Tag Archives: fiction

Farewell Waltz by Milan Kundera and how I waltzed my way through it

I finished reading Farewell Waltz by Milan Kundera yesterday night. Now, I have dozed off while reading this book on numerous occasions and this is what happened yesterday also, as I was trying to race my sleep to the finish. Unfortunately, my sleep got the better of me and I think I dozed off when five pages were left. I awoke with a start at 1 am, finished the rest of the book and went to sleep with a deep satisfaction, of having finally finished reading. Quite frankly, I have been struggling to finish this since a month and no, this is not the fault of the book or the author.  Both, my general mood lately and my treatment of this book have been undeserving and unfair, for a writer of Kundera’s calibre. This was definitely not a waltz, although I am fairly nonchalant about bidding farewell.

Source : Amazon.co.uk

Source : Amazon.co.uk

This is not the first book which Milan Kundera has written. This is also not the first book that I have read, from this author. I remember reading ‘Laughable Loves’ a long time back. I had to search the list of books written by Kundera to remember the title. And then I got confused for a second, was it ‘Laughable Loves’ that I’d read, or was it ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’.  It took me a while to be sure (I googled the book covers, just to confirm, such is the sorry state of my poor mind – feels like a travesty). I also tried to remember what that book made me feel – I guess I was trying to compare both my experiences. All I could remember was that, somehow, ‘Laughable Loves’ had left me with a better feeling, a feeling of somewhere some profundity hitting me, at the right places. I guess I was subconsciously looking for the same experience to be repeated, when I picked this up from The Oxford Bookstore at Connaught Place. When you’ve enjoyed one book borne by an author, you tend to have greater expectations, from another child of theirs, don’t you?

‘Farewell Waltz’, on the other hand, leaves me with no feeling.  It’s not that Kundera says nothing intelligent, or that it’s badly written. It is good writing that should have hit me; however I was disaffected, largely due to the treatment of the female characters in the book, I think. That overshadowed the good feelings that I may have received at many places in the book, leaving me nonchalant.

Kamila, Olga and most importantly Ruzena, who is one of the main characters and whose behaviour accounts for most of the plot and the story line, are reduced to comic figures. It’s not that the men aren’t. They are equally absurd. The book essentially points out the absurdity in human nature, using the characters who are all archetypes of one kind or the other. However, I do not know why that irked me – the reduction of the female characters. Perhaps because of the stark nature in which it reminds you of the weaknesses of female minds – and no, this is in no way related to their ability to do math or design a rocket – it’s more to do with how we think with our emotions, of how beauty as a standard is still so important for us to feel better, or how we look at male attention as a measure of our worth, also how that is used as a manipulation tool, both sincerely and insincerely, by men and women alike.

The book is also a caricature on how men react to situations. Klima, Skreta, Bertlef and Jakub – they are all experts at manipulation. And they all have their own justification for the things they do – right or wrong, whether it be having a one night stand, cheating on their wife, or slipping poison into somebody’s medicine box, even if by accident. They are all vain men, especially Bertlef and Jakub. While Bertlef is overtly vain, Jakub is vain under the surface, placing too much importance on the reason for his presence on planet earth. I did like how Kundera nullifies his ego, which is tragic, because he seeks to do the same by making him feel as he was meant to feel that way, deeply satisfying his ego in some perverse manner, at the same time. However, at the end of it, while it may have been a happy ending for mostly everybody except Ruzena, Jakub seems to be only other loser in the whole situation.

Overall, I do think that I could have read this book with greater attention and more enthusiasm. However, not my fault, if it failed to create the same in me. Dissatisfaction with a book is similar to feelings left in you after a failed relationship. You can only blame yourself for it till some time, after a point, you realize how some things just aren’t meant to be!

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: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

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Book Covers

Amazon listed Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee as their most pre-ordered book since Rowling’s final book in the Harry Potter series – The Deathly Hallows (2007) and I’m not surprised why. In fact I think it was one of the most anticipated books of 2015. So, naturally, the expectations from the book were sky high. The book is the sequel to the major American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, which is personally one of my favourites and it drove everybody crazy when its release was announced.

