House on the River

Review of The God of Small Things; Arundhati Roy; Penguin Books 1997; Rs 450; pp 350

- Shana Susan Ninan

Arundhati Roy’s 1997 Booker Prize winning debut novel is wonderfully endearing and emotionally intense. She has succeeded in rousing the readers’ innermost sentiments, and keeping them riding high until the last line of the book. Her skill in crafting a colourful first page is just awesome – who could think of:

May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst… The wild overgrown garden was full of the whisper and scurry pf small lives. In the undergrowth a rat snake rubbed itself against a glistening stone. Hopeful yellow bullfrogs cruised the scummy pond for mates.

Rahel and Esthappen, a pair of two-egg twins, and their lives rule the plot. A post-colonial tension in the air, rise of the Communist party in central Kerala, workers’ rebellion and cracks in the feudal forts. Of course, Velutha steals the show. His otherwise impossible relationship with Ammu, the twins’ mother, is emphasised through small talks and nuanced narratives. It’s the small things that matter, and they make the bigger things relevant.

The God of Small Things offers a longish glimpse into the complex relationships between members of the Ipe family. Based on personal differences of opinions, Baby Kochamma even goes to the limit of her character by betraying her own family members. Uncle Chacko has a British wife and daughter, the two of whom have separated and visits him in his Ayemenem home after her second husband meets with an accident.

Roy has enlivened us by engaging all five sense with her careful choice of words and word pictures. Metaphors are rife, and there’s no dearth of alliterations. Themes of love, tragedy and betrayal find space in the story. Women characters are strong and come forward as assertive and often, extremely independent.  

The concepts of love and sexuality – almost on the same sides of a coin – are reiterated. Sex can be unifying as well as dividing. Societal norms, caste hierarchy and familial differences can often dictate who we bed with. Time is another important motif that recurs as the image of the moth.  

The author as captured almost all the facets of life in Ayemenem – weather, friendship, politics, post-colonialism, sibling rivalry, sexual abuse, class wars, marriage, fisher folk and feudal life.

Estha’s and Rahel’s separation and pain are healed when they unite, their souls finding peace amid the turmoil and noise around them. It’s as if the two were one person, all along.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)

Autism: Know It, Know Them

Review of Autism: A Handbook of Diagnosis and Treatment of ASD; Sumita Bose; V&S Publishers 2015; Rs 395; pp 158

- Shana Susan Ninan

That Autistic kids in India aren’t welcome in most mainstream schools is a given. It’s a proven fact. But how does one “handle” an autistic child/ teen? In my teaching years, I’ve come across autistic children and their parents, and most received complaint is that people around aren’t accommodative. That given a choice and resources, they’d leave this country and live abroad with their differently abled child. Is it because of lack of awareness regarding this disorder? Are the various communities in society reluctant to accept such children?

The author, Sumita Bose handholds us readers into this life by introducing us to a personal anecdote of how she came to do Child Psychology and ASD related courses in the US. Autism isn’t the end of the road for a child or its family. It is but a different life – one that needs patient care and love. She gives us profiles of doctors and early medical practitioners who’ve pioneered in this field, and how India officially accepted the widespread existence of this disorder, in 1991.

There’s a lot of pressure from schools and extended family, and the general public, on these kids and their parents. An empathetic way of dealing will go a long way here. This is a good guide for parents, teachers, friends and public who come into contact with autistic persons. Bose gives a narrative-like feeling when she deals with issues from conception/ birth to education to adulthood. The details of schools and institutions meant for autistic kids is useful, although I personally feel that there are lot many more NGO’s and individual agencies that help, especially in Kerala.

Another thing I found missing is how an autistic child’s family and friends deal with the sexuality and orientation of autistic children. They are major components of a children. More so since autistic children aren’t able to express themselves as well as others. A page or two about the sexual needs, routines and characteristics of autistic children would have made it a little more wholesome.

Bose has been a teacher for more than two decades, and authored Science, Mathematics and puzzle books for children. She’d a member of Autism Society of America and designated Autism Ambassador in Melbourne, Florida.

