Tag Archives: Penguin UK

The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons from Russian Literature by Viv Groskop

The Anna Karenina Fix Title: The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons from Russian Literature
Author: Viv Groskop
Publisher: Fig Tree, Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0241308639
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I am a sucker for Russian Literature. I have read Anna Karenina twice and the Brothers Karamazov about two and a half times (I dropped it half-way the third time, because it was getting too much for once to handle) and not to forget Master and Margarita about twice as well. There are many more Russian works of great significance and most of it is classical or semi-modern. What I also love is books about books and “The Anna Karenina Fix” merges these elements beautifully. It is a book about books but Russian Literature and how it can save your life (well in more ways than one) and also how one can actually learn from it.

“The Anna Karenina Fix” by Viv Groskop is a handy guide to life as learned from the works of Russian Literature. Be it Chekov or Turgenev or Akhmatova, every book or author chosen by Groskop in this book has had a role to play in her life – in making her live it day after day, month after month and year after year. It is a warm and fuzzy (well, not so fuzzy) book about humans, their frailties, passions, desires and weaknesses when it comes to that.

The book charts the author’s relationship with everything Russian – language, art, culture and how she weaves her memories with the classics is something any reader who loves books will enjoy. At the same time, Groskop introduces the Russian classics to you if you hadn’t heard of them and does a very good job of that. Also, even though there are spoilers, but that will not take away from the experience of reading these Russian books if you want to at some point.

“The Anna Karenina Fix” is a solid book about living life and how to actually go about it through some Russian books. It is sublime, lucid and provides a great reading list as well. She also could have gotten preachy about the life lessons, however that doesn’t happen at all. If anything, it is all about what you can take away personally from these books and apply to your life (if you want to, that is).

Academic research material is not heavy-handedly used in the book. If anything, the language is extremely simple, just as it should be. “The Anna Karenina Fix” is the kind of book that creeps up on you unexpectedly and stays long after. It is also the kind of book that will make you read other books, which is a double-win if you ask me. So, go, read this book!

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Meeting Cezanne by Michael Morpurgo

Meeting Cezanne by Michael Morpurgo Title: Meeting Cezanne
Author: Michael Morpurgo
Illustrator: Francois Place
Publisher: Walker Books, Penguin UK
ISBN: 9781406351132
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I had heard a lot about Michael Morpurgo and his books before I started reading “Meeting Cezanne”. I now know why both kids and adults love him and his works the way they do. There is something about the way he unfolds a story. It transcends age. Both adults and children can read his works and feel that gooey, buttery feeling and be happy, even if it means that happiness is temporary. A reread will transport you back to the feeling nonetheless. If that is what one Morpurgo book could do to me, then I am definitely reading all that he has to offer.

“Meeting Cezanne” is for young readers. The setting is 1960s. It is about a ten-year-old boy Yannick, who has to stay with this aunt, uncle and cousin in the South of France, as his mother needs recovering from a treatment. Provence is the place to be, or so the paintings of his mother’s beloved Cezanne say. It is paradise on earth and all of it. Yannick is hesitant to stay with his Aunt Mathilde and yet in the process, he waits tables at his aunt and uncle’s restaurant, he befriends his cousin and makes an amazing discovery about an artist who regularly visits the restaurant. The discovery is made when he accidentally destroys a precious drawing.

This is the plot of the book. Now to the way the writer and the artist have presented it to the reader. The writing is very simple (but of course, since it is written for children). The illustrations by Francois Place are just perfect and one just wants to constantly gaze at them, way after the book is done with. You will most certainly finish reading the book in less than an hour or so. I think the beauty of this book is that its appeal is so vast and also the fact that anything told so simply has no choice but to be beautiful. “Meeting Cezanne” is a perfect monsoon read for children and adults alike.

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Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcott

Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcott Title: Dandelion Clocks
Author: Rebecca Westcott
Publisher: Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0141348995
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 288
Source: Product Manager
Rating: 4/5

The age of “sick-literature” is on. Almost all young adult books have that element in them after “The Fault in Our Stars” and I am not surprised. It can get a bit annoying though. I would rather be back in the time and place when literature for children and teens was simple and reality-free. Or maybe it is the times when they already know so much; that this cannot hurt all that much or maybe I am just thinking too much about it?

Anyway, I read “Dandelion Clocks” by Rebecca Westcott on the fifth of July. I finished it in a day. The premise was nice. The characters were well-etched (some of them though lacked some depth but I am sure, the author will take care of that in the sequel Violet Ink). The book could have been longer, according to me and that is only because I liked it and wanted to know more. All in all, “Dandelion Clocks” was a good read. It also choked me up (as usual) and that is only because, no matter what age one is at, the idea of losing a parent or being away from home (in my case) and thinking about Mom (this book is based on children-mother relationship) can get you all teary-eyed.

