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Book Review: The Secret of the Nagas by Amish Tripathi

Posted in books, fiction with tags , on October 22, 2011 by sunshin3girl

For once I am glad that I started reading the first book in the Shiva Trilogy over a year late, for it meant I could pick up the second book immediately. After an inspiriting read about Shiva’s journey to Ayodhya in the first book, The Secret of the Nagas begins on a comparatively lower note. We have moved from Meluha to Swadeep now, which is the land of the Chandravanshis.

This books takes Shiva and the readers through a lot of river-cruises, battles, and a tad slow-paced episodes of meeting new characters.

The book picks up some pace in the placid city of Kashi, which welcomes all with an open heart including the otherwise dreaded Brangas. Shiva and Sati fall in such love with the serenity of the city that they decide to have their baby in Kashi, with this we see the coming of Kartik, a character that will hopefully be explored in book 3. From here, Shiva goes on a separate voyage in search of the Nagas, as Sati stays back to care for her new born baby. This short separation results in significant events and appearance of new splendid characters, resulting in some action-packed drama when Shiva returns. This is the point, where the book gets lively and sucks the reader in once again.

The author, however, gets pulled into different subplots every now and then, and fluctuates between seemingly insignificant details and insipid affairs. In this sense, I would rate the first book much higher than the second, as it appeared to be a game changer. Having said that, I do make a note that sequels are definitely hard to write. But the loosely connected incidents give readers a chance to pay more attention to the writing style and what is missing from it, something I personally did not pay much attention to while reading The Immortals of Meluha.

However, the story does move forward, we meet some grand Naga characters, uncover some deceits, go deeper into the philosophy of evil being embedded in the good, and the eventful journey of the ends in the Dandak forests, the land of the Nagas. The last paragraph of the book reveals the secret of the nagas, however, you may guess it somewhere in the first half of the book. Still, you would wish to read on.

On a not-so-important side note, I am disappointed by the cover of the second book. While the cover of the first had me completely captivated, the second pays immense importance to the embossed snake, while the nagas or Shiva seem to have nothing to do with them.

Despite some negative comments for the second book, I will maintain that the author knows his story and has a control over its flow. A good reason for me to wait for the third book – The Oath of the Vayuputras.


Book Review: The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi

Posted in books, fiction with tags , on October 21, 2011 by sunshin3girl

India is full of folklore and mythology; every religion, every historical book, every grandmother has millions of tales to tell. Sometimes the history and the mythology/folklore blends so closely that we divide in opinions and debate over it. With all this, it is a surprise, that there are such few Indian fantasy books borrowing from our mythology.

The Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi is one such brilliant attempt. The first book in the series, The Immortals of Meluha, is a fresh take on Lord Shiva whom we meet regularly in temples and shivalyas, but have never had such a fantastic vision of.

Amish has picked one of the most multifaceted Gods from Hindu mythology to weave his tale about. He takes a God we believe in and turns him into an ordinary man, then tells a tale of how the ordinary man transforms into a God due to his conduct, choices, deeds, and destiny. He tells a fascinating tale of the characters we have grown up hearing of and brings them all to life, molding their characters as per his story’s requirement. It is a heady cocktail of mythology as we know it and fantastic tale of his own. In no way could one consider this book a religious book though.

The book starts off with a young tribal leader in Tibet, who is cheerful, carefree, and yet dedicated and strong in both mind and body. His courage makes him highly respected among his tribe of Gunas, and hence, no one questions his decision to move away from Mansarovar and migrate Meluha for a better life.

Meluha is a region so advanced that it has the barbarians from Tibet in awe. In the well-planned, near-perfect capital of Meluha begins the journey of Shiva that transforms his life and leads him to his destiny.

As the secrets of Meluha slowly reveal themselves to Shiva, he finds himself with a new title – Neelkanth – and millions of blind followers. This gives him both power and responsibility, the balance between the two is what Shiva strives to maintain. Shiva is now expected to fight the evil Chandravanshis and their aides, Nagas.

In the city of Devagiri, Shiva makes friends, and gains some foes, but he also finds the love of his life – the perfect woman, full of courage and beauty – Sati. He learns about the lifestyle, history, and principals of the Suryavanshis, the decedents of Lord Ram. Shiva admires and respects Lord Ram’s teachings and rules, but he does not hesitate to question their validity in current times.

