[Book Review]: The boy who could see demons

“There can be no faith without bias” – Katz the sober.

The boy who could see demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

My name is Alex. I’m ten years old. I like onions on toast and I can balance on the back legs of my chair for fourteen minutes. I can also see demons. My best friend is one. He likes Mozart, table tennis and bread and butter pudding. My mum is sick. Ruen says he can help her. Only Ruen wants me to do something really bad. He wants me to kill someone.’

With that back over , buying the book was a no brainer choice.

The quick snap shot review of the book : Brilliant Story, wonderfully written, engaging plot and intriguing characters, poor lousy lazy ending, but ,and that’s a rather enormous but, it’s a tale worth reading.

Now lets get down to the bits and bolts.

And then there was a tale that was caught right in the middle between the eternal conflict between belief, faith and Schizophrenia. Alex is a ten year old, who lives in Belfast (surviving the aftermath of them troubles) , can see demons and one in particular called Ruen is his best friend of sorts. Ruen wants Alex to kill someone.

Welcome to the world of what the hell is going on.

The world painted , rather scripted in the book is beautifully balanced by the author. We are introduced to the little boy who starts seeing demons on the day he learns that his dad is dead. Ruen, the demon, manifests in different shapes , sizes and forms to Alex’s eyes. Ruen is not seen by the rest of the world. Ruen is a bit of the snobbish, posh kind. He loves Mozart and is far too sophisticated to be the run of the mill hound from hell. In fact , Ruen isn’t the average joe of the demon world. He is a ‘Harrower’ , a top general in the realm of demons.

Ruen is Alex’s best and only friend. Ruen dictates the right words into Alex’s mind. Ruen is in fact the power that helps Alex cope up with his life. The world sees Alex as a bit dense.

Cue in Anya. Anya is a psychiatrist who specialises in paediatric psychology. Anya comes with the baggage of having lost her daughter to a suicide. The cause, Schizophrenia. Anya is broken into far too many pieces but her strength reverberates through the pages of the story. Anya sees Alex as her shot at redemption. She couldn’t save her daughter. She wouldn’t let another kid die.

And so beings the chase of a cat and a mouse. Science and the understanding of mental distress and disorders that it unravels fights heads to head with Demonic possession which has its roots in Faith and belief. Anya and us, the readers, we are introduced to many supernatural-esque capabilities exhibited by Alex. Throw in clairvoyance, access to knowledge beyond the usual means of a normal individual, we witness the battle of the mind. Anya deciphers the clues and finds ways to justify the phenomenon through the eyes of accepted and proven medical science of psychology.

It’s not the case of science hurling sticks and stones on the village idiots of believers. There are things that Anya’s science cannot explain. The story hinges on the uncertainty of what if demons really do exist. The story brings that balance of belief and the debunking of that belief brilliantly. As we dwell deeper and deeper into the minds of the characters, we also get to understand the power of psychology that governs the lives of us, humans.

Alex’s mom is suicidal and her battle reflects upon Alex. Then there is Ruen. A demon whom we cannot easily dismiss as the figment of imagination of a mentally troubled ten year old little boy. The evidences don’t always tally up. Psychology does not explain it all. The alternate world of the super real, super natural does not always sound believable. We journey through the book, living with that conflict.

So is Ruen really a demon? Is Alex really really mentally disturbed? Is there a happy ending for Alex or his suicidal mother? Does Anya finally find redemption? Does science outsmart a world of faith and belief? Do we realize that science, while magnanimous it is, is still too young to explain everything there is to the world?

The book’s conclusion offers some answers to those few questions. Personally, I wasn’t too thrilled about it. The return on the investment that I had made through the pages, was too little by the time the tale ended. The cheesy last minute jump scare was too clichéd and too cheesy and way too subtle to leave a lasting impression. That said, ignoring the book because of one chapter would be a crime. This is a fantastic book and has a smart story to tell. It is well worth the time.

The core of the book is the way of the mind. It captures the ability of a mind to cope up to a trauma that overwhelms it. Some sit and cry, some kill themselves, some sleep off the night and wake up stronger than ever before. For some, their personality rips and they dissociate into multiple personalities with the sole intention of coping up with the trauma. The book, like many other sources, is a beautiful reminder of how fragile the human mind is.

To that fragile nature of the mind, add a hint of God and the Devil. Throw in a healthy bunch of Angels and Demons. What if they are real? What if the human soul really does exist and that the god and the devil are wagering for a piece of that pie? What if a demon, or an angel is not the response coughed by a broken mind? What if a broken mind and the supernatural coexist? Where does that leave us, the vulnerable humans?

There can be no faith without bias. Rest your faith to the modern day gods that go by the name of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Ellon Musk or rest it within the bucket of the many gods that are in our prayers and devils in our nightmare, that faith cannot exist without a bias. Wisdom is gained when we learn to see beyond our bias and observe without resistance and evaluate without prejudice. Maybe there is a lot more to this world. Maybe there is a lot more to the universe that is the human body.

The book does leave you with such questions. To me, that is a better win than a stronger ending.

Four stars . Enjoy the madness. Enjoy the mind trying to see through the madness.

Karthik

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Book review : The girl with all the gifts

The girl with all the gifts by M.R. Carey is a fun and a breezy take on dystopia and the survival genre. When I picked a copy of the book, I had a quick flashback of skipping on the trailer of a movie based on the book. My curiosity led me to confirm the large screen translation of the book. I might sit down to watch the movie and condescendingly nod my head in contempt and disapproval some day.

