Tag Archives: harper

Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur

Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur Title: Heart Spring Mountain
Author: Robin MacArthur
Publisher: Ecco
ISBN: 978-0062444424
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

What is home and what does it mean to you? For the longest time, I have asked myself these questions and gotten nowhere with knowing the answer. Maybe I don’t want to anymore. The idea of home if ever, is just people and memories, I suppose. The place you perhaps can go back to every time you feel out and down in the big, bad world. Isn’t that home?

“Heart Spring Mountain” is to be read with all this in mind but at the same time, it demands to be read without judgment. Robin MacArthur’s book is full of sub-plots and characters that are easy to judge and bracket and yet we forget – the terrain of the human heart is constantly changing. There is no room forjudgment​t. It is what it is.

August 2011. Tropical Storm Irene has wreaked havoc on Vermont. Vale receives a call in New Orleans about her mother Bonnie’s disappearance. Vale has long been estranged from Bonnie and yet decides to go home in search of her. Vale then rediscovers herself and the relationships she ran away from – the three generations of women who live on Heart Spring Mountain – the land that belonged to her forefather, leading her to a secret that she could never think of.

So here’s the deal with Heart Spring Mountain: You might get confused initially, given multiple narratives (that happens to me quite a lot) but once you do manage to sink your teeth into the book (which will happen very soon given the prose of MacArthur that shines and breathes life on almost every page), reading this book is a joyride.

While Vale is one of the central characters, and I hoped to have read more of her, I nonetheless enjoyed the different narratives and how lives merge at the end of it all. The pull of the land is strong on this book and to me it is all about the stories – where we grow up, the same place where we depart from and how it all comes back together in some way or another – we then learn to find our way back.
“Heart Spring Mountain” is emotional. It isn’t sentimental. MacArthur captures the rural lay of the land stunningly and adds so many moments of joy and tenderness that everything seems right with the world. It is also quite hard to imagine that it is a debut. Read it one Sunday afternoon and be mesmerized.

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Interview with Karan Mahajan

Few books enter your soul and manage to shake and stir it. Those books remain with you, no matter what. “The Association of Small Bombs” by Karan Mahajan has been one such book for me this year. I am dazzled by it and will remain so for a long time to come.

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I was excited to get a chance to be able to interview Karan and here is the interview. The review to the book is here. Please do read the book. It is beyond super.

Keeping in mind the title of your book, why are small attacks not remembered? Why do you think they erase themselves so quickly from memory? What are in fact, small attacks through small bombs?

They’re not remembered because we have a limited bandwidth for tragedies that involve others. Modern India is a feast of tragedies. It’s not surprising that the smaller bombings are covered for a couple of days and than overridden by larger fires, train collisions, scandals, terrorist attacks.

The book is all about people who are affected by a small attack or lead to a small attack’s occurrence. How did the story come about? I know it is a rather cliché question, but we sure would like to know.

All good novels come from a mysterious emotional source. I must have felt, at the time when I started writing the book, all the way back in 2009, that my personal experience resonated with the pain felt by the parents, the Khuranas, in the opening of the book. I remembered the Lajpat Nagar bomb vaguely from my childhood but it came rushing back to me with a great violence soon after the 26/11 attacks. In a way, it was a sort of gift—a negative gift. Suddenly I had this thing—this world at my disposal. I spent the next five years figuring out what it was trying to say to me.

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You bring out the real and human and very insipid daily acts of terrorists in the book. Why did you do that? Did you want to show them as more human than they really are? Do we in our need to objectify confuse humaneness with just being a human being?

I like the word “insipid” in this context! Basically, I wished to erode the negative glamor around terrorism. I wanted to say: these are the banal steps that lead to a bombing. Don’t be in the thrall of these figures: they are often bumbling, sad, confused. That said, I don’t downplay the evil of terrorists. Their actions are inexcusable. But it’s possible to be evil and petty at once, or to be evil and stupid. It’s our collective imagination that transforms terrorists into these god-like masterminds.

I was most taken in by the family that disintegrates because of the terror attack. Were they always dysfunctional? Were the cracks always there but never seen?

Yes, the family was always dysfunctional, in my mind. Vikas Khurana has never resigned himself to the bourgeois trappings of his life—his extended family, his kids, his wife—though that is his life. He sees himself as an artist primarily, but the lie of that premise is already showing through when the novel starts. The bomb widens that gap. Deepa and the kids live in a stalemate alongside Vikas’s brooding. We tend to believe that the best parts of people can emerge during a tragedy but I wanted to show how the worst parts can come out too.


