Tag Archives: penguin viking

All That Is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Darragh McKeon Title: All That Is Solid Melts into Air
Author: Darragh McKeon
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9780670922703
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Disasters. What do they take in their wake? When they happen, and when they are done ruining what they have to. What really goes away from people? Maybe from communities at large. Sometimes from villages, hamlets, small cities and countries. Every time I think about the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, a piece of me goes out to the silent sufferers. It is the single most tragic event of the nation, which has been forgotten so easily. I got started thinking about this, just as I finished, one of the most empathic books I have read this year – “All That Is Solid Melts into Air” by Darragh McKeon – about the Chernobyl Power Plant and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“All That Is Solid Melts into Air” takes into account lives of people – when the incident occurred in 1986. It stays true to the disaster, but does that with the human element involved, which is what I loved about the book. It was not just another “account” of the tragedy. I am glad that I read this book. I am also saddened by it, but then I know that this will only make me want to read more about the accident.

It is 1986. The world is going by just as it should. The Soviet Government controls every part of its citizens’ lives. Everything is monitored. Nothing or no one is left alone. In a run-down apartment block in Moscow, a nine-year old piano prodigy plays along silently, because he does not want to disturb the neighbours. His aunt on the other hand makes car parts on the outskirts of the city, and trying to hide her past at the same time. A surgeon buries himself in the hospital to run away from his failing marriage. And in a rural village in Ukraine, a teenager wakes up to see the sky, the shade of deepest crimson and blood dripping from his cattle’s ears. As all of this happens, ten miles away, at the Chernobyl Power Plant, something unbelievable is taking place.

This in short is the plot of the book. These lives are about to change and they do not even know it. The title of the book comes from the Communist Manifesto and that should say it all, shouldn’t it? The way the book is written is simply stupendous. There is no way you will go away from the book without reflecting on what happened and what perhaps is still happening in the wake of the event. The book conveys the horrors without sugar-coating anything. McKeon’s writing is raw and bloody and there is no getting away from it.

“All That Is Solid Melts into Air” is a book which you should not miss out reading. There is human kindness in these pages. There is sadness. There are circumstances that one cannot do much about. There is hope as well. There is also the knowing that when tragedy will strike, the possibility of humans sticking together is very high, no matter what one might think.

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Conversations with Waheeda Rehman by Nasreen Munni Kabir

Conversations-with-Waheeda-Rehman Title: Conversations with Waheeda Rehman
Author: Nasreen Munni Kabir
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9780670086924
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Editor
Rating: 5/5

So when you read about a legend, you just continue turning the pages. It does not matter. Their life has so much to offer and give insights about every aspect of life, that you cannot stop reading. The same happened to me while I was reading, “Conversations with Waheeda Rehman” by Nasreen Munni Kabir. I finished it in less than a day and then I could not stop thinking about it.

“Conversations with Waheeda Rehman” is a book which is just what the title says. It is a set of conversations with the legendary actor – her life, her times, her movies (select and not all are mentioned), her friendships, her family and the way she views life and how it was so easy for her one fine day to give up Bollywood and start living her life and creating a family and world of her own.

Waheeda Rehman has always been one of my favourite actors and continues to be, so I was only too eager to read this book and I could not stop gushing. From the experience of her first movie as the lead to the way she stuck to her decisions when it came to showing skin for the camera or not doing certain scenes, because she did not see the logic in them, she has stuck to her belief and faith throughout her career.

Nasreen Munni Kabir has managed to bring out the best in these conversations that spanned over two years in Waheeda Rehman’s Bandra house. The conversations are clear, polite and candid. Ms. Rehman does not shy from talking about things – she says what she has to and that is that. Munni Kabir is a great inducer of conversation. She throws open a question and lets Ms. Rehman say what she has to. I love that style and subtlety of questions, and of course one cannot forget Waheeda Rehman’s grace and style. I felt as though she was sitting right next to me, and I could hear all of it in her voice.

