Book Review : Atonement

Coverpage of the Book : Atonement

Atonement by Ian McEwan

There is something so familiar in this book that struck a chord. It’s a tale of an affair with words, the world of imagination , the choices made and consequences eventually atoned for.

This is a story of Ms Briony Tallis. She’s a bored little teenager who dreams big of being a writer one day. A summer that changes her life and the lives of people around her. The story is set amidst the boredom of this girl, her way of coping up with the boredom by imagining a world of drama and thematic challenges. With her brother Leon returning back home from university, it presents her with a wonderful opportunity of hosting a play to entertain the guests.

Briony’s world is her home, her sister Cecillia , Robbie; who is the son of the housekeeper who helps around the Tallis household, Lola and the twins who are her aunt’s kids and are guests in the house. Briony engages Lola and the twins to take part in her play. Briony has a change of heart and decides to call off the play.

She also happens to witness the raw and crude strained love that Cecillia and Robbie share. Her age of ignorance and naïve innocence, her lack of understanding of young blossoming love, her pampered outlook towards life, all of this results in her bearing witness to Robbie assaulting Lola. Briony’s testament , her dedicated unwavering conviction to her testimony seals Robbie’s fate.

The story then branches out to its next two acts. Set in the backdrop of Dunkirk, Robbie is now a man, a solider who has one and only reason that drives him to survive the war and return home to his one true love Cecillia. Robbie , of course, is innocent of the crime that he was charged with, finds it hard to forgive Briony but also wants Cec to unite with her family and sister again. The incident had fractured the family and the lives of its people. Forgiveness becomes a commodity that is not easily exchanged.

Act three revolves around Briony’s penance. In time, she realizes the magnitude of her childish act. Now fully aware of the consequences of her actions, the striking difference between words of fiction and words that are stated in the real world, Briony is plagued with the knowledge that her thirst for fiction and drama in life had resulted in fractured lives. Briony decides to face the consequences of bearing the truth.

Atonement is a book that bored me to hell. The pace was slower than a dead horse trying to drag itself from point a to b. While the premise was promising, the execution lacked drama and was far away from it’s potential. Briony’s atonement was barely a crescendo. It fizzed away and drowned in distracted narration , much like a sound of triangle getting lost in a blaring orchestra. By the time one reaches the end, we don’t feel Briony’s burden, we don’t share her guilt, we remain unaffected by the choices of the characters.

I’m glad that this was the last of the 5 that I picked up. Another day, another book read, another lessons learnt and a few ones skipped. I wish I felt inspired to explore the themes that the book covered. Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with it to bother that effort.

If you have the time to kill, if someone gifted you this book and you feel compelled to not cheat, not sneak up the plot in Wiki, then have fun reading the book.

Karthik

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Dad

Uncle!’. ‘Uncle, look at me! I can jump and touch the sky’.

I looked towards her and smiled. I gave her a thumbs up. She was a tiny little tot and was a bundle of energetic joy. She was the sunshine of our lives.

‘Way to go sweetheart’ I called out.

She had paused to see what I had to say. Happy with what she had heard, she stretched her arms wide and carried on pretending to be a bird. She soared high. Through the blue sky that was adorned by cotton grey clouds. The grass under her tiny feet was moist and pleasantly cold. Birds paused their chirping to watch her, much to their own amusement. It was a picture perfect afternoon on a quiet September day.

‘Give her time’ Radha whispered into my ear. She took my hand , assuringly and gently gripped them. She then rested her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes.

‘I know’ .

I guess one could call it a fairy tale of sorts. The fact that it was very much unlikely to be a fairy tale, made our story a fable of sorts. It wasn’t love at first sight. It wasn’t boy meets girl, boy falls head over heels, girl plays hard to get and yet flirt in a disguised inviting way. We were friends. We weren’t into each other. We had never been that way, as far as I could remember. I was there when the wedding bells rang. I was there when she blushed red with a satisfied joy in her face and the usual tears of leaving behind the house she had always lived in.

