27
Jan

Strike One!

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Review of The Cuckoo’s Calling; Robert Galbraith; Mulholand Books; pp 464

– Shana Susan Ninan

Robert Galbraith. Now, who would have guessed this to be the famous fantasy writer J. K. Rowling’s pseudonym? Well, the book is a roaring success. It’s gripping and a fun read, all the way until the last sentence! As this book was one among a gift pack of three, I was in no hurry to read it. And let’s say, I hadn’t seen the part about Rowling on the blurb yet. But, boy, when I got to it, I couldn’t leave the book. Divided into four large chapters, it drew me back each time I put it down.

The woman has her ways. Rowling hasn’t used an ounce of magic in this plot – she mesmerizes her reader through absolutely loveable detective language and tonnes of charisma only a crime fiction can allow. Published in 2013, The Cuckoo’s Calling revolves around the life and office of Cormoran Strike, a one-legged, decorated war hero. His latest (and only, at the moment) case comes from the brother of a late friend of his. Battling his own demons and a now-ex-fiancée of a 15-year on-off relationship, he dives into the centre of the action. Trying to reinvestigate Bristow’s mixed-race, adopted, supermodel sister Lula Landry’s suicide, he unearths much more than he can hold, often having to rely on his temp’s support – in work and in life. Robin, his temporary secretary, is intuitive and much more brilliant than an average typist-telephone operator. She herself goes on minor investigative sojourns and returns triumphant.

The private investigator and his temp are now pulled into the world of high fashion, papparazzis, aristocratic multibillionaires and coke-snorting rockstars. Working on something the Met has already ruled a suicide, he has a lot on his hands, and those that knew Lula aren’t that forthcoming. Lula’s boyfriend, musician and part film actor Evan Duffield as well her closest supermodel friend Ciara Porter are very much caught in the headlights.

Strike’s and Robin’s characters are most well-rounded. So is Bristow’s. The others actors in the plot have been moulded neatly to fit into the narrative. Strike’s past and his family’s weird history come into the story in bits, in grape-sized bits that’s juicy and intriguing, at the same time, unravelling his life in front of the reader. The title is apt and keeps you guessing quite into the middle of the story.

I wonder how this book would’ve been received, without the Rowling tag, when it was first published. Would the readers lap it up unbeknownst that it was written by one of the best storyteller’s in the world right now? I surely did. This one’s standing on its own legs, and not on the fame of the Potter series writer.

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Rating: 9.3/10 (3 votes cast)
07
Jan

Revealing the Buddha

Buddha

Review of Buddha – Volume I:  Kapilavastu; Osamu Tezuka; Harper Collins; pp 400

– Shana Susan Ninan

Japanese Graphic Artist Osamu Tezuka’s brilliant black strokes on paper move like a movie. Buddha, in eight volumes, traces the life of Siddhartha Gautama, and his journey into Enlightenment and Mentorship. The prince is born halfway into the first book, and the events preceding it are likes omens that lead us to his birth. Caste is a theme that takes prominence in the narrative. Woven into the emotions and movements, you can find it creeping into the fabric of the story.

Tezuka’s work is humourous, lucid and definitely relatable. You’ll find colloquial usages, slangs and even slur, in the book. And two of my favourite pages are the ones that have locusts swarming in them. Yep, just two pages full of locusts. The perspective used is awesomely focussed and absolutely on-the-dot. The visual expression surpasses usual storytelling skills, and the readers are taken right into the heart of the plot.

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Rating: 9.8/10 (4 votes cast)
06
Jan

Married to Mumbai

2

Review of Tikli and Laxmi Bomb – to Hell with Patriarchy; Aditya Kriplani; Rs 195; pp 165

– Shana Susan Ninan

Old Monk is a character as much as the two women, Putul and Laxmi. This book, which follows the two women’s lives and their trial at a sex workers’ system by/for/of the women, is a one-sitting read. Aditya has hit the mark, and his film script like writing keeps you turning the pages. Each time either of them hit the bottle before they go to bed or when they feel down in the dumps, the reader would definitely feel the liquid burning his or her throat. Aditya writes with such ferocity that you won’t even have a minute to wander off from the story.

