Book Time:Oleander Girl

Picking up Oleander Girl was an obvious after-effect of reading Palace Of Illusions.

Author : Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The engagement of Korobi(Bengali for Oleander, and hence the title) and Rajat sets the stage for a host of complicated situations for each of the characters in the story. Korobi suddenly finds herself faced with the loss of her beloved grandfather and in possession of fragments of a secret about her parents who, she has been brought up to believe, are dead. Rajat comes with the baggage of a reckless past, but having met Korobi, turns a new leaf and strives to be mature and responsible, both professionally and in the relationship. Korobi’s quest for the truth about her roots would take her away to America right after their engagement, the prospect of which stirs misgivings at different levels in Rajat, his parents and Korobi’s grandmother. Meanwhile, Rajat’s parents are also grappling with financial problems and a necessity to remain tight-lipped about their future daughter-in-law’s sudden disappearance to America right before the wedding. Rajat is fighting hard to prove his worth in the family business, fight ghosts from his past and trying to be supportive of Korobi in her mission. How each of them handle their challenges weaves the story.

Personal highs :

  • Contemporary fiction generally works well for me, more so when it is a familiar Indian setting.
  • Love how different characters take turns to narrate chunks of the story in their voice. It is Korobi for the most part, but Rajat, his mother, the grandmother and the driver Asif voice from time to time, and it is interesting to read the proceedings from their perpective.
  • The way the characters are etched out – I think this is the author’s forte. Each character comes with their own inevitable weaknesses. The way they react to situations makes the reader get into the skin of the character and relate to them perfectly.

The not-so highs:

  • The writing style and the flow of language, though sufficient for the context, paled a little against the standard she had set in the Palace of Illusions.
  • Too many undercurrents in the course of the book – ranging from identity crisis, to worker union problems, to Hindu-Muslim strife, to employer loyalty, to rage of the jilted girlfriend – it seemed as if too many things were thrown in, though they were pretty neatly tied up in the end.
  • Though generally a sucker for happy endings, this was toooo much of a happily-ever-after ending for me. Came off as a touch lame.

Recommend? : Yes, at the moment. Might reconsider after reading more of her work.

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Book time: Palace of Illusions

My introduction to Mahabharata was way back , as a bedtime story narrated in simple terms by Dad and Thatha. The Pandavas were good, the Kauravas evil and goodness won over evil in the Great War. Of course, Krishna , being God, constantly sided the Good and helped them triumph. That was the key take-away from the black and white narrative. Slightly later, when I took to reading on my own and progressed beyond Amar Chitra Kathas, I got my hands on a copy of Dr C Rajagopalachari’s version of the epic. THAT was the book that got me riveted to this epic and has been my go-to resource for Mahabharata related information since then. I used to read it over and over again, never tiring of the engrossing sub plots and schemes. There were shades of grey, weaknesses in the greatest of warriors, deceit, treachery – in short a lot of juice that resonated with basic human character and behaviour. Also, it was quite a detailed chronicling that joined most of the dots that make up this mammoth saga. But that was all it was. An unfolding of events in chronological order where the characters were merely instruments in carrying the story forward. Not to mention, there was always the subtle preach of God siding the good over evil and how He designs to bring the downfall of evil eventually. The faults of the perceived good characters were always justified, and the dark side of the evil characters magnified.

I was quite intrigued when I heard about Palace Of Illusions – Draupadi’s version of the Mahabharata.For starters, I did not even imagine there could be a version of this story from the point of view of one of the characters, or that it could be Draupadi. Pedantically, my idea of Draupadi’s part in the actual scheme of things was restricted to two main areas : her polygamous wedding and her oath in Duryodhan’s court which eventuallyy brought about the war. It was startlingly fresh to revisit the story from the beginning from her view point, right from her birth(an interesting bit that I had no clue about earlier) and stifling girlhood to the famed events leading upto the war and eventually her last journey. Her introduction as the restless girl with a doting, protective elder brother, Dhrishtadyumna(in a strange way, him being addressed as Dhri in the book adds so much more to his character as Draupadi’s brother than just a slayer of Drona) and the overbearing, yet fond Dhai Ma make us instantly get into the flesh of her character. Thereon, her thoughts and feelings take the centre stage completely and the actual events merely propel the narrative forward.

That she might have had such complex feelings for Karna, or that she had so many shades of grey, or that vengeance had turned her into a person for whom all other emotions paled in comparison, or that there could have been such grating friction between her and Kunti and her impression of Kunti as the mother in law with an iron fist over the minds of her sons- these are things that have never crossed my mind earlier, but having read the book , seems very plausible. And at every level, understandable and natural.

The author effectively conveys the influence wielded by the womenfolk(Draupadi, Kunti and Gandhari) and also their helplessness despite their strength of character. Draupadi’s impudence at duryodhan, her complex love for Karna, her indignation at having to take on five husbands, her wrath and thirst for revenge make her character seem less larger than life and identifiable. Also, the depiction of Krishna is brilliant -there is no overt emphasis on the concept of God from her view point. Fate and destiny shape lives and her revelation of Krishna towards the end completes the jigsaw of the turn of events.

