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Vivek Tejuja "vivekian" (mumbai, maharashtra, india)

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Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer's, My Mother and Me
Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer's, My Mother and Me
by Sarah Leavitt
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real and Tragic, 1 Jun. 2013
I have often wondered while reading memoirs or something very personal: How do the authors manage to put all this down to paper? All the hurt, the anguish, the memory of it all, on paper for others to read. I do not know how they must feel to put it down - to go through those memories all over again, so they can tell it to the world. I am sure though it must not be easy to do that. This thought crossed my mind as I finished reading, "Tangles - A Story about Alzheimer's, my mother and me" by Sarah Leavitt, a story of her mother's illness and her love for her, and that is in a graphic novel format.

I had wanted to read this book since a while now, however something else kept coming in the way, pushing this one on the back burner. And when I finally did, it reminded me of someone who I had known with the disease and all the memories came rushing by. Anyway, back to the book. "Tangles" is one woman's story about losing a parent and at the same time strangely enough, also finding a parent through Alzheimer's. The content and context is heavy and may be that is when the book being in a graphic novel format helps.

"Tangles" is the story of Sarah and her mother and Sarah seeing her through Alzheimer's. It covers six years of her mother's life with the onset of the disease through her death and the emotional turmoil Sarah and her family goes through. For me it was about the disease and what it does to you as a person - at the same time what it takes from you. Fragments of memory are snatched slowly and steadily till it reaches a stage when you struggle to remember your loved ones. Sarah writes about it with a touch that makes you want to reach out to the author. The novel covers everything - the dark humour, the spark, the burst of energy and frustration, the reaction of the family, the last moments and the very angry moments as well.

To reflect on a disease through a graphic novel format is not unusual. A lot of writers have done it before. So it is only common if you tend to compare it with Fun House by Alison Bechdel or with Charles Burns' Black Hole. The quality of illustrations is on the spot, making it seem real enough, which for me was very important while reading the book. The connect of the reader will but obviously be very high, given the nature of the book and yet at times the reader will forget that it is a memoir and Sarah's mother went through it all. "Tangles" at the same time celebrates life - for what it is, for what it was and how it will be. The story is honest. It is raw. It is also quite tender. A story of a mother, her disease and her daughter.

And the Mountains Echoed
And the Mountains Echoed
by Khaled Hosseini
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.22

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Realistic and Emotional, 27 May 2013
Let me honest at the start of this review. I have not enjoyed Hosseini's earlier works. I know of some people who will probably never speak with me again after this confession, but hey, that's just my view as a reader. Having said that, I must say that his new book, "And the Mountains Echoed" made up for more than the disappointment I felt while reading his earlier two works. Let me just say that this book will be reread even though I know how it ends and what happens in it.

"And the Mountains Echoed" is a sentimental story, may be which is why I did not like "The Kite Runner" or "A Thousand Splendid Suns". However, this one is not saccharine sweet and does not lose the bigger perspective of the story. I found it to be more mature a tale and more thawed in with the writer's thoughts and emotions. The alignment was perfect and illuminated on every single page. The story is probably not that intense but the way it is narrated and the characters that come to life certainly make it a lot more intense and interesting. The jumping of the novel in parts is also alright, because it makes sense and weaves everything through like a well-knitted quilt.

The plot of the novel is centered on love between siblings. The story as usual is set in Afghanistan and moves around the world in typical Hosseini style. It all starts in 1952 and spreads across almost fifty years. This gives an indication of the mammoth storytelling in store for the reader. The story begins with a father and his two children traveling from their village (a poor family at that), across Afghanistan to get to Kabul, where their father has been promised work. Abdullah and Pari are as close as any siblings could be. Abdullah is almost a mother to Pari. This should alone tell you that you will as a reader probably cry buckets during the course of the book. Their father has remarried and the journey has been undertaken entirely for a different purpose which will change the course of their lives forever.

Now to the writing. The writing for me was superlative at so many places - well let me just say that the entire book was something else for me. It does get sentimental, but it has that sense of sincerity to it. The changing political landscape of Afghanistan is almost a secondary character in the book. The sense of family, hope, loss and love run throughout and yes it may sound cliché but let me also tell you that Hosseini is a master of this craft - of bringing these emotions to the surface and to life. Hosseini takes a folk tale as well and builds his story within it - both intelligently and with great sensitivity.

