Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Popular History’ Category


Dom Moraes: Selected Poems
Ed. by Ranjit Hoskote | Penguin Modern ClassicsRs 499

In the introduction to the first-ever editorial selection of Dom Moraes poems, Ranjit Hoskote proposes a new reading of Moraes’ career as journalist, anthologist and editor, regarding him as an early but unrecognized trans-cultural artist. Hoskote emphasizes the less familiar Moraes, the non Romantic, who offered fierce testimony to the 20th century dramas of betrayal, slaughter and heroism as in this poem titled “Typed With One Finger”:

“Travel with me on the long road
into loneliness, where the hours
offer pardons to those still afraid.
Bursts of white and blue flowers
will surprise you in summer, with
denials of what is called death.”

*

Bring Up The Bodies
Hilary Mantel | Fourth Estate | Rs 399

In her sequel to masterful Wolff Hall, for which she received the Man Booker Prize in 2009, Mantel takes a hard look at Thomas Cromwell, Secretary to King Henry VIII. In her telling Cromwell’s fortunes were closely tied with King’s second wife, Ann Boleyn, Queen of England (1533-36) who was subsequently beheaded. In Mantel’s controversial re-telling of the story, many of the events that led to English Reformation were instigated or manipulated by Cromwell. “I am not claiming authority for my version; I am making the reader a proposal, an offer,” says Mantel adding that Cromwell is “still in need of attention from biographers.”

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared on Saturday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 7 & 14 July 2012)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »


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…

*

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)

Read Full Post »


Making News, Breaking News, Her Own Way
Ed. by Latika Padgaonkar & Shubha Singh | Tranquebar |Rs 250

In the 1980s, “Newspaper owners, all male, hired editors, all male, who in turn hired other males to cover politics, the economy and foreign affairs,” writes Shahnaz Anklesaria Aiyar in this collection of essays that highlights the lonely road women reporters took to break the mould. Men those days “… hustled in and out of power structures like the North and South Block, defence and foreign affairs ministries …leaving vast areas affecting human condition to be covered by women.” It’s been four decades since and some things still remain the same. But there has been change too, as the essays in this book attest.

*

Delhi OMG
Vinod Nair | Om Books International | Rs 195

Over the last decade there has been a perceptible change in the way Indian writers are looking at India and her mores. Interestingly, many of them do so after a brief stint in the West. Suddenly, all that they grew up with becomes offensive and worthy of disdain. Nair, who trains his guns at Delhi, is one of them. The city of Delhi, he informs us, has pavements that are used by hawkers not people; has women journalists that are no better than prostitutes of GB road; and, has cinema halls that screen blue films in the morning shows. Need one say, anything more?

*

Over the Rainbow
Paul Pickering | Simon & Schuster| Rs 450

Over the Rainbow is an unusual story about love and conflict that takes a leaf from the famous medieval tales of Amir Hamza. On the face of it, the story of love is told through its two protagonists, an Irish American pilot, Malone and a female Pakistani ISI agent, Fatima Hamza and the conflict is served up by war-ravaged Afghanistan, yet beyond it is a tale that’s much older, more poignant than anything that the West has known. In its pages you’ll encounter the Taliban, the American and German soldiers, war and brutality, as well as poppy farmers, Djins, devas and yes, good and bad witches.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 29 April 2012)

Read Full Post »


Life in a Rectangle
Sujit Sanyal| Finger Print| Rs 395

In this delightful pocketbook memoir on advertising business in Kolkata between 1970-90s, ad guru Sujit Sanyal, recalls the advertising agencies, the ideas and the people that shaped the industry in its incumbency. He talks extensively of Clarion (Satyajit Ray started his career at the agency, the communist student leader Prasanta Sanyal was its managing director) as well as its campaigns (the agency designed the first ever campaign for a political party in 1977 – ‘You vote for yourself when you vote for Congress’). But not only. Other agencies also get a mention, as do the people that headed them. An absorbing read, whether you are an ad man or a lay reader.

