Book talk and more?

cropped-books.jpgAfter much fumbling, it’s time to take the plunge into the world of book blogging…yes, another one. As I sit and type these words on a chilly post midnight, I am smiling away to myself and patting my back that the first baby blog step has been taken.

For quite a long time, I have been reading blogs on books by other crazy popular bloggers and just been overwhelmed by the idea of starting my own: would any one care if I did write one or not? But it struck me that it was important that I do write one. And so, here I am…to strike up a conversation on books. Thank you for joining in…

 

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Baluta by Daya Pawar; Translated by Jerry Pinto

 

 

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Baluta by Daya Pawar; Translated by Jerry Pinto

Published by: Speaking Tiger

Non Fiction: Autobiography, 299p

Rating: 3.75/5

Book Summary:

One of the first Dalit autobiographies to be published, Baluta by the Marathi poet Daya Pawar, caused a storm – not just with its unvarnished depiction of the pervasive cruelty of the caste system but also the extraordinary candour with which Pawar wrote about himself, his family and community and Dalit politics of his time. Set in rural Maharshtra – in the Maharwada, the area designated in each village for the Mahars so that they would not ‘pollute’ the main village – and in Mumbai of the 1940s and 50s – its chawls, slums, brothels and gambling dens where the poor and outcaste found ways to make a life – Baluta is a triumph of social commentary, story telling and self reflection.

Jerry Pinto’s brilliant translation brings this classic of Indian literature to English language readers for the first time. Almost forty years after it was first published, it has the power to shock and amaze with its description of how brutally the human spirit can be broken, and how valiantly it can fight its way out of the darkest depths.

My Review:

I picked up Baluta after I read about the life and times of another Dalit poet, writer and activist Lal Dil Singh of Punjab that led me to look up Dalit writings. While the oppression faced by many of India’s people on the basis of their caste or religion continues to this day and age, this book is a deep refection on not just the injustice brought on by the caste system but a brutally honest examination of power play within the oppressed. Daya Pawar spares none: not his community, not the high caste people, not the politicians, not the authorities, not his family and certainly not himself when it comes to critiquing practices, belief systems, personal principles, politics and taking a position.

The book’s title refers to the share received by people of the Mahar community, from the village produce, in return for various social ‘duties’ which may range from cleaning carcass to announcing events to playing music at weddings. The preface by writer, critic Shanta Gokhale sets the mood for what awaits the reader in Baluta while the translator’s note by Jerry Pinto gives a synopsis about the book and his own observations about Daya Pawar’s life and writing. Balutta is not written in a chronological structure but in fact, comes across as a conversation between the writer and reader and at times, a deep monologue by the author. There is utter honesty and self-deprecation when Daya examines his convictions about justice thanks to his education and political awareness and yet unable to take a stand when injustice is meted out in various forms. There is a languid pace when Daya Pawar writes about life in the village at Maharwada where amidst the oppression and the injustice, there is shared joy and community spirit.

The book takes readers to the socio cultural and politics of Maharashtra in the 50s and 60s that were prevalent in its rural areas but also in the city where the trappings of caste plays itself out. Pawar’s account and insights into the Dalit movement and its leaders, the activism and its subsequent failings are put matter of fact. While the author’s manner of writing reaches out to the reader in me, I couldn’t help feeling that the use of ‘Mumbai’ is a bit out of place in the book considering that this book captures much of the 50s to the early 70’s when ‘Bombay’ was what the city was called and known as. Would recommend this book to non fiction lovers and those interested in Dalit literature.

You can get a copy of this book here at Speaking Tiger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Focus: Reflections on Cinema by Satyajit Ray

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Deep Focus: Reflections on Cinema by Satyajit Ray

Published by: Harper Collins India

Non Fiction: Films, 171p

Rating: 3.75/5

Book Summary:

Satyajit Ray is acknowledged to be one of the world’s finest filmmakers. This book brings together some of his most cerebral writings on film. His films, from Pather Panchali in the mid 1950s to Agantuk in the 1990s, changed the way the world looked at Indian cinema. But Ray was not only a filmmaker. He was also a best selling writer of novels and short stories, and possibly the only Indian filmmaker who wrote prolifically on cinema.

