Tag Archives: book review

Book review: Exposure by Sayed Kashua

“The moment the lawyer opened his eyes he knew he’d be tired for the rest of the day. He wasn’t sure whether he’d heard it on the radio or read it in the newspaper, but he’d come across a specialist who described sleep in terms of cycles. Often the reason people are tired, the specialist explained, was not due to insufficient sleep but rather a sudden awakening before the cycle had run its course. The lawyer did not know anything about the cycles – their duration, their starting point, their ending point…”

exposure_sayed_kashuaStarting slowly, languidly, Kashua sketches the plot and characters in broad, bold, sweeping strokes.

There’s the lawyer, an Arab-Israeli with a thriving practice and an image to uphold, driving around in his luxury Mercedes, with a fancy house in a pricey neighborhood, monthly dinner meetings followed by a salon discussion, where the menu is decided on the basis of the impression it will create on guests. So when it is their turn to host dinner, the lawyers’ wife decides to serve sushi from the most expensive Japanese eatery, Sakura. That is also the day the lawyer’s life starts to crumble. Because before picking up the sushi, the lawyer stopped at a bookstore, where he picked up a second-hand copy of The Kreutzer Sonata, in the pages of which he finds a love letter written in Arabic…in his wife’s hand.

Then there’s Amir, a young, painfully shy social worker who recently completed his degree and started working at a clinic in the Arab sector. His room mates hold down two jobs to make ends meet, which means he’s almost always home alone. In desperation, he agrees to takes up a second job – as a night-time care taker for a comatose young Jew. Then along comes Leila, a young intern with whom he falls in love. But being as painfully shy as he is, instead of saying anything to her, one day he just puts in his resignation and leaves his day job. Soon, his room mate decides to go back to his village, and now all he has is Yonatan, the young comatose Jew he is taking care of. So he starts spending his days roaming around the city and his nights going through Yonatan’s things, learning more about this Jewish boy he is looking after.

The novel raises a lot of questions – Can you change the value system that you were brought up in, where a woman’s honor is a direct reflection of yours? What is identity – a name, a nationality, a piece of paper? Can you unlearn how to be an Arab? Become something else – maybe a Jew – instead? To what extent does your imagination play up, what scenarios does it build, do you believe your imagination more than the facts that are laid out in front of you? Is there an end to suspicion and jealousy?

Some of these questions are answered. Some are questions you, as a reader, have to answer yourself. And some questions will haunt you long after you finish reading the book.

Masterful, immensely believable, a look into a different culture, a land that’s still in strife, a novel of love, loss, life…lies, deceit, betrayal…rising from the ashes and never being able to free yourself from the chains that bind you.

In a nutshell: Very highly recommended!

Book Review: A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth OzekiWhen Ruth picks up a piece of flotsam that has washed up on the beach near her home in British Columbia, little does she know that her life will be changed. For in that package, which at first glance looked liked a jellyfish, is a Hello Kitty lunchbox with a diary, a bunch of old letters in French, and an old watch.

The diary belongs to 16-year old Nao Yasutani, who wants to write the story of her 104-year-old anarchist, feminist Buddhist grandmother. But she ends up writing about her life, the unimaginable ijime (shame) she faces in school, tidbits of Zen wisdom from her grandmother, and the sheer heartbreaking despair of life – both she and her father want nothing more than to commit suicide.

As Ruth is drawn into Nao’s world, she finds herself spending all of her spare time trying to track Nao down. She desperately scrolls through information online to try and find out if Nao or her family feature in the tsunami casualty list; she runs a number of searches to try and corroborate some of the stories from Nao’s diary; and in her quest, she forgets that a decade has passed between the time that Nao wrote the diary and it washed up on the beach near Ruth’s home.

But there are a number of unexplainable phenomena that start occurring as Ruth reads Nao’s diary – strange dreams featuring Nao’s grandmother, the appearance of a Japanese jungle crow, and most alarmingly, vanishing information from Nao’s diary – the last of which is unconvincingly (for me) explained by quantum physics.

