Murakami and me

In all honesty, this love for Murakami’s work is a complex one to talk about. It’s not about throwing words of praise and hunting for the right adjectives to symbolize the passionate addiction , obsession, that I have for his works. I’ve struggled to express the thought so much that I had to rewrite this piece a whole lot of times. I still struggle to find that balance. I’ll attempt , nonetheless. Fortune usually favours the foolishly brave.

I’ve not been an avid reader and Murakami didn’t exist in my world at all. Times changed and I chanced upon his book. Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage .The word on the street was that the gifted author was a lunatic. They had said that his works had an aura of depression, that his works would never paint a rainbow picture of the world, that I had to be a special kind of mad to enjoy his works. I guess the last sentence is true enough and a lot of folks did end up missing the point. It’s a very subtle point that is not that difficult to miss.

To empathise with his works, one needs to view the world around in a different light. The world that Murakami paints, has all sorts of demons and angels that walk among us. In fact, his works are heavily laden with crafted layers of existential philosophy, the nature of soul and body and the separated worlds of wishes and reality. If none of that interests you, the casual convoluted narrative would keep you intrigued. To understand the world that Murakami paints one should also understand the nature of the worlds of the many.

We all lead multiple lives. That alone warrants a divorced , disjoint view of the worlds that we are a part of. Each fracture that is led by our choices, we also leave behind bits and bolts of ourselves locked away in the altered realities. To simplify that statement, each time we pretend, adjust, accommodate or compromise to cope along with something, we also either make peace with that alternate or harbour a longing of a ‘what if’. While for most of us, this fork in the road does not dissociate us from being ourselves, the works of Murakami exaggerate that fracture. He runs wild with possibilities of the alternates and goes on to paint the picture of how the characters cope up with the altered outcome of their choices. In that sense, all the worlds that surround us start to make sense.

Many find Murakami depressing. I wish I could agree to that. I don’t. This again ties back to the world of the characters that we are introduced to. I’d be lying if I were to say that the world is a happy place and that at every corner of this world, we humans embrace happiness and blissful joy. I’d be lying if I said that the world was dark and there is nothing there which finds a nurturing care in this forsaken land that even god looked away from. For most of us, the world is a semi-balanced blend of the extremes. We are happy when we can. We are sad when we are. Smiles and tears when the moments usher themselves in our lives.

The world that Murakami paints, his characters always and I mean always , go through moments of pristine pain. This pain is crucial to both the development of the character and the story itself. I’m a philosophical bloke. I’m a skeptic and a believer too. I believe that unless there is an entropy, there will always be an inertia. In short, there is nothing like a good dose of jolting pain to shake us away from the inertia of disillusionment. It’s that pain that delivers us towards awakening and enlightenment.

in the non philosophical sense, if it aint broke, there aint a story. The author challenges the status quo of the character’s world by breaking them or pushing them to the brink of a collapse that they no longer can contain behind a wall of denial. This usually sets off the domino effect. The plot moves away from establishing characters to forwarding the plot of the story.

Like the rest of us, the characters are faced with choices. Either stay broken. This charts out a linear flow of events to come. Or, do something. The do something part takes the characters on a journey of awareness of the self. The characters start to understand themselves. They are now free to face their demons without the fear of it.

We are no dissimilar to the characters in Murakami’s world. We are equipped with experiences. We also witness those jolts that try to shake us away from our inertia. We either sustain in denial or reject our realities and embark upon a journey of rebuilding ourselves.

This phase is not possible by chewing on a sugar coated , hard boiled candy. Many of us single out this phase and brand the works as depressing. I don’t have an opinion on that perception. In the words of Homer Simpson, it can either be the worst day of your life or be the worst day of your life SO FAR. It’s that so far, that defines our life. That defines our identity. That defines the characters in Murakami’s world.

