The Spinning Number

Following up from my last post, the Classic Club has declared the number for Spin #24 and it is – ta da – 18!! What does that mean? It means I am overly joyed, completely excited and for a change not dreading reading the book that has been spun out – I get Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck ( Drum Roll Please!)

Steinbeck is one of those authors who was critical in my formative years and along with Jane Austen and Harper Lee has left an indelible mark on my character, giving me a set of values and creating my belief system. East of Eden is my most favorite and it’s closing lines of “Timshel” – you may overcome is one of my guiding principles in life, where the choice to overcome is yours and it’s is your action that drives your life. However despite this abiding love and admiration for Steinbeck, there are some books which I still have to read (the old problem of so many books and so little time ) and therefore I am over the moon that this one time I have a Classic that I do want to read!

I just ordered my copy today and hope to post a review of the book soon! So what was your Spin number?

Let’s Spin Again…..

The Classic Club Spin is one of my most favorite reading activities. Over the years it has forced me to read books, that I was not sure I wanted to read and tackle texts, which I thought would be beyond me! Naturally the result has been wonderful, I fell in love with so many books that I had been hesitant to read; of course, there were one or two odd ones, that I could not and still do not like, but most of the times, the result were way more positive, with discovery of books and authors to cherish forever. Lately however, with all the tumult that life has thrown up, I have missed many of these events, but now that I am slowly settling back in, it is time to turn to those things that gave me a sense of joy and achievement. Therefore, I am all set to participate in The Classic Club Spin # 24

Thoughts by John Henry Henshall, 1883, The Athenaeum

The rules are as always, extremely simple and I quote from the site directly –

  • Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List.
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog before Sunday 9th August.
  • We’ll announce a number from 1-20. 
  • Read that book by 30th September 2020.

Thus, without further ado, I present my list of 20 and look forward to August 9th with both excitement and some trepidation (not all books are up there in I-want-so-read list!)

1The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarrington
2Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope
3Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy
4Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell
5Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
6The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xuequin & Chi-chen Wang (Translator)
7Son Excellence Eugène Rougon by Emile Zola  
8The Bucaneers by Edith Wharton
9The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
10Kim by Rudyard Kipling
11And Quiet Flows The Dawn by Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov
12The Bachelor by Stella Gibbons
13A Country Doctor’s Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov
14The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy
15Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor’s Son by Sholem Aleichem
16Gora by Rabindranath Tagore
17Gossip in a Library by Edmund Grosse
18Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck
19 Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
20White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

And now we wait for Aug 9th!

#ccspin

The Joy of Small Things

One of the best things about blogging, which I sorely missed during my hiatus was the pleasure of discovering books you never read or authors you did not know wrote! While this does create some issues in terms of TBR *****ahem! ahem!****** the fact still remains, that most of us Bookish people would rather have overflowing TBRs than scout around for what to read next! Recently Karen over at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings discussed a brilliant little book called Delight by J.B. Priestley and I knew I had to get hold of it immediately!

J.B. Priestley is far too well known for any introductions; a prolific writer, he has written books and plays enough to fill shelves after shelves. I too have read many of his works and loved them and like Karen mentioned in her Blog, enjoyed the slightly grumpy tone of his writings.Delight however is a departure not only from his more famous works of fiction, but actually focuses on the those small everyday items that bring joy to the author.

J.B. Priestly begins this slim volume by offering a context of writing this book. He offers his defense for always appearing to be grumbling including that authors have the unique privilege and therefore obligation to speak the truth, especially those truths that may be costly for others who have jobs and other dependencies, because no will fire them from their job with mortgage and impact on his family. Therefore he feels it incumbent for writers like him to speak of the unpleasant. He then goes on to share in small concise Notes like format all things that bring him “Delight” and they include a vast range of small everyday items that often get missed by most. He begins by describing the joy of Fountains and the synchronized way they sprout out water in varied hues and colors. He talks of the joy of reading “Detective Stories in Bed” at the end of a long hard day, where a good narrative instead of some “improving literature” actually provides relief and reset’s the mind for a new day! He also talks about the joy of reading or watching other artists including the works of H.M.Tomlinson and the Marx Brothers. No item is too mundane or small in helping the author finding delight, like Mineral water at a foreign locations after all the struggle of travel, or waking up at the right moment, when the breakfast is being prepared, so that one arrives right on time, when it is still hot and fresh or the joy of inventing games for his children.

