Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday brew..

Last week, I read two books- Never Mind Yaar by K.Mathur and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie. The two books couldn't be more different from each other, one frothy and fun ,while the other hard-hitting and intense.

Half of a Yellow sun is Chimamanda's second novel about the Nigerian-Biafran war that took place between 1967-70.A little history before I get into the book.. The war broke out because the South-Eastern part of Nigeria tried to break off and form an independent entity, The Republic of Biafra. The genesis of all is this said to be the creation of Nigeria, composing of many ethnic tribes (Yoruba,Hausa, Igbo,Fulani) that were inherently very different. from each other.For instance, Hausa tribes are predominantly Muslim,whereas the Igbo are Christians. The hostility between the tribes peaked when the Igbos staged a coup and proclaimed their independence. They could not succeed as very soon Nigeria shot back and a bloody war followed. For three long years, many Igbos were raped, killed and displaced from their homes ;boys lost their childhoods and were forced to fight the war without proper training. In 1970, the war ended with the Biafran leader accepting defeat and the Igbos becoming once again part of the Nigeria. ( Info from Wikipedia and from the author's note at the end of the book).

The book is a beautifully crafted and Chimamanda has chosen to tell the story of the Biafran war through three charecters- Richard,an Englishman who prefers to be called a Biafran rather than English; Olanna, the beautiful and sensual Igbo who lives with her revolutionary boyfriend, Odenigbo and Ugwu, the houseboy. The choice of narrators,especially of Richard and Ugwu is such a master touch as their views helps us understand the war much better. The books begins somewhere in the early 60's and Chimamanda chronicles the life of a bunch of middle class intellectuals very well. Ugwu's narration is so full of innocence and belligerence.

Soon, something sinister happens that damages the fabric of trust in the household. We are however, not told what really happens ,before we get to read about the initial years of the war.Chimamanda,adroitly manages to make us wonder what really happened even while we are neck-deep into what happens during the war. Definitely, a masterful touch. The narrative switches back to early sixties again and she lets us in on the secret and expertly guides us back to the later part of the war.

Stories about war always invoke sadness and this powerful novel by Chimamanda is not an exception. The story-telling is brilliant and what really takes the cake is the ease with which she has managed to blend everything(love, lust, loss, deception , patriotism, ) so seamlessly into a heady concoction.I loved the character of Kainene, Olanna's twin sister,who is so different from Olanna and is so irreverent that it makes her adorable . Oh,She also forms an important part of the story. One's heart will just go limp with disbelief at description of the living conditions that prevailed during the war and the atrocities that were imposed on civilians. Very true that in war,everybody is a loser. Chimamanda lost both her grandfathers in the war and the tales of people around her acted as fodder for the book.

Overall, a poignant novel which is will come haunt you many hours after you have finished it. It will make you sigh of relief that you were lucky enough to have not gone through such inhuman conditions.

My rating 4/5


This week I have 2 books to finish - The tent by Margaret Atwood and Bone in the throat by Antony Bourdain. The Atwood book is supposed to be a collection of "Fictional- essays".What does that mean ,anyway? :-) I am excited to start that book because I read Oryx and Crake ,loved Atwood's writing and have been wanting to read another book by her.

Antony bourdain's book will probably be fun read for the week,as the blurb behind the cover made it sound like loads of fun..

"A superb tale of violence and backbiting set in the seething testosterone-heavy company of a crew of New york cooks." says a review.

I am not even going to mention Murakami's Kafka on the shore as I somehow keep postponing reading the book because I own it. Someday,when i am not inundated with library books,I'll probably get to it :-).

Have a super reading week.. What are you reading,btw?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Never mind yaar by K.Mathur

Publisher: SouthPac Publishers,New Zealand

Synopsis (from Goodreads; edited)

The coming of age of three young girls from different backgrounds in Mumbai, a city fraught with communal tensions.
When long time friends Binaifer and Louella meet Shalini at Gyan Shakti College, , a true friendship that transcends cultural and religious backgrounds is born. Louella is a Christian and Binaifer, a Parsi. Shalini is from a traditional Hindu family. She's been brought up to believe her parents and autocratic grandma will choose her life partner for her. On the very first day at college her eyes accidentally look into those of a young fellow student's and her heart is lost forever. She knows she must resist as her family won't allow a match with a mere student. But she has two unlikely cupids to contend with. Binaifer (Binny) and Louella (Lou) think Bhagu, the young student, is perfect for Shali.

The girls go through four years of college together, facing many challenges on the one hand but also the comfort and reassurance on the other, of growing up in the cultural, political and bewildering mosaic that is Mumbai. The author admits there's a message - that of the curse of communalism (or racism). But first, the book is about the light hearted years of college and true friendship between the girls.
My take on the book

Never Mind yaar is a very sweet book that I loved reading.Though the love between Shalini and Bhagu forms the core of the book, the author has depicted the beautiful friendship between the three girls, Shalini, Binny and Lou extremely well. The gang of three reminded me of my own gang during my college days. Khoty has to be commended for making all the three girls immensely likable . The love between Bhagu and Shalini has been handled in a balanced and sensitive manner. What really stole the show for me were the bits of story that take place in Jaipur,at the grandmas place and the friendship between the girls.Bhagu's activism provides the perfect opportunity for the author to talk about how the youth can make a lot of difference to the sad state of affairs in our country.

