Posted in Fiction, My Bibliothèque, Short Stories

{ Book Review } – All The Names They Used For God by Anjali Sachdeva!

All the Names They Used for GodAll the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All The Names They Used For God is a motley of tales that has everything from tragedy to mythology to science to human despair tied together to discuss the known and the unknown in this world. It is a collection of short stories, quite eclectic in nature and not one bit preachy or sermon-like to be honest. I have to make this clarification because that is the impression the name would give you. But the stories are more human than religious and a nice mix of subjects and themes.

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Posted in Dystopia, Fantasy, Fiction, My Bibliothèque, Science Fiction

{ Book Review} – The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu!

The Paper Menagerie and Other StoriesThe Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It would be extremely easy for me to club The Paper Menagerie into Science Fiction genre. And technically, it would not be so wrong either. It is an anthology of 15 stories each of which picks one thread from a varied range of human frailties or whims and then takes you on a story telling trip where the reader would easily want to believe the supernatural and otherwise unbelievable. In my humble opinion, Liu dabs a few strokes of sci-fi, fantasy and dystopia on a predominantly chromatically dull backdrop of human values & thought process for a few bursts of colour. Or may be to he does it to make his stories more believable because humans do behave strangely more often than not and without much rationality too. There is a smattering of historical fiction too which makes us introspect if we, as a race, have evolved at all. I found many readers describing it as speculative fiction and the word intrigues me. Because yes, the book did cause me to speculate, in a healthily curious way. The author has put together a collection of his works and once you have read it, it is no surprise to you that the stories have been finalists/shortlisted or won several prestigious literary prizes.

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Posted in Fiction, My Bibliothèque, Women's Fiction

{ Book Review } – Eating Wasps by Anita Nair!

Eating WaspsEating Wasps by Anita Nair
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If books chose a word to represent themselves, Eating Wasp would choose Poignant. Because it leaves you restless and sad, akin to a traumatic experience where you feel a little shaken, gasping while you still try to make sense of what elapsed. Like the protagonist, who actually eats a wasp as a kid, it leaves you a little stung and tainted with the venom. You only try to scratch the itch thereby making it worse, but it is not until much later that anything makes sense. I did feel that the book and its stories were exceptionally sad and brought out emotions even as I was reading it. At first, I thought it contributes to literary merit of the book that every woman who reads this will relate to it. But now that some more time has elapsed, the fact it is so relatable horrifies me. What does it say about us as a society if the intersection of our individual sets of horrific experiences is so wide, let alone that ideally it should’ve been a null set.

The image is from my own instagram account and can be found here

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Posted in Fiction, My Bibliothèque, Women's Fiction

{ Book Review } – A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi!

A House Without Windows

A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read A House Without Windows for The Reading Women Podcast challenge in 2019. A House Without Windows is all that you can conjure up when you close your eyes. It is dark and desolate. It is bleak and cold, somewhere the warmth of the sunshine cannot reach you. It is where nobody can take a peek in and ask you how your are doing. It’s walls are tall and insular, it’s fenced covered by barbed wire to make it impossible to escape. It is not like a prison, in A House Without Windows, it is a prison, a women’s prison called Chil Mahtab. A place where women can be sent for a variety of crimes. But mostly they are sent their because they are deemed to be guilty of anything unacceptable to the men in their family and he men who wrote these laws. Even the framework of this laws is so vague, one has a hard time comprehending the intricacies. However, here is a thing about repression – just like a course of reckless self medication, after a period of time, it doesn’t work. After a time, this House Without Windows becomes an oasis in the middle of a stretch of desert. The absence of Windows is in fact reassuring, even comforting. Maybe only of a fleeting moment, but these women here feel safe in here. They are finally in a place where the worst has already happened and they mercifully cannot be accused of anything more heinous than what they have been sent her for. So, when you do pickled up this book, I would recommend you wait for the last chapter to make up your mind about what does the title really stand for – a repressive prison or a protective fortress?

The image is from my own instagram account and can be found here

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Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, My Bibliothèque, WarTime Fiction

{ Book Review } – Pachinko by Min Jin Lee!