Henri Martin, Fontaine dans mon Jardin, 1904, Source – Wikiart

I cannot say enough good things about this book! The author in an effort to share his joy forces all of us to think all those little things in life that bring us joy but we often ignore in our search for the big things! He remained me about my undiluted pleasure Reading in bed while it rains cats and dogs outside, of buying books, or Chamber Music etc. Only the brilliance of J.B. Priestley would have managed to convey such outpouring of joy in sparse, concise and at the same time witty prose. Here’s an example, on discussing the effectiveness of Marx Brothers as entertainers – “Karl Marx showed us how the dispossessed would finally take possession. But I think Brother Marx do it better.” Or on the subject of people seeking advise from him ” But because I am heavy, have a deep voice, and smoke a pipe, few people realize that I am a flibbertigibbet on a weathercock, so my advise is asked. And then for te minutes or so I can make Polonius look a trifler. I settle deep in my chair, 200 pounds of portentousness, with some first rate character touches in the voice and business with pipe, I begin “” Well, I must say, that in your place _____”” And inside I am bubbling with delight! There is so much fun and self deprecating humor, that not only does one remember to appreciate small things in life but also approach life understanding that not everything can and should be taken seriously! And through all these notes, never far way, is the author’s appreciation of the inequalities, of the struggles that come in everyday for the common man and his appreciation of the good things in life!

This book is a must have in everyone’s collection and from now on it is my Go – To book whenever I need a pick me up!

The Challenge….

The two things among many things, that I realize in the hindsight I missed the most during my blogging hiatus were good book recommendations and reading challenges! After blogging for 8 years I can proclaim to all and sundry that Blogging besides helping me become part of tribe, called readers; forced me to read books that I would not have usually read and find favorites that I did not know could be a favorite. Virginia Woolf’s To The Light House and Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin to name a few! In the absence of book discussion, I found myself drifting in deeper in the reading slump and I was running out of ideas and definitely motivation! But two weeks back into this familiar comforting world, I have added more book’s to the TBR (as Kagssy recently mentioned in her post, Ahem! and then went ahead and introduced me to a author whom I have never read; I really missed this!) and there are enough challenges to push one into action!

I am aware that I am slowly returning to form, so I am being sensible and not signing up for everything! However I am supremely tempted aka as in given in to join the Big Book Summer Reading Challenge, hosted by Sue Jackson over at Book by Book! There are no rocket science rules and it’s easy and flexible and I quote them directly from the blog page –

  • Anything 400 pages or more qualifies as a big book.
  • The challenge will run from Memorial Day weekend (starting May 22 this year) through Labor Day weekend (Labor Day is September 7 this year).
  • Choose one or two or however many big books you want as your goal. Wait, did you get that?  You only need to read 1 book with 400+ pages this summer to participate! (though you are welcome to read more, if you want).
  • Sign up on the first links list on Book by Book.
  • Write a post to kick things off: you can list the exact big books you plan to read or just publish your intent to participate, but be sure to include the Big Book Summer Challenge pic, with a link back to Book by Book. It’s fine to kick-off your Big Book Summer as part of another post.
  • Write a post to wrap up at the end, listing the big books you read during the summer.
  • You can write progress posts if you want to and/or reviews of the big books you’ve read … but you don’t have to! There is a separate links list at Book by Book for big book reviews, progress update posts, and wrap-up posts.

This challenge works beautifully for me – I have just started a chunkster The Anarchy by William Dalrymple and am also in the middle of The Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. After a book slump that lasted so very long, I could do with the additional impetus this challenge brings and the timelines are generous enough to allow me some room for distraction if I desperately need it! A shout out to the wonderful Classic’s Club for always keeping me posted on what is happening in the bookish world!

Outside of this, the only other read along that I may jump in is with Cleo and if and when she reads, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. All folks who have been following me know Cleo is my soul sister and our reading adventures have been far and sometimes totally wild (we never did finish Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol despite all our enthusiasm!Yikes!)and reading with her is both insightful and funny! It’s been ages since I read anything with her and to read a novel like To Kill a Mockingbird, a book that defined my character, just makes it doubly wonderful!

So that’s my Summer reading plan! The idea is to keep it simple and tread with care, but move forward neverthless! What then is your reading plan?