The journey leads to realization and then there are choices to make. Do the characters accept that realization or do they reject it. More choices and more forks on the road in terms of the narrative. Eventually, that acceptance leads to different outcomes. That’s the simplest view of a cause and it’s effect and the consequences that follow. The cause, the effect, the consequence, the trio dictates the future of all the causes, all the effects and all the consequences that the characters will endure.

What I love the most about a Murakami book is that the ending is never inked. There are no ‘and so they lived happily ever after’. Most of the works take us, the readers, to the point of acceptance of the characters. We are then left to interpret the action of the characters. The characters accept or reject their reality based on our acceptance or rejection of what we witness in the journey. While most readers would call this a lazy writing technique, I think it would have been lazier to spell out the choices that the characters would go on to make. It’s easy to say that the prince kissed the princess and then they lived happily ever after. It’s a challenge to tell us that the prince is wondering if he should kiss the princess. It’s brilliant to leave us to wonder if the princess wants a life with the prince. It’s sheer blissful magic to contemplate if there is a happy ever after to the tale at all.

You’d have to be a special kind of crazy to fall in love with Murakami’s works. I am a special kind of crazy. I am a wreck when I endure the depression. I’m an eternal optimist when the characters embark upon their journey of awakening and self realization. I am a skeptic when they make a choice to believe in the new status quo. I am a realist when the tale comes to a close. When the story is said, I enjoy the peaceful stream of thoughts that drifts carelessly in the raging rapid that the story is.

Like any other book in the world, it is what we make of it. While the world sees depression and resentment, I see life and the struggle to want to live.

Karthik

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Book review : The travelling cat chronicles

The cat chronicles , Hiro Arikawa

Coverpage of The travelling cat chronicles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

Book review : The marble collector

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

Coverpage of The marble collector

The marble collector, Cecelia Ahern.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

The man who lost his marbles

I don’t live by many principles. I think principles bog us down. I do have a few and fortunately, I’m not a dogmatic bloke. I’ll go ahead and break my cardinal rule, well cardinal enough, and write a bit about a book that I’m currently reading.

The story, or the story so far is about a man who’d lose his marbles. Both literally and figuratively. A marble collector survives a stroke and in the process loses his memories about the marbles that he had passionately loved for most of his life. He does keep that side of his life a secret. Secrets have a tendency to alter our choices in life. His choices take him further away from what he once was.

I’ve been thinking about this subplot today. I’ve been wondering about the men and women who have lost their marbles. Given the nature of life, the fact that it spans decades and in that process , offers us many chances to tweak ourselves, a lot of us remain true to a true north version of ourselves. Some of us change and adapt to the circumstances. Some of us pretend that change and remain glued to our nature.

I see this forced evolution as a means for acceptance or conformance. There is the other side of the spectrum here. There are rebels for the sake of rebellion. They fit into the context of an outcast because they find acceptance in that capacity. Potato, Po-ta-to, tomato deal here. I’d probably categorise all of them into a nice little folder called, ‘Pursuit of identity’.

Within the context of the book and the story so far, it’s about the man who grew up loving marbles. As a young lad, he puts efforts into mastering the different games that can be played with those little balls of glass. It’s a passion that consumes him and goes on to being his identity. Trouble comes brewing when he finds love. He hides his passion from his lady love and they marry. it’s on their honeymoon where he decides to come clean and tell his wife about his love for marbles. He picks an expensive one, that has a heart encapsulated within it. She ridicules him about it. And so he makes that choice to keep a portion of his life a secret. A secret from her, a secret from everyone around and a secret from the wider world.

Choices usually lead to more choices waiting to get made. Sometimes , we have options around them. Sometimes, it’s a forced decision. As far as stories go, I felt it was a trivial confrontation that could have been endured. He could come clean and deal with the consequences. As a reader, it was more than easy for me to conclude and pass judgement.

Then I thought a bit more about it. Aren’t we like the man who lost his marbles. Our reflex , spur of the moment decisions are not always the right ones. They do hold doubly true when it comes to people and our dynamics with them. To hold on to people, we start the game of pretending. We pretend some more and before we realize, we find ourselves leading multiple lives. Not that there is anything wrong with such diversity in the lives that we lead. It’s a simple problem of logistics. The more characters we exhibit, staying true to those traits becomes a challenge.

