[Book Review] A Brave New World

A brave new world , by Aldous Huxley is a depressing take on the state of humanity in a futuristic society. This future of mankind is also possibly set in a alternate timeline of history. The tale relies on the current principles and practices of science to forecast a predicted future rather than calling scenarios out of thin air to paint a state of dystopia. The tale felt chilling and terrifying because of its nature of staying grounded in plausible reality. 

The tale kicks off with an introduction of the new London. It’s a London where science triumphed and led humanity into a consumerist civilisation. It is a new land where babies are manufactured and are no longer a planned/unplanned outcome of intimacy. The babies are then sorted into different categories, ranging from Alpha + to Epsilon -, which determine the nature of the future that awaits them. Alpha plus, is the top of the tops of the society. Epsilons are reduced to beings that carry out menial tasks and enjoy almost near perfect invisibility in their world. Nobody really cares about the epsilons. The whole society , however, believes that there is a proper place for each of the classes. 

Science also lends a helping hand in conditioning the society. The science of brainwashing is transformed into an ART of flawless perfection. The babies are conditioned right from the act of inception. Different messages are drilled across different spurts of growth. The conditioning is not just restricted to infants. It alters the formative years of the individuals and kids grow into brain washed adults. The new world accepts this conditioning without exception and without any protest. 

The land has also evolved away from the confines of emotions. This new world believes in the consumerist excess. Love is no longer defined as conditional or unconditional. Love is no longer exclusive. The land enforces a regime of un-exclusivity where the thought of individualism doesn’t exist. It’s a free for all, within acceptable classes, state of existence. 

The passages above are not attempts at passing a judgement over the state of this new world. It exists. In it, there is no crime. There is no greed and jealousy. Mankind has evolved to pursue desires rather than trying to win it over through the acts self control and discipline. Mankind , in fact, would have evolved beyond the need for introspection because a life of excess and fulfilment of pleasures keep the species far away from pointlessness of self or what it means. There is unilateral happiness and contentment across the society. This world is probably a kind of world that most worlds would have desired, at some point in time. 

In a nutshell, there is no judgement because this new world delivers the results of peace and harmony and simplified living. 

And then comes the trouble.

The take kicks off with Bernard Marx. Bernard is an Alpha but has appearances of a delta. This leads to resentment and insecurities within his head. Bernard has an opportunity to explore the uncivilised world and he takes it. Bernard is accompanied by Lenina. Lenina is a woman of this new world. She , like rest of the new world, believes in unrestricted get togethers. The new world has funny interpretations of Relationships. Get-togethers is more like it. 

The uncivilised world resembles the normal world of Gods, Love, emotions and misery. The uncivilised word is not a product of science. It’s a world where men are men and women are women and the two learn to live together , forming meaningful relationships and enduring the miseries of life. This world has a god , who is worshipped, ideals that are pursued and dreams and desires that are worth dying for. 

Bernard and Lenina find the uncivilised world silly. Lenina finds it hard to understand the word Mother. She struggles to understand the logic and reason behind any woman wanting to suffer the process of birthing. To their minds, it’s not a wonder that the uncivilised world is an animalistic mess. Unlike their modern world, People age old in the uncivilised world and oldage manifests and plagues the body there. 

Bada boom, twists and turns later, John and Linda are moved to the new world. Rest of the story is about how the civilians from the uncivilised world cope up with the civilised new world. PS: There is no and then they all lived happily ever after. 

The book, while being a depressing read, is also a fantastic eye opener of sorts. It cruises through the many human emotions effortlessly. The discrimination amongst the classes, the construct of a polygamous society which conditions humans to not express any affections towards any other specific individual. And then there is the absolute disappearance of individualism. It’s also both ironic and interesting to find that irrespective of what and where a human is, humankind will never be free from the demons of insecurities. 

In a stark contrast to the civilised world, the uncivilised world offers the comforts of acknowledging and accepting the many emotions that humans are capable of expressing. Individuality exists and there is a need for a central god to govern. And then there is the misery of just being a human. 

The book presents a wonderful case of what humanity has to shed in order to attain a peaceful and a harmonious existence. It calls out the nature of such a life. Maybe reality is the fact that humans make life a miserable affair and humans would have to be stripped of humanity for peace to prevail. Maybe cold clinical science is the way to go. 

Give it a read , if you have similar questions on what it means to be Human. 

Karthik 

Advertisements

[Book Review] : 1984

Nineteen Eighty Four is probably one of most definitive book that outlines the realistic and yet very likely possible dystopia that is already here. Birthed right on the shores of the second world war, this masterpiece by George Orwell is a master class in mass psychology.

The book is both grounded in reality and at the same time, is almost prophetic in nature.

The fact that reality can be shaped and scaled to present a realistic future is a chilling reminder to why fact is more chilling than fiction could ever aspire to be.

1984 is a tale of Winston Smith, who works in the Ministry of Truth. Winston’s job is pretty mundane which revolves around making changes ,both subtle and blatant, to all the written records of the past so that they are aligned to the events that transpire in the present. In short, Winston is one of the many who rewrite the past on a daily basis.

