Author Archives: thehungryreader

About thehungryreader

Hmmm so I am the Hungry Reader. The one who reads. The one who is constantly reading or wanting to read constantly. This blog is all about the books I have read, the ones that I am reading and gems that I plan to read in the future or whenever it arrives. As Virginia Woolf rightly said, "When the Day of Judgement dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards—their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble—the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, "Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading."

Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Himes

mikhail-and-margarita-by-julie-lekstrom-himes Title: Mikhail and Margarita
Author: Julie Lekstrom Himes
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453756
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I had read “The Master and Margarita” in college. It was a long time ago. It was one of those prescribed classics that you just had to read and I remember loving it a lot, after initially not liking it at all. It was too fantastical for me to begin with and then the allegorical symbols rang home and I couldn’t stop turning the pages, hungry for more. Bulgakov’s writing cannot be described by the words I have at my disposal. He is that good. What you must also remember is that “The Master and Margarita” was written under a totalitarian regime and how it got published is another story. For now, I will stick to the review of “Mikhail and Margarita”.

Most times, I get scared to pick up a book of historic significance and background. More so, if a writer has perhaps reimagined a certain time in history and tried to recreate it for the reader, I try and stay away from such books, mostly. This time I took a chance and read “Mikhail and Margarita” by Julie Lekstrom Himes. I don’t know if the story is real or not, but I know one thing: Ms. Himes sure knows how to tell a tale. I could not stop reading this book and right after I finished it, I wanted to go back to the Bulgakov classic.

“Mikhail and Margarita” as you might have guessed from the title is a story of Mikhail and his love for a woman named Margarita that inspired him to write “The Master and Margarita”. Let me also tell you that in real-life it was Bulgakov’s third wife Yelena Shilovskaya who was the inspiration for the character Margarita. I am guessing that Himes’ Margarita is also inspired by his real-life. Himes has also made this a love-triangle with an agent of Stalin’s police who is also in love with Margarita. The year it is set in is 1933 and how at that time Bulgakov’s career was at a complete dead-end. The book is brilliant – it speaks of passionate love, more passionate ideals, and the regime that will not allow any of this. All it wants is human sacrifice in the name of the country.

Himes’ writing is taut, detailed and well-researched. The book will make you at some points even go back to “The Master and Margarita” (but not so many). Himes’ characters are just everyday people trying to deal with a country and its policies that don’t give them the independence to think, forget falling in love. Much like what is happening today or might happen in the near future where USA and some other countries are concerned. I would highly recommend “Mikhail and Margarita” for the newness of plot, the writing and the way the book will make you think.

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

4-3-2-1-by-paul-auster Title: 4 3 2 1
Author: Paul Auster
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co
ISBN: 978-1627794466
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 880
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I started reading Auster in 2000 I think. It has been 17 years and time sure does fly. I remember how I felt when I finished reading my first Auster – it was The New York Trilogy and I was a convert. I wanted to shout out loud from every rooftop and tell people to read this book. I wanted more people to read him. I wanted more readers to understand his worlds. Let me also tell you that reading Paul Auster isn’t easy. Why do people read him then? Well, it is only because of how he writes. I can’t think of any other writer who writes like him. Not a single one comes to mind.

Now coming to the review of this book. While I was reading “4 3 2 1”, I knew this would be difficult. It is not going to be easy to talk about this book – because there is so much to talk about. I mean I could go on and on and on but I shall keep it short and simple. “4 3 2 1” to me was a coming-of-age book really – but with a twist, as all his books are. It is 880 pages long and that takes a lot from a reader, but once you dive into it, you are hooked.

“4 3 2 1” is about four different lives of one person – Ferguson and how all our lives play out. The intentions of the writer are huge, sprawling even – to take this concept and turn it into an epic saga, so to speak. I can only imagine what the editing must’ve been like. Four lives run parallel and Ferguson is living in all four worlds. Four people who are identical, but different, same set of parents, same bodies and same genetic make-up, but each living in different houses, different towns with his own set of situations. That is the beauty of this book – the way Auster builds these worlds and you see some similarities but these are just few and that’s where it ends and begins all over again.

