Tag Archives: August 2017 Reads

Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino. Translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith with Joseph Reeder.

Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo HigashinoTitle: Under the Midnight Sun
Author: Keigo Higashino
Translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith with Joseph Reeder
Publisher: Minotaur Books
ISBN: 978-1250105790
Genre: Literary Thriller
Pages: 560
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Literary thrillers are hard to come by. Let me rephrase this: Good literary thrillers are hard to come by and thank God for Keigo Higashino. I was a fan the minute I finished reading “The Devotion of Suspect X” and then when I read “Salvation of a Saint” I knew I would continue reading whatever he would dish, no matter how good or bad. I think it has got to do with the atmosphere that is built in his novels, and that is so important for a good thriller. The right kind of setting – the fog if necessary, the ambience of the hotel maybe or just describing a regular street. He is a master at that, bordering noir, if there could be Japanese noir (given most of their literature is dark anyway) and almost surpasses himself in it.

“Under the Midnight Sun” is a big book at 560 pages. But at no point do you feel overwhelmed or intimidated reading it, because of its size. The story is so gripping that you want to turn the pages no matter how late it is at night or for that matter early morning. In Osaka, in 1973, the body of a murdered man is found in an abandoned building. Detective Sasagaki is unable to find the murderer. In all of this, the lives of two teenagers – Ryo and Yukiho get embroiled which will leave the reader shocking and gasping for breath as the end of the book nears.

Higashino in this one is mainly concentrating on the aftermath of a crime. Twenty years have passed and it is 1993 and how the teenagers then are impacted by the crime that took place. Why must they get impacted you ask? Well because one of them is the child of the one who got killed and the other the child of the killer. The psychological impact then – as they strive to find the truth behind the killing and how Sasagaki gets involved again is spine-chilling.

Higashino doesn’t mince words while writing. Everything is crystal clear and the way it is supposed to be. The plot while threadbare, as you go along keeps getting layers added to it, which doesn’t really let it remain threadbare for long. The characters are etched to accuracy and no one has received more or less print time. “Under the Midnight Sun” is a feast for any lover of pulp fiction.

Advertisements

Wings of Fire #1 The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland

Title: Wings of Fire #1 : The Dragonet Prophecy
Author: Tui T. Sutherland
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-0545349239
Genre: Children’s Fantasy, Teens
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

After a long time, I read a book for kids that was super-fun and thrilling at the same time. It was also heartwarming and made no bones of using everything that has been already covered when it comes to dragons, yet it felt so refreshing. “The Dragon Prophecy” is the first book in the “Wings of Fire” series and was first published in 2012. It is also a high-fantasy series might I add but thank God that it doesn’t read like that.

The series as you must have guessed is all about dragons – it goes a step further and introduces a war going on between seven dragon tribes over the throne of SandWings (Game of Thrones but with only dragons). And in all of this we are introduced to Clay (a dragonet) and his four friends (Tsunami, Glory, Starfight and Sunny) who are destined to stop the war and have been raised in a cave under a mountain by three guardians, so no one can harm them. The plot of the book moves around the prophecy, the mystery behind it and the introduction to the dragonets, and more.

The plot exists but is kind of loose right now maybe because this is just the first book and there is so much more to come. The writing is engaging, at times I thought it could have fleshed out the dragonets a lot more but I guess she has left it for later. I am also very happy that Scholastic has brought this series to India. It is the perfect series for middle-graders, teens and even adults to start with. “The Dragonet Prophecy” is a fun read with the correct elements in place for a high-fantasy – which will sure evolve in the coming books (which are out and available by the way).

Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky

Go Went Gone Title: Go Went Gone
Author: Jenny Erpenbeck
Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1846276200
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Go Went Gone” is an unusual book. Also, it isn’t an easy read. At least, it wasn’t for me. It took me a while to get into the book and understand its nuances. However, once I was say three chapters in, I started enjoying this read a lot, actually to a point that I felt sad when the book ended. Erpenbeck has always taken on issues so huge in her books and actually delivered. I remember reading “The End of Days” and “Visitation” and being awestruck by the writing. And just like those books, “Go Went Gone” is a book that talks of the impact of the political on personal and what place does the past and present have in history after all.

Richard has spent his life as a university professor, immersed in books and ideas and has now retired with nothing to do. He steps into the streets of Berlin and discovers a new community on Alexanderplatz – a tent city of sorts, established by African asylum seekers. He is confused. On one hand, he wants to get to know these new people and on the other he hesitates.

I loved the simplicity with which the plot is unravelled and yet there is so much going on – the complex layers of race, class, community and prejudice. What struck me the most was Richard’s ageing and his reluctance to change and at the same time his curiosity toward it as well. The writing is subtle enough to give readers signs and cues as the story moves along, which makes Jenny Erpenbeck truly one of the best European writers there is. She slices the book scene by scene – so much so that isolated situations and scenes come together so beautifully – even if at a later stage. She also at the same time, takes no sides. She doesn’t want Richard to be a caricature and also understands his point of view.

