Book Review: A Fine Balance

A Fine BalanceA Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, takes you on a whirlwind of a ride through some of the most difficult years of independent India, portraying its four main characters and a myriad of secondary ones, who face the problems of caste and communal violence, discrimination, poverty, “gundaraj” and the dreadful Emergency.

Emergency is a controversial period of India’s history. The elected PM, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, was accused of election rigging by the Allahabad High Court, which was followed by demands for her resignation. In order to stay in power, she(with the voice of the President) declared Emergency in 1975, supposedly to protect the country from internal disturbances and thereby suspending all the Fundamental Rights of the citizens. All her rivals, including members of opposition, trade unions, student unions, etc. were put in prison.

The novel begins with a chance meeting of two tailors, Ishwar Darji and his nephew, Omprakash Darji with a student, Maneck Kohlah on the local train in an unnamed city by the sea (Mumbai), who are all going to meet the same person, Mrs. Deena Dayal. The two tailors are to be hired by Mrs. Dayal for sewing clothes for an export company, and Maneck, who is the son of Deena’s childhood friend, is going to be a paying guest at her place.

We are then made aware about the background of the four characters. Deena strives to be an independent widow, the two tailors have come from the bitter experience of losing their family to caste violence, and Maneck has been sent by his parents to study in a college to get a diploma in air conditioning and refrigeration, which they consider to be a safe choice for their son’s future in the technically growing country.

Under the period of Emergency, each faces the perils associated with life. The two tailors are once kidnapped as a member of falsely gathered crowd for PM’s speech, they become prey to the demonic beautification(losing their jhopadpatti house and condemned to forced labor) and forced sterilization programs, brought about by the dictatorial reign. Deena continues to face the possibility of losing her house and Maneck is emotionally disturbed by the horrors he see taking place around him.

At its center, this novel narrates how these people come to live under the same roof, sharing food, and constituting a family like bond. Dina slowly begins to recognize tailors as someone equal, denouncing her prejudice towards their caste.

“In the WC, the tailors’ urine smell that used to flutter like a flag in the air, and in Dina’s nose, grew unnoticeable….Then it struck her: the scent was unobtrusive now because it was the same for everyone.”

The tailors grow fond of Dina and find a haven for themselves, sleeping in her veranda. Maneck gets over his depression over the world around him and life and makes some genuine friends. But everything changes. Such few moments of high turn into the worst fates imaginable. Rohinton Mistry, propagates a creation of a fine balance in life, of despair and hope, of struggle and survival.

“You see, we cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.’ He paused, considering what he had just said. ‘Yes’, he repeated. ‘In the end, it’s all a question of balance.”

But in the end, everyone loses everything that is vital. Everything decays, the despair wins over the hope and lives are irrevocably changed.

The most striking feature about this work is its true to life scenario and the character sketch and development is impeccable. Rohinton Mistry succeeds in explaining the hardships of the common man of India, through his powerful narrative and story line.

With the tale of intertwining fates and separation, this book pictures how it was and how it still is in some parts of India. The author must further be praised for such secondary characters like the Monkey Man, the hair collector, the Beggarmaster, the Rent collector, the Inspector, etc.

I would recommend this book to anyone willing to read something of significance and something that would make you empathize with the people around you in a new way. It must be taken into account though that it is a sensitive and depressing read.

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I have been left in tears by only a few books. This is one of those books, which stirred such emotions like despair and helplessness in me. I thus wept for all that happens in the world and all that is brought forth by the interminable tide of time.

“What an unreliable thing is time–when I want it to fly, the hours stick to me like glue. And what a changeable thing, too. Time is the twine to tie our lives into parcels of years and months. Or a rubber band stretched to suit our fancy. Time can be the pretty ribbon in a little girl’s hair. Or the lines in your face, stealing your youthful colour and your hair. …. But in the end, time is a noose around the neck, strangling slowly.”
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Book Review: Eleanor and Park

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is a much talked about book, narrating a teenage love story, where the two central characters are portrayed as misfits in their high school. The book tries to focus on certain issues related to race, gender roles and identity, with a certain focus on abusive and disruptive families.

In a few words, my views do not correspond with that of Mr. John Green (an author I admire) in his New York Times review of the book.

The book is set in 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska. To summarize, the book begins promisingly with a half-Korean teen boy, Park, who is fed up of the “morons” at the back of his school bus, when a new girl (dressed in some ways like a guy or rather as someone seeking attention), Eleanor, boards the bus. She fails to find a seat for herself and ends up sitting along side that “stupid Asian kid”. Sharing seats soon transforms into a friendship, and furthermore into a romantic relationship, as Park begins lending his books and starts making mix tapes for her.

