Tag Archives: terrorism

Book Review: The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer

The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer Title: The Scatter Here is Too Great
Author: Bilal Tanweer
Publisher: Vintage, Random House India
ISBN: 9788184004595
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 214
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Bilal Tanweer’s characters are fragile, sometimes introspective, angry, filled with angst and well, at the end of it all, just human. I start this review like this, because I want you to know how the writer thinks and what better way to know that, than get a sense of how his characters are. I have always believed that it takes a lot for writers to dig stories from their lives, more so when they live incidents – one way or the other, and from which, stories are born.

Bilal Tanweer’s book, “The Scatter Here is too Great” – a collection of interrelated stories is just what the book doctor recommended for a weekend read. It is not frivolous. It is not your typical short story collection. The fact that it resonates and says it the way it is, is reason enough for any reader to pick this collection.

“The Scatter here is too Great” is about an event that strikes different perspectives, amongst different walks of life in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. The event – a bomb blast at Cantt station. The description of the blast is gripping, given what it leads to and how different views and opinions, loves and losses, anger and frustration and deeply embedded loyalty to Karachi come forth. Tanweer perhaps has no set technique and to me that was most refreshing while reading this gem of a book.

From a kid who is bullied at school, to an ex-communist and poet being harassed on a bus by youngsters, to a teenager who steals his mother’s car to meet his girlfriend and my personal favourite in the entire collection – a story of a girl who tells her kid brother stories, and hides her grief within.

I am trying very hard not to use the regular adjectives to describe Tanweer’s writing and yet I cannot avoid using the word stupendous when it comes to his writing. It does not at any point feel that Tanweer is a novice and this is just his debut. Terror is at the centre of the book, but it is not its heart. What is then is the love for the city, the characters that are constantly struggling for sense of normalcy, who in the wake of the incident, want to lead better lives and yet are hopeful about it. To me it was a fantastic read of the month and the year. If you enjoy short stories and even if you do not, the book will sure leave you spellbound.

Affiliate Link:

The Scatter Here is Too Great

Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett Title: Bel Canto
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Olive Editions, Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-0-06-200172-6
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 401
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

For every book, there is that one reader who will love it more than any other book. For every reader, there is that one book that will make him or her love it more than any other book. According to me when books move readers, that is when the one can say that the book was written for him or her. For a long time now, I have wanted to write a review of this book, every time I have reread it. There were times I thought I could not do it justice. The book is of that magnificence and yet this time after I reread it for the fifth time, I thought to myself: I have to share this book with people who do not know about it. They must try reading it and feel if they do what I felt while reading it. With this thought, I share the book, “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett with you.

“Bel Canto” is about human connections and how they can be forged, how are they formed in the most unseemingly circumstances and how as people we are linked by one strong fact: We feel for the others. We try and see their point of view, their joys, their sorrows, because ultimately we are all searching for the same thing: Happiness. Opera and Terrorism are at the core of this novel. It is difficult to believe. Even I thought the same before picking it up, however once I did; I read it in two days, without doing anything else. There was this book and my time and nothing else in between.

The plot is this: In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned Soprano is invited to sing at a birthday party of an affluent Japanese businessman, Mr. Hosokawa, so he can invest in business in that country. She sings for him and in the middle of it all, at the vice-president’s house (where the party is hosted), there is a terror attack and all the guests are taken hostage by eighteen terrorists and this is where the story begins. This happens while the American Opera singer, Roxane Cross is being kissed by her accompanist, quite suddenly at that. At the same time, a Swedish negotiator is called on for the task to communicate with the terrorists and know what their demands are. At the heart of it all, for the people – the hostages and terrorist, their lives change drastically so, as they come together in the act of living under the same roof – not by choice but by planned chance.

Ann Patchett is the master of storytelling in this book as far as I am concerned. Not a word is out of place and as a reader all I wanted to do was soak in the words and the feeling. The strangeness of the situation in the novel is dealt with grace and a lot of restrained emotion. The other diplomats’ feelings, their thoughts, the interconnections, the fear are all brought out magnificently in this book and all through one simple aspect: Music. For Patchett, that had to be the single most connect and it shows.