The political angles in the book are real – the Western ideologies and stance toward the European refugee crisis and how it can be solved for. More than anything else though, it is the story of one man who has more in common with people he doesn’t know than he realizes.“Go Went Gone” is the kind of read that cannot be gulped in one go. It must be savoured. And yes please pay attention to the silences in scenes as well – that say so much and yet can be missed if you look the other way.

The Epic City: The World on the Streets of Calcutta by Kushanava Choudhury

The Epic City Title: The Epic City: The World on the Streets of Calcutta
Author: Kushanava Choudhury
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-9386432575
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I have always been fascinated by Calcutta – right to its portrayal in movies to books to even theatre and sometimes even TV shows that are genuinely set there. Something about that city – it has managed to mingle the traditional and the modern so well, that it makes me more curious about the thing they do, how they do it and why – the culture of Calcutta cannot be spread across one book or one review (most certainly not), however “The Epic City” by Kushanava Choudhury is indeed one of its kind books on the city.

I remember my first visit to Calcutta. It was 2011 and I had gone there to prepare for a course, which meant Calcutta was home for about forty-five days. The city was hesitant to be my friend initially and as I learned its ways and sought it out, it almost became a second home. Everything about it seemed better and yet there were times that nothing about it made sense to me. Sometimes I would find the people cold and distant and at others extremely affectionate. The polarity of the people lends itself to the city or is it the other way around?

So as I read “The Epic City” by Kushanava Choudhury, I would often find myself nodding my head and agreeing or disagreeing with what he was saying about the city. Kushanava arrived in New Jersey at the age of twelve – migrated from Calcutta with his parents. After graduating from Princeton, he decided to move back home – Calcutta that is and this book is a medley of experiences of that movement. As I mentioned earlier, you cannot encapsulate Calcutta in a book, but people must and need to so readers can know about this soulful city.

The book traverses through the city and Choudhury introduces to places and people off the streets. He makes us acquaintances of jobless men, of looming buildings, of a city abandoned and people who are there and yet only in a limbo. Calcutta belongs to a different era perhaps. Or it did. Yet, it struggles so hard to keep up with the rest of the country. Choudhury at the same time in his writing is hopeful of what the future holds.

“The Epic City” is written from inside out and also to a large extent from outside in. There is a quality of frankness and melancholy in Choudhury’s way of describing the city that almost breaks your heart. You want to know more about the place and yet you want to resist, because Calcutta then seems like an aged queen whose grandeur is not lost, yet she is.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire Title: Home Fire
Author: Kamila Shamsie
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781408886786
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I will try doing some justice to the book with my review. I will only try. “Home Fire” is one of those books that come when you least expect them to and leave you stunned, make you feel a thousand things, and then pretend that nothing has ever happened. There is the storm and also the lull at the same time. When that happens to me, while reading a book, I know that the book will stay for a long time.

Shamsie’s prose is so evocative and tender that you can feel the characters trying very hard to balance themselves – their emotions and their motives more than anything else. “Home Fire” as most people have said and so will I, is an adaptation or inspired by “Antigone”. Antigone, a teenage girl is forced to choose between obeying the law of the land (her uncle, the king of Thebes, has forbidden the burial of a traitor who happens to be her brother Polynices who declared war on the city and in the process kills his own brother Eteocles) and religious law and sentiments toward her brother. The good brother gets the funeral and the so-called bad brother doesn’t. Antigone then must decide if she wants to give Polynices a burial or not, the punishment for which is death penalty.

I remember watching Antigone a long time ago. Ratna Pathak Shah was Antigone and I could not get images out of the play out of my mind as I read “Home Fire”. Art does cross boundaries. Anyway, back to “Home Fire”. This is the same dilemma faced by Aneeka, as of course Home Fire is loosely based on the play by Sophocles. Aneeka’s twin brother Parvaiz has left London to work for the media arm of Isis, after knowing about their father’s death. Their sister Isma tells the police where he is gone and Aneeka is most angry, almost to the point of telling her that they have no sister. Isma is the older sister to the twins who has taken care of them like a mother. She is the voice of reason, while Aneeka’s voice is that of strong emotion. Isma meets Eamonn (, while she is studying in the US and he is on a holiday. There is a connection. However, on his return to US of A, he falls in love with Aneeka, who will go to any lengths to go home and search for her brother.

Shamsie raises the issues of love, freedom, longing, exile (from a beloved and from a country), what home truly is and of course the most underlined theme of all: xenophobia and what it is to be Muslim in modern times. There is so much going on in the book that I had to stop, hold my breath or sometimes just wait till I finish gasping and then turn the pages once again. Her writing is stunning and more than anything else, she has this quality to speak with you and anyone else through her emotions. Her words are universal. She also makes Antigone accessible but after a while the story of Antigone is merely a skeletal framework while the story of Aneeka, Isma and Parvaiz is what keeps you glued.

“Home Fire” truly deserves a place not only in the long-list for the Man Booker Prize 2017 but also in the short-list and perhaps even the winner. The book makes you see your world for what it is and is most emotional of her works if you ask me. In fact, I think, this is my most favourite of her books. A read which you will not forget.