The heart of the tale is the little girl who steals the title of the book. The girl with all the gifts and her world knows her by the name of Melanie. Mel is a smart, intelligent little girl whose curiosity , of her world, knows no bounds. Like any other normal kid, she hates most of her teachers. And then there is Miss Justineau. To Melanie’s eyes, Miss Justineau would be the good witch Glinda when compared to the other teachers who hailed from the east and the west. To Mel, Justineau is loving, kind, gentle, magical and the everything that embodies the good, the fantastic and the warm. Mel loves Justineau and in all fairness, the love and care is reciprocated.

Mel’s life is a routine of sorts. She has her classes. Each day of the week, there is a different teacher. And then there is Miss Justineau day. A day when the sober class comes full of life. Mel and the other kids are usually escorted both in and out of the class from their single room cell. Their school is sober grey. It smells of chemicals.

The adults in the school usually keep a healthy distance from the kids. Throw in a bit of the military guards into the mix. We soon start to realize that Mel’s school is not an ordinary run of the mill kind of a school. Then again, Mel is not an ordinary child. The kids are special in their own right. The adults are scared and wary around them. The kids are handled with utmost care. They are strapped down to their chairs whenever they are escorted out of their cells. The kids are strapped down to the chair when they are in their class. The kids aren’t free to move a muscle when they are in their school. The kids are sprayed with chemicals once a week. They feed once a week.

It doesn’t take long to realize that we aren’t looking at a normal world here. The world has indeed changed. Humanity has changed. The kids hold a secret that ,when unlocked, might prove to be humanity’s redemption.

The fantastic thing about the book is the innocence that Melanie brings to the table. To her young curious eyes, the world is a play ground. Her simple classification of good and bad, nice and not nice is refreshing to the readers. Her love for Miss Justineau is warm. Miss Justineau’s endeavour to protect Melanie is both motherly and does come out beautiful. The innocence serves as a the perfect foil to the intelligence and the impurity of the world around.

The dynamics shared between the characters grows on the readers. Helen Justineau detest the Military bloke Sargent Parks. Her view of the gun slinger is that he’s lost touch with his humanity. Dr Cladwell runs the school. She hates Helen for her zealous compassion towards the kids. Dr Cladwell sees the kids for what they are. They are anomalies who deserve to be dissected and viewed through a microscope. Needless to say, Helen hates the sinister doctor. Melanie loves her favourite teacher and doesn’t bother enough to care for the rest of the world.

The book , in its own way, questions humanity. What does the term mean? Is being human the only criteria for humanity? Are humans humane? In the face of an apocalypse, we humans as a species try to do the best that we can in order to restore normalcy and balance upon our world. In the face of crisis, we suspend humanity for the greater good. While the book is not hard hitting and in your face with opinions expressed, it does embrace subtlety by helping us view the world around through Melanie’s pure , innocent eyes.

The tone of the book remains causal and it does not force opinions or hard thoughts into our minds. You will like Melanie. You will root for her. You will want her to survive and you will tag her along in your journey of the book. This book was a welcome change from my ‘serious’ reading spree. I quite enjoyed the lightness.

It’s not the best tale there is. Melanie is the not sweetest cotton candy ever written, but the tale offers plenty of warmth, smiles and thrills. Skip the movie and give the book a shot. Or just watch the movie instead. I’m positive that the movie probably wouldn’t disappoint.

Oh yeah, almost managed to stay away from the big white elephant in the book. If you’ve reached here, you have earned the right to know about it. Melanie’s world, it’s over run by Zombies 🙂

Karthik

[Book Review] : Tibetan book of the dead

If there was an illusion that could be called the mother of illusion, I think spirituality would be just that.

The Tibetan book of the dead is a fantastic book on spirituality. I’ve not read many books on the matter, so to me, it’s good enough. It just has way too much information that my jaded mind struggles to comprehend.

This review will stay away from the bias of a spiritual aspirant. This is my attempt at writing a non spiritual view of a quintessential spiritual book. Here goes. Fortune favours the brave.

Reverse Engineering : The process is a product to conception approach to problem solving. Just because all the parts and clockwork are there, it doesn’t translate to an easy approach. It does however establish the building blocks required to conjure the final finished product. Life’s biggest antonym is Death. What better way to define life than starting at death and sweeping back to the point of origin. The book of the dead does exactly just that. It’s a book about the list of things that ought to be passed on to folks who are near death. It’s still not a cool idea to say ‘ PSSST, you are gonna konk out bro’ .

Whilst the ideals are to help the near dying transition better into death and beyond, the principles work like a charm if the living were to follow it. That’s like having an issue in the production system, painful escalations and an extensive RCA later, one figures out that blokes did not bother having a review or running a unit test case.

The point is, knowing what matters in the end is a fantastic guideline to accommodate practices while we are still alive and kicking.

Fears , Regrets and messy closet! : Oh but I am trying hard to not sound like a frantic wannabe spiritualist trying to solicit the words of wisdom from a book. Through the eyes of psychology and behaviour, the message is not that difficult to understand. Bottom line, fear. Fear leads to everything else. Fear of failure results in lack of actions which results in regret. Fear of failure leads to insecurity which leads to lack of actions. Fear of failure, leads to inertia which leads to lack of actions. I think when fear paralyses the mind, we find ourselves incapable of progressing with life.

Science offers a way to confront such fears. Fish bone analysis, Root cause analysis, cause and effect analysis, they are all roads to identifying what fails and what the consequences of failures are. One can start with, I get this wrong and my entire life is wasted. By virtue of sitting down and deconstructing the effects of consequence, one might soon realise that not many things usually lead to a life getting wasted. Mess up a delivery, mess up the immediate appraisal. That’s a cause and effect. But assuming that one would always mess everything up hence forth is just paranoia taking creative control over all the choices we stand to make in life.