The world that Winston is one of the three existing super states that are absolutely totalitarian in nature. Winston is a citizen of Oceania. The other two states are Eurasia and Eastasia. In Oceania, the state’s defacto leader is The Big Brother. BB is the omnipresent, moustached icon that eternally reminds the citizens that they are always under his watchful eyes. Oceania is the perfect example of a single party state that reigns the land with absolute, unchallenged, unrivalled, unopposed POWER. The citizens are usually compliant either through free will or through sheer fear of persecution. Oceania is governed by a few ministries.

The Ministry of truth deals with control of information and propagation of the party propaganda. In short, Ministry of truth deals with lies

The Ministry of peace deals with war. It maintains and sustains the momentum of a perpetual war against the opposing super states.

The Ministry of love deals with crimes, criminal and all things hate.

The Ministry of plenty deals with rationing of resources that are scarce in the land.

And then there is the Thought Police who monitor the land for Thought Crimes. In Oceania, it’s a crime to harbour a thought. The party exerts its absolution by controlling the thought. The Thought Police are properly feared by the citizens.

Winston is a borderline ideal citizen. He is compliant and then deep down, he isn’t. There is something about the BB and the party that doesn’t gel well with him. It’s this burning silent revolution that runs inside him that triggers a series of events that soon alters the course of his life. Winston gets his hand on a book and decides to start maintaining a diary. The very act of thinking about it, writing an entry, that intent to even continue writing one qualifies him as a thought criminal.

Winston tries to keep this part of his life a secret. And then cue in the Damsel. Winston meets Julia and she happens to be a rebel. Rest of the tale is about the silent revolution. One has to go through the book to see the human nature at its best. It is in our nature to reject things that do not appease to our thoughts of reason. Thoughts of reason in this land, FAT Chance!

The party governs the land through 3 fundamental principles

WAR is Peace

Freedom is slavery

Ignorance is Strength.

These tenets of ideology are in strict conflict with the freedom to express thought.

The book plays around with a few crucial themes. The big one, of course, is the very nature of a Totalitarian regime. The question, is a dictatorial rule with intent for greater good worth sacrificing fundamental rights and freedom of the citizens? Is the ‘for the collective good’ a good enough reason to cull individualism? Does any political ambition go hand in hand with social welfare? Are humans evil enough to crush other humans to nothingness? What is the price of individualism and why is it important?

The book leaves you with many thoughts on the value of individuals, the value of collective good, the value of the ruling class and the purpose of a ruled class. The book also defines the nature of power. It possibly predicts the hunger that power has. The nature of power is to yield and exert power. The nature of power is to dominate and decimate without qualms. Power is sustainable , if and only if, wielders of power do not shy away from the pure corruption that power provides.

1984 is a scary book to read. The dystopia is present today. The dystopia that was envisioned in 1949 is a reality today.

We are a world of ignorance and we are the sheep that are herded by the manipulative strings of gas-lighting manipulators. We embrace ignorance not by choice, but because we consume copious and vulgar amounts of fabricated , falsified information and we tend to believe in what we read without exercising our right to disbelieve it. We take and since we take without restraint, we are reduced to refraining from questioning the whys of any information.

The book rightly calls out the plight of this truth. Sanity is not a popularity contest. Are we sane because we cant bring ourselves to believe the insanity that the masses embrace? Or are we sane because we embrace the insanity that everybody does?

1984 is one man’s struggle against reality and is also the bloke’s evolving understanding of what a reality is all about. Go for it. You will enjoy the ride.

And with that, we shall meet where there is no darkness 🙂

Karthik

[Book Review] : The accidental further adventures of the hundred year old man

Allan Karlsson is back and thankfully , he hasn’t changed much.

The accidental further adventures, by Jonas Jonasson is a sequel to the fantastic tale of The hundred year old man who climbed out of his window and disappeared.

The accidental adventures picks up from where the first book ended, in Indonesia. Allan and his friend Julius find their life of retirement a bit too jaded for comfort. The money , that they had from the previous adventure, burns at a break neck pace and soon the duo are at a cusp of a financial disaster. Allan , being Allan, doesn’t worry too much around it. The nice folks in Indonesia introduce Allan to his very first tablet, the IPad. This opens up the world of current news and affairs to the otherwise sober retired life of Allan.

On his hundred and first birthday, Allan and Julius rent a hot balloon and the adventure kicks off from there. The two find themselves stranded in the middle of the ocean, only to be picked by a North Korean vessel. The rest of the story is about North Korea, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Africa, United States and Russia, all trying their best to blow the earth into bits by detonating a Nuke. And then there is Asparagus!

It is almost impossible to resist comparing the sequel with its predecessor. Just by that comparison alone, the book falls flat. However, and that’s a HOWEVER, the book manages to pull its own weight in the sequel. Further adventures is a funny tale. It is an adventure. It’s quirky when it can be and is a bit bland in places. It fails the benchmark set by the first adventure then again, all things considered, the first book was a tale that spanned a hundred years and this one is just one more year into the life of Mr Karlsson.

There is something amiss about the book. The story is there, Allan is there and somehow, I do feel that the soul of the book is not quite in the right place.