When you begin the book though, be prepared to be a little confused where the plot is concerned, however do not let that deter you. Please go beyond fifty pages and you will see the magic of Auster’s writing unravel itself. The choices of each Ferguson are different and you will notice that as you move along – it is the story of the 20th century – starting from March 3, 1947 when all Fergusons are born and carrying through the end and how each Ferguson’s life turns out.

I love this book by Auster the most. His writing is stunning and to be the ardent reader, what was most refreshing was that I could not compare it to any of his other books. The journey of each Ferguson is moving, extraordinary even in the most ordinary circumstances and full of emotion as worlds are navigated back and forth from. “4 3 2 1” is an experience not to be missed.

Chandni Chowk: The Mughal City of Old Delhi by Swapna Liddle

chandni-chowk Title: Chandni Chowk: The Mughal City of Old Delhi
Author: Swapna Liddle
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386050670
Genre: History and Politics
Pages: 196
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Cities have always intrigued me – more so their existence and how they came to be. Within cities sometimes you end up finding smaller cities that have their own tales to tell, provided people listen. Chandni Chowk of Delhi is one such city within a city. I also remember the first time I visited Chandni Chowk after much hesitation (I am from Bombay. I was born and raised in South Bombay. You can’t even begin to imagine the level of being a snob) and I was honestly mesmerized by it.

Initially, I didn’t think or make much of it, till I walked around in the snake-like lanes, made peace with all kinds of smells around me – from food that was being cooked to an open window of someone’s house from which there were other smells to finally the smell of comfort. I think a place like Chandni Chowk sinks into you only if you allow it to or else it will never become a part of you.

The book by Swapna Liddle is a historic tribute to Chandni Chowk and its formation over the years – from being a part of Shahjahanabad to how it came to be what it is today, over centuries. Liddle’s research is partly through the archives and mostly through what she conjures through her experiences. The book is rich with anecdotes – it chronicles the life of a city through its trials, tribulations and what it has seen through the years. My favourite part of the book was the cuisine of Chandni Chowk and how it has grown over the years. At the same time, the history of Chandni Chowk through all the wars and battles is staggeringly astonishing and deserves a read for sure.

“Chandni Chowk” is draws on a lot of sources as the story of a place progresses – from newspaper articles to accounts of Mughal chroniclers, travelers’ memories, poetry, and government documents (I was fascinated by what I read in this book. It opened a new side of this place for me). What I also felt most sad about is how this place has somehow lost its significance over the years and is lost in the hustle and bustle of the capital city. Perhaps, it will change as more people would want to know more about it. This book is the best place to begin that journey.

Swapna’s writing will compel you to visit Chandni Chowk the next time you are in Delhi (if you’re not from there), and if you are from Delhi, then it will make you want to go there again and again and discover the true essence of what was it and how it is today. Liddle’s writing is nuanced and at the same time full of brevity – she doesn’t cramp too much and that makes it way easier to read about a place. If you like reading about places, their history, their present and what they mean in today’s times, then you must include this one in your reading list.

2084: The End of the World by Boualem Sansal

2084-the-end-of-the-world Title: 2084: The End of the World
Author: Boualem Sansal
Translated by: Alison Anderson
ISBN: 978-1609453664
Publisher: Europa Editions
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The title “2084: The End of the World” was what intrigued me and I knew I would love reading this book. I think as you age, you also become a little more discerning about what you read. What is also true is that what you read is a reflection of your personality to some extent, but I shall not go there as of now. The book in question though is “2084” and if you’ve not guessed by now, then well, it is a play on 1984 by George Orwell and also tackles the same theme of a totalitarian regime, that is brutal, unreasonable and has no logic attached to it at all. Might I say that this book is a tribute to Orwell’s vision and craft.

