Thanks to the circulating library I have discovered in my neighbourhood, I have suddenly had the pleasure of reading a whole lot of books I did not really want to own. They are not bad books but I really don’t see myself reaching out for a copy to re-read or even gaze at it lovingly to think how much pleasure I had while reading it.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R.Martin – The book came highly recommended by P, and then J. It had been a while since I had sat down to lose myself in a fantasy series, and the book was much welcomed. Especially since I had only recently become aware of how many games, TV shows etc this book seems to have created.
The book itself was quite entertaining. Told from the points of view of different characters, it spans an area that covers the cold North and goes down to the Southern seat of the ruling kings and further below. The focus is largely on the northern based, Stark family. When the king requests Eddard Stark to take up a position in the court down South, a chain of events is set in motion. Needless to say, passions run high, betrayals are strife and the story takes major twists and turns. In between there are events happening beyond the Northern wall. Also, the surviving heirs of the erstwhile ruling family are in free lands.
When the story ended, I was craving for more and promptly borrowed the second book in the series
A Clash of Kings by George R.R.Martin – The book begins with the civil war for the king’s throne. As the war progresses, the general garb of civilization deteriorates. There is no sanctity attached to one’s position, noble or otherwise and most characters can only hope not to fall into the wrong hands. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the warring clans, the activity beyond the Wall has become more eerie. This book is a lot darker than the previous one.
By the time, I ran through this book, my enthusiasm for the series had dimmed considerably. Personally, I think that each book in a series should have a segment neatly wrapped, while keeping the main theme alive for the next book. The Lord of the Rings did that well (maybe except for Part 2, which was mostly a journey, connecting books 1 and 3). Harry Potter does it well. This series, on the other hand, falters here and hopes that the reader, after 1000 pages can still focus on the main storyline, without having the satisfaction of atleast one segment completed.
There is still a part 3 to go but I am going to wait a while before I get there.
After this I wanted to read something that I knew would reach some sort of conclusion at the end of the book. So the long neglected The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai was picked up. This book was yet another reco by P and J. Infact both had gifted it for a birthday knowing fully well that since I was not particularly impressed by the author, I would not buy the book left to my own devices. At that time, Kiran Desai had been all over the news with her Booker prize and her annoying giggle. Besides, I had just read her mother, Anita Desai’s Fasting and Feasting and considered it terribly over rated and assumed that the daughter must surely be too.
Oh well. As these things turn out, I quite enjoyed the book and the writing style. There are two parallel stories in the book, that of Sai and Biju. Sai lives in Darjeeling with her rather aloof grandfather, Jemubhai Patel. Having studied in England, and having picked up a culture that alienates him from his known world, Jemubhai is happy to have succumbed to the life of a pucca gentleman in an alien place, till orphaned Sai appears at his doorstep. He tolerates her presence and the young Sai grows up with no real sense of her identity. Meanwhile, their cook’s son Biju, has ended up as an illegal immigrant in America. He realizes that this is the best shot that life is going to offer him to make money and be a success but learns that being poor, illegal and away from home is not a happy state of affairs. In the background of all this is the Gorkha agitation for their own land. Sai and Biju try to make the best of their separate but similar situations.
The author is particularly gifted when it comes to observations about how people live and think. Worth a read.
Arranged Marriage by Chitra Divakaruni Bannerjee – A collection of short stories, most of which have to do with arranged marriages and living overseas. A lot of immigrant stories one may have heard before, redeemed by the author’s ability to narrate them differently. A quick and pleasant read.
Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro – R had recommended this book a while ago and Z surprised me by showing up with her copy of this book during a recent visit.
It is such a good feeling when you discover an author whose writing style you fall in love with at the word go and Alice Munro was clearly going to be such an author for me (Thanks R and Z).
The short stories are set in small town Canada and revolve around the daily lives of people populating these areas. It is amazing how small town stories often tend to be similar. Yet Munro gives it a strong Canadian flavour and paints such vivid pictures of the characters that you can almost see into their heads. I enjoyed each story, losing myself in them and savouring them long after I had finished. Comfortingly enough, the characters all don’t come to a sticky end (my greatest worry when I find a good writer is that they will end up writing depressing stories). You find a mix of the good and the not-so-good which is what the real world is usually about.
Two Lives by Vikram Seth – So right after I read this book to remind me that even a great author may not have books that will consistently interest me. Vikram Seth tells us the story of his grand-uncle, Shanti Behari Seth who was married to a German, Hennerle (Henny for short) and lived in London. Shanti’s story is quite interesting in itself. He studied in Germany, and then served in the British Corps in the WWII as a dentist. Henny, whom he had met in Germany, meanwhile escaped the Jewish persecution in Germany but sadly her sister and mother did not.
Shanti’s story is unique since not too many people write about Indian dentists serving in WWII. Henny’s story, though tragic it is, does not offer any new insights into what it must have been living as a displaced German Jew in those times. However what could have been interesting is the story of them together but unfortunately it is not. This is partly because while the author is able to interview his uncle, his aunt is long dead before the research on the book begins. Seth tries to piece together her story based on a bunch of letters he discovers well after her death. Also, Henny herself never confided into her husband about the trauma of having suffered the loss that she did. Even what intimacy there must have been is not captured. So you can never get a clear picture of how the relationship between the two was.
The most interesting nugget of information I learnt was that a lot of the key characters in Seth’s masterpiece, A Suitable Boy was based on his own family. Mrs Mehra was drawn based on his maternal grandmother, Lata was probably his mother and Haresh was definitely based on his father. This is by no means new information to anyone who had bothered to do a Google search but I was delighted to find out more about one of my favourite books. I would have loved to meet the Chatterji family!
I must say borrowing books has been good for my reading given that I enjoyed most of the books I read. Not to mention, it is always wonderful to have friends who point you towards interesting books leading to limited downside risk of a bad book and the chance to discover good books.