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.

 

 

The Free Voice: On Democracy, Culture and the Nation by Ravish Kumar

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The Free Voice: On Democracy, Culture and the Nation by Ravish Kumar (Translated from Hindi by Chitra Padmanabhan, Anurag Basnet and Ravi Singh)

Published by: Speaking Tiger

Non Fiction: Opinion/Journalistic Writing; 177p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book Summary:

‘The National Project for Instilling Fear in the people has reached completion. Before the promised highways and jobs, everybody has been unfailingly given one thing—fear. For every individual, fear is now the daily bread. We are all experiencing fear; it comes to us in many different forms—from the moment we step out of our homes, with so many warnings ringing in our ears… It is only the lapdog media, which is safe in India today. Jump into and snuggle down in the lap of authority and nobody will dare say anything to you.’

At a time when free expression and individual liberty in India appear to be under serious threat, Ravish Kumar is one of our bravest and most mature public voices. Few journalists today have as keen an understanding of Indian society and politics and as strong a commitment to the truth. Fewer still can match him in eloquence and integrity.

In this wide ranging book, he examines the spaces available for people to speak out, whether in the mainstream or on social media, and why they are constantly shrinking. He investigates the threats to free expression – censorship, the fear of institutional, physical and psychological violence and how these threats are being used to replace civilized debate, dialogue and social harmony with hate and intolerance. He also catalogues the many ways in which the media, elected representatives and other institutions of the land are failing us. And, most importantly, he sets out what we must do as citizens if we are to reclaim lost ground and build an intellectually progressive, inclusive and truly democratic nation.

‘The Free Voice’ presents, with great insight, with and characteristic forthrightness, a much needed and timely report on the state of the nation. This is a book that everyone must read and ponder over.

 

*My Review:

*Thank you Speaking Tiger for this review copy. You can get more details of the book  here

There can be no greater irony than the fact that as I sit down to collect my thoughts and write this review, news is trickling in that there an internet shut down that has come to effect in Imphal East and West districts as a response by the Manipur State Government to curb protests from the public over intrusions by Maynmar over Manipur’s territory and by students over calls to remove the Vice Chancellor of Manipur University. This move by the Government is aimed at ensuring that mainstream media does not get to see the anger and agitations or the fall out of police brutality. Of course, it is another story altogether that the mainstream media has been entirely clueless over the border row between Myanmar and Manipur and the impasse at Manipur University over the past 1 month that things have been on a boil here but pictures and posts on public rallies and subsequent police action have been making their presence and the Government fears a greater media coverage.

‘The Free Voice: On Democracy, Culture and the Nation’ by Ravish Kumar is only 177 pages but the calm bravery that the author tackles with regard to the current political regime stands out. The incidents that Ravish Kumar mentions in the books: the assassinations (for that is what I will call them) of political activists and rationalists in the country, the attacks on people belonging to a particular religion or castes, the media divide: where majority are on board the ‘praise the leadership, throw away objectivity, attack people with different opinions’ and only a minority who do take a stand being run down…all of this reminds you of a particular regime in history. It cautions everyone against remaining passive and gives a clear call to all to stand up and be counted but nowhere is the narrative one of grandstanding for Ravish Kumar speaks about living with fear in the climate that we live today and how facing that fear is important.

I would recommend this as a necessary read for everyone who feels only despair at the state of the nation today. This is a book that needs to be read, engaged with and discussed at great length.

The reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick

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The reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick

Published by: Picador

Fiction, 226p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book Summary:

When sixty-eight-year-old Vietnam war veteran David Granger wakes up from emergency surgery, he finds himself repeating a name: Clayton Fire Bear, a soldier from whom he stole something long ago. And now, David knows he must make amends. It might be the only way to find happiness in a world increasingly at odds with the one he served to protect and it might help him recover from the loss of the wife he grieves for every day.

Motivated by his adoring young grand daughter, Ella, David sets out to confront his past in order to salvage his present. Grumpy and argumentative he may be, but ultimately, The Reason You’re Alive challenges us to look beyond our own prejudices and search for good in others.

My Review:

Matthew Quick’s ‘The Reason You’re Alive’ takes a deep look at what happens when a patriotic US war veteran who has seen the worst and been part of it all gets back to civilian life with scars so deep yet unknown by most people around him. 68yr old Vietnam War veteran David Granger is on the face of it part xenophobic, part racist and misogynist with a very in your face attitude who has been trying to come to terms with the world around him. I quite did not take a shine to David’s character or his attitudes to people of other race but as the pages turned and the layers unpeeled bit by bit, the humane side peeked through. If on one hand, he spouts extreme prejudice against people of other race or practicing another religion; he is also able to recognise just when and where he needs to let go with the tide.

