The Age of Kali

William Dalrymple

I love doing this – reading a commentary long after the age has passed. It’s more than a decade and a half since the book was published and I’ve read four of the five books that the author has written since then. Both of these factors gave me quite a few perspectives on the book and the writing.

I see this book divided into two on multiple counts – first in terms of geography, second in terms of narrative style, and third in terms of being true to the ‘script’ of the book. More

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Khaled Hosseini

The author’s second book and also the second book of his that I am reading – that would be nothing out of the ordinary except that I read the third book first and I’m yet to read The Kite Runner, which often gets compared to this book. I think this has given me a different perspective – to summarise that quickly, I found ‘And the mountains echoed’ a better book and I can easily see the author’s growth both in terms of overall plot as well as narrative style.

This novel is primarily centred around 3 characters (four, if one has to stretch) and using a now-familiar narrative style, we are introduced to their different worlds quite seamlessly. Mariam, an illegitimate child, is forced out of her relatively peaceful life in Herat after the death of her mother. It’s difficult to understand what affected her more deeply – the change in perspective about her father, or her being married off to her father’s acquaintance and sent to Kabul. Mariam’s marital life quickly deteriorates, as does the ‘character’ of her husband Rasheed, and one cannot but feel for the isolation and helplessness of this woman who is abused physically and mentally without respite by a husband who preaches one set of moral standards while hiding stash of porn in his drawers. More


Colleen McCullough

The fifth book in the Masters of Rome series, and my favourite thus far. (and I only have The October Horse left to read) I loved the tagline “Let the dice fly” – uttered by Caesar as he crosses the Rubicon, a crucial moment in his own and Rome’s destiny. (the translation is still being debated though)

The author is clearly in awe of Caesar, and by the time the book is finished, we’d probably be pardoned for sharing the feeling. Since she rarely tampers with history and only adds interpretations (of character motivations) we have to assume that, according to known history, Caesar was indeed a god among men! His confidence in himself is absolute, and while the author, on a couple of instances, shows the change in how it manifests itself as he grows older, and though Caesar seems to seek some validation from his peers, it is largely a “I don’t think so, I know so” stance that he takes on situations, plans and people. More

The Difficulty of Being Good

 Gurcharan Das

I’d liked Gurcharan Das’ “India Unbound” (that was a long while back, I haven’t read his later works) and I’m generally a sucker for all things epic, so buying this was a given.

The blurb created quite the hype for me by stating that the book “shows us how we can come to terms with the uncertain ethics of the world today.” (a world which according to them can be compared to the one in Mahabharata) On hindsight, this does seem a reasonably impossible task and I should have figured that out before I started. More


 Jeet Thayil

What a trip! Right from the single sentence prologue that lasts 7 pages which, to me, also gives a clue on how to consume this book – “Do I take a single continuous drag? You can, but then you have to recycle it inside your lungs, better to take short pulls, “How long should I hold it in?… it depends how much nasha you want” In essence, I could have read it in one shot and deconstructed it in my head, or I could consume it languorously and let the author take me through it at his own pace. I chose the latter, trying to keep up with his lucidity and fantasy. I honestly don’t know if I got it all right.

The narrator Dom leaves us soon after the book begins – to Rashid, the owner of an opium den, Dimple, the eunuch who is his ‘kaamvali’, and to a small extent Rumi. (no, just a shortened form of Ramesh) The networks of stories are like waves, probably matching opium induced undulations of the mind. They are continuous, and have similarities – of pain, and a need for belonging and love. But they are unique too, as we watch time pass by – backward and forward – through the perspectives of different characters. The Stoneman references give us an indication of the timeframe the novel is set, but we also get a glimpse of the socio-political scene of China in the 1940s thanks to Mr.Lee. More

The Lowland

Jhumpa Lahiri

The good part is that the usual characters are all present – Kolkata, Boston, melancholy, wistfulness. The better part is that Jhumpa Lahiri is in top form. I was a bit disappointed with the last book so I started this with a skeptical mindset, but am extremely glad to have been proved wrong.
The story spans about four generations, beginning in the 1950s and ending in contemporary times. What is interesting is that, though at least a couple of the characters seem easy enough to slot into standard stereotypes – a Naxalite moved by his milieu into embracing a fiery ideology, and his brother who moves to the US and becomes the immigrant absorbed in scientific research building a new life in an alien country, the author takes them beyond that in the story arc, giving them depth and layers.

