Tag Archives: french

Little Culinary Triumphs by Pascale Pujol. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson.

Little Culinary Triumphs Title: Little Culinary Triumphs
Author: Pascale Pujol
Translated from the French by Alison Anderson
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454906
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Little Culinary Triumphs is a book that will delight you. It is funny, and will leave you with the feeling of wanting to get up and hug someone. At least, I felt that way at the end of it. It is a whimsical book, it is also profound at times (rarely though), all in all it is the perfect book to be read when feeling down and about.

The story takes place in Montmartre – multi-ethnic neighbourhood, where cultures meet, mingle, and sometimes collide as well. It is the place perfect for the senses – all of them actually, but more so when it comes to the taste buds. Sandrine, one of the central characters, works in an employment office, helping people find jobs. Under this surface is a world-class cook waiting to blossom and realize her dream of opening a restaurant. A bunch of weird and eccentric characters come together, thanks to Sandrine to open the restaurant – Antoine, an unemployed professor; the giant Senegalese, a magical chef, a psychologist, and a Kama Sutra expert as well. In all of this, is a newspaper magnate, upto no good at all.

Pujol’s prose is hilarious. It sneaks up quite cleverly on you. Till I reached page 75, I was of the opinion that this book isn’t going anywhere at all. I was proved so wrong after that and I am so glad I was. The writing is crisp, delicious, and leaves you with this aftertaste that I just cannot describe. Yes, I used food adjectives, but that’s what the book is all about anyway – food, food, and more food.

I am a fan of Alison Anderson’s translations. From Muriel Barbery to J.M.G. Le Clézio, her translations are spot-on. It is as though she gets the pulse of the original to the very last detail and as a reader, I am never left wanting more or wondering how it would’ve read in the original language. Little Culinary Triumphs is a novel that will make you laugh, chuckle, and understand a minuscule bubble of a universe of oddballs, who eventually grow to understand and sometimes even like each other.



Book Review: Penguin Island by Anatole France

Title: Penguin Island
Author: Anatole France
Publisher: Enlighten Publishing
ISBN: 978-8192378206
Genre: Fiction, Satire
Pages: 234
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Penguin Island by Anatole France is a strange book so to say or that’s what I thought when I first started reading it. It is probably nothing like I have ever read before and maybe that is why I did not have a reference point to compare it with, which in a way was the best way to read this book.

So let me straight get to the plot: A monk discovers a previously unknown island. He is half-deaf and half-blind because of age. He cannot see the people clearly (or so he assumes them to be people). He wants to create a world out of this island and ends up performing a mass baptism, only to realize later that the baptism has been carried out on Penguins.

What begins is the creation of Penguin Island. They start living as humans. They develop laws, communities, dress, and ways to cohabit and procreate. They create their saints and their demons. It is almost like The History of Penguins being written by accident. The book for sure is funny, but at the root of it, it is sarcastic, satirical and mocks the times we live in. What happens at the end is quite unusual and will literally leave the reader surprised. That is the crux of the book, which I found most appealing.

The book moves through just about everything on Penguin Island – vices, scams, false accusations, politics, the usual goings-on of the so-called society. Anatole writes with a rhythm that does not leave any societal construct unmasked.
The satire bites where it is supposed to. The writing is blunt and not sugar-coated.

I only wish I knew a little more about world politics, more so Europe as this book indirectly addresses those issues. It is surprising how a book written in almost 1900’s can still be so relevant today. May be the world hasn’t moved on as fast as we have thought it to be.

I liked the writing. I liked the book. I wish that there was more meat at times, connecting the world of Penguins to the incidents that have taken place in ours, just for the overall perspective. Barring that I enjoyed reading this one. It made me think and at the same time it made me laugh out loud in most places. A great read that I will recommend but only if your sensibilities are driven in that direction.

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The Arabs by Eugene Rogan

Eugene Rogan’s magisterial, though idiosyncratically selective, “The Arabs: A History” is a dense but worthwhile and illuminating read. Rogan, who spent his childhood in Beirut and Cairo, teaches at Oxford and is Director of the University’s Middle East Centre. He is a former student of Albert Hourani, whose seminal “History of the Arab Peoples,” published in 1993, this book successfully complements.

“The Arabs” is densely packed with facts and dates. It is a plum pudding of a book rather than a crème brulee; it took me about fifty percent longer to read than most books of comparable length. It is not, however, in any way tedious. The narrative has strong forward momentum and is organized (unlike Churchill’s celebrated Savoy pudding) around clear themes. While Rogan writes with a deadpan seriousness, he also enlivens his history with anecdotes (such as the story of the exasperated Algerian Pasha who could not resist striking the French Consul with his fly switch during a heated debate in 1827) and with quotations from contemporary diaries and memoirs. We thus hear directly from the likes of Budhari al Hallaq, an eighteenth century Damascus barber, Rifa’a al-Taktawi, an Egyptian imam who visited Paris in the early nineteenth century and was appalled to observe that “men are slaves to women here…whether they are pretty or not,” and Leila Khaled, a female Palestinian terrorist of the late 1960s.