“Dandelion Clocks” is about Olivia, an eleven year old and six months in her life, knowing her mother is going to not be there. She will die soon. It is also about Isaac, her older brother with Asperger’s syndrome and how she deals with it. It is about friendship, love, death and identity as you grow up. Olivia loves clicking pictures. She finds her solace and comfort in them. And that again is the crux of the story, as she wants to keep memories alive through them.

On the other hand, it is about her mother trying to teach her how to be a better human being, as she no longer will be around and this she wants to through her diaries written when she was a teenager. It is also about Olivia’s aunt, brother and Dad and how they feel (well that will again be brought up in the sequel in a more detailed manner, I hope). As far as the title goes, let me tell you that you have to read the book to figure that one out.

Like I said, the premise is excellent. The narrative moves at a brisk pace. I just wanted more of it. The book is so taut in some places and somehow loses some steam in others. Having said that, I am still eagerly waiting for the sequel to know what happens in Olivia’s life and how she copes with loss of a loved one. “Dandelion Clocks” is a story that will captivate (in its own way), it will hurt (again in its own way) and will make you want to read the sequel, and I only hope that the sequel is longer.

Here is also the book trailer:

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Little Failure : A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart Title: Little Failure: A Memoir
Author: Gary Shteyngart
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0241146651
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I am wary of reading memoirs, if they aren’t too generic. Anything specific and my guard is on – because it seems that it would be difficult for me to follow or comprehend. After all, it happened or is happening to the author. So how will I be able to relate to it? What does one do then while attempting to read a memoir? How does one sink into it and actually enjoy it? There have been times when I have just dropped some half-way and then there have also been times when I sat through some and actually enjoyed them. “Little Failure” by Gary Shteyngart falls into the latter category.

I must admit that I had a tough time getting into the book. After the first thirty pages or so, I also thought of giving up on it, but then somehow continued reading it. The book is bleak in most parts and yet strangely enough it uplifted me in other parts. The book is a memoir as it rightly says – it is about a young Russian-American emigrant’s survival in New York City, learning to become American. It is about the hopes and dreams of his parents – of the insecurities, of the different way of living and of coping with two sides. It is about everything you feel when you do not belong and in so many ways you do belong, so there is always this shaky middle ground where you stand.

“Little Failure” works as a memoir (after the first sixty pages) because it is honest. Gary at no point uses any sugar-coating or frills up the book so to say. Every emotion and lack of it is as real as it can get. The title comes from the fact that Gary chose to be a writer instead of another profession, which to his parents represented failure. Hence, he was their “little failure” or “Failurchka” – the term created by his mother.

“Little Failure” is one of those books that will take you time to get through. It is not an easy read. At the same time, it is a delight to read someone’s story – not because it could be different or similar to yours, but because there is this hope that it fills with you at some point – given so many topics and themes that conjoin and melt. From identity, to the unhappy marriage of your parents, to having to be a mediator, to trying very hard to survive in an alien land, with the choices you make. The writing is funny and sharp and heartbreaking as well – which adds to the entire tone of the book, just right.

So many times in his three books, Gary has spoken about the emigrant experience. In fact, all of those books are only about that – the feeling of being lost in a strange country. “Little Failure” is sort of a prelude to those books. It is a personal experience and yes it has changed my view on memoirs to a very large extent. This is perhaps one of the best books I have read this year and if you like stories of people – real stories, then you must pick this one up.

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Here is a funny book trailer:

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole Title: Every Day is for the Thief
Author: Teju Cole
Publisher: Faber and Faber, Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0571307920
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Teju Cole burst on the scene with “Open City” a couple of years ago. A unique voice is needed all the time, to wake the literary circle, so to say. “Open City” had a deep impact on the sensibilities and emotions as well. There was something unique about it and at the same time, it was quite ordinary. That is the charm of Teju Cole’s writing. He makes the mundane come alive.

“Every Day for the Thief” is a sort of a literary memoir. It is not a memoir and yet sometimes feels like one. A young Nigerian goes home to Lagos, after living away from it, in New York for close to fifteen years. The unnamed narrator moves from the places in the city – recalling what he left behind and trying to make sense of everything in new light.

He witnesses his old friends, the former girlfriend, the exuberance and despair of Lagos and of an eleven-year old who is accused of stealing in the local market. A lot of such incidents shape the novel for the reader. The atmosphere is built slowly, almost creating an element of suspense and yet saying what the narrator has to.

There are patchy parts in the book as well, but I chose to ignore them, because the writing is stupendous. It flows effortlessly most of the time and the voice is strong, so that is more than enough for the reader.

What also sets this book apart, are the author’s photos that are interwoven in the story. The way he captures Lagos – both pictorially and through the written word is superlative. “Every Day is for the Thief” is a short read and manages to stay with you for a very long time. This is one book you should not miss reading out this year.

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