Monday, December 29, 2008

The Good Earth & Of Human Bondage

Two golden classics! I had read these a while back but wanted to read again when I came across them. I knew how getting on in one's life can change one's reading experience and these two books were no exception.

The Good Earth - By Pearl S Buck
I admit that when I first read Good Earth I knew it was a great book. But it is only when I read it recently that I was able to fully appreciate what Buck was trying to show in there. Not only was she able to portray the life of a farmer enslaved to seasonal weather changes but also the political and normal living conditions in China during the reign of the last emperor. She was raised in China and English was taught to her as a second language which probably accounts for her intuitive characterization of things Chinese. She did her college education in the US but went back to China after that. Buck won the Pulitzer Prize and later the Nobel Prize for her work. Read more about the author here. Wang Lung the farmer and his wife O-lan are such deep and real characters that you will not fail to empathize with them. More so with O-lan if you had been through a childbirth. Read more or rather all on the book here.

Of Human Bondage - By W Somerset Maughm
Another author of great insight who lived in post Victorian England around the same time as Buck and the likes of Faulkner, Virginia Woolf etc. I had read another book of Somerset Maughm before I had read this book long time back but can't remember it for the life of me. None of his book titles remind me of which other book was it. I remember reading it with pleasure but as one gets old I guess memory gets selective in what it wants to keep. It could be 'The Painted Veil' for all I know but 'Of Human Bondage' is the one that I remember from then and when I read it this time I skipped a few pages in between where the story seemed at a standstill. It was around a quarter into the book. Before and after it flowed well, esp after. This is the most biographical of Maughm's books who also lost his parents at an early age and was brought up by his uncle who was a Vicar. Having known this fact, all throughout the book I couldn't fail but see Maughm's face instead of Philip Carey's. Maughm's disability was not a clubfoot but rather that he stammered. Read here for more on Somerset Maughm, here to read the book and here for some details on the book.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Two Books

Thanksgiving is here. Doesn't look like this is the year I'll finally prepare that Turkey Dinner. No worries since my son is assured one at our friends'. Thus guilt free, I am sitting down to write about two books that I read, each a different experience.

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
A book I didn't think I'll ever read. I am not one to refuse a book if it comes to me. In this case a friend had it with the others she had for me. Is it not great to have a good book friend who never fails to think about you when it comes to books? She was sure I will like it when I expressed my reservations on seeing the title. She was right. It is so contemporary that I did read it with a certain pleasure till it was finished. But once I was done, that was it. Nothing is leftover from it for me to ponder about or wonder about. Yet, if you want to read it, go for it as it has a certain charm. It has been made into a movie, and since I like Renee Zellweger it probably is a good movie to watch too.

The book is of course about Bridget Jones who tells the story in the form of writing in her diary. If you like Pride and Prejudice (which I absolutely do) then you will find the storyline familiar complete with a Mr. Darcy. Be forewarned that being rather old fashioned I couldn't digest some words that occur throughout the book however perceptive they were. These broke the flow many times till finally I got used to it and glossed over without flinching:-) Read here , here and here about the book, movie and author.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Another book that I didn't think I'd read but eager to keep when I saw it. I had seen the movie and had loved it. So it was a little surprising to find the Indian Sikh character (Kip) appears to be as prominent as the English Patient and his lover in the book. The nurse's character too runs central in the story while the movie didn't leave that feeling. The actress won the Oscar for Best Supporting actress though. I was disappointed at first but later figured that both the stories - that of the Englishman and the woman & that of the nurse and Kip - are equally strong and the movie indeed is well made on the side it decided to track. One thing I have to say about the movie is that whoever picked Christian Scott Thomas to play Katherine Clifton made a brilliant choice as she was the perfect fit for that role. She is a personal favorite who reminds me of the Malayalam/Tamil actress Suhasini in acting skills. Read here and here about the book. The movie won nine Oscars, all well justified considering how difficult of a task it was to convert it to a visual medium.

It is difficult for me to get back to the book from the movie. eh? The time the story takes place is during the tail end of World War II when the Germans were retreating and the Allies were advancing slowly through Italy having to wait for an extraordinary amount of leftover bombs and mines that needed to be defused. It is about a completely burnt man being cared for by a military nurse alone in a villa in Italy that was taken over as a wartime hospital and abandoned for all purposes when the war was winding down. The nurse Hana stayed on when the patient refused to move. They all believe him to be an Englishman but as he talks it is revealed that he could be a counter spy named Almasy. Further revelations show him merely to be a man trying to return to his lover whom he had to leave in the desert after an accident. The book is immensely interesting as the Enlglish Patient is a history buff and is able to relate everything in the present day world to something that happened in the earlier centuries. Even through the fire he didn't lose his book The Histories by Heredotus which also served as his jounal. He was a desert explorer charting maps and discovering lost landmarks in the desert for the Geographical Society at that time.

Author Michael Ondaatje is from Srilanka and has lived in the UK and Canada. As I was reading about Kip (Kirpal Singh of the bomb disposal unit) I was amazed at the author's perception of his character and how accurately he was portrayed. Of Indians taking part or not in a war that is not theirs and almost on the cusp of Independence. Kip is a talented engineer learning to assimilate into this new world he is thrown into. I didn't miss a word of his bomb diffusing episodes. The author's adept story telling kept it from getting too mechanical or technical. Kip and Hana slowly fall in love. While Katherine do not really enter the book till almost into 2/3rd of it, Kip is presented much earlier. Both seem all pervasive at the end of the book. Hana is an unusual person who has matured early through her life experiences and her deep sorrow in losing her father Patrick to the war in a burning death. Then there is the one other character Caravaggio who is a spy as well as a friend of Hana's father. I couldn't really define his presence in this book except perhaps to provide the final explanation of the English Patient's story. It is endearing how the Englishman bonds with young Kip through Rudyard Kipling's Kim. The atom bomb that dropped on the Asian continent was what ultimately exploded in Kip who was endangering his life to save mostly European lives. He felt betrayed by that act and eventually returned to India to become a doctor who saves lives.

