Of Han Kang’s ‘Human Acts’

(A review of ‘Human Acts’a novel by Han Kang) “I still remember the moment when my gaze fell upon the mutilated face of a young woman, her features slashed through with a bayonet. Soundlessly, and without fuss, some tender thing deep inside me broke. Something that, until then, I hadn’t realised was there.” Han Kang (Human Acts) A semi-fictional account of unnecessarily violent supression of a student uprising in Han Kang’s home town, Gwangju, South Korea in 1980 through point of view of inter-related characters. I guess it would have been brutal to expect another ‘The Vegetarian’ from her but this is beautiful in its own way – showing what it means having to live through such incidences – how it changes the way one sees the world: “Is it true that human beings are fundamentally cruel? Is the experience of cruelty the only thing we share as a species? Is the dignity that we cling to nothing but self-delusion, masking from ourselves the single truth: that each one of us is capable of being reduced to an insect, a ravening beast, a lump of meat? To be degraded, slaughtered – is this the essential of humankind, one which history

Of Dying – a review of ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’

(A review of ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’ a novel by Leo Tolstoy First reviewed on February 27, 2015) “Ivan Ilych’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.” Leo Tolstoy (The Death of Ivan Ilych) How do you define an interesting life? Ivan has seen it all one can normally expect to see in a life – he has loved, he has married, has have children, has seen ups and downs in his professional life – yet the moment death shows its face, he comes to conclusion that his life was futile – everything is so ordinary including the very cause of his death. He comes to wonder at the meaninglessness of everything he has done: “Can it be that I have not lived as one ought?” suddenly came into his head. “But how not so, when I’ve done everything as it should be done?” Leo Tolstoy (The Death of Ivan Ilych) With each successive chapter, his health declines and death becomes more and more real, initially he is fully focused on saving his life. His family and friends, it seems to him, are not taking his disease with enough attention. “but that what was

One Hundred Years of Magic

(A review by Sidharth Vardhanof ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ –  a novel by Nobel laureate  Gabriel García MárquezFirst reviewed on August 27, 2014) “How are you, Colonel?” he asked in passing. “Right here,” he answered. “Waiting for my funeral procession to pass …..” Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude) “The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point” Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude) “He really had been through death, but he had returned because he could not bear the solitude.” Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude) You know what is common between “One hundred years of solitude’, Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Twilight’?…You either love them or make fun of them. This one fell in the first category for me. The things that make this book so special to some are also the things that make it boring top others. The theme of time moving in circles with names and events repeating is both beautiful and boring. Look at names for example. There are twenty-two Aurlianos in it, four Arcadeos and three Remodeos. There is an Ursula, an Amranta and an Amranta

Of the shape of the ruins – a review

(A review of ‘The Shape of the Ruins’,a novel by Juan Gabriel Vásquez,English translation by Anne McLean short-listed for International Booker in 2019Review first written on March 10, 2019) I do love how the books are growing shorter. This is the biggest (the only big) book in 2019’s long list of International Booker (now in short list) and it didn’t feel that long. I think what makes it a quick read is that much of it is narrating facts and events Which kind of offer much less food for thought per minute. The main theme is conspiracy theories. And it had a putting off effect on me. I find some of them interesting (Dan Brown novels are interesting) but not the ones that concern the death of political figures (Kennedy, Bose, etc), definitely not enough to read 600 page long novels on them. The Marquez Connections This one interested me because of the mention of the name of Gabriel Marquez in some of the reviews. Apparently, Marquez happened to be in place of murder of a famous Colombian politician, Gaitain, just after the murder took place and would remember, in his autobiography (Living to Tell The Tale), a mysterious elegant

Mouthful of Birds – a review

(A review of ‘Mouthful of Birds’,a collection of short stories by Samantha Schweblin long-listed for International Booker in 2019 for English translation by Megan McDowell) Most of these short stories have a sort of nightmarish qualities about them, much like another Intentional Booker nominee from author, Fever Dreams (but ‘Fever Dreams’ had a far better execution IMO and, to be honest, should have won International Booker that year). Sometimes the nightmarish quality is due to environment or because of the perspective of a child narrator while others really have a somewhat Kafka-like dream-realism (unpredictable sequence of surreal events) with an which is the thing I enjoy most about this author. The unease one feels during a nightmare is common to the narrators of all the good stories in here. ‘Headlights’, ‘Butterflies’, ‘Preserves”, ‘toward the civilisation’ etc are some of the best ones. There a few less enjoyable stories (the titular story, incidentally, was one of those I enjoyed less), but the 5-star ones are too difficult to ignore. A bad sample, bad not because it is a bad story, but because it doesn’t have this nightmarish quality, can be read here.

