Tag Archives: August 2017 Reads

Bombay Fever by Sidin Vadukut

51FWR4u6XwL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_-2 Title: Bombay Fever
Author: Sidin Vadukut
Publisher: Simon and Schuster India
ISBN: 978-8193355282
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Horror
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

What are the elements of a good thriller? Pace, pace and more pace is what I would answer if someone asked me such a question. Also, the plot matters and that goes without saying. I like thrillers to be simple and not so complicated. Off-late, every thriller I picked up has had the element of too much happening in it, which kind of ruins the book for me. I like a story to be direct, perhaps even one-dimensional when it comes to this genre and not too complex that I don’t understand what’s going on after a point. It shouldn’t become the Interstellar of novels.

So when a copy of “Bombay Fever” by Sidin Vadukut found its way to be for review, I was a little skeptical to read it. I do not enjoy medical thrillers. I have read a couple of Robin Cooks as we all do when in college but that’s about it. Till I started reading this one and was completely taken in by it. The book starts in Switzerland and in the courtyard of a Hindu temple – a woman collapses in the arms of a visiting Indian journalist, and her body is nothing but blood. The same then continues to happen all over Mumbai – men, women, children, the young and the old die in the same way and no one knows why. It is a deadly disease but that’s all is known about it. What will happen next? Will the city be saved? Will the world be saved? Sidin makes you dig further and also smartly leaves clues all over the place as you turn the pages.

Vadukut’s writing till now has only been in the genre of humor and sarcasm, so maybe that is why I was skeptical to even read this one. Having said that, this book isn’t like any other thriller. I loved the research done by Sidin for this one – there is a lot of medical and historical trivia of the last century which was so essential to the plot. The writing is crisp and doesn’t amble now. The chapters are short (Thank God for small mercies) which is what is most needed when a thriller is being written or according to me one gets bored, if the chapters are too long. Also, what I loved about the book is that the writing is simple. Even the technical terms usage doesn’t impact the writing. Might I add, there is also some humor in the book which is much needed given the seriousness and tension that the book is layered with.

“Bombay Fever” hits the right spots at the right time. It makes you want to turn the pages and the plot twists and characters are all very plausible. At the same time, it is very scary to note that something like that could actually happen. An epidemic is only a reality that Sidin writes of, instilling that strange fear in you at 2 am in the morning as you turn the page.

Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg. Translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak

51oe4dOcMOL Title: Swallowing Mercury
Author: Wioletta Greg
Translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak
Publisher: Portobello Books
ISBN: 9781846276071
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 146
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

How does one describe a book that gave you so much joy as you read it? It has been a while since I read anything like “Swallowing Mercury”. I think this book just made me realize that there is still a lot of hope and faith in the world, though it does have its own set of problems, having hope and faith I mean. Greg’s characters are unique, literally that with their eccentricities, and yet the naivety about them is endearing to make you smile and wish them happiness. “Swallowing Mercury” is that kind of book – it leaves you with a tingling feeling – I don’t have any better way to put it.

This book was read by me as a part of the Women in Translation Month – August 2017. I am so glad that I got to know of this book through this initiative. At the core of the book is Wiola, who lives in a close-knit agricultural community (this by itself is charming. There is a sense of old-world feeling to it which cannot be ignored and that’s the major portion of the book which I love the most. So Wiola also has a black cat named Blackie (you can’t help but love the tongue-in-cheek reference). Her father who deserted the family is back and is now a taxidermist. Her mother is a strange one (but then who isn’t when you come to think of it), who frequently warns her about not entering certain rooms and that one must not kill spiders or there will be storms. Might I also add that all this takes place in Poland.

“Swallowing Mercury” has this fable like quality attached to it. There are also a lot of fables in the book per se as Wiola is a Catholic girl, growing up on them and not to mention, superstitions. Greg’s writing has this feeling of wanting to finish the book (given it is so short anyway) and yet to pick it up immediately after.

