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.

Continue reading “{ Book Review } – Pachinko by Min Jin Lee!”

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, My Bibliothèque, WarTime Fiction

{ Book Review } – The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale!

I have already talked about my newfound for love magical realism in my review of The Bear and the Nightingale. Stories with magicians and monsters are charming, but what I have realised recently is how much I love stories that talk about magical that is invisible to the naked eye. The kind of magic that exists only in the mind of someone who believes in it. For everyone else, it is just another feature of our mundane lives. And it is the magic of toys that Robert Dinsdale’s The Toymakers delves into. Of course, one could argue that the toys described in Papa Jack’s Emporium are indeed different from the ordinary toys we see around us. In my opinion, that you missing the point. To a certain extent, every toy is just a toy. A rubber duck or a stuffed rabbit is only a rubber duck or a stuffed for everyone else other than the child who has a special relationship with it. It is the power of belief that separates the believer and sceptic. And that is what makes The Toymakers magical in my opinion. Because it is intended for the child, that burrows deep into the psyche of every cynical adult.

Continue reading “{ Book Review } – The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale!”

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

{ Book Review } – The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead!

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Underground Railroad is a fictional tale set in Pre-Civil War America and details of a brave young slave name Cora who lives on a cotton plantation in Georgia. It begins with a bit of background on Cora’s pitiful condition, an outcast even amongst the other slaves. Her scant memories of her past, though not very detailed give the reader sufficient insight to understand how the negative impacts of slavery trickle down from generation to generation and get worse. Then comes Caeser, another slave on the plantation, who doesn’t share Cora’s background of generations of slavery. He is here because of another set of circumstances and when he suggests that she accompanies him when he makes an attempt to run away from here and try a shot at freedom, she is taken aback. But after a bit of hesitation, she decides to join him and there starts a tale of adventure, interspersed with terror and hope in equal measure.

Continue reading “{ Book Review } – The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead!”

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

{ Book Review } – Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders!

Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is extremely bizarre, and yet so amazing. Well, at least it is amazing in my humble opinion. But I would not be surprised if not everyone finds it brilliant. Part fiction, part accurate recreation of historical events, this book is imagined as a series of events that took place in a bardo ( a state of existence between death and rebirth, as per Tibetan Buddhist beliefs ) after the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son William ‘Willie’ Lincoln. It is a collection of statements, citations, excerpts from written accounts and of course, a bunch of imaginary monologues and dialogues between the departed souls in the graveyard. This is the reason, I wanted to listen to the audiobook version of it, but of course, Audible is too expensive and too risky a choice to try out an experimental work of literature. But some amazing actors and noted personalities ( there are some 100+ different characters/voices ) have lent their voices for the narration, so I am still fixated on audio.

Continue reading “{ Book Review } – Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders!”

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

{ Book Review } – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak!

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Book Thief is one of the books I am certain I am going to reread. I don’t feel that way with all the books I read, not even with the good ones. The Book Thief has a strange narrator – Death. Yes, it is the voice of Death that introduces you to Liesel Meminger. I made close acquaintance with Leisel, shared the thrill of thievery, experienced utter hopelessness and marvelled at the indomitable spirit of human nature as Death goes about doing what he needs to. And trust me, it isn’t easy being Death in WWII ravaged Germany. “I carried them in my fingers, like suitcases”, he says. “Or I’d throw them over my shoulder. It was only the children that I carried in my arms.”, he says. There is plenty more I can say about the narrator, but I will just stop here and say that I found the manner narration as fascination as the plot, if not more. Like all the books that are based in times of war, you will experience every emotion that the characters experience, whether you want to or not, even Death.

Continue reading “{ Book Review } – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak!”

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

{ Book Review } – All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr!

I had added this book in my TBR because of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction it won in 2015. But books that win literary awards don’t always go well for me. I started with the audiobooks, and I have to admit, listening to all the proper nouns in their correct pronunciations/accents/inflections was what helped me get into the mood. It was only after the first few chapters, that I really developed an interest in the mood, which basically means that I found it interesting enough to make to the end. The title refers literally to the vast segment of the electromagnetic spectrum that is invisible to human eye. The visible spectrum is just a slice of the huge spectrum we cannot see. Metaphorically, it means the tragic stories, traumatic experiences of another set of people that never even made it to the mainstream news. Here is how I liked the book.

Continue reading “{ Book Review } – All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr!”

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

{ Book Review } – The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni!