I think this is where life stops imitating art. Literature holds some of the purest framework for a good living. The words are made of gold, they inspire and stir emotions and are not so much fun to live by. Ideologically ideal is very different from pragma. We blend the shades and enjoy a grey existence. The man who had lost his marbles was a wonderful example of the price that one pays to live in that shade of grey. What part of ourselves should we sacrifice? How much of ourselves can we lose, in order to gain and sustain the people that we hold on to. Is that a sacrifice? Is it always worth it?

And so a Thursday of thoughts spin around a wonderful tale of a man who lost his marbles and his daughter who is trying to piece them all together. On a day like today, books and life, they both amuse me. Fact and fiction compete to be a reality.

Karthik

Book Review : The trouble with goats and sheep

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

The trouble with goats and sheep , Joanna Cannon.

Coverpage of The trouble with goats and sheep

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

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

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

And so the kids start their investigation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give this a shot.

Karthik

Book Review : Lord of the flies

Coverpage of the Lord of the Flies

Lord of the flies, William Golding

In many ways, the book Lord of the flies can be compared to a fantastic experiment to understand collective psychosis. Psychosis, according to wiki, is the fracture of the mind because of a disconnect from reality. Collective psychosis is a reflection of how a group of people , who are confined to a space, display a hive mentality. This hive mentality usually amplifies the common outlook. A society with enough good intentions will garner a collective good intent. A society that thrives on other motives will generally oscillate towards that. Hence the phrase, it’s only human.

The book starts with a bunch of kids finding themselves stranded in an island that is desolate. The first of the kid that is introduced to us is a chubby little one. He meets another kid, who has a fair hair and is fitter and handsome. The new kid introduces himself as Ralph. The chubby kid never gets the opportunity to speak of his real name. He goes on to narrate that , back home, the other kids used to taunt him by calling him Piggy. The nick name sticks. So in that island, there is Ralph and then there is Piggy.

The unlikely duo stumble upon a conch. Ralph blows and this attracts the attention of the other kids who are stranded. As the kids assemble, we get to realize the situation. Kids vary in their age. The littleuns are aged around six. The biguns are teens. The prominent biguns are Ralph, Piggy, Jack, Simon, Roger , Sam and Eric. There probably are a few more but I didn’t make a note. Mostly because I found them to be a plot filler than anything else.

The littleuns, there is Percival, and there is this other little rug rat who has a purplish face.

Jack , is the leader of a choir and his mates and him are stranded on the island. Since Jack and his mates form the majority of the biguns, Jack does feel a little betrayed when he is not elected as the chief. Ralph is the appointed as the chief. And that’s mostly because Ralph had assembled the kids by blowing through the conch. The conch goes on to symbolise leadership for the rest of the book. Symbolism is a major theme in this book.

Zippa-do-dee, the kids manage to conclude and agree upon the plan that their apex priority is to get rescued. To be rescued, Ralph rationalises that they should be lighting up a fire that would generate smoke. This smoke is expected to be spotted by the ships. The biguns explore the island to confirm that it is an island indeed, and isolate the perfect vantage point to light up a fire.

Piggy’s spectacles is the only means of ignition. School grade science at play here.

Things start off good and then they stop staying good. Jack takes the role as a hunter and his group of cronies, and yes a word that I’ve not had the pleasure of using for a long time now, become the designated hunters. Jack starts off as a lame hunter. His first attempt at hunting a wild pig ends up as a failure. This becomes a significant failure in Jack’s life on the island. His ego hurt, hunting now and hunting successfully becomes a symbol to Jack to assert his credibility. Fine, I tried to sound politically correct. Jack’s manhood is now represented by his ability to hunt. Yup, that suits the tone , as written in the book.