Eleanor comes from a troubled family, living in fear in the shadow of her abusive stepfather. And thus, she begins a relationship with Park in private, with all her insecurities bound within. Thus begins long monologues which are supposed to make teenagers teary eyed and make them feel warm and fuzzy. With anecdotes like, “I want to eat his face”, “He is so pretty”, “She has freckles even on her lips”, etc., the book, without any attainable pace, moves on, until Eleanor finds out something terrible that she makes a decision to run away. Park comes to her rescue.

To add into the mysterious note (which this book is not supposed to create, but I would, so as to make the review a tad bit more interesting), what would happen next? Will her stepfather catch her? What would happen to the relationship? Will hearts be broken?

This book is appealing to the fans of authors like John Green and Sarah Dessen.

What I liked about the Book?

1. It is an easy read, and thus, I found it alright to read, paying only half my attention to what was going on.

What I didn’t like about the Book?

1. The entire setting and development is flawed. The narration, whether of school life or Park’s internal discord, whether of Eleanor’s tragic home or of the romantic development, never becomes concrete. An attribution to reality is what this book lacks in. And that is something important for YA and coming of age books. I would put this book in the category overflowing with Nicholas Sparks’ works.

2. The book fails in addressing social issues which it only strives to achieve. The racism is only referred to in sidelines. There is no difficulty faced by Park as such on being half-Korean. Bullying and abusive parents are the issues that might evoke a small response on the part of the reader.

3. The intimate scenes/passages in the book are quite cheesy. The writing is only half good. The back and forth point of view is distracting.

4. The ending is a little abrupt but that is alright. The problem is that it is done in such a way to make the readers swoon and eager to know what happens next. If the author actually wanted to keep the ending abstract, the book could have finished a few pages short of the actual ending. It was deliberately done to evoke discussions on social forums and to add into the charm that teenagers find in such books.

I would recommend fans of YA only, to read this book. This book is not for the readers, seeking a coming of age tale or an adult romance. This book is only good as long as you want a peaceful, simple and uncomplicated reading experience. This book just won’t make you think. And so, if you want a distraction from your thoughts, you might want to give it a try.

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(My review might sound a little blunt but that is how I felt about the book. I failed to empathize with the characters. Many would call me heartless, to which I would reply that my heart works in correspondence with my mind.)

Book Review: Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

Sons and LoversSons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sons and Lovers by David Herbert Lawrence is a profound novel about love, if explained in a few words. And yet, you can’t limit it to that. Published in 1913, it received a lukewarm response but today, it is considered a classic masterpiece by many. How the book discusses the complexity of love and relationships and draws a contrast between nature and industry is, according to me, quite exceptional!

The story begins with a landscape of a mining town, urging the readers to see everything as it is. The third party omniscient narration first talks about Mrs. Gertrude Morel, who has married a miner, someone who is downward in caste to her people. Morel is an illiterate, an alcoholic and a simple minded man, with violent outbursts towards his wife and kids. Taking it fast forward, Mrs. Morel has three sons(William, Paul and Arthur) and a daughter(Annie), all of whom despise their father in their own ways, with a slight exception of the youngest boy, Arthur.

The mother who has never found happiness from her husband strives to look for it in her sons. In some way, she takes first the eldest, William, and then, the second eldest, Paul, as her lovers. (The story is not about incest, but rather about deep rooted feelings of companionship and adoration)

But her love for them makes all their lives crumble. The two sons could never love any woman through and through and that is what makes them miserable and suicidal. Paul (a character envisaged in similarity to the author himself) derives a bond of spiritual love with a farmer’s daughter, Miriam, who worships him. They have a relationship of mind, intellect and spirit. Paul also begins a passionate affair with a married woman, Mrs. Clare Dawes, who stays away from her husband. The harder they may try, they could never have Paul as a whole person.

Paul’s relationship with his mother is mingled with love and its produce, hatred. Sometimes, they are lovers enjoying a visit to different places and sometimes, they are distant to each other, brooding in their own worlds. Mrs. Morel could not approve of her sons’ lovers, her sons can’t devote themselves to their lovers, the lovers can never have enough of the sons, and everyone suffers in this overwhelming propinquity.

In the nexus of these characters, Lawrence brings forth a story of coming of age, of family, of love and hate, of relationships that are indefinable.

Some thoughts about the book:

1. The book was quite scandalous on its release, with its open portrayal of sex and related symbolic imagery. Lawrence has a knack for depicting the sensual moments in the form of colors, textures, and flowers, depicted in the scene.

2. The three lady characters: Mrs. Morel, Miriam, and Clara, form a circle around the male protagonist, Paul.
Mrs. Morel is the conscientious mother who has devoted her life and love to her sons. She derives happiness from Paul’s successes in painting. Paul succeeds for his mother. They have a bond deeply rooted in their need for each other. They make a whole, which no one is allowed to penetrate and if one does, one can’t stay for long. This relationship is naturally attributed to The Oedipean complex.