Nao’s story of her return to Japan from Silicon Valley, where she spent her formative years, and the bullying she faces in her new school are horrifying. Her father’s despair at being unable to find a job and his many attempts to commit suicide provide a further backdrop of gloom. Into this sorry situation, Nao’s grandmother brings in a breath of fresh air. Her nuggets of Zen philosophy ultimately sustain Nao, and are what really lifts this book to a different level.

Filled with footnotes – mainly to explain some Japanese phrases and concepts – and 6 Appendixes, which deal with everything from the concept of Zen time to Schrödinger’s cat and quantum physics, the book is a meditation on time, on shared humanity and the search for meaning. Even though a few things are contrived and some concepts are unconvincing, it’s a very interesting read. Recommended!

 Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book review: A Serpentine Affair by Tina Seskis

Can I let you in on a secret? I have seen the devil, and I know its name. Come closer, so I can whisper it in your ear.

{ NetGalley }

Really. It is the devil! Because every time you promise to be good, to not get tempted by another book you simply have to read and to hell with all the other books that are piling up alarmingly on your to-read pile, there it is, with a shiny new book that you just cannot resist. And so you succumb, over and over and over again.

The other night, I had almost made my escape. I logged off the site before I could give in to temptation. { Yay me! } But before I could pat myself on the back, I saw this book by an author whose debut novel I loved. And there I was, begging to be let back in. To request an advance reader copy of Tina Seskis’ A Serpentine Affair.

Tina-Seskis-A-Serpentine-AffairSeven old friends. One annual reunion. Countless feuds. How do friends stay friends for more than 25 years when there is so much to feel aggrieved about?

Juliette and JoAnne have never got over one of them sleeping with the other’s boyfriend. Sissy secretly blames someone for the death of her husband. Natasha knows one of them is having an affair with her partner. Siobhan annoys everyone. Katie is annoyed by everyone. Camilla desperately tries to keep the peace. So when their picnic in the park goes horribly wrong and one of them ends up in the Serpentine, who knows what really happened? And just what secrets from the past are about to unfold, changing everyone’s lives forever?

Seskis weaves together the stories of these seven women skillfully, moving from the past to the present, from one woman’s story to anothers history. There’s Juliette’s search for her birth mother; JoAnne’s stint as a bookseller in the US, from which she returned a changed person; Natasha’s seemingly perfect life that hides a dysfunctional marriage; Sissy’s trauma when she finds out that her husband has cancer; and Katie’s struggle with anger issues.

As we meander through their past, events are coming to a head in the present. The women drink too fast and eat too little, tempers flare, personal demons are wrestled with and old secrets start to tumble out of the closet. By the time the evening draws to a close, the women don’t seem to notice or care that one of their friends is missing, and that sets in motion yet another nightmare.

Seskis brings her characters alive and excels at giving them deep-seated flaws and vulnerabilities. I also loved the way she touched on a number of social issues – the far-reaching psychological consequences of rape; the breakdown of morality; and the deeply dysfunctional life that can hide behind a super successful public persona – without bogging down the narrative or coming across as preachy or judgmental.

Seskis juggles the stories of her numerous characters with aplomb. And though it might get a bit difficult to keep track of all of them, the rewards for staying with it are rich indeed. With this book, which comes on the heels of her debut novel One Step Too Far, Seskis proves that she is an author to look out for.

Book Review: Final Cut by Uday Gupt

I tend to read chick-lit and short stories as “fillers” between two heavy books. Chick-lit because they’re light and generally feel-good stories. They rarely linger with you too long. Short stories, on the other hand, are always a joy to read. A few pages and the story is done. Perfect for times when you’re  feeling kinda restless and not in the frame of mind to read an entire novel. (That happens very rarely around here, but it does happen!) Final Cut by Uday Gupt is a collection of longer than usual short stories.

final-cutEach story is entirely Indian, with settings and social structures that are unique to India. The other thing that’s wonderful about the book is that most of the stories, though modern, are firmly rooted in the past.

