Monthly Archives: October 2010

Top 10 Reads of 2010

So here is my personal favourite list of Top 10 Reads of 2010.  Here goes:

1. Castle by J.Robert Lennon: I loved this book. I mean, I loved it! The story was taut. It was not all over the place. It maintained the sense of mystery and thrill that a book like this deserves and at the same time did what few writers manage to – get a grip on the landscape and create it into a living and breathing character. I am all for this one and cannot recommend it highly.

2. The Original of Laura by Vladimir Nabokov: Though I found the book to be a little boring in the middle, I have to admit I loved it. There is no way I could not. Here we have Nabokov’s last book (can we call it that?) with his original writing on cards which were well etched into the book. Brilliant design and even better story.

3. Quarantine by Rahul Mehta: Hands down for this collection of queer short stories written by an Indian living abroad. Not because I am gay, but because he did a terrific job of writing such crisp and well-defined stories, though they had absurd ends and yet this one remains to be re-read.

4. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver: Highly accoladed and well-deserved for all the awards it won, Kingsolver did it again. It takes a lot to write a fictional tale and spin with historical characters – to breathe life into them – about what they will say or do given the situation. I bow to The Lacuna. The writing was lucid and emotional in too many parts to be described here.

5. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell: A masterpiece of titanic proportions. A saga (of sorts) set in 18th century Japan. A nation closed to the idea of international trade and confined to its customs and traditions, and who better to write it for us than Mr. Mitchell himself. I was enthralled by it and it held me captive for 3 days and nights at a stretch.

6. The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi: And from the moment I started reading this book, I could not put it down. The tale of the Patels had me eating out of Ms. Doshi’s hands and I wanted more of it. I just cannot wait for another of her books to come out. An under-rated writer for sure. Please read this one.

7. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: This has to feature on my list for sure. Dysfunctional family. Midwestern American State and all the action that takes place. How could I have not enjoyed this one? I loved it to the core. A Must must read for everyone.

8. The Difficulty of Being Good by Gurcharan Das: A brilliant meditation on how the Mahabharata still affects us in this modern world. How truth, karma and dharma play their roles in the corporate and personal life. Gurcharan Das has done a brilliant job with this one. And I for sure am a sucker for mythology anyday.

9. Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller: If there is one biography I would urge anyone to read, it would be this one. Most people only assume about Ayn Rand and that is because no one knew her. Anne C Heller does a marvellous job with this iconic biography. Read more to find out more about Ayn Rand.

10. Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman: Last but not the least it had to be this book. With the way it is written to what is being written about, I fell in love with this book from the word “Go”. A book to ponder over for sure.

So this is my Top 10 reads for the year and I know it will only get better in 2011. Bring it on!!

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane

The Report: A Novel

What is the language of Grief? Does it even have a language of it’s own? It must be sad for sure and haunting and would bring back residue of memories that one decides not to touch. May be, that is grief – in its form – absolute and never-fading. At the same time, it does little to help conjure the strength to get to a point when it does not remain grief any more. I know I may not be making any sense right now – however to get my point, you have to read The Report by Jessica Francis Kane.

During the Blitz in London in 1943, an extraordinary event took place in Bethnal Green. On March 3, 1943, when air raid warning sirens went off, thousands of people, as usual headed to nearest bomb shelter, the local Tube Station that could shelter close to ten thousand people at one time. Some had come here many times and knew that they could reserve cots and places to sleep for the night. Others just took their chances, hoping that the emergency would not last long and that they would be able to return home soon afterward. On this night, something unique happened. One hundred seventy-three people died of asphyxia within a minute of their arrival, all suffocated in the crush on the first twenty stairs of the entrance. Ironically, “not a single bomb had fallen in the city that night.”

Author Jessica Francis Kane, who studied the original government inquiry into the reasons for this catastrophe, draws on the facts of the real Bethnal Green case to create a fictionalized version of what went wrong. The actual facts, gathered and put into a report by Sir Laurence Dunne within three weeks of the events, had been hushed up by the government so as not to alarm the people or create questions about the government’s ability to handle crises. Wanting to avoid placing blame on people who might become scapegoats, he had written his report with a concern for human feelings and for what humans need in order to deal with disasters during fraught times such as war. “Perhaps,” he suggests, “we should only sometimes be held accountable for the unintended consequences of our actions.”

At the same time Ms. Kane maintains the balance of why people behaved the way they did and forms thoughts to their actions. The characters elicit sympathy, and when all the details are known, the reader feels the same sorts of conflicts that Sir Laurence Dunne felt when he wrote his report.

She avoids the flights of sentimentality while writing the book and brings out the true character of people in a situation like this – what they do and how they become. She shows you the bigger picture of morality and issues at hand.

I commend Graywolf Press for publishing this book. It made for some captivating reading and most of all another view of looking at things – from not just one eye, just from beyond what is there to be seen.

Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

I remember when I first read an Atwood. It started with “The Handmaid’s Tale” back when I was in college and I was floored. I was going through a phase of angst and Ms. Atwood somehow added to it in a big way. At that tiime, only two writers mattered the most to be – Ayn Rand and Margaret Atwood. May be George Orwell as well – however that came second close to Atwood. “The Blind Assassin” further affirmed my belief in the writer and her powers. She writes with a vengeance and how – not that she chooses to (I assume), however words flow freely for this writer and only end up captivating her readers to the very core.

