Daily Archives: May 22, 2011

Book Review: Laika by Nick Abadzis

Title: Laika
Author: Nick Abadzis
Publisher: First Second Books
Genre: Young Adult, Graphic Novels
PP: 208 pages
Price: $17.95
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Any preconception that I had about graphic novels presenting simplistic or cartoonish stories was shattered by this book. Laika, is a complex story that focuses on the deep relationships that can be formed between humans and animals. The graphics and text work in concert to portray the action and emotion in this story, especially in the dream sequences where Laika imagines that she is flying. Readers who are familiar with graphic novels will appreciate the quality of the artwork and dialogue. Readers who are new to the genre will be easily caught up in the story that is being told.

Laika is the story of the first dog to go up in space. It’s not a spoiler to tell you that she doesn’t come back. But Laika is really the story of the dog’s — and her people’s — life before she’s launched in Sputnik II’s tiny compartment. The Cold War, the space race, the USSR during that time, common human cruelty, loss, privation, powerlessness… all these provide a context and backdrop to Laika’s story, so the heavy feeling starts a few pages in and continues to the end of the story. There are compassionate and kind people throughout, of course, which only increases how sad you feel while reading it.

Laika’s entire story, as conceived by Abadzis, is heartbreaking but there are certain moments towards the end that I found particularly easy to identify with. When Comrade Yelena visits Laika for one last time she can hear the dog saying her name with every bark, even when Yelena is too far away to hear them. She dreams that Laika is calling out to her for help. That she’s scared and uncomfortable and just wants to get out and play. Anyone who has ever owned a pet will be familiar with this feeling. When the pet is missing or in pain, it’s difficult to keep from emphasizing with it. How much worse then when the dog in question is imprisoned in a capsule and shot into the sky? Abadzis doesn’t just show Laika’s plight. He makes you feel it in the core of your being.

The last page of this book contains a quote that offers a 1998 statement from Oleg Georgivitch Gazenko. In it, he laments the way that Laika was misused. “We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.” It’s a dead dog book. Anyone who knows the story of Laika will be aware of that. But above and beyond the obvious this is an ode to dogs themselves. To the animals that we befriend and love and, ultimately, destroy. It’s also about history, humanity, and the price of being extraordinary. No one can walk away from this book and not be touched. Consider Nick Abadzis a name to watch from here on in.

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Book Review: Nothing to Declare: Stories by Rabi Thapa

Title: Nothing to Declare: Stories
Author: Rabi Thapa
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0-143-41543-5
Genre: Short Stories, Fiction
PP: 172 pages
Price: Rs.199
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Nepal has had special memories for me. I practically spent every summer there since I was ten with my cousins and the entire extended family and loved it. There was nothing more special than watching rented movies (No DVD age and thank god for that!) and munching on home-cooked popcorn with mugs of hot chocolate and the anticipation of waking the next morning and visiting Pokhra or Bakthapur. We also spent freezing winters there, away from the sweltering heat of Bombay, till the time that Nepal became almost a second-home to us. My aunt is Nepalese and hence we visited Nepal a lot. This review in the sense of the word is dedicated to the country which I in all likelihood never visit again.

Nothing to Declare is a great book though. It consists of 16 short stories and each one – you guessed it right! – is set in Kathmandu or parts of the capital. When an entire book is centred around a city/country, it kind of makes the reader wonder a little about the places and can get a little confusing, however over a period of time while reading it, the reader gets used to the style and involved in the book. That is what happened to me with this one. I love short stories, however the more different one is from the other, the better. Nothing to Declare is one of those books that make you wonder after you are done reading it. Rabi Thapa’s stories are descriptive, bold and try to break the mould of what Nepal stands for – conservative, conscious and ever-judgemental society.

For instance, the title story deals with Bikram, who wants to leave the city and imigrate to London. Then there is the tale of Young foreign returned Nepalis in “Night Out in Kathmandu” and how they deal with the experience of return. They eat, sleep, share tales with the ones’ who did not leave, who did not get the opportunity to leave. The stories provide an insight to the country and what it is also going through currently – for instance, in “Home for Dashain” – the Maobadis think they can make decisions on behalf of the people, which they do and it doesn’t end too well.

At the end of it all, the book resonates in your head. The voices are lined with individuality and want to be heard. Rabi Thapa introduces you to the country like no other writer. For me it was a journey back in time. I identified the places, racked my head and heart for memories and found them all.

Book Review: Chutnefying English – The Phenomenon of Hinglish: Edited by Rita Kothari and Rupert Snell

Title: Chutnefying English: The Phenomenon of Hinglish
Author: Edited by Rita Kothari and Rupert Snell
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143416395
Genre: Non-Fiction
PP: 280 pages
Price: Rs. 299
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Last time I checked, one used to correct either people’s Hindi or English and today when I look around – I find that the merger of the two languages – Hinglish (or so it is known and accepted even by the MS Dictionary) needs no correction. I am a person who teaches English and corrects peoples’ incorrect English. That is my profession and all of a sudden, after reading this book, I was forced to think about what I do and whether does it really matter in the larger scheme of things, if people mispronounce of speak incorrectly. Does anyone really care anymore?

Both English and Hindi have evolved as languages in our country and it is only in India, that one can hear the marriage of the two. It is a unique blend and almost rolls off our tongues sub-consciously. We have created a new language and strangely enough it is accepted by all.
When the book Chutnefying English arrived at my doorstep, I was apprehensive to read it. It was about to break all my notions and thoughts about the English language and it was that thought which made me uncomfortable and I could not get myself to read it for a long time. However, when I read it, I was flooded with a whole lot of questions in my mind: Where do both languages stand in their singularity? Will their identities be intact in our nation, or will it merge to something, unrecognizable to us?

Chutnefying English breaks all perceptions of the spoken language. It brings to front the idea that: Is there a new language already in use in our country and is it the best way to communicate, considering most of the population is acclimatized and comfortable with it?
And then there is the other side of the story, which in effect believes that if English is anyway a second language to the nation, why then it cannot be mangled and used to our communication advantage? The book explores various perceptions and opinions to language in its entirety and then takes a step ahead to analyze what language is being created in the nation.

Chutnefying English is a book that will make you think about the language more than what just meets the eye. It will make you think of poor English in its unrecognizable form in our nation and also of Hindi and what does it mean to most of us. If you are a language aficionado or if you are just someone who is as curious as me to know more about languages and the blend of English and Hindi, then the book is sure for you. Be prepared to in all probability think differently about languages after reading this book