Hers was a fairy tale of sorts. High school sweethearts. Love at first sight. A marriage after an uncomfortable wait. A wait that left many pails of water that refused to flow under the bridge of a bond shared by two hearts. Word became words, words gave life to fights, fights revealed facets of a life. Some faces were scary. She couldn’t deal with it anymore. Her heart crushed, her face bruised, her dreams shattered, she made it home.

Yeah. Hers, one could argue that it was a fairy tale of sorts. The kind of sort that Disney wouldn’t bother making into a movie. I was there when she returned back home. It felt weird to see their home now gripped by a gloomy silence. It felt depressing and that depression felt infectious.

I’ll do it, I found myself say. It wasn’t an act of chivalry, it wasn’t an act of setting things right. I don’t really know why I said it, but I said it none the less. Of course, I was turned down. Persistence persevered. Amidst hushed resentment, it was a discrete family affair and our lives started on a brand new page.

The brand new page indicated a whole new chapter. The new chapter had a new character. Diya. The name that meant direction. She was old enough to know what a family was and a bit young to understand the dynamics of human nature. Diya , she was the much needed direction in our life. Radha and my life usually centred on her. Yeah.

Diya’d usually address me as her uncle. She couldn’t bring herself to call me her dad. Radha would assure me that the transition would eventually happen. It didn’t matter to me. I loved her. She loved me. Ours was a happy family. It was our favorite park. We’d make an effort to spend a lot of time there. Diya would run about till she tired herself out. Her excitement was never concealed. She was never short of tall tales of birds and animals that spoke to her in the park. Her imagination was as wild as her spirit. The routine was a norm. The Saturdays were spent in the park. Our little family flourished with smiles and love.

I still remember the wonderful day when Diya called me her dad. It was a Saturday, of course it was. The little one had woken up early. She had walked to my bed. She had scaled my chest, pried my sleepy eyes open.

‘Lets go to the park Daddy’ she begged sweetly. I kissed her forehead. Asked her to get ready. Radha was impressed at her daughter’s determination to shower and dress up for the big day. Every once a while, she’d scream ‘ lets go go go daddy’. Simple words, but it warmed the depths of my soul. It felt like the most special thing that had ever happened to my life.

As we readied ourselves to leave, my phone buzzed. Against my enforced principle of leaving my work at the doorstep, I had to take that call. The two ladies of my life decided to make a start, leaving me behind. The park wasn’t that far anyways. It was a short bus ride away. Four stops and twenty minutes away. I hinted that I’d join them shortly. I knew our usual bench. I knew our usual routine. Spirited Diya would wander aimlessly. Her curiosity would know no bounds. Radha and I would sit on the same bench. We were happy with the ‘Dad’ status.

****

The city rocked from the blast. Another act that hoped to represent an ideology, a god, or whatever the demented disillusioned mind chose to believe in. My world fell apart. I reasoned with it, I justified it all, I stopped reasoning and kept myself from justifying it all. Life had happened and I couldn’t reconcile it any longer.

And so after a year, I’m back in the park again. Diya is out there, playing and running on a lush carpet of green grass, under the blanket of a blue cloudless sky. Radha’s head is rested on my shoulder. It was all happening, none of it was real or fiction. It was a moment that was trapped between a world of what if and a world of if only. My salvation was a chrome steel and a river of red crimson. The world could deal with the mess that I’d leave behind.

As I said, my life turned out to be a fairy tale after all. I would go on to have a happily forever after.

Karthik

Note: Inspired by a day spent in Kew Gardens! What can I say, I do love a good tragedy!

Book review : Norwegian Wood

Cover Page of Norwegian Wood, Murakami

Norwegian wood by Haruki Murakami.

It is an infinitely difficult tale for me to review. It’s not because the tale is beyond a justifiable review, it’s solely because I am blinded by the emotions that I’d bring to the table when I talk about this book. I shall do my best to alienate myself from the book while I attempt to review this Masterpiece.

