Saturday, January 30, 2010

Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri

Rating: 10/10

Jhumpa Lahiri's Pultizer-winning collection of nine short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, is easily one of the best books written on the subject of Indians abroad, the inevitable clash of culture and the longing for 'home'.  

I've read Lahiri's Namesake and loved it. But Interpreter of Maladies is far superior, because of the various angles of being Indian abroad that Lahiri tackles, with great skill and finesse. I'm not exactly the greatest fan of short stories because I've felt that it takes a long novel to involve me emotionally. But that's not the case here. Most of the stories immediately strike an emotional chord and some, brought me to tears.

I think the best thing about Lahiri's writing is that it seems effortlessly simple. She has the ability to create images with her words and has a great eye for detail that makes her writing unforgettable. The importance given to food in her writing is also fascinating. For instance, the image of Mrs. Sen chopping vegetables neatly still lingers in my mind, as does the image of Lilia munching the candy Mr. Pirzada gives her everyday! 

A frequent argument I've heard about Interpreter of Maladies is that it is a more Bengali than Indian representation of life abroad. While it's undeniably true that these stories have a major Bengali side to it, I think the beauty of being Indian is that while customs, states and religions differ, the emotion is still very much the same. And that's exactly why this book really moved me. 

While all the stories in the book were fascinating in their own way, my favourite three stories are Mrs. Sen's, When Mr. Pirzada Came To Dine and Sexy, in that order. Mrs. Sen's is the most tragic story of the collection and it brought me to tears. Lahiri's writing is phenomenal as she brings to life the character of a woman longing for home, her India, her family, her food. Great stuff and easily one of the best stories I've ever read.  

When Mr. Pirzada Came To Dine fascinated me because I've read a lot about the 1971 war and this angle to the birth of Bangladesh, was a satisfying read and again, as seems to be the case with Lahiri, an emotional ride. Sexy, the story of a Bengali man's affair with an American woman, who learns about him, his country and its people, is very beautifully written. I particularly loved how most of the characters are redeemed, without making it seemed forced.  

In all, Lahiri is definitely one of my favourite authors and definitely among the best Indian writers of today. I'm looking forward to reading Unaccustomed Earth soon!

P.S. Sorry for the long post, but I loved the book and couldn't stop writing about it! I'm missing out on a lot of blog posts and my reader is overflowing with posts I need to read. I hope to get back to blogging as usual, in a few weeks :) I'm now caught in a Bengali-author reading spree, I think: I'm reading I Won't Let You Go, a collection of Rabindranath Tagore's poems translated by Ketaki Kushari Dyson and I'm loving it so far! :)

Saturday, January 23, 2010


The picture explains it all really!

An unexpected project, random work schedules, insane travelling and 12 hours of work every day leaves little time for books or blogging, sadly. For 4 weeks from now, this blog won't be as active as it usually is. Though I'll miss this a lot, work definitely is the top priority. I apologise for the brief hiatus from frantic blogging.

In this 4 weeks though, I hope to read Heidi by Johanna Spyri and The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Both of these are highly popular, acclaimed books and I'm looking forward to sneaking in some time to read and review them in the coming weeks.

See you soon when the work schedules get back to normal. Keep reading and have fun! :)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Letters From A Father To His Daughter - Jawaharlal Nehru