In course of time, the kids entrusted with the responsibility of keeping the fire alive , goof up. The let the fire die. A ship passes by and panic ensues in Ralph’s mind. This creates a rift between Ralph and Jack. To Ralph, getting rescued is the most important thing. To Jack, it’s hunting.

The stark reality is that these are all a bunch of kids who are trying desperately hard to transform into responsible adults. They try and they collectively fail. The littleuns are too little to understand the circumstance. They continue to do the million mischievous and silly things that kids that age do. They miss their mothers and cry, they play in the sun and enjoy getting dirty. They lead a normal life of pointless distraction.

The biguns are caught between two worlds. They are kids and since they are also the elder ones, they pretend to be adults.

As the days go by, there is a talk of beasts that are there in the island. Fear grips the group. The littleuns are the first to be scared witless. Fear propagates through the group. Mass hysteria and paranoia kicks in. The group decides to never to speak about the beasts. The biguns do their part in trying to hunt down the beast and that doesn’t go anywhere.

Frustrations start to press down the kids and over disagreements, Jack decides to take his pack of hunters and leave the group. He creates his own tribe and in his tribe, kids paint themselves in red and white.

The rest of the book is about the beast that hunts in the island, and you’ve got to read to the book to know if the kids made it safe and sound.

This book is a master class on psychology.

Piggy, the fat kid , and yes I’ll call him that. It’s not because I’m insensitive or I feel the need to rubbish a kid on it’s physical appearance to feel a bit better about myself. Piggy, the fat kid, is the one who stumbles upon the conch. He is the thinker in the island. He has the necessary traits to be a leader. He is the lord of the fire, without his glasses there wouldn’t be a fire. Piggy never shines bright through the book. Something holds him back. He gets teased a lot and piggy’s outlook towards life is a line on throwing excuses. He hides his limitations behind excuses.

Ralph, the chief, is uncertain as hell but pretends to be a wise chief. He consults piggy but there is that confidence in him that makes him a leader. Ralph is a wonderful example of how one can rule the world by feeling wonderful and confident about oneself. It’s that self assurance that makes Ralph a natural leader

Jack, the hunter and a chief of his own tribe. Jack’s ability or inability to hunt manifests as his worth in the island. Whatever that Jack is battling inside his head, he translates that into the skill of hunting. There is so much violence in Jack. That coming out from a kid who sings in a choir!!!! interesting peek into the psyche of such a little boy. Jack expresses violence to compensate things that he lacks or things that he is denied of.

Ralph wants to remain civilized and English throughout the book. Jack descends into savagery. The conflict between culture and primal is evident in the tale. When there is no one to look at us, or to judge and supervise us, do we still remain decent and true to our masks? That is the question that the book poses. Different people are different when there are no eyes on them.

In the context of real life, it does explain the lack of civic sense in our offices and the same folks are at their ‘International Best’ when they are deputed. We are different people when people are around us. This book removes that supervision from the equation. It observes the people in it in that absence. Chaos flies spirited.

Lord of the flies is a wonderful book. I found it hard to read. There were numerous times when I lost track of what I was reading. I found it to be extremely descriptive. Every inch of the island is described. I had trouble sustaining focus. It’s still a wonderful book to read.

Karthik

Book Review : The first fifteen lives of Harry August

Coverpage of the First Fifteen lives of Harry August

The first fifteen lives of Harry August, Claire North.

I’m fascinated about souls, time travel, time paradox and a sweet tale of cat and mouse. The first fifteen is a story that checks all the items on that fascination list. This is a wonderful tale that spans the multiple life times of Harry August. The premise is simple enough. We are introduced to the usual world which has a few special people in them. These folks are called the Kalachakras. The world itself translates to the cycle of time. The Kalacharkras reincarnate time and again in this world. They retain their memories from their life times. There is a unique fundamental rule that governs this iteration of births, each time a Kalachakra dies, they are always born back in the same point in time , under the same circumstance and they get to relive their life all over again. There are events that change across each lifetime and there are those which do not. WW1, WW2, the Berlin wall, the revolutions, the rise and fall of dictators, none of these ‘Linear events’ usually change.

