Book Review – The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam


“History is the third parent.” – Opening line of The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam

I read this line. I re-read this line. I took a pause and inhaled. I read it again. This is one of the most powerful opening lines in recent times. And then I realized, this isn’t going to be an ordinary book. It is a piece of art, the kind of book which remains with you forever. It cannot be treated like an ordinary book. It has to be given the respect and reverence a masterpiece deserves. You have to read it slowly and attentively, savoring each and every sentence, some times re-reading portions to admire the elegant, poetic and beautiful writing.

The Blind Man’s Garden is story of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events – the aftermath of 9/11, USA’s attack on Afghanistan, the resultant rise of taliban and religious fundamentalism in Pakistan. Rohan is a religious Pakistani from Heer, a small town in Pakistan. He used to run a school, which has now been taken over by the fundamentalists. His doctor son Jeo, along with his close friend Mikal, sets off to Afghanistan to help the wounded civilians. However, they get entangled in the war there, Jeo get killed and Mikal captured by the tribal lords and handed over to the US military. Mikal and Naheed, Jeo’s wife, were in love before Naheed’s marriage to Jeo. There are multiple sub-plots, each character has its own story, however, Mikal’s journey back to his love Naheed forms the main plot.

It is a beautifully written book with very well itched out, realistic characters. The way the inner conflicts and turmoil of the characters is brought out by Nadeem is commendable.

The dialogues are deep and meaningful, sometimes you have to pause your reading to fully absorb them.

Highly recommended!!

Bonus Material: Nadeem Aslam taking 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

Book Review: Trail of the Chupacabra by Stephen Randel


Trail  of Chupacabra by Stephen Randel

Trail of the Chupacabra by Stephen Randel is the story of Avery, an eccentric and quirky geek/explorer, who enters Mexico in search of the mythical animal – Chupacabra. His companions in this adventure are Zippy, a burnt out hippy and a crazy private militia (called as “Southwest Texas Revolutionary Armed Confederate Border Operations Militia STRAC-BOM”; headed by General x-Ray). It is about how they get entangled in the rivalry between the feared drug lord Padre, his enemy Barquero and the Mexican army, and how they eventually come out of it.

The premise of the story is interesting and has a potential to be a highly entertaining book. There are two parallel tracks – Avery’s search of the chupacabra and Barquero’s revenge on the Padre. The two tracks merge towards the end of the book resulting in a superb climax. However, the undoing of the book is its uni-dimensional characters. While funny and hilarious to start with, almost all the key characters (Avery, Ziggy, General X ray etc.) become repetitive after some time. Even the humor (Avery’s complaint letters to the authorities, Ziggy histrionics, and STRAC-BOM’s stupidity) feels stale.

To summarize, Trail of the Chupacabra is the kind of book which can be harmlessly browsed through if you have spare time and nothing better to do. However, you may not like to take out time specifically to read it.

PS: I received a complementary copy of this book in order to review it.

How to Write a Book Review?


The best way to write a review is as if you are telling a dear friend about the book. You are not “reviewing” the book and passing a judgement about it being good or bad or trying to give it a rating score (4/5, 8/10, etc.). It should be a much more intimate experience. Like you are discussing the book with a buddy, talking about what you liked, what you did not like, how you felt while reading it, would you want your friend to read it, what do you think about the author, her style, etc.

Conversations are not about the number of words in it, do you start a discussion thinking – I will cover this topic is 500 words? Similarly, reviews should not be about its word count. Tell what you want to tell – no matter how many or few words it take.

The structure you should follow depends on the book and on you – for some books, you may want to start with  the author, for some with the narrative, you may want to talk about the characters first for some, or may be an absolutely brilliant dialogue can become your starting point. What ever you think can start an interesting conversation.

Also, the most important thing to remember is that you are not selling the book, you are helping someone make a choice whether to commit his time and money to read it. As with a friend, be very frank, highlight both the good and the bad points and leave the decision to the reader. This frankness is something you owe to your readers – and you have no obligations (to give a positive review) to author, publishers, PR guys – even if they have provided you a review copy. 

Books and buddies

Books and buddies

Writing reviews should make you as happy as discussing books with friends. Enjoy your next review, the way you enjoy chatting about a book with you buddies over a cup of coffee.

Kindle Single Review: Fox 8 – A Story


This is a very unconventionally written book, where the narrator is a fox who has recently learned human language and his story telling is characterized by improper grammar and abundant typos. Fox 8 is a story about a fox who gets exposed to humans and learns their language by listening to stories told by human mothers to their kids. When the jungle in which the fox lives is destroyed by the construction of a mall, the fox reaches out to humans to seek help, establish a fox-human connection. However, as he tries to come closer to them, the ugly side of humans is revealed, turning his life upside down.

As the fox says – “Why did the curator do it so rong, making the groop with the gratest skils the meenest?” So true.

Good and enjoyable, as well as thought-provoking.

Fox 8: A Story is a Kindle single written by George Saunders, the New York times best seller author of the short story collection – Tenth of December

Kindle Single Review: In the Tunnel


“There is light in the dark, too,” she said. “The kind you can’t see unless you’re in the dark.” – Excerpt from In the Tunnel by Takamichi Okubo

Two people are trapped in absolute darkness after their bus meets an accident midway in a long tunnel. One of them is on the verge of committing suicide, the other works as a councellor for a suicide prevention hotline. Most of the story is in the form of conversations between the two characters as they struggle to get out of the tunnel, filling fast with smoke after the accident and resulting fire/explosion. The author has brilliantly used darkness as a metaphor for the painful past of the survivors. Trapped, injured and with no immediate chance of rescue, there is still hope for them by the end of the story. Real hope – the kind which comes from within.

Takamichi is definitely an author to look out for.

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

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: 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