Monthly Archives: August 2012

Book Review: Winter Journal by Paul Auster

Title: Winter Journal
Author: Paul Auster
Publisher: Faber and Faber UK
ISBN: 978-0571283200
Genre: Memoirs, Non-Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When a writer writes a journal or something close to a memoir, it takes a lot from him or her. I am safely assuming that because anything which is personal, when put to paper, leads to memories surfacing and that must be at some level, difficult to deal with. Memoirs or something close to them isn’t easy to document. “Winter Journal” by Paul Auster is one such book and I will add to this and say that it is not your regular kind of biography or journal or a slice of the writer’s life so to say. It is indeed different.

“Winter Journal” to me was more of a life lived and more years to go in the author’s life that was written about in the most beautiful manner. The book is written in the second-person narrative and I loved the approach for two reasons. Firstly, it is personal and yet detached from the self. Secondly, the narrative was easy to get into. Not at any point, did I feel that the book was boring or mundane and that says a lot for a collection of memories.

The best part of this book is that everyone can relate to some part or the other. When Auster writes of his mother and how she died and how he felt, I could co-relate it to my father’s death. The emotions are universal and Auster does a wonderful job of getting them right. I did not mind the fact that the book isn’t a traditional memoir. I loved that it was not that. The writing wrung me inside out. The pages when Paul Auster speaks of the twenty one homes he has lived in right from his birth made me think of the homes I had lived in and what does one truly call home?

Relationships are most extensively spoken about in the book. The ones he shared with his father and mother to his sister, his ex-wife, the love for his second wife, friends and children. Each relationship is connected with memories, thoughts and emotions that were enough to overwhelm me at various points.

The book is more of an elegy of aging, memory, loss and the relationship of the body and the soul to say. Winter Journal is personal and maybe that is why readers can connect to it, as it is written that way, without the impersonal. Paul Auster’s musings of his life till his sixty-four years is happy, sad, bittersweet and human above everything else. I remember the first time I started reading Auster, when I picked up The New York Trilogy, and since then I have read everything that he has written.

Winter Journal brings to surface life as is. The daily living and the losses that come with age and assessed in the later years are written about beautifully in this book. You should read this book if you want to connect and know about a writer’s life – the intimate details of writing as well, of memories that abound and life only but to be lived.

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Book Review: PAO – The Anthology of Comics 1

Title: PAO – The Anthology of Comics 1
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0-143-41768-2
Genre: Graphic Fiction
Pages: 299
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Graphic Fiction is always a must-read. More so if it is based in your country. You somehow then can relate to everything it has to offer – from sarcasm to the country’s landscape to the nuances known only to another Indian. When you tell these stories through graphic fiction, it becomes even more interesting and that’s what PAO – The Anthology of Comics 1, published by Penguin India is all about.

There are all elements in these beautifully crafted 12 graphic stories by well-known illustrators and storytellers and some just surfacing on the scene. PAO is collaboration between graphic novelists Amitabh Kumar, Sarnath Banerjee, Orijit Sen, Vishwajyoti Ghosh and Parismita Singh. They have selected the 12 stories featured in this anthology and each one is stylistically distinct and unique from the other.

I remember waiting eagerly to read this one. I am a great lover of Graphic Fiction and have enjoyed Sarnath Banerjee and Amruta Patil’s (who surprisingly doesn’t feature here) works. Honestly these two were the only Indian Graphic novelists who came to my mind before reading this book. Today however, I know of a lot more comic fiction writers.

The collection starts off with a simple story and yet defining the way our society thinks and works today through “Tattoo” – cleverly written and illustrated by Jacob Weinstein and Lakshmi Indrasimhan. The second story is, “Plasmoids”, written by Samit Basu and illustrated beautifully by Orijit Sen, about alien life on earth and one of my personal favourites in the collection.

The idea of visual language is something which is picking up like none other form of communication, not only internationally but also in India. There is a lot going around in the world and maybe that is where from these storytellers get their ideas. For instance, “The Pink” by Salil Chaturvedi and Priya Kuriyan speaks of alienation in our society and what it means to be accepted when you are different or feel different. PAO centers on a lot of themes – from individuality to pre-liberalization India to religion to Hindus and Offal which is a sarcastic take on what we eat by Ambarish Satwik and Pia Alize Hazarika.

My most favourite story in the collection has to be, “Helmetman in Zamzamabad” by Raj Comics and Amitabh Kumar. It is reminiscent of a 70’s movie – thriller and drama rolled into one. It had everything that can make the story extend itself and it will. I am sure it will be a full-length graphic novel.

For me this collection would have been complete, had Amruta Patil been included but having said that, this collection is definitely a page-turner. It doesn’t take long to finish this book, considering the length of the stories and the fact that they are in graphic format. At the same time, the reader will probably re-read some of the stories (like I did) and ponder over them long after the book has been finished with. PAO is a first step to more anthologies like this one and it is time for us to be introduced to more intelligent and interesting graphic fiction.

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Book Review: The Frost on his Shoulders by Lorenzo Mediano

Title: The Frost on his Shoulders
Author: Lorenzo Mediano
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1-60945-072-4
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 137
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A small mountain village of Biescas de Obago, at the foot of the Pyrenees. The people of the village, living their lives, following their own customs and traditions. This is shortly before the Spanish Civil War. A love story that should not have taken place. A teacher, who is an outsider, sets to tell the truth of what happened at that time. That forms the basis of, “The Frost on his Shoulders” by Lorenzo Mediano.