The life of Harry starts the most usual way. He’s born as an unwanted child, his biological parents decide to dump him. He finds foster care. He struggles through life , the early days. When his memories come gushing back , it opens his conscious to the many lives he has lived before. There is the usual struggle to cope up with such an overflow of information. He does what most normal folks do. He kills himself. The process resets his time. He realizes the folly and adopts a different approach to his life.

And so the tale begins. Harry, having lived quite a few life times, has the cumulative knowledge of the world that was, the world that will be. With each life, he learns how the world evolves across each lifetime. Like all sensible blokes, he memories the outcome of sporting events and makes a winning wager. Easy money. The funds secured, he goes on to observe the world around and keep track of how technology shapes the world in each of his lifetime. He eventually accepts his life, accepts the fact that he’s destined to relive the same life and that acceptance opens up options for him. He uses the time, life time to be exact, to learn and quench his thirst for knowledge. Things seem to be going good for our protagonist.

Through his lives, Harry starts to learn the dos and don’ts of his existence. He realizes the dangers of fiddling around with the natural flow of time and in the process , he gets introduced to the Chronos Club. The club is made of similar Kalachakras and Harry beings to learn more about his kind. Kalachakras have always existed. They have always observed the world, refused to actively change the linear events of the world. He also learns that information is passed down back to the generations by way of a child to the old. The children of the modern age would feed the near dying. The reincarnate would then kick start their life with the knowledge. Logistics and logistics.

The status quo changes when the Kalachakras start feeding back the news of how the end of the world is now accelerated. There seems to be a breach in the way of the world. The apocalypse rapidly accelerating, the end almost near, all of this pushes Harry to challenge the status quo and see if he can save the world.

From here, the game of cat and mouse picks up pace. When time is immaterial, immortality is the way of life, the simple task of saving the world does span a few lifetimes. It sure is not an easy task. The rest of the story is all about Harry’s quest to save the world. He does get to die a few times in the process. Does he save the world? Does he conclude that the world is not worth saving? Does he feel disgusted by humanity’s capacity to destroy itself? The immortals are posed with questions of a different kind indeed.

The book does hold a mirror to humanity. We live in a world where it’s easier to be insensitive towards tyranny and oppression rather than staying vociferous against it. We live in a world where history does tend to repeat itself, the world lets it happen time and again. We are more divided than we’d acknowledge. Given the context of the book, within a given lifetime, we grow numb to way of the world. Imagine living through centuries and centuries of the same world and magnitude of indifference towards the way the world is!

Harry goes through the same challenges that we all go through. Do we stay mum? Do we ache to change the world around us? Do we stand up and become the voice for the voiceless? Do we succumb under the weight of a messed up world? Given the fact that Harry does live on, he still makes his choices. Given the fact that we endure and survive the ugliness of the world, we also do make our choices.

The book’s central premise rests with the ability to travel back in time, the ability to alter the course ahead for humanity. Technology is a great disruptor. Imagine the course of the great wars if Mobile reception was made available during the wars. Imagine the outcome , if the nations had the capacity to make a billion calculations under a second. What if WW1 had access to nukes? The nature of what ifs, the nature of driving technological changes to alter the course of humanity is very intriguing. With the amount of technology in hand, aren’t we inching a step closer to making all the science fiction of our past into a modern day reality?

The other big theme is around immortality and the boredom that is generated by repetition. Spend enough lives, and one gets bored of living. Introspectively, lead a life doing the same set of things, life grows mundane. Insensitivity, or that feeling of staying numb, is an apt outcome of that dogmatic, narrow minded, tunnelled vision of an outlook towards life, are symptoms of a life stagnating away in front of our eyes. There is a certain helplessness to it all. We are, because we do. We are not able to break free and that’s also because we just do.

