Posted in Food and Drink, My Bibliothèque, Non Fiction

{ Book review } – The Flavour of Spice by Marryam H. Reshii!

The Flavour of SpiceThe Flavour of Spice by Marryam H. Reshii

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For a self-described foodie that I am, reading food-themed non-fiction is not my forte. Quite frankly, nonfiction, in general, is not my forte. But reading about food make reading nonfiction easier for me. So, in a bid to read more nonfiction, in the latter half of 2018, I picked up 2 non-fiction books on this subject. One is Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat ( which I still haven’t finished ), and the second is The Flavour of Spice by Marryam Reshi. Hoping to add to that count gradually, every year. I cannot assure you if you will love the book, but what I am sure about is that once you are done with the book, you will not look at a grain of mustard or poppy, a piece of cinnamon, a corn of pepper or a strand saffron in the same way as before.

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Posted in Indian Curries, Recipes, Traditional Gujarati Recipes

Ringan Shakkariya nu Shaak!

I woke up craving for something very Wintery, slightly oily today. And so I made this Brinjal Sweet potato curry which is made almost always at our Weddings, especially the winter ones. Called રસોઇયાનું રીંગણ-શક્કરિયાંનું રસાવાળુ શાક which when loosely translated means a Brinjal-Sweet Potato (with their skins on, not peeled) Curry made by Halwais/Cooks for the traditional wedding lunch feast, at our Southern Gujarat based Anavil Brahmin weddings. Served on બાજ/પતરાળા । plates and bowls made by sewing together several leaves ( usually leaves of Shaal trees, a tree of special significance in Hinduism ), this curry has a ruby red oil pooling around fat chunks of Sweet Potatoes & Brinjals mashed to make a smooth gravy. It is very uniquely seasoned too, with a hint of jaggery which gives the curry a unique dimension without making it sweet at all. Usually served with Gujarati Daal and Rice, I chose a lighter Khichdi today to go with it. Like everywhere else, Khichdi is not something consumed at auspicious events like weddings but hey, sometimes the stomach craves what it craves! 😬After the Diwali indulgence I don’t have the heart to extend my menu, but at the wedding feast, the platter will also have કેળા મેથીના ભજીયાં | Fritters made with Banana and Methi leaves mixed into Gram Flour or વાટી દાળના ખમણ | Surti Vaati daal na Khaman and લાપસી | a broken Wheat based Sweet made with ghee and jaggery. Sigh! It would have been bliss! 💕💕 But, I can definitely share the recipe here.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, My Bibliothèque, Mythology, Women's Fiction

{ Book Review } – Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer!

<!-AvishiAvishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Avishi is a lovely reimagining of a female warrior named Vispãlã mentioned in Rig-Veda as the first recipient of a prosthetic leg. As she lost her leg after being injured in a battle with Khela,  she was bestowed with a prosthetic made of iron by the twin Gods Ashwini Kumars, so that she could continue fighting.

I will be honest, even before I proceed further, that I had not heard about the character Vispãlã before I picked up the book. So, I will refrain from commenting about the historical accuracy of the research or the other details from the era. I picked it up as my monthly free eBook under my Amazon Prime subscription ( look for a segment called Reader’s Delight on the site under Kindle eBooks ). And it was a fairly engaging read, if not mindblowing. The fact that it did not blow my mind is not the book’s fault. In my opinion, I am not at all disappointed by it, even if I might not have been mightily impressed by it. The fault lies in the fact that there has been a slew of books in this genre by Indian Authors, hence my senses are probably a bit dulled by all that. So, setting that aside, I think it is a pretty good book. In fact, ( at the risk of offending a few ) I will say that I liked this one better than the Meluha Trilogy, because, Avishi is less hyper, less melodramatic, simpler but more effective writing. In fact, barring this book, I hold a bitter grudge against authors of books in this genre that they overwork the angle of mysticism and mythology, making it sound quite artificial after a few initial chapters. Thankfully, with Avishi does better than that. Avishi is a more realistic story that one is able to digest even if it finds roots in mythology.