The translation from Polish by Eliza Marciniak is beautiful – the book is written in fragments and yet the subtle transition of Wiola from a child to an adolescence is so lucid and more so the background of politics, morality, violence and faith makes it even more intriguing. Trust me when I say that you will not be able to put this book down – there are so many layers to it and more than anything else you get so engaged in the Polish life as a reader that you are almost melancholic as it ends.

101 Haiku by Dinesh Raheja

71CdrcSI0fL Title: 101 Haiku
Author: Dinesh Raheja
Publisher: Om Books
ISBN: 978-9352762781
Genre: Poetry, Haiku
Pages: 94
Source: Author
Rating: 4 Stars

I am not a fan of Haiku. I like poetry but not Haiku so much. But when I read Dinesh Raheja’s 101 Haiku (literally just 101 Haikus handpicked by the author), I fell in love with the minimalistic form of Japanese poetry. There is something soothing about this form, besides it being short. And don’t for once get fooled by its format (written in 5/7/5 syllable count), as it does so much more for the reader. A good Haiku makes you think about it long after you are done reading it. Some of the pieces did that to me. Some did not. But that’s alright because you will not like all pieces anyway.

Dinesh Raheja’s style is very easy-going. It feels that Haiku just comes to him naturally and he doesn’t have to try too hard anyway, which perhaps is the case. Also, there is this gentleness to his Haiku – it doesn’t flow with force, but just ambles along taking in the sights and sounds. Raheja’s Haiku is divided into small sections of animals, God, nature, life, etc and that helps give context to someone who is experiencing Haiku or even poetry for the first time. Some of it is also quite hilarious and relevant to our times.

For instance, Haiku about a goldfish opening a Facebook account or a pigeon on the top of the Empire State Building are funny and yet so profound that you perhaps have to reread them to get the essence. At the same time, there were some Haiku which I didn’t take to but I guess you cannot love them all. Dinesh’s style is easy-going, inspired from life and will leave you with a smile on your face as you go from one Haiku to the other .

The Crooked Line by Ismat Chughtai. Translated from the Urdu by Tahira Naqvi

413WM8yVqeL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_ Title: The Crooked Line (Tehri Lakeer)
Author: Ismat Chughtai
Translated from the Urdu by Tahira Naqvi
Publisher: Feminist Press
ISBN: 978-1558615182
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation, Feminist Literature
Pages: 393
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

When I got to know of Women in Translation month toward the end of July, I knew that Chughtai would have to be one of the authors that I would read. Chughtai is something else. I can never use the past tense for her, because she lives on and on and on through her works no matter how cheesy it might sound to you. I recall the first time I had heard of that name and most people in my college only associated her with “Lihaaf”, her most popular short-story on love between women. But there is a sea of work that Chughtai wrote and while most of it is fairly popular, it isn’t as famous as her short stories. Her novellas, novels and even her memoir, Kagaji Hai Pairahan (loosely translated to a life of words) are stunning. Everything she wrote will go down in history.

My relationship with Chughtai’s works is of fierceness. I always associate the word fierce with her and her heroines. Their inner lives as captured by her remain as probing and mysterious as they were when first published. There is no recipe for emancipation in her books. Her heroines don’t try to break free from their worlds in ways which are extreme, but work around them. I don’t mean this as a good or a bad thing, it is just how things were then, when Ismat Appa was growing and observing the world of women around her.

“Tehri Lakeer” one of Chughtai’s most autobiographical work (translated wondrously by Tahira Naqvi as “The Crooked Line) tells the story of Shamman and her world, the women in her family – from her mother to her sisters and cousins, to her time at a boarding school and experiences there and how she grows into a woman on the brink of India’s independence, at the same time fighting her inner battles. “The Crooked Line” is about Indian women living in purdah (the world Shamman is born and grows into in the first part of the book) – her Amma who is callous enough to let Shamman being taken care of by her sisters. Her Bari Appa (oldest sister) who is a premature widow and uses this to her advantage time and again in the family. Her cousin Noori who very early on understands how to wield power over men. Chughtai’s characters may appear weak and subdued but don’t be fooled. They are strong and yet know when to appear weak.

