Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Review : Man's search for Meaning by V.E.Frankl

There are innumerable literary works based on holocaust and I have read quite a few of them, the latest being Maus.In my opinion, reading multiple accounts of any tragedy desensitizes the reader and the book loses its purpose.Therefore,I was quite skeptical about reading this one but went ahead anyway as it had such raving reviews.                                                                      According to the author, a prison is the best place to study humanity because inside a jail, one can closely observe the 3 shades of life-white, black and grey. The first half of the book is Frankl’s account of his experience in a concentration camp. It has all the common elements of a holocaust story-the gas chambers, the Capos, shaved heads, bony skeletons and all other cruelties that make you lose faith in humanity. The author narrates the experiences of the prisoners who found hope amid all the hardships and hence made it till the end. He also writes about the prisoners who failed to find a dream that could give them a purpose in life and therefore lost the game of survival. The second half of the book is about “logotherapy” which is a psychology theory stating that suffering and survival go hand in hand and only through suffering can one find the true meaning of life.   
              The great thing about the book is that it provides a scientific perspective to the survival stories of holocaust. The not-so-great thing about the book is that the whole chapter on “logotherapy” is like a medical journal filled with technical jargon.It was good read but I do not think that this is one of those books which will totally transform one's outlook towards life.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Review : Underground by Haruki Murakami

I believe everyone in the modern society wears a mask. These masks have been worn for such a long time that they have become a part of our facial features. To understand the psyche of a society, one needs to look underneath the masks and the only time the masks come off is during a high pressure situation –a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. Murakami attempts the same by interviewing the people who were affected the most by the Tokyo gas attack in 1995.
                                In this book, Murakami has proved that his interviewing skills are top notch. The interviews with the victims are short, precise and very informative but there are around 30 victim accounts which tend to get repetitive at times. After a  certain point, I felt that I was reading a textbook on the symptoms and after effects of sarin gas poisoning. The chapters on the trial proceedings of the AUM cult members were also very dull and monotonous. What surprised me the most about the victims was the robot like attitude of the people during the tragedy. Everyone was in such a hurry to get to work that they did not even bother to drag themselves to the clinic. Imagine a large group of people with burning red eyes, vomiting on the sidewalk  and still walking towards their offices one step at a time(like a scene from a zombie movie).After reading the book, I have a new found respect for the railway officials. Their commitment towards the work really floored me .The train attendants were the one who came in  direct contact with the chemical because without caring for their safety ,they wiped off the liquid with bare hands just so that the train schedule can be on time.
           The research work done for the book is truly commendable. The book contains first-hand accounts of the medical staffs who dealt with the victims, the train attendants, the media people who covered the event and also few members of the AUM cult. Having said that, I also feel that the book seemed more like a research paper –very bland and factual. Nevertheless, it is always fun to read a non-fiction book from an author who is mostly famous for his fictional works and I really appreciate the effort which has gone into the making of this book.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Review : The Guns of August by B.W.Tuchman

Reading this book was like witnessing a high octane drama. Tuchman has painted a magnificent picture of a war torn Europe with her words. The book focuses on the first month of the war and the chain of events which eventually led to the battle of Marne. It provides all the military, political and geographical details about the war that changed the face of Europe in the next four years.
                            The book is full of epic tales of bravery, cowardice, tragedy and treachery. The opening paragraph describing the scene of King Edward VII’s funeral just swept me off my feet. I loved how Tuchman has characterized all the European nations-Germany is the high school bully, France is the scrawny nerd who stands up to the bully and gets beaten black n blue (obviously!) and England is the guy who promises the whole class that he will take care of the problem but disappears the moment the bully appears. The story never loses its momentum. All the military accounts both on and off the field are described in detail. The major portion of the book is about the generals of the French, Russian, German and English army. Tuchman has discussed the personalities of these men in great detail because ultimately it was the idiosyncrasies of these men which led to the loss of millions of lives. The Schlieffen plan is very well explained and the chapter on the battle of Tannenberg is unforgettable. My favorite section was the one written on the German naval warship-Goeben.The chase sequence between the German and English ships seemed like a scene of a modern day action movie.
                                 The author does not believe in providing back stories to certain events which can be very confusing sometimes.She mentions the battle of Sedan in quite a few places but there is no overview of that event anywhere in the book. Also, I found the maps to be very complicated but that did not pose a problem as the text is very self- explanatory. This book is a perfect combo of information and entertainment. The unbiased narration makes it a must read for any history lover.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Review : ASURA-tale of the vanquished by Anand Neelakantan

It just breaks my heart when a fresh idea is implemented in such a crude manner. It has been a while since I came across such a terrible piece of writing and it really disappoints me because the story had so much potential. I guess it serves me right for expecting so much from a book.

