Tag Archives: book review

Book Review – Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa


Rashomon and Other Stories (Tuttle Classics)Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Short stories have always been a a challenge for me, and this is probably the most cryptic set of stories that I have read yet.

What is it about these enormously acclaimed Japanese authors of the earlier 20th century. The first I read was Yukio Mishima, who over and above being known for his controversial novels, is most remembered for his ritual suicide by sepukku; and now Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, who is called the “father of the Japanese short story” and has Japan’s premier literary award named after him, is also remembered for having killed himself at the age of 35.
Their literature and writings seem to have a cult following, because they definitely aren’t mass market material – and this is what attracted me to read some of their works.

This is a set of 6 tales that essentially explore dimensions of human nature. I don’t want to summarize the stories here, but I have to say that after reading each one of them, I looked up analyses online to understand the latent meanings that were clearly evading me – and in some cases I was surprised that I had almost completely missed the point – which in itself was amusing.

These are good stories to be read aloud, discussed and ruminated over. A good choice for book club reading. They are not very long, but some of them are complex.

The movie Rashomon was made based on two stories from this set and is highly acclaimed even today – with a rating of 8.3 on IMDb. That will be an interesting followup to the book.

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Book Review – Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori – Book 1) by Lian Hearn


Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori, #1)Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I quite enjoyed this book. I don’t usually pick up “fantasy fiction” unless I am really convinced. There seems to be some mental block from when I may have read a really bad one, and I’m always weary of picking up another. Anyway, I decided to give Tales of the Otori a try because stories set in “Japanese” environs are always attractive, with the hope of magic and mysticism and some smooth samurai action – and I must say I wasn’t disappointed.

In a gist, the story follows Takeo, an orphaned boy from a remote village who is forced into the complicated lives of ruling factions in the region, jostling and plotting for power, and finds himself tied to his destiny of defending the honor of those who have looked after him and his obligation to those whom he owes his lineage. Takeo is a respectably likable protagonist, who has a pretty impressive set of skills that he himself discovers and sharpens through the book. He is grounded and humble and quite believable, which really helped me connect with his character.

What I really appreciated was how the reader is instantly plunged into the story – its like you hit the ground running and there’s hardly ever a dip in the pace henceforth. The background is revealed as the story progresses and makes enough context to understand the motivations of the various characters, but also reveals hidden aspects gradually, so that the true nature of a character comes as a bit of a surprise.

Liam Hearn’s language and writing style has that Japanese “feel” – the dialogue is very restrained and to the point, in some parts poetic. It makes for simple reading – not complicated or weighed down by complex or elaborate text.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for something light but not meaningless and with enough emotion and depth to continue reading the series. Ultimately, it’s a story about love, loyalty, power, politics, illusion and revenge – and with that combination, you can’t go wrong.

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Book Review – Belonging by Umi Sinha


5/5STARS!!!!!!!!

Probably one of the most undiscovered and underrated books from the past year. I would never have discovered it myself, but for a completely unplanned (impulsive) trip to the local bookstore where I made a very poor choice and was back to exchange it for something better. And this time too, with the bookshop owner waiting to close shop, I almost randomly picked up ‘Belonging’. The cover was beautiful, but the author and book were completely unheard of, and a quick check on GR told me that with a 4+ rating it was a safe buy.

But I was not prepared for this book to be as fantastic as it was! Why hasn’t it showed up on any lists!? And I am surprised that even the Guardian hasn’t done a review on it, when it seems to review every new book that comes out! – – especially since this one has such a contextual British-Indian theme.

I seldom describe a book as “well crafted”. Many are well written but this one has something beautiful and intricate about it, much like the fine embroidery that adorns its cover and is a pivotal part of the story. As a debut author, Umi Sinha has set the bar very high and admirably demonstrates, by example, her background as a creative writing mentor and manuscript appraiser.

There is something about epistolary novels and I loved this one even more because nearly two-thirds of it is written in the form of letters and diary entries – making the reader so much more involved and engaged with characters and their deepest emotions. Sinha treats her characters with a lot of compassion and sensitivity and one comes away understanding each one – why they became who they were, what shaped their lives.This is a book worth reading again. Beautiful and elegant.

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Book Review: The Short Drop by Matthew FitzSimmons


5/5 STARS!!!!!!!

27239265Well…. that was pretty intense, exciting and enjoyable!
Gibson Vaughn is like the American equivalent of Cormoran Strike – in a refreshing, believable and non-super hero kind of way; and this first book builds a great back story for him. This is not a James Bond / Mitch Rapp equivalent and I’m so grateful to Matthew FitzSimmons for keeping it real. I am definitely looking forward to the release of the next one in October this year.