Will he be able to rid Meluha off the evil terrorists? Of course, he is Shiva! But with the victory, he will also find himself surrounded by disarray of beliefs, and questioning his own actions. Is evil a relative expression?

The book’s biggest strength is how it plucks the mythological characters from the epics and plants them into the tale with fitting characters, but still ensures that they are all humans. The subplots tell tales of Vasudevs, Sati, Nandi, Gunas, Daksh, Rudra, Devas and Asuras, and more making it strikingly clear that everyone, including Gods, can make mistakes. The narrative is lucid and the story is well-paced, and while I am not a fan of the cliffhanger at the end (it could have been done better. We all know Parvati cannot die while she is pregnant!), I wouldn’t complain too much.

The language used is fairly simple, but the fascinating narrative makes up for it. All in all, a well-written book with a refreshing view that made me pick up the sequel within two days.

Book Review: Man and Boy by Tony Parsons

Posted in books with tags , on August 1, 2011 by sunshin3girl

This is a heartwarming book by Tony Parsons which recites the tale of a father discovering parenthood and also, learning to love his own father in the process.

Leaving Nick Hornby aside, I do not know of many male authors who describe relationships and emotions so well. Tony Parsons writes with emotions, and in between those witty one liners and the British humor, one finds oneself dabbing the eyes.

This is a story of Harry Silver who lives in London with his gorgeous wife, adorable son, and a great career in the media. However, one bad day at work leads to an impromptu night of infidelity, with which Harry loses it all – his beautiful wife, his successful job, and the life he knows.

His wife leaves to live a life she gave up to be with Harry, and thus begins Harry’s journey to discover what parenthood is all about. He slowly discovers it takes more than welcome hugs and joyrides to bring up a little boy and struggles daily to keep his son healthy and happy.

His parents as his only support system also come closer to him in the process, and Harry finds himself striving to be the father his dad was, in vein.

Finding a new job that allows him the time to for his son, finding new love, letting go of the old one, and making his son center of his universe all provide the magical twists to the tale.

Extremely well-written with many strong characters that come to life on the pages, the book will give you many laughs and a few sobs, but it is worth every minute spent on it.

Social Message: Pluto

Posted in books with tags , , on July 5, 2011 by sunshin3girl

Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto.
Read it.

Book Review: JPod by Douglas Coupland

Posted in books with tags , , on June 15, 2011 by sunshin3girl

Maybe my sense of satire is very low as the book itself states that only one third of the population understands irony, but I did not enjoy Douglas Coupland’s JPod at all. The book irritated me.

It started to pretty well, and being set in Vancouver – a city I fell in love with in a short week’s time, was an additional impetus. However, if you need to read nine other unrelated books by an author in order to enjoy his tenth, I do not want to spend the energy.

Sadly, JPod seems to borrow a lot from the previous books written by Coupland, and appears to be focused on the already established audience. It tells a story of six people stuck in a pod of a videogame design company, and they all have last names starting with the alphabet J. They practically live in their JPod and hate their shitty job and shittier bosses, who seem to have no sense of direction or a clear purpose. Neither do the other JPodders who spend their entire day googling trivia and making fictitious lists. The protagonist is irksome and hardly likable, he spends all his energies in either procrastinating or making cereal runs for his pod. Else, he helps his mom get rid of dead bodies or watches his dad doing a “Canteen” in the ballroom. Yes, the events of the book are extremely over the top and hardly gripping. Moreover, every time I found myself absorbed in a certain arch (like the one about faking creativity in meetings), my attention was diverted by the pages after pages of code, spam mails, words not recognized my Microsoft Word software, or pie values with some wrong digits. I am not sure if these intertextual data-bursts are supposed to be amusing, geeky, or a mere carryover from what Coupland did in his previous successful books, but they grew extremely annoying after a certain time.

Also, the characters are very vague, almost interchangeable, and most disagreeable. Amorality comes naturally to everyone. As I said previously, maybe this review is biased because I am not fond of satire as a rule, and I haven’t read much either. However, if amorality entertains and grips, I doubt I would be complaining. Ethan, the protagonist, has no agenda in life, neither do his parents; though they seem like busy bodies always up to something, anything. The books tone changes after every chunk of data-burst of code or spam emails. Ethan with his boring life of procrastination moves from murder to manslaughter, and then to drugs trafficking, while his silly boss tries to add an animated turtle to the skateboard video game to connect with his estranged son, but somehow ends up in a Nike sweatshop in China. The book plays up the stereotypes, both Chinese and Vancouverean. However, the thing that put me completely off was the smug appearance of Douglas Coupland himself in the latter half of the book. He appears to be a commentator as well as a blowup avatar all at once.

