In the Twilight of British Raj…

Two books both set in Colonia India; both set in early 20th century, in era of World Wars and Mahatma, told in the back drop of Himalayas and both written by women in 2000s!!

The first book is my long overdue review of “The Kashmir Shawl” by Rosie Thomas. To begin with grammatically, the name is incorrect – like the French Perfume is called the French Perfume and not the France Perfume, it should be “The Kashmiri Shawl”. That in itself put me against the novel, since the very name displayed a very superficial understanding of the land and not a lot of in-depth research. Anyway I soldiered on and I cannot say the story was all bad. After the death of her father, Mair Ellis discovers a shawl belonging to her grandmother. Exquisite in the riot of bright colors and hand-woven embroidery, Mair realizes the shawl is completely out of sync with her missionary grandparents’ lives and characters and sets off to India to discover the story behind the shawl. It is 1941 and Neyrs Watkins is a newlywed bride when her husband is assigned a remote missionary posting in Ladak. In order to recover from a miscarriage, ill-health and address some of the issues that is creating a distance between herself and her husband, Nerys moves to Kashmir in the company of her friends Myrtle and Evan McMinn. In Kashmir, she discovers the true life of British Raj – Shikara’s of flowers, houseboats on Dal lake, the social events at the Regency and new friendships which would change her life and course of  Mair’s life as well. The description of Kashmir is beautiful and from the back cover I gleaned that the author has spent several months in Ladhak and Kashmir which would account for the some lovely word portraits of the land. The friendship between Neyrs Watkins and Myrtle McMinn is warm, humane and alive only in the way women who have close girlfriends would understand. Kashmir in British Raj comes alive with all its gaiety and social hierarchies and hypocrisies even at the height of World War II which is as genuine a description as it gets! But despite all these redeeming factors, the story is bordering of improbabilities and fantasy. There are Swiss citizens walking about Kashmir during World War II and that in itself is a questionable fact. While Switzerland was not officially at war, all citizens who did not belong to the Allied Nations were treated as Alien Citizens with limited movements, especially in the border regions, like Kashmir. Then there is a “magical” disappearance of an Indian child and her “adopted” mother and how she was brought up in Switzerland! I do not think there were too many Indian children growing up in 1940s in Switzerland. All lot of this seems like taking the tale too far and while there is something to be said about poetic license and liberty, it leaves the reader feeling slightly incongruent with the plot line. This especially becomes highlighted as there the very epitome of stereotypes – the evil Indian Prince – Yawn! Indian Princes are soooooo evil and the only good Indians are the menials and underlings! And of course, the very old and boring reason for being unfaithful – your husband swings the other way! I mean why? Why cannot we come up with a more plausible reason for an illicit affair between a British Memsahib and an Indian Prince? I mean she could have just fallen in love or does the author still lie in the morasses of colonial mindset where the Memsahib cannot sink “so low” unless there is a very good reason for it! Otherwise it’s all very “Chi! Chi!. All in all, not a bad yarn but not a good one either ….your literary endeavors will not be incomplete if you give this one a pass!

The second book with similar heritage is “Ragtime in Shimla” by Barbara Cleverly. Set in 1922 Shimla, the Summer Capital of British Raj, the book follows Commander Joe Sandilands who is heading to the hill station in the company of a famous Russian Opera Singer, when he is shot dead. Why would anyone kill a Russian Opera singer in a part of the world, where he had apparently no past acquaintances? Joe Sandilands begins to discover all is not what it seems and just as he seems to have unraveled  a knot, a new one appears! From Shimla to South of France, Joe finds surprising connection between a brutal train accident and the death of not only a famous opera singer, but also a lost heir and a political plot! Now for the review, British Shimla is live and throbbing through the pages of the book – there is the famous Christ Church, the Cecil Hotel and The Mall. There are Residency balls and fashionable shops and rickshaws!  And then there are the majestic Himalayan Mountains – borrowing heavily and acknowledging the sourcing of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, the author describes the land beautifully with its conifers and pines and lovely houses, which, for all their beauty seemed a higgly piggly motley crew, much to the disgust of Lord Lytton, the architect of New Delhi. The tale in itself is a very good whodunit. Just when you figure out, oh! I knew that all along, a new twist comes along and you are thrown off the rock again. The characters though not really written as multilayered or with depth in some cases, are nevertheless believable – they are neither very good nor very bad, mixture of all that is humane – wanting success, wanting better lives, angry of past actions/injuries, believing in the joy of future.  Very real and very endearing, and even the morally wrong ones are fun. Thank fully there are no justifications for the whys of a fallen woman and no need to expatiate her past of make her sound like a victim, a la “The Kashmir Shawl” style – they are what they and no apologies. There is the clichéd Indian Prince Villain – charming, seductive and crooked! Yawn!! At least, there is not too much time spent on him. Like in the naming of “The Kashmir Shawl”, a minor flaw revels the lack of complete of understanding of the India on the author’s part – the Indian Prince is a Pathan and a Muslim; son of King of a princely state on the North West Frontier Border – the author calls the Prince’s father the “Rajah” which is Hindu epithet and not used by Pathan rulers of the North West Frontier Border – they rather used terms like Shah or Amir.  However the overall book is very good read, for the mystery alone, if not the era. Again your literary endeavors will not be enriched by this book, but some time one reads for fun and this book us great fun!

