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A Disobedient Girl – Ru Freeman

Thanks to MA, for lending me the book after my futile efforts to find it in a few leading bookshops.  I am usually circumspect about novels that are launched amid hype. However, I am glad that this one proved me wrong. Another good piece of work set in the Tear Drop Isle following on my last read of Roma Tearne.

Take away country specific nuances and this novel could have been set in India and you would not notice anything out of place; goes to show how closely we are related to our neighbors. Beyond the most obvious like names, Buddhism, love of Bollywood or the awe of the West there is the caste divide, the all pervasive adherence to religion and the belief in the inherent goodness of the human kind. I was amused to read about the popularity of Amar Chitra Katha comics and Madhuri Dixit, I must confess I did cringe at the mention of the infamous Indian Peace Keeping Force.

On to the book now, the title itself is loaded with intriguing ambiguity – A Disobedient Girl. There are at least three characters that qualify for that epithet – Latha, Thara, Biso and at some level even her mother.  Besides disobedience is generously painted as an almost positive trait.  The story is about Latha, an orphan servant girl at the house of the Vithanage’s who grows up as hand maiden to Thara, the daughter of the house. During this evolution she traverses through stolen love, hurt, betrayal and finally freedom. Her fate is closely interlinked with Biso, a young mother who is fleeing from an abusive husband with her three children. She also attains freedom albeit very different from the one Latha finds.

The actors are brilliantly etched, Latha as the headstrong maid is of course the show piece. Portrayed so well that one tends to forgive her even when she steps beyond accepted norms. Thara as the privileged offspring has her moments as well, but Ru ensures that we do not endow too much of sympathy on her. Biso  is almost relegated to a lesser heroine under the strength of Ru’s portrayal of Latha.  Again another well drawn out character, Biso is strong, resourceful and touches a chord with her almost pointless struggle. The male characters are again pale shadows, Ajith as the callous opportunist and Gehan the unsure. However, I loved the way Ru has created the character of Mr. Victor Vithanage, without training the spotlights on him and just through the flow of the novel. He emerges as the most unlikely hero, if there is space for one in this female dominated novel.

The beauty of the novel lies in the narrative. Ru has attempted and pulled off a brilliant tactic. There are two plots – one centering around Latha and the other around Biso, the interspersing of the two is done well. While the one with Latha is largely about her life the one with Biso is a train journey. The slow pace of the Latha part is hardly felt because the train journey dictates a sense of movement.  Its almost like having a white piece of cloth with the train as the embroider’s needle drawing out an intricate tapestry of political turmoil, human frailties and destiny.

My reservations? If it were not for the pace of Biso’s journey, the Latha part tended to get a tad tedious. The early part of the book was too slow and I had to push myself to wade through it, however the latter parts moved at a brisk speed and kept me hooked. The Latha – Daniel dalliance looked out of place, I was expecting it to have some link to the plot at the end.

A good read, my rating is 3.75 on 5.

(Published by Penguin Viking)

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Mosquito – Roma Tearne

What can I say about what was an absolute delight to read.

Call it my ignorance but I had never heard of Roma Tearne before this and from what I hear Mosquito was her first novel, she has published two novels since and is launching her fourth soon.  If this anything to go by, I will be searching out the others soon.

Mosquito has a simple story line and what makes it standout is that it is told simply without distracting artifices. Theo Samarajeeva is a successful novelist who returns to war torn Sri Lanka to write his next book where he meets young Nulani Mendis who is a budding artist. The story is about how their relationship grows from friendship to love.  It is as simple as that. The setting is beautiful Sri Lanka but like the characters there is turmoil and danger lurking behind the splendor.

Theo as the middle aged widower writer is delineated very well. He is torn between  memories of his departed wife Anna, his growing love for Nulani and his sense of propriety in wooing a girl far younger than him. However, Nulani is the one character that stands out. Her journey as the troubled girl who finds expression of her talent under Theo’s guidance traversing across teenage innocence to a victim of circumstances to the successful artist in the end is really an example of well etched characterization.  Sugi as Theo’s Man Friday taking care of his everyday needs but doubling up as his conscience keeper and emotional anchor also plays a very important part in the story. I loved the way Roma transitions the ‘sutradhar’ role from Sugi to Thercy (Sugi’s female friend). The difference between the two is subtly portrayed Sugi is at blinded by his devotion to Theo while Thercy is more pragmatic. The other actors like Theos’ friends Rohan, Giulia and Gerard go with the flow and are neatly placed in the plot. The only character that is not as easily weaved into the story is Vikram. There is a steady build up and one expects him to play a very significant part in the denouement but that is not the case. The story would have done as well even without Vikram.

Roma’s painting skills come to the fore in her descriptions of Sri Lanka. She doesn’t go overboard but her painting of the Sri Lankan landscape is done beautifully. Neither does she overdo the descriptions of war atrocities something which many authors are guilty of.

A wonderful read. My rating 3.75 on 5.

(Published by Harper Perennial)

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2010 in Recommended, Uncategorized

 

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Vodafone-Crossword Book Awards

From the press release

The Vodafone-Crossword Book Awards 2008 shortlist is star-studded — and finding place are ‘The Enchantress of Florence’ by Salman Rushdie, ‘Sea of Poppies’ by Amitav Ghosh, ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ by Jhumpa Lahiri, ‘Past Continuous’ by Neel Mukherjee and ‘Escape’ by Manjula Padmanabhan.