The book comes to a full cycle with its bizarrely happy ending. The JPodders end up in a different pod in Coupland’s company. They are still the same, lost and directionless but they are happy, since it’s a new place and new places are nice.

However, the book does have sparks of ingenuity every now and then. The best one being the prompt at the end mimicking a videogame, “Play Again? Y/N.” This makes the intentions of the author clear, and gives meaning to the otherwise eccentric ending of the story. Basically, once you reach your destination and embrace victory, the score is reset and all you can do is to go through the same mechanical game or life again, trying to meet the victory conditions all over again.

While that makes sense, it is not my cup of tea. I am just glad that it is over.

Book Review: Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

Posted in books with tags , , on May 5, 2011 by sunshin3girl

Have you heard the terms Magical Realism?. I had read it somewhere long time back but I only understood it when I read Dance Dance Dance. I am now drawn to his books like a bee to a freshly blossomed camellia.

Dancing the Dance

Dance Dance Dance tells a story of a strange moment in which the protagonist finds himself. The protagonist is a drifter, like a dry leaf he lets himself blow with the wind. He waits and watches, and through him we glimpse the inner demons, the melancholic life, and the bizarre. At 34, the nameless protagonist finds himself alone, with no interest in contacting his ex-wife or anyone else for that matter. Until one day he senses that a girl with stunning ears is crying for him. Thus, he embarks on a journey full of mystery; he meets an uptight receptionist who seems a kindred soul in the oddest ways, a 13-year old depressed girl with a sixth sense and an attitude, and his ex-schoolmate who is now a famous actor full of charm and warmth at the same time. Through them, we meet others, a blur but talented mother, a vivacious and optimistic call girl, a one-armed man who makes the best sandwiches, and the sheep man.

The book is a murder mystery, a fantasy, and a social commentary rolled into one. But the mystery is hardly solved and the largest part of the book is non-magical, but one finds oneself glued to the book reading page after page about an uninterested 13-year old and a 34-year old observer whiling away their time on a beach in Hawaii. That is the magic of Murakami.

Reading the book is like getting on a roller coaster with a mind of its own while you are blindfolded. Not only do you know when the speed will pick up or drop, but you are also clueless about where you are headed. And just like every roller coaster, you en

Book Review: Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

Posted in books with tags , , , on April 9, 2011 by sunshin3girl

I have loved the writing of Yoko Ogawa from the minute I read the first paragraph of the extremely compassionate and benevolent book, The Housekeeper + The Professor. Hence, I picked up Hotel Iris without even bothering to read the blurb. Not that I was disappointed, but I was definitely shocked! Happily so.

Coming from a gentle storyteller that as I knew her to be, Hotel Iris only goes to prove her mettle as a writer and psychologist. Hotel Iris is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl, Mari, who lives in a tourist town by the sea and works with her mother in ramshackled family inn. Bored with her mundane life with her dominating mother and a kleptomaniac maid, she has retreated into her lonely shell. One evening, she finds herself hypnotized by the commanding voice of a man, old enough to be her grandfather, who is ejected out of the hotel after a meltdown with a prostitute. She soon befriends the extremely coy old man, and hence starts their unconventional relationship full of oddly sweet letters and waiting, followed by extremely outlandish sex, where the old man suddenly drops his shy cloak and turns into a monster.

The beauty of the book is its subtext. One finds how Mari is secretly revolting against her authoritative mother and her rituals by getting away and doing something that she knows to be illicit. She takes joy in the brutality inflicted upon her during the moments of lust; it is clear from the moments shared from her childhood that her only source of pleasure is the forbidden. But all of this is up to the reader to decipher, so it maybe just my thought.

In her true style, she answers nothing. Neither the apparent mysteries of the story, nor the main question raised by the story on preferring a life with a sadist old man over the monotony of the daily life. Melancholic the way only a Japanese novel can be, it is a brilliant read with extreme emotions expressed in the simplest of words.

Of course, there is a lot to be said about the translator of the novel as well.