Art for Acceptance

Review of The Art of Kozu; James Edgecombe; Sandstone Press 2014; pp 130

- Shana Susan Ninan

A straightforward cover with a Kimono-clad woman looking towards the hills greets us as we take up James Edgecombe’s The Art of Kozu. In two parts, the author gives realistic details of the life of Kuzo and Yumiko. The Takayanagi family of art dealers has long been associated with the artist Yuichiro Kozu (1878-1953). With the war over interest is renewed in the art of Kozu. A painting is used as the basis for the story, and unravels word by word, image by image.

Indochina during the Japanese occupation and Paris are the two areas where the story is based. Almost 20 years of art and conflict is depicted in this short novel. The power and influence of the two are portrayed through the lives of the protagonists. This controversial artist’s struggle for acceptance and uncorrupted recognition forms an undercurrent in the two sections.

Edgecombe’s words are evocative, visual and highly appealing to our senses. One gets the feeling of gliding on the surface of a painting, taking in the hues and the smells. Representation of Yumiko, the married lover, is done stunningly well. Yumiko stands for everything that’s desirable and, sometimes, forbidden. The romantic imagery and soulful prose guide the reader seamlessly through the years as the author takes us into times of war, struggle, love and separation.

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Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

Mrs Hudson, At Your Service

Review of The Case Book of Irene Adler; San Cassimally; Green Okapi Press 2014; pp 189

- Shana Susan Ninan

A thief and an investigator – that’s what Ms Irene Adler is. And she plays her part right down to the t. As a contemporary of the famous Sherlock Holmes, and at times, circumstantially against him, Adler comes to Holmes’s refuge. She gets Holmes to hire her in place of Ms Turner, the housekeeper. Armed as Mrs Hudson, with good disguise put on, Adler tells her side of the story this time. Let me assure you, in the solving of the cases mentioned, she’s adept and insightful, sometimes even seeming to outwitting Holmes. Their intellectual connectedness is thoroughly explored in San’s work.

Three most brilliant minds of the time – Moriarty, Holmes and Adler – comes under one roof in one of the stories, and you hold your breath, waiting for the unthinkable to happen. I shall let those who’ve not yet got a copy of San’s book to wait it out and read the rest of the happenings that follow the three masterminds.

Adler’s cases range from ambitious thefts, disguising as gypsies to retrieve a Romany child to redeeming her gay friend’s esteem and even tying the knot with her gay friend to save his skin in society. She learns to ride the horse, hunt game and use the gun deftly, all taught to her by her friends at the Club des As, a common group of friends who are out to right some social wrongs.

The author’s trademark playwright background and love of theatre comes through in the plots. Adler herself being a not-so-famous actor who’s now turned to a different occupation. San hails from Mauritius and received his education at Manchester and Cambridge Universities and is a prize-winning and produced playwright.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

Two Women and A King

Review of Radhika Santwanam; Muddupalani; trans. Sandhya Mulchandani; Penguin Classics 2012; Rs 250; pp 166

- Shana Susan Ninan

I’ve read and taught epics from many countries. But a sringara prabhandam – erotic epic – is a first. Radhika Santawanam is the most recognised work of 19th century poet and courtesan Muddupalani. Two strong women – one, the author and then, the lady who resurrected the poetic work and brought it to light – are credited with sharing this erotic narrative poem with the world.

This autobiographical work shows us the lives of the famous courtesan and literary connoisseur, Muddupalani, Maratha King Pratapasimha who ruled Tanjore and made her his queen-consort, and her grandmother Tanjanayika. When two people’s (in this case, three) love story won’t be freely accepted by society, just throw in the names of Gods and Goddesses as protagonists, and everything’s solved. Tanjanayika introduced young Muddupalani into the world of the courtesans, and to Tanjanayika’s patron King Pratapasimha, who later took Muddupalani under his wings. The love triangle between Radha, Krishna and Ila is an apt framework for narrating the story of Tanjanayika, Pratapasimha and Muddupalani.