Rogan begins his history in 1516 (the first example of his selectiveness), with the Ottoman conquest. He then divides Arab history into several phases: the Ottoman reign, the period of Western Colonial intervention, Arab Nationalism, the Cold War, the Rise of Oil, the emergence of Islamism, and the War on Terror. For the Arabs, Rogan observes, history has been one continuous “cycle of subordination to other people’s rules.” The colonial powers’ carve-up of the Arab map into ill-fitting states (especially the Jewish one) has had lasting consequences that will be difficult to untangle. This is his main theme, though he does recognize that “corrupt and authoritarian” indigenous regimes also play a role and that at some point Arabs need to assume greater responsibility for their own destiny if they are to overcome what Samir Kassir, the murdered Lebanese journalist, diagnosed as the “Arab malaise.”

Rogan is not merely selective in the period that he chooses to cover (two thirds of his book focuses on the twentieth century), he also dwells almost entirely on political and military history. There is little sociological exposition of who the “Arabs” are – what, for example, other than Islam and language, have Algerians in common with Syrians; there is little discussion of Arab society, the schism between Sunni and Shia, or indeed the nature of the tribal loyalties that we have witnessed in the recent conflicts in Iraq. The coverage of Saudi Arabia – surely a major factor not only in the region but in the world – is quite perfunctory as is that of Iran, which while not an Arab nation, is a major player – as much as some of the despised Western powers – in the region’s military and political balance and also demonstrates a prototype of the type of Islamic State which would likely appear, as Rogan asserts, if free and fair elections were held today. He does not extrapolate either on how his adverse cycle might be extended by the putative (or Putinative) resurgence of Russia, the emerging geopolitical projection of China, or even, possibly, of Turkey which is slowly re-engaging on the scene.

Does Rogan have an axe to grind? A critical examiner might argue that the tone of disapproval he applies to Israel and the United States (at least pre-Obama) is stronger than that which he directs at Arab strongmen and Palestinian terrorists (or “fighters” as he generally calls them), or that his distaste for British and French colonialism stands in contrast to his mild nostalgia for the Ottoman empire, but this is surely no partisan polemic. Rogan’s book is strongly fact-based, and he provides the reader with ample material and perspective from which to form his or her own judgment. It is part of his mission to explain the Arab point of view and he does this while upholding his professional objectivity.

If Rogan strikes any wrong note, it is surely in his conclusion. He claims to see grounds for hope, the “very beginnings of a virtuous circle.” This optimism is hardly supported by his portrait of precarious authoritarian regimes holding down the lid on latent Islamist takeovers, with outside powers continuing to toss banana skins into the mix and the Arabs themselves still subject to a sort of Al Sod’s law in their own efforts (witness the disaster of Dubai World). Nor is it consistent with his comment in his Introduction (admittedly some 500 pages previously) that “the Arab World views the future with growing pessimism.” This is especially true if one defines the goal, as Rogan does in his Epilogue, as “human rights and accountable government, security and economic growth.” Ha!

Arabs, The; Rogan, Eugene; Allan Lane; Penguin Press; £30.00

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

To begin with I have one thing to say about this big: It is huge. Mammoth – just like A Suitable Boy, The Stand, It and Ulysses. At over 900 odd pages, I thought I would never be able to finish the book and yet when I started reading it I was glued. I have always loved reading Follett’s works (except for Night Over Water) and they are fast-paced for sure and so was this one. However, the historical fiction angle to this book is huge and though the book is long – there is not a single sentence which is irrelevant. Size does not matter when there is an enthralling story brewing to be told. I was up most nights reading this one and not for once did I feel that my time was being wasted.

The plot is not as simple as it seems: The story moves logically and seamlessly starting in 1911 and ending in 1925. The large canvas of characters are sweeping and each one has its place in tact. No one is out of place. Their motivations are known – no matter how minor the character and he or she fits hand in glove to the story.

So book I of the trilogy (yes there are two more to come titled “Century Trilogy” and I for one cannot wait) is set in Europe before, during and after WW1. The 5 families who lives are intertwined are American, English, Scottish, German and Russian. What made me love the book even more was that it was set in a time and place I was completely unaware about. The kings, the queens, the dukes and duchesses, the coal miners, the working class – their lives and how they thought. Ideas about politics, love, family traditions, comunities and class distinctions, women suffrage and how they thought in those times intrigued me to the core.  This period of time encompasses the First World War. The period of late the Victorian Age was a time when society was rigid with “manners”. The upper classes new their place and weren’t shy about letting everyone else know their place as well. If the code of conduct was firmly set for the upper classes and royalty, so was it set for the lower classes as well! If you were a member of the “working” class you knew who your “betters” were and behaved accordingly. Life was hard and took its toll on the masses. Follett does a masterful job at describing the world as it existed at that time and he spends a good deal of time examining the class struggle which went on in much of Europe during this time.

The story is intriguing and complex, but eminently readable. The violence and gore that were present in Follett’s previous works is absent here, and the action is fast and the storytelling fantastic. I have a fondness for historical fiction, and this work does not disappoint as the author has obviously thoroughly researched the era and has rendered it beautifully.

I won’t provide a detailed synopsis of this book since the product description on this page does that, but will say that it’s a drama about life and love during these fateful years and I promise you that this will go down as being one of the best books you’ve ever read.

I cannot recommend it highly enough and can’t wait for the sequel! This book, however, has a very satisfying conclusion and can stand alone as you are not left with unanswered questions at the end! Historical fiction at its best.

Here is a book trailer for you of the book:

Fall of Giants; Follett, Ken; Macmillan India; Rs. 350