Daily Archives: July 10, 2012

Book Review: Arzee the Dwarf by Chandrahas Choudhury

Title: Arzee The Dwarf
Author: Chandrahas Choudhury
Publisher: Harper Collins India
ISBN: 978-93-5029-216-7
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 201
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I had heard a lot about, “Arzee the Dwarf” by Chandrahas Choudhury. A lot of people had recommended it. Some suggested that I do not read it. I finally did and I found it to be quite alright. I liked the premise of the book for sure. There were some parts that I had trouble going through but that is for later.

“Arzee the Dwarf” as the title suggests is a slice of life of a dwarf’s life. Of course there is more to it, but that is putting it simply. Chandrahas writes about lost hopes, dreams, love and the times we live in quite eloquently. Let me now tell you something about the book and the plot.

“Arzee the Dwarf” is a metaphor, for the smallness and inadequacy that stays in all of us. Despite this though, life moves on and surprises us in ways unknown which at the core is what this book is all about.

Arzee searches for regularity in his life – a job, a wife, and the things that complete a man. He is always seeking these as consolation to his diminutive size. The novel opens to Arzee’s elation at assuming that he is going to be made the head projectionist at Noor Cinema, after his senior has resigned. He builds his dreams around this. That of keeping his family happy (his mother and brother), of getting married, and of rising up in the world (quite ironically so). But the cinema owners decide to shut the theatre, thereby crashing all hopes that Arzee has been harboring.

If this is not enough, he also owes money to cricket bookies who set loose a goon in the form of Deepak on him. The readers are exposed to power play in various forms – Of Deepak trying to exercise his strength (he is a huge man) and at times, pitying Arzee (but of course for the obvious reason) and letting him default with the payment, only to be back.

With such a host of different characters, Chandrahas takes us into a world, unknown to us, and yet connected to us in ways which we cannot imagine. The good thing about the book is the universal language that it speaks – that of loneliness and longing. Everyone can relate to it. Mumbai is seen differently in the book – it is comforting and at the same time looming large over Arzee and the life he aspires. Arzee represents all hopes of a world that come crashing down sooner than they are built.

There are times when the dwarf’s monologue is a little too much to handle, and of course then comes in the touch of self-pity, at almost every page. That is something I could not handle. I thought that could have been toned down a bit. The secondary characters were built on really well and sometimes not so. For instance, Deepak has had a strong characterization throughout the book, and on the other hand I wished to know more about Arzee’s mother and Monique, the hairdresser, but sadly could not.

The ending is vague but intended that way so maybe readers can draw their own conclusions. It does not spoon-feed the reader which is refreshing. Overall, Arzee the Dwarf stands as a testimony to the hopes we still hang to and the dreams we sometimes see even during the day.

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Top 10 Love Stories

I am back with the Top 10′s. The first one was on My Top 10 Villains in Fiction and now I present to you My Top 10 Love Stories – oh yes the ones that make you laugh and cry at the same time – the ones that leave that warm longing feeling in your heart and the ones that make you wish that the characters hadn’t fallen in love at all. So shall we let the love stories in motion?

1. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami – At the top of my list, only after 2001 when I first read it and gave it my all. Since then I have read this book 17 times and no I am not kidding. I almost know all the quotes and scenes. Sumire and her story with K and Miu took my breath away. Read it and know for yourself.

You can buy it from HomeShop18 here

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – Yes Yes Yes we are all aware of Katharine and Heathcliff already – give us a break, you might say, but how can you forget their love amidst the moors of England, the dark brooding weather and love gained and lost and regained in death. Bronte was right in writing only this one. She couldn’t have survived the popularity.

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3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Viewed by many as an illicit love affair between Anna and Vronsky and yet remains to be one of the most beautiful unrequited love stories of all time. If only Tolstoy hadn’t killed Anna under the wheels of a train.

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4. Love Story by Erich Segal – “Love means never having to say you are sorry”. Sigh. How many of us have cried while reading this one? I have. Over and over again. Erich Segal knew what he was doing, the magic that was being created.

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5. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje – Haunting and beautiful, Ondaatje’s award-winning novel tells the story of four war-damaged souls living in an Italian monastery at the end of WWII, and the love story between two of them, the exhausted nurse Hana, and the severely burned unnamed English patient. Unforgettably unique.

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6. Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt – Possession restores sex to the Victorians and romance to the 20th century — and shows that while the language of love might change, love remains the same.