Even though the British banned it in 1920, the whole text of Radhika Santawanams, also known as Ila Devyamu, is now available for the public. I drew many similarities between this narrative poem and the Song of Songs from the Bible. Celebrated stanzas dedicated to describing a lover woman’s anatomy, her willingness, the man’s urge to conquer her body and their union all find points of reference that are common.

The 163rd stanza of chapter three:

O moon! Carry on your waxing and waning

Till my round-faced lady arrives.

O Malaya breeze! Your gentle wind works

Only till my lady love sighs.

O drunken parrot! Wait until you hear her lovely voice.

O peacock! Your preening will stop when she combs her long hair.

O nightingale! Your song is good only till she speaks.

O swan! Your gait looks good only until she walks towards me.

O bee! Your sounds are melodious only till my lover looks at me.

O Kamadeva! Your conceit will vanish when my beloved arrives.

Referred to as devadasis, devaradiyal, bhogam, kalavati, gudisani and nagara shobhinis, the courtesans of the 17th and 18th century shone in the fields of art, dance, music and other literary pursuits. The erotic poem contains 584 verses, complete with poetic symbols, passionate rhymes, sexual references and subtle innuendos. Radhika’s strong presence in Krishna’s love life and her unabashed initiation of intercourse, Ila’s coy introduction into the world of lovemaking and Krishna’s creative cavorts.

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Rating: 8.3/10 (4 votes cast)

Business and Services

Review of International Business; Sumati Varma; and Services Marketing – Text and Cases; Harsh V. Verma; Pearson 2012

- Shana Susan Ninan

As a text for students and professionals, Ms Varma’s International Business is copiously supplied with broad details and cases that relevant on a global level.

An exhaustive chapter on Cultural Environment caught tugged my intellectual strings – I found it very informative and useful. With a universal applicability, culture is something that pervades all types of businesses, across the globe. The detailed and well-researched examples will help one to identify emerging issues and solutions in the business world.

Teaching or learning Services accounts for a sizeable amount of field study and case references. And that’s what Harsh Verma’s Services Marketing does – give lots of cases and review questions.

Apt for students as well executive level professionals, the book gives ample practical exercises to complement the theoretical knowledge provided.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (4 votes cast)

Communication: Connected/ Dangerous

Review of Secret of the Scribe; Douglas Misquita; Frog Books 2014; Rs 245; pp 332

- Shana Susan Ninan

As a lecturer of Media, the different aspects of Communication are close to heart. And, to read a book that weaves Communication and Language into a crime plot, is even better. Not to mention that one of the characters shares his name with my two-year-old son – Elijah!

Douglas’s second novel trails a recent cave expedition in the remote borders of China and Tibet that have unearthed enigmatic discs believed to be of extraterrestrial origin. Quickly squashed and erased from official records, until venture capitalist Mark Steinberg launches Linguistics, Inc. and unveils cutting-edge nanotechnology-based communication, the secret stays within boundaries. But, soon, knowing that Linguistics is setting the stage for total control, Lance Michener and his team work to bring order.

The very descriptive storyline doesn’t fail to involve the readers. The plentiful characters, numerous locations and a few typos did mar my reading, but Douglas’s capacity to engage us with thrilling narrative overcame it all.

Similar to his first book, Haunted, Douglas runs a thread of the Good vs Evil scenario in this one, too. We also see a fight – physical and intellectual – between natives and the “conquerors”, so to say. Working in the telecommunications industry, Douglas’s flair for scientific prose is only too well understood. He reveals the strength of his writing as well as flexibility in dealing with an almost futuristic story.

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Rating: 7.0/10 (5 votes cast)

Mystic Love

Review of Lonely Gods; Shivani Singh; Hachette India

By Shana Susan Ninan

Topics of esoterism and a cover with Klimt’s famous painting ‘The Kiss’. Two things that attracted me to the book.

Weaving a mystic love story with three converging plots! Singh’s second fiction work carries flashback of Raj and Aparajita’s lives in Kolkata, Raj and his extended family, and set in more contemporary times, the Twin Flames project. Two people separated spatially, but together in mind and spirit.

