From My Book-Shelf

One of the biggest challenges for a voracious reader is to find new authors & a place to discover them. Goodreads is the best platform to discover new books & authors and it has turned 10! Finding new authors is incredibly important as it leads to new stories set in different places which offer different perspectives.

Below are three authors I have not read before & reviews of their books.

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Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore

by Manu S. Pillai

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Goodreads Link

Manu S. Pillai was 19 when he started research for this book and published it when he was 25. That is a feat in itself for a 700-page historical account of the House of Travancore.

This kingdom, which was established by Martanda Verma was one of the princely states which sided with the British during the Independence movement. The book largely traces the feud between two sisters- the elder Sethu Lakshmi Bai & the younger Sethu Parvati Bai.

It shows a vibrant, cosmopolitan & a matrilineal society which spans today’s Kerala. Despite the length, the book is not a difficult read as it traces the two sisters battling for the dominion-ship of the kingdom.

There is a good queen & a bad queen and their rivalry has a huge impact on the princely state as it traverses India’s independence. People interested in history should pick up this book as this is a meticulously researched book & it shows a rare account of a princely state which sided with the British.

 

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All That Man Is

by David Szalay

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Goodreads Link

This novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016 & has a unique structure. It is considered a novel but is actually nine stories of different men in different periods of their lives spanning several countries across Europe.

The first story is that of a teenager & the main characters progress in age as the last one is that of an old man. The stories all deal with a moment of crisis in the lives of these men and while it may seem similar to Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami, it captures the essence of the place beautifully which results in the crisis being portrayed externally & internally.

The stories paint a beautiful picture of Europe and the characters are well-etched out. One of the worst things about short stories is that they don’t feel complete, but this novel provides a sense of satisfaction & completion.

I intend to read more of Szalay’s work.

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Americanah

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Goodreads Link

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a critically- acclaimed Nigerian author whose stories largely deal with migration, feminism & racism. Americanah was her third novel & was in the New York Times list of 10 best books of 2013.

The book deals with teenagers Ifemelu Obinze who fall is love as teenagers in Nigeria. However, Ifemelu moves to the US and due to circumstances they drift apart. The book traces her troubling journey in the US as she tries to find her feet & Obinze’s in the UK as an undocumented worker. 

It tackles themes of Nigerian immigrants in the US & their place in the racist American society. Years later, both of them meet in Nigeria and pick up where they left off. But Obinze is married with kids & she had cut off all communication with him suddenly when she was in the US.

The book also reflects Nigeria’s politics & its road to democracy. The book is interesting & captures the essence really well. Chimamanda is a good author to know Nigerian stories.

Here are TED talks by the author which are considered one of the best.

 

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From My Book-Shelf

Delusions In The Rain

The wind is howling outside, shaking the windows of my house as the rain continues to pound like artillery shells without any break. It is like this city is being eaten by a giant water monster and everything is submerging in it’s belly. In hindsight, global warming is indeed the water monster.

Windows & doors remain tightly shut as they continue to vibrate and make repeated sounds of banging against the walls. Shortly after I read a text circulating on Whatsapp that electricity will be cut from the source, the lights go off. It gets dark and it seems like each house is a separate island cut off from each other.

Each island is cemented in its place away until the wind will tear it apart and break it into pieces.

I sigh & get up from my couch. I have to cut vegetables for my salad. It is a part of this new diet I have been doing. I have been fairly regular so far, although it has only been a week. In this one week itself I have strayed a few times but it has largely been in check. Straying a bit from the diet is better than not having one at all.

I open the fridge and its coolness brushes my face. I take a tomato, cucumber & carrot from the fridge and put them on the kitchen counter. I turn around to the counter behind me and take the knife out of the rack where the utensils are kept. I turn back to see somebody’s head in place of the tomato.

I close my eyes. Whose head is it?

The hair on the head was uncombed and the face was smashed & bloody. It looked like it had no skull but just skin sewn in place to form the shape of an ill-formed, ugly-looking face. Blood was slowly sliding down from its temples and forehead while it’s eyes remained tightly shut.

It looked disgusting. But whose head is it?

It looked familiar, and yet I could not place a name against it.

How long have my eyes been shut?

What time is it? It should be around 2 pm right now.

I am hungry.

I open my eyes slowly to see the cucumber, tomato and the carrot next to each other on the kitchen counter. I take them one by one and start chopping and dicing it. I start with the cucumber, cutting it into circular shapes with the knife.

Suddenly the knife looks threatening in my hand.

I check the time. It is 1 pm.

I am off by one hour. My reliable sense of time has eluded me today.

I start chopping the tomato and sense somebody’s hands wrapping mine slowly. The skin of the hands is soft and delicate and envelopes my hands in warmth.

They are a woman’s hands with nicely- trimmed nails & no nail-polish. I can see the transparency of her nails and the white skin under it.

I like that, no nail-polish.

I stop chopping the tomato & turn around to look at her directly. She is completely naked and the flesh of her dusky skin is within my reach. I hold her waist from my right hand & feel her skin. It feels real. I look deep into her brown eyes as they curiously gaze back at me. My eyes wander down to my hand on her waist and fire seems to be emanating from it.

My palm is burning but I feel no sensation and the skin on my right palm looks like the burnt end of a cigarette. The shit of nicotine & tar.

