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Genesis

Here I am.

I hope to read, and write about what I read.

And a bit more- about life.

Hope someone enjoys what I write.

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The hundred-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared

Author- Jonas Jonasson

Genre- Fiction

Rating- 4/5

Verdict- Hilarious!

This is one book where the title is so perfect that you can’t help pondering over how appropriately this book has met your expectations.

This is the story of Allan Emmanuel Karlsson. It starts on the day of his 100th birthday when he decides that he doesn’t want to be a show dog for the staff of the nursing home and the press who wish to celebrate the day with much fanfare. He decides that he wants to really live and sets off to do just that. Then the story goes to his past and the reader realises that Allan has, in fact, done more living than most of the people in this world. The narrative goes back and forth between the centenarian’s past and present, both of which are rife with misadventures.

The author has used the hundred-year-man’s biography to touch upon several major political events in the twentieth century, albeit sarcastically. Our protagonist has played a huge part in shaping the world we know and live in! Communism, socialism, nuclear experiments, Korea and several other topics have been mocked at. The humour is effective and keeps the reader engaged. The story is quite refreshing.

In a nutshell, this is a humorous and happy tale. I would recommend this as a light read to brighten your day.

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Sita’s Sister

Author- Kavita Kane

Genre- Mythology

Verdict- Good

Rating-4/5

Reading Indian mythology brings back fond memories of my maternal grandfather who introduced my brother and me to that colourful world with myriad tales. He was well versed in all the intricate details of all the stories, and though he never glorified any character, we grew up with Krishna, Hanuman and Ram as our childhood heroes. However, growing up made me realise that many of those stories were rather unfair to many of the characters . My ire was chiefly directed against Ram, for choosing to desert his ever faithful wife on the words of his subjects. Sita’s sister deals with another character in Ramayana who was at the receiving end of the flawed sense of justice in those times- Urmila- Sita’s sister and Lakshman’s wife.

When Ram, Lakshman and Sita go for Vanavas, Urmila is left behind at Ayodhya for 14 years. How she bears the loneliness of those long years and how her steadfast nature becomes the glue that keeps the rest of the family from falling apart is what the author has beautifully portrayed.

Indian mythology, on a superficial basis, deals with the quests of male warriors. However reading any of those stories from a female point of view is quite refreshing as it sheds light upon the raw deals given to the ladies in these stories. People sing praises of Ram and Lakshman for their bravery,skills and sense of justice. But why is that justice only reserved for men? People speak of a son’s duty to his father and a wife’s duty to her husband. Why does no one bother about a husband’s duty towards his wife? These are the questions that the author poses.

Overall it was a well written book which shows Ramayana in a new light. I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys mythology and loves strong female protagonists.

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Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Genre- Historical fiction

Author- Mark T Sullivan

Rating – 3/5

World War Two stories being my favourite genre, I picked this book up with a reasonable amount of expectations. However it did not meet them.

This is the story of an Italian boy from a well-to-do family, who is forced by his parents to enlist for the Nazi army against his wishes. Although they are not supporters of the Führer, their logic behind the act is that the war is about to be over and their son’s life would be safer than if he joins the Italian forces. Pino Lella grudgingly obliges the wishes of his parents but gets the opportunity to spy against the Nazi army in close quarters. How he plays his part for the Italian resistance, his love story, what happens to Italy during the war and how the war ends forms the rest of the story.

This is supposed to be a semi-autobiographical tale of a forgotten hero. Though it was interesting to read about the Italian side of the war, many of the events lack conviction. The task undertaken by Pino seems overly simple. The writing lacks punch. The author has not succeeded in bringing an element of intrigue and that is where this book failed to please me. It was not a page turner, and I struggled to finish it.

Overall it turned out to be an average reading experience. The positive is that the portions that describe the events that happened in Italy immediately before and after the war ended are quite interesting. If someone gifts this book to you, you have ample free time, and you are a huge WW2 aficionado who would jump at the opportunity to know any detail about it, this is a good book for you to try.

