Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

09
Dec

The Sea and its People

dance-of-the-sea

Review of Dance of the Sea; Soosaiya Anthreas; Gatekeeper Press 2015; pp 462

– Paavana Varma

Franklin D. Roosevelt once remarked, “A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” This quote fits rather perfectly in Soosaiya Anthreas’s fine novel, The Dance of the Sea. Set in a coastal slum village of Kanyakumari, his book paints an intriguing picture of the difficult challenges life puts forth. The Dance of the Sea traces with remarkable subjectivity, the unfortunate lives of the fisherfolk situated in the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent. It speaks about how ambition and poverty strives together in the rural lives of Indian fishermen.

The protagonist, Sebastian, struggles to escape his squalid town of slum dwellers and later on emerges as a successful engineer. Sebastian’s success makes him less self-effacing as he goes on to desert his lover, Gloria, who lives an independent and more successful life, with regards to money and fame. He also leaves his poverty-stricken sister to herself, not bothering to lend her a helping hand in deadly crisis. But the problems develop into a more serious one as the 2004 Tsunami strikes and takes the lives of hundreds of fisherfolk, and their properties are swallowed by the sea. More troubles follow as the fisherfolk divides themselves into two rival factions based on the method of fishing, and the community disintegrates.

Reading this book will be an emotional experience as the common man will get to live the lives of a set of people hitherto hidden to the fast-paced urbanised population of the world. The unthinkable lives of the characters, ravaged by pain has been addressed directly and in a poignant manner. It shows the research that the author has done over the years. There is anger, humour and grief. Somehow, I felt that Sebastian’s longing to escape his hometown was his own way of seeking salvation. Sebastian wanted to disappear and his search for respite from the brutality of the world is rather breathtaking.

The author hasn’t hesitated to expose the vulnerability of his characters and this makes the book all the more dramatic. The tenacity of the characters especially that of Gloria is admirable. The deadening weight of the circumstances draws a thoughtful picture, nevertheless. A picture of how people find themselves in each other and how strokes of empathy lessens the naive narcissism of the better off and how there is a light of hope however faint, shining through the wreckage.

The writing style is fine except in some places it lags and tends to get jerky. The author has used rich language to depict the lives of the poor fisherfolk. In spite of the challenges and traumas, there exists a kind of harmonic suppleness. The novel is extremely atmospheric and very emotionally involving. There also prevails the inevitable melancholy the story brings with it. The Dance of the Sea is a very interesting novel. It is the kind of book that you might want to read in sessions, to take time and read it in your own pace. The book doesn’t fail to communicate effectively with the reader and even when the book has ended, the sea looms over your imagination distinguishing itself as an entity.

Soosaiya Anthreas was born in the year 1959 in Azhikkal, Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu to fisherfolk parents. He graduated in Engineering from CIT, and is interested in Philosophy, Literature and Spirituality.

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Rating: 7.5/10 (6 votes cast)
01
Sep

Challenges of Saving the World

Sky God

Review of Book of the Sky God (Vol.1 & Vol.2); Laura Markowitz; Story Bridge Books; pp 299

– Paavana Varma

Five teens and the end of the world! One wouldn’t really expect five teens to save the world, but the fate of humanity rests with them. This fantasy book written by Laura Markowitz revolves around the Indian-American Rajthani siblings Laila, Ram and Nina, former Miss Popular, Katie Chase and part time zombie, Henry Lipton. Centred on the Mayan prophecy, the book is targeted at young adults. Part one of the book is where the the story line slowly develops, the admirable writing delving into the ties of long friendships is enough to make this a one sit read. We find that Ram and Henry are best friends, Ram’s little sister Laila who voluntarily went mute six years ago has numinous senses and knows the song of humanity. Henry was trained his whole life, without him knowing, for the day of the judgement by an evil secret cult called the brotherhood of prophecy. They believed, they would ascend to godhood through their living heir, Henry.