Almasy and Katherine Clifton were real people and the story uses part of who they were. The similarities end there. These two had never met in real life and their characters and the events in the story are complete fiction. Ondaatje has written a book that will forever be appreciated by the reading public for the incredible depth of its story and characters. I had read his 'Anil's Ghost' sometime back which while a little difficult to follow, also left me with similar feelings. The English Patient won the Booker Prize. Read here for more on the author.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca

The previous post briefly touching my undergrad years brought on a precious memory that is well suited for these pages. In those years when we stayed in the hostel, friendships were never confined to the one particular class you were in. My good friend who was from another class always made sure that I got to read all the books she got too before returning it. Since her class sources had better books I was rather grateful for this habit of hers.

One time I took a fancy to Daphne Du Maurier's 'Rebecca' after reading a glowing review on it. I went crazy through the streets and shops of the college town I was in, looking to actually buy this book and there was no end to my disappointment when I couldn't. Guess what my dearest friend got me as a parting gift at the end of the undergrad years? Yup. 'Rebecca', with a little note for me written in her familiar script. I don't know how much trouble she had to go through to buy the book but the fact that she cared enough to remember my affliction was what mattered. Of course I couldn't wait to read all of it and is a special treasure among all my books.

As for the book itself, what can I say. If you are a fan of Du Maurier's unique style I don't need to elaborate. If not I'd say without doubt that you have to actually read one of her books before passing up. Rebecca is a personal best of hers I'd think. Du Maurier stories tinge on the mysterious and she makes it effortlessly palpable. . "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again". This is how Rebecca starts and I was hooked from this first line. I won't spoil the story for you, but read here , here and here for more on the author and the book.

Living To Tell The Tale - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Today I am setting out to write about a well known author that people usually can't wait to read. Yes, it indeed is the Nobel Prize winning author of 'One Hundred Years Of Solitude'. I have developed an affection for this author's books that I hadn't when I first read him sometime during my undergrad years.

One of my brothers was home for the holidays and I saw him sitting quite engrossed in this book. Being a book magnet I passed up close enough and found that it was 'One Hundred...". Marquez had just won the Nobel Prize and I hadn't read any of his books before. His name and book's name were all rather intimidating unlike for example 'Ayn Rand' and her 'Fountainhead' which I had no difficulty gobbling up with no second thoughts when it made its rounds in the girls' hostel. Anyway I don't think I read the book right then but I did get to it not too late. A saga full of lively characters, it will not fail to raise your interest in Marquez. I have yet to read his 'Love In The Time of Cholera' but when I came across 'Living To Tell The Tale' at a sidewalk sale, it intrigued me as I hadn't heard of it. It turned out to be one of the best buys yet.

This is an autobiography and is as entertaining as any of his books or more. Reading it enlightens us as to how he came to be a writer through sheer love and persistence. Guess he just couldn't become anything else as he was born to be a writer. The prolific amount of characters, the beloved town of his stories all begin to beautifully fall in place with this book. He credits his Grandfather Marquez on his Mother's side as a pivotal figure in his life. He grew up in his Grandparents' house, you see. When you put the book down you will have developed an affection for young Gabriel who spent his early years in politically troubled Colombia's Caribbean coast so fertile with characters. The cover picture shows Marquez when he was 2 years old. He lives in Mexico City now according to the book. Please don't miss the eventful life of this most beloved writer. I hope he will come up with a sequel to fill in the latter years as indicated. Even if they are better recorded than the early years, I know it will be a treat to hear it all in Marquez's own mesmerizing words.

As always: click away here, here and here for more on the author and his books.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Thalamurakal - O. V Vijayan

A book that I bought on one of my visits to Kerala just because it was written by the much revered OV Vijayan. I believe Vijayan's style of writing revolutionized or at least opened up a whole new set of possibilities for Malayalam writers. You never read one of his books without feeling that you have come across something great. The wonderful part is, this happens with every single book of his I have read so far. 'Madhuram Gayathi', 'Gurusagaram' etc stand out and of course the much famous 'Khasakhinte Ithihasam' (Legends Of Khasak) . I'd even go as far as to say his writing is the Malayalam prose equivalent of Kahlil Gibran's poetry. I confess I have not read Gibran as much as I have read Vijayan and that could be why. The Gibran poems that I have read and the Vijayan books leave me with the same feeling of awe about the writer.

In 'Thalamurakal' (Generations) Vijayan tells the story of the ancient family of 'Ponmudi'. It is written as told by one of its last generations through the numerous family legends he was told and heard and witnessed. Vijayan's use of rarely used words are stitched seamless into the narrative and never stands apart. It looks at the different casts and religions of Kerala over the years with a discerning and leveled eye.

It almost feels like a biography where the narrator is Vijayan himself. 'Ponmudi Tharavad' has found a special place in my memory shelf. Click here to read an excerpt in Malayalam.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Anya Seton's The Winthrop Woman

I have passed by Anya Seton's books many times. I have this unreasonable liking for her name but was afraid the she is a romance novelist. Not that I have anything against novels being romantic but when I spend my precious time on a book, I'd like to have more than just only that.

