20 April 2019

Tso and La - A Journey in Ladakh by Vikramjit Ram

Tso and La is a meandering travelogue on Ladakh, written by Vikramjit Ram. A writer stuck in writer’s block (he confesses so, in the beginning) he is looking for a change of scenery when his friend invites him for a month long road trip from Bangalore to Ladakh. Very interesting premise.

He talks of the 4x4 wheel drive (the vehicle Pajero is fancifully named as P Singh) with his friend, the place and the people, his experience as a novice carpet buyer, the sheer expanse of the place and how it egged him to chuck his ailing manuscript and start this travelogue instead.

He takes great care in explaining the beauty surrounding the place, the architecture of the dzongs (a little too accurately; I had to use a dictionary to understand what he said)

The one thing that strikes you in this travelogue is its exquisite language, but this very positive point tends to tire you after a while, to the point of a being a burden in enjoying the travelogue. I love to read a beautifully written book, but travelogues (according to me) should not be way too complex, where I sit with a dictionary to find what exactly he is saying.

Overall, if one is willing to spend time not just on the book but also with a dictionary, then it’s definitely a good read. I would give it 3.0/5.0

11 April 2019

If not reading were an achievement

I would have excelled.

The worst beginning of an year in terms of reading.
I have managed to finish two books!
I don't want to fool myself anymore.

04 January 2019

New Year - Again

Happy new year to you blog.

2018 was a tiring year. I had no energy nor motivation to write about the books I read - even those I loved. Every time I borrowed books from library, I managed to read only one out of the two.
I hope 2019 will be different.

Also this year, I am yet to borrow. I am not even sure I should borrow.

18 October 2018

Falling Behind

I am running short of time :(
Falling behind schedule.
So many books to read and even more to write about.
I think I am going to stop writing long pieces. Four lines on a book - that way, I guess I can keep up. Like people who do twitter reviews.

17 October 2018

State of Wonder - Ann Patchett

State of Wonder is a big novel. A seemingly easy-to-read prose, but not really simple, or straightforward. For a long time, I was reluctant to write anything about this book for I have never felt so conflicted about deciding whether a book is good or not and this one made me go back and forth in my feelings. And I think that itself is a good thing about a book.

State of Wonder appears to be a combination of medical mystery and thriller – and to an extent it can afford to be in that category. The story begins with an American researcher, Marina Singh, going to Brazil looking for information about her colleague, Anders Eckman, who seems to have died under mysterious circumstances. She works for a pharmaceutical company that is funding her former teacher and mentor, a legendary researcher Dr. Annick Swenson working somewhere deep in the amazon forests. Dr. Swenson prefers to work without any interference from the company, claiming to be at the threshold of discovering a miracle drug.

In addition to finding details about her missing colleague, Marina is also expected to convince the researcher to share her discovery details.

The book starts well with good pace and well-written, clear prose. The reader is hooked on early wanting to know what happens next. Marina Singh is a complex character: she is highly intelligent, loyal, self-absorbed with a troubled past. She is likeable despite her flaws. What starts as a highly intriguing plot slowly wanders away into paths that readers do not expect – not necessarily a great thing. There are unnecessary minor characters whose sole purpose is to introduce a mood of mystery into the story temporarily. They simply peter out without any role to play.

The second half deals with the other main character Dr. Swenson and the topic of her research. Cold and calculating, a no-nonsense old lady whose focus is only on getting a result out of her research, Dr. Swenson seems like a villain without really being one. Unfortunately, this character felt very two-dimensional despite the best efforts from the writer. This is also the time when one begins to wonder what is the writer trying to achieve. At one point I was horrified that the protagonist seemed to have completely abandoned her purpose of the visit and got pulled into other issues – just like the author who seemed to have strayed away from the main plot.

Yet, I cannot really say with conviction that I don’t like this book. There are other things for example, questions on moral, ethical values of a scientific researcher, the obligation to the society in large, the dilemma Marina faces when it comes to preserving the cultural identity and sanctity of the tribes, that are raised and discussed during the narration of the story. These are thought-provoking and necessary, but the author fails to interweave them seamlessly into the main story.

Overall, the book left me slightly dissatisfied yet contemplating on the themes and questions raised. I appreciate the thought process behind it, but not so much of the execution.

I would rate this 3.0/5

06 August 2018

MugiDa YuDDha (ಮುಗಿದ ಯುದ್ಧ) – Dr. K Shivarama Karanth

MugiDa Yuddha is many stories within a story – probably that is how mega novels are written, but I felt this was almost a deliberate style followed in this particular book.

The book is about the life and times of the protagonist Achyuta Raya, no doubt, but it is also about the socio-economic conditions in the villages of India during pre-second world war. The hardships and the dependency of poor people on uncertain factors such as rains, and on the unscrupulous money-lenders/rich, manipulative zamindars and traders are depicted extensively in the story. The book talks about teachers and their impact on the society or lack of it. There aren’t really villains in this saga – the culprit is the situation itself.

Although it is a bleak picture of the times of the past, it also paints wonderful and positive picture of the resilience of the people, especially the womenfolk. Most often than not, it is the women characters that come across strong, purposeful (Achyuta Raya’s mother and sister) and independent in thinking (Subbi the maid supporting Achyuta’s household)

What I liked the most about the book is that the author portrays the characters sensitively, without really judging anyone based on their morality. There isn’t anything right or wrong in the decisions taken by them – they are mostly the victims of their circumstances. The writing is highly descriptive, flows like a calm river that can just go on and on, however, it is never boring. Readers ought to keep one thing in mind, this book may not interest those who are not familiar with the geographical area (since there is not much of ‘action’ happening in the rural backdrop).

This book stayed with me much longer after I had finished it. It could also be because my roots are in these villages too.

I would rate this book 3.5/5.0

03 August 2018

The Oxford Murders – Guillermo Martinez

The Oxford Murders is a translated novel, originally written in Spanish by the Argentinian writer Guillermo Martinez. The book was a huge success and was translated to English (by Sonia Soto).

The plot revolves around two mathematicians (an Argentinian student who has just landed in Oxford and a highly acclaimed mathematician who works in the university) who are forced to look at strange symbols, probably from an unknown mathematical series, as clues to a murder. They will have to solve it before it becomes a series of murders just like the aforementioned math series.

The story is light and well written – holds the interest of a reader (me, despite being the math-hater) – and can be read as a break from heavier subjects/books. The story is narrated from the perspective of the student (the protagonist). The two main characters are developed well. The same cannot be said of the others. On the mystery front, it is not on a firm ground, and although the end has an unanticipated twist, one doesn’t really feel satisfied with the climax leading to the ending. There are, of course, plot holes and unanswered questions about characters, yet it does not diminish the story completely.

I read the book on a plane and I thought it was engrossing and entertaining enough to manage the boring lay-over time in the airport.

Not a book for hard-core murder/mystery fans, I’d say. If one is looking for some light read, with a fresh premise, this is the book.

I would rate it a decent 3.0/5.0