Tag Archives: penguin

Interview with Swati Chaturvedi

So the minute I finished reading “Daddy’s Girl” by Swati Chaturvedi, I had questions for her. I needed to know how the book come about, etc. What better place to get in touch with an author these days than social media? I for one couldn’t stop turning the pages of this book. It was classic mystery, part literary fiction and part investigative journalistic style that shone, given Swati has been a journalist for 20 years.

daddys-girl

Here is the interview with her:

How did the book come to you? Why this topic? Was it influenced by the Talwar case (sorry to ask you this, given how many people must’ve already asked)?

I have been an investigative journalist for 20 years. While I enjoyed working in TV doing my own one to one show where I was considered very nasty and aggressive after five years ennui had set in. All my life reading has been my solace, craving virtually a drug. I always wanted to write and since I started out as a crime reporter where I covered many murders including doing exclusive news breaks on the Naina Sahni tandoor murder I wanted to write a thriller a insider account of the interplay of politics, media and the police?

I think the Arushi case which I did not cover has become like the Nirbhaya rape case – a kind of touchstone of gory murder. This book is not based on the Arushi Talwar case it has elements of murder cases I have covered earlier.

“Daddy’s Girl” must not have been an easy book to write given the sub-narratives and complex threads to it. How did you manage it? Was it cathartic in a lot of ways?

Writing Daddy’s Girl was brutal. All journalists are trained to write to a world limit and a deadline. It was incredibly daunting to write fiction where the pages just seemed to menace me and find me wanting. Also as a reporter you are trained to be factual so during the process while I was still writing stories and analysis I had to re-boot for Meera and gang. It made me relive some experiences I have had as a journalist but, catharsis no. I was too busy fretting over the plot.

At some points in the book, I was beginning to doubt Meera’s intentions. Did you intend it to be like this for the reader? Meera’s character has a lot of shades of grey to it. How was writing her character then for you?

Meera is fiery, feisty and unpredictable like most human beings. She’s idealistic but, at the outset of the book incredibly naive and trusting while fancying herself very clever. The book is also a kind of coming of age of this young reporter who loves black and white and sort of realises that most of life is shades of grey. She becomes a full-fledged adult by the end of the book. But, I think her defining characteristic is an incredible hunger for the story and a huge idealism.

Do you think we need more books such as these that link closely to the political scenarios of the country? Is it because you had first-hand information to so many cases that it was easier to write this?

You are spot on as a journalist you have a privileged ring side view of what’s actually happening and access to the players because of the kind of stories and interviews I do. I find it very interesting and plan to keep on writing about it. So it was easy but, also hard to disguise the people concerned. But, as it’s fiction they are a bit of a mix of the people I know and my fairly vivid imagination.

swati-chaturvedi

Swati as a writer. What is your schedule like? Do you have any writing superstitions?

Swati the writer is as anal about writing as she is about most things. No superstitions but, a huge amount of shoulder aches and the sheer amount of time and the physical effort. Writing wrings you out and leaves you exhausted. I also hate revising here I had no choice. I can write anywhere which is a blessing after years of noisy newspaper news rooms.

Swati the reader. What are your favourite top 10 recommended reads? Tell us a little something about each of them.

I am an omnivore reader. Top ten would include:

My absolute favourite Jane Austen, I love the characters the plots and the wonderful story telling. I keep re reading them.

A Suitable Boy: I’ve have re-read it so many times that I have lost count. Love this particular book for its very Austen qualities.

Sea of poppies by Amitav Ghosh: Loved this one was rather disappointed by the sequel.

P G Wodehouse: From Bertie Wooster, aunt Dahlia, Aunt Agatha, Jeeves and the entire Blandings castle cannot get enough.

Agatha Christie: Still love the cozy, very British murders and Hercule Poirot.

P D James: Again love the suspense the plots and the very real characters.

Read a lot of history and books on architecture because I am a history student and am fascinated with design. All Mughal history is riveting.

Lionel Shriver: From double fault to we need to talk about Kevin. Amazing lucid story telling.

Antonia Fraser: Love her historical books as it’s brilliant compelling writing.