That Day, Way Back…..

Life as usual continues to play hide seek with some sunshine and a lot of rain! Therefore this post which should have been up 10 days ago, finally goes live NOW! One late night, 8 years ago, absolutely frustrated with the commercial and maudlin sentimentality around , I took to the blogosphere to share my unprecedented, and complete abhorrence for the celebration of Valentine’s Day. It was a rant, and I did not think much about it, but somewhere the rant, became a habit, the habit led to opening of mind, the opening of mind, led to new books and interesting discussions and those discussions led to friendships all the way round the world, with men and women I have never met, but whose affections and support has helped me navigate through losses and reach out for the triumphs! All I can say, I am so darn glad, I started this blog, 8 years ago, I did not see how far this journey would go, I did not know if I would still be writing 8 years later, and I had no ideas, I would become part of tribe – wonderful, warm and mine!

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8 years seems a long time and what at the age of 29 I disdained, I can now look back with tolerant amusement, if not humor! Therefore in honor of the eventful day that started off this journey, I thought I would do a fun post on what I consider 8 most endearing romances in the world of Fiction. It seemed like a wiser and indulgent commemorative to the scathing blog journey that I began so many years ago –

  1. Sir Samuel Vimes and Lady Sybil from the Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett – As many of you know I am a die hard, completely committed to the alter of Sir Terry Pratchett and his brilliant Discworld type of a fan. While, Captain Carrot and Sargent Angua are a razzle -dazzle couple of Ankh-Morpork (the greatest city in Discworld) in terms of relationship goals, I cannot but feel that Sir Samuel Vimes and Lady Sybil set a new heights. They come from the opposite sides of the world, he grew up at Shades and she is aristocracy, he is cynical, she is wise, he does not marry her for money and she does not care that at the start of series he is only a Captain Vimes. They support each other, care for each other and often do things they do not want to do, because, I guess that is what being together is!
  2. Ron and Hermoine from Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling – I do not care what could have been and what was intended, to me the relationship between Ron and Hermoine is just what it ought to be. The Smart girl, does not go with the Boy Prince, but rather with the friend, who opened his home, his heart and even his corn beef sandwiches when Harry was alone and orphaned. Sure, he acts like a Dork and sure he makes mistakes, but he realises and goes out of his way to correct them and that is the essence of any relationship – not that we do not make mistakes, but we correct them!
  3. Ann Elliot and Fredrick Wentworth from Persuasions by Jane Austen – In  Ann Elliot and Fredrick Wentworth, the incomparable Ms. Austen, created a couple whose maturity of age and love sustains, separation, misunderstanding, rise and fall of fortunes and still endures. Away from the more light hearted approach of her usual novels, in this Austen classic,  Second chances do not happen, but rather come together, when you have you have loved none but one, through every single obstacle and doubt.
  4. Princess Julie and Captain Ashton Pelham Akbar Martin from The Far Pavillions by MM Kaye – Among the revolutions, the Afghan wars and the varied history of British India, is the love story of an Indian Princess and a British Army Officer. Brought up together, and separated by social, economic and cultural requirements, their love endures, in the most heart rendering sacrifice to duty and honor when hope was all over and until, fates brought them together again. In Princess Julie, the author had created a character like any other, whose only strength in the darkest despair is her belief that she did her duty and her love, which she sacrificed for the duty. Ash Martin was of course a revolutionary hero sketched by Ms. Kaye, brought as a Hindu until the age of 8, he is an Indian soul in British body and his rootlessness only finds home with a Princess among the distant mountains of Himalayas
  5.  Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from The Green Gables series by LM Montgomery– They start with sibling like arguments, to companions in adult years, to falling in love and setting up a home together. It is one of the most simplest, naturalist and beautifully moving romances, rooted in love, respect and the realities of the world that surround us!
  6. Cal Trask and Abra Bacon from East of Eden by John Steinbeck – I believe this is one of the most underestimated couples of Literature and I have no idea why. Cal is a flawed character whose choices lead to disastrous results. Abra is hardly perfect, she is after all the girlfriend of his brother Aron, though it evident that they are growing apart and is the daughter of man implicated in financial crimes. Yet, it is Abra who gives hope to Cal, she makes him return home, and along with Lee, helps him seek the forgiveness of his father.  If this is not the perfect partnership, where we elevate each other, I do not know what is!
  7. Royce Westmoorland and Jennifer Merrick from A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught – As a teenager, I read a lot of romances by Judith McNaught; they were all a typical romances of strong silent rich heroes and heroines who are poor but proud and there is a lot passion. Yes we all make mistakes, even in books. However this historical romance stands out; yes Royce Westmoorland is hardly a noble or gallant man and Jennifer Merrick needs to use her head more, but set in 14th century as England and Scotland wage brutal wars, suddenly, there is rich and complex history making the tension in the romance very understandable and the love, betrayal and finally forgiveness,  all very as comprehensible country and nation and love forces people till date to make unimaginable choices!
  8. Elizabeth Bennett and Fritzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Yes I know cliche, yes, I know everyone knows everything there is to know about these two iconic characters and yes, I will still put them on the list because they redefine romance and equality couple goals!

