The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks

“Gaze detection, its called – our ability to sense when someone is observing us”

The review said anything i predict about this book while reading will be wrong and it was. Its not about a jealous ex-wife or an obsessed spurned lover either, but there is a high degree of “psychotic” in this book. There is no way to explain or review this book without giving away the plot – so please consider this a warning.

The book begins with a chase of an ex-wife shadowing every move of her husband and his new lover, or so it seems to the reader. Vanessa is finding it hard to move on and Nellie is just at the cusp of a new beginning, looking at the world with rose coloured spectacles. The central figure, though is the husband Richard, pivotal to the entire plot.

Initially Vanessa, now living with her old aunt, will seem like a pathetic figure, with random mysterious comments thrown in to link everything back to what is actually happening. She seems unable to eat or sleep and neither is she able to focus on her job as the memories from her marriage keep assailing her. Nellie on the other hand is ignoring all the signals that her fiancee, Richard is beginning to control her life and her behaviour. She is unable to see her friends distancing themselves, or pay heed to warnings coming from her mother. She is the cinderella in the moment and is unaware that clock is about to strike midnight.

While the reader is busy figuring out what is so unpredictable about this scenario, the author throws in a complex twist of Vanessa and Nellie being the same person. Vanessa to the world and nervous Nellie to her husband. This is the turning point and the protagonist becomes the antagonist. Vanessa, a young and vibrant girl, getting swept off her feet by the charming but much older Richard, embarks on a new life only to discover that things are not what they seem. Her controlling, jealous and psychotic husband manages to alienate her from everything familiar and turn her into a nervous wreck.

“In my marriage, there were three truths, three alternate and sometimes competing realities. There was Richard’s truth. There was my truth. And there was the actual truth, which is always the most elusive to recognize. This could be the case in every relationship, that we think we’ve entered into a union with another person when, in fact, we’ve formed a triangle with one point anchored by a silent but all-seeing judge, the arbiter of reality.”

Richard’s violent anger and constant tracking of movements, leaves no choice for Vanessa but to plot “the demise of her marriage”. She hones in on the newly hired secretary of Richard and passively encourages them to spend time together. It leads into Richard having an affair and thus, leaving Vanessa for Emma. Post separation, though going through the stages of letting go, Vanessa feels extremely guilty, since she never thought that the new innocent girl would get entangled into the web and head for a disaster – a marriage with Richard.

Vanessa is on a quest to save Emma. She provides proofs and ultimately puts herself in the harms way to demonstrate Richard’s penchant for extreme violence. Towards the end, the reader finds the husband in a mental facility being treated for his behaviour, the sister who played an inactive part in the book so far, taking charge of her brother. But what complicates the whole plot is that Emma, who was the innocent was not so simple after all.

Its a great airplane read – as it will keep you hooked and wondering, until everything will start coming together in the end. Just a word of caution, don’t spend too many emotions empathising with the wife or sympathising with the husband.

“You need to remember that even when i’m not there, i’m always with you” – these words may never sound romantic to you again!

Death of a Red Heroine – Qiu Xiaolong

“It is not people that make interpretations, but interpretations that make people.”

In my quest to find new and international writers to enhance my reading experience, i came across this series “An Inspector Chen Investigation” by Qiu Xiaolong – a Chinese author, born and brought up in Shanghai, with first hand experience of the cultural revolution, who is now living in US.

It’s a highly enjoyable series, if you are a culture and history buff. Though a murder mystery (as apparent from “investigation” in the title), what i enjoyed more was an insight into day-to-day life in China during early 90’s. I have travelled to China several times for work and it made me keep thinking if i encountered any of the idiosyncracies mentioned by the author in his book.

Though mystery being quite simple and predictable beyond a point in the book, it’s the discovery process that keeps you hooked on. Inspector Chen is no Sherlock, with no sudden “nirvana” moments, but this poet-policeman will keep you wanting to know more. During the reading journey, you will end up taking a pause to reflect on sociological factors like – being assigned a job by the government – which effectively takes away the choice to decide what you want to do in life, to annual quota of housing, thus assigned by work units to their workers – including police, professors and any number of government officials.

The journey through the chinese authors and poets via the chief inspector character is especially enjoyable and led me to explore more about the books and poets referred to here. It made me purchase the “The Dream of the Red Chamber” – and explore a completely different picture of Chinese societies from centuries ago.

The culinary delights mentioned, the small hawker stalls, the chinese style cooking and eating are truly an insight into how little the world knows about the true chinese cuisine and how when we say we love chinese food, we don’t even know what it truly is.

The mystery revolves around a body found in an out of the way canal, who is then identified as a party member and a Model Worker (assuming modern-day “idol”) As the plot thickens we discover that the Guan (the murdered) was a very private person and people around her had no clue about the personal aspects of her life. To lead a normal life, away from the standards imposed by the party, she has been having an extra marital affair with a HCC (High Cadre Child), who is already married.

Guan’s expecting her lover to leave his wife and marry her, when she discovers the brutal truth and depravity of this man. To avoid such unpleasant encounters, her lover takes pictures of all woman he, thus engages, in compromising positions and blackmail them to keep their mouth shut and not create trouble for him post their breakup.

Murder takes a political turn, since the party is keen to brush the whole affair under the carpet, to avoid unpleasant publicity and public unrest about the abuse of privileges by HCCs. This is where we see Inspector Chen being suspended for a short time, indirectly by assigning him non-police related conferences, entertaining foreign visitors, etc. Our protagonist, though is a tough cookie and keeps up the investigation in a clandestine way to discover proof and most importantly the motive.

Finally the murder trial is hushed and execution swift, with a very calculated media reports to show that the party will take severe steps against the “western¬†bourgeoisie influences” on the current society leading to crime and corruption.

“Whoever fights monsters,” Nietzsche said, “should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”

More than a mystery book, it is literature, with beautiful language, making the sounds, smells and experiences surreal for the reader

The President’s Hat – Antoine Laurain

“The important events in our lives are always the result of a sequence of tiny details”

Sometimes, we the mere mortals, need that one symbol, one gesture, a smile, a moment, a chance encounter, a word or a comment to bring out the best in us, to restore our faith in our own capabilities. When everything seems to be falling apart, something like magic holds us together and brings us out a winner. Admit it – how many times have you tried to recreate that magical moment by wearing the same clothes, combination or retracing your footsteps – just to recapture that one moment, which ended up of great significance or turning point in your life.

This book is very special to me. Its a well written, entertaining story of average people, like me, and yet, it has a strength that makes you believe in yourself, that restores your faith in life. You will read this and think – my moment is just round the corner, for me to reach out and touch it.

President Francois Mitterrand loses his hat at a dinner in a brassiere, which is picked up by a disillusioned accountant, treating himself to a decadent, over expensive dinner in a quest to “find himself”. The many characters we will come across in the book, Daniel Mercier is the only one, who’s aware of the real owner of the hat. Daniel appoints the hat as his good luck ambassador and responsible for the change in his attitude at work. Daniel finds himself extra confident and capable in facing off a tyrant boss. He proclaims that it is the Hat which bring about his promotion and hence, change in his life.