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7. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote – Though some may not agree to this being a romantic book, I would say to them that you do not know any better. I mean how can we forget the sheer and unfailing chemistry between Fred and Holly – the visit to Tiffany’s, the stealing of masks, the cat who has no name and “an attack of the mean reds” which can only be assuaged by jumping in a cab and going to Tiffany’s. Mr. Capote, why don’t they write like you anymore?

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8. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene – War Struck Europe and two people meet. Their fates are sealed. Cut to 1946 and Maurice is all set to find out why Sarah ended their relationship so abruptly – what could have been the reason? One of Graham Greene’s best works.

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9. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – Who can forget Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara pelting their love out in a horse carriage? Or for that matter the hopeful end of the book, when Scarlett knows that tomorrow is another day to win back her love? A classic read.

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10. By Grand Central Station, I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart – The world might have been at war, but no less cataclysmic is the individual anguish of the broken-hearted, so claims Elizabeth Smart’s prose poem. While the unnamed lovers’ romance is painfully brief, the book was based on Canadian writer Smart’s affair with the English poet George Barker, which lasted 18 years and produced four children. A howl of tortured love and the agony of betrayal, it should be avoided by emotional cynics and literary ascetics at all costs.

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That’s it then. Top 10 Love Stories according to me and which I have loved reading over and over again.

Book Review: Crusoe’s Daughter by Jane Gardam

Title: Crusoe’s Daughter
Author: Jane Gardam
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609450694
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 265
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“Crusoe’s Daughter” by Jane Gardam is not everyone’s cup of tea read. It is not the usual fare that novels have to offer. It is different and written in a manner that takes time sinking into and enjoying the book. I went through that and once I did I could not stop reading it. Maybe because it is about books and a young girl understanding their need and loving them over a period of time. It is surreal and also elements of magical realism are present in it which makes it all the more interesting. These are my initial thoughts about the book.

Jane Gardam has always maintained that style of writing which is has been consistent, right from God on the Rocks to Crusoe’s Daughter, that of dry wit and a sense of dramatic irony. I remember reading, “God on the Rocks” for the first time at eighteen and being absolutely awe-struck by the book. The eccentrics, which obviously were the secondary characters, were my most favourite. The same applies to this one.

Readers would be surprised to know that “Crusoe’s Daughter” was first published in 1985, and now reprinted by Europa Editions. The book begins when Polly Flint, a mere five-year old girl arrives with her widowed father at Oversands, a big yellow house inhabited by his wife’s older unmarried sisters. Shortly after the arrival, Polly’s father dies, leaving her to be brought up by the sisters, in an isolated place, where there are virtually no more children but Polly. In her loneliness, Polly turns to books and their comfort. In doing so, she identifies herself the most with Robinson Crusoe, who lived in isolation on an island for twenty eight years. She finds a way to cope with her loneliness and anguish as she grows up.

Polly knows that she has to make her own life given the circumstances. For instance, when she is twelve, she rejects communion and its idea. The realism in her head is too much to be handled by anyone. Polly then moves to live with her elderly family members, Arthur Thwaite and his sister Cecilia, who live in Yorkshire moors, some distance away. Here again, life takes a different turn. Their home is an artist’s retreat. Polly meets various new people – poets, thinkers, writers, believers, musicians and dreamers and this further shapes her character and persona, leading to an end which will for sure surprise readers and make them drop their jaw slightly.

The things that worked for me in the book: The setting. Northeast Rural England is not a place I would be visiting sometime too soon. Reading about it and trying to imagine the moors (as I did while reading Wuthering Heights) and the scenes that play out is a different experience by itself. The charm is unbearable. The characters as I mentioned earlier took me by surprise with their wide range of eccentricity and comfort provided to Polly at times. Ms. Gardam may not talk about them in detail during the course of the book, however when she does, she ensures that their voices are heard.

At times the pace of the book got to me. It was turning out to be slower than what I had expected, but I kept reading, because of the writing and the plot. Polly as a character is hard to put my finger on. She is everything and at the same time, she springs from the pages and does something totally unexpected. Kudos to Ms. Gardam for visualizing and bringing her to life in our heads.

The writing is not only descriptive but also insightful. From the thoughts of the single sisters to Polly’s views on things are unique and refreshing. Jane wants us to empathize with her characters, what they are going through, but never sympathize. So from that perspective, the book is not sentimental and I am glad it isn’t.

“Crusoe’s Daughter” might be termed by some as a coming-of-age book, but for me it is more than that. It is discovering oneself through everything. It is about relationships formed in the world known to us and in the world that isn’t known to most people. “Crusoe’s Daughter” is a cracker of a read that should not be missed. But be warned: It is slow. It is not a thriller. It is not your usual fare. So read it only if the story appeals to you.

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