#MicroBlog Mondays: The first Gurgaon BYOB meet-up

  
The first Gurgaon BYOB (where the last B stands for books, not booze) meet-up took place yesterday at The Wishing Chair’s adorable Mad Teapot cafe. It was quite a turn out, and I was blown away by the variety of books and authors that people brought along to the discussion. Ranging from Murakami and Rushdie, to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, to an Indian author from Nagaland and an Iranian graphic novelist (yes, the Iranian graphic novelist), to a pilot and a sports writer – the discussion was engaging, illuminating, and passionate. The best thing was the absence of Chetan Bhagat and his ilk – although there was quite a heated debate on bad writing and there being no such thing as bad writing. It was a stimulating meet-up, and I came away with a couple of more books added to my TBR list. Here’s to more BYOB events in Gurgaon; may the tribe of readers grow!

Linking up with MicroBlog Mondays.

Book review: Five Roses by Alice Zorn

A young, naive girl with no social graces; an aging hippie whose baby daughter was kidnapped; a hospital operator whose sister committed suicide; a young, talented pastry chef who hides her talent behind the counter of a patisserie. All linked, somehow – as friends, neighbors, blood relations.

The novel unfolds slowly, and as each character’s tale unspools, you get glimpses of their connection. Not everything is spelled out in black and white, and that’s a good thing. A lot is left to the imagination, which is at should be. And as the story slowly progresses, you find yourself more and more invested in the lives of these ladies.

The novel is set in the 1980s, in the backdrop of Montreal’s historic Pointe St-Charles, a rundown neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification. Against a backdrop of abandonment and loss, Zorn deftly interweaves the rich yet fragile lives of three very different people into a story of strength and friendship.

The characters are beautifully rendered, the plotting is excellent, and the story flows along beautifully, keeping you fully gripped despite its slow pace.

I hadn’t heard of Alice Zorn before I read this book, but now I will definitely look out for her work. Highly recommended!

Think you might like the book? Buy it from Amazon

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from NetGalley, but the review and opinions are mine.
Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Book Review: The Blue Bath by Mary Waters-Sayer

From the back cover:

Kat Lind, an American expatriate living in London with her entrepreneur husband and their young son, attends an opening at a prestigious Mayfair art gallery and is astonished to find her own face on the walls. The portraits are evidence of a long-ago love affair with the artist, Daniel Blake. Unbeknownst to her, he has continued to paint her ever since. Kat is seduced by her reflection on canvas and when Daniel appears in London, she finds herself drawn back into the sins and solace of a past that suddenly no longer seems so far away.

When the portraits catch the attention of the public, threatening to reveal not only her identity, but all that lies beyond the edges of the canvases, Kat comes face to face with the true price of their beauty and with all that she now could lose.

Moving between the glamour of the London art world and the sensuous days of a love affair in a dusty Paris studio, life and art bleed together as Daniel and Kat’s lives spin out of control, leading to a conclusion that is anything but inevitable.


My thoughts:

This is a finely wrought novel of love and second chances, of choices and sacrifices. 

Daniel and Kat are the main protagonists of the story – everyone else is just in the backdrop propping them up, and it works wonderfully. But even though everyone else feels like supporting characters, they are well-defined and you can understand their impulses and motivations. 

Waters-Sayer tackles the fragility of relationships and the compelling pull of love with a beauty that settles into your heart. The artistry of the painter (Daniel) and of the storytelling come together to create a masterpiece. 

This is a truly beautiful book that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Highly recommended! 

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publishers via NetGalley, but the review and opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Our Moon has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita

Rahul Pandita was fourteen years old in 1990 when he was forced to leave his home in Srinagar along with his family, who were Kashmiri Pandits: the Hindu minority within a Muslim-majority Kashmir that was becoming increasingly agitated with the cries of ‘Azadi’ from India. The heartbreaking story of Kashmir has so far been told through the prism of the brutality of the Indian state, and the pro-independence demands of separatists. But there is another part of the story that has remained unrecorded and buried. Our Moon Has Blood Clots is the unspoken chapter in the story of Kashmir, in which it was purged of the Kashmiri Pandit community in a violent ethnic cleansing backed by Islamist militants. Hundreds of people were tortured and killed, and about 3,50,000 Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their homes and spend the rest of their lives in exile in their own country. Rahul Pandita has written a deeply personal, powerful and unforgettable story of history, home and loss.

our-moon-has-blood-clotsI was around 9 or 10 years old in the 1990s when I overheard my parents talking about Kashmir, about people leaving their orchards and homes and fleeing from the valley. There was nostalgia in their tones as they spoke about the idyllic beauty of the Kashmiri countryside, mixed with something I now recognize as horror and sorrow over the events unfolding in that beautiful valley. I didn’t quite understand then why anyone would want to get up and leave their beautiful orchards, what was the meaning of curfew, or why the Kashmiris would be asking for azaadi (freedom).

Fast forward to the present day. I now have a slightly better understanding of the Kashmir situation. And I say slightly because it is a complex web of politics and border incursions, with varying points of views and a lot of things that are still left unsaid and unrecorded. Which is why I was keen to read this first person account of an exiled Kashmiri Pandit.