That’s my list, and I am curious to know what you all consider as exemplary fictional couples! Do let me know!

To end, a big shout out to all my tribe for all their love and support over the years, that made 8 years seems like yesterday and a big thank you to all my readers, who patiently, and kindly not only read my posts, but comment and like and have done that for years! This blog still continues despite storms, because of all of you!

The January Reading Month….

Many moons ago, when I was still young (relatively speaking) I used to do these round up posts for the month. Then life and its complications intruded and everything including my regular blogging commitments fell apart. However, the thing about life is it passes and like I said previously, the only way to normalize things is to go back to the simpler tasks and do it again, as much as possible. So here I stand with a round up of January readings!

Personally January and I am knocking on the wood as I say and write this saw a whole lot of improvement from December. Yes, things continue to be tough, but I felt a growth and a letting go and learning of new lessons, which hereto I was not completely aware off. You would think at the advanced age of 37, I would know it all, but I did not and this month has opened up my mind to new ideas and thoughts and interesting revelations that I never thought existed and it’s all been very educational. With Dad’s health a tad improved and some brighter things on the horizon from the professional front, I can say, that January has been a good start to the year! (Knocking really hard on the wood!)

Reading in Winters
Summer morning by Robert Vonnoh, 1895

From a reading perspective, it seems like, while I have read quite a bit (GoodReads says I am 2 books ahead of my 2020 reading challenge !) it has mostly, actually, completely, been a re-read kind of a month. As I previously stated, I am picking thing’s up on a whim, reading what I feel is entertaining or enlightening and not worrying too much about what-should-be-read! Considering the kind of stress life has lately been under, the joy of reading old favorites has especially been comforting and in some cases even inspirational. I continued on my “selective” Harry Potter journey; while I have read and own the entire series, there are certain parts that I like more than the others and those I re-visit more than often. I managed to re-read The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Half Blood Prince in January. The Prisoner of Azkaban is my most favorite; and among various reasons, this is book that kicked of my Harry Potter love affair! Speaking of fantasy and inspirations, no one did it better than Sir Terence David John Pratchett aka Terry Pratchett. His Discworld series are one of those very few books that teaches all of us to be better, kinder and more generous to our fellow creatures, all the while making us laugh till we ache and also telling us a highly entertaining story in the process. (If you want more details, please read my dedicatory post to him, here!) He was a genius and his words gives many of strength and courage and in year where things were more dimmer than brighter; re-reading Maskerade and Men at Arms was a good reminder of courage, honesty and doing the right thing, even if it’s the hardest thing to do! Vi Va Sir Pratchett, gone too soon! If you have never read his work, please go ahead and buy some, not all books are great, and some are for sure better than the others, but they all teach us something! Finally with all the hype around the new Little Women film, I kind of ended up re-reading this wonderful classic again. And once again was left in awe of the quiet courage of Mrs. March and the sheer goodness of Beth who has always been the role model since I was 11 and read the abridged version. All my friends wanted to Jo, but I always aspired to be Beth, albeit wanting to lead a happy boisterous life! Beth’s death always moves me (Yes! I cry every time!) and I picked up a little know but very funny novel for variation – Kissing Toads by Jemma Harvey. While this book has very few readers and it is easy to categorize it as a chick-lit, 10 minutes into the book you realize that it is anything but one. Sure, there is romance, but it is primarily about friendships and sisterhood and friends who are family that this book really touches upon!

