Tag Archives: tragedy

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan Title: The Association of Small Bombs
Author: Karan Mahajan
Publisher: 4th Estate, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9789351777878
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I finished reading “The Association of Small Bombs” two weeks ago and I am still reeling from its effect. Sometimes you know when you love a book too much and you also know that you can read it fast and finish it but you want it to last longer, so you don’t finish it really fast. Ever get that feeling? Happens to me all the time when I am reading a book I’m really enjoying and that has occurred after a long time with this second novel by Karan Mahajan.

At this point, let me also tell you that I had read and not thought much of Karan’s first book “Family Planning” at the time of reading it (I am being extremely honest. Please don’t kill or hate me for it Karan). I will for sure go back to it after some time. For now, let me share my experience of this literary stunner of a book “The Association of Small Bombs”.

You will one way or the other get the title relation once you read the book, so I will not talk about it. Let me instead go straight to the plot: It all begins with a bombing that takes place in Delhi’s crowded Lajpat Nagar. The year is 1996 and it is not a big bombing. It is a small bombing. Lives are lost – and amongst those lost lives two belong to the Khuranas’ sons Tushar and Nakul. There is also Mansoor; their friend who accompanies them to get the Khuranas’ repaired TV home and while he is alive, he is scarred for the rest of his life by the incident. The book in short may seem about this but there is so much more to it. In fact, there is so much more that I do not know what to include and what to omit from this review.

So I will start with it all. The Khuranas’ live with their guilt for years and Mansoor lives with that terrible memory and how he is physically and emotionally damaged by it. There is also the terrorists’ (so-called) side of the story (which isn’t all that much but when you read it in the context of the plot – it makes so much sense and is needed there). The empathy, the rawness of the writing and above all the precision with which every detail is explained – you cannot help but fall in love with the book.

The book begins in 1996 and ends in 2003 (I assume because there is nothing more after that). Mahajan’s capturing of the seven years throughout the novel and its protagonists (there is more than one) is magnificent and taut. For instance, the relationship between the husband and the wife after the sons’ death is something that I still think of – the edge of the relationship ,the brink of it which they face and sometimes only to go back because there is nowhere else to go. Mahajan is a master of his craft.

I have so much to talk about this book and I know that words will fall short. I will not be able to explain what I felt every time some stunning paragraph or line hit me. A small detail you would have not paid attention to in your daily routine shines in the book. The mere simplicity and elegance of writing is what will make you turn the pages and not stop. I will not be able to put that in words – because you have to feel it as you read and wade through this one – hoping it will not end. All that I can say is: READ THIS BOOK NOW!

Here are some of my favourite parts from the book. There are a lot more but for now I will list these:

“It was as if, having failed to protect them in life, they felt double the responsibility to fulfill their duties in death.”

“The station was so bloated with people that the loss of a few would hardly be tragic or even important”

“The May heat was horrifying, violating the privacy of all things while also forcing you into yourself.”

“She was aware, suddenly, that the death of her children was not a metaphysical event, but a crime. A firecracker set off by uncaring men in a market. She did not trust the government or the courts to do anything.”

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Book Review: My Face for the World to See by Alfred Hayes

My Face for the World to See by Alfred Hayes Title: My Face for the World to See
Author: Alfred Hayes
Publisher: New York Review Books Classics
ISBN: 978-1590176672
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 152
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are two protagonists in this novel. They have no names. They perhaps do not need names or so Hayes thought while writing this book and maybe he was right. When a reader reads it, he or she does not find the need for them to have names. He is he and she is she and that is all there is to it. The book is a short one – about a doomed love affair and the circumstances surrounding it and not to forget the backdrop where it all happens – Hollywood – right between the glitz and the glamour and the fake lives, so to say.

A screenwriter saves a young woman from drowning. He is living far away from his wife in New York. He is not a great success but has managed by all this while. He is aware of this. He has no connection to speak of to his wife and does not know how he falls for the young woman he saved. All he wanted was to be left alone. The young woman is aware that he is married and she has no concerns about love and is far from its illusions. And yet there is this attraction to this man. The magnetic pull so to say. The story thus takes off and is self-destructive bringing only tragedy in its wake. There is no other way to tell the story but the way Hayes says it – with clear precision and a tight narrative.

Alfred Hayes says something in such few words. I think the same thing would be said by other writers in so many words, almost so many pages. He possessed such an uncanny skill to not only say it the way it was, but to make the reader merge with his prose and become one for that read. He never names his characters and yet there are only so common in Hollywood, wanting not to be just another face.

