Book Review — You Can’t Go Home Again by Sarvat Hasin

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

You Can’t Go Home Again by Sarvat Hasin is a collection of interrelated stories that is bound to haunt you with its fluid narrative and ambiguous endings. Mostly set in Pakistan, it explores a thread of friendship and mysticism in the lives of a group of Pakistani men and women. Within the span of its 164 pages, it delves into the insecurities and desires of its diverse characters, painting an alluring picture with reality and surrealism.

When I read the synopsis, I knew I had to read the book! It spoke of a kind of mystery within a high school setting and promised stories of friends over the course of their lives. The first two stories, Dark Room and And You, the Sun were my absolute favourites. The sense of a mystery was palpable and kept you eagerly awaiting the end. But I soon realized that none of the conclusions were going to leave me at peace. They were the kind of ambiguous endings that teased you and refused to let you forget the story. One other thing that quickly piqued my interest is that one of the stories is in second person. The dialogues aren’t in quotation and so they fuse with the narration to form an intriguing style of story telling.

Sarvat Hasin’s writing style is graceful, peppered by cultural references (some of which I couldn’t grasp). It is not all that wordy and doesn’t follow a chronological structure of narration. You’ll be reading about instances in the lives of Shireen, Naila, Karim, Rehan, Sabah and Maliha from different timelines. Some of the stories were a bit lackluster and didn’t captivate me. So I found myself getting distracted. Although this book is a short read, the author brings out essential traits in all the characters, allowing you to form an opinion about them. Another brownie point for their characterization is that they are not burdened by stereotypes or cliches; are entirely realistic and relatable. Themes of witches, kidnapping, sexuality can be found in the book. Overall, I really enjoyed some of the stories, whereas some others were a little bland. I’m just very impressed with the way it’s written.

Ratings – 3 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A set of stories featuring young Pakistani individuals as they grapple with the direction their lives are taking.

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

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Book Review — The Scout by Shirish Thorat & Sachin Waze

Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book for review 🙂 

The Scout is an informative factual compilation that sheds light on not only the terrorist attacks of 26/11 in Mumbai but also brings to the forefront the build up and aftermath of it. The authors Shirish Thorat & Sachin Waze have managed to capture, in this 200 paged volume, extensive details that allow for an indepth understanding of the mentality of the terrorists as well as the unity of civilians and police forces alike in Mumbai. Ranging from numerous weaponry to game plan tactics, this book informs us as to how such a large scale attack was carried out. By presenting the facts plainly, the book garners empathy because it speaks of an event that has affected thousands of people. Complete with a glossary and bibliography, the authors have ensured that the reader is equipped with the necessary information so as to fully be able to understand the extent of what transpired in Mumbai on 26th November, 2008.

A wonderful initiative by the two authors, this book surpasses any newspaper report that you could read about the terror attacks. It presents to us conversations carried out within the terror groups, the tactics employed by Indian police force to subdue the attacks and also the casual indifference with which the terrorists moved onto their next target. While I liked reading this book and gained more insight into an event that I only new of on the surface, I did not give it a 5 star rating because of a couple of reasons. Firstly, a major chunk of the book is interspersed with overwhelming details about different sorts of weapons; people and places that David Headley travels to. I understand it is extremely integral to the event, but I found it a little difficult to digest. Hence, completing the book took a lot longer than it should have. Secondly, at times, a couple of pages would comprise of a series of facts strung together almost appearing to be bullet points and so they didn’t blend with the narration of the events.

Because at no point in the book do the authors paint the attackers in a negative light through the use of their words or implications, it would be safe to say that The Scout is not a biased account. Largely so because we get both the sides of the story and can therefore make the conclusion ourselves. I would definitely recommend it to all because of how thorough this book is in addressing the issue that is the focal point. While it is inherently about the 26/11 tragedy, it does highlight the larger problem, that of the ruthless nature of terrorism which is often backed by fallacious beliefs. So be sure to grab a copy and give this one a go because it truly is an enlightening account of 26/11.

Ratings – 3 stars on 5.

Meera

Book Review — Do You Know Any Good Boys? by Meeti Shroff-Shah

Thank you Pan Macmillan India for sending me a copy of this book for review 🙂 

Meeti Shroff-Shah couldn’t have better encapsulated the over-the-top procedure of Indian arranged marriages in her hilarious & heart warming novel titled “Do You Know Any Good Boys?”. Hers is not a story that follows the normative plot structure we are accustomed to. Rather, just like the experience of meeting forty odd strangers in the hopes of finding a life partner, the novel shuffles back and forth between stories recounted from her several “first dates”. While the ordeal of presenting herself with renewed optimism at each of these meetings is bothersome and debilitating, Meeti’s clever wit and sarcasm doesn’t fail to transform the entire book into an enjoyable read. Through the use of elaborate pointers, she conveys exactly what the Indian mindset – be it of a traditional or traditional-modern kind – expects out of the arranged marriage and what is then seen to be as reality. From newspaper ads to matrimonial sites to overbearing, unrelated womenfolk (who take it upon themselves to play cupid), Meeti has born the brunt of it all and narrates to us the incredulity of some.