*

Mahabharata
Shiv K Kumar| Harper Collins|Rs 399

“One wonders,” says Prof Kumar, “why most versions of the Mahabharata do not visualise its potential as a story rich in poetic beauty and aroma.” While this may hold true, it cannot be denied, that the epic has been translated into many languages and in many imaginative ways at different points of time as well. The Mughals did it, so did the Brits. Like AK Ramanujan’s collection and retelling of Three Hundred Ramayanas, there is no reason why there should not be many retellings of Mahabharata. Each age and each writer brings his or her sensibility to the mega tale. Prof Kumar’s version is a welcome addition to the lot.

*

Embassytown
China Mieville| Pan Books| £ 7.99

In this skillfully crafted science fiction tale, Mieville, looks at problems of communication and the potency of language. Action takes place in the future – in a universe formed of “homo-diaspora” where humans engage in barter economy around living biotechnology – a world where hosts speak only truth and aliens, lies; where subjugation and propaganda are complicit in the language. Could it be possible that language is not just a tool of oppression, but that it could be the instrument of resistance? Mieville says he deals with “monsters”. His imaging of the future of language, its role and power, is his battle with one.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 25 March 2012)

Read Full Post »


Portraits From Ayodhya
Scharada Dubey| Tranquebar| Rs 295

“Can we permit politics to use emotional triggers like ‘faith and ‘identity’ to amass followers?” asks Dubey in this excellent compilation of oral history, drawn from the interviews conducted with Ayodhya’s famed residents. Returning to the city two decades after the demolition of Babri Masjid, Dubey unflinchingly records the city’s multi-layered existence. “Even before 1949, there was a gang of five people who used to go around establishing temples in place of Muslim graveyards. My father was one of the five,” Vineet Maurya, a dalit farmer living next to the remains of the Masjid, tells the author. Don’t mistake this book for a travelogue it’s a socio-political document that deserves to be read.

*

The Forest of Stories
Ashok K. Banker | Westland |Rs 295

After writing the immensely appreciated ‘Ramayana Series’, Banker returns with the retelling of the great epic, Mahabharata. A work, that is part of a larger project in which the author wishes to recap ancient Indian texts dealing with ‘mythology, itihasa, history and future history’. “Unlike my Ramayana series, where I often took great creative liberties,” says Banker, this version of the Mahabharata sticks closely to Vyasa’s Sanskrit epic. He reminds the reader that the famed epic is, “not a religious polemic. Not a historical document. Not Itihasa.” But just “a great story”. For those who have always wanted to read it in accessible English translation, it’s a welcome treat.

*

Grandma’s Bag of Stories
Sudha Murty | Puffin| Rs 199

Sudha Murty’s books for children create an aura of magic that’s at once charming and riveting. In this book, Murty, retells the stories she had heard from her own grandmother, Krishtakka, while growing up in Shiggaon, a sleepy town in north Karnataka. Her stories are tales of everyday life encountered in a world free of  modern technology – there are kings here, thieves, monkeys, mice and gods. Each story has a moral and a lesson for tiny tots, and each is accompanied by lively illustrations drawn by Priya Kuriyan that any child will enjoy spending time with.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 26 February 2012)

Read Full Post »


As China Goes So Goes The World
Karl Gerth| Hill and Wang| 258 pp, $ 16

This offering from Oxford University historian is a masterful study of the economic evolution of contemporary China. He asks the question, we sometimes stumble upon in our moments of lucidity – ‘what are the ‘collective’ implications of ‘individual’ consumer choices for China’ and ‘how does it affect the rest of the world’? They are already shaping the future, we will all share, says Gerth. Chinese government and business leaders, for instance, view domestic ownership of global brands and intellectual property as symbolic of national wealth and power, the economic equivalent of hosting the Olympics, but much more permanent. Think of the consequences? Think about what India is doing.

