Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: After Dark

I picked up After Dark after I finished The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle which was a truly intoxicating read. It took a few days for the after-effects of The Wind-Up Bird to wear off. While Wind-Up Bird came out in the 90s, After Dark is the most recent novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Unlike The Wind-Up Bird which was a thick volume, After Dark is a slim one almost like a novella. The book is an easy and lucid read translated into English form the original Japanese. The language is poetic, the story is told in third person and the events happen in real-time. Each chapter displays the time elapsed since the story began (It reminds one of the popular TV series 24.) The third-person viewpoint might feel detached and indifferent but the characters are not and more than make up for it. As the title suggests, the story begins at night and ends when darkness slowly gives way to the break of the dawn.

Mari Asai is a 20-year-old girl and is sitting in a coffee shop, whiling away her time in downtown Tokyo, all by herself, trying to concentrate on a book. It’s close to midnight and she should be home but she doesn’t feel like going home for no particular reason. A young man named Takahashi comes in after a while and introduces himself to Mari. After little initial hiccups, the two get on talking. Meanwhile, Mari’s sister Eri Asai is lying asleep in a room, the location of the room unknown. Her sleep is abnormally deep and frighteningly perfect. We can’t tell if she’s alive if not for her pulse. We don’t know for how long she’s been sleeping and when she would wake up, if she would at all. As darkness takes the city in its grip, routine normalcy of the day gives way to the eerie and the ominous of the night. After Mari and Takahashi make some talk, Takahashi takes leave and Mari is again all by herself till she is called by a nearby hotel owner – a retired female wrestler – to help her out with a Chinese girl who’s been attacked by a stranger and who doesn’t know Japanese. There’s a third storyline involving seemingly the stranger who attacked the Chinese girl. His world is equally bizarre and he seems to be an embodiment of evil. The three different stories run parallel and converge in the end at the break of the dawn.

It feels strange thinking of the contrast between the night and the day, between the dark and the light; not just the absolute difference but also the foreboding, the ominous, the apprehension, the uncertainties they entail. Outside and inside of our psyche. The story tells of the modern-age decay, the alienation, the melancholy of loss, the evil and the bizarre. The ending is vague and it feels like the story was left in halfway but it’s a Murakami book and he never gives you the conclusion. May be there isn’t one or may be he wants to you to find it out by yourself. If you’ve read Murakami before or if you like the bizarre and the strange and can take in the surrealism, then this is a book for you. Others can read this for the lucidity of the language and some wonderful lines.

About the author:

Haruki Murakami is a popular Japanese writer. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages. His most famous works are The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka On the Shore, Norwegian Wood among others. His fascination with surrealism and looking for the ominous and unsettling in the seemingly mundane events is thrilling. His most recent work IQ84 would come out in English in 2011

(This book is reviewed by Ajay Kumar. Ajay, is pursuing engineering and is in the fourth year at IIT, Kharagpur .He blogs at http://ajaykgp.wordpress.com)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Review: The Delhi Walla series

Delhi, the capital of world’s largest democracy, is perceived differently by different people. You can hate it, love it but you cannot ignore it! The city has been the hot seat right from the times of the epic Mahabharat, legend has it that Indraprastha, the capital of Pandavas, was situated in the current metropolis.  Historically there have been seven cities of Delhi starting from Rai Pithora, capital of the Chauhan dynasty of Prithviraj Chauhan fame right up to the British and Independent India’s capital of Lutyens New Delhi.

This historical journey makes Delhi, the city, a rich mix of monuments, culture and cuisines.  Mayank Austen Soofi who blogs at delhiwalla.com, through his books in the Delhi walla series, takes the reader on an exciting journey of the capital city.

Mayank Austen Soofi’s books are a definite guide not just for visitors, tourists in the city but also for the residents of Delhi. His books bring out the known as well as the lesser known places in Delhi. If on one hand in his book  on Monuments you have the well known Lotus Temple on the other you could get to know more about Razia Sultan’s tomb, if you have the better known Qutub Minar you also have the lesser known Agrasen Baoli.

The Delhi walla book on various hangouts of Delhi is also works as a perfect guide to make the most out of the city. So if it is shopping you are looking to do in Delhi the Delhi walla will take you to the best shopping destinations in the city. In his hangout guide he also covers some interesting places like the Daryaganj book houses, Sufi spaces and Gay hangouts.

