Friday, 27 June 2014

God of small things.

Brilliant brilliant book, but so evocative and depressing.

Listing a number of quotes I liked from the book. (No spoilers.)
"It is after all so easy to shatter a story. To break a chain of thought. To ruin a fragment of a dream being carried around carefully like a piece of porcelain. To let it be, to travel with it, as Velutha did, is much the harder thing to do."

"The secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don't surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover's skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don't. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won't. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn't. And yet you want to know again.
That is their mystery and their magic."

"He folded his fear into a perfect rose. He held it out in the palm of his hand. She took it from him and put it in her hair."

After someone said "Searching for the beast that lives in him",

"Searching for the man who lives in him was perhaps what he really meant, because certainly no beast has essayed the boundless, infinitely inventive art of human hatred. No beast can match its range and power."

Also, I finished this book and was thinking of what to have for dinner when my fingers magically typed out the following piece about a fictional nameless character, so I thought I'd post it too.

He was completely shaken and he couldn't put in words the hopeless sense of loss he felt at that moment. The book had put his soul through a wringer, and had extracted every possible reaction from him, from heartwarming chuckles to unadulterated fury to total despair. No other book had made him feel so much melancholy in such a drawn out fashion. True, he had read evocative books before, he was not new to the anguish that only one's mind and imagination, helped along by careful words could cause. This book perhaps caused all the more agony because he could associate himself with the gross injustice and hypocrisy in the society. Sure, his friends would carelessly smirk and claim that he had had a peach of a life and had never had to witness the ugly facade of a society imbued with historic prejudices carefully wrapped up in the skin of culture and values. To him, it mattered. He couldn't be a part of the revolution because he hadn't experienced the pain, because he could never empathize. He was from among the oppressors, and therefore, by default had a heart of stone, and therefore, couldn't fight beside them, against prejudice. The irony was lost on them. To them, at best, he could be an outsider who would support and probably say a word of encouragement or two. He could never be at the heart of it, and fight the things he thought were unjust. His anger at the injustice was passed off as eye-wash and his occasional jokes to be accepted among the oppressed deemed callous. The truth was that he had seen both sides, had worn both masks. Of the oppressor and of the oppressed. He liked neither. What could he do? Act as an ambassador of the few in his birth-community among the other, try to show them their own hypocritical ways, and convince them that not all were oppressors and to accept the people who wanted to change the way things were without branding them based on their birth? Or act as their ambassador and try to show the oppressors that the oppressed were often actually being oppressed? That the various acts being performed in the name of values and culture was unfair. That it was unfair on him that he was among the children who were taught by their parents in the formative years as to whom to hate, be wary of, and not trust, how, and how much. The truth was, he could do neither, for he belonged to neither place.
He was a nowhere man. In his cara-van. Dum dum.
All he could do was curse the whole wide world for what it was, thank god for all the Arundhati Roys who write books telling the world on it's hypocritical ways so that they could be hated, and hating this particular one with all his heart, for sucking all the happiness and optimism out of him, for making him think of the world as a dreary place with sun meaning famine and rain meaning ominous, for the hopeless quest to answer the question of "Who am I?" that his life had become, and for the meaningless rage in his heart for Ammu and Rahel and Estha and Velutha that he now had nowhere to place. But in spite of all this, will he read it again? Yes. Later. Lay. Ter.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Books of 2013

2013 was not a great year for me with respect to books.

I took forever to finish Moby Dick, although I am very very happy that I stuck with it. After that, although I really badly wanted to start either Hemingway's A farewell to arms, or Marquez's One hundred years of solitude, I didn't think I'd be able to handle it right then. And the timely spoiler for A farewell to arms in the Silver Linings Playbook movie did NOT help. In any case, I wanted to read a number of "easier" reads before taking up either of them. The first of those was The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. Earlier, I had also succumbed to peer pressure and had started reading A Song of Ice and Fire in parallel, even before I completed Moby Dick, which in retrospect was a good decision, for the spoilers came in large numbers once the TV show became more popular among my friends. I read the first 4 books, but I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy of A Dance with Dragons yet. I might just go ahead and buy it.

