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.