Flipped by Various Authors

 

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Flipped by Various Authors

Publisher : Harper Collins Children’s Books

Paperback; P 147

Short story collection for children
Rating: 3 and half stars/5
My review:
Flipped by various authors is a short story collection and true to its tittle, comes with two sections – scary stories and funny stories that can be flipped from both sides of the book. The Scary Stories section has six short stories: Of Grave Importance by Adithi Rao; Daniel and the Long Shadow by Payal Dhar; When I was a little girl by Shabnam Minwalla; Winner Takes it All by Lubaina Bandukwala; The Airhostess by Sowmya Rajendran and Nihal by Chatura Rao. All 7 stories in the Scary Stories section uses clever scare tactics of just a bit of something being off, followed by the main plot tactic of putting in the scary factor but a special nod to Chatura Rao’s Nihal which has potential of being a long story…a little bit of fleshing it out and it can well qualify for pure horror without the ‘children’ tag.
The funny stories section has seven short stories: Not my story by Jane De Suza; Sunday Rat by Chatura Rao; The fugitive friend by Sampurna Chattarji; Rama aims by Adithi Rao; Play date from hell by Nalini Sorensen; Of plants, coffee and kids by Devika Rangachari and The haircut by Sowmya Rajendran. Strangely enough, there are no gags or humour or laughter elements in any of the stories. But pre teens might well find some dose to chuckle about…if not to laugh their heads off. The Scary stories section have more depth and character than those in the Funny Stories section.
Overall, an easy breezy read that young readers will enjoy.
PS: I won this book through a book giveaway for which I was not expected to write a review.

Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamshie

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Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
Published by Bloomsbury, P363 (Paperback)
Rating: 4 and a half stars; Fiction
Book jacket summary:
 
August 9th, 1945, Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka steps onto her veranda, wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back. Hiroko Tanaka is twenty-one and on the verge of marrying Konrad Weiss.
In a split second, the world turns white. In the numbing aftermath of the atomic bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost.
Two years later, in search of new beginnings, Hiroko travels to Delhi to find Konrad’s relatives and falls in love with their employee Sajjad Ashraf. As the years unravel, new homes replace those left behind and old wars are seamlessly usurped by new conflicts. But the shades if history- personal, political – are cast over the entwined worlds of the different families as they are transported from Pakistan to New York and to Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11.
 
My review:
Burnt Shadows is not just about the characters and the plotline but a painfully true and compelling narrative of how wars and conflicts impact people and families. The book opens with a prologue of a shackled man in a cell and even without any mention of a place, the reader knows it has to be Guantanamo Bay. The story that unfolds then in Kamila Shamshie’s Burnt Shadows starts on August 9, 1945 in Nagasaki, the day the US drops an atomic bomb there. The bomb wipes out Nagasaki and brings death to thousands, including Konrad Weiss a German whose love for languages and history has brought him to Nagasaki and into the life of Hiroko Tanaka, the daughter of an artist, who is branded a traitor for his outbursts against the military and the Emperor.
Hiroko  starts out as Konrad’s translator but they are soon in love and are contemplating a life together. Konrad dies in the bombing and 2 yrs later, Hiroko comes to Dilli in India where Konrad’s German half sister is settled with her solicitor husband James Burton. It is in their household that Sajjad Ashraf is employed as an assistant to James and soon, in between the talks of loss (Sajjad was brought to the Burton’s household by Konrad) and languages, Hiroko and Ashraf falls in love in the backdrop of the India Pakistan partition that tears apart Ashraf’s family. The story moves on then to Pakistan where the couple has to move by default and the narrative is a depiction of close knit neighbourhoods where adults have fitted in but where Hiroko and Ashraf’s son Raza quite doesn’t know his moorings. The situation comes fraught over the years as social and cultural practices and beliefs in Pakistan slowly become hardcore. And when India tests its nuclear strength even as the Soviet game in Afghanistan spills over to Pakistan, events shatter the Ashraf’s family with Harry Burton, the son of James plays an important part. The next setting moves to New York, leading to pre and post 9/11.
Burnt Shadows not just sweeps through the events of history but the imprints of global politics on people and prejudices. It is a poignant pean to loss and what it means to belong. At one point, Hiroko says this about Nagasaki: ‘I always planned on leaving Nagasaki, you know. I was never sentimental about it. But until you see a place you have known your entire life reduced to ash, you don’t realise how much we crave familiarity’.
Kamila Shamsie throws in the lot of xenophobia, religious intolerance, the shackles placed on women, the conflict between the minority and majority, questions the notion of national security over the connections that people make….all of these with so much grace and humaneness into the plot and in the interplay of characters and the situations they find themselves in. This is just my second book by her and am going to read more of her for sure. Highly recommended for readers interested in contemporary literature.