Khaled Hosseini makes you see the world through this book in different light. Relationships are viewed through closely and sometimes they fall apart just as soon. He takes a fable and makes you see the reality of it. His cast of characters is close to life and ring true and may be you can also see them daily, no matter what the country or situation. I guess this is what made me love this book. I guess this is what is making me eagerly wait for what he has to offer next.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
by Anthony Marra
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surreal and Breathtaking, 26 May 2013
There are debut novelists and then may be after reading him I can safely say that there is Anthony Marra. This is after reading his book, "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" and the fact that I could not stop sighing and being spectacularly amazed by most of his writing as the pages were turned. The writing does not seem as though it belongs to a debut writer or maybe I am just underestimating debut writers, but this one is sure to look out for. For one, no one or maybe very few people would have heard of the Chechen wars before reading this book. It was certainly an eye-opener for me and I can only thank Anthony enough for introducing me to this side of the world as well.

"A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" is not going to be an easy read. It is not even a happy read as far as I am concerned. It has its moments of happiness and then it gets quite dreary. What does one expect of a novel told in the time of war and unrest? Well, for most things, one expects humanity and Marra delivers like a charm with reference to that expectation, thereby not only fulfilling but also surpassing it.

The book passes through or rather is told through a decade - from 1996 to 2004 and speaks of lives that were embroiled during the Chechen War, with the Russian History but of course making an appearance time and again in the book. The history of Chechnya is long and often confusing. Anthony Marra on the other hand, does not give us complete details of the land. Instead he chooses to talk about ordinary lives and the impact of ethnic strife on them and how their lives change beyond recognition. This worked with me as a reader on most levels. I guess all readers want to know more of the humane side of the story than anything else and Marra most certainly delivers on that one.

In this hard-hitting novel, Anthony takes us back and forth in the lives of the major characters, surrounded by the secondary characters that are equally integral to the plot and structure. There is Akhmed, an incompetent doctor with a big heart and an invalid wife, Sonja, a surgeon who labours each and every day at a bombed hospital and living with her own demons, and Havaa an eight-year old girl who has lost her family and is now about to start a new life. Centered around these are the other characters that make up the entire concept of Six Degrees of Separation that runs strongly throughout the book.

The cycle of life is seen through the book - birth, changes, adaptation, movement, growth and sometimes death is what holds the book strong. Marra's writing is surreal and often had me wonder: Where did the stories come from? What is the deal with the plot? The title in itself is intriguing and as you move through the novel, you understand its importance. The novel is intense and deep and yet the moments of compassion are plenty that take you by surprise. After all, sometimes all one needs is compassion to get one through in times of uncertainty and a war-torn land and a heart that needs much more. The emotional highs are plenty and that is precisely why I was urging everyone to read this book. It may be dark and depressing in places, but for me, it filled my heart with joy in most places. A must read.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Vampires in the Lemon Grove
by Karen Russell
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and Beautiful, 15 Mar. 2013
Short stories are integral to what I read. They always have been. I do not remember a time not reading short stories. Maybe that is how I started reading. A writer cannot hide behind a short story. This is how Jonathan Franzen put it subtly in one of his essays on Alice Munro (which I think everyone must read), the short story genius. Sometimes I feel that the short story has not been given its due on the literature scene, but then I start thinking about the writers and I am glad that that is not the case. At least not when publishers are still publishing a collection of short stories (which is rather difficult to find these days) and when readers like me are reading them.

This brings me to the review of a collection of short stories I finished reading quite recently. "Vampires in the Lemon Grove" by Karen Russell is a collection like none other that I have read recently. I had heard a lot about Karen Russell. Her first book of stories and novel were major hits and I knew that if I were to start with the author, I would with this
book and I am glad it worked that way.

The collection as the title suggests is rather weird. The stories start abruptly and it takes a while for the reader to get into it, however once the reader does, then he or she wonders why did the story/stories end so soon. That is one of the best compliments according to me, a writer can receive. There are eight stories in the book and each of them different than the other - from vampires surviving on lemons to a bunch of girls almost imprisoned in the Meiji Empire, reeling silk for the Emperor and Japan's trade (which has a brilliant twist to it) to a boy on the verge of growing up and coming to age, stumbling on clues that could be the probable future to the Gothic Old West (which by the way gave me the creeps as I kept reading it).