That was my January reading! For February, I already started on Carpe Jagulum by Terry Pratchett ( because once you start, you cannot stop!) Also, I have almost completed this wonderful selection of essays on literary woman and woman authors by Elizabet,h Chadwick called Seduction and Betrayal. Kaggsy introduced me to this brilliant collection and I am ever so grateful to have read this volume. I also have the new Jeffrey Archer novel, Nothing Ventured lined up and while my chunkster reading – The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton has hit a slump, I hope to get started again!

That is all I had for today! Happy February everyone!

P.S. Does anyone know the artist who painted the picture I have incorporated. I have done all kinds of searches but cannot find the author of this wonderful piece of art and I really really want to give the due credit and learn more about their work!

P.P.S. Kaggsy to rescue again; Painting identified and updated with due credits.

 

Reading Plans and 2020

I know it is almost 15 days in the year for this post to go up. But I am guessing better late than never and if nothing else, these kind of posts inspire me to have some kind of a reading map to guide me through, instead of all kinds of crazies. Having said that, I must also say, that this reading plan is not really a plan, but some guidelines that I want to adhere to while making reading selections through this year. These are not exhaustive reading plans or list. I love those detailed plans I used to make at the start of the month and at end the month assess of how I fared. I also used to love participating in various reading events and read alongs; many books and genre’s that I would never read would become my absolute favorites thanks to these events. However life has been totally out of control for the last two years and if that should be the trend this year as well, then it is better to be selective and chose or not, wisely so that there is no sense of I-really-have-not-read-much-this-year at the end of the year!

Therefore moving on, here are my very basic rules for reading anything this year –

  1. Read two chunksters – I have several and there was a time when reading chunksters was BAU and did not need to be called out. However, life is throwing me spinners and I need to manage accordingly, so I am calling it out and restricting the number to two; if I end up with a miracle and read more than two, that would be even more awesome. But for now two. I started on The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I bought this book nearly 5 years ago but never really got around to reading it, so now I am pacing myself with a couple of chapters every week and trotting along. I have no idea what the second chunkster will be.
  2. Read more classics – Again, something that would not have been called out in the past but lately I have skipped reading the more richer works, unless one counts, re-reads of Austen. I need to get back into the groove of reading Classics again and I will consciously try and read a few more, maybe 5 through this year.
  3. Read Non Fiction – Lately I have been reading significant amount of Non Fiction beyond my usual trope of Travelogues and History. And I must say, that it has been quite an enriching and significantly transforming experience. I have read and learnt and observed and it definitely challenged my mind and forced me to think in ways I do not do and overall, it has been a learning that I would want to continue on.
  4. Read Books already Bought – I think this is a common issue of all Bibliophiles. We see books, we buy books and then we go back re-read Austen or Harry Potter. I have nothing against re-reading Austen or Harry Potter; in fact most of you know, those are my go-to comfort books. However, I have over the years bought several 100 books and my house is filled to excess with unread books, I want to try and read some of those this year, I cannot commit to never buying new books; I have yet to reach that stage of Nirvana, but atleast control by spending spree, I have developed a simple rule – I will add books to my cart and keep them for 24 hrs; if post that I still am itching to buy them, then I will. I have trying this since December and the only book I have bought since then is a Strategic Management book which is part of the coursework I am doing for a certification. I hope, super hope, I can stick to this one critical resolution.
  5. Have Fun!

That is my reading plan for the year. The only read alongs I have so far signed up for is to re-read Pather Dabi by Sarat Chandra and Bleak House by Charles Dickens with Cleo, whenever she takes those two on. The other event I want to participate is The 1920’S Club hosted by Kaggsy and Simon. I love that era and inherently gravitate towards that time period and therefore being part of this event is only a natural progression!

This then is the plan for 2020! I am hoping in the last week of December this year, to be able to show case a relatively favorable report than those I have shared or not over the last few years! But that will be when, it will be! Until then, here’s to all the good things in life in 2020, including and especially Books and Readings!