Ugliness

(A short story first written on March 4, 2019) 1. His clothes were as black as the background. The place was marked by a complete lack of landmarks – trees, walls etc. Nothing but the darkness and, in it, that ugly man visible. but the darkness in the place wasn’t just a lack of light it seemed to have a material presence, it surrounded the place like a black fog and you could look in all direction without seeing far because of it. This fog like effect was produced by a lack of a visible source of the dim light that circumscribes one’s vision. This man whom he saw only in profile seemed so ugly to Manoj that he thought it won’t be an exaggeration to deny him humanity and call him a monster. The ‘monster’ was very heavy about his stomach, had a crooked nose and an almost albino skin shade with ugly black wrinkles spouting in the face. He smiled showing deformed, yellowish teeth. His eyes were of that undefined colour which Manoj quickly read as the colour of greed. The very sight of this man made a shiver ran down Manoj’s neck whose disgust was combined by

Of Gods and other demons – a review of ‘Arrow of God’

(A review of ‘Arrow of God’a novel by Chinua AchebeFirst reviewed on April 4, 2019) Read it because it was listed as one of Adichie’s favourite books. The story is somewhat like ‘Things Fall Apart’ in that it narrates a story of the rise and, later, fall of a man due to values changing under a challenge from colonial rule – only this time it was a religious leader, instead of a warrior/farmer. The reading experience was greatly enhanced from my having read Carl Jung’s ‘Man and His Symbols’. To begin with, Jung had much to say about the masks and their impact on personality and the group dances in which everyone seems to be in frenzy. I bet Jung would have loved the book – especially the relationships between the people in the book and their gods. The protagonist, Ezeulu is constantly holding conversations with his god – which might be called hallucination but Jung would have called it conversing with one’s collective consciousness. Because apart from these conversations with his god, Ezeulu can be considered normal. Moreover, people actually want him to hold conversations with the god Even more interesting is the way in which people can discard

Diary of a Cynical Suicide

(A short fictionFirst written on April 3, 2019Find all parts of ‘Diary of a Cynical Suicide’ here ) 251. Today I know of the greatest frustration of all. My mind explodes with ideas and I am starved of paper to put them on, having run out of pages in my diary. If only it was possible to die of starvation of paper! I live in darkness devoid of electricity during nights…How bad it has to get until I realise that this is the time to end it? 252. Yeats once said that a thing of beauty of joy forever. In as much there is nothing beautiful as no joy lasts – that much I think I have talked about earlier. But the statement is ridiculous in another way. Even what goes down as things of beauty do not necessarily fill ‘normal’ people with joy. Normal people quickly reach out to pluck out the flower they find beautiful and thus starting it on its death, hill stations that were once seen as beautiful are now cluttered with garbage and pollution by those who find them beautiful and go there for trips or to live out of love for their beauty. A man

Man and His Symbols – an introduction to Jung’s ideas

(A review of ‘Man and His Symbols’a book by Carl JungFirst written on March 29, 2019) Hands down, it is one of the best books I have read and I wish I had read it earlier. This book is a perfect gateway into Jung’s ideas written expressly for the layman (like yours truly) to understand them. I think even if you don’t know the details, you know that his ideas provided a new dimension to psychology, taking it beyond nightmares and childhood traumas. Freud took away the extraordinary – the possessing demons as well as fantasies etc from psychology, Jung provides us with a hope that not all our time spent with those things is wasted. There are though two more ways of gaining from the book for a curious mind. For one, you gain an additional perspective, another angle of looking at things – at art, literature, philosophy, political and social conflicts, even natural sciences. Again, it seems to show the very limitations of rationalism which seems to be the basis of all our social sciences – economics (with its capitalist logic), politics and diplomacy (the ‘carry a stick and talk politely’ approach), culture (consumerism). “There is, however, a

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead – a review

(A review of ‘Drive your Pow over the bones of the dead’by Olga Tokarczuk short listed for International Booker 2019 for English translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones ) There can be spoilers in here for it is supposed to be a whodunit, though the whodunit is so painfully that calling it a whodunit seems to be a crime against humanity. This book employs a theme that is close to me and seems to be explored more and more often by writers worldwide – that of cruelty towards animals and how it has become ingrained in our lifestyle and how little a thought we spare to it. Anna Sewell’s ‘Black Beauty’ is the first novel I remember that explores this theme and you could see it reflected in a lot of works of Coetzee (specifically ‘Elizabeth Costello’) and most recently Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian’ (Elizabeth Costello looks at it in more logical way, while The Vegetarian is all pathos). Much of what haunts these authors can be summed up in a single quote: ‘Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.’ “Auschwitz start when someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks they are just animals” Theodor W. Adorno (btw a much

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