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: The Mine by Arnab Ray


“Makes you wonder if God himself is evil? Or whether what we consider the design of the devil is actually nothing but the will of God?” – Excerpt from The Mine by Arnab Ray (aka Greatbong).

To begin with, this book is a very bold attempt. I don’t remember having seen a novel in this genre by a mainstream Indian author. Such disturbingly dark pieces of art (movies/fiction/art etc.) are generally not well appreciated. As Indians, probably, we are not very comfortable with someone showing us the mirror. So, hats off to Arnab for this attempt.

The Mine has an interesting and engrossing story, one of those which is difficult to put down before finishing. Five experts are called to investigate some strange events happening in a hi-tech and secret mining facility, following the discovery of an ancient temple. The investigation soon turns out to be a battle for survival where each one has to face not only the diabolic traps and decoys in the mine but also demons from their past. The basic premise seems inspired by the SAW series of movies.

The characters are not mould in the usual black and white, every character is grey, some more grey than the others, and each one has a shady back story. These stories are cleverly revealed as the narrative progresses, interlinking the past lives of the characters. At the end, everything fits perfectly completing a dark jigsaw puzzle of the basest human emotions. The revelations in the last few pages, when you think that the worst is already over, are particularly chilling.

Read this one because of the eccentric characters (you will rarely find such a group in one novel together), because it is a bold and, potentially, a genre creating attempt, and because this is nothing like Greatbong we all know.

PS: Not recommended for faint hearts

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.

Kindle Single Review: A Face in the Crowd


Dean Evers, an old widower who lives alone, spends most of his time watching baseball games on television. Then he starts seeing familiar faces from his past in the game crowd. These are people who are long gone and each of them reminds him of some guilt or regret from his past life. Things take an interesting turn when he sees himself sitting in the crowd.

To be very frank, King is an acquired taste, and not everyone enjoys or appreciates his writings. I have always been very ambivalent towards his writings. Some of his works are magnificent (like the dark tower series), others – I do not find anything great about them.

This story – it is gripping and enjoyable. Some readers may find the ending abrupt, but I liked it. The loneliness and pain of an old man living alone is presented in a heart warming way.

Although a good read, it is not a masterpiece which will sweep you off your feet.

A face in the crowd is a Kindle Single by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan. Around 43 pages in length, King fans will find it to be an engaging read which can be completed in one lazy afternoon.

Breathtaking Trailer: Life of Pi


Life of Pi is one of the novels which I always considered “un-film-able”. I mean most of it is just a boy and a tiger in a boat with limitless sea all around. As gripping and exciting the story is (I am currently reading it for the second time and enjoying every moment of it), I was never able to imagine a movie out of it.

Over the past couple of years, there were lot of rumors around a film based on this novel, various directors (M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuarón, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet) came on board and then dropped off. Each failed attempt strengthened my belief that Life of Pi is one of those great novels which will never be recreated on-screen. Yet some part of me always yearned for a movie adaptation.

When I saw this awesome trailer of the adaptation by Ang Lee, and I was overwhelmed. Slightly over two minutes, there isn’t a single dialog in the trailer, yet it conveys so much.

I think it takes a rare artistic arrogance to take up such a job. But then, this is how masterpieces are created.

This is one of my most awaited movies for 2012.

Life of Pi is a Man Booker price winning, international best-selling novel written by Yann Martel. The movie is directed by Ang Lee and releases on November 21, 2012.

Kindle Single Review: Don’t Eat Cat


Quirky and unusual (which does not necessarily mean good), is how I would describe this story.

It is  a story of a man’s relationship with his girlfriend in a futuristic world where man and zombies coexist (mostly) peacefully.

The starting was good. Description of the future lifestyle was interesting, some portions were funny, but the end was a sure let down.

It am not sure what the story wanted to be: humorous? sc-fi? dystopian fiction? emotional drama? It tried being all and ended up being none.   Also, it would have been better if more time/ space would have been spent on developing the characters.

To summarize, this was not one of the better Kindle Singles I have read.

Don’t eat cat is a Kindle Single written by Jess Walter. Less than 22 pages in length, it can be easily completed in 30 mins.

Book Review: Gold by Chris Cleave


“Caring for sick children is the Olympics of parenting”  – Excerpt from Gold by Chris Cleave

I had heard a lot about Chris’s earlier novels Little Bee and Incendiary. When I saw this novel available for pre-order, I was not able to stop my self and booked it immediately.

Gold is the story of cyclists – Zoe and Kate, two dramatically distinct personalities who have been competing against each other over the last 13 years. Zoe is obsessed about winning and can go to any extent for victory. She is so consumed by her hunger for winning that there is little else left in her life. Kate, on the other hand is Keep Reading…