Turf Wars and more in Victorian England

I am still very ill so I will make this post short and sweet. While I have some pending reviews,  let me review what I have just finished reading and fresh in my mind so that I do not labor myself too much (Yes! I am reduced to dithering hypochondriac except I really cannot seem to take on too many tasks!)

Therefore without further ado, I present to you Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. I had bought this one way back but for some reason or other I did not get around to it; recently this book came back into view and seemed like a perfect staple for my Century in Books project.

Framley Parsonage is the fourth instalment in Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire and was published in 1861. I do not know why I took so long in getting round to this book, because I had so far read three of the Chronicles and loved them – The Warden, Barchester Towers and my personal favorite Dr. Thorne.

Framley Parsonage continues the saga of the Cathedral Town of Barchester and follows the life of Mark Roberts – a young Vicar who is blessed in every possible way when our story opens.  Mark Roberts is a son of country physician who had done well and had sent his son to a private tutor; as luck would have it the only other pupil at that time was the young Ludovic, Lord Lufton. The dowager Lady Lufton impressed by young Mark Roberts and encourages the friendship with her son as a fitting companion including convincing Dr. Roberts to send his son to Harrows and then Oxford and upon graduation, presenting Mark Roberts with a valuable living in the rectory of Framley Parsonage. Furthermore, Lady Lufton also finds him a suitable wife in Fanny Mosell who is the closest friend of her daughter Lady Justinia Meredith. Fortune smiles on Mark Roberts and things are looking up when Mark decides to increase his hold and place in Church of England by interacting with such Nathaniel Sowerby a Member of Parliament in serious financial trouble and Duke of Omnium, an unprincipled libertine and a staunch Whig supporter and an opponent of Lady Lufton. As Mark is taken away from his home and rectory and is implicated in Nathaniel Sowerby’s debt, he also incurs Lady Lufton’s displeasure by consorting with a worldy group whom she violently opposes. In the meanwhile, Dr Roberts dies, and his youngest daughter Lucy Roberts comes to stay with Mark and Fanny. It is here that the young Lord Lufton meets and falls in love with her and though she also feels the same way, she refuses to marry him unless Lady Lufton consents, which everybody agrees will not happen, since she has decided to make a match of her son with the beautiful and wealthy Griselda Grantly, the only daughter of daughter of Archdeacon Grantly. What ruin does Mark’s future hold and what happens to the star-crossed lovers is the core of the novel. Other staple characters of Barchester intermingle with these new entrants including the Proudies, Dr .Thorne, Miss Dunstable and the Arabins.

I am told by Wikipedia, that Anthony Trollope said that Framley Parsonage is a “thoroughly English”. I think this is the perfect description of the novel with only a footnote – thoroughly Victorian English! This novel is Victorian at its best – there are church wars and there are wars raging in the Parliament on India policies and French diplomacy. There is as Mr. Trollope rightly points out fox-hunting and I add seasons in London. It is a beautiful vibrant picture of the golden age of the British Empire in all its grandeur and all its folly. There is never any pedantic voice on the follies but a gentle mocking humor underlining the need that is clear even today of a great nations that stops itself from greater glory because of the pettiness’s of its people. The narration is linear and very straightforward and the plot line though simple touches upon some of the everyday facts of life and the challenges we all face ins resolving them. There is a lot of humor and a subtle irony.

The real show stealers of this novel are its characters. They are wonderfully drawn as usual and like life there are really no black and no real white characters. Mark Roberts is not the hero, though he shows heroic tendencies in the end nor is Lord Lufton the hero, though there is much virtue in his conduct. The heroines and I do say the heroines because that’s what they are; and are an absolute pleasure to read. Fanny Roberts is intelligent bright and sensitive and though not blind to her husband’s faults, defends his character with as much gusto as possible.  She has thoroughly developed sense of propriety and can see the rightness of Lady Lufton’s actions, even if they are against her husband and is a complete champion to Lucy Roberts. Lucy Roberts is one those remarkably fine characters – though to world in general and in terms of Lady Lufton seems insignificant; she had depth, principles and courage of the bravest kind – the courage that requires you live knowing you have sacrificed every happiness of your life for the sake of another. She is a marvelous character and her episodes are a joy to read; I especially enjoyed her interactions with the Crawleys.  Lady Lufton while masterful  is a wonderful woman, capable of great love and it is love in the end that always steers her actions in the right directions despite her pride and her constant urge to take charge. Nathaniel Sowerby though he comes through as dyed in the wool villain is also shown to be capable of honor and even sensitivity. The Arbins, Dr. Thorne and Miss Dunstable are as always delightful to be reacquainted with; with their sense of integrity, delicacy of mind and in Miss Dunstable‘s case a brilliant sense of fun!

