Sidharth Vardhan

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

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.

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

1 2 3 5
Fiction
Others