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Archive for the ‘Novel’ Category


Fire in The Unnameable Country
Ghalib Islam | Fourth Estate | Rs 499

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 12.55.09 PMThis debut is as exciting as it is befuddling. Ghalib Islam, born in Bangladesh and living in Canada since the age of seven has penned a novel that wraps around an unnamed country that to an Indian reader would appear to point to Bangladesh. But the country is not named. What is named is a colonial past, a terrorist infested present, a mind-reading government department, a man who speaks many languages, a flying carpet and a long birth. It’s ambitious, clever and dressed in magic realism. A reader’s puzzle.

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Field Guide To Happiness
Linda Leaming | Hay House | Rs 299

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 12.54.45 PMLinda Leaming, originally from Nashville, Tennessee, US made her home in Bhutan sometime in the mid-90s. In between she taught English and wrote articles for women’s magazine, traveller guides and newspapers. “I have now lived in Bhutan all my adult life. My happiness comes because living in this ancient culture forces me to think differently – about time, work, money, nature, family, other people, life, death, tea, kindness, generosity, washing machines, waking up, and myself,” writes Leaming as she unveils her journey to self-discovery. The story comes packaged as a self-help manual.

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Business Unusual
Sharmila Kantha | Rupa | Rs 295

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 12.54.58 PMIt’s a refreshing to read writers using India’s historical capital, Delhi as the backdrop for a thriller or detective genre books. In ‘Business Unusual’ former corporate functionary, Sharmila Kantha, situates a murder in an upper class businessman’s household that includes a calculating ‘Mataji’, warring sons, servants and hangers on and an unemotionally efficient detective, Ramji. There are also, of course, dead bodies that link the mystery together and a sultry seductress, Lata that enters Ramji’s life at the most confusing time. A fun detective adventure aimed at young adult reader.

(The above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 22 February 2015)

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Start-Up City
Moloy K Bannerjee, Siddharth Bannerjee & P. Ranganath Sastry | Collins Business | Rs 450

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.49.35 AMIndia’s software technology sector came into existence sometime in mid-1980s. It picked up pace in 1990s and today, it is the most talked about aspect of foreign investment in the country. ‘Start-up City’ tries to capture how 10 Bangalore-based companies became part of this story. The writers provide some interesting insights – Indian entrepreneurs they aver know how to ‘adapt and adjust’. Many built their companies by selling computing and analytics software like, Tally or by providing technology solutions to government agencies or projects. They are mostly risk averse, preferring to ‘play safe’. Instructive.

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Inside Chhattisgarh: A Political Memoir
Ilina Sen | Penguin | Rs 399

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.50.04 AMIn 1980s Dr Ilina Sen and her husband, Dr Binayak Sen joined the fiery political philosopher and trade union leader Shankar Guha Niyogi in coal mining district Dalli-Rajhara, Madhya Pradesh, as political activists. After spending seven years working here the couple shifted to Raipur in 1988. In Raipur, they moved away from political activism. They bought an acre of land, built a mud house, started the Rupantar Trust and got involved in health worker training in Bagrumnala village nearby. Then came Binayak’s arrest, the fight to free him and the couple’s exit from Chhattisgarh.

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Kerrigan in Copenhagen
Thomas E. Kennedy | Bloomsbury | Rs 299

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.49.50 AMIf you’ve been to Denmark it’s likely you stopped by Copenhagen. Next time, take Kerrigan with you and read him in the city to top up on alcohol, history, literature, art and jazz. You guessed it right. This is a guidebook to city’s drinking joints. Kennedy has written three other novels on Copenhagen. This is his fourth. In this one the author tells the story of “the city of ever changing lights” by discussing with the reader beer, wine, Hans Christian Andersen and Goethe, sculptures of dead men in parks and women in bars. Hic!

(The above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today dated 18 January 2015)

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One Part Woman
Perumal Murugan | Penguin | Rs 399

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.50.53 AMFirst published in Tamil as ‘Madhorubagan’ in 2010, this heart-stopping tale from Tamil Nadu follows a series of twists in a life of a couple as they seek to conceive a child. Kali is a farmer married to beautiful sensual Ponna. People envy their union. Is Kali impotent, they wonder or is  Ponna barren? The two, beseech gods, undertake pilgrimages and do every penance suggested. Then in the festival of ‘The Chariot’ the wheel of life tumbles forward. Myth and ritual propel Ponna towards a night with a stranger in a forest and a loss that can’t be undone.

