The Shadow of the Wind [Book Review]

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Rating: 5/5

Considering my very dismal streak of choosing good books to read this year, The Shadow of the Wind ended my poor reading experience. Written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon in Spanish and English translated by Lucia Graves, this book is unputdownable.

Set in Barcelona, this story is a story within a story. When young Daniel Sempere is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father, he picks The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax as his companion. Extremely intrigued by the story, Daniel sets forth to read more books from the same author but fails to find even one. He also discovers a strange man following him, very similar to one of the evil characters in The Shadow of the Wind, whose mission is to burn all of Carax’s works. Years pass but Daniel couldn’t let go of Carax. He wants to know who he was and what happened to him. Daniel, along with his friend Fermin Torress, sets out following clues and characters, putting pieces of Carax’s life together into a timeline.

It’s absolutely difficult to not give away the entire story. Through Daniel’s investigation, we are let into Carax’s life, which in a way is very similar to Daniel’s himself. Daniel realises that the underlying reason for all the happenings is the love story between Julian and Penelope. He explores Julian’s birth and childhood, his acquaintance with Penelope, his friends at school, his plan to elope with Penelope which failed, his inspiration to write books, etc. There are different versions from different people who were involved in Julian’s life in someway. Ultimately Daniel wants to find what happened to Julian and Penelope at the end. In between all this, we have the tyrannical Inspector Fumero who is behind Fermin, and also hindering their investigation. But why?

While reading, I really began to worry for the characters and that shows the success of this book.  The story is a dramatic one but who doesn’t love drama. Even though Julian Carax isn’t part of the present, the book is all about him. Every character, though there were a little too many, had a very important part to play in the story. They were like the glue which got all the pieces stuck together. You can actually see the entire story through Daniel’s eyes. The one thing which didn’t impress me much was Daniel’s personal story itself. It wasn’t as powerful or interesting as Julian’s. Daniel is adorable for what he sets out to do but he isn’t a very strong protagonist, may be that’s what the sweet part is. I absolutely loved the part where he visits the old house of Penelope’s. Very thrilling sequence. The language is really good for a translation.

The Shadow of the Wind is a wondrous work. A must read!


The Paying Guests [Book Review]

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Rating : 2/5

Have you ever felt helpless and hopeless about a book, yet still hopeful for a turnaround? Confused? Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests falls into this category. I picked this book up because it was listed as one of the best fiction books ever. Really? This is the last I am ever going to trust a list. The back cover premise did sound interesting, I admit. It’s about a couple who move in as paying guests and their interaction with the house owners. Most importantly, this sentence, “a love story which is a crime story”, pulled my attention. Having read so many crime fiction over the years, I am at a stage to explore other genres, more like crime mixed with other genres? This seemed the perfect recipe. Was I wrong? Not entirely, but majorly.

Set in 1922, spinster Frances Wray lives with her mother and is solely responsible for managing and maintaining their massive house. With no certain income, they rent the upstairs rooms to a young couple- Lilian and Leonard. Frances is intrigued by the couples’ relationship. She gradually forms a growing interest in Lilian. They begin to spend a lot of time together, sharing intimate details of their life. Their relationship, which becomes more than just a friendship, draws rift between Lilian and Leonard. An argument among the three, consequently becoming physical, ending with Leonard’s death. Frances and Lilian covers it up, Frances doing most of the brain job. With the police arriving, do Frances and Lilian get away with murder? Or not?

The above might sound interesting, I would say very simple too. But this simple story rambles on for nearly 600 pages and that’s where I began to lose patience. I never warmed up to Frances and Lilian’s relationship, not that I am against these relationships. I somehow never got to like any of them, or felt sympathetic or empathetic towards them. I know, it’s not necessary for us to like the characters, yet, I feel it’s necessary. Confused again? This is a strange story. I feel strange writing this review, honestly. The pace of the story wasn’t bad. It smoothly shifted gears throughout. It must have been engaging enough, as I didn’t abandon it half way. But, I don’t know. I feel highly disappointed for some reason.

