[Book Review] The old devils

The old devils, Kingsley Amis

Cover page of The Old Devils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

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[Book review]: kafka on the shore

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

Kafka on the shore by Haruki Murakami.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

Book review : The travelling cat chronicles

The cat chronicles , Hiro Arikawa

Coverpage of The travelling cat chronicles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

Book Review : The 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 : The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared

Cover Page of the 100 year old man

The hundred year old man who climbed of the window and disappeared, Jonas Jonasson.

Where oh where do I begin. A hundred year old man, Spanish civil war, America’s Atomic bomb, Stalin singing a song, Mao Tse-Tung’s communist ambitions, Kim Il Jong’s legacy in the making, A few presidents, a hot dog seller, an Elephant, a cop on a mission , an Einstein, a prosecutor who wished he had not been born. That’s one convoluted sentence that has way too many characters who converge and fuel madness to this fantastic tale of a warm , hilarious adventure.

Lets take a moment to let all of that sink in.

Phew.. Feeling better? okie dokie. Let us begin.

The hundred year.. is a story of Allan Karlsson. On his hundredth birthday, he decides to climb out of this room in an old age care home. That sets of a wonderful adventure that consumes you with every page that’s turned. Allan is a very ordinary bloke who has had an extraordinary life. There are absolutely two things that Allan does exceptionally well. One, he always manages to have an open mind. Two, he’s good at blowing things up.

An open mind and an uncanny ability to blow things up, these are the two things that fill Allan’s life with a million memories. As the tale continues in the present, we are introduced to roads that he had travelled in the past.

So Allan sneaks out of the old age home, he manages to steal a suitcase that is loaded with money. A mafia-ique gang is after him. A gang that goes by the name ‘ Never Again’. Allan’s escape from the house is now also a escape from the gang. The police get involved. Initially they are called in to find Allan and as the events unfold, the police now suspect Allan of murder. A 100 year old man on a killing spree!

Allan’s life is an adventure. Straight through the Spanish revolution, to America’s hunger for creating the A-Bomb, to Stalin’s desire to make a nuke for the motherland, North Korea’s war for identity, Allan finds himself participating in all these milestones that have shaped up the world. The history is something that will leave you in a sense of awe. The circumstances would leave you laughing.

Besides the adventure, this is a beautiful tale of friendship. Allan bumps into Julius, a bloke with a reputation for being a petty thief. The two become friends and they bump into Benny. Benny’s a hotdog vendor who has almost been a lot of things. The trio meet Gunnila. Gunnila’s the lady of the tale. Gunnila loves sonya. Sonya is her pet elephant.

The bonds of friendship are forged through honesty. As the tale ascends into mad hilarity, you’d grow warm reading the way their friendship evolves. The tale is also a tale of a cat and mouse chase. The inspector, Mr Aronsson , is absolutely relentless in his quest to find Allan.

The book is a light hearted read but it does nurture deeper themes within it. Each of the character , that you’d come to enjoy in time, is plagued by loneliness and solitude. The characters grab the opportunity to connect and take that leap of faith in forming ties with each other. I’d like to see them as a reflection of ourselves. We , most of us, are alienated with the world. We exist in a crowd. While a lot of us have shown that courage to take that leap of faith and invite people into our lives, there are a lot of us who are fenced up. We wait.

The book’s central theme is that of blind optimism. Allan doesn’t really worry a lot about the past or the future. He keeps an open mind and goes with the flow. Life hands him lemons, bananas, vodka, sausages and a lot many other things. He makes a good use of them and powers on. Allan is neither too ambitious nor does express a defeatist view of life. He is one of the grandest examples of living in the present. In a weird sense, he represents a zen-like peace. He remains unperturbed by most things.

The book does take a dig at two of the most influential factors that have shaped up our world. Religion and Politics. Allan doesn’t care for either. He’s not judgemental about them. His point of view offers a neutral stance on how silly that both religion and politics can be.

The book is a happily ever after waiting to happen. It’s a casual, funny breezy read. The plot might seem a bit outlandish at times, but that’s precisely the point. Strap your seatbelts, hang on tight and enjoy the fun ride that is The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared.

Next stop : The Handmaid’s tale.

Karthik

Book review : a man called ove

“Maybe to her destiny was “something”; that was none of his business. But to him, destiny was “someone.”

Coverpage of A man caled Ove

A man called Ove, by Fredrik Backman.

I picked this book because a friend recommended it. To be perfectly honest, it was a spur of the moment decision to quench my curiosity about the book. I dived into its pages without a shimmer of expectation. When I was done with the book, something within me had snapped, there was something that I could spot as odd in the way I lived. With eyes wet with tears, my heart warm with satisfied overwhelmed emotions, it was time to move on to a different book. I did my best to savour the memories of the book and it was precisely because of that pleasure, I delayed writing about it. Words once read, words once written would probably move on to become words once cherished.