Moral Disorder is a collection of 11 stories by Ms. Atwood. Each one stands alone and towards the end the reader is left gaping – as the stories converge and stand alone as a novel – the character of a woman, which is a first-rate character study.

All stories deal with the life of one woman – Nell, who is a stereotypical everyday “Canadian” woman. The only thing that sets her apart are the choices she makes and how they govern her life or change the direction of her life. These are everyday choices with a moral compass twist – about the mysterious unpredictability of life and how one gets thrown into situations. At one point Nell assess the situation and asks herself, “What if I missed a turn somewhere —- missed my own future?” and it is  lines like these that compel me to read every book written by Margaret Atwood.

The stories are set for us and read like memories of a person. Some told in first one, and some written as third-person narratives. Spanning six decades the stories take your breath away. Moral Disorders is like a series of disjointed photographs – seen to the reader in no chronological order.

Atwood admits that many of events in these stores have strong autobiographical roots. This becomes achingly apparent in the last two stories where Atwood delivers a heart-wrenching first-person narrative about–what is purposefully in this story–an unnamed mature protagonist serving as loving caretaker of rapidly declining elderly parents. These parents could easily fit in with what we know about Nell, and what we know about Atwood. These pieces show Atwood at the height of her talent. These are pieces woven of pure magic and unconditionally every-lasting love.

In this work Atwood gives us nothing short of real life–random, disordered, unpredictable–but life embraced lovingly with open arms despite all these uncertainties and the ultimate terror of that last unknown.

Through The Forest, Darkly by Ranjan Kaul

There is a ring to being earnest – when you start off with anything. A new job, a new task, a new assignment or a new relationship. The eagerness and the enthusiasm is charming. It makes you think years down the line what happened to those years and reading, “Through The Forest, Darkly” by Ranjan Kaul stirred those memories that were buried deep down.

Aseem aspires to be a successful management executive and instead ends up embroiled in the camp of Gopal Subbarao led by Naxalite’s under Swati’s influence. There is a lot going on in the book – from Aseem’s standpoint to what role his aunt plays in his aspirations. What I loved in the book was the interplay between one’s ideologies and pragmatism. The idea of whether or not things will change and what will it take to change them. Aseem’s quest for a better life for all amidst capitalism and its influences is paradoxical, and at the same time at the heart of the book lies a love story – of Aseem and Swati.

The book aims to talk to us about our own inner struggles without getting preachy and that’s what I loved most about the book. The author is sublte in his art and at the same time does not minces his words. The book spans through almost everything – from love, to desire, to hate, longing, envy, incest, adultery, ideals, politics, disillusionment, to losing control over things to the sense in the madness and that’s what made me want to reach the end.

A great read if only you pick it up in the right frame of mind.

Through The Forest, Darkly; Kaul, Ranjan; Hachette India; Rs. 395

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

To begin with I have one thing to say about this big: It is huge. Mammoth – just like A Suitable Boy, The Stand, It and Ulysses. At over 900 odd pages, I thought I would never be able to finish the book and yet when I started reading it I was glued. I have always loved reading Follett’s works (except for Night Over Water) and they are fast-paced for sure and so was this one. However, the historical fiction angle to this book is huge and though the book is long – there is not a single sentence which is irrelevant. Size does not matter when there is an enthralling story brewing to be told. I was up most nights reading this one and not for once did I feel that my time was being wasted.

The plot is not as simple as it seems: The story moves logically and seamlessly starting in 1911 and ending in 1925. The large canvas of characters are sweeping and each one has its place in tact. No one is out of place. Their motivations are known – no matter how minor the character and he or she fits hand in glove to the story.

So book I of the trilogy (yes there are two more to come titled “Century Trilogy” and I for one cannot wait) is set in Europe before, during and after WW1. The 5 families who lives are intertwined are American, English, Scottish, German and Russian. What made me love the book even more was that it was set in a time and place I was completely unaware about. The kings, the queens, the dukes and duchesses, the coal miners, the working class – their lives and how they thought. Ideas about politics, love, family traditions, comunities and class distinctions, women suffrage and how they thought in those times intrigued me to the core.  This period of time encompasses the First World War. The period of late the Victorian Age was a time when society was rigid with “manners”. The upper classes new their place and weren’t shy about letting everyone else know their place as well. If the code of conduct was firmly set for the upper classes and royalty, so was it set for the lower classes as well! If you were a member of the “working” class you knew who your “betters” were and behaved accordingly. Life was hard and took its toll on the masses. Follett does a masterful job at describing the world as it existed at that time and he spends a good deal of time examining the class struggle which went on in much of Europe during this time.

The story is intriguing and complex, but eminently readable. The violence and gore that were present in Follett’s previous works is absent here, and the action is fast and the storytelling fantastic. I have a fondness for historical fiction, and this work does not disappoint as the author has obviously thoroughly researched the era and has rendered it beautifully.

I won’t provide a detailed synopsis of this book since the product description on this page does that, but will say that it’s a drama about life and love during these fateful years and I promise you that this will go down as being one of the best books you’ve ever read.

I cannot recommend it highly enough and can’t wait for the sequel! This book, however, has a very satisfying conclusion and can stand alone as you are not left with unanswered questions at the end! Historical fiction at its best.

Here is a book trailer for you of the book:

Fall of Giants; Follett, Ken; Macmillan India; Rs. 350