Bestseller by Ahmed Faiyaz

The publishing industry does not garner nearly as much limelight as entertainment industries do. But Ahmed Faiyaz’s Indian contemporary fiction, Bestseller, more than makes up for it by adding heaps of glitz and glamour to an intriguing premise. Kalim Publishing is a sinking ship that has been nearly reduced to the position of swatting flies because of the great paucity of titles to be published as well as motivated personnel who could make that happen. Picture a decrepit building in some corner of Mumbai and three bored-looking workers. Into such a scenario steps the savior of the day; Akshay Saxena has recently been fired from his job as an editor of a magazine in the UK. In order to be able to go back and work on starting an imprint, he is tasked with the responsibility of making Kalim a successful business once again.

All was well and good up till the first chapter of the book. Thereafter, the appeal of the book was on a steady decline, as we are introduced to character after character who hold no real significance. I didn’t find an ounce of professionalism in most of the characters and they were supposedly experienced in their own respective fields. The entirety of the novel is colored by a very carefree, “chalta hai” (blase) attitude which undermines the importance of the industry. Because it gives you the impression that all sorts of funny business are brushed under the carpet in order to push a title onto the bestseller list. There wasn’t a single character I found likeable. Zorah tries too hard and before you know it, she and Akshay have begun an office romance that is at times unreasonable and otherwise, cringe-worthy.

The plot in itself could’ve been executed better. I was really looking forward to reading a well-structured novel based on the synopsis. But it felt like the author chose to fast forward over the parts that were the most important and instead focus on unconvincing aspects of the story like:

  • Akshay and Zorah’s romance.
  • The painfully demeaning representation of writers (all most everyone who approaches the publishing company either didn’t know basic English or had some ridiculous story proposal or employed tricks like seduction, blackmail to have their books published).
  • Akshay being caught in an elaborate tug of war between celebrities and politicians.
  • His rather silly plan to make the books sell.

Peppered by a couple of sentences in Hindi, the author’s writing style is the one thing I found moderately enjoyable. It has all the qualities of being colloquial and can easily be understood. However, there were a handful of errors that had been overlooked in the editing phase of publishing this book.

What ultimately got on my nerve is Akshay’s mental commentary. It follows you everywhere from the beginning of the book till the end. During his interactions with the various characters, his clear disdain for them is evident from his thoughts. So there are comments printed in italics in between conversations that show us what exactly he thinks about the person he is speaking to. And mind you, it just all makes him look like an arrogant imbecile who can’t fathom enough courage to speak his mind to his clients. Here’s a line that’ll help paint a picture in your mind about the kind of relationship Akshay and Zorah have:

This is easy, she’ll crib, I’ll say sorry and we’ll end up in the sack.

I’m sure it is apparent from this review that I was extremely disappointed by the book. There was nothing that made me smile or feel happy about reading it.

Note – This book was sent to me by Writers Melon in exchange of an honest review.

★.5

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A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi


Narratives on religion and the implications of shifting blame have been written time and time again. But what is extraordinary about Tahereh Mafi’s brainchild is the brandishing of a character, a 16 year old American girl of Iranian descent, whose integrity is questioned simply because she happened to exist in a time rife with terrorism and extremism. Before 9/11, Shirin led a relatively more peaceful life. But ever since the heinous incident set the world against those of Islamic faith, she too has been marked as the harbinger of all evil. She can’t set foot in public without having to hear racist slurs thrown her way, and for what? Choosing to display her religious inclination without fear?

Told from the point of view of a person of color, A Very Large Expanse of Sea is more than a YA romance. In all its honesty, it brings to us the extremely fickle nature of high school hierarchies. Even the hypocrisies that underlie societal behavior towards men and women of similar backgrounds is seen in the novel. It is apparent in the way Shirin and her brother, Navid are treated. While she is constantly battling remarks like, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”, he receives no such flak for being a Muslim. That begets the question, are symbols of diversity what propel people into deepening cultural barriers. Simply because Shirin chooses to wear her hijab and be empowered by it, she seems to remind everyone of her “otherness”. Moreover, the interactions, that Tahereh Mafi puts to paper in this book, are appalling enough to make you wonder if people are so blinded by fear as to fuel a fascist society.