Norwegian wood, a song by The Beatles, also happens to be the song that the leading lady of the tale likes. Naoko. Toru Watanabe is the narrator and this story revolves around his life, how it intersects with Naoko , Reiko and Midori. The book is a testament to the predictability of how unpredictable our reasoning becomes when we face challenges that test our emotional stability. In short, Love, is the most predictable means to call out how we become unpredictable because of it.

N.W is a simple tale of love. Toru, his best friend Kizuki and K’s girlfriend Naoko are a trio. The story takes place when Toru is aged 17. Kizuki kills himself which leaves a void in Naoko and Toru’s lives. It’s a void that is beyond repair. It leaves a gaping hole in their lives. Toru and Naoko move to Tokyo, each pursuing their education. Toru and Naoko seem to find solace between themselves and Naoko , one fine day, exiles herself from Toru’s life. Toru feels the icy talons of isolation once again.

He later comes to know that Naoko , who is suffering from depression, has checked herself into an institution. Naoko reaches out to him through letters. Toru makes it a point to visit her and that’s when they meet Reiko. Reiko is Naoko’s roomie and she’s also a victim of a breakdown. There is a new trio that is formed.

While all of this happens, Toru meets Midori and finds her to be full of life, a quality that he misses both in his life and that in Naoko. She represents everything that Toru misses. Toru is in love with Naoko. Naoko is imprisoned by her depression. She’s a broken version of what she can be. She’s unable to reciprocate that love. Her solitude leaves Toru in a state of solitude. Midori start to fall for Toru and he feels the conflict.

So far the plot of the book does point towards the simple fact that love can get as complicated as one wants it to be. It’s not the mere words of love that this book represents. It is a hurricane of emotions that each of the character expresses. The volatile nature of emotions, the impact of such emotions on our lives, the way our lives affect the lives of folks around us, and this book absolutely , precisely rams the hammer down the perfect nail.

As the protagonist suffers the misery of helplessness of his love, we feel his pain. We feel the pain and misery that keeps Naoko trapped. Her inability to jolt herself off her depression, the toll and strain that has on the love, the residual sadness and guilt of Kizuki’s death, a world of walls keep the lovers apart. Toru’s love for Naoko keeps him disconnected from Midori. Midori’s solitude finds comforts in Toru.

It’s not hard to imagine the way love flourishes through pain and sadness. Each character is trapped , waiting and longing for that special attention. Each character denies that special attention to someone that desperately seeks from them. We are left with human nature in its rawest unblemished form.

What happens to the love? Whose love finally endures the test of time? Whose battle with depression, loneliness finally sees the light of dawn? The story goes on to conclude in the most fashionable way that readers of Murakami are now used to.

I loved this book. This book struck a chord and I couldn’t keep myself away from living the characters in my head. The book expresses a lot of themes.

We find it hard to accept but the under appreciated truth to many of us is the fact that we put our happiness in someone else’s hands. The tale is a testament to that fact. There is the side of love that the book ventures into. Love, while is empowering, it also has the capacity to render us helpless. There is frustrated helplessness plastered across the walls of this tale. Then comes the big elephant in the room, Depression. What I loved the most about the book is that it portrayed a picture of Love in the time of a depression. I guess it’s hard in real life as it’s conveyed in the book.

The book also explores the fact that people are drawn to certain people. Toru is broken inside, he finds himself gravitating towards Naoko, Midori and Reiko, and all of them are broken too. Like attracts like, I’d presume. There is a certain nativity in such pain. We draw and reach out to similar folks.

This book is most definitely not about giving up on life. The broken lives of Toru and Naoko represent the baggage of the past. Midori represents the present. Reiko represents the way future unfolds. It’s a convoluted thought that connects the characters to the linearity of time. But that’s how I see it. Toru and Naoko are anchored to the past and hence neither is able to move on. Midori on the other hand, represents life. She’s the one character that makes choices in the right time. It’s just a matter of time for her to realize if her choices were right or wrong. Reiko represents the future. She is both an outcome of the past, and also changes with changes to the choices that are made in the present.

For what it’s worth, somewhere , some time in the future, I’ll read this again. I love this book!