Pink Sari Revolution: A Tale of Women and Power in India

 

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Pink Sari Revolution: A Tale of Women and Power in India by Amana Fontanella Khan

Published by : Pan Macmillan India, Hardback
P293; Non fiction
Rating: 3 and a half/5
Book jacket summary:
In Uttar Pradesh—known as the “badlands” of India—a woman’s life is not entirely her own. This is one explanation for how Sheelu, a seventeen-year-old girl, ended up in jail after fleeing her service in the home of a powerful local legislator. In a region plagued by corruption, an incident like this might have gone unnoticed—except that it captured the attention of Sampat Pal, leader of India’s infamous Gulabi (Pink) Gang.
Poor and illiterate, married off around the age of twelve, pregnant with her first child at fifteen, and prohibited from attending school, Sampat Pal has risen to become the courageous commander and chief of a women’s brigade numbering in the tens of thousands. Uniformed in pink saris and carrying batons, they aim to intervene wherever other women are victims of abuse or injustice. Joined in her struggle by Babuji, a sensitive man whose intellectualism complements her innate sense of justice, and by a host of passionate field commanders, Sampat Pal has confronted policemen and gangsters, officiated love marriages, and empowered women to become financially independent.
My Review:
Amana Fontanella Khan’s Pink Sari revolution: A tale of women and power in India narrates how Sampat Pal forms and then becomes the leader of the Gulaabi Gang in Attara in Uttar Pradesh where caste prejudices, social and cultural norms and bindings on women do not make it easy for women to have a mind of their own, much less take a lead role. But Sampat, starting from a young age not only questions her own place in the family but also in society. Like many other women, becomes a child bride and is married off to a much older man.
Sampat holds to her questioning of social cultural norms that ends up victimising women and it is this spirit that shapes her and the action she takes up. Her rallying spirit gets a few women to join her in the beginning and then in course of time, there are hundreds joining her and then thousands. Her intervention over cases involving public good like construction of roads, solving issues of wife beatings etc makes her a power player. Over a matter of a few years, Sampat becomes a force to reckon with in Atarra and then of course comes in the push and pull of politics.
The narrative on the indomitable spirit of Sampat Pal and how she copes with the hurdles in her path could all have ended being a giddy and affectionate portrayal of things and events as they went but the author reins that by giving voice to people around Sampat who begin to question her alliances with political parties. The most relevant questions over Sampat’s steps towards becoming a part of the system come from a cautious Jai Prakash Shivhare, the man who involved Sampat in setting up Self Help Groups in the village and in the process, honing Sampat’s organizational leadership skills. The book ends on Shivhare’s cautious note that Sampat has to remember her path of calling out when systems are not in place and that the greater good can never be compromised for personal reasons.
Trivia:
This book was published in 2013 and within a year, Sampat Pal was ousted from her role as head of the Gulabi gang amidst allegations of financial impropriety and putting her personal interest ahead of the group. She also contested for the UP Assembly Elections in 2017 on a Congress ticket and lost.