“Conversations with Waheeda Rehman” is a testimony and a very frank account of a celebrity who probably never behaved like one. She was always the odd one out – who proved time and again through her movies such as Pyaasa, Guide, Kaghaz ke Phool and many more as to what it really takes to be present forever – a great sense of cinema and acting. If you are an ardent lover of good cinema, then you should not miss reading this one.

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Book Review: Suki by Suniti Namjoshi

Suki by Suniti Namjoshi Title: Suki
Author: Suniti Namjoshi
Publisher: Zubaan/Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9789383074105
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 132
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A new year should always ring in with a new book – read and cherished and thought after for a very long time. Books that start the year on a great note are the ones that are fondly remembered as the year ends. For me, the year began with Suniti Namjoshi’s latest book, “Suki”.

Suki was the name of Suniti’s beloved cat and this is what the book is about – her memories with her cat – dear ones and sometimes the irritable ones, but memories nonetheless. The book is about Suki’s 4803 days and how each one mattered to Suniti. The book is structured in the form of conversations that Suniti has with Suki – on love, life, meditation, their relationship, other animals, morals, philosophy and a varied range of topics. The character sketch of Suki is so strong that at times, while reading the book, I actually wished she were a talking cat. To also be fair, maybe she did speak with Suniti in her own manner.

Why did the book interest me and why did I like it?

To begin with, the way the book is written. There is no linear narrative and that I loved. I mean, for how long should one read the same old style of writing? Something new is always welcome. The way Namjoshi speaks of her life in England and integrates with that of her cat’s is quite charming. The book then veered to the loss of Suki and how the writer came to cope with the loss of a loved one, through meditation.

“Suki” in my opinion celebrates life and its moments. It is not soppy. It is not preachy. It is not even sentimental. It is just an honest book – full of tenderness, of energy, of biting dialogues and more than anything else of relationships of every kind and nature.

Next Up: The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

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Book Review: The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century by David Laskin

The Family by David Laskin Title: The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century
Author: David Laskin
Publisher: Viking Adult
ISBN: 978-0670025473
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are stories about so many families that have been written in the past and I have loved most of them (of what I have read). There is always something about the history of a family that gets me going to frantically turn the pages. I am aware that is has happened for real and somehow to lessen the blow of the events that occur, I pretend that it is fiction. Or also pretend that things will look hopeful in the book somewhere down the line and someone will not die after all. However, reality is miles away and different from fiction, and perhaps that is how it will always be.

“The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century” by David Laskin is one such book about a family, its three journeys, of the different roads taken and the consequences and aftermath of each. David Laskin has beautifully written or rather documented his family’s history (from his mother’s side) in a book that is not only gripping but also profound and blends perfectly with the incidents of the twentieth century and sometimes makes you wonder, what being human is all about.

The Family is about several generations of a Russian Jewish family and the choices made by them in times of despair and turmoil. It is about how choices shape our lives and of those generations to come. The story begins in 1835 on the western edge of Russia in the village of Volozhin, where six children were raised by Shimon Dov, a Torah scribe and his wife Beyle. Shimon is David’s great-great grandfather. The story is about the children’s lives and how each one led to heading somewhere else and lives transforming, because of that.

From running a successful business by his aunt Itel to Zionist pioneers to family members choosing to stay back and getting erased during the Holocaust, The Family is immensely emotional and yet does not make the reader weep at any point.

The Family is not just the story of one family. It is connected to the history the world and its people during those times. It is about ancestors and descendants and how lives are intertwined, no matter how hard you try escaping it. Read the book for Laskin’s tracing back efforts to his family and charting the entire history. A book that would need time to be spent on. A great book, nonetheless.