The other day I stopped once again in front of Seton's books and bravely took this book out from the lot. The author's note in the beginning was quite reassuring as to the contents and for a history buff like me this was the perfect book to bring home. At first I imagined the title talked of many women from the Winthrop family but it was about one in particular. This one's life ran rather like that in a movie with stories and sub stories strewn all over.

Elizabeth Winthrop was a cousin as well as married to one of the Winthrops. Winthrops being among the first of many puritan families to arrive from England on ships in the hopes of making a puritan community thrive away from the persecutions at home. The most famous among the ships being The Mayflower I guess. The first thirteen colonies of the US appear all over this book based mostly on documented facts. It also attests to Elizabeth's courage and iconoclastic nature even in those times and her steadfastness to the family she had. A very satisfying read filled with geographical history and of the many kinds of people who sawed the seeds to the making of this nation with open tributes to the original inhabitants. Elizabeth's first marriage to Harry Winthrop, her deep friendship with his brother Jack who was the early Governor of of the state of Connecticut, her uncle and their father John Winthrop who was the first puritan Governor, her second marriage to the prosperous goldsmith Robert with a touch of madness in him and her last and peaceful marriage to Will Hallet and her many children and her relationship to the Native American woman 'Talaka' all form a wonderful kaleidoscope of real stories and real revelations. I didn't know that New York was once a Dutch territory and was called New Amsterdam for instance. Go here , here , here and here for more on the book, the author and the heroine.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Palace of Illusions &The Kitchen God's Wife

Palace of Illusions
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a favorite author whose books I know I will enjoy. So I couldn't wait till this her latest was available in the Library. Surprisingly her writing style was quite different in this book. I know because I have read almost all of her books. Check here for a list of her books and more info on the author. I am a fan of her lyrical style perfected in 'Queen of Dreams', Mistress of Spices' etc. and so missed it in this book. It is still a fascinating book to me because of two things. One, this is a concise book on the various stories of Mahabharata told in an easy to follow narrative; two, it is told from the unique point of view of Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas. So do read this or even buy one as I am planning to do if you were one of those kids who thoroughly enjoyed the mythical stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana but had only read stories from it in bits and pieces. This page and this has more on the story. The palace in question is the magical palace that Maya built for the Pandavas/Draupadi for that relatively peaceful period when they were ruling their half of the Kuru Kingdom.

The Kitchen God's Wife
While Divakaruni's books are a must read because of the additional pleasure I get being from India, Amy Tan's books are depended on when I am in need of an easy read with no hassles and am in no mood to start searching for one. I have read quite a a few of the author's books and know for sure that eventually I will finish all. But why hurry a sure thing? This book, like other Tan books portrays mother-daughter relationship in all its intensity. I do get her books mixed up in that I can't separate the characters from one book to the other. It does not interfere in the reading pleasure at all as each storyline is distinct and will remain a 'rainy day' source for me if I don't finish them all up too soon:-) Check here and here for a synopsys of the book and here for more on the author.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Bone People by Keri Hulme

When I came across this book I had a good feeling about it. But I didn't know I'll come to love one of the characters so much. The initial attraction for me was that it was written by a Maori about the Maori's of New Zealand. If you liked The Whale Rider ( the book) then you will no doubt find this book quite readable. The book is heavily laden with Maori language which you hardly notice while following the story that is being told. Keri Hulme has a special way with words. The book at first glance appears as if it's been hastily put together or not edited well. But pretty soon you are so engrossed in the book that this fails to matter! I said this is a Maori story but the story is so universal, that in the course of reading the book one almost forgets this aspect. The author's characters are strong but are not ostensibly so and the whole book is on its way to being a classic if I have any say:-)

The central and most endearing character is a mute, rebellious and possibly abused little boy who was washed ashore on a stormy night into the lives of Joseph (Joe) Gillayley and Kerewin Holmes (sounds a lot like the author's name too!). Kerewin is a loner who took an immediate though reluctant liking to this window breaker and petty thief of a boy and was rewarded in return with his love and trust. The boy who was named Simon lived with his foster father Joe when they met and the unlikely threesome were an item afterwards. Keri Holmes has succeeded so well in portraying Simon that even after I finished the book I kept wishing it didn't. I actually missed reading more about Simon! Read more about the book here, here and here.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Tagged by Reflections

The Rules are as follows:

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.

2) Italicize those you intend to read.

3) Underline the books you really love (and strikethrough the ones you hate!).

4) Reprint this list in your own blog.

I have added another category where I have also italicized the books that I read a while ago, liked and would like to read again.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

9 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch - George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis

34 Emma - Jane Austen

35 Persuasion - Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving

45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding

50 Atonement - Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel

52 Dune - Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding

69 Midnights Children – Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

72 Dracula - Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses - James Joyce

76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal - Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession - AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte's Web - EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

94 Watership Down - Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

My score is: 59/100.

Any book lover who would like to do this will find some new books or authors. I did a quick google search on some of the ones that I hadn't heard of and italicized the ones that I'd like to lay hands on. Thanks reflections!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The House Of Blue Mangoes - David Davidar

This gem of a book was recommended by a family friend. She is an avid reader and so I just bought the book when she spoke highly of it. It was not a mistake and was worth every penny.