3. Miriam is my favorite character in the novel, and the most intricately structured, according to me. She is shy, introvert and deeply religious and finds first intellect and then, a love that goes beyond the realms of the world, in Paul. She is someone who lives for the afterlife much more than the life itself. Paul describes her love as, “You don’t want to love-your eternal and abnormal craving is to be loved. You aren’t positive, you’re negative. You absorb, absorb, as if you must fill yourself up with love, because you’ve got a shortage somewhere.”

4. Clara is a feminist, and yet, she is confused in her resolve. She is stuck between her husband and her lover, Paul. Paul’s relationship with Clara is that of passion, which withers with time. Clara is not a main character, but you can’t ignore her either.

5. The writing is impeccable; the sentences are short and poetic. The words weave living and breathing images and the complexity of the love is so finely articulated in these pages. This is a book which tends to get boring in between due to repetition, but that repetition is also necessary. It is quite long and is intended to be read patiently. It took me about 8-9 days for reading it.
Quoting an excerpt from the novel,
“To know their own nothingness, to know the tremendous living flood which carried them always, gave them rest within themselves. If so great a magnificent power could overwhelm them, identify them altogether with itself, so that they knew they were only grains in the tremendous heave that lifted every grass blade, its little height, and every tree, and living thing, then why fret about themselves?”

Why indeed!

I would recommend this book to patient readers, who loves the art of language and the need for the understanding of love and relationships. It is quite a depressing read, and that must be taken into account before you decide to hurl yourself into this story.

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Book Review: Red Clay and Roses by S.K. Nicholls

Red Clay and Roses by S.K. Nicholls

Red Clay and Roses is a historical fiction based on true stories, by S.K. Nicholls, majorly dating back to the period between 50’s and early 70’s. It is a story based on the lives of people, particularly women, of the small town of LaGrange and the circumstances that they deal with everyday, with the racism prevalent against the African-American citizens in Georgia, similar to the situation in many other Southern states, at the time when there was being seen a radical change in some areas of the country. However, the story starts in the year of 2012 and ends in the same year as well, but the entire basis of the story lies during the time when equality did not prevail and some relations could not succeed because of the racist notions of the society.

This is a tale, of love, loss, family, friends and the entire society and how concrete certain believes were etched in the mind of the people, because of what was familiar to them and what was made known to them by the previous generations.

Viewpoints regarding the book:-

1.The plot line is good which focuses on the lives of both fractions of the society during the period the book is set.

2. The characters are interesting and they would not bore you, until the very end. Once you get into the flow of the story, it is as if you want to know more and more and you would not be able to stop reading unless you have reached to a point where another segment of story starts.

3. The structure is quite confusing towards the beginning. It takes time for the reader to understand the significance of the events happening in the story. But every thing which would seem apart comes out to form a complete circle finally.

4. The emotional factor of the novel is good, you would feel a little sad at certain stances, and you would sympathize with the characters.

5. The division of the story is done quite cleverly and it is easy to jump from one part to another.

6. It is a sort of drama of the lives of the common folks. There are certain issues like rape, abortion, woman empowerment and taboo relationships, raised in the book and the writing is quite successful in putting forth the information regarding what the things were like back then.

7. The editing and grammar is such that you would have a nice reading experience.

8. The title of the novel is quite apt, creating an image in mind, which recurs in the story.

I would highly recommend this book to those who like reading about the lives of people and those who enjoy historical fiction for its facts and realities.

About the author (from goodreads):

Susan Koone Nicholls authored a Southern Fiction based on a true story, “Red Clay and Roses”, and has two other works in progress. She is an R.N. who lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband, Greg. She was born, raised and educated in Georgia, where she also raised her family. She has three children, a stepson, and two grandchildren. Orphaned from her mother at an early age, she spent time in foster care and in a children’s group home in the North Georgia Mountains, The Ethyl Harpst Home.
You may reach her at redclayandroses1@gmail.com, or visit her at www.redclayandroses1.wordpress.com

Note: I am glad to tell you that we will have a guest post by the author in which she discusses about the book, a little later. Do not miss it and definitely grab a copy of this book online, which would soon be available as a paperback also. For more information, you can contact the author at her blog or her e-mail id, as mentioned above.

Book Review: The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

The Bourne Identity (Jason Bourne, #1)The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Original Rating- 2.5

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum is the first book in the three-book Bourne series (original). It tells the story of the protagonist Jason Bourne who finds himself in an island near Marseilles, amnesiac, having been recovered almost dead, by a fishing boat. But he comes to know, with the help of the island doctor, his skills which are combative in nature.

This story is a search for identity of Jason Bourne as he faces deadly situations in which people are trying to kill him. He is striving to find out about his past, which takes him on a journey to Zurich, Paris and New York. With the help of his ladylove Marie, he is struggling, he is fighting and he gradually comes to know of his persona and his identity. There are two organizations- one of an assassin, Carlos and another of the US secret agency, and he is trying to run from both of them, while trying to figure out what he has had to do with them.