David’s journey to make a successful career as a banker post his stint with the Vietnam War and the anecdotes of his former friends in military service set the tone for subtly letting readers know about the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While David’s foul-mouthed abuse laden language and his Republican politics easily mark him as an unreasonable and politically incorrect person, the way he makes connections with certain characters and the bond he forges with them tells us strongly that no one person in this world is beyond redemption.

‘The Reason You’re Alive’ is entirely narrated in the tone and voice of David Granger, starting out from his post surgery from a brain tumour that he says is an effect of Agent Orange (referring to nerve gas and the Vietnam war connection). He realises that he has been calling out the name of a Native American who he disciplined in the most violent manner during the war. His recollections go back and forth between his relations with his son Henry who he loves and cannot fathom for his art loving demeanour as opposed to his own gun wielding persona; the memories of his dead wife who herself battled depression and is an indirect victim of the war in Vietnam in more ways than one; his friendships and bonds; his antagonism towards his Dutch daughter in law and his deep love for his 7yr old grand-daughter…

By the time, the narrative inches towards closure and redemption, all the reader can do is weep over how humanity does exist when given the slightest chance. It is cathartic to read the final chapters in the book. I will strongly recommend Matthew Quick’s ‘The Reason You’re Alive’ for the way it looks at the world we live in today. It is not a feel good book and the language and political incorrect words and prejudices that the main protagonist lets loose can be a tad uncomfortable but they are clever plot devices that makes readers pause and take some time to process. I loved this book for the way it looks at war and violence in general and politics in America specifically. At one point, David says of his father who served in the US Army during the Second World War, ‘I envied my old man. He fought in a war that made sense afterward,’ which is an indictment about the politics of war.

*Thank you Papiya of Books n Beyond which is an oh so amazing book box subscription service. Thanks to a Giveaway hosted by Books n Beyond, I could get to read this beauty.

 

Spirits in a Spice Jar by Sarina Kamini

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Spirits in a Spice Jar by Sarina Kamini

Published by: Westland Books

Non Fiction: Memoir/Food; 326p

Rating: 3.75/5 stars

Book Summary:

For Sarina Kamini’s Kashmiri family, food is love, love is faith, and faith is family. It’s cause for total emotional devastation when, ten years after her Australian mother is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, unaddressed grief turns the spice of this young food writer’s heritage to ash and her prayers to poison. At her lowest ebb, Sarina’s dead Ammi’s typed-up cooking notes become a recipe for healing, her progress in the kitchen marked by her movement through bitterness, grief and loneliness—the daal that is too fiery and lumpen; her play with salt that pricks and burns. In teaching herself how to personalise tradition and spirituality through spice, Sarina creates space to reconsider her relationship with Hinduism and God in a way that allows room for questions. She learns forgiveness of herself for being different, and comes to accept that family means change and challenge as much as acceptance and love.

*My review:

*Thank you for Westland Books for this review copy.

 Sarina Kamini’s ‘Spirits in a Spice Jar’ is an intimate narrative that takes readers into the writer’s personal landscape filled with emotional baggage and her journey towards finding herself while trying to come to terms with her roots and faith through cooking. Born into a mixed cultural heritage: her father’s side are of Kashmiri origin while her mother is an Australian who takes to Indian culture, religion and food; Sarita Kamini’s moorings are firmly rooted in a beautiful synthesis of East and West but only till the time her mother is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The rage and subsequent guilt not only distances the author from her family but from Indian food and cooking as well. Her only emotional anchors are her two children for she ends up distancing her husband as well and it is only when she finds her way to cooking Indian food based on her maternal grandmother’s recipes and notes that she slowly finds a way to her self.

‘Spirits in a Spice Jar’ sees the author taking readers through time that includes her parent’s marriage, her connection with India through her yearly visits and the various memories around food. Writing about happier times, Sarita writes,‘Dinner was food. Khaana was an emotional language with its own vocabulary that only we understood. It was the history of my family, made real with the pieces of herself that Mum built into each mouthful.’ When her father takes charge of the kitchen following her mother’s diagnosis and attempts to teach her cooking, Sarita rebels. In a career that involves writing about food, she manages to stay away from all things Indian in an attempt to shut off her emotions, which will resonate with every one of us who have managed to cope through a chronic illness in the family.

Each chapter in the book is named after a spice or an Indian dish followed by a short note so you have Turmeric, Daal, Salt, Raita, Kashmiri Red Chilli, Kaddu, Cumim, Aloo parantha, Green cardamom, Kheer, Black cardamom, Kamargah (a Kashmiri dish), Corriander, Paneer, Clove, Gajar matter, Cinnamom and Gobi as chapter names. But no! Spirits in a Spice Jar is not just about food or recipes (there is one basic recipe in each chapter) but a deeply layered emotional journey that takes readers to how something as basic as food and cooking can and do mean so much more when we look closely. Sample this about that simple staple dish we all know: ‘Daal is the starting point. When a child’s palate opens beyond basic succour, it’s this dish she will consume in a first hungry bite’ and you know that the book is going to work its way to your heart. It is a very brave and honest narrative with the author laying bare her journey towards a semblance of emotional well being.