David Davidar tells the story of a village alongside the Coromandel coast (Chevathar) and the Dorai family. The book is an easy read and the story flows along well. I have yet to hear of anyone who did not like the book that I loaned it to. Being from Kerala it was also interesting for me know of this community that enjoys 'puttu' and 'appam' just like me:-) So go ahead, buy or borrow and enjoy! Davidar is one of the founding members of Penguin of India. Read more about the author and the book here, here and here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

And Quiet Flows The Don - Mikhail Sholokhov

I was waxing long about almonds here and somehow that brought on a mention of Russian names which in turn revoked the memory of this book that I had read long time ago. I'd like to read it again to see how my perception of the characters have changed from then to now. I remember there were four volumes and am not sure if I will be able to finish them now in a reasonable time. Now that I look back, our home had a well stocked library if you can call rows and rows of bookshelves that. I have not seen my father reading much but he was responsible for most of the books and a brother with a bookish pen friend abroad was responsible for some. I did come across a handwritten full novel that my dad had finished while fishing through his papers. I still remember the sheepish grin on his face when asked about the book and the concealed pleasure that at least one of his broods came across it. It was written in an older Malayalam style and so he must have written it when he was younger. Then of course there were the classic literary books you have in your syllabus and considering the number of older siblings I have, these were also a decent bunch.

I remember coming back from school on the day mid-summer vacation started and throwing the book bag away with a punch and settling down on the floor next to the book shelves that I'd been eying the whole year. My Mom always encouraged me to read as much as I want except of course when I take it to the next level and bring it to the dining table:-) But there was always schoolwork and so I rather looked forward to the abandon with which I can enjoy the books once vacation starts. Mom loved it that I liked to read so much. Something I find that my husband also shares with her except of course when it affects our normal flow of things:-) I similarly love it when I see my kids engrossed in a book. The younger one is still too little to read but she is getting there. There is something about a book in hand that is just wonderful.

I used to leave the heavier looking books alone for fear of not being able to understand them but as I continued devouring the books, finally these were the only ones left. This is how I came to read the heavy weights like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and found to my surprise that they did contain some nice enjoyable stories once I got past the mental block. I loved reading great fiction through English as they were the ones available. It took me till my undergrad years to get to know the Malayalam greats like OV Vijayan, Lalithambika Antharjanam etc. I am a fair reader. I think the Muttathu Varkey stories speak to a certain part of the heart and therefore enjoyable. I absolutely loved Varkey's 'Inapravukal' and I believe he is the author of the eternally endearing 'Oru Kudayum Kunju Pengalum'. You can always find gems if you look for them. I wouldn't call the book 'A Stone for Danny Fisher' by Harold Robbins a gem but it was well written. That was the first book I came across where the narrator was telling all those stories from under ground where he was already dead and buried! Recent Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk's 'My name is Red' is another.

My brothers had an admirable collection of comic books that were hard bound together to 4 or 5 big volumes and I didn't leave these alone either! How could one forget Superman, Mandrake and Phantom? Bahadur and his Karate antics also caught my fancy and next in line were Flash Gordon and Batman. Those were nice books and were not as fierce as the comics we see today. I had taken my son to a comic bookstore here with the hope of introducing him to these old time greats and I couldn't really find any that appealed to me. He has since fallen into the hands of Pokemon who I guess are rather cute. I am glad he and my daughter enjoy the TinTin collection of comics that I got for them. They were rather inexpensive to buy from India. Recently I found an Asterix book and guess who was as eager as my kids to read it?

I was searching for Mikhail Sholokhov and Don on the net when I came across this wikipedia page that mentions a controversy that the first part might not have been written by him. He won the Nobel Prize for literature for this. Read more about it here. But anyway Pantelei Prokofyevich and his brood of the Melekhov family were portrayed well and this was when I noticed that Russian names for daughters or wives take after the family names ending in 'va' as in Aksinia Astakhova for the Astakhovs and ends in 'ov' as in Astakhov or 'vich' for the sons or Dads. This may just be for the region the story was set in as I don't see this being followed as a rule. I enjoyed figuring this interesting piece of info out myself. This also rang familiar when I read a book about Norwegians where the guys were 'sons' and gals were 'daughtirs' as in Gunnarson and Gunnarsdaughtir for Gunnar's kids. Don't know more about this though but it is filed away as an interesting fact. The story is set on the banks of the life giving river Don and of course there is always a war in such epic books. Pantelei's black sheep of a son Gregory Panteleyevich (see the -vich added to his dad's name as his last name?- and Ivan Astakhov's much abused wife Aksinia develops a relationship that forms the thread for everything that happens in the book. Here is a nice synopsis of the story. And Amazon rarely disappoints if you want to get some user reviews.

When it rains it pours, time to bring out some lighter books. Soon....

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky & Perumbadavam Sreedharan's 'Oru Sankeerthanam Pole'

When I read 'Crime and Punishment' some time back it took me a while to get Raskolnikov out of my system. I can't always read a book like that as it can bring you down some. It goes without question that Dostoevsky was a gifted writer and well versed in the workings of the human mind especially if it was a deprived life.

It took me some time to finish all the stories in the book. I enjoyed every single one of them except 'Notes from the Underground'. Could not read it at all as I couldn't make head or tail out of what he was trying to say. The best are probably 'White Knight' and 'Honest Thief'. I don't presume to critique such an esteemed author's stories. So I'll just say the ones I liked were wonderful and the one that I couldn't, well, I just didn't get it. Read more about the book here. One reviewer has notes on each of the stories in the book.