The sequel doesn’t deliver in terms of sheer excitement and refreshing zeal for life. The first book had wonderful characters who evolved in an organic fashion. I remember caring for most of them. I remember the disappointment that I had when I watched the movie after reading the book. With the sequel, I’d like to believe that the Hundred year old man would make a brilliant addition to the Netflix original series. There is a lot of potential to this world created by Jonas.

The humour that is powered by character nuances is , very thankfully, evident across the book.

The way Kim Jong the Un talks to people, the way the citizens shudder at the thought of their supreme leader, the way Donald the John Trump is, there is just far too much material that stand up comics would love to cite and quote for all eternity. The fictionalised conversations seem true enough and the truth is that these leaders are a funny bunch. Putin is cold and clinical and is quite possibly the most successful James Bond villain there ever could be , is wonderfully portrayed in the book. I do sincerely hope that Allan Karlsson meets Mr P some day. The idea is too wonderful and too funny to dismiss. The book delivers on its promise for smiles here.

The further adventure is funny where it can be and is bland when it isn’t

As I had said a few sentences ago, One of the significant contributors that renders the book bland is the quality of the secondary characters. The book does not have exciting secondary characters. One doesn’t grow warm to them. The bit of the saving grace is around the guild of the Asparagus farmers but that is too little to pull the weight of the whole book. The fondness over this book compared to it’s predecessor is a testament to the power and might of the secondary characters.

A subtle theme in the book is around the public nuisance that a smart gadget is. It plays a pivotal role in this book and when I say pivotal, the IPad did serve it’s purpose of setting the adventure on its right course. Besides that, Allan is a bore when he’s hooked to the tablet. The characters see him as an irritant and so do we. It’s a silent and significant resonance of how we are when we are addicted to smart gadgets and are reduced to mouth pieces of the device.

If you have read the first book, read this , just for kicks. If you haven’t read the first one, go ahead, stop what you are doing and place an order for the book. Reading this is a different ball game.

I did enjoy the book and the book left me wanting a lot more. I think the sentiment is about how wonderful the character Allan is and the potential the good old bloke has. I’m eagerly waiting to watch the life of Allan as a Netflix/Amazon Original. If made right, it would definitely be a laugh riot.

Coming up next: 1984 and that book, I know I’m going to have a lot to write about!

Karthik

[Book Review] The blank slate : modern denial of the human nature

The immediate thing that comes to my mind when I think of the word Psychology is the image of Hannibal Lector , portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins. From there on, my mind drifts away to the many serials and movies on crime thrillers whose plots revolve around the super smart sleuth who deduces the criminal based on psychological profiling.

In short, psychology seemed to be the quickest way to identify the worst and the most exciting breed of criminals there is.

Of course, that view is such a juvenile way of viewing the wonderful world of psychology. I’d like to believe that there are many roads that one can take in order to discover and understand oneself. There is spirituality and there is behavioural psychology. Both roads usher us to the same tangible output. The ability to know and understand oneself better.

The Blank slate by Stephen Pinker makes a compelling case for the evolution of behavioural psychology. It dissects the known and accepted views of the world and tries to expand our understanding by explaining the world through the fresh eyes of the science.

There are three fundamental questions that the book tries to answer.

1. Are we born as a clean slate? : In effect, everybody is born the same and the difference is what we do with our life during our lifetime.

2. Are we born with a natural tendency to be good? : In effect, are we noble beings who choose to get corrupted in course of a given lifetime?

3. Is there a purpose to life that involves destiny and souls? : In effect, is being human more than just being a human?

The questions seem to be fundamental enough and interestingly, these are the questions that help shape the human behaviour. If I’m born to be good , I have a destiny that holds an end, if I’m the same as everybody else, one of life’s greatest pursuit would be in search of finding something that sets me apart. If being unique is not my cup of tea, then fulfilling the prophecy that is life becomes a mandate. If there ain’t a prophecy, then as a clean slate, then all I have is the thirst to learn and acquire skills that takes me closer to my dreams.

Contrary to popular beliefs, people are born as artists and of course as murderers too.

This might sound silly at first and it also rubbishes the history of LAW in this world. If people are born with their virtues and vices, how do we hold them responsible to their actions. It automatically becomes a journey of fulfilling their destiny of being an artist or an murderer.

That statement can be viewed through two filters. One, reductionism. Two, Causation which can be proximate and ultimate.

Reductionism is the way of trivialising an understanding. If our nature is in our blood, then we aren’t responsible for our actions.

Causation is the way to justify that cause. I make music because I was born a musician. – Proximate view. I make music because i’m interested in music and I have dedicated years to that cause. – Ultimate Causation.

The reality , or the current understanding of that reality lies somewhere in the middle.

We are born with predisposition to certain behaviours. Science does not know why. Science is seeing the effects though. Most behaviour traits can be traced back to the genetic mark up. This does not explain and guarantee that people born with such traits will always end up exhibiting them. Science, today, says that people born with such traits, have a higher tendency to express that behaviour.

Science is not fully there yet. There is so much that we do not know about the innerverse.

Since this predisposition is shaped by the way the brain is formed and how the emotions are framed and formed, it also defines the understanding that we are all born with the tendency to be good. Evolution points towards survival and self preservation. Intelligence does state that survival and preservation is efficiently achieved by staying good to both the self and the society around.

