Category Archives: Authors I Love

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 9781447268970
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 333
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I could have easily finished this book in a day. That’s what I normally do when I start reading a book and I am totally immersed in it. That was also the case with “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel. I was gripped by the prose and the beauty of the language and I could have finished it in one day. But my journey or love affair with the book lasted for five days and I also know that it does not end here. I will constantly keep thinking of the book, and will also reread my favourite parts which I have marked and will cherish for a long time to come.

On the surface of things, “Station Eleven” might seem to be just another post-apocalyptic novel, but it is way beyond that. It is a testimony to us being human and more than anything else, to the survival power art can have in our lives and to a very large extent about the role of memory and how it can be, both cruel and kind.

“Station Eleven” is more than the regular novel, well at least to me it is. Why do you ask? Because it makes you feel things on a different level. How else can I put it? It also makes you perhaps live this life a little better than you already are and if a book manages to do that, then it is supreme to me.

“Station Eleven” is not about the end of the world, as most people say it is. It is to me the beginning of a new world and new hopes and aspirations that never die, no matter what. The book is about a pandemic that wipes out almost three-quarters of the world and more. There is nothing left. The old world or the world that we knew is gone. The new world has no electricity, no cars, no Internet, you get the drift. People drift. People try and settle. Things are no longer what they used to be at all.

Twenty years have passed since. Humans are trying very hard to reconstruct life – new ways, new means and The Traveling Symphony, that travels on foot, putting up performances – musical and that of Shakespeare. Amidst this there is a prophet and his band of people which the Traveling Symphony encounter and from there things go haywire. And I cannot forget at the core of all of this, lies a comic, which you will only know more about, when you read the book.

Of course, I cannot say much because that would mean giving away the plot, which I do not want to. Memory plays a major role in the book, as I mentioned earlier. It is these memories that help people survive the new world and also for some it seems best to forget them, in order to move on. The small bits of the book make it so worthwhile a read: When newscasters say goodbye, when there is a glimmer of hope that maybe things will not be the same and someone will come to rescue the living, when people will do anything to hang on to faith of any kind because it is so needed, when you don’t realize that this might be the last cup of coffee you drink or the last orange you eat and when the most insignificant things become the most significant.

“Station Eleven” manages to evoke multiple emotions in you as a reader. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it even makes you want to believe in humanity when it is dying all around you in the book, but I think above all it makes you hope, no matter what. The idea is not about apocalypse or what happened in the new world, as much as it is about reinventing and recreating the world with memories. The book is about the connections we have with people (as the six people in this book do with each other in some or the other manner), about how the beauty of the world can never be lost, about life hangs on to the very end and how perhaps we need to give ourselves more credit for being human. I cannot stop recommending this book enough and I will not. I think everyone should read this book, just about everyone.

Here is the book trailer:

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99: Unforgettable Fiction, Non – Fiction, Poetry & Humour by Khushwant Singh

99-unforgettable-fiction-non-fiction-poetry-humour by Khushwant Singh Title: 99 : Unforgettable Fiction, Non – Fiction, Poetry & Humour
Author: Khushwant Singh
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 9789383064755
Genre: Anthology
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Writers live on forever. There is this immortality which is attained when you write a book. The concept of death is then cheated on and rightly so. When Khushwant Singh passed away, there was this surge of emotions in the country and outside of the country as well. India had lost its beloved writer. I started reading Khushwant Singh when I was in school. It began with his jokes (in those days, we called them non-veg jokes). We were boys, driven by testosterone and Mr. Singh’s jokes just added onto what we were experiencing as teens. As I grew up, I realized that the man had written a lot more than just jokes. Those were just additions off-handedly thrown in for teenagers like me.

I experienced a portion of “Train to Pakistan” in the eighth grade and since then I have not stopped reading him. This according to me is one of India’s finest novels – written about the time of partition, when nothing was certain and yet all what the residents of Mano Majra wanted was peace and calm. I then moved on to his short stories, starting with “The Mark of Vishnu” and then my most favourite one, “The Portrait of a Lady” and the stories never stopped being read. His columns about the world and the way it was, clubbed with humour just had to be the thing to make me stop feeling gloomy.