The author has written the story in such a way that all the events are interrelated. The occasional shift to a whole new imaginative world of immortals and higher beings make it all the more gripping. Miss Markowitz definitely had her creative juices flowing into the pages while writing this book. One understands it from the other worlds, aliens and the multiverse she has talked about in the book. We have Aditi and Itzam-nah the sky gods who will be coming back to Earth another time to judge humanity. They have the power to erase timelines and all the memories associated with it. The author seems to have great interest in Indian mythology too since, Aditi and Itzam-nah are described as having six arms and a third eye.

Part one of the book talks more about the characters’ lives and gives us a sneak peek into their deep thoughts that make them, who they are. Ideas and sub-stories weren’t clashing with one another and as the title of each chapter suggests, the story is rooted to what the chapter name conveys. Because of this clever idea, even when the plot thickens and twists around a lot, in the bigger picture you have a clear understanding about the story. Going through the difficult period of adolescence, we find in all the five teens a search for self-identity. Part one is also not as dramatic and action packed as part two. This book ends in such a way that it keeps you tip toed to find out what the next book has in store for us.

Part two has road trips and is jam-packed with adventures and fights. Unlike the innocent immaturity we see in the characters in part one, part two sees a newfound maturity in the five teens. Maybe we can link it with the purposes they have found to their lives. We also see a gradual strengthening of family and friendship bonds. Nina and Ram who couldn’t stand each other’s presence are now completely comfortable with each other. Friendships and family bonds are tightened and rediscovered. The transformation of characters and the storyline line from part one to two is not sudden but rather slow and subtle and that makes the story more interesting.

The way the author has woven the concept of Karma into the story is quite intriguing. The language is free-flowing and at times you might even find it poetic. The values and meaning of friendship manifest in the novel through the bond the five share. There is more to the book than just the surface story. If you dig deeper you will find a lot of messages that are crucial to our adult lives.  The book is a great read not just for young adults but anyone who enjoys science fiction, fantasy and mythology. The Book of the Sky God is the kind of book you’d want to read in a good summer vacation. But once you take up the book to read, don’t ever think you can stop it midway. It is what you may call ‘unputdownable’.

The only glitch is that after all the hustle and bustle it all ends quite abruptly. The end really doesn’t seem like the end! Maybe it isn’t after all.

 

 

 

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Rating: 9.8/10 (4 votes cast)
24
Jul

Adventure beyond the Mountains

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Review of Tale of the Wulks; V.K. Green; Fremont Books 2013; pp 658

– Shana Susan Ninan

Wulks live in the mountains of California, away from the eyes of humans. Watching closely, they are the guardians of Mother Earth, fighting off people who are out to hurt her. Rilk, a young differently-abled boy, is the central character. His grandfather Manfield embarks on an adventurous journey with the Dragon Prince Englar. Long ago, the Wulks were thrown out of their ancestral lands along with the Native Americans. Instead of going onto reservations as the American Indians did, however, the Wulks concealed themselves at the base of Mission Peak in California, after which a Dragon appeared before them and helped them establish a country the human invaders could not destroy. It’s this ingenious intertwining of actual human history that makes Wulk Land more vivid. That said, a map to accompany the precise descriptions of Wulk geography would be welcome.

Talking about his writing process, the author V.K. Green says, “Unlike many writers who usually write whatever is on their mind and arrange the parts later, I brainstorm the entire story before beginning to write.” Indeed, that shows in the plot – it flows seamlessly, from one location to another, from one scene of action to the next.

Autism and adventure are two core themes that run through the story. Carefully crafted into the plot, Green, who himself is autistic, has played the cards well. The protagonist, Rilk is extremely intelligent in his own ways. But the way the world sees the autistic, or anyone differently-abled for that matter, is quite sidelining. The fact that Green has given prominence to Rilk and looked at his abilities than disabilities is a promising breath of air. People who care for or live with autistic persons will very well understand that.

The case of Chris is interesting. Myself a student of Kalaripayattu, an ancient martial arts form of South Asia, I was drawn to this extraordinary character. Chris is a prodigy, an intelligent mind with a sharp and fit body. The wise teenager, Chris helps the other boys in their search. And the author, too, confirms: “I consider the martial arts battles throughout my book to be dear to me.”