Go set a watchman by Harper Lee focuses on Scout Finch who is no longer a six year old. She is now a twenty-six year old Jean Louise Finch who returns to Maycomb, Alabama from New York. The book is about her struggle to understand the perception of her home county. Just like its prequel, Go Set a Watchman raises the issue of racial inequality and talks of the political view of the city through the eyes of a young woman.

Jean Louise Finch starts to question the beliefs her father had instilled in her when she was a child and the things she learns which in my opinion, make her grow as a person. It makes her separate her conscience from that of her father and thus, helps her create her own identity.

The book starts off at a very slow pace and isn’t as captivating as one would expect it to be. Many minor characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are seen as major characters here; yet character development was rather scarce. However, the best part about the book is that it will, along with Jean Louise, make you learn something. You’re reading about Jean Louise and her problems with perceptions, opinions of her own and others, and you’ll realize that it implies to us all. Some parts in the book left me awe-struck. Like when Uncle Jack is speaking to a grown up Jean Louise, he says, “It’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you’ll get along.” This was indeed a very wise advice. Speaking of wisdom, I was disappointed that we did not see much of Atticus Finch in the novel, but the fact that it serves a purpose in the book, makes it bearable.

In an honest conclusion, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is not as brilliant as its prequel and is rather slow; but it is in entirety a good book and everybody who devoured To Kill a Mockingbird should definitely read this once, however with lower expectations.

Guest Review by Sherry Verma (Instagram | GoodReads | WordPress )

About the book: Go Set a Watchman | Harper Lee | Harper Collins | Fiction | 278 pages

Book Review : Love potion no. 10 : A Jana Bibi Adventure by Betsy Woodman

I was introduced to Jana Bibi last year when Random House India sent her first book ‘Jana Bibi’s excellent fortunes’ to me for a review. (Click here to read the review). I found Jana bibi to be an adorable creature.

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The second book in the series, Jana Bibi returns with the same penchant for a life away from the mundane. And nothing mundane can actually happen in Hamara nagar, with a creepy fellow wanting to get his hands on Mr. Ganguly. At the same, love seems to be blooming behind the scenes for Jana Laird and some of her friends.

I am not sure what genre Jana Bibi falls in. Is it for children or adults? It’s amazingly light, simple at heart, but sometimes, has a very mature tone. Overall, it leaves a positive feeling in your stomach and is never a bore. However, I fear that Betsy Woodman may just get a little repetitive in the series, with almost the same plot line in every book (where there is something that threatens Jana and how she deals with it).

About the book: Love Potion no. 10 – A Jana Bibi Adventure | Betsy Woodman | Random House India | Fiction | 320 pages

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

Book Review: The Competent Authority by Shovon Chowdhury

The current status of our chaotic country seems to be an extremely fitting time for this book to be written. With our country riddled by dishonest, utterly inept politicians, a failing bureaucracy, a police willing to act only at particular instances, a media perpetually high on steroids, shrewd spiritual leaders (better to call them businessmen, no?) and people divided by stupid things like caste and religion, the book ‘The Competent Authority’ by Shovon Chowdhury is a commentary on the prevailing social and political conditions in India.

With 452 pages and a small sized font, at first this book seemed to pose a challenge to me. Lately, things have been hectic and I have found it hard to sustain the energy to write on this blog, after a long day and the commute in the metro. However this book is anything but boring.

The book The Competent Authority is a witty take on life in the year 2050 in a scenario when cities like Delhi and Mumbai do not exist (at least not in the same form we know them today) because of a war with China (they got nuked). Bengal has declared itself to be a Chinese protectorate and India is controlled by a bureaucrat known as the competent authority, with the PM only being a figurehead(Oh well, not that it is quite different in real life too). The competent authority is invisible to the public and is a megalomaniac with a desire to go down in history as the one who successfully spurred economic growth and reconstruction. Not satisfied by the ongoing reconstruction efforts which have managed to do little ‘re-construction’, the competent authority wishes to ‘re’-start the ‘re’-construction process completely. This, he aims to do so, at great cost, even if you disregard the whole madness of his scheme. Essentially, this is a story of how he is stopped from carrying out his mad plans.

