Monday, July 28, 2008
There are periods in a book lover's life where we yearn for the different, for the pause beyond the space, for the realm beyond the real. I had been reading virtually non-stop - I was reading on the bus, I was reading at home, and I was reading through every minute that work didn't snatch away. Then I discovered - I need to read something different. Move beyond the known that I have grown accustomed to reading. I wanted to delve deep into a field of writing from a continent that is far far away from the city I dwell in. I wanted Europe.
So began Nada. Then, I yearned for a really big book. I wanted a book that would stretch on to more than 600 pages, that would be filled with the goodness of words. I found Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefenso Falcones or La Catedral del mar in Spanish. I stayed with the book for two weeks, finished it on Thursday, and still, today, on Monday, Arnau Estanyol, Mar, and Joan flit through my visual landscape. This book is indeed the masterpiece it is claimed to be - translated into 32 languages, with the constuction of the immense, towering Santa Maria del mar as its background, the novel moves through rich tapestries of Spanish history, an abiding love affair, and pulsating, turn-the-page action. Every page of this powerful book is laced with action - riveting, rich, and flamboyant action.
I am not a fan of historical novels - but I stand corrected in this instance. Reams of words make a difference - no matter what the setting.
Verdict: You must be kidding? Just buy it. Borrow it. Steal it.
Friday, July 25, 2008
You are gripped. Tense. And you are completely immersed. Its not a thriller on the big screen but A.S. Byatt’s Possession. It all starts with postdoctoral research assistant Roland Mitchell discovering a few letters that the poet Randolph Henry Ash had written to a woman who was not his wife. The ball is set rolling and thus begins the search for the rest of the letters. The book delightfully interweaves the lives of Ash and his paramour with that of Mitchell and his companion Maud Bailey with whom he ultimately falls in love. There are parallels between Ash’s and Mitchell’s world and their lives are almost running side by side as Mitchell follows Ash’s wanderings. The theme of possession is depicted at various levels in the book and it is such that eventually the reader is possessed by the book itself.
The book has all the elements of a suspense thriller but at a much higher plane. It is a critique of Victorian poetry in parts and Ash is modeled on Browning which is very evident in Byatt’s stylistics. I admit I skipped a lot of the reams of poetry (as many readers would have am sure) that Byatt has painstakingly written but I did give them a quick peruse. The poetry does not serve much purpose except to provide an authentic setting. But although they are not really part of the narrative, they do give clues to the lives of Ash and his love Christabel LaMotte, the most famous being the imagery of Melusina. The book’s ending is very much in the Gothic style where facts get dispelled and fiction comes to the forefront. Its a must read for literature buffs and those who can't get enough of literary suspenses. It cannot exactly be classified as bed-time reading, though the book has its moments of pure lightheartedness, and needs reflection in the true nature of a classic which has layers of meaning. As for me, I simply was possessed.
Verdict - Must buy if you are in love with literature and history
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Well, that's one long title!! Letters to Sam, I picked up a few weeks ago. There were days when I was relatively young, and in dire need of self-help, pick-me-up and give-me-life books. So, my bookshelf would be packed with such uplifting books that strangely all seemed to resonate with the power of positive thinking, the influencing of friends, and delving into layers of my subconscious. I read. I devoured these books, and indeed one or two did help me. Now, I am still relatively young, and perhaps in more dire straits than before - so after a long time, I decided to head back to the pop psychology shelf.
And so I found Letters to Sam by Daniel Gottlieb. The author is a quadriplegic and addresses these 'letters' to his grandson, who is autistic. There is no doubt that the book is intimate, compassionate and written from a deeply personal level. Gottlieb offers some precious insights into what it means to be human - and there were moments in the book that touched even this cynical self of mine. Yet, overall, great as the book was, cynical I remained. Perhaps, in another time, in another frame of mind, I might have absolutely relished, cherished, and generally loved this book to pieces. Today, I can say I like it. Just that. Just about. Strange how our moods condition the pages we read.
Verdict: Buyable if you are really into self-help books
Friday, July 11, 2008
Phew! I had missed reading this book for so long!! Nada or Nothingness ranks as one of the finest novels to have emerged from Europe in the past century - and I add my own little vote to that ranking. Indeed, it is one of the best novels from Europe, one of the best from Spain, and one of the best that I have read this year.
Now, I am not a fan of much-hyped books for a simple reason - I don't understand much of them. Joseph Heller's Catch 22, for instance, went way way way over my simple head. Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead is another chic novel to be talked about in hushed tones over coffee tables. I read that particular book a long while back, so will not offend Rand fans' sensibilities here by commenting on it.
Nada begins in a bizarre fashion and I confess I was temped to add the book to my "to be read later" section - the narrative was almost too fantastical in the beginning. The characters seemed too ghostly, and their lives a mirror of horror. Yet, I slowly warmed to the tale - and the mastery of style that Carmen Laforet wields.
A critical review of the book is not the place for this blog - suffice to say that the book is also a portrayal of Franco's brutal dictatorship that Spain suffered so long - the bizarre, fantastical, unrealistic life of the characters a chilling reminder of the reality of Spain under his regime. Dark, brooding, and a stark sketch of the human psyche, Nada is unforgettable.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
I read Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth a while back. And then slipped into my usual procrastinating "I shall write about this book later" mode. That is not to say the book was anything but outstanding. I had loved both of Lahiri's earlier books, her Pulitzer-prize winning Interpreter of Maladies, and the more recent The Namesake.
As with both those books, Unaccustomed Earth too deals with the Indian immigrant experience. Caught in the two worlds of India and America, Lahiri's characters are amazingly human, and resonate with life. I have enjoyed each one of these books although The Namesake I was fairly critical of. This time though, I desist from criticism - I should find something to criticize! Exquisite prose is the hallmark of Lahiri and all the stories are about Bengali Indians -and their frail, fragile relationships with their parents, their way of life, multi-racial marriages, and at the heart of it all - the hub and flow of the human condition.
One of my personal favorites in the collection was the very first, also titled "Unaccustomed Earth" - taut with a daughter's growing relationship with her father, and the father's own wish to hide from her his attachment to his new "girlfriend."
There is no doubt it - let Lahiri write another book, and chances are I would pre-order it. She is, really, unequivocally, that good, or as The New York Times says: splendid.
Verdict: Brilliant Rating: 4.5/5