The Russian Nobleman

Vladamir Nabokov called this book “the first and fundamental Russian Novel”; in fact he was so frustrated by the what he considered the lack of qualitative translation of this critical piece of work of Russian Literature, when he started to teach at Wellesley College in 1944, that nearly 20 years later, he would produce his own attempt, which would as always create a furor, like everything Nabokov did; but that is another story! This “novel: which he considered key to Russian literature is not even a novel, but rather a work of poetry, describing the life and times of one Russian nobleman in the early 19th century Russia; it’s called Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin. This work which has spawned an Opera, several films and more translation that one can count was published in Russia in a completed form in 1833 and was to change the very nature of Russian prose!

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This novel in the poetry form follows the lives of Eugene Onegin, Vladamir Lensky and the narrator, a fictionalized Pushkin from the early days in the glittering society of St. Petersburg, to the estates of the Russian country, where all three meet and become friends. Eugene is a dandy, cynical and selfish who is easily bored, does not find any creature or object interesting beyond a short stipulated time and who comes to the country after inheriting an estate from an uncle, to overcome the boredom he had begun experiencing in the glittering society circles. He becomes great friends with the narrator and Vladamir Lensky, a young, naive poet of 18; and it is Lensky who takes Eugene to the home of Olga, his finance and the younger daughter of a fellow landowner. There Eugene meets Tatyana, Olga’s elder sister, a quiet romantic girl, who is drawn to Eugene and goes on to confess her emotions to him eventually. However, Eugene rebuffs all attempts and states that he will become bored with marriage and Tatayana should be careful of baring her soul in such a manner. In an effort to reconcile a listless Tatayana, Lensky invites Eugene to her name day, stating it will be a small gathering with only the girls, their parents and two of them; however on reaching Eugene realizes that the entire country is there and to get even with Lensky for what he considers his “traitorous” act, starts  off a chain of events, that will alter the lives all four!

I read the translation by James E. Falen, and words fail me to say enough and more about this work that would do justice to its brilliance. The characters, to begin with, are masterfully etched out, standing independently and distinctly, sometimes, white, sometimes grey, sometimes, a unique hue of its own! I have read the Eugene Onegin was considered an anti-hero by many but this seems to be a simplistic definition; the protagonist is a brilliant, creative individual lacking enough outlets to use his brilliance in the limited occupations and social restrictions of early 19th century Russia. He is capable of considerable goodness, but can also be mean and caught up in pettiness. Lensky is a perfect foil to cynical and bored Eugene; he is optimistic, full of vigor and constantly eager to see life with all its beauty and perfection. Finally, in Tatayana, Pushkin created a memorable heroine,  innocent and untouched by worldly requirements, her heart burns with a certain purity, which establishes itself a strong moral character as life experiences are forced on her and then tempt her! She is the one solid ethical character around whom the rest of the amoral characters revolve, bringing out her contrast as an ideal and worthy! Even the minor characters are wonderfully drawn and support the main cast ably. The conversation between a love-struck Tatyana and the wise old Nanny is an illustrative example of such interactions. As a narrative, this poem is faultless; it brilliantly combines worldly with the ethereal, practical with the spiritual; the fictionalized Pushkin at several instances breaks away from the main plot to digress into some deeper questions of life including what is art? But he is not only able to skillfully bring the audience back to the main narrative, but also create several instances of suspense when the reader rushes through stanza in an effort to understand what happens next! This in itself would have been enough to make this outstanding example of poetry in a narrative form, however, the brilliance of Puskin takes it into a whole new level by the wonderful and deeply moving lyricism of the language, that manages to convey the strongest and most powerful emotions without for a moment sounding maudlin. I am quoting the translation and can only wonder, how beautiful the original will be –

“Another! No! In all creations, there is no one else whom I’d adore,

The heavens chose my destination and made me thine for evermore,

My life till now has been a token in pledge of meeting you, my friend,

And in your coming, God has spoken

You will be my guardian until the end.”

