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

Book Review : One hundred years of solitude

A hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a stifling tale of the Buendia family. It picks off with Jose Arcadio Buendia and a lot of kids named Jose Arcadio and Aureliano later, the book speaks about the very meaning of solitude that does transcend generations in the Buendia family. There is no short and easy way to capture the tale. It is a progressive journey that makes us ponder all the way at every stage and every generation that gets added to the family tree.

The characters are obviously the strength of the book. Jose Arcadio Buendia, his wife Ursula , their kids Aureliano Buendia and Jose Arcadio Buendia and daughters Amaranta and Rebeca are wonderfully pictured across the many pages of the book. The madness kicks off with the third generation. As the family tree expands, one can't resist but observe the way the solitude of their lives concentrate to grow into the very core of what that represents the family.

The book is a masterpiece. The varying degrees of solitude that is captured , painted, lived and experienced by the characters is a true enough reflection of the loneliness that plagues our own lives. In that sense, this book blurs the boundaries between real and fiction. Loneliness is , as experienced through both life and the confines of the book, not a single event that occurs at a random single point in time. It is a circle of sorts. Lives that have loneliness at their epicentre, have the capacity to travel the world, meet a million people, share a million laughs and yet embrace the cold arms of being lonely. The book does not shy away from introducing us to this aspect of loneliness. It's not the number of people that we are surrounded by, it's just how many do we let into our mind that calls out the solitude.

Coming to the plot, it's convoluted. J.A.B is in a pursuit of lot of things. Science, truth, alchemy, business acumen, gypsies and the many wonderful mysteries and secrets that they have in their hearts. The purist pursuit pushes him to the brink of alienation. Ursala, his wife, most definitely the strongest woman in this saga of men and women, works towards keeping the family together. She's a miracle worker and through the century of her existence, you'd fall in love with her tryst and will sympathise with her life.

Aureliano , who grows up into Colonel Aureliano; a man of legend, a man who led the civil war (oh yeah, a civil war breaks out between liberals and conservatives) a bloke with a loooooooooooooooooot of kids, a man consumed by ideologies and a man who hits upon a crystal realization that helps him view the war. The way Aureliano matures, grows drunk with power, very much outlines the life of those among us who crave that power for the reasons that helps us sleep at night. Aureliano does not beat around the bush and hide behind the veils of denial. This is a man who knows the price that he pays for the choices he's made.

The plot dwells across a few touch points. The life of J.A.B, the rise and fall of the colonel, the tribunals of Jose Arcadio, the mystery that Amaranta is. The rivalry between the sisters, Amaranta and Rebeca. Throw in kids, their kids, their kids and we have a tale that constantly keeps converging. That segways us to the themes explored in the book.

The entire tale is set in the town of Mocondo. All characters manage to find their way back home. Of course, they do leave their homes , the course of life kicks in, they all revert to Mocondo for varying reasons. That convergence of life itself is a theme that is expressed in the book. No matter how far we are from our roots, we still gravitate towards it in some capacity.

Then comes the ghosts. Yes there are ghosts in the tale. Ghosts , to me, represent the past. They are a bridge to a point in time in the past. These ghosts do not haunt everybody. They are selective. Which is a reflection of how our choices in life are anchored and defined by our past. The longer we indulge in the past, the longer we stay haunted by it, the longer we struggle to come to terms with it, the longer we find ourselves struggle to reconcile with the present.

Solitude, a word that is featured in the tile, plays a major role in the book. The book is a testament to the misery that is life. It is there because we let it be. All the characters experience that alienated loneliness. Some, because of their choices. Some , because of the way how fate intervenes. The way the characters deal with their solitude is a fantastic portrayal of how we cope up with the coldness of our lives. Drowned in work, lost in passion, we exhibit the same symptoms that the characters do.

I enjoyed the book. I loved peeking into the lives across generations of the family. I smiled at the simple fact that most of the characters were trapped in time, caged in habit and resistance was futile. It did make me wonder. I couldn't tell where the fictitious nature of the tale blurred and where the mirror to the society started.