The writing is like a breath of fresh air and flows beautifully. The blurbs behind the book made me expect the book to base communal tension as backdrop to the story,but that really isn't the case. However, Khoty does address the issue of Mumbai being a melting pot of cultures and religions,thereby being a sitting duck for communal tensions. How secular really is the most cosmopolitan city in our country, it made me wonder. I liked way Khoty has provided detailed footnotes of not just Hindi words ,but also of customs, traditions and historical tidbits. I loved the note about the history of Parsis in Mumbai and also the stories Shalini's grandma,Mem shares. What was a little disconcerting was the use of paragraph titles that describe sections that follow.Though the titles were apt,i felt that they interrupted the flow and were fairly superfluous.

What also is highly relateable is Shalini's family's traditional view about marriage. That reminded me that such families are not just part of Bollywood movies ,but a reality. Even today, some families are specific about who their daughters and granddaughters can marry.Mem,the ultimate matriarch provides a lot of spice to the story. Strangely, I liked her character.The book not only makes you nostalgic,but also makes you think and want to make a difference.That is probably the best aspect of the book.

Overall, a lovely book that will flood your brain with fond memories of college , friends and first love.

My rating : 3.5/5

The book is available at Amazon, in NZ and from the author's website.

A bit about the author: Born and brought up in Mumbai, Khoty Mathur currently lives in New Zealand with her husband and pets.She spends her time reading and over the net.This is her first book.

Disclosure: This is an author requested review.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Last week in books and the seven classic plots..

Last week I managed to finish only one book- HP 3, which is such a pity ,because I was raring to get to Half of the yellow sun.I loved HP3,btw.Best of the three parts I've read till now. The books in the series just keep getting better !

This week, I have the 4 books lines up ( Adichie and Murakami) carryover from last week; a book for review called Never mind yaar and Milk and Honey by Faye Kellerman I started last week because I couldn't stomach any grisly or sad reads. The Faye Kellerman book has to be one of the most boring thrillers I've read in a long time. A true Yawn-Yawn affair.Any book that takes 180 pages to show mild signs of some action needs to come with a "Boring" statutory warning.Anyway, I have a new resolution to not leave books half-read and to woman up and finish them no matter how boring they are. So, Faye will be tolerated for a few more hours till I finish the book. And her writing different is so different from her husband's( Jonathan Kellerman happens to be one of my favourite crime/thriller authors).

Next review on this blog : Never mind Yaar by Khoty Mathur

Apparently,there are only 7 basic plots that one can base a story on. The thought that all the gazillion books in the world are permutation and combination of these 7 plots is simply mind boggling. The human race is such a wonderful faffing invention of God ,i must say. Now for the 7 plots..( source Gordon Wells's How to be a successful writer)

1. Cindrella: Where the underdog wins after many trials and tribulations
This must be the most used plot, apart from No. 4(Tristan) and No. 6 (Romeo and Juliet).But then I am getting ahead of myself by mentioning No.4 and No.6. before we've done No.2 and No.3.

2. Achilles : Hero goes down because of some fatal blow
I haven't seen this basic plot in many books.Have you?

3. Faust : In the end debt always have to be paid
Can't think of many books with a faustian theme either.

4. Tristan : The eternal love triangle
A plot done to death !.someone should invent a 8th different plot and take Tristan off this list. The eternal love triangle is such a cliche.

5. Circe : Eventually spider catches the fly
Sounds a bit similar to a Faustian plot ,if you ask me.

6. Romeo and Juliet : Boy meets girl,boy loses girl,boy friends girl again.
The Hollywood rom-com staple !.

7. Orpheus : Gift that is taken away
All sad books where the books end with the protagonist going mad/ dead/ broke/without love and so on. Come to think of it, the number of things that can go wrong with someone's life is infinite!. Literary fiction,maybe ;-)

Any recommendations for Achilles ,Faustian and Cicerian plotlines?.

Monday, August 1, 2011


First time I am doing the "Its a Monday!What are you reading" post on this blog. This is hosted by Sheila from Book Journey.

So what am I reading this week?.I have three books panned out- already started Harry Potter Part III ( Prisoner of Azkaban). 80 Pages into the book, I am not enjoying it as much as the first or the second book. In fact, I loved Chamber of secrets to bits!. Maybe,this book is going to take longer to warm up. I am so sore that I didn't start reading HP earlier :-(.

Next in line is either Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the shore and Half of a yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie.I am leaning towards the latter.

I haven't read Adichie before, but have been itching to reading Purple Hibiscus and Half of a yellow Sun for ages. Nigeria is a country I know nothing about ,apart from the fact that it has one of the highest crime rates. One of my ex-bosses lived briefly in Nigeria and regaled me with horror stories of crimes that happen there. am super excited to be digging into that book as well.

Synopsis from Goodreads..

Called "the 21st-century daughter of Chinua Achebe" by The Washington Post, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie certainly lives up to the hype in her second novel, Half a Yellow Sun. She wowed us with this transcendent tale about war, loyalty, brutality, and love in modern Africa. While painting a searing portrait of the tragedy that took place in Biafra during the 1960s, her story finds its true heart in the intimacy of three ordinary lives buffeted by the winds of fate. Her tale is hauntingly evocative and impossible to forget.

I have loved all the Murakami books I've read till now and picking this one up was a no brainer. After reading Blind Willow ,Sleeping woman I am not sure if he can surpass the brilliance of that book,I am hoping I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Synopsis from Goodreads...

Kafka on the Shore, a tour de force of metaphysical reality, is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. There is a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and perpetrator a riddle - yet this, along with everything else, is eventually answered, just as the entwined destinies of Kafka and Nakata are gradually revealed, with one escaping his fate entirely and the other given a fresh start on his own

Looks like its an exciting week of book reading for me.. What are you reading?