Vissarion Belinsky wrote that in Eugene Onegin one could find “an Encyclopedia of Russian life” and I felt this through the novel. From the glittering ballrooms of 19th century Moscow to the quiet and haunting landscapes of the large and unending estates of the countryside, this work covers it all. There are travels by coaches and name day celebrations; there are landowners and peasants and relatives and army men; there is a range of amalgamation of items and details which all beautifully come together to present a vivid and lively picture of Russia. Once again, the sheer magnificence of this effort leaves one breathless.

Finally, a word on the translation; translating this work cannot be easy and it took a genius of Nabokov also 20 years to come with a manuscript that does justice to the original. James Falen did a wonderful job in keeping things simple and I believe as close as possible to the original narrative and yet make it easy for the reader to read and absorb what is essentially a vast body of information in poetry in a different language which is actually a story! Though there is the use of some words like “awesome”  which cannot have in vogue in the period this work is set, they are far and few, and do not take anything away from the brilliance of this work!

To end, this profoundly beautiful piece needs to be read by anyone who considers themselves Connoisseur of literature!

Some Things and A Book List…..

It’s as usual been a crazy busy month and things at work are not so great! While work per se is brilliant, the auxiliaries, of people and their selfish squabbles do not make for fun environment! It seems the more we evolve as humans, the more we get stuck in the mundane and lose grip over what are the things that are most important in life – loyalty, decency and kindness! But I am told all Corporate work place is similar and its one set of nonsense or the other; I most often think I am misfit and I do long to do something else. But firstly there are bills to be paid and secondly and perhaps more importantly, we cannot run away from our troubles; we have to stand and fight it! So here I stand, and here I stay and we will see, what the morrow brings!

Someone very close to me keeps telling me that we are fortunate to have resources, outside of work, from where we can find happiness and that is the key to true nirvana! I think there is much truth in this statement and thank goodness for books that keep things going for me – they provide wisdom, solace, laughter and an escape!Isee many of you putting up a 20 Books of Summer post, a wonderful event by Cathy at 746 Books and while I really not sure if I will make it the end of the whole list, I am reading one too many books, so might as well join the fun? So what am I reading now and what am I planning to read next? Too many things, as always –