And then there were other books and stories I read written by the man. And then one fine day, just like that he passed away. What he did leave behind is this body of work that speaks volumes about the man he was and the writer that we all loved. Aleph Book Company has published his body of work, parts of it, samples of it, across 99 pieces, each for the year he lived – 99 pieces of sheer joy for the reader to take in. This collection has everything in it that he ever wrote (well not whole of it but mostly covers all forms of writing) – from fiction to short stories to columns to jokes to poems and stories from his life.

“99” was published on Khushwant Singh’s birth anniversary. The book provokes thought and a whole lot of entertainment. “99” takes you to a place where you want to read more of Khushwant Singh. This book is perhaps the best tribute paid to the man who entertained us with his writing, made us relate to his characters, made us see Delhi in a different light, and also made us contemplate about death as much as he reveled in living. Read “99” if you love what Mr. Singh has written over the years. Read “99” if you want to know what he wrote and want to start off with his writing. Read “99” to see and understand what great and simple writing is all about. It is but true: Writers do live on through their writing and there is no better example than this.

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami Title: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Author: Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 9781846558337
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

There will always come a time in a reader’s time when his or her favourite author diverts a little bit from the writing style and the reader will not appreciate that move. There will also be a time when the reader will start reading the book, leave it, be riddled with preconceived notions and come back to it eventually. Reading is a love-affair, between the reader and the author at so many levels. The reader bickers. The author retorts. The reader loves. The author returns the favour. There is so much going on between the two and what conjoins them of course – the written word. I felt like a jilted lover mid-way of “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami. I had a love-hate relationship with it to suffice the least.

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” sustain most elements of Murakami’s writing and yet seems to move away from them. While I appreciated that, there were times that nothing would make sense (not in terms of plot) and even that was alright, till it reached a stage when everything that I read felt like I had already read before. Maybe even that was alright, but somehow the pace could not keep me attached to the book after page seventy or so. I left it. I was angry. I had fought with the book.

After about a week or so, I went back to it. I pleaded with it. I wooed it. I wanted to love it. I wanted to be loved by the book. I took off from where I left and somewhere down the line; I began reading it with an open mind more than anything else. Some parts I had to underline – I loved them so much, while others, I could not care for much. And now to the plot.

Tsukuru Tazaki is not someone special. He is ordinary. He loves trains and train stations. He works with trains. He is away from home and does not miss them. This is typical of a Murakami novel. Well, at least so far it is. He had his friends once upon a time. The five of them were inseparable. Till they decided one fine day to cut all ties with him. Tsukuru did not know why and he never asked. He moved away from his hometown and began living life differently. Something changed within him and now after all these years, he wants to know the reason they drifted apart, and that stimulus has come in the form of someone who he is currently dating.

The title comes from all his friends’ last names representing colors, while Tsukuru’s last name is colorless. The years of pilgrimage represents something else, however I shall not reveal it for now. The book is linear (for some time) and then it goes into Murakami territory – where dreams mingle with reality and nothing is what it seems. The range of emotions is wide – from envy to love to lust to everything possible, Murakami looks at it all.

For me, the connect came with the friends leaving bit – it hit hard and I could not stop thinking about my friends. The parts I was disappointed in: Too many subplots, too many themes running wild in the book, with no closure at all. But of course that is what one expects from a typical Murakami novel, isn’t it? Perhaps. But for me the expectations from this one were very high and I am also glad to say that the last two chapters of the book make up for every disappointment. There are magnificently written. The words, the expressions and Tazaki’s thoughts and dreams are succinctly put for the reader to just soak himself or herself in them.

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” is a book that maybe is not like other Murakami books; however he does manage to stir emotions. It was a mixed read for me, as I have said before. It is mostly confusing in parts, but if you let go of those notions and read it the way it is meant to be read, then you will get to see the other side of Murakami.