The story goes something like this: Brought up in the forest school of Naimisha, under the tutelage of Maharishi Vahni,  Avishi has grown up trained to be a warrior. She knows that she was adopted at an early age, but barring some recurring nightmares and rather faded memories of her childhood, she does not know or remember much about it. However, destiny eventually brings her to a settlement of Ashtagani, which functioned as a republican confederacy and relied on self-sufficiency in sharp contrast to its neighbor, Vrishabhavti which functioned as a monarchy. Aggression from its neighbor and some evil political scheming leads to a situation where Avishi finds herself in extremely tumultuous circumstances, putting both her and the settlement of Ashtagani in danger. It is this that leads her to the battlefield and how she loses a leg while fighting the ruler of Vrishabhavti called Khela. Revealing more than this about the story would be unfair to those of you who might want to read it so I will stop here,

I haven’t read many books by the author, Sai Swaroopa Iyer, but from whatever I have heard about her work ( all good I must say ), she writes stories with strong female protagonists. What is most refreshing about this book for me was the fact that it is imagined in a time when some of our current social set up or rules, that we now consider the norm, weren’t so rigidly in place. Like in this book, matrimony in society wasn’t a must. Children were born out of loyal and often a long-term companionship, but solemnizing a marital contract was not compulsory.  Similarly, there was no demarcation of roles for sexes, people could pick a profession based on their strengths and not because of their gender. At the same time, the book makes sure that it doesn’t give an image that the society without these norms, or rather a different set of norms, was flawless. It had its own set of problems as the book reveals as the story progresses. So, I must say that I found the premise and the beginning of the story fairly engaging. The story moves at a decent pace, it is never boring, and if you are looking for something in the segment of mythology inspired fiction, this would be a good choice. However, I cannot say that it let me spellbound or that is a work of the genre whose parallel I haven’t found yet. It was also slightly predictable, and in a very small part in the latter half of the book, I felt that it grew a little more stereotyped. You know, how all the stories about kingdoms and conspiracies go. So, if you are looking something in this genre or you have liked similar books in the past, go for it.

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Posted in Fiction, ManBooker Longlist 2018, My Bibliothèque, WarTime Fiction

{ Book Review } – Warlight by Michael Ondaatje!

Every wartime story is unique. Some of them show you how some souls seem to bloom in the most adverse of the circumstances and yet seem to have big hearts that are joyous like they have never seen scarcity. Some are bleak, the ones that tell you about those who never made it to the casualty list after the war, and yet, they are the ones who have suffered in an unimaginably tragic way. And then there are books like Warlight, which do not aim to inspire, aim, motivate or critic the events that happened in the war. They are mere spectators to the unfolding of events, neither enabling nor trying to prevent anything. They are, at best, a low power magnifying lenses over those events, and it is left to the reader whether to glean something from the details or not. Warlight is just that, a smooth train of events with a ripple here and there which might or might seem noteworthy to the reader. For me, it was strangely hypnotic, more strange because I cannot completely explain why I was hypnotised. The book gets its name from the traditional blacking out of streets lights in public areas so that there are no points of references to aid the bomber planes that pummeled the cities in those times.  Most lights were turned out even when there were no warnings of immediate air raids, barring a single light here and there, facilitating the essential transportation or other activities at night. That orange, hazy, dim light was called the war light.

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Posted in Fantasy, Magical Realism, My Bibliothèque

{ Book Review } – The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden!

The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy, #2)The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book earlier this year, just after I finished it’s prequel “The Bear and the Nightingale” . Now I cannot keep it calm while I wait for the final part of the trilogy, “The Winter of the Witch”. Now I could rave on and on about how amazing “the Girl” here is. I have already written how smitten I am with the protagonist, Vasilisa ‘Vasya’ Petronova, of this fairytale-mixed-with-magical-realism work of fiction. Vasya is every bit the heroine every little girl ( or a grown woman obsessed with magical realism like me 😉) aspires to be. Escaping the only destiny for women of her times, her options being marriage or a life as a nun or being branded a witch, she chooses the last options and in the beginning of the book, she leaves the comforts of the rural Russian home and sets out on an adventure which is certainly more trouble than fun. Now, since it is a fairy tale, there is no point for me to keep describing the plot. It would suffice to say that it would satisfy a folklore loving soul, a complete sucker for fantasy and fiction like me. Not only it is book is great in principle ( a strong female protagonist, feudal Russia of the Mid-fourteenth Century and a plot line which is not straight like a rule ) , the book does well when one is craving for a short escape into fiction.

