Monthly Archives: February 2011

Reflections of an Uncommon Man by Aminuddin Khan

“Reflections of an Uncommon Man” is a roller-coaster ride of a book. Trust me when I say that.  Told in a simple manner and style, the words do not leave you, long after you have finished reading the book. And this I speak out of experience.

What is the book all about?

It is about the search for meaning and truth in our lives, which often is right before us and we fail to see it most of the time. It is about the smaller and the bigger things and events of life. It is but essentially about having a soul.

Afsar Ali Khan is the protagonist of this tale. He is the patriarch and everything of an aristocratic family that goes back several generations. Till the dreaded day when he chances upon a long hidden family secret, which takes him to places he never thought they could.

He meets a variety of people on his way to uncovering the mystery behind the secret – from a man searching for his roots to a young Englishman who is besotted with all things historical. Each of the characters in the book is on his/her path – the path that leads to truth and meaning, as mentioned earlier.

The characters are well-etched and almost lead you to believe their situation and their tales. I for one loved reading this book, not so much for the writing but for the way the story was heading. It kept me up and wanting to know more. A good read for a rainy day.

Reflections of an Uncommon Man; Khan, Aminuddin; Rupa and Co; Rs. 195

Xcess Baggage by Varsha Dixit

This is a strange book and it comes with its own excess baggage, so to say. Yet another book about a Vampire falling in love with a mere mortal and all of that. I mean how many more books do we have to endure about love-sick vampires? This is again set in the US of A. What again happens (by mere chance I guess) is that the Vampire turns to a Werewolf and as such.

I was not happy reading this book. While I believe in fiction which is supernatural, this one just did not do it for me. It was a sluggish read, though the repartee between Meghna (the protagonist) and Byron (well trying to be poetic I guess) was the only saving grace in the entire book.

I always give the benefit of doubt to such books – I always thin may be I am not the target audience for such books and rightly so. However, what would be great is that if a reader who doesn’t read and indulge in such fiction is transformed by it and wants to read more of it. Sadly, I did not want to.

Xcess Baggage; Dixit, Varsha; Rupa and Co; Rs. 95

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

I whooped with joy when I received an Advanced Review Copy of “The Summer without Men”. There was nothing better I wanted to do at that time than just stretch myself on my bed and read the book. To devour it, to read it word by word and not miss out on anything. I loved “What I Loved” and was waiting to read something else by Ms. Hustvedt right after and yes I read this one.

What happens when out of the blue, your husband of thirty years asks you for a pause in your marriage? Yes literally calling it that – a pause. What do you do? How do you react? Mia Fredricksen, renowned poet and writer gets asked that by her husband and cracks up to begin with, and then decides to take the summer off and hibernate to the prairie town of her childhood. She rages, she fumes, she bemoans, she suffers silently to begin with and slowly and steadily she gets roped into the lives around her. From her aged mother and her friends to the young neighbor with her disastrous husband and kids to the puberty-hit girls in her poetry class.

Mia then begins to see things differently (Surprise! Surprise!) and while doing that she comes across problems bigger than her own. She learns to see people differently and also corresponds online with the anonymous and sometimes abusive Mr. Nobody. Though initially trapped in a cerebral solitude Mia opens up and in doing so, she lets in some much needed air in her life.

This is not a chick-lit book. This is pure writing and thankfully it does not take pages to describe what the characters are going through. I loved The Summer without Men because it is not pretentious nor does it claim to be a feminist-central book. The prose is crisp and hits home all the time while you are reading it. Chuckle! Laugh! Grin! Read this book and all these emotions will for sure come alive.

Summer without Men, The; Hustvedt, Siri; Picador; $14.00 – Releasing in March 2011

Dead Like You by Peter James

Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Prada, Christian Louboutin, Ferragamo, Balenciaga, Christian Lacroix;; do these names mean anything to you? For many in fashion they are the names of the most exquisite high end fashion shoes in the world. Expensive, oh, yes! These shoes are not for the faint hearted, 5 to 6 inch heels with straps and feathers and the best leather money can buy. These names and shoes play a large part in this novel, ‘Dead Like You’. These ladies shoes become the key piece of evidence and most promising lead into a series of rapes that take place around Brighton around the New Year.