The title of the book, while being blatant about the content, implies a deviation from the supposed desires for a”not so good” boy – as is commonly believed to be true amongst today’s youth. While there is a reference to the tall, dark and handsome dude of Mills & Boons nature, Meeti and her family meticulously narrow down the educated, cultured and sensible Gujju bachelors. Meeti Shroff-Shah’s writing style is exceptionally good, displaying knowledge of different fields and that too not in a ostentatious way. Her love for literature and skepticism with regard to arranged marriage resonated well with me. I am sure it would be relatable to many others. This book isn’t just for an Indian girl looking to get married but also speaks to the families and friends of such a person. It conveys to them the frame of mind with which the girl agrees to have her alliance made through others. Meeti explores concepts like rejection, perseverance and hope that go hand in hand with the concept of marriage. Meeti’s parents are shown to be extremely supportive of her decisions and paint a very loving family picture. Being an Indian, I have heard first hand of similar arguments made about the astrology, height, weight and income of the potential groom. With all due respect to differing opinions, I think its absolutely ridiculous to have so many check-boxes that need to be ticked before a guy and a girl can meet to converse and discover for themselves whether they fit together. The author’s sense of humor and wit would be the highest selling point of this novel. There were times I was laughing out loud irrespective of my surroundings. Then there were also times when certain sections were dragged out a bit too much. But in the overall scheme of things, the cracks are very minor. I loved this book and insist that you all must give it a go.

Ratings – 5 stars on 5

– Meera

Actually Indian?

Image Courtesy – Google. No claims of ownership.

Gone are the times when grandmother’s tales and Doordarshan were the quintessential depictions of Indian sensibilities. Now people look forward to Bollywood and news channels to discover the new qualities of an Indian. And why not? Media is supposed to represent our society. So if the big screen tells you that an Indian dons sarees, you do it! But how much of this media representation stands affirmative? Does anyone bother tracing back the origins of some of these nonsensical expectations?

A certain cement ad features very fashionably made up men and women carrying cement sacks and working at a construction site. Is this the image our construction workers send across? They work hard hours trying to ensure two meals for their family and themselves. They don’t get the freedom of expression (through their attire or otherwise) that others do. But this ad, despite being about engineering, chooses to focus on these modelesque people as they swagger back and forth in flowing gowns and buffed up bodies.  If only these worker’s profession was viewed in the magnificent light as portrayed by the advertisement.

Moreover, who gets to decide where Indianness ends and Western cognitions begin? The saas-bahu TV shows? Or the individuals who blame indecent attire for atrocities committed? I could be wearing shorts throughout the year and still be very Indian in my thoughts, mannerisms. There are people who sensationalize “item” songs and scrunch up their nose at the sight of a couple being overly affectionate in public. In fact, scrunching their nose is the least they could do; one has to be grateful for not being beaten up by random strangers for acting “out of line” and “not Indian”.

Don’t shun people for living their lives in a happy bubble. Don’t drag out and arrest couples from private rooms in hotels for wanting to be together. In fact don’t arrest people for wanting to have a say about their country or their culture. It would be nice if media representations of an Indian focused on what an Indian actually goes through rather than highlight a paragraph that speaks a contradictory story. We don’t all run around in gowns in palatial houses trying to tease a guy/girl by the scent of our body soaps. Neither do we eat chocolate sloppily so that we get kissed by someone. Its understandable that advertisements try to capitalize on our desires to be modern and open minded. Money is of the essence. But why not do it by actually incorporating what India is today or who an Indian is today. We have progressed so much since the olden times. Why still try to compete with notions that are not really ours? And if we do wish to imbibe those notions, why fight against its manifestation in reality?

Think on it.

Cheers 🙂

– Meera

Book Review — The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

This story takes us back to the narrator’s childhood days which were filled with horrors and revelations too mature for a 7 year old. As the eldest of two siblings, the narrator often found himself completely alone, and so would preoccupy himself with books. When a lodger commits suicide in his father’s car, a portal of darkness descends over him. Monsters unheard of take over his simplistic world. Driven to an extreme sense of despondence by his parents refusal to believe him and the suffocating dominion of the creature, he knows not a way out. But to his relief, as with any good story, he soon finds his savior in the form of his next door neighbors – the Hempstock women. With the help of Lettie Hempstock, the narrator assumes the role of a brave, tactical individual, ready to face every monstrosity that comes their way.  Gaiman’s writing is spellbinding as he weaves instances of the past coupled with creatures that bring despair.