  1. The 4 Loves by C.S. Lewis – This is a read along that I on an impulse joined and is hosted by my dear friend and partner in crime, Cleo. I make slow progress, as while it is a slim book, it has a lot of things to say; and absorbing all of that and processing it all is time consuming. Work being what it is, naturally, allows me for barely any time for the kind of focused reading that this book truly deserves. I am hanging on anyway and while I am not sure I will make it to the end by June, I will make it to the end and my guess is that is what counts!
  2. What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon – This time traveling book set in 1920s Ireland has been garnering rave reviews and I have seen it on many 20 Books for the Summer list among my friends. I picked it up again on an impulse, and now half way through the book, I realize that this books deserves all of the praise and more.  Ireland comes alive, with its politics, beauty and lyricism in this novel!
  3. The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye – One of my all time favorite and go to books, this timeless tale of Captain Ashton Pelham Martin, an English Officer in the Corps de Guide who was brought up as a son of a Hindu woman and Princess Anjuli Bai, the neglected daughter of an Indian King, set in the backdrop of the 2nd Afghan War is an epic read of the British Raj and the men and women, who loved and served India as their own!
  4. A Journey to the Western Island of Scotland and The Journal of a Tour of Hebrides by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell – Yet another reading adventure that I started with Cleo and we both are making slower progress than snails in 100 meter dash! I am not sure why we are slow in reading through this one, considering we both are really loving the description and the take on manner and societies of late 18th century, but we do plan to complete this, sooner rather than later.
  5. Outlander by Diane Gibbon – Ok! I confess, I have no idea why I picked this one up and now mid way at some 400+ pages of 800 page monster, I am wondering how I shall get to the end! If I should get to the end at all? I think, everyone gets the drift on how I feel about this book!
  6. Gun Island by Amitava Ghosh – Mr. Ghosh remains one of my most favorite Indian English author and I usually love his writings! The Shadowlines pierced my heart and The Glass Palace was  a story so close to my families history, it was like my ancestors came alive! But not all his writings go down well with me – I was left with such a trauma with Hungry Tide, that it was literally years, before I picked up another book by him. Gun Island is a gift and my sister who finished it last weekend, cannot stop ranting and raving about it. So I am now 100 pages in the book and it is needless to say quite interesting and exotically so, but I await the end before I can actually share a verdict!
  7. The Binding by Bridget Collins – Another book about which I heard rave reviews and am yet to start. Its about a young boy apprenticed to a book binder, a position of power and in the vault of his mentor’s workshop, he discovered, books and books of records and memories! It’s a book about book and I am hedging my bet that it should be good!
  8. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell – Yet another impulse buy. This will be the last of the Gaskell that I have not read and I have held off reading it for years in the hope that I can look forward to actually reading it. But the time is here and I will soon pick it up and start reading, sooner than later!
  9. The Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss  – A buy on the insistence of my sister, but not that I needed too much of insistence. This blog turned book documents one Kitchen maid’s attempt to love, new culinary skills and adventures in a new city. I am super curious and super interested to find out  how this plays out!
  10. The Island of Sea Woman by Lisa See – I read a great review about the book over at Helen‘s and while wondering around the books shop the very next day, I found it on display and picked it up. It is fate and one cannot fight it. However the premises of the novel in 1930’s -1940’s Korea through the eyes of two very different woman – a daughter of a Japanese Collaborator and daughter of a sea diver, who will inherit her mother’s position as a chief see diver, has much promise!IMG_20190616_160919_101
  11. The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer – Can a Summer list be complete with a Georgette Heyer? I think NOT! And this one has been on my TBR for a long time. I ma glad to have finally picked it up and am looking forward to it with much anticipation! This one has a tinge of mystery attached to the usual Regency romance and that makes the deal even sweeter!
  12. The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry – This came as a recommendation from another close friend and she actually said, when you just want to switch off, this is series for you. It’s got history, mystery and interesting locales and as I turn to page 113, I have to say, I agree. A good read to forget and to be forgotten after a good read!
  13. The Strange Case of Harriet Hall by Moray Dalton – A wonderful review by Jane made me pick up this book. Though I am yet to start reading it, the fact that it is a Golden Age Mystery and has an interesting plot line of an eccentric woman, living in an isolated cottage being murdered on the eve of the arrival of her niece and everyone having something to hide, even the closest friends, makes for an interesting read.
  14. Selected Letters by Jane Austen – It’s rare selection of letters that survive, which Ms. Austen’s sister had not burned before her death. It gives a lively, vibrant and tongue in cheek look at early 19th century England and one can trace the thinking and the observations that went into writing some of the best works of English literature
  15. The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn – Two of my most favorite and trusted friends and fellow bloggers, Jane and Helen have written wonderful reviews, strongly recommending this coming of age story set on the eve of World War 1. A lucky find at thrift shop of a very good copy of the book made me pick it up and I am raring to get to it as soon as possible.
  16. Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson – Another great thrift shop pick up, this book which has been recommended by many portrays the life and times of a community in the English country at the turn of the century, with customs and celebrations now long gone.
  17. The First Firanghis by Johnathan Gel Harris – A study of  “firanghis” or Caucasian foreigners who settled in India, well before the English decided to colonize the country, and the roles they took up, the way they adapted themselves to the climate and the inheritance they left behind.
  18. The Wardrobe Mistress by Patrick McGrath – Set in the post World War II London, the death of the great Stage actor, Charlie Grice sends his wife and the Wardrobe Mistress of the production into whole new world as she tries to discover the truth.
  19. The Headmistress by Angela Thrikell – Set in the imaginary county of Barsetshire, during World War II; a London school has to be evacuated and finds temporary residence at the Harefield Park. The Headmistress of the school is exactly what the Headmistress should be, but not all is right!
  20. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – When troubled, the calming presence of Ms.Austen shall hold you up, make you smile and ensure to get up, suit up and show up! What more needs to be said?

I am truly unsure if I will be able to get through the list by September but I need  to give it a go and remember that my happiness is not truly sourced from work!

And The Spin # is …..

The Classic’s Club has spun the number and it is 19! 19 seems like an odd number; excuse the pun, but we get #1, #8 or even #20 but never #19. So it’s very interesting to get a 19! This per my list, makes me read Tales of South Pacific by James Michener.