Some of the things I really appreciated about this book is the inclusion of Persian words and a passing mention to a learning disability. You don’t really find that a lot in books. I was really pleased to read about a family that hadn’t allowed modernization to scrape away at their roots and traditions. The author’s writing style is crisp and straight forward. Shirin’s voice appears to be blunt at first, but her increased attachment to Ocean thaws her resolve and by the end of the book, her personality changes a bit.

One of my biggest pet peeves with regards to stories is having a character make sacrifices on the behalf of another (for the betterment of another) and I was quite afraid that was going to happen in the book. While Ocean is an incredibly supportive and open-minded character, it was Shirin’s story that appealed to me more; her struggles and her opinions. All in all, I would definitely recommend reading this book for the sake of the themes it juggles with, not necessarily for the love story aspect of it.

★★★★

Book Review — Fortune’s Soldier by Alex Rutherford

If I’ve learned one thing about Hindustanis, it’s their endurance, their patience. When I hear my fellow officers whining on in the mess, I think how much we could learn from these people if only we wanted to… if only we made an effort…

Nicholas Ballantyne was meant to enjoy his life in Glenmire, Scotland, but when an unprecedented move on his uncle’s part sends him across the world to Hindustan, he becomes deeply involved in the changing political scenario of the nation. As an employee of the Company, Nicholas ventures into the heart of its presidencies in Calcutta and Madras. It is there that he displays the true meaning of loyalty and humility, racing from one battlefield to the next, protecting those he loves and serving the Englishmen who’ve given him a chance to rebuild the name, Ballantyne.

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I enjoy reading historical fictions and this one features my homeland, so of-course I wasn’t going to pass it up. Moreover, it promised a great deal of adventure surrounding the operations of the East India Company in the 1700s. That is a subject I’m not very familiar with and so, I couldn’t wait to see how Alex Rutherford would combine this fictitious storyline with the recounting of events that actually happened in world history. What impressed me from the very beginning is the authors ability to characterize Nicholas in such a way that he becomes a full-fledged, realistic person, one who begins to surprise you with his strength of character. And I feel that it is this very quality about the writing style that prevented the entire tome from being dull. Even though we read about many battles and war council meetings, I wasn’t bored of it (barring the last couple of chapters) because I was fully invested in Nicholas’ as the lead.

The writing style is not over the top and neither is it too simple or plain. It doesn’t make allusions to any event or occurrence in a way that leaves you perplexed or unable to proceed reading the book without a quick dash to Google. That was another aspect that made me the like the novel. Apart from Nicholas, I enjoyed reading about Tuhin Singh. He is a respectful steward and friend to Nicholas, often shown to be just as (if not more) brave and has strong opinions about the Company’s operations in Hindustan. He is not easily fooled or subjugated. I felt that Meena’s and Lucia’s characters were not explored enough. They could have played a more significant role.

From the beginning, we know that Nicholas is going to be this heroic character, and so it is the stories of Robert Clive and George Braddock that introduce the themes of greed for power, communal rivalry, corruption, betrayal etc. This book also brings to light the opinions of several Mughal rulers towards Hindus. And so, religion is evidently a common symbol throughout. By the time I’d read past page number 350, I was getting worn out by the sheer quantity of battles that are spoken about in this book. That said, I appreciate the ease with which these stories are delivered to us. A majority of this book makes for a very immersive read which will surely have your rapt attention. Nicholas’ adventures were thrilling to read about! And so, I’d definitely urge you to give it a try, if you are interested in historical fictions.

Rating – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An insightful story about the East India Company’s interest in Hindustan and the resultant changing dynamics within the nation.

Book Review — Land of the Living by Georgina Harding

Georgina Harding’s war narrative seeks to remind us of the debilitating nature of such crimes against humanity. By positing a husband-wife duo at the centre of her novel, Land of the Living, the author allows us a glimpse of how intricately the trauma following war permeates a relationship.  Charlie’s experiences in the Battle of Kohima haunt him till date and Claire’s attempts to get through to him, comfort him remain futile. This unforgettable story takes on more meaning with the recurring themes of memory and grief.