The Hat left on a train is next picked up by an executive assistant who is also an aspiring writer in a future-less relationship with a married man. The hat again bestows on her the authority and confidence, required to take charge of her life. She feels like the hat has served its purpose and leaves it in a park for the next person to enjoy. The hat is then picked up by “the nose” or a perfumer, who is facing a block and is in a state of limbo. We see the hat work its magic again, and the perfumer regains his lost ability and perhaps even his life.

The hat then is exchanged at another “cloakroom” and lands up on the head of a semi-autocrat, who is disillusioned with the ancient way of thinking. He finds himself taking charge of his life – shunning the autocrats, standing up for a modern way of thinking and life, endorsing new art and making his own choices in life rather than the ones imposed on him by his ancestors – be it the decor in his house or the paintings hanging on the walls. This time the recipient of the hat does not even realise that he has been wearing someone else’s hat all this while.

Our original thief (so to say) of the Hat is quite determined to recover his lost charm, and finally manages to snatch if off, literally from the head. As a celebration, Daniel takes his family to Venice where he finds himself yet again, within a few metre’s distance from the President. Considering it providence, he decides to return the Hat – and like the author says gains “his wish, his dream, his heart’s desire….He had become the fourth guest at the President’s table.”

“Sometimes life carries you in different directions and you don’t even realise you’ve gone down a fork in the road. the great GPS of destiny has not followed the planned route and there has been no sign to indicate you’ve passed the point of no return. Life’s Bermuda Triangle is both myth and reality”

As i wrote in the beginning, for some reason, this book always restores my faith – in me, in my life, in my situation and i feel just a little bit more optimistic. After all, if you think about it, apart from the first person, none of the Hat owners knew that the hat had belonged to the President – for them, it was just an ordinary hat that had brought good luck and turn of events in their favour. So maybe there is a hat somewhere that has my name written on it, i just have to find it on a daily basis and keep the faith.

I loved the end of this book, with President Mitterrand’s last words “I believe in the power of the spirit and i will never leave you”. Who knows what good spirits might be paving our way all this time unknown to us.

The Power – Naomi Alderman

This revolutionary dystopian book is utterly mind-blowing and thought-provoking. Though as a reader and as a female, i have imagined a world ruled by women, but this book just takes the concept to an entirely different level.

As it is written: “She cuppeth the lightning in her hand. She commandeth it to strike.”

All girls, across the world, start developing an unusual power at the age of 14-15. They find themselves able to discharge electric current via their fingers and palm, sometimes enough to defend themselves during dangerous situations and sometimes even enabling them to kill. Then the power grows and they find they are able to invoke this power in older women, which cannot be cured or surgically removed safely until their death and that every girl child in the world is born with this power.

Book is written via four main characters – with different lives and providing different perspectives.

Allie Montgomery, a runaway teenager, who after killing her foster guardian to fend off his sexual advances, finds herself set up in a convent as “Mother Eve” – the messiah arrived to lead the world to a different enlightening. “God is neither woman nor man but both these things. But now She has come to show us a new side to Her face, one we have ignored for too long.”

Roxy – daughter of a drug lord, who uses her powers to kill the man responsible for her mother’s death, with help from her father and brothers. She learns from the “electrical eels” and cultivates her power to become stronger and more in control. She is the soldier that faith leader “Mother Eve” teams up with to realise her dream of setting up a safe harbor, a country for all women, away from men.

Tunde – a Nigerian journalist, first encounters the power at the hands of a young teenage girl, he has a crush on and finds it fascinating and horrifying at the same time. He places himself in dangerous situations and countries to chronicle this change in the world – the new age so to say, the political change and the world gone upside down.

Margot – a mayor of an American town, who as only a woman could in such situation, tries to harness the power by providing training grounds to girl – for them to learn and control this mystical ability as against her competition men, who ruled by their fear would like to destroy all.

At the beginning of the book, all wronged girls are able to take revenge, all young girls are able to defend themselves against boys and men. There is unrest – as would be natural, with parents trying to “cure” their female child, turning them out of the house and even looking at them fearfully. It’s almost ironic to read about “special buses for boys to keep them safe” and formation of “save men’s rights” type of communities.

“Power to hurt is a kind of wealth” illustrates the next phase as the dark side of the power starts to build up. Women start feeling empowered ” Now they will know that they are the ones who should not walk out of their houses alone at night. They are the ones who should be afraid.” Government’s fall and women establish their kingdoms. Females find themselves in positions of power and are no longer afraid of the male dominion, that had always been the ruling force in the “previous world”.

Initially, male half of the population harboured the illusion that this is a temporary state, then they start looking for reasons behind this evolutionary change; post that comes the stage of acceptance – this is the way world is now; and of course followed by ways to defend themselves. I found the commercialisation of this power delightfully satirical – advertisements of rubber shoes & socks, personal batteries, etc. Author has ingeniously provided us with an insight into social media as would be at such times. Men are scared and women are now hungry to use their power.

Ultimately power corrupts – be it man or woman. In the third phase we find that though women have risen using the power from their so-called “weak” state into the more powerful gender, they also lose their ability to empathise with the other gender. Roles are reversed, but cruelty, corruption and atrocities remain the same. Though a new state was set up to promote peace, it leads to slavery and oppression for men, rapes by women, and laws that force men to be enslaved to a woman in every which way “At first we did not speak of our hurt because it was not manly. Now we do not speak it because we are afraid and ashamed and alone without hope, each of us alone. It is hard to know when the first became the second.”

“Men are no longer permitted to drive cars.”

“Men are no longer permitted to own businesses.”

“Men are no longer permitted to vote”

Its ironic, Saudi Arabia (actually Moldova in the book), that led the women revolution once the power was discovered and tried to break free of all these rules imposed on the women, ultimately reverses itself in a worse form, only to have much harsher rules imposed on men.

The book does not end with an apocalypse or an “end of the world” flood, nor does it provide a definitive answer to this dilemma – We who covet power at some point in our lives, why are we unable to stay true to the path of peace. Is this how our DNA, our brains have been programmed. I found this book highly imaginative and an educational read, raising a lot of questions in my mind. Is there a way we could ever find a way to exist peacefully, without brutality and wars – perhaps not – maybe some of those elements make the kindness and humanity shine and maybe some of these darker elements make us appreciate the value of good.

The Rules of Magic – Alice Hoffman

“Anything whole can be broken,” Isabelle told her. “And anything broken can be put back together again.” That is the meaning of Abracadabra. “I create what i speak.”

If you have read Alice Hoffman (as i have – all of them), when you pick up the book you know that next few hours / days (depending on your reading speed) are going to find you in the middle of an absolutely engrossing story, full of magic and witches and curses and some spells that you wish worked in real life (i tried the ones with only chanting – nah it is truly fiction alas!)