Give it a read. 🙂

Karthik

Book Review : Never let me go , Kazuo Ishiguro

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Two down, three more to go. On a whim, I picked five books from the list of 100 books to read before you die. I started that journey with , The book Thief, Book review : The book thief, this is the second one that I’ve survived.

 

Right off the bat, Never let me go , personally, was not a easy book to read. I struggled with it. It is a slow paced narrative that captures the lives of three friends, Ruth, Tommy and the narrator, Kathy. Endure it, the book rewards you with more questions that challenge the status quo of life itself. I’m glad that I endured the first slog. The questions that you’d be left with in the end, necessarily are the questions that you’d be asking yourself. You could be asking yourself. I have a few doing numbers in my head now.

 

The story starts off at Hailsham which is a boarding school. I reckon the narrator and her friends were right about 10 when the their tale starts. I could be wrong, but their ages would be in the ballpark of early teens. Their school is a special school indeed. There is a very limited connect with the outside world. The school has it’s own eco-system. It runs it’s own economy in the form of sales and exchanges. Typical kids, typical teachers whom the kids refer to as Guardians. A lot gets told and a lot gets told as the story goes on. The book, is the recount of the narrator when she’s in her thirties. The narration effortlessly switches between the two point of views of Kathy. The things she now knows at 30, and the things she’d eventually end up figuring out in due course of time.

 

I’d probably refrain from giving out the plot. Life happens and friends fight and split. They get back together and do things change? Does love really blossom, is there true love in the world? All these questions would go answered by the book. These are the bits that wouldn’t really matter when you reach the end. There are far important questions that beg to be answered. I can only hope that we , the readers, manage to find the answers to all those questions.

 

I can’t help but wonder about life right now. Given the context of life, If I could meet God, if I wanted her help, would I brave asking her? Would I have the strength to listen to the one true north of the truth? Would I have the courage to sit through that conversation? What if God were to tell me that I always had it in me to solve all my problems, face all my challenges ? What if god were to tell that she wasn’t interested in my petty life and that I was an insignificant speck to her? Could I handle the truth?

 

This book follows a path of destiny. The characters are ,in course of time and probably deep down were, always aware of their destiny. Why do we have a destiny? Why do we not challenge it? Why do we not fight for it or fight against it? Why do we succumb and surrender to it instead of trying and failing at a shot of changing the very course of it? Why indeed. Why do we eventually give up? Is it because we grow tired and weak and numb from the things we endure? Is it because resistance is futile? Is it because we feel compelled to oblige to the grand scheme of things?

 

Would it be any different if we had that sight of that destiny? Is that sight of the future the root cause of all our failures in the name of compliance? I don’t know. I feel angered by the very thought that I am a puppet and I’m suspended by strings.

 

There are themes to the book which I both enjoy and mull thinking about. The nature of creator, that is god, if we are in her image, do we not deserve the liberties and luxuries that god enjoys? There is discrimination and we all suffer it and tolerate it. While reading the book thief, all I could see was life. The juxtaposition is ironic. While all I got to read here was about the lives of the friends, all I could see was death. Both books bank on the inevitable nature of death. Both books outline the life that is lived while we wait for the death’s eventful embrace.

 

I loved the way their friendship was explained in the book. They start as thick as thieves, they drift apart, they converge and life’s final full stop. I couldn’t help but reminisce about the people I’ve left behind. Wistfully, I indulged a few thoughts about the times that were. Ironically, the book reflects life. With bills to pay, life to lead, we do overcome such challenges with people and we are often left with no time to dwell in the past.

This review barely scratches the surface of what the book has to offer. In light of spoilers, I am forced to leave you with generic questions that would haunt your mind post the read.