Behaviour is a curious thing to ponder about. The whole discussion on nature and nurture, it does point to the fact that our surroundings shape up our behaviours. Which is true and truer. We are both with predispositions to be in a certain way. Our surroundings and the nurturing, they both ensure that we either pamper our innate nature or through conditioning, we gain a better control over how we choose to behave. The simplest example is that when in India, we choose to treat the roads as the defacto trash bin. When on international waters, we cultivate a civic sense. We revert states , once we return. This is a good example of nature and nurture at play. While there is an equal opportunity to improve our civic sense, free will takes shape.

The ability to follow a herd and acquire the behaviour that is mandated by the society is equally real to the behaviours of individuals shaping up the behaviour of the society. The ability of individuals to shape up the behaviour of the society has manifested numerous times in the past. It’s easy to cite Hitler but it’s more effective to cite yourself.

In your social circle, there are influencers and there are followers. Each circle exhibits these characteristics. There are people that we gravitate towards. These people are a said to be natural leaders. In such groups, the collective behaviour is often determined by few of its prominent members.

Scale it up and you start seeing that the society behaves in the way its influencers want to behave. When I was with a bunch of musicians, all discussions were around music. Then when I walked a mile with the altruism enthusiasts, it was altruism. I walked a mile with wannabe authors and the pulse was around words. individuals have the capacity to shape up the culture and behaviours of the society around them.

Donald Trump and America. Enough said.

The insight into psychology explains the way the world has shaped up. Collective behaviour is manipulated by Politics. Politics influences policies. Policies structure our daily civilian lives. Civilian lives continue remain in order because of the law. Law is in place to safeguard humans against their ability to be their worst. The cascading effects of behaviour of both individuals and societies impacts the world.

The book leaves you with so many questions about the world around and it offers a lot of things around why we choose to be the way that we are. A better awareness of how psychology works comes handy in identifying how psychology is used to manipulate the world around. It is the fastest way to open a can of worms.

I don’t think I have done much justice to the book. I take accountability over the fact that I’m a novice in this field of science. The book did play its part. I’m more curious than ever. Hopefully, I’ll expand my reading in the time to come.

Karthik

[Book Review] : Shantaram

“Sooner or later, fate puts us together with all the people, one by one, who show us what we could, and shouldn’t, let ourselves become” – Shantaram

Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts is a sublime tale of a journey towards life. The book serves as a fictional , semi – pseudo auto biography of sorts. This is a book where fiction and reality hold hands together and they both , rather conveniently, chose a cinematic narrative approach to story telling. The book starts with a bloke who flies into Bombay with a fake passport that belongs to a certain Lindsay Ford. The assumed identity becomes the only identity of the tale’s protagonist. If I were to sum up the tale into a line, it would read as the journey of a man from being Lindsay Ford to Lin to Shantaram. While the sentence is short, the road taken by the protagonist is wonderfully entertaining , thought provoking and long.

Lindsay or the bloke who soon is addressed as Lin, is a man of violence. There is violence in his heart. There is guilt from that violence. A shade of repentance and a longing for redemption. Lin, as he starts, is no saint and the Bombay of the 1970’s happens to be the perfect city for vices. The retro vibes to the 70’s set amidst the blossoming Mumbai Mafia sets the stage for the tale. From substance abuse to suckering unassuming, unsuspecting travellers, Lin beings to offer a bespoke professional service of procuring and delivering instruments of vice based on fluctuating demands. That’s fancy for Lin working the streets and peddling whatever he can.

At every page there is crime and its holistic view. Crime , is both a source of escape and a means of entrapment. It keeps the characters in a state of inertia. The characters endure a distinct sense of irony. Their lives of crime keeps them free. It’s the crime that keeps them chained. The world revolves around a subtle balance.

The characters are the strength of this book. There are far too many characters and the best part is, as readers, we’d grown warm to most of them. We’d passionately root for them. We’d vengefully want some of them to suffer. The heart of this tale is the nurturing of the bonds that the characters share. From the smiles of Prabhakar, the wisdom of Lord Abdel Khader Khan, the friendship that is with Abdulla, the charismatic Didier Levy , the whacky-do-doodle that is Vikram and the frustration that is love in the form of Karla.

“Nothing grieves more deeply or pathetically than one half of a great love that isn’t meant to be.” – Shantaram

I don’t think there are any stories worth telling that do not concern the matters of the heart. Lin shares the same sentiment. Neatly set in the backdrop of a violent mafia, wars across the world, poverty , the human spirit (aka the Mumbai spirit) that never gives up, is a frustrating love story of Lin and Karla. The two are equally matched, in coefficients of both the intellect and emotions. One cannot be a lover unless one is a certified fool and this tale is a testament to that foolishness. Not that there is anything wrong with being a fool. Karla and Lin, all the other tiny tales of love and life, render the characters to either remain as fools or volunteer to be one. I’m a romantic and I find that state of foolishness as cute. Reality does come and it comes biting. Wisdom, I reckon, is attained by not staying a fool forever.

There is a lot of philosophy plastered across the pages of the tale. Lin shares his view of the world and the principles that he holds close. Lord Abdel is another wonderful source of wisdom that covers all realms of existence. The moralities are put to the test. We, along with Lin, have a glimpse into the world that sits comfortable between the two extremes of black and white.

