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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From My Book-Shelf- The New Launches

From My Bookshelf

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.

From My Bookshelf

From My Book-Shelf

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Modern Romance

by Aziz Ansari, Eric Klinenberg

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I thoroughly enjoyed Aziz Ansari’s stand-up act & his show Master of None on Netflix & that got me to pick up this book. It¬†is about dating & relationships in today’s age where choices are just an app away.

Aziz teams up with sociologist Eric Klinenberg & they conduct several experiments to understand the implications of such a dating scenario. The book is interesting, well written & is not lengthy at less than 300 pages.

Since Aziz has covered these topics on his show and his stand-up act, the book will feel a little repetitive if you have watched them. But it is a book which should be read by people who are in the dating world now & are used to the swipe-right-swipe-left phenomena.

Definitely worth a read.

 

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Narcopolis

by Jeet Thayil

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Jeet Thayil is a poet with a Sahitya Akademi Award for English to his name. Narcopolis is his first attempt at a novel. The book is an amalgamation of people who live or spend time at Shuklaji street in Old Bombay.

Thayil, an alcoholic & an addict for almost two decades wrote this novel as a memorial to all those people he met & hung out with during those days. It is based in the 70s and 80s Bombay when opium was being replaced by the more potent heroin.

Hookers, eunuchs, pimps, dealers, all of them turn up in this book & bring alive the underbelly of Mumbai in such a way that no movie or other book has been able to capture before.

Narcopolis is like a hallucinatory dream. It has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012, Man Asia Literary Prize (2012) and the Hindu Literary Prize (2013).

Even though it is beautifully written, it is not a book for everyone.

 

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Ramayana

by C. Rajagopalachari

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Yes, my bookshelf this week has a book on opium right next to one of India’s biggest epics.

This year I decided that maybe I should include some philosophy & religious texts to my book-shelf. While I have watched this epic saga countless number of times on TV, I wanted to know how it was portrayed in the written word.

Also, reading this got me some brownie points from my mother. ūüėÄ

This English translation by C. Rajagopalachari is one of the most popular translations of Ramayana. He has also translated Mahabharata and was actively involved in the Indian Independence movement & was the last Governor-General of India.

If only today’s¬†politicians¬†could read & write or at least inculcate policies that would make more people read & write.

But this book falls way short. I was looking for a story which combines mythology, history & fiction but instead this is an extremely simple translation of the text.

It fails to bring the epic to life, has the author’s comments at the end of chapters for those who don’t believe this story to be true & is a pain to read. My hunt for a genuine translation of¬†Indian & the world’s religious texts continues.

From My Book-Shelf