I know I promised this to be short and sweet, but remember this is Victorian novel and it is long. Judging by current standards, this novel could have been a 100 pages less; but I am not complaining. This is one of those books that you read and immerse yourself slowly and bit by bit.

I had mentioned earlier that Dr. Thorne is my favorite among the Barchester Chronicles – here’s the postscript – it’s just been replaced by Framley Parsonage. Like a fine wine, Mr. Trollope keeps getting better and better!

All About Nothings and Somethings….

As God be my witness, this year has been super crappy; even the bubbly me hangs her head and sighs when I look back on this year and see the misses –

  • Got unceremoniously dumped! (Yay!)
  • Much awaited Promotion did not happen and in fact went to an office slacker
  • More rejections on publishing front
  • More financial strain due to some unforeseen expenditure by parents

So really, on this glorious gratuitous day, I sit back and think, well do I really have anything to be thankful for? I mean my God seems to be on vacations here…..

But then is life really that bad???? Yeah! Pretty Much!!!

However I can still hang on and that in itself is a cause for celebration! Besides, it is absolutely ungrateful as my flatmate tells me to forget all the brilliant things in my life just because some setbacks.

Therefore, here’s to being grateful –

My people – family, friends and more who stood by me and held me through some fun adventurous nights (irony intended)

My books – Oh! Such joy to just read through the night; to escape to a world where life is so much better and see things in a different light!

My blog and followers – The joy of coming home and seeing a like/comment or a follower – only a blogger would know the high of that comes of it! Besides, so many people whom I call friends, I have met thanks to blogging – could there be a better incentive than that?

My Job – I cannot believe I wrote that! But let’s face facts – there are plenty of people out there in the world who would kill for a job like mine! Comfortable, secure with a lot of job satisfactions – I mean the Project Manager me quite likes doing Projects!

My Hope – I know this is intangential, but I cannot imagine living through my life without any sense of hope! I felt like that for a couple of days and they were not good – felt like I had lost all sense of joy! As long as I have the sense of hope I know I will survive, no matter how low life gets!

On that brilliant philosophical note, I end this blog!

A very happy Thanksgiving to all of You, regardless of whether you celebrate this day or not! You have no idea how much you’re reading through this or stopping by my blog means to me. Thank You for being a part of this adventure with me!

The End….

I know I was away yet again and I did contemplate a lot before writing this post – but since I have shared all almost all the highs and lows of my life – this one seems proper, though as God be my witness, the idea is not to wash dirty laundry in public or seek sympathy, but to explain that while I will try to be my bouncy, bright, chirpy self – but there might be some days when I falter and I ask you all to bear with me!
I have so often read about such things, heard it happen to other and knew that stuff like this was part of life, but the reality and the fact that it has happened to you or can happen to you, does not really occur until it actually does happen! Then you go from disbelief, to rage to complete numbness! (And yes! Insomnia and writing random blogs in the middle of the night!)
So what has happened, so cataclysmic in nature to make me spew all this bizarre thoughts – oh! the oft repeated, tried and tested sordid ending of a relationship – I have been left at the altar, not practically but metaphorically for another woman. Mr Soulmate has decided that he found another soul better suited to him and was apparently with her for the last couple of months. He told me last week Monday, at work – calling me and saying lets meet for coffee and then “Well I want you to know – yada yada yada!”
I think I spent the next 48 hrs thinking it’s a bad joke that he will come and laugh it off or a bad dream that my flatmate will wake me up from. Apparently it’s not – it’s a reality and he is marrying her in December!
We worked together and that’s how the whole thing started – but I cannot seem to understand the hows/whats/when! He was promoted about 10 days ago and within 3 days after that, it was goodbye to me and hello to someone else! I am still grappling with what hit me/us?
I can’t seem to rant or rage and I do not wish for any scenes or any drama – I just feel very tired and numb and the only thing that keeps playing on my mind is –

How do I live without you
I want to know
How do I breathe without you
If you ever go
How do I ever, ever survive
How do I, how do I, Oh how do I live

If you ever leave
Baby you would take away everything
Need you with me
Baby ’cause you know
That you’re everything good in my life
And tell me now
Ms.Twain really hit the nail there! But I will be back, sooner than you think, but bear with me until then!

Once upon a time and everytime…..

So the Classic Club’s September Meme is contributed by Brona from Brona’s Books –

Rereading a favorite classic at different stages of your life gives you different insights with each reading. Is there one classic you’ve read several times that also tells a story about you?

Please be forewarned, this is going to be a loooooonnnngggg post!