“I lay on the bed and lost myself in stories. I liked that. Books were safer than other people anyway.” ― Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

This is my second Neil Gaiman book and it was brilliant from the start. Albeit told from the POV of a 7 year old, mind you its not a children’s book. We don’t get a name for the narrator throughout the book and you’d think that such an essential detail being missed out is a major bother. But its not. You can still connect with the protagonist because all the emotions he goes through are so relatable. There is a kind of peculiarity in this book, that I found to be quite normal. The boy’s relationship with his parents or sister isn’t very great and which the creature ultimately exploits. The Hempstock women are his life-jackets; his one and only reprieve from all the chaos.

The best thing about this book is its magical nature; everything that goes on can be interpreted in numerous ways. The Ocean, I felt was a metaphor for that earthly body from which we all rise and to which, one day, we shall depart. It is that regenerative source of energy which heals us. It is this very ocean that proves useful in the story. The creatures could have been spurred on by his imagination or could stand for something else. There was so much going on, some concepts took a little understanding, others were a breeze. The narrator’s sense of loneliness was so palpable. I wished he had some support from his family. The creature’s logic and reason are explored in the plot too. Every bit of the book was fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Give it a try. It is one of the best books I have read this year.

Ratings – 5 stars on 5.

Meera

Book Review — Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino enthralls his audience by spinning vivid descriptions of “invisible” cities. He uses the medium of culture, narration and imagination to convey the conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Kublai Khan being the mighty emperor demands that Marco Polo account his journeys around the world. What transpires after, is a treat to one’s mind. For Marco Polo speaks of Cities & Desires, Hidden Cities, Cities of the Dead and various such notions, categorically emphasizing the key aspects of different cities he has been to.

I wanted to like this book so much so that I re-read the first few pages over again. Its beautifully written, no doubt. The various cities he names capture your attention and move you to think about the similarities they possess. Many of the cities were magical and several others had a dystopian feel to them. But what didn’t sit well with me is the direction of the narration. Clearly these cities he described were only in his imagination or seemingly gathered from the other places he had been to. Talking about such non-existent cities didn’t serve any obvious purpose. I think I tried too hard to find meaning where there was none or maybe my interpretations were all awry. But I just didn’t get this book. I got the cities, individually, understood what they represented. But were they just for holding Kublai Khan’s attention? Having read chapters of other fictional books, that had a clear cut beginning and end, I found it difficult to process this one. The writing style is different, the form of the book is unique. They are sectioned as Cities & Memory, Cities & Desire etc. The distinction is clear too but for what aim? Was he just pitting different ideas against each other to see how Khan would react? I had more questions than should be, towards the end of the book. Loose threads that didn’t get tied. Perhaps I ought to read up more on the context of this book before I give it another try. Which I am determined to do as almost everyone else has given this book a 5 star rating. I suggest you try it, because its very different from what is usually written.

Ratings – 2 stars on 5.

Meera

 

Book Review — Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas

Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending a copy of this book for review. 

In this epistolary novel, Leah Thomas pens down a friendship so rare; a sense of optimism seldom seen through the characters of Oliver Paulot and Moritz Faber. Each a vital component of this touching narrative, teach us that sometimes youngsters can be a lot more mature than they are given credit for. Oliver is allergic to electricity and has epilepsy. He lives far from civilization, cocooned in a no-electricity zone with his mother. On the other hand, Moritz was born without eyes and uses a pacemaker to stabilize his heart. Through letters, they become the best of friends; becoming a sort of life jacket for each other. Except for one misfortune – neither can meet face to face for that would mean the end of one. Oliver and Moritz have always yearned for a shot at normalcy and to discover their apparently common history. With the help of loved ones, they strive to get there. But sometimes life gets too overwhelming when bullies, loneliness, love and suppression get the best of the two boys. Because You’ll Never Meet Me is not just the sun shining through the storm, it is a flag of strength and endurance.

Its been long since I enjoyed every page of a book from to start to finish. This novel is so captivating with its innocence and beautiful writing that it will for long be a standard of YA epistolary fiction for me. Oliver for most of the book is a very cheerful, buoyant character who urges Moritz to be strong and dauntless. Moritz initially is a very rigid, serious person who doesn’t appreciate Oliver’s forward nature. But slowly as they share their woes with each other and learn to be a “kickstand”, both of them grow to become more satisfied and happy. Dual narration is not an easy writing technique and Leah Thomas has done a commendable job of bringing out the perspectives of two very different individuals in her novel. I absolutely love her writing style, which is very fluid and simple. Not too many complexities and such.

There is also a mysterious air in the novel, as Oliver wishes to know about his father and similarly Moritz about his mother. This suspense, however, does not intervene in the process of creating a very contemporary setting for the novel. Liz, Oliver’s neighbour is a spirited girl who shows Oliver that not everyone sees him as a “freak” and ultimately he starts liking her. But I really didn’t like Liz’s character and many a times, she seemed shallow. Moritz too gets his heart set on someone and I definitely cheered them on. The plot, the characters, the writing all come together to give life to this wonderful story. BYNMM deserves more than a five star rating, it deserves to be read over again – because its just that amazing! Please please give this book a try, you most certainly won’t regret it.

Ratings – 5 stars on 5.

Meera