Book Review : Murder with Bengali Characteristics by Shovon Chowdhury

Shovon Chowdhury’s Murder with Bengali Characteristics is a sequel to his book The Competent Authority (Book Review | Author Interview). Although a sequel to the book, it is a stand alone novel. While The Competent Authority was a purely satirical novel, Murder with Bengali Characteristics is part sci-fi, part satirical and part crime fiction.


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When I picked up this book, Murder with Bengali Characteristics by Shovon Chowdhury, I was fascinated beyond belief with the title. It’s a very well thought out, attractive title, much like the book itself. It invites a reader to be curious about the content of the book.

The book focuses on Bengal in the year 2035, when it’s no more a part of India and is in fact a Chinese protectorate. The plot revolves around a certain inspector Li who is investigating the murder of a teacher, suspected to have been carried out by the New Thug Society, an organization which has resolved to liberate Bengal. Also involved are two businessmen Verma and Agarwal trying to save their business which wouldn’t benefit if the Indians and the Chinese weren’t on good terms. Along with other intriguing characters like Sexy Chen, Big Chen, Governor Wen, Propagandist Wang and General Zhou, the book has an interesting premise. But the best thing about the book was the author’s extremely witty humour; the kind which deserves great respect.

I felt the book was ferociously inventive. There were no limits to the imagination of the author, which should always be the case when one attempts to write fiction. The talking, flying car was kind of cool but the talking magazines were highly amusing.

But apart from all of this, the book lacked the one ingredient necessary for all kinds of books- Grip. The entire journey through the book felt like I was dragging a heavy bag across the floor while ostensibly laughing about it. The crime fiction genre of the story was unfortunately unsuccessful to sell itself. The book isn’t a page turner, no matter how funny it is.

The book lacks a compelling story although you can still experience Shovon Chowdhury’s satirical brilliance in the book. He still makes fun of our famously twisted political ethos, in his typical style. However, one can’t help but compare it to The Competent Authority which introduced us to his sardonic humour and in that case, Murder with Bengali Characteristics seems a let down when you have experienced once, what a writer like Shovon Chowdury is capable of.

Guest Review by Sherry Verma (Instagram | GoodReads | WordPress), with inputs from the administrator.

About the book: Murder with Bengali Characteristics | Shovon Chowdhury | Aleph Book Company | Fiction | 204 pages


Note: This book, Murder with Bengali Characteristics by Shovon Chowdhury, was provided for free, by the kind people at Aleph Book Company.

Book Review: The Mysterious Mr. Jacob by John Zubrzycki

John Zubrzycki, an Australian journalist, gained some fame when he wrote ‘The Last Nizam‘, a book about Mukarram Jah, his rise and subsequent fall. While that book was based on the Nizams of Hyderabad, his book ‘The Mysterious Mr. Jacob’, published by Random House India, is about Alexander Malcolm Jacob, a controversial diamond merchant, and how the Imperial Diamond contributed to his downfall.

Book Cover
Book Cover

The book is part biography and part thriller as the author delves deeper into the court case that started Alexander Jacob’s downfall. Alexander Malcolm Jacob is reported to have been an enigmatic and shrewd business man who practiced magic and illusions and cultivated a strong information network. The author talks about his past, the different versions of how he came to India and became a famous man.

Alexander Jacob owed much of his wealth to the benevolence of the Indian princes, known for competing against each other for status and the chance to show off their wealth by spending extravagantly on precious gems and artifacts from traders like Jacob. He accumulated great wealth on the commission he made from each item sold to these princes and the Britishers staying in India at that time. He also created a hype around myself by exaggerating the ‘adventure’ quotient of his beginnings in India. The illusions which he performed, added to his charisma, such that it was difficult to say no to anything.However, his lucks changed one day when he came to know of the Imperial Diamond. He soon realized that the commission made on this diamond would set him up for life and he would never have to work again.

The book is an interesting read. It tries to be neutral but puts Jacob on a pedestal at several places. The author has, no doubt, put in a lot of work, sifting through old British-era government documents, old newspapers in libraries, visiting each of the places that Jacob spent time in, in order to trace the eventful life of this enigmatic person. The book also reveals a fair bit of politics that the Britishers indulged in, to protect their interests in India. It also paints a picture of ‘society’ during the time the British reigned in India, especially the life of Rajahs and the power that they still enjoyed, in that period.

On the whole, the book keeps you interested in it, till the end. If you are interested in history, this book needs to be read!

Note: A copy of this book was provided by Random House India for an honest review.

Book Review: Tantra by Adi

You could say that Tantra by Adi falls in the ‘Chetan Bhagat’ genre. I generally try to avoid the ‘Chetan Bhagat’ genre of Indian Fiction. You may not believe it, but there’s usually at least one person in the Delhi Metro who’s reading a Chetan Bhagat book. Everyday. We may criticize him all we want, but you have to hand it over to him for ‘creating’ (for lack of a better word) this genre of pacey novels with story lines that everybody seems to identify with.

Anyway, coming back to the main point, although Tantra by Adi is  a light read, it’s not boring and has a kick ass heroine. And, I was in a mood for a light read.  So, randomly, I entered myself for the giveaway of the book ‘Tantra’ by Adi on GoodReads and imagine my surprise when I won a copy!