This book brings together, for the first time in one volume, some of his most celebrated writings on film.With the economy and precision that marked his films, Ray writes on the art and craft of cinema, pens an ode to silent cinema, discusses the problems in adapting literary works to film, pays tribute to contemporaries like Godard and Uttam Kumar, and even gives us a peek into his experiences at film festivals, both as a jury member and as a contestant. Published in association with the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Films and including fascinating photographs by and of the master, Deep Focus not only reveals Rays engagement with cinema but also provides an invaluable insight into the mind of a genius.

My Review:

Deep Focus: Reflections on Cinema by Satyajit Ray is a collection of the maestro’s writings on the art and craft of film making from his writings in various publications over the years. There are three parts in the slim volume: 1).The Film maker’s craft that looks into the elements and process of film making; 2). Pen Portraits which are his impressions of some of the best names in film making and 3). Celebrating Cinema that captures the ambience, struggles and dynamics at film festivals across the world.

The first part of the book: The Film maker’s craft is an insightful and almost meditative look at film making that has Ray questioning what makes for a nation’s cinematic aesthetic besides; why he adapted Pather Panchali; whether a film maker should be and can be original and the various techniques that come together to make a film. I took my time reading this section enjoying Satyajit Ray’s observations and couldn’t help but marvel at the way they still hold true in this time and age of film making: that devices and technologies will enhance film making but that films will only speak and find their way to the sensibilities of audiences when they connect.

In the second part of the book Pen Portraits, where the author and film maker and writer writes about stalwarts in film making, there is only one Indian who makes it to his list: Uttam Kumar. Though this section is written more as profiles, the observations of the people Ray writes about, serve as important pointers. In his portrait of Uttam Kumar for example, Satyajit Ray states that the actor was already a popular star and then goes on to say subtly the shift between a star and actor while drawing upon the example of Gregory Peck as a star. The last section of the book is a wry look at film festivals across the world and though it all comes across as dated now, it takes readers to the world of jury members and competing film makers.

My major complaint with the book is that it could have paid better attention to the editing to avoid repetition. Considering that the writings have been put together from individual writings by the author over time, it is only natural that they would have written about twice or more in his writings since they were for different publications at different times. But to have those anecdotes repeated looks careless. Having said that, I will recommend this book for non fiction readers and those who love the medium of films.

You can look up the book here or look it up on other sites to get yourself a copy!

 

The Mulberry Courtesan: A novel by Sikeena Karmali

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The Mulberry Courtesan: A novel by Sikeena Karmali

Published by: Aleph Book Company

Historical Fiction, 259p

Rating: 3.75/5

Book Summary:

In 1857, the shadows are falling thick and fast on what is left of the Mughal empire. The last emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, is a broken, bitter man in his eighties who has retreated into religion and poetry. Zafar’s empire extends no further than the precincts of his grand palace, the Red Fort in Delhi, but this hasn’t prevented numerous court intrigues and conspiracies from flourishing within the Lal Qila; these involve the emperor’s wives, children, courtiers, hangers-on and English functionaries among others. Flung into this poison pit is Laale, a young woman from an Afghan noble family, abducted from her home in the mountains and sold into the Mughal emperor’s court as a courtesan. Fiery, independent and beautiful, the ‘mulberry courtesan’ captures the ageing emperor’s heart, giving him hope and happiness in his last years. Told against the backdrop of India’s great revolt of 1857 and the last days of the Mughal empire, The Mulberry Courtesan is an epic tale of romance, tragedy, courage and adventure.

*My Review:

*Thank you Aleph Book Company for this review copy.