The latest book by Alice Hoffman is a prequel to one of my favourite book “Practical Magic” and gives a detailed insight into the lives and dramas of the two doddering aunts, who sounded scary and as if they were always grey and old, and transforms them into young, partially hedonistic, full of life characters.

This family has two girls – Franny and Jet and a boy – Vincent, who are born with magical abilities due to their bloodline, however, mother has decided to keep distance from the “family” and impose rules to postpone the discovery of such talents and affinities for a while – no red shoes, no black clothes, etc etc. Well these magical talents aren’t really meant for getting the house chores done by wave of a wand, but more into being able to read minds (Jet), extreme charisma and ability to see future (Vincent) and ability to talk to / understand birds (Franny).

Children being children obviously want what is forbidden to them. They are curious and chafing against the mother’s rules. When Franny turns seventeen, she gets an invitation from the “family” or “aunt Isabella”. Though parents are not happy, children are grown enough to have an opinion – and they set out to discover the mysteries of their inheritance. The house Magnolia street is mystical and yet restful and the summer passes in a bliss for all three. They learn the history of their bloodline, meet a cousin they have never met before (April) and find out what trials and tribulations are the fate of witches and wizards – loneliness, inability to fit in, being stared at and even feared and not being able to drown.

Jet falls in love with a neighbour boy, who turns out to be from the enemy camp due to an age old curse, which proclaimed that any person from Owens tribe – who falls in love, will cause misfortune and death of the ones they love. Jet discovers the truth behind this curse by losing her beloved and her parents in an accident and Franny decides to give up her love to save him and herself from heartbreak. Aunt Isabella finally provides the words of wisdom near her death by telling Franny to Love more not less to beat the curse.

Post accident. all three – Franny, Jet and Vincent have to grow up within a short span of time, find a way to make money and find a purpose to their lives. Jet lives her entire life devoted to her one and only love – her devotion finally wins over the enemy and reconciliation happens slowly. Franny discovers that it is far easier to fall in love than to give it up and that too to another woman. Hay, her childhood friend, confidant and lover finally gives up the idea of marriage and accepts Franny for whoever she is – curse or no curse.

Vincent, however is complicated. He is a profilgate drowning himself in drugs and alcohol provided for by his musical talents. He discovers true love with another man and hence unlocks the dilemma of not being able to fall in love with numerous women he had affairs with. War happens – well, the normal world is still normal around all the magic and wizardry, and Franny in her determination to save Vincent, gets Hay to provide a forged certificate declaring Vincent medically inept for military service.

Vincent’s interview does not go as smoothly and he finds himself in a mental asylum, from where he is rescued and shipped across the world with only occasional postcards and chocolates to make his presence felt. April, on the other hand has a baby girl fathered by Vincent and gets education and a job to provide for the child.

The ending of the book is what connects it to the sequel (which was released years and years before) where Regina (April’s daughter) dies with her husband, leaving two little girls behind – Sally and Gillian. Sally the elder and practical one calls the two aunt, now old ladies, and tells them that they need to be taken in.

As we know, Practical magic is the tale of the two little girls – Sally and Gillian. In their story, the aunts are at the twilight of their lives and yet a solid presence for them.

Alice Hoffman, in her usual style is able to make this fantasy tale flawlessly believable, so much so that, it becomes easy for a reader to believe that maybe – just a bit maybe, one of the love potions made by aunt Isabella is real and will work, the soap they make in their cauldron can be made and will keep the skin, in reality, as young as it did in the novel. Story line is fast paced and yet characters are evolved, making it possible for a reader to imagine them as they must have been.

Believe it or not, i did try to make my boss vanish the next day – but alas, it didn’t work.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

“I simply fail to see how the act of legally formalizing a human relationship necessitates friends, family and coworkers upgrading the contents of their kitchen for them”

Eleanor Oliphant at the beginning of the book reminded me a lot of “Sheldon Cooper” from The Big Bang Theory. Everyday behaviour which we take for granted was a complete mystery and more often than not, waste of time for her. She is earnest, straight forward and a riot. The dry humour – very British, is an absolute delight to read. Ms Oliphant is proper and very literal and yet intriguing in her own way.

Eleanor Oliphant is a finance executive in a graphic designing company and in love (recently) with a musician in a band – though this musician in question has never met her. Raymond from IT and Eleanor are thrown together when they rescue an old man Sammy (seventy years old) and visit him together at the hospital – and our very dear Eleanor buys him amongst other things, a playboy magazine since she thinks as a man he might enjoy it. Raymond invites her to visit his mother and spontaneously she agrees.

What is most interesting to read is how Eleanor discovers different emotions, which somehow have been neglected in her life so far. During her visit to Raymond’s mother, she discovers the warm feeling a well-kept house, a loving mother and home cooked food gives – the things that most of us take for granted as our right. She starts having lunch with Raymond fairly regularly, though still perturbed about his posture, social habits and dressing.

Once Eleanor realises that the musician she imagines she is in love with and will be the one to fix everything in her life – is only an illusion, a mere crush, she spirals downward quickly and we find her drunk and ready to commit suicide. Raymond rescues her and makes her consult a doctor, who in turn sends Eleanor to a psychiatrist.

Though the reader is introduced to weekly Wednesday night calls from Eleanor’s “mummy” from the onset, the complicated relation they share is revealed gradually via the counseling sessions. The childhood trauma she went through, the abuse – both physical and emotional, suffered at the hand of her own mother, inability to fit into foster care and being shuffled from one home to another, her scare of dark and her nightmare, all leading to her remembering the fire which was deliberately set by her mother to get rid of her children and in which her younger sister died, is uncovered.

This book really is a Eleanor’s journey from a lonely, socially unfit person to finding her strength, making friends, discovering emotions and revealing her own personality – which is not influenced by her mother or her voice is what makes it so unique. Eleanor’s very proper and correct English – none of these modern slangs, keeps the book light, till the very end, but it is a very touching, very deep and in its own way a melancholic book. It is also a validation of the fact that it’s almost impossible to understand someone else’s life and hence judgements are only the weapon of feeble-minded.

“These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. a fearful. incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.”

By the way, if at any time, i told my hair dresser ” might next week be suitable for you to effect a change of hairstyle” i think i will be looking for a new one ūüôā

1Q84 – Murakami

“It is not that the meaning cannot be explained. But there are certain meanings that are lost forever the moment they are explained in words.”

What a beautiful, beautiful book – absolutely mesmerising. This 1300 plus pages tome is yet the best by Murakami. The title intrigued me, when i saw it at the airport and synopsis at the back cover was enough to convince me that this is not any ordinary story. It is so enriching a book, so full of imagination, an allegorical tale of two people, two worlds, two thoughts, so intertwined and yet so simple. Magnificent falls short of trying to describe the two moons that are so central to the storyline. Trust me, i am not exaggerating. It is a long long book and yet i am sad, now that i have reached the end.