For what it’s worth, I feel happy that the book delivered on it’s promise. It did leave me questioning humanity and humaneness , just as the book said I would. It’s been a hard read.  I don’t know if I’d really recommend this for public consumption. Read it at your own discretion. The list of 100 before you die, this book does deserve it’s place there.

 

Karthik

 

Book review : The book thief

“Of course, I'm being rude. I'm spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don't have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It's the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me. There are many things to think of. There is much story.” – Death, The book thief.

Writing even a single sentence about this book is euphoric pleasure. I had a tough time trying to decide upon a quote to jump start this post. Far too many words have been written , far too many borrowed memories from the characters of the book. I think the one quoted will do a bit justice to the nature of the book.

World war 2, Germany, and then there is Hitler's Germany, a little girl called Liesel and her world, Death. Yes, death is the narrator of this little tale. Not death as an idea, not death as something that is inevitable, a living-breathing character who is death. A reaper who visits when people die. He ferries their souls about.

I think it's pointless to say that , Yes everybody dies in this book. I'll say it anyway. Yes. Everybody dies in the book. The characters that you'd resent, they die. The characters you'd like, they'd die. The characters that you will fall in love with, they will die. There is death written into all the pages of the book. There you go, I said it.

But this is not a book about death. This is not his tale. This is a story of life. To be precise, this is the story of a life of a wonderful little girl called Liesel Meminger. This is the story of her father, Hans Hubermann. Her mother Rosa Hubermann. Her friend Rudy Steiner. This is a story of lives of people, lives that intersect at different points in time, that converge for reasons that are simple enough. They converge because life happens. It happens plenty.

The tale shares it's fences with the looming war. Little Liesel travels to Himmel and the story takes flight from there. As readers , we all go on a journey of discovering , strike that, we all go on a journey of experiencing life's million nuances that the characters live through. As the war intensifies, the challenges intensify. War changes everything about us. That maybe true. It brings out the best in us, it brings out the worst in us. We are but left free to choose what we become. Angels or Demons. That is precisely what goes portrayed in this tale.

Death is the book's narrator. The fact that death is there, on every page, almost omnipresent, we learn to coexist with the big D. Beyond the initial shock of people dying, in time one grows insensitive to death. It's the world war for heavens sake! People become faces, faces become number, number becomes a statistic. We don't invest emotions into statistics. And then death his us hard. We are reminded of what it means to be human. Birth , by nature, is package deal that comes with an assured expiry date. Just when we grow tired of death, we wake up to the grim reality of our mortality.

Let me assure you, it is not the death that would choke your heart, flooding it with overwhelming emotions. Strangely, warmly, it is life that would bring us to tears. This book is a celebration of life. It is a testament to life. It paints a masterpiece , that is life, across the white canvas of the pages. In the end, even through death, it would be life that would seize the moment.

Conscious of what one stands to take away from this book, all I could see was life amidst all the death. If all you see are deaths, deaths that overshadow life, that eclipse the very essence of being alive, staying human, I bet you will feel depressed by the time you are done with the book. I felt sad. I wished I could share a slice of the pains outlined in the book so that I could bring a few more moments of a smile on the characters.

I loved the way the characters evolved. The farther the roads unwind, we get to see the wider spectrum of traits of all the characters that share their world with Liesel.

I've always struggled to pen words about the things I've deeply loved. With a not so subtle acknowledgement of how much this review slacks, I take pride in the fact that I do love this story a lot.

So, do you want to read it ? Hell, oh yeah. Go for it. You will not feel cheated.

Book review : Only time will tell. Jeffery Archer

And so Archer's words once again remind me that he's the best there is. It's all for a good reason. He brings his words to life effortlessly.


Cover Page of Only time will tell by Jeffery Archer

Oh I wish I had written the lines down when I had read them. I felt pumped with emotions, the restlessness of my body felt shredded and I wanted to get up , go out and accomplish something. I continued reading.

