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.