The Black Bird

Kaggsy and Stuck in the Book are hosting this absolutely fabulous event, called the 1930 Book Club; the idea being that we read a book that was published in the year 1930. Now anyone who has even remotely waded through my posts will know that I have a fascination for late 19th century – early 20th century works. Therefore there was no way I could pass this event! The most amazing thing about 1930 was the number of amazing books that were published across a host of genres, from Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, to Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie, to The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield , to the very first of Nancy Drew books, to Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents,  this was a prolific year of brilliant books and some of which will be handed down to posterity as classics! It was really really hard to chose and I was really tempted to read The Diary, though I have already it read it twice, in the last 1.5 years or even Vicarage which I have read like a thousand times already. But I instead, decide to read something which is out of my usual selections and instead turn towards The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.  I have never been much of a fan of American Hard Boiled Detective genre’s and books like The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler left me wondering why anyone would read them. However, I wanted to keep an open mind, and I picked up a copy from the Kindle stores.

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Set in the late 1920s San Francisco, the novel begins with the introduction of our main protagonist Sam Spade (oh! yes! that’s where this starts!), a private detective,who is advised by his secretary, Effie Perine, that a beautiful woman named, Miss Wonderly is here to consult him. Miss Wonderly when shown in, shares she wants to hire Sam Spade to find her runaway younger sister. She tell him that her sister is only 17 and is under the influence of a thug named, Floyd Thursby. Miles Archer, Spade’s partner, agrees to trail Thursby personally on the behest of Miss Wonderly and promises to share a report soon. However that very night, Miles is shot dead, presumably by Thursby. Sam is summoned by the local police to identify Miles and help in the investigation, and while all of this is in play, somebody shots Thursby. Soon Spade is embroiled in high stake game with all kinds of characters all of whom seemingly have different ends and means, and Sam needs to navigate this labyrinth to reach to the truth!

This is not an epic read, this is not a chunkster, but it did take me a while to get to the end. I could not like any of the characters much – Sam Spade is a product of the generation, smooth talking, hand to hand fighting, ladies man. In fact his ladies man persona put me off completely. I understand that the attitudes about woman were very different 90 years ago, but respect I thought is key, all through history. He is cool and in your face and in the end, seems to have some moral compass, which makes him, for ,e mildly redeemable. Miss Wonderly, with her large tears and babes lost in the wood and needing rescue, left me wanting to throw the book at someone. The only remotely interesting character was Mr. Gutman, a businessman with a style and Effie Perine, who seems to be the only genuine character in the book, though her taste in men leaves much to be desired. There are prejudices, a character from Levant, may not only be a villain, but also have sexual preferences, which are to deviant and therefore to be abhorred. The plot however was very interesting and though the book did lack a a-ha moment, the unraveling, peel after peel was very intriguing; and though I felt a few character’s less would made it for a slicker read, it was nevertheless a well thought through puzzle. The author builds the atmosphere beautifully, and as a reader, you are left wondering and second guessing. The language is reflective of the times and the sights and sounds of a 1920s global city with all its linkages comes alive.

All in all, I am glad to have read this one, if for nothing else, I now know. But I do not think I will be re-visiting a Sam Spade novel very soon! In fact, I gave into tempation a picked up Diary again. ( I have earned it!)

Thank You Kaggsy and Stuck in the book for an awesome event! I loved reading for this year and feel like there are so many books which I was not aware of yet again and need to get to them soon!

The Russian Nobleman

Vladamir Nabokov called this book “the first and fundamental Russian Novel”; in fact he was so frustrated by the what he considered the lack of qualitative translation of this critical piece of work of Russian Literature, when he started to teach at Wellesley College in 1944, that nearly 20 years later, he would produce his own attempt, which would as always create a furor, like everything Nabokov did; but that is another story! This “novel: which he considered key to Russian literature is not even a novel, but rather a work of poetry, describing the life and times of one Russian nobleman in the early 19th century Russia; it’s called Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin. This work which has spawned an Opera, several films and more translation that one can count was published in Russia in a completed form in 1833 and was to change the very nature of Russian prose!