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This book is about Anu, a vampire hunter who moves to New Delhi for her own reasons, which are actually more personal rather than professional. She’s helped by Amit, a co-vampire hunter (who’s in the friend zone for now) and flirts with Gaurav, a handsome guy she met in a wedding which she was forced to attend by her Aunt who wants to see her ‘settled’.

In this book, she ends up dealing more with a Spiritual Guru gone bad rather than vampires although there is also a mysterious, enigmatic Vampire somewhere in the picture. I am assuming he will play a bigger part in the next book and I won’t be surprised if this is going to be a series instead of a stand alone novel. There are lots of questions that need to be answered and for that, a sequel(s) would be necessary. It also deals with the use of ‘good’ Tantrik magic, which is basically going to be how she ends up defeating the bad guys.  The author has quite nicely included, in the background, the rigmarole of arranged marriage and so-called dating for the same. There is no overdose of romance (thankfully!) and lot of action. For a change, a female is the main character who makes the first move and ‘saves’ a male love interest. (Yey for female empowerment!)

Now, the book does have some grammatical mistakes at different places but this ought not to discourage a reader whose sole purpose in reading a book is to get entertained but not have to think too deeply about anything else. So, take it for what it is, a light, breezy but still pacey, funny book which manages the passing of time in an entertaining manner.

Note: This book was won for free in a Giveaway on GoodReads

Book Review- Aerogrammes and other stories by Tania James

I’ve had a massive realization. I’ve realized that I have finished a LOT of books while travelling in trains. And now, add one more to the list. I finished Aerogrammes and other stories by Tania James while travelling between Valsad and Anand on the Gujarat Express. There was a particularly chatty middle aged person sitting next to me but I resisted all his attempts to make me talk to him and finished the book like a good girl. 🙂

Book Cover
Book Cover

And what did I think about the book?

I have always liked short stories. Most of them always manage to be profound even though they don’t use so many words. Similar is the case with this book. The stories are inherently profound, but leave it up to the reader to understand the different layers in the characters. Living abroad is a major theme in all the stories and the author quite provides a different perspective. For a change, I was glad to not find  stories of alienation and the Desi/Not Desi turmoil that is so much a part of most books written by authors with similar backgrounds(Since not every book turns out to be as good as The Namesake). But there is alienation in the stories, but it’s not the same. It’s also about loss and how distances separate people. I particularly liked the first story ‘Lion and Panther in London’ (The cover seemed to be such a big mystery to me, until I saw the title of the first story) and the story of ‘Ethnic Ken’.

All in all, it’s a book that’s not very heavy on your mind but they are profound and very well written. And you create your own meaning from each story. Tania James has piqued my interest in her with this book. I am tempted to read her first book, ‘The Atlas of Unknowns’ now. Does somebody have a copy? 🙂

PS Have you seen her picture? She’s also very good looking. 🙂

Note: Copy of the book provided by Random House.

Book Review- Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

Yesterday, I finished reading Last night in Twisted River. The foodie that I am, what I remember most about the book were the descriptions of food!

“Today the cook was working on a red wine reduction for the braised beef short ribs, and he had both a light and a dark chicken stock on the steam table. In the ‘Something from Asia’ category, he was serving Ah Gou’s beef satay with peanut sauce and assorted tempura-just some shrimp, haricots verts, and asparagus. There were the usual pasta dishes-the calamari with black olives and pine nuts, over penne, among them-and two popular pizzas, the pepperoni with marinara sauce and a wild-mushroom pizza with four cheeses. He had a roast chicken with rosemary, which was served on a bed of arugula and grilled fennel, and a grilled leg of spring lamb with garlic, and a wild-mushroom risotto, too.”

Pg 275, Last night in Twisted River (John Irving)

That just sounds yummy, no?

Book Cover
Book Cover

The book revolves around two persons- Dominic Baciagalupo and his son, Daniel and the two most important things in their lives- cooking and storytelling. Mainly, this is a story of Daniel Baciagalupo and how his life changes when he accidentally kills Injun Jane, his dad’s lover cum local constable’s girl friend at the age of twelve. What follows is their flight from Coos County which ultimately ends in Canada. The book spans across four decades, finally ending with the constable catching up to them.

From the description on the back page, you’d think it’s a speedy thriller with a pace like a sinusoidal wave, and we’d have a story of how they run from the constable at every point in their lives. But no, it’s not a very fast book. It’s more of a story of the two fellows and how they set up their life at each new location. They spend at least a decade at Boston, Vermont and Toronto, to forge new friendships and cultivate new experiences much of which influences Daniel and his writing. The book chronicles their joy and the sadness they face in their lives. The fear of the cop catching them is almost invisible through the entire book although it is predictable that he will, in the end.