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I must own I am very very relieved to get this book and not something like The Rigveda, which is tremendously difficult to understand and takes a lot of time and concentrated focus, or so people who have read the book tell me. However, Michener can be a bit of a unpredictable read as well. I loved his  The Source and Caravan, both go into my all time favorite and not be missed lists; he has also written Sayonara, which is the most ridiculous piece of writing to come from an author as brilliant as him. I also have his Alaska, which with all my heartfelt sincere attempts have still not been able to finish and it lies next to my bed side table, with a bookmark accusingly sticking out from page 237. Also as I was discussing with Brona, all his books are chunksters, so tackling them anyway, is a challenge. Having said all of this, the fact still remains that when Michener gets it right, he writes what can only be described as deep, insightful and heart rendering books! I am hoping Tales of the South Pacific will be one of them. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 and there is that la-de-da musical as well, but neither is a guarantee of the novel’s actual power. Many Pulitzer’s have failed to actually keep their promise, atleast to me and I often wonder, why they were rated so high. As far as the musical is concerned, well, the lesser said the better! I guess, I will find out soon enough! The book arrives today and I have per the rules till May 31st to finish it and I am hoping to do that sooner than that, as I have as always, bitten more than I can chew.

Cleo, my soul sister and my friend, who inspires me to do all great and crazy things is also participating in the Spin and her #19 is like va-va-voom interesting. It’s A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and A Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. This is an outstanding classic and our lives are replete with quotes and phrases from Johnson and Boswell. No way, could I pass this up. It’s too complicated for me to read alone and I would have needed some proding. Well, someone heard my prayers, and now I am buddy reading with Cleo on this. I need help!

To end, the die is now cast and I have books to be read! I am super excited to be part of the Spin again and realize now, how much I missed it! Without further ado, then, let’s read! Happy Spinning all!

The Return of the Spins

The Classic Club Spin has been one of my favorite reading activities. Thanks to this activity, I have read many books, which I would NOT have ventured into and in hindsight I know I would have missed out on such great and enriching works! Work and personal life however for last one year has been crazy, forcing me to let go of several spins and while I did feel upset about missing out on quality reading, there was very little I could do! I was planning to miss this spin as well, but then, I realized that I cannot always keep leaving out things that I truly enjoy for the things that must be done. I really cannot after a point get anything done, if I do not keep evolving myself and reading Classics is surely one of the best ways to do that. Furthermore, Cleo, my soul sister and my partner in crime whose life is equally busy and chaotic, has decided to plunge into this Spin and like always inspired me to join her madcap adventures. So, here, I am ready to Spin again.

The rules are simple and I quote directly from the CC Spin Page

  • At your blog, before next Monday 22nd April 2019, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.
  • This is your Spin List.
  • You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period.

 

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Ivan Kramskoy – Reading Woman (portrait of artist’s wife) From Wikimedia Commons

I usually pick books randomly, but Cleo again got me hooked on this randomizer and when I ran my Classic’s list, this is what came up as my first 20 –

  1. 9 The Eustace Diamond by Anthony Trollope
  2. 14 Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell
  3. 1 The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarrington
  4. 16 So Big by Edna Ferber
  5. 15 Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
  6. 2 The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
  7. 30 And Quiet Flows The Dawn by Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov
  8. 12 The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope
  9. 21 Son Excellence Eugène Rougon by Emile Zola
  10. 40 The Meghadūta by Kālidāsa
  11. 22 The Kill by Emilie Zola
  12. 46 Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck
  13. 17 The Rig Veda; Translated by Wendy Donier
  14. 27 The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
  15. 25 Mr. Harrison’s Confession by Elizabeth Gaskell
  16. 26 The Bucaneers by Edith Wharton
  17. 39 The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  18. 29 Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  19. 24 Tales of South Pacific by James A Michener
  20. 41 Kumarasambhava by Kalidasa

Some of these books, I really want to get to like, #3, #10 and #12; while others like #7 kind of scare me; but then, I know for a fact that books which I found intimidating were the ones I ended up loving the most! Thus, now I await Monday and the lottery of what I shall finally read!

Happy Spinning everyone!

New Year & New Challenges ….

Happy New Year World! Here’s wishing everyone a joyous, prosperous & peaceful 2019!

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I do not want to