Buy Dead Like You
Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is the man in charge and in the lead of this British series. A woman is attacked and raped in Brighton with one of her high-heeled, designer shoes. The attacker then leaves, taking the expensive shoes with him. When the rapist strikes again Roy Grace realizes that both attacks are almost identical to the Shoe Man case he worked on in 1997. Six women were attacked before the Shoe Man vanished, and his final victim was never found. Roy presumed that she was murdered, and it always bothered him that the case was never solved. The characters are well written, and we meet all possible Shoe Men candidates. All the clues are there, and although we might think we know who the rapist murderer is, there is an interesting twist at the end.

Roy Grace is a man who sees the broad picture and does not view the world in black and white. The careful writing of each character makes us feel very anxious for them and the suspense builds. With flashbacks to 1997 when Roy was a young Police Officer working the Shoe Man case we also meet him at a time when he is happily married to his now missing wife Sandy. His current partner, Cleo, is pregnant. Because Cleo and Roy want to get married, he can officially declare Sandy as dead. There is a real mystery here, and I assume there will be more to come in the next book. The police procedures are precise and carefully written. I was particularly impressed with the amount of research on rape that was imparted in this book. Excellent information that should be shared. The sense of horror he creates in his victims brings to life the horrific fear that each feels.

Peter James has developed a British crime series that is so fast paced and so well written that I will recommend it to my friends. It is rich and satisfying and full of suspense with twists that abound. He uses the new social media, Twitter and Facebook, to trace the day to day lives of the characters, and we feel the mystery that surrounds. Highly Recommended.

Dead Like You; James, Peter; Picador; Rs. 299

Women by Philippe Sollers

Trailing clouds of continental glory, a French success warmly welcomed in England, “Women” may be the first pointillist post-feminist novel. Eschewing complete sentences as a dreary bourgeois convention, Philippe Sollers uses triple dots as the all-purpose punctuation mark. At an average of, let’s say, 125 per page, that idiosyncrasy adds up to approximately 80,000 for a book of this length.

Dots . . . Of course, Seurat used dots to create spectacular neo-impressionist paintings, so there is a definite precedent for this artistic experiment. Writers have been slow to follow suit, perhaps because the technique requires that the work be viewed at a distance of at least 10 feet–easy enough when one is looking at a painting, considerably more demanding when reading a book. Perused from a mere foot away, even a masterpiece like “Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte” turns into confetti.

Read in the usual way, “Women” splinters into frank pornography. Considered in perspective, it’s easily the most ferociously misogynist tract since John Knox’s “First Blasts of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women” in 1558. Unlike Knox, who was merely inveighing against Mary Queen of Scots, Sollers is attacking the entire sex. Arrogant, emotionally frigid and pathologically self-indulgent, the narrator continually marvels at his own sexual prowess and its magical effect upon the women he treats with such contempt, loathing his conquests for adoring him.


The protagonist of this first-person diatribe is Will, an expatriate American journalist living and working in France. His sexual odyssey takes him all over the world . . . a paranoid Priapus compulsively jetting to his own destruction.

Women; Sollers, Philippe; Rupa and Co; Rs. 395

Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

Ms. Barbery’s second novel is hardly a novel in form. Much is similar to her prior triumph with which I was so taken, “Elegance of a Hedgehog”. We are in the same fine apartment building, but in a different room. This could go on forever. Right up front, I should say this work of literature is for those who are not bothered by the absence of plot, action or dialogue. No, it is not “experimental” or “avant-garde.” But it is beautiful writing; and the translator is the same excellent one as last time. But we go from the teen to the doddering, both of course obsessed with death. That apartment building must have something in the wall paper. And my previous favorite, the curmudgeonly old concierge put in a brief appearance. She is Barbery’s philosopher avatar.

The streets are real as are several other things Ms. Barbery uses them to geographically anchor her work. You can visit all these. If you know central Paris, you have walked here, probably. It makes sense to me that she locates places carefully as she is from Casablanca of the old days and values place. More about this later.

The protagonist is the greatest food critic in the world, now on his death bed. He sets the stage by spluttering stuff about his greatness. He would otherwise be craven enough to sport for the Guise (ok, I should say ‘guide’) Michelin. The careful writing that comes through in this translation even lets us appreciate that he fancies himself as the Sun King. “Le Etat ce Moi”. Or as an old boxer has said “I am the greatest”.

