Steppe (Dino Buzzati)
10. The Pillow Book (Sei Shonagon)
11. Surfacing (Margaret Atwood)
12. The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (Joaquim Maria Machado De Assis)