*

 The Global Economic Crisis Through an Indian Looking Glass
Adarsh Kishore, Michael Debabrata Patra & Partha Ray| Sage| 318 pp, Rs 795

When a book opens with a foreword that states that ‘the recent global crisis was truly global’ and that the authors wrote it while serving the IMF one doesn’t exactly shiver in anticipation. One doesn’t expect any meaningful insights either. But one does look for an analysis irrespective of whether the writers toe the government line or not. And one assumes that the book is not a just an ego massager. But assumptions are often proven wrong. This lofty presentation is just a sequencing of crisis and policy responses thereof. Its analysis of impact of global crisis on India is to view RBI’s policies through rose tainted glasses. All is well, no mess. Just rising inflation.

*

Conqueror
Conn Iggulden| HarperCollins| 546 pp, Rs 299

The intriguing thing about writers of pulp, whether its about modern events or history fiction is their ability to build stories into roller coaster ‘epics’. Iggulden, as the book jacket informs us, is one of the best selling authors in this genre. His first was on Julius Caesar followed by Mongol Khans of Central Asia. The latter comprises four books. The first three look at the exploits of Genghis Khan and the fourth Conqueror at the world of scholar king-turned empire builder, Kublai Khan. It will not be long before writers such as Iggulden will start tearing into our history as well. Think ‘Babur, the Mighty Tiger’ or ‘Akbar The Great’.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 4 December 2011)

Read Full Post »


Boomerang
Michael Lewis| Allen Lane| 213 pp, Rs 599

In Boomerang, American writer and journalist, Michael Lewis travels to – Iceland, Greece, Ireland and Germany to understand what caused the European financial crises and comes up with some startling observations. In his telling of the story, the Icelanders are alpha male risk takers, Greeks corrupt and mistrustful, the Irish overzealous and the Germans double faced. And all that adds up to current Euro fiasco. According to Lewis, Iceland turned itself into a banking hub by recycling world’s money – taking short-term loans from foreign entities and relending it to themselves to buy assets – like Indian power plants or Danish newspapers – creating false prosperity and living off money they did not own. In Greece the banks did not sink the country, it was the mammoth money guzzling government infrastructure that sank the banks. The Irish borrowed money from foreign banks and invested it in Ireland pledging to pay back what they couldn’t.

*

The Unlucky Lottery
Hakan Nesser| Mantle, Pan Macmillan| 437 pp, £ 12.99

This is the sixth book in the Van Veeteren series penned by one of Sweden’s most popular crime writers, Haken Nasser. First published in 1998 as Munster’s Fall, this book retires Veeteren and introduces a new detective, Inspector Munster. The action takes place in Maardam, a fictitious small coastal town in Sweden. In it four Swedish pensioners find out one day that they have won 20,000 kroner in a lottery. They gather to celebrate. Soon afterwards one is stabbed to death with a carving knife and another disappears. To unravel the mystery, Inspector Munster, must interact with a psychotic family that hides a hideous secret. Is it all make believe or did it really happen? It’s a Scandinavian roller coaster and with enough loops and twists to keep you between the pages.

*

The Lady of the Rivers
Philippa Gregory| Simon & Schuster| 502 pp, Rs 499

This one is for the teenage history buffs. The Lady of the Rivers tells the story of Jacquetta Woodvile and her daughter, Elizabeth who ended up marrying England’s king, Edward IV in a secret ceremony. Jacquetta married the Duke of Bradford, an ambitious man thrice her age and shortly lived as the first lady of English ruled France. Her second marriage was to Sir Richard Woodvile. During this time, she served Margeret of Anjou through the ‘War of the Roses’, a particularly turbulent period in the Anglo-French relations. Phillippa Gregory reconstructs the events of the 15th century to weave an intriguing tale of life, love and survival. It’s a mystery, she says, why Jacquetta has been ignored by historians, when she appears to have played an important and sometimes decisive role in the events that shaped Anglo-French affairs in the middle ages.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 30 October 2011)

Read Full Post »