The man and the woman’s conversations and meetings are the crux of the story. Their lives are chronicled smoothly by Hayes. For instance, the man has been married for fifteen years and this is brought to fore when the woman tells him, she was only eight when he got married. A stark observation such as this becomes magical in the writing of Alfred Hayes.

What I like about the book the most is the fact that the reader is aware that it will not end on a happy note, and yet the urge to keep reading. The power of prose surpasses everything I suppose. The turning point of the story is in Tijuana – where the true faces of both characters are splendidly brought out. There are no perspectives in the book. There is no judgement. There is the storyteller with a story to say. “My Face for the World to See” is a book about love, about choices that we sometimes make and sometimes do not know how they were made, and above all it is about loneliness, life and what we make of it.

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387 Short Stories: Day 20: Story 20: Foley’s Pond by Peter Orner

9780544105508_p0_v1_s260x420 Title: Foley’s Pond
Author: Peter Orner
Taken from the Collection: The Best American Non Required Reading 2013

The story I read today was, “Foley’s Pond” by Peter Orner. The story first appeared in The Paris Review. I read it through my collection of, “The Best American Non Required Reading 2013”, edited by Dave Eggers. In this story, it is the pond, which is the protagonist. The story revolves around it.

The story starts with a child’s drowning in the pond. Barbara Zamost is two and a half years old and manages to slide under the fence of her house, which surrounds the pond, and drowns in it. Her older brother Nate blames himself for the drowning. The entire community is shattered by the incident and its children stop going to the pond. The pond is hazardous as well with a chemical plant right next to it. Ultimately, what happens to the pond is the crux of the story.

Of course the story was grim and a sad one at that. The description is just right and the reader is left with the sense of leading the story in his or her own direction, which again is a very gratifying experience.

Book Review: The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick

Title: The Shawl
Author: Cynthia Ozick
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 978-0-679-72926-7
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 70
Source: Library
Rating: 5/5

The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick is one of those books that will not let go once you have read it. It is a collection of two inter-linked stories and the impact they will have on any reader is heart-wrenching and stupendous.

The Shawl consists of two stories, “The Shawl” and “Rosa”. The title story is of a woman named Rosa and the death of her child Magda in a concentration camp, at the hands of a guard, due to her niece Stella. The second story – shows the appearance of Rosa, thirty years later in a Miami Hotel as a madwoman and scavenger, remembering what she can of her child.

In both these stories, the shawl is a key element, binding them and reflecting on the times lived – before and after. The Shawl grabs your attention from page one and doesn’t let go. Ozick also beautifully represents the immigrant element through English as a Second Language medium in the second story. She also looks at the complexities of language, class and identity in the Jewish community through these stories.

What I found most amazing was the fact that so much could be said in a mere seventy page book. Sometimes one doesn’t need more words to express the emotion. Rosa is a bitter, psychologically fractured and a woman who doesn’t need anything from anyone. She just wants to be left alone to her madness and that doesn’t seem to happen.

Cynthia Ozick’s writing shines on every page. The book is not an easy read, considering the subject; however Ms. Ozick does not shy away from describing the period of horror, and its impact, even thirty years on. In essence, it is so true, that experiences never let go and Rosa is a befitting example of this.

The Shawl is not a read for the faint-hearted. Like I said Ozick doesn’t mince her words. She is direct. The book makes you wonder: Does the past really leave you or not? The book is just an exquisite tale of human suffering. A cautious read. I recommend it only to those who are interested in something like this.

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Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk

Ok, so while one part of me loved Tell-All because I love the 50’s cinema, the other part of me couldn’t understand exactly what Mr. Palahniuk was trying to tell us. It felt there was so much of it in the book and while I loved most parts, there were parts that were a total turn-off, and yet I think die-hard Palahniuk fans (like me) should read this book at least once.

The premise is fairly simple: It is a look at celebrity culture, gossip rag and the favourite game of them all – name-dropping. The thread is weird and there is a lot left to the readers’ imagination (assuming they have one) and yet so much that is still said.

The novel is from the perspective of Hazie Coogan, who for almost decades has tended to an ageing film star – Katherine Kenton. When a gentleman woos her, Coogan fears that Katherine is about to die soon and already starts writing her memoir. This is where Mr. Palahniuk’s dark style of writing steps in, with crackling wit and dry humour.

Palahniuk’s research into that era is brilliant. The references (Mildred Pierce, The Postman Always Rings Twice, All about Eve and Sunset Boulevard) are clever, and ingeniously built to cater to readers who will lap it up. All in all it is about how Chuck Palahniuk builds a story.

If you love a good old Hollywood cinematic tale with some pills and Botox thrown, bring out your martini and read this book in one sitting…