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni can be called a retelling or a reimagining of Mahabharata from Draupadi’s perspective. A lot of plot details are redefined with a feminist perspective often by changing a few points in the story. Sometimes it adds to the value, sometimes it doesn’t. However, as a complete book, I quite enjoyed it. It was a much-recommended book after Karna’s Wife by Kavita Kane and I can say the recommendations were justified! The blurb of the acclaimed book calls it half history, half myth and wholly magical. I enjoyed reading this book enough to wholly agree with the first 2 of the tags, not wholly convinced about the third. And I don’t find the magical tag inapplicable as a criticism, but because it sort of defeats the purpose of how the narrator, Panchaali, is depicted in the book. I personally like the part of the book where she is still, in essence, Dhrupad’s Daughter and Dhri’s sister, “The Unexpected One” or “Offspring of Vengeance” as she thinks of herself. And it’s not the daughter or the sister that defines her, it is completely her, unsure of herself, in awe of Shikandi, protective of Dhri, and who doesn’t know if she wants to be a part of the prophecy that she and her brother were born to fulfil. I love this part because it makes her real, unsheathed of any divine aura, not the golden halo-ed or wronged woman as she has been repeated called as.

View this post on Instagram

( Book 9/36 for 2017 ) FR – The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni ! It was a much recommended book after Karna's Wife by Kavita Kane and I can say the recommendations were justified! 👍🏼 The blurb of the acclaimed book calls it half-history, half-myth and wholly magical. I enjoyed reading this book enough to wholly agree with the first 2 of the tags, not wholly convinced about the third. And I don't find the magical tag inapplicable as a criticism, but because it sort of defeats the purpose of how the narrator, Panchaali, is depicted in the book. I personally like the part of the book where she is still, in essence, Draupad's Daughter and Dhri's sister, "The Unexpected One" or "Offspring of Vengeance" as she thinks of herself. And it's not the daughter or the sister that defines her, it is completely her, unsure of herself, in awe of Shikandi, protective of Dhri, and who doesn't know if she wants to be a part of prophecy she and her brother were born to fulfill. I love this part because it makes her real, unsheathed of any divine aura, not the golden halo-ed or wronged woman as she has been repeated called as. While the book isn't specifically about her, her childhood is hands on the most fascinating part of the story for me. Probably because we have heard about the war a hundred thousand times over. I am not really interested in knowing anymore about Krishna or the Pandavas or Bheeshma. They don't have the same enigma surrounding them. Take, for example, Shikhandi, who tells Draupadi, "Wait for a man to avenge your honour and you'll wait forever." After she morphes into Panchaali, the book moves a decently engaging pace. The Maya Mahal that the demon Maya conjures up for them in the forests of Khandaav Pradesh is again very interesting. I didn't want this book to be another discourse on Mahabharata, and in about half of the book, it didn't fail me. About the second half, well, you cannot write a book on one of the characters of this epic and not talk about the war, it is unavoidable. All in all, it is most definitely one of the better books on Indian Mythology I have read, although I haven't read too many of them. Most certainly recommended!

A post shared by Srujan Desai (@d.srujan) on

While the book isn’t specifically about her, her childhood is hands on the most fascinating part of the story for me. Probably because we have heard about the war a hundred thousand times over. I am not really interested in knowing anymore about Krishna or the Pandavas or Bheeshma. They don’t have the same enigma surrounding them. Take, for example, Shikhandi, who tells Draupadi, “Wait for a man to avenge your honour and you’ll wait forever.” After she morphs into Panchaali, the book moves a decently engaging pace. The Maya Mahal that the demon Maya conjures up for them in the forests of Khandaav Pradesh is again very interesting.

Her relationship with Krishnaa is also wonderfully etched out. He is not a confidante, not the way I felt. In her own words, in Krishnaa, she had found her match. He often served as his eyes and ears to the world, not like a spy, more like someone who brought her the news from the world. I also like how her perception of the queen mothers of Hastinapur changes over time. At first, of irritation but later it changes to admiration and source of strength. All of this brings a very humane touch to the epic, unlike the divine way it has always been narrated to us!

I didn’t want this book to be another discourse on Mahabharata, and in about half of the book, it didn’t fail me. About the second half, well, you cannot write a book on one of the characters of this epic and not talk about the war, it is unavoidable. All in all, it is most definitely one of the better books on Indian Mythology I have read, although I haven’t read too many of them. Most certainly recommended!

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

{ Book Review } – Karna’s Wife: The Outcast’s Queen by Kavita Kane!

Karna’s Wife: The Outcast’s Queen by Kavita Kane is the story of Karna, the unsung and undercelebrated hero from Mahabharata, from his wife Uruvi’s eyes. It is the story of Karna’s life unfurling as the princess of Pukeya, who is beautiful, brave and worthy in every way, falls for the Karna, becomes his queen and goes through this series of wrong-doings and setting-rights called Mahabharata. I am overall not a huge fan of the Indian Mythology as a genre. It’s probably a mental block, but the subject doesn’t engage me much due to several reasons. But, I will say that this book was a pleasant read despite all my personal limitations in the genre. We all grow up listening to granny’s tales on summer nights and watching reruns of tv series during summer vacations, so by the time we grow up, we have a garbled version of every story and sub-story in our minds. For example, we have always been told over and over again that Karna was a good guy, unfortunately fighting on the side of evil. I have never really been able to wrap my mind around this one. Now, as kids, we often accept this stuff as is, no questions asked. Which leaves us midway in clarity. Every plot/subplot/character in these epics have infinite layers to it and we usually don’t delve further than a few layers. So this is where books like Karna’s wife become a pleasant read if you don’t build your expectations up.