A lonely boy and a lonely girl of age ten are in the same school. For two years they are in the same grade as well. Their childhoods are different and yet similar, leading the boy to be kind to the girl and the girl to fall in love with the boy. Not much interaction is required and yet girl once finds an opportunity to hold the boy’s hand and convey her deep intense feelings. By the time boy realises that something important has transpired in that short interaction, girl leaves the school and their paths don’t cross for the next twenty years. This story revolves around how the world, or perhaps i should say worlds, makes it possible for them to find each other after twenty years of longing for that simple innocent touch. Some things are destined to be.

Aomame, a professional trainer is also a proficient murderer, though her killing is limited to abusive men who has brutalised women. While on one such murdering assignments, to avoid a traffic jam, she finds herself climbing down rickety stairs from an expressway and finds herself transported from the year 1984 to 1Q84. 1Q84 is a strange world, where illogical is the only way and the sky has two moons. Reader also encounter the boy, Tengo in this world, ghostwriting a fantasy novella “Air Chrysalis” for a seventeen year old girl Fuka-Eri, as encouraged by the editor Komatsu.

The book or the fantasy storyline of the book is the epicentre, so to say, around which the lives of these handful of characters in this book revolves. This award winning, bestseller book “Air Chrysalis” changes the lives of all around it. Initially believed to be a fiction, Tengo over a period of anxious, troubling and intense times comes to understand, is actually real. “Little People” in reality weave air chrysalis from the threads of the air to create an alter ego of a person. The first person whose alter ego or “Dohta” is created is none other than Fuka-Eri herself.

Fuka-Eri while living with her parents on a sort of a commune, of which her father is the Leader, becomes the perceiver who provides a gateway to these Little People. Once her father becomes the receiver – who hears the voices, Fuka-Eri runs away (or becomes the opposing force for the Little People, hence the destroyer as well) at the age of ten and is brought up by her fathers best friend.

Once the book is published and read by people, the voices stop – as explained by the author – it leads to rise in opposing forces against Little People. At the same time, Aomame, via her patron, student and friend – the dowager, is assigned to kill the Leader, for the atrocities committed against young girls.

The Leader is killed, Aomame is in hiding, Fuka-Eri’s role comes to an end and now the commune or the society is hunting for Aomame. This is when a private investigator finds the connection between Tengo and Aomame and decides to stakeout at Tengo’s apartment, in the hope that Aomame will come to meet him. Its almost as if the whole world is working, moving, changing itself to bring Aomame and Tengo together.

In the end Aomame and Tengo do meet each other and manage to climb out of the 1Q94 to 1994 and are finally together.

It is a fantastical book and the writing is so rich that i actually took an unplanned day off work to finish it without putting it down. The characters are deeply mesmerising – their evolution, their struggles, their needs laid out bare to the reader to analyse and feel. These are not complicated people who find themselves in a different world but simple everyday lives, suddenly living through the struggles of a world of Little People, transported to a world where a man having sex with a conduit could make the woman he loves pregnant and yet, they both are absolutely sure in their hearts and mind that it is their child and not some unrealistic phenomenon.

As the author aptly says “if you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation”

I am looking forward to reading this book again!



The Muralist – B.A.Shapiro

B.A.Shapiro weaves her magic again with this heart rendering tale of a painter and a muralist. The combination of holocaust, paintings, past and love alternates between the past and the present, in an engaging tale of a young woman who disappears at the age of 22, never to be heard from again, leaving behind bereft friends, bereaving lover and a family she thought did not survive.

Danielle or Dani, the present and Alizee, the past are both searching for an something which seems so elusive and yet so close. Alizee, a struggling painter, works on Murals as part of Roosevelt Franklin’s program to encourage artists, while looking for a way to extract her family from the ever growing turmoil in Europe during 1939. She is young and impetuous and willing to try any forum, which could help her get visas for her dear ones. Since Alizee lost her parents at a young age, she is all the more determined to hold on to the ones that have been part of her life – her brother, and uncles family.

Dani, in the present is equal part fascinated and intrigued by the two paintings, inherited from her family, which were supposedly painted by a talented painter – her grant aunt Alizee, who disappeared during the war years. Dani comes across some painted blocks, which as per her, might have been painted by her aunt, however, her employer Christie’s would rather prefer belong to Rothko – both for fame and money that connection would hence beget.

After some probing and investigation, Dani starts to uncover some details of Alizee’s unconventional life. Alizee’s story which goes in parallel with Dani’s efforts, is in the stage of chaos – where at one hand she is fighting for a chance to prove as an artist – though her painting style is more contemporary vs traditional, more expressive than formative, and on the other getting involved and impacted by the politics of America taking a stand to remain neutral regarding the ever growing unrest in Europe at the heels of Hitler.

Reader comes across many facets of Alizee’s personality – her loyalty to her friends, her ambition to be a great painter, her determination to get visas for her family and her growing unrest leading to a breakdown, which is hidden, mostly, from everyone around her. People she interacts with see a part of her, but no one sees or knows all about Alizee.

Plot comes to head when Dani visits France and on a trip to Drancy comes across some paintings by a baker named Josephine. These paintings and their similarities to Alizee draws Dani to meet Josepine’s husband. Dani is shown determined to unveil the talent that had remained latent over many decades and yet had been crucial as a bridge to the American Modern Art.

Its interesting, at times mesmerising. Not technical in terms of paintings or techniques as ¬†such, but very thought provoking where some of the human emotions are concerned – how we tend to compartmentalise ourselves, unintentionally. The America’s stand to remain neutral during World War did lead to people being turned back, even though they had managed to escape – the hope that was crushed, the lives that were lost and the help that was denied. Historical facts being mostly correct – though the timing of some of them have been changed to make the story plausible, adds to the pleasure of reading.

The Scarred Woman – Jussi Adler-Olsen (Department Q Series)

Department Q Series has come a long way with this new release from Jussi Adler-Olsen. With every new book in the series, the author manages to astonish his readers with an absolutely creative plot and leave them biting their nails while reading the book. As in all the books in the series, its not so much about the suspense, but of the chase and thrill involved.

In this recent book, Rose, an integral part of Department Q (which her colleagues are just now realising) falls apart, after the hypnosis session they underwent as part of the book (The Hanging Girl). Its stunning, how beautifully, author is able to portray a very normal, average sounding person to be going through such deep depression and able to keep everyone around them absolutely ignorant about their condition.

Rose, eldest of five sisters, has been psychologically bullied throughout her childhood by her father and was a spectator to his brutal death at the steel plant. The book tackles her hidden insecurities, her methods of keeping the demons at bay and how deeply it has and is still impacting her. This book has many threads which are brought together spectacularly towards the end.

Apart from Rose, the story revolves around Anneli, a social service worker and spoilt, untalented and rather vain girls, who are dependent on or mis-using the system for state benefits. When Anneli is diagnosed with breast cancer something breaks lose within her and she turns 360 degree from her normal, good girl persona to a dark side that has always been lurking somewhere. She decides to get rid of these “leeches” as she refers to some of the girls availing unemployment benefits. Being a novice and entirely working with the help of internet information, Anneli succeeds in stealing car and hitting one of the girls. While she is happily contemplating the death of the girl, she is rather disconcerted to learn that the girl survived. Learning from her mistakes, as she went along, Anneli manages to kill two more girls in this hit and run manner.

