From My Bookshelf

Two Lives

by Vikram Seth

My Rating- 

This book is the story of the author’s uncle, Shanti Behari Seth who is in his eighties and lives in London and his German wife.

Shanti was born in Lucknow and immigrated to Germany in the 1930s for his studies. He lived with a Jewish family there where he meets his future wife, Helga Gerda Caro.

The author traces their story individually and then together. Shanti, an Indian living in Germany in the 30s and Helga, a Jew who went through the tumultuous journey that all Jews went through during that period.

While he moves to London as he cannot get a license to practice dentistry in Germany, she moves there years later to escape the Holocaust.

The book is an interesting read, tracing the love story of an Indian man and a Jewish woman traversing through Berlin and London during a period when the world was burning.

Since only his uncle was alive when the author was writing this book, it is from largely his voice while Helga’s journey is traced through the letters she exchanged with her family and friends.

This is where the book gets a little tedious and long as her voice in the letters is not given justice by the author. In the middle the book becomes a collection of letters Helga exchanged with her near & dear ones who were still living after the Holocaust. The book somewhere loses the plot & reading becomes a task.

However, the book has a wave of nostalgia which all younger generation people have for their grandparents and how they lived their lives. The book ends on that very note, perhaps a little bitter.


Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

by Yuval Noah Harari


My Rating- 

An Israeli professor holding a Ph.D started teaching an online course on A Brief History of Humankind. This course became extremely popular which made the lecturer write a book on the same.

That book is Sapiens and the lecturer is Yuval Noah Harari.

This extremely popular & highly recommended book traces evolution and puts human beings and our race in its place. Starting from the time when humans were three different species till the current age, the book traces our journey right from removing other human species from the face of the earth to now destroying other species as well.

The best thing about this book is how it puts our entire journey in perspective and what we have left behind. Wiping out other species and exploiting nature to the extent that we are on the brink of disaster is what humans as a species has been all about. Although what I do refer to as humans here is one of the species of humans which has survived.

This book is an eye-opener and should be a must read for everyone!


The Golden Gate

by Vikram Seth


My Rating- 

Yes, Vikram Seth is another Indian author I enjoy reading thoroughly. This book is a story written entirely in verse.

I do not write a lot of poems nor do I read them and that is why I was a little hesitant in picking up a book written in verse. But I am glad I did. This was Vikram Seth’s first novel & gained him instant popularity in the US & India. He received the Sahitya Akademi Award in English in 1988 for this novel.

The book is based in San Francisco and was released in 1986 which is a reflection of the changes happening in the city during that time. It was emerging as the center of liberal activism and counter-cultural movement along with a rejection of set standards & celebration of alternate lifestyles.

It is important to understand this background of the city to understand the characters in this book as well. Two of them are gay and several other characters discuss homosexuality, feminism, civil disobedience and religion.

This book brings joy and sadness as it takes us to San Francisco in different seasons as love blooms and withers away and lives continue to move on. The book is a delight to read and just whisks us away to this beautiful city which has continued to be the center of a liberal art & culture, along with technology today.

It is a delight to read this book, even for those who do not enjoy poetry.

From My Bookshelf

From My Book-Shelf


Catch-22 (Catch-22 #1)

by Joseph Heller

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I was finally able to get my hands on this book which has become an extremely popular catchphrase. The title of the book refers to a rule in the army which states that a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly combat missions, but if he makes the request to stop flying missions he is considered sane & therefore has to fly the missions.

It is a situation from which there is no escape due to contradictory rules. The main character in the book is Yossarian who keeps coming up with new ways to avoid flying combat missions but Colonel Catchcart keeps raising the minimum number of missions the men must fly to complete the service.

The book explores themes like the futility of war, the bureaucracy in the army (which can easily be extended to any government organization), internal politics (which could apply to any office space), the flawed idea of justice and the military-industrial complex.

The book is silly in parts, funny in general & almost every character is the personification of an industry or idea that is so commonplace that it is overlooked.

This is one of those books which reflects the irony of life & the systems in place in our workplace & educational environment which makes us feel so helpless that we can only laugh about it.

Not to be missed.



by Tina Fey

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I picked up this book because I like Tina Fey. She is witty, smart & has been a regular on American television. This book takes us through her journey in her words and in her usual wit and humor.

