Monthly Archives: January 2013

Book Review: Accelerated by Bronwen Hruska

Accelerated by Bronwen Hruska Title: Accelerated
Author: Bronwen Hruska
Publisher: Pegasus
ISBN: 978-1605983790
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

A lot is expected from children these days. Actually, let me change that: Everything is expected from children these days. Even advertising for them is centered on faster, stronger, brighter, and smarter. That is the pre-requisite it seems of having a child and amidst all this I have often wondered how schools have changed. From what they used to be to what they have become. I often think children are not what they used to be – there are a lot of areas to cater to – studies, sports, and the extra-curricular and amidst all this, I wonder what parents and children go through.

“Accelerated” by Bronwen Hruska is a book that deals with the issues mentioned above. The setting is an affluent New York neighbourhood that sports one of the best schools in the city – Bradley School. Everything at the school is accelerated – third graders are learning what sixth graders are meant to and so on and so forth. Sean Benning is a father who wants the best for his child Toby, after his wife and Toby’s mother left them both. Since he cannot afford the school expenses, his in-laws do and he is fine with the arrangement. He is a single dad and a struggling dad. Sean soon starts getting pressured by the school to put Toby on medication for ADD and that is when things begin to turn for the worst, as Sean uncovers the truth about the school and what does it mean to live an accelerated life.

This in brief is the plot of the book. I think this book beautifully depicts the problems all parents face – what will the child’s life be at school? What will he or she go through and what is expected of them? It isn’t easy to read this book and be detached afterwards to what goes on in front of us – maybe not to the same extent, but definitely heading there, at the rate we want our kids to be the best at everything. The writing is razor-sharp and makes a lot of sense with so much irony and black humour. At the heart of it, the book has best intentions and yet reads like a thriller, without boring the reader at all. It was a fast read for me and I would recommend it to parents who want to reconsider their child’s future and what is happening with them at schools and outside home.

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Book Review: How Should A Person Be? By Sheila Heti

How Should A Person Be By Sheila Heti Title: How Should A Person Be?
Author: Sheila Heti
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1-846-55754-5
Genre: Literary Fiction, Meta-Novel
Pages: 306
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

How should a person be? Maybe this is one of those questions that cannot be answered that easily. There is always contemplation and then there is giving up on the answer. There are perceptions and opinions and more speculations, but never an answer and maybe there shouldn’t be one. When I read Sheila Heti’s book, “How Should a Person Be?” I immediately knew one thing: She sure is not talking about how a person should be; she is maybe in fact talking about how a person should be given other people and situations that surround us. However, I also believe that each reader has his or her thoughts about the book, so maybe we can agree to disagree at some point.

“How Should A Person Be?” reads like a meta-novel and at the same time it reads like literary fiction. The book draws from life and also evokes life to draw from it in most places. The inlay says that it is a novel from life and yes it is exactly that, which is why I loved it so much. The book is a fictionalized memoir – Sheila is reeling from a divorce, she is a playwright and is unsure of how to live and create. Margaux, a talented painter and free spirit, and Israel, a sexy and depraved artist enter her life and life is never the same.

The book is written sometimes as a personal document and sometimes as a novel, which is what makes it so difficult to follow at times and at the same time it makes you ponder so much on the basic questions of love and life. Margaux and Israel are characters that exist so Sheila can make her decisions, so she can learn what she wants to do and unlearn at the same time.

The writing is like that of a painter painting his masterpiece in deft and swift strokes. The good thing according to me in the book is that there aren’t any conclusions and it shouldn’t be the case as well. Everything is not laid out for the reader to see meaning into or interpret. The book is like life – playing itself out without any meanings. There aren’t any answers, though the questions put are way too many – how does one love? Is there a way to live this life? Can one live in a manner better than this? The idea is to keep turning the pages – to read through the words, carefully, and then figuring it out for yourself. I will recommend this book to people who can stomach a story told differently. This book is not for people who are used to the traditional form of storytelling. You might want to give this a shot to read something different.

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Book Review: Artful by Ali Smith

Artful by Ali Smith Title: Artful
Author: Ali Smith
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780241145418
Genre: Literary Fiction, Non-Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

The more I read interesting and different forms of the novel, the more I am convinced that the book cannot die. It shouldn’t and it will not. Reading will never go out of style, and Ali Smith is one of those authors that keep proving this time and again. I started reading her when I was about twenty four or so and haven’t stopped since then. All her books are quirky and have this mischief sense about them. This is what attracts me most to her books and her writing. If a writer can make me want to read his or her books without stopping, then that writer has done me in.

“Artful” is unlike anything which Smith has written before. It is based on four lectures given by Ali Smith at Oxford University. “Artful” is all about books and the love of reading and what reading can do to readers. The essays are on four themes: Time, Edge, Offer and Reflection. The lectures were then delivered in the format – as if someone had discovered essays on art and fiction written by a former lover who haunts you. So partly, the book seems to read like a novel and at times like a work of non-fiction, which is a very unique way to write or compile a book.

The narrative and form of the book will instantly get to the reader, such is its power. I had to read the book in parts – could not finish it in one sitting because come to think of it, because of the structure, it is a difficult read in parts. One has to get used to the way it is written and only then can the reader be at ease. What attracted me the most to this book was that it was about art and more so about the love of books and fiction.