I don't remember in what order I read them, but the next 3 books were The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (which I had written about earlier), and 100 years of solitude by Marquez.

The Diary of a Young Girl was a weird experience. After all the things I had heard about the book, I was all set for the sadness, but it doesn't hit you immediately. The sadness creeps in to you slowly throughout the book. The situation gets worse in such a slow fashion that you are almost not conscious of it. And then, when the book ends the way it does, the severity of the situation hits you and well, I don't know how to finish this sentence.

100 years of solitude is probably the most beautiful book I've read, if at all you can call a book that. The whole book was a dream where more often that not, one cannot explain the sequence of events, the characters, or the setting. He moves a character in and out of the spotlight so very seamlessly. And this I absolutely have to mention, that book has the most eerily beautiful first and last lines. I wanted to write a separate post on the book, but I don't think I'll be able to.

After this came a long period where I tried reading Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence, but could never make progress as I was too busy with my graduate applications, and later with my Dual Degree Project. Then I had to read The Hobbit before the movie came to theatres.

The year ended with me having read just around 10 odd books and the sad part was I couldn't even remember all the books I read (And so I joined GoodReads, so that I will be able to actively track my reading from now on). Having said that, I read some pretty amazing books this year. I also read a lot more of poetry than I usually do. And I hope to read more in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

A disconnected mind

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

I came across the this book during the course I did in my second year on Fiction. As soon as I heard the title of the book, I had to read it. I was so curious about the book then, but never came across a copy. Only recently did I manage to get my hands on one.

The book starts off innocently enough. A 15 year old Christopher with some behavioral  difficulties, with his uncommon perception of the world and his little idiosyncrasies, is trying to solve the mystery of the murder of his neighbor's dog. But the story gets more interesting as the book progresses from the murder mystery and delves into the character of the Christopher. The first person narrative is so powerful. At one point in the book, when Christopher is in a train station, before it is even mentioned in the book, I could feel the discomfort he is about to feel and partially felt it myself. At other points, I was so irritated that there is really nothing anyone can do to help him. I was also irritated with Christopher at points in the book for being the way he is. And I think when you do that, even if it is just a passing thought, it makes you think. About how you would behave if you were put in the position of Christopher's father. How supportive and accepting will you be? I shall stop before I get carried away and reveal spoilers.

Just that this book rattled me more than anything I have read in the recent past. And made me a bit more aware of things we take for granted. I am thankful.

PS : I have been reading the Song of Ice and Fire series too. Finished A Feast for Crows a week back. But I am not sure what to say about it, other than I'm looking forward to A Dance with Dragons.
PPS : Starting One hundred years of Solitude. Excited! :D

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Moby Dick

Moby Dick was my own white whale(I am sure a million others have used this). Only in this case, I did conquer it.

Some time in 2011, I had gone to this second hand book store in some random street of Chennai and procured the book for a measly 15 rupees. It was around the time I had actually started reading good fiction, and I got this only because of all the "Call me Ishmael" references  and the fact that I got it cheap. I didn't give it much thought after that.

Sometime in the beginning of last year, I picked it up and seeking motivation to read the book, read the cover. It read thus -
Don't you buy it – don't you read it, when it does come out, because it is by no means the sort of book for you. It is not a piece of fine Spitalfields silk – but is of the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships' cables and hausers. A Polar wind blows through it, & birds of prey hover over it. Warn all gentle fastidious people from so much as peeping into the book – on risk of a lumbago & sciatica.

To be completely honest, I started reading this book multiple times. I found it particularly hard to get used to his language and writing style. It was something I have never encountered before. What frustrated me the most was it would be a gripping book, I would spend around 2 hours on it and not notice that time flew by, only to find I had read around 40 pages. I attempted reading it sometime during my internship last summer, then again during the semester, and again during the winter. I read some 7 or 8 books in the meantime but was never able to make progress with this book. Let me put it this way, if you thought Lord of the Rings or Charles Dickens was descriptive, you wouldn't call this fiction.  For most part, the author digresses into long academic commentary on biblical subjects, whale genealogy and the various aspects of whaling. At times, this level of descriptiveness tempts the reader to skip the chapters and I had to force myself to diligently read every line so that I wouldn't skip to the chapters where the story progresses.