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Rating: 9.3/10 (3 votes cast)

Culture Curry of the East

Review of Raconteurs From The Hills; Talilula , Vishu Rita Krocha, Agnes Tepa, Emisen Jamir, Imti Longchar, Lhutu Keyho; Pen Thrill Publishing 2014; Rs 199; pp 122

- Aditi Vinayakan

It happens almost instantly. One moment you might be in your room, the next you get a whiff of what Nagamese culture is all about, both good and the bad through the six authors that made Raconteurs from the hills.

Out of the 13 thirteen stories, my personal favorite would be ‘A Porcine tale’ by Talilula, a satire that most definitely manages to keep you reading further. After reading ‘Diary of two dog meat fanatics’ your face might either have a smile or leave you frowning for the sheer quirkiness of it.

I’ve never been to Nagaland, but reading this work has made me want to travel solo all the way to the Far East to discover the truth behind these stories. After all, creation of fiction does require some amount of factual data that leads to its very birth that makes us want to live right in it.

The cover of the book has a certain calmness to it that reminds me of mountains and the peace that comes with being amongst it. It’s one of those books that you might just enjoy cuddling up with on a lazy Sunday. Bring in some rain and a cup of hot coffee, and you’re all set to be taken to a place that you would never want to come back from.

One of the best things about the book is the fact that it not only is suitable for pleasure reading but it actually makes you think about your society and the society that you’ve come to know and realise through the words of another.

All in all Raconteurs From The Hills is definitely a good read and worth every penny.


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Rating: 9.5/10 (2 votes cast)

365 Days of Wine

Review of The Connoisseurs; Michael O’Neill 2013; pp 192

- Shana Susan Ninan

Author Michael O’Neill has made sure that even those unacquainted with the wine world don’t feel left out, in reading his The Connoisseurs. It’s a refreshing novel about a year in the life of a wine shop in Plumbly Fold, the imaginary champagne capital of Great Britain. Corkscrews is a chain of wine shops across the area, and the one here seems to house odd but interesting people. The fact that all four employees are men is a curious fact.

The three main characters are at loggerheads with each other – so to speak – with a young boy thrown in between. Written in a diary format – complete with date, place and terse paragraphs – the story is told through the life of Jim, the newest employee of the shop. Alan is a psychotic, control-freak boss, and Laurie is the OCD maniac.

The plot is very relatable for those who’ve worked in shops, keeping tabs on customers, distinguishing between the genuine ones and the those just passing time. It runs smoothly from one day to the next, often leaving the reader anticipating the next day’s events. The language is well-articulated, though there are a couple of words/ phrases that the uninitiated in winery will have to look up the meaning of.

Interpersonal relationships at workplace are defined very early on in the book, and the author has done a very good job of rounding off the characters well. Their emotions and tugs are revealed from the first page onwards.

The spacing of the text and paragraphs are a little tedious for the eye. Especially for readers who’d like to read several pages at one go. I found the first few pages a little dry, too. Probably was the time for me to be initiated into the plot of the book. Breaking Banana Bread, The Great Champagne Disaster and the Apple Queen Election are all parts of the book I enjoyed. The narrative shows the in-depth knowledge of the writer in fields dealt with.

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Rating: 7.0/10 (3 votes cast)

Love and Litigation

Review of Just Dreams; L.J. Taylor; Waterview Publishing LLC 2014; pp 278

- Shana Susan Ninan

Seriously, the simple title of the book does nothing to tell us about the genre of the book. Taylor has weaved Romance and Thriller elements neatly, pulling the reader right into the middle of the action. As a civil trial attorney with a 20-year experience, her words just hold you tight to the plot. I read the book in two sittings on a weekend! It was just fab!

Sparks fly when attorney Kathy Brooks agrees to represent ex-marine and novelist Charles Morgan, Jr. in a high-profile suit against a powerful government defense contractor. But when Charles’ hidden agenda threatens to expose the government’s dirty little secrets, what started out as the case of a lifetime could cost Kathy her heart, her career and even her life. I felt bad as Charles kept leaving her out of his original plan, all along. But the strong bond they share keeps them glued to each other, in the courtroom and otherwise.