Personally, I love good food and hate the day in and day out cooking. I often find that cooking brings out the worst in me and was almost scared to read this book thinking it could only be about the science and art of cooking. I could connect a lot with the emotions having faced a similar journey when I was just 20/21 after my father was diagnosed with a kidney illness that he succumbed to after 2 long years during which, I found I could not read at all.

Coming to the book though, I would recommend it for those interested in the emotional and cultural dynamics of food and for those who love to read about personal narratives.

 

 

 

Is that even a country, Sir! Journeys in Northeast India by Train, Bus and Tractor by Anil Yadav (Translated by Anurag Basnet)

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Is that even a country, Sir! Journeys in Northeast India by Train, Bus and Tractor by Anil Yadav (Translated by Anurag Basnet)

Published by: Speaking Tiger

Non Fiction: Travel/Memoir/Politics; 247p

Rating: 3/5

Book Summary:

When violence broke out before elections in Assam in 2000, in which Hindi-speakers from North India were massacred, two out-of-work journalists, Anil Yadav and Anhes Shashwat, decided to go there, braving violence and uncertainty, with the hope that their despatches would make them famous. At that time, they had very little knowledge about Northeast India and no strategy for their trip; they had few contacts, and very little money.

On 29 November 2000, the pair embarked on what became an epic journey in which they crisscrossed Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Manipur, staying in rundown hotels and guesthouses, and in the homes of friends and strangers. They travelled by local buses through ambushes, they were forced to walk halfway down the highway from Shillong to Guwahati and, on one memorable occasion on the road to Sibsagar, Anil shared a tractor with a herd of goats.

They encountered, among others, a boatman on the Brahmaputra who clearly explained to them the politics behind the massacres of Hindi-speakers; former members of the ULFA who told them why they had surrendered; a former general of Zapu Phizo’s separatist army in Kohima who described to them his gruelling march through virgin forest to China; a murderous raid in Shillong which gave them a glimpse of the insider-versus-outsider equation in Meghalaya; a Manipuri sculptor with whom Anil travelled to Tripura, and who had to be rescued from the Army; and a barber who told them why an elephant was butchered by a mob in Dimapur. Written with rare power and candour, Is That Even a Country, Sir! weaves history, politics, myth and gritty ground-zero reportage into an unprecedented and unforgettable portrait of Northeast India.

*My review:

*Thank you Speaking Tiger for this review copy.

First things first: a majority of people in the country refer to the Northeast states of India as only ‘the Northeast’ which is technically wrong: ‘Northeast of what?’ is my response when people do this. The book title got it right but its pages are filled with ‘the Northeast’ ..sigh!

Published in 2012, Anil Yadav’s ‘Is that even a country, Sir! Journeys in Northeast India by Train, Bus and Tractor’ is about the author’s travels across six states in the region in 2000 and this translation from Hindi published last year is a bit late to capture the state of affairs in the region them. I have lived in Manipur and reported on political and social issues in the state as well as on Nagaland, Assam, Mizoram etc (co incidentally starting my writing career a year before the author forayed into the region) and can say that this boo would have turned out a lot better if the author had kept it as a travel memoir rather than a political commentary. The travel aspects of going across the 6 states are darkly humorous and in itself reflects the bad connectivity in the region (which holds true still) while the presence of the military and other non state armed forces tells readers about the growing unease and militarisation here (which continues to this day). But when the author comments on the political history and other aspects of the people and the region, he falters badly and is out of depth for that is when his lack of effort in trying to understand the political thoughts and opinions comes across.

There is an outsiders eye view and judging from then on when the author gets to see how the people in the region looks to those from the rest of the country. So he mentions the words used to describe outsiders but fails to mention about the blatant racism faced by the people when they go out of the region or the brutality they have faced in their own homes at the hands of the security forces. At one point, the author describes the lower dress of the Manipuri women as ‘lungi’ on the mere basis that it is a stitched wrap around. The most disturbing of the writing was in the section on Nagaland (on Page 108) where he says, ‘Prolonged warfare and brutality is spawning diseased, disillusioned generations. Many studies have been conducted on the Naga psyche, all of which point to two problems: apathy and madness. Terrorized children suffer from inability to concentrate and cannot learn anything in schools. Youth are prey to illusion, indignation and lack of empathy.’ I am not comfortable with the manner of this generalisation that the author has so casually made.

The Northeast part of the country is complex. We have our share of problems that are our own. We have fissures. But we have humour and beauty and lots of empathy. We have had a traumatic history with a colonial past and would so love to be not treated as a colony of the country. If this book had reflected just a bit on this, it would have been something else. I can only recommend it as a travelogue of an outsider to the Northeastern region which can serve as a basic primer to the region.