(The above review appeared in the Mail Today dated 4 December 2013.)

NOTE: Critically acclaimed writer and thinker, Perumal Murugan made news last week when he declared in a post on Facebook that “Author Perumal Murugan is dead. He is no God. Hence, he will not resurrect. Hereafter, only P Murugan, a teacher will live.” He made this statement after facing a sustained and ugly backlash from his community in Thiruchengode, Tamil Nadu, India. At the heart of the controversy is the book mentioned above.

The story, set in Thiruchengode some 100 years ago, agonises over a love of a man for a woman, their desire for a child and their eventual participation in a socio-religious carnival that offers a possibility of impregnation. In 2005 Amol Palekar’s film – Paheli (‘A Riddle’) – raised a similar issue by imaging a Rajasthan folk lore that had a ghost character impregnate a lonely wife. It raised tempers but did not escalate to the level protests against Murugan have grown. 

Clearly, political muscle lent to anti-Madhorubagan protests accounts for the ugliness that the writer is facing now. Silencing and hounding a writer cannot stop memories embedded and encoded in folk tales, songs, poetry, architecture or mythology. Not in Tamil Nadu, not in Rajasthan. It can only highlight how irrational and small minded we can be. Don’t kill the author. Kill prejudice.

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The Planner
Tom Campbell |Bloomsbury| Rs 450

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 5.14.03 PMMany young people join the government sector with the idea of contributing to society. But when they find themselves at work, as Tom Campbell’s character the 32-year-old James does, they feel that somehow life is not what it seems. James’ friends appear to be happier and more successful. He envies them and tries to change – by planning a new life for himself. Located in London, the writer explores the nagging anxieties that dog men in capitalist society. This book will resonate with those who leave their government jobs to join corporate world in India.

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Leadership: The Gandhi Way
Virender Kapoor| Rupa| Rs 195

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 5.22.52 PMGandhi is always fashionable. He figures on our currency notes, looks down on us in school and government lobbies and offices, and of late, he has been invoked in government scheme kicked off by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Virender Kapoor, a self-professed thinker and inspirational guru points out how Gandhi can be relevant in liberalized industrial India. Some of his tips include: an emotional appeal always works, leaders must practice what they preach, diplomacy is a form of non-violence and last but not least, find yourself a guru, someone who’s wiser than you.

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Back in Time
Andaleeb Wajid| Bloomsbury| Rs 250

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 5.25.31 PMAimed at young adult reader, ‘Back in Time’, written by a Bangalore-based writer, Ansaleeb Wajid, is part of trilogy in which a teenaged girl, Tamanna travels back in time to the 1980s to discover reasons for the way her life is in 2012. In the second book, Tamanna finds herself back in 1980s and becomes privy to dark secrets that emerge as she interacts with her new found boyfriend, aunts, grandmother and strangely, her mother and father before they get married. A delightful, fast read.

(The above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 5 October 2014.)

 

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English Poetry
Ed by Sudeep Sen | Harper Collins | Rs 599

This 550 page compendium of modern Indian English poetry is an attempt by poet and literary editor, Sudeep Sen, to put together a collection of poems that “one would think of as a body of contemporary works that reflects a movement in new English poetry by Indians.” What that movement is he does not say. He does not also explain the reason for choosing one poet and ignoring the other. You will not find Arvind Krishna Mehrotra here or the brilliant Manohar Shetty, for instance. What he does however, provide us with, is a doorstopper of poems, some middling, some brilliant.

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With My Body
Nikki Gemmell | Fourth Estate | Rs 399

Gemmel’s first book The Bride Stripped Bare created ripples when it came out in 2003. Though written anonymously, the author was quickly identified. Reviewers variously tagged it as ‘literary porn’ and ‘outrageously, brutally honest book’. In the first book, says the author, “the plan was to examine sex within marriage.” In her second book, With My Body, she turns her gaze on sex in an extra marital affair. The prose, starched and stiff, is not easy to read. Gemmel, though, claims that the book is “in similar vein to Fifty Shades of Grey”. It isn’t. But it does come with a disclaimer that says ‘Adult Material’ on the cover.