The world of purdah disappears as Shamman grows up, with its own set of rules and it all comes down to how women control men around them. Shamman, now educated sees herself different from her family and is almost alienated by them. She doesn’t even understand her place in the modern world and is somewhat stuck in a limbo. Ismat Chughtai’s characters are also known to traverse paths of identity confusion more often than not. Be it Masooma (from the novel of the same name) or even Bichchoo Phoophee, they are always stuck, always searching and breaking paradigms in their small ways. Shamman does the same and is seeing the world change drastically – be it through her friend Alma, who has a child out of wedlock and is unable to love it fully or abort it – or through Bilqees, the femme fatale who uses men and is always surrounded by them, without knowing if she loves them or is just using them.

This is also a constant in the book – women who are neither here nor there. Women who were in purdah had no control and women who have the freedom don’t know what to make of it. In all of this is Shamman’s role as a headmistress (which reminded me so much of the Brontë sisters) and her relationship with the gossiping colleagues to her own sexuality as and when it blossoms, Chughtai’s feminism is not contained or a listicle of sorts. It is the kind of feminism that questions and makes you very uncomfortable while asking those questions. She isn’t apologetic and neither are her characters. Tahira Naqvi’s translation from the Urdu is top-notch as she keeps all phrases and words intact, where they should be. There is also a glossary behind for those who might need to refer it. This was perhaps the last Chugtai book that I had left to read. Knowing me though, I will go back to her works, almost every year. She was truly a woman of gumption and it reflected in her writing all the way. Read her. Breathe her works. And I would be very envious of you, if you haven’t read her at all, because there is so much there for you to read and adore.

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables by David Bellos

Title: The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables
Author: David Bellos
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374223236
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books about Books, Literary Criticism
Pages: 307
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

41aWIV8ySAL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

I love books about books. There is something magical about them that cannot be ignored, say what you will. Books talking about books is almost surreal – not even meta, it is just something that makes you want to pick up the books that are being spoken about and reread them or read them if you haven’t already. This is what happened to me when I finished reading “The Novel of the Century” by David Bellos.

This book is about Les Misérables and how it came to be. I remember watching Les Misérables – the movie when it released (the one starring Anne Hathaway) and crying. I couldn’t get enough of it and surprisingly I hadn’t read the book. I had to change that. I did read the book soon after and was mesmerised by it. I mean the characters – Inspector Jarvet, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette and even the minor ones that play such an important role in this book of power, politics and love. I can see how it came to one of the greatest novels of the 19th century or the greatest, I think.

David Bellos takes a leap and writes about this book. How did it come to me? Why was it written? What was Victor Hugo thinking when he wrote this? How did he come about such characters? What Bellos also does is explain why this novel fascinates us (most of us at least) and how it places itself so beautifully in the modern context. To me, that was the most favourite parts in the book.

Bellos’ research is spot on. I was reading a lot about the book and the times in which it was set while reading The Novel of the Century and that to me is the best thing an author can do to you while he is writing about another book. The writing then is truly powerful. This is also not a biography of Victor Hugo but of course it has to trace his life briefly and how he came to write Les Mis. The angle of prostitution in those times, religion playing such a major role and also just how women survived is fascinating when Bellos brings it to the fore.

“The Novel of the Century” isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. It is for people who love Les Misérables or perhaps want to really read it sometime in the future. Having said that, I couldn’t get enough of Bellos’s writing – crisp, to the point and very meticulous with his research. At times, I almost felt like I was watching the movie or reading the book again. The characters I went back to welcomed me back and I for one felt so nice meeting them after all these years. A book for book lovers and of course of the classic as well.