The worst that can happen is one can lose one’s job. The worst that can happen post that is one may never find a job. The question to ask is, why am I so unemployable? That question alters a lifetime of unemployment. It facilitates options that we had never considered before.

The road to a happy death, and a happy staying alive is taking a stock of the things that scare us crazy. It’s human to fail. It’s human to fear that failure. It’s very human to assume that there is no success ever , after a failure. It is also human to have a bit of a common sense and argue that one has to be an idiot to volunteer to carry out the same set of mistakes over and over again. That special skill is called reluctance to learn , adapt, evolve and grow. Science or spirituality can do very little to help such people from their moment of inertia.

Acceptance and denial: The big deal is, when you are about to die, would you rather accept everything that you’ve done or would you choose to die staying comforted by the talons of denial. Denial is the ability of a person to blame oneself or rest of the world in order to justify why one deserves misery.

Acceptance is the ability of a person to accept that one might have been responsible(partly or in complete) to actions that led to a failure. Acceptance leads to acknowledgement that there is something to learn and something new to adopt to. Acceptance is key to evolution and growth. Either lead a life in denial and face the moment of truth where time doesn’t really matter anymore or make that effort to accept, face your failures, make an effort to call out the different grades of consequences to deal with and live a life of choices rather than feeling helpless and saying ‘i’m going with the flow’.

Forget about the million gods and billion souls. It’s psychology one on one. One either learns or resists. Resistance is futile. Consequences are inevitable. One faces them one day.

Illusions and Illusions of illusions : The biggest take away from the book is that once we reach the choice of acceptance or denial, should one choose to accept, one also sees through the illusions that one has always been surrounded by. We are not talking about the entire world being an illusion. I’d very much like that if that were to be the case. It isn’t. Violence is real. Hunger and poverty is real. Abuse is real. Misery is real. Pain is real.

The things that aren’t real are our forced choices to stay succumbed and imprisoned to the realities. Violence is real and walking away from it is a choice. Hunger is real, but trying hard to stay away from it is a choice. Abuse is real, standing up against it is a choice. We love our excuses. We hide behind words like ‘Insignificance’, ‘Powerless’, ‘What can one person really achieve’, ‘ its my fate’, ‘Destiny’ to stay comfortably numb , connected strong to such illusions.

There is no miracle cure. There are no one stop shops. Embracing science or spirituality for the sole reason of escaping the choices that one couldn’t find the courage to make is the biggest illusion of them all. In that context, Spirituality is the biggest illusion of them all. We are so eager to surrender and embrace something divine in order to distance ourselves from the responsibilities of the choices that we’ve already made and the choices that we hesitate forever to make It boils down to acceptance and denial. We awaken from one illusion only to embrace another.

One doesn’t need to read ancient scriptures or words of the wise to know this simple truth. As kids , we were told stories about god helps those who help themselves. As adults, we hide behind convenience that words from various sources provide.

And so even from a purist skeptic point of view, I do feel refreshingly enlightened by the book. It was easier to distance the imagery and symbolism adopted in the book and associate myself with the lessons that were intended to be imparted. I see the argument of science versus spirituality as a quintessential epitome of pointlessness. They are the same, different words and both leading to the fundamental simple truth. WAKE UP , SMELL THE ROSES, and START LIVING

Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya – From darkness, lead me to light

Karthik

Book Experience : Autobiography of a yogi

“May you find peace” – Oct 2015

It was a simple message that adorned the book when I received it. It’s taken me a lot of time to read through the book. Have I found peace? I wouldn’t know the answer for that. Have I found questions worth asking? Absolutely. Have I found answers to all the questions locked away in the universe of my mind? March 2018 is probably not the right time to assess the answer to that question.

It’s neither modesty nor humility that encouraged me to revamp the title from a book review to a book experience. I accept and acknowledge that I’m not yet ready to comprehend the book in its entirety. One also cannot deny the experience that is called reading this wonderful book. This is by no means a review. It’s a scribe of the experience that I’ve had reading through its pages.

I’m a novice at best, in the road of spirituality. I jot my experiences for two reasons, 1. To serve as a milestone so that one day I might reflect and see how far I might have travelled. 2. Blur the lines of spirituality and simple well being. This is important as the tag ‘Spirituality’ can be a bit too overwhelming to us. This is a kind of book where you get what you read. Viewing it through different eyes still offers wisdom that we stand to gain from.

I classify the book into 3 sections .

1. Where are we in the vast wideness of the universe

2. Have others been here and done that? What is so special about them?

3. Is it real? What is real?

I’ll elaborate on the second point first. It sets the context for the book.

Have others been here and done that? What is so special about them?

A considerable portion of the book accounts the experiences and lives of many people. From scientists to faces that none of us might have heard of, the book offers us a peek into their wonderful life. This aspect of the book, to me, is very important. The book is not about yogis locked away in the Himalayas, far away from the societal civilization of the modern day living. Different people from all walks of life experience a happy fulfilling life. They are awake to a wisdom beyond the books that our educational institutions cover. These folks are amongst us. Some as entrepreneurs, some as common folk, some as full time spiritual aspirants and some as skeptics. The book does not intend to have a focused target audience. It rests open to all.

The biggest takeaway is also along the much sought after purpose of life. Many people , whose experiences have been elaborated in the book, did not start with Altruistic , global peace and wellbeing in their minds. Just like you and me, they wanted something normal. They put their faith and it changed their way of life. One needn’t set their eyes on the lonely mountains to connect with this book. Have your eyes on the trinket, and put your faith and maybe you’d end up with your share of the loot.