Kamini is easily introduced by her landlady, Mira to the VNP, a secret society in Delhi where a high-level project is underway. The other members are top occult practitioners and healers, while Kamini’s a plain Jane. Her role in the project is unraveled slowly and with gentle ease, and her connection to Hari, another group member, creates sparks in the group. Emotions related to love – acceptance, forgiveness, tolerance and envy – are all well-explored in the book.

Although the writer manages to magically transport the reader to a different time and space, her effort to involve the reader is too obvious. Something that should have been done more effortlessly. The romantic scenes are dealt with technically. For an artistic book as this, such matters as love could have gotten better treatment.


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Rating: 7.6/10 (5 votes cast)

Beetles, cheetahs, hyenas…

Review of The Land of the Setting Sun and other Nature Tales; Arefa and Raza Tehsin; TERI – The Energy and Resources Institute 2014; Rs 225; pp 168

- Shana Susan Ninan

For the first 10 years of my life I grew up on a lush farm, surrounded by animals and greenery. My father used to narrate many stories – real life experiences and hearsays – at bedtime and when we travelled. Probably why I am still a nature lover. So when I read Arefa and Raza Tehsin’s The Land of the Setting Sun and other Nature Tales, I could identify with the characters and the life portrayed in the stories.

As much as they are satirical, the eight tales in the book refreshingly point a finger at the reader, making us stop and think, every few pages or so. Scarab the dung beetle is a typical portrayal of the people in our society who are sidelined – the ones who do all the dirty work but are seldom noticed. ‘The Six Riddles’ highlights the virtue of patience, a quality we must watch and learn from animals. ‘The Nectar of the Angels’ talks about the much-discussed topic of the angels deciding to share honey or nectar with earthlings. ‘The Steeds of Witches’ is a tale I enjoyed reading. I’ve read about and watched jackals very closely; so a story about a member of their family, the hyena was a welcome read.

The owl and its characteristics takes centrestage in ‘The Owl-Man Coin’. ‘Hanu and Sheru’ looks at rivalry and tolerance from a different perceptive. In ‘The Best Kept Secret’, what struck me was nature’s designs and symmetry. Animals, birds, plants and natural formations all have symmetry in them, a mark of their maker. Ending the storytelling in a very unique way, the authors describe the lithe and lovable animal, the Cheetah, in ‘One Thousandth Cheetah’. I liked the way Arefa and Raza have given human emotions and attributes to most of the animal characters in the tales.

The raised golden letters of the book’s title stand out against the silhouette-light colour background of the cover. The black and white sketches in each story is neatly done to reflect the mood of the tale narrated.

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Rating: 9.5/10 (6 votes cast)

Her Mother’s Champion

Review of Hiding Places:A Mother, A daughter, an uncovered life; Diane Wyshogrod; Excelsior Editions 2012; pp 298

- Shana Susan Ninan

All of us have memories, people and feelings we’ve hidden away in the dark and deep recesses of our minds. The kind that we don’t allow to surface, to occupy spaces in our daily lives. But sometimes, just sometimes, we allow our loved ones to gain access to them, and at other times, we open to them, on self-will or by persuasion.

Dina’s Hiding Places is one such attempt, I’d say – she is her mother’s champion in unraveling a part of her mother’s youthful days, peeling off layers of years. As painful as it is, Dina gets her mother to speak about her years during the Nazi Occupation of Poland, specifically the 16 long months she’d spent in a 4ft by 6ft cellar. Although her mother at first disagrees with sharing her disturbing past with the world, Dina successfully convinces her mother to do so. But, as the author goes deeper into the processing of taking down the notes directly from her mother, both are overwhelmed at times, by the sheer expanse of what her mother went through.

In the middle of the book is a beautiful session on how Dina’s mother, Lutka and others who’ve suffered under the Nazi regime “revisit” Zolkiew, their hometown. The narration covers several pages, and Is skillfully crafted to reflect the emotions that the group experiences as they travel through a city that was once theirs.

