Books

Be Careful What you Wish For

Jeffrey Archer

The fourth volume of the Clifton Chronicles, and since Archer has made it a point to end each book at a very crucial juncture, the book dives straight in. One of the problems I faced was that I had to do some reading up on the web to remember the plot and the characters.

As with the previous book, the original protagonist Harry Clifton has very little role to play. Most of the plot lines are centred around his wife Emma and son Sebastian. Both of them have to fend off various kinds of attacks from their enemy Don Pedro Martinez. Sebastian’s problems on this account seem relatively small compared to that of Emma’s, as Martinez tries every trick outside the book to bring down Barrington Shipping with the help of Major Alex Fisher and Lady Virginia Fenwick. We are also kept aware of Sir Giles’ political career even as he too becomes a target of Martinez. More

The Glass Palace

Amitav Ghosh

Where do I begin? Let’s start with stating the simple – I loved this book. I haven’t read such a poignantly moving book in quite a while!

With that out of the way, the story actually begins in Mandalay (Burma) in 1885, during the last days of the Konbaung Dynasty. The British forcibly depose the Burmese King Thebaw, his queen Supayalat and their daughters from “The Glass Palace,” so named for the large central hall which had crystal walls and mirrored ceilings. As looters raid the palace, Rajkumar, an Indian boy of 11, catches a glimpse of Dolly, one of the queen’s maids and “by far the most beautiful creature he had ever beheld, of a loveliness beyond imagining.” More

Kamadeva : The God of Desire

Anuja Chandramouli

“You try my patience severely, sage”, said Shambara to Narada, and managed to express my feelings entirely. These (feelings) were not just restricted to Narada, but to pretty much every character in the book! But let’s step back a bit first.

As a subject, this one holds a lot of promise, because Kama has (arguably) a very muted presence in Hindu mythology, except probably the ‘burning man’ episode when he used his arrows on Shiva. So a book which could bring out details of his exciting life – since he was after all the God of Love and Desire – does have the potential to be quite good. While the story in itself stays true to mythology, what put me off the book is the narration. More

The Story of Philosophy

Will Durant

“Science gives us knowledge, but only philosophy can give us wisdom”, states Will Durant in the introduction to this book that chronicles the lives and opinions of Western philosophers from Socrates to John Dewey. The idea behind this book is to make philosophy accessible to the layman, and as one among the intended audience, I can say that it does a fantastic job of it!

There are nine chapters each dedicated to a philosopher, and two additional ones that capture the thoughts (in lesser detail) of three European and three American contemporary philosophers. (the book was published in 1924, so ‘contemporary’ is actually almost a century away) One of the great aspects of this book is how it manages to give the milieu in which the philosophers operated – both the socio-political contexts and the influences of his predecessors.

This gives a wonderful flow to the overall narrative and gives the reader a kind of seamless path of thought. The effect of their personal lives on their thinking has also been well captured. More

The Girl from Nongrim Hills

Ankush Saikia
I must admit a little bias before I write more. For one, it is set in Shillong, which despite a visit that didn’t deliver what it was supposed to, retains a wistful, charming space in my mind, mostly thanks to one Anjum Hasan. Also, the book is written by Ankush Saikia, whose Jet City Woman I quite liked, and who is now an Instagram friend. :)
I finished the book in less than three days, and would have finished it in one sitting if I hadn’t exercised some self control! That is a testament to its racy narrative, which just doesn’t flag in all of the 200+ pages. I thought it was just the right material for a slick flick.

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To a Mountain in Tibet

Colin Thubron

Mount Kailas has been circling my mind space for a long while now, thanks to it being at an intersection of two of my favourite themes – Hindu mythology and travel. A peak that has never been scaled, but a mountain that has witnessed the circumambulation of scores of pilgrims across centuries. Personally, that made it more interesting to me than a standard travelogue.

The mountain is considered holy by two among the world’s biggest faiths – Hinduism and Buddhism. This is in addition to Bon, a native religious tradition of Tibet. Ravana, Hanuman, Nyo Lhanangpa all find a presence in the holy trek. More

Cough Syrup Surrealism

Tharun James Jimani

I’m not sure I really ‘got’ this book. The obvious story line is not really complex – Charlie, a Mallu boy in Chennai, whose dad expects him to become an IAS officer just like him, gets sucked into a world of drugs, music and sex, every fifth page. He also has an identity crisis, and like Peter Pan, refuses to grow up, despite quite a lot of self flagellation and advice from his parents and friends. A nineties kid who refuses to acknowledge, let alone accommodate the noughties, his relationships are anything but simple.

Mao (a figment of Charlie’s imagination) might get irritated, but I wondered if this was the only level this book was operating at. The narrative (and this is not necessarily criticism) is very Charlie-like. I always had this feeling that there was subtext I was completely missing out on. On many occasions, I plodded through text – the Charlie analogy I’d use is that it’s a bit like smiling at pop culture references you haven’t really got. Charlie’s thoughts – for example, mixtapes and body parts – would make for a great conversation when stoned. I wondered quite a few times whether that condition was a prerequisite to reading the book! I’m not even sure if the author meant for this to work that way, but when we have a title that has cough syrup and surrealism, that thought is bound to cross your mind. More

Hawaii

This is my third attempt at this book – I bought it in 2008! In the first attempt, the geological history of Hawaii in the first 15 pages put me to sleep and in the second, the journey of the first settlers of Hawaii from Bora Bora just became too much of a plod work. This time I was determined to complete it, and I am glad I did – the book is magnificent!

We use the word saga a bit loosely, but this one truly deserves that description. From the geological explanations of the formation of Hawaii to the Congressional politics of the 20th century, Michener does what he does best! More

City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi

William Dalrymple

After finishing the book, I was surprised that it was only 339 pages, there is so much in it, and unsurprisingly so. The author mentions in the prologue that depending on whom you ask, the number of Delhis that have existed before the current one is anywhere between 7 and 21, and it is to his credit that he has probably brought out many, many of them. Not in the way of the structured and stratified thirty feet wall that represents 3000 years of continuous occupation to which Professor Lal points and says “The whole history of Delhi is there”, but through different journeys.

There is clearly a preference for the ‘Twilight period’ – between the Mughal decline and the British ascendancy, but there are quite a few pages spent on the Mughal golden age, Tughlaq and other pre-Mughal Delhi rulers, right up till the Mahabharata’s Indraprastha and before, and the post Independence era. It must be mentioned that despite the seriousness with which the author has approached the content, his wit shines through! More

Spoke in the Wheel

Amita Kanekar

‘A novel about the Buddha’ is the way the book is described. Let’s start from that. It’s probably to dispel any ambiguity about the book’s historical authenticity – it is a work of historical fiction. But such is the force of the narrative that it really becomes easy to believe that this version is probably the correct one! It is also the most novel way of presenting the Buddha that I have read.

The book has two parallel narratives. One traverses the path of the Buddha’s life, and the other is set almost three hundred after his death, with a monk named Upali serving as the protagonist. More