All is not super fantastic about the book. The way it ended was a colossal miss. The first two acts invest ample into building tension and the way the tale ends, did feel a bit rushed and not well thought off. The climax squandered away the emotional investment that the readers would have made to the characters.

I’d still give it a shot. If you like souls and a commercial , mass appeal view of spirituality and indulge in the act of breaking your head about lives, deaths and reincarnation, this is the right amount of palatable fiction.

Karthik

Book review : The other hand

The coverpage of The Other hand

The other hand, Chris Cleave.

When the book’s back cover page reads ‘ We don’t want to tell you what happens.. and once you’ve read it, you’d be tempted to discuss this with your friends. Please don’t do so until they’ve read the book’, I felt compelled to buy the book. Such confidence did motivate me to grab the book. It was a blind date of sorts and yeah, I think the date went well. It had it’s moments, it felt nice and while I wont enjoy such a date again, I don’t feel cheated by it either.

This is a serious book and the book doesn’t shy away from it’s premise. This is a story of two women. Little bee, and that’s not her real name. Bee escapes Nigeria and finds herself in the UK’s immigrant’s detention centre. After a short stay of two years in that institution, Bee walks into the land, almost as a free citizen. The office doesn’t issue her papers, just lets her go. That makes her an illegal alien in the land.

Bee, fortunately, knows only one family in the whole of UK. Andrew and Sarah. The English couple , a few years ago, had managed a vacation in Nigeria and it changes their lives forever. There is something that connects Little Bee, Andrew and Sarah. As fate would have it, their lives intersect all over again. What happens to Bee, what happens to Andy and Sarah? The tale unfolds the fates of these wonderfully penned characters.

To throw in a little context, Nigeria was gripped in a chaos over petroleum. The black gold resulted in the government shaking it’s dirty hands with corporates. This leaves the natives as unwanted burden in their old land. As with money everywhere, violence is a friend that walks hand in hand with it. As resources go plundered, lives are reduced as mere perishables. Bee is a young teenager and her view of her land does paint a horror story. Bee’s narration also walks us through the differences in the human lives when they are separated by boundaries of nations and wings of development. Bee is , by far, one of the strongest narrator that I’ve ever come across. Her narration brings two distinct worlds together. She makes us laugh, she’d make you queasy.

There is a Batman in the tale. Charlie, the tiny tot of Sarah, often dresses up as Batman to cope up with his small life. What is he coping up with?, you have to read to discover that by yourself. The innocence of Charlie, the fear driven defiance of Bee, the idealism of Sarah and pragmatism of Andrew, they are all but the many sides to a life. Through them, we do see the strength of the human spirit. Through the world of politics, rules and governments, we see the might that feels forced to crush that human spirit.

The book poses a wonderful question. Should a country be permitted to refuse asylum to seekers across the world? Are there strains to the native citizens? Is the world not a big enough place to host everybody under the sun? Why cant countries protect people who don’t belong to them? As a species, do we belong to the earth or as civilised, educated blokes, do we belong to nations and governments that rule them? There is no simple answer to any of those questions. Globalization does make the world a smaller place and does make governments indifferent to one another.

I liked the book. It’s not as engaging or soul shattering as some of the other books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in the past few months. That being said, I think this book deserves its place in your cupboard or your kindle.

Karthik

Book Review : My grandmother sends her regards and apologies

“The mightiest power of death is not that it can make people die, but that it can make the people left behind want to stop living”

Cover page of My Grandmother sends her regards and apologies

Save yourself a little time. Order the book today. Ask your friends for a copy , if they already have one. Enjoy the ride. You’ll love this one. I really do wish that all tales were like this one. The reviews would be one liners.

And bought it already? Good . Excellent.

My grandmother sends her regards and apologies , by Fredrik Backman , is a wonderful heart warming tale. This is the same bloke who gave us A man called ove. This story is about Elsa, an almost an eight year old girl, her Grandmother and the fantastic land of almost awake. The land of fantasy has it’s knights in golden armour, a Wurse ( a massive beast) , a warrior, two princes who feud over a princess. A princess, A sea angel. There is mom , dad, George. Throw in a few neighbours and you have a fairy tale in the making.

