Daily Archives: November 20, 2012

Book Review: Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld by Ed Hawkins

Title: Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld
Author: Ed Hawkins
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1408169957
Genre: Sports Writing, Non-Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

In India, they say, two things are most famous – Bollywood and Cricket. The people who act and the people who play the game are both revered and treated like Gods. The so-called audience for both these art forms (Well sports also is a form of art, isn’t it?) is widespread, not only in India, but I can safely say, even worldwide. I also believe that every art form has its own drawbacks – the casting couch for the film industry and then the very famous “match-fixing” syndrome for the now almost national game, Cricket.

“Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy” by Ed Hawkins explores and uncovers the other side of Cricket – the game that is loved, is looked on from a Devil’s advocate view, baring and maybe even exposing the underworld of the game. Ed Hawkins does it not just from India’s perspective or targeting the sub-continent. He also links the impact to world cricket and how the game changes at various points and of course covering all major tournaments and trophies up for grabs.

I am not a lover of the game. I cannot sit and watch the game of Cricket. That is just my preference. Having said that, this book was an eye-opener to the game and its politics and dynamics. Hawkins spent a lot of time in India. He interacted with the so-called bookies – the men who make millions of dollars per cricket match. Hawkins, being a sports journalist was always aware of what was going on. However, one single tip changed it all and he decided to expose what was going on in the name of the game and that led to the writing of this book.

The book is divided into three parts and each part for me was unique (since I do not follow the game) and shocking in bits and parts. He speaks of the age-old methods used to fix matches and their impact. Hawkins also asks the most pertinent question: Should illegal betting be legalized in the country? There are several points of view as well which are put forth and make for some interesting reading.

Ed Hawkins has written the book almost in the form of a thriller – the pace is racy and not at a single point during the book, was I bored or felt that I should stop reading it. The structure of the book is precise and does not confuse the reader. For someone like me, getting into the book was a little bit of a problem, since I do not follow the game, however for Cricket lovers it will be a breeze. I strongly recommend this book for Cricket lovers to be able to see the other side of the game. Of the darkness that lurks and how it affects the game at almost every level. A great read for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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Book Review: Bird Cloud: A Memoir of Place by Annie Proulx

Title: Bird Cloud
Author: Annie Proulx
Publisher: Fourth Estate, Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-0007231997
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Annie Proulx is well-known for books such as “The Shipping News” and “Accordion Crimes” and for her most famous short-story, “Brokeback Mountain”. There is no doubt about the fact that she writes like a dream. There this is quality to her writing which holds on to you and doesn’t let go. I hadn’t read any of her non-fiction books till about two weeks ago, when I started reading, “Bird Cloud: A Memoir of Place”.

When I first picked up or came to know of the book, I thought it was fiction. It did not cross my mind that it would be non-fiction and maybe that is why even though I had it with me for a long time, I read it only recently, because I am apprehensive of reading non-fiction. More so, when it is about the American countryside (in this case Wyoming), which I know nothing about. However, as it happens with books I don’t expect to like al that much, this one also took me by surprise and I actually enjoyed it.

“Bird Cloud” grows on you – almost page by page, layer by layer and pulls you right into itself and charms you at the end of it. The book centers on Proulx’s house called, “Bird Cloud” (hence the title) which she decided to build when she bought 600 acres of Wyoming landscape and at the same time let me also not mislead you. It isn’t as much about the house as it is about Proulx’s ancestry and Wyoming history attached to it. She speaks of her forefathers, her discovery to her roots, her plans of building the house, poetic quotations, her thoughts on the wind and the weather, and the animals and birds that make up the landscape.

This is the essence of the book and at the same time it is not a memoir. It isn’t personal. It is about life I guess. The book is divided into three sections: In the first she speaks of her family and how she wants to find a balance in herself of wanting the perfect home and the need to wander, the second section is about how she thought she would build her perfect home and the third is about her life in that place.

The book is uneven and yet the writing is strong and grabs you from the first page. It has this rough quality to it, which I guess is needed when writing about family and home and at the same time it doesn’t get emotional. It is distant and views things as they are. “Bird Cloud” for me was an exploration into family and the places we come to call home. It extended to being beyond just another read. It made me think of homes I have lived in and the surroundings and memories attached to each place. Maybe that is why it connected the way it did. A great read, slow nonetheless, perfect for people who want to connect to the idea of home and life.