There’s blackmail, kidnapping, and murder. And some romance thrown in. all the characters have been planned and well-developed. That gives strength to the plot and the continuity of the story. Kathy the hard-assed lawyer keeps us on track with the case, which seems to be taking up a large part of their lives. They’ll need all their nerves to focus and win.

L.J. Taylor is a graduate of Vassar College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She began writing novels during National November Writing Month in 2007.

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Rating: 8.8/10 (4 votes cast)

10 Grand Examples of Corporate Strategy

Case Studies in Corporate Strategies; Prof. Dileep Saptarishi and Prof. Jairaj Kochavara; Pearson 2015; pp 155

- Shana Susan Ninan

What better way to teach corporate strategy than using case studies, timely and relevant. The above book delineates 10 Indian companies that began as small ventures and have grown into large corporations. The authors have brought out the best of the companies’ strategies on market segmentation, acquisitions, CSR, taxation, HR, Finance, etc. Each case study is holistic and thought-provoking, prodding us to think further on how to take an enterprise from ground level up.

One that I think I may personally use in my PR and Corporate Communications class is the example of Emami’s fairness cream for men. The very idea of men needing a fairness cream, the execution of the ad, and all the way up to the selling of the products. Other examples are from IT, Cut flower business, packaging Steel, R&D, FMCG, Food & Beverages, and others.

As much as this book is meant for teaching faculty, it is quite applicable for freshers in various industry. Some of the case studies are pertinent in the international arena, too.


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Rating: 7.2/10 (5 votes cast)

Child Sexuality, A conversation

Review of Dark Room: Child Sexuality in India; Pankaj Butalia, Illustrations Neelima P. Aryan; Harper Collins 2013; pp 179; Rs 350

- Shana Susan Ninan

That’s a question I’ve tried a lot to answer.

The line between sexuality and abuse of children is thin and shifting. It is demarcated by family background, neighbourhood lived in, culture and social mores. In India we see a mediated sexuality, in children and adults. Elders, society and often, strangers, dictate what our sexualities should or shouldn’t be. Childhood sexuality has always been a cause of anxiety, and elders’ first step has always been to “protect” children from sexual experiences – with the self and with others. Adults often refuse to acknowledge that children have a sexuality. The children do. They’re not just kids, they are mini humans. With all the innate feelings, emotions and instincts as we have – just that its levels are much lesser, perhaps.

Butalia has chosen 11 stories – real and happened ones – to illustrate how children have a sexuality. It may be expressed through words or deeds, and most definitely through thoughts. After reading them, it registered in me how the term ‘child’ is wrongly defined by us. The continued existence of child marriage in India gives us a glimpse into our negotiation with childhood sexuality, and that it isn’t restricted to myth or religion.

The longish introduction by Shalini Advani, and educationist and author, opened my eyes to facts I had read before but refused to accept. Sexual experiences by and in children are blanketly termed as abuse. Having worked for a while with young mothers who were victims of incest, it was very difficult for me to see the positive side of child sexuality, if there is something as a positive side.

The importance of touch, is another theme I’d like to explore, after having taken in the real life experiences of the 11 people. Parents and siblings, and to an extent, cousins and friends, play a large and irreplaceable role in initiating and grounding the tactile senses of a child. Hugs from parents, platonic kisses from siblings, a pat from a friend… all these ‘harmless’ touches may actually help to condition sexuality in the childhood. And it may even help children to keep away predatorial sexual experiences.

Pankaj Butalia is a former table tennis player who has a 20-year stint at teaching Economics, and has won several international awards for his documentary films. This is his debut work in writing. The book is an eye-opener. The accompanying illustrations by Neelima are strong and focused. I think all adults, especially parents and teachers/ professors, should read this book. A much needed impetus for a conversation on child sexuality.

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Rating: 9.7/10 (7 votes cast)

Roots for a Life

Review of Soil for my Roots; Minal Sarosh; LiFi Publications 2015; pp 277

- Shana Susan Ninan

Belonging to a multicultural set of parents and grandparents myself, I can very well understand the protagonist’s search for stability and roots.

