Monthly Archives: February 2012

Book Review: The Street Sweeper by Elliot Pearlman

Title: The Street Sweeper
Author: Elliot Pearlman
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0-571-23684-8
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 554
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Street Sweeper is one of those books that you cannot stop thinking about once you have finished reading it. Elliot Pearlman has done it again and you cannot help but wonder how. He mixes emotion with brutality in a manner that according to me very few authors manage to. It is not easy to do that, to sometimes cut the tension and then get the reader back on track. Having said that, the book The Street Sweeper is a tour de force which I will recommend to everyone even before starting with the review.

The Street Sweeper just makes you see things differently. It makes you realize that how closely inter-connected life is and what its mysteries are. The story is a bit of a task to get into, however once you have, then you do not want it to end. The book is multilayered to a large extent and that is one this is also not a one-time sit-down read.

The book deals with the American struggle for Civil Rights on one side and on the other it deals with the Holocaust. Lamont Williams, an ex-con African American is trying to live his life all over again, after being at the wrong place in the wrong time. He gets a job at a hospital as a janitor and befriends a cancer patient who is also a World War II survivor. Through the patient he learns about the horrors of the war, the Holocaust, the camps and the Nazis. The other spectrum of the tale is about Adam Zignelik who is a Columbian historian whose career and relationships are falling apart. Adam on the other hand is pursuing a research topic of African Americans being a part of the concentration camp, and this is where the two stories merge.

The book is very well written and magnificent in its approach. Elliot Pearlman is empathetic, however does not allow his writing to get sentimental, which is the best approach when writing such a story. The human sense of the book shines in its pages. The unique rhythm of the book and its voice is what keeps the reader going wanting to know more and more as the story progresses. The questions of Holocaust and the Civil Movement are brilliantly answered, without complicating anything.

A lot has been written about both these events; however this book is one of its kind that combines the two seamlessly. While memory is at the core of the book, there is also love, loss, longing and the fact that at the end of it all, we are all humans no matter what. The book is splendidly written, keeping the facts in mind and suiting the reader’s taste as well. I highly recommend this one.

Book Review: Confessions of a Serial Dieter by Kalli Purie

Title: Confessions of a Serial Dieter
Author: Kalli Purie
Publisher: Harper Collins India
ISBN: 978-93-5029-184-9
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 225
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

This book is not meant for all. I read it, however the question remains: Was I its target audience? Yes I am a little overweight, but I certainly don’t think the need to diet (sometimes I do, but those times are rare). So clearly, I read the book and it seemed fine to me. May be actually taught me something as well, which I have to start implementing soon.

Confessions of a Serial Dieter is a weight loss memoir – technically as the book cover states, secrets from 43 diets and workouts that took the author from 100 to 60. The book is a funny take on the author’s (Kalli Purie) journey from when she was four (and did not know about dieting) to when she realized what it mean to be fat or thin and how it impacts how others view us.

The diets in themselves are funnily named – from The Champagne Diet to The Cabbage Soup Diet to The Wedding Diet, each chapter gives the reader something to mentally chew on and what it takes to shatter myths and emotional issues related to weight loss. It is not all superfluous. It also takes into account the fallacies and truths related to the “Dieting Industry” as it has become today.

Kalli Purie knows the craft of writing and how to use it aptly to her audience. Her writing is simple and accessible to all. The personal touch in this book is what makes it so endearing at most times. There are also select recipes in the book with the calorie count and all (like every other book) and some weight wisdom (unlike every other book). The book is detailed with therapies, exercises (some worth it and some not) and all of this has been written with a funny bone. I would recommend this book as a one-time read and also as something you can keep going back to in bits and spurts for the necessary dietary information.

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Book Review: The Habit of Love by Namita Gokhale

Title: The Habit of Love
Author: Namita Gokhale
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0-143-41772-9
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 184
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

The Habit of Love by Namita Gokhale is a collection of thirteen stories that reflect and internalize the lives of women. Of course one cannot generalize anything basis these stories, however yes they provide the necessary framework needed to understand the environment around us. Some women do not belong to the present, some are parts of today and now and some are just wanderers.

Namita Gokhale speaks to you through her characters and stories. She wants you to believe and there are times you do, only wanting more. I wished at times, that may be the stories would continue and lengthen to a novella or so, because some of them had that potential. The women in these stories are not extraordinary. They do not take life-changing decisions, or change the world. What they do instead is connect with the reader and make them see things and situations a little differently.

