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

Annie Ernaux’s ‘The Years’ – the story of a generation

(A review of ‘The Years’,a novel by Annie ErnauxEnglish translation by Alison L Strayer nominated for International Booker 2019 First written on March 25, 2019 ) “We were mutating. We didn’t know what our new shape would be.” Annie Ernaux (The Years) I love the International Booker Prize’s new version. They always have at least a couple of gems in their long list. And this book is such a gem. You could start introducing it by saying that it is an autobiography, however, it ain’t just biography of a single person, rather it is a biography of a whole French generation born around 1940. Since the industrial revolution, generational differences have widened exponentially. And a single person can live to see the world change many times in his or her life and that is the case with the generation the author talks about. The generation which is the protagonist of the novel (the pronoun used is ‘we’) was raised in a peasant conservative family and grew up through second world war, cold war, death of philosophers (philosophers are to French what babas are to Indians and authors are to Russians) liberalization of economy, metro, consumerisation of society, television, sexual revolution,

Sex, Music and Jealousy – Kreuzer Sonata

(A review by Sidharth Vardhanof Kreuzer Sonata by Leo TolstoyFirst written on December 31, 2018 ) Kreuzer Sonata – 1901 painting Rene Francois Xavier Prinet’s painting inspired by Leo Tolstoy ‘s novel This was good, I liked two Tolstoy novellas I have read much better than the more popular epic monsters. This one is alive with a sort of energy I never expected from him. And this book even faced censorship! Both Russia and USA thought it was indecent. Well, outside DH Lawrence, it is most sex-centric book I have read that doesn’t use the word ‘sex’. Roosevelt even called him immoralist for writing the book.  Leo Tolstoy Actually Tolstoy’s fault lies in opposite direction. He is telling you how sex is a bad thing. He is telling everyone that we should offer sexual abstinence, even if it means humanity must perish – influenced by Christianity. He is the perfect example of the corrupted Christian that Nietzsche talked about in his Antichrist. (Last book I read.) I am not a fan of his epic books, but you could love the author who wrote them – compassionate, jumping in mind of one character from that of other, refusing to pass the

They, The Robots

(A review by Sidharth VardhanOf I, Robot by Isaac AsimovFirst written on November 26, 2015) “If one and a half chickens lay one and a half eggs in one and a half days, how many eggs will none chickens lays in nine days?” Isaac Asimov (I, Robot) This is incredible, the best of all science fiction I have read yet. As Fredrick Pohl put it: “A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.” Fredrick Pohl Asimov not only does that – and he goes one step further, he proposes a solution for the metaphorical traffic jam – in this case ethical issues related to AI, in form of his popular ‘three laws of robotics’ : 1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. The laws, as you can see, have nothing to do with the mechanics but rather their