Like a lot of people I began my formative years reading a lot of classics and like many I always thought of myself, especially in my teens as (Yup! You guessed it!) Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice by the greatest of all, Jane Austin  – I wanted to believe I was clear-headed, was quick  and witty and above all could give it back with all due decorum and politeness! Of course, there was always the sneaky feeling that if I became a Lizzy Bennett, I will find a Fitzwilliam Darcy – I already had a bit crazy and extremely hyper mother and a very laconic and sarcastic, albeit thoroughly sensible father. But life has different plans in place and as I grew older and read all of Jane Austin’s work more closely, I began to realize that I am actually a Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility, again by Jane Austin – I was an intellectual and cultural snob, who would turn her nose at anything low brow. I was extremely passionate about everything, still am, the only difference is at that point and this is the University years, I was passionate to the point of fanaticism. I also believed that there is only and only one true love and no secondary attachment could be that passionate. I had even found a semi – Willoughby! (Yikes!!! Super Yikes! Let’s not even get into that!) But now in my more respectable and mature 30 years of age, I know despite every plans and intentions, I have settled down to being a Jane Bennett (from Pride and Prejudice, the elder sister to the much aspired, Ms Elizabeth Bennett)  – how colorless can one get????? But facts are facts – though I do not have the legendary beauty of the eldest Ms Bennett, there can be no denying that I am a fool and do not see faults in anyone unless I am run over by avarice and selfishness of the other.  I am so busy, ensuring everybody else is happy, that no matter how unhappy I am, I keep up the demeanor, without realizing that those that are close to me can never be truly happy unless I am happy! The only thing lacking is Mr Bingley ( Mr Soulmate is nothing like Bingley – he is nothing like any of Jane Austin’s heroes!) and a sanguine temper – I am short fused and this is a carry-over from my Marianne Dashwood days!

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is another book, whose re-reading has made me identify more and more with her. As a teenager, when I read the book, I was not particularly impressed by the namby pamby Jane Eyre and her stiff upper lip stance. I wanted fire and courage in my heroines and Jane was a calm stream of water. But re-reading the book during an interesting phase of my life (The Willoughby phase!), I realized how much of strength it takes for an ordinary governess to stand up to a Mr Rochester – to demand to be treated as an equal and what’s more to seek respectability and honesty in a relationship, even when your heart is breaking and you are completely in love with the person. Jane Eyre clearly was one of few books to take such a strong equality stance between men and women, with the subtle underlining of a simple message that took me years to learn, vis-à-vis, matters of the heart, that something simply cannot be compromised on – no matter how high the cost!

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand was another novel which I read during my teens and could not really relate too. It took me good 9 years in a corporate environment to understand what it is to be not only very good, but absolutely excel at your job and how the larger crowd with mediocre talents will try to pull you down. Though I am blessed to be working for a great company that actually has very limited if any Corporate politics, but there can be no getting away from the truth – the mediocre crowd would always find flaws with you if you are really good. They would rather you confirm to their average standards, that stand up alone and raise the bar! Individuality is good and having a mind of your own is even better – it’s difficult to stand alone holding the reins of success, but I rather hold the reins than become a blind horse treading the known path!

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is yet another book that made me realize a lot of home truths very early. In my Marianne Daswood phase, I could not fathom anyone making big mistakes in life and living on – the concept of forgiving and moving on was alien to me and therefore for a very long time I could not relate to Caleb’s actions in igniting Aron’s mind against their father Adam Trask. It was only much later as I became closer to my sister who was 14 years my senior and always the golden child of the family; therefore for a long time in my eyes taking the place of Aron (though she is undoubtedly more kind to the parents!) that I learnt about making mistakes, accepting them and moving on to make a better life. The day I accepted that I transitioned from a Marianne to a Jane!

Finally and I know I have already written a blog on this but no book at any point of time made me what I am and whose re-reading over the years has just made me appreciate a little more about such non tangential things like courage, honor and integrity – about standing up for one‘s beliefs no matter what and about strength that comes in all forms – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. My basic principle of life came from this book and has only become stronger over the years – unless I can look myself in the eye, nothing is worth it!

To Read or To Write….that is the Question!

I read on Stephanie’s blog (Thank you again for making me think!) about an essay in LA Review of Books by William Giraldi called The Writer as a Reader and it got me thinking on the concept of understanding the art that you create and how that art may have been conceptualized. Can you truly be a good author, when you may have never read a good book? Can you actually fathom writing a “Grapes of Wrath” or “To kill a Mockingbird’ or even a “Pride and Prejudice” when you have never read them or similar genres?