The Mulberry Courtesan by Sikeena Karmali is set from 1852 onwards and focuses at length on the events and tumultuous times in British India during the 1857 revolt. It follows the story of Laale, a beautiful and intelligent girl who at 19 is set to marry her cousin. Fate intervenes and a Sepoy of the British East India Company abducts Laale in order to gift her to his English commanding officer. What follows in the life of Laale from this point on is the crux of the book: at times, Laale is just carried away by the pull of events around her with no say or power in how she is being treated but at times, she comes to her own and holds her agency in shaping the course of her life. From being raped, to being sold in a slave market, to being taken in by the neglected and sidelined wife of the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar; Laale take things to her stride with an intelligence and purity of her soul that ultimately brings her face to face with the Emperor with whom she develops a deep spiritual and intellectual bond. She becomes the 8th wife of the Emperor in a secret ceremony and gives birth to a son who is presented as a girl so the child would not fall prey to the intrigues and scheming of the Court and the Emperor’s wives and concubines.

I absolutely loved it that the rivalry between the court poet of Bahadur Shah Zafar and Mirza Ghalib gets a mention in this book. The later becomes Laale’s poetry mentor at the request of the Emperor’s first wife who is trying to reclaim her influence over her husband ruler of the Mughal Emperor. The catty comments of the courtiers at the Mughal Court when Laale recites her composition insinuating that she couldn’t have written the verses for herself makes for a delightful scene for we all know that many women of the Mughal Court were lettered.

The book is an engrossing read and the pace never settles down: I read it in a day. I loved every moment of the political undercurrents of the book along with the more spiritual aspects of Bahadur Shah Zafar who has often been misconstrued as being a ‘weak ruler’. The closing part of the book that sees Laale safe with her son and hearing about the death of Bahadur Shah Zafar in Rangoon is almost poetic and made me wish Laale had been a real person who stood by the Emperor in the manner that the book has portrayed. However, I am putting short of giving a 4 star to this book for I felt that the book was rushed in parts: I definitely wanted more of Laale’s thoughts and not just as reactions to people asking about her life or situation. Recommended for historical fiction lovers!

You can get more details of the book here: AlephBookCompany

 

 

 

The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

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The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

Published by: Random House Children’s Delacorte Press

E copy; NetGalley

YA fiction

Rating: 3.50/5

Book Summary:

There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook.

First there was the car accident—two girls gone after hitting a tree on a rainy night. Not long after, the murders happened. Those two girls were killed by the man next door. The police shot him, so no one will ever know why he did it. Monica’s sister was the last cheerleader to die. After her suicide, Sunnybrook High disbanded the cheer squad. No one wanted to be reminded of the girls they lost.

That was five years ago. Now the faculty and students at Sunnybrook High want to remember the lost cheerleaders. But for Monica, it’s not that easy. She just wants to forget. Only, Monica’s world is starting to unravel. There are the letters in her stepdad’s desk, an unearthed, years-old cell phone, a strange new friend at school. . . . Whatever happened five years ago isn’t over. Some people in town know more than they’re saying. And somehow Monica is at the center of it all. There are no more cheerleaders in Sunnybrook, but that doesn’t mean anyone else is safe.

*My Review:

 Thanks for the free ARC @PRHGlobal @prhinternational 

The Cheerleaders opens with Monica who is soon turning 17 with the weight of the world on her shoulders: there are try outs for the cheerleading squad, there is emotional baggage from trying to cope with the loss of her older sister Jennifer five years earlier, there’s been a messy break up and a quick flare up with an older man leading to an abortion.

What pulled me in to The Cheerleaders was the whole ambience of the teen mind-scape: growing up angst, grappling with whom to trust and connect with, trying to find a toehold with the adult world, making bad decisions and coping with heartbreak even as one ploughs on with the frills of being a teen – cloths, body image, friendships, groupism et el. Set in this backdrop is Monica’s discovery of her deceased sister’s mobile phone in her step father’s locked drawer. The discovery triggers off her doubts and her memories of the time when the 5 member cheerleading squad of Sunnybrook High were killed in three separate incidents.