What is so special about the people that have been quoted in the book? Apart from being normal as you and I can ever be, there is nothing special about them. And that is a level playing field. The book banks on our ability to be the best that we aspire to be. It helps along the way. I’ll get to the simplicity of it shortly.

Is it real? What is real?

Reality is a floating baseline. For some of us, reality is a bucket load of system issues waiting to be fixed by the close of play today. For some, reality is that we live in a world of illusion. We’d like to see what is real. For some, science is the yardstick that determines what is real and what is not. This book is a convergence of all the realities around. Reality is what we want it to be. Reality is challenging the status quo. When we are happy with everything about and around us, there is no further quest for reality. When we aren’t happy, our efforts to make things better, that becomes our reality. When we aren’t happy and we feel trapped by it. That also becomes our reality. All of it is real. Coincidentally, none of it has to be real as well. It’s all about perception and what we want things to be. As I said, reality is a floating baseline. It is what we want it to be. Through time, as we evolve, our understanding and our acceptance and tolerance to the said reality also changes. This explains why we constantly evolve and alter the realities around us.

Where are we in the vast wide universe ?

The answer to this question really depends on who is asking that question. The book offers wonderful, realistic examples as a response to that question. As a skeptic, what I got to see in the words were that put your faith in yourself. Do what you possibly can. Improve where you can improve. That’s precisely where you are in the vast wide universe.

To the believer in me, the tells me that there indeed is a god. One god, many faces and names. It recommends god as an idea. The book explicitly doesn’t, but it draws parallels across religions.

To the spiritual aspirant in me, it opens a million more thoughts and questions. It offers some answers.

Regardless of what you believe in, the crux of the conversation is around Experience. Anubhava. One doesn’t find the truth, or the god, or whatever. One experiences it. Most of us would have experienced love. We call it, ‘found love’. Finding love can either result in having it and holding on to it, or losing it. Experiencing love on the other hand, it stays with us. Irrespective of the outcome, irrespective of where time has taken us, One cannot un-experience what that was experienced. That is the nature of all the truths around us. We try to find it. We seldom try to experience it. The risk of finding is that by virtue of objectifying it, we also stand to lose it.

The book, in so many different ways, through so many people’s lives , explains the simplicity of our lives. We can be special, if we let ourselves experience the things that we call special and miraculous.

The book is polymorphic in nature. Based on the maturity of thoughts of the reader, the words it imparts can/will offer grander answers to some of our questions. It still is not a one stop shop for every Q that bothers us.

Karthik

[Book Review] The old devils

The old devils, Kingsley Amis

Cover page of The Old Devils

This is a book about old timers who’d have lived all their lives in the same town in wales. Their lives take a turn when Alun and Rhiannon decided to come back to the Wales and spend the remainder of their lives there. The arrival of the couple stirs up the neighbourhood and it does for a very good reason. Love.

Alun is an established author who follows the footsteps of Brydan, a welsh poet. Alun is a celebrity of sorts. Books, public appearance and interviews for the telly and the radio are his way of life. His wife Rhiannon, she’s something else. She coexists with her husband, doesn’t really come in his way. Together, they do make an enviable pair.

Alun’s friends , Peter & Muriel, Charlie & Sophie, Malcom & Gwen spend most of their time drinking the town dry. Everyday is an occasion to bid sobriety a farewell. Alun and Rhi quicky get inducted into the drinking games. The tale picks pace in establishing the lives of the old couples. Complications arise, because they bloody well would. Alun is promiscuous. Peter and Rhi were a couple at some point in the time before Peter got her knocked up and dumped her for someone else. Malcom and Rhi were a couple at sometime too. The men in the book go around rekindling the flame that had gripped their lives in the past. While secrets are kept close to the chest, the unspoken truth grows into a white elephant that is deaf, dumb and blind. Truth becomes an inconvenience which is not worth uncovering.

The tale is a wonderful example of how appearances can be deceiving. As we continue our journey through the tale, we take a closer look at the lives of the couple. Peter, for example, was a player in his youth. He was charming , seductive and had his way with women. In the present day where he is pushing 70, Peter’s life is lacklustre. He lives an isolated , alienated life with his wife who barely even acknowledges his presence in the house. Gone are his days of love and raging romanticism. His reality is void of any emotional connect at home. The two stay clear off each other. Peter longs for companionship and Muriel resents the very existence of Peter.

Charile on the other had is a man born for drinking, He drinks and drinks unconditionally. He battles his demons in the form of panic attacks. Charlie can’t endure being left all by himself. The dark and the loneliness gets to him. Sophie , and his brother Victor, ensure that they accompany him whenever they can. While it’s not explicitly implied, but one can fathom the dynamics of the relationship that Victor and Sophie share.

Malcom and Gwen’s lives take a turn because of Alun. Gwen an Alun were a thing. Alun and everybody else were a thing. Alun being Alun, complicates Gwen’s life. Gwen retaliates vocally under the influence of alcohol in a party. The friends reduce her hateful words as booze driven rage and set things aside.

The book is painfully slow. It does offer a subtle insight into a life of regret and resentment. In the book, nobody marries for love. The marriages are for convenience. Everybody harbours a longing that goes unrewarded for as long as it can. The stark difference between life in the prime of our youth and life of old age is wonderfully drawn. The strengths that we took for granted do vanish with time. While it’s easier to live a lie when we have the energy and zeal to compensate it, when it’s the time to slow down and sit back, the lies turn around to haunt.