One wonders whether it is the story of Udayan whose influence in the lives of the characters extend far beyond his death, or that of Subhash and the women in his life – a mother disappointed by his choice, a wife who never loved him as he wished she would, and a daughter whom he raised but is not his own. Or is it really the story of Gauri, and her journey which seems to be played out in a real as well as philosophical level? “Plato says that the purpose of philosophy is to teach us how to die.” Between these three, the author travels the spectrum of human nature – from its most benevolent to its most selfish. The Lowland is the stretch of land between two ponds – probably also symbolising the two brothers and Gauri. More

The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer

 Neal Stephenson

Snow Crash remains one of my favourite books in the genre, and it would only be a slight exaggeration to say that this book does for nanotechnology what the former did for the internet – give a fantastic perspective of the possibilities. I have to confess that Stephenson’s books are not the easiest to read- as anyone who has attempted The Baroque Cycle would agree to – but what I give him the most credit for is his scope of imagination. That matter compiler, (MC) which is one of the standard technologies in this book, is probably an advanced form of 3D printing, and this book was written in 1995!

From a plot perspective, there are at least two main protagonists. Nell, who escapes from domestic abuse with the help of her brother and gets a copy of the Primer, a book that adapts to the life conditions of the reader, and was originally made at the behest of an ‘Equity Lord’ for his granddaughter to propel her towards a more interesting life. (read subversive ideas) John Percival Hackworth, the architect of the Primer, who begins to be used by two separate forces to meet their own objectives. The story primarily focuses on Nell’s ‘evolution’ after she gets the Primer and Hackworth’s journey after he hands over the Primer. More

Frankly Spooking

Sriramana Muliya

I must first confess a little bias – I have known the author virtually for around a decade now, as Phatichar, his blogger handle.
He has tried at least two kinds of fiction genres here – sketch stories (or perhaps flash fiction) and short stories. The first kind does away with any setting or build up – they are just scenes or slices which begin and end abruptly. That’s not a problem, it’s the way it is supposed to work. :) The last five stories could be categorised as short stories – lengthier, with more complex plots and a more concrete narrative flow.

There are mainly three things I like about this book. The first is the simplicity of the language. I’m not sure if it’s a conscious effort or just a natural way of writing, but irrespective of that, it works very well. A big word or a complex sentence could have easily spoiled the gripping narratives. The second is the imagination – the sheer scale of scenarios, names, occupations, characters and their descriptions is admirable. Depending on your ‘palate’, you might consider some spooky, some scary and some as just a good story. That leads me to the last point – the structure of the book. More

And the Mountains Echoed

Khaled Hosseini 

Before I write about the book, I think a disclaimer that I haven’t read the earlier books by the author is necessary. Reviews tell me that there are patterns easily discernible in Khaled Hosseini’s works, so it’s probably good that I was introduced to the author with this book.

It’s been about five minutes since I finished the book, and my eyes are no longer moist. The thing is, I knew the ending. Pretty much everyone who reads the book and realises the intent of the story (within the story) that’s narrated by the siblings’ father at the very beginning of the novel- of a div who visits a village and takes away a child, of the father who braved odds in an attempt to win him back, and its ending, memories like ‘the tail end of a sad dream’ – can picture the frame in which the novel will end, or almost. Yet, like many other points in the novel, it did not fail to move me. That’s probably the defining character of this book – an unbearable sadness. More

The Seeds of War

Ashok Banker

The second in Banker’s MBA (Mahabharata) series. The book quickly moves through the progeny of Bharata, pausing only for characters who have a direct bearing on the final epic war. Kacha – Devayani, Yayati and Puru are such, with the latter also offering lessons on dharma.

The plot then moves on to the story of Shantanu and Ganga, and thus Devavrata, later to be known as Bhishma, after his terrible vow. The last few portions are focused on Shantanu’s second wife Satyavati and their offspring, and the continuation of the dynasty by Vyasa. More

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