Karthik

Never let me go

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“Through rain, through the thunder that roars

be my strength and never let me go”

I cried through the rain. The screams of my heart felt eclipsed by the night’s thunder. I had always known the day would come. I had braced for it. I had put a brave front. I smiled through it all. The day of joy and excited new beginnings, I was there , armed with smiles. I pretended as far as I could, for as long as I could. Moments before my crushing surrender, I had walked my road alone. Broken, wistful, the comforts of home weren’t mine for the taking today. I walked as far as I could. Far away from everything I had ever known. Far away from everyone I had ever known. I walked, walked away from myself. It was when the skies had opened. Under the cover of the tears of the twilight sky, I secretly shed a few tears of myself. In that moment, my tears went unnoticed. Insignificant to the ways of the world. The crushing weight in my heart grew heavier by the minute. Tears were my only comfort.

 

 

“Through the night, the light of a mourning moon

be my shadow and never let me go”

 

All was soon forgotten, and beginnings were soon to be made. It was all a distant memory. The day for what it was, the night for what I was, the tears that bore witness to the matters of a heart without a voice, all of that was a fading memory waiting to be forgotten. I endured it all, I survived it all. The relentless nature of time had helped me mask my broken self. In pursuit of goals and pretended ambitions, I set upon a task to excel. I drowned myself into work and life was good. All things considered, it was good indeed.

 

That evening the moon was high. Her blemished radiance had left the world seduced to her charm. I, however, remember the night for something else. We had finally met. Through bruises and a busted lip, through her reddened eyes and swollen tears, I knew what it meant that night to have the very fabric of your heart distraught in pain. The sight of her tears froze my eyes from joining in. There was lot to do, there were things to set right. Broken, now twice, I lost myself again in pursuit of newer goals.

 

“Through time, the memories forgotten and cherished

be my soul and never let me to”

 

Time , once again, was relentless as ever. Wounds healed, scars remained. We were thrust into changes that we had never contemplated before. A lot had changed, some remained the way they always had been. I knew there wasn’t a rewind. An ocean had passed under that bridge. This felt new but was still an ancient rite. We sat across the table to watch the little one dance. The day was bright, all things considered. The skies had opened, the little one wanted to dance under the comforts of a warm soothing rain. we both sat and watched her in silence. Ah, the silence. I had lost my heart to silences once. I stayed quiet when it was the turn to speak. I embraced silence. I feared the road ahead. This would have to do, I reminded myself. We both sat in silence. I knew what her silence meant. I wondered if she knew what mine was screaming. We glanced into each other’s eyes. A smile there. A smile here. Two stories were denied a voice.

 

“Through the distance, our hearts will stay bridged

find me when i’m lost, but never let me go”

 

Today , as I look back the decades that have passed, I couldn’t help but cherish the memory that had warmed my heart for the longest while. I was 12 and so was she. Mrs Valli who taught english at school, had tasked us with a poem. I wrote something that wasn’t destined to be remembered. She wrote , something that wouldn’t go forgotten ever.

And there she was, and there I was. Two kids walking the road back home. The sky bestowed a gentle rain. She danced her silly dance. I knew I could watch that dance for the rest of my life. The rain had stopped.

You know what I wrote? , she suddenly sprung to excitement. We went on to narrate her little poem.

Through rain, through the thunder that roars

be my strength and never let me go

Through the night, the light of a mourning moon

be my shadow and never let me go

Through time, the memories forgotten and cherished

be my soul and never let me to

Through the distance, our hearts will stay bridged

find me when i’m lost, but never let me go.

 

She held my hand tight and gently whispered, ‘Never let me go’.

 

 

I stand watching her grave. I’m now an old man. I have had many possessions, I’ve had trinket around the world. Her poem, I cherish it the most. Every year, for the last 5 years, I see her once again. I read her the words that once she wrote. The words that she gave life, wonderfully were the ones keeping her alive today. As tears flowed, I gently wiped them. I kissed the poem and folded it neat.

Maybe next time, I looked at the heavens and begged a promise.

 

Karthik