Sunday, December 31, 2006

Books reviewed in 2006

Monday, December 25, 2006

Poetry meme

Thanks Lotus, for tagging me for this. I enjoyed doing this..:)

1. The first poem I remember reacting to was:

Will you come into my parlour said the spider to the fly..
I cannot forget it ever. It was my first exposure to duplicity. Here it is for all of you:

The Spider And The Fly by
Mary Howitt (1799-1888)

"Will you walk into my parlor?" said the spider to the fly;
"'Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you may spy.
The way into my parlor is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show when you are there."
"Oh no, no," said the little fly; "to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."

"I'm sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high.
Well you rest upon my little bed?" said the spider to the fly.
"There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest a while, I'll snugly tuck you in!"
"Oh no, no," said the little fly, "for I've often heard it said,
They never, never wake again who sleep upon your bed!"

Said the cunning spider to the fly: "Dear friend, what can I do
To prove the warm affection I've always felt for you?
I have within my pantry good store of all that's nice;
I'm sure you're very welcome - will you please to take a slice?"
"Oh no, no," said the little fly; "kind sir, that cannot be:
I've heard what's in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!"

"Sweet creature!" said the spider, "you're witty and you're wise;
How handsome are your gauzy wings; how brilliant are your eyes!
I have a little looking-glass upon my parlor shelf;
If you'd step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself."
"I thank you, gentle sir," she said, "for what you're pleased to say,
And, bidding you good morning now, I'll call another day."

The spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly fly would soon come back again:
So he wove a subtle web in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready to dine upon the fly;
Then came out to his door again and merrily did sing:
"Come hither, hither, pretty fly, with pearl and silver wing;
Your robes are green and purple; there's a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!"

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer grew,
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes and green and purple hue,
Thinking only of her crested head. Poor, foolish thing! at last
Up jumped the cunning spider, and fiercely held her fast;
He dragged her up his winding stair, into the dismal den -
Within his little parlor - but she ne'er came out again!

And now, dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words I pray you ne'er give heed;
Unto an evil counselor close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale of the spider and the fly.

2. I was forced to memorize (name of poem) in school and...

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright by William Blake. I simply loved the imagery.

“The Tyger”

Tyger, Tyger. burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye.
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, or what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat.
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

3. I read poetry because....
I have too. I read classics to modern. Anything, everything. I have vast and varied taste. It depends on my mood.

4. A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is ....

Too many. But I think my favourite is by John Clare:

I Am by John Clare

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows
My friends forsake me like a memory lost,
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love's frenzied, stifled throes—
And yet I am, and live—like vapors tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
Even the dearest, that I love the best,
Are strange—nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes, where man hath never trod,
A place where woman never smiled or wept—
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling, and untroubled where I lie,
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

5. I write/don't write poetry, but..............

I do write poetry. I started out as a short story writer and don't know how I graduated to poetry. Words just flow without any reason and I have to write no matter what. I can't do without words:

I only exist without it
Poetry gives me direction,
imagination and perception.

7. I find poetry.....
Everywhere. Things I love, things I hate. In mundane things, in nature, in you, in name it, I see it.

8. The last time I heard poetry....
At a poetry meet organised inter school last month in Delhi. I enjoyed poetry reading very much.

9. I think poetry is like....
soul food. I cannot live without it. I have to read it and write when muse strikes me.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I had picked this book long time back. I only got around reading it recently. After I finished it, I felt nothing has changed. A woman is still dubbed a scarlet one if she has a child outside of marriage while the man goes free. People are as fond of gossip now as they were ever before. It still interests people, who is sleeping with whom.

The novel is set in the 17th century. It was written by Hawthorne in 1850. A touching human story of a time that makes us wonder how far religious and moral extremes could take us.

The novel opens with Hester being led to the scaffold where she is publicly shamed for having committed adultery. Hester is forced to wear the letter "A" on her gown at all times. Hester carries Pearl, her daughter, with her. On the scaffold, she is asked to reveal the name of Pearl's father, but she refuses. Though her husband comes to the town, he tells her not to let it be known that they are related in anyway.

Hester moves into a cottage near the woods where she lives with her daughter Pearl. She redeems herself in the eyes of the village people by her austere and virtuous living. She with her quiet behaviour goes on about her work as a seamstress who mainly stitches funeral gowns initially. Though she goes on loving the man with whom she had the child, she cannot name him as he is a man of repute who holds a great esteem in the eyes of the people. Hester’s husband, a cold-hearted man described as “having successfully turned himself into a fiend by taking on the office of one,” moves forward with his plan of revenge.

