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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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.

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Posted in Fiction, ManBooker LongList 2017, My Bibliothèque

{ Book Review } – Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie!

Home FireHome Fire by Kamila Shamsie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Home Fire is a reimagining of the Greek Tragedy Antigone written by Sophocles in a contemporary setting. Like the original play which is divided into 5 acts, the novel is also divided into 5 parts, narrated by 5 characters of the novel, with each part set in five different locations. It explores the clashes that take place frequently between societal setup, familial attachment/ties of blood and faith/religious beliefs. Having not read the Greek play it would be completely unfair if I comment on whether the novel does justice to the original play or not and so will stick to how I feel about the novel. It focuses more on the emotional aspect of terrorism and its consequences, on the pull of familial ties in a new country, of culture shocks and the immigrant experience more than its political angles. The book’s ending is impactful, dramatic but still impactful. The reader sees it coming but it still grabs the reader’s complete attention and hooks you to the book with a strong sense of thrill and fear.

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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.

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Posted in Fiction, ManBooker LongList 2017, My Bibliothèque

{ Book Review } – 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster!

4 3 2 14 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will begin with a confession that I have never read anything like 4 3 2 1. And, that is what made reading it partly fascinating and partly exhausting for me, not to mention a bit confusing too on several occasions. The story sort of outlines the butterfly effect, or the belief that small causes can have larger effects. It starts a little before March 3, 1947,  in Newark, New Jersey, where Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson is born. And from here, the writer takes you along on the journey of 4 different Archi’s ( as our protagonist likes to be known ) lives and the way it takes varied twists and turns in response on the various triggers that lay in the path. The same boy with the same DNA and the same set of parents walks an entirely different path in his life as if the circumstances of his birth are fed into a random generator which produces out a new kind of life with every iteration.

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