Monthly Archives: February 2013

Book Review: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler Title: Why We Broke Up
Author: Daniel Handler
Art: Maira Kalman
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-0316127257
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 368
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I had bought this book last year and since then was struggling with it. I would read fifty pages or so and give it up for another read. It happens most of the time and that doesn’t mean that the book is bad, maybe the timing for sure is. It has happened to me in the past, so I do not think much of it. So when I picked up “Why We Broke Up” again this time, I was enthralled by the plot and more so by the art by Maira Kalman, which by the way is beautifully done throughout the book.

For every time a couple breaks up there are things that are returned. That is almost the unwritten law of breaking up, of ending it all, of finding the so-called state of “closure”. We return things because they are memories – of times of happiness and now evoke only sadness, which is the truth. Min and Ed, two teenagers whose relationship has ended are at the heart of this novel. They are an improbable couple, who had nothing in common and yet they fell in love. They split ways and the story is narrated from Min’s perspective who is now returning “stuff” that she collected (or stuff that was given by Ed to her) during the course of their relationship, explaining why they broke up and what happened between them.

Min is studying to be a filmmaker, so the entire process and atmosphere of the book is rather dramatic, but only fair, since it is about heartache. There are a lot of references to old films which is brilliant, because I now have to watch most of them. Love also needs so many mediums to speak through. In this case, it is movies.

Heartache at any age is counted for and should be. It is not easy, more so when you are young. I found the story a little too biased, as it was only from Min’s perspective, but that was compensated more so by the plot and writing. What will take you in the most about the book is also the illustrations, which are beautifully and masterfully done so by Maira Kalman. I loved the book so much in most parts and I also thought that maybe I would have loved to hear Ed’s point of view in all of this. After all it is only fair. The secondary characters – the best friends and ex-lovers make for some quirky characters in the book as well. Ed’s sister Joan is a vital character and it is not difficult to fall in love with her.

I do not like reading Young Adult fiction all that much, however as I have said again and again in this post, I loved this book. It is but the nature of love and heartbreak, its universality that would resonate and strike with anyone who reads about it. One more thing: You cannot read it in an electronic book format. The effect and sentiment will not be the same, given the illustrations and also the quality of paper. I recommend you read it, get your heart broken, mend it and then read it all over again.

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Book Review: The Threads of the Heart by Carole Martinez

The Threads of the Heart by Carole Martinez Title: The Threads of the Heart
Author: Carole Martinez
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609450878
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I used to think that there would be no one who would write like Marquez. No one who would be able to create the same magic and weave words that remain stuck in memory and stories that do not get erased, stories that you do not want to forget, long after you have read them. And then to soak the book in entirely, with every word and sentence almost resonating is not easy for an author. The readers more so can act on a whim and drop a book if they want to. The writer on the other hand continues to write. Back to the Marquez track; I have just finished reading, “The Threads of the Heart” by Carole Martinez and this has been the only book in a very long time that has reminded me of Marquez’s writing like no other. A cracker of a read and at the same time, way too emotional and wondrous.

“The Threads of the Heart” is a story of women in a family. The men are almost non-existent or are around as props. Carole Martinez sets her book in Spain and takes it all the way to Africa. That is another thing that struck me and kept me glued to the book. The book centers on Frasquita, who the people of her village believe has healing powers. They think of her to be a sorceress even. She possesses a gift, handed down in her family to generations of women – that of creating gowns and garments that almost seem to have a life of their own. They are capable of anything when worn and sometimes when not. That is Frasquita’s magic. As usual, she is envied for her gift. She and her children are banished from the village. She undertakes a journey to Africa on foot and that is when her life begins.

The writing as I said, reminded me of Marquez and other Latin American writers or writers who write of distant lands and magic thrown in for good measure. What got me going with this book was but of course the way it was written and at the same time, the way the characters were shaped and the plot that moved in various directions. The minor characters had their own charm however Frasquita took my breath away, every time she appeared in the pages. She is an adulteress, she believes in free love and above all she believes that love and magic can heal anything and wants a better life for her family. The story is narrated by her youngest daughter and I loved the third person perspective. The first half is full of magic, the second half is full of issues (or at least that is what came across to me).