Harry Potter, The world around me

JK Rowling versus the fandom- A war being waged

‘Potterhead’ is a tag that I, like millions of others, proudly wear. Discovering Harry Potter was one of the best things that happened in my childhood. I came across the series when I was around 13. The first four books had already been published by then. I read those within a span of around 2 months, and to say that I was spellbound (pun intended) would be an understatement. I couldn’t wait to read the future books! The fifth book came out around a year later. Unfortunately those books were too expensive for me to own and i had to wait my turn to borrow it from one of the kids in my school who had been lucky enough to buy one. The same happened for the sixth book. When the last and final book released, I had finished my first year of college and I was finally able to procure a personal copy. I can still remember the bittersweet joy I felt on opening it and starting to read. While I was excited at the prospect of discovering how it would all culminate, the knowledge that there would be no more of these to wait for, left me feeling desolate. I finished the book in less than a day and what a fitting finale it had been!

Over a decade has passed after that and yet my love for the series has not dwindled even a bit. The movies came out in the midst, and although I am not a huge fan of those, it resulted in magnifying the reach of the series exponentially. Even people who could not be bothered to pick up a book had discovered the wonderful world of magic. The love for the series translated into love for the creator. JK Rowling was considered ‘the queen’ by the fandom. Her persona seemed to justify the adulation. She owned a sharp wit, and it was often bigots and the like who were at the receiving end. Her rags to riches tale was a true inspiration for millions. She directed a lot of her earning into charity. Her fan following was increasing by the day.

But recently, things started going downhill, for more reasons than one. Suddenly, hatred for the author was being spewed online. What went wrong?  A woman who was once idolised, suddenly became subjected to venomous dislike. What happened on her part to turn her own fandom against her?

JKRowling

If I am to list out the matters for which she is being attacked, those would be:

  1. Lack of inclusivity and representation in her books
  2. Choosing to retain Johnny Depp in the Fantastic beasts franchise despite allegations of domestic abuse
  3. Blocking followers who criticise her on twitter
  4. Turning the franchise into a money minting machine by coming up with unnecessary sequels

So, what is the truth behind these accusations?

Inclusivity and representation is essential in any creative medium in this day and age. However, we have to remember that the first book in the Harry Potter series came out over two decades ago. Social media was not alive back then. Representation was keenly followed by hardly anyone back then! Look at the popular TV shows of those times- FRIENDS had an all-white main cast. More recently, ‘How I met your mother’ has neither black nor brown actors among the main cast. Why target JKR alone? There is no point in criticizing an author for not keeping up with the times when her times do not correspond to the present. Where I feel Rowling actually made a mistake was in proclaiming that Hermione’s race was ambiguous after a black actress was cast for ‘The Cursed Child’ play. Hermione is drawn as a white girl in the covers of the books, and a white actor represented her in the movies. It is great that a black actress was chosen for the role. That is true inclusivity. But when questioned about it, JKR should have defended the choice by saying that the said person had been selected owing to her acting prowess, rather than try to change the fans’ perception of a much loved character. JKR tried to incorporate representation retrospectively and that seemed like escapism.

Another twig in this line of criticism is the lack of openly non-heterosexual characters in the book. Again we need to remember that it was the 1990s, and that it was intended to be a children’s book series. Who would have thought that the sexual orientation of characters in a children’s book would come under so much scrutiny? How was the author to know that her creation which had been rejected by several publishers, would have a manic fan following when it came out? Would she ever have imagined in her wildest dreams that this would blow up into a multi billion dollar franchise? JKR tried to make up for her omission in part by declaring later that Dumbledore was gay. While it was received with fanfare at the time, the idea backfired on JKR, when years later, the Fantastic beasts franchise came out and we were going to see the younger Dumbledore on screen in the second part slated to be released by November 2018. The director declared that Dumbledore’s sexual orientation would not be a part of the plot line in the upcoming movie, and all hell broke loose. What was the point in declaring that Dumbledore was gay, asked the fandom, if it was not to be explicitly portrayed anywhere? JKR was again criticised for having pretentious stands. However, we all need to remember that this movie has not released yet. For all we know, the director might have a surprise for us! If not, there are more movies planned in this franchise so let’s hold our horses for the time being.