Why bring in Perumbadavam Sreedharan when talking about the great Dostoevsky? Why not will be a more appropriate response. I remember reading his 'Anthiveyilile Ponnu' most likely in Mathrubhoomi magazine and being thoroughly impressed by the newness of his expressions and the strength of his writing. So when I went to browse in a bookstore in Kerala a few years back I didn't hesitate to buy 'Oru Sankeerthanam Pole'. It turns out that Perumbadavam has great respect for Dostoevsky and wrote this book as something he just had to. It is the story of the young and hapless Dostoevsky and a girl called Anna who came to help him with the writing of his novels. Anna became his wife. It is said that she had been the great love of Dostoevsky. Too many greats eh? Can't help it. Anyway the book is pretty good and I think reading 'Sankeerthanam' made me understand and appreciate most of the short stories in the first book. So if you come across either of these books, go for it. Don't forget to read the foreword by Perumbadavam if you get his book. He is described as the writer with God's signature on his heart. This is Dostoevsky's description too. I don't know about that but one thing is true. You will not fail to be impressed by this writer. Not sure if any English translations exist but that would be quite an event! Read more on Perumbadavam here , here and here.

A Tag

Tagged By reflections.

I am: who i am

I think: sometimes

I know: some things

I want: a library

I have: no library

I wish: to be among family

I hate: sloppiness

I miss: my extended family

I fear: fear

I feel: calm

I hear: two little voices clamoring

I smell: boiled ripe banana. just steamed it!

I crave: ripe mango from one of the mango trees that is not there anymore

I search: myself

I wonder: about the way the world works!

I regret: regrets

I ache: when i fall

I am not: sad

I dance: sometimes

I sing: in silence

I cry: when i feel like it

I don't always: cry

I fight: with none

I write: in greeting cards

I win: sometimes

I lose: memories

I never: read a harry potter book

I always: brush my teeth

I confuse: myself

I listen: to music

I can usually be found : with a book in hand

I need: books

I am happy about: the clear blue sky

I imagine: rain falling outside

I tag anyone who'd like to take this up.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Town - Conrad Richter

Another trip to the library yielded this splendid book.

It is a fictionalized history of the early settlers and the towns they built after coming to the "new world". This the third in a trilogy and Richter won the Pulitzer prize in 1951 for it. 'The Trees' and 'The Fields' are the other two books. I have not read those, but there was no loss of continuity. The story revolves around a daughter of the founder of a small town called Moonshine. Sayward and her many children and their future is intertwined with the growth of the town in this book.

The language is deep and nostalgic and if you live far from home or were interested in family tree sort of stuff like me then this will ring a bell. Go here for some info and here to browse more.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Atonement - The Movie

I generally don't like to watch movies made from books as a lot of what was in the book gets lost in the movie and one is left with an unfulfilled feeling when seeing such a movie. The reverse is also true probably. I never can buy a book if I watched the movie first. I am afraid that the scenes from the movie will interfere with my imagination for the pages of the book. But what if you watched a movie and felt like you just read a good book? Well, then you just go and do a post on it:-)

So we had this video 'Atonement' waiting now for more than a month to be watched and finally we got a good night to watch it. A beautifully told and photographed movie. Do see it and you won't be disappointed. I saw in the credits that it is made from a much acclaimed book of the same name by Ian McEwan. If I had come across the book earlier I never would have bothered to watch the movie. Then I would have missed the incredible photography of this movie. I am not an expert on photography and so perhaps it may not be a big deal. But I just loved and appreciated all the camera angles and scenes in the movie.

The story revolves around young Briony Tallis who mistook something she saw for something else and acted based on it which put her sister's true love into prison from which he ended up going to the war. Her sister Cecilia - Keira Knightly - took up army nursing and Briony - by then 18 or so - followed suit as a form of penance even though she was slated to enter Cambridge. Well told and well made movie with superb acting. I didn't go much for the grown up Briony as a Nurse but everyone else did a good job. Reminded me of English Patient a little. I liked this better though. Click here if you are interested in more details of the story.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Herman Hesse's Siddhartha

I had to use the gift card after all, since the Library was closed:!!! Of all the days, it had to be on this Friday when I got to sit home with the kids for a day. There is no point crying over spilt milk so I headed straight for Barnes and Nobles. The cover of this new paperback edition of Siddhartha had attracted my attention the last time I wandered around the store. Catchy, don't you think? I loved it. Finished the book. It was translated from the original by Rika Lesser. If the translation is so good to read then what must the original be?

This classic book will remain so as it transcends time. Sometimes when you re-read a book years later you are able to get much more from it and in some cases a different view from the first time. I have even come to root for a different character altogther. Case in point is Anna Karenina. Having read it in upper primary/middle school time I was unable to sympathize with Anna and was always rooting for her husband. But when I read it sometime last year I couldn't fathom how I didn't get Anna before... As always I digress. Let us get back to S for Siddhartha.

As the introductions take great pains to let us know, this is not the Siddhartha who became Gautama Buddha but the story is set in the same time as the Buddha's. S meets the Buddha in the midst of his quest for truth. I was able to follow S's quest so well and wholeheartedly agree with how it ends that I am left - can I say flabbergasted?- amazed at Hesse's understanding of life. I wouldn't say Eastern or Indian or Buddhist as what Hesse has laid out in there is the truth of life in this world. I urge everyone to read this book. it is not full of pedantic and long stretches of text that are beyond one's immediate grasp but laid out in simple and concise lines. Maybe it is this particular translator but it is Hesse that shines from it.

