Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ruskin Bond - Love Among the Chickens

Love Among the BookshelvesLove Among the Bookshelves by Ruskin Bond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard about this book a while back when my friend wrote a review of it on her blog, Anu Reviews.

I am always game for a Ruskin Bond books, and when he writes about books, it is like a double treat. Hence I ordered it stat from flipkart. They have a speedy delivery system and the book reached me before the week was over.

I slit the parcel at 1.30 noon, and started reading the book. It was such a captivating book, that I could not put it down. I was done with reading it before the afternoon faded.

Ruskin Bond delves into his past and tells us how he came to be addicted to books and how and when he read certain books. Then he introduces an author and presents an excerpt of on of his books.

He introduces P.G. Wodehouse, H.E. Bates, W. Somerset Maugham, Charles Dickens and Richard Jefferies. Out of these stalwarts, I had never heard of Bates and Jefferies.

Jefferies writes on the spiritual aspect of nature, hence I can understand why Bond likes him so much. Bond is deeply in love with nature himself. But the excerpt was too spiritual for me. I am not too inclined towards that.

But Bates was a find. He writes, it seems from the excerpt on offer, about people who live close to nature and are hearty and in love with life. I will certainly seek out a book or two written by Mr. Bates.

There is no need to write about Wodehouse, Dickens or Maugham. Every book lover knows these authors well.

Bond chooses an excerpt from "The Pickwick Papers" by Dickens. It is a book that is always beside me, I can pick it up any time, and read any chapter. It is too brilliant to be forgotten.

All the works of Wodehouse are such a delight. "All is sunshine and happiness in a never-never land of amiable earls, eccentric aunts and supercilious butlers", writes Bond. We read Wodehouse because we want to escape into that sunshine world where problems can be solved by some little trick of Jeeves.

Bond chose an excerpt from "Cakes and Ale" by Somerset Maugham. I have read this book at some point in my life. Now I just have to refresh my memory by reading it again. The passage that Bond chooses should be a delight for people who wish to write books as well.

In addition to all these goodies, we get to read more reminiscences by Bond, written in way only he can write. He writing has a touch of gentle humor which is so much more refreshing than the witty language used by some authors.

When he speaks about his failing eyesight, and how he chooses to read only in good light, I feel empathy for him. I feel the pain of a person who loves reading but cannot.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

N.E. Brown, S.L. Jenkins - Galveston: 1900: Indignities, Book One: The Arrival

Galveston: 1900: Indignities, Book One: The ArrivalGalveston: 1900: Indignities, Book One: The Arrival by N.E. Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading books is hobby that is good for the mind. Alas, it is not really good for the body. I tend to lie supine on a bed, or curled up in a chair, glued to a book, eyes darting along the sentences, hands turning pages. Over the time, the eyes feel the strain and you are constrained to wearing glasses. The wee print that was a cakewalk when I was 15 or 20 now looks blurred. I replace books on library shelves with a sigh when I see that the print is too small for me to read.

A Kindle helps. I can enlarge the font and read comfortably. There is one more advantage to owning a Kindle that I just discovered. Buying a book is much simpler now. As an avid book lover, I have often chased books that I wanted to read and discover that they were simply not available to me.

Yes, that happens quite often. At one time, I wanted to buy a book called 'Jane Austen Book Club'. I searched high and low in the bookshops close to me, I scoured the libraries around, all without luck. I managed to lay my hands on it, by ordering it in a bookstore. But I had to pay a high price for it, as it was shipped specially for me.

I read about Galveston: 1900: Indignities on a book site which carried an excerpt from it. I found it an intriguing read. My interest was piqued even more as I had visited Galveston on my recent trip to USA. The book was not available easily in paperback for me here in India.

However, a recent gift of Kindle by my daughter suddenly made reading this book possible. The kindle edition was delivered instantly to my reader. A lot of people like to deride the modern way of life, citing that the earlier days were simpler and nicer. Yes, in some ways the early days were nice, the life was slower. But surely technology has made our life richer now. This is one example. In early days I would have sighed and never managed to read this book. But now, I did.