Wendy Donniger: Beautiful writing and a unique take. Plus love how it bothers the lemmings who actually don’t read.


A debut is always the toughest to venture into. Did you at any point think you would never be able to do this?

No I always finish what I start. Was terrified yes but never thought that I would not complete it. Was even more nervous about the reception. So the kindness that people have shown and the fact that it’s selling and people like it is incredibly reassuring and thrilling.

One empathizes for the Nalwas and yet this bickering sense of unease when they crop up in the book. Why do you think that happens? Was it intentional?

Yes I would say it was my intention as they represent seriously flawed and deviant people. You feel for them but, together they are toxic and resent each other yet are yoked together by this awful secret.

Do buy the book wherever books are sold. It is a great read.

The Girl who chose – A new way of narrating the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik

The Girl who Chose - A new way of narrating the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik Title: The Girl who chose: A new way of narrating the Ramayana
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Penguin Books, Puffin
ISBN: 9780143334637
Genre: Mythology, Children’s Fiction
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

So I was a fan of Devdutt Pattanaik’s books when I first read “The Pregnant King”. It was in 2007 or 2008 I think. I remember calling him and chatting with him for hours about it. Maybe that is also one of the reasons why we turned out to be good friends. But that has got nothing to do with the review of his latest book “The Girl who chose – A new way of narrating the Ramayana”. I was waiting for this book since forever. Why? Because I think if you are going to tell a mythological tale for children in a different manner, then I sure would like to know about it.

“The Girl who chose” is about Sita and her five choices and how they impact Ramayana and everyone else in the story. This isn’t Devdutt’s spin or take. It is just an interpretation given what happens in Ramayana. It is about sometimes things being planned out even before you can think about them or about the choices actually that you make and its consequences.

This book is about Sita for sure, but it is also about the other central and not-so-central characters of the Ramayana. The illustrations by the author himself make the book something else. Devdutt’s illustrations are simple. They are easy to comprehend and perhaps one doesn’t even need text while deciphering them. The illustrations speak a language of their own.

I also would like to add here that there is no feminist angle in this book, so don’t be fooled by the title. It is a given that like any other human being, Sita had the power to choose and she made the choices that she did. For a children’s book it perhaps may not come across so clearly, but the understated meaning can be inferred. The tale of the Ramayana always depends on Sita – on what she does, because it is ultimately she who leads the story. No one else has that kind of power in this Indian epic.

Devdutt Pattanaik does it again – simply and with a lot of brevity. He takes on portions of the Ramayana and serves it to you in bite-sized nuggets. The footnotes with additional information only enhance the reading experience. This is a great start for children to know and understand Indian mythology. I think it is the perfect book to gift a child to expand his or her horizons about Ramayana which has been passed down from generation to generation.

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The Lunar Chronicles : Cinder: 1 by Marissa Meyer

Cinder by Marissa Meyer Title: The Lunar Chronicles: Cinder: 1
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 9780141340135
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tales Retold
Pages: 400
Source: Product Manager
Rating: 3/5

I have never been a fan of fairy tale retellings. Something just does not seem right in them. Something always seems amiss. More so, because of the different perspectives that are always trying to battle it out in the novel. It just does not seem right. However, when I heard of “Cinder” and how everyone was raving about it outside of India, I decided to give it a shot.

“Cinder” is the first volume in “The Lunar Chronicles” and the debut of Marissa Meyer. For a debut novel, it sure has got all the attention and acclaim which has surprised everyone. Now to talking about the book. “Cinder” is a retelling of “Cinderella”. It is set in the future. The story unfolds in China and Cinderella is Cinder, the cyborg. The world is where humans, androids and cyborgs co-exist. Earth is now a different place. Though some things still remain the same. There is the step-mother, the step-sisters and of course, the prince, Kai. Their love is forbidden, but of course.

And then there is the twist in the tale – the ruthless Lunar people want to take over Earth and everything then depends on Cinder (as usual, the heroine will save the day) to make things alright. There is a secret running throughout the book, which you will guess soon enough.