This book isn’t like the normal, fast-paced, racy crime story- I get that. This is more about characterization, the 1920s setting, the social problems then, etc. I quite enjoyed the beginning as well. It was written beautifully and took me in a journey. But after Frances and Lilian admit their feelings to each other, I felt it was going nowhere. The author took a good time to get to the crime story from the love story. I felt the narration became dull and there were too many thoughts description (like what one felt and thought) rather than some action. At the end, instead of feeling triumphant, I felt relieved that the book was over.

I understand writing such stories like these aren’t easy. To understand the year/age the story is set it, and to involve a love story between two females and how it was looked upon then and weaving them into a story is brave. I give that. I wish, the book was a little more shorter, perhaps?

If you like slow paced, character oriented, period story- this is the one to go for. Else, it’s not.

Before We Visit the Goddess [Book Review]

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Rating: 5/5

After reading The Palace of Illusions, I greatly wanted to read more works, if not all works of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. There is something about her writing that clearly and instantly connects with the readers, at least me. As we say, touches heart. There is no high tech flowery language used. It’s simple and there is a lot of emotions in the words. Before We Visit the Goddess is a soulful tale of three generation of determined mothers and daughters- Sabitri, Bela and Tara, their aspirations, struggles, failures and ultimately finding light at the end. What makes this tale compelling is the reality etched in the problems narrated- the family crisis, the societal pressure, the difference in status, the need for education, financial issues, love- everything that could happen to each one of us.

Sabitri is a young, ambitious and resolute girl. Coming from a poor family, she craves for education. Leelamoyi, an arrogant rich woman decides to sponsor Sabitri’s education. She lets her to stay in her house as neither servant nor guest. Sabitri is happy with this golden opportunity but a huge blunder results in her being thrown out by Leelamoyi and shooting a full-stop to her dream education. Filled with revenge, she makes some very tough decisions to just prove a point, to herself. She gets married to Bijan, her teacher and mothers Bela. She loves her family a lot but somewhere she is a very unhappy woman. When her past catches up, it leads to her family getting broken. A down is always followed by an up. After the death of her husband, Sabitri with the excellent culinary skills she inherited from her mother, opens her own sweet shop and earns name and fame for her integrity and her quality of sweets. All is well except her relationship with her daughter, Bela. The book begins with Bela requesting her mother to write to her daughter, Tara, who has decided to drop out of college.

Bela is a rebel from the beginning. As much as she lived with her parents, she lived a lonely life. An unexpected incident permanently damages her relationship with her mother. Probably to prove that her decisions are way better than her mother’s, she elopes with her boyfriend to the United States and begins a family there. Loneliness never ceases to exist in her life. She is never comfortable with her new life. She loves her husband and her daughter, but there is regret and guilt which forces its way to the front. She compels herself to believe her life is good. But is it? The birth of her daughter Tara doesn’t repair any of the damages. At the end, she gets divorced and turns a drunkard.

Tara is the unfortunate soul of the three. She grew up always knowing something was wrong between her mother and father. When her father decides to break the news of the divorce something flips inside her. She wants to break away from everything and everyone, run away from everything, far far away. She drops out of college, has some casual flings, no steady job, no one to turn to in her misery. She turns her life around after an accident, meets the love of her life, gets married and brings some meaning back into her life. She decides to meet her mother, take care of her during her last days. That’s when she finds her grandmother’s letter, still sealed.

What was so good about this book was the sense of optimism and courage brought in my sudden strangers- men, in each of the three women’s lives. They are the benefactors. They don’t stay in their lives for a long time, but they bring in the feeling of life in them. It’s wonderful to see how Sabitri, Bela and Tara fight their problems and emerge successful at the end. It’s also satisfying to see how the achievement takes years of determination and hardwork instead of just few months as shown in movies. Sabitri, Bela and Tara lived almost all their lives away from each other and yet there was a strong bonding between them, an invisible love and concern. Probably it’s their need for approval from each other that caused them to become estranged.