The story is about Catherine Eastman who was born in Sandgate, England. She was brought to USA by her mother, Anne Eastman, when Catherine was 15 years old. A series of tragedies had wiped the rest of their family off. Anne Eastman wanted to make a fresh start in a new place. Her mother was a skilled seamstress and hoped to make her living by it. After a rough sea-voyage, the mother and daughter arrived in Galveston and took their bearings. Anne sought work as an assistant seamstress in The Grande Opera House. Unfortunately, she also meets David Brooke there.

David Brooke is a serial killer and born criminal. He spots the beautiful Anne Eastman and is instantly smitten by her. But the aloof widow does not encourage him. It makes him obsess all the more about her. This obsession proves fatal to Anne. It also alters the course of life of Catherine.

The book is a romance, no doubt. But being set in 1898, it is a historical fiction. It is also placed close to the devastating storm of 1900 that hit Galveston. The historical facts provide a fillip to the story. The narration is so effective, that you actually feel you are witnessing those events of far away times. This engrossing tale keeps you turning pages. I was able to read the entire book in the space of a day!

The story of Catherine Eastman is told in a series of novels. Four have been printed already, and I am on to the next one in the series, Galveston :1900: Indignities - The Aftermath.

The research for the book is done by N.E. Brown and is so well written by her daughter S.L. Jenkins. Do pick up this excellent romance from Amazon.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Anna Elliott - Georgiana Darcy's Diary

Georgiana Darcy's Diary: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice Continued (Pride and Prejudice Chronicles, #1)Georgiana Darcy's Diary: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice Continued by Anna Elliott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was just gifted a Kindle by my daughter. One of the first things I did was to see what I could get free off their stack. I was looking for Persuasion by Jane Austen, and this book was right there beside it.

The title sounded promising. I am not really fond of literary sequels. I had disliked "The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet" by Colleen McCullough. I did not really like "Scarlett" by Alexandra Ripley. Despite its nice sounding title, the book was likely to be a fluffy romance.

Why not read a fluffy romance first on a brand new Kindle? It has been a long time since I read an easy page turner. What clinched the deal was the prospect of meeting beloved old characters again.

The story starts a year after the momentous incidents at the end of "Pride and Prejudice", the wedding of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Elizabeth is happy as the new mistress of Pemberley. Georgiana gets along beautifully with her. But Lady de Bourgh will not rest until she sees her niece wedded to a proper gentleman before the year is out.

To counter the stress of having suitors flung at her, Georgiana starts keeping a diary. Thus her story is recounted to us - as a series of diary entries. Lady Catherine de Bourgh has prevailed upon Darcy to organize a house party and called several eligible bachelors who may court Georgiana.

Georgiana has plans of her own. She has her heart set upon Col. Edward Fitzwilliam. But will Col. Fitzwilliam, a veteran of wars with Napolean, be interested in an ingenue like Georgiana? Surely he regards her as a chit of a girl- a ward of his- that he must look out for.

Right at the start of the book the author Anne Elliott makes it clear that she has no illusions of being anywhere even close to the great Jane Austen. She has merely imagined what her characters did after the novel ended.

Hence, I read the novel in the same spirit. I could see right at the start that this was a light romance, a page turner.

Anna Elliott keeps the reader engrossed in the story. There is plenty happening here. Balls, dresses, gossip, romance. Anne de Bourgh is still a sickly woman doomed to be a spinster. But Georgiana steps in to befriend her and teach her to be more outgoing.

Caroline Bingley is also present at the house party and she is still the same haughty, overdressed woman. She is still bitter at having lost Darcy.

Modern authors tend to color history by attributing more modern characteristics in their characters. Hence, Georgiana becomes a bit of a feminist. She tries to be egalitarian. She even hears a friend admit he is gay without fainting. Please dear Anna Elliott, we know Jane Austen was not politically correct. She was a creature of her own times and we love her for it. Do not try to change that.

