(A review by Sidharth Vardhanof Midaq Alley by Naguib MahfouzFirst written on October 1, 2016) I can see why it is called Naguib Mahfouz’s best novel (although I personally like his ‘Children of the Alley’ more). It has a large number of well-developed and complex characters built with great psychological insight. The Egypt of second world war comes alive in these pages. The lower-middle-class characters – barbers, sweet shop owners etc which populate the book are very much like people belonging to similar classes that I have met in India. Their psychology, their motivations which Mahfouz draws out so beautifully are universal though. The sexual desires suppressed because of social pressure, the strong desire to move up from one’s station in life, the constant consciousness of luxuries that are beyond one’s reach – which also turn some people towards corrupt ways. In this novel this desire also makes the youth (among which it is felt most) take part in the war as British army. Of course, once the war is over, the army lays them and their dreams out. One feels for Hamida whose fate is similar to those who, like her, ignore their emotional needs in face of the
(A review by Sidharth VardhanOf I, Robot by Isaac AsimovFirst written on November 26, 2015) “PSYCHOHISTORY–…Gaal Dornick, using nonmathematical concepts, has defined psychohistory to be that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli..” Isaac Asimov (Foundation) Psychohistory is interesting but not as interesting as robo-psychology (which is subject of ‘I, The Robot’). One of the reasons I love reading Asimov is that he is one of the few science fiction writers who does not make scientists look like fools. Most science fiction I’ve read or seen is about scientists releasing some kind of problem on the world – zombies created by T-virus, monsters created using parts of dead bodies, artificial intelligence gone mad and looking to destroy the world, time machines taking people to 10000 B. C. and so on. You could expect them to know better. ” such folly smacks of genius. A lesser mind would be incapable of it.” Now Asimov is different. Here, scientists are rather cool people often solving problems even before they arise. That is what made psychohistory so interesting – it gave them the ability to foresee future problems. “Any fool can tell a crisis when it arrives.
(A review of ‘Machines Like Me’A novel by Ian McEwanReview first written on May 20, 2019) “there are tears in the nature of things.” Virgil Turing Test Alan Turing, one of biggest names in field of artificial intelligence world, devised a test known as Turing test. To pass the test, the machine will have to fool a human (who won’t know whether he or she is talking to human or machine) into believing that he or she is talking to a human being. This mechanical art of talking or acting like humans is only a simulation, the machine might act like humans but it is still not motivated by the same forces. This genius was accused of “gross indecency” because of his homosexuality and committed suicide at around 42 years of age. In the book, a few events of his last days are changed and he survives to bring forth an alternative history in which first Androids hit the market in the 1970s which is when the events of the book happen. A good part of the book goes to developing the alternative history – of robotics, politics and social. The plot itself is rather simple. In ‘Do androids dream
(A review of ‘Things Fall Apart’,a novel by Chinua AchebeFirst written on April 6, 2015) Called the father of modern African literature, Chinua Achebe is widely respected in Africa. Nelson Mandela, recalling his time as a political prisoner , once referred to him as a writer “in whose company the prison walls fell down”. He has inspired some big names in literature including Tony Morrison, Margret Atwood etc. ‘Things fall apart’ despite its ridiculously simple story is very aptly recognized. It involved breaking new grounds – the very choice of language of colonialists over any of domestic dialects was a major decision – Achebe thought English was the only language that can be used to communicate all over Nigeria; rather than country’s multiple dialects. There was an effort at creating a common dialect but the common dialect ‘just didn’t sing’. Set in Nigeria of 1890s, Things Fall Apart (Title is taken from a poem of W.B. Yeats) doesn’t wave any Tolstoyan worlds or tries to go into the depths of individual psyche like James Joyce. What TFA does is that it breaks new grounds; puts a dot of light in that undiscovered plane, which was so far summed up by
(A song first written onMay 3, 2019) Don’t die Please don’t die Please hear me cry Please don’t dieNot nowNot already I can’t deal with another loss With the rest of the world, I am already cross. I can’t handle another death You are my gem, precious wealth So please don’t die Can you still hear me cry Please don’t die You alone were my friend You suffered when I suffered But now this shared time too will end Everyone must leave or die That is my life’s trend But not you Please not you Please don’t die Shower water saw me cry Please please don’t die We used to play together in rains But no tears nor rains willEver wash these strains I never ever deserved you Lesser still your pains Yet I beg don’t die Please don’t die All I know is to cry Please, please don’t die If you must suffer to the bitter end Better it be now my friend I will miss youWilll forever want to kiss you Yet can’t anymore hear you sigh If that is only way out, please die. Or no, no, don’t die Can’t help but cryPlease don’t die Please please
(A Flash FictionFirst written on April 25, 2016) “They are just wasting their time” “How” “They are looking for the sun.” “That is not a waste of time. They are bound to find it sooner or later.” “No. They won’t.” “And why is that? Sun can be seen anywhere. And it is a sight worth seeking.” “Yes. But they are looking for it in corners of planets and depths of books. In the darkness of caves or carved up rocks. Believe it or not, they are looking for the sun and have candles in their hands.”
(A review by Sidharth Vardhanof ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ – a novel by Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez) ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ is a journalistic account of a murder, and not at all detective-like at that. In very first pages both the murderers and the murdered are revealed. It is only the writing style of Gabriel Marquez that makes this average story so enjoyable. , Gabriel put the Santigo’s flip side in the very beginning and then goes on to reveal the motive of murder which makes you believe that the murder may have some justification. Slowly though we realize he probably didn’t do the thing he was murdered for. The character gets more humane in later half; still, his behavior, especially in those last moments is strange. The chronicle shows you the hollow nature of society. A really, really expensive marriage wouldn’t survive a day. Angela Vicaro’s writing letters to her husband for seventeen years is something so weird that you won’t believe it to be real if you didn’t know otherwise – especially because she didn’t want to be married to him in the first place. Then there is the fact that only hours before the murder,
(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
(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.
(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