Rating : 10/10

I love letters. They are a throwback to a now-forgotten world and have a unique charm and romance of their own. They are often about the mundane things in life, day to day news from a common man. But some letters, that we are fortunate to have preserved till today, see history pass through them. This book is one such treasure. Letters From A Father to His Daughter is an enchanting collection of letters written by India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to his daughter Indira when she was 10. Through these letters, Nehru talks to his daughter about the story of the earth, civilizations, nature, history, race, languages, early man, tribes and much more. Written in a style that is beautifully simple and delightfully thought-provoking, Letters From A Father To His Daughter is a must-read for everyone, especially children. This is one of those books I wish I had read as a child. It will open a child's eyes to the beauty of the world around him. As for adults, it is a wonderful flashback of things we learnt a long time ago; things that were never quite this succinctly put. Nehru was a multi-faceted personality and his books are a joy to read. This book is so simply woven with timeless ideas that every child must be taught from a very young age. His concise writing in these letters are an obvious, marked departure from the metaphor-laden, almost lyrically beautiful works like The Discovery of India. For me, who has read several biographies about Nehru, this book was another opportunity to know more about the man. And sure enough, there were several lines that marked his dislike of the caste system, nepotism, his leaning towards socialism, his love of nature, his anger against landlordism ( which he later abolished ) among others. There is even a separate chapter called 'India and China' - one foreign relation exercise where his policies were a failure. But what captivated me most was his love for people. Not just his own people, but for people everywhere who deserved a good life of peace and happiness. He tells his daughter Indira: 'As Indians we have to live in India and work for India. But we must not forget that we belong to the larger family of the world and the people living in other countries are after all our cousins. It would be such an excellent thing if all the people in the world were happy and contented. We have therefore to try to make the whole world a happier place to live in' Those are wonderful words that will remain with the reader long after they are done reading the book. The illustrations in this book are eye-catching and will add to the reading experience. I highly recommend this book to all; it is timeless and the values that Nehru writes about, are universal.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Reading Group - Elizabeth Noble

Rating: 7/10

I'm someone who believes that how much you like a book, mostly depends on what you go looking for in a book. The Reading Group is a perfect example. I went in looking for a novel about five women who tackle the problems in their lives, while having books and each other for company. And that's almost exactly what I got, though the emphasis given to the 'reading group' discussions is disappointingly low.

Elizabeth Noble is a brilliant writer and I love her style, her no-fuss way with words. It helped me enjoy a book that was a little too long. Noble is excellent with character development too. Initially, there were too many characters and the narrative shifted from one to another abruptly. But once I got used to it, it was exciting to see each of them handle their lives. I didn't always agree with what some characters said or did, but I was fascinated by them and I was rooting for a happy ending.

The book isn't typical chick-lit, if chick-lit means a lot of romance and hilarity. The book is much more emotional and refreshingly, not a 'middle-aged women whine about their lives' story. It stretches and rambles unnecessarily in parts and isn't as much about the 'reading group' as the members themselves. But I enjoyed it more than the last novel supposedly about books and book-lovers I read, which was Sue Gee's Reading In Bed

The books selected for the reading group, that include Rebecca, The Girl With A Pearl Earring, I Capture The Castle, Heartburn, Atonement, Guppies For Tea seem to be excellent choices. There's nothing extraordinary about the plot. It's a simple but well-written story and quite a good first novel. Though several reviews I've read aren't quite positive, I enjoyed this book for what it was: a pleasant, comfortable read about female bonding, though a little too long. Elizabeth Noble is an author whose books I'm definitely looking forward to reading!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays - January 12

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page. Post two (or more) sentences from that page, along with the title and author. Don’t give anything vital away!

" And that's all there is of Prentisstown. Populayshun 147 and falling, falling, falling. 146 men and one almost-man. "
I'm 30 pages into this book and it's taking me some time to get used to it. I've heard great things about this book, though, and I hope I enjoy it as much as several other book bloggers I know did :)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown

Rating: 5/10


This is The Dan Brown novel template:
Robert Langdon is called to decode/analyze/decipher ancient symbols/crypts/codes that reveals a powerful secret that could change mankind, a secret that has been valiantly protected by a secret organization with powerful members.  

Insert names of famous cities of the World, add a well-educated, brilliant scientist/historian as the female lead, and of course the big bad villain, in a story that usually happens in the span of a day.  