The jumping of timelines was definitely tedious as a reader. Just when I am really getting interested in Tara’s life- Bela’s section is brought in and all I cared was to get back to Tara. Out of the three- I absolutely loved reading Tara’s life. The author has written how parents’ relationship is very vital for the sane growth of the children. Off the three, I couldn’t really connect to Bela much. She never found herself attached to Sabitri and the reason wasn’t strong enough for me. May be it is just expectations. Just like parents have expectations from children, children too expect their parents to be in a certain way. Sabitri’s life laid the foundation, but we don’t really get much more into her life after Bela left.

As a whole, this book is an absolutely fantastic ride filled with determination, courage and motivation. There are really nice tender moments, endearing friendships and moments of truth which we all would have come across.

Must read! Unputdownable!

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared [Book Review]

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Rating: 1.5/5

Now who wouldn’t be intrigued by this title! I am a huge fan of this genre. Adventures of funny old men. I have read “A Man called Ove” and “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” and absolutely loved them. A beautiful story covered with clever sarcasm is a perfect treat for the readers. With the same expectation, I picked this book. I mean, look at the title. I get my 100 year old man and he is on an adventure!

The Hundred Year Old… is a Swedish book by Jonas Jonasson. It narrates the adventures of 100 year old Allan Karlsson, who escapes from the care home he lives in, on the day of his 100th birthday. He has decided to get out of the town, away from everybody. At the bus station, a young man asks Allan to look after his suitcase while he visits the restroom. Mischievous Allan steals the suitcase, gets on a bus and escapes. He meets Julius, a 70 year old, at Byringe, who helps him with his stay and food. On opening the suitcase, they find 50 million dollars! The young suitcase owner, a member of the Never Again gang, finds the old men but only to get locked in a freezer and die. From there, it’s the adventurous journey of Allan and Julius, along with Benny, the driver they employ, Beauty, the farmhouse owner where they gatecrash and her pets- a dog and an elephant. Yes. You read it right. An elephant. And to add, the elephant even kills a guy by sitting on him. Uhum!! On the other side, we have Inspector Aronsson who is on an effective chase of this adventure group. Is he able to nab them? Will the adventure group escape?

In a way, the book would have worked better if the story had stuck with just the above adventure. But that’s not the case. The book is narrated on a timeline. One follows the centenarian’s current adventure and other follows the entire life of Allan from his birth. That’s where the book faltered for me. Allan, our lead, isn’t a very interesting character. He is clever, intelligent and has great knowledge on bomb making. But this 100 year old Allan who is introduced to us never really impresses us. Hence I felt no curiosity to know more about him. Coming from a dysfunctional family, Allan prefers being alone. After staying in a mental health facility for a few years for bombing down his own house, he leaves his city to find a new life somewhere else. His bomb making skills lands him in a lot of trouble but later gets the needed acknowledgment. He works for various countries and governments in their wars. He travels from one country to another, escaping from dangerous clutches. It was interesting at the beginning, but as pages went by, I wanted to read more about the 100 year old Allan and not his 100 years of life. There are several characters who come and go in Allan’s life that it was very difficult to keep track off. We have him interact with then President Truman, Stalin, and he even defuses the assassination plan on Churchill. With the war background and lot of political history, I felt I wasn’t reading fiction.

I was pretty confused with the tone of the book. I can’t state it as funny or sarcastic, or it being serious. There are funny moments for sure, but I couldn’t relate to it as “funny funny”. It was too loud rather than subtle. There are way too many characters too. The book is a very long read too and I began skipping paragraphs at the end as I was desperate to finish the book. The book started off on a good note but went off track completely.

A huge disappointment!

The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad

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Rating: 2/5

Published: 2016

Twinkle Khanna’s first book, Mrs Funnybones, was a refreshing read. It had a wonderful sense of humour mixed with the right amount of sarcasm making it a perfect mixture for a delightful read. When I got to know that Twinkle Khanna is coming up with her next book, I was really excited. I had huge expectations but the book ended up being a huge disappointment.