Giraldi contends that Herman Melville’s Moby Dick could not have been written if Melville had not read and understood the nuances of John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Captain Ahab could thank Milton’s Saturn for its inception! He also states that according to Melville’s biographer Andrew Delbanco, the author’s work reached a new level because of his close reading of other literature including Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Dryden’s translation of Vergil’s Aeneid .  Giraldi argues that Melville is an example of writer as a reader who “who kneels at the altar of literature not only for wisdom, sustenance, and emotional enlargement, but with the crucial intent of filching fire from the gods”.  Giraldi then compares this to what he considers the modern channels of communication and the vast availability of mediums to express one’s thoughts/works /writings that may have remotely nothing to do with literature and “the illogical leap from being able to sign their names and send an email to the belief that they can write novels, which is rather like deciding to swim the English Channel simply because you’re able to take a bath” He finally contends writing is an extremely difficult process and each word/sentence is a process of serious agonizing  of the mind and the soul. Therefore reading good literature is a difficult process as is writing something. “Sit down with Middlemarch and The Sound and the Fury instead of Jodi Picoult or Dan Brown and you’ll see you have quite the mountain path to hike before your own words are ready for the world.”

Now I am all for this school of thought – how in the world would you know if you are writing A Walk to Remember (Where is my barf bag????) or an Out of Africa when you have never read the latter? I have never read Dan Brown expect (Shudder! Shudder! Sigh! Yes! Even I make mistakes) The Da Vinci Code (And I so wished I never had) and then I read Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum” and my reaction was …Hang on! So much for originality and to top it off its bad writing as well (I mean Da Vinci not Pendulum). Eco’s book was not an easy read and at times you have to struggle to keep the lull from coming on, but there is no denying that book is an intellectual masterpiece that has one doing all kinds of mind gymnastics. On the other hand, I read Dan Brown over a long train journey (Yes! I am quaint and I do infinitely prefer trains over planes) and did not even bother with the end and dumped it at the rubbish can at the station.

Having said all this I know it’s fashionable to take a swipe at Dan Browns and Nicolas Sparks but I honestly do not find any intellectual nourishment or emotional sustenance from these books.  And yet they do sell millions while I am still struggling to get my one manuscript published despite all my reading of Tolstoy, Steinbeck and Dickens! Therefore they must be hitting some right note with the audience that I and countless like myself cannot seem to find. It is kind of difficult for me to agree with Giraldi only at this point that the mass reading phenomena does not actually have the capacity to understand a “Middlemarch” or “Things Fall Apart’. My apology for these readers is that they  may have in generality not been exposed to such works at a young age and then with the passage of time they lose or rather fear their capacity to understand such works! I have lost count of the several times when I have been told “How can you read such a difficult book?’ or “How can you read such a fat/difficult book?” and these questions have also come from readers, voracious readers definitely but may be not discerning readers!

Then there is the whole debate about originality. I know many critics argue back and forth on this subject, but I cannot dismiss that as a writer I cannot help but be influenced by those works that I idolize. Does that make my work less original? I don’t mean in plot lines alone but rather in terms of language, character and genre? My flatmate always says that my writings are squeaky clean and the plot lines even when describing the most terrible/horrid experience never really descend to squalor – an influence she attributes to all my close reading of Edwardian and Victorian literature. Similarly my sister is one of the most prolific poets that I had the good fortune to read (and I am not saying this because she is my sister, but because she is truly talented) She too remains unpublished and her works have a strong sense of her being an inheritor of a combination of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and John Keats. Does this make her work, which is not even prose less original? The great George Bernard Shaw did remark “What the world calls originality is only an unaccustomed method of tickling it” and “Keep away from books and from men who get their ideas from books and your own books will always be fresh”.

Thus the question remains – how much am I ready to be influenced and how far? Would I rather be ignorant and create a master piece – but then without knowing what a masterpiece is, how can I create one? And if I get to know what a masterpiece is then, my creation may not be an original masterpiece at all!

In any case, my case is done for and I am of the Giraldi school of thought, not by any other virtue than the fact that I have read so much that now I cannot but help in making the whole process of writing a cathartic experience, potentially sacrificing all hopes of financial and popular success at the altar of great literature. Nor do I regret it – somehow I cannot fathom creating a character of any worth without knowing Jay Gatsby or an Estelle Havisham or an Atticus Finch!

P.S. On a lighter note, the thing about writers who read is that in my case and I can say for my sister, we are so often caught up in our reading, that realization that we should also writing as much often comes in late and if it comes in the middle of extremely interesting plot – you know which of the two activities will be abandoned!

And the list keeps growing……

romance 2I know I have not written in a while and I have a perfect excuse for that! I was too busy reading – gosh! I have been reading and reading and reading and I know you are thinking what the hell is new about that, but it’s just that I have never tried reading 7 books in one go and some of the plot lines are now overlapping each other and sometimes need revisiting! Remember I have a full-time job in a financial institution where they thrive by drinking my blood (and some more poor souls like me) with a straw and a pink cocktail umbrella (No! I do not exaggerate! Try working in a hardcore financial corporate sector with a double personality of a writer inside you!) On top of that there has been some severe personal crisis, including several verbose conversations with Mr Soulmate that left us both of ranting mad at each other! (Don’t hold your breath…we are at peace now! At least I think I am at peace can’t say about him. I have discovered we hold very different ideas of what constitute war or peace and what should or should not be a matter of war or peace!)

