Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction’ Category

Chris Paley | Coronet | Rs 350

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 3.52.20 PM“Consciousness isn’t designed for understanding ourselves, its for understanding other people,” says behavioural scientist, Christ Paley, in this intriguing little book. This, he explains, is because we live complicated social lives in which we a) don’t do things for the reasons we expect; b) what we imagine we do consciously, is in fact, done by unconscious; c) we understand ourselves through others and lastly, d) we are always in conflict with what we want to do. In short, don’t trust your trickster mind. Trust your consciousness instead. You’ll be happier and more successful. Wise.


Aditya & Arnav Mukherjee | Rupa | Rs 195

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 3.52.54 PMThis thriller by Mukherjee brothers is fit for a ‘Don’ sequel starring a young handsome Bollywood hunk, a gutsy female TV news star and her secret admirer, a reporter. Instead of the big bad world, it situates all action in Amchi Mumbai like the first original Amitabh Bachchan ‘Don’ did. It imagines the city in 2019 where suburban trains have ACs, slum remain slums, high-rises pierce the city skies and the rich travel in UFO-like airships. Best part of the story is that it packs an uncomfortable truth – organised crime always wins. A chilling read.


Sumedha V Ojha | Roli | Rs 350

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 3.52.41 PMWe live in an age of confusion. This may be one reason why historical fiction is gaining large number of readers. People are tired of facts and truths. They want to re-imagine their ‘realities’ and to find comfort in fantasy. Sumedha V Ojha gives us one such tale. Set in ancient Maurya empire, the novel ‘Urnabhih’ (lit., “cobweb”) traces the story of a dancing girl who gets sucked into a spy ring. Her ‘hero’ and companion in various adventures, Pushyamitra, is a hired assassin and leader of ‘Nagrik Suraksha Parishad’. Scary.

(The above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 8 February 2015)


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Grey Hornbills At Dusk
Bulbul Sharma | Aleph | Rs 295

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.14.21 PM“The Large Grey Babblers… are the only birds I know that can eat and argue at the same time,” notes Bulbul Sharma, a painter, birdwatcher and writer, best known for her books for young readers. Divided into – winter, spring, summer & monsoon – this book re-tracks the author’s rambles through parks and bird sanctuaries in and around Delhi. It also includes her charming sketches of our winged friends. Delhi is known for hosting as many as 450 species of birds, some of them from as far as Siberia. Get to know them, before they disappear.


The Lost Language of Cranes
David Leavitt | Bloomsbury | Rs 350

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.15.30 PMEight years ago, David Leavitt, wrote ‘The Indian Clerk’ a fictional biography of S. Ramanujan’s tryst with G.H. Hardy, the leading mathematician of the western world just before the outbreak of WWI. ‘The Lost Language of Cranes’, first published in 1986 now re-issued, tells the story of human relations and sexual confusion of a New York family – when a son’s confession of being a homosexual forces the father to confront his own demons. It’s a complex and a brave novel, one that is bound to find resonance among Indian readers.


Don’t Die With Your Music Still In You
Serena J. Dyer & Dr Wayne W. Dyer | Hay House | Rs 299

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.15.12 PMThis self-help book is a mish-mash of pop-psychology that prods the reader to listen to one’s own intuition – or song – in order to be happy and successful in life. Written by daughter-father duo it advises us to follow our dharma (interpreted here as passion or calling in life), to keep an open mind, to embrace silence, learn to solve problems, not be resentful and have courage to be what you want to be. It teaches by examples sourced from the writers’ own lives. Pick it up, if that’s what you need.

(The above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 25 January 2015)

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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…


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.


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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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.


 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.


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.


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.


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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A History of the Jana Natya Manch
Arjun Ghosh|Sage | Rs 695

In 1970s and 1980s Delhi, the presence of the leftist street theatre group, Jan Natya Manch, could not be ignored. Their Machine had us riveted, Moteram Ki Satyagraha had us in splits and Bakri had us crying. That was, till Safdar Hashmi was alive. Post his murder in 1989, the group has been reduced to a propaganda mandali that can be hired by anyone, anytime – Anna Hazare’s team paraded them in April 2011. Ghosh tries to fight off this reality by conflating Janam with Hashmi, but he does not shy away from asking the question either. Despite this, the author’s resistance to probe “caste” in Left’s cultural politics leaves us wanting.


The Twentieth Wife
The Feast of Roses

Indu Sundaresan| Harper Collins | Rs 399

The writer’s first novel, The Twentieth Wife – a fictional account of the life and times of Nur Jahan – published in 2002, won the Washington State Book Award in 2003.  Its sequel, The Feast of Roses, did not garner the same attention but it did help the author find a place for herself on America’s history-fiction bookshelf. In India, the last book in the Taj trilogy – the two novels were followed by a third, The Shadow Princess (2010) that tells the story of Mumtaz Mahal – is yet to make its appearance. Like Barbara Cartland, Sundaresan’s florid prose can be taxing, but her tale holds true.


The Wednesday Soul
Saurabh Pant| Westland| Rs 250

Touted as one of the country’s top ten stand-up comedians by a national daily, Pant delivers the punches – for e.g.: “Depressive celebrities had a magnetic charisma that explained the careers of Nirvana, Amy Winehouse and Bengali writers”; “Living in India you can automatically earn one an honorary Ph.D in Queues” or “That’s your plan? Disguise me with sunglasses. I am not Shahid Kapoor at his own movie screening” – but fails to give us an equally enthralling story. In the opening note to the book, the author admits that it took him five years and 87 re-writes to put together The Wednesday Soul. It shows.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 1 April 2012)

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The Song Seekers
Saswati Sengupta| Zubaan| Rs 395

In one of the most venerated texts on Goddess Kali, the Mahatmya, Kali also known as Chandi, is a fierce sword-wielding goddess. In the 18th century Puranic retelling of the tale, however, Kali as consort of Shiva assumes more importance. She becomes the goddess Parvati that’s tied to home and hearth, not the battlefield. Sengupta questions this twisting of the tale by the patriarchs who penned the Chandimangals in 18th century Bengal. “How did these contradictions come about?” she asks, as she spins an alternate tale. Fascinating read, if you can get over the un-evenness of the author’s narrative as it flits clumsily between past and present.


The Grandeur of the Lion
Carl Muller| Penguin|Rs 199

Muller, now 77-years-old, has been a navy signalman, a tourist entertainer and a writer of science fiction and poetry. The ‘Lion series’ is his attempt to retell the saga of Sinhalese people through Buddhist fables and mythology. More accurately, he tells the story of the reign of Duttha Gamini – known both as a destructive and benevolent king – who ruled the kingdom of Anuradhapuram on the island between 161-137 BC. The first book in the series, City of the Lion earned him the State Literary Award in Sri Lanka. This book is the third in the four part series, describing how Duttha Gamini transformed his capital into the most famous Buddhist city in ancient times.


I Have Got Your Number
Sophie Kinsella| Banta Press|Rs 550

Kinsella shot to fame with her first bestselling novel, Confessions of a Shopaholic that was later turned into an equally popular Hollywood flick. In I Have Got Your Number the author explores the travails of a heroine who while losing her own phone finds a mobile belonging to a dashing businessman. The romance formula does not change. What changes is the setting. The hero is a tall, dark and handsome man and the woman, a physiotherapist in a recuperation facility. The heroine has no calms about accessing the hero’s official and personal emails and sms texts. In real life she would have got the boot, in the novel, she gets the man.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 4 March 2012)

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