Hawthorne’s writing is very refreshing and real. Making good use of magic realism and vivid imagery, he portrays the Puritan mindset so well that we are drawn into the world of 17th century New England complete with witches who fly on broomsticks, people who meet the Devil in the woods and a scarlet letter “A” imprinted in the flesh of Hester’s secret lover.

Despite its gloomy message, The Scarlet Letter is also a story of passion and the will to survive. In Hester, we find a woman of great courage. Who bears her punishment with fortitude. Her very exclusion from her town is as much a blessing as a punishment. Marked as an adulteress, she no longer needs to abide by society’s rigid expectations and strict morality. Her lover, on the other hand, is forced to deny his desire, his needs and even his humanity because he would not choose Hester’s fate.

This book contains a message that is as relevant and poignant as the day it was written. It’s as much about the abuses of women in a society too rigid in its moral and religious ideals to still be human as it is about two people’s will to survive. With the vivid imagery, magic realism and the profound symbolism, The Scarlet Letter is a must-read for anyone concerned about society, values and the right to be human.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Strange Pilgrims is a collection of short stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, written over a period of eighteen years.These short stories depict the day by day mystic and beautiful expediency that has made the Nobel Prize-winning author so engaging. All the twelve stories involve Latin American characters that are peripatetic throughout Europe. While some stories may strike the reader as being quite peculiar, others will flummox while demonstrating the splendour of the human spirit. The stories take us on a journey of sort. A whole gamut of emotions and feelings run through us while we reading the unusual stories.

A father moves with the body of his daughter who is just beautiful in death as she was in life, for her to be declared a saint. It’s father love at the ultimate. Then there is an ex-president who is expected to die and is looked after a couple who have little money to spare. A young sent to an asylum for no fault of hers. A panicked husband rushes his wife to a Parisian hospital for treatment of a cut finger, but never sees her again. A man on an overseas plane flight preoccupied in thought about the beauty of a lady passenger as she soundly sleeps next to him. An elderly prostitute trains her obedient puppy to weep at her grave because she has a haunting premonition about her own death and has no one other than the dog to cry at her death. In one story, two little boys experiment with light flowing as water.

Marquez displays his penchant for bringing to mind curiosity in the reader through his use of colourful description and captivating characters. Strange Pilgrims proves, once again, that Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the greatest storytellers of our time. The title of the book is apt as the reader indeed feels as if he is embarking on a pilgrim albeit a strange one.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The first books that came into my mind after I was tagged for this "Book Meme"

I have been tagged by lotus reads for this book meme. I usually do not play for tags. But this one I will play along. Only because I read hell of a lot. My compulsive buying of books is more than my reading power. Too many books lying around to be read. Here I enumerate the first ones that come into my mind. I know I will not be able to do justice to this. But what the hell!

1. One book that changed your life?

Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. After reading that book, I quit thinking one person cannot change the world. One single entity can if she/he is determined enough. I read it the first time when I was 17 years old. I was half in love with Howard Roark for a long time afterwards. Maybe I am still searching for him. A must read book. I feel one must read all of Rand's book like I have done.

2. One book you have read more than once?

There are too many books, I read more than once. Three men in a boat by Jerome K. Jerome takes the cake though. I must have read it numerous times. I simply cannot get over it. It's too hilarious to be put down after you start it.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It sustains interest throughtout and is a great story of courage and survival. I need to read it yet again. What better place than a desert island?

4. One book that made you cry?

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It brings tears into my eyes even if I pick it up now. Very powerful touching kind of book.

5. One book that made you laugh?

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller is a satire of the times which has the power to make us laugh at human foibles and failings. Very intellectual kind of book with underlying humour and irony!

6. One book you wish had been written?

About how not to follow religion blindly by Pope Benedict! For obvious reasons!

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus by John Gray. It is too cliched for the likes of me! One book I wish I had never bought. If I ever see John Gray, I will kill him with my bare hands.

8. One book you are currently reading?

Infact I am reading three books all at the same time. I always do.

The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishguro.

The unbearable Burden of Lightness by Milan Kundera. It is my 5th book by Kundera. It is as interesting as the others that I have read.

The scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I got this book for a long time now. I got around to reading it now. As they say, better late than never.

I plan to write reviews for all three after I finish those.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

The original version of Kamasutra by Vatsayan. Too many copies circulating. I want nothing but the best! Mind you, it's not a book on sexul positions. It is a treatise on love and sensuality.