My biggest take away from the book is about closure. I think it’s easier to wrap up a chapter in life and move on as long as we bag and tag the past and cast it aside, beyond our line of sight and hence beyond our realm of thought. Unless we reconcile with it, we’d never find peace with it, should the past catch up with us in the future. Considering life, the past always manages to catch up. The characters in the book are both victims of circumstances, are instigators of actions made of choices, and are aloof to owning their choices in a befitting manner. They all take to the bottle to keep their demons locked. They carry on for as long as they can maintain the façade.

This book ushers us to take a good look at the lies that we tell ourselves.

This is a slow book and it lacks sudden jump surprises. This book takes its time to establish the characters really well. If you endure it, it does reward you in parts. This is not a definite must read, but there is a happy ending of sorts, should that matter to you.

Karthik

Book review : The high mountains of Portugal

The High mountains of Portugal, Yann Martel.

Straight off the bat, this is a weird book. This is a tale of three different blokes across three different periods of time. The year is 1904 and the story starts with Tomas. Tomas is a different person. He walks backwards, always. Tomas has a bone to pick with god, whom he blames for the death of his wife and child. Infuriated with God’s grand scheme of everything, Tomas decides that walking backwards is the ultimate insult to god. And so, as an act of unrivalled rebellion, Tomas continues to walk backwards. He is quite efficient in gathering the attention and curiosities of the town.

Tomas finds comforts in the diary of Father Ulisses. Father Ulisses had been very vocal about the salves during his time in the 1600’s. Tomas finds himself in the same state of mind as Father Ulisses. Both had abandoned their faith, both were in conflict with the hierarchy of man. Both had rejected god because of god’s indifference to events occurring across the world. Both reject god because in their mind, god had rejected them. Ulisses apparently had created an artefact that would challenge the status of god in this world. Tomas embarks upon a quest to find that artefact. Tomas would never rest till he impeaches god from the pedestal.

Tomas reasons out that the artefact would be in one of the churches in the high mountains of Portugal. He begins his adventure on a brand new contraption that is believed to change all of humanity. An Automobile. Does Tomas find the artefact? Does Tomas exact his revenge against the mighty G?

And the in 1938, a Pathologist Eusebio is burning the midnight candle on the new year’s eve. He has a couple of cadavers to work through. He is interrupted by his angelic wife, Maria. Maria drags a present for her darling husband. She also lets him on a theory that she has been deeply contemplating. She questions the nature of god and reasons that most of God’s tales are through fables. She reasons that it is the nature of god’s existence through fables, is what that makes him endure and survive through ever changing contexts of the world. She also goes ahead and compares the works of Agatha Christie to that of the Bible. Her reasoning is flawless and does leave Eusebio wondering about the nature of god. Maria leaves and Eusebio is left missing his wife.

The good doctor is disturbed again by a woman. Maria, not his wife, but another woman. She says that she’s from the high mountains of Portugal. She walks in with a very weird request. She had dragged the body of her recently departed husband and expresses desire for Eusebio to conduct a full autopsy. Esuebio declines the request at first but eventually relents.

What killed Maria’s husband? Will Eusebio ever manage to balance work and life and return back to a happy life with his Maria?

And finally in 1981, Peter is a Senator in Canada. After the death of his wife, Clara, Peter is jaded with life. He happens to bump into the cage of a chimpanzee, Odo, and for whatever reason, he decides to buy the chimp and move out of Canada and live in the high mountains of Portugal. Peter’s ancestors had once lived there. With nothing more to look forward to, Peter decides to take Odo and live in Portugal. It’s a brand new start for both Peter and Odo. The two learn to exist and eventually live in each other’s presence. Peter doesn’t speak Portuguese fluently and neither does Odo! They manage to establish themselves into the lives of their new neighbours in the high mountains.

Peter is fascinated by Odo. He starts fearing the animal at first and slowly he moves away from fear. He feels alive in the presence of the chimp. Peter also starts to question the nature of Odo. Odo is extremely friendly and at the same time he is capable of causing bodily harm. Odo is usually pleasant and loveable but he also has his moments of rage and unpredictability. Peter tries to understand Odo and the two start to adjust their way of life to living in the high mountains of Portugal.

Will Peter figure out the evil that Odo is? Will Odo ever pose a threat to Peter? Will the villagers coexist peacefully with Peter and Odo? Will Peter ever want to go back to his life as a Senator in Canada?

The book’s central theme can be described in just a word. it’s a Search. God is plastered all over the book. Tomas and Peter, reach out to God in their time of need. The two deal with grief in their own separate ways. I’ll skip the good doctor because there is a nifty little twist to his tale.

This book is overambitious and is neither intelligent nor profoundly deep as it wants to be. The book does have a great potential in talking about our individual relationship with God. We are angry with god when we don’t get what we want. We make our peace with god when we decide to reclaim our life. And then there is hope. We live on hope and that hope defines our relationship with god. In fact, the three characters are wonderfully placed to have their distinct relationship with the almighty. Tomas represents anger, Peter represents acceptance ,The good doctor represents what it means to stay a human.

This is most definitely not the kind of book that one would absolutely feel compelled to read. It’s a kind of book that you buy because it was sold at a 70% discount. I got this as a gift. I enjoyed the book in parts.

Karthik

[Book review]: kafka on the shore

“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive” – Kafka on the shore

Kafka on the shore by Haruki Murakami.

Ever felt incomplete? Ever felt a void in you, the kind of emptiness that consumes you and renders you helpless and alienated from all the smiles and happiness of the world that surrounds you? Kafka on the shore is a testament to life that is defined by the sense of incompleteness experienced by the characters. This is a wonderfully layered book that makes you wonder what it means to feel complete again. We are born complete and along the way, fragments of our inner self disintegrates and remains forever lost on us. Some succumb to that void. Some accept it and carry on , lifeless without colours. Some acknowledge that emptiness and find a way to plug that deficit.

