Saturday, July 29, 2017

#BookReview: Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

On the jacket:

'I find writing novels a challenge, writing stories a joy. If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden.'

Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all. 

Marked by the same wry humor that has defined his entire body of work, in this collection Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic.

Review:

I love short stories. To read, to write, to review and to gift. However, I have never been a great fan of Murakami's. The last time I'd read a book by him was a few years ago, and though I have a few of his unread titles at home, I never went back to them. I will now, and the review of Men Without Women will explain exactly why. 
Men Without Women is every bit a Murakami, except his trademark weirdness, if I can take the liberty to call it that. As the title of the book suggests, the theme of the stories is - men coping without women. Murakami has stuck to the theme with a fine grace, not delving too much into emotions to make the stories forlorn, and not making them too harsh either. What I particularly liked is how true the plots are. For instance, I have known men who have had to live life without their women - some widowed, some divorced, some single and having lost their mothers and some, after a break up. We don't talk much bout how men grasp such situations and deal with them. We forget that men are not actually taught how to deal with such loneliness. But they do, in their own way and Men Without Women  brings that out in different stories and situations, beautifully!
Earlier, Murakami's style of writing had bothered me. But I learnt to appreciate it while reading this book. Don't pick it up if you want to known what his style is, though. 
The stories are around male protagonists who are living rather lonely lives. But these are not very simple stories. While in one, the protagonist learns that an old lover had killed herself, in another the main character is a roach. Yes, a roach who wakes up to see that he is a human. This particular story has been haunting me for a while - I've been thinking since the last few days - how even did this idea come to the author's mind! Reverse Kafka-esque. 

A wonderful read.

Rating: ****/5

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

#BookReview: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

On the jacket:

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey of many years across the Indian subcontinent, from the cramped neighborhoods of Old Delhi and the roads of the new city, to the mountains and valleys of Kashmir and beyond, where war is peace and peace is war. 

The tale begins with Anjum—who used to be Aftab—unrolling a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard she calls home. We encounter the odd, unforgettable Tilo and the men who loved her, including Musa, sweetheart and ex-sweetheart, lover and ex-lover. Their fates are as entwined as their arms used to be and always will be. We meet Tilo’s landlord, a former suitor, now an intelligence officer posted to Kabul, and then we meet the two Miss Jebeens. The first is a child born in Srinagar and buried in its overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard. The second is found at midnight, abandoned on a concrete sidewalk in the heart of New Delhi.

As this ravishing, deeply humane novel braids these lives together, it reinvents what a novel can do and can be. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness demonstrates on every page Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.

Review:

I had barely entered my teens when I'd laid my hands on The God of Small Things. I will be honest, it didn't make much sense to me. I won't be harsh on myself for not understanding the brilliance of the story, because I'd tried to read it at a wrong time. A decade later, I'd read it again, and the story became a part of my life. I wouldn't say I was impatiently waiting for The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, because all the positive and negative news that had built around it, had left me a tad worried. It's a story - why not read it as one? Then the reviews came and all views were so extreme. That is when I decided I wanted to read this book and find out for myself.
I took a week to read The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and I wouldn't have had it any other way. Because, a story like this needs to be savoured. Also, because there are parts where I could not distinguish between fact and fiction, and needed to take time off from reading.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness begins with talking about Anjum who lived in a graveyard. She was an outcast of the society and the only respectable human interaction she had was with the maulvi who'd come to meet her. The first few chapters tell us about Anjum's life from birth. The third born to her parents, Anjum was born as Aftab and for years her mother had hidden the fact that she was born a transgender, from the world. Long story short, her parents tried a lot to 'cure' her physical situation but Anjum was not to be tied down - she flew the nest and went to live in the House of Dreams and finally sheds the garb of being Aftab. How Anjum reached to a graveyard from the House of Dreams has been told in an engrossing tale.
Anjum is not the only protagonist in the story. A few chapters down, we are introduced to an illegitimate child, Tilo and her relationship with Musa. Shortly after the time these characters in introduced in the story, the plot involves a lot of social-economic-political events and factors which connect fiction with reality. To be honest, this is were I would get slightly confused and even wonder if I should continue but curiosity got the better of me and I crossed this part to reach a beautiful end.
I will not rate the book. Not because I have any biases. But let's be honest, my rating would not affected a book written by someone of Ms Roy's stature. Too much seems to have been said, and lot of it is biased. Ms Roy is an activist and the book shows dark shadows of being written by one, at some stages. At other stages of the story, you can see a wonderful writing traversing through the plot, creating a beautiful and heartwarming tale for you to read. Pick it up with an open mind and see how you interpret The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.



#BookReview: The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

On the jacket: When powerful real-estate tycoon Nero Golden immigrates to the States under mysterious circumstances, he and his three...