My foray  into WW2 fiction has been very limited and as with any book containing sensitive topics, I didn’t know what to expect. But from the very beginning we get familiarised to Georgina Harding’s feathery writing style. It focuses quite a lot on elements of nature in a way that is meant to add to the ambience of the novel. And that was one reason I wasn’t hooked to the book. This kind of ambient writing is not for me. The chapters aren’t very long and are split into separate sections, each of which are different observations or happenings. So there isn’t a linearity to the narration.

I particularly enjoyed reading about the Naga tribes. The parts where those instances were being recounted added some flavour to the book. It is interesting to observe how these people take on roles of healers and nurtures immediately without a care for treating him as an enemy or being hostile towards him.

It is also heartrending to read about Claire, because she is shown to be a supportive wife, who doesn’t demand a great deal from him and is always trying to be understanding. But her affection is not really reciprocated, since Charlie is still battling with his own emotions and thoughts.

I felt that the strong imageries of the environment sort of overshadowed the important parts – Charlie’s memory, his connection with other characters. Another note you should keep in mind is that the dialogue in this book, although very minimal, is not put in quotation marks. So that was a unique reading experience. It is left to you to realize at what moments a dialogue would pop up in between observational passages. On the whole, it is definitely worth a read because of the subject matter that is dealt with and the way it has been written. The writing style may or may not suit your tastes, but give it a try!

Rating – 3 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An atmospheric narrative about how war affects people who’ve had first-hand experience, as well as those who know the survivors.

Book Review — The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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Madeline Miller has a way with words. Reading The Song of Achilles was like swaying with the waves, the ocean lapping at you and the peace making you one with the environment. It was soothing, inviting and towards the end, a surge of emotions. I hadn’t felt this connected to a book in the longest time and so, was more than eager to get swept up in Patroclus’ narration. Told from his point of view, the novel builds a timeline of events that have seen Patroclus and Achilles together, wrapped in a cocoon of love and support for one another. While we are introduced to Patroclus as a young boy of 9 years age, floundering under his father’s decision to present him as a suitor for Princess Helen, it is much later that he grows into an individual in his own right.

The author delivers the story of Patroclus and Achilles with such beauty, as to absorb us into the book, unable to set it down even for one moment. I was especially convinced of her genius when the scenes pertaining to war and politics, instead of diminishing my interest, furthered my desire to know more of what had transpired. In all its unabashed honesty, Miller depicts the foolishness of humans; the manner in which the pride and prejudice of kings have ushered in their downfall. Bound to the story with ropes of intrigue and awe, I kept wishing that Achilles had had more clarity of thought, allowing him to assess the situation better and take decisions that might have (sort of?) prevented a great deal of mishap. One thing you’re going to have to keep in mind is that this novel mentions a large number of mythological figures, which means atleast a hundred Greek names bouncing off your mind. They weren’t easy for me to remember, particularly the names of the secondary characters. But rest assured, the twenty or so important ones will remain in your memory.

It was a mesmerizing thing indeed to read about Patroclus and how he changes from an ordinary, under-confident lad to one who stands up for people, knows his worth in war and is incredibly courageous. Achilles’ character arc, on the other hand, takes a surprising dip. I like the inclusion of Briseis’ character. She plays a pivotal role in Achilles’ life and brings a new dynamic to Patroclus’ identity. The Song of Achilles is abundant with themes of love, politics, greed, slavery, monarchy to name a few. On the whole, it was such a pleasant experience reading about the eternal nature of Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship. I can’t believe that I put off reading it for so long. Now that I have, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that this has become one of my all time favourites. Highly recommend it to those who enjoy reading mythological fiction. PICK. IT. UP. NOW.

Rating – 5 out of 5 stars (and more!)

What do you get out of this book? An epic story about two epic characters from Greek mythology, with a dash of romance, politics and friendship.

Book Review — Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Inspired by Sophocles’ Antigone, Home Fire shows us the plight of a family embroiled in modern day politics and Islamophobia. Isma Pasha has been a second mother to her siblings after the demise of their parents. But her decision to move to America marks the beginning of the disintegration of their family. The twins, Aneeka and Parvaiz, find their paths diverging as he gets roped into joining the Islamic State, while trying to follow in his father’s footsteps. Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018, this novel brings up compelling truths about human vulnerabilities and manipulation.

