Tag Archives: freedom

Book Review: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate Title: The One and Only Ivan
Author: Katherine Applegate
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780007455331
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 252
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Off-late I had stopped reading Young Adult novels or anything close to in that genre or even children’s books for that matter. I did not find anything new in them. They were either set in magical worlds or in this world with fantastical creatures. Till I ended up reading, “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate.

The book is for young adult and is based on a true story of a gorilla named Ivan. For me, the book did a lot. Perhaps books that you need do come into your life only at that time. There is no other way to this so-called selection – when books find you and want to be read by you.

“The One and Only Ivan” is about Ivan – a gorilla who has lived in a cage for almost twenty seven years of his life. He has had Bob – a dog for company and Stella – an aging elephant. Ivan is a silverback gorilla – the kind who has to protect his tribe and family and here he is in a circus mall on the highway on Exit 8. He is a gorilla who paints – finger paints at that and those paintings sell. He watches television in his cage. There is nothing else to do anyway.

Ivan is close to George the cleaner and his daughter Julia. Mack is the owner of this theme based mall. He is the man in-charge. Life goes on as usual. Till one day, Ruby, a young elephant makes an entry. Circumstances lead to Ivan making a promise – that of saving Ruby’s life. Of setting her free, of not making her become another addition to the mall, which becomes the mission of his life. That is when the story takes off.

The reader learns about how Ivan came to be here and about his life. There is Ruby’s life thrown in and so is Stella’s. I liked the story because it rang true. It is based on a true story. There are characters which are thrown in for effect, but the story is that of Ivan’s. Towards the end, I felt that Applegate was rushing with the story; however, given the plot and the structure, I let that pass. To me, “The One and Only Ivan” was a book which is sweet, full of life, hope, a great and unique friendship and above all about freedom, which we sometimes take too much for granted and need to learn its value. A read for times when you have given up on all hope.

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Book Review: Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie

Title: Joseph Anton: A Memoir
Author: Salman Rushdie
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House
ISBN: 978-0-224-09397-2
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 633
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

So I have a confession to make: I have not been able to complete a single Rushdie novel, except for Haroun and the Sea of Stories and I am not ashamed of it, only because I have tried reading his works time and again. I haven’t been able to cross the hundredth page. That is the relationship I share with Salman Rushdie’s books.

I started reading, “Joseph Anton”, his memoir about a week ago and I have read it twice since then. Strange, I thought, to myself: I cannot read the man’s fictional works but can breeze through this memoir and that too twice. What was different about it? Why did I read it twice and enjoy it more so the second time?

“Joseph Anton” is not just about a man who was in hiding from another man’s followers who were determined to hunt him down (as though he was an animal) and kill him, because of what he had written in his book (which the perpetrators hadn’t even read and never would). The fatwa on Salman Rushdie was issued on the 14th of February 1989 – Valentine’s Day (irony much) and since then he was forced underground – moving from house to house, with the presence of armed forces – they were his shadow.

An author who always believed in free speech and grew up with that philosophy in Bombay, with liberal parents (who later for some reason did not share liberal views), saw the world differently when the fatwa was issued. Things began to change. So did people – either for better or for worse, but they did.

The book, “Joseph Anton” is the most human that I have read this year. Salman Rushdie is angry and is hurt and hides no emotions. He is honest to the core – about his marriages, his children and his writing. The incidents and events that took place sometimes and were related to the book were horrifying – for instance, the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was murdered. The Norwegian publisher was shot. He could not attend his mother’s funeral. He wasn’t there with her when she passed on and that for me hit the chord somewhere. That is probably the worst that could happen to a person and Rushdie isn’t shy from talking about his deepest emotions. What ran through my mind though while reading the book was just this: Is there really a true freedom of speech and writing?

“Joseph Anton” asks a lot of questions. It makes the readers think and the best part according to me about the book was the way it was written in third person. It is almost like Rushdie is taking count of his life (which it is in a way) and not being subjective in his style.

The book clearly depicts the powerlessness of the heads of states of various countries and how often politics was above the written word or the author. Amidst all this, Rushdie tried very hard to have a normal life – marry, raise children and write some more. He could never stop doing that after all. I remember at one point, he mentions that for once he thought he would have been someone else but a writer and then banished the thought as soon as it entered his head.