<mild spoiler alert>
In spite of all that Melville makes up for it by putting you on the scene and taking you awhaling on a trip that is as much his, yours as it is Ishmael's or Ahab's. Be it the scene where Ishmael stands atop the mast head and exclaims about the tranquility or the scene where Ahab talks to the other captain who lost his hand to the whale and loses his temper, Melville manages to put you in the exact same mindset. You end up being one of the crew. You get goosebumps when Ahab talks about the Moby Dick and asks you to swear to kill it. You feel the thrill when someone yells "There she blows!" from the masthead. You sing in joy with Stubb, you be mature and reasonable with Starbuck. You feel the fear when ship after ship talks of the horror that is the white whale and you feel the anger when the captain of Rachael laments for his lost son and the adrenaline when Ahab orders the ship to charge after the whale in pursuit.
</mild spoiler alert>

A few of my favorite quotes from the book that I wrote down as I read the book.
Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.
There are some enterprises in which careful disorderliness is the true method.
Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take high abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe. But from the same point, take mankind in mass, and for the most part, they seem a mob of unnecessary duplicates, both contemporary and hereditary.
... for there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men .

 PS: There was this easter egg in the book that I absolutely have to mention. The following is from Chapter 96.
It was in the left hand try-pot of the Pequod, with the soapstone diligently circling round me, that I was first indirectly struck by the remarkable fact, that in geometry all bodies gliding along the cycloid, my soapstone for example, will descend from any point in precisely the same time.
PPS: One of the 7 or 8 books I read during the period was 1984, which, so far, I consider the best, scariest and most depressing book I've come across. I won't ask you to read it for I can't ask anyone that when it comes to 1984, but will leave you with a everyone must read 1984.

PPPS: Oh and Amrutha, this superawesome friend of mine, gifted me "100 hundred years of solitude"!! :D:D Next up.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

To a fate worse than death.

    I recently finished reading Dracula by Bram Stoker. There are many things that give motivation to start reading a novel. For me, it was the last lines of this introduction to the book given by Walter Dean Myres(the full intro has plot spoilers) which went like this.
"I finished reading Dracula late one wintry night. I felt satisfied that I had just finished an excellent book. Then I locked my doors very carefully, checked my windows, and buried my head beneath the covers."
    I read the introduction sometime in December of 2010 and since then I had wanted to read the book. I got one during last semester but then with all the semester work(which included reading 5 novels for a fiction course), I did not really make much progress with the book. The book too, for the most part written in shorthand, contains more information and story progress in a page than the average book. My summer intern kept me even more occupied than my semester and by the time it got over, I had to start all over again for I totally lost touch with the characters. (There you go. My excuse for the long absence.)
    Well, it was totally worth it. The book touches upon so many subjects and as with any classic I have read till date, paints the most vivid picture of the scene on the reader's mind. The awesomeness of the author is evident from the honesty and strength of the characters. The best part was how the characters reacted to various supernatural elements in the novel. And also the way he  uses various themes like cruelty, insanity, graveyard, zoophagism and well, for most part, blood-sucking, to induce the creepy, impending-doom-like-feeling in the reader.
     Dracula is the first book that I read that chose a completely different narrative. I loved LOTR for the way the book was written, and ever since, I wanted to read books that tend present the story as if it was history. This novel took it to a totally new level. The plot progresses purely though a series of journal entries, letters, notes and news reports by various characters in the novel. This, in addition to adding authenticity to the story, helps in the seamless change of the narrator with every few pages. Also, you never know how much the story was going to progress before that particular entry ended. Also, the reader can see the thought process of a character and understand what happens much before the other characters in the novel. All this adds the element of fear and whats-going-to-happen-in-the-next-page suspense, which is very much required if you are reading a novel whose ending and characters you know. This is what, according to me, makes this novel a classic. That even after 100 years of its publication and infinite texts and movies adapting the idea and the character, one can read the novel today and be absolutely thrilled by it.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