Monica sets out to piece together what could have happened, all the while battling with herself that her step father Tom who is a Sergeant with the local police, was present on all three occasions in which the cheerleading squad died. She plays detective and she gets an interesting character as a sidekick whose own backstory is tied to events 5 years earlier. Once this element in the narrative comes in, the author takes readers on a thrilling ride wherein suspicious characters are introduced.

I was very taken in by the manner in which the thrilling elements of the book when Monica starts digging into the past went along with her present of trying to move on in life. The Cheerleaders made for a gripping and emotional read at times with its nuances about building friendships, maintaining them and letting in new people. Recommended!

Jugaad Yatra: Exploring the Indian Art of Problem Solving by Dean Nelson

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Jugaad Yatra: Exploring the Indian Art of Problem Solving by Dean Nelson

Published by: Aleph Book Company

Non Fiction, 175p

Rating: 3.50/5 stars

Book Summary:

India’s Mangalyaan mission to Mars and the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car, are two of the country’s most celebrated achievements in recent times. They have something in common with the inverter which keeps the lights on during power cuts, the desert cooler which eases the searing summer heat, and the hybrid bikes, half Enfield Bullet motorbike, half bullock cart which slow traffic throughout Northern India. They share traits with inspiring village inventions, which offer cheap stoves, cool water, wind powered pumps, safer wells and even sanitary towels to those who can least afford them. And they also share characteristics with some of the worst aspects of life in urban India – unsafe vehicles, dangerous buildings, poor sanitation and shoddy standards of work and manufacturing. They are all examples of good and bad jugaad, the colloquial Hindi word for a frugal innovation, a quick fix, improvised solution with cheap materials readily to hand and ‘out of box’ solutions which bypass received wisdom, rules and regulations.

The concept of Jugaad divides many in India. Should the country embrace jugaad as the elixir of innovation or shun it as the celebration of the substandard? This book explores the special place jugaad has in Indian thinking and India.

*My Review:

*Thank you Aleph Book Co for this review copy!

In ‘Jugaad Yatra: Exploring the Indian Art of Problem Solving’, award winning investigative journalist and foreign correspondent Dean Nelson objectively looks at ‘jugaad’ and its interesting linkages to India mythological stories and the life experiences of the country’s top industrialists. The author starts by doffing his head to India’s Mangalayaan mission, a successful one at that, made possible with less than the production cost of the space thriller Gravity! But if the reader is expecting a paean to India’s Jugaad DNA, he/she cant get more wrong for the author lays bare the perils of going for short term life hacks and how it can possibly harm development and progress.

From life hacks that people across the country adopt to ‘make do’, to innovations that improve the lives of people in the rural landscape; the book has ample examples of Jugaad. There is also a telling observation: that it is only a few innovations that are good enough to be used for the benefit of people like the Jaipur feet, or find great success, like Su Kaam inverters.

While giving examples of jugaad from Indian mythological stories and from Mahabharata, the author makes a telling point that jugaad was necessitated in a new country that emerged after a traumatic partition into a world where it was to develop its foot hold in the development sector. The anecdotes shared by India’s top industrialists who started out by making the best of what they have in hand to the professional attitude taken by another industrialist adds a nice touch of balance.

Dean Nelson also cautions, “For those who want to see India competing with and leading the world, Jugaad is one of the reasons why it often fails short. They see India’s love of the quick fix in the weakness of its research and development and failure to build respected enduring systems.” He draws the innate Indian love for the quick fix that compromises on quality, thereby leading to corruption that leads to other fallouts.

I found the book an engrossing read with very its insights into the socio politics and cultural fabric of India. I would recommend it for readers who love to read non fiction. You can get a copy from Aleph Book Company

 

 

Accused: The Unsolved Murder of Elizabeth Andes by Amber Hunt, Amanda Rossmann

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Accused: The Unsolved Murder of Elizabeth Andes by Amber Hunt, Amanda Rossmann

Published by: Diversion Books

E copy

True crime

Ratings: 3.75/5

Book summary:  

When Elizabeth Andes was found bound, stabbed, and strangled in her Ohio apartment in 1978, police and prosecutors decided within hours it was an open-and-shut case. Within days, Bob Young, a 23-year-old football player who’d found his college sweetheart’s lifeless body on their bedroom floor, was charged with her murder. To this day, police and prosecutors still say they had the right guy–even though two juries, one criminal and one civil, disagreed, and Young walked away a free man.

