Tag Archives: book review

Book Review: Wind Horse by Kaushik Barua

Wind Horse by Kaushik Barua Windhorse is the story of Lhasang, who grew up in Kham in Eastern Tibet. The son of a trader, he grew up with stories of King Gesar of Ling, of Padmasambhava, the man who taught Buddhism to Bod (Tibet), and Lhalung Pelgyi Dorje, the man who conquered fear and killed the godless king. But after the Chinese invade Tibet, when it becomes apparent that they will take away “class enemies” to be “retrained”, he makes the death-defying trek to India with his family. Uprooted from everything that he knew, all that he held dear, in a foreign country, surrounded by people whose language he doesn’t understand, he comes to realize that the only way forward for him is to go back – to Tibet.

This is the story of Norbu, the son of a successful Delhi-based  Tibetan businessman, for whom Tibet is just an idea, a picture of a young Kundun (The Dalai Lama), the place where his grandparents stay. In college, he’s lumped together with the Northeastern group on the basis of their facial features. He goes through life controlled by his father, secretly learning all he can about Tibet, but confused about his identity, about his purpose. Until he meets Dolma, a young Tibetan college student. She’s escaped from Tibet, though her parents are still there. And she’s very active on the political front, fighting to get the Tibetan voice heard, to get help to the refugees who are flocking in to Delhi, to Majnu Ka Tila, almost every day. Norbu goes with her to the refugee colony to teach children English, which is where he meets Lhasang, and his life takes a completely different turn.

This is the story of Thupten, the rich Tibetan trader whose business was ruined by the Chinese and whose only daughter Dechen was killed during the uprising in Lhasa. It is the story of Ratu, a disfigured rebel, of Athar, a rebel monk who took up arms when the Chinese killed the head of his monastery.

This is the story of Tibet. The story of the early years of the Chinese invasion, of the Tibetan’s struggle for freedom.

It’s a story that is alive with Tibetan myth and culture, with their innate sense of non-violence, and the clash between the ideologies of the older and younger generations caught in the conflict. This is the story of a people who are still in exile, of a conflict that continues until today. And while it is a fictionalized history of Tibet, it is also a story about human beings and their search and struggle for purpose and freedom.

All-in-all, it is a story that must be read. Highly, highly recommended!

Book Review: Private by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Former Marine helicopter pilot Jack Morgan runs Private, a renowned investigation company with branches around the globe. It is where you go when you need maximum force and maximum discretion. Jack is already deep into the investigation of a multi-million dollar NFL gambling scandal and the unsolved slayings of 18 schoolgirls when he learns of a horrific murder close to home: his best friend’s wife, Jack’s former lover, has been killed. It nearly pushes him over the edge. Instead, Jack pushes back and devotes all of Private’s resources to tracking down her killer. With a plot that moves at death-defying speeds, Private is James Patterson sleekest, most exciting thriller ever.

I’ve long been a James Patterson fan, primarily of his Alex Cross novels – those are brilliant! But it’s been a long time since I read any of his novels, so when this book came across my radar screen, I thought I’d give it a go.

I dived into the book with high expectations – it’s a James Patterson after all, and a series for which he is teaming up with writers from across the world. I thought it would be interesting. It wasn’t.

In this, the first Private novel that serves as the backbone for the rest of the franchise, we are introduced to Jack Morgan – a former helicopter pilot who crashed out of the Afghanistan war with terrible memories and immeasurable guilt (nothing new here). With the money left to him by his father, he set up Private, a detective agency with state-of-the-art equipment and a free pass to do with it as he pleases.

The most interesting case is the one where they are tracking the dead school girls, but the NFL case just seems to be tacked on as an after thought and I didn’t see any reason why the murder of his best friend’s wife was in any way relevant to the story.

The writing is sloppy, the dialogues are forced, the plot twists are quite predictable. The characters are two-dimensional – the women, especially, are horrifyingly portrayed. The lead police detective on the schoolgirl case, for example, is a fat, angry woman, while Justine, who is leading the investigation at Private, arrives at murder scenes in stilettos. The men are all effortlessly good looking and the cops are pretty much bumbling idiots. It’s very reminiscent of a B-grade Hollywood flick.

I give this book a big thumbs down.

Book Review: Sita’s Curse – The Language of Desire by Sreemoyee Piu Kundu

From the back cover: Trapped for 15 years in the stranglehold of a dead marriage and soulless household domesticity, the beautiful, full-bodied and passionate Meera Patel depends on her memories and her flights of fantasy to soothe the aches that wrack her body…until one cataclysmic day in Mumbai, when she finally breaks free. Bold, brazen and defiant, Sita’s Curse looks at the hypocrisy of Indian society and tells the compelling story of a middle class Indian housewife’s urgent need for love, respect, acceptance – and sexual fulfillment.

What I expected: Simply put: feminist erotica. This is the first book whose book trailer I actually watched. And I had high expectations from it. I thought it would be bold and brazen; daring and defiant; eschewing the stereotype of an Indian “bahu” (wife) and looking, instead, at the woman – at her dreams and hopes; her fight for respect and acceptance in her new household; her flight from the cage that traps her.

What it is: C-grade thrash. Honestly, 50 Shades of Gray was literary manna compared to this.

We have Meera, an innocent village girl, who starts her sexscapade as a child with her twin Kartik, moves on to underage sex with her dance teacher, girl-on-girl sex with the daughter of her father’s associate, and then has sex with a stranger on a riverbank before she’s pushed into a loveless marriage with Mohan.

Now Mohan, despite trying really hard, just cannot get it up. So in between pleasuring herself, Meera has sex with their guruji, indulges in voyeuristic behavior by spying on her brother-in-law having sex with his wife, bangs the dance teacher in her colony, and then discovers the joys of internet porn. And on that “cataclysmic day in Mumbai”, she calls her chat room lover to a seedy hotel in Colaba where she discovers that maybe she is in love with the gigolo.

And if you’re wondering where Sita fits in all of this – you’re not alone. I have the same question. Apart from the fact that Meera played the role of Sita every year on Dusserha, Sita has nothing much to do in the book. Except to cringe at this gross misuse of her name.

By now I am sure you can surmise that you will have to hunt for the plot with a magnifying glass. The sex will not titillate you – it will disgust you. And feminists everywhere are most probably seething at having this book labelled “feminist erotica”.

Final verdict: Give this one a miss

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

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.