Kafka on the shore is a story of incomplete people. The characters find themselves in pursuit of find that which completes them. The book introduces us to Kafka Tamura, Mr Nakata and Ms Saeki. Now that I’m penning my thoughts about the book, I do find it a strange coincidence that each of the central character called out , also is very closely associated to a secondary character. Ms Sakura, for Kafka. Mr Hoshino for Nakata and Mr Oshima for Saeki. I’m not sure if the secondary characters are the perfect counterbalance to their corresponding primary, and that being said, I’ll rake my brains to see if there is a novel hidden between the lines.

All the characters are incomplete. Kafka has no memory of his mother or his sister. His mum had separated from his father when he was very young. Kafka has a faded memory of a moment they spent in a beach. That’s the extent of his recollection of either his mum or his sister. He estranges himself from his father and decides to run away from his house on his fifteenth birthday. Kafka is burdened by a curse. Kafka feels incomplete because he has no one.

Nakata is a very strange bloke. He has an ability to talk to cats and yet neither can read nor write. Nakata was a very bright kid until an accident rendered him dumb. He views himself as a guy with the intelligence of a door mat. He feels incomplete without his intelligence.

Saeki was , at some point, one of the brightest starlet that the region had ever seen. Her music inspired thousands. She eventually throws it all away and leads a life as a recluse. Saeki’s loss of her love renders her incomplete. Nothing ever matters to her anymore. Fame doesn’t interest her and in fact , there is nothing left in life that she looks forward to.

The worlds of the characters start to converge. Nakata is on a mission to find a missing cat. His quest leads him to murder. Kafka spaces out from time to time without a single recollection of where he was or what he did. One evening, he finds himself soaked in blood and he begins to suspect that he might have murdered someone. Saeki’s waiting to die.

Will Nakata ever find his smarts again? Will Kafka ever meet his mother? Will Saeki move on with her life? The rest of the story is about the journey of the characters in trying to plug that void in their lives.

The book leaves us with a lot of questions. The void in people is beautifully called out. It would be a grave oversight if we were to assume that Nakata’s lack of intelligence is what the makes him feel incomplete. It’s not the intelligence that matters. It’s how the lack of it makes him feel that conveys a story. Nakata’s esteem , his view of himself is something to ponder about.

It’s the same with Kafka and Saeki. It’s not the state of not having anyone to love or losing someone that was deeply loved that ushers the void in these two. it’s leading a life with that void is what that renders them incomplete. Kafka sees his loss as his inability to be loved. Saeki sees her loss as the end of the line. She exists and ceases to live.

The book is an emotional roller coaster. Nakata is incapable of loving or being loved. He is numb to it. Saeki’s loss of her love keeps her robbed of love for all eternity. She’s unable to replenish that love back into her life. Kafka’s longing for his mother , alienates him from everybody else. He tries to see his mother and sister in everybody that he meets. It’s not the person’s loss that affects Kafka. It’s what Kafka is missing in himself that drives him to be what he is.

The book is big on the nature of a soul. The incomplete soul and how it affects people. Each soul is unique in the way it feels incomplete. The book plays out the fantastic irony of haves and have nots. The have nots, feel devastated by what they don’t have. The haves, who have what others are looking for, don’t give a hoot about what they have. Aint that the story of the world.

The book also speaks about the transcendence. Souls exist beyond the realm of linear time. They blend and morph seamlessly. The multiple lives converge and separate based on moments. This book represents loss and the endeavour of the human spirit to recover it and complete itself. Happiness is irrelevant.

Give it a shot. Choose to be amazed and left dazed by the wizardry of Murakami.

Karthik

Book review : The travelling cat chronicles

The cat chronicles , Hiro Arikawa

Coverpage of The travelling cat chronicles

I was almost done reading The marble collector. As an insurance, I had opted to pick up a few books to keep me engaged on my train to Liverpool and back. The station is the worst place to pick a book. They usually sell books that are popular and are in demand. I’d like to believe that I’ve grown warm to reading books that are deviant from Pop Culture. Classics and Vintage are more of my thing.

I stumbled upon this book, assumed that it was a different book. I’m happy that I had picked this one. The travelling cat chronicles is a story that would leave you feeling both sad and hopeful about the future. It is the kind of a tale that would leave you with a sadness that forms a grey cloud over your heart. It will warm your heart, bring those happy smiles of tears, it would leave you feeling bad that the story is done and the book would now sit somewhere in your expensive wooden shelf. Pick it up. Enjoy the wonderful journey. Skip the review. Thank me later. God bless.

For those who need a little more persuasion, the story begins with a stray cat. A cat without a name and one that speaks. The stray finds his way to a silver van. The van happens to be his shelter of sorts. The smart cat with a sharp tongue enjoys his vagabond life. He lives a life without strings. He is the master and lord of his own destiny and boy, the cat can hold his own on a fight. It is by the silver van, where our feline hero meets a human. Unlike the rest, this human seems to be kind. He leaves food for the cat and tries to pat the cat. Apparently cats, like smart kids, are privy to strangers. They do not encourage strangers to get cozy with them. However, the cat is grateful about the food and lets the human brush him. The cat , still not domesticated, goes about its business. No strings attached.

One fine day, the cat meets with an accident that leaves him with a busted leg. In desperation, the feline hero drags himself to the silver van. He reckons that the kind human could help him. The kind human, Satoru, does end up helping the cat. He takes the cat in, nurses it back to health. The two get along well. The cat discovers that Satoru is a cat lover. Satoru names the cat as Nana. Nana considers this as a funny , weird name for a male cat. Nana also acknowledges that Satoru is very perceptive for a human. They both seem to understand each other perfectly well.

