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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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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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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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- The New Launches

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Men Without Women

by Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (Translator), Ted Goossen (Translator)

 

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This book was a gift so it will be one of the few books I will keep with me wherever I live. I never buy books but prefer renting them. And what better author to have other than¬†Haruki Murakami.¬†ūüôā

He is one of my favorite authors and his books transcend the laws and boundaries defined by nature. But this one is a series of short stories (seven, to be precise) of men who have lost the women in their lives.

The causes vary and the reaction of the men to these losses vary as well, but what remains constant is¬†Murakami’s¬†fluency and wry humor. To understand the men in this book, one has to go beyond the words and understand how these tragedies have shaped their lives.

These are stories of men without women; Of men who had these women but lost them in tragic circumstances; Stories of men dealing with loneliness. These men are a reflection of all men and how we would react to tragedy and loneliness in our own lives; Or may have already reacted to loneliness.

Murakami had said that writing a novel is like planting a forest and writing short stories is like planting a garden. His garden gives the same shade as a forest.

 

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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

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A lot has been said about¬†Arundhati Roy’s¬†new novel, her first since the¬†Booker-prize¬†winning¬†God of Small Things.

Since her first novel, she has written extensively about the Indian state and its brutalities. I do not entirely support her views because this is politics and you cannot be righteous with it. Brutality goes hand-in-hand with kindness, war goes hand-in-hand with peace and politics is the game of balancing both the sides.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is set in an India which she has seen and written about over the last twenty years. The arrogant, Hindu chest-thumping Gujarat ka lalla (her words) who has gone on to become the Prime Minister despite presiding over one of the most brutal riots in his State; The India which has severely and authoritatively put down the people of Kashmir (and still does) and the Red Corridor which has exposed the unfairness of the  Indian State.

Anjum, a transgender who fights her tragic life to make some sense out of it; Tilo, an architect who travels to Kashmir for her love for Musa are the people who drive this story which is set against a backdrop of an India which is immoral, corrupt, brutal and uncompromising.

There is a cast of support characters as well & this motley group ends up establishing a community in a graveyard as they try to put out the fires in their own lives.

The novel takes us through a vast landscape which ends up distracting us from the stories of these people. The novel’s canvas is too big and some of it seems force-fitted. More than the individual stories, it is the nation that plays the role of the major character unlike her previous novel. Of course, all lives are shaped by external events but the focus is on those particular events rather than the characters.

In that way, it falls slightly short.

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Two Lives

by Vikram Seth

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50363.Two_Lives

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

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