The last few pages - chapter Govinda-maybe a bit harder to chew as there Siddartha discusses with Govinda all that he was able to internalize during the course of his life. You can come back to this chapter later if it leaves you curious or it can be left alone as it still is a whole book for a reader like me.....This paperback edition is only $6.95 and I didn't have to think twice about adding it to my humble collection of books.

Friday, May 16, 2008

My Earliest Memories

This is not a book. Haven't been reading one the past few days. I am adding a bird and her nest to make up for it. She was happy to make her nest on our not yet taken down Christmas lights! But not to worry I am all set to go to the Library with the kids in tow. Hopefully I'll be able to get one to read in the midst of finding their books and videos. If not, have my trump card. er.. I mean a Barnes & Nobles gift card that I am going to use to buy Herman Hesse's Sidhartha. I think I have read it before but would like to have a copy of my own. So while things are brewing in the reading dept. I'd like to honor a sort of promise I made to this blogger friend's sort of tag:-)

I do have vague earlier memories of playing around in and out of the house with my sister and brothers, but this one stands out pretty clear.

Being the youngest, Mom was reluctant to send me out for the Sunday Catechism classes that my older siblings were enrolled in or had graduated from. All the more so because the church that we go for these classes was at quite a distance from home. The parish church that everyone goes for the Sunday Morning Mass in a vehicle of some sort is much farther. But one had to walk to the church where we attended the Catechism classes.  Why two churches? It is a long story that I might tell later.

Well anyway, since my sister (who is only a year older than me and deserves to be as 'young' as me is deemed the 'older' and therefore in charge of me 'the baby' ) was taking me it was decided to be okay. I reached the church without event and the classes went well. I was always one to hog classes and therefore loved it. I was almost 5 at this time.

It happened on the way back. I fell onto the unpaved road and brutally scorched my knees. It was not that bad but the visuals were terrible and I remember the expression of horror and love on my Mom's face on seeing it. She then and there decided that I should wait one more year before making that perilous trek again.

Though I could always feel a general love in the family I had never felt it so focussed on me, us being a rather large family. I guess this memory helped sow in me an appreciation for love from family which gives you a warm cozy feeling no matter how old you get. I hope my kids do know this from us even without such incidents.......

I have some more but I'll save that for later as now the Libary is calling....

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

All day, the colors had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths. Briefly visible above the vapor, Kanchenjunga was a far peak whittled out of ice, gathering the rest of the light, a plume of snow blowing high by the winds at its summit.” Thus begins Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss. If you are not caught by these lines then the book is not for you.

Desai is the daughter of well known writer Bharati Desai and she has won a Man Booker Prize for this book. I believe this book is a cut above many of the books I have read recently. It is not a fast read at all and at times the story seems to go nowhere. But that is beside the point as the strength is in the language and Desai just excels in it. All that mist reminded me of another well written book called House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III but the comparison ends there. Without judgment Kiran Desai is able to portray everyday struggles in all zones of life. If you have tried to put an emotion into paper then you know how difficult it is, but Desai’s pen weaves effortlessly and beautifully through all kind of situations.

The story revolves around the remnants of the British Raj in India particulary in West Bengal and the struggles of Gorkhas of Kalimpong. Read here to get a background on Kalimpong’s history before delving into the book. The love story of Sai & Gyan gently traverses the book and gives it the semblance of a story too.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Haweswater by Sarah Hall

I was supposed to go out for a group lunch the other day. Something changed at the last moment and I found myself with a sanctioned long lunch hour at work. There was a Barnes & Nobles near work that I had always wanted to checkout and this presented the perfect opportunity. Armed with a location map and yahoo driving directions I found the place relatively easily. Much to my delight this location had a Starbucks cafĂ© which agreed perfectly with my lunch plans. I wanted a book so I could sit and read and eat. Ah! Isn’t that heaven? But I also didn’t want to spend much on book to satisfy a whim. This is when I noticed the $4.98 books on display from which I selected a book ‘Haweswater ‘ by Sarah Hall. To be honest what intrigued me about this book other than its price was the name of the author’s previous book included on the cover page. ‘The Electric Michelangelo’ Very intriguing, is it not? I thought an author who could come up with such a name surely has imagination. I ordered my latte – I wished my husband could join me since ordering a latte is our guilty pleasure – and a blueberry scone, found a quiet place by the window and settled down to read. The book was good, not disappointing as I had secretly feared and the whole lunch time and more passed in bliss before I could bring myself to spring up for getting back to work. Having said that, I have to say it is not an easy read. The story is told laboriously so as not to lose any details and might be boring to some. The author’s strength for an impatient reader like me was that I was willing to read through each of the words so as to be pulled more and more into the story she is trying to tell. I wanted to read the story without skimming it and was also quite happy to put it down for other errands knowing I will come back to it to finish it.

Sarah Hall is a British author and this is her second book. I intend to find her first book from the Library as I believe it will be good too and it was a Man Booker prize finalist. This book tells the story of the tenant farmers of Britain in the 1930s in the village of Marsdale and how the building of the Haweswater Dam affected their lives. Having grown up in a farm could explain why I took to this book.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Kazuo Ishiguro - When We Were Orphans

I had the luck of a book lover the other day in the local Library.
Had a short time to select a book because I had started earlier
from work and my husband called to say he is picking up the kids.
Browsing fast I couldn't really latch onto a book that tells me that it is
worth my time on it. I so wanted to try a new author that I didn't want
to resort to my tried and trusted authors this time.