The girls who are being targeted in the meanwhile are leading their own stories – where they are prostituting themselves to select men (calling them sugar daddies) who are in turn keeping the girls in the lavish lifestyle so desired. In order to make “big money” at once, they commit a robbery at a nightclub, which leads to an altercation with another state support girl, who is also a bully, leading to a murder.

One of the girls from this group, also happens to belong to the family, who is involved in our main plot – the grandfather being ex-nazi, grandmother being a force to reckon with, mother a compulsive alcoholic and father disappeared, Denise is suspected by her own mother of killing her grandmother.

Its quite a complex web of stories, related to one another – you will remain glued to this book, since something new will happen at every page turn. Thrown into the mix is also the police politics and finally a certain degree of camaraderie between the departments handling new cases (A) and old cases (Q) since they all seem to be interlinked. We also see Marcus Jacobson (ex chief) coming out of the woodworks and participate as an external consultant – so hopefully we will see this character more active in the next book.

The ending is very positive – where we have hope for Rose pulling through her physical and mental breakdowns, now that the truth behind her father’s death has been uncovered, maybe she will be able to put it all behind and Carl giving Mona a hug in support.

I think i have a book hangover! Sensational is the word.

The Absent One (US) Disgrace (UK) – Jussi Adler-Olsen (Department Q Series)

This is one of the horrifying and yet gripping book i have come across yet. Horrifying because of the portrayal of human depravity and gripping because once i started reading it, i could not put it down.

This is the second book by Jussi Adler-Olsen in the Department Q series, and as before, the title is different for US and UK release. Carl Morck continues to astound us with his sarcasm “That was the thing about holidays. They came to an end.” With his who-cares persona, he keeps dazzling us with his wit and intuition where solving difficult and cold cases are concerned. Still enjoying his goodwill from the solving of the first case, Carl finds himself deeply involved in the next one, which on the face of it is solved – someone has confessed to the crime and is already serving sentence, initially perplexed as to why this case would end up at his desk, he finds himself intrigued and involved as the clues / gaps keep on adding.

A group of six friends discover a dark side of their nature – which is revealed to them at the height of intoxication – both with alcohol and drugs, they find themselves enjoying brutally assaulting random people / strangers, even killing them. This high gave them a unique and heightened sexual pleasure. Five of them from upper elite class of society, finds that cooperative victims can be easily payed off and uncooperative ones can be killed, hence their brutality, violence and depravity continuing to grow along their lives. Turning point is when the five boys of the gang rape the sixth – who is a girl, Kimmie, She finds herself traumatised and humiliated after the violent episode and her solace is in the pregnancy. Her withdrawal and pregnancy incites the others and physical assault leads to her losing her child and mental breakdown.

The hunter and the prey keeps exchanging as the story progresses, with Carl Morck and his Syrian assistant Assad thrown into the mix. The story concludes with Carl finding physical evidence of the murders and himself at the mercy of these monsters. Kimmie arrives on time for her revenge, kills the bad guys and saves the police (who has shown her understanding) and then she commits suicide, as her mission in life is achieved.

Assad and Carl provide the much required humour and a sense of sanity. Manipulation of Carl into letting his boss pursue the case – inspite of orders to the contrary from so called senior management, and argument that the case is actually already solved and is not cold to be re-opened, is so surreal, its almost a training on “how to manipulate your boss” in any scenario.

The details of the assaults, the trauma of the victims, the reasons, the method, the pleasure from these attacks and killings, escalation to the point of madness and ultimate fall from the sky is riveting. Does money allows people to trade their humanity? Its a compelling book with captivating characters and a spellbinding plot.

“They earned millions, but it was the killing that made them feel alive.”

Keeper of Lost Causes (US) Mercy (UK) – Jussi Adler-Olsen (Department Q Series)

A new book by Jussi Adler-Olsen in the Department Q Series has been released as recent as yesterday (19 Sep 2017). Though i am eager to get to the new book, i decided to re-read the series and write the reviews along the way. I do enjoy reading Detective series and this one i simply love.

Carl Morck has been on the police force for twenty five years, out of which ten have been with the homicide division. On his last case, one of his team member was shot and another has been reduced to permanent state of paralysis. Carl holds himself responsible, since he escaped unscathed and he feels he didn’t react quickly enough. He is a broken man who is making life for those around him in the police department miserable and his boss is trying to find a corner for him to hide in.

As a political move, Department Q is formed to resolve cold cases of importance and Marc Jacobson, Carl’s boss, takes this opportunity to hide Carl in the basement as the head of department Q, along with an assistant cum cleaner.

Carl’s first case is the disappearance or potential death / suicide by drowning of Merete Lynggaard, one of the female ministers. Though Carl starts going through the case files and details slowly and reluctantly, mostly pushed by his assistant – who seems to be a mystery in himself, he finds himself with a lot of gaps in the information amassed by the police team that had initially worked on the case. These gaps lead to new information, which is both intriguing and mysterious to Carl, who is now trying to put the pieces together.

The whole plot revolves around an accident that took place when Merete was sixteen and her brother thirteen. While out on a drive with their parents, the playful fighting of the brother and sister caused their father to lose control of the vehicle and led to an accident with another car. It caused the destruction of two families – Merete lost her parents and her brother, Uffe, became permanently mentally handicapped ¬†and entirely dependant on her. The other car lost the father, left mother in a wheel chair, one of the twins that were given birth to at the site of accident survived but with massive burns, and the son of Merete’s age was the only one left unhurt.

The reader, alternatively is kept informed of the fact that the same minister is being kept alive in sub-human conditions and being psychologically tortured. Its now the race to bringing two pieces together and whether the outcome will be death or survival.

In my opinion, this is a very captivating book and keeps you glued – though its not truly a suspense, as you already know that the victim is not dead. Its irreverent and impertinent at times and very dark at others.

“For them she was the woman in the cage, but she was the one who decided how far apart the bard would be.”

“Carl sent a message from his brain to his hands that it was still illegal to strangle people”

I have no idea why the series was published with different names in US and UK – though, it did make me buy duplicate copies (which i did not appreciate), hence, i have listed both names in the title so that i can save other buyers some money. Follow the series with me – it really is a good read.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story – Liane Moriarty

Have you ever loved someone intensely, passionately, crazily? Has it made you go manic when they broke up with you? Did you or attempt to or thought about stalking them? For some reason, i find this book hugely entertaining, maybe it brings out all the repressed feelings on the surface.

This story is about a Hypnotherapist Ellen, who is on her fifth date with a surveyor Patrick, when he tells her that he has a stalker – that is what piqued my interest, we have heard and read about male stalkers, but seems like women are not too far behind as well. Its funny to note that this Hypnotist for a while is more interested in the stalker and the stalker’s feelings and motives rather than the impact on her boyfriend. Ellen and Patrick fall in love and as Patrick said, the stalker – Saskia, comes as part of the package.