What I did not like was the pace at which the book moves. I started reading this when I went to Goa, and it took me some while to finish it although some major events like the convocation and the moving out took much of my time. However, I liked some things about the story that are the lessons in cooking and writing that the author provides by way of telling the story and memorable characters like Ketchum, Lady Sky and little Joe. At the same time, the author critiques world events which form the backdrop of the story like the Vietnam War, and 9/11 terrorist strikes. I like an author with an opinion and John Irving clearly takes a stand through his characters like Ketchum. Sometimes, the story almost seems autobiographical.

On the whole, it’s a good read, even though it’s slow. It becomes interesting though if you have a passion for food and writing. The description of the food that Cookie (Dominic) makes is enjoyable and encourages the taste buds in your mouth to churn up huge amounts of saliva. At the same time, the book aptly records the growth of a writer and gives some food for thought to the reader.

If you read the book, I would like to know what you think! I love discussing books and would be glad to know of your opinion. 🙂

Note: This book was provided by Random House for review.

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Book Review- Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes by Betsy Woodman

Writing a book review becomes enjoyable when reading the book has given one some pleasure and I have to say, writing this review is one of the easiest things I’ve done. Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes by Betsy Woodman is the story of Jana Laird, a woman with a mission to save Hamara Nagar, a town where she has recently moved, to a house which was a part of the heritage left to her by her grandfather. It is a place which she has fond childhood memories of.

Cover of the book

Reading the novel is akin to watching a Bollywood movie. You have a very Indian setting with a town aptly called Hamara Nagar (Our Town) and the town truly belongs to each one of us. It’s that town which you visited over the summer in your childhood and carry fond memories of. It is that town where your twelve year old self spent evenings enjoying the cool breeze, strolling around with an ice-cream in your hand. You’d say hello to every shop owner as you amble your way through the Bazaar with the ice cream dripping on to your navy blue shorts or your red frock. Feroze, the philosopher tailor, Ramachandran, the owner of the antique store, Rambir, the reporter, Bandhu, the bullying police officer, Zohra, the elegant neighbor, Mary, the caring ayah, Tilku, the cute, errand boy, Moustapha, the small town boy with big city ambitions, Sandra, the typical American girl in a boarding school- all of them come alive in the form of reminders of some distant past. These characters are charmingly eccentric, yet so real that they remind you of the same people in your life. At the same time, there are some good old emotions thrown into the story with which the characters come alive and resonate so well with the reader. And there is chaos, a typically Indian experience.

The novel tries to be a little Rushdie-sque (but, not quite) in the portrayal of an imaginary town and its people in the 1960s. However, it has a charm of its own. Jana, the fifty five year old matron is an Indian citizen but of Scottish heritage. She seems more Indian than a foreigner and more twenty five than fifty five as we come to know of her penchant for adventure and a desire to be away from the mundane. At the same time, she seems full of wisdom and knows very well how to soothe troubled spirits. Her parrot, Mr. Ganguly, is an interesting character in itself, with its extraordinary intelligence and an ability to judge correctly the intention of people it comes across. Her household and the neighborhood also consist of a mix of interesting characters.

This novel is written about a specific time in India from the standpoint of a foreigner, for whom India seems to be like this toy you can get endlessly fascinated with. However, the story is charming, funny in places and very endearing. It’s fast and does not bore you, or try to go on different platitudes. However, it subtly comments on various serious topics (especially through the mouth of Feroze, the simple, religious tailor). It resonates with you when he says, ‘Development is always somebody else’s development’ or when he writes in his notebook, ‘Life comes and hits you with first one thing. And then a second. And then yet a third. Who would voluntarily be an archery target for others?’

When I finished the novel, I thought, ‘Well, this should have been a series instead of one book’. I wasn’t surprised when I read on the back page later that it was the first book of a series on Jana Bibi. I, for one, am looking forward to reading more.

Note: The reviewer was provided a copy of the book by Random House.

Book Review- Love, Peace and Happiness: What more can you want?


Book Title: Love, Peace and Happiness: What more can you want?

Author: Rituraj Verma

“Stories surround us.”

So starts the text on the back cover of the Book ‘Love, Peace and Happiness: What more can you want?’

And I thought it was just another one straight out of the league of books inspired by Chetan Bhagat and other writers with a MBA degree. Then I chided myself for being prejudiced. I turned the pages and reading the foreword made me curious. It was wistful, delicate and evoked a humane interest in the author.

As I started with the first story ‘A high, like heaven’, the book started growing on me. And I read it at one go, never wishing to quite part with it as I pondered over the meaning of Love, Peace and Happiness along with the myriad characters in the book.

In each story, each character goes through a private journey, reminding us that essentially what we all want is happiness, though the definition of happiness may be different for all. Sometimes, their lives intermingle, each affecting the other in a profound way. In the process, there are certain tradeoffs that we make in this quest for peace. Whether it be the middle aged man pondering over the question ‘who am I?’ to the man looking to commit to a prostitute, there’s a Hanif, an Anamika, a Rasheeda, a Rajesh in each one of us.

What is unique about this book is that the Author invites the readers to write alternate endings if they don’t like the ones in the book. That makes one feel as if one is a part of the story, as if what think matters. In fact, this book is perfect as a travel companion. It is simple, easy to understand and yet conveys a whole lot of meaning. Read it if you want something light to read but at the same, contemplate about some serious questions raised by life.