All in all, a fun, quick and an entertaining read.

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

C.S.Lewis - The Magician's Nephew

The Magician's Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia, #6)The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Digory Kirke has been sent to live in London. His mother is on her deathbed. His father is away fighting a war in India. Diggory lived in the times when Sherlock Holmes still lived in Baker's Street. His neighbour, Polly, befriends him. Diggory lives with his Aunt Letty and her brother, Andrew.

Uncle Andrew is up to no good. He is always holed up in his attic and is said to be strange. Aunt Letty forbids Digory from having anything to do with him. As Uncle Andrew does look mad, Digory is content to give him wide berth and spend his time playing with Polly.

One wet, cold day in June, the children are prevented from going outdoors. Polly has this idea of walking along the rafters in the roof and going down into an abandoned house in their neighbourhood. The kids want to explore the house. They miscalculate the number of rafters they have to cross and come down in Uncle Andrew's attic instead.

This is providential for Andrew Ketterly. He has been looking for a boy to try out some magic rings that he has devised. He is sure that the rings send people out of this world into another, he has sent a guinea pig away. But he wants someone to go and come back so he can hear about the travel. He is too cowardly to make the trip himself. Hence, he is very happy to suddenly see the children in his attic.

He tricks the children into using his magic rings. They do go out and discover other worlds. In their first trip, they discover the dead world of Charn, where everyone is in eternal sleep. Digory's curious nature gets better of him and he makes the dreadful mistake of awakening the White Witch of Charn, Queen Jadis. When the children try to flee the Witch, and return to London, they find that Jadis has hitched a ride on their ring, and has returned to London with them.

This is the prequel to the wonderful C.S. Lewis book, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. In fact, here we discover how the Wardrobe came about, and the Lamppost. And why Lucy was able open the wardrobe and go into Narnia.

I love the Narnia Chronicles. I read them when I was a pre-teen. At the time, the whole symbolism of Aslan as God escaped me. For me, it was just a great fantasy tale of Kings and wars and talking animals and the wonderful, pure land of Narnia. It was good to re-read this story full of bright colored magic rings, magic apples and horses that fly and funny talking animals.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Krishna Sobti - Surajmukhi Andhere Ke

Surajmukhi Andhere KeSurajmukhi Andhere Ke by Krishna Sobti
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I re-read Mitro Marjani a few days ago and fell in love with it all over again. It is a classic and will live forever. This time round, I noticed what a taut story it was. I loved the way it was told. It was obvious that Krishna Sobti was a born storyteller.

I wanted to read some more of her works, and ordered Zindaginama and Surajmukhi Andhere ke from Home Shop 18, which has a good stock of Hindi books. I started on Surajmukhi Andhere Ke first, as was a slim book.

Ratti is a young woman who is damaged by an event in her past. Because of it, she finds it hard to allow love back into her life. After spending a lifetime of letting men come close to her and rejecting them, she finds herself getting old and lonely.

She spends some time in Shimla with her soul-sister Reema. She is charmed by the pretty picture of domesticity that Reema's family presents, with her devoted husband, Keshi and her little son, Kumu. It awakens memories and yearnings in Ratti's heart.

The slim book is divided into 3 chapters or parts, Pul (Bridges), Surangen (tunnels) and Akash (Sky). The three parts are reminiscent of a train journey from Shimla to Kalka. In the first part, Ratti stands on a bridge between her old way of life and new. In the second part, she relives her past. In the third, she makes an effort to come out from the shackles of her past.

Despite her scars, Ratti is a strong woman. She does not allow herself the luxury of domesticity just for its own sake. She has spent her life trampling on the feelings of men who have tried to get close to her, without falling prey to sentimentality.

I am still in love with her as a novelist. Her language is terse and sparse and she is not afraid of expressing the innermost feelings of her characters. This novel is not as awesome as Mitro Marjani, but it is very good.

