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Archive for July, 2012


Intermission
Nirupama Subramanian | Harper Collins | Rs 250

There was a time when Indians working in the US did not dream of returning home. That is not true anymore. At least not of the engineers and techies that are returning in droves and setting up shop in Bangalore and Gurgaon. Why this shift? Subramanian offers no insights. Instead she uses both these places as a backdrop to spin a story on an extra marital affair between a CEO of a start-up company and a Punjabi beauty. Life is so difficult, she moans, when her maid runs away with a driver. If only the garbage, the poverty, the potholes and the pigs would disappear…

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The Columbus Affair
Steve Berry | Hodder | Rs 395

“For 500 years historians have pondered the question: Who was Christopher Columbus? The answer is simply another question: Who do you want him to be?” This is how Steve Berry, the bestselling author of The Jefferson Key, introduces us to his version of Columbus. Combining legends, facts and creative fiction, Berry takes the reader on a thrilling adventure that spans Europe, America, Jamaica and South America to reconstruct the story of the Spaniard that has captured the imagination of several generations of conspiracy theorists. You may buy his story, or you may not. The thrill is in how you read it.

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Sachin: A Hundred Hundreds Now
V Krishnaswamy | Harper Sport | Rs 250

On 16 March 2012 at Mirpur in Dhaka (Bangladesh) after opening the innings for India, Sachin nudged the ball to behind the square leg in the 44th over to cross the final barrier: a hundred centuries in international cricket. In this account of the master batsman’s incredible journey, sportswriter V Krishnaswamy takes us through every hundred, every peak scaled on Sachin’s way to the top.  Along the way he also looks at two other sportsmen, Viswanathan Anand and Leander Paes, to understand the sporting world in which Sachin flourished. The book includes introduction by Rahul Dravid and Sachin’s coach Ramakant Achrekar.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 17 June 2012)

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Black Bread White Beer
Niven Govinden | Fourth Estate, Harper Collins | Rs 350

Hanif Khureshi told the story of his generation. Govinden hits on his. In My Beautiful Launderette written in 1985 Khureshi tackled race in a tactful and humorous way. Years down the line Govinden sees no humour. In Black Bread White Beer, his loathing and empathy for the other is almost Roth-like in its embrace “… lippy girls who told him he never did anything right, until he got out his credit card”. An unnerving novel that deserves to be read by anyone interested in race relations in modern day England, told from a perspective of a second generation Indian who is, to put it simply, rabidly honest.

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The Thread
Victoria Hislop | Headline Review | Rs 350

Set against the backdrop of the Mediterranean, The Thread, tells the story of three generations of an orthodox Greek family settled in Thessaloniki after the break out of the Greek civil war in the 1940s. Thessaloniki, says the writer, was a city where “an even mixture of Christians, Jews and Muslims lived”. Three decades later there were only Christians. There is more. Through the decades of upheaval the city served as a concentration camp where the Communists and other radicals were jailed and tortured. This is their story. Her first book, The Island, created ripples both in England and Greece in 2005.

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The Accused
John Grisham | Hodder | Rs 250

Anyone expecting a typical Grisham legal thriller is in for a shock. This is not it. The Accused – a part of the Theodore Boone series – tells a story of a teenager who’s accused of a crime he does not commit. The blurb on the flap bills him as a boy who ‘who knows more than most adult lawyers’. Exciting you could say, particularly for young adults brought up on Harry Potter.  Only there is no death- defying thrill of adventure here, only lessons in law. So if you are looking for a true-blue Grisham fix, wait till fall when his adult thriller The Confession hits the stores.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 10 June 2012)

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The Soul of the Rhino
Hemanta Mishra & Jim Ottaway Jr | Penguin | Rs 299

For naturalist, Hemanta Mishra “Saving the rhino, had become an obsession.” An obsession that had to be tampered with realism when King Birendra of Nepal ordered Mishra to organise a hunt for the animal for a Tarpan ceremony – a ritual that requires a rhino to be killed to propitiate gods in order to earn ‘peace and harmony’. For animal rights activists this admission from a conservationist may cause revulsion. But Mishra turned it around into cause célèbre for saving the beast and its habitat. Written with humour and insight, this slim book recounts the history of the one-horned wonder and the man who set out to save it.

