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.