These are just a few of the books I have read, am reading and mean to read. I left out most of the non-fiction, political commentaries and silly detective novels(that I simply love!). Not to forget poets. I can only write so much here!

I enjoyed doing this. How could I miss a good thing? Thanks for tagging me, Lotus!

Am I supposed to tag too? Let me think! Ok, I tag homo escapeons, within without, jon aristides, Ghost Particle, frontier editor and david Israel. Hope you play it. If you don't it's ok with me!

But do indulge me!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden

John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” is a fascinating book that traces out story of two generations of two families whose lives are somehow interlinked. We can say that its by chance rather than design. Their lives are correlated to land and nature as was the norm in those times and even now we can see that in our world. In that way nothing has changed in all those years. The rebuilding of the man in the face of adversity, the tenacity of mind and body, mind eternally seeking and questioning, trying to find answers for his faith and belief and in some case just acceptance.

Are we not all questing to find answers about ourselves, our convictions or about the paradox called life?

It has well etched characters….so well that we can identify with them.

LEE: I think he is one of best character in the book. He is unlike any other servant. He himself says that a servant can be the master of the man he is serving. But we never see him imposing on Adam Trask at any place. He is more of a family to them than anyone else. He is the one who brings up Cal and Aron single handedly. It is he who keeps them together. He is practical, down to earth and lots of philosophy going inside him. Even when he leaves for his dream bookstore, we want him to come back as soon as he leaves. He does come back when he realizes that it is only thing he wants and they are the only family he ever had. Hence we see him unpacking his things and making a home for himself. It is he who teaches about choices and from him we learn that it is what we want ourselves to be and not the blood, which flows within us. His study of the Old Testament goes much beyond mere academic interest. He reminds us of Timshel----“thou Mayest.”

LISA: Somehow she made a great impression in my mind. Loaded with faith, belief, practicality and hard work, she knew how to look after her large family. She with her no frills, no nonsense attitude reminds me of the matriarchs of our own land. As long as there is plenty of food on the table, other things did not bother her. She kept her family together and accepted life and death, as they should be.

TOM and DESSI are like any other brother and sister…. loving and affectionate. Despite that they could not communicate with each other as both had a few demons to slay and did not want the other to worry about those. Maybe if they had shared, both would have lived. Maybe….who knows…

CAL and ARON: of the twins Cal is more interesting. He behaves like any other sibling in the circumstances where he knows that his brother is more loved and favoured. Just one look at Aron, everyone loves him but Cal has to fight for it. Most of us have gone through these phases in some way or the other. So we can identify with him. Best thing about Cal is, he knows what he does is wrong but in his jealousy he does not realize it. It comes later after the deed is done. He has deep love for his father and his twin, Aron. He does not hate his mother either. He is simply indifferent towards her.

Aron lives in a world of his own. Where everything is perfect. Only goodness and brightness prevails. Even the girl he loves is perfect in his eyes with no flaws. He cannot accept imperfection. He cannot accept that his mother is a whore. He seeks escape the only way he knows by joining the army.

CATHY/KATE: Much has been written about her. She being evil, a monster, what drove her to it no one knows. But we do see flashes of loneliness. I think even she was not aware of those. In her world, there is no place for any one other than herself…no one and nothing. She is beyond redemption.

Like in this timeless novel, East of Eden, we can still find people just like those. We have Sams, Lees, Adams, Charles, Lisas, Toms, Cals, Arons and above all Cathys amongst us. Good and evil have to coexist or how do we distinguish one from the other. If there is GOD, there is SATAN too.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

I finished reading yet another book about the holy grail. It seems to be one of the favourite topic for most writers. Coming after The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, this book holds on its own. This is Kate Mosse's third novel.

In this elaborate thriller Labyrinth, two women strangly mysteriously linked across eight centuries, take up the search to find the legendary Holy Grail and guard its secrets from those who would use its power for evil ends. Kate Mosse spins an electrifying story of intrigue and hazard, with female characters who don't wait for men to lead. With valour and shrewdness, they plunge headlong into the everlasting search for truth. In this grail quest, women aren't helpless creatures to be rescued by knights in shining armour. They hold on their own, are central to the action, with the capability to change the course of history. The villains, in both eras too, are women. The climactic moments where the good and evil women are face to face and fight it out is very gripping...