Here is the trailer of the book:

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Can’t and Won’t: Stories by Lydia Davis

Can't and Won't by Lydia Davis Title: Can’t and Won’t: Stories
Author: Lydia Davis
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374118587
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When Lydia Davis writes short stories, you take notice. You observe them and linger in their bitter or sweet after-thought. You also get confused. You wonder what her stories are about. As a reader, you also want to give up some times. You do not want to turn the next page. That is what you feel like and you cannot help it. You keep the book aside and after some time you get back to the book and then it hits on you, what you have been missing out on. And then the true beauty of her writing hits you.

Lydia Davis’s new collection of stories, “Can’t and Won’t” is a fantastic collection of vignettes, of short stories and of really long stories. At some point, I did not have it in me to soldier on, and yet I did. I think most of it also had to do with the fact that I had read Davis’s stories earlier. So my recommendation would be that to read some of her works online and then you will absolutely love what she writes and the way she expresses herself.

“Can’t and Won’t” is a collection that makes you ponder, makes you doubt, leaves you confused, perplexed and at the same time wrenches your heart with the most basic observations about life and living. Most of these stories are either retellings of her dreams, or related to Flaubert’s life (which are brilliantly reconstructed) or tales that are about painful memories and indecision and wanting to deal with life.

The stories are sometimes complex, sometimes simple and sometimes just make you want to drop everything else and think about life. “Can’t and Won’t” is expansive. It is a collection that challenges you, delivered in well prose and above all conjures a sense of wonder and delight, with every turn of the page.

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Shikhandi and Other Tales they Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik

Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don't Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik Title: Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Zubaan and Penguin Books
ISBN: 9789383074846
Genre: Mythology
Pages: 176
Source: Pubisher
Rating: 5/5

There is so much to Indian Mythology that remains hidden. There is so much which no one speaks of. Of hidden desires (maybe), of stories that somehow do not surface, because we are too civilized for our own good. We are full of shackles and intimidation and fear and to top it all ego, which do not let us realize our true selves. Somewhere down the line, perhaps, we have also been too apologetic of our traditions and culture – first to the British and Europeans and then to ourselves. The stories need to be told to change perspectives. The answers need to be out there with the questions, so people can decide for themselves without being brainwashed. “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t Tell you” by Devdutt Pattanaik is one such attempt.

“Shikhandi” is a book of stories. Stories that have been forgotten – mostly intentionally I would think. Stories that celebrate the queer, the ones that do not differentiate between the masculine and the feminine, where form does not matter as much, where it is about fluidity and not rigidity of gender and where clearly it is about celebrating life. Devdutt tries to uncover stories in mythology about men and women, about gender bender, about situations where roles were reversed for good reason and sometimes for no reason at all.

To me, “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t tell you” is all about liberation. While reading it, I felt liberated and maybe that is the purpose of this book. From Narada who forgot that he was a man, to Indra who took the form of a Brahmin to make love to his wife when he was away, to Krishna who cross-dresses in time of war and peace for various reasons to more Gods and Demons and Kings and Queens who are not rigid about sexuality and gender, “Shikhandi” is a work that transcends orientation and gender.

The writing is precise and concise. The stories can be read in a day and yet how can one understand Queerness for all that it is, in a day or a week or even a fortnight? To then connect it to mythology is another matter altogether. To then not be judgmental about it is far beyond another issue. Devdutt’s stories are not about intrigue. They are not about provoking for the sake of it. They are provocative because it is time we drop the blinders and look at the world different, away from our myopic vision and conditioning of what is wrong and what is right. The illustrations and foot-notes are trademark Pattanaik and work wonderfully in this book.

“Shikhandi” is a paean to the marginalized, to the differences (seemingly so), to the unseen and the not spoken about tales. After interviewing him for Jaya and after reading Jaya, I thought there was nothing like that book. I was wrong. In my opinion, it is “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t tell you” which is his best work. Go broaden your thinking. Read this book for sure.