View this post on Instagram

FR – Karna's Wife, The Outcast's Queen by Kavita Kane ! This book didn't carry any burden of my expectations on its shoulders. I am overall not a huge fan of the Indian Mythology as a genre. It's probably a mental block, but the subject doesn't engage me much due to several reasons. But, I will say that this book was a pleasant read despite all my personal limitations in the genre. We all grow up listening to granny's tales on summer nights and watching reruns of tv series during summer vacations, so by the time we grow up, we have a garbled version of every story and sub story in our minds. For example, we have always been told over and over again that Karna was a good guy, unfortunately fighting on the side of evil. I have never really been able to wrap my mind around this one. Now, as kids, we often accept this stuff as is, no questions asked. Which leaves us midway in clarity. Every plot/subplot/character in these epics have infinite layers to it and we usually don't delve further than a few layers. So this is where books like Karna's wife become a pleasant read if you don't build your expectations up. The book takes you through the epic with Uruvi's point of view, the princess who braves public shaming, ridicule and outrage to marry Karna, a charioteer's son, beneath her social status. Her attraction to Karna, brave and worthy, and yet ridiculed at every step, has been outlined well. Why Karna feels indebted and attached to Duryodhan is interesting too. It's enjoyable as long as I don't start looking for literary gems in the prose. Believe me when I say this, it's not the author's fault, it is the genre's. It has happened to me before when I read Amish Tripathi's Immortals of Meluha too. Adjectives start sounding repetitive, the prose looks similar everywhere and other than the plot, nothing really makes it engaging. Also, this jumbled mix of stories/dialogues/books from childhood in Hindi/Gujarati makes it difficult to enjoy this genre. So far, I haven't really found a book on Indian Mythology hasn't conflicted with the premise in my head and yet,whose prose captivates me! Pick it up as a light read with minimal expectations and it won't disappoint you.

A post shared by Srujan Desai (@d.srujan) on

Continue reading “{ Book Review } – Karna’s Wife: The Outcast’s Queen by Kavita Kane!”

Posted in Coming Of Age, Historical Fiction, My Bibliothèque, WarTime Fiction

{ Book Review } – City of Thieves!

  • Title: City of Thieves
  • Author: David Benioff
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Coming of Age Story
  • Average Rating on Goodreads: 4.27 stars out of 5
  • Average Rating on Amazon: 4.5 stars out of 5
  • Movie Adaptation: None
  • Year of Publication: 2008

Based on the WW II escapades of two young lads who are out to steal a dozen eggs in a curfew laden, starving Leningrad ( or Piter, as the Leningrad folks prefer to call it), the City of Thieves is the story of how war turns boys into men pretty harshly and how humanity copes with the horrors that come with war. Lev Beniov ( the books hints to have fiction mixed with facts and appears to be narrated by in the voice of Benioff’s grandfather ) and Nikolai ‘Kolya’ Vlasov are ordered by a Colonel to steal a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding cake in a war-torn starving city and offers a barter: go scotfree of the petty crimes that they have been arrested for if they succeed or face execution if they fail. Set in the backdrop of a World War, the mood alternates between war horrors and buoyant optimism. The shades of friendship the lads strike up, albeit a grudgingly by Lev, make you smile and get all teary-eyed alternately in the book.

Continue reading “{ Book Review } – City of Thieves!”

Posted in Historical Fiction, My Bibliothèque, Science Fiction, Thriller

{ Book Review } – 11/22/63 by Stephen King

  • Title: 11/22/63
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Genre: Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Thriller
  • Average Rating on Goodreads: 4.27 stars out of 5
  • Average Rating on Amazon: 4.5 stars out of 5, here
  • Movie Adaptation: An 8-part tv series 11.22.63 on Hulu, starring James Franco, Chris Cooper
  • Year of Publication: 2011

11/22/63 is a novel by Stephen King based on the events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on November 22, 1963. The novel’s titular date is very much indicative of what the story is all about, with a time traveler traveling back in time to this date and his attempts to prevent this grave event.

So, while this book has a lot of consistencies with the Lone Gun Man theory, the mystery of JFK assassination is not the sole theme of the novel.

Continue reading “{ Book Review } – 11/22/63 by Stephen King”