One of the best feature of the book is the way that all the characters are flawed and broken. Nobody is holier than the rest. The virtues and vices grip everybody alike. There are no saints in the land of the vice. Despite the evil, it is the quintessential struggle to do good, that quest to make this world a better place, that effort to make life better for others, that sets the book apart from rest of the fiction. As Abdel says, it’s the capacity to do bad for the right reasons is what that defines us as humans. I’m tempted to both agree and disagree. Good finds a way. So does evil. We are left to our own wits to embrace either, or even both.

Speaking of the huge list of characters, Bombay, or the present day Mumbai is also a subtle character in the tale. Mumbai takes in people from all walks of life, accepts all moralities and ethics that people choose to live by, and lets its people be. Some bring it pain while others endure pain to spread joy. The book is a fantastic tribute to Bombay. It lives and breathes the fabric that is the city. Right from the underbelly that has the slippery grime that is crime , to the most humane face of humanity that’s expressed through poverty, from the front where money buys a £150 cup of coffee to humble villagers who migrate to the city with nothing but hopes and dreams in their eyes, the book has the city painted all over its pages.

The big theme in the book is around what it means to belong to someone or even some place? Why do we yearn that sense of belonging? How does that belonging change our life? Each character in the book is , in one way or another, an alien to the city. They all walk in, fall in love with the city and endure and survive.

The next big theme is around ‘Karma’ of things. The big question around should we continue to be what we were or do we allow ourselves to evolve and in time, repent, atone, grow , and adopt a new path? Lin is a perfect example of man of violence who blooms into a man with a golden heart that has a few thorns that adorn it.

The biggest payoff from the book is the mention of the name “Shantaram”.

The many lives of Lin reflect the many conflicts that arise within his heart. Lin is driven by love, loyalty, anger, regret, guilt and he embraces all the choices that he makes and is forced to make. As Lin adapts to the consequences, we as readers, no longer remain blind to the way he evolves. The fantastic irony to the tale is that Lin is soaked and bleached in crime and yet there is a saint in him that comes out strong.

A name is just a name and it seldom defines the nature of the person that it is tagged to. Shantaram is a beautiful example of a man living his life, in pursuit of earning that name that emanates peace that is Shantaram.

Definite read. Give it a shot.

Karthik

[Book Review]: The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian , Han Kang.

There is no easy way to say this. This is a complex book that dwells in the abyss that is the human mind. It toys around with emotions and is rather cold and stoic in the way it settles to narrate the tale of two sisters , Yeong – Hye and In-Hye.

Yeong- Hye leads a pretty normal life. The term normal is an understatement. If I had to trivialise a loveless marriage, emotional impotence, suppressed insecurities, passive aggression, masked intolerance, manipulative relationship, pretend smiles as a BAU normal of a life, then yes, Yeong does lead a normal life. One fine day, she decides to become a vegetarian. She rejects meat of any kind into her diet. This leaves her husband unhappy.

The choice of being a vegetarian, given the Korean context, we are led to believe that the choice is an unpopular one in the society. Yeong’s husband, Mr Cheong is left alone to fend off the snide remarks from the judgemental society. This decision adds tension to their marriage. The family meet up with Yeong’s wider family over a get together and things get worse. Her family feels ashamed of her decision to shun meat. Her dad manages to slap some sense into her.

Push comes to shove and plot details later Yeong gets committed into a mental institution. Oh boy, this is a hard book to review without giving away the plot. I shall have to adopt a different strategy to review the book.

Lets focus on the themes instead.

What is beauty? What one finds ugly is someone else’s white swan. The age old word that says beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, while that makes sense, it’s also worth the while to note that the eyes that see you as beautiful, do they belong to the people in your immediate world? The book establishes the reality of an unsatisfying relationship. The lack of emotional and physical satisfaction and it’s effect on a relationship is horrifically screamed out in a gentle whisper.

Then comes the whole big bang around the nature of oppression. The tale is about oppression. The tale is about violence. The tale is about the might of the will of a few to crush and stamp on the voice of the others. This is a tale of how fractured people and the way they cope up with a flawed life. What choices do we have? Are we strong enough to even make choices? The helplessness of the circumstance would leave us with thoughts and a tinge of depression.

And then comes the theme around choices. There comes a point in time when we have a moment of pristine , demented, twisted catharsis. We act on that impulse and that action goes on to define the way of our life. How far would one go on that conviction? How far would you defend the honour of your choice? How far would you go? What is the extent of what you’d endure and survive in order to hold on to that singular, one and only hope-like thought of a choice? Our protagonist’s choice to be a vegetarian is one such choice. It spawns from a nightmare and Yeong does what she thinks is the right thing to do. The entire tale is her testament to that choice.

The whole book is a glance into the psychology of a person. From a nightmare to a choice. From a choice to an Action. From reasons around that nightmare to the mind’s projection of what it experienced to what it presents as a nightmare? The whole world of interpretation of intent, cause, symbols and their meanings, this book effortlessly tosses all of that out of the window. The book doesn’t pretend to be a super smart , slick dissertation of the human psychology. It does manage to beautifully outline the consequences of gradual and consistent fracture of the self over prolonged duration of time.