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This novel in the poetry form follows the lives of Eugene Onegin, Vladamir Lensky and the narrator, a fictionalized Pushkin from the early days in the glittering society of St. Petersburg, to the estates of the Russian country, where all three meet and become friends. Eugene is a dandy, cynical and selfish who is easily bored, does not find any creature or object interesting beyond a short stipulated time and who comes to the country after inheriting an estate from an uncle, to overcome the boredom he had begun experiencing in the glittering society circles. He becomes great friends with the narrator and Vladamir Lensky, a young, naive poet of 18; and it is Lensky who takes Eugene to the home of Olga, his finance and the younger daughter of a fellow landowner. There Eugene meets Tatyana, Olga’s elder sister, a quiet romantic girl, who is drawn to Eugene and goes on to confess her emotions to him eventually. However, Eugene rebuffs all attempts and states that he will become bored with marriage and Tatayana should be careful of baring her soul in such a manner. In an effort to reconcile a listless Tatayana, Lensky invites Eugene to her name day, stating it will be a small gathering with only the girls, their parents and two of them; however on reaching Eugene realizes that the entire country is there and to get even with Lensky for what he considers his “traitorous” act, starts  off a chain of events, that will alter the lives all four!

I read the translation by James E. Falen, and words fail me to say enough and more about this work that would do justice to its brilliance. The characters, to begin with, are masterfully etched out, standing independently and distinctly, sometimes, white, sometimes grey, sometimes, a unique hue of its own! I have read the Eugene Onegin was considered an anti-hero by many but this seems to be a simplistic definition; the protagonist is a brilliant, creative individual lacking enough outlets to use his brilliance in the limited occupations and social restrictions of early 19th century Russia. He is capable of considerable goodness, but can also be mean and caught up in pettiness. Lensky is a perfect foil to cynical and bored Eugene; he is optimistic, full of vigor and constantly eager to see life with all its beauty and perfection. Finally, in Tatayana, Pushkin created a memorable heroine,  innocent and untouched by worldly requirements, her heart burns with a certain purity, which establishes itself a strong moral character as life experiences are forced on her and then tempt her! She is the one solid ethical character around whom the rest of the amoral characters revolve, bringing out her contrast as an ideal and worthy! Even the minor characters are wonderfully drawn and support the main cast ably. The conversation between a love-struck Tatyana and the wise old Nanny is an illustrative example of such interactions. As a narrative, this poem is faultless; it brilliantly combines worldly with the ethereal, practical with the spiritual; the fictionalized Pushkin at several instances breaks away from the main plot to digress into some deeper questions of life including what is art? But he is not only able to skillfully bring the audience back to the main narrative, but also create several instances of suspense when the reader rushes through stanza in an effort to understand what happens next! This in itself would have been enough to make this outstanding example of poetry in a narrative form, however, the brilliance of Puskin takes it into a whole new level by the wonderful and deeply moving lyricism of the language, that manages to convey the strongest and most powerful emotions without for a moment sounding maudlin. I am quoting the translation and can only wonder, how beautiful the original will be –

“Another! No! In all creations, there is no one else whom I’d adore,

The heavens chose my destination and made me thine for evermore,

My life till now has been a token in pledge of meeting you, my friend,

And in your coming, God has spoken

You will be my guardian until the end.”

Vissarion Belinsky wrote that in Eugene Onegin one could find “an Encyclopedia of Russian life” and I felt this through the novel. From the glittering ballrooms of 19th century Moscow to the quiet and haunting landscapes of the large and unending estates of the countryside, this work covers it all. There are travels by coaches and name day celebrations; there are landowners and peasants and relatives and army men; there is a range of amalgamation of items and details which all beautifully come together to present a vivid and lively picture of Russia. Once again, the sheer magnificence of this effort leaves one breathless.

Finally, a word on the translation; translating this work cannot be easy and it took a genius of Nabokov also 20 years to come with a manuscript that does justice to the original. James Falen did a wonderful job in keeping things simple and I believe as close as possible to the original narrative and yet make it easy for the reader to read and absorb what is essentially a vast body of information in poetry in a different language which is actually a story! Though there is the use of some words like “awesome”  which cannot have in vogue in the period this work is set, they are far and few, and do not take anything away from the brilliance of this work!

To end, this profoundly beautiful piece needs to be read by anyone who considers themselves Connoisseur of literature!

Snake Gods and Migrants

I have been planning to write this review, literally for weeks. I had read the book more the a month back and these days, I only post a review if I really enjoyed the book or it exasperated me beyond my patience! This one for sure met that criterion and it’s just life as a always became to busy for me to find time and space to write about this book. After all of this, it is time to introduce the book I am referring to – Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh!

