Sold on a Monday – Kristina McMorris

“Two children on a porch were being offered for sale. Like cattle at market.”

Looking for my weekend read, i came across this book on kindle. Title of the book, i might have browsed past, but the cover page tugged at my heart – with a small little boy sitting with a small suitcase at his feet, waiting to be sold.

“It started with a picture.” Ellis a journalist at a local newspaper took a picture of two boys next to a placard, offering them for sale, had no idea how his life would change.

The picture brought to attention by a secretary at the newspaper, earning Ellis a chance to write a meaningful article, is lost to a mishap. “Sold on Monday” could also mean, the Monday when Ellis sold out on his conscience by recreating a similar pic, with different children to advance his career.

“Sometimes he wondered what else he’d sold on that Monday. His principles? His integrity?”

Article generated wide interest amongst the media houses and apart from generating gifts and offers to support the family, also enabled job opportunities for Ellis with higher pay. At a national newspaper, Ellis uses some unsavory means – like befriending a mafia cult to gather information about other criminals and politicians to stay in the game.

However, the book is the story of the two children who posed for Ellis’s make-believe picture, who ultimately ended up being sold directly as a result of interest generated by his picture. Ellis in his quest to sooth his conscience decides to follow-up on the family and ensure that all is well and children are happy.

This book is Ellis’s quest to find the children, discover the depravity of human souls, unravel the emotions and struggle of a mother who gave away her children and people who adopt  or rather buy children, only to keep them chained and use them as farm hands at the youngest possible age. It is the story of a journalist who could have gone to seed but lived up to the values inculcated in him by the virtue of his upbringing.

This book, as any that deals with child abuse is hard on the emotions of a reader. Characters are fairly complex, and well evolved over the book. There is no saint for sure – a journalist who fabricated the picture to give gravitas to his article, is also the one to put his career on hold and rescue the children from grave danger; a secretary and a single mother striving for a better career and a better life for her son, is also the one who prioritizes these victimized children as a result of mis-guided guilt; a rich banker with a psychotic wife, suffering in silence the loss of his only child, is also the one to go buy a daughter for his wife and place the boy in a orphangae for convenience; a mother who when diagnosed with a life threatening disease, takes the drastic step of selling her own children and suffers in silence, when the diagnoses if proven false, believing in her heart that her children are better off with those who are able to provide and care for them.

“Adults, we’re all so busy griping about our tough breaks, and kids like them, their lives change in a split second and you hardly hear a peep. Not about the big things anyway.”

Author has shared the picture that inspired this book. Four children sitting on the front steps, with a woman behind hiding her face. Authors question of “why take money for children” if all parents want is to find a better home for them and how the thought of separating siblings does not even cross the minds of adults will make your head hurt. The question we ask is – What would drive parents to sell their own kids? But an equally important question is – what makes other people buy kids and take them away from their families? Why is it not a crime?

“Photography is the art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

“Mr. Tibbs is the reason everything happened, Tony. If it hadn’t been for him, Mrs Cowper might never have been killed. And nor would her son.”

This line pretty much describes the entire mystery in the book and trust me, even if i tell you that Mr. Tibbs is a cat, you still wouldn’t have a clue until the very end. That my dear fellow readers, is the beauty of Anthony Horowitz’s writing. Just as an aside, if i could, i would steal all his ideas. I love the innovative plots in his books – either he is an editor for a mystery book, thus setting a plot in a plot, or like in this one he is the writer following a detective around trying to weave a book around the real world.

“Diana Cowper had planned her funeral and she was going to need it. She was murdered six hours later that same day.”

With these opening lines, the author had me hooked – I don’t know anyone who would arrange their own funeral details, so this bit intrigued me – a lot – what kind of people do that?!? OCDs, lonely or crazy? Hawthorne, consultant detective on the case reaches out to an author, asking him to write a book about the actual murder investigation. Poor book author, who has only ever written or solved fictional murders, finds himself in the middle of an extremely frustrating and dangerous murder plot.

Abrasive detective and puzzled or rather intrigued author make an incredibly  entertaining duo. Author trying his amateur hand at investigation leaving the detective bristling and annoyed provides the reader with funny banter. There are many leads , as expected, towards the potential murderer along with a rather jealous police office to deal with. Imagine this – our dear author who is also a script writer is in a meeting with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg (oh! how i would have loved to be proverbial fly on the wall in this fictional meeting) and the sleuth, cool as cucumber walks in, not only to interrupt them, but to remind the author that the funeral is more important than his meeting Hah!