This was announced by a panel comprising publisher-writer Urvashi Butalia, authors Mani Shankar Mukherji and Namita Devidayal and founder of Crosswords Bookstore R. Sriram in the capital Thursday.

The shortlisted nominees were selected by a panel of judges from a long list of 176 entries submitted by publishers.

The eligibility criteria for the award is that entries must be works of prose fiction, excluding teenage and children fiction, the entries must be either full-length novels or collections of short stories, they must be original works in English and the authors must be of Indian origin.

‘The role of the awards is not just recognising the authors. It is almost like the Oscars. We want to take contemporary Indian literature to a new level and involve people,’ said Namita Devidayal, winner of the award in 2007 for her work of fiction ‘The Music Room’.

How do they shortlist? is it on popularity of the book or the fame of the author? I can understand Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh and even Jhumpa Lahiri, no one dare leave them out of an award such as this. But Escape by Manjula Padmanabhan???? Even a google search for reviews of the book will put the book in perspective.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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The River Has No Camera – Anjali Chandran

If one went by the title or the packaging, one could have easily missed this book. If you took a little trouble and pulled it off the shelf and read the blurb, you may take a chance. That’s what I did.  Anjali Chandran launched this book in 2001 and I dont remember reading about it, must have slipped under the radar. It should have received better treatment, since it is not a bad effort at all.

Anagha moves to Kerala to escape her past. She comes to the Alanthur to get away from a life that borders on debauchery  – including extra marital relationships, abortions, drinks, drugs, origies. Rebuilding and reclaiming the Alanthur mansion is a stop gap pretext for her to recoup and decide on life ahead. But Alanthur has dark secrets that tumble out much to her surprise and alarm. Just like the mansion that has hidden rooms and spaces Anagha looks inward and discovers things about herself as she goes about rebuilding Alanthur. While on the exterior she tries to adapt to the village living among them, making friends – Solomon, her emotional support; Nandu and Shailaja, who give her shelter; Lakshmi and Devi, her domestic help whom she rescues from poverty. And in the process of living and discovering, her life is altered in several ways – there is loss  – Solomon, there is reconciliation – with her mother and there is the promise of a new life.

The symbol of rebuilding of the mansion plays out at two levels – rebuilding the past fame of the Alanthur family, Anagha’s coming to grips with herself and gaining self esteem which was thoroughly stamped out in Mumbai. The characterisation is weak except for the protagonist. In this one Anjali has excelled, Anagha is alarmingly direct, unafraid to take on adversaries and challenges, while at the same time she is endowed with a sense of humour. And these make her realistic and likeable. The others are bit players with not much to stand out.  Her narrative has an edgy quality to it and is pretty interesting. However, when she gets into a descriptive mode – for instance on the of marumakkathayam or the references to religion; she gets boring and the narrative loses sheen. Also the ‘suspense’ is no suspense at all, one can figure it out pretty early in the story.

One the biggest issues with the book is to do with editing, there are errors on almost every second page. The other flaw is of course her use of Malayalam intended to give the narrative a local flavour.  However, this falls flat as she makes glaring errors with her use of malayalam phrases.

The ‘return of the native’ kind of plot has been overdone, especially when it comes to Kerala. Anjali also falls into the same pitfalls whether it is to do with her snobbish commentary on life in Kerala, overdose of intellectual posturing or even the way she has used the language.

However, I will still say it is worth a read.

(Publisher – Srishti Publishers & Distributors)

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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Afterwards – Jaishree Misra

Disappointing, was my thought as I turned the last page. Another Indian author that I had not tried for a long time despite several people urging me. The fact that she is related to Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai as stated by Wikipedia  was certainly one reason to try this one out. May be this is not her best book, however isn’t consistency the halmark of a good writer? Look at Rohinton Mistry or Anita Nair they manage to keep at it book after book. Her other books like Ancient Promises, Accidents Like Love and Marriage seem to have done much better.

With a threadbare plot, Afterwards is a weak novel with nothing that really stands out. It is the story of Maya – her oppressive married life, her brief dalliance with freedom and finally her demise. Abused by her suspicious husband in Kerala, Maya strikes up a friendship with Rahul Tiwari an NRI who hires out the house next door. Rahul is her ticket to freedom and she cajoles him into taking her and her daughter Anjali with him to the UK. After a short but happy life in England with Rahul, she dies in an accident. Pretty simple? While I do prefer simple plots, this one is too simple even for my liking.

In terms of characters Maya is the obvious central pivot. She is the only saving grace in another wise pretty ordinary set of actors. What makes her interesting are the grey shades that Jaishree has painted her with. She is not all love, grace and longsuffering as seen on the surface, she is conniving and scheming at some level especially in the way she impresses on Rahul to help her. Rahul, though the narrator of the story, is not as clearly drawn out. The others like Govind, Maya’s husband;  Kevin, Rahul’s English friend and Rahul’s parents are the others that do not make much of an impact. Rukmani, Maya’s mother is the only other character that has a decent role to play.

Jaishree seems to try a little too hard to make her descriptions of the mileau be it Kerala or London realistic. However, she is no match to Anita Nair or Arundhati Roy in the way they paint Kerala in their writings. She also goes overboard with the phase where Rahul is mourning Maya, a real tear jerker. I had to skip pages to escape repitition and boredom.  

Even the back of book comments are for her other books like Ancient Promises and Accidents Like Love and Marriage. I will definitely be more careful before I pick up another book of Jaishree.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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