The other big theme in the book is Violence. This is a tricky subject. The violence that Yeong endures is almost a 360 degree wrap.

From physical to emotional, from carnal to exploitation, the violence again this woman comes hidden behind masks of varying socially accepted norms.

It makes us question the status quo of right versus wrong. It holds a big ugly mirror that reflects the archaic values ingrained into a patriarchal society.

What stood out in the book is the history shared by the two sisters. It left me numb through implied pain. The little things that had no significant value , the way the little things add up and in retrospect, turn out to be a series of massive life changers, the tale of the two sisters is a culmination of what ifs and regrets. The subtle horror would run chills down your spine.

The rest of the book is around life, death, and death that one endures through each day of a life. The book also elaborates the soul’s metamorphosis into a butterfly. There is far too much going around in this book. The beauty of this is that you get to take what you want to take away from the book.

It is a definite read, if you are used to reading between the lines. There is so much said across everything that is left unsaid.

Karthik

Coming up next : Shantaram.

[Book Review] : A state of freedom

A state of freedom by Neel Mukherjee.

A state of freedom is an anthology of sorts that outlines the lives of five people. It’s a beautifully written book that effortlessly carries a very serious, grim tone throughout and at the same time, it does effortlessly manage to hold on to our attention span. The anthology helps break the monotony of reading through a single individual’s darker than dark, deeper than abyss view of a pessimistic world.

Freedom is a lot of things to a lot of people. In my opinion, the book tends to blur the boundaries between a sense of freedom and the desperate want for a liberation. In fact, I am tempted to call out the subtle difference between the state of feeling liberated versus the longing towards finding an escape from the talon like clutches of life.

The book deals with loss, sacrifice, ideology, poverty and a double dose of poverty there.

It tries to explain the elusive view of freedom that the characters long for. The mundane, vulgarly abundant , unassuming nature of the circumstances that the characters endure also beautifully sets the tone of a reality that a lot of us accept, acknowledge and choose to ignore. The down to earth characters will win your heart as the pages unwind the aspects of their daily lives and the hidden meanings behind their valiant struggles.

The anthology approach is convenient to pick and pause. It’s always fun to keep guessing over how all the independent stories eventually connect. This book would throw its final curve ball there. There is and isn’t a big connect. What we are shown is the variance in our perception of the characters. The better we understand the circumstances governing their lives, the better our understanding of the whys of their lives becomes. Speaking of the characters, there is a bit of an element of diversity. Not everyone is plagued by the same demons. Two rich enough blokes and the rest are poverty stricken. I must admit, while I remained nearly stoic for most parts of the book because of the familiarity to the divide that money provides, the author manages to effectively dwell deeper into the poverty and painstakingly define what it means to live in near poverty. That left me saddened.

The book’s biggest win is the interpretation of freedom. It changes all the way. It evolves. There is liberation, there is escape and there is a thin balance that separates the delusion of liberation and the frustration from a longing for an escape.

The characters face that line. It’s up to the readers to make sense of what they read. I came to view it as the point of near rock bottom.

The book offers no redemption. This is a serious book that will plunge you into a state of ponder. It does not rely on cheap Deus Ex Machina to set everything alright. This is , in my opinion, one of the best quality of the book. It offers enough to harbour a hope. It offers enough reality that would pamper to your sensibilities to put an end to the misery of the characters by wanting them to give up and just die. The book would let you dictate the character’s fate in your head.

The book is a wonderful example of a classy writing that does not sugar coat the realities of a lot of people in the world. Each story has a style of narrative. Each story is a glance into an aspect of a living. I quite enjoyed the tale.

Sure, give it a shot. It’s worth the thoughts.

Karthik

Coming up next : The vegetarian. Now that’s a trippy book that scores really high on the cringe meter!

[Book Review] : How to be human

How to be human, Paula Cocozza.

” The comfort, that is the delusion of love, is an opiate beyond compare. ” – Katz

How to be human is a beautiful story of love, companionship, loneliness and madness. The tale picks up with Mary finding a baby at her door step. She holds the infant close to her heart. She decides to call the little one flora. As we , the readers, sit and wonder over the things we’ve read so far ; the story abruptly shifts its focus to the life of Mary.

Fresh out of a divorce, Mary is struggling to cope up with life. The irreconcilable reason for the divorce is a simple fact that she does not want to bring a child into this world while her husband, Mark, wants one. The fights lead to an inevitable moment in their life. A moment that is consumed by rage and anger, a moment that would fill the hearts with regret and resentment, a moment where words are uttered and lives are shattered. And bada boom, Divorce.

Mary turns to a shut-in. With fewer and fewer ties with the outside world, her world is consumed by the past. She wonders about the divorce, she wonders about her own relationship with her mother, she wonders about what ifs to life. Mary embraces the loneliness that is her current life. She accepts her fate and succumbs to it without much of a fight.

And then she spots a fox. A fox that invades both her garden and her life. Mary ferociously defends her house against her ex, Mark and odd enough, she doesn’t go all guns blazing when it comes to keeping the fox away. She finds him as an inconvenience and longs to get rid of the critter. The introduction of the fox has an unexpected effect on her life.