Transgressions: Three Brand New Novellas, Edited by Ed McBain

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Transgressions: Three Brand New Novellas, Edited by Ed McBain

Paperback
Orion Books
P291
Rating 3 and a half/5
I totally dig crime stories and the book jacket screaming that the collection featured stories from three award winning authors who also regularly feature on New York Times bestselling lists, meant I had to get my hands on this one.
There are three novellas in this collection (with the Editor Ed McBain helpfully pointing out that a Novella is longer than a short story and much shorter that a novel, combining the immediacy of the short story with the depth of a novel):  Forever  by Jeffery Deaver, Merely hate by Ed McBain and The corn maiden : a love story by Joyce Carol Oates.
The first novella in the collection by Jeffery Deaver starts with what looks like a double suicide by shooting involving a rich old couple in which the husband is ailing.  The police team on the case do not find anything suspicious but a Detective in the Financial Crime/Statistical Services who works on numbers and statistics can feel that things are not adding up and when another rich and old couple are reported dead, he uses his analytical mind to get the investigation on the right track. There is a medical angle to the crimes and the necessary red herrings and the way this story ends off with just the notion of what now is delicious. A trivia about the author Jeffery Deaver? He created the characters of quadriplegic detective Lincoln Rhyme and his Assistant Partner Amelia Sachs for his book The Bonesetter. The film version of the book had Denzil Washington and Angelina Jolie starring as Rhyme and Amelia  respectively.
Merely Hate by Ed McBain follows two cops as they work on the case of a suspected hate crime where a star of David is found marked on the crime scene where a Muslim cabbie has been shot dead. Two more deaths follow in the same vein and the cops have to negotiate the lines of religious prejudice and hatred. With a bomb blast thrown into the picture, the cops not only get the case cracking but also gets into discussions and arguments on religion, beliefs and tolerance. Author trivia? Ed McBain wrote the screenplay for the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds (a cult film that one) under another name: Evan Hunter under whose name again, there are very successful crime thriller books again(go figure!)
The last novella in the collection – The Corn Maiden: a love story by Joyce Carol Oates is a dark chilling story involving three 16 yr old girls, a 11 yr old girl and a traditional sacrificial ritual. This one is a gripping read and is pure evil…I would be actually scared to read it if if it was longer. Author trivia? Joyce Coates wrote the highly controversial ‘Blonde’, a fictionalised biography of Marilyn Monroe.
My verdict? Those who get an adrenaline rush from reading crime stories will like this collection.

The Hundred Names of Darkness

upload.jpgThe Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanjana Roy (Hardback), INR 495/-

Publisher: Aleph

P310

Rating 3 and a half

The jacket cover has this to say about the book: In the sequel to her critically acclaimed, bestselling novel, The Wildings, Nilanjana Roy takes us back to the Delhi neighbourhood of Nizamuddin and its unforgettable cats – Mara, Southpaw, Katar, Hulo and Beraal. As they recover slowly from their terrible battle with the feral cats, they find their beloved locality changing around them. Winter brings an army of predators – humans, vicious dogs, snakes, bandicoots along with the cold and a scarcity of food Unless Mara can help them find a safe haven, their small band will be wiped out forever. With the assistance of a motley group of friends Doginder, a friendly stray Hatch, a cheel who is afraid of the sky; Thomas Mor, an affable peacock Jethro Tail, the mouse who roared and the legendary Senders of Delhi – Mara and her band set out on an epic journey to find a place where they can live free from danger. With all the brilliance and originality of its predecessor, The Hundred Names of Darkness brings the story of Mara and the enormously appealing cats of Nizamuddin to a breath-taking conclusion.

I was at a disadvantage for a majority of the book as I read it as a stand alone which meant that I had no clue about the backstories of the characters and their journey(s). There were too many characters I had to catch up with but once I stuck with the cats and their lives, it became an engaging read for me.  There are cats with superpowers that derives strength from their whiskers…and there is are battles over territory to boot…the most notable being one fought over control over a golf field. Humans are Bigfoot to the cats and most are mean bullies though a couple prove to be the exception.

