The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan Title: The Association of Small Bombs
Author: Karan Mahajan
Publisher: 4th Estate, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9789351777878
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I finished reading “The Association of Small Bombs” two weeks ago and I am still reeling from its effect. Sometimes you know when you love a book too much and you also know that you can read it fast and finish it but you want it to last longer, so you don’t finish it really fast. Ever get that feeling? Happens to me all the time when I am reading a book I’m really enjoying and that has occurred after a long time with this second novel by Karan Mahajan.

At this point, let me also tell you that I had read and not thought much of Karan’s first book “Family Planning” at the time of reading it (I am being extremely honest. Please don’t kill or hate me for it Karan). I will for sure go back to it after some time. For now, let me share my experience of this literary stunner of a book “The Association of Small Bombs”.

You will one way or the other get the title relation once you read the book, so I will not talk about it. Let me instead go straight to the plot: It all begins with a bombing that takes place in Delhi’s crowded Lajpat Nagar. The year is 1996 and it is not a big bombing. It is a small bombing. Lives are lost – and amongst those lost lives two belong to the Khuranas’ sons Tushar and Nakul. There is also Mansoor; their friend who accompanies them to get the Khuranas’ repaired TV home and while he is alive, he is scarred for the rest of his life by the incident. The book in short may seem about this but there is so much more to it. In fact, there is so much more that I do not know what to include and what to omit from this review.

So I will start with it all. The Khuranas’ live with their guilt for years and Mansoor lives with that terrible memory and how he is physically and emotionally damaged by it. There is also the terrorists’ (so-called) side of the story (which isn’t all that much but when you read it in the context of the plot – it makes so much sense and is needed there). The empathy, the rawness of the writing and above all the precision with which every detail is explained – you cannot help but fall in love with the book.

The book begins in 1996 and ends in 2003 (I assume because there is nothing more after that). Mahajan’s capturing of the seven years throughout the novel and its protagonists (there is more than one) is magnificent and taut. For instance, the relationship between the husband and the wife after the sons’ death is something that I still think of – the edge of the relationship ,the brink of it which they face and sometimes only to go back because there is nowhere else to go. Mahajan is a master of his craft.

I have so much to talk about this book and I know that words will fall short. I will not be able to explain what I felt every time some stunning paragraph or line hit me. A small detail you would have not paid attention to in your daily routine shines in the book. The mere simplicity and elegance of writing is what will make you turn the pages and not stop. I will not be able to put that in words – because you have to feel it as you read and wade through this one – hoping it will not end. All that I can say is: READ THIS BOOK NOW!

Here are some of my favourite parts from the book. There are a lot more but for now I will list these:

“It was as if, having failed to protect them in life, they felt double the responsibility to fulfill their duties in death.”

“The station was so bloated with people that the loss of a few would hardly be tragic or even important”

“The May heat was horrifying, violating the privacy of all things while also forcing you into yourself.”

“She was aware, suddenly, that the death of her children was not a metaphysical event, but a crime. A firecracker set off by uncaring men in a market. She did not trust the government or the courts to do anything.”

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng Title: Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
Author: Jennifer Tseng
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609452698
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are books that come on to your shelf quietly and from there enter your heart and stay there. “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” is one such book which I have just finished reading and cannot stop talking or thinking about.

Jennifer Tseng has written this book about uncharted and almost forbidden territory when it comes to falling in love and yet it is so exquisite, raw and almost unnerving by the time you reach the end. It is almost like a movie that you are witnessing and don’t want it to end or at least end the way you imagined it to.

“Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” is the kind of book that will make you sit up, turn the pages furiously, go back to the pages read and mark passages vigorously, finish the book and come back to your favourite sentences over and over again.

Mayumi Saito is a librarian. She is the sort of unassuming woman who goes on about love – day by day without really aspiring for much. Mayumi loves her books and that’s all there is to it. She then meets a seventeen year-old and her life is not the same anymore.

I wouldn’t call it an affair, as much as it is just being together and their common love for books that brings them closer. It is the subtleties, the nuances of the plot, and the sheer connection between them that makes this book what it is. Wait a minute though. There is a twist in the tale – well not so much as a twist but something that is almost predictable – Mayumi knowingly befriends the patron’s mother and that in itself is a different story for you to read and explore.

The book is hedonistic in its approach and it is brilliantly executed. Every word and every sentence is so in place that you pause, hold your breath and marvel at Tseng’s literary skill and craft. It is heady, almost like a car waiting to collide and you know it will and yet all you want to do is enjoy that catastrophic ride, nonetheless.

“Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” is one of those rare books that speak of loneliness and isolation so candidly that it hits and hurts the spot. You are scared of what might happen to you when you reach a certain age and how perhaps literature might not be the only crutch that will save you. Jennifer Tseng brings out the best, the graceful, the sweet and the horrid nature of humans in her characters stupendously. Yes, the book is self-conscious and so are the characters, but that is what I expected and it served me well. You might expect erotica but it is again graceful and subtle – the kind I enjoy reading about.

If you have to read one book that speaks of love, longing, desire and books all at the same time – almost culminating to an obsession, then you must read, “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness”.

How it Works: The Wife by Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris

How it Works - The Wife Title: How it Works: The Wife
Authors: Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris
Publisher: Ladybird Books
ISBN: 978-0718183547
Genre: Picture Books
Pages: 56
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Who is a wife? What are her responsibilities? What is she supposed to do and not supposed to do? Is there a manual at all to all of this so wives can lead easier lives? The spoof on The Wife is here – from Ladybird again in the series of Ladybird Books for Grownups and once again it hits right on the spot and makes me a happy man.

How it Works - The Wife - Image 1

This time as you must have guessed, it is about the wife – who is she and what is she all about. It is highly tongue-in-cheek and works very well given the entire patriarchal centricity of our society. Ladybird books for grownups is about our learning (mockingly) or more unlearning the age old stereotypes created for us and how we can actually break free.

How it Works - The Wife - Image 2

“The Wife” is what the typical wife should be and it makes fun of all of those models. I loved this book the most. I thought it was the book on dating, but this one beats it hands down.

Adulthood is a Myth: A “Sarah Scribbles” Collection by Sarah Andersen

Adulthood is a Myth - A Sarah Scribbes Collection by Sarah Andersen Title: Adulthood is a Myth: A “Sarah Scribbles” Collection
Author: Sarah Andersen
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
ISBN:978-1449474195
Genre: Comic Strips
Pages: 112
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I am old. Not that old. But I am old enough. I am in my early 30s and I am still waiting for the day when I become an adult. Mostly because I believe, mostly because I know that the decisions I make are not “adult-like”. I have been told that several times and I am aware. I don’t need to be told. I don’t need to be nagged by almost everyone around me. It isn’t fair. And yet life is not that bad either. Life is passing by and everything else with it. These are the times when you need someone like Sarah Andersen to tell you that life is okay, you are okay the way you are, and even if it isn’t okay, then it is alright.

Adulthood is a Myth - A Sarah Scribbes Collection by Sarah Andersen Image 1

“Adulthood is a Myth” is a collection of Sarah Andersen’s rad comic strips – which are funny mostly, depicts the times we live in – the dating scene, the lonely ones, technology and everything else rolled in between. Above all, it speaks of how okay it is to not grow-up in a world where everyone just wants to prove something or the other.

Adulthood is a Myth - A Sarah Scribbes Collection by Sarah Andersen Image 2

This book is perfect for everyone and hence makes a great gift! It will resonate with almost everyone who has had a tough patch or the other or for who even waking up on a Monday morning to get to work is tough. The situations are from life, the embarrassments are real, and the annoyances of life are just too vivid and we have all been there, done that.

Adulthood is a Myth - A Sarah Scribbes Collection by Sarah Andersen Image 3

The book makes you feel that you aren’t the only one who feels and thinks that way. There are perhaps millions of people who feel the same but never communicate it, till Sarah has. Read her comics online and most certainly pick up this book!

The Sialkot Saga by Ashwin Sanghi

The Sialkot Saga by Ashwin Sanghi Title: The Sialkot Saga
Author: Ashwin Sanghi
Publisher: Westland Books
ISBN: 978-9385724060
Genre: Thriller, Indian Fiction
Pages: 588
Source: From the Author
Rating: 4 Stars

I remember reading “Chanakya’s Chant” a couple of years ago and being completely taken in by the book. There was nothing that I did not like about it. I mean here was an Indian Historic thriller that finally did justice to the genre. I could not stop reading the book and finished it in a day. The same happened (well more or less, given the size of this one) while reading ‘The Sialkot Saga’.

‘The Sialkot Saga’ has one of my favourite Indian authors back in the game (I was not a fan of The Krishna Key and some others written by him, to be honest) and how! The book spreads across decades and centuries, till it reaches present day India and will sure have both historic and thriller readers in for a treat.

What is the book about you might ask?

Well, the book is about power – the race to it and it involves two people – Arvind and Arbaaz, both raised in the wake of partition of India and how their lives merge, collide and intertwine at every given step – whether they like it or not, both personally and professionally. They are adversaries – so there is a lot of blood, moments of corporate politics, of anger and in all of this there are moments of humanity, grace and kindness, which take you not by surprise but more like you expected them at some point or the other. Arvind and Arbaaz are characters that won’t easily let go of you and when the book is over, there is this lingering sense of sadness that stays with you and you cannot help but think about the people whose lives you have been a part of as you read through this magnificent thriller.

