Tag Archives: Penguin UK

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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Book Review: Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell

Title: Mrs. Bridge
Author: Evan S. Connell
Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-0141198651
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell is a deceptively simple story. On the surface it might seem to be just another story of a woman, rather a portrait of a woman, and a housewife at that, told in over one hundred brief and discrete chapters.
Mrs. Bridge to a very large extent could very-well be any Indian housewife (without the household chores) – with her suppressed desires, yearnings and longings, while focusing entirely on taking care of her family, in this case Mr. Bridge and her three children. She is a Kansas City housewife who spends her days shopping, visiting, and playing bridge. Her housework is taken care of by the maid. Her husband works long hours. Her children grow up as children often do.

The book traverses the so-called journey of a woman – from childhood to when she got married to how she lives and that is what is most appealing. The writing at times feels thread-bare but as the reader continues reading the book, the opinion changes drastically. Connell takes the book to a point also when the reader starts pitying the protagonist. It is then that the book seems to be frightening in its own way.

Connell is a master of the highest order. His prose is as crisp as it gets. He does not believe in wasting words and that is evident throughout the book. Mrs. Bridge never sees herself the way she wants to. She always sees herself the way others would – from her country-club friends to her husband to her children. The time also in which the novel is set is important. Set in the decades surrounding World War I and World War II, it reeks of change and yet juxtaposes monotony in the protagonist’s life.

Mrs. Bridge is such a character who will not even admit to herself what she goes through and the characterization done by Connell is excellent. Mr. Bridge is hardly present in the book (he later appears though in another book called Mr. Bridge, but that’s another review). The prose is biting. You may not be an affluent housewife and yet you will connect to the character in more than one way. Mrs. Bridge cannot assert any kind of individuality in her life and I was overwhelmed a little reading those parts. I would recommend Mrs. Bridge only if you want to read something to shake you up a bit. It sure will.

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