This is his third book, and all three of them have strong women protagonists. In fact, he wishes for a world ruled by women. Yay to that! This particular story is set in Mumbai again, and follows Putul and Laxmi as they fight patriarchy within the sex workers’ community. The belong to a network run by men, pleasuring men and boys, living out their bodies and minds for them, and all the way, succumbing to atrocities meted out by the authorities themselves. Sex workers have no say in what happens to them; they’re mere puppets in the hands of the various men that control them at every stage.

Putul, a.k.a. Tikli, is a smart-alecky, wise-ass young girl, with fire in her heart and tongue. Though she’s thin and short, and all things cute, you don’t wanna mess with her. She hates the system she’s working from, and longs for one where women benefit. Laxmi is a 40-year-old veteran in this industry and practically lives by herself, is feared by even the local pimp Mhatre, and the cops, and is generally aloof.

They don’t back out even when faced with brutal physical violence from all sides. In fact, that spurs their movement – more young girls from all over the city join their group. With hard work and caution, they inch forward. And, much to the chagrin of Mhatre and his cronies, the women turn out to be a power to reckon with. Even a car full of goondas with sticks in hand couldn’t stop them.

Two poignant, and often deeply sad, motifs that run through the narrative are Laxmi’s escapades into the city in an auto, with her face in the wind, taking in the freedom and the fun, and the melancholic songs that she pens, and sometimes sings, in honour of the Mumba Devi. The city itself is a metaphor of an oft-abused woman, but one that stands up high in the midst of all the storms she’s gotta face.

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Rating: 9.5/10 (2 votes cast)
13
Dec

Surviving, and How!

when I fell in love with life

Review of When I Fell in Love with Life; Geetha Paniker; Partridge 2015; pp 214

– Shana Susan Ninan

The blurb said, an anthology of writings from a cancer survivor whose therapeutic writing will guide, inspire, and heal your soul. And, the author is absolutely right. The prose and poems are a delight – you’ll probably read it in one go. I did. And the journey has been great.

Only a truly positive person will be able to find the CAN in cancer, and Geetha Paniker’s, When I Fell In Love with Life is a testament of that. The light purple-grey colour scheme of the cover and the sea/crab-related photo is a reminder as well. Her doubts, her beliefs, her philosophies… all are covered in the book. And it’s poignantly titled, each part, each journey, and leads us right into the core of her works.

Trips to Yercaud and Mysore, and other places, visits to natural spots, and of course, radiation therapies and hospital stays. Some of the pieces are very clinically written while others are emotional and tugs at your heart strings. I’m sure most of us have at least one friend or family member who’s had cancer, and Geetha’s writings are applicable to all our lives. She’s someone who’s strong enough to call pain, ‘beautiful’. This book isn’t just for survivors of terminal illnesses, but for each one of us.

The only glitch that mars the reading is the initial piece of prose that accompanies poems. I feel poems printed on their own would have been more powerful. The text before it takes away some of the punch of poetry. The shortness of life is well-captured in the terse lines.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (2 votes cast)
11
Dec

A Sub-Collector’s Life

The View From Kollam

Review of The View From Kollam: A Day in the Life of a Sub-collector; C. Balagopal; Harper Collins; Rs 275; pp 176

– Shana Susan Ninan

The cover of Balagopal’s A View From Kollam: A Day in the Life of a Sub-collector is absolutely delightful. A water colour and pen rendering of the official building, most likely. It is light and inviting. The book itself, though, is another matter. It strongly worded and very, very straight-forward. It is written in succinct chapters, all relating to his days at work, his peers, subordinates and bosses, and life in a small town. He constantly compares and contrasts the positions he’s held in Kerala and Manipur, as well as how the two states differ in governance matters.

Is it coincidence or what that I know another Balagopal, who’s quite like this writer? The one I know is a Lecturer in a University, wears white dhoti and starched white shirt, frowns upon people who throw waste on the roadside, ones who are late to class and generally anyone flouting the rules.