The story hooks you from the very first page and keeps the tempo up throughout. There is something about surveillance videos of missing persons that just keeps you glued and I’m sharing no more than that. Though I was able to guess the plot before the big reveal, that didn’t spoil it for me, it was still super interesting till the end.

Usually, in this genre, the lead character is either unbelievably ‘uber cool’ or so ‘flawed’ that it doesn’t seem real anymore and I find it hard to relate to. But I liked all the characterizations in this book. They are well balanced, and don’t fall into the usual cliched territory. The other thing that sets this one apart is that while the book is so fast paced, its not a shallow story and makes one care for its characters. It will stick in the mind for a while.

I think this story is perfect for American TV or at least a movie, though I think 2 hours wouldn’t do justice to all the plot lines.

Read it!!

Featured image: Goodreads.com

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Book Review – The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham


4/5 STARS

The Killings at Badgers DriftA classic mystery thriller that takes you back to those quaint English villages, where time seems to move slowly, everyone knows everyone, and everybody has something to hide. Yet, while the story seems to be set in a conservative time, it brings out a most sinister and twisted plot and a range of characters, all of whom seem to have a motive to kill.

The writing is so different from how books are written today, refined in a way that you cannot rush through the book, and definitely something that can build your vocabulary. Reminded me a little bit of Agatha Christie’s Poirot stories where you are always guessing till the end and this one definitely keeps the final revelation hanging to the last.

Featured Image: http://www.kittlingbooks.com
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Book Review: The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie


5/5 STARS!!!

Its amazing that I found this book three years ago, slotted it in my to-read folder, and only happened to finally read it now. I guess I was ordained to meet His Holiness’ Cat now more than ever. This is a wonderfully written book that brings forth the basic tenets of Buddhism and the whole point of its philosophy very gently and subtly through small day to day examples with a handful of characters in Jokhang and McLeod Ganj.

The author, David Michie, is very convincing in telling this story from the intimate confines of the Dalai Lama’s own residence and you can almost feel the positive and glowy warmth of his presence and the kindness, wisdom and patience of his words. I marked so many passages from this book on my kindle app. A happy book that must be read.

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Source: Goodreads.com

“The thought manifests as the word; the word manifests as the deed; the deed develops into habit; and habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care, and let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings … As the shadow follows the body, as we think, so we become.”

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

In Rinpoche’s own words – “This is exactly that kind of book.”

 

Featured Image Source: http://www.llhhdl.org/
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Book Review: The Story of the Lost Child – Elena Ferrante


Whoopie! This review was listed on the official Elena Ferrante website! Check it out: http://elenaferrante.com/reviews/the-brain-curry/

4 STARS ****

And so, finally I come to the end of this saga.Reading the #NeapolitanBooks has been like a journey almost – of which, sometimes I was a part, and sometimes I was  a removed observer. Ferrante writes very well, her range is remarkable, her expansive web of characters, feelings, emotions and personalities is captivating. Her writing comes from a depth that makes you feel certain that this is her story or a major part of it is a ‘fictionalised’ autobiography – – – and somewhere, possibly the very personal nature of the story compels her to protect her own identity as well as of those who may be easily identifiable from the book.

Ferrante’s story interweaves conflicting feelings like affection, anger, concern, desire, despair, empathy, malice, grief,  happiness, love, pride, rage, remorse, shame almost simultaneously. The essence of all 4 books in the series is that they present a narrative that is transparent – laying bare each personality’s flaws, failures and self centered narcissism at risk of judgment, and also revealing unexpected instances of benevolence and consideration – that you constantly remain in an  ambivalent state of mind and come away with possibly inconclusive emotions to fulfill that need to compartmentalize individuals as a result of their actions.

And yet I give The Story of the Lost Child less than a perfect score, possibly because the  tumultuous friendship of Elena and Lila has reached its most disturbing and unpredictable form. It became constantly more difficult to be okay with the suffocating, often controlling and spiteful co-dependency that Elena and Lila shared through their turbulent adult lives.

This quote sums it up perfectly:

Every intense relationship between human beings is full of traps, and if you want it to endure you have to learn to avoid them. I did so then, and finally it seemed that I had only come up against yet another proof of how splendid and shadowy our friendship was.

—— Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child

In the end, my month with the Neapolitan Books was extremely rewarding. I can now say that all the fuss and buzz around her is completely authentic and well-founded. Being nominated for the Man Booker is well deserved and if we take into account the entire series, I think she is a definite front runner. I wish her all the best!