If you look at the books with an open mind, you can easily see that Harry Potter books are all about inclusivity. Voldemort discriminates against muggleborns but  muggleborns like Hermione are as or often more powerful than the purebloods. Winning the war against Voldemort signifies the elimination of disrimination against muggleborns. Magical creatures like house elves represent the oppressed section of the society. Years of conditioning make them believe that they are truly inferior to others. However, they are powerful and more so than humans. Harry Potter is all about equality and friendship; it is about the triumph of good over evil, it is about love overthrowing dictatorship. Voldemort’s propaganada is similar to that of Hitler. Winning the war against him symbolised the regaining of the rights of all those who were discriminated against under his rule.

The matter of casting Johnny Depp has been the subject of much debate, with nearly equal number on either side. JKR being an abuse survivor herself, the fandom saw the decision to retain the actor in the upcoming movies as blatant betrayal. However, we all need to remember that all charges against Depp were dropped. We don’t know the truth, and we don’t have any way to know the truth. What anyone except those directly involved in the matter say, are merely opinions and not facts. Domestic abuse is a very real problem which should be condemned. However, Depp’s ex, who made the allegations, had previously been accused of abuse herself, though charges were dropped. So how can we judge Depp and how can we judge JKR when we have no idea what went on behind the scenes? Is it not better to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that they are innocent until proven guilty?

A very reasonable accusation against Rowling was that she chooses to block anyone who so much as differs with her opinions. That seems to be true. While it is fair to block people who use abusive language, blocking people who decently point out what are deemed faults on the part of JKR are also blocked. That seems rather cowardly on the part of the author and that is not justifiable.

The seven books were fantastic, according to most of the fans, and the movie adaptations, though widely criticized by the hardcore book fans, are quite popular too. There have been other books like Quidditch through the ages, Fantastic beasts and where to find them and the tales of beedle the bard, which everyone was happy with. But then came ‘The Cursed Child’. While the news that we would be given a chance to see what Harry and Co. were doing after all these years was greeted with euphoria, the actual book was widely panned.  For one, it was not written by Rowling- it was only a script of a play ‘based’ on a story which JKR co-wrote with two other authors. And it was terrible. Most of the characters behaved very differently from their selves in the original books. There were a lot of factual errors. Although the play was apparently quite great, the book version was not. The Fantastic beasts movie franchise, though, was much well received compared to the cursed child book.

But there are numerous naysayers, accusing JKR of being greedy, for unnecessarily expanding a universe that was perfect in itself. Well, it is her universe, after all! Whether she chooses to spend the rest of her life in retirement, or whether she decides to write a hundred more books, it is entirely her choice. This is a woman who voluntarily went from being a billionaire to a millionaire, because she chose to give away a huge share of her earnings to charity.

The reason for the enormity of the hatred against her is that she had been put up on a pedestal for so long. She was considered perfect. Well, it is only fair to accept that she too, just like any of us fans, is human! She may make mistakes. It is okay to criticize her, but we should learn to move on after a while. After all, she did create this wonderful universe that we have all been lucky enough to experience. She did that while she was battling poverty and depression. She fought hard to get where she is now. She taught us about the power of love. Whatever JKR does in future, I shall always be grateful to her for creating The Boy who Lived and his story.

What do you think about JK Rowling currently? Do you think all the criticisms directed against her are justified? Post your opinions in the comments section!

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When breath becomes air

Author- Paul Kalanithi

Genre- Autobiography

Verdict- Excellent

How can one review a man’s true story about a battle between life and death?

I do not believe in the statement that ignorance is bliss, but there are times when it does hold true. One is when you are a doctor with a disease. A doctor is, more often than not, a less than ideal patient. They would, more often than not, know too much about their ailment. They would have too much information available to them. They would be well aware of the worst case scenarios. If a disease is incurable, they would know that. This is where Paul Kalanithi was different.