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Book Review: The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai

The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai Title: The Hungry Ghosts
Author: Shyam Selvadurai
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9780670085750
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It was through a dear friend that I got introduced to Shyam Selvadurai’s works. We were younger than and wanted to read everything queer and take it all in. At such a time, I was introduced to “Funny Boy” by my friend, written by Shyam Selvadurai. The book was about a boy’s coming to terms with his sexual orientation and that too in an almost conservative Sri Lankan society. I fell in love with Selvadurai’s writing. There was no looking back since. I have read almost every single book of his (well including the latest one, there have been only four books to say the least) and loved them all, some a little less than the others and some a little more.

“The Hungry Ghosts” falls in the latter category. The title comes from Buddhist mythology, where the dead may be reborn as “hungry ghosts” – as spirits with stomachs so large that they can never be full. It is but left to the living relatives of the ghosts to free them of this desire by doing good deeds and creating good karma. Why am I telling you this? Because this is at the heart of this story, centered on a matriarch, becoming a living ghost and the relationship she shares with her grandson – who but after all must free her.

The book moves between Canada and Sri Lanka and Selvadurai does a brilliant job of describing the essence of both places with ease and panache. “The Hungry Ghosts” is centered on Shivan Rassiah, who is of mixed Tamil and Sinhalese lineage, and is a beloved grandson to his grandmother, who is extremely orthodox and at the same time, Shivan happens to be gay. As the novel opens, Shivan is living in Canada and preparing to go back to Colombo to meet his ailing maternal grandmother and get her to live with him and his mother in Canada, till her final days. This is the crux of the novel.

For me what struck a chord in the entire book is the fact that you can never let go of the past. It will keep hounding you or keeping up with you wherever you go, till it is at peace. The law of karma holds strongly throughout the book and sometimes most ironically so. Each character is stuck with his or her karma and that runs beautifully throughout the novel. There were times when I thought it was getting a bit much, but I could overlook it, primarily because of the writing.

Characterization is another strong point of Shyam Selvadurai. He gives all his characters their due and their voices are distinct. No one is either good or bad. Everyone has their own drawbacks, which makes them connect more with the readers. The fact of Shivan coming to terms with his sexual orientation and at the same time trying to make sense of Sri Lanka’s disruptive political scenario blends and fit together to perfection. This to me is great writing. The grandmother is overbearing and strong and yet has her own share of sadness which isn’t revealed till later in the book. The idea of the book is clear: Forgiveness and Karma.

This book worked with me on many levels as I was able to relate my life to what was taking place in the novel. I loved the Buddhist myths and fables that run throughout the book. It is almost as though they were much needed to propel the story ahead. I highly recommend this book to almost everyone who want to know more about Sri Lankan customs and traditions and also above all who want to read a good story.


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Book Review: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki Title: A Tale for the Time Being
Author: Ruth Ozeki
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 978-0-670-02663-0
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 422
Source: Publicist
Rating: 5/5

There are some books that just seem to call out to you. You have to read them, no matter what. This happens rarely but when it does, you cannot ignore it. I mean it is for a reason that you have to read them I guess, for that connection that needs to be maintained between a book and its reader. There is no better explanation that I can come up with. It is with this intent and this magnetic pull to this book, “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki that I asked for a review copy and read it slowly, savoring it almost, and hoping it would not end. However, it did and here is my review.

“A Tale for the Time Being” is set across two time periods. We meet Nao, sixteen-year old girl, living in Tokyo, wants to get away from her lonely life and bullying classmates. She comes up with a perfect plan to do that. However before that she wants to chronicle the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who has lived for more than a century. She chances upon a diary (with the Proust angle to it) and starts to make note of her grandmother’s life.
At the other end of the spectrum is Ruth, an author living in Canada, on a remote island, chances upon a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed away at the shore. The contents seem to have been debris of the devastating tsunami of 2011. Before she knows it, Ruth is taken in by Nao’s life (the lunchbox but obviously contained Nao’s diary) and her life then takes a whole new turn and meaning.

This in short is the plot of the book. Having said that, there are many layers to it, which confound the reader and at times also leave the reader restless and wanting to know more. There is the mystery of the great-grandmother’s life and how did the diary and the lunchbox come about on an island far away. At the same time, there is also the meditation on home, love and sense of time, more so from Nao’s perspective which is beautifully written.

