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.”

Love and ruin – Paula McLain

“I was dying to write a character as glittering and sharp as Lady Brett from The Sun Also Rises, but since i couldn’t, I would settle for trying to be her.”

The love i feel for some of the characters across hundreds of books, could not have been articulated better. I asked for recommendation to read on twitter, and came across this rather interesting book. If you know enough about Ernest Hemingway – you would know that he was a great writer but a troubled man.

This book encompasses part of life between Martha Gellhorn and Hemingway. Is it the story of either of them – no, is it Gellhorn’s autobiography – again no. This is neither a dry epitome covering Gellhorn’s career as one of the most renowned war correspondent, nor is it totally about the love affair and her marriage to Hemingway. It is somewhat a mix. Book starts with a struggling Gellhorn, trying to find herself and her purpose in life, conflicted between rebelling and yet trying to please her father.

“It seemed imperative not only to be on the move, and feeling things, but also to be my own person, and to live my own life, and not anyone else’s.”

Her chance encounter with Hemingway and deepening of initially their friendship and then something more is mostly from Gellhorn’s perspective. We find occasional narratives with Hemingway’s voice, but it’s mostly Martha’s story and her interpretation of events around her.

Even though, the story revolves around the one great love of her life, the boldness, the independence and the need to be “her own person” shines bright in Martha’s character. Most of us are as lost as she felt, even in this post war world, but how many of us are brave enough to say it out aloud or acknowledge it, even to ourselves. Need to be in control is usually paramount in human beings and yet, Martha came out stronger for having admitted her lack of purpose. She found a purpose with her love for Ernest and seemed lost again when their initial ‘affair’ ended.

“Walking to my room, i felt loneliness and fear come wishing down from wherever they had been waiting. They draped themselves over me, snug and familiar. Filling my pockets and all the spaces inside and out until i though i might have to lean against the wall to stay upright. In moments, I’d been kicked out of love and was alone again. He was never yours, a voice in my head said. But what did that matter? I had lost him just the same.

This book is essentially about strengths of love and then the ruin, end of love brings about. It’s both the beauty and the beast. It shows various facets of human behaviour. Even though you love someone more than life itself, how losing your own individuality will make you chafe,irrespective. How envy and jealousy, maybe hidden, will show up unbidden, when as peers one person does better than the other. The last but not the least, irrespective of how the world might have advanced, the intrinsic thought that a woman should stay home and be the home maker has not died down yet.

I admire Gellhorn. She struggled her way through to be a first class writer – and her struggle was twice as difficult just by the virtue of her being a female wanting to be right in the middle of the war zone. She tried to stay home to be a wife, but her need to be an individual, won. She gave up some things because her need to make a difference was greater and then some things got taken away from her, because she didn’t fit the society mould of what a woman should be like.

“Listen, i wanted to say, when you fell in love with me you must also have been in love with my wings. Love them now. Love me. Love me, and let me go.”

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

The Madonnas of Leningrad – Debra Dean

“What is left that is heartbreaking? Not death; death is ordinary. What is heartbreaking is the sight of a single gull lifting effortlessly from a street lamp. Its wings unfurl like silk scarves against the mauve sky, and Marina hears the rustle of its feathers. What is heartbreaking is that there is still beauty in the world”

Marina, suffering from Alzheimer’s finds herself living more and more in the past with the present is being eaten away. While unable to remember her children and grandchildren with much clarity, she finds herself roaming the Hermitage, where she was a tour guide before war years and helped pack it all away, and recalling the paintings from her “memory palace” with greater lucidity. The book opens in 1941, where erstwhile Soviet Union is getting ready to fight the Germans with high optimism at Luga. Marina says goodbye to her childhood friend Dimitr with agreement to getting married when he is back.

As the war forces draw closer to Leningrad, Marina finds herself putting more and more knowledge of The Hermitage away into her memory palace, while fighting the cold and hunger and despair which is pervasive all around her. The details about 250 grams of bread lasting a person through the day is beyond heartbreaking. Amidst this calamitous world, Marina finds herself pregnant, which provides her with a reason not to give up.

The story is written in present, when Marina is over eighty years old and surrounded by her family, and her mind keeps taking her back to the past that must be preserved. Marina and Dimitri (her husband) have locked up the war years into deep recesses, so much so that their children are unaware of why mother insists on no food being wasted at all. When Marina, inadvertently mentions living in a cellar with hundreds of people and eating glue, the knowledge is shocking to them.

At the end, we find everyone searching for Marina, since she seems to have disappeared in her quest to bring chocolates over to those who are fading away from hunger, and is found hiding in a fireplace of a building under construction. She is discovered by a worker who arrives at work on a Monday morning, where Marina goes on to show him the beauty in nothing and everything around him “She was showing me the world”

This book is a pleasure to read. If you enjoy art and the old masters, this book helps you visualise some of the famous works. It helps understand the everyday life in Soviet Union during war and of course, engages the emotions of the reader with heart wrenching loss of memory, while your dear ones can only stand by, helpless, watching you fade away, gradually.