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Posted in Fiction, ManBooker LongList 2017, My Bibliothèque, WarTime Fiction

{ Book Review } – Exit West by Mohsin Hamid!

Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In few words, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West is gently narrated tale of a young couple fleeing a war and everything their nomadic, immigrant life, full of surprises life throws at them. But its poignance is deeply expressed more in the way the war batters their souls than the physical scars or bombings of deaths. It is the tale of how two adults grow into a complete different version of themselves that what they had in mind as their future. The story starts in an unnamed country, in the the middle of a political turmoil with the war looming large on the not-so-distant horizon. Saeed and Nadia’s relationship begins subtly, and even as it develops, it gives you hints that their romance is only one piece of the bigger picture. The violence forces them to uproot their lives, pack them into a backpack full of personal artefacts and head to the land of unpredictable future. It takes a while, and many deaths in between, for the story to reach a point where it makes sense, and it is easy to cast the book aside as a just another romance while it matures, but once it does reach the premise it intends to put forth, it get good, really good at it.

As with all the stories set in the bleak backdrop of a war, Exit West talks about the displacement that wars and violence cause. The physical displacement and more important the emotional displacement, it causes leaves life time scars. The burning issue that immigration is today, it has been sensitively treated and portrayed in the book, without using real names and places a lot. Tied together in an intimacy that, people who have never seen a war might call premature, Saeed and Nadia try to buy an escape, an “Exit” to “the West” by paying a man who promises them to take through a door ( or a series of doors ) away from the chaos of a war. The metaphorical nature of this door and the other “doors” that they walk through is written in a dreamy way that lends it the feel of being in a fantasy or a magical realism universe. But what is more amazing is how each of them react to their new temporary new homes each time. What I like is that the author describes the world behind the each door with just enough detail for the reader to hazard a guess but stops short of actually naming it with a geographical name leaving a reasonable scope of imaginative extrapolation on the part of the reader. And the best part is that the society in the city behind every door is a commentary on a different aspect of human nature every time. Living in peace time does not guarantee that we humans display our best behaviour.

I must mention here that when I read the reviews for the book after finishing it, I was surprised to see the “doors” receiving a lot of flak. The primary complaint was that these “doors” disrupted the storytelling for some of the readers. This surprises me because I consider them equally important characters in the story, if not more, as Nadia and Saeed. The doors are what tell you about crisis and culture shocks and the difficulties of carrying your life in a backpack or a carry one. Exit West is good enough for me to make we wan to read Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist soon.

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Posted in My Bibliothèque, Non Fiction

{ Book Review } – Like a Girl by Aparna Jain!

Like A GirlLike A Girl by Aparna Jain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked up Like A Girl after coming across a post by Shikha of @chicabeingme who is one of the 26 wonderful illustrators who has worked on the lovely illustrations in the book about 56 amazing women from vastly diverse backgrounds from across India. Picked it up last night and sprinted through these amazing women, picking up again today after lunch because I couldn’t wait. Like A Girl has been penned for everyone, as a bedtime reading for the young as well as for adults like me who are looking to रफू ( darn ) some holes in my awareness about the amazing icons from India who happen to be female. I almost typed ‘female’ icons earlier but hit backspace because they are icons to all of us and not just other women. There are names on the list that you will recognise at a glance, historical figures, sportswomen, artists, activists and more. And their tales are told with a beautiful personal touch to each with a manner that kids would find inspiring and adults would find endearing. But just like not all triumphs have to be professional or academic, some can be deeply personal and private, some of these women have emerged as heroes in a manner we don’t always identify as a win. And therefore, the parts that left me more significantly awed and overwhelmed were the ones on Bhanwari Devi, Shah Bano Begum, Rashida Bi and Champa Devi Shukla, Gauri Sawant, Dayamani Barla, Birubala Rabha and Irom Sharmila Chanu. I am sure I am missing quite a few names here but that is what you have to read the book for. 🙂

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