It was a great month! A fantastic reading month and these are my best reads of April 2013:
There are books that one reads and remembers a little of and then forgets. There are books that one reads and instantly forgets. There are then those books that one reads and can never forget. Those are the kind of books that I want to read and talk about. Because may be somewhere down the line in life, there is no place for bad or mediocre books. These days reading the first chapter is enough to tell you that and for me that is the deciding factor most of the time. However, there are those books which have been parts of your life throughout and you just invariably go back to them again and again. “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje is one such book in my life.
“The English Patient” takes place when the World War II has just about ended. The troops are returning home – broken or fixed or just as a consequence of the end of the war. This story is of four people – damaged and broken, living in an Italian villa as the war ends and the world changes around them. They ruminate on the past, links are drawn, relationships are renewed and they all somehow are just looking for redemption. At the heart of the book’s title, is literally, a patient, unknown to the three others, whose face is disfigured and he lays all day on the bed. Hana, the emotionally wounded army nurse who will not leave the patient alone and therefore has decided to stay in the villa. There is Caravaggio – the thief and spy, a friend of Hana’s father, who is drawn to Hana in many ways and has a past with the patient as well. Last but not the least is Kip – the brooding and detached Indian sapper, who loves Hana with all his heart and struggles to make sense of it.
All three of them are united to each other by the patient. Who is he? Where is he from? What is his history? Such questions and many intricate plots make this book what it is – a masterpiece at that. The sub-plot of the patient is my most favourite part in the entire book. His love affair with a married woman (cliché as it may sound) and its doom breaks the reader’s heart all over again. There is more to his story which I will not giveaway here. You obviously have to read it to know.
There is a lot of angst in the book and I can only trust Ondaatje with his superlative writing skills to display it with precision and great skill. The lines are almost poetic in nature. The setting is almost surreal. With every page you turn, you can only anticipate what is to come next and when it does, it takes your breath away. Of course the movie is different from the book and that is why I recommend that your reading and viewing pleasure should not be compared. I also love the way the movie has been made. Reading this book is almost like a dream-like experience. It is almost a feeling of déjà vu and yet you want to keep carrying on. The passages string together a tale of love, sadness, madness and as I said redemption. Each of Ondaatje’s character is searching for something or seeking forgiveness. The force of his writing lies in the lyrical quality of the narrative. The writing at most levels is spare, which I wish could have been longer.
The book will capture your heart and soul and not let go. This was the fifth read for me and every time I read this book, I cry. May be also because this copy was gifted to me by someone who once loved. I come out of a trance-like experience and I am only sad that the experience has ended. I cannot recommend this enough. And yes, there is only this much life left. Go on and read good books while you are at it. And while I am at it, here are some of my favourite parts of the book:
“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.”
“I believe this. When we meet those we fall in love with, there is an aspect of our spirit that is historian, a bit of a pedant who reminisces or remembers a meeting when the other has passed by innocently…but all parts of the body must be ready for the other, all atoms must jump in one direction for desire to occur.”
“She had grown older. And he loved her more now than he had loved her when he understood her better, when she was the product of her parents. What she was now was what she herself had decided to become.”
I should be ashamed of myself of not having heard of George Saunders before reading this book. “Tenth of December” by George Saunders is a collection of stories that is brilliant at every single level. The stories are dark, funny and I can safely say that if you ever have to read a short story collection this year, then this will be the book that you will and must read.
George Saunders’ stories shine on every single page with reference to plot, style, imagery and the way his characters turn out to be. The stories are not only dark and funny but also touching. He completes the cycle of storytelling the way it should be done, without making the reader uncomfortable or getting too familiar with emotions displayed. He tunes in the living of today and what has happened in the past, and maybe that is why every single reader would be able to relate to what he writes.
I was a little skeptical about it to begin with. The first story also did not do much for me. However, from the second story on, the entire collection took on a different pace. I loved the title story, “Tenth of December” and only for that alone, I could give it five stars. It is about a character who walks into the December woods wanting to die, before becoming a burden on his family. Stories such as these make you wonder about the power in Saunders’s writing. It breathes everyday living infused with its tragedy and humour.
The entire collection makes you assess and reassess life and very few books manage to do that. The stories are devastatingly beautiful and extremely powerful. Be prepared to take your breath after every story, before moving on to the next one. They reek of the times we live in and a great combination of the hopeful and the hopeless, which works with me as a reader. After all the human condition can never be black or white. Go on and buy the book. Read it and love every word he writes.
We think we see all the time. We think we observe. We also think we possibly know the world around us the way we are meant to. We see what we expect to most of the time. Maybe our mind conditions itself to show us only those things which we want to and the ones that we do not want to, well, they just get hidden. It could happen anywhere. In a familiar neighbourhood or maybe in a place you have never been to before. Maybe it is all about perspective or maybe about security, however it exists in all of us. The way we see and perceive of our surroundings or rather what we do not see.
“On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes” by Alexandra Horowitz is a book that maybe does not teach you how to look, but definitely provides some refreshing perspectives on the subject. The premise of the book is simple: Walking around the same path in a city with different people, almost eleven people or as she says twelve, and getting their point of view. The people ranged from her son to well-known illustrator Maira Kalman to a sound designer, bringing not only different perspectives but also making her and the readers think about our own perceptions.
I have loved almost everything about the book. From the way it is written to its premise. Sometimes it did become a little stretch; however I ignored it very easily with the turn of the page. “On Looking” brings together several elements at one time – it speaks of a simple everyday act, of different people performing it, through the same track and yet provides so much in the form of perceptions and how different people discover different things.
The book is definitely interesting and well written. Very rarely do I come across something in the non-fiction genre that catches my attention, but when it does, I savour it and mostly end up enjoying it as well. We hardly pay any attention to our senses and this book is a reminder of that fact. What it also does with its simplistic writing and views, is makes you want to see things differently. To me that is the highlight of this wondrous book that ultimately speaks of seeing things closer to you than to go in search of them far and beyond. A great read for sure.