Working that formula for The Lost Symbol, it would sort of give you the book's blurb:
Robert Langdon is called to decipher the ancient 'word' that reveals a powerful secret that could change mankind, a secret that has been valiantly protected by the Freemasons. Racing against time in Washington D.C, Langdon has to help a friend Peter Solomon with the aid of his brilliant scientist sister Katherine Solomon. All in a day. A few convenient coincidences thrown in

This latest thriller from Dan Brown is mediocre at best with occasional flashes of brilliance. The book is not tightly-paced and rambles a lot. Sometimes , it's just information overload. Or perhaps the irritation arises because of the feeling of deja vu that seems to plague the reader more than Langdon. This is just all TOO familiar! The book is also too long, which certainly hurts its chances of being a good thriller.  

To give credit where it is due, the book does share a lot of interesting information about the Freemasons, the close connection between science and mystics, the ideas behind the construction of some of Washington D.C's most famous buildings - familiar territory for Dan Brown. Also, there are some excellent twists to the tale that made me gape in surprise and awe!  

But in the end, the book is typical Dan Brown - whether that's a good thing or not depends on the reader, I think. Angels and Demons is still my favourite Dan Brown novel and I hope he can come up with a novel that matches the pure excitement, adrenaline rush and brilliance of Angels and Demons. The Lost Symbol, sadly, is too formulaic to gain a rating more than just 'readable'.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Sign of Four - Arthur Conan Doyle

Rating : 8/10

The Sign of Four is one of the most famous cases of Sherlock Holmes and it is as good as it is hyped to be. It's been a while since I read Sherlock Holmes and The Sign of Four was the best book I could have read to help me return to my Holmes addiction. 

A young governess Mary Morstan, whose father vanished ten years ago, has been receiving valuable gifts anonymously for several years and that anonymous person wants to meet her now. Scared, she asks Sherlock Holmes and his faithful side-kick Dr. Watson to accompany her to meet the stranger. What seems at first to be a simple case, transforms to one of deep intrigue and drama with Holmes on the trail of a killer on the loose, while seeking to interpret The Sign of Four.  

The thing I love about Arthur Conan Doyle's mysteries is that the plot is often very simple and realistic. This is the case with The Sign of Four. The plot is basic, the suspects are narrowed down very soon and you know your killers. But how this conclusion is drawn, not by a few fiery escapades or convenient deus ex machina, but by the calm, clear, extraordinary brilliance of  logic, is the key. Sherlock Holmes is quite the character - no fuss, no indulgence in theatrics, but very understated and brilliant. 

I liked the flashback in this story: though long, it was satisfying and Conan Doyle's writing is a pleasure to read. I didn't care much about the supposed 'romance' between Mary Morstan and Dr. Watson. I was more interested in Holmes solving the mystery. Which he did, in inimitable style. The Sign of Four is very good, but certainly not as thrilling as one of my favourite books ever, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Having said that though, I definitely recommend this book to all mystery lovers! Holmes is the real deal. 

This is part of my reading for the Marple Poirot Holmes Challenge. Ever since my reading spree about everything India started, I can't help but notice how every book I pick, even unintentionally, seems to have an India-related plot line :)

ETA: I just realized that this is part of my Celebrate the Author challenge too. Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday falls on May 22 and this is my celebration for him, well in advance :D 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Women on Wednesday - Agatha Christie

This weekly event is hosted by Susan at Rocks n' Reads West of Mars

She says: " Every Wednesday, write about a book you loved that’s written by a woman. Celebrate a woman author whose books you love. Talk about a book you’re dying to read. "

To those who frequent my blog, it would be no surprise that Agatha Christie features in my Women on Wednesday meme. I'm a great fan of 'The Queen of Crime' and I've spent many an hour willingly getting myself embroiled in a mystery, trying to guess a killer, and of course, being wrong with my predictions.

I started reading Agatha Christie more than 4 years ago and I've read most of her books, starting from the extremely popular And Then There Were None to the fairly obscure novels like A Daughter's A Daughter written as Mary Westmacott. Her detectives are legendary by themselves: be it Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford or Captain Hastings. The most popular detective is of course Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective with his moustache and his 'little grey cells'. But my personal favourite is Miss Marple - an unbelievably brilliant old lady with a keen eye for detail, who solves mysteries that have baffled trained detectives.