 
After all the moaning about my misfortunes, let me get down to the part I can be really effusive about – what all books am I reading?
1. Great Expectation by Charles Dickens. This is part of The Classic Club May Spin series. In fact I just finished reading about it today and was in too minds about whether to write about the books or generally continue with my random nonsense! As you can see, random nonsense won! However my next blog will be completely dedicated to discussing this work, so come armed!
2. Game of Throne  by George R.R. Martin – Sigh! I know! I know! HBO premiered the series 2 years back and I must have lived in dark ages; but really I seem to catch up on fads very late. I got hooked on to Harry Porter nearly 4 years after the first book was published. There is something that recoils in me from reading up anything that is cried up by a large section of the population. However I did develop an obsession for Harry Porter and now seem to be well on my way on developing similar craziness for Game of Throne
3. Citadel by Kate Mosse – I picked it up on a whim. I really liked her Labyrinth; it was fresh and original and I loved the Cather history to which I was introduced to! I hated her Sepulcher; I never understood what it stood for and what it tried to say and was quite sick of Leonie. So the third book seemed to be a decider and I decided that though Citadel is definitely better than Sepulcher, it is fails in comparison to Labyrinth. I picked it up because it was about women and World War II and France…looks like a great ingredients for a great book! But it was not a complete read – I did not warm to Sandrine Vidal and I did not and could not feel the chemistry between her and Raul and then there is all this running around for the Codex and Ghosts and what not and all of it quite unnecessary. It could have been a simple and brilliant tale of women in the French Résistance but instead it became a muddle of Ancient Rome, Ghosts and stereotypical Nazis!
4. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – I love Elizabeth Gaskell and think of her as one the most gifted authors of Victorian era.  I have just reached the part where Margaret and her family are moving to Darkshire leaving behind their beloved Helstone. The book has immense promise and I hope to finish it before soon. Hopefully, I will be able to dedicate another exclusive blog to Ms. Gaskell
5. The Other Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Ever since revisiting The Great Gatsby, I have developed a I won’t say a passion, but a certain soft corner for Fitzgerald. This was his first novel and as I wade through it, I discover the sparks of satire and prose that would mark his later works. I would do a separate review of this as well!
6. The Crisis in European Minds by Paul Hazard – I was introduced to this by Stephanie and will again be in her debt for making me read something marvelously original, intuitive and brilliant! If you have taste for history/sociology, then this book is an absolute must!
7. The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor – This is an easy read picked primarily for light reading before I crash. It’s set in 92 B.C.  and Gordianus has turned 18 and is undertaking an educational journey to the seven wonders of the ancient world and is accompanied by his tutor who is none other than Antipater of Sidon. As student and teacher travel across the ancient world, there is a murder, some witches and a lot of sleuthing. Told you, it’s light reading

That’s my reading list for the week! I must admit the books staved off some of the more frustrating moments at work and held me back when I was an inch away from throwing the fattest volume at Mr Soulmate – after all I had yet to read it and did not want to damage the volume. And yes! It’s a joke and no, neither of us indulges in violence; unless you call God of War (Yes! The bloody game that he is so bloody fond off! )  violence, which I do, but then that’s another story!

The Happy Sad Syndrome

Is there anything called Happy Sad? You know when you are filled with joy of knowing someone and yet there is sadness of parting? I am truly blessed not to have parted with someone like that in real life – I mean I do have close friends and family who have moved away and I do miss them terribly! But there is always the hope of meeting again and starting off from where we left. Therefore, all my Happy Sad relations are limited, (sigh and thank heavens!) with books.There are those books that make you laugh through the whole bloody tale, only to make you cry (because otherwise the lump in your throat would choke you) in the end and yet when you close the book, you are smiling, cause you have just formed a Happy Sad relationship!

I know I am being maudlin, but bear with me! I just underwent such a cathartic Happy Sad moment! I just finished reading John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. This was my first book by John Green and I had no idea it was a young adult book and even if I did, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damm!

The story sounds very mushy and sentimental – Hazel Lancaster is a terminally ill girl who is forced to go to a Cancer Support Group meeting by her mother so that she can deal with her illness. At such a meeting, she meets Augustus Walters, a Cancer survivor and they start seeing each other. As their relationship develops, so does their obsession with author Peter Van Houten who had written a book called An Imperial Affliction, which does not really have an ending. In order to find an appropriate end to the story, Augustus uses his Wish from The Genie Foundation, to sponsor a trip to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive author and get a closure on the book they both love.