Beth’s case went cold. Nearly four decades later, two Cincinnati reporters re-examined the murder and discovered that law enforcement ignored leads that might have uncovered who really killed Beth Andes. It wasn’t that there weren’t other people to look at. There were plenty. But no one bothered…until now.

*My review:

 *Thank you NetGalley for an Ecopy of the book

I love following true crime stories and cases for ultimately, real life mysteries are far better than the fictional ones. After reading a brief summary of ‘Accused: The Unsolved Murder of Elizabeth Andes by Amber Hunt and Amanda Rossmann’ both authors who are journalists with the The Cincinnati Enquirer, I knew I had to read this book which looks into a case that’s been left to turn cold for close to 40 yrs now.

When Elizabeth Andes is found bound, stabbed, and strangled in her Ohio apartment in 1978, police and prosecutors decides within hours that it is an open-and-shut case. The only person charged in the case is 23yr old Bob Young, Elizabeth’s boyfriend who found her dead body. Two juries find Young not guilty but there is just no further investigation in who could have killed Elizabeth.

The book is not only based on exhaustive examination of available court and police papers but also gives readers a comprehensive picture of the socio criminal backdrop that existed in the late 70s with a burst of serial killings and hikes in crime rates across the US. But even as the focus is on pursuing leads that the police has not even considered till date, what strikes me is the very humane manner in which the friends of the deceased have been dealt with by the two journalists. The authors have gone to great lengths to lay bare the sequence of events and in doing so, highlighted gaps that the police have not taken into account in their investigations.

I love following True crime cases and investigations, which is why I looked up this book. I would definitely recommend this book for true crime readers. If you are a fan of ‘The Making of A Murderer’, the documentary TV series you will surely take to this one.

 

 

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

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A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

Published by: Vintage/Penguin Random House UK

Fiction, 198p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book Summary:

A comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience has come expecting an evening of amusement. Instead they see a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand up comic – charming, erratic, repellent – exposes a wound he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between the two people who were dearest to him.

Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dov provokes revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry – and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he’s been summoned to this performance…

My Review:

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman was awarded the Man Booker International Prize in 2017 with these words from the jury: “We were bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks: Every sentence counts, every word matters in this supreme example of the writer’s craft.”

Dovaleh G in whose voice A Horse Walks into A Bar unfolds is not a likeable character or protagonist that readers will be able to form a bond with. During the course of a stand up comic act, he lays bare his self in a matter of fact manner that makes his audience (and the reader) gasp. Many in his audience leave, a few stay drawn to his bits of his life unfolding in its most brutally honest and scarred manner, some grapple with deciding whether to stay back or walk off. The latter is how readers will feel about this book: to continue reading or to leave the book?

It is a book unlike any that I have read for there are no major protagonists in the way that other books have protagonists. We have Dovaleh who makes wicked jokes at himself, his parents, the society he lives in, the baggage of history and violence that he carries with him and the book’s narrator retired district court justice Avishai Lazar a childhood friend who is part of the audience that turns up for Dovaleh’s stand up comedy act but end up witness to something entirely different for the later dredges up his most traumatic experiences sparring no one, no institution…

To say that the ‘A Horse Walks into a Bar’ is only about what unfolds during the course of a 2 hr long stand up comic act would be an understatement for there are just so many layers and nuances that gets slipped in between crass jokes on Semitism, the holocaust, marriage as an institution, old age and illness and what have you. At the end of the book, I was reeling after the onslaught that Dovaleh had taken up upon himself.

This is one book that will appeal only to readers who are patient and who are ready engage with books that don’t fit into a box. I for one will need to revisit it all over again, in some time! You can get this book from PenguinRandomHouseUK or from other online stores.