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Meet Me At The Border
Inder Raj Ahluwalia | OM Books | Rs 295

One of India’s most prolific travel writers, Inder Raj Ahluwalia, has been writing on travel and aviation for past 30 years. In this book he presents various vignettes from his travel to far away lands. “There is a huge, wide world waiting out there,” he says, “It shows many faces and many images that range from ‘subtle’ to ‘stark’. Though I have tried to understand them all, it is the starkness that has floored me.” The 32 stories contained in this collection will take you from French Riviera to Polar Arctic, from Istanbul to Tokyo and beyond – on a journey of man who discovers others and sometimes, himself too.

(The above reviews first appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 4 August 2012)

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The Man Who Tried to Remember
Markand Sathe | Penguin | Rs 399

The book starts with the protagonist, an economist of repute, Achyut Athavale finding himself in an institution – ‘manorangashram’ – that’s neither a prison nor a mental asylum. Athavale doesn’t like it. He wants to return to his prison cell. But his jailors and the society that wishes to protect him won’t let him. The story unveils through Athavale’s ruminations as he navigates his way through labyrinth of human memory, thought and action, “What is cognizance?” he asks at one point. If reality is constructed by collective beliefs and ritualistic practices, how does one accommodate individual memory? Isn’t your memory different from mine? Beautifully written. Wise.

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Sweet Sixteen
Vibha Batra | Penguin Young Adult | Rs 199

It won’t be an exaggeration to admit, that Indian English teenage fiction promoted by Indian publishers differs little from what is being dished out by writers in England or the US. The only difference is probably the setting and of course, the characters. In Sweet Sixteen, Batra tells the story of 16-year-old Rinki Tripathi who finds herself separated from her best friends, uprooted from Delhi and shifted to not New York or London, but Chennai. Fortunately, nothing is a tragedy for long. And nothing can stop Rinki from falling in love with a new place either.

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The Shrink and the Sage
Julian Baggini & Antonia Macaro | Icon Books | Rs 399

In this unusual self-help book, philosopher Julian Baggini and therapist Antonia Macaro encourage readers to scrutinize 20 potentially tricky spheres of life such as happiness, goals, emotions, self-love, status and regret. They do this with the help of Aristotle. “His work is a rare find when it comes to questions of how to live,” say the authors in the introduction to this cerebral book adding that “Although he wrote two thousand years ago…his understanding of being human is more insightful and relevant than many modern theories.” The book is written in two voices, that of a philosopher and a shrink.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 22 July 2012)

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Sky Train
Canyon Sam | Tranquebar | Rs 350

When Canyon Sam first paid a visit to Tibet in 1986 it had just opened its doors to foreign visitors. That was when she started to record women’s oral histories. Twenty-five years later she returned to meet some of the women again. The book at hand is the result of these encounters. In it, through the eyes of the women, Sam recounts the gory days of the Cultural Revolution, its aftermath and the changes wrought by the Chinese in Tibet thereafter. The book won the Pen American Centre Open Book Award in 2010.

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The Clockwork Man
William Jablonsky | Westland | Rs 225

The Clockwork Man is a journal of a robot, Ernst, who’s not human but a machine created by a master clockmaker just before the break out of WWII. It is divided into two parts: the first corresponds to his ‘youth’ in Germany and the latter with his resuscitation 100 years later in present day Milwaukee, US. While in his first avtaar the Clockwork Man is a family man, in the second he emerges as a superhero that grinds criminals and saves the innocent. Through all this the writer looks at crime as inevitable and always present aspect of human existence.

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The Woman Who Flew
Nasreen Jahan | Penguin | Rs 399

To many, Taslima Nasreen is the best-known writer from Bangladesh. Yet few know of her peers, among whom Nasreen Jahan stands out as one of the most important writers of our time. Nasreen Jahan writes in Bangla and reads very little in English. She’s a prolific writer with more than 50 titles to her name. In this book, she paints a candid albeit grim portrait of contemporary Bangladesh, through a story of a young woman who moves from a small town to the megacity and finds herself divorced and thrown into conflict with traditional patriarchy. The book won her the Philips Literary Prize in 1994.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 8 July 2012)

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