The author weaves in the story of privilege amongst cats: the ones who get the affection and care of Bigfoot and those who live as strays, shunned forever to a life of eating scraps and getting into scraps with other animals and humans. The main protagonist here is Mara, a cat that is blessed with the special power of sensing danger to others of her tribe…and who can ‘send’ messages for help or warning or even lead to other cats to converge and stick together. But Mara lives in the comfort of another world far removed from the world of other cats who would need her help…cats who do not know her enough and who don’t think too kindly of her. Whether Mara gets to realize her powers…or does she shun her own cat community…to know what happens, go read and discover the cat world…

Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir

Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir by Arun Ferreira

Aleph, P164

Ratings: 4/5

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In May 2007, human rights activist Arun Ferreira was picked up from the railway station and arrested by the Nagpur police on charges of being a Naxalite. Over the next few months, he was charged with more crimes-of criminal conspiracy, murder, possession of arms and rioting, among others-and incarcerated in one of the most notorious prisons in Maharashtra, the Nagpur central jail. This is an account of the nearly five years that Ferreira was imprisoned. In September 2011, Ferreira was acquitted of all charges and a breath away from freedom when he was re-arrested by plainclothes policemen at the prison gates (book summary from the cover jacket)

My first read for the year is this harrowing account of human rights activist Arun Ferreira who spent 4 years and eight months in jail on the charge of being a ‘naxalite’. Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir will take you to the stagnant rot of the police system in India wherein investigation means torture and where laws are flouted by lawkeepers.

This is not just a personal memoir but a finely nuanced commentary aided with facts that tells us all about the brutal abuse of power in Indian prisons, the working of the police system, the abuse of human rights abuse and how funds meant for the upkeep, maintenance of prisons and for the welfare of inmates are siphoned off.

During the course of the memoir, the author makes the case for the nature of torture and total apathy in Indian prisons and how funds meant for the welfare of inmates are siphoned off…In 2010, the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) recorded 102 deaths of inmates in Maharashtra prisons, the second highest figure in the country. Not a single death was attributed to ‘negligence or excesses by prison personnel.

Writing a memoir recollecting the abuse of the body, mind and soul would not have been easy and at many points in the narrative writing, I could almost imagine the writer struggling to get out another word more of his experience. It surely is not an easy read but it is important to have such accounts out in the public domain. I would recommend this as a significant read for the legal fraternity… for activists who fight it out and for young citizens so they know how the less privileged bear the burden of a corrupt system.

When the worst happens, which side will you take?

scandalThe Scandal by Fredrik Backman

Published by Penguin Random House

Pages: 415

Ratings: 4/5

The Scandal by Swedish blogger, columnist and author Fredrik Backman is a book that will take readers through a roller coaster of emotions. At the heart of the story lies Beartown, a small isolated town in the middle of snow and forests, where everybody knows everybody but pretends not to: a town that is knit together by ice hockey but still has social fissures within: the rich and the influential on one hand, the poor and powerless on the other. It is a town that only sees ice hockey and the junior hockey team’s performance as their only ticket to a better name, a better economy. There is a lot of dynamics and interplay in the townspeople and the within and around the junior hockey team. And then, something brutal happens that at first strongly rallies the town and its people on one side and bearing the brunt of that is one family who must find the strength to live and heal. You will find 15 yr olds who are braver and wiser than adults who are swayed by social position and their explanations of ‘for the better good’ …and you will find a few that redeems the action and stand of the larger whole.

The narrative is brilliant: it deceives the reader to expect a certain play out that does not happen… and yet, what does happen leaves one shuddering with its tragic beauty. Underlining the story narrative and the character build ups and their stands are contemporary questions and issues that we all face today: what is the majority belief? Is it when a few influential shapes the narrative according to their own (myopic) version? How does one get to judge without knowing or understanding? There are a few uncomfortable questions that creep in towards the last few chapters regarding what makes one stand up and side for something..is it belief or does it depend on the social background or other factors with regard to the person? There are no answers and therein lies the beauty of those questions in itself. Most recommended.

Books and Conversations

cropped-books.jpgYes, another one! Yet another blog? 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…

Professional Reader