The disgusting anti-smoking ad plays in my mind. I imagine a piece of foam being squeezed with soft hands and the dark grey colored-tar oozing out of it and filling a glass jar kept beneath to the brim.

I close my eyes again.

1…2…3.

I open them and there is no naked woman in front of me. Am I imagining all this?

I am a little disappointed but I smell something burning. I bring my palm to my face and the pink flesh of my skin is in place. I look at the gas with the pan on top of it containing cooked vegetables inside.

I open the lid of the pan in which the maid was cooking the vegetables. Smoke escapes and lands right on my spectacles making the glasses moist and everything around me is out of focus. The mist clears and I can see the dark, burnt vegetables sitting in the pan.

The maid must have forgotten to turn the gas off. Who forgets something like that? But she is not like that. She is very careful about things.

But there is no other reasonable explanation. Maybe she is having an off day. I mean, even this city is having an off day today. It has stranded and disappointed its citizens.

I wonder what the city would say if it had a voice right now. Maybe it would flood its citizens so that it is left alone. I wonder if that is what the city is doing right now. I mix all the cut vegetables in a bowl & add some salt & pepper to it. I think of the cut pieces of vegetables wading their way through the bowl in the muck of the mustard sauce I add on top of it.

I toss the salad in a bowl and walk into the living room to see three people sitting on the couch looking at me as if they have been waiting too long. A woman in her mid-30s and two identical young boys who seem to be 8-year olds. All three of them are wet and the water is dripping from their bodies and clothes on to the floor. Water slowly fills up the living room and is heading towards me like an army of small water soldiers.

The cool water touches my feet and I wriggle my toes. I am standing in my place and can’t even think of moving as the water passes under and around the soles of my feet to take over the kitchen and the bedroom. I want to close my eyes but I can’t anymore. I wish to see this through.

I wish to see what happens next and to find out what this all means and where I am.

Curiosity killed the cat, didn’t it.

But my eyes remain open and I see the people sitting on the couch. Curious, darting eyes of the the boys were piercing right through my body making my blood cold. I could feel my body revolting to the sight of the boys but my heart was filling up with warmth.

The woman is sitting cross-legged and her hair is disheveled and wet. Her clothes are torn around her waist revealing her dusky and slightly burnt skin. The light blue top she is wearing is wet and has black marks all over it as if she has escaped a fire.

I lift my hand up to feel the skin on my face. I feel stitches covering my entire face. The stitches complete a roughly drawn circle as they go from my forehead to the temples down to the chin and back up to the forehead from the other side. I am completely dry except for the slight trickle of blood around the stitches.

My face is kept in place with stitches and suddenly I feel the skin of my face slipping down as one by one each stitch is slowly undone. I imagine my head twirling in the air as my vision gets blurry. I fall on the wet floor and see those six sets of eyes looking straight at me.

My eyes shut.

Darkness.

Delusions In The Rain

5 Books About India to have on your bookshelf

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Freedom at Midnight

by Larry Collins, Dominique Lapierre

For those interested in the partition.

The pair of Larry Collins & Dominique Lapierre have written several books together which combine their investigative journalism techniques with historical research. They have written about Paris, New York & Israel and embarked on the Indian Independence together.

The leads of this story are Mountbatten, Jinnah, Nehru & Gandhi. The premise is the Independence of the nation. This book has had painstaking research and uncovered old documents which will make us go through the core people involved in partition. However, since the only major person alive during the writing of this book was Mountbatten, the book does portray him in a good light.

The partition & last few weeks to Independence from the eyes of the ones making decisions about it is a topic which will always be close to our hearts.

 

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The Discovery of India

by Jawaharlal Nehru

India from the eyes of the man who established its principles.

Today when the current PM does not even mention India’s first Prime Minister in his speeches, it is even more imperative that we read this book to know the man who led our nation through the most perilous times and made us a secular democracy when no major world leader of that time thought that we could survive.

Nehru was a brilliant writer and this book is a testament to that. True to the title, it is the discovery of India from the eyes of Nehru. The India that we see through his eyes is glorious, strong, independent, proud and a nation of a very rich cultural heritage.

The book is also a reflection of Nehru and the vision he had of India.

 

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India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

by Ramachandra Guha

India’s lesser-known history.

This is the finest book on Indian history I have read. It is over 900 pages but totally unputdownable & very interesting. It takes us through a newly-independent India until the early 90s which was a period that not a lot of us know about.

The book is painstakingly and well researched and is very well-paced. It takes us through the nation’s journey and the major events that took us to this decade. It shows a nation which started low but has slowly & steadily climbed up & stands to be at the frontier in the coming decades.

 

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The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

by Amartya Sen

India as a culture & society from the Nobel prize winning economist.

This is Amartya Sen’s most famous book and it explores India and it’s culture and history through sixteen of his essays. It tells us about India’s long argumentative tradition which is so important for remaining a secular democracy.

 

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India Unbound: The Social and Economic Revolution from Independence to the Global Information Age

by Gurcharan Das

Indian economy from the eyes of the man who saw it.

Gurcharan Das was the CEO of P&G India from 1985 to 1992. He grew up with the nation & was at the helm of one of the biggest FMCG companies during the high-growth transition phase.

While his other books are okay, this one was really good. It takes us through India’s economy, it’s challenges, the ’91 reforms and the people behind it. It is a breezy read & well-written which touches the periphery of Indian economy and how we have stumbled through to the era of high growth.

5 Books About India to have on your bookshelf