The book, however, disappointed on many levels.

Pandita starts by explaining the history and culture of his people, which is interesting, and then moves to detailing the atrocities that have been committed against the Pandits down the ages. He focuses the bulk of his ire on the Mughal rulers, squeezing the more than hundred years of genocide perpetrated by the Sikh and Hindu-Dogra regimes in the pre-1947 era into a few measly sentences. And that skewed perspective is just a taste of things to come. Because in Pandita’s story, every Muslim in the valley was baying for Pandit blood, including Pandita’s own young, school-going Muslim friends.

One of them looked at me and then all of them ran away suddenly, throwing a bunch of papers onto the floor…I picked one up, and recoiled in disgust – the paper was covered with snot. I threw it away. It was then that my eyes fell on another, particularly crumpled paper. A shiver ran through my body. It was a page torn from the school magazine – it was a portrait of the Goddess Saraswati. It was covered with snot too.

According to Pandita, neighbors turned on one another and Muslims pointed out Pandit families to the mujahideen just to settle petty scores or take over Pandit farms. In the entire saga, not one Muslim came forth to help Pandits – or if they did, it was just to warn them to escape or they would be killed. This I find impossible to believe. When you can find examples of Germans who helped Jews in the midst of the Holocaust it defies logic to believe that not a single Muslim came forward to help the Pandits. More so when I have heard first hand stories of Kashmiri Muslim families who tried to help their Pandit neighbors for as long as they could.

The next part of his rant is against Jammu, where a refugee camp was set up for Kashmiri Pandit families. Everyone knows that it isn’t pleasant to live at a refugee camp – the shelter is inadequate, there is a total lack of comfort, food is often scarce, and when there is a large influx of refugees, employment is almost non-existent. By presenting this as yet another instance of injustice against Pandits in particular, rather than as a problem faced by refugees the world over, Pandita shows just how deluded and misguided he is.

He then goes into a statistician mode – detailing the Pandita families that were killed and chronicling the supposed abject fear in which the few Pandit families in the valley live today. I would take these claims with a pinch of salt considering how biased the book is – perhaps it’s 100% true, perhaps just 50% of it is true, I can’t say with any certainty. But if there is even the slightest truth in these stories of continued fear, Pandita has done grave injustice to his community by creating skepticism in the minds of rational readers.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the book is the story of his feelings as an exile – the longing for home, for news of friends and family, and his mother’s constant refrain of “Our home in Kashmir had 21 rooms”. If only he could have been less biased and more objective, his book would have been a landmark achievement in explaining the Kashmir situation to youngsters and people who are not too familiar with the happenings in the valley.

Overall, I would give this book a big thumbs down. If you want to read an unbiased book on Kashmir, I would highly recommend Curfewed Nights by Basharat Peer – beautifully written, poignant, and rather unbiased.

Purchase on Amazon

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from Random House India, but the review and opinions expressed are my own.
Note: This post has affiliate links.

Of Epilogues & Sequels

ep·i·logue
ˈepəˌlôɡ,ˈepəˌläɡ/
noun
noun: epilogue; plural noun: epilogues; noun: epilog; plural noun: epilogs
  1. a section or speech at the end of a book or play that serves as a comment on or a conclusion to what has happened.

There are a lot of books that pull us into their world, and when they end, we wish there was a sequel.  Or something more. We long to know what happened next.

One example is the Harry Potter series. Seven books later, and the internet still breaks every time J.K. Rowling gives us another little snippet from that world. Or Erin Morgenstern‘s Night Circus – where is the circus now? Whatever happened to Celia and Marco?

One book that’s been haunting me recently is Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Djinni. This is my epilogue to the story.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read the book yet, you may not want to read the rest of this post!


 

After handing over Ibn-malik’s flask to his fellow djinis in Syria, Ahmed returns to the desert, to the spot where he had built his castle. As he looks upon the crumbling edifice, he reflects on his past mistakes, on his long imprisonment, and on his stay in New York. But burning at the back of his mind is the golem.

Back in New York, Chavva and Anna get together and open a bakery and cafe. Years pass by – Anna’s child is now grown up, the cafe has blossomed into a small oasis of peace and beauty in the bustling heart of New York. Meanwhile, Chavva waits, patiently, for Ahmed – she’s sure he will return once he has forgiven himself. She can wait for an eternity.

And finally, years later, after Ahmed cannot stay away from the golem any more, he returns to New York, where he gets together with Arbeely to undertake fine, commissioned metalwork projects. But as they will never age, every couple of decades they settle down in a different city, a different country. Who knows where they may be today? Perhaps that delectable, freshly baked salted caramel muffin is Chavva’s creation. Maybe that gorgeous filigree gate or delightful little intricate animal is Ahmed’s creation. They could be living among us – hidden in plain sight. Or maybe the Djini has taken the Golem back to his land, and they both are spending their days in Ahmed’s fascinating castle in the Syrian desert.


 

If you loved the book as much as I did, you’d be delighted to know that there’s going to a sequel! Squee!! But we have a long wait ahead, because it will only be out in 2018!

FINALLY I can share the official news: There will be a sequel to THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI! Mark your calendars (if…

Posted by Helene Wecker on Friday, October 9, 2015