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Book Review : Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante


Those Who Leave and Those Who StayThose Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By the end of this one, I knew I had to take a break and not start the fourth book immediately. That is the effect these books have had on me and I’ve torn through the first three non-stop, as if they were one book and not three.

In this one we see Elena and Lila go through their 20s and 30s. Time passes quickly for Elena from being a young university student to unknowingly a somewhat acclaimed author and then the wife of a professor – all signs of having truly ‘arrived’ in life. Lila on the other hand is going through a disturbingly downward spiral in her life and there is an evident distance between the two friends during these years.

This one brought out the really raw emotions of both women and I wondered many times if their relationship could really be called a friendship anymore. There’s a constant love-hate equation that is frustrating and disturbing to witness. There is a demanded dependence, rough abdication. Jealousy abounds. Its almost claustrophobic – a claustrophobia of the mind.

And yet you keep reading, hoping to understand why, hoping they will relinquish the cold war, or break off completely rather than be mirrors of misery to each other.

Elena’s need for verification is almost tragic – Lila never ceases to be a benchmark, she can never shake her off.

“My becoming was a becoming in her wake.”

“my thoughts were cut off in the middle, absorbing and yet defective, with an urgent need for verification, for development, yet without conviction, without faith in themselves. Then the wish to telephone her returned, to tel her: Listen to what I’m thinking about, please lets talk about it together.”

And Lila, unapologetic and vengeful, violently expresses her independence and disengagement – which displays her need to coverup insecurities, setbacks and failures even more – which are unacceptable to her, and yet her reality.

The story traces how both women deal with their own circumstances and situations in life. Each reassuring herself of having the better one in comparison to the other, and each seemingly unhappy with it. They compete constantly. They are bolder, more reckless, more selfish and yet there are a few tender moments that confuse and conflict how you feel about them.

One cannot help but ‘feel’ – for them and with them.

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Cover Image: Goodreads.com
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Book Review : The Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante


The Story of a New NameThe Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I generally tend to devour books, but this one devoured me. Elena Ferrante’s writing captivates, engrosses, absorbs, consumes, devastates and satisfies. Not a single free minute has been spent on anything but reading this second volume in her Neapolitan Series these past 4 days.

While it was easier to take sides in the first book, in this one, I constantly aligned and realigned myself first with Lenu and then with Lila, reaching a point where both exasperated me and I wanted nothing to do with either. But just like Lenu is bound and drawn to Lila, I was so embroiled in their lives and it was impossible to abandon reading until I was finished.

Lila’s actions repeatedly evoke the ‘she brought this upon herself’ feeling – with little or no sympathy (yet). For Lenu, I feel like I want to shake her up, snap her out of her constant need to compare herself to her childhood friend, and always find a way to undermine her own achievements even when she’s done much better than her. At this point, it is difficult not to care, not to be involved.

I’ve put it much to simply to be fair to the expansive layers that come through from all that takes place in this young adult, extremely turbulent period of their lives, where they ought to have had a more sorted existence, and yet managed to create a tangle of complications in trying to create that ideal life that has been their sole aspiration since childhood.

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Book Review : My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante


My Brilliant FriendMy Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I quite enjoyed this book. The style is very different from what I’ve been reading lately and even though the writing doesn’t allow you to rush through it, there is a “pull” factor that keeps bringing you back into the story, to see how things unfurl, what reactions occur, how minds work and how through all these dynamics the two friends grow and evolve.

They are independent, yet co-dependent, inseparable but also resentful of each other, indecisive but firm, seeking their own individualities but also constantly emulating each other. The complexities of humans and their intertwining lives is very well portrayed and that’s what keeps you glued page after page…. I have all the books in the series, and I’m finding it difficult to not start the next one immediately.

Elena Ferrante has been in the news lately, having been long listed for the Man Booker for her fourth novel in this series, and what makes it even more interesting is that her true identity remains a mystery. She expresses her reason for anonymity as – “The wish to remove oneself from all forms of social pressure or obligation. Not to feel tied down to what could become one’s public image. To concentrate exclusively and with complete freedom on writing and its strategies.”

In an age where writers climb over each other to secure any and every form of recognition or acknowledgement (which is fair if their work merits it), Ferrante stands apart as someone who is completely content in the fact that readers are connecting with her stories and that is really the purpose of all her writing. She believes that “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t.”
Evokes a lot of respect for such a highly acclaimed author, who first published in 1992, but never compromised with her stand on anonymity.

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