Nana, now back on his feet, is now ready to part his ways with Satoru. Satoru does feel bad about parting away with Nana, but doesn’t stop him from being free again. Nana opts to stay back with Satoru. And with that, our journey begins.

After a passage of a certain duration of time, Satoru is in search for a different home for Nana. He reaches out to his friends from the past and hopes that they can adopt Nana. And so Satoru and Nana being their adventure on the road to meet people, places and enjoy the world’s vibrant best. Each of the friend wants to adopt Nana but circumstances prevent them from keeping him home. The journey on the road brings us closer to Japan and the chemistry that Satoru and Nana share.

Why does Satoru wants to give away Nana? It does seem a bit odd because Satoru loves Nana. Why does Nana make it near impossible for Satoru’s friends to adopt him? Nana is a free spirit and yet decides to stay with Satoru. Why does Satoru make that trip to meet all of his friends? What secrets are they all holding?

You’ve got to read the book to see where all things lead.

This is a beautiful story of life. It exemplifies the nature of relationships in our lives. It talks about solitude and how it erodes us from within. It talks about the warmth that companionship provides. It’s a story of friendship. Every inch along the way, we see the beautiful blossoms of friendship bloom. The characters are beautifully drawn in this tale. Satoru’s outlook towards life and the world will win you over. Nana’s personality will entertain you and you’d fall in love with him. Satoru’s past is revealed through the eyes of his friend. Each character adds to the depth of the tale and each character enriches the reading experience. Nothing is wasted in this book. Even the back drop of Mount Fuji plays it’s wonderful part in this tale.

Life. This book is about life. It outlines the misery that we trap in our hearts. It talks about redemption that liberates us. The book calls out the quality of life that we choose to live. Why aren’t we happy? Why are we holding on to pain and the past. Why aren’t we free to be ourselves? What’s stopping us? What do we need to offset that inertia? The book manages answering all the questions without trying to sound preachy and without letting the answers overwhelm the beautiful story.

This book is a beautiful must read. I do feel sad that the tale is now over and the book will rest in a shelf somewhere.

Karthik

Book review : The marble collector

“Hurtful things are roots,they spread ,branch out, creep under the surface touching other parts of the lives of those they hurt. It’s never one mistake, it’s never one moment, it becomes a series of moments, each moment growing roots and spurting in different directions”

Coverpage of The marble collector

The marble collector, Cecelia Ahern.

There was something about the book that made me pick it. I was oblivious to Cecelia when I picked a copy. Something appealed to my sensibilities and on an impulse, I had clicked it for a speedy delivery. It turned out to be a happy turn of events.

The marble collector is a warm tale of life, love, secrets, resentment and ties that bind a family together. The story starts with a little kid, Fergus, who gets punished at school. He spends a significant portion of the day , locked away in a dark room, under solitary confinement. The darkest of rooms does hold the warmest of light in Fergus’ life. His lifetime passion for marbles starts there.

Decades later, we are introduced to Sabrina Boggs. She leads a stagnated life. A job as a lifeguard in a country club for old people, a marriage in trouble, kids playing on her nerves, all of that renders her bored with her life. She survived her parents’ divorce when she was fifteen. Her dad is now under a special care. Doctors do recommend that stress had caused him to have a stroke and the stroke leaves him with an amnesia. Her dad doesn’t remember a lot. He gets a clean slate, fresh start to life. On days her mom visits the dad, they do enjoy their company. Irony. The couple had separated as they couldn’t tolerate each other any more and now with memories erased, they were finding a companionship that had always evaded them.

One morning, a mystery box arrives at Sabrina’s doorsteps. It has boxes and boxes of marbles in them. It has a note, written by her dad, that serves as an inventory of all the marbles collected. Some are precious, some are cheap, but all of them hold a mystery to Sabrina. Neither she nor her mom knew that their dad , Fergus , collected marbles. Two of the most expensive marbles listed in the inventory are found to be missing. Sabrina tries to find them.

As the road takes Sabrina closer to the missing marbles, they also take her closer to a side of her dad that she never did know. She learns that her dad was passionate about marbles. She learns that her dad had lived two distinct lives. As she inches closer to finding out the missing marbles, she also realizes that she has been missing out on quite a lot of her dad’s other life. Far away from a serious, workaholic man , his other life had been quite on the wild-enough side.

Rest of the tale is how the two worlds reconcile. Does her father regain his memories? Does the man who’d lost his marbles, finally find them? The book is a warm tale of a daughter who is on a quest to find out about her father.

The characters are plenty in the book. There is Fergus, his mom, dad and brothers. There is Fergus’ divorced wife. He still calls her his wife even though she now has been married to someone else. There is Sabrina, caught right in the middle of what she doesn’t know about her dad and what the rest of the world isn’t tell her about him.

The story outlines the price that one pays in order to keep secrets. Why did Fergus keep his passion for marbles a secret? Of course, it is rather silly for a grown man to play around with marbles. Was that silliness , or rather, was keeping that silliness a secret worth the price that he had paid in life? The book is a testament to simple honesty to life. The book talks about how hearts want to be honest. The book talks about how people don’t always readily award honesty. It’s one thing to want honesty but it’s a whole new challenge to hear it out.

The book’s themes centre around choices. It articulates on how a life branches out each time we make choices that keep us from staying true to our character. It is human to want to fit in. It is human to present our finest, best version of ourselves to the people that we want to impress. It is human to lie. An acceptance based on a foundation of lies, context determines if its worth the toll it takes to sustain that. The book captures that fracture. The irony is melancholic at best. We give our best, beyond what that is us, and in the end the relationship crumbles because we couldn’t just give ourselves for what we were.