Eighteen real-life anecdotes give readers a peek into the nitty-gritty of governance because the author believes that our favourite reads have powerful characters based on real people and plots grounded in reality. Balagopal writes about efficient government officers who cut through red tape and legalese to help people and also how it is people and not the system that can bring about positive changes.

Governance and politics rule the lives of a majority of people in Kerala, directly and indirectly. And Balagopal has given life to those stories in an interesting way. His own spiced anecdotes and stories of frustration at the slow-moving-Government-wheel adds to the tone of the tales.

He states that corrupt and apathetic administrators ruin the governmental process and cause roadblocks along the way. And not much has changed since.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)
18
Oct

Lessons from an MBA Life

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Review of MayBe This OR mAybe That – 37 Things we didn’t learn in B – schools; Abhaidev; Pebbls Publishing House 2015; Rs 150; pp 96

– Shana Susan Ninan

The book came as a surprise for me – not just because it is in Q & A mode, but also for the simplicity of the language. It deals with the everyday questions that most college-educated youngsters would have, but it is dealt with very smoothly and in a manner that quells your curiosity about several themes. It’s so simple, it’s almost un-MBA like!

Why most guys feel that “MBA girls” are not good marriage material? Why every other MBA is turning into a candid photographer or a best-selling author? Apart from answering such quirky questions, Abhaidev has tried articulating what many MBA graduates have thought of but couldn’t. Worth read for those who have “been there, done that” and also for those who aspire to join the MBA brethren in the near future.

There are short stories, anecdotes, case studies and quirky tales… all weaved into the flow of the book. The author brings in stories and answers about planning, delegating, tactics, evaluation, GD’s, appraisals, mergers and other typical things that are part and parcel of an MBA’s cycle. I enjoyed the references to Indian idioms and phrases – very relatable.

I wonder why’s that it’s techies and managers who’ve left their IT and corporate jobs who publish so many books? What about those on the job? Do they feel the same way? Abhaidev is the pen name of Mayank Chandna, an MDI Gurgaon alumnus, who quit his boring investment banking career to venture into the ‘exciting’ world of writing, something he had always dreamt of as a child. Once working as a perfunctory 10 hour shift finance employee, he now loves his 24×7 job of being a writer and an entrepreneur.

Typos and the use of a sans serif font does slow down your reading a bit. But I must say, the author has successfully tried a new style of writing.

You can buy the book from:

Flipkart Link –   http://www.flipkart.com/maybe-that-37-things-didn-t-learn-b-schools-english/p/itmea6fgbnzytd6u?pid=9788193160206

Amazon Link – http://www.amazon.in/Maybe-This-That-things-B-Schools/dp/8193160207/

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Rating: 7.6/10 (7 votes cast)
05
Oct

The Wolf is Back

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Review of the Rise of the Wolf; Steven A. McKay 2015; pp 33

– Shana Susan Ninan

Balanced. That’s what the third book in the Forest Lord series is. Author Steven has masterly woven a blance between the youngblood, impulsive Robin Hood and the now more settle, fatherhood-absorbing Robin Hood. Giving prominence to Matilda, Robin’s wife, and Marjorie, his malnourished sister, this book takes on a different course than the previous two! The family life and the action sequences are well-balanced, too, in my view.

Steven has rightfully joined the league of historical fiction writers, who have given us famous classics with their twist. His reading and research is seen well in the narrative, one that never bores us. In fact, I read the Rise of the Wolf in three almost no-break sessions in one day. Especially considering the fact that I have a busy day job and a three-year-old to spend time with!

Sir Guy of Gisbourne is back with a vengeance, and this time Robin needs more hands to beat him. Who will be by his side? How does he outwit the forces against him? How will he ensure the safety of his family? He returns with a more vile intention – to ruin Robin and to regain Gisbourne’s name as the King’s bounty hunter.

Robin Hood is one of my favourite childhood heroes. It’s wonderful to read about him in a different context, years later! And I hear Steven may right another sequel to this… that is some good news.