But there is so much more to this book than teenage mush and of course the whole tragedy of young people dying of cancer. This book is filled with sparkling wit and wonderful humor and some absolutely marvelous prose and some heartbreaking moments. Let me elaborate –

When Hazel is worried that she would break his heart by dying of her illness, Augustus says ““Oh, I wouldn’t mind, Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”

The humor crackles through the book; here a sample when Augustus’s sister try to cochie coo him, making him uncomfortable –
“It’s just that most really good-looking people are stupid, so I exceed expectations.’
‘Right, it’s primarily his hotness,’ I said.
‘It can be sort of blinding,’ he said.
‘It actually did blind our friend Isaac,’ I said.
‘Terrible tragedy, that. But can I help my own deadly beauty?’
‘You cannot.’
‘It is my burden, this beautiful face.’
‘Not to mention your body.’
‘Seriously, don’t even get me started on my hot bod. You don’t want to see me naked, Dave. Seeing me naked actually took Hazel Grace’s breath away,’ he said, nodding toward the oxygen tank.”

And the heartbreaking moments like when Hazel worries what will happen to her parents after she dies and she makes them promise to be together and continue leading a good fulfilling life.

The sensitivity with which a very difficult subject has been handled, without sentimentality and loads of fun (in fact the book is replete with mockery of all those books with cancer patients who do such courageous things, when in reality there is nothing poetic about dying a slow and painful death). There is a lot of good sense and practicality and an unearthly sense of reality. There is THIS whole piece of talking over the phone just before you drop off to sleep which is even better than being with the person, because it is togetherness beyond the obvious. I know exactly what that Hazel is talking about. While I am not 16 and I am not sick, I do talk to Mr. Soulmate every day just before I drop off to sleep and it’s one of the most wonderful experiences, where it seems like I am with him no matter what the time and space and there is something intransient about us!

That’s another thing about John Green’s book – he is a man; but the story is written from a girl’s point of view and boy! Does this man know the soul of woman or what? It’s like he is sitting in living room of a girl’s heart and writing from there.

Like I said, I could go on and on about the book, but it’s just something you need to read and savor on your own, like Hazel says –
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

Liking Jane…..

This blog is in response to the March Meme of The Classics Club. The subject is Jane Austen…now how can I ever pass out on opportunity to wax eloquently on my all-time favorite author – the very witty, the very talented and an acute observer of all the fallacies of human nature.

While Jane Austen has always been at the very top of my ladder of veneration that I reserve for my most beloved writers, it is very surprising that I never wrote about her before. But then what can I say for Ms. Austen that has not been said before – what can I say that is original and not hackneyed or trite?  However let me attempt to spell out why I resort to Jane Austen, when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am confused, when I need distraction or simply when I need to attain a Zen state of mind!

By now, the very first question of The Classic Club for this subject should be answered by now – I do not love Jane Austen; I am obsessed with her!!!!!

Now to broach why I love Jane Austen – I love reading her because she is one of the original fountain of all wisdom pertaining to relationships, especially those between a man and a woman. All those of who had been nourished on a healthy and completely untrue diet of Prince Charming carry poor little Cinders away, despite strong objections against her background got of first taste of reality through Austen’s work. Whether it is Mrs. Bennett or her relations, there can be no denying that improper behavior by the family of the protagonist will always be a hindrance in the path of true love and will always make a lover hesitate in declaring his intentions. How many times in your adult life have you heard your boyfriend say that your mother/aunt/sister is too loud and an embarrassment in public which led to an eventual showdown between the two of you, regardless of the validity of criticism? I feel this keenly and therefore try as much as possible to shield my guy from my extended family.  She was one of the first writers to put forth that while filial respect is always important and should always be of greatest import, one cannot turn away from the obvious shortcoming of the parents, which at times may lead to disastrous effect on the child. Example of the same is Mrs. Dashwood who does not try and control the imprudence of Marianne in her relations to Willoughby leading to heartbreak for one and exposing another to the censure of the world. Sir Elliot’s vanity and pride deprives his daughter Ann Elliot from happiness for seven long years. These were revolutionary concepts, especially when we look at the era that Ms. Austen was writing from.

Many claim Jane Austen had written a 18th century Mills & Boone through Pride and Prejudice. But this  in itself is a very simplistic understanding of the novel – this was one of the first books where the heroine asserts not only her own self-respect but also forces the male protagonist to respect her family through sheer force of character. Ms. Eliza Bennett is not a milk and honey  miss, like her other fictional compatriots, who faint at anything remotely stressful; nor does she give away to hysteria when ill befalls her family – instead she faces them as a strong individual, sharing burdens with her sister and keeping her own repining in check and rarelyhas moments of self-indulgence. She does not go around being pedagogic to her suitor, but speaks to him on equal terms, in mixture of humor, angst or anger as dictated by natural human tendency.  Pride and Prejudice was also one of the first writings to throw an egalitarian twist – while Mr Darcy had 10000 a year and Pemberly, he is dismissed as a gentleman by Elizabeth, who claims equality as a gentleman’s daughter and is completely unapologetic about the comparative material inequities between the two.

Ms. Austen was one of the first writers to create a flawed heroine, whether it was Elizabeth Bennett’s initial liking for Mr Wickham or Emma Woodhouse’s meddling and sometimes rude conduct towards her friends and neighbors. She makes her heroine fall to only make them rise, realize their mistake and become better human beings, woman, wife, daughter etc.

