Tag Archives: Non-fiction

The White Road: Journey into an Obsession by Edmund de Waal

The White Road Title: The White Road: Journey into an Obsession
Author: Edmund de Waal
Publisher: Picador USA, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-1250097323
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Non-Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It had been a while since I had read a good non-fiction and I am very picky when it comes to this genre. The book has to be a solid one or I will just drop it and not read further. Life is too short to read badly written books. I loved Edmund de Waal’s earlier book “The Hare with the Amber Eyes” (Please read it if you haven’t already. Trust me, you will love it as well). This is when I received his new book to read “The White Road: Journey into an Obsession”. How does one describe this book? There is a lot going on in it, but I shall try and make sense of it.

In this book, Edmund de Waal gives us a peek into his obsession with porcelain, also known as “white gold’. Edmund is also a porter who has been working with porcelain for more than forty years now. This book is about his exploration through five journeys to understand porcelain better – where was it dreamed, refined, collected and why do so many people covet it this way. While China, Germany and England were at the core of his visits, he also managed to visit other places around the world and how while doing that, he encountered some of the darkest periods of history, thus intertwining his life, obsession with porcelain and history altogether like a well-crafted mosaic.

This book is highly insightful and well-researched. De Waal doesn’t miss the beat on a single page when it comes to uncovering history and delving to its darkest core. You almost feel that you are undertaking the journey with him alongside and not just reading it. The comparisons he makes given the countries he visits, makes you think of your ignorance, given how the world really works, thinks and imagines.

To me the idea of the book is very unique. I love the concept of how something that wouldn’t otherwise come to mind is at the heart of the book – porcelain and around it Edmund de Waal explores his history and family heritage so to speak. The book is like a friend that needs to be hugged and taken care of. The writing is extremely simple and that helps in turning the pages. All said and done, I couldn’t get more of this book at all and wish it lasted longer than it did.

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On Art, Literature and History: Essays by Naguib Mahfouz; Translated by Aran Byrne

51s8qRJdoUL Title: On Art, Literature and History: Essays
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Translated from the Arabic by Aran Byrne
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386050007
Genre: Essays
Pages: 172
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It will take you some time to get into this book of essays by Naguib Mahfouz, one of the finest contemporary Arabic writers, however, once you do wade your way through and read a couple of essays, you are in for a rollercoaster ride. Mahfouz’s range is wide as the title suggests is diverse – right from art to history to literature, you can read his opinions (yeah it is that after all) and more than just opinions, you can feel what he tries to tell you because he does such a good job of using words to communicate, which to me most humans cannot.

Anyhow, back to the book. “On Art, Literature and History” is a collection of essays, most of which were penned in the 1930s, that bring to life not just Mahfouz’s views but also deal with the Arab world then and development of Islam. To me, it was a very interesting read, given how he blends philosophy and art with politics, without making it too boring or uninteresting for the reader. I think I was a fan anyway since the time I read his very popular Cairo trilogy and this one just pushed me over to becoming a major fan, I suppose.

This is the first volume that Speaking Tiger has come out with so I am expecting there to be more such volumes of his non-fiction writing spanning decades. A lot of people aren’t aware of his non-fiction pieces but I really hope that they go on and pick this collection and are more aware of what he could dabble in.

The writing is complex but only when it comes to language to some extent. The reading then becomes easy once you connect with the authors’ ideas and way of thinking. After all, essays aren’t easy to write. A balance between having to say so much and brevity must be maintained at all times. I most particularly enjoyed the literature section the most – as he spoke of Chekov to other Arabic authors as well. His sense of observation is superlative and that of course will be seen as you go along from essay to essay. At some points, I did feel the pace to be languid but that is I think true of most essay collections. Maybe some can read it in one gulp and some take their own time with it. Whichever way you’d like to read it, this one is one hell of a firecracker of a read.

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.

Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand

kohinoor-by-william-dalrymple-and-anita-anand Title: Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond
Authors: William Dalrymple and Anita Anand
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN:978-9386228086
Genre: History
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

While reading the “Kohinoor” – William Dalrymple and Anita Anand’s joint effort to make sense of the world’s infamous diamond, I was tempted to list – a list of deaths that took place in the wake of the diamond – to either capture it, or while owning it or ones who were ultimately possessed by the jewel.

There is a lot written about the Koh-I-Noor (Mountain of Light in Persia) – on and off Wikipedia. More so in this age of technology, you can perhaps know everything and more related to it on the internet. However, let me tell you that it will not be anything like this book, jointly penned by Anand and Dalrymple.

The story of the diamond is not just about the diamond and its lore and how it now resides in the Tower of London. I love the fact of how almost each of the five claimants of the Koh-I-Noor – India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and the Taliban are so confident of how the diamond belongs to them but no one knows how and why (well, mostly they are not sure).

From the Peacock Throne to the Mughals to the Queen Victoria’s crown, Dalrymple and Anand seek to separate history from myth and do it exceedingly well, might I add. They have researched and gathered all material from every part of the five claimants to add more gravitas to the narrative of the diamond. It is of greed and ambition – of men who coveted it and of men who would do anything for it – of the blood that was spilled for it (Shah Zaman Durrani was blinded with hot needles, Shah Rukh – grandson of Nader Shah had molted lead poured onto his head – kinda like A Song of Ice and Fire and many such incidents) and the courage to own it any cost. Why is Koh-I-Noor that important? What makes it the most beloved, even though there have been jewels far precious than this one?

The two historians do a fantastic job of trying to unearth almost every mystery surrounding the diamond and yet leave some to be speculated and mulled on by the reader. William tackles the first part of the book – of the diamond’s history while Anand looks at the Sikh history of the diamond. The tone of the book is neutral which is needed when you chronicle something from or belonging to the past. “Kohinoor” is a rock solid book which tells you almost all that you wanted to know about the diamond and never lets go of the reader.

Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind by Catherine Lepage

Thin Slices of Anxiety by Catherine Lepage Title: Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind
Author: Catherine Lepage
Publisher: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 978-1452145792
Genre: Non-Fiction, Self-Help
Pages: 104
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Why do we get anxious? What is it about us that make us feel that way? Is it us or the environment or the circumstances surrounding us? Catherine Lepage’s books “Thin Slices of Anxiety” talks to us about anxieties, fears and phobias in a manner that is not only easy and simple but also fun.

Thin Slices of Anxiety by Catherine Lepage - Image 1

I came across this book on a friend’s blog and I knew that I had to have it on my bookshelf. This book is unlike anything I have read on anxiety and what it takes to calm down. I have read self-help books but I also cannot classify this book in that category.
“Thin Slices of Anxiety” is a meditation on how to ease the worried mind. In today’s day and age we are flooded with worries. We don’t know when one begins and the other ends. Life is almost a battle and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Thin Slices of Anxiety by Catherine Lepage - Image 2

Catherine Lepage takes us through anxiety by distilling it for us into four habits that are very clear and plain to see that actually set anxiety into motion. They are: Accumulation of fatigue, Repressing emotions, setting goals too high and collecting responsibilities. Maybe the first step is to let go and then take a back seat (how many of us actually want to do that at all?) and go through the emotional repertoire and see how we can use that better to ease life.

Thin Slices of Anxiety by Catherine Lepage - Image 4

This book doesn’t preach. It doesn’t promise to change your life. It will not do all those things. It is a basic and most needed primer of our times – given the lifestyle choices we make and how perhaps we really do need to stop and smell the roses and not run all the time – from pillar to post, without getting anywhere at all.