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Category Archives: Best sellers

The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

The whole world is talking about Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize but I got to read it only now. The write-ups before the Booker were uninspiring and I stayed away. Come to think of it, I think only Arundhati Roy deserved her Booker, Kiran Desai’s book was lame and Rushdie’s book convoluted. The White Tiger is a ‘made for Booker’ product – clinical and following a formula, with the right ingredients in just the right amounts.

The narrative is in the form of a letter that the protagonist is writing to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo on the eve of his visit to India. It plays out on the lines of a confession. Set in modern day India, the book traces the life of Balram Halwai from impoverished Laxmangarh in Gaya to the city lights of Bangalore. Starting off as a driver, Balram turns into a succesful entrepreneur and in the course of that journey he murders and robs his master. The plot is simple and unpretentious and that makes it eminently readable. The simplicity is keeping in with the allegorical style that Adiga has used. However, this is where the whole plot is suspect. The benefit of using the allegorical style is that it leaves the onus on the reader to try and discover meanings and thoughts hidden in the novel. Classic modern examples are Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? One can find hidden meanings every time you read it. I dont see too much of that happening with The White Tiger and that is a smart move by Adiga.

He has used two main leitmotifs – Darkness and the Rooster’s Coop. Darkness is the stark reality – of life in Indian villages, of ignorance and poverty. And the Rooster’s Coop is about servility, of serfdom and the infamous Indian habit of reticence and irresponsiveness to injustice. The imagery is stark and tends to get nauseating, he tends to go overboard with the descriptions of dirt, grime and filth. At times it feels like he is playing to the galleries. He has however captured the ethos of both Delhi and Bangalore brilliantly. The digs on bureaucracy, the allusion to ‘the great socialist’ and the police force sit well.

In terms of characterisation, Balram is drawn pretty well, though his reason for the murder is not convincing enough. And this is largely because the build up to the killing is not laid out well. Ashok as the business man is painted with the soft human colours but again not well etched, there are several instances when his actions lack logic. The language is simple and Adiga has done well on that front keeping in mind that Balram is semi literate. There are flashes of well placed humour as well.  

Amitav Ghosh will feel indignant that all the research and hard work he put in to create Sea of Poppies came to naught beside The White Tiger, and rightly so. The White Tiger, a decent read? Yes. Booker? No.

The White Tiger hardly mews.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2008 in Best sellers, Recommended

 

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Such a Long Journey – Rohinton Mistry

‘Family Matters’ was my first taste of Rohinton Mistry and I have been hooked since. A master story teller, he grips the reader with easy paced narrative, one rarely feels tedium. There is always a shadow of gloom in his books, and that is what gives it the sense of realism and the need for empathy. He uses humour and brilliant characterisation to offset the pall of grey.

Like most of his novels, ‘Such a Long Journey’ is set in the Bombay of the 70s. Gustad Noble, is a middle class Parsi going about his life quietly without much bother, until the point when he gets a letter from his old friend, Major Jimmy Bilimoria. (To digress a bit, in all the books of Mistry that I have read there is a clear point of crisis. In ‘Family Matters’, it is the point when Yezad gives into the temptation of gambling, in ‘A Fine Balance’ it is the point when Ishvar and Omprakash return to their village.) Gustad’s life is thrown in turmoil and he is buffeted by the Fates. His son is estranged, his friend Mr. Dinshawji dies and his job as a bank clerk is shaky.

Mistry has an enviable gift for characterisation, though some of his characters seem similar in his books. Yezad from ‘Family Matters’ and Gustad have a lot in common. The characters are simple and so realistic that if you went to any typical apartment block in Mumbai, chances are you would see these characters in some form. Mistry keeps his characterisation very simple and does not overreach by adding complicated clutter. Gustad is a simple man almost helpless against the troubles that come his way. However, in his own way he is strong and grounded. I also like the play off between the flamboyant Jimmy and the tepid Gustad. And also between Gustad’s only friends Jimmy and Mr. Dinshawji. Mr Dinshawji provides the comic relief and actually is a man with a heart. The mentally challenged Tehmul is another typical character that you would see in most middle class localities in India. The neighbours in Khodadad Building Miss Kutpitia, living in the memory of her dead nephew, the meddlesome Mr. Rabadi, the eccentric Cavasji are natural and highly realistic.