                 From the very first page, the book spews hatred against the Brahmins and Aryans way of life. There came a point in the book where I felt I was reading some Pro Dravidian propaganda, which is not what I had signed up for. I believe the author wanted to showcase the evils of caste system but the whole point is lost when the entire book is full of anti-Aryan/fair skinned overtones. I do not know if it was intentional but the narration itself is very self-contradictory. The protagonist, Ravana says that the Asura  clan respect their women because unlike the white skinned Devas, they don’t  force their widows to practise Sati; but earlier in the book the same protagonist is shown raping a maid just because he was pissed off  with his wife.(I mean what the hell!!!).When I picked up this book, I thought I will be reading about Ravana’s intellectual conquests, his unique friendship with Bali, his administrative and military skills. Instead I got introduced to a schizophrenic Ravana who whines the entire time. The only thing I liked about the book was the character of Bhadra.His character represents the common man and his struggles. His account of the events that ultimately led to the downfall of Ravana is very interesting.    

                                              In my opinion, Ravana was a great emperor and deserved a much better story-a story that was at least proofread (I really don’t want to get started on the innumerable grammatical and vocabulary usage errors). The traditional version of the epic does more justice to this magnificent character.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Review:The palace of illusions by C.B.Divakaruni

As soon as I started reading this book, I was overwhelmed with a strong feeling of nostalgia. All the memories of my beloved grandmother basking in the afternoon sun and telling me the fascinating tales of Mahabharata came rushing back to me. I believe the Mahabharata stories constitute an integral part of the childhood of millions of people across this nation. Therefore, Divakaruni deserves a lot of credit for being brave enough to write about a saga which has been reconstructed innumerable times over centuries.
                                     I remember when I was a kid, I used to be in awe of Draupadi. She was the perfect daughter, perfect wife and the perfect queen. This story takes away the entire enigma surrounding Draupadi’s character and makes her very approachable. I enjoyed reading about her childhood, her dreams and aspirations before her life became a series of tragedies. The sibling bond is very well painted .It made me want to read more about her brother,Drishtadhyumna(I had never really paid any attention to this character before). Since the whole story is told from Draupadi’s perspective, it obviously has a strong feminist undertone. The backdrop maybe of Mahabharata but I genuinely believe the modern day woman can very easily relate to the protagonist’s difficult choices and heartbreaking sacrifices. I loved the fact that Draupadi was not portrayed as the victim in the book (unlike most of the time in my grandmother’s stories).Instead it was her thirst for vengeance which lead to the Great War. To be honest, I found the Panchaali-Karna angle equation quite unimpressive. Sometimes I just fail to understand why all authors need to provide an unrequited love angle in the life of almost every strong female character of literature. It is like feminism cannot be portrayed without an unfulfilled love affair.
                              The writing is not very sophisticated. In fact, the prose gets repetitive at times. Overall, a quick and easy read. Any Indian mythology lover will definitely enjoy it if willing to overlook few flaws.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Review:Rex Randall and the Jericho Street by Vince Carter

After reading 3 back to back graphic novels, I wanted to break the routine and was very glad when Vince asked me to review his action thriller-Rex Randall and the Jericho Street. There are few ingredients which are absolutely necessary for writing a successful crime fiction-an intense plot, intriguing characters and an action packed climax. This book had all the ingredients but somehow the end product was not that great. The story is good in patches. Some chapters are really well written but there are few portions where the plot twists become very predictable.
                                                   To be honest, when I read the blurb, I was not very excited .I imagined like most of the modern day thrillers, the female characters will be used as a sex symbol but as I started reading the book, I was pleasantly surprised. The female personalities are very essential to the storyline and their roles are very well described. In fact, the best thing about this novel is the characterizations. All the characters are beautifully defined and as the story progresses the reader gets to know about them in depth. The story line is taut and the kidnapping sequences are well executed but the book lacked nail biting suspense. Also the chapters where Rex writes his story becomes very repetitive and redundant.

     In my opinion, the Rex Randall series has a lot of potential because of its unique backdrop. With clever dialogues and proper editing, this can turn into the perfect James Bond-Charlie’s angels combo.     

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Review : Watchmen by Alan Moore

I do not think my pathetic reviewing skills are going to do any justice to the Holy Grail of graphic novels but I am going to try anyway. To be honest, I was not very optimistic about this one. I never really got the “holier than thou” masked crusader concept; but Watchmen is so different. This book is not just about fancy costumes and superpowers; it’s about ethical dilemmas and complex morality. I loved how Alan Moore has explored the human psychology behind the desire to be a super hero. Unlike most of the stories of this genre, Watchmen focuses on the darker side of the heroes-their mistakes and murky pasts. Watchmen is not about a bunch of vigilantes fighting the evil and saving the world. It is about the heroes fighting their own inner monsters (and eventually saving the world).There were times, I felt sorry for them and there were times ,I felt like kicking their asses and finally I just gave up judging them. In my opinion, any book which brings out such a wide range of emotions in the reader is a great one.
                                   The alternate history approach was pretty amazing too. For a while, I actually believed that Americans had won the Vietnam War and the world leaders were really stupid enough to start a nuclear war. The “comic within a comic” idea was innovative but I have to admit that its significance was totally lost on me. (I am not very good at picking up metaphors and symbolism).The only disappointing aspect about the book is the way Alan Moore has handled the female characters. Laurie’s character did not have any depth to it and I felt she was used a sex symbol. Same goes for her mother. In a story which boasts of such amazing characters, the female personalities seemed very stereotypical.
                                                       It’s one of those books which leave you with more questions than answers .It is not an effortless read like few other graphic novels(Maus,Persepolis) but in the end ,it’s worth the time and endeavor.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Review:The complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