This was one of those award winning books that I was slightly more hesitant to pick up, because it was apparent that it tackled a serious issue, one that wouldn’t allow for an “enjoyable” reading experience, in a matter of speaking. I couldn’t smile or laugh my way through the 260 pages that it took for the author to convey the story. Once I began reading it, my hesitation proved to have been not baseless. The writing style of the author just wasn’t for me and quite often, I found my attention diverted by the flowery language. A few portions of the book felt draggy and extremely slow. So while the book on the whole wasn’t one of my favorites, I cannot deny the power that the story in itself carries. It depicts to us the gradual process of breaking down someone’s mental faculties to such an extent that they become open to any kind of suggestion. And how easy it is then to channel their inner rage or turmoil into making them do questionable things.

The book is split into different sections, wherein the story is told from the point of view of different characters. I liked that about the novel. Since it is not written from first person perspective of these characters, I didn’t feel one with the book as I usually do in the case of books with such strong themes. But I was so astonished by Parvaiz’s decisions that it pained me to read about him. If I had to pick a part of the book that had been done well, I would choose the section about Parvaiz. What I would commend the author for is taking up such a prevalent topic and spinning a story around it in such a way that you cannot ignore what’s going on in the book. Overall, I would say that this is an integral read because of its premise, but I wasn’t a fan of the writing style.

What do you get out of this book? Insight into how young men and women get persuaded to join terrorist forces and how their families and loved ones get affected by their drastic choice.

Book Review — French Exit by Patrick deWitt

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French Exit displays the gradual unraveling of a mother and son, as they are left to deal with the brunt of the father’s death. Upon Franklin Price’s demise and the consequent bankruptcy, Frances and Malcolm realize that there’s very little left for them in Manhattan. And so, they set sail for Paris, unsure as to what life awaits them in that new continent.

Right off the bat, it is clear that Patrick deWitt’s tragic-comedy does not read like an easy, fluffy contemporary in terms of the language and style of writing. I wouldn’t really recommend it for beginners, because it takes a bit of getting used to and if you’re not familiar with comedy of manners as a genre, then you could find it somewhat dry. That said, I would’ve finished it in one sitting simply because of how engaging the story is. On the surface, the plot is about a mother and son relocating to another place because of all the hardships that have come their way. But as you get into the groove of the novel, you realize it’s as much about the disconnect in their family as it is about their dependence on one another, and how they’ve allowed that to shape their individual relations.

In my opinion, none of the characters in this book can be classified as a type, which is a great quality in a book. They’re unusual in their mannerisms and add new dimensions to the story. Take for example, Mme Reynard who passive-aggressively paves her way into the lives of Frances and Malcolm Price. She becomes so possessive of her friendship with them that she likes it not when others join the gang. In a way, she takes on this nurturing role, caring for the troop when no one else would. At times, Malcolm and Frances relation reminded me of Norma and Norman Bates from Psycho. One of the things I didn’t like about the book is that I wasn’t convinced by Malcolm’s love for Susan. He appeared to be indifferent and distant towards her. In fact, that’s how he is portrayed for almost the entirety of the novel. You’ll find themes of divination, class hierarchy and familial reparations in this book. I definitely enjoyed reading it, because of the humor that has been imbued into it and it is quite unlike the books I usually read. So, do give it a try!

Rating – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A tragic-comedy that takes you from the upper echelons of society to a state of deterioration.

Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review — Cold Truth by Nikhil Pradhan

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Sakshi Prakash is a 10-year-old girl who goes missing from East Delhi. While the police are making zilch efforts to uncover the mystery behind her disappearance, a journalist follows the trails left behind by other such possible child kidnappings, and ends up unveiling an international conspiracy that’ll take the world by storm. Written in an epistolary format, Cold Truth packs a punch with its emphasis on corruption and the possibilities of the unknown.


While I’m always ready to devour a good mystery novel, it soon became apparent that Cold Truth was not what it looked like. It’s not a basic suspense fiction. The search for Sakshi spirals out and we come to realize how other cases, governments and agencies are involved in covering up certain life-altering mistakes. Amidst themes of conspiracy, experiments and the pursuit of truth, the plot execution has been managed splendidly. I would give brownie points to the author for thinking of such an intriguing plot.