Mr Fox happens to be a charming fella. He’s smooth, cautiously intrusive but is neither hostile nor perceived to be that. His demeanour is rather gentlemanly. The fox soon wins the curiosity of Mary. She observes him at a distance and as the days start to grow, so does the fox on her. They both adjust to tolerate each other. The fox becomes a regular visitor in her garden and he always behaves well. Mary starts to find a sense of some misplaced comfort through the fox’s very presence.

This odd companionship inspires a change in Mary. She , without trying too hard, starts to adapt to the world around her better. In this human fox couple, She is the talkative one and he , Mr Fox, speaks through his nature’s intended body language. Mary makes meaning of everything about the fox. She manages to open up that channel of communication by correlating her own words and the response like reactions that the fox expresses.

Trippy and so far , so twisted good.

Rest of the story is about , who the hell is that infant Flora. Does Mary marry a fox? Will rabies replace Mary’s fear over having babies? Nasty pun but apt on the context.

The book is a wonderful journey of Mary’s emotions as she meets and greets the new Mr Fox into her life. She replaces the failed relationships with humans with a new relationship with a fox. Their conversations are unidirectional but that doesn’t stop Marry and her fox from having their dialogue. Your curiosity over where the roads would take them would keep your eyes glued to the book.

At the heart of this book, the central theme is that of love. What does it mean to love someone? When does love suffocate? Why do people love other people and importantly, why don’t some people ever love others?

Love, through Mary’s life is also about the nature of companionship. Love seems to be key in her fight against loneliness. Our lives do change when we lose the people that we once used to love. Mary’s desire for companionship and the fact that she finds that gratified by a fox is a testament to what makes us human. Our undying need to stay protected away from loneliness makes us human.

The other big , subtle theme is around how much humans endure in that battle against loneliness. I’m not surprised at all by how much one would choose to give, or even accept in order to build a bubble of delusion to keep that element of isolation away. With the tale, how far does Mary go is a question that keeps us hooked.

The final catharsis is quite a bliss to read. There are no ‘TA-DA’ moments to it. The sun doesn’t shine better or different, the time doesn’t pause to hint a difference, the world goes about its business and somewhere amidst all that , there is a pristine moment of a realisation.

The world indeed is a better place if you don’t house a black hole in your heart.

Two thumbs and definitely worth the time invested into the tale. You probably won’t feel disappointed.

Karthik

And coming up next : The state of freedom!

[Book Review] : The white book

Cover page of the White Book

The White Book , Han Kang. Based on a recommendation for Kang’s other book, The Vegetarian, I found myself shopping for books one fine Wednesday evening. I picked a stash of 5 books, The vegetarian, The White book(impulsive pick), How to be human. The other two , I’ll have to head back home to see what I picked.

I picked the white book to read first. There is something so sublime about the way the book is delivered. It’s pure white. It’s does have an air of mystery that surrounds it. The tale starts easy and fast. The narrator, whose name never gets mentioned, lists out words that can be associated with the colour White. Snow, frost, rice, and so on the list goes.

Then the narrator goes on to explain, with extreme obsession for brevity, the context of the words. The entire book is a list of words and what those words stand to convey. Hidden away, very obscurely, behind those words is a tale.

The narrator’s mother , when she was just about 22, births a baby girl whose face was as white as a white rice cake. That baby dies within a few hours. The tale also talks about a city of white. This city looks pristine white from the sky. Upon a closer inspection, the narrator realises that it’s a city wrapped in death and destruction. The city was apparently decimated by them jolly good fella Nazis , sometime in 1944. In the modern day, a replica of the city is build from scratch. The narrator ponders around life of such a city. Everything is new, everything is soulless. She goes on to contemplate the nature of the soul.

Somewhere between the words, the narrator recounts the story her mother used to tell her about the baby that died. That infant did not have the chance to open its eyes. The narrator often ponders the possibility of the soul of that child as being present in her.

A lot of words later, the narrator concludes the tale by describing the child of her own.

This book was not for me. While I struggle to connect the dots, struggle to grasp the things that I did read and totally miss, this book is twice as hard to soak in because it is a very crisp tale and the layout is not a constant narrative.

It feels like a journal of someone during the moments of lucidity while on an epic LSD trip.

Either the book masquerades as a super smart, super sneaky, insightful , deep dive into the nature of life, death and eventful reincarnation or I’m still dumb and too dense to understand the masterpiece.

The quick , not so satisfying read later, I felt insecure about my own ability to comprehend the book. A quick google later, I realised a lot of folks loved the book. It does feel like an emperor’s clothes moment to me. Do I pretend and praise or admit that I didn’t get it?

I don’t get it. Maybe I do need assistance in deciphering the book.

That said, the book feels creepy and claustrophobic. It adds suspense and does keep you wondering and guessing. But that’s all there is to it. I love Murakami. Murakami does not bother siting down and explaining the works as well. But the significant difference is that once you are done with a Murakami, you invest thoughts into it, you contemplate, you ponder , you will struggle to reach your own conclusion.

With this book, I threw my hands up in the air and went HUH!

So, if you chance to pick this book, please do give me a shout and tell me what I have obviously missed!