Saskia, the stalker, had a three year relationship with Patrick (while he was grieving over the untimely death of his wife due to cancer) and his baby boy, Jack. Saskia fell in love with Patrick and Jack to the extent of alienating herself from any other life or relationships or friends around her – this please note is quite common phenomenon. When Patrick bounced out of his grief cycle, he broke up with Saskia – which was a month after her only living relative, her mother, had passed away.

So in a span of a month, Saskia loses not only her mother but her family as well. The book is about the escalating craziness of the stalker and hypnotist’s angst to either understand the motive behind this stalking or attempt to live her life around this stalker. When Ellen actually realises the extent of impact on Patrick of this stalking – anxiety, panic, she feels guilty (as a reader, so did i) about not trying to look at things from the perspective of the person being stalked – endless messages, letter, emails, break in’s and tailing in the car, etc.

I enjoyed reading about the Hypnotherapy sessions as well – not sure if i want to try it yet, but it sounded interesting. The ultimate act of stalker is when the happy couple find her in their bedroom and in the whole commotion of shouting and pushing, both the stalker and Jack (8 years old) fall down the stairs. Stalker finally hits rock bottom and closes the door on this chapter of her life and the Hypnotist goes on to realise her love story.

Its a romantic (i would call it comedy) book, as the title suggests, interesting and engaging. It did make me think if internet stalking (as is more prevalent these days) is as harmful as the physical and mental and emotional stalking i came across in this book? The internet stalker though silent is still invading someone’s privacy – right?

Understudy – David Nicholls

“Yes, actors could be vain and pretentious, precious and pompous, sentimental and shallow, affected and lazy and arrogant, but it needn’t be that way, need it?

David Nicholls, the author of “Us”, have outdone himself in this book “Understudy” Its funny and yet sarcastic, light and yet melancholic and very entertaining. Human emotions have been portrayed as they are – very realistic – the empathy, the envy, the dark emotions and desperation of hanging on to the dreams.

Stephen McQueen (with a P and H) is a struggling actor, with 6 roles as dead body under his belt. What i found almost endearing is his “Nearly CV” – the CV that he had wished for and had almost materialised, if some of those situations had been different. He is a socially awkward, average looking and an under-confident actor, who dreams of being a star – not for the fame, “a nod of fame” would do for him, but for the acting itself, which he believes he is really good at.

Stephen is divorced, still in love with his ex-wife and has a huge need to impress his only child – Sophie. He is currently working as an understudy to a famous actor Josh Harper in a play based on Byron, yes, the poet. The emotions of Stephen when Josh is late, or not, as described are so surreal to any person in that position. Though he only wishes Josh to have an accident, making him unavailable for a short duration and giving Stephen his big chance – the emotion doesn’t get dark enough to wish for death.

Josh impulsively, invites Steve over to his place for a party. Steve, after spending the entire day visualising himself to be the centre of attention at the party, is disappointed and humiliated to discover that he was invited as a waiter and not a guest. Steve meets Josh’s wife Nora, who herself is an ex-waitress and almost falls in love with her at the first glance – almost.

In this book, we read about the world as perceived by Stephen, his daily trials and tribulations, his dreams and desires and his loneliness. Stephen, albeit reluctantly, strikes a deal with Josh to not say anything about his chance encounter on Josh’s indiscretion with a fellow female colleague at the play to Nora, in exchange for a chance to actually perform in the play for a couple of days. Stephen – either in his innocence or by the virtue of his need to justify and stay true to Nora, who he considers a friend, chooses to believe that Josh will change and such episode will not reoccur.

When Josh tells Stephen that he is expected to cover for another such encounter – as part of the deal, Stephen sells Josh out to a tabloid. Nora is hurt and takes refuge with Stephen. At the end of the book, we find Stephen fired from the play after his one and only performance for an audience of eleven people, including his ex-wife and daughter, and finally reconciled to the fact that he is done with acting and its time to find something else. Nora decides to accompany Stephen on his mad plan to spend a few days in Paris, though the future is yet to be determined.

I liked this book – it was interesting, fast and funny at times. The characters very relatable and emotions very realistic. Overall, a good read for a Sunday afternoon.

the Rescue Artist – Edward Dolnick

After reading “The Art Forger” by B.A.Shapiro, i realised, i wasn’t done with reading about art and art-crime yet. This book by Edward Dolnick, revolving around a particular theft of “the scream” by Edward Munch in Norway, goes on to discuss and summarise many other art thefts around the world and details about the Art Squad – their success and failures. Its funny at times, sarcastic a lot and really mind-boggling when you read about how art in the recent years has gained importance as an investment and hence, attracted the interest of not only investors but also the criminals.

“If the Russborough House thefts have a moral, it is that the lure of big money is only one of the reasons that thieves steam big-time art. But some of the other reasons – the notoriety, the thrill, the thieves urge to flaunt their contempt for the patrons and collectors of art – would ever come into play if great paintings did not command stunning ¬†prices”

The painters from 1600-1800 era or even later, some of them severely criticised and a lot of them poor and obscure, today command hundreds of millions of dollars for their creation, which at one point was sold in exchange for favours or as little as “sailor’s pay.” What is it that attracts today’s world so pointedly towards these old masters – as the author goes on to describe, its the limited supply, the uniqueness, the pride of owning something no one else can have and much more. As the book describes in an analogy – imagine if there was only one book available for each title – such a world is unimaginable to me, as that would mean owning or even reading a book would become an enterprise only for the mega rich.

The Norwegian theft of “the scream” as described is hilarious to the point of silly. Two thieves placed a ladder from a nearby construction site near the museum, in the later part of the day, to use during the night. Since the Edward Munch collection had been brought from third floor to second floor for an exhibition, made the crime utterly simple. The thief claimed up the ladder, broke the window with a hammer, climbed in and grabbed the painting and were on their way within 50 seconds. While the crime was in progress, the night guard, who could have seen the activity on the monitor, was busy with the paperwork.

The book is truly about Charley Hill – a legend from the London Art Squad, who after a few successes was able to get involved and help the Norwegians in tracking the painting and its return to the museum. Book goes on to describe prior cases resolved by Hill and his approach to the art crime, his role plays and mannerisms, his understanding of the crime world and criminals that led to many a success stories. What baffles is the punishment doled out to these art criminals when they are caught – nowhere in the book i read, anyone getting more than a four year sentence for stealing something which might sell for more than 50 million dollars in the open market.

What is interesting to note is that same paintings were stolen from Rossborough house many times, over and over again. Though the security was beefed up each time a theft took place, the thieves took it as a personal challenge to get to the paintings and do away with them. The intent was never to sell them – since its not very easy to sell stolen art, it was more pride in the fact, that it could be done. “If somebody’s going to show you something and tell you its worth millions, well, then, you’re going to take it.”