Most of Christie's mysteries are deceptively simple. The plot is laid out immaculately, the suspects are identified and you're allowed to guess. It's like an interactive guessing game!  Her imagery of quaint English villages, especially in Miss Marple mysteries, is another reason I adore her books. Christie took a cue from Conan Doyle and his legendary detective Sherlock Holmes and gave us another unforgettable line of mysteries. Another speciality of Christie's books are that they are mysteries you can read again and again. Rereading is, in Christie's case, an opportunity to watch the master at work. 

There are several film adaptations of Agatha Christie's books, but in my opinion, none of it can capture the excitement of staying awake at night, unable to put down the book, turning over a page knowing it contains a whole new revelation! Enjoy that rare, wonderful reading experience. You can join the Marple Poirot Holmes challenge which is my little tribute to Agatha Christie.

 Featured on Women on Wednesday:
November 25, 2009 - Louisa May Alcott 
December 2, 2009 - Enid Blyton 
December 16, 2009 - Nayantara Sahgal 
December 23, 2009 - J. K. Rowling

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

An Award!

Kim at Chapter Chit Chat  has passed on this wonderful One Lovely Blog award to me. Thanks so much for that Kim!

1) Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link
2) Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered.
3) Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award. 

I'm passing this award on to 12 book blogs that I love. I've started following more book blogs than ever and though it means a LOT of reading and catching up for me, it's definitely worth it because the blogs are quite amazing. The blogs I'm listing for this award are some of the ones that I thoroughly enjoy reading and would certainly recommend for people to follow. Some of these blogs might have already got this award, but I'd pass it on to them anyway because I've had a lot of fun following them. 
2. Joann at Lakeside Musing
3. Shona at Shona's Bookshelves
4. Shweta at Shweta's Bookjournal
5. Nishita at Nishita's Rants and Raves
7. Alyce at At Home With Books
8. Colette at A Buckeye Girl Reads
9. Heather at Gofita's Pages
10. Velvet at vvb32reads
12. Simon at Savidge Reads 

I'm looking forward to discovering new book blogs through the challenges I am hosting or participating in this year! :)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Marple Poirot Holmes Challenge - Reviews

Post your review links for the Marple Poirot Holmes Challenge in the Mister Linky given below. While posting, make sure you link it to your review post and not to your blog home page. Follow the format of book title and then your user name. For instance, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd ( Kals - At Pemberley)

Happy reading!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Palace of Illusions - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Rating: 5/10


The Palace of Illusions is a re-telling of the Indian epic Mahabharata, from the point of view of Draupadi, the much-revered heroine of the tale. I had heard a lot of good things about this bestseller and so I went in with great expectations. Also, another book based on the Mahabharata, Shashi Tharoor's astoundingly brilliant The Great Indian Novel was always bound to come up in my mind as a scale for comparison. As I found out soon enough, The Palace of Illusions is disappointing. 

The biggest problem I have with this book is that it adds little to the Mahabharata. Rather, it simplifies the tale way too much and trivializes the grand original. The Mahabharata is an epic, full of detail, full of complex characters and difficult situations, but The Palace of Illusions is too small a book to do justice to an epic.  

Major scenes of great significance, like Draupadi's disrobing, are reduced to a few paragraphs. Characters and relationships aren't dealt with in detail and depend more on the reader's preexistent knowledge of the Mahabharata. Strangely, to me, Draupadi wasn't as fascinating a narrator as I thought she would be. With her as the narrator, one would expect a lot of insight and opinions on major events and characters, but that is not the case. The narrative meandering to the stories and points of views of other characters, plays spoilsport. 

Divakaruni's style of writing reminded me of Philippa Gregory's books which is actually quite a good thing here. The book works best as a short summary of the great old epic of India. I'm left with a feeling that the premise of the book that holds a lot of promise, is left unfulfilled in the end. 

If only the book was as grand, detailed and gorgeous as its beautiful cover!! 

This book is one of the ten books I have scheduled to read for the South Asian Author Challenge.


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