There are many interesting characters who join him, especially Ali – an Al Queda member who isn’t much of a terrorist, Banani – a school teacher who is not as helpless as her husband seems to think, Pande – the epitome of the paunchy Indian policeman or Pintoo – a character without whom the book would be incomplete. Actually, the book would be incomplete even if one of the other characters were to be removed.

The writing is funny and simple, neither compromising on the laws of language (or the ‘literary’ quotient, if you may choose to call it so) nor becoming obtuse to the reader. At the start, one may get a little confused when so many characters are introduced at quite the same time. However, the author has listed all the characters in the book at the start, describing them in a short and funny way.The Author has made fun of everybody, whether it be spiritual leaders running a business in the name of faith, bureaucrats, Bengalis, communists, capitalists, dynasty politics, right wing fundamentalism and even Honey Singh (Yey!).

This is a satire but at the same time, the book becomes sensitive at certain places, giving time to the reader to meditate and take it all in, the whole meaning of life, hidden somewhere in between the different layers of sarcasm, speculation and irony. Extremely poignant are two scenes, one in which Gandhi talks about himself and what’s he done, to Chatterjee, who’s been sent into the past to save Gandhi. The other scene has one of the central characters losing his hand. The book also leaves you with a positive message, albeit a little cliched.

About the book: The Competent Authority | Shovon Chowdhury | Aleph Book Company | Fiction | 452 pages | Rs. 495.

Note: A review copy of the book was provided by the publishers, Aleph Book Company.

Book releases in September – Fiction

August was an exciting month with so many book releases. However, September doesn’t look too bad either, with books by Margaret Atwood and Jhumpa Lahiri set to release. Check out the book releases in September below!

1. MADDADDAM by Margaret Atwood, Bloomsbury Publishing

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Maddaddam is the concluding book of the speculative trilogy which began with Oryx and Crake and continued with The Year of the Flood. I have to say this, I am a big fan of Margaret Atwood and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ impressed and made me cringe at the same.

Related: An Excerpt from the book on Speakeasy, The Wall Street Journal.

Check out the Book trailer on youtube!

 

Buy the book from Flipkart | Amazon

2. THE LOWLAND by Jhumpa Lahiri, Random House India

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The Lowland is the story of two brothers, Udayan and Subhash Mitra, growing up in the 1950s in Calcutta. The two brothers are opposites and as the 1960s progress, they move apart in politics, with one brother committing himself to a radical communist group while the other goes off to University in America.

Pre order the book from Flipkart | Amazon

3. THE KILL LIST by Frederick Forsyth, Random House India

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The Kill List is another fast paced suspense thriller from Frederick Forsyth, revolving around Tracker, a US marine who is bent upon tracking down the Preacher, a terrorist radicalizing young Muslims to carry out assassinations around the world. The movie rights to the book have already been bought.

Related: An excerpt from the book on DNA.

Pre order the book from Flipkart | Amazon

4. THE LONGEST RIDE by Nicholas Sparks, Grand Central Publishing

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The latest book by Nicholas Sparks is about two couple, separated by years and experience but whose lives converge unexpectedly. In his usual style, the book promises to be as romantic as the rest of his books. An Indian edition is yet to be released and there’s no pre order link available yet. Wait for an affordable Indian edition to be released, unless you are a die hard fan of Nicholas Sparks and can’t wait to get your hands on the book.

In that case, you can buy the book on Flipkart.

5. NEVER GO BACK by Lee Child, Random House India

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Jack Reacher goes back into his past in this action packed thriller, as he is accused of a sixteen year old homicide. Lee Child makes him question who he is, his past and the future ahead.

Related: Lee Child talking about the book.

Pre order the book from Flipkart | Amazon

6. ENON by Paul Harding, Random House

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Pulitzer prize winning author Paul Harding follows his book Tinkers with Enon, a story of a father’s grief over the death of his daughter, which threatens to derail everything in his life. Again, I am not sure when an Indian Edition is releasing.

Related: Paul Harding talks about his book in this video.

Pre order the book on Amazon.

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.

Image Source: http://sandynawrot.blogspot.in/2010/11/last-night-in-twisted-river-john-irving.html