Finally I picked a book which only sort of spoke to me and was on my way to checkout a little disappointed when I noticed it. A hardback with that look! In a flash the books were switched and during a respite from home activities read the first few chapters. The book read like an Arthur Conan Doyle/Daphne Du Maurier style that I enjoy much. I was congratulating myself on this find as I had spotted many more books by the same author in the shelf which now I can borrow with no second thoughts. It was then I noted the less noticed caption under the book title. 'From the Author of the Remains Of The Day'. But of course!! I had watched the Merchant-Ivory movie and liked it and knew right away that now I am totally at peace with my "new" author. Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Japan but grew up in Britain where his family emigrated. He won the Booker Prize for 'Remains of the Day'.

Here is the dish on the book:
Christopher is a Shanghai born British boy whose parents mysteriously disappeared in the orient. He also left behind his boyhood Japanese friend Akira whose memories never faded for him. After returning to London he became a famous detective and all the while he had the inkling to one day go back to find his parents. It happened during the opium wars and his father used to work for a British Company that also dealt in opium. Enough said. When he managed to go back the Japanese were invading China and the book goes on to describe how he partially succeeded in the search for his parents and the revelations that came on its heels.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Two Books. Again!

Yes, I seem to be reading in pairs these days:-)

Midnight At The Dragon Cafe

Judy Fong Bates is an author I chanced upon in the Library. I had not heard of her before.

The story is about the life of a Chinese family from the Mainland that immigrated to small town Canada in Ontario. It is interesting in that it gives a glimpse into how the family and probably many others like theirs adapted to life in a foreign land fleeing from the communist regime of the time.

What The Body Remembers

Sahuna Singh Baldwin was born abroad but brought up in India and settled abroad. The story is written from a women's perspective. Provides enough insights into a strong woman's mind who had no freedom to express it. It is also entwined with India's Independence and the partition which can evoke familiar emotions of forgotten sorrows.

I am not sure I will be looking for works from these authors diligently but I won't run away if one chances upon me.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Malayalam Books – non fiction

My in-laws came this week and Dad brought me some books as a gift. He probably didn’t know he got the ideal gift! All were Malayalam non-fiction. Something I hadn’t been exposed to in a long while. Was pleasantly surprised to find that every single one of the books were good and gave me something to think about. Dad mentioned that they were selected by a priest friend of his who is also an avid reader. I am laying two of these books out here so if any of you wanted to get a Malayalam fix of quality you can go for these.

I had heard a lot about Balachandran Chullikkadu. Mostly that he is a poet and remember pictures of him with medusa like hair and stuff. Had read some of his poems when I was probably too young for them as I didn’t understand much. So I had ignored him as a most modern poet. Reading his book now I can’t imagine why I would give him such a label. Even in prose his poetic nature comes through. Although his memoirs – at least quite a few of them – are not what I would want to dwell on much, the beauty of the language cannot be ignored. Because Malayalam is infused with commonly used English words whose native equivalents are not easy to digest, it is difficult for writers to use pure Malayalam without having these ‘outstanding’ English words in them. Chullikkadu has no such problems. Language flows effortlessly for him even when describing the crudest parts. I didn’t catch it at first as I started the book with a prejudged mind. But over time I was so engrossed in the beautiful usage of words that I was floored. He even has some poetic lines of his in there. The one that affected me the most was the description of his thoughts that came out during the death of his estranged father. One simply cannot ignore the force of his language that slowly gets you…I used to love OV Vijayan who is my favorite prolific Malayalam writer that I believe has an extraordinary talent with Malayalam word flow. This one comes pretty close.

Neermathalam Poothakalam
Written by the world renowned poetess and writer Madhavikkutti/Kamala Das. Her English poems are known around the world. She has written a book in English with Andrew Arkin that has her prose as well as poems and is available from Dad was saying that she is known to be a little off in the head these days and my answer to that was “but that does not matter because if you read her books you will feel like respectfully prostrating before her”J This book is a classic example. It is her childhood memories and comes out haphazardly. But you hardly notice. It mostly touches the people in her childhood connected to the many Nair ancestral families that are networked with her own famous Nalappatt family. She also reminisces about her uncle the famous poet Nalappatt Narayana Menon. It does not go too much into detail about her equally famous Mother and poetess Balamaniamma most likely because they did not spend much time together. A blessed writer of both Malayalam and English whose calibre stands up well with any other good writer in the world.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Glass Palace

My first book by author Amitav Gosh. I had read a Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth and found it rather tedious and so was afraid to take another book that appeared similar. Being from India I had satisfied myself that I pretty much knew the history of its Independence. It was a surprise to find that the events described in 2 or 3 paragraphs in history books can span the sprawling canvass of events laid out in this book. It gives us an idea of what went on with Indian officers in the British Army during those eventful times. I didn’t think the story will lead this way as it started around its intriguing namesake The Glass Palace which was the official residence of the Kings of Burma then. There too it was interesting to read of a Golden Burma especially as we are faced with quite a different kind of Burma these days. If you are a historical fiction buff like me, then you will find this immensely satisfying. It follows the story of orphaned Rajkumar through the streets and forests of Burma, the Rubber estates of Malaysia and eventually into India. The events are historical yet well told in a fictional format. Do read when you are ready to enjoy some history. I watched the Hindi movie ‘Lakshya’ after reading this book. There is not much connection between the two except both sort of refer to the Indian Military Academy. Amitav Gosh’s book shows IMA’s roots and the Movie gives its current scope.

Of Books, Authors and Me:

I got carried away with the food part of my blog. Besides, no new books had entered my horizon. Now I have another one in a row! The book I want to speak of today is ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ by Jodi Picccoult.