The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad is nothing like Mrs Funnybones. I am not talking about the genre here. Yes, this book belongs to a completely different genre and it’s not fair to expect humour and sarcasm in every work of his author. Any author would want to experiment and this book is completely different from Mrs Funnybones. This book is a collection of four short stories, all stories in some way or the other talking about women, women empowerment, women’s equality and women’s rights. The heart of the stories is in the right place but the narration isn’t engaging enough. The first two stories are interesting enough compared to the last two ones. As a whole, the book doesn’t live up.

  1. The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad- This story is about a unique village which celebrates the birth of girl child. Wow! What brought about this uniqueness? Who was responsible? Lakshmi Prasad. This story really sets the book for a good read. But when the story ended like in 30 pages, I was really surprised. That was when it dawned that the book wasn’t completely about Lakshmi Prasad and that the other stories were stand alone. I really wished to read more into this story rather than the others.
  2. Salaam, Noni Appa- This story was really refreshing and engaging. It’s about Noni Appa, a widow in her 60’s and her lonely life. It’s about how society looks at the widow and how they are succumbed to lead their lives alone. Noni Appa really enjoys the time she spends with Anand, her yoga tutor, but isn’t sure about her feelings. She is in fact ashamed of her feelings and fears how the society would see her. I really liked the concept and how one should be selfish about their happiness and not worry about the society. My pick out of the four stories.
  3. If the Weather Permits- The dip of this book begins with this story. Elisa is a young girl who isn’t able to withstand her marriages. She gets married multiple times but every time, she returns home after issues with her husband. Her parents believe a girl needs a man in her life, a husband in her life, and gets her married to weird fellows. Elisa accepts partly for her parents and partly because she sees it as a challenge. Most of the parents in today’s world do believe a girl always needs a man to lead her life, I get that. But I really didn’t understand Elisa and her actions only frustrated me. The story was very dull and the message got drowned completely.
  4. The Sanitary Man from a Sacred Land- This story is apparently influenced by a true incident. We have Bablu who wants to provide low cost sanitary napkins for his wife after realising he cannot afford the branded ones. He is looked down for his intentions especially when he gets really obsessed with his objective. Every month, he tries a different material and method and wants his wife to try it. Things get out of hand and his family leaves him, but his thirst to achieve his goal doesn’t fade away. His struggle towards his goal makes the rest of the story. This story is the longest of the four. If this had been shorter, it might have been more impactful. Instead of Bablu coming across as an inspiration at the end, he still stood as the obsessed man for me. The transition of image didn’t happen.

The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad results as an average book. It would become a bestseller for sure just as many other books do nowadays because of the author’s popularity and familiarity. It can be a quick read but very easily forgettable.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

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Rating: 4/5

Published: 2012

If you have read my past reviews, it’s not difficult to realise that I struggle reading non-crime fiction. May be it’s the books I had hastily selected or it’s my own inability to enjoy books without murder and mayhem. If I remember correctly, the two non-crime books which I really enjoyed were The Book Thief and A Man called Ove. Joining this short list is The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It’s a beautiful journey of hope, struggle, love and redemption. There is a lot of anguish but it’s a wonderful feeling when we see it end in a peaceful closure.

Harold Fry is a man in his 60s. Retired, he lives with his wife Maureen. A guilt ridden and serious man with a burden of a secret past, he suddenly receives a letter from his former colleague, Queenie Hennessy. It has been more than twenty years since she had left the job. She made no contact after that and Harold is taken aback to receive this letter. Queenie is suffering from cancer and has remembered him and the times they had spent together at work. Harold is wreaked with guilt and pain for haven’t thought about Queenie all these years especially after what she had done for him. He writes a reply and goes to the post office to post it, but he is unable to. He keeps walking, leaving his home behind, unable to get himself to post the reply. During his walk, he meets a girl who tells him how her aunt suffered from cancer and how her hope kept her alive. Harold gets an idea. He decides to go and meet Queenie, BY WALK, and hopes that Queenie will live till he reaches her, which would take weeks.