But there are a couple of things that rankle: Her love for Karna. You feel pity that she could not wed the man of her choice, you feel sorry for her not being able to redeem herself in Karna’s eyes. At every stage, the author misses no opportunity to keep the Draupadi-Karna flame alive in the reader’s mind, and beyond a point it starts to chafe and get annoying. Hits a peak when at the time of Ghatothkacha’s end, she feels more remorse at Karna’s fate being sealed than the brave warrior’s death. Also, though common as it is for the twin brothers, Nakul and Sahadev to be sidestepped in most versions of the epic, more detail was definitely expected here considering that they were after all her husbands too. But save some unimportant cursory references, they do not play any prominent part.

Love , LOVE the language and her writing style. Some figures of speech were so beautiful that I read those lines multiple times, and now regret not having noted them down somewhere. A couple that I can recollect now – “Draupadi was impatient like mustard seeds spluttering in oil” and “the pendulum of victory swung between the Pandavas and Kauravas every hour of the battle”. Despite being the first book of her’s that I ‘m reading , she goes right up there among my favorite Indian writers. Having said that, the language is far far removed from the style that is normally associated with epics – makes it hard to associate that style with the likes of Krishna and other epic characters, yet makes the characters less larger than life !

It’s Your Move, WordFreak!

Just as I was re-discovering my love for Scrabble after nearly a decade, thanks to the online version of the game, I came across this book put up on BlogAdda. While relationships being forged on the net, sometimes even with complete strangers are becoming quite commonplace, it was quite interesting to see the premise being Scrabble.

The book starts off with just the right amount of apprehension and excitement over a real-life meeting between WordFreak and WordDiva, two scrabble addicts bonded by the game, who are besotted with each other’s online persona, and cant wait to find out what reality holds in store for them. Being charmed by witty word-play and the ensuing engrossing chats seems relatable at many levels and hence provides an interesting start. Alisha, a divorce lawyer, and Aryan, a go-green architect quickly discover that they see nothing less than a perfect partner in each other. But what follows is a choking overdose of idyll that stretches well into more than half of the book. A  beautiful, strong willed, independent Alisha. Aryan, with his killer looks, professional success, sensitivity and warmth that could spin a girl’s world. A lot of common sentiments, interests and love that blossoms surely and steadily. A whole bunch of friends, relatives and well-wishers who would just about do anything to make things work between the two of them. A dreamy farm-house and steamy love making. To cut a long story short, a hundred happy, ideal things that could frame the background for a few dozen Bollywood movies. All is well in paradise and you do not want to cynically rain on the parade, but there IS a point when you begin to wonder if all this is leading to anything at all.

And finally the grey spots start appearing when Aryan completely zones out after a squabble with Alisha. Digging deeper, Alisha, in a determined effort to patch up things between them, follows her heart all the way to London, where she slowly uncovers Aryan’s skeletons from his childhood. Amidst yet another too-good-to-be-true English setting, Alisha slowly manages to clear out the cobwebs in Aryan’s head and makes him get over the troubled memories from his past. Parental discord and its impact on children is a touchy ground to tread, and the protagonists of the book are stark examples of how it could shape the child’s psyche. The author has dealt with this part of the book with sensitivity and manages to touch a chord.

The characters are well-etched, and each plays their part to the hilt to stay in the reader’s mind. Almost every aspect of the book, from the language to the flow of the plot is highly romanticized, and if you are not the kind that melts at that, the book may grate a nerve at many points. One of those numerous books that you want to see to its end, but somehow does not manage to leave much of an impact, both while reading and after.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

Pavithra

is offended by the impunity of javascript. Despite her best efforts at reconciliation, it has been swearing at her for two continuous weeks.  She is almost sure that javascript is just Peeves masquerading in the Muggle world.

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is getting increasingly annoyed at her startling frequency of  use of certain phrases (some extremely local and cliched  ones at that!). She thinks that if somebody made a dictionary of her day to day vocabulary, they would land at no more than 100-150 words, with the count of the “strictly English” words amongst them being less than half that number. Sigh!

***

has been reading three men in a boat on her way to work and thinks it is an absolutely delightful book – oh the humor ! 🙂 🙂 She only feels ashamed that she is able to do no more than 2 pages a day of a book that should have rightfully taken just about a couple of hours if read at one go. But she knows ill days have fallen upon this world, so she is not going to try and convince unbelieving people that her work has been SO hectic that save her cab ride to office, she has just not been able to spare time for reading.