Meyer’s writing is fast-paced. You literally turn the pages and get absorbed in what she has to say. Moreover, at some point you distance yourself from the original fairy-tale and become a part of Meyer’s story. To me, that was enough to go on and start reading other books in the series and they are all inter-linked with different fairy tale characters making an appearance in each of them. “Scarlet” is about Little Red Riding Hood and “Cress” about Rapunzel. There are other two books as well, to be released next year.

All in all “Cinder” is a book meant for teenagers and adults alike. For people who have already discovered their fairy tales and for those who could also do with a retelling or so.

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Book Review: Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar; Translated by Jerry Pinto

Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar Title: Cobalt Blue
Author: Sachin Kundalkar
Translator: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN:
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages:
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

There are books that you read sometimes and do not know what to make of them. There are stories that are close to you and they emerge through the pages and the writer has just touched a nerve. You know it. Perhaps you do not even acknowledge it, but you do realize that the book has made an impact and there is nothing you can do about it. You let yourself go. You become one with the prose and then you just feel something so deep that you want to share the experience with the world.

My review of “Cobalt Blue” is an experience of reading, which I want to share. I never thought once before picking this book a long time ago. This time around it was a reread – a third time reread at that and I knew it would wrench the life out of me and it did and I loved every bit of it. There is no other way to read this book. It will overpower you at some point if you let it, that is.

I have the regret of not reading this book in Marathi – the language it was originally written in but I know for a fact that Jerry has kept the translation intact. You can feel the words and the senses merge and that is proof enough. I also remember hugging the commissioning editor of this book, for making this book happen in English, for making it available to thousands and millions of readers.

“Cobalt Blue” is about love. It is about strangers who break and heal hearts. It is about love and it’s longing. It is about the sensation of not getting what you want. Of getting it but not getting it completely. How do you then define those emotions? Do they have a voice at all? Tanay and Anuja are siblings. Both smitten by the tenant who comes to stay over. The tenant who is nameless throughout the book. He is the sort of person who will only break your heart. You are aware of it and yet you want to be loved by him, in whatever capacity. There is another brother in the family. There are parents. There are relatives and yet all attention is wanted only by that stranger.

The book had me from the first page. It is narrated by the siblings and the commonality they share. The dread, the eventuality, the similar feeling and yet they do not communicate with each other. Nothing is said. The pain is hidden or just invisible – it is not known to the reader. It is for the reader to decide.

The translation shines. Jerry’s prose mingling with Sachin’s emotions takes you on another journey. The effect is heady. I knew the book would not let me be. I also knew that I would end up crying all over again and yet I had to reread it. There was no other way. Jerry has tact – he says and translates and also lets the reader feel and of course it is true, that the text is doing most of the talking and that is Sachin’s magic. There are no hush tones to homosexual or heterosexual love. Love is love after all and that is the essence of the book. It seems that the book is the canvas and there are endless portraits, possibilities of colour, of tones, of palettes and of intermingling sensations. It is there. Raw and exposed and sometimes we all have to take our chances to see where we fit, where we belong and where we truly feel loved.

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Book Review: Gone by Michael Grant

Gone by Michael Grant Title: Gone
Author: Michael Grant
Publisher: Egmont Books
ISBN: 9781405242356
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 576
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

Dystopian novels and those that speak of the distant future somehow do not excite me that much. I mean I will give it a try, however there has to be something of unique value to make me want to turn the pages and hold on to the plot. There has to be something more than the usual humdrum that goes about. With this thought in mind, I started reading “Gone” by Michael Grant and it sure didn’t disappoint me one single bit.

“Gone” is about a time when everyone over the age of fourteen mysteriously disappears. There is no one in the town or well rather country or the world over the age of fourteen. No one knows what happened or why. There are only kids present and everything is at their disposal. What will become of the future? Will there be a future at all? What is worse is that some of the children have developed mutant powers and they are all set to rule the world without adults.

I literally got the goose bumps while reading this book. The future in the book seemed very scary and looked extremely bleak. There is a lot that happens in the book that will leave you disturbed – however the way it is written by Grant is what matters the most – it is non-emotional and yet hopeful, not sentimental and yet rings with faith at some level. The characters are as ruthless as one could be in a situation like this and yet there are some which are more humane that balance the book.

