Sidharth Vardhan

Review of Midaq Alley

(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

Rumi and Forty Rules of Love

(A review of ‘Forty Rules of Love’,a novel by Elif Shafak Review first written on June 11, 2019) “Eternity does not mean infinite time, but simply timelessness.” Elif Shafak (The Forty Rules of Love) I had my doubts about the book. It looked like a love story with just amorous interpretation of selected Rumi quotes thrown in to produce some cliche rules. It is those things – Ella a married woman and housewife for years fall in ‘oh so forbidden’ love for a dashing Sufi writer with (no points for guessing) a tragic life while translating his book. This book, novel within the novel, ‘Sweet Blasphemy’ is about Shams To be honest, the author seems to be using Shams and Rumi to show her own views but in the end, I didn’t mind. Author’s use of mysticism often results in so many beautiful quotes and forwards a philosophical system in its own right. “it has been such a long time since I last knocked on God’s door that I’m not sure if He still lives in the same place.” Elif Shafak (The Forty Rules of Love) “The sharia is like a candle,” said Shams of Tabriz. “It provides us with

Jokha Al-harthi’s Celestial Bodies – a review

(A review of Jokha Al-harthis’s Celestial BodiesWon International man booker 2019 for English translation by Marilyn BoothReview first written on June 3, 2019) When it comes to diversity, International Man Booker presents nice trends – 3 of 4 winners have been from the third world and 3 have been women. That said, Jokha Al-harthi’s Celestial Bodies ain’t the most deserving one in my arrogant opinion – Annie Ernaux’s ‘The Years’ is the best of 5 books listed in the long list this year that I have read. The summary saying it is the story of 3 sisters might suggest it is a family story – which it is, but it manages to capture a lot of Onami life including the slave trade, politics, changing education scene, smuggling, etc. In fact, at times, it seemed like the book might as well be described as the story of Abdullah who has to his credit the biggest number of chapters. The stories of 3 sisters, by themselves, get a much smaller number of chapters – in fact, the stories of two younger sisters don’t start till much later. Jokha Al-harthi For the most part, the book occurs in flashbacks. Alharthi would pick a

Of Forth On the Daydream and suffering that awaits there

(A review of ‘Forth on the Daydream’A novel by Boris VianReview first written on May 22, 2019) More like 3.5 stars. It has a kind of Disney reality in which animals, for example, talk to people and there is that somewhat infantile humor. The book begins in a kind of innocent world of some young people who haven’t come across the suffering yet. The characters resist and are afraid of things that are for grown-ups – especially having to earn a living. The girls want to buy pretty things and boys want to be able to buy those things for them. As the suffering in its countless forms raises the ugly hand for the four youngsters that are central characters of the book, they struggle to keep the happiness they had gained in their innocent times. Boris Vian The surreal art, as far as I understand, tries to use elements from the unconscious mind, and since ‘meaning’ is an invention of the conscious mind – everything surreal must be definition be meaningless or at least have a meaning that is very difficult to put in words. I am not sure surrealism is the word for strange occurrences of the book.

Samarkand – A Review of Amin Maalouf Book

(A review of Samarkand,a novel by Amin Maalouuf First reviewed on May 6, 2019) “Omar Khayyam mourned his disciple with the same dignity, the same resignation and the same discreet agony as he had mourned other friends. ‘We were drinking the same wine, but they got drunk two or three rounds before me.’” Amin Maalouf (Samarkand) Among other things, this book has among its motifs – Omar Khayyam, Hassan-i Sabbah, Persian liberation efforts at the beginning of 20th century, Titanic, Mongols etc. Omar Khayyam Have you ever detests the ‘x’ of algebra during your math classes, well Omar Khayyam is the source of that ‘x’. “to represent the unknown in this treatise on algebra, Khayyam used the Arabic term shay, which means thing. This word, spelled xay in Spanish scientific works, was gradually replaced by its first letter, x, which became the universal symbol for the unknown.” Amin Maalouf (Samarkand) He was a polymath – a true polymath, not one of the modern-day self-claimed ones who learn basics of many fields without mastering any. Omar wrote thesis in maths and astronomy and wrote incredible poems famous all over the world – and that had a really strong influence on sufi

Weakness of strong men – a review of ‘Things Fall Apart’

(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

Chronicle of a Death Foretold – a review

(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,

The righteous ways of ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’

(A review of ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, a novel by Anne BronteReview first written on May 20, 2019) Of course, it is an excellent book and was definitely ahead of its time – to the point that it aroused much criticism in times it was written. The fact of a woman walking out on her husband must itself have been sensational during those times. I am really curious about the lives of Bronte sisters. I could really like to read a common biography of them or see a Doctor Who episode based on them. All that said, I am gonna focus on why I didn’t like this one as much as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Part of the reason why I have avoided reading ‘The Tennant of Windfell Hall’ this long is that I had read Agnes Grey and was worried that the protagonist here would be just as righteous. It is one of the most dislikable qualities a person can have in my opinion. Now there are two reasons I hate righteousness. First, righteous people will cause themselves unnecessary suffering. Helen, for example, will suffer gladly for this righteousness. First, she chooses to stick around with a

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

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