Tag Archives: September 2016 Reads

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain Title: The Gustav Sonata
Author: Rose Tremain
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1784740047
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I don’t know how to begin this review. I will try. I will try to express what I feel – because what I feel about this book cannot really be put in words. “The Gustav Sonata” is one of those books that you keep coming back to after you have finished reading it. Not entirely, but in bits and pieces – to comprehend not the story but just to know that life works mysteriously sometimes and you cannot do much about it but live it for what it is.

I picked up this book on a whim. It was just one of those days when I entered Wayword and Wise and knew that I had to pick this one up. It was there – begging for my attention. When a book does that, you know you will love it, no matter what.

The book is set in a small town in Switzerland. World War II has ended but the effects remain, though not as much in this town. Gustav Perle grows up in this town and is certain of only one thing: He loves his mother who on the other hand is cool and distant with her son, never loving him, never showing him how she feels. Gustav’s only friend is the music prodigy Anton whom he adores. Anton just takes Gustav for granted since kids and well into adulthood. The story starts when they are children in 1947 and ends in 2002 when they are sixty, covering a gamut of explorations, emotions and what it means to be human.

The book is not only about their friendship, or about Gustav’s dead father or just the past and how it impacts the present and the future, but also about coming to terms with life and living it in its full glory or not. It is about a country that chose to be neutral and the impact that had on its citizens.

“The Gustav Sonata” is a big book with a big heart. It is delicate, sensible and asks the bigger questions of loyalty, betrayal, heartbreak and self-mastery in a way that no other book I’ve read has. It struck a chord in me in so many places. There were times I could not stop highlighting in the book – all I can say is that you must not let this year go by without reading this book. It will for sure change you in more than one way.

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Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People: Edited by Tarnya Cooper

Imagined Lives - Portraits of Unknown People - Edited by Tarnya Cooper Title: Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People
Edited by Tarnya Cooper
Publisher: National Portrait Gallery Publications
ISBN: 978-1855144552
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

A picture tells a thousand words they say. We have all learnt it as we were growing up. Yet how many of us can actually make pictures talk? Do we even care about what they have to say? The National Portrait Gallery in London receives portraits on a daily basis. Sometimes there are portraits that cannot be identified and belong to a century and time long gone.

attributed to Cornelius De Neve, oil on canvas, 1627

attributed to Cornelius De Neve, oil on canvas, 1627

So this is what the gallery did. They commissioned eight contemporary authors of Britain and Ireland to weave stories around fourteen unidentified portraits. Who are these men and women? What were their life stories? What were their thoughts? The book is about the lives of these unknown sitters from a time gone by.

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, transferred to canvas, circa 1570

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, transferred to canvas, circa 1570

The stories are deliciously written. Tracy Chevalier brings to life a painting and terms it “Rosy” about a man and his affair with another man. “I am Mary Douglas” by Minette Walters is a reflection of a time to connect emotionally with. You just want more of these stories recorded in the form of short memoirs, character sketches, diary entries and just a brief page or two about the subjects. There is also a brilliant story by Terry Pratchett on one of the portraits’ subjects meeting Queen Elizabeth. To me, that was the best piece in terms of humour.

Imagined Lives - Portraits of Unknown People - Edited by Tarnya Cooper - Image 3

Each portrait is written about and analyzed in detail – not a single element is missed out on. Alexander McCall Smith for instance does a wonderful job in “False Mary” where there is a sit in for Mary Queen of Scots herself. It is delicious and so absolutely believable that you want more from where that one came. Toward the end of the book is a brilliant explanation of how these portraits came to be by the chief curator of NPG and editor of the book Tarnya Cooper, titled “Did my hero look like that?”

“Imagined Lives” is a book about lost souls. It is about life and art merged and seen individually. I just chanced on this book and took to it. The stories and the portraits are something. Definitely something worth reading and owning.

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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