I did find some paragraphs needing the editor’s cuts. Some of the sequences are long-winded and, sometimes, leads us off the page. With a few nicks and polishes here and there, this is a brilliant work of fantasy fiction for young and the old.

V. K. Green is an autistic student who has performed at a high academic level with advanced diction, language, and social skills. Using fantasy-adventure, Green is determined to demonstrate to the world the truth behind autism, what it is, and how much autistic individuals add to the positive whole of society. Green currently lives in Fremont, California, with his family.

I love it that there are many beings in the story: humans, dwarves, elves, forest spirits, sages and dragons. And that the story ends peacefully.

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Rating: 8.3/10 (8 votes cast)
01
May

Kama – Dance of Desire

Review of The Banana and the Peepul Leaf; Asuri Vasudevan; CinnamonTeal Publishing 2015; Rs 400; pp 262

– Shana Susan Ninan

Asuri Vasudevan’s The Banana and the Peepul Leaf is full of turns – life poses several choices to us; sometimes flinging the most apt one at our faces. Relationships and the strings attached to them form the crux of Vasudevan’s sequel to Cloudburst.

Kama is an interesting concept. It is intriguing, deep and desirous. You can even call it the protagonist of the story, the central force upon which the story revolves. How do people of different races fall in love? How do they stay in love? For Radha, it is love at first sight when she sees Prakash and the fact that Prakash is a married man is dismissed as a minor detail. Prakash is attracted to Radha’s sensuality even though he is very much in love with his wife.

As youngsters trying to make a place for themselves in the world, Phillip and Gomi have to make a sense of their yearnings for each other. Prakash’s wife Kathy sensing her husband’s betrayal uses the same approach partly to pacify herself and partly to radically transform the life of someone she cares for. For Kathy’s friend and soul sister Maya, sex is the culmination of companionship.

Based in Mumbai, Vasudevan is an economist, with specialisations in central banking and international finance. He has worked in various countries on long stints, and have been advisor in several international organisations. The story is spread across Asia, Africa and America.

In the book, what I cherished the most is the ending – it isn’t usual, and there’s a punch to it. The book cover is simple and lucid, a pointer to the lives unravelled inside. It’s a great book for a weekend read, full of surprises and interesting quips and quotes.

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Rating: 8.2/10 (13 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: 8.0/10 (8 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: 8.6/10 (7 votes cast)
06
Sep

Finding Mr Right

9789384439163
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: 8.0/10 (5 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: 7.8/10 (6 votes cast)
02
May

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: 7.1/10 (7 votes cast)
11
Apr

Stopping A Terrorist

Review of Checkmate; Hrishikesh Joshi; Leadstart Publishing 2015; Rs 150; pp 158

– Shana Susan Ninan

What better way to hijack a plane than to use a judge with a VIP status to smuggle in guns? Three fidayeen from Indian prisoners are the ransom, in return for the hostages. Calling the shots for jihadis from Pakistan is once upon a time right hand man of Osama Bin Laden and now the most dangerous terrorist in the world, Muhammad Zia ul Afridi.

Coming to the rescue is Vikram Roy, chief Secretary of RAW, who finds out there are inside activities in the organisation that he needs to tackle first. Playing his hands at a long term relationship, Vikram is your middle-aged, handsome guy.

The plot is engaging, and for the debut work of a 21-year-old, it’s pretty promising. A few typos and grammatical errors apart, this is a nice read.

You can buy the book at:

http://www.flipkart.com/checkmate/p/itme5ze8z2bdvgyt?pid=9789381836941&otracker=start&q=9789381836941&as=off&as-show=off
www.infibeam.com/Books/checkmate-hrishikesh-joshi/9789381836941.html
http://www.amazon.in/Checkmate-Hrishikesh-Joshi/dp/9381836949/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426828143&sr=8-1&keywords=9789381836941
http://www.amazon.com/Checkmate-Hrishikesh-Joshi/dp/9381836949/ref=sr _1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426828146&sr=8-1&keywords=9789381836941
http://www.crossword.in/books/Checkmate/p-books-9789381836941.html

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Rating: 8.4/10 (7 votes cast)