“Artful” while is a challenging book; it also lets you explore your imagination and ideas. It sort of blends your ideas with the books’ thoughts and that is something which I haven’t come across in many books. At the same time, it is quite a challenging book to read, if as a reader you are up to the challenge. Smith’s literary references are all over the place and it takes a reader some time to make sense of it, however once that happens, it is breezy read. I would recommend it to you, only if you are interested in books and fiction and art being talked about in another book.

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Book Review: The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam

The Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam Title: The Blind Man’s Garden
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 978-81-8400-109-9
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When you read a Nadeem Aslam novel, you mull over it. You take in his words and breathe what he has to say. You are aware of the political undertones in his books. At times, you also may not like what you read. You might also detest some parts. You will yell in happiness when something good happens to one of his characters. You want to keep the book aside and you will not be able to, because that is the power of his books. You will ignore everything else and read on, because Aslam has a story to tell and his characters will talk to you. They will make you believe and sometimes make you cry and live as well.

“The Blind Man’s Garden” according to me is one of the best books that Aslam has written. I have read all his books and while all his books have the much needed political angle; this one to me is most emotional and heart-wrenching in a lot of places. I interviewed Nadeem Aslam at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year (which will be a different post) and he was so passionate about the book and the way he spoke with me. The book almost came alive through him. All his characters and the situations he put them through almost seemed surreal and believable. For me that is the craft of a great storyteller. “The Blind Man’s Garden” makes you feel and think about humans and what does war do to them. He gets into the heart of his characters and makes them speak for themselves. He makes them tell their stories, their lives spread across the canvas of his landscape, of time unknown and sometimes time is of great essence. This is precisely why I cannot help myself but mark almost every other line on every other page of an Aslam novel.

Jeo and his foster-brother Mikal leave their home in a small Pakistani city not to fight with the Taliban but to help care for the wounded victims. The Western Armies have invaded Afghanistan and the brothers only want to help the wounded, whether Afghani or the Americans. They only want to help and yet they get embroiled deep into the war as its unwilling soldiers. At the same time left behind is Jeo’s wife and her superstitious mother, and their father Rohan, who is slowly but surely turning blind. The war is seen through from all perspectives and that is the crux of the story.

For me everything worked in the book. The writing is sharp and hits in places that you would not expect it to. The past and the present situations merge beautifully throughout the entire narrative. In fact, what I loved the most about the book was the way the structure was built and at the same time the prose seemed very fluid, as though it was waiting to flow through the reader’s mind and heart. The heart of the book is about everything surrounding the war – lost children, grieving parents, hopeful wives and children who are left behind wondering when their fathers will return. Despite all this, what strings the book together is hope, which is unending and everlasting.

There are a lot of sub-elements and plots to the book (which I will not spoil for you) that add to the beauty of this wonderfully written novel. There is beauty and at the same time there is this sharp ache and a prayer that all should go well for the characters that you have come to known while reading the book. As a reader, I found myself hoping that all went well. Such is the power of this magnificent read. It is for sure one of the best I will read this year.

Here are some quotes from the book:

“History is a third parent.”

“The logic is that there are no innocent people in a guilty nation.”

“No,” he said, “but before they lose, they harm the good people. That is what I am afraid of.”

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Jaipur Literature Festival and I

I attended the event for the first time and I know it will not be my last. I was in awe and I am still thinking about it. Jaipur Literature Festival has left me breathless and I know that nothing will match to it, till I am again on a flight to Jaipur next year. The festival was of five days and I wish it were longer. I wish it didn’t end so soon. More than meeting the authors, for me it was the exchange of ideas that mattered the most. This holds true for every session attended in those five days and how the speakers and interaction with them changed some part of my notions and the way I viewed the world.

Nothing else mattered in that time. Friends held no significance. Twitter was just another website. Food was forgotten most of the time. It just didn’t matter. What mattered the most was to take in as much as I could. The ideas and the shapes they formed from the speakers’ mouth to my head. From seeing one of my favourite authors, Nadeem Aslam on stage and speaking about the novel in Pakistan to interviewing him in person and being astounded in his presence. To understand that there is more beyond the cocoon we live in (I always knew that, however this festival just reiterated it) to meeting new people who love books and reading. The buzz was almost infectious. Everyone seemed to be taken by it. I am sure that a lot of people who attended the festival may not have been readers. They may have attended it because of the Bollywood peripheries or because of the cricket session featuring Rahul Dravid. However, that does not matter. What matters is that they were there, they got to touch books (assuming), the authors got to reach out to them and I hope that they will read.

For me, it felt as though I had died and gone to heaven. Heaven sure would be like this. A place where writers and readers mingle. That’s how it should be. It then did not matter whether you had read one book or more. What made most sense then was the way you felt towards reading and books, towards opinions and whether you had something to say or not. I managed to interview six writers who I love and admire. I had to do this for myself. Last year had not been easy in terms of work, and yet somehow attending this festival made me believe that everything would be fine. Everything would turn out just fine. Maybe that is why I needed to attend this. To forget the world for those five days. To carry everything I could from there. From writers and from their books. From what matters the most to me in my life: Reading words. Holding them in my mouth. Feeling them in my head as they turn to emotions. Till next year, you will be missed, Jaipur Literature Festival.