As for the writing style and language, I’d say this book is apt for intermediate readers. Conveyed through chats, newspaper articles, voice transcripts, official documents and other different elements, the story is pieced together by the journalist’s narration. There are portions where the writing makes use of some medical jargon, but apart from that, the style is quite straightforward. If you’re not used to reading many jaw-dropping books, you should prepare yourself for the insane amounts of gaping-mouth scenarios that are inevitable once you begin reading this novel of Nikhil Pradhan’s. It is simply mind-blowing!

One issue I have with the book is that at times, I felt that the narrative would digress from the focal point of the scene/the chapter. The unnecessary bits could’ve been done away with. But on the whole, it is a spellbinding tome of 200 odd pages, which I finished in a sitting. This is one of those books (right up my alley!) that I’m not going to forget anytime soon. So highly recommend it!

Rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An unputdownable thriller that not only explores certain serious themes but also has a peculiar ending.

Thank you HarperCollins India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.

Book Review — A Girl, A Stolen Camera and A Borrowed Bike by Nikhil Singh Shaurya

Nikhil Singh Shaurya’s debut novella, A Girl, A Stolen Camera and A Borrowed Bike tells the story of Sonali who, upon stumbling across some photos captured by an unknown man, realizes that traveling is her true calling. She jumps at the chance to leave her mundane life behind, and dons the skin of a wanderer, moving from place to place without any planning in advance. As her journeys allow her to view life from renewed perspectives, she gets closer to learning about the man whose passion and creative output altered her life so drastically.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

This book would’ve had so much more of an impact if it hadn’t been this short. With just around 80 pages, I felt that the potential of the theme was at a disadvantage. It was really interesting to read about Sonali’s sojourns, but I wished that the author had elaborated on the events to give us a satisfactory understanding of the story. There’s a section in one of the pages where Sonali lists out all the new experiences she’s had ever since she embarked on this journey – I would’ve LOVED to read about those in detail.

The writing style is simple and innately Indian. There aren’t a lot of complicated words used. However, the editing of this book wasn’t up to the mark and that, sort of disrupted my reading experience. I wasn’t a fan of any of the characters or their decision making capabilities. Sonali herself doesn’t make for a very reliable protagonist. We’re introduced to atleast 3-4 male characters, all of whom take on the role of being her love interests.  On the whole, it was an okay read. There were quite a few aspects of the book that I didn’t really like. If you’ve read it and enjoyed it, let me know your thoughts?

Rating – 2 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A rushed, brief account of a woman who finds meaning in life through her extensive travels.

Thank you Nikhil Singh Shaurya for sending me a copy of your book in exchange of an honest review.

Book Review — Chanakya by Ashok K. Banker

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STORY: Ashok K. Banker in the first installment of his historical fiction series, the Chanakya trilogy, introduces us to the legendary figure as a young boy of 7 years age, also called Vishnu Gupta. Far from his home, in the city of Pataliputra, there’s a minister (Maha-Amatya Kartikeya) who rules by brute force and evokes great terror in the minds of the citizens. When Vishnu and his family head to Pataliputra for a congregation, his life gets bound in the chains of wanting to protect his family and doing the right thing.

 

REVIEW: I’ve always been intrigued by Indian historical fictions related to characters from the epics. And this one was such a wonderful read! I finished reading it in one day. The plot presents certain broad themes of battle between good and evil, importance of knowledge, tradition, monarchy etc. But the narrative that fills in the blanks is so refreshing because it draws a profile of an individual we’ve come to see as a  master-thinker, a guide to Bindusara and Chandragupta Maurya. So to read about Chanakya as a 7 year old was so fulfilling.

He has been portrayed as a boy who was extremely intellectual and had great powers of logic, understanding, far superior than the gurus and adults of that time. At times the maturity he displays can stupefy you; after all how often do you find children or even teenagers nowadays with such clarity of thought. The pace of the novel is fast and gripping. There are a few Sanskrit terms used here and there, but they enrich your reading experience all the more. The language used in this novel is quite suitable for intermediate readers. If you are not very well versed in English, you might want to keep a dictionary at hand. That said, you must read Chanakya by Ashok K. Banker. It is a splendid read, one that I highly recommend! I simply CANNOT wait for the second book in this trilogy.

RATING: 4.25 out of 5 stars

WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF IT: An engaging tale of how Chanakya’s intelligence held him in high stead and brought him face to face with corrupt leaders.

Thank you Writers Melon and Westland Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.