The other arching theme is around the nature of relationships. Sabrina has a marriage that is under stress. Fergus’ ended up in a divorce. There are aspects that connect the causality of the state of their respective relationships. Honesty , I’d like to believe, is a by-product in a relationship. Contrary to popular sentiment that honesty is the holy grail of relationships, the book made me wonder about the lack of honesty. Why do the characters choose to hold secrets? Why aren’t the characters free to open up? In a relationship, it takes two to tango. Honesty often flows when the two vested people are receptive to each other. There are barriers that keep us away from honesty. Fear aces that list. Fear of losing the person. It’s in that pursuit of holding on to the people we end up doing a whole lot of things that destroy the said relationship.

The other big theme in the book is that of Association. I loved this to bits. Like it or hate it, we do tend to associate things to people. Marbles are a symbol throughout the book. They mean something else to Fergus, they mean something different to Sabrina. We are attached to things and that’s because we are attached to the people in our world. Things hold no meaning by themselves. This association gets delicately conveyed throughout the book. Fantastic job there.

The book did leave me with a thought that honesty in a relationship is probably not an entitlement. It’s earned by both. If honesty is reciprocated with punishing judgement, it is human to avoid confrontation. It’s easier to lie. The simplicity of the choices the characters make, their justified reasons, their individual pursuit of redemption, the consequences on people, I enjoyed every inch of this tale.

I’d definitely recommend the book. A simple story did leave me with lasting thoughts about the many marbles that I’ve lost.

Karthik

Book Review : The trouble with goats and sheep

“You only really need two people to believe in the same thing, to feel as though you just might belong.”

The trouble with goats and sheep , Joanna Cannon.

Coverpage of The trouble with goats and sheep

Sometimes the whole wide world is a small place. There is no vast expanse. There are no far away horizons. The trouble with goats and sheep is a tale of such a small world. 12 to be precise. This is a tale of 12 houses in an avenue. The avenue comes alive because of its inhabitants. The people are fantastically portrayed.

One very hot June in 1976, Mrs Margaret Creasy goes missing. This jolts the residents of the avenue. They are a very tight close knit community. The disappearance disrupts their lives. Mrs Creasy was the heart of the avenue. She spoke to all , without any reservations. Everybody felt warm and nice in her company. Her disappearance leaves a gaping hole in the lives of the 12 families.

Gracie, a ten year old, and her friend Tilly , an almost a ten year old, take it upon themselves to solve the case of the disappearance of Mrs Creasy. The girls do miss her. The embark upon a quest to find her. Their journey takes them to a very interesting junction. If only they could find God , everybody would be protected and all will be better again. By implication, finding god , they feel that they’d manage to bring Mrs Creasy back into their lives again.

And so the kids start their investigation.

The kids go about the neighbourhood asking the adults if they believed in God and if they had seen one. Each character has a representation of god and the diverse answers that the kids get, leave them convinced that god doesn’t really reside in their avenue. God wouldn’t, and there is a reason for that. While kids struggle to uncover the mystery, the adults are holding on to a terrible sinister secret. The adults are nervous about Mrs Creasy’s vanishing act because it had attracted the police’s attention. The adults do worry about what the police might discover.

Hidden away within the confines of the avenue that houses 12 families, One cold winter in 1967 , the residents make that decision to burn down the house with the door #11. Why ? Mr Walter Bishop. Mr Bishop is perceived as creepy , wicked, and a pervert. The families bank on collective evidences to justify their justice. They pick a night ,when Mr Bishop and his mum are away, to burn the house down. The logic behind the act was that without the house, there wouldn’t be a Mr Bishop in their neighbourhood.

The plan goes well. The house does burn down and it is made to appear like an accident. Unfortunately, Mr Bishop and his mum get caught in the blaze. The mum falls victim to the incident. This does bear down a bit on the collective conscious of the residents.

The narrative swings between that winter in 1967 and the current summer in 1976. As the girls prod about Mrs Creasy, we get to uncover the series of events that led to that fateful night. Rest of the tale is about the fate of Mrs Creasy. Is she dead? Was she murdered? Did she leave because she figured out that the residents had killed Bishop’s mom? The community starts to crumble under it’s own weight of guilt and prejudice.

The book is about the collective conscious. This book beautifully captures the dynamics of families living together as a closed community. Each character brings a bag of prejudice and bias to the table. Each character is flawed and broken. Each character tries to fit in, and find that sense of belonging to the wider community.

The conflict between conformance and fitting in with staying unique and true to character is portrayed through the eyes of the two little heroes, Gracie and Tilly. The girls are a social outcast in their school. They do not fit in. They get bullied. Gracie looks up to another kid, Lisa, and tries to ape her to gain acceptance. Gracie is prepared to do what it takes to fit in.

Tilly on the other hand, has an overprotective mom who smothers her all the time. Tilly wants to be free, she wants her dad, who is separated from her mom, to acknowledge her and accept her. Tilly feels that being Gracie’s friend is all the acceptance that she needs in the world. The contrasting nature of the girls serves as the perfect juxtaposition to the community and Mr Bishop , who the community unanimously detests.

The biggest theme explored in the book is about conformance to society and the nature of the society to tolerate people who are different. Under the pressure of wanting to fit in, many of us do the things that we do. We gang up and pick on people who are different. While , as individuals, we do not express strong views; under the safety of numbers, we do tend to promote the ravaging beast that we hold dormant within.

I loved this book. The characters are sculpted to near perfection in the book. It holds a mirror to us as a society. It makes us think.

Give this a shot.

Karthik