The stories are well laid out. From an older woman’s infatuation with a younger man to the messenger swan narrating a story of doomed lovers, Nala and Damayanti, the stories capture the essence without becoming pedantic or superficial. The profundity of the stories are revealed through what goes on in the minds of the women, the not-so-quiet lives lead and the uneasiness with which their lives go haywire sometimes and sometimes are in control.

My favourite story in the entire collection has to be the three-parts, “Grand Hotel”, where each part is unique and different, like a quilt of different patches and merging in the end. The Habit of Love is different from her earlier books, which were flippant and funny. This one is serious and makes you think a little. The woman’s heart is not laid bare and at the same time there is enough and more of a glimpse to make readers wonder. The writing strikes you in a couple of places and in some it seems a little hurried, however it is a great read for a summer afternoon.

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Book Review: The Extras by Kiran Nagarkar

Title: The Extras
Author: Kiran Nagarkar
Publisher: 4th Estate, Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-93-5029-204-4
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 467
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Kiran Nagarkar according to me has somehow always been under the microscopic view of readers and reviewers. May be it has to do with the way he writes and concocts themes and ideas, but one thing is for sure, there is never a dull moment in his books. I got hooked on to his books, like any other teenager (then) with Ravan and Eddie. Ravan and Eddie (though according to me was loosely based on, “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving) was a delight to read. The intricate moments of post-independent India was not hidden. The slums, the chawls, the abuses and the interwoven plots were all there – almost like a nice stew, boiling slowly, served to perfection. Ravan and Eddie was published in 1994 and now after eighteen years, there comes a sequel to it, titled, “The Extras”.

The Extras spans the lives of Ravan and Eddie as adults, in the big bad city of Bombay. I love how the title on the cover reads, “The Extras – Starring Ravan and Eddie”, with a very 70’s film poster like visual. The story of course takes on eighteen years from where it ended in the earlier book. Ravan and Eddie are adults, striving to make something out of them in the big, bad world and aspire to be actors. Bollywood is the seductress and they are easily seduced. Ravan is a taxi driver and Eddie is a bouncer-cum-bartender. They want it all – fame, money, easy rise from their chawl existence to the skyscrapers. At the heart of this, are their complicated love stories. Ravan who is in love with Eddie’s sister (yes that’s the one twist in the tale). Eddie on the other hand has to battle with both families to obtain the love of his life in the Anglo-Indian Belle.

That’s the gist of the story. The writing of course cannot be compared to anything else. Kiran Nagarkar has always been a master of his game. From Seven-Sixes are Forty Three to God’s Little Soldier; post-independence blues has always been at the center of his books (except Cuckold which was a Historical Fiction centered book). He knows the pulse of the city and can describe it beautifully. Nothing has changed much, except for the name of the city and a mall or two springing up in the past couple of years, and Mr. Nagarkar knows how to depict the sadness and claustrophobia in his book.

There are so many funny parts as well in the book – sardonic and dark at most times, and in-your-face funny too. Ravan and Eddie as characters evolve a lot more in this book and their motives are clearer. Nagarkar adds more stories to this one, though their families still remain a part and are always in the background. For me, The Extras was like a roller-coaster ride, full of unknown turns and bends. A definite read for all those who want to know Bombay in its early days.

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Book Review: The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

Title: The Hypnotist
Author: Lars Kepler
Publisher: Harper Collins, Blue Door
ISBN: 978-0007444342
Genre: Crime Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

Written in the tradition of Stieg Larsson’s books, “The Hypnotist” by the husband-wife co-authors (pen name being Lars Kepler) is a decent read. It manages to bring out the elements of crime fiction and yet the plot is threadbare which was a problem at times while I was reading the book.

The Hypnotist is about a family living in Tumba, Sweden (no second guesses Sherlock), who are a victim of a homicide. The only witness to the crime is the sole surviving member – the son. The boy is in a state of shock with more than hundred knife wounds inflicted on his body. He cannot seem to recall or speak a word of anything that happened that fateful night. Enter, Inspector Detective Joona Linna, who in a heroic manner wants to get to the bottom of this crime. This can only be done by putting the kid through a hypnosis session in the presence of Dr. Erik Maria Bark and get to his subconscious level.

For me the plot was for sure different. The elements of suspense and thrill were there throughout the book and might I add that it was cleverly done as well. I like Swedish thrillers, but there is only this much one can take of them, considering the onslaught of them in the world of crime fiction. The book is written well in most parts and some parts just remind you of Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo’s styles of writing. The past and present portions of the book are well translated and add to the atmosphere of the book, which anyway they are supposed to. The clues like in any other crime book are laid out well and yet hidden from the reader. The mysteries are interwoven brilliantly and the book is fast-paced for sure. I would recommend it for a one-time read (Not that you can read a mystery again).

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