I have been a Ghosh fan well before his Commonwealth winning and withdrawing of The Glass Palace which also I loved. I was first blown away by his Shadowlands, a beautiful, lyrical story of Bengal, partition, riots and coming of age. Till date it remains, one of most sensitive pieces of prose I ever read and the end, still takes my breath away. The Glass Palace, though I feel falling short of the brilliant prose, was a wonderfully crafted story; the history resonating very closely to me (my great grandfather was a Teak Merchant, settled in Myanmar, and saw the history of the land unfold through his own eyes). However, The Hungry Tide put me off Ghosh; I could not relate to the characters, of people who fall in love without any communication, or even the vast range of issues that Ghosh seemed to try and tackle which did not truly integrate into the main plot. I was put off enough to skip the entire Ibis Trilogy and only to pick up Gun Merchant, when this came my way as a gift!

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Gun Island is narrated from a the perspective of Deen Dutta, a 50 something erudite, cultured and well traveled man and dealer in rare books, based in New York. A chance meeting with his extended Bengali family, during a vacation, gets him involved with the legend of the Gun Merchant, a Ulysses like character, who traveled along with his companion a ship captain, all over the world, in a bid to escape a curse of the Indian Snake Goddess, Mansa Devi. In his effort  to dig the truth about this myth and Deen comes across and interacts with a host of characters, all of whom are on their own journey of self discovery and have parallel stories of strife and success. There is Piya, a fellow Bengali American Professor, who sets this journey in motion, there is Rafi, the illiterate Muslim Fisherman, whose grandfather was the keeper of the temple of Mansa Devi in the Sunderbans and Cinta, his old friend and mentor, who helps him reach out to the unknown to find the truth.

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Hindu-Goddess Manasa,  in a hut made of mud in a village in the Sundarbans, West Bengal, India by Durga (Source – Wikipedia)

The premises of the book is excellent! India and especially Bengal is rich in myths and folklore all of which are somewhere grounded in a reality that happened in the past. The made up legend of the Gun Merchant, is actually a take off on the the legend of Chand Saudagar whose hide and seek games to escape the wrath of Mansa Devi is something most Bengali children can recite, handed down from generation to generation. It was interesting to go with Ghosh’s exploratory journey to understand the roots of this myth as well the rich travel history of Bengal, when it traded with Venice and many other European nations, especially as it took the readers into some wonderful description of Sunderbans, the now fast disappearing mangrove forests, east of India.  But this is where I guess my admiration ends. I am beyond sick of Ghosh’s polarization of Indian society – in his world lately,  there are only Americanized erudite but still holding on to Bengali roots figures or uneducated, impoverished characters. There is nothing in between, there are no small time shopkeepers, there are educated middle classes, there are not rich Indian industrialists, there are no artists, there is no one except these two extreme worlds. Even if I would allow for such polarized characters, I could not like them – i could not warm up to Piya in the Hungry Tide and when I saw her enter this book, I was ready to give it up. I cannot understand her hauteur or while I understand her reserve, I feel her to be totally and completely insensitive to other’s emotional needs. I did not like Deen – I felt he was too bumbling, too self doubting, too everything for a man of the world. The only character I could like was Cinta, who came across with depth, emotions and sensitivity and was the only rescue device of the novel. The plot while originally intriguing should have stuck to discovering the roots of the myth, instead of taking on world problems. I understand and am concerned about the environmental disaster that we seem to hurtling into. I am appalled at the intolerance of the world at large to the migrant’s issue; my grandparents were refugees, fleeing the violence of 1947, East Pakistan now Bangladesh, leaving behind homes, lives and security. I know the trauma of such displacement, which continued to haunt my grandfather till his death and was inherited by my father and my uncles to great extent. I cannot even begin to fathom the conditions if besides the trauma, my grandparents also were refused entry in what they considered a safe home, a newly independent India. But I do not think as plot devise adding the migrant issue along with environmental concerns into a novel tracing the history of a myth is a very good idea. We end biting more than we can chew and say nothing which has not been said and do not shed light on anything new. In fact, it smacks of borderline commercialization – a sort of piggy backing on the world wide uproar on the migrant issue by not only writing about it, but picking up the “boat incident” to a T. This was not well done and from somebody of great intellectual and sensitive abilities like Ghosh, it is definitely unacceptable! The language and even the division of the novel into section seems contrived and does not flow! All in all, by pass this book if you have toppling TBR; there are better books on Bengal and partition and migrants than this one, including Shadowland, by the same author!