The reason I started with the plot and that too in a rather unusual manner is because the writing is different and highly satisfying. Back to the plot: The plot starts with the villagers chancing upon an article written by the school teacher, dredging up old history and besmirching the name of the town. The villagers are infuriated. They want the teacher to take back what he has written. The question remains: What did he write? He retracts the article, apologizes and goes on to document of what really happened – the love story of a young shepherd boy, Ramon and his wealthy beloved, Alba.

The story is narrated by the teacher. The restriction imposed on the lovers is not because of any animosity between the families. It is basically to ensure that the social construct of the village is not broken. Here at some point, I also began to draw similarities to 1984 by Orwell, only because of how individualism was broken and not willed to grow.

I liked the teacher’s voice, as he was the outsider and Mediano has ensured that he has the tact and honesty while narrating the story. Another thing which struck me was that the book is tagged as a work of “ecofiction”, which essentially means putting the environment and surrounding above the plot or on par with the plot. Ramon’s rebelling against society for instance is clearly explained and supported by nature.

Lorenzo Mediano’s writing is clear and shines throughout the book. The societal constraints as expressed and what the lovers will do to not be a part of it is written with such great subjectivity, that the reader cannot help but get further embroiled in the story. The story is about landowners (Alba’s side) and workers (Ramon’s side), who agree that things should be the way they are and no one should be allowed to cross boundaries.

“The Frost on his Shoulders” is definitely one of the best reads for me of 2012. Concise and touches on almost every aspect of life. A must read if you want to experience a different kind of writing.

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Books and Waiting

There are times I could drown myself in books and would not mind it all. I do not crave for the company of people anymore. They somehow do not matter in the larger scheme of things. Books on the other hand do. Books have been there always. Since consciousness kicked in, or I should say awareness of what books could do to my life. Change it beyond belief.

It is not that I do not like meeting people. I do. All the time. But most make me wait and it is then that I thank my better judgment for carrying that book along with me. I then do not care about waiting. People can then make me wait all they want. I have a book to read. That then happens more so. It is like the universe wants it to happen. Anyway, people then become boring after fifteen minutes into the conversation. Books do not.

The great thing about a book is that it can be read anywhere. At a bus-stop. At a railway platform. Outside a café and inside a café. When waiting for your turn at a job interview, where you are invariably waiting without any sense of time, since but of course the corporate folk could not care. But not to worry. You have a book towed with you.

I also read while waiting for something boring to end. Like a wedding reception. Oh yes I have done that as well! I remember the first time I did it, I was yelled at by my parents. I was thirteen. By the time I turned eighteen, they could not do much.

I don’t understand why people feel bad when I am travelling with them and I decide to read. So big deal, isn’t it? They can listen to music if they want to or read as well. Why the need to indulge in chatter all the time?

On the other hand, dates that ditch you deserve a nasty message and then I quietly remove the “book of the day/week” from my bag and that incident is long-forgotten. Books also make you wait. The ones that are yet to be released. You count days. You wait. Sometimes patiently and sometimes not so patiently. But there is no other choice. I remember waiting for Murakami’s latest like no other book. I am sure people would empathize with me because they have also waited for most books – especially after the Potter series. I wait for the postman/courier guy almost every single day. In anticipation of the books that will come by through post and they do. Sometimes one and sometimes in bulk. Always ensuring to exact a smile on my face.

I have also waited with same eagerness for the books reserved at the library. For the one phone call to let me know that they are now available to be borrowed. I do not mind waiting for people to turn up now. It does not matter. I used to fret earlier. Not anymore. There is always this knowledge that I can read and nothing to beat that. Ever.

Book Review: The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

Title: The Watch
Author: Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
Publisher: Hogarth, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1781090015
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“The Watch” by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya is not a book that will suit everyone. It is tragic. That is the nature of the book. It puts forth its point in the most amazing manner. The point being: There are no winners when struck by tragedy.

“The Watch” is mesmerizing and will draw you in from the first page. It is a modern retelling of Antigone by Sophocles. Then again, the comparison ends only in the threadbare plot. The rest of the book is nothing like it.

Now to the plot: The Watch is a story which takes place in harsh terrains, almost in no-man’s land, where everyone is looked upon suspiciously and there is at times, no redemption whatsoever. The landscape in question is Afghanistan. The protagonist is a legless Afghan woman who has crossed over an unforgiving landscape to claim and bury the body of her brother, which is in possession of American troops defending an outpost in wartime.

The Captain of the troops looks upon her with suspicion – she could after all be anyone – from a suicide bomber to a Trojan horse wanting information. The troops on the other hand are fascinated by her and want to know more. The brother on the other hand is thought to be a high-ranking Taliban, whose body is being held for identification. For two and a half days the girl refuses to budge, sitting through the blazing sun during the day and the freezing nights.

It is through this time that the story is told, from different first person perspectives. The perspectives are those of the girl (Antigone), the interpreter, the Doc, the lieutenant, and the Captain. The book had me in from the word go and I could not rest till the time I finished reading it.

On one hand you have the grieving sister wanting to just give her brother a proper burial and on the other you have the system of war which does not allow that. The first-person narratives as written are brilliant. The writing is so strong that you cannot help but be swayed into the book and remain there till you are done.

The reason I said it wasn’t for everyone is that there is no happiness in the book. So I do not know how many readers would love or like to read such a book. Joydeep’s prowess in telling a story surpasses any other book that I have read this month. This is a surefire hit. Also do read his other book, “The Storyteller of Marrakesh”. Equally evocative.

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