Art and art theft in the real world is not as glamorous as projected by Hollywood – there is no James Bond or Dr No. At the end of the book we find Charley Hill set up as a private detective still chasing art and art thieves and we discover that “the scream” had been stolen, yet again in 2004, though was discovered two years later (as per wikipedia).

The Art Forger – B.A.Shapiro

“A painting is above all a product of the artist’s imagination; it must never be a copy” Edgar Degas

The quote sounds most appropriate for opening the review, as the book is. Paintings, Edgar Degas, forgery, Gardner Heist and romance – what can be better than this book, to spend a Sunday with! This is one of my favourite books and i enjoyed reading it yet again today.

Claire Roth – the great pretender, is an astonishingly brilliant artist with a penchant for finding trouble. First, its Issac, her teacher, mentor and married boyfriend, who when facing an artist blocks, allows a painting in 4D dimension painted by Claire to be put forward in a ¬†competition signed under his name. When the painting becomes an instant hit, he breaks up with Claire since he finds himself in need to put a distance from the true artist behind his fame. Claire, in a fit of peeve, follows her heart and tries to tell the truth, causing museums, art society and newspapers to question the provenance of the painting and Issac to commit suicide. “And in contradiction to conventional wisdom, i was fast discovering that there was, indeed, such a things as bad publicity”

Picking up pieces and shunned by the art society in Boston, Claire is approached by Aidan Markel, who wants her to forge a Degas. This part of the book where Claire loses herself in Degas’s painting is a joy to read. “His use of dark and light values to create texture, depth, and shadow. How he seizes an unselfconscious moment of everyday life, like the mother and wet nurse in Races pressed together as they proudly gaze at the infant, then sends it galloping away.” While painting the forgery, Claire also establishes that the painting which Aidan considers to be an original stolen during the famous Gardner heist, is actually not an original Degas after all.

Post forgery detection, which puts Aidan in jail, forces Claire to find the original (not all thirteen paintings stolen during heist) and links her name to yet another notoriety. At conclusion, the reader finally finds the gratification of seeing Claire recognised for her talent associated with her own original paintings and not yet another copy. “But, just desserts, it’s impossible to know if this newfound fortune is due to my talent or to my infamy in a world of instant celebrity. Whether i’m a great artist or just a great forger.”

The book runs in three main parallel themes – Claire’s past, her present and Isabella Gardener’s letters to her niece detailing her affair with Degas and acquisition of the painting in question – “After the bath.” Its hard not to feel bad for Claire who seems to draw a short end of the stick at every turn. She lost one man to death, who couldn’t stand the thought of her being a better painter than him and another one to FBI.

The techniques detailed in the book of original painters and the forgers is quite interesting – reading about creating a copy of more than 100 year old paintings within a span of few days was absolutely fascinating. Author has kept the book details interesting and light, thus allowing the reader to drive pleasure from the same, without getting bored or overwhelmed with it all. Authors ingenuity in taking a painting out of the world famous heist and weaving a spellbinding story around it is commendable.

The Muralist, also by B.A.Shapiro is next on my reading list. Looking forward to it!

Judas – Amos Oz

I discovered this author and book on my trip to Israel. Instead of buying souvenir from my travels, i like to collect books to remember the places. It is one of my better finds.

Judas, as the name suggests, is not a religious book, but it does delve into the question of whether Judas was a traitor or the first Christian to truly believe in Jesus as God. If you have strong religious beliefs, then this book is not for you – since it explores religion, Israel and Arab conflict, settlement of Israel state and a nation, and keeping an open mind is the key to truly enjoying this book.

Shmuel, a university student is writing his Master’s thesis on ‘Jewish Views of Judas’, when his girlfriend left him to marry her ex-boy friend, stating that Shmuel was immature and suffering from extreme mood swings between euphoria and melancholy. Shmuel is a loner and with short attention span, especially when he is not the one talking or lecturing. Shmuel spends the day of his girlfriends wedding in emergency ward getting treated for a severe Asthma attack.

Shmuel decides to leave his thesis and Jerusalem and start afresh, when his parents are declared bankrupt and are no longer able to support him and his education. While putting up a notice for sale of his personal effects, he notices another requirement for a young man required as a companion to an elderly, providing both board and a minimal salary. Thus, our protagonist, decides to take up this offer – one who gets bored after 3-4 sentences of hearing someone else talk, takes up a job of listening.

During his stay in the house at Rabbi Elbaz Lane, he comes across Wald and his daughter in law Atalia, who he immediately is fascinated with. During his 5-6 hours of work in the evenings, Wald and Shmuel discuss broad range of topics – including formation of Israel and role of Judas, as a traitor or not. Shmuel stays at this job for three months and discovers the entanglements of the life of occupants, falls intensely in love with Atalia and starts to feel at home. At the end, we find Shmuel standing on a dusty road, wondering where he should go? what he should do?

Though, a simple sounding book, the more interesting parts are the conversations that take place every evening. Very ingeniously parallels are drawn on what a traitor is Рsomeone who led God to crucifixion on the strength of his belief and commits suicide when that faith fails him or someone who considers the formation of Israel by antagonising the Arabs in the region as setting up of a time bomb, which would ultimately lead to destruction? Who is right РJews who have known no home except Jerusalem since time immemorial or Arabs who were thrown out  and displaced from their own homes to provide space for these persecuted jews, who migrated to Jerusalem from all over the world? Could there have been a more peaceful solution possible, leading to amicable coexistence of the two communities?

“Judaism and Christianity, and Islam too, all drip honeyed words of love and mercy, so long as they do not have access to handcuffs, grilles, dominion, torture chambers and gallows.”

Its a book to savour and to re-read pages / paragraphs, where the characters evolve gradually and stay with you long after you have finished reading. Whenever you will read about Israel conflict elsewhere, some of the lines from this book will come back to you.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

What a delightful book to read on a Saturday afternoon. This simple and elegant book is a long listed on booker and is a debut novel of Rachel Joyce. “The superhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday.” ¬†This normal, regular, touching, moving and extraordinary tale of Harold Fry will make you sit back and think or even better, do something spontaneous.

Harold Fry, six months post retirement receives a letter from a long lost colleague, who at some point was a friend and a confidant, that she is in the last stages of cancer and wanted to say good bye. Harold, going through difficult time of his own, with his life falling apart, tells his wife that he is going to go and post a letter to “Queenie” (colleague). Something breaks lose in Harold on his way to the post office and inspired by a girl behind a snack bar, he starts a journey with a belief that if he keeps walking towards Queenie, his faith will ¬†keep her alive.

This book is his journey of initial 500 miles, which ultimately turns out to be 600 miles plus, with all the detours and wrong turns. He is an old man without proper shoes, maps or any other paraphernalia, out on a mission to save someone. As Harold continues along, he discovers how unfit he is physically, he comes across people who show him kindness and some of their belief boosts his determination. You come across him sending post cards to his wife, to Queenie and to the girl at the snack bar. Once he overcomes his physical challenges and his body becomes attuned to his sudden strenuous regime, you as a reader will be able to feel the strength of his resolve.