In his third book about food and drinks he takes the reader through the best eating places of Delhi. Which is the best place in Delhi that serves you Raj Kachori or Aloo tikki? Or if you are in Old Delhi which is the best food option you can choose from? This book will guide you through it all! If it is Gobi Manchurian you are craving for or steamed momos or the paranthe waali galli of Chandni Chowk he has it all covered in the book with his interesting views about each place!

The Delhiwallah books seem to be a work of passion and on reading which you can easily say that the author knows the city in and out.

Interesting and informative guides for anyone who wants to know the city better from a writer who knows the city best!

About the Author:

Mayank Austen Soofi is a writer, photographer and passionate bibliophile who spends his time in the city’s by-lanes and bookshops. Since 2007 he has written a blog called The Delhi Walla, in which he documents the minutiae of the city he loves. The books bring together the best of his writings and photographs, for the reader to get to know the city better.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: I Can See You

Karen Rose’s book I Can See You brings to the reader an intense and different plot. I have read many books in the popular fiction recently but this one is a definite page turner.

Eve Wilson as a young girl was raped and beaten by her friend’s father. Though the man is caught and imprisoned it leaves her badly scarred. To get over her trauma Eve moves to another city and tries to build her life anew. She pursues a course in psychology where she is involved in developing an online game which provides the player a secret identity and can have a social alternate life. Eve who has fully recovered from her past trauma with the help of the virtual world is trying to help others to kick-start their own recovery by using the virtual world.

But soon things start going horribly wrong when women users who have shared their fears, their dreams and vulnerabilities in this virtual world are getting killed one by one by an online predator. With Eve herself now a target it is a race against time to find a killer who can disappear with the strike of a key.

Detective Noah Webster who is investigating these murders along with Eve put in their all and very best to find this new age predator.

The book is a good read and has a nice, intriguing concept. A differently written serial killer story. With various twists and turns in the plot this book will keep the reader hooked till the very end.

About the Author:

Karen Rose was introduced to suspense and horror at the tender age of eight when she accidentally read Poe’s The Pit and The Pendulum and was afraid to go to sleep for years. She now enjoys writing books that make other people afraid to go to sleep.

Karen lives in Florida with her husband of twenty years and their children. When she’s not writing, she enjoys travelling, karate and, though not a popular Florida pastime, skiing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: The Common Lawyer

Mark Gimenez's book The Common Lawyer is not a typical courtroom drama unlike his other books but nevertheless an interesting read. If you are a fan of John Grisham then you absolutely must add Mark Gimenez’s books to your must read list!

The protagonist of the book, Andy Prescott, is a 29 year old lawyer in the city of Austin, Texas. Andy is not the typical American lawyer living the American dream but is a gofer who makes a living specializing in getting his clients to evade traffic fines in the traffic court. Not particularly ambitious and happy with whatever he is earning he prefers to take it easy.

Andy’s life changes when billionaire Russell Reeves retains him to represent him in the redevelopment of economically backward areas of Austin. Russell pays Andy more money than he has ever earned or ever imagined in his lifetime. This turns out to be the turning point in Andy’s life and from here on the book becomes a roller coaster ride for the reader with its various twists and turns. Andy gets more than what he bargained for when he gets more involved in Russell’s life. Andy realizes nothing comes for free and that Russell is a desperate man whose sole aim is to save the life of his eight year old son, Zach who is suffering from a rare cancer disorder. He believes the cure to his son’s problem lies in his so called relationships from the past and sends Andy on a chase to trace them back.

The book is a good and fast paced read. An interesting book in the popular fiction genre. Makes for a good weekend read or airport read!

About the Author:

Born and educated in Texas, Mark Gimenez attended law school at Notre Dame, Indiana and practiced with a large Dallas law firm. He is married with two sons.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review: Beautiful Thing Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars

Bombay’s Dance bars have been much written, much spoken, much maligned, much debated but have continued to fascinate many.  Suketu Mehta in his book, The Maximum City had a chapter on the night life of Bombay which rightly said ‘Cities like Bombay live at night. The city unfurls itself, luxuriously, after the sun sets. ‘  If we keep the morality debate of the dance bars aside, these dance bars were a source of entertainment, source of livelihood for some and for many it was an escape from harsh reality. The dance bars were considered an integral part of Mumbai’s night life. So when a politician decided to ban these dance bars on moral grounds he managed to not just wipe out livelihood for many but also a part of Mumbai’s history.  