First Persepolis and now Maus.I am on a graphic novel spree and I must say I am finding it hard to quit. While reading these war memoirs, I have realized that when it comes to depicting the tragedies of a war, pictures speak a lot more than just words. The visual illustrations make the war seem a lot more personal and intimate.
               Maus is a survival tale of a Jewish couple (Vladek Spiegelman and his wife) in Europe during world war 2.Unlike most of Holocaust narratives, this tale has innumerable underlying layers. It is not just a story about holocaust, it’s a tale of fear and courage, of strength and weakness, of love and hate, of kindness and cruelty. I loved how Spiegelman has combined so many elements in a single story-the horrors of the holocaust, complicated dynamics of a father son relationship, the effect holocaust has had on the later generations of the survivors. The story jumps between NYC (present)and Poland(past) which makes it multidimensional. I think it is very difficult to induce humor in war stories without making light of the subject but somehow Spiegelman has pulled it off in his book.

                                          The protagonist’s survival tale can be summed up in one sentence (which I feel is the most powerful dialogue of the book)-“To die, its easy. But you have to struggle for life”. This book can surprise you even if you have read a  plethora of holocaust novels and if you haven’t ,then there is no better place to start.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Review: The Dalai Lama's Cat by David Michie

 I love books with deceptive and intriguing titles because if this book had even hinted that it was about the teachings of Buddhism, I would never have read it but now I am so glad that I did. Never before have I come across a book on spirituality that is so simple and yet is so successful in conveying a strong message to the readers in a very nonchalant manner.
         The story is an autobiography of an Himalayan cat, Snowlion a.k.a HHC (His Holiness’s cat) who has spent most of her life in the Buddhist monastery of Mcleodganj in the city of Dharamshala. In her stories, HHC tells the readers about the various tenets of Buddhism that she has learnt by observing the Dalai Lama and his staff.HHC describes how the teachings of His Holiness has benefited her in overcoming the obstacles of her life on a daily basis. The book is filled with anecdotes about various celebrities who have visited the monastery to discuss their issues with Dalai Lama. The author also paints a beautiful picture of Dharamshala. The book will definitely make you fall in love with the place.
                                              The book has the right amount of humor, it is precise and has some amazing characters. Unlike what the title may suggest, The Dalai Lama’s cat has something for everyone-the cat lovers, the dog lovers, the spiritual readers, the non - spiritual readers. I found it to be a very interesting and effortless read and I am sure you will too.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Review:The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

For a long time, I was under the impression that graphic novels and superhero comics were synonyms but after reading this phenomenal novel by Satrapi, I realized how wrong I was. I am so glad that I chose this book to introduce me to the world of graphic novels. The beauty about this form of storytelling is that the images stay with you forever.
                                                                                Persepolis is a story about a young girl (Marjane  Satrapi)who lived  in Iran during the Islamic revolution. The book lets the reader view the hypocrisies of war through the eyes of a 10 year old. As the story progresses, Marjane transitions from a precocious child to a benumbed adult and the reader realizes how difficult it is to grow up in a war torn fundamentalist country. During her childhood,Marji was always confused as to how the ruling regime would manipulate Iran’s history to suit their own propaganda. As she grew older, she started to detest the Islamic fundamentalism and tried to resist it in every possible way. Her parents sent her away to Vienna to escape the war but after four years of drugs and depression, she came back to her homeland, pursued a diploma in art, got her life in shape but ultimately left Iran and settled down in France.
                                    This story is not about the Iran war.It is also not about religion. It is about how an unstable political situation of a country can impact its youth, can take away their freedom and snatch their individuality from them. We often associate the Middle East with terrorism and oil wars but this book throws light on the day to day oppression the citizens’ face in a fundamentalist Islamic regime. At a time when Iran was fighting a never ending war with Iraq, the citizens were fighting their own battles with the compulsory veil, the no make up rule, ban on western music and movies, the empty shelves in supermarkets and the frequent bomb raids.
            Unlike most of the autobiographies, this story does not sugarcoat unpleasant events. The author is blunt and straight forward. The narration is sad,poignant,tragic and funny at the same time. The visual illustrations are black and white which suits the story. Like all graphic novels, at certain stages of the story, I found the images made a stronger point than the words. This is definitely a must read for all history and memoir lovers.