At some point, reality catches up with Harold, when he suddenly finds himself popular, thanks to social-media and seems to have acquired a band wagon of followers. The book depicts the social degeneration via these followers diluting or seeming to take over Harold’s mission for fame and self satisfaction (urge to lead in some people is too strong, for them to really be followers). Harold is kind to the people but nothing deters him from his path – after all, no one else has lived his life, and cannot understand the meaning of this journey to him.

During this long arduous walk, Harold discovers himself by reminiscing his past – his estranged mother – who did not want to be a mother, his father – who turned him out at sixteen into the world, his wife – who wanted to be the world to him and judged Harold on his inability to be a good father, and his son – who Harold loves very much, but finds himself unable to express as much. Harold finds himself thinking about the past interactions with Queenie and what she did for him and how Harold let her go without even a thanks.

This is a book of self discovery and belief and spontaneity. It makes you think about the relationships you’ve let go or hurt you have harboured deep inside, without any outlet. “There were times, he saw, when not knowing was the biggest truth, and you had to stay with that.” Its heartbreaking to discover that Harold looked for his son, who had committed suicide, in every young man who was lost that he came across.


Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien

Tomorrow begins from another dawn, when we will be fast asleep.

Remember what i say; not everything will pass.

China and its history, though fascinating and brutal, has also been a dangerous one to tell. In this book, author has combined music, mathematics and family to describe and define the revolution, that seems to rock China’s every generation – basic premise of each revolution remains the same – the deaths, suicides, repercussions, brutality, denunciations; only the format changes from red army going door to door to find the bourgeoisie and sending people for re-education to demonstrations in Tiananmen square and the world condemned massacre. “Everyone said that the foreign newspapers were reporting a massacre in Tiananmen Square, but she had been in the Square. She has seen the students walk away. Didn’t they know the tanks had come from the outside? Didn’t they know about the parents, the workers, the children who had died?”

Marie or Li-Ling in Canada, is ten years old, when her father, who had left them a few years ago, commits suicide, in HongKong. Marie and her mother are provided a sudden reprieve in form of Ai-Ming, who arrives from China, a fugitive. Ai-Ming is instrumental in bringing the history and life of Kai (Marie’s father) along with her. Though, Ai-Ming leaves for America within a few months, the two girls are bonded, by the shared history of their fathers.

Marie, in her mid-thirties starts on the quest to find Ai-Ming, who seems to have disappeared. The main search, though unfulfilled till the end of the book, takes the main protagonist to places, to people who have come across her father and her bonded friend / sister. The book is not about the search nor is it investigative, it is a narrative of three generations who have lived through different formats of cultural revolution in China – some survived and some didn’t. It is a story of the impact, of the lives taken and lost, of words and opinions that never got voiced and of abandoned dreams.

Language is rich (and musical) and characters deep and, in a way satisfying – neither perfect nor hateful. This magnificent insight into China’s civil war will make you sit back and think – things we take for granted – small freedoms, small happiness – which would mean the world to someone else somewhere else.

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

I bought this book at the airport and the reviews sounded encouraging. For me, this turned out to be an average book with average story, easy read in the airplane.

Ove is 59 years old, who lost his wife 6 months ago. The day post his “early retirement”, which he is forced into by the managers at his work place, he decides to commit suicide. Everyday, while he is planning for it to be his last day, life keeps interrupting his plans and the decision keeps moving forward by a day. Once he goes so far as to drill a hook in the ceiling and put the noose around his neck, only to have the rope break.

He lost his mother at a young age and father, when he was sixteen. Ove is a solitary person by nature, who loves his wife. “People said Ove saw the world in black and white. but she was colour. All the colour he had.” This story is Ove’s tale of being rescued from solitary existence and untimely death by the neighbours around him. Beneath his hard exterior and gruff manner, there is a gentle kind soul, who would not let people suffer – and would justify it to himself by thinking, that is what his wife would have wanted.

Writing is contemporary, with some humorous segments. I found the book over emotional. I enjoyed reading about Ove – his “nerdy” personality, his inflexibility, his intensity. After initial period of struggle, when Ove finally seemed to be happy with his wife (around half way down the book), it seemed all to go downhill and i started losing interest. It just starts sounding too “movie like” when suddenly everyone around him starts to treat him like a hero and forgets about his rudeness and completely ignores his need for privacy. It is a predictable plot and a fair enough airport read.

The Eight – Katherine Neville

570 pages of pure ambrosia for those who enjoy a good Historical Fiction. Combination of History and chess has been turned into  a scintillating thriller, full of historical characters, transporting readers across the world from America to Europe to Africa, all on a quest regarding Montglane Chess Service, which lies at the very centre of this ingenious plot. In my personal opinion, i would consider this a contemporary version of Alice in Wonderland, with the plot set within the real history of the world.

From within, the forms radiate their magic rules

Homeric castle, nimble knight,

Armoured queen, backward king,

Oblique bishop, and aggressive pawns

Story begins in 1790 at Montglane Abbey in France with two novices – Mireille and Valentine, who are tasked with a special mission by the Abbess and sent forth to Paris. “The Montglane Service” the legendary chess set gifted to Charlemagne by Ibn Al Arabi, governor of Barcelona, in reality came from the Moors and is covered in mystic and black magic. Abbess exhumes the pieces of this chess set, along with the board and the cloth covering the same and attempts to scatter all of them far and wide. This chess set had been buried beneath the Abbey for thousand years with a curse.

Cursed is He who bring these walls to Earth

The King is checked by the Hand of God alone.

While Mirelle and Valentine are swarmed by the French Revolution and trying to collect and keep safe the pieces, the story moves into the present i,e, 1972. Catherine Vellis, a computer expert, hired by a CPA firm is being shipped off to Algeria after a confrontation and minor rebellion against one of the corrupt partners at the firm.

As the author says, “in the game of life the pawns are teh should of chess. and even a lowly pawn can change its dress.”, the reader goes through the journey with Cat – who transforms from a pawn to the Black Queen with fortune teller, chess players, computer genius, murders and mayhem and secret police along the way.

The stories of Mirelle and Cat go hand in hand, both astounded to find themselves in the middle of this dangerous game, first in denial and then seeking to take control, change the course of things.

Its a fast paced story, keeping the reader glued to the pages for more. Dry humour keeps the book from becoming a history tome ” This nation of shoemakers has reversed the very order of nature.” The mathematical and scientific details have been simplified, making them easy to understand and of course, living through the course of history – the French terror, Napoleons rise and defeat and coming across famous poets and mathematicians and musicians keeps things intriguing.

The consolidation of all stories together, towards an epic ending is predictable. What else, but the very “elixir” lies at the heart of this mythical chess service. Question is who will be able to resist the temptation enough to actually destroy the whole set?

“you mean a real chess game? with people as the pieces?”