A young doctor is diagnosed with a stage 4 malignancy and how he and his family endure the struggles that ensue it is what this book is about. We catch glimpses of his childhood, the amount of hard work he put in over years to reach a highly sought residency, and finally, how everything changes in a fraction of a second with his diagnosis. However, rather than losing hope, he opts to trust his doctors completely, and to an extent, that trust aids him to cope.

Dr. Paul was a man with abundant strength. The way he chooses to face what life throws at him, knowing full well that he may be fighting a losing battle but still not faltering, is testimony to his resilience.

This book is heart-rending but inspirational. It teaches you that all the things that one takes for granted, are, in reality, ephemeral. It reminds one to cherish each moment, for life is like a house of cards which can come tumbling down in an instant.

Book Reviews

All the light we cannot see

Author- Anthony Doerr

Rating-4.8/5

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres; stories centred around World War Two in particular. Among the ones I have read so far, this takes the cake.

The stories of a blind girl in France and an orphaned boy in Germany- the two threads run parallel in a non linear narrative. The prose is beautiful. The emotions of the characters are described so realistically, with such tenderness that I felt like I was living the tale. How the horrors of war affect the ones fighting in it as well as civilians has been dealt with in amazing detail.

The book follows the lives of the two protagonists through over a decade. The author manages to keep the reader on tenderhooks throughout- as if the war is being waged right outside our own homes. The best part of the book was that it shows us that Nazi Germany wasn’t terrible simply for the victimisation of Jews; blue eyed, blond haired Germans too were hunted, albeit with a different agenda.

Reading this makes me contemplate on how lucky I am to live in a war free zone at the moment, and how fast it could all change. It also made me want to read more World War Two stories. Whatever I read in future, this book shall remain one of my favourites.

Verdict- Fantastic

Book Reviews

The God of small things

Author-Arundhathi Roy

Rating-4/5

The first time I came across this book was in the late 1990s, soon after it had fetched a booker prize for Arundhathi Roy and had become the talk of the town. My cousin Gowri was reading it and I, barely 10 years old attempted too. However, although the language was simple enough, I was too young to comprehend the powerful issues dealt with in the book, and abandoned the pursuit after a few pages. Picking it up again as an adult, I am glad I decided to give it a try now.

There was much to identify with in this book. The story of an aristocratic Christian family in Kottayam, Kerala; the background and the malayalam terms that pop up frequently during the narrative brought in whiffs of familiarity.

This is the tale of Estha and Rahel- fraternal twins, once inseparable, pried apart not just by the cruel hands of fate, but also by the hypocrisy of the pseudo moral society they lived in. A tragic event in their family forms the crux of the tale. Most of the story takes place in 1969 and a bit in 1980s; the author goes back and forth between the two eras , telling us about the most important event in the first chapter but building up the reasons that caused its culmination gradually.

The story is simple; the author has smartly incorporated the politics, casteism and misogyny of the times into it. All the characters are grey- they have their faults, they are very human, they are all too familiar. The chief theme is forbidden love – what is forbidden, ultimately? Who gets to decide that? Why does a society that does not protect its citizens at times of peril, have the right to judge their choices? Another theme is the linchpin effect. One singular event, however minor or insignificant at the time of occurrence, might snowball into catastrophic consequences.

My final verdict on this would be that it is a great work of fiction that seems so real- almost as if it is based on true events. I would definitely recommend this.

Book Reviews

Ladies coupe’ – Anita Nair

Ladies coupe’ – Anita Nair

A fabulous book dealing with the various facets of womanhood. The stories of six women who meet during a train journey; each one different yet ultimately so similar. It projects the powerful message that a woman is an individual irrespective of whether she chooses to become a wife or a mother or any of the other mantles that society decides to cast upon her. First published it 2001, this book was definitely ahead of its times. Loved it.