Now, riding through the night, I feel myself trying to absorb Israel into my skin, through all my senses…. I feel my identity – even my age – shifting. I am Lutka’s daughter, the granddaughter of Josef Rosenberg, the town pharmacist. I suddenly feel like a precocious youngster being taken on an adult outing. I almost forgot that I am already in the middle of my own life, a professional, a wife, a mother with school-age children.

A psychologist’s perspective and scientific background comes through, in some parts of the book, though not over powering that the smooth flow of a non-fiction novel is affected by it. Dina’s words are poignant, with deep meanings and attributes. Very few people who have lived through trauma can write about it with this kind of detachment, at the same time not leaving out the intensity of the situations. Readers will feel like they are in the midst of a dinner time conversation, or stuck in the tiny cellar, or travelling in the bus with Dina, her mother and others… they are so many more examples to elucidate that. The vivid and varied photographs only enhance the read.

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Rating: 9.3/10 (8 votes cast)

Leader of the Pack

Review of The Wolf and The Raven; Steven McKay; Self-published 2014; pp327

- Shana Susan Ninan

Steven McKay leads us from right where he stopped in Wolf Head. The second book in the Forest Lord series, The Wolf and The Raven is a delight to read, from the very first page to the last. You’re keep having to remind yourself at points to relax and breathe, and then to continue on!

Where there are wolves, there are ravens, surely. And Sir Guy de Gisbourne, knighted bounty hunter is no meek raven. Dressed in all-black, muscular and fearless, he looms large over the lives of the wolf heads, threatening to wipe them off. And, succeeding in taking the life of Robin Hood’s most trusted friends. The raven and the wolf are animals of the dusk – dark and mysterious. Both Hood and Sir Guy are famous and capable in their own respects. We just have to wait and see who will be triumphant, as well.

The sub plot of the Hospitaller Knight Sir Richard’s life takes a backseat at places, and in some places needing a firmer grasp. But then again, when Robin’s part of the story is quick-paced and adrenaline-pumped, the much milder dealing of Sir Richard’s story drags down the pace.

Violence, betrayal, brutality and death – that’s what Steven brings to life in this book. Emotions and attachments run riot in the plot. What touched me most was the fact that Robin, a to-be father is forced to spend time in the forest, facing his enemies and gathering his friends, often losing minor battles. Readers, at the end of the page, are left with a note of revenge. Something that’ll keep us waiting for the sequel!

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Rating: 7.7/10 (12 votes cast)

Surviving Love

Review of Don’s Wife – …What You See is Only Half the Truth; Vinod Pande; Mahaveer Publishers 2013; Rs 295; pp 501

- Shana Susan Ninan

Vinod Pande’s debut novel, Don’s Wife reads like a movie script. And, not surprisingly, Pande is a documentary and film-maker and ex-broadcaster with BBC, now settled in Bombay. A city infamously known for its seedy underbelly. The plot revolves around Kamini, the wife of Don Harsh, and her life. She’s flamboyant, self-driven and a passionate lover. Her life is as intriguing as her death.

With a colourful cover page that leads the reader in Kamini’s world, Pande takes us through several cities of Maharashtra, the many places she visits, and the people that populate her vibrant life. She’s torn between ardent love and ever present responsibility. Her choices will decide her future, and that of her family’s.

The sexual content in the book is badly written, to say the least. Sex is a topic one has to deal with, carefully, irrespective of the genre. In a novel, just like in a film, sex cannot, and should not, be portrayed in a clinical manner, full of jargon and unintelligible layers. I found the sex scenes in this novel comparable to a low-rate blue film, only meant to tickle a certain section of the audience, and not meant to create a soothing and lasting feeling in the minds of a majority of its readers. I’m sure the author can definitely improve on that note.

And, as with most Indian fiction writers, a strong and sensible editor could’ve provided a tighter flow of the story, something that would ensure uninterrupted reading.

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Rating: 6.2/10 (5 votes cast)