2084 is the story of a near-future (I think it is already taking place as we speak and that should scare you enough) in which religious extremists have established a state of their own, and where autonomous thought is forbidden. It is funny how this book came at a time when Trump just got into power and to see and realize what is happening in the US of A is enough for this book and more of its kind to be almost prophetic in nature.

In kingdom of Abistan, named after the prophet Abi, an earthly messenger of god Yolah, there is no individuality and it is also not encouraged. In fact it is punished if anything. No one can think or speak other than what is laid out for them. New histories are being written. Memories are erased. The heretics are being put to death in the city square and for all to see. At the crux of the story is Ati, who has met other people in ghettos, who has heard tales of how it used to be and what does it mean to be a free-thinker. Ati then starts to think, to question and in all of this he has to not only safeguard his thoughts, but himself as well.

“2084: The End of the World” is also a mystery novel. What is the mystery of the number 2084? Ati has to find that as well. How did the world come to this? What happened? How did it lead to the formation of the most fundamental Abistan? This is the book that speaks of democracy and what threatens it, just as 1984 did. What is ironic though is that the world was reading 1984 (in the wake of Trump’s presidency) and I was reading 2084 – a book on similar lines. Sansal’s writing is raw and troubling. You know the future is happening right now and all that is mentioned in the book is being carried out one way or the other. He is almost prophetic when it comes down to delivering a hard-hitting apocalyptic read (in more than one way). “2084” will make you think, contemplate and wonder how we got to this – and this story isn’t just about one religion or one kind of society. It is reflective of all of us as humans – read it, lend it, buy it for people who need it the most.

Murder in Mahim by Jerry Pinto

murder-in-mahim-by-jerry-pinto Title: Murder in Mahim
Author: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9385755293
Genre: Literary Fiction, Indian fiction, Crime fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Before I begin this review let me tell you that this book is very different from ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ by the same author. If you are going to pick up ‘Murder in Mahim’ thinking it will be like his earlier novel, then don’t. It is different and refreshingly so. I would also like to add that it moves beyond just being a murder mystery (in the loose sense of the word) and goes to explore other themes, which I thought was very-well managed and achieved.

Being a Bombay (Yes, to me it will always be that) boy, I could identify to most of what is there in the book, in fact, even all of it – from the glitzy and glamorous to the dark underbelly, nothing was new and everything was a reminiscence of a time gone-by. This is precisely what I love about Jerry Pinto’s books – the description, the eye for detail, the nuances of not only the characters, but also the city (which also happened in Em and the Big Hoom in large doses) and that to me is some superlative craft.

I didn’t think much of the story in this one, but the only reason I kept turning the pages is because I cared for some characters and the language which is par excellence. Jerry Pinto’s writing embroils you in it, it makes you think, and before you know it you are also a part of its world.

So what is the plot of this book? A young man is found dead in the toilet of Matunga road station, with his stomach ripped open. Peter D’Souza, a retired journalist becomes a part of this investigation with his friend Inspector Jende and that’s when the story begins. It is also a book about unspoken love, about Peter’s fear that his son might be involved in the killings (yes, there are more than one) and it is about the city that never sleeps – the one that comforts and the one that can also be mercilessly cruel.

This is all I have to say about the plot. Now to the writing – I was taken in like I have mentioned earlier, by the raw energy of the city pulsating throughout the book. The nuances are meticulously and most certainly effortlessly thrown in – from the Barista at Shivaji Park, to the beaches, to the stench of urine and sweat at railway station platforms, and Marine Drive included. Mumbai (I have to call it that now) has come alive in this book.

Jerry’s writing is peppered with humour, sorrow and lots of ironic moments in the book which make you guffaw a lot. There is this straight-forwardness to his prose and yet the characters are more complex than ever. From Peter’s wife Millie who plays a minor role and yet shines with her complexities to Leslie (my personal favourite character) and the various shades there are to him, each character is crafted with a lot of deftness and logic. At one point, I felt as though I was in Bombay of my college years – there is no timeline as such in the book which works very well to its advantage. ‘Murder in Mahim’ is relevant, topical, fast-paced, and a book that will grab you by your throat.