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The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Jennifer E. Smith | Headline  | Rs 299

What is the statistical probability of love at first sight? Skeptics would say, none. Romantics would vouch otherwise. Smith belongs to the latter group. Or let’s say, her publisher thinks this kind of story will sell well. It’s another question whether young adults think the same. But let’s assume they do. If so, this book is for them. It tells the story of 17-year-old American girl, Hadley who meets a 20-something English boy, Oliver at an airport. The book includes an interview with the writer, including a section that tells the reader what places to visit if you find yourself in London or New York.

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Gypsy Escapades
William J. Jackson | Rupa | Rs 250

Written by an academic who has authored several books on South Indian bhakti literature, Gypsy Escapades attempts to tell the history of Narikuruva hill tribe in Tamil Nadu by situating their story in a suspense drama that traverses India on the hippie trail. In India “sweepers continuously sweep up the endless rubble and rubbish” deposited on the streets, comments the author at one point, adding pompously of how it “makes you think of consumerism”. This sort of patronizing gives one the hiccups, more so since the author makes a living from researching “the other”. Obviously, the story suffers. As do the readers.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi dated 3 June 2012)

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Innovate Happily
Dr Rekha Shetty | Portfolio Penguin | Rs 199

Dr Shetty takes a leaf out of Bhutan and contemplates how we can achieve what the Buddhist kingdom has set as its aim – Gross National Happiness. In the middle of the book she treats you to a set of 32 questions that attempt to measure one’s personal “well-being”. The questions include the following: Do you plan ‘happiness breaks’ every day? Do you live in a peaceful area where rule of law prevails? Do you have a clear plan for the future? Something tells us, that you even if you reply in negative, you can still be happy. If that’s not true, there is always Dr Shetty.

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 Empires of the Moghul: The Tainted Throne
Alex Rutherford | Headline Review | Rs 599

The Tainted Throne, the fourth book in the Empire of the Moghul series penned by Diana and Michael Preston writing under the pseudonym – Alex Rutherford – follows the fortunes of Jahangir and his son Khurram (Shah Jahan). History of the 17th century Mughal empire is told in bold strokes where battle and romance are embraced with equal vigor. In it, both men become besotted with their wives, who are presented as devoted and loyal but scheming women. Jahangir gets addicted to wine and opium, Mehrunissa takes over the reigns of the empire as Khurram and his half brothers battle out for taktya-takhta – throne or coffin.

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The Edge of Desire
Tuhin A. Sinha | Hachette India | Rs 195

The writer of the book makes his living writing scripts for TV soaps and short films. This explains his style of writing – the narrative is visualized in episodes and almost all conversations happen indoors. In The Edge of Desire, he tells a story of woman journalist who rises to become a cabinet minister after she decides to avenge her rape in Bihar’s badlands. The protagonist is helmed both by her IAS husband and political godfather who promotes her. Sinha’s tale reminds one of Prakash Jha films. One wonders what to make of books that are inspired by mainstream Hindi cinema. Can it build an equally loyal readership?

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 27 May 2012)

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Mother, Maiden, Mistress
Bhawna Somaaya, Jigna Kothari & Supriya Madangarli | Harper Collins | Rs 299

Charting the role of women actors in Hindi cinema from 1950 to 2010 is no mean task. To define it, and bring out the nuances, is even tougher. The problem with the writers of this loftily titled book is that while they are able to reconstruct the timeline, they struggle with the multiple-questions that rise from within. The fault lies in the structure of the book and its flimsy narrative.  The chapters are divided by decades. And the roles essayed by women actors are viewed through the mythological looking glass. First person narrative is included in form of six insipid interviews. Rest is a role-call.

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The Diary of Amos Lee
Adeline Foo | Hatchette India | Rs 195

‘Growing up’ is serious business. And no one understands it better than writers who write books for children. It’s not easy to get under the skin of a teenager. But Adeline Foo does it with aplomb, helped in good measure by animated illustrations provided by Stephanie Wong. This is the third illustrated diary in the series that describes the ups and downs in a life of a primary school boy student, Amos Lee. In this book, Foo deals with the ambitions, the envy and the impact of modern technology, in particular, twitter and facebook has on the mind of a young hipster.