The stories are written as matter-of-fact and with deep intensity. Karen knows how to write sometimes for herself (which doesn't seem like that though) and at times for the reader, maintaining a perfect balance and rhythm. The only story which I did not enjoy in the collection was, "Dougbert Shackelton's Rules for Antarctic Tailgating" as it was too short and ended way too soon, without providing anything to me as a reader.

The mix of stories could not have been better in this collection. The stories border on the weird side of life, the one that no one wants to acknowledge or talk about. They are haunting and refreshing - both at the same time and that is what makes the collection brilliant and rather unique. I would definitely recommend this one quite highly, but more so because I also have a soft corner for short stories and this one doesn't disappoint at all.

Season of the Rainbirds
Season of the Rainbirds
by Nadeem Aslam
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mysterious and Sentimental, 12 Feb. 2013
It had been a while since I had read, "Season of the Rainbirds" by Nadeem Aslam and almost forgotten how much I loved it. I had just finished "The Blind Man's Garden" and thought of going back to this one. To relive the reading experience and ironically enough I loved it more this time than I had the last time. Every writer's first novel according to me gives the most insight to the kind of writer he or she will become and I believe in it to a very large extent. The first novel almost shapes the author's sensibilities and what he or she wants to communicate as a common theme in almost every book thereon. "Season of the Rainbirds" set the benchmark for Nadeem Aslam, where I was concerned.

"Season of the Rainbirds" is a book set in a small town in Pakistan, centering on the reappearance of a mysterious sack of letters lost in a train crash nineteen years ago. This is then supposedly said to be connected to Judge Anwar's death. From there on the story starts and the other characters begin to get embroiled in the plot. The differences in their opinions and lifestyles are evident and that is what makes them so different from each other that the read tends to be juicier. In such kind of a book there are secrets waiting to tumble and Nadeem provides us with just that. He gets into the skin of characters, so much so that in many places of the book you tend to think and more so believe that the characters have come from life, from people that he knew or knows of.

The plot seems to be thin in some places, however I ignored that because I was aware that this was his first book and also because I have read more of Aslam to know better. What got me going is Mr. Aslam's ability to almost turn this to a parallel mystery tale: What is in those letters? Why did they turn up after all these years and how? Only a writer like Nadeem Aslam can know how to propel the story to his intent and engage the reader - both logically and emotionally at every page. To me, that is the power of true writing and to also manage that with a first book says a lot about the writer. I would definitely recommend all his books; however, "Season of the Rainbirds" somehow will always hold a very special place in my heart.

by Rabisankar Bal
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing is lost in translation, 1 Feb. 2013
This review is from: Dozakhnama (Paperback)
Translations are needed - to let us readers know what we have missed out on and what we cannot anymore. I am a champion of translations, only because I wish I could read some works in the language they were written in, but if I cannot do that, then well, a translation suffices any given day. With a book that is translated, there is so much at stake. Are all the emotions translated as well? Are words used the way they are supposed to? Is every phrase and every thought in its place? Maybe so, is punctuation to convey the correct idea? Translation is not easy business. It takes a lot from the translator - it is almost a bond needs to be there between the writer and the translator for sure. With this, I begin my review of, "Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell" - written by Rabisankar Bal and beautifully translated by Arunava Sinha.

"Dozakhnama" proved to be is a very special read. I read it cover to cover and could not stop reading it. I managed to finish it today and here I am talking about it. The book is about two of my favourite writers conversing beyond the graves - Mirza Ghalib and Sadaat Hasan Manto. Their lives are entwined in shared dreams. The book has all elements - love, anger, hate, jealousy, magic realism (a lot of it and maybe that is one of the reasons I enjoyed the book the way I did), and covers all ground - right from Bandra to Ashok Kumar. This is what I love the most about the book - Bal doesn't hesitate to imagine and Arunava doesn't hesitate to work towards getting the emotion right for the reader in English.

The writing had me gripped from the first page and I couldn't put it down, though it was heavy in most places. While reading the book, I often wondered, how it would sound in the language it was written in. The nuances of Bengali may not have come across totally in English; however I must say the translation was packed with power and to the hilt, as it was supposed to. I will not give away the meaning behind the title, because I want other readers to explore what is there to it. At the same time, what I loved most was the couplets and quotes that kept appearing in the book since but obviously it is about two great writers.

I have yet to come across a translation as good as this one. Arunava as always does a brilliant job of translating works. Dozakhnama is a read that I will not forget for a very long time to come. In fact, if I have the time to reread it, I will do that as well. I cannot stop raving about it and with good reason.

How Should a Person Be?
How Should a Person Be?
by Sheila Heti
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will definitely tell you the strange ways in which life is led, 31 Jan. 2013
How should a person be? Maybe this is one of those questions that cannot be answered that easily. There is always contemplation and then there is giving up on the answer. There are perceptions and opinions and more speculations, but never an answer and maybe there shouldn't be one. When I read Sheila Heti's book, "How Should a Person Be?" I immediately knew one thing: She sure is not talking about how a person should be; she is maybe in fact talking about how a person should be given other people and situations that surround us. However, I also believe that each reader has his or her thoughts about the book, so maybe we can agree to disagree at some point.

"How Should A Person Be?" reads like a meta-novel and at the same time it reads like literary fiction. The book draws from life and also evokes life to draw from it in most places. The inlay says that it is a novel from life and yes it is exactly that, which is why I loved it so much. The book is a fictionalized memoir - Sheila is reeling from a divorce, she is a playwright and is unsure of how to live and create. Margaux, a talented painter and free spirit, and Israel, a sexy and depraved artist enter her life and life is never the same.

The book is written sometimes as a personal document and sometimes as a novel, which is what makes it so difficult to follow at times and at the same time it makes you ponder so much on the basic questions of love and life. Margaux and Israel are characters that exist so Sheila can make her decisions, so she can learn what she wants to do and unlearn at the same time.

The writing is like that of a painter painting his masterpiece in deft and swift strokes. The good thing according to me in the book is that there aren't any conclusions and it shouldn't be the case as well. Everything is not laid out for the reader to see meaning into or interpret. The book is like life - playing itself out without any meanings. There aren't any answers, though the questions put are way too many - how does one love? Is there a way to live this life? Can one live in a manner better than this? The idea is to keep turning the pages - to read through the words, carefully, and then figuring it out for yourself. I will recommend this book to people who can stomach a story told differently. This book is not for people who are used to the traditional form of storytelling. You might want to give this a shot to read something different.

by Ali Smith
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Challenging Read but Brilliantly written, 30 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Artful (Hardcover)
The more I read interesting and different forms of the novel, the more I am convinced that the book cannot die. It shouldn't and it will not. Reading will never go out of style, and Ali Smith is one of those authors that keep proving this time and again. I started reading her when I was about twenty four or so and haven't stopped since then. All her books are quirky and have this mischief sense about them. This is what attracts me most to her books and her writing. If a writer can make me want to read his or her books without stopping, then that writer has done me in.

"Artful" is unlike anything which Smith has written before. It is based on four lectures given by Ali Smith at Oxford University. "Artful" is all about books and the love of reading and what reading can do to readers. The essays are on four themes: Time, Edge, Offer and Reflection. The lectures were then delivered in the format - as if someone had discovered essays on art and fiction written by a former lover who haunts you. So partly, the book seems to read like a novel and at times like a work of non-fiction, which is a very unique way to write or compile a book.

The narrative and form of the book will instantly get to the reader, such is its power. I had to read the book in parts - could not finish it in one sitting because come to think of it, because of the structure, it is a difficult read in parts. One has to get used to the way it is written and only then can the reader be at ease. What attracted me the most to this book was that it was about art and more so about the love of books and fiction.

"Artful" while is a challenging book; it also lets you explore your imagination and ideas. It sort of blends your ideas with the books' thoughts and that is something which I haven't come across in many books. At the same time, it is quite a challenging book to read, if as a reader you are up to the challenge. Smith's literary references are all over the place and it takes a reader some time to make sense of it, however once that happens, it is breezy read. I would recommend it to you, only if you are interested in books and fiction and art being talked about in another book.

The Blind Man's Garden
The Blind Man's Garden
by Nadeem Aslam
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreakingly Beautiful, 30 Jan. 2013
This review is from: The Blind Man's Garden (Hardcover)
When you read a Nadeem Aslam novel, you mull over it. You take in his words and breathe what he has to say. You are aware of the political undertones in his books. At times, you also may not like what you read. You might also detest some parts. You will yell in happiness when something good happens to one of his characters. You want to keep the book aside and you will not be able to, because that is the power of his books. You will ignore everything else and read on, because Aslam has a story to tell and his characters will talk to you. They will make you believe and sometimes make you cry and live as well.

"The Blind Man's Garden" according to me is one of the best books that Aslam has written. I have read all his books and while all his books have the much needed political angle; this one to me is most emotional and heart-wrenching in a lot of places. I interviewed Nadeem Aslam at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year (which will be a different post) and he was so passionate about the book and the way he spoke with me. The book almost came alive through him. All his characters and the situations he put them through almost seemed surreal and believable. For me that is the craft of a great storyteller. "The Blind Man's Garden" makes you feel and think about humans and what does war do to them. He gets into the heart of his characters and makes them speak for themselves. He makes them tell their stories, their lives spread across the canvas of his landscape, of time unknown and sometimes time is of great essence. This is precisely why I cannot help myself but mark almost every other line on every other page of an Aslam novel.

Jeo and his foster-brother Mikal leave their home in a small Pakistani city not to fight with the Taliban but to help care for the wounded victims. The Western Armies have invaded Afghanistan and the brothers only want to help the wounded, whether Afghani or the Americans. They only want to help and yet they get embroiled deep into the war as its unwilling soldiers. At the same time left behind is Jeo's wife and her superstitious mother, and their father Rohan, who is slowly but surely turning blind. The war is seen through from all perspectives and that is the crux of the story.

For me everything worked in the book. The writing is sharp and hits in places that you would not expect it to. The past and the present situations merge beautifully throughout the entire narrative. In fact, what I loved the most about the book was the way the structure was built and at the same time the prose seemed very fluid, as though it was waiting to flow through the reader's mind and heart. The heart of the book is about everything surrounding the war - lost children, grieving parents, hopeful wives and children who are left behind wondering when their fathers will return. Despite all this, what strings the book together is hope, which is unending and everlasting.

There are a lot of sub-elements and plots to the book (which I will not spoil for you) that add to the beauty of this wonderfully written novel. There is beauty and at the same time there is this sharp ache and a prayer that all should go well for the characters that you have come to known while reading the book. As a reader, I found myself hoping that all went well. Such is the power of this magnificent read. It is for sure one of the best I will read this year.

Here are some quotes from the book:

"History is a third parent."

"The logic is that there are no innocent people in a guilty nation."

"No," he said, "but before they lose, they harm the good people. That is what I am afraid of."
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 4, 2013 10:36 AM GMT

Shakespeare's Restless World: An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects
Shakespeare's Restless World: An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects
by Dr Neil MacGregor
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare's World through 20 objects, 11 Jan. 2013
I was never a fan of Shakespeare's works. I have never been. Either at school or later. Most of the time it was only the movies through which I discovered Shakespeare or through a play here and there, which I really wanted to read. Besides that I did not care much about the guy. However, after reading, "Shakespeare's Restless World" by Neil MacGregor, maybe I will read all his works after all. I might even reread some works just to understand more about the times he lived in and to put everything in context with the book I just finished reading.

"Shakespeare's Restless World" as the title suggests is all about the world and the times in which The Bard lived. The twist in the tale is that MacGregor talks of Shakespeare's times and worlds through twenty objects. At this stage, I must also mention that MacGregor is the director of The British Museum, so getting hold of these objects must have been pretty easy for him. Having said that, what worked most for me was the premise of the book. It is unique in its approach. It also at the same time cannot be categorized as a "history read" because though it is that in some parts, at others it is very different. It speaks to us about the times gone by, the objects and their meaning in those times and how Shakespeare finally has emerged to be a world-wide phenomenon.

The reason I loved this book is it is but obviously written differently and at the same time, it is not a boring read at all. It makes you want to know more. After all what could be the relation between a fork (not invented in England) and Shakespeare? What could be the connection between swords and battles and the plays as written by the man? To what extent was he influenced by his world and the objects around him? I also cannot stop gushing about the book. In fact, at a point, I also went back and reread my favourite parts.

The book is written in a superb manner. There are parts that are funny and parts that are not so. The objects picked are so unique and that is the major point of the book. The vivid description of the objects (along with a lot of pictures - so please do not read this on an E-reader) adds to the writing and how the influences came about. "Shakespeare's Restless World" is a unique read of how the socio-economic structure, the religious turmoil, the rampant diseases, sex even, lead to Shakespeare's plays and their writing and how influenced he was by the world around him. A must read for history and Shakespeare fans

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