With traces of autobiographical musings, Minal Sarosh’s Soil for my Roots doesn’t fail to entertain. The author’s strength in poetry is visibly strong in her prose and soft narrative. The Money Plant is a recurring symbol in the plot. There is a constant search for stability, and a yearning to understand what goes around.

Angela’s story starts in the 1970’s and then progresses. Her school life, her friends, family… are all revealed to us in well-researched bits. There are many questions that she ponders over. How is it that my family is Gujarati but I’ve a name like ‘Angela’? How come my friends celebrate Diwali while I celebrate Christmas?

I loved the cover – a neat lemon yellow background, with a bottled money plant and some books, on an ornate table.

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Rating: 8.2/10 (6 votes cast)

Moustache, Mystery and the Man

Review of The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery; Kyril Bonfiglioli, completed by Craig Brown; Penguin 2012; Rs 399; pp 175

The moustache – hair garden, rather – on Mortdecai’s upper lip is as much the protagonist as Hon. Charlie Mordecai himself is. The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery is the fourth Charlie Mortdecai in the series, and definitely has you laughing. It’s more like a Holmes Meets Wodehouse kinda humour, with nothing less to be said.

Two decades after the author’s death, this book was completed by Craig Brown and published by Penguin. This whodunit follows Mortdecai for almost half the book in his convalescent state – a long rest time which he’s put to good use by cultivating a largish hairy chrysanthemum on the upper lip. Much to the chagrin of his wife, Johanna, and his acquaintances. He is invited to Oxford to investigate the death of a lady Don at Scone College. The protagonist and his trusted ‘dawg’ Mr Jock leave us in splits of laughter, and so does the sections where Mordecai navigates major pain-in-the-necks to get at the villain.

Kyril Bonfiglioli has studied at Oxford and worked in the army, then as an art dealer, quite like his creation, Charlie Mortdecai. Bonfiglioli was born on the south coast of England in 1928 to an English mother and Italo-Slovene father.

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Rating: 8.7/10 (7 votes cast)

Killing the Face That Graced a Million T-Shirts

Review of Hunting Che: How a Special Forces Team Helped Capture The World’s Most Famous Revolutionary; Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer; Berkley Caliber 2013; pp 277

- Shana Susan Ninan

Traces the US-trained Bolivian forces’ success at capturing 20th century’s most famous man – Che Guevara. It’s the ordeal of a US Green Beret team that trained Bolivian soldiers and common men in 1967 to capture Che. After Castro’s rise to power in Cuba, Che was on a high, travelling to Asia, Africa and countries of South America

The CIA knew everything about him, except where he was. And that was damn frustrating. For a man who was trained to blend into the forest and not be visible to the rest of the world, Che does a good job evading the Americans.

Major Ralph Shelton a.k.a. “Pappy”, who saw combat in Korea, Laos and the Dominican Republic, led the Green Beret team which captured the famous man. Shelton was a favourite in his unit, accepted by the soldiers and villagers, alike.

The middle section of the book is rife with photos pf the capture, Che’s travels, and for the first time in publications, a photo of Che in disguise as an old man. The writing is prose mixed with some news writing. The authors have written well, showing the death of the revolution and not just the death of one man.

Che was a grand propagandist, more like a PRO for the Communist Party – even now- than as a leader. His message, his photo, rather, lives on in the minds of the young and the old. And in all fairness, I think, of all the books I’ve read of and by Che, this one is the most unbiased. As writers and journalists, the authors have taken an even stand in recreating this drama at the end of Che’s life.

When most writers, filmmakers and documenters of Che’s life absolutely fall for his charm, Weiss and Maurer are not at all enamoured by this smart-talking revolutionary. In fact, their words in describing the few minutes after Che’s capture says it all:

“Don’t bother, captain, this thing is all over,” Che said.

The Che – the picture of confidence, the icon of the revolutionaru movement – hung his head….

And for once, Che had nothing to say.


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Rating: 9.3/10 (7 votes cast)