There is nothing which I did not like about the book. Everything worked for me. From the way he writes about every book he has written and its structure and story to the moments of glory and the moments of anguish – they are visible through his brilliant writing.

The title of the book is taken from his name that he used when he was in hiding, so one could recognize him – a combination of two of his favourite writers Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov – hence Joseph Anton.

For me, “Joseph Anton” is all about courage and resilience. It is about writing, the process, the wonder and the anguish it sometimes brings to the writer and his or her readers. It is clearly a fight – where more authors are being put to task for writing and viewing their feelings, their thoughts and emotions. The sad part being that no one can do anything about the consequences sometimes, though someone should. The writer’s voice is his only liberty – that is my sum of “Joseph Anton”. A riveting read for all. I cannot recommend it enough. All of its six hundred and thirty three pages.

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Book Review – Philida by Andre Brink

Title: Philida
Author: Andre Brink
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House
ISBN: 978-1846557040
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Rating: 5/5

I am always a little wary when I pick up a long-listed or a short-listed Booker title to read. It somehow conjures the image of some heavy-duty reading and while that is true for most books, it also sometimes happens that I tend to enjoy the particular read a lot. The same happened with, “Philida” by Andre Brink that has been long-listed for this year’s Booker.

A lot has been written about the condition of slavery. From Toni Morrison to Flannery O’Connor to Eudora Welty, all have touched on the topic and eloquently so through their stories and novels. Philida also revolves around the same theme.

Philida is about Philida, a slave in South Africa in the 1830s, when slavery was about to be abolished. She is the mother of four children; fathered by Francois Brink, the son of her master (I was not even surprised when I read this). The year is 1832. The Cape is ridden with rumours of the liberation of slaves. Philida decides to file a complaint against Francois who had promised to free her, but has not. From there on her life changes beyond recognition.

The novel also is told in third person, but goes back and forth in first-person narratives as well – that of Philida’s, Frans (Francois), Cornelius (her master), and Petronella. It is a bit difficult to read the book initially, but once you get the drift of the narrative, it becomes relatively easy.

The reason the book seems so real is because it actually happened. Andre Brink is the descendant of said slave owners and while dramatic license has been taken in writing fiction, some of the characters in the novel actually existed at one point. For me, this information alone was enough to thoroughly enjoy the writing.

The writing takes its own sweet time for any reader to get his or her teeth into it, but once they do, there is no keeping it, till you finish it. The novel pitches different narratives and it is yet very-well written. A novel about slavery and a woman’s need to set herself free is quite predictable, but like I said, it is the writing which makes it what it is.

“Philida” is a read which is not easy and at the same time, the realities of slavery and the road to its abolishment are cleverly brought to front. The concept of master-slave and courage as opposed to cowardice is clearly seen in the book. I would recommend it for sure and hope it makes it to the short-list of the Booker this year.

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Book Review: A Free Man by Aman Sethi

Title: A Free Man
Author: Aman Sethi
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 9788184001532
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 226
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

A Free Man by Aman Sethi is an unusual book. It took me a long time to get to reading the book and while I was reading it, to actually be taken in by the writing. Books sometimes tend to get that way – they will only be read when they are ready for you. The reader cannot force himself to read a book. There has to be the right time and that was the case with me while reading this one. For that time I overlooked the fact that this was the writer’s first book (normally I get sceptical), and continued reading, till the book marvelled me at some point and it did.

A Free Man is about a man named Mohammed Ashraf – an orphan and is spread across four parts – Azadi (Freedom), Akelapan (Loneliness), Lawaris (Orphan) and Ajnabi (Stranger), which clearly define the essence of the book and string it together. Ashraf has done almost everything – from learning biology to repair television sets to slice chicken. He has lived in different pockets of the country – Hyderabad, Bombay, Calcutta, Surat, and Patna. He has done all that he has wanted to. He is now a construction worker at Delhi’s Bara Tooti Chowk in Sadar Baazar. After a stoned night, he only has questions: Why is he the way he is? How does he make a living? Where does he hang-out and is there ever a way back home?