Finally many critics have condemned Jane Austen as parochial and not addressing some of the pressing concerns of her time, like the Napoleonic Wars. She does refer to the Napoleanic Wars when there is a need – Persuasion is filled with allusion to peace after the war; but mostly she wrote about the country – the kind of place she grew up and spent most of her adult life. She wrote about things that she understood and had complete command over than attempt something for which she was dependent on second-hand sources and which may have a false bearing on the tale. After all, since Ms. Austen’s celebrated examples of writing about spheres understood by the author, more than 200 years later, the apparently modern and up-to-date social networks, work on her principle of writing locally!

Jane Austen is not out dated, she is not boring and she is not parochial – she is in fact very cool, with writings that can be handed down from one generation to another, because it addresses the really never-changing mores of human interactions!

To address the last part of The Classic Club Challenge – my favorites in order of 1 to 6 are (with 1 being the best!)

  1. Pride and Prejudice (No Surprise there!)
  2. Emma
  3. Sense and Sensibility and Persuasions (I know…I cannot decide between the two!)
  4. Northanger Abbey
  5. Lady Susan
  6. Mansfield Park (Only Austen that I consider tedious and didactic!)

Do let me know what you think about Ms. Austen as well!

Once upon a time in the Jazz Age…..

I finally finished reading The Great Gatsby and my first reaction is – why the hell did I wait so long to read this magnificent work??? Why the hell did I believe that this very stereotypical tale would be written in same trite manner set in an era and country that in itself continues to make people curious and on this lay the principal reasons for popularity of the book alone? I was so wrong!!

I think one of the main reasons which made me hesitant to pick up this book was the fact that at a very young and a very impressionable age, I had read Tender is the Night and really dislike it. Somewhere in my sub-conscience, I knew that as a connoisseur of literature, I should give this book a try and in fact had borrowed it from the library at least twice and bought a copy more than year ago…but until today, I just did not summon the courage to read it. But now that I have, I must own, I am blown away.  I am humbled and in complete awe of the immense talent of Scott Fitzgerald that he could take an oft-repeated tale and turn it into something beautiful, tragic and a cathartic experience.

the-great-gatsby-by-beckisaurusrexxI am sure almost everyone is familiar with the story of The Great Gatsby. The story is told from the point of view of Nick Carraway, an educated, wealthy and a sincere Mid-Western, and begins with his moving to East, New York to work for Bonds. He is soon re-acquaints himself with Buchanan’s, Daisy being his second cousin and Tom being his senior at college. The Buchanan’s are typical products of the Jazz Era, with loads of money and restlessness. They had travelled in Europe, lived in Chicago, before moving to New York. At the very onset of the novel, it is made clear that Tom Buchanan is a libertine and keeps a mistress, Myrtle Wilson, who is the wife of the garage owner, George Wilson, who services Tom Buchanan’s car. Nick also becomes friendly with the mysterious Jay Gatsby, his extremely wealthy neighbor, with a reputation of having killed a man and a host to lavish parties, through which he hardly appears and is rarely seen by the party attendees. Nick soon discovers a past between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan and soon this past comes to become the present of the lives of the two, with tragic results ends with Nick moving back to the West, with the conclusion that Tom, Jay, Daisy and he himself, were all at the heart westerners and that’s why none of them could get completely comfortable under the skin of East.

What makes this book wonderful is the word portrayals and characterization. For instance when Nick first describes Gatsby “If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament”–it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.”  Through the book, while Gatsby and Daisy are the principal figures, the author also subtly delineates the character of Nick Carraway, who is presented as a contrast to all the denizens of East, with his sincerity and true sophistication that comes through.  It is Nick Carraway’s own admission that comes as a proof of his honesty of character “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life”. Fitzgerald is at his best as he masterfully creates verbal imageries and brings home to the reader the irony of the tale, with a gentle disapproval of his generation and their conduct. His description of George Wilson and Tom Buchanan making similar discoveries about their wives is presented with an illuminating insight “I realized that so far his suspicions hadn’t alighted on Tom. He had discovered that Myrtle had some sort of life apart from him in another world and the shock had made him physically sick. I stared at him and then at Tom, who had made a parallel discovery less than an hour before–and it occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well. In fact the book is filled with such piercing observation – “Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead”.

I know I have quoted practically the complete book, but the very beauty of the book lies in the words – used so subtly, yet so powerfully as to make one speechless and instead quote forth the book. In the end, all I can say is, this is a must read and I am only sorry that I made my acquaintance with this masterpiece, so many years later! The preface, (which I always read after reading the novel, since they create half-baked ideas that intrude into the tale) describes how on its first publication, the book was deemed a failure and only after it was distributed to the soldiers during World War II that it began to rise in popularity! I am once again amazed how a worthy work, gains all the value, when it is deemed completely value less.