Oh! that reminds her –  she meant to ask Vikas Swarup something after she finished reading his second book. She has a strong suspicion that VS has turned script writer after the runaway success of SDM. Also, she is almost convinced that Six Suspects has been written for David Dhawan’s next flick – starring namma Vijayakanth and Bollywood head-turner Tushhar Kapoor.(Pssstt .. overheard : Ekta Kapoor has been roped in to oversee proceedings so that the mega serial quotient of the book remains intact!)Well well, this one sure is touted to be next in line for the Aascaars! Mr. VS, are you available for comments?

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perfectly knows that she has piles of issues and bugs with fiery red eyes and sharp tentacles awaiting her, to make their breakfast, lunch and dinner out of her – yet she finds the complete inactivity on her blog extremely heart wrenching to say the least and has decided to right royally stage civil disobedience against her work.

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PS : If you are wondering why she had to irrelevantly drag Mr. VS into this, let her assure you – it was certainly not to settle any personal score – she carries no vengeance against him. It’s just that her work is apathy personified – all her cynicism and sarcasm are completely lost on it – she needed something more tangible to take it out on. Period.

Turning Pages

Finally after about 8 unsuccessful attempts to continue, I went up to the library and returned “Midnight’s Children”. Poorer by 25 bucks -15 for the book and a 10 rupee fine on it for retaining it for over a month.  And an nth time realization that God, during the creation process successfully installed “Passion for Books” but forgot to apply the “Intellectual Capacity” patch on it.

As a rule, it takes mammoth effort for me to sit thro books that have won the Booker Prize and the likes. Midnight’s Children actually fared better than the rest of the lot – I compulsively read about 100 pages – but finally could take no more about nose itches and loony wives! It gets on my nerves when books just refuse to “move” and rant on and on about ridiculous details. I mean, writing without ridiculous details would be banal, but I think it’s the full stop that makes all the difference. Ok, DO NOT read that sentence again! I don think I know what I meant either! Anyway, Inheritance of Loss, The God of Small Things, Atlas Shrugged and In a Free State are some of the other books that met with a similar fate. I don’t know what was it about these books that froze my page turning activity – they just failed to hold my interest. And yeah, Lord of the Rings is on the list too! Yes, I know this is the point where I get written off as a person without taste! :(But in my defense, I started LOTR after reading ALL of Harry Potter and completed awed by J K Rowling’s magic weave. It was fresh, right on your face and made you part of that world. LOTR was far too elaborative and somehow failed to charm!

The White Tiger is next on my to-read list and my past record tells me that its fate is going to be no different, but having gotten hold of the book(no offence S :)), I might as well do it justice and give it a fair try. Apart from my past track record, Adiga himself is partly the reason for my step-motherly enthusiasm for White Tiger – if you’ve read Between the Assassinations, you’ll know what am talking about. I fought my strongest urge to throw it away, thinking it‘ll start making sense at SOME point, but it simply refused to oblige till the very damned end! Ugh! 

The Pavithra Booker Prize undoubtedly goes to the Kite Runner! Man! What a book. And what amazing characterization. I smiled, grinned, loved, hated and cried along with each character. The absolutely non -judgmental way of translating emotions into words – I am sure it is going to remain my favorite book for a long long time! A Thousand Splendid Suns is not too far behind either – you should give it to the man for throwing those graphic, heart rending descriptions right on your face and doing something to your very core! I think there is something about the whole Taliban regime and their atrocities in Afghanistan -the oppression and terror – It repulses and fascinates at the same time!  

Over the years, I’ve had various “time and age specific” favorite books – like Enid Blyton till class seven, Nancy Drew in Class Seven and Eight, Jeffrey Archer and Robin Cook in Class Ten and Sidney Sheldon and the likes for a couple of years after that (yes, I did think Nothing Lasts for Ever and Tell Me Your Dreams were amongst the finest pieces of fiction written – ever! :)), Dan Brown more recently and Rohinton Mistry off late. But then, there are a few books/authors which could not possibly bore me to the slightest even if I read them a thousand times over till the age of sixty. Evergreen favorites. R K Narayan sits right on top of this list. I could read Swami and Friends any number of times and still guffaw (mentally) at every tiny snippet of the book and continue to be amazed at the genius of the man who strikes a chord with every reader. I would honestly be offended if somebody disliked RKN. Sharing the honors with RKN on this list would be Enid Blyton (I still own a few books of the Five Find Outer s series and trust me, the last time I read one of those books was not too long ago! :D),Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, Mario Puzo’s Godfather, Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, Jeffrey Archer’s Kane and Abel and Prodigal Daughter, C Rajaji’s Mahabharata, the two books by Khaled Hosseini, all of Erich Segal – whew! The list is getting pretty long, and I’m sure I have missed out quite a few already!   

Starting off with “Three Men in a Boat” now – vaguely remember having read an extract of this book in Class 7 non-detail :D. Wishing I had the hard copy – will have to do with the e-book for the time being – only that can pass off as the Struts Survival Guide in office! 😛 

PS: With the successful completion of this post, I cross my own milestone that my earlier blog witnessed 😛