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Book Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Title: My Brilliant Friend
Author: Elena Ferrante; Translator: Ann Goldstein
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609450786
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Friendship. The world conjures so many images and experiences. It is difficult to pinpoint one and alienate them from the other. There have been several movies made on this emotion (it would be safe to call it that) and several books written on it as well. I have just finished reading one of such books, titled, “My Brilliant Friend” by Elena Ferrante, set in Naples, Italy.

The book begins with a phone call in the present and then moves to the past. The story is set in the present times and begins in 1950s in a poor and vibrant neighbourhood of Naples, where two best friends Elena and Lila meet and their lives change (I know it is a cliché but it is true) as the town, city and nation progresses on its own terms and conditions. There is a lot that happens in the book and yet at no point Ferrante is rushing the reader. You can read the book at your own pace, which to me is one of the best things about this book.

The sub-plots in the book make it even more interesting. There is a lot happening in the book, which almost runs parallel to the core of the story. The neighbourhood in which the girls grow up – the different personalities that make up the place, the economic status, the small joys and the importance of education are brought about beautifully by Ferrante. The girls embrace intellectualism and are able to cope with their existence to a very large extent. At the same time, they are equally motivated by their lady teacher to stand up for themselves and are forever competing while growing up.

There is the usual on-going in the book: The different personalities of the girls, the ways in which their lives diverge and sometimes cross paths and how the two of them still remain friends no matter what. This is only the first installment of a trilogy. There is thankfully more to come as Ferrante leaves a lot of threads hanging in this one, which had me wondering about the closure of the characters and situations. What also struck me the most was the landscape of the novel – the cities and the towns and the country in which this book is set and how it travels the lay of the land is stunningly described. That is one of the major points of this book as well.

The writing is fluid and does not restrict itself to the plot. The translation by Ann Goldstein does a fantastic job of communicating this to readers. Elena Ferrante for me was a new writer and I am so not disappointed in reading this one. In fact I am almost elated that I read this book. While the story as I said earlier is almost clichéd, it is the way in which it is written, that makes it different and unique. The reader tends to feel and connect with both protagonists. Some may identify more with Elena and some less with Lila, however both are equally important to the way the story moves and progresses. This is one-of-a-kind novel and a must read. I for one cannot wait for the other two parts to be out.

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Book Review: Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess

Title: Earthly Powers
Author: Anthony Burgess
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609450847
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 656
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are some novels that engrain themselves in people’s consciousness and then there are some that go on beyond that and become cult novels. A Clockwork Orange is a cult novel for most people I’ve met. They swear by it (even if they do not understand it) and claim to have to read it more than once (mainly because they did not understand it). However, for me Earthly Powers by Burgess is his strongest and sometimes most underestimated effort (at least when compared to A Clockwork Orange).

“Earthly Powers” was first published in 1980 and since then has been in reprint, almost every other decade or after a couple of years. The edition which I read is the one published by Europa Editions. The book revolves around two men and so to say around their ideologies and perceptions. At the same time, it is a broader work in terms of the art of writing and the expanse of the novel.

At the center of the book are two twentieth century men, who represent different kinds of power statuses. On one hand there is Kenneth Toomey, a past-his-prime gay author of mediocre and pulp fiction, who has outlived his contemporaries, who is now living his years at Malta. It is almost a self-exile but that is what he wants. On the other, there is Don Carlo Campanati, a man of God, a priest so to say, with an ambition greater than anything else and the thirst for power so strong. The core idea of the book is power and it is surrounded but obviously by betrayal, guilt, Hollywood, divorce, censorship, exorcism (lo and behold) and sometimes love thrown in for good measure. The aspect that struck me the most was that here is a gay writer whose life is going to soon cross paths with a man of God. That to me was also one of the most interesting elements of the book.

The writing cannot be doubted or touched since it is vintage Burgess. It is sharp in places where it has to be and subtle in the others. The idea of power and courage (sometimes) that comes across is so strong that as a reader I had to shut the book in most places and contemplate on what I had read. There are a lot of references in the book – modern and traditional that one can relate to and that integrate seamlessly.

Earthly Powers is a magnificent read. It is rich in its scope and the cities that it traverses through forms the perfect background for a novel of this magnitude. Earthly Powers is a fantastic read. I want to say more but I cannot otherwise it would be spoiling the book for you. You have to read it to find out.

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