Hodson’s Gold, for example, is set in modern times, but draws its roots from the Indian Mutiny of 1857; The Last Supper has its roots in the time when the British East India Company was trying to get a foothold into India; and Friends is rooted in the naxalite movement. Buddha Purnima is the only story that’s set entirely in the past, sometime after the fall of the Maurya dynasty.

I loved Will Reena?, the novella included in this collection. It’s a beautiful story of a childhood romance and a young boy’s rise from poverty to success on the basis of his own hard work. The way the story is structured, it’s hard to tell what the question being posed to Reena really is right until the very end – and when you do realize what is being asked of her, you have to go back to re-read pieces of it to see if you can maybe find a clue hidden somewhere in the story now that you know the end. Brilliant!

The writing is very good and there’s quite a variety in the stories being told. What I really enjoyed was the twists in the stories – most often, you never see them coming. Some of the stories have a bit of flab, but that’s a very minor flaw in an otherwise lovely collection. My favourites? Friends, Final Cut, It Happens Only in India, and Will Reena?

All told, it’s a book I’d recommend to lovers of short stories and Indian authors, and to those who are looking to read something different.

 Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Book review: Love is Vodka A Shot Ain’t Enough by Amit Shankar

If love is all about freedom and honest expression then how can one associate it with loyalty?

Love is Vodka_Amit-ShankarThe story starts with 19-year old Moon sitting at an abortion clinic, wondering why she was there and who was responsible. The answer to both questions: LOVE.

And so we join Moon as she ruminates on her 19 long years and all the boys she has loved.

First is Ash, her first love. Five years older than her, he knew exactly what he wanted from life – to own a chain of flower stores across India and to marry Moon. But please, how can the daughter of a leading TV news anchor love a flower seller with a pathetic small time business background? The minute she finds a better option, she forgets all about Ash, but conveniently forgets to tell him he’s been dumped. After all, he’s her first love, he’s been her mentor and someone she really looked up to. And she can’t see him hurt. So the best strategy – ignore him and move on.

Enter Aditya, a cool copywriter at an ad agency where Moon is working as an intern. He’s the only one who doesn’t drool over her or send her a friend request on Facebook the minute he sets eyes on her. So of course she’s intrigued. How can someone ignore her? As they eventually get to know one another, she falls for him. He’s the one with whom she goes exploring Delhi, talks with till all hours of the night, learns about his kinda musi – metal. Until one day when her friends take her to a gay party. And there, who does she see but Aditya – caught in a liplock with another boy. Because really, no “real” man can be cultured. If he is, he’s gay.

So out with Aditya and in with D – her boss and her mother’s kinda boyfriend. 25 years elder than Moon, he’s sophisticated and elegant – basically, a sugar daddy. And then he, too, dumps her, telling her:

…there are reasons and causes bigger than love. Everything happens for a reason and reason has no logic. We were destined to meet, so we did. We were destined to fall in love, so we did. It was all a design program set by someone else. We just followed it. The entire program was done to make us learn a lesson and move on….It was good while it lasted but I’m sure you would have figured out that it was going nowhere.

And after that, the poor girl still misses him.

And then there’s Nikhil, who is followed by…you get the drift, right?

And through it all Ash hasn’t been dumped. He begs for time. But he gets none. And when he calls her a whore, she asks him “What have I done to deserve this?”

At that point you just want to slap her. Hard. Not because of the numerous boys she strung around. Or all the boys she teased. But because she basically did all of this without ever telling Ash it was over. So if he calls her a whore, isn’t he kinda sorta justified?

And then there’s the horrible language (though to be fair, it’s decent in parts too), repetitive dialogues, and the protagonist Moon’s complete confusion, moronic monologues and total lack of ethics that makes you just keep on repeating: Really?

After all of this, if you still want to read about Moon’s conquests, be my guest. In fact, I’ll happily ship you my copy. No charge.

From me, though, it gets a big thumbs down.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

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