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Chittagong Summer of 1930
Manoshi Bhattacharya | Harper Collins | Rs 450

Nearly 12 years after the publication of Manini Chatterjee’s celebrated Do or Die: The Chittagong Uprising 1930-34 comes a book that charts a similar territory. The two books are, however, very different from each other in one respect. If Chaterjee’s book broke new ground by reconstructing the revolutionary motive and ethos that drove the movement and thereby forced a reassessment of history, Bhattacharya’s book romanticizes it. From the word go, Bhattacharya is driven by ‘bringing to life’ the people that rebelled against the British and were labeled as ‘traitors’. Curiously, Bhattacharya’s book makes no mention of Chatterjee’s seminal work. Not even in the bibliography.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 20 May 2012)

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Tales From The Secret Annexe
Anne Frank | Hatchette India | Rs 350

“I can’t imagine having to live like…all the woman who go about their work and are then forgotten. I need to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to! I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people,” wrote Anne Frank on the margins of her diary. The teenager’s angst now finds a new outlet in a collection of short stories, fables, reminisces and an unfinished novel, “Cady’s Life” – that were not included in the original dairy that was first published in 1947. In these writings, Anne emerges as a perceptive, often edgy, witty and compassionate writer.

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Flame: The Story of My Mother Shahnaz Husain
Nelofar Currimbhoy | Hatchette India | Rs 295

In this hagiography to her mother, a daughter recounts the journey of Shahnaz Husain, the name synonymous today with the beauty saloon that she started in 1970s and the cosmetic company that she launched in early-1990s. When she started, “There was not a single product at the time in the Indian market that was geared towards serious skin care,” complains Nelofar. Shahnaz would have to convince a generation of women to give up their fascination for foreign cosmetics and give Ayurvedic products a try. And for a while she succeeded, till a scandal that revealed that that her products were not purely Ayurvedic – took the sheen off.

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The Terrorist
Juggi Bhasin | Penguin Metro Reads| Rs 250

“India may or may not be a land of a million mutinies but for a decade it has been pounded by a rash of insurgencies and terrorist acts, many rising from within and still more directed from outside its shores,” writes Bhasin.  This is his first thriller. In it, he explores the complex process of human emotions and individual or organisational training that goes into making of a terrorist and a commando. Both are trained to kill and both exude high motivation. The only thing that separates them is a ‘junoon’.  But what if that was not true? Bhasin gives us a bite.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 13 May 2012)

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Mumbai Noir
Ed. by Altaf Tyrewala| Harper Collins | Rs 350

As in the first book, Delhi Noir edited by Hirsh Sawhney that took Delhi under its microscope, Mumbai Noir tells the story of the underbelly of Maximum City. The book is divided by places, events and notions that have shaped its hidden yet, palpable neurosis. Employing the devices of crime fiction and film noir, the stories in the book are divided into three sections: ‘Bomb-ay’, which looks at impact of bomb blasts and crime that scars its body politic; ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, that charts the relationship between the living dead and the newly arrived; and, ‘An Island Unto Itself’ that unspools the dream city. Incisive, heart-wrenching and dark.

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In the Orchard of Swallows
Peter Hobbs | Faber and Faber |Rs 450

Hobbs is a gifted storyteller. In this slim novel, his third after The Short Day Dying and I Could Ride All Day in My Cold Blue Train, he sets a story of love and power in the modern day Swat Valley in Pakistan. The tale is brutal, yet timeless and as beautiful as the garden of life that it seeks to inhabit. A young boy, merely 14 falls in love with a daughter of a local politician. The boy ends up in prison to emerge 15 years later. Life beats to a different drum now, except for the swallows that fly – like dreams – unfettered.

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Two Pronouns and a Verb
Kiran Khalap | Amaryllis| Rs 295

Khalap is a brand consultant who by his own admission enjoys ‘writing, rock climbing and spiritual evolution’. His first novel was Halfway Up the Mountain. This is his second. In it he spins a yarn around three protagonists, Arjun a poet and photographer, Dhruv a social activist working among tribals and an Osho Ashram visitor, a German girl, Eva. The story is set in a Pune wada but moves effortlessly at one point to Goa at another to Mumbai and yet another, tribal hamlet of Nagpur. The three places provide the backdrop to a rather mundane, insipid and uninspiring love-triangle.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 6 May 2011)

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