Granny is granny and the world struggles to cope up with her. Granny was, when she was young, a very successful surgeon. She’d travel across the globe and help those who needed help. When Granny retires, she has a brand new job. She keeps herself busy by being Elsa’s superhero. Granny is full of life, she’s animated and a force of joy. She has a problem with the world around her. Dogmatic rules bore her, political correctness offends her, The whole deal of pampering in the name of safety and pointless fears disinterest her. Granny would rather break into a zoo to watch the animals sleep, get arrested for that and walk out of jail, than sit at home and imagine what it’d be like to see animals sleep in the zoo. That’s granny.

Elsa loves her granny. The two make a wonderful team.

Elsa is not the usual average seven year, well almost an eight year old kid. She’s way too smart for her age. She enjoys reading proper literature a lot. To her, proper literature constitutes of Comics , Harry Potter and most books that we’d never bother associating to a formal education system. Elsa is perceived as a bit of an odd ball and she always manages to attract the ire of bullies from her school. Elsa can hold up against anyone in an argument. When Elsa and her Granny team up, the outcome is usually hilarious.

Granny introduces Elsa to the land of almost awake. The land consists of six kingdoms. Granny and Elsa also have a secret language that they use to carry on discrete conversations. Things are good and things look promising to Elsa. Her world is all set to change with her mother looking to deliver her baby brother. Elsa calls him Halfie. She’s not sure if he’d be a boy or a girl. Half and half and so she calls him halfie All is well till Elsa accidentally discovers that her Granny’s time in this world is coming to a close.

One fine morning , Granny passes away and she leaves Elsa behind on a treasure hunt, in a quest to save the magical kingdoms. The fate of the land of almost awake rests on Elsa. And so her adventure begins.

I fell in love with this tale. The fantasy is vivid and wonderfully imaginative. As we find ourselves exploring the magical kingdoms , we also discover how the kingdoms are connected to this world. The tales are both real and fictitious at the same time. That makes it the perfect kind of a tale.

We embark upon the adventure with Elsa on her quest to keep the lands protected and safe. Each clue that Elsa receives, is a letter from her grandmother which is addressed to different people. The theme usually is the same. Grandma sends her regards and her apologies.

What does grandma apologise for? Is everything just a mere delusion of a senile lady? Does Elsa manage to uncover the clues and save the kingdoms? Is there a dragon in this tale?

The book is quite the adventure.

The book plays to its strengths; its characters. This is a book about people. This is a book about how people refuse to live their lives. It reminds us that while the dead remain dead, the living also cease to live. It talks about how people quietly succumb to the crushing blows to their heart and how they never bounce back. It talks about why we need that courage to live.

The book also explores the choices that we make in life. It talks about the things that we ignore, when we are in pursuit of glory. It talks about the effect that pursuit has on the people around us. It reminds us that all of us will find a day when we are done searching for things and when we take a good look at the things we’ve ignored and left behind in that search. Are we left with regrets and guilt? Are we left with the satisfaction of the search? Do we end up losing more than what we had bargained for? The book, in it’s own subtle way, leaves us with those questions.

Grab yourself a copy today. Enjoy the ride. You will love Elsa and her granny.

Karthik

Book review : The handmaid’s tale

For starters , I thought this was a fairly new book. Now I do realize that the tale was published in 1985. This adds more chills to the reading experience.

This is an uncomfortable book to read. It’s not the case of a boring plot, under developed characters and a story plagued by near dead pacing. On the contrary, it’s the realism to the book that makes the reading experience a little heavy on the mind. On that grounds, this book is a bit hard to digest. As I started, I thought this was written in this decade, which could explain the way the plot was pictured. The fact that this book now stands the test of time and the context , more real today than it was decades ago, is a testament to the gloomy world this book introduces us to.