 

 

 

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Rating: 10.0/10 (4 votes cast)
06
Sep

Finding Mr Right

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Review of Or Forever Hold Your Peace; Donna Abraham; Authors UpFront 2014; Rs 150; pp 98

– Shana Susan Ninan

And you think that’s easy? The Mr right in your parents’ mind, the one you wish for, the one who finally lands on your lap… could all be different people. Luck, kismet, fate, whatever you call it, plays a big role in deciding who you partner with. And sometimes, more often than not, the journey to finding that Mr Right is tortuous – long-winded and patience-zapping.

Donna Abraham’s novella, Or Forever Hold Your Peace is a nice, light read that takes you through the life of a young Malayali girl in Delhi. Sundays began with mass at 7 in the morning. Mass would get over by 8 am and her dad would spend the next hour and a half reading the newspaper, which included circling suitable advertisements in the Catholic Section of the matrimonials. Weddings can be tricky business. They can be fun, emotional, exciting, frustrating, nerve-racking, downright stressful and very unpredictable…a bit like life itself.

Abraham’s lucid writing and short paragraphs are easy on the eye. I finished the book in one go – the story, too, keeps you wanting to know what happened, and how it happened. The only thing I thought would add more flavour was the presence of more dialogues. Long narrations at a stretch can be cumbersome to cross, at times.

The book cover and the title take you right to the centre of the plot. Weddings are great fun, lots of activities at home, rituals, home-cooked savouries and family get-togethers. The author keeps our spirits high all through the way. And being half a Malayali Christian and living in south India all my life, I can very well connect with the traditions and lifestyles mentioned in the book.

The links to buy the book are:

http://www.amazon.in/Forever-Hold-Your-Peace-ebook/dp/B00OE7SZ2K/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1441608921&sr=1-1&keywords=or+forever+hold+your+peace

http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Hold-Your-Peace-ebook/dp/B00OE7SZ2K/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1441608955&sr=8-3&keywords=or+forever+hold+your+peace

http://www.flipkart.com/forever-hold-your-peace-english/p/itmeyx4btdmjhhqh?pid=9789384439163&ref=L%3A-4811707087558786938&srno=p_1&query=or+forever+hold+your+peace&otracker=from-search

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/or-forever-hold-your-peace

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/or-forever-hold-your-peace-donna-abraham/1120552820?ean=9789384439194

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Rating: 7.5/10 (4 votes cast)
04
Sep

Loneliness Squared

Review of Songs of a Solitary Tree: Graphical Verses of Sublime Snippets; Arun M. Sivakrishna, Partridge Publishing India 2014; pp 104
– Shana Susan Ninan

As the anthology’s name suggests, most of the poems in this book seems to stem from a solitary person. Words such as ‘lonely’, ‘alone’, ‘loneliness’ and ‘solitary’ abound on the pages. Even when we are surrounded by friends and family, are at work with a team, we tend to feel lonely. It’s a state of mind that we often find ourselves in, for varied reasons.

Sivakrishna’s words are evocative and are intense with Imagism. Symbols and metaphors are plenty – one I liked was ‘haunting memories are birds with clipped wings’. The first paragraph of ‘Shaken Skies’ reads:

It was a grizzly sky indeed
So dull and drab
The Kind, that reminds you of a
Middle aged mistress, deeply in despair
Puffing up a ballooned put.

Each poem is an unfinished feeling, a life that the poet still lives at times. There are a few photos that go with some poems. Some of the entries read like a part of a journal. ‘An eventful Day, Sometime Back’ starts off with:

Had marathon client meetings,
Productive, some not so great and
Towards the end of the day a reluctant
Revisit to a very difficult customer.

The strength of the poems is paused when a longish sentence creeps in, leaving the reader almost holding her breath, pondering over the meaning of the poet’s words. But, the clichéd symbolisms and general neglect of punctuation mars the reading. Not to mention skipping over typos. Unlike prose, poetry should flow, seamlessly almost.

Poet Arun M. Sivakrishna is a management professional, a cricket and motor sports enthusiast, who’s also interested in photography and travel. Based in Mangalore, his poems tell of severance, pain and agony. And he has done it well.

 

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Rating: 7.5/10 (6 votes cast)
24
Aug

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: 7.4/10 (5 votes cast)