The book was originally written in French and translated to English by Howard Curtis. I do not know how the book is in French – the way it is written and the way it reaches out to the readers; however its translation (considering I have only read that) is super. Over all, I loved the read. It was different, magical and truly stupendous.

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Book Review: Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits by Rahul Pandita

Our Moon Has Blood Clots by Rahul  Pandita Title: Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits
Author: Rahul Pandita
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 9788184000870
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Being displaced from your roots is the worst event ever that could happen to anyone. It happens all the time in our country, right from Partition. I remember my grandmother telling us stories of her life in Pakistan and how the partition affected their lives. The lives they had to leave behind and start anew in a strange country where acceptance and people looked at our clan or community very suspiciously. After all, our ways were different. The way we thought and the way we behaved. Today, of course things are better for Sindhis in the country, however the same cannot be said for the Kashmiri Pandits and this review is about them and for them, given the book, “Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits” by Rahul Pandita.

I wanted to read this book from a human angle and that is exactly what I did. To me, the politics did not matter. What mattered most were the stories chronicled in this book, from what Rahul has experienced firsthand (being a Kashmiri Pandit himself) to the stories as told to him by the others. Sometimes you have to take what it does to read a book of this nature – where there are no happy endings and no rosy scenes, where everything is the way it is in life – raw and unrelenting. Where people are thrown into circumstances that they do not want to be a part of and yet are, tolerating some atrocities and only praying that it all goes away for the others. That is the power of living through it all. Rahul Pandita talks about the Kashmiri Pandit exodus that occurred as a result of the so-called ethnic cleansing (violent in nature but obviously) backed by the Islamist militants. This continues to take place even today. Kashmiri Pandits, the Hindu minority amidst the Muslim majority Kashmir, did not stand a chance. On one hand it was this and on the other it was the demand for a separate Kashmir and so-called independence that led to their state of misery and alienation.

Home cannot be defined by any other word. Home remains home and does not change. Rahul Pandita later in the book talks of what identity means, what is “home” and how nothing in the world can change his idea of place and belonging. The story of Kashmiri Pandits has almost been forgotten by now. No one seems to talk about it, so that is when a book like this makes a lot of sense. The writing is as is – there are no frills and nothing is sugar coated. It is almost investigative journalistic writing and at the same time it is deeply embedded in emotions and sentiments. At some point, the book does make for difficult reading. The conditions the refugees lived in is heart wrenching, however like I said, that is how it is.

There is so much that the book delves on and at the same time, Pandita also talks of the way the valley was before the exodus. To some extent he makes it sound so perfect, that one would want to believe that it was that way, however we all know better than that. What I liked the most about the book was that there were no sides taken and one cannot given the nature and content of the book, and at the same time, I could not help but feel opinionated or biased towards the events and the way it all turned out for the Kashmiri Pandits. The title also was so striking and fit beautifully to the rest of the book. I will recommend this book only if you can stomach the truth or else this read is not for you.

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Book Review: Calcutta: Two Years in the City by Amit Chaudhuri

Calcutta - Two Years in the City by Amit Chaudhuri Title: Calcutta: Two Years in the City
Author: Amit Chaudhuri
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670086221
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It is not easy to write about a city. Any city for that matter. More so, the city you were born in and then left and then came back again to visit a couple of times, and then left behind almost permanently and then returned. For Amit Chaudhuri, I would like to believe that Calcutta has always been a part of his life (or so it seems from the books that he writes). Everything that he has to say has to revolve around the city or make an appearance some way or the other in his fiction. This time though, he has taken a step further and written a book completely on the city of his birth, vacations, dreams and of a city that is home: Calcutta.

Reading “Calcutta: Two Years in the City” by Amit Chaudhuri is like taking a roller-coaster ride. I was born and brought up in Bombay and somehow after reading this book, I yearn to visit Calcutta. I had visited it in 2011 to study there for a while, and after that I did not go back there. Maybe I will someday. For now, here is what I read and my thoughts on the book.