The historic angle of the book starts from Emperor Ashoka’s reign and ends in today’s time. The book is a tome but you never think of it that way. The pages turn rapidly, all thanks to Ashwin’s seamless and racy plot. Calcutta and Bombay (as known in those times) are vividly described, so much so that I felt I was taking in the Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta of the times before the 80s when I was born.

Sanghi’s writing is crystal clear. Of course he shows but there is also a good mix of showing and telling which I think works wondrously for this book. At no point, did I want to close this. At no point, I felt that there needed to be heavy-duty editing done. It was fine. It is fine the way it is. I would strongly recommend it.

Incarnations: India in 50 Lives by Sunil Khilnani

Incarnations by Sunil Khilnani Title: Incarnations: India in 50 Lives
Author: Sunil Khilnani
Publisher: Allen Lane, Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-0241208229
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Pages: 636
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Sunil Khilnani’s “The Idea of India” is one of my long-standing favourite books on Indian history (well of whatever is there in it) and civilization. Till “Incarnations: India in 50 lives” came along. Not that it is any better by any stretch of imagination than “The Idea of India” but I quite like the concept. So what is the book about? Just what it says – India in 50 people – their lives and their journeys as the country progressed or declined – a mirror of our times so to speak. The concept is terrific and so is the writing, at the same time, there are some places where the book falls short.

Mr. Khilnani however picks some very obscure people for the book – which again I think is okay, given the timeline he covers and what he wants to communicate, however, there is something which is amiss in the book – the time spent on each personality. I wish there was more written on each of them which is not the case, only because Khilnani’s writing is par excellence.

Now coming to the personalities from Aamchi Mumbai or the state of Maharashtra as well. There are only 8 of them – nonetheless – I thought there could have been more from our city; however we will make do with these eight.

The eight personalities are: Shivaji (quite an obvious one, isn’t it? – the warrior king and about how he changed the course of the state of Maharashtra), Jamsetji Tata (another obvi choice), Annie Besant (her role in Mumbai wasn’t all that much, but still noteworthy, given the educational institutions set up by her and the time she spent in the city so much so that people mistook her to be Indian and from Mumbai), Manto (one cannot forget the time he spent in India and most particularly in Mumbai working with Bollywood – given he was also a screenplay writer), Raj Kapoor (need anyone say more when it comes to him – the first true blue showman so to say, and yet Khilnani has such an unbiased perspective which I personally loved and enjoyed), Ambedkar (the man who no one will ever forget and his role in starting the Dalit movement – this is my favourite piece in the entire book – only because there is so many layers which have been uncovered where the man is concerned and that too only in about five to six pages), M.F. Husain (one of India’s most prolific painters) and finally Dhirubhai Ambani (I shouldn’t have to say anything at all about him, should I?).

So these are the personalities – the purpose of the book is to trace their lives and see its relevance in not only shaping India as a free country but also their ideologies communicated through their work and made a lasting impression on people’s minds.

“Incarnations” as a book to me is complete in the sense of an idea or a concept but again there had to be more personalities – a 100 of them would perhaps been ideal. Mumbai was a terrain has also perhaps not been explored that much because of the restriction to 50. The book reads slowly (of course) and it will take some of your time before you are done with it. What I also found quite magnificent was the way in which the illustrations are handled – some are prints of paintings, some posters and some in the form of maps, which gives the book its very layer dimension. “Incarnations” is a very relevant book for our times and the world we live in. It is time to go back and trace our civilization and history through people who lived then and the difference they made.

The Ladybird Book of the Hangover by Jason Hazeley

The Ladybird Book of the Hangover by Jason Hazeley Title: The Ladybird Book of the Hangover
Author: Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris
Publisher: Michael Joseph
ISBN: 978-0718183516
Genre: Picture Book
Pages: 56
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Ladybird books have done it again! I remember talking about their book on dating and this time I finished the book on the hangover. Once again it is in your face, cheeky and downright hilarious. It is also about the Hangover – your very own fifty-six page guide on what causes a hangover and how to get rid of it.

Hangover 1

“The Ladybird Book of the Hangover” is in the same vein of the other Ladybird books for Grown-Ups. I know the books are short and may not even count as books in the proper sense of the word, but they are and they are a riot. Each of them that I have read till now.

Hangover 3

The book on the hangover is about coping in the real world and more so with alcohol. My favourite page is of the cat – it made me snigger and laugh out loud so very much. It is a quick read and will not take too much of your time.

Hangover 2

“The Ladybird book of the Hangover” is a contemporary farce of a read for our times – that cannot do without alcohol and there isn’t anything known as enough alcohol. Take a tip or two about hangovers from this one.