Aman Sethi is the interviewer and Ashraf is the interviewee and theirs is a wonderful relationship that unravels itself as the book continues. Over alcohol, tea and smoking weed together; Ashraf tells Sethi his life story. I enjoyed the style in which the book is written – Sethi does not mince his words nor does he try and hide anything. The book is in all clarity – defining the politics (and to some extent corruption) of the nation and what it feels like to work here. Sethi also interviews Ashraf’s friends and there are different perspectives there – of the small compromises of life, the struggle and what it is to be human.

As Ashraf puts it quite eloquently, ‘The ideal job,’ Ashraf once said, as if elucidating a complex mathematical function, ‘has the perfect balance of kamai and azadi’….’Kamai is what makes work work. Without kamai, it is not work, it is a hobby.’….’Azadi Aman bhai, Azadi,’ ….’Azadi is the freedom to tell the maalik to fuck off when you want to. The maalik owns our work. He does not own us.’

The above idea and thought beautifully sums up the book. Sethi brings out what we choose to ignore most of the time. Sections of the so-called society that we do not think exist are brought to surface with the hard-hitting reality of how things are with that much-needed dash of humour to ease everything and make it more palatable for the reader.


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This Is Not That Dawn by Yashpal

 

Jhootha Sach was serialized almost 50 years ago, by the most popular Hindi magazine then, called Dharmyug. The effect it had was huge: People looked forward eagerly for the next installment. Much of the Hindi reading populace of the country had for the first time read an authentic and humane narration of life in Lahore and the trauma of the exodus that had struck Punjab. The author, till then better known as a revolutionary and a writer, instantly carved a niche for him among literary giants.

Today, for those of us who are aware of the trauma that the partition of the country inflicted upon them or their grandparents or their parents for that matter, Yashpal’s Jhootha Sach, christened as “This is not that Dawn” in its English avatar, is not just a novel dealing with the cataclysmic event. It is rich in its writing and vision – it takes you to the same places with a new perspective. This, according to me is the only definitive fictitious account of the Partition and its aftermath.

I still remember as a child watching Buniyaad – a serial about the partition and wondering: Is this what my grandparents went through? My Nani (maternal grandmother) used to tell me endless tales of the life she led before Partition and it almost seemed unreal to me. Her world was cut into two – Pre and Post Partition and she like many countless humans would live like this. We tend to take everything for granted, well almost, including freedom. Our right to express and our right to do what we wish to. It is almost like we have no value for it, and may be we don’t. Our grandparents would think differently though.

It is not easy for me to chronicle a huge masterpiece such as this into a single review of close to a 1000 words even – considering the book is close to 1119 pages long, and not once did I get bored reading it.

Jhootha Sach narrates the events of Partition through the lives of the people who suffered a thousand deaths before they were actually torn away from their motherland to become sharnarthis (refugees). The story of their transformation from sharnarthis to purusharthis in the second volume is equally riveting, more so because the author, like his characters, is hard-pressed to provide some moral moorings to an increasingly amoral society in the new nation. It does not place a judgmental value to decisions made in those times – probably because they did not seem best in such a situation, nor does it try to evoke feelings of any volatile nature. What it does best is present the truth.

Jhootha Sach is a huge canvas that needed not only large brushes with huge strokes but also the delicate handling of a watercolour artist. It is a sad movie that runs into reels and the one that you so riveting that you don’t want it to end.

Thus, he deals with the politics of Partition wherein the dubious role of the much-lauded Khizir Hyat government and the British bureaucracy in Punjab is exposed as also deftly examining the socio-economic composition that gave birth to inequities and consequently the need felt by Muslims to have Pakistan. As Pakistan begins to emerge as a distinct reality, many of the Hindus remain baffled, clutching at straws of hope, arguing that since 80 per cent of the property of Lahore was held by Hindus and the vast majority of the industrial workers in Amritsar, Jalandar and Ludhiana were Muslims, the creation of Pakistan was an unrealistic goal.

Yashpal breathed life not only in the characters of Bhola Pandhe’s Gali but also brought alive a life, where the neighbours demonstrate their solidarity and concern in matters of both life and death. The first part of the novel, Homeland and Nation, narrates the lives, hopes and fears of the characters in the shadow of the powerful tempest that was about to strike and when it does overwhelm Lahore and the rest of the Punjab, it fathoms the pits of degeneration and depravity that mankind descends.

This is Not That Dawn; Yashpal; Penguin Modern Classics; Penguin India; Rs. 599