Here is the book trailer:

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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I was thinking about clubbing these two Novel Cure Challenge Reads together and it only made sense – considering how similar the protagonists are. Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary are bound to be clubbed. I remember reading and rereading these books for the longest time and somehow in a very strange way, I could relate to them. I am not married. I am not a woman. There has been no instance of adultery then, of course, but still there is some affinity which I cannot name or pinpoint. I am only too glad to have reread these books. They certainly brought back a lot of memories.

We all know (or at least most of us do) how it works out for these feisty women. Both stuck in unhappy marriages. I think it would be apt to call their marriages boring, or rather the men they are married to. Charles Bovary almost comes across as a dullard who could not care less about Emma’s youth or her desires or what she wants from life. Anna Karenina on the other hand has everything she could want, but somehow the all-consuming love is just not there, till she meets Count Vronsky.

Emma’s life is ridden with men – her father, her husband, her neighbour, the greedy moneylender, the pharmacist, the pharmacist’s assistant, and her two lovers. She knows it will only end in disaster and yet she wants it all, just like Anna. Anna knows the Russian societal norms and yet she will go to any length to get what she wants. Both these nineteenth-century heroines risk it all, for there is only one life to live. All they want is passion. They want love and they just keep searching for it, everywhere they can. Even if it means they have to end it by giving up their lives. Every time I have read these books, I wished they would come out of it alive and they don’t. I know it but I want to believe that everything works out for them, though it does for some time. These novels were also written in times when both countries, Russia and France were going through changing times. Maybe that is why they were considered so radical for their time.

I have never intended to read these classics with a lot of analysis. For me, they are just testimonies to what I connect to relate to – all the unrequited love, the trapped lives dictated by hypocritical societies and the alienation of the self, despite being loved and surrounded by many.

The anguish of the women comes through superbly in both these books and to me what is also surprising is that these books were written by men. Men who were very strong in their own way and manner and extremely eccentric as well, not to mention, womanizers – maybe that is why they could capture the feminine essence with such aplomb in both these works.

The translations again, when it comes to classics such as these matter the most. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Anna Karenina) and Lydia Davis (Madame Bovary) have done more than just a wonderful job with the words and their interpretation. I think for me most of the time loving these two classics have come from these translations. And yes I also think that perhaps there is no cure for adultery. You have to go through it. There is no moral ground. Anything for happiness, I think.

Next Up in the Novel Cure Challenge: Patience by John Coates

Book Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie Title: The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Author: Agatha Christie
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780007282265
Genre: Mystery, Detective
Pages: 297
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

The perfect kind of reading when there is nothing to read is a good Agatha Christie. It just shakes you up and your day is then made. It does not even take too much time to get through one. And of course when it is a mystery that involves the adorable Belgian, Poirot, then you know you cannot go wrong. You will love the book. I decided to go through the entire Poirot collection and hopefully finish it by the end of this year. So, I started where it all began – “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”.

Poirot’s first case and the grand dame of crime does it like no other. The setting is World War I and in England (but obviously, to begin with at least). The Styles mansion residents wake up to find Emily Inglethorpe poisoned and long gone. Captain Hastings is at the scene and this is where his dear friend Poirot enters the scene and everyone is under suspicion. The family, The servants, The neighbors and the well-wishers. Almost everyone.

The writing but of course builds up only towards the middle of the book. The rest of the time it is all about creating the much needed atmosphere of the book. The characters are almost synchronized by Christie brilliantly and Poirot – the one who holds all the threads and cards. It is funny how out of all the Poirots, I had not read this one.

At some point, I thought it was too long for a mystery, but then again, I just had to get that thought of my mind and dive into the book once again. “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” is vintage Christie – it has all the elements of crime – a good setting, characters, and a great detective that is just been introduced. For those who have not read it, I strongly recommend this one . Enjoy.

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