Daily Archives: October 21, 2011

Book Review: The Hindus – An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger

Title: The Hindus: An Alternative History
Author: Wendy Doniger
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143415343
Pages: 800
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

An extensive work on Hindus and Hindu Mythology isn’t something which I would’ve read a couple of years ago. Why? Because I would in all honesty find it boring and I am glad that was just a phase when I felt this way. I was introduced to Hindu Mythology and ancient culture by a friend, and I am glad that it gave me a different perspective and at the same time made me want to read more.

Wendy Doniger’s, “The Hindus: An Alternative History” is a big book about The Hindus. She has through extensive research almost dwelt on every topic in the book concerning religion and caste. However, the alternative history angle comes from the fact that the book is centred mainly on women and the lower caste.

The book isn’t about philosophy. It is more about a social history and of course that would involve various Gods and Goddesses. There are tribal tales as well, which are a totally different take on the regular epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata. I loved how Ms. Doniger brought these to the surface.

There is nothing new about the book per se. There are tales and facts and legends that most people are aware about. What is different is the way they have been documented. Wendy Doniger knows how to write and she does so without it being complex or difficult to read.

A beginner can read this book and understand The Hindu culture better. Each chapter has several textual examples – which are intended to communicate the beliefs and traditions in the form of myths and legends to the reader. This kind of writing always works with readers who may find the subject boring.

There is a lot of imagery in the book which probably could have been cut down on and yet that is one of the ways of better understanding while reading a book of this nature. At almost 800 pages though it does get tiresome to read. I for one had to put it down and pick it up several times before I could finish it completely.

Hinduism is an entire universe so to say. It isn’t easy to comprehend or chronicle and Wendy Doniger has done a reasonably good job in merging the old with the new. There will be times when an experienced reader will be tempted to argue with the writing, which is fair enough. At the same time, the book has a quite charm about it despite its flaws. I left taking in a stronger sense of how diverse a tradition Hinduism is and how it evolved over a period of time. There are many ways to represent Hinduism and how the world views it, and yet Doniger has given us another view – which is refreshing and conflicting at the same time.

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Book Review: The Accidental by Ali Smith

Title: The Accidental
Author: Ali Smith
Publisher: Penguin Books, Penguin Ink
ISBN: 978-0-241-954456-0
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 306
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Surprise and Chance are intrusive. They wedge themselves in people’s lives without notice and the outcomes are unpredictable. No one knows what might happen or what shape lives will take. And this is the crux of Ali Smith’s, “The Accidental”. Though it is quite an old release, Penguin has come out with a great edition under “Penguin Ink” titles with a beautiful cover– hence the review.

The Accidental revolves around the Smart family – who are in particular need of an unexpected element to jostle their lives. All of them are on the brink of a major crisis in their lives and need that one distraction to fit everything in place – like an unsolved jigsaw puzzle. Enter: Amber – a stranger, the Smart children encounter on a summer holiday in Norfolk village. Amber’s intentions are unknown and mysterious, and yet she ends up transforming the family, and fixing the family’s set of fraught relationships.

A lot is happening in the book – a philandering husband, a son’s guilt, a daughter’s confusion and a mother’s secrets – the novel follows each member of the family – in sequential chapters – through beginning, middle and end. Amber is everything that you do not want to encounter and that is because what she brings to the family – uncovering their lives bit by bit, trying to restore order.

The novel is told in a stream of consciousness manner – and I love that writing style. This gives readers a glimpse into the inner lives of each member of the family and allows events to be viewed from multiple perspectives. Ali Smith’s writing is unpredictable. No two books are similar and neither is the writing. The characters are well drawn and there are no archetypes or stereotypes, which works best while writing this kind of a book. The Accidental is a book that calls for attention and there is nothing the reader can do but give it its due. A wonderful read and yet strangely disturbing and contemplative. A read that I would recommend to all.

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