However, there is nothing extraordinary about the book. We see her go through the various phases in life which are slight commentary on women’s bodies, the work-life-family balance women have to go through and her being cast on the various roles that made her popular.

It is an okay read.


The World According to Garp

by John Irving

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I remember reading The Cider House Rules and I had enjoyed it thoroughly. For a long time I did not want to read any more John Irving simply because I did not want to be let down by the author.

However, I am glad I picked up this book. The World According to Garp is the story of T.S. Garp who is the bastard child of Jenna Fields. She is a feminist and will go on to become the voice of feminism by telling her story in a book.

This book is the life of T.S. Garp as he grows up, starts writing, moves to Europe and then goes in the shadows of his mother who becomes a popular feminist, then he gets married and has kids.

The book is brilliantly written, is smart and witty and the characters are such that they will stay with you long after the book is done and dusted.

A delightful read really.


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The Hungry Tide

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Yes, another Amitav Ghosh novel. This time he takes me to the Bay of Bengal. Piya, an American marine biologist of Indian descent is travelling to the islands in the Sunderbans  to study dolphins in the area. She runs into Kanai, a linguist who is going to visit his aunt in the area.

Their lives intertwine in Canning, a place whose name and existence has its own story. However, they go on their separate ways (for a while). Kanai explores the past of this place through his dead uncle’s notebook left to him while Piya explores the present as she is on her trail to track the dolphins.

This book has won several awards but I wish I could say it is as good as The Ibis Trilogy books, but it is not. But it is always nice to read about places I have never been to and delve into the lives of the people there through Amitav’s books.


Blood Brothers: A Family Saga

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This is the first MJ Akbar book I have read. He is a noted journalist who has written for several media houses and written several books as well and was also the official spokesperson for the Rajiv Gandhi government.

This book is one of the few fiction books he has written and is set in Telinipara, a small town near Kolkata. It is an autobiographical account of the author starting from his grandfather, Prayaag who arrives in Telinipara as a child and is adopted by a Muslim family and is named Rahmatullah and tells the story till the author turns 17. 

The jute mill, which was driving the economy of the town made Rahmatullah prosperous as he owned a tea stall opposite the mill. With money came social standing as the British left, he migrated to East Pakistan with his family, was brought back by his son and saw old age and his family grow to become a grandfather.

The book’s underlying theme explores the Hindu-Muslim relations from the period when the British ruled India till the 1971 creation of Bangladesh. The book moves along at a quick pace and sometimes I felt that it skipped some important periods. However, this could also be because I have read some books which have explored this period at a deeper level.

It is a book good in patches but it feels like something is missing.


The Narrow Road to the Deep North

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Tired of the books based in India and by Indian authors mostly, I decided I needed a break. The Narrow Road To The Deep North was exactly what I needed.

This novel places us among the Australian POWs captured by the Japanese during WWII and made to work at the Burma Railway. This railway also goes by the name of the Death Railway as it was built by forced labor with over 180,000 Asian civilian laborers (of which around 90,000 died) and around 60,000 Allied POWs (around 12,600 died) used to build it.

And there is your history lesson.

The author’s father was one of the POWs who escaped alive and was the major inspiration behind the setting of the novel.

However, this critically acclaimed and the 2014 Man-Booker prize winner novel is the story of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor who was also a POW in the Burma Railway. The book oscillates between Australia and Burma as we see Dorrigo’s love story unfold. He is about to be married to a woman until he falls in love with another woman who turns out to be his uncle’s second wife.

The book left me with a sad feeling and made me want to be alone for a while after I used to read it. The book also explores other characters beyond Dorrigo and many of them leave an imprint on the story. These were either the other Australian POWs, or the women in Dorrigo’s life or the Japanese and Korean guards at the camp.

I loved the book and it left a very profound impact on me, but it is also a very sad one too and I don’t think everyone will enjoy it. I could instantly relate to the words and the language used in the book. His love story reminded me of mine and his disinterest in the world after coming back from the war reminded me of the times I have felt the same.

In fact, I do not want to read another Richard Flanagan novel simply because I want to remember him for this novel and not any others.

From My Bookshelf