Plot thickens as an old accident comes to light. Diana Cowper had run down two little boys by her car, because she forgot her glasses at the golf club and was let go with a slap on the wrist. Parents lost one boy and were left to deal with the second one, alive but with damaged brain. Talk about motive – this one seemed pretty solid to me, almost until the end. Then there is the daughter in law, with only nice things to say in every conversation, but even a blind person could see her struggling against a controlling mother in law and a selfish husband.

Like any other well written whodunnit, the most innocuous seeming character is the psychopath and mastermind behind the murders – oh yes! Diana Cowper is soon followed by her son into the heavenly abode. The reason is as crazy as you can expect – won’t tell you, so as not to spoil the surprise! There are moments of dark humour in the book, that are simply outstanding. All in all, an excellent book to carry with you to the beach. Kudos Anthony Horowitz and keep them coming.

On Love – Alain De Botton

“However happy we may be with our partner, our love for them necessarily hinders us from pursuing alternatives. But why should this constrain us if we love them? Why should we feel this as a loss unless our love for them has already begun to wane? Because in resolving our need to love, we do not always succeed in resolving our need to long.”

This book was recommended to me by a friend and made for quite an interesting read on a rainy afternoon. Being a female, i am quite experienced in the feelings that i feel from the inception of a crush, to the turning of it into an affair, to love and then the anti-climax of a break up and stages involved in getting over it. The accompanied emotions with every change is intrinsic to my being. However, even though i may have questioned how a man thinks during these stages, i have never been able to “figure out”. Well, here it is – written by a man, albeit a more evolved one, the feelings from a male perspective during the trajectory of a love affair – end to end. How can it not be a great and educational read.

Man and woman met on a plane and by the time luggage arrives, man had fallen in love. Since the narrative is from man’s perspective, reader may for the time being assume one-sided anxiety at the beginning of this affair. As we accompany the male into the depth of these affairs, we discover that though the direction of thinking might be different, men and women essentially do think through all their actions and put themselves out at their best at the beginning. There are lies involved and agreement to liking or enjoying things they have no idea about.

Then comes the routine when the novelty of a new intimacy gradually subsides. “what is an experience? something that breaks a polite routine and for a brief period allowed us to witness things with teh heightened sensitivity afforded to us by novelty, danger, or beauty – and its not he basis of shared experiences that intimacy is given an opportunity to grow” When all the questions have been answered, pasts shared and jokes laughed at – what is needed to keep up the interest, the excitement.

This is when the habits which are annoying surface, small tiff’s start surfacing and arguments followed by feeling of discontentment and question about – “is this the one i was looking my whole life?” start arising. What is too much information? what opinions are best kept to self? Is it ok to say i hate the shoes or provide honest opinion when sought? It is especially thought provoking when the author finds himself hiding in a bookstore to avoid an encounter with an ex-girlfriend? “There is something appalling in the idea that a person for whom you would sacrifice anything today might in a few months cause you to cross a road or a bookshop to avoid.”

Wheel of time turns – what went up, has to come down. Now the reader is mentally prepared to see the affair come to an end, as the communication breaks down and the distance starts to creep in. One partner is detached and the other partner is holding on tight to something which is already fleeting. This part of the book is so extremely surreal that it was shocking. Some of the behaviour author described as “love terrorist” are so relatable – they will make the reader examine some of their past affairs and in detail – you will find yourself asking – did i behave like this? and the answer would be resounding ‘yes’ to your horror.

Woman falls in love with the best friend and dumps the man. Now our narrator goes through the denial, hope, anger, melancholy and thoughts of revenge. “It is as if the end of love is already contained in its beginning, the ingredients of love’s collapse eerily foreshadowed by those of its creation” Its heartening to see the man walking towards another woman to fall in love at the end – reassuring, that there is something to move on to.

“Love taught the analytic mind a certain humility, the lesson that however hard it struggled to reach immobile certainties (numbering its conclusions and embedding them in neat series), analysis could never be anything but flawed – and therefore never stray far from the ironic”

Language is absolutely enticing. Drama is a bit exaggerated, especially since from male perspective – but then i am no authority on male sentiments – so who knows!

The Angels Die – Yasmina Khadra

“Dreams are a poor man’s guardian, and its destruction. They take us by the hand, walk us through a thousand promises, then leave us whenever they want. Dreams are clever; dreams understand psychology; they accept our feelings just as we take an inveterate liar at his word, but when we entrust our hearts and minds to them, they give us the slip just when things are going badly, and we find ourselves with a void in our head and a hole in our chest – all we have left is eyes to weep.”