   I am doing an intern this summer and I am supposed to be working on NLP(Natural language processing). I came across this book while working with the Universal Networking Language. This novella, more like a long short story, was one of the first works to be completely translated to UNL. Originally written in French, it was translated to English by Katherine Woods.
    First things first, the book is simply awesome. Right from the acknowledgements page to the last page.
    In what starts as a first person narrative, the book narrates the story of this little prince's travel from his tiny planet far far away. It speaks of his travels and his association with various "grown-ups". Though it seems like a children's book with hardly 100 pages, the content actually sends a very big message across. The way it is written is also simply superb. The contrast between the little prince's childlike character and innocence to that of the way grown-ups think has been beautifully portrayed. The writer has a wonderful sense of humour which is evident from this book (I personally loved the part with the Turkish researcher and the tippler). 
    One can say the main message of the story is this - "One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes". The story talks of the love of the little prince for his rose in his planet. He tends for the flower even though it is haughty, he obeys the flower unquestioningly but fails to understand why he loves her so much. He eventually leaves his planet searching for the answer and roams about from a planet to another. When he sees all the other flowers that look exactly like his rose, he realises he loves his rose so much because he had cared so much about her and even if there were infinite other flowers like his rose, it wouldn't make an iota of difference to him. “It’s the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important” . The fox describes this as "being tamed" and explains that, like all essential things, it cant be seen with the eye and can only be seen clearly with the heart. 
    The irony is that it is actually a grown man narrating the story and often refers to the "grown-ups" as a group of people he doesn't belong to. He complains of how he has lost his wonderful imagination and the encounter made him realise that he had also become like one of the grown-ups without imagination and helps him understand that it is always possible to change. I simply loved the ending of the story. "Look up at the sky. Ask yourselves: is it yes or no? Has the sheep eaten the flower? And you will see how everything changes." If you actually read the story in the light of the narrator, you come to understand and totally appreciate the above lines. I am glad I did.
    "Look at it carefully so that you will be sure to recognise it in case you travel some day to the African desert. And, if you should come upon this spot, please do not hurry on. Wait for a time, exactly under the star. Then, if a little man appears who laughs, who has golden hair and who refuses to answer questions, you will know who he is. If this should happen, please comfort me. Send me word that he has come back."
     To conclude (lifting this from the coffee day menu card), this novel is for all children below 18, and above. And for those who want to be one again.

PS: The book can be found here.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Sea of Poppies

    Amitav Ghosh has really put in his time and effort into this one. Sea of Poppies is a bit complex with a set of diverse, yet well defined characters. Set in opium-ridden India of 1830's, the novel revolves around the lives of characters from various parts and social classes and how all their lives get interlinked.
    The novel portrays Deeti, a farmer woman and wife of a drug-addict, as the major character at first but soon introduces a lot of characters. An American sailor, a lascar leader, a gigantic and brawny but humble ox-cart rider, a rude and arrogant first mate, a Chinese drug addict, a zemindar of an Indian province, a French orphan girl, her foster brother and a pervert ship owner are among the major characters. One gets the feeling that Ghosh has probably taken too much into his hands and that there are way too many important characters in it for a 500 page novel. The reader's patience is also tried as he introduces character after character, along with complete and detailed descriptions of the scene and surroundings. But the pain is brief as the characters, being so different from each other, soon stick with the reader and as the plot moves forward, the reader comes to appreciate Ghosh for the way he has wonderfully handled all the characters keeping in mind that this book is the first of a trilogy. As it happens with books that come as a part of a series, the reader tends to not associate the current book to the previous ones if there is a whole new cast of characters in each book. But Ghosh carefully uses his characters and doesn't introduce any "useless" character in his novel. He also intentionally leaves a few loose ends that keeps the reader pondering at the end of the novel and looking forward to the next one.
    From his elaborate portrayal of various scenes in the novel, it is clear that a lot of research has gone into the making of the novel. He has gone the extra mile to give the reader the vivid mental picture of each scene. Also, his use of small poems in the middle of the text gives the reader a break from the prose and keeps one engrossed in the novel.
    Overall, I found it a very interesting read and I sure look forward to the next one in the trilogy.