While the newspapers extensively covered the statistics involved of people who will lose their jobs if the ban was enforced not many attempted to find out what happened to these women, the bar owners, their families after the ban. This book manages to bridge that gap.  Brilliantly at that!

Sonia Faleiro’s book, Beautiful Thing Inside The Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars researched over a period of five years gives the reader an insightful and moving account of Leela, one of the many bar dancers.  The book will take you from the high points in Leela’s life as a bar dancer in part I to the low points that she went through after the dance bars were banned in Mumbai in part II of the book. Leela throughout comes across as an immensely positive and  fiercely independent person who even being at the bottom of the heap post the dance bar ban refuses to seek any financial assistance from anyone.  Leela’s journey from her hometown to the big bad world of Bombay, the fame and adulation as a bar dancer to her fall after the dance bar ban will move you, captivate you and keep you hooked till the end. The book is not just about Leela’s struggles but also that of her mother Apsara, her friend Priya and her ‘husband’ Purushottam Shetty.  How despite all odds they manage to find their peace in the city and in their lives.

The author manages to bring all the characters alive and through Leela’s story she manages to give the reader a peek into the lives of these women, their families, their friends. 

The book will keep the reader mesmerized and turning pages to know what ultimately happens to Leela.  The story is brilliantly narrated and turns out to be absolutely hard to put down.  

A riveting, gripping and moving read.

If you haven’t picked up the book yet, do it now!

About the Author:

Sonia Faleiro is an award-winning reporter and writer. She is the author of a book of fiction, The Girl, and a contributor to numerous anthologies including AIDS Sutra: Untold Stories from India. She has reported for publications including India Today and Tehelka, and is now a contributing editor with Vogue. Sonia was born in Goa, studied in Edinburgh and lives in San Francisco. She is working on her second book of non-fiction.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Literature Live!

Literature Live! is Mumbai's much needed and its very first open Literature festival! Rejoice Mumbaikars! 

We share with you the event invite and the event schedule!

"....It is in celebration of this passion and joy for literature, that we cordially invite you to Mumbai's very first literature festival,‘Literature Live’. Best described as an eclectic potpourri of literary genres, Literature Live will see the coming together of some of the greatest Indian and international literary minds. With a mélange of literati and common folk in attendance, Literature Live promises a great experience to all culturally inclined Mumbaikars.
Anchored by noted Indian columnist Mr. Anil Dharker, this initiative is supported by luminaries such as award-winning author and renowned columnist Bachi Karkaria, theatre personality Gerson Da Cunha, Publishing Director of India Book House Padmini Mirchandani and India’s best-selling contemporary author Chetan Bhagat amongst others.

We look forward to you joining us at this four-day literary extravaganza that will see celebrations spread across venues such as theTata Theatre, Experimental Theatre (NCPA) from November 12th to 14th, concluding with a grand finale at the picturesque lifestyle destination Lavasa on November 15th."

Event details


Monday, November 8, 2010

Review: By The Tungabhadra

By the Tungabhadra , originally published as Tungabhdrar Teere (Bengali) in 1965, is one of Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s five critically acclaimed historical novels. The book is superbly translated by Arunava Sinha. Saradindu Bandopadhyay is best known for his exquisitely crafted historical fiction and as the creator of the immortal detective Byomkesh Bakshi.

What is heartening to note is that publishing houses are coming forward to translate books written in regional languages. Thanks to this the readers get a chance to read some excellent literature written by lesser known regional writers.

The book is based in the historical city of Vijayanagar in 15th century South India. Vijayanagar was one of the last Hindu kingdoms in India and was a bulwark against the expansion of Bahamini Kingdom into the southern peninsula of India.

The story is about two step sisters Bidyunmala and Manikanakana both princesses of the kingdom of Kalinga, modern day Orissa. Princess Bidyunmala has been promised as a bride to Devaraya, the king of Vijayanagar, their marriage is that of political conevenience.  The wedding party undertakes a journey from Kalinga to Vijayanagar on three barges which sails down the Bay of Bengal and up the river Krishna to Tungabhadra on their way to Vijayanagar. En route they rescue a drowning man, Arjunvarma, who ends up joining the wedding party. Princess Bidyunmala who is not happy about the fact that she is going to be be Devaraya’s fourth wife finds herself getting attracted to Arjunvarma.

The book also takes the reader through the political intrigues of the Vijayanagar kingdom. Devaraya who is busy preparing for his marriage, is threatened by his own brother within and enemies preparing for a war without.