Coming up next : How to be human

Karthik

[Book Review] wild : from lost to found in the pacific Crest trail

Wild, as I’ve come to recognise and will go on to remember the book , is a biographical narrative of Cheryl Strayed. It’s her account of her 1100 mile hike through the pacific crest trail. PCT run all the way from Canada to Mexico. Cheryl manages the hike in around 100 odd days.

Of course, left to my wits, I’d have never picked this book in a million years. I’m not a huge fan of the non fiction genre unless it talks about philosophy or spirituality. Kanchan had reviewed the copy and I added to my list of things to read. I picked the book in 2017 and hadn’t bother freeing the book from the shipping wrapper that Amazon had used to deliver. As chance would have it, I didn’t plan my purchases right and I wasn’t left with any other choice. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ll explain shortly.

Back to Ms Strayed. She loses her mother to cancer and her mother’s death sends Cheryl’s life on the super express highway of self destruction. Depression sets in and over time a massive void engulfs her heart. As Cheryl fails to cope up with the reality , all her relationships start to deteriorate. She finds herself estranged from her step dad, divorced from her husband, distanced from her sister and brother. She slips into a life of a junkie , in time. Let’s just say that we have a crisp clear view of what a rock bottom looks like.

Through all of this, Cheryl chances upon a guide to the PCT. Spur of the moment, spontaneously she starts to harbour a deep rooted desire to hike the trail. She saves the money needed to gear up for the hike, reads about the trail and beings her journey of preparing mentally and acquiring the right enough equipment that she can afford. And just like that, her first day in the trail begins.

I think all of us find our demons when we are left all alone, with nothing but time and a million thoughts to keep us complicit company. This book is a biography of sorts. Cheryl is as special as the rest of us, as gifted as the rest of us and that means she isn’t immune to loneliness and demons that hunt us down in those moments. As she hikes through the trails, she gathers thoughts along the way her life has been, how she misses her mother, her failed marriage, and a little more pressing thought that is firmly grounded in the present reality. She contemplates the fact that she is under prepared for the trail and her inexperience has the right potential to get her killed.

To make matters worse, through all her meticulous planning, Cheryl manages to have a backpack that ends up getting stuffed with everything including the kitchen sink. Her new reality is a backpack that she can barely lift, let alone carry it through the 1100 mile hike through the mountains and forests. We, the readers and Cheryl soon start to focus on the job at hand. The battle of surviving the day becomes the apex priority. The challenging hike begins to inspire a change in the way the mind works. We see the full gambit of emotions at play. Guilt, Resentment, Anger, Denial, Realization, Acceptance and eventually a pristine moment of catharsis. The state cycle of life’s many emotions at its grandest display.

Her emotional battles aside, the hike also presents us with other battles. Is the world really a safe place? Are humans nice or animals in disguise. Cheryl meets a lot of interesting characters along the way. Most of them are nice and fill the moments of her life with kindness and warmth. Some are point blank rude. Some are creepy. I find it hard to believe that she managed to land with great awesome odds with strangers. Maybe it’s just the skeptic in me who refuses to believe in the goodness and kindness in people. I wouldn’t know better till I start my journey into the wild of the world.

The book has a wonderful theme. It talks about how vulnerable we are. A death ripped Cheryl’s life apart. The event causes her to self destruct. Thankfully, she’s not lost beyond the point of no return. For rest of us, that kind of a luck is not always at our disposal.

Depression and Self destruction are classic signs of an individual’s struggle against coping up with the events of life. I’ve been there.

Maybe I’m way too thick headed to be depressed. I’m far too funny to embrace elongated moments of saddened depression. I’m no stranger to self destruction. We destroy ourselves by hiding behind excuses. Some call it work, some call it relationship, some call it the EMI. The deception is played by many names. In our efforts of pretending to be normal and compensating the things that we lack, we often complicate our life and choices rather than simplifying them and leading a stress-free life.

Cheryl finds her balance through the hike. When you have real, tangible, quantifiable, physical , ‘not in the bloody mind’ challenges to deal with, you come out stronger for two reasons.

1. When you conquer a challenge that exists beyond the confines of your mind, the success is visible immediately. Either you power on, or you don’t.

2. By translating the demons in the mind to actual challenges that can be physically conquered, we also manage to symbolically conquer the demons that occupy the mind.

Science says that and proves that. My experience also points in the same direction. As long as one locks away the demons in the head, one cannot think through a redemption. The problem resides in the mind. To overcome it, one has to move the demons to the realm of the living and beat the living hell out of it.

The book is about one woman’s conquest of herself. Her journey, beside the 1100 mile on a radically tough and diverse terrain, is also about the realisation of self, it’s about letting one forgive oneself, letting one help oneself and letting oneself heal. I don’t see Cheryl’s account as any different from the books of spirituality that I’ve read. She had managed to DO the things in an alternate way, a way that suited her apt. The principles remain the same.

There are no surprises in the end. Cheryl does manage to accomplish her hike. She powers on and gets the job done. Somewhere in those 1100 miles, she loses the lost version of herself and ends up meting a stronger and a better version of herself.

I loved the book. I’d probably go as far as calling that this is the first SELF HELP book that I’ve read and I do like it plenty.

Karthik