What were your favourite books growing up? Did they have any impact on “The Association of Small Bombs”?

I’m sure they did have an impact. “Growing up” isn’t quite the right place to look—I’m sure reading PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie affected my prose style, but I don’t think they’ve had a bearing on other aspects of my sensibility. I think Naipaul, Narayan, Hemingway, Bellow, Conrad, Ozick, some of (Arundhati) Roy, Philip Roth, Yashpal, Rushdie—these have loomed larger as influences. I tend to find Naipaul a bit chilly for my tastes, but I love the speed of “Half A Life.” It’s a book with an actual narrative—which a book like “A Bend In The River” lacks (with every year it seems more like an academic text than a novel to me). I connect with RK Narayan’s humanistic humor—particularly in books like “The Vendor of Sweets” and “The Painter of Signs.” Conrad’s “The Secret Agent” is brilliant, but again, quite sluggish to read. I took some of his world-weariness but threw away the odd sensation that the narrative isn’t moving forward. I aspire to the loose, conversational style of Bellow. I don’t like it when writers lyrically sermonize from a mount. The key is to be intelligent, direct, musical, conversational—and to appear to do so without effort.

There are a lot of observations throughout the novel – either first person or third person based. Sometimes from a vantage point and others in close quarters. How do you bring that in your writing?

Instinctively. There are some moments that require a zoom lens and others that require an aerial view. Let’s take grief. We can obviously empathize with a couple that has lost two kids in an attack. So there’s no need to remain yoked to their perspective the entire time. It might be more interesting to view the social context around their grief or even the strange ways in which their moods shift. I guess POV is a way of deciding what’s interesting in a moment and going boldly toward it.

Male friendships are a major part of the book. Why do you think they needed to be there? Any specific reason?

Terrorist groups, religious groups—these tend to be crowded with men and divided by sex. Religious individuals are often uncomfortable with people of the opposite sex—it’s the job of religion to divide the sexes. So showing male friendships in all their complexities was necessary.

How is your writing schedule like?

I write best in the mornings and I tend to research or write non-fiction in the afternoons.


How is Karan the reader and the writer? Do you get critical when reading?

Being a writer has ruined reading fiction for me. I can only focus on fiction when it seems it might feed my work, which is unfortunate: a lot of great books have fallen by the wayside. But I find it easy to get lost in non-fiction and films: these are the two mediums I enjoy the most. And yes: I hate the critical part of my brain when I read. To open my own novels is to experience tremendous pain. I know exactly how I would have rewritten or improved every sentence. I have no choice but to close my eyes and live with a million imperfections.

So this was the very erudite Karan Mahajan on his book “The Association of Small Bombs”. It is definitely the read of the year.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Title: We Should All Be Feminists
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: 4th Estate
ISBN: 978-0008115272
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essay,
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

We are conditioned when we are kids. Everything that becomes a part of us is because of our childhood and it is these core ideas and values that are difficult to let go off. No matter what you do, they remain with you, for almost your entire life. Genders, sexuality, equality, respect, dignity then just don’t remain words – they manifest and come alive. These are words that hold so much meaning – they did as we were growing up and more so now. When there is no gender equality, and you have it easy by the virtue of just being a man, then you will not know what the woman feels or what women go through in general. Only because you have not faced it.

Honestly, I was of the opinion earlier that there are a lot of “armchair feminists” doing the rounds online and offline, but I think that what Adichie says in this short book – an essay of forty eight pages makes so much sense – yes everyone should be a feminist, because it is much needed.

Adichie’s essay in the form of a slim book “We should all be Feminists” is a primer to have with everyone. Everyone must read and try and follow whatever they can from it. Adichie speaks of what feminism means today and that is the thread of the entire essay.

She speaks of the blatant discrimination in the Nigerian society and while reading it, you can sense that it is the same worldwide. How women get paid lesser, how they are told to serve men, how a woman is conditioned to be a wife and a mother and a man, the householder so to say. Adichie from her life anecdotes and of others’ makes pertinent points when it comes to a world that is clearly biased.