The book did remind me of the Lord of the Flies, however at a more brutal level. Like I said, it is one heck of a disturbing read and yet enjoyable. I cannot wait to get my hand on the others in this series. It is a series you cannot get more of.

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Book Review: The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

Title: The Newlyweds
Author: Nell Freudenberger
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670921843
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

When people from two different cultures marry each other, there is a lot at risk. The knowing that adaptation would have to be the order of the day at some point is very difficult to come to terms with. Not only that, but also the everyday living becomes a herculean task, which then becomes something to deal with. To make a life together is something that one needs to think of as top priority. This is the theme of Nell Freudenberger’s book, “The Newlyweds”.

The book is written more from the perspective of the wife than the husband, but then I am sure the author had her reasons for doing so. The plot: Amina and George are not your typical American couple. Amina is a Bengali woman from Bangladesh, flying to Rochester, New York to marry an American she met online. She will go to any lengths to bring her parents to America to live with her. From the first page the action in the book begins and lasts throughout with immense force, depicting not only cultural differences but also emotional ones.

Nell Freudenberger has created a poignant and real drama of how couples live today. The story is mainly about Amina and her dreams. The means and methods used by her to make them come true. I was a little disappointed that George’s character was explored fully, and thought that maybe he had a lot to say and do, which would have only added to the book’s overall experience.

Freudenberger’s world is fascinating to observe. The daily on-goings between the couple and the others who are a part of their lives, are interesting to watch. The Newlyweds is an interesting read. It is a portrait of a peculiar marriage and yet there is so much more beneath that. What do we share? Who do we trust? What secrets do we want to disclose? The Newlyweds is a love story, a story of alienation, a story of wanting it all and sometimes not getting it all. It is a book that exudes emotion on every page and does not get too sentimental about it. A great read for sure.

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Book Review: Capital by John Lanchester

Title: Capital
Author: John Lanchester
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571234608
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 592
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I had not read anything by John Lanchester till I got the opportunity to read “Capital”. It was a great debut (for me) read. First, let me tell you something about the title of the book. Capital derives two meanings in the book – first being money, one of the central themes of the book and second, being London, where most of the action takes place and it being the Capital city of England.

Capital is a big book and has too many characters, close to twenty of them, out of which ten are primary and the other ten are secondary. All of them are connected to one street (Pepys Road), in one way or the other. A postcard arrives in almost everyone’s mail box stating, “We want what you have” and thus the story begins in unusual circumstances.

The story is set in 2007, around the time of banking crisis (hence the title is applicable here as well). The economy is down and everything is haywire. The characters are well-detailed and that is what hooked me to the book. The banker, who is desperate for a £1m bonus to maintain his wife’s and his own expectations of living standards, the Zimbabwean refugee, who is working as a parking attendant and overqualified to do that, the Asian family who own and work in the corner shop – with their own set of tension of love between and across generations, the Polish plumber, in his pursuit of a dream, the oldest resident of the street – an eighty-two year-old lady, coping with her health and the impact of this on her family, and the 17 year-old recent arrival in London, who is fast becoming a premiership football star.

The plot takes place here and like I said, lives are inter-connected (or not) only to make the book reach its fantastic (spoiler, hence not revealed) ending. Now something about the writing style. John Lanchester sure knows how to make almost every character (even the secondary ones) come alive. What works the most for the book is that the premise is global, though set in London. The readers can relate to the hardship, hopes, aspirations, dreams and lives of the citizens on Pepys Road and that for me is a great achievement of this book.

John Lanchester brings the entire novel to life with his writing. The interaction between characters is superlative and fits in brilliantly with the subtle themes. The entire novel has a Dickensian air about it and that only adds sometimes to the bleak narrative running through. The suspense element of the book remains intact right till the end, and shows itself all along. I enjoyed reading the book a lot. There were times I would also laugh out loud and times when I would feel bad for the characters. The book is laced with wit, compassion and above all truth of the situation and the society that we inhabit. Capital is one joyride of a read. I would definitely read more books written by him. As of now, this one is highly recommended.

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Here is a book trailer: