Book Review: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia


How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia“And where money-making is concerned, nothing compresses the time frame needed to leap from my-shit-just-sits-there-until-it-rains poverty to which-of-my-toilets-shall-I-use affluence like an apprenticeship with who already has the angles all figured out.” – Excerpt from How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid.

The most striking thing about this book is its structure. Modeled as a self-help book, How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is about the journey of a young man from abject poverty to being rich, well filthy rich, in the rising economy of an unnamed country of the Indian subcontinent. Divided into twelve chapters, each representing a phase of the life of the unnamed protagonist, and each based on an advice which the self-help book author is giving (avoid idealists, befriend a bureaucrat, don’t fall in love,etc.), the book is a very intelligent and well written satire on the contemporary urban life in the region.

This is probably the first novel I have read, where the entire story is told in a second person narrative mode (the self-help book author is talking to the unnamed protagonist, referring him as “you”). Further, none of the other characters have any names, they are just referred to as son, father, sister, pretty girl, wife etc. This unusual structure and writing style is the highlight of the book and makes it a must read for those interested in new and ingenious ways of constructing a narrative. 

On the flip side, what this novel really lacked was a well-formed plot. The story moves really fast, often skipping decades between chapters. Not enough time is spent on developing the characters and I was never able to emotionally connect with the two main ones – the protagonist and the pretty girl. I neither felt the pains of their struggles, nor the joys of their success. This left me slightly disappointed.

Bonus Material: Mohsin Hamid talking about the book:

PS: I received a complimentary copy of this book, in order to review it, from MySmartPrice Books. Know more about them here

Is Bollywood Finally Waking up to Indian Literature?


Some of my best and most memorable cinematic experiences in life involve movies based on novels/books. Be it the Lord of the Rings series, the Harry Potter series, Life of Pi, Pursuit of Happyness, Hunger Games, A beautiful Mind, and above all The Godfather – the list of such awesome movies is endless. There are few things in life which can match the joy one gets by seeing one’s favorite novel adapted into a good movie.  It is always exciting to compare the way you visually imagined the book with the way the director of the movie has done, put faces to the characters, see which portions of the book were dropped and what new elements (sub-plots, characters) were added. Watching Ang Lee’s Life of Pi was one of the happiest things I did last year.

The Movie and the Book

The Movie and the Book

Unfortunately  Bollywood, the Hindi film industry, has shown great reluctance in adapting literature, especially Indian literature. This has always surprised me, given the richness of India literature. There are so many great Indian novels which can be made into awesome movies. However, I can count good Hindi movies based on Indian novels on my fingers tips. Notable few are: Dev Anand’s Guide based on the novel of the same name by R. K. Narayan; Dev Benegal’s English August based on the novel English August: An Indian Story by Upamanyu Chatterjee; Devdas, Parinita, Swami and Choti Bahu based on various novels by Sarat Chandra ChattopadhyayShatranj ke khiladai based on a novel of the same name by Munshi Premchandra; and Train to Pakistan based on the novel by Khuswant Singh. (As per Wikipedia there are seventy such movies, including regional language movies – see complete list here)

Well, seems that the trend is changing. These days there is a lot of buzz in Bollywood around adapting Indian fiction to movies. We have Karan Johar planning to make a movie (probably a series) on Amish’s Shiva Trilogy. Another upcoming movie: “Banaras 1918 A love story” is based on Munshi Premchand’s “Baazar-e-Husn/Seva Sadan”. BA Pass (see trailer here) is based on the short story The Railway Aunty by Mohan Sikka (part of the Delhi Noir collection). A couple of Chetan Bhagat’s books have been/are being made into movies (Kai Po Che, Chennai Express, Hello). There were strong talk about Anurag Kashyap making a movie based on the “Doga” the title character from the Doga series of comics by Raj Comics.

The result may be good, bad or even ugly, but it’s really heartening to see that Bollywood is finally waking up to Indian Literature and hopefully in the coming years, we will see many more of our favorite Indian novels on-screen. Looking forward.

Book Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared


100 year old man Cover 1Allan interrupted the two brothers by saying that he had been out and about in the world and if there was one thing he had learned it was that the very biggest and apparently most impossible conflicts on earth were based on the dialogue: “You are stupid, no, it’s you who are stupid, no, it’s you who are stupid.” – Excerpt from The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared is an unusual, and quirky book. The main character, Allan, an explosion expert, has had an eventful life, paying an important role in some of the key events of the 20th century. Just before his 100th birthday celebration, out of boredom, he escapes from the old age home, unintentionally gets possession of big suitcase full of cash, and has both police and a bunch of gangsters after him. With no particular destination in mind, Allan wanders aimlessly, meets some crazy people during the journey, and has a hell of an adventure.    

This is a well written book with a very interesting story, although it’s not very believable. There are two separate tracks in the book – one narrating Allan’s current adventure while on run with the suitcase, the other about his younger days as an explosion expert with neutral political views caught in a world where capitalism and communism is at logger heads. Allan finds himself in the company of some of the most powerful political leaders (Stalin, Truman, Churchill, Mao) and has unknowingly been an important instrument in shaping the world as we see it today.

With Allan, Jonas may have created the coolest 100-year-old character of all times!! Even the other characters are awesomely idiosyncratic and funny.

The unique Scandinavian humor, characterized by its understatement and satire, is the highlight of this book. There were several line in the book that made me laugh out loud multiple times (to the amusement of people who happened to be in the vicinity).

This is my second Scandinavian book (The Dinner by Herman Koch being the first, see my review here) and I am totally floored by this type of humor.

It would have been an even better read, if it was a couple of pages less lengthy. Otherwise, it is a very enjoyable book.

PS: A film deal has been signed and we may see a movie version as early as the end of this year. Looking forward.

Book Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch


The Dinner is a psychological thriller written in Dutch as “Het diner” by Herman Koch and translated wonderfully to English by Sam Garrett.

It is the story of two families who are meeting over dinner to discuss the involvement of their sons in a well publicized act of crime. The fact that their sons were involved is not known to anyone apart from the families, although the crime itself, being recorded on camera and gone viral on the internet, has become a national sensation. Between the various courses of meals and the usual dinner time, banal discussions, the families are trying to decide their next course of action regarding their sons.

There are three thing about this book which are absolutely awesome. First, the characters of Paul Lohman (the narrator) and his wife Claire. The first few pages, they seem like an ordinary middle age couple. However, as the plot progresses, back and forth between the dinner and various past instances recalled by Paul, disturbing details about these characters are revealed. By the end, everything you knew and thought about Paul and Claire was wrong. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was another book having a similar character development trajectory. (See review here).

Secondly, this is a very intelligently structured book. Divided around the five courses of meals the couples are having, and in-between the discussions around the food, the ambiance, movies and other normal stuff people talk about during social dinners, bursts of unnerving information is revealed, mostly through flashbacks. The beauty of the book is when and how much is revealed.

And thirdly, the humor in the book. Dry, Dark, sarcastic and very understated, very scandinavian in nature. I just loved it.

Overall, a brilliant book. Highly recommended for those who appreciate good suspense.

PS: I received a complimentary copy of this book, in order to review it, from MySmartPrice Books. Know more about them here

Book Review: The City of Devi


The City of Devi, by Manil Suri, is the story of Sarita and Jaz, both in search of their love, who happens to be the same person, Karun, in a war ravaged and under nuclear attack threat Mumbai. Told alternatively from the points of view of Sarita and Jaz, the story is interesting and engaging. Karun, a physicist and a closet homo-sexual, is heart-broken after being betrayed by Jaz, reluctantly moves on and marries Sarita, a statistician. Although he loves and cares for her, their relationship is not like a typical couple. Jaz, on the other hand is still madly in love with him and wants him back. The relationship and the emotional dynamics between Karun and Jaz, Karun and Sarita, and Sarita and Jaz is very well and sensitively written. You really feel the emotional turmoil these characters are undergoing. Kudos to Manil for such a brilliant portrayal of these complex characters and their interactions.

Here is where the book could have been better – the whole set-up of pre- apocalyptic Mumbai. I expected more imagination and creativity here. The whole idea of a movie sparking extreme religious fanaticism which leads to intense riots between Hindus and Muslims and divides Mumbai into two parts – each dominated by one religion, seems far-fetched. Same for everyone blindly following a fake Devi and her antics. Also, except for Karun, Sarita and Jaz, other characters are not very strong, some are stereotyped caricatures, others are too shallow to bring any substance to the story.   

The book cover compares Manil Suri with Narayan, Coetzee, Naipaul, Chekov and Flaubert. He definitely is a good and promising author, but has a long way to go before such statements would start making sense.

Note: Homophobes would be better if they avoid this.

PS: I received a complimentary copy of this book, in order to review it, from MySmartPrice Books. Know more about them here

Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers


“As every slumdweller knew, there were three main ways out of poverty: finding an entrepreneurial niche, as the Husains had found in garbage; politics and corruption, in which Asha placed her hopes; and education. Several dozen parents in the slum were getting by on roti and salt in order to pay private school tuition.” Excerpt from Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Pulitzer Prize winning author Katherine Boo

Stunned. If I have to put it in one word, that would be my reaction to this book. Stunned by the devastatingly visceral narrative, stunned by the ruthless frankness in which the characters are portrayed, but above all, stunned to know that the book is not a work of fiction, but a true story. It is hard to believe that this is a true account of what Katherine saw while interacting with the inhabitants of Annawadi, a slum near the international airport in Mumbai.

Annawadi Slums in Mumbai

Annawadi Slums in Mumbai

Behind Beautiful Forevers is a very well written book which focuses on the lives of three families living in abject poverty in one of Mumbai’s many slums.  Katherine has come up with a very vivid portrayal of life in the slums, the hopes and dreams of the characters, the challenges faced by them and the interactions they have among themselves and with the world outside the slum. The characters of Abdul – the enterprising rag picker and Asha – aspiring to be the most powerful person in the slums, are particularly hard-hitting.

This is an exceptionally well written book. The fact that Katherine is not from India and does not understand the language spoken by the slum dwellers (she had to reply on translators), and yet she has written such a remarkable book based on their lives, is an ode to her journalistic and literary abilities.

This is one of the two outstanding non-fiction books I have read in the last couple of months, the other one being Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton

And yes, it would be a good idea to read the Author’s note at the end before starting the book.

PS: I received a complimentary copy of this book, in order to review it, from MySmartPrice Books. Know more about them here

Related Posts:Mumbai in Ink: Five Amazing Novels About Mumbai

Mumbai in Ink: Five Amazing Novels About Mumbai


Some stories are about people, some are about people living in a city, and some are about cities with people living in it. Most stories set up in Mumbai belong to the last category. The role played by Mumbai in the narrative is so powerful that it becomes an inseparable part of the story, one of the main characters, sometimes even more important than the main characters. Mumbai in these novels is not just a prop, it’s the hero (some times the villain), it is what defines these stories. Put Mumbai out of these, and they stories are dead.

Mumbai

My list of five such truly amazing novels on Mumbai:

As per Pat Conroy, “Gregory David Roberts does for Bombay what Lawrence Durrell did for Alexandria, what Melville did for the South Seas, and what Thoreau did for Walden Pond: He makes it an eternal player in the literature of the world.

When Salman Rushdie calls a book “Mumbai’s slum understood and imagined as never before in language of intense beauty.” you do not need to say anything else. This is an awesome book. Period.

Beautifully captures the credo about living in Mumbai “Only a man must want something; for everyone who lives here knows that the islands will shake, and the mortar of the city will dissolve, and Bombay will turn again into seven small stones glistening in the Arabian Sea, if it ever forgets to ask the question: What do you want?

Contains some of the best one liners about Mumbai. Sample these: “A city is only as thriving or sickly as your place in it. Each Bombayite inhabits his own Bombay.”; “Mumbai is a city in heat”; or “…the ethic of Bombay is quick upward mobility and a scam is a shortcut. A scam shows good business sense and a quick mind. Anyone can work hard and make money. What’s to admire about that? But a well-executed scam? Now, there’s a thing of beauty!”

This Booker prize nominated book is a brutal depiction of “the ugly Bombay – drug dens, prostitutes, etc.” See my review of Narcoplois here

Other notable mentions:

Book Review: Asura – Tale of the Vanquished


Asura: Tale of the Vanquished by Anand Neelakantan is the story of Ravan, the primary antagonist in the Hindu Mythological Epic Ramayan. Instead of portraying Ravan as a devil and Ram as a God incarnate, Anand has attempted to depict the human nature of the characters, which is more grey than either black or white. Anand has taken well-known mythological facts and weaved a very imaginative and ingenious story around it.

Ravan is one of the most fascinating characters in Indian Mythology. His character is much more nuanced than has been traditionally depicted. When I heard about this book on Ravan, telling his version of the story, I was truly excited and eager to read it.

However, this book did not match up to my expectations and this is in-spite of a very engaging and interesting story. This one’s undoing is its lax editing and poor characterization. The book is longer than it should have been and certain portions are extremely dull and boring, especially the first half. Further, the way Ravan’s character is developed is highly inconsistent. At times he is brave and knowledgeable, at times he is arrogant and acts like a fool, at times he is full of love and affection for his family, at times he insults and throws them out. There is nothing in the plot which can explain these inconsistencies, and this makes it really difficult to relate to the main character. Bhadra – the second main character and one of the narrators, also suffer from similar inconsistencies.

A good read if you are interested in Indian mythology, but definitely not something which will blow your mind.

PS: All said and done, the Shiva Trilogy by Amish remains the undisputed king of novels based on Indian Mythology.

Book Review: Narcopolis


Narcopolis

“Because, said Dimple, it isn’t the heroin that we’re addicted to, it’s the drama of the life, the chaos of it, that’s the real addiction and we never get over it; and because, when you come down to it, the high life, that is, the intoxicated life, is the best of the limited options we are offered – why would we choose anything else?” – Excerpts from Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

To be frank, Narcopolis is a complicated and difficult to read novel. The characters are complex, sentences go on for multiple pages, the narrative keeps shifting from one character to another and from one time period to another. Everyone may not like or enjoy it. There were portions of the novel where I lost track of what is happening and had to re-read some pages to understand it fully. However, once you get to know the characters well and get into the flow, the book is an absolute delight. It exposes the filthy and smelly underbelly of Bombay with a brutality that has never been attempted before.

Set in the infamous opium dens of Shuklaji Street in Bombay, it is a story of addiction with the city of Bombay as the protagonist  Supporting characters include Dom – the foreign returned junkie, Rashid – addict and owner of an opium den, Dimple/Zeenat – addict, eunuch prostitute who works at Rashid’s, Bengali – addict and employee at Rashid’s who has an opinion on everything from religion to politics to science, Mr. Lee – the Chinese addict and owner of another opium den, and Rumi – another addict (you get it – everyone is an addict). Through these characters Jeet has drawn a naked portrait of Bombay – ugly and nasty, yet so true. There isn’t any well-defined plot – just an amalgamation of various stories of related characters connected by the drug, the den and the city. Jeet is also a poet and the influence is clearly visible here. This influence has made his writing unique, one of the strongest points of this novel.

Narcopolis is the debut novel by Jeet Thayil. It was nominated by the 2012 Man Booker Prize. In his own words, Narcopolis is about Bombay of the 70’s and 80’s – the city of intoxication, where the substances on offer were drugs and alcohol, of course, but also god, glamour, power, money and sex. The book draws from his own experience as an addict.

PS: The novel is laden with foul language, violence and sexual content. Not suitable for underage readers, or for readers who are easily offended.

Book Review: Gone Girl


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

“I was told love should be unconditional. That’s the rule, everyone says so. But if love has no boundaries, no limits, no conditions, why should anyone try to do the right thing.” – Excerpt from Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Breathtakingly Fresh & Totally Awesome!! These four words sum up my views on this book!

Gone Girl is the story of Amy and Nick Dunne, a married couple of five years. Both of them, after having lost their jobs in New York, had to move back to Nick’s home town to take care of Nick’s sick parents. Amy mysteriously disappears on their fifth anniversary and Nick seems the prime suspect. However, as the plot unfolds, new secrets about the victim and the supposed perpetrator are revealed, literally turning the plot upside down.

Full of twists and turns and a couple of “Shawshank Redemption Moments”, I was not able to put it down once I started. Told from point of views of both Nick and Amy, and following a non-linear narrative, it is a very intelligently structured fiction. A well written book with really interesting characters – especially Amy’s (In her own words, Gillian specializes in difficult characters – damaged, disturbed, or downright nasty and Amy is a perfect example)

On the face of it, Gone Girl is a whodunit thriller set against the backdrop of a broken marriage. Peel off this layer and you will find that this is truly a story about relationships – a noir love story between a narcissist husband and a physco wife.

The novel is being adapted to a movie by 20th century fox. Eagerly looking forward.

PS: The book has some dark moments and a good amount of foul language.