Turns out that, in his final hours, he is groping for his culinary equivalent of the lost chord. But early on you have the clues something is not quite right with his image as suffered by others or imagined by himself. He characterizes daube and pot au feu as extravagant. Huh? I think we are in for a ride.

The structure of the book is a series of monologues, short, by each character. This is a kind of “Spoon River Anthology”, where all the characters come to say their piece. It could be a radio play. Each circles back to the “Great Man”, every other chapter. Chapters are short, from less than two pages to perhaps five from the protagonist. I have never seen mayonnaise used as a device of foreshadowing.

In his tomato homage, he no sooner reflects on fresh ones honored by oil, than he reverses himself and proclaims the nobility of oil to be false. Something deeper at work here. Words are never wasted; Flaubert would smile. I had to run out to my kitchen and eat three right on the spot!

This book is not for foodies. There is remarkably little actual discussion of food, despite the title. But she does give her thanks in a final note to Pierre Gagnaire, who may be found on 6 Rue de Balzac {Balzac? no coincidence there). The bakery Lenotre can there be found there as well. But Ms. Barbery’s musical reference bears mentioning as well. Laure’s entry, late in the book, begins with a song from 1964 . You can find the North African version by Natasha Atlas (as in the African mountain chain) here on Amazon. This is the one Ms. Barbery is likely to have grown-up with, but you can search for a more euro version y Francoise Hardy. In any case it is a song about life fleeting from the point of view of a droplet of dew.

Even sans plot, there is an ending I shall not spoil. Having said that about gastronomy, it should be remarked that the underlying theme of this story is brilliantly expressed through recollections by different voices, alternating with that of Pierre Arthens as he lay dying. Who the reader will discover in Pierre Arthens is a heartless, self-absorbed, arrogant hedonist who represents selfishness, vulgarity and excess of the “elite”. The irony that as he finds himself dying, his final desire is for one more, elusive taste sensation ~ “the only truth to be told” of his life, is a powerful statement, one to truly reflect upon.

Ms. Barbury has achieved an elegant work of small literature. Her focus is on each voice, uninterrupted. More, please.

Gourmet Rhapsody; Barbery, Muriel; Europa Editions; $15.00

I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I Am Number Four By: Pittacus Lore – aka James Frey – is a thrilling sci-fi story that once I picked up, I found it hard to put down. With characters that you’ll remember long after reading and a whirlwind plot that’ll leave you ready for more, Lore/Frey has created an alien series that many will enjoy and love.

Throughout the book we learn about John Smith – Number Four – and how he and eight other children and their guardians came to earth. With their planet and its entire people lost to a war with the evil Mogadorian race, the Nine and their guardians fled to Earth to hide in hopes that someday they will be able to return to their home planet of Lorien and rebuild.

With the nine children connected, each given a number as a name – they can only be killed in numerical order, so when John gets his third scar, it’s a warning that he’s next on the Morgadorian list. Being in constant danger John and Henri, his “Keeper” or Cepan must move from place to place to not only stay alive, but to help keep the other five alive as well.

I found myself eager to learn more about the aliens and the planet Lorien. Lore/Frey does a pretty good job of painting a picture of a foreign world that was easy to imagine. With visions of the past laced throughout the book, it was not only significant for John, Henri and their character growth, but also for understanding just who and what this humanoid alien race was all about.

John and his struggles to understand his people and his planet and to learn more about the powers or Legacies he begins to develop. just added so many layers to an already likeable character. And Henri and his want and need to teach and protect John shined through making Henri appear more as a father to John and then anything else. And I can’t forget to mention Bernie Kosar. He may have been a little dog and companion to John, but he was such a key character throughout that it takes you until almost the very end to see just what this dog was made out of. I wish I had a dog like Bernie.

All in all, the writing was smooth, the characters likable and the story highly entertaining. The twists and turns from the first to the last few pages, and boy what a last few pages those where, made me extremely eager to read the next installment. I, for one am more then looking forward to finding out just what happens next for Number Four and the other aliens still left alive and hiding in plain site on earth. Enjoy!

Here is a trailer of the film:

I am Number Four; Lore, Pittacus; Penguin;