"There will come a day when you'd be dead and folks around would gather and speak of the one act of bravery that you once did. Or, you can do something with your life and don't let the laurels of the past dictate that eulogy in the making" – Sadly, these are not the words by the author. These are the words etched in my mind now. The actual ones would leave you with Goosebumps.

Only time will tell , by Jeffery Archer is a tale that chronicles the life of one Mr Harry Clifton. The life of the lad, as seen through many eyes around him. Right from the depths of careless innocence to the moment of heart breaking courage, the story offers an alternate perspective to the phrase "When you want something with all your heart, the universe conspires". Of course, Harry is spared from the narrowed view of wants, the world around him rises to the occasion and delivers something so beautiful that you'd be left wondering about the many miracles that still remain hidden in plain sight around you.

The story includes one of the best repertoire of characters. Harry, his mum Maisie, his friends Giles and Deakins, the teachers around him and one character that stands out and pulls the weight of the entire saga, Mr Old Jack Tar. I loved him. I enjoyed his presence in the story. One man, trapped in his own misery, rises above it and enjoys a certain burdensome relationship with an ideology of what's right, what's the truth and what's moral. I was inspired by him, his arduous journey of staying true to himself. He is a breath of fresh air and the way he's written, reminds us why Archer is the best there is.

There is a secret that Harry is out to uncover. All his life, he was told that his dad had died in the war. The one war to end all wars. Harry knows otherwise. There are only three people who know the truth. What is that secret? Is it the kind of secret that can destroy lives? Does it eventually consume the world that is Harry's?

The book is set in a time just before the WW2 starts. I enjoyed watching the UK that was well before my time. The simpler times, the already metropolitan London, the way of lives and the quintessential English way of things. The story brings colours right in front of our eyes. War is on the horizon and it's coming alright. The book takes us the minds of the people as they brace, yet again, for a war to end all wars!

If you like Mr Archer's previous works, there is no reason why you might want to skip this. If you are new to the world of words of Archer, this is a good place to start.

I felt betrayed by the fact that this book is one of Seven more to come in the Clifton saga! It ends in a cliffhanger and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm not sure if I'd invest that much time into a series. Then again, I never know. I still would love to know how the story eventually ends.

Coming up next : The book thief.

Karthik

Book review : Blood sisters


Cover page of the book Blood Sisters by Jane Corry

Blood Sisters by Jane Corry

Three sisters. One trapped in time, one trapped in her mind and one trapped in death. That neatly sums up the nice little tale of Blood sisters.

The book starts with Alison, who is an artist with a secret locked within her mind. Her life is pretty sober and one fine day, she spots an advert that asks for a art teacher who can help prisoners paint. Far away from a city where she's lived her isolated life, she makes to the four closed walls of an open prison. Her story goes into overdrive from there on.

Then there is Kitty. Survivor of a nasty accident that left her with a damaged mind. She's now a resident of a care home, confined to a wheelchair, a good right hand and a left that she cant ever move, she's trapped with the gifted curse of understanding what the world speaks but her's is a voice that makes no sense to the world around her. The accident leaves her with murky muddied memories that come and go. She remains unaware of the string of events that put her where she was.

Blood sisters is a journey of sorts. Two sisters who never really got along well when they were kids. The accident that changes their lives. Guilt that takes over Alison and obliviousness that plagues Kitty. The story is a constant cry for the love that both need, both are starved off and both are rendered useless to convey to each other because of circumstances. It beautifully captures the sibling rivalry and jealousy. Is it the case of love buried deep within the hearts? The story goes on an exploration to uncover that truth.

The book is made of three acts. One introduces to the present. Two takes us back to the past and three brings us back to the present. I enjoyed the first two acts. I found the third to be a bit boring. But that's just me, I reckon. The third act does have a saving grace. It did tease me with plots that hinted towards the battles of the mind. It was a short tease but I'd have loved , if the entire book was about a troubled mind. Again, that's still just me.