Story in a nutshell:

July 1209: in Carcassonne, France, a young girl is given one of the three secret books, by her father which he claims contains the secret of the true Grail. Although Alaïs cannot understand the strange words and symbols hidden within, she memorises them and knows that she must protect it. It takes great sacrifice and lots of faith on her part to keep the secret of the labyrinth safe - a secret that stretches back thousands of years to the deserts of Ancient Egypt . . .

July 2005: Alice Tanner, a British Volunteer, stumbles upon two skeletons during an archaeological dig in the mountains outside Carcassonne. Inside the hidden cave where two skeletons lie crumbling, she experiences an overwhelming sense of malevolence, as well as a creeping understanding and familiarity. She can somehow make sense of the mysterious ancient words carved into the rock. Though she cannot comprehend fully, Alice realises she is trapped in a terrifying sequence of events for which she has no control and her destiny is somehow linked with the fate of the Cathars 800 years before.

Their stories are told in alternating chapters as both take utmost care to hide and protect their secrets. As history unfolds over the centuries, both find themselves entangled in the history and evil that surrounds them. The novel moves between past and present, one life reflecting and mirroring the other. Most of the characters in both eras are mirrored.

As one might expect of a labyrinth, it turns out that there are truths beyond the truths sought. There are twists and turns, memories to be retrieved and reclaimed, lovers' misunderstandings to be reconciled, fragments of the past to be salvaged and old betrayals to be, very satisfyingly, revenged. It has all these and more ingredients for a good novel.

Mosse's love of the location around Carcassonne is clear from her generous descriptions of the city and the surrounding countryside; and her research into the details of the historical facts and language is markedly wide-ranging. The novel does hold attention till the end despite some loose ends.

Also reviewed by

Susan B Evans

Friday, June 30, 2006

A Passage to India by E M Forster

I read "A Passage to India" by E.M.Forster more than 2 decades back. This was one of the novels prescribed for in the English Elective syllabus in my 12th std. I had read that from the exam point of view. I picked it up again after 23 years. I had a different perception than before. Previously I had done only character studies. This time I could see it in a broader perspective.

The social structure of India under the British Raj has been portrayed very vividly in this book.The eternal clash between the East and the West, and prejudices and misunderstandings has been brought out very well.

All the three religions, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity have been shown to co-exist with each other. A Passage to India has all the dimensions of political situation, psychological effects and different religions. Christianity, though adequate for normal relationship and practical affairs, is too sallow for deeper human relationships. Islam is a faith that is more aesthetic and cultural than a binding spiritual faith. Hinduism does not guide the daily conduct of affairs. This is what is very interesting. Forster could bring out the positive as well as the negative aspects of the different religions so well.

This book has been dubbed anti-British for obvious reasons as the author tends to have a sympathetic view of the Indian under British Raj.

A passage to India concerns the relations between the English and the native population of India during the colonial period in which Britain ruled India. The novel takes place primarily in Chandrapore, a city along the Ganges River notable only for the nearby Marabar caves. The main characters are: Aziz, a Muslim doctor; Godbole, a Hindu Professor; Fielding, the head master of the government college ; Ronald Heaslop, another British official: Mrs Moore and Adela Quested, two visitors from Britain. The relationship between he Indians and the British official speaks a lot about the then British Raj. The British official is ever sceptical of the well-meaning Indian.

Forster ends A Passage to India with a bittersweet reconciliation between Aziz and Fielding, but also with the realization that the two cannot be friends under contemporary conditions. Aziz makes an important concession when he admits that Adela was brave to withdraw her charges, and expresses regret for the aftermath of the Marabar expedition. Aziz thus completes a movement from kindness and generosity of spirit to bitter and cynicism and back. Fielding, in contrast, realizes that he is in fact a true Englishman and belongs among his own race; to defy his race and maintain an active friendship with Aziz would be just, but not pragmatic. This brings back the theme of responsibilities and limitations of racial identity, as Fielding accepts the sacrifices he must make to retain his English identity. In this manner Forster ends A Passage to India as a tragic but platonic love story between the two friends, separated by different cultures and political climates.

Forster does not express any definitive political standpoint on the sovereignty of India in his book. Fielding suggests that British rule over India, if relinquished, would be replaced by a different sovereign that would be perhaps worse than the English. However, Aziz does make the point that it is British rule in India that prevents the two men from remaining friends. Forster thus indicates that British rule in India creates significant problems for India, but does not offer an easy or concrete solution.