Mohammed Moulessehoul is an Algerian author, who took his wife’s name as his pseudonym to avoid military censorship on his books. His books are set in the very volatile middle east but are stories of love and friendship and relationship amidst the conflict and the chaos – which is what gives them colour and a unique character. He will let the religious and political turmoil active at peripheral level, which his characters are aware of, impacted by but it’s about their lives inspite of. In this book, we encounter the east and west conflict as a way of life in Algeria.

The Angels Die is set in a port city of Oran, in Algeria and is a story of life, of love, of regrets and honour. Turambo, our protagonist is ready for the guillotine and awaiting his execution, when his whole life of 27 years flashes before his eyes. This is his story, story of his poverty-stricken childhood, his disillusions, his desires, success that comes his way and how it goes away soon enough. Turambo, whose real name is Amayas (which we won’t know until the later part of the book) belongs to a devout Muslim family, who is struggling to make ends meet. In his young life, he has seen his war veteran father abandon his family, his mother working to make ends meet, he has learned all sorts of work to bring some money home at the end of the day.

“Luck is like youth. Everyone has his share. Some grab it on the wing, others let it slip through their fingers, and others are still waiting for it when its long past….what did i do with mine?

The story takes a more interesting turn once he reaches the city of Oran with his family. Here Turambo’s luck turns in his favour after the initial struggles. He is discovered and taken over as a boxing protegé by a Gym owner. Hard work and sheer determination paves his way to success and we see him going on to become the North African champion. This is a story of a boy, who inspite of the money and the fame thrown his way, is looking for love. Its his need to be loved that ultimately leads to the change in his circumstances. He has just announced his intention to give up boxing, so that he could marry the woman he loved – because she refused to marry a boxer. Turambo’s decision is not taken well by his sponsor and his manager, who are dependent on him for their earnings. When he discovers that Irene has been murdered, he goes mental and finds himself in police custody accused of a murder he does not remember committing.

In the end we find that luck did a number on him, saving him from execution but rendering him in a vegetable state – thus leading to change in his sentence to life imprisonment. He recovers but is never the same. When he comes out at the age of fifty-two, the world has changed and he finds himself leading a meaningless, aimless life.

“Let no one talk of miracles; what’s a miracle in a hospital room with no light? I’ve drawn a line under my joys and made peace with my sorrows; I’m good and ready. When memory weighs on the present, replacing the daylight being born at our window every morning, it must mean that the clock has decided that our time has come. We learn then to close our eyes on the few reflexes we still have and be alone with ourselves; in other words, with someone who becomes elusive to us as we accustom ourselves to his silences, then to his distances, until the big sleep takes us away from the chaos of all things.”

It’s a very beautiful book. Swallows of Kabul, though still remains my favourite till date.

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 🙂

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 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?

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 – someone 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 – Jews 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.

I Saw Her That Night – Drago Jancar

Written by one of the most well known Slovenian author, Drago Jancar and translated by Michael Biggins, this book “I saw her that night” is set during the turbulent period in Slovenian history.

Veronika – or rather where is Veronika is the question? The writing is ingenious, since the book is not in first person but the character is built based on other people’s memories and perceptions. The reader finds that each persons account adds a bit more colour to who Veronika is.

As Veronika’s lover, a cavalry man and a horse riding instructor remembers when he fell in love with a married woman and who, unpredictably, decides to elope with him when he is reassigned. After a brief period of time and another reassignment later, Stevan finds the aura of the new affair fading away and cold distance creeping between them. A part of it can be assigned to Veronika’s mothers visits, where she brings news of the cuckolded husband – who has bought a manor.

Reader then finds the mother berating herself for making Veronika go back to her husband and regretting. This is when we stumble upon the knowledge that one night Veronika and her husband Leo left with some people and have not been seen again. Mother spends her time glued to the window waiting for them to show up.

Then story moves to a German doctor, who has just received a letter requesting for information about Veronika’s whereabouts. In his recollections, we see Veronika as kind, social, empathatic person, who befriends people irrespective of their politics, which is of no interest to her. German doctor burns the missive, since the very thought that something might have befallen his friends, due to their association with him, is enough to cause him chest pain. He is fairly certain that Veronika and her husband had been taken away by Slovenian rebels “Partisans” and are no longer alive.

Jozi, who works in the house, then remembers the fateful night when the event took place – the chaos, the fear, the mayhem. The life has gone on for some and some others are still missing.

Fifth narrator is the key in bringing the story together, for he is the one, who in his ignorance and jealousy, betrayed those who were kind to him and led them to their brutal death at the hands of their own countrymen.

This book is not so much about the story or the war crime, but more about the language, the character building and the way author step by step reveals Veronika to the readers. The story does not take us right into the heart of the war but remains on the fringes, where people are trying to stay alive, live a life as best as they can. They are willing to put their faith in the illusion that they will come out of the war alright.