I know the idea sounds really absurd and very UNLIKELY. But that’s what the book is about. The hope that Harold carries is really impractical, but he still carries it because he completely believes it. Maureen is worried when Harold doesn’t come home and later gets to know about his unlikely pilgrimage. Initially she is angry, but later realises what a great feat her husband was getting towards. Harold and Maureen are going through a rough patch in life and this distance gets them closer. The portions where Maureen realises her love for Harold are so endearing.

Coming back to Harold, he experiences loads of difficulties in his journey. First is his age and health. His feet gets blistered, his legs give away. Second, he has no mobile, no map, and no other aid to help him find the right and the shortest route to Berwick, to Queenie. This is when the people he meets during his walk step up. Each one helps Harold in one way or the other, getting him closer to his destination. Each one has their own story to tell which inspires Harold to keep believing in his hope. There are moments he falters, where he feels his pilgrimage is a stupid idea but the people around him keep pushing him forward. At the same time, there are people who bring him down too, who takes wrong advantage and uses him for publicity, but that doesn’t deter Harold from his goal. Every character he meets is very unique. Wilf and Martina are my favourite. Harold and his son, David, don’t get along and hence Harold struggles when he sees David in Wilf. His emotional turmoil is very painful to even read. As he gets closer to Berwick, Harold loses hope. There is lot of anguish when he begins to lose his mind due to fatigue of his mind and body. The chapter when Harold finally meets Queenie and his thoughts then is beyond words. There is victory and yet there isn’t.

Though the story might sound depressing, it isn’t. The author had made sure to take the story as light as possible but keeping all the emotions intact. At the end of every chapter, you would want to know more about Harold’s journey which is victory to the author. The secret past is dealt very well too.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a book of redemption. It’s inspiring. You end up with a very good and positive feeling. Go for it!

An Equal Music

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Author: Vikram Seth

Rating: 1/5

I picked up this book with soaring hopes. Since I have mostly been reading only foreign authors with the occasional mythological fiction by Indian authors, I was desperate to have some Indian author books on my TBR. An Equal Music seemed perfect. Yes, it wasn’t crime genre. Nevertheless, I was really looking forward for the Indian touch. Sadly, I picked the wrong book. To be honest, the mistake is mine. I should have done a thorough research on the book I was about to read. My expectations were high and different. The reality was completely opposite to what I had expected. Hence, race against patience to complete the book.

The book follows the lives of two musicians- Michael and Julia, who parted ways years back, to only find each other after 20 odd years (I don’t even remember! Embarrassing!) in London. Michael is a violinist and is part of a music group. Julia, a pianist, is now married and has a son, joins the group on a tour. Michael and Julia struggle with their relationship. They are in love but Julia can’t see a future for their relationship. Meanwhile, the group rehearses for their tour and there is friction within the team. Tough decisions have to be made, but the group stays together and have a successful tour at the end. Michael and Julia part ways again as Julia sets her priorities right, and that’s her family. Is Michael able to move on, or does he somehow win his love back?

It was a huge struggle to write even the above paragraph as I never really got the point of this book. I somewhere even feel guilty reviewing this book because I am not sure if I am the right person to do so. I knew the book had a musical background, but it had so many technical terms associated that I wasn’t able to understand most part of it. Imagine, unable to understand the basic plot of the book. There are conversations about Bach and Mozart, and strings and C Minor and D Major- I am sure a layman wouldn’t be able to understand those terms. Michael is the central character of this book. He is a depressed, lonely man, who suddenly finds his love back in Julia. The character isn’t interesting enough to feel empathetic towards. I liked the portions where Michael goes home to meet his father or even the discussions in the team and the difference of opinion. But those are just supporting chapters. The main plot didn’t interest me to read every word. Also, the story is too slow. I had to run through to reach the end.

It would be unfair not to mention the author’s brilliant choice of words. For a literature lover, I am sure this book would be magical. The description of the places and even the feelings is top class.

An Equal Music would be a great book for a music lover and a literature enthusiast. For me, it didn’t work.