Jodi Piccoult is a Harvard educated former school teacher turned prolific writer who develops her characters pretty deep with few exceptions and this is what attracted me to her books. When you read her books you get to know the characters pretty well. Some of her support characters have a little ‘masala’ inclination but her superb writing intermingled with her mastery of words more than make up for it towards an enjoyable read. It has enough of a mystery to it to make you want to finish it all in one stretch. No other book of hers has affected me as much as her book that I mentioned above. It tells the story of a sister who was conceived just so her sick older sister suffering from leukemia can have her cord blood. A book where the question about the reason for existence becomes rather interesting. The book examines this from the perspective of many of its characters. The mother character is very close to one’s heart though portrayed rather coldly. I read the book ‘Plain Truth’ first and then went on to get all her books from the public Library.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Don't let the title stop you from reading this well told story. I just finished reading ‘Middlesex’ by Jeffrey Eugenides lent from a good friend. Eugnides’ book is such an interesting and classic book that it transcends cultures and surprised me in the same instant with the reach of its understanding. I can’t say I read the book without putting it down as something special because being a compulsive reader I can’t put down most of my books without finishing:-) But this is a good book and a Pulitzer prize winner to boot. The writing style is unique and to me seemed like a blend of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Arundhathi Roy. It is written from the point of view of a hermaphrodite – a person with unsure gender identity - again don’t let that define the book as it really explores the 2 sided nature of everything in this world as well as some interesting nuggets of history that span generations. Come to think of it any good author will have to have split perspectives to be able to present male and female characters in a book. This serious and complex novel is written in a lighthearted style that I enjoyed much. I find that I always love novels peopled with lot of characters. Probably an after effect of having lived in highly populated India....

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Two books : Agnisakshi & Family Matters

Today I’d like to talk about two books. The first one is close to my heart which  is in Malayalam and written long ago. The second book is more recent from an Indian author written in English.

The first is ‘Agnisakshi’, written by that doyenne of elegant Malayalam literature Lalithambika Antahrjanam. I am not sure if there is an English translation and am not sure if a translation can do justice to her language. No other book has captured me so much both with the story line and with simple and elegant language. There, I have used elegant twice already but that is what comes to mind when I think of this book. Antharjanam wrote short stories and articles most of her life and wrote this novel in her seventies at the behest of an editor friend. This was made into a Malayalam movie but I have not seen it yet. In my experience if I like a book first, then the movie based on it usually will not keep up with the expectations. The story is told in the form of a memoir by a now old lady –Thankam aka Mrs. Nair- about her brother and sister-in-law in a traditional Kerala Brahmin –Nampoothiry- household of old but changing times. One caught in the ties of tradition and the other on the cusp of breaking from it and how inevitably they go their separates ways still loving each other. The story begins when she meets her sister-in-law as a yogini/holy woman while on a pilgrimage with her son which takes Thankam back to her childhood days. I can’t say enough of Antharjanam’s language. Chitra Banerjee Divakarunee’s poetic prose comes somewhat close I’d say. The lingering feeling is that of having read something so soul filling and sweet. I never realized that Malayalam could be used so lyrically.

The next book is by Rohinton Mistry. A writer born in India of Parsi heritage. Well written with engaging characters, this novel still clutches my heart when I think of it.The story of a Parsi family with 2 kids whose sweet and gentle maternal grandfather comes to be cared for by them and how it affects/changes the lives of each of the members. Owe the discovery to my kind friend who is always on the ready to lend me books. This is a must read and will make up for not being able to read the first book.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Today’s book is a no brainer. All of you have probably read it or at least heard of it in passing. It is ‘Citadel’ by AJ Cronin. Being of the genre of classic writers I know of no other author that I can take up without having to worry about if it will be worth my time.

I have always been a satisfied reader with Cronin books and this is no different. I read it first from my sister because she had it in her college Syllabus. Then I read it again recently and loved it now as then. The story is about a doctor and his wife struggling in old England with the established medical setup which makes it difficult for practicing doctors where things could only be done a certain way regardless of results or logic. It still is valid in present day medicine especially in this advanced country where doctors are bound by the edicts from insurance companies that have long lost their medical touch.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A word on this blog

This blog is not really a standalone blog but rather an extension of my food blog. Much to my Mom’s chagrin my hand was pretty much glued to a book regardless of whether I was at the dining table or munching on snacks. I had always combined reading with food which made each activity more interesting. So when I thought of a food blog I couldn’t but put in some book stuff. I don’t intend this to be a full review book blog as I said before. It is just some guidance for books I liked to read for someone who might be looking for word of mouth info on a good book before spending their valuable time getting it from the Library or buying it from a bookstore..

BTW, Vaayanasaala means Library in Malayalam

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The World is Flat

I am reading ‘The World is Flat’ now. Can’t think of any other book more appropriate to kick start my food and book blogs. It is written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas Friedman. This book is a truthful and rational treatise on the State of Technology (like the State of the Union) in the present world by an American who seems to have a true grip on the global nature of things. He has put his finger into many personal observations I had when I landed here but put off as something I just fancied and not qualified enough to make. He identifies the strengths and weaknesses of emerging nations as well as that of the US and offers workable solutions which I hope will be heeded. It is an interesting read and makes you think. For those who are in engineering or technology yourselves or through your spouses or kids, this is a must read. Most of the things in it are known to us or we have a vague idea of but it is good to have a reliable reference when in need. I have recommended this to my nephew in India who is on the threshold of making decisions about his future studies. You have to go past the first chapter to get really interested in the book and see its potential. It is rather large but worth it.