Forster's description of the city of Chandrapore in the opening chapter creates interest to read further as one can visualise the scene unfolding before one's eyes.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Just Beyond by Anjan Ray

I was kind of thrilled just looking at the title. That’s because I do have had somewhat similar experiences. I have never analysed my weird experiences. They just happen just like that with out any warning. Shall I say those are warning enough for what’s going to happen? How does one explain the unexplainable?

As Anjan puts it, most or very much real, supernatural, and unnatural or “Just Beyond…" After I started it, I couldn’t put it down. It held my attention till the end. I could relate to some, identify with a few and did not understand the rest.I can believe it when Anjan mentions that these are based on true episodes. There are certain things which do happen are beyond the realms understanding but are true nevertheless.

Let me take the stories one by one.

Seaside Story: Makes us believe in fairy tales. My grandfather, and now my maternal uncle do possess one such depressed shell with a legend behind it.

Homecoming: Life comes full circle, even after death. Power of destruction persists even after several lifetimes.

The Beach of Bodies: Murugan too has his revenge. How? Read the story!

Blooming Buds: Those blooming roses set her free. Free to do what she desires. The roses do not fade just like her feelings. So finally she can……

Maxine from Melmore: Now this story made me uneasy because something like this happened to me some time back. Why? How? I will never find the answers.

The Hand that Rocked the Cradle: this is one of the best stories in this collection. Now who rocked the cradle is debatable. Leaves it open for the readers to speculate….

Clean: Scared the hell out of me! Diabolical!

Pine Tree: A great love story which sustains beyond life!

In Search of the Lost Chord: Did he get it? Why? How?

Bird in Fight: Narration is very good but ending is expected. I salute the eagle!

The Coffee-Maker: A machine behaving erratically only for certain individuals. Kind of let down. But I loved the ending. Very fitting.

Monday Miracle: It has happened to me, though not to this extent. That’s all I can say.

The Influential Confluence: First, loved the title! And Mahesh’s faith and belief is what makes this one stand out.

Animal Instinct: Simply loved this! Maybe the unusual friendship between the boy and the tiger is so endearing! It somehow seems so plausible. How we all love Mowgli!

A Helping Hand: Ready with his help. How? That’s to be read.

The medicine Man: Same as above but is a different story told in entirely different way, in an entirely different situation.

The Voice of the River: Fitting poem for this book, as Anjan himself says.

The Tishomingo Tapestry: Great story in the tapestry! Suspense is sustained till the end!

Swan Song: Teaches us to trust in love or else……

That’s about it all. I have tried not to let out the endings in any story. I do not want to spoil it for any reader. Anjan Ray spins it very well. His narration is too good. You can almost see, feel and smell the places he has described. Be it India or any other place, one feels as if he/she is there where it unfolds. All in all a good read.

So folks, what’s stopping you? Who know “Just Beyond…” might you be there, just beyond...?


Just Beyond: Short Stories
by Anjan Ray. Stellar Om Books International. Pages 251. Rs 195

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Identity by Milan Kundera

Finished reading “Identity” by Milan Kundera some time back. It’s one thin book. What is most interesting about his books is the way in which his characters are so realistic, how much they think, wonder, and speculate about things. Their interplay is very absorbing as can be seen within some of the predisposed dreams of various characters.

Identity is the most important thing for anyone in this in the world. It is what sets us apart from others. It’s our private domain.

In this book, for the two lovers, Chantal and Jean-Marc, their identities are as open as possible but still in their imaginations, they see a different person. Maybe it is the way we see others. Despite being very exposed about our identity to our loved one, we still have certain notions. The person maybe, is an open book but it might not seem so to us. What I like about the book is that the same situation has been told twice in different perspectives. That’s what is very interesting. And after reading it I had a different outlook apart from that of both the perceptions.

Jean-Marc knows that Chantal is his only link to the happiness in this world so he constantly worries about her, wants to make her happy always. He is afraid that she might get away from him. He does not really know her as he feels she isn’t what she seems. He doesn’t want the link between them to be lost. But he doesn’t know how to make her hold on to him. He does what he thinks is right and it kind of drives her away from him. And Chantal is on a look out for the identity of an anonymous admirer who sends her letters. The anonymous admirer keeps on writing about her and not a word about himself. She has this feeling that only he understands her. Not Jean-Marc. Now what happens after that……I can hardly tell it all.

One very important aspect I liked about the book is where Chantal thinks that we are not free from anything. We are constantly being hounded. Even in the womb, we are probed. Even after death, at times burial can’t escape speculations. One can be exhumed and quested upon. Only escape from it all is the crematory fire.

There are other nuggets too…..