A very interesting and gripping narrative that manages to effortlessly blend romance, politics and palace intrigues.  Interesting read though at times not as engrossing.

Interesting read.

About the Author:

A writer of novels, short stories, plays and screenplays, Saradindu Bandopadhyay (1899-1970) is a best known as the creator of the immortal detective Byomkesh Bakshi. His work is widely acclaimed for its originality, lucidity, humour and some of the most brilliant insights into human nature. By the Tungabhadra, originally published as Tungabhdrar Teere in 1965, is one of his five critically acclaimed historical novels.

Arunava Sinha is an Internet professional by day a translator of classic and contemporary fiction by late night. His translations include Sankar’s Chowringhee and The Middleman, Buddhadeva Bose’s My Kind of Girl, Moti Nandy’s Striker Stopper and Banaphool’s What Really Happened and Other Stories. Born and educated in Kolkata, he now lives in Delhi.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Q&A with Sonia Faleiro, author of Beautiful Thing Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars

Sonia Faleiro’s book Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars was recently launched in Bombay.  The book is the story of Leela who was a well known bar dancer in Bombay. It takes the reader through the highs that she lived as a bar dancer and the lows she struggled with after the ban. A fascinating and insightful look into the underworld of Bombay’s dance bars.

We got a chance to meet Sonia Faleiro and ask her a few questions about the book. Here’s a short Q&A with Sonia

Q. The book is a deeply moving account of Leela, as a reader you get totally engrossed in Leela’s story, how did you manage to stay detached from the subject?

My relationship with Leela was that of a reporter and subject. And yet, it was difficult not to be moved by what I saw on a daily basis, not to, at times, feel both hopeless and helpless. I was also staggered by the risks Leela and Priya took. I wasn't detached, but neither could I be involved. I was there to write Leela's story after all, and Leela, as an adult, made her choices for better or worse. That said, readers will be aware of my attempts to help Leela following her  loss of employment after the ban.

Q. Did you at any point feel that Leela was unhappy with the way her life was going?

Leela was a very spunky girl with a zest for life. She was unique in that way. She had a sophisticated sense of who she was and who she wasn’t. While she knew that she was a star in the dance bar and her locality she also knew what her standing in the society was. But that never dampened her spirits, she was never resentful. I would say both she and her friend Priya never attempted to try and fit in. They knew who they were, what they were.
In fact, they always felt they were better than the rest and Priya never gave up a chance to mock me about my education, my income, how I dressed and how I looked! They were happy.

Q. How did you meet Leela?

I happened to watch a TV news report about dance bars, and was intrigued by the possibilites of a story. So I got in touch with one of my sources in the bar business and asked that he introduce me to some bar dancers. He did, in his bar in South Bombay, and one of the dancers was Leela.

Q.  Are you in touch with Leela?

No we lost touch after she moved to Dubai.

Q. Your book also gives us a brief glimpse of the Hijra community, another marginalized community in our society...

Yes, they're present in a couple of chapters in the book. The episode in the red light district of Kamathipura was perhaps one of the most disturbing for me. It was the birthday of a brothel madam. Although her hijras had dressed beautifully to honour her, in lehenga cholis and elaborate jewellery from Chor Bazaar, their marginalization was obvious: they smelt of food, and their food that day had been a boiled egg, and they smelt also of an embedded perspiration because she wouldn't allow them to bathe more than once every few days. The brothel itself was hot and musty, full of cobwebs, and without any furniture at all, not even a bed to sleep on. Despite their circumstances the brothel's hijras welcomed me with open arms, and treated me like a member of their extended family. It was a profoundly moving experience and a defining moment for me.

Q. What is more satisfying a book on fiction or a non-fiction as a writer?

Definitely non-fiction! Considering I have written both I do not think I will ever be able to write fiction again.  While researching for this book I realized that there were just so many untold stories, struggles of people which ought to be heard and I can only do it through what I know best, that is, write about them.

Q. Who are your favourite writers?

Indian writers I enjoy reading are Altaf Tyrewala, Kiran Desai, Anita Desai. They have a firm understanding of the country and its people. I also enjoy Rohinton Mistry and Kalpana Swanithan’s Lalli series!
Adrian Nicole Leblanc is a writer who has influenced my writing too. Her book Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx took more than 10 years to research and write. An excellent piece of work. Philip Gourevitch is another author whose book on Rwanda moved me.