03 December 2019

Almost Done

The year is ending and in terms of productivity, this is has been the worst so far - both in reading and updating the blog. During a conversation with a pal, I realized I had not read much and in a panic, set out to comb my library borrowing history, books that are piled up on the shelf, my faulty memory, and came up with a barely decent number of 12 books for the year.

I cannot go back and write a review for all of them because I don't remember them as clearly as I should for a proper comment but I shall leave a one-liner or two about the overall impression of the book I am left with.

A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler

A wonderful, erratic paced novel (slow at some places and unbelievably smooth and fast paced at others) about a family and their eccentric members (‘Whitshanks’- Abby and Red, and their four children). This is one of those books where you cannot really state the story in a line because the there isn’t much of a linear story tbh – it is the individual stories of these characters and how they impact each other’s lives that makes it worth the read.
A pal had gifted this for my birthday and being a fan of contemporary fiction genre, I must say it did not disappoint me at all. I have always favoured character-driven novels rather than plot driven (that said, a great novel - I read somewhere - is about how characters weave and drive a solid plot)

The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

Told from mainly the husband’s perspective, this novel talks about a mysterious genetic/neurological issue a man faces that forces him to often travel back and forth between past, present and even the future. Amidst all this, he encounters a girl, who ends up becoming his wife. The book delves into wife’s dilemmas, worries and problems where she has to cope up with this problem and her husband’s frequent absences.
In many parts, the book is quite enjoyable, but it is difficult to suspend your disbelief all the time – somewhere the implausibility of this phenomenon bothered me. At the back of my mind I knew that it had to end badly – for the protagonist. The amount of time one invests in going through the whole book, one feels a bit short-changed that the ending wasn’t really satisfactory.
This was a difficult read – I didn’t much care for the constantly changing timelines (the hero has no control on when and where he time travels – so I am reading about his experiences when he was 14 and then it suddenly jumps to age 26 and then 31 and 18 and so on, and it becomes tedious after a point). Apparently, this has been made to a movie and I shudder to think how they managed to adapt this story to the film format.
This book was borrowed from the library. (I probably could have avoided this fatty.)

A Full Night’s Thievery – Mitra Phukan

A collection of short stories by the Assamese writer, this was a very interesting read. Many contemporary and some folklore-ish, the stories help us get a glimpse of Assamese rural/urban lives.
I am partial towards short story collections and anthologies as they allow me to read from anywhere, at any point of time, within a book. It provides a higher degree of freedom in terms of topics, the narrative styles, emotions etc. (simple – many stories under one roof; buy one get many free!)
This book was borrowed from the library.

Blackberry Wine – Joanne Harris

I had read ‘Chocolat’, Joanne Harris’ most popular book, a long ago and had chanced upon this in the library list. Since I didn’t remember much of Chocolat, I was eager to read her other works. According to the pundits of internet, her works can be classified as parts fantasy, part magical realism, and a bit of historical fiction. Blackberry Wine also falls into a similar category of magical realism.
The story follows a struggling writer who is trying to recreate a past success and feels suffocated in his current situation (erratic/uninspired writing bouts, failing relationship, dwindling bank balance). A chance encounter with some special wines (!) in his cellar (which were brewed by an eccentric neighbour from his childhood) and the subsequent consumption of the wine inspires him to follow his hunch and move to France and change his future for the better.
I generally enjoy magical realism and this book does have some interesting characters, however, the story somehow fails to keep the interest alive in the second half. The end felt forced and there was this feeling of being let-down by time I reached the end. An okay-ish book.
This book was borrowed from the library.

A Thousand Country Roads – Robert James Waller

A forgettable book that I should have avoided, definitely. After the success of The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller wrote this as a follow-up and it felt dreary and boring. I am sorry, I cannot even remember anything enough to criticize it.
A wasted opportunity to borrow a better book from the library.

Six more to go.

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