Amit Chaudhuri’s book is an account of two years (2009-2011) spent by him in the great metropolis. Amit’s Calcutta almost seems very different from the city that exists. He writes about the Calcutta of the nineteenth century and then compares it (almost) to the Calcutta of the twentieth century and how much has changed and what has remained. To me that was the most fascinating aspect of the book. I have always wondered the same about my city and tried putting things in perspective, however never been able to do so. While reading this book, I could try a little.

“Calcutta: Two Years in the City” is a book that almost takes your breath away, because it has been written from the heart and less using the mind. The characters that Mr. Chaudhuri encounters, their lives, the dichotomy that plays itself out on a daily basis in metros, the political agendas, the stench of the city that gets under your skin and its people and the warmth sometimes is all there in this book. The bygone era of the city has been beautifully described by Mr. Chaudhuri, this includes the language, the names, the visits that he made to the city and its exploration through them, and the yearning for the city for not there and the need to get away when there is what everyone feels when returning to a city.

For me this book was something quite special. It is nothing out of the ordinary. Everyone writes about cities they belong to and what has been their relationship with them. Having said that, the way this book is written is what took me by the horns. The simplicity of language, the socio-political angles described without taking sides, without the emotions getting complex or convoluted is superbly expressed in the book. Amit Chaudhuri captures the essence of the city so well that sometimes I forgot that the Calcutta I visited was very different from the way (or not) the writer writes about it. I feel that non-fiction has to have the extra something about it to engage you completely in it, almost to drag you in the content and “Calcutta: Two Years in the City” manages to do that. I highly recommend this jewel of a book. It will amaze you and make you see the city differently. I sure do want to visit it again and relive the moments.

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Book Review: The Cripple and his Talismans by Anosh Irani

The Cripple and his Talismans by Anosh Irani Title: The Cripple and his Talismans
Author: Anosh Irani
Publisher: 4th Estate, Harper Collins India
ISBN: 978-93-5029-603-5
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 232
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

“The Cripple and his Talismans” by Anosh Irani is a unique book. Of course I have read of books that have magic realism as the central theme and all of that, yet somehow this book seemed interesting and different from what I had read in the past. There was this urgency in the book that made me want to know what happens next and at the same time, a sense of stability that allowed me close the book after a couple of chapters and mull over what I had just read. It is almost confusingly therapeutic and disturbing when a book does that to you.

I had first heard of Anosh Irani when I encountered him in one of his sessions at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2013. Before that I am surprised that I hadn’t heard much about him. Maybe I was too busy exploring other writers. However, once I got to know about The Cripple and his Talismans, I had to read it. It seemed too intriguing and inviting. At the same time, it was first published in 2004 and only published in India now, in 2013 by Harper Collins. So that is in brief about what dragged me to reading this book.

“The Cripple and his Talismans” is like the title suggests, about a cripple. A man in search of his lost arm. He wakes up one day and his arm is missing. Along the way on his so-called conquest to find his arm, he meets a variety of people – a woman who sells rainbows to a coffin maker to a giant, to a homeless boy riding the trains, which all lead him to one person – an underworld don at that, and the only one who can tell him about the clues along the way and explain the dilemma he is in.

All the action takes place in Bombay and that to me was the crux of the story. The city, its smells, the places make for the crux of the tale. To a very large extent, while reading the book, I was wondering about how Anosh now lives in Canada and all his books are set in the city he was born and grew up. To me that says a lot about the writer. More so, this being Anosh’s first book, it is quite experimental and adventurous for a first book and the same time, it is very-well written.

The journey of the man in search of his missing arm is often hilarious, sad, and at the same time human and absurd. Anosh mentioned about this book that it came to him in a dream, almost a vision, where he saw a basement, and arms hanging from the ceiling and he knew that he had to write this book and he did.

“The Cripple and his Talismans” is not an easy read. It demands a lot from the reader. The writing is simple and yet the situations aren’t. The characters jump off from every page and take the reader unaware. The writing radiates, teeming with the city’s boisterousness and energy and its laziness sometimes on a Sunday afternoon. To read something like “The Cripple and his Talismans” and not get affected by it, by its sheer magnitude, insanity, and almost a shock-like quality is not a possible feat.

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