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....