It is a thriller ride involving mystery, adventure and conspiracy. I have conflicting views about the book as the protagonist was, throughout the story.

Positive points:-

1.The writing is quite good at certain stances of the novel and you remain engaged.

2.The reader can easily understand the protagonist’s confusion. Thus, the character development is strong. There is a diversity of characters, which keeps you interested.

3.The plot line is quite different and full of suspense.

Negative points:-

1.The book gets boring a lot many times. You get tired of the story and you want it to move ahead; meaning to say the story becomes stagnant at many places.

2.Some characters are useless. Many words could have been saved if they were not introduced.

3.The story has certain high points and certain as low as a deep valley with many theoretical paragraphs and statements; a reader won’t be interested in.

It is not a bad book and it has kept me interested enough that I want to read its sequel. I would recommend it to anyone who likes suspense/thriller series and those who are patient enough to get through the tedious parts of the story. Also, those who like reading about spies and detectives would certainly enjoy reading it.

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Book Review: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains EchoedAnd the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (originally reviewed on 20 July’13)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“And the mountains echoed” is a compelling story or rather it is a collection of such stories which would leave a mark on you after you have read them. Written by Khaled Hosseini, this book takes you on a journey from Afghanistan to France to Greece to the United States. But in the end, it all comes to one thing; it is a search of a lost family through the distances, separated due to the situations which can turn around not only a single life, but many lives.

Positive points:-

1.Character development is really strong. Every character stands on an individual level.

2.The plot is good. It might seem impossible but we are talking about fiction over here. So, that must not matter.

3.I liked the writing and the narrative style of the author.

4.Emotional sentiments are engraved in the story but that doesn’t mean you will shed tears reading through it.

Negative points:-

1.The story sometimes appears to be a little far-fetched. The length of the novel could certainly have been a little shorter.

2.The beginning and the middle of the story is good but the end is not very convincing.

It is a good read according to me. I would recommend it to anyone who likes reading family drama and of course, the regular readers of the author. They would surely have a pleasant experience reading it.

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Book Review: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the DayThe Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 4 of 5 stars (originally reviewed on 27 July’13 on goodreads)

The Remains of the Day is a Man Booker Prize winner(1989)  book by Kazuo Ishiguro. It is a tale of an elderly butler who gets the opportunity to take a vacation, travelling through the English country side on his employer’s motor. This is indeed quite a journey for him because during its course, he recollects his life events devoted to providing services to his employer and his qualities as a butler.

He shares his opinions on various matters from talking about what a great butler is to discussing the rightful meaning of dignity. This novel is based in the month of July’56 but tells you the story of how he used to think about the events that took place at his employer’s house from as early as the 20’s.

And it is also a journey through which he meets the housekeeper friend he once worked with and speaks of their encounters during that time but most importantly, he learns how he is going to spend the Remains of the Day.

Positive points:-

1.The first-narration is brilliant. It is a journal actually of the butler Mr. Stevens, that you get to read.

2.The opinions provided are something we could relate in our daily lives. Even at this advanced age, some notions do not change.

3.The character development is strong. The protagonist is an intelligent person, but always devoted to the area of his expertise, always concerned regarding things that came under his realm, which included providing services to the English Lords. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t opinionated. He put forth his opinions about many other areas of life, including a little bit regarding politics. But it was always in the shadow of what his lordship believed.

4.It is a quick read. Even though it is not mystery/thriller, it is still a page-turner. Because you want to know more and more about the protagonist, who has indeed left a mark on me.

5.You get an idea of life in the Great Britain during the years spanning from 1920-1956. So, it made it quite an intriguing read.

Negative points:-

1.There are certain paragraphs when it seems you are reading an essay, but for a story. But it is only a little bothersome.

Character sketch of the Protagonist:-

1.A devoted manservant, as being suggested already.

2.He is a little contradicting. But that could also be taken as open-minded; that he is ready to change his views about a specific thing.

3.He is not sentimental; not capable of showing his emotions or even empathizing with others.

4.He is pretentious, as being suggested by one another significant character in the book. He pretends a lot many times, that is true.

5.He is definitely an interesting person; a true English Gentleman, who takes pride in his work.

As you must have gathered from my review, I enjoyed reading this book. If you have read Never Let Me Go, then don’t worry- both the stories are completely different. And I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who likes to read about people, their lives, their work and their thoughts. But it is not for those who seek romance or thrill in reading. It is a plain novel which was quite an appealing read for me.

Note: The synopsis considers it to be a love-story, but in my eyes, the love in the story is pure that of respect towards a fellow human being you work with. Thus, I won’t consider it a romantic tale.

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