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Amrita Pritam - Raseedi Ticket

Raseedi TicketRaseedi Ticket by Amrita Pritam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Raseedi Ticket is a sort of an autobiography of Amrita Pritam. She keeps to the chronology of events more or less. Her story is laid out in a series of episodes that she feels were important in her life. So we hear about how her mother married her father, the genesis of her name, her mother's death, her disillusionment with god at that moment, why she took to writing, when she first met Sahir etc.

Although it does not read like a cohesive story, we do get an idea of what her life was like. She speaks about her relationship with Sahir, her relationship with the Pakistani writer Sajjad Haider and of course, her dream companion, Imroz. She recounts episodes in her life featuring these men. She is completely honest about how she feels about them, and gives out no sleazy details, just as it should be.

She recounts an incident about Haider. One day at a party Haider was offered a plate of Imarti rather pointedly. His hostess was obviously trying to make a joke about his relationship with Amrita, playing on the similarity between 'Imarti' and 'Amrita'. When the hostess offered the plate of Imarti again, Haider said 'The one you are trying to refer to here, I love her and adore her.' That shut the hostess up.

Then she writes about the incident that gave birth of a lovely song. One evening, after her affair with Sahir was long over, she went with Imroz to see him. They sat till long in the evening, drinking whiskey. After they left, Sahir could not sleep and spent the night drinking pouring whiskey into the three glasses by turn and drinking. That night he wrote his beautiful nazm which were later used in the film "Dooj Ka Chand".

Mehfil se uth jaane walon
tum logon par kya ilzaam
Tum abaad gharon ke wasi
Main awara aur badnaam
mere saathi khali jaam

There are chapters devoted to her dreams and how she believes they are an omen and often a solution to the problems she faced at the time. Her spirituality was eclectic. She believed in Sikhism, sufis of various types, sadhus and sants who were rumoured to have special powers.

She is true to herself as a woman, and believes in telling the truth as she knows it. The few poems and nazms that she showcases in the book are breathtaking. She tells about how she got inspiration to write her famous poem "Ajj Akhan Waris Shah noon". She also talks about the acclaim the poem received all over. In Pakistan, where there is a special festival takes place on the theme of Waris Shah, her poem is recited and enacted to.

Her other poem, "Mata Tripta Da Sapna", ran afoul of the Sikh clergy. They were mortified that anyone could write so about the mother of Guru Nanak. Amrita says that one winter night, she got a phone call from her son. She had run out of a warm razai to hear the phone. Exchanging a few words with her son made her feel warm all over. She remembered what it was like carrying this child in her womb. She was an ordinary woman bearing an ordinary child. What did Mata Tripta feel like carrying a divine baby like Guru Nanak?

She also writes a heartfelt ode to her constant companion Imroz. He gave her space and provided support to her always.

Amrita's prose is poetic and full of metaphors and imagery. I have read some books of hers in the past, but I am afraid I remember little of those. I really need to get a book of her poems and some novels.

It is rather a coincidence that I ordered a book called Women who run with the Wolves, and then read books by authors like Ismat Chugtai, Krishna Sobti and Amrita Pritam. These are women who ran with the wolves. They did not care for the slots that the society had created for women. Their lives and their literature were firmly on the side of women who walked on the wild side.

In their age and times they spoke up for all kinds of women. Most of all, they sympathised with the women who were shunned by the genteel people.

"Within each woman there lives a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. She is the Wild Woman, who represents the instinctual nature of women."

The quote is from the Estes' book, Women who run with the Wolves. In my mind, Chugtai, Pritam and Sobti (and other authors who are ranked right up there with them) were those kind of women. Maybe because of the support they got from their socialist ideology, or from the forum of like-minded people, or their natural instincts, these women broke the societal barriers with their writings.

These women deserve to be read over and over again, and no book lover should have to travel too far to find a book written by them.

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