There is at the same time different tracks running through the book that of loneliness, of wanting more from this life and of wanting to call a place home, which is paramount in the book. Ruth’s writing when talking about the author is almost meta-like, which leaves the reader guessing if or not it is based on her life or parts of her life. The magical angle of the book is beautifully written, with reference to Nao’s parts and her life. The work of an author according to me is very-well done is when readers fall in love with characters and in this case, it is right on target. The reader cannot help but fall in love with Nao and Ruth. I was hungry for more, almost every night to get back home and start reading the book from where I had left it. The humanity of the novel is enormous and takes your breath away in most places. “A Tale for the Time Being” is a marvellous and illuminating read.

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Book Review: The Missing Queen by Samitha Arni

The Missing Queen by Samitha Arni Title: The Missing Queen
Author: Samitha Arni
Publisher: Penguin Viking/Zubaan Books
ISBN: 9789381017647
Genre: Mythology, Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always wondered and thought that the Ramayana has nothing to offer in terms of shades of grey. I thought that it was a plain vanilla story, with nothing of value, though at the back of mind I was aware of Sita and her predicaments, I somehow did not give it too much thought. I was more focused on reading more of the Mahabharata, with its vast number of characters and intricate plot, there was no way any other mythological text could hold a candle to it. This was my opinion till I started reading, “The Missing Queen” by Samhita Arni.

I had read Samhita’s graphic novel, “Sita’s Ramayana” sometime ago, however that did not impact me much as this one has. Once in a while, I read a mythological piece of work that compels me to recommend it to whosoever I meet, and this time it is “The Missing Queen”. I cannot stop raving about. Most of it has got to do with the writing; however most of it has also got to with the plot and the new angle or twist so to say to the epic.

“The Missing Queen” is set in modern-day Ayodhya, ten years after Ram won the war and Sita disappeared basis the hearsay from the Washerman and other speculation by Ayodhya’s citizens on her chastity. Things have changed a lot since then. Ayodhya is indirectly a totalitarian state kept under strict vigilance by the Washerman and his people. Ram, but of course is the shining hero and king who looms large and makes decisions, however not without consulting some people. This Ayodhya is of television and media, of Cadillacs and malls, of consumerism and a complete dry state with bootleggers reining at night-time in shoddy basements. It is also on its way of becoming a democracy, which in a way is scary and at the same time liberating for some. Amidst all of this, a young journalist begins asking questions about Sita: What happened to her? Why did she disappear? She wants answers and does not even stop at asking Ram during an interview about Sita and her whereabouts.

She must not be asking such questions. The Washerman and his fleet chase her out of the city and she goes to Lanka in search of answers, which further takes her to Mithila. For me this was the best part in the book. Samhita has brought out different perspectives through this short book – of Surpanakha, of Vibhishana and his daughter, of Urmila and others who have been a part of the epic. While reading this book one also gets the feeling of the “other” part of the story. The question posed by the journalist seep into the readers’ head and that to me is great writing as demonstrated by Arni. There were so many places in the book where my heart just went out to Sita and also to the Lankans. That is primarily because of the writing and the world that Samhita conjures given her imagination and what happened after the war. There are so many questions in the book and also so many issues. For instance, the one line that struck me the most in the book was the one said by Surpanakha: “Do women need circles drawn in sand to protect them?” I think this is so relevant even today. Some men take it upon themselves to protect women, without wondering what they want. There are parts like these in the book that shake you up and make you question everything around you.

At times while reading the book, I felt that Sita and Ram and the Washerman were merely metaphors for who we are and our beliefs (if any) and that made me think a lot more of the plot of the book. I will of course not give away the ending. However at the end of it all, what I can say is that you have to read “The Missing Queen” to experience a different kind of tale and storytelling when it comes to mythology and more so to the Ramayana. A must read for February.

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