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 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.

Continue reading “{ Book Review } – Warlight by Michael Ondaatje!”

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.

View all my reviews on Goodreads here

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, 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, My Bibliothèque, WarTime Fiction

{ Book Review } – Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris!

Five Quarters of the OrangeFive Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Five Quarters of the Orange is similar to the author’s other works ( Chocolat, The Girl with No Shadow, Peaches for Father Francis ) that I have read, in the sense that, Food is the dominant thread which ties the various characters in the book in a strong bond. And yet, the story is has a more sombre mood than the other books. The book begins with Framboise Simon returns to her village on the banks of the Loire in rural France, introducing herself by her husband’s last name instead of her maiden name and opens a creperie. A tragic incident that took place during the German Occupation of France in WWII involving her mother, Mirabelle Dartigen, still haunts and she is afraid that the villagers will turn against her if they recognise her. But what she holds close to her heart is her mother’s journal, which has recipes noted down in it, keepsakes pasted to its yellowing pages and anecdotes which are written in a cryptic code that she cannot decipher. Also, hidden in the enigmatic entries are the details of what actually transpired on that fateful day when she, her mother and her siblings had to flee the village. There are two timelines in the book, one from Framboise’s childhood and one in the present, where she is being hounded by her relatives, looking to cash in on her creperie’s modest fame.

Continue reading “{ Book Review } – Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris!”

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 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!”