I am biased about Mistry’s work, I would still recommend this book like all the others.

 

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Half of a Yellow Sun

A stunning book that I hesitated to buy because of all the hype around it. Pardon me, I am a little sceptical when there is a lot of buzz around new books. I regret having bought Red Carpet, Inheritance of Loss, House of Blue Mangoes, Babyji among others. S had picked up the book and convinced me to read it, I agreed half heartedly.

There has been so much written and said about the book and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I will not attempt too much more. I think she is a brilliant, brave and sensitive writer. The writing at times is so poignant that one is certain that this one developed from personal experiences and personal tragedies. She mentions in one of her interviews that she lost her grandparents and that her father had to flee from the University town during the war.

Half of a Yellow Sun deals with love, relationships, betrayal and distrust. The characters are human and appealing in the fact that they are all grey. Above all, the war is like a character in itself, the puppeteer who controls destinies and actions. The plot develops through the eyes of Ugwu, Olanna and Odenigbo. The novel motors along, almost idyllic at the beginning and the war turns everything topsy turvy. The naive boy Ugwu becomes a soldier and participates in a heinous gang-rape and it signals his passage from innocence to depravity. And interestingly he is the one who finally writes a book on the war and not Richard, the English writer.

Olanna, the beautiful and sensitive heroine goes through love, pain and insecurity and finally loss. Odenigbo is larger than life at the start and ends with a whimper, a far cry from the rebel and activist that he once was. For me Kainene seemed a very interesting person. She is inscrutable and self-absorbed but she also is caring and forgiving in her own way. I like the way ‘the incident’ between Richard and Olanna is kept in suspense and the narrative revolves around it.  The theme is universal and is relevant in any setting.

Just the kind of book one would like to gift to someone. Happy reading.   

 

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A Thousand Splendid Suns

Ever since I read “The Kite Runner”, I was quite sure that I would definitely read Khaled Hosseini’s next book, whenever it came. I was a tad disappointed when I read the introduction at the back that said it deals with two women and their evolving relationship in the backdrop of the Afghan war. First of all I am not all that fond of books dealing with war, secondly I have read quite a few of books dealing with women in the Middle East. (And no, I am not belittling the pains of war and the tribulations of women). But going by the first book, I decided to give it a shot and I am quite happy that I did.

While the book deals with the femine perspective on the war and their lot throughout their lives even without it; I was quite intrigued by the male characters in the book. All the men in the book are flawed at some level, even the hero Tariq. Rasheed of course takes the honours and is the ultimate beast, shallow, crude and a brute. He does everything possible to break the spirits of both Mariam and Laila, and for a major part of the book he succeeds. His adherence to the diktats of the Taliban is opportunistic and uses it only to control his women. However, he shows another side when he is pampering his son.  It seems that he is fighting the truth of senility and he is fighting against it with his ultimate desire to father a son.

Tariq for all his charm and endurance is timid and unsure. He is almost a reflection of Laila’s father, largely ineffective. To my mind, it is Jaleel, Mariam’s father who is the real hero. For all his flaws he comes out as a purged man in the end. One ends up forgiving him for his actions.

The relationship between the leading ladies is very intricate. Their lives mirror each other’s through the book. If Mariam is unjustly treated by her insecure mother, so is Laila’s who lives in the memory of her martyred sons. Jaleel is driven by the need to maintain his position, while Laila’s father is tepid and scared. Starting off as perceived rivals, Mariam and Laila settle down and grow in each other’s company. Mariam’s maternal instincts come to to fore, Laila becomes the strong woman her friends always said she would.  

Somehow the words of Mariam’s mother haunts you through the book – “Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”

My recommendation, buy the book and read it.

 

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