There aren't many layers to the book. I enjoyed the nostalgia of growing up with my two sisters. I'd pick petty fights, we'd hate each other a lot, we did love each other too. Today, we are all old enough to sit back and talk about the good old days. This book does that. It brings back fond memories of the first thread of bonds being formed.

I enjoyed the consequences of living with guilt. Alison is a classic example of someone who is trapped by her own guilt. Should she? Is it right? Is there a better way? Thankfully, the tale kept me engaged and I didn't bother psycho-analysing the possibilities beyond all comprehension. I enjoyed a stoic pleasure of watching her live through hell. It was a gentle reminder of a very simple truth that some times, we do the things that we do and we endure misery because we feel it's the right thing to do!!! Talk about misplaced priorities.

All in all, I'd say it was worth the time I invested into the book. I felt compelled to pull an all nighter to read through the last mile. I quite enjoyed the tale and when I reached the final full stop, I did feel good about the journey of their lives.

Do give it a shot, if all that you want is a casual read 🙂

Karthik

Book Review : Aleph

Is it possible to deviate from the path of God has made? Yes, but it’s always a mistake. Is it possible to avoid pain? Yes, but you’ll never learn anything. Is it possible to know something without ever having experienced it? Yes, but it will never truly be part of you." – Aleph

The last time I read Paulo Coelho, I hated his work. I scoffed at it. I strongly believed that the book was ridiculous at best. A ranting of a master of words who weaved a story too hard to believe, is what I felt. In the decade that followed later, I realized the magic to the words that I had once read.

The setting of an ignorant novice me reading the Alchemist is pretty much a plot that can help me explain his words in the book Aleph. In the most simplest of terms, the book Aleph is about a journey of life. I'll let you decide the number of lives that your faith and your belief system will permit you to consider. If there is just one life, this book talks about a journey that we all undergo at different points in our own existence.

Much like how I first rejected the Alchemist, the words had not changed in the years that followed after my read. It was only I who had changed. There was no constant at play. Time flew past me, I gained life by experiences, my beliefs changed gradually. From a skeptic, I went on to become a wanderer with a curious and an open mind. Aleph is a book that talks about similar journey of the self.

It is hard to review a book on spirituality or philosophy. I remember the day I picked this book in London. The bloke at the store said aren't you too young to lose yourself to spirituality. I smiled , aren't we all young enough as it is, i asked. We both shared a laugh.

The book touches upon the simplest of facts that we tend to complicate beyond all recognition. It talks a great deal about experience.

"Is it possible to know something without ever having experienced it? Yes, but it will never truly be part of you."

My biggest take from this book is along that line of experience. All of us experience various things of varying degrees in the miles that we cover in life. What we experience is just as irrelevant as what we desire to experience. What we do with such an experience, goes on to define the quality of our life, it mandates the state of bliss that one can stand to enjoy.

The simple act of falling down, getting up, crying a little, wiping away our tears and heading out for the next big adventure was something we were extremely proficient at doing when we were kids. In fact, the pain we experienced as a kid was very much real. With a limited knowledge and awareness of the world, with limited fears and limited unknown, even the tiny setback of falling down was supposed to be a huge hurdle. We did overcome that. We did that in style. We did that we cause we wanted to.

The more we grew up, the lesser we remain ourselves. That fight in us gets replaced by a lot of other things. Aleph is a book that serves to remind us that nothing else matters more than what we stand to do today. Our actions of today have the power to redeem us from the sins of yesterday and sow the seeds for the things to come tomorrow.

Oh btw, it was long after I picked the book did I realize that this book was not an fictional account of a spiritual journey! Damn!

Read it at your own peril. Belief is a rare commodity these days. We choose to believe in the goodness of vile folks dressed as sheep and yet struggle to believe that we are but a part of a vast machinery called the universe. If your eyes wont let you digest the spiritual nature of the book, no biggie, read it as a fictional tale of science and teleportation device. The heart of Aleph is not it's vast spiritual abundance, it's a simple tale of learning to live your own life.

Karthik