The History of Love – Nicole Krauss

Extraordinarily Devastating!
An author who can create a character so invisible (and yet visible), so forgettable and yet evocative, so ordinary and yet remarkable is an artist, no a celebrated, distinguished artist in my humble opinion.

Leo(pold) Gursky from Poland has only ever loved one woman in his life – Alma Merminski – he lived for her and will ultimately die with her thoughts as his sole companion. Leo and Alma are childhood sweethearts, who impression each other over the growing up years and share experiences – first kiss, first intercourse….Alma is sent to US from Poland and Leo, post losing his family in holocaust follows her to the US. When Leo finds her, he discovers, she had a child by him and believing him to be dead is married to another. Leo walks away from his happiness, his love, his child to ensure his sweetheart is happy with the new life.

Leo lives the rest of his life vicariously – watching his child from a distance, trying to find pleasure in things his child likes. He writes a book “History of Love” to immortalise his love and sends them to Alma from Poland while she is in US. The manuscript is entrusted to a friend who moves to Chile during war years and believing (again) Leo to be dead publishes it in his own name, under marital pressure. Leo writes another book, which he sends to his son (who doesn’t know about Leo) and is later shown to be considered as the last manuscript of Leo’s son (Issac) post his death.

The story revolves around the first book “History of Love” – a copy of which is purchased and gifted by an engineer to his wife, who then name their daughter Alma based on the character in the book. Post the engineer’s death, the daughter in her quest to connect with her father, and trying to find happiness for her mother, begins searching for Alma from the book.

The book ends with a meeting between Leo and Alma and the reader is astounded by how the two stories come together and in the most beautiful way.

There are sub-themes in the book related to Holocaust (since all characters are Jews) and plagiarism, but for me, the story is simply about Leo and nothing else. He, who was forgotten by everyone – his love, his son, his readers, his life….He who had to carry a note in his pocket saying he has no family and where his burial plot, if he is found dead. The one who has “word for everything” is rendered speechless in the end.

Three Daughters of Eve – Elif Shafak

Spellbinding! the only way i can think of describing this book. It is discursive with attention paid to each digression. It was hard not to find myself thinking about multiple things all at once, while reading. The theological debate about existence of God, the religious question on what is right vs wrong, the social difference between rich and poor, the female – male predicament all adroitly woven into a tale that keeps the reader on their toes yearning for more.

Peri has a divided family – a father and a brother who are liberal in their thinking and a mother and a brother who are devout. She is the referee, so to say, neither a believer nor the one to doubt – somewhere in between. Her need to be the peace keeper develops her personality into a complicated, self critical and self doubtful being. At Oxford, she encounters multiple personalities and begins to discover herself away from her family and home. She finds herself attracted towards Professor Azur, who teaches “God” at the university, primarily because she feels he might have answers to the questions and confusions and uncertainties in her mind. Always neutral Peri takes one step in her life, which impacts everyone around her. The story is narrated alternately in past and present, where past is unforgotten and remorse colors the present.

In a way, its a simple book to read and yet poignant. There are theological questions raised, which makes a reader pause and look for/at their own beliefs. The cultural differences amongst east and west, known yet alien require questioning our perceptions – are the answers really that easy? or perhaps not?

“We can find our true selves only in the faces of the Other.”

in the name of the father (of the son) – Immanuel Mifsud

“Now that the last sentence has been written and i’ve turned the page and found the cover, I can finally take a deep breath and turn out the light.”

Not my usual run of the mill book choice. Well, while going through Facebook at the airport, i came across a national geographic link which said ten books describing / about different countries. Some of the book choices are quite interesting (like the one i am reviewing now).

The book “in the name….” has been translated from Maltese and though, its a skinny 50 page book, i found it hard to read at one go. I would come across a line / paragraph / poetry and it would completely derail my thinking, digressing inwards and deeply introspective. For example, while reading one entire page full of what the author is afraid of, i came up with pages and pages of things/people/situations that scare me. I enjoyed it – my time through the book as much as my time sorting out my thoughts.

“You wanted to write your story so that some day your son would write the story of your story” is an apt summary of this book contents. The son reading the diary of his soldier father, goes through various emotions in this book – childhood / boy hood memories, conflicts, confessions, resentments, admiration and deep, sometimes dark, thoughts. It is sometimes a poem and other times a diary, never truly one or the other.

The language is beautiful and sentiments heartfelt. There is cruel selfishness as only a child can feel towards the parents, there is idolisation and disillusion of it turning into a mundane human, pathos and disdain along with pity and loss.

I did enjoy reading the book, though the end confused me, i did not understand what it implied.