There were times I cried while reading the book. It was very overwhelming and I could not stop myself. The unreality of life within the mansion and outside of it has been depicted with great intelligence. While Mr. Hosokawa and Ms. Cross are at the core of the novel, Patchett has equal feeling towards her secondary characters and blooms their nature wonderfully so. It is almost as if the book is singing to you and all you have to do is read and listen. Take it all in as a reader and do not question anything, because where there is such great writing, you do not question it at all. I am only envious of you if you will be reading this book for the first time. You do not know what is coming your way. You will be glued to it.

Affiliate Link:

Buy BEL CANTO : A NOVEL New Ed Edition from Flipkart.com

Book Review: The Submission by Amy Waldman

Title: The Submisssion
Author: Amy Waldman
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1-250-00757-5
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 337
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It isn’t easy sometimes to write a book review about a book that has had a huge impact on the way you think and what you believe in. Very few books manage to achieve that and The Submission by Amy Waldman did just that for me.

The premise of the book is simple on the surface: It has been two years after the 9/11 attacks. There is a contest for a 9/11 memorial where the World Trade Center once stood tall, bringing with it all the thoughts, fears and anger of NY citizens to surface. The contest submissions are made. The winner is “Mo”, a regular American architect, born and raised in Virginia. There is one slight setback. Mo is short for Mohammed Khan – son of immigrant parents and that is where the problems start to arise, but of course.

The contest jury consists of Claire – the wealthy widow whose husband died in the attacks, and a key juror at that. She is pro for Mohammed and at the same time doesn’t understand why she cannot be more assertive when the media and general public makes too much of Mo’s selection. On the other hand there is Asma, the Bangladeshi widow whose husband, an illegal immigrant, worked as a janitor in the building and was killed.

There is the side of the press hounding on the story and wanting to take advantage of the “scoop”. There is the side of the general public in the form of the Gallagher family who lost their son in the attacks.

Amy Waldman writes with a sort of detachment that is needed for a topic as sensitive as this. For me, there was a point when I choked on certain passages, but that was because of the intensity of the subject matter and the writing.

The novel is extremely strong in its depiction of no solution to this matter in the real world. The title does not just refer to the submission of the design and the contest. It goes deep. For instance, Mo’s submission or not to the decisions made, Claire’s submission to some members of the jury and most of all, the submission of public to fear or not. The book is not always about religion and culture, it also veers to art. What is the importance of art in our society? Even if it represents memory. What place does it deserve?

The Submission is written with reality that will not allow you to forget it that easily. There is no ploy or gimmick here. The reader succumbs to the book because it strikes a chord somewhere. Amy Waldman takes no sides while writing the book. She is as neutral as neutral can be. The Submission made me see different points of view. The emotion of course is that of an outsider if you have not faced the situation, however one can connect to it because of the strong writing and dialogue that comes across and makes readers think way after the book has ended.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

“Nothing in life gets dropped without someone else having to pick it up.”

“Jealousy clings to love’s underside like bats to a bridge.”

“Sorrow can be a bully”

Affiliate Link:

Buy The Submission from Flipkart.com

Book Review: The Empty Space by Geetanjali Shree

Title: The Empty Space
Author: Geetanjali Shree
Publisher: Harper Collins India
ISBN: 9789350290521
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

The Empty Space is not one of those books that can be read in one sitting. Even if you want to, you would not be able to – the plot will not allow you to. I had a tough time getting through this book and the writing had nothing to do with it. It was the story.

The Empty Space by Geetanjali Shree hits you hard and in the right places. It tells the story of a bomb exploding in a university café, claiming the lives of nineteen students. The mother of one of those victims comes home with her dead eighteen year-old son packed in a box and the sole survivor of the blast, a three-year old, who was found in an empty space, living and breathing. The story chronicles three lives – the mother, the boy lost, and the boy who was found. Memories that have to be created and memories that can only remain that for time to come.

What I found most taking in about the story was the relationship portrayed between the mother and the three-year old. Both have so much to say and yet they cannot tell each other anything. There were also times when I thought the language wasn’t perfect in certain places; however I am going to let that go because it was a translation and I am sure that would not be the same in the original.

The Empty Space reminded me a lot of Mother of 1084 by Mahasweta Devi, and that is solely due to the nature of the plot. You begin to start wondering about what the families go through when children die due to such banal acts of terror. Is there anything sacred left then in this world? Is there any sanity at all? This book is one of such attempts to bring to forth the consequences of what happens after an attack. Vividly written, The Empty Space unearths questions and emotions that may be needed in times such as ours.