I picked up Pachinko because I saw it in the Kindle Unlimited Catalogue. I had shortlisted it for reading sometime last year but never got around to getting a copy. So, here are my thoughts on it. Pachinko is a multigenerational family saga of a Korean Family, before and after the World War and the sufferings of Koreans during and after the Japanese Occupation of Korea. It spans 8 decades and 4 generations, so towards the end of the story one sometimes strains to recall the minor characters’ relationship to the major ones and their corresponding character arcs, but it happened to me for only a couple of characters in whose stories I didn’t feel really interested. The characters from the first 2 generations though, they are drafted quite well.

The story starts in 1911 in Yeongdo, Korea. When Sunna, the daughter of a poor, differently abled Korean Hoonie, falls pregnant after a brief relationship with a married yazuka ( a member / senior leader of a Japanese crime syndicate ) named Koh Hansu, a Presbyterian priest Isak Baek offers to marry her and take her to Osaka, Japan to start a new life there. The rest of Pachinko is her life and the trials and tribulations she faces in a strange new land, of which she does not know the customs, and later on, a land were here ethnicity is looked down upon and discriminated by the Japanese in the aftermath of Japan’s fall at the end of WWII. What I like about Pachinko is that it is engrossing. The language is simple and it might even feel dull, to some. As the story progresses and the family expands, I felt that some characters weren’t dealt with justice, and it could certainly have been better if the character size was restricted and focussed on. But, at the same time, I think, the intention behind the ever expanding cast/character set was to portray an equally wider range of issues/evils/difficulties faced by the Koreans in Japan during that time. The story ends in 1989 in Tokyo, after spanning 4 generations and has several underlying themes apart from Pachinko. It discusses biological vs adoptive parentage, “home” and a deep longing for home in the minds of refugees and the displaced, how women ( whether in 1911 or in 1989 ) always get a raw deal in comparison to men, how the struggle to survive inspite of hardship often consumes old traditions and gives birth to new ones in the process, how parenting and parent child relationships compare and contrast in poverty.

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Posted in Dystopia, Fantasy, Fiction, My Bibliothèque, Thriller, Women's Fiction

{ Book review } – The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh!

The Water CureThe Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up The Water Cure warily, I admit. Had it not been longlisted for ManBooker I wouldn’t have picked up nor would it have appeared on my radar immediately because dark, dystopian fiction with shades of regressive tendencies in characters is simply not my genre. But, as I went further and further into the book, I had to grudgingly admit that it made a really good thriller. For me, a good thriller is one that starves me of info at the right time and in appropriate amounts, forcing me to supplicate to the plot line and be attentive to the storytelling. After a languorous start, The Water Cure drew me in. And not just that, it had me riveted until the end.

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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 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 Fiction, ManBooker LongList 2017, My Bibliothèque

{ Book Review } – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy!

The Ministry of Utmost HappinessThe Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Since I have officially given up trying to read the remaining 4 books of ManBooker Longlist 2017, let me at least attempt to pen down my thoughts about the ones I managed to read. I am almost afraid to type this because it is most definitely an unpopular opinion that I am going to voice. Hence, the disclaimer –  Maybe, it is just me. It was such a huge letdown that it slightly hurts to dissect. And therefore I will try my best to not pick at it much. My biggest grouse with The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is that it has too many characters, like an Indian Soap Opera. This is not always a bad thing, but in case of this book, it prevented me from warming up to its central characters. Almost all of the book, to me, is a dense, slow-moving, and hastily strung together jumble of the author’s political views and anecdotes with “names changed to protect privacy” kind of modifications. And funnily, they seemed to have been made to make recognition even easier. It would have been impactful if the book was peppered with them all over the story rather than the story being peppered in between by, an almost venomous at times, mockery of pretty much everything about the country. It is not the unfairness or fairness of it that is the problem, not at all, it is the frequency and sheer volume of it that strains the reader’s nerves. It might work in an editorial of a newspaper, but certainly not in a work of fiction, especially one that had the potential of blooming beautifully, to begin with. I see no point in stealing the spotlight from the narrative to make a political statement in a beautifully set up work of fiction. Sadly, it doesn’t live up to its promise of developing into a beautiful tale in the forthcoming pages.

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