This is a simple tale of a dystopian , not so far away, future. The world has survived a few jolts. Societies have transformed and the new norm is an accepted way of life. It is a world where women , usually, don’t have a name. There are Aunts, Marthas, Wives, Handmaids and econowives. The plot doesn’t really spend a lot of time classifying the strata of men. There wasn’t much need anyways. And then there were also men.

On the onset of near annihilation, the society tries to reconstruct itself from the ashes. The fallout from the radiation, the chemicals and the toxic world itself, renders most men sterile. The society emulates a dictatorship of sorts. Senior government officials are ENTITLED to handmaids. I think you can guess where the tale is heading and what is the role of such handmaids in their dystopian society.

So the primary role of a handmaid is to facilitate progeny. In fact , the entire society is built around repopulation. Women who can’t are shipped off to the colonies. The ones who can, are Handmaids are deployed across families. Their sole purpose is to birth the next generation. The successful handmaids eventually retire when their clocks run their due course. The unsuccessful ones are shipped off to the colony. In a nutshell, the role of a woman in the society is valued through the filter of procreation.

Aunts are a sect of women who train , groom and condition the handmaids. Marthas are housekeepers and carry out their role in running the chores around the household. Econowives are the wives allotted to men who have insignificant roles in the machinery of the society. The society is policed through the army. Angels to be precise. These are the foot soldiers. Then there are eyes, who spy on the society and report on the miscreants who don’t comply to the religious cause of the society. There you go. That’s their world.

Feeling disgusted at it so far? Good. So was I. you don’t have to be a feminist to feel offended by the course that this society took. The fact that this society accepts this ridiculousness as a norm is disgusting. The fact that this society was let to be, is offensive. The fact that this society is a reality, now that’s a gentle revelation of sorts.

The reminder of the tale hinges around the fate of the titular Handmaid. What happens to her? Does she ever deliver a child into that world of hers? Does she eventually retire or does she get shipped to the colony? The book keeps you guessing and curious. It’s a page turner alright.

There are bucket loads of themes in this book. Ever noticed that in this write up, I had not bothered with names? The first theme is that of an Identity. A name is more than just a name. It is an identity. It is an announcement of self, it protects and preserves the self. What if you re robbed of a name. what if your name didn’t even matter?

This book is also an alarming reminder that you don’t have to be political, but politics will govern, impact and affect your life. Deny it with all your might, but it’s not going to go away. This book talks about the nature of politics.

Back to why 1985 was such a shocker. Patriot Act. The whole Demonetisation in India, The big politics of sentiments and fear. Fear leads to suspension of constitution and the very rights that protect the citizens of a nation. I’m not political. I’m an observer. I’ve observed ample instances of how sentiments affect the policies and how policies affect life. It’s almost a near inevitability. One fine day, there will be a disaster, people will be frightened and defenceless. The law of the land will do it’s best to protect us. The caring hand could easily turn our to be a talon gripping it’s prey. This book , very comfortably, predicted the way we would behave in the future. The whole big bang around WW2 , it’s not that hard to realize that history is meant to repeat itself and we as a species do tend to forget the lessons of the past.

Religion plays a central role in this book. A society that follows any religion and religious practices blindly, without understanding the whys of the things it does, will eventually follow things as a rote. It would police itself in that fashion. It will grow intolerant towards those who choose to not follow. This society is not very different. There are those who follow it with all their heart and disciplined conviction. A closer look at their motives does reveal self preservation and other conflicting interests.

This book is a wonderful example of a loveless, emotionless state of existence. Life as a protocol to be carried, compliance to comply to, life defined around purpose. While it does feel like the right thing to aspire to be, it also exposes the limitations of such fulfilling existence.

This book is a mirror to self, it is a mirror to the society.

I enjoyed reading it. If serious stuff holds your attention, go for it. It is after all a story of a handmaid. Her life’s story is worth the read.

Karthik