Last Man in Tower

Aravind Adiga

Vishram Society, and its original version – Tower A – is not a symbol of modernity, nor of comfort. But despite the peeling paint and the patchy water supply, the building and its residents represent an “unimpeachably pucca’ middle class residential cooperative. Inaugurated in the 50s on Nehru’s birthday, the originally Christian residents showed their secular spirit and openness by allowing Hindus, and Muslims later. A monument of times past, that is how one could describe the place whose character is etched out really well by the author.

He sets up the plot really well by showing the tiny chinks in the otherwise abundant neighbourliness that exists in the apartment complex. From the respected Masterji to the security guard Ram Khare, and the Puris and Kidwais and Regos in between, the author quickly starts peeling open the characters, and the veneer.  More

Red Bull to Buddha

David Passiak

I came across this book thanks to an article on the web that quoted a paragraph from this book. The paragraph comes pretty late in the book and deals with the ‘cycles of birth and death’ tenet in Hinduism. It is indeed one of the several bright sparks in the book.

Let’s start from the beginning. It’s pretty much the typical ‘story’ of a Westerner feeling disgusted with the levels of greed and materialism rampant in the US suddenly deciding to drop everything and come to the East for ‘the answer’. To his credit, the author himself acknowledges it, and calls out the fact that everyone is in search of the elusive ‘answer’. I actually saw the title in that context but it actually is about Red Bull being considered a legit offering made to the Buddha by his devotees in parts of Thailand. I found some of the events narrated a tad difficult to believe – specially the encounters with the sadhus in India – but hey, as the author states, ‘our beliefs create the world we live in’. Also, the experiences indeed make for good stories at the very least. More


Greg Egan

I have always been amazed at Neal Stephenson for being able to write Snowcrash and The Diamond Age in 1992 and 1995 respectively. I am now equally amazed that Greg Egan wrote this in 1995. In fact, even more, because while the first two books were novels and dealt with a smaller number of concepts, this book is a collection of short stories, and except for a (connected/repeat) couple, are unique concepts. Imagine, 18 stories with ideas that would still be regarded as science fiction!

In addition to this, there are at least two factors that made me a fan. The first is that while the ideas themselves are wonderfully imaginative, the focus really is on the effect on humans and humanity. Nuanced explorations of how the human psyche functions and reacts when faced with profound moral choices. The technology, though advanced, is taken as a backdrop against which societal, psychological and philosophical questions are raised and consequences revealed. ‘The Hundred Light Year Diary’, for instance, where everyone knows their fate, or ‘Eugene’, in which a couple try to design a perfect child. Both stories featuring the ‘Jewel’ are a wonderful study on the idea of consciousness. ‘The Walk’ is a fantastic thought on ‘identity’. ‘The Moat’ I found particularly relevant in this era when we are facing a widening economic divide. More

The Calcutta Chromosome

Amitav Ghosh

“The Glass Palace” is one of my all time favourites, and I find it difficult to believe that it was written by the same author. That is by no means a takedown of this book, in fact it is to the author’s credit that he manages to do such a fantastic job across genres!

I’m finding it very difficult to give a genre label to this work – fantasy, horror, thriller, medical mystery historical fiction – though sci-fi for some reason seems to be its accepted genre. The plot uses a whole lot of themes – science, mysticism, religion, mythology, counter-science, even nihilism to a certain extent. I can’t be sure but I also wonder if the author was firing a tiny salvo at a Western attitude towards Indian scholars, and how history has been written to glorify its authors. (non-objective and not giving credit where due) More

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn

I probably wouldn’t have picked up the book if everyone and their everyone else had not raved so much about the movie. I am glad I did. (I need to add a few thrillers to the reading list occasionally) One of the indicators of how much I enjoyed a book is the number of days I take to finish it. This one was completed in half the time that had been allocated for it.

“You two are the most f*cked-up people I have ever met, and I specialize in f*cked-up people.” says Tanner Bolt somewhere in the last fifty pages of the book. That, arguably, is the best description of this book. From the time you wonder, just like Nick, what happened to Amy on their fifth anniversary, you’re hooked. That is the beginning of a roller-coaster ride, which keeps you on the edge pretty much all through the 400-odd pages. More


Kamala Markandaya

Kamala Markandaya’s writings have always intrigued me largely because of the times she lived in and the socio-cultural themes they therefore brought out. In this book, for instance, there were at least two themes I could make out.

The first is obvious enough, and also stems from the title – a battle between the spiritual and the material. The story begins with Anasuya, a writer, becoming the inadvertent connector of two lives – Caroline Bell, a rich, divorced, beautiful English lady with an iron will, and Valmiki, a poor peasant boy who is also a gifted artist. Valmiki’s parents have a very dim view of him, and the only person who sees his talent is Swamy, an ascetic who lives a solitary life in the hills near Valmiki’s village. Valmiki is swept away by Caroline to London, where she introduces him to her society and culture and tries to help him develop his talent. But it isn’t all altruistic – even as Val’s talent ensures his popularity, Caroline extends their relationship and ensures that he feels beholden to her. She goes to every extent to destroy any competition that arises, and succeeds. In a sense, it is difficult to say who possesses and who is possessed. Swamy’s mostly invisible hand brings out the battle between spirituality and material success. More

The Palace of Illusions

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Like I’ve said before, what does it say of a story when countless people, centuries later, can continue to render it in their unique way? It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who’s completely enthralled by the phenomenon that is The Mahabharata. It’s even more heartening when renditions are such that they do justice to the epic.

This is the Mahabharata told from the viewpoint of Draupadi, and as a reader, I could easily believe this to be indeed her autobiography. I could sense the changes in Draupadi with time, not just in her behaviour, but also in her perspectives and even the words she uses. It is almost as though the author walked in her shoes! It is difficult to bring anything new to the table with regards to the basic story itself, but the author manages it with the help of at least three devices – the role of Karna in Draupadi’s life, the perspectives of a female protagonist and finally, the interpretations Draupadi draws of and from the events that happen around her. There is a fourth too, that lends a uniqueness to this retelling – the Palace of Illusions, and what it does to Draupadi’s own perspectives. More

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