Affiliate Link:

Buy The Empty Space from Flipkart.com

Ours are the Streets by Sunjeev Sahota

How do you write a first person narrative about a potential suicide bomber? I mean, how can you imagine yourself into such an extreme situation and tell a believable story about it? I really had my doubts but, on the whole, I think that Sunjeev Sahota has achieved it.

The story is written in a popular slang style – Imtiaz is from Sheffield and so the narrative is written with Sheffield slang – ‘I were this’, ‘I were going up Meadowhall’, ‘it sempt to me’ – and there are no chapters, simply gaps where the narrator stops writing. It’s not a diary but more sort of notes to himself, not to justify his actions, but to try and explain them to himself.


Basically, it strikes me as a desperately sad story. It’s about a deep, deep sense of alienation. Imtiaz grows up in this northern town, watching his parents sacrifice themselves, taking almost any abuse in order to raise him, to see him have a better life than they. But when his father dies and he returns with the body to Pakistan, he finally feels a sense of belonging and quickly wants to fit in, to adopt the clothes, manners and beliefs of those around him, to not be the foreigner.

And really, it’s this sense of belonging, of wanting to belong, that prompts him to take the actions he does. He watches the videos of atrocities but doesn’t seem particularly moved by them, says that he’s seen them before. He is outraged by what the fighting has done to Kashmir, but it’s not a strident, violent anger. His commitment seems to come much more from that sense of belonging he finds in Pakistan and his sense of alienation when he returns to Sheffield.

By making Imtiaz’s motivation more subtle and complex, perhaps Sahota risks making the story less believable. I had my doubts almost all the way through. But, in the end, it hardly matters because the story ends up being much less about a potential suicide bomber and far more about belonging, friendship, loyalty and loss.

Ours are the Streets; Sahota, Sunjeev; Picador India; Rs. 450

Jimmy the Terrorist by Omair Ahmad

I have not read “The Storyteller’s Tale” by Omair Ahmad, but now I will. I have just finished reading, “Jimmy the Terrorist” and I am still thinking about it. I have had a great year of reading. 2010 has been perfect and it just got better with this book added to my reads this year.  Terrorism has always and sadly enough will always be an intricate part of our lives. Off late, it has seized us with fear and everything that comes with it – the insecurity, the deep down scare in people’s eyes about what is going to happen tomorrow and threats from almost every religious fundamentalist group.

Books like “Jimmy the Terrorist” hold a mirror to our society and how is it depleting its values and what people stand for. It jolts you from your deep slumber and at some level makes you want to make that difference, the only bone of contention being: We don’t know how to make that difference.

Jimmy the Terrorist is set in the northern part of Uttar Pradesh, India around 1990 in a fictional town of Moazzamabad. The town speaks of alienation of the Muslim community and the people who live in it. The story is about a guy called Jamal who becomes a terrorist after stabbing a police inspector and is in the process, beaten to death. Before he breathes his last, he mouths the words, “My name is Jimmy the Terrorist” and that is where the story begins. Journalists throng in from every part of the country (I liked the way media was thrashed in the book to some extent. It also reminded me of Peepli Live) wanting to gnaw on every piece of news they can obtain.

The story then moves forward in backwards talking about Jimmy’s life and what shaped him to become the person that he was before he died. It also talks about his father Rafiq, their circumstances, the marginalization faced by the society, the bringing down of a mosque in Ayodhya, to how people are treated in a country that is supposed to be a democratic one.

The idea and what the book represents is simple: Religion is not the answer to our problems – be it any religion and it can never be.  The book revolves around a small town and its issues and how everything is defined by politics and religion. Human sentiment and emotions in such times seems to have taken a walk and quite literally at that.

Jimmy did have a life before he died and no one wanted to know about it till his death was reported. Jimmy the Terrorist is a story of today’s India and how it is pockmarked with various troubles – from communalism to riots to its own agenda set by different people separately. Jimmy is an outlier in the society – may be there aren’t many of his kind, and yet they exist or are made to exist. Democracy speaks for the majority and not the minority and may be that is a concern. We are still living with the hangover of partition and that needs to end.

 Jimmy the Terrorist; Ahmad, Omair; Penguin India; Hamish Hamilton; Rs. 350