Back to the tale, Ove. Ove is an old geezer whom you’d probably dislike. He is a stickler for rules. He incessantly keeps reminding the world around that they don’t follow the dogma that rules are. He’s not much for small talk. It’s hard to enjoy a pleasant conversation with him. Ove is perceived as old, grumpy and chip of the block from a generation that’s been comfortably forgotten. That’s Ove. He’s unapologetic about what you’d think about him. He doesn’t really care. It probably wouldn’t be Ove if he did!

That’s Ove. That would probably be your first reaction to Ove.

The book is a tale of the life of the man who goes by the name Ove. As we get a glimpse of his present, we are also introduced to his past. The story of what he is now feels almost incomplete without seeing the story of what he was before. As we catch up on his past, we also find ourselves getting very eager about his present and the course of his future.

Hidden away in the tale is one of the most romantic relationship that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Far away from clichés of roses are red, violets are blue, I got a letters of love and you need a stick of glue, there is a beautiful story of romance that blossoms and grows warmer and warmer till it occupies every inch of your heart and soaks you with its warmth. Ove and his wife Sonja. Theirs is a very romantic relationship which is very far away from dramatic and cinematic romance. Theirs is a world of sweet nothings, a wonderful intersection of two people’s very distinct life that come together and form a pleasant harmony. We , as readers, witness a cute love that they both share. Theirs is a kind of love that span through health and sickness. It spans across life and death. It’s a kind of a love that refuses to die away despite death at it’s doors.

Ove does have a secret. He knows how to solve all his woes and wants to put an end to his misery. Only, it’s not his time yet. It’s just about the right time for Ove to be thrust into a world of people around him. His world is all set to explode. Cue in the people around Ove.

The secondary characters are phenomenal. They are vivid and colourful and blend blissfully into the life of Ove. Parvaneh, a pregnant Iranian lady , her daughters, the Lanky one, Ove and Rune’s big conflicts, you’d fall in love with everyone in Ove’s world.

There are wonderful themes that are explored in the book. It offers us a glance into questions like, What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean when people say that lives are meant to be colourful?

“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had”

Ove’s story is a gentle reminder that sometimes our lives are meaningless without our special people in it. It calls out the similarities between existing for existence sake and living void of colors and emotions. It is through Ove, we get to assess our own hues about life. Ove’s story is also a wonderful example of going with the flow and letting life take it’s own course.

We are a product of what we choose to be and the people we let into our lives.

Would I recommend his book? ABSOLUTELY. Go ahead and grab yourself a copy today. You wont regret it.

Next stop :The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

Karthik

Book review : His bloody project

Cover page of His bloody project

His bloody project , G M B.

I picked this book because , 1. The cover page looked awesome. 2. It was heavily discounted. 3. I wasn’t thinking much when I picked the book.

In a short span a few months, I had comfortably moved away from comforts of reading murders and the satisfaction of accompanying a sharp mind in deciphering the twisted mind of a heinous bloke. While this was the genre that got me into reading, I had found myself moving towards other philosophies of life. I had this book for nearly six months before I eventually got to it.

I was impressed with the book. Yup, it makes for a well constructed , gripping narrative.

This is a story of a boy , Roderick Macrae. His not so simple life leads to a not so simple situation. Roddy is charged with manslaughter of not one but three people. The story is not a cat and a mouse chase of who-dun-it. With the dirty deed done cheap, the story kicks off with Roddy’s confession of the murders. Soaked in mind, Roddy goes on to getting himself imprisoned.

Now that was a twist in the tale that got me intrigued about the book. While in prison, Roddy is encouraged to write a memoir of the things that eventually transpired in the act of cold blooded murders.

The book is split into three sections. Roddy’s memoir of things that led to the murder. Roddy’s present in the prison. The retelling of the trail that decided upon his fate. I found the trial to be extremely engaging. Cheap thrills. The court room drama was both efficient and thrilling. I particularly enjoyed the sequence that the book follows. The memoir and Roddy’s time in the present are beautifully unravelled. With each page turned, one finds oneself closer to the nature of Roddy’s life.

There are brilliant questions that the book leaves us, the audience, with.

‘If an insane bloke proclaims to be insane, is the bloke really insane?’.

‘What justifies a murder?’ .

The book also explores the environment that nurtures a mind which readies itself to carry out the crime.

Are we born a murderer or do we grow into that role?

I did enjoy reaching my own conclusions about Roddy. I am intrigued by my not so ‘black and white’ outlook towards moralities of life. I’ll let you experience the narrative and form your own opinion about the curious case of Mr Roddy.

The horror that humans are capable of chilled me to the bone. Now that I think about it, it doesn’t take a lot for something within us to snap and embrace the animal in us. The book explores the simple clarity of a damaged mind’s conclusion that eventually does lead to a murder. Murders rather.

Maybe this book is not for everyone, then again, the whole act of murder is contained within a chapter. I guess in that sense, this can be picked without too much fuss.

I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the thoughts it left me with. The greatness of a book is not measured by the words used to describe it, its measured by the amount of thoughts it leaves , once that story is read. In that respect, this book manages to achieve just that.

Karthik