I have often heard people who are uncomfortable with the word “feminism” and this book also touches on that. Adichie with her wry wit goes on to explain how we need words such as “feminist” or “feminism” till the time there is gender discrimination. I am completely in awe of her ideas and I honestly believe that it will take all of us to make a change happen. Let people speak. Let both women and speak about issues and rights. It is time that it becomes a collective battle and not just one versus the other, because it was never like this.

To end this review, all I can say is that everyone must also read this book, whether the majority part of the society or minority. We also need more books such as these – free-thinking people who present ideas in linear and lucid ways to help us understand what the cracks in cultures are and just how we can actually save ourselves from ruin.

The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers

The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers Title: The Way Back Home
Author: Oliver Jeffers
Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780007182329
Genre: Children’s Books
Pages: 32
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Reading an Oliver Jeffers book is a treat, for both children and adults. I love them. His stories comfort me. The illustrations make me happy and mostly if any sort of art form can do that, then it is meant for you.

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A boy like any other boy finds an airplane and decides to fly. He flies higher and higher and higher till he is space and runs out of fuel. What happens then? He lands on the moon and it is dark and lonely on the moon and he cannot think of a way of getting back home.

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In all of this he meets another one who is lost on the moon just like him – it turns out to be a Young Martian. The Martian is apprehensive of the boy initially and so is the boy of the Martian.

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The story unfolds as they trust each other and eventually find a way back home.

The book is a children’s book – that’s for sure, but at the same time, it is quite an insight into us when faced with a stranger. It is about our fears and how perhaps as a child it is easier to accept everyone than as an adult.

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“The Way Back Home” is a book which will be cherished by all. It is simple and it makes you think about the world we live in which is full of racism, xenophobia, and fear. I write this review while listening to “Imagine” by John Lennon and I hope that the world is different for generations to come. For now, we will read books like these by Oliver Jeffers.

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Book Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Title: Beautiful Ruins
Author: Jess Walter
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 9780061928123
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 337
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

“Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter is a story set in simple times and may be that is why I was so taken in by it. I had not read the earlier successful book by Jess Walter, “The Financial Lives of the Poets”. I have heard a lot about it and will read it now after having experienced his style of writing. Beautiful Ruins is set in most places – coast of Italy, Rome, Hollywood, Idaho, and in England and Scotland, and that’s why I loved this book so much. The fact that Walter can take the reader to so many places is stupendous and shows his skill as a writer.

The “beautiful ruins” of this novel is its physical setting; a tiny coastal village in Italy called Porto Vergogna (ironically translated as Port Shame). Here we are introduced to a young man named Pasquel, whose family owns the only hotel in town. He is determined to attract more tourists to this village and thereby improve the conditions of his hotel which he names The Hotel Adequate View. The book starts in 1962 when a young beautiful actress named Dee Moray arrives to stay at the hotel (earlier only one American had visited the hotel – Alvis Bender, a writer who only could not seem to write) and but obviously everything changes and the change occurs when Pasquel falls in love with Dee. The starlet one fine day leaves the island and Pasquel is left heartbroken but not without a mission. That is one part of the story.

The second part of the story is the “recent present” where Pasquel arrives in Hollywood to find out what happened to Dee. The quest to find her leads him to other people who were affected by the single act of her coming to the island in 1962. This is where we meet other characters: Michael Deane, the aging producer, Claire, Deane’s assistant whose idealism is slipping by slowly, and Shane, the talent-challenged writer, who help Pasquel in his search. The surprise element in the book is Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. (Almost like a starred appearance)

The book alternates between 1962 and the present beautifully in the form of letters, character sketches, lives lived, old letters, novel excerpts and movie pitches. There is a lot going on in the book and the reader has to get used to that (which can be very difficult) before falling in love with the writing. Beautiful Ruins as a title is most symbolic of what was once beautiful is in ruins and all things beautiful eventually turn to ruins. The slippage in time is symbolic of this fact.

“Beautiful Ruins” is a beautifully composed, philosophically written and highly entertaining novel. It can get a bit dragging at times but at the end of it all, it is so worth-it, once the reader knows the pace is picking up and going somewhere. There are private losses and gains in the book. Each character is beautifully etched and his or her own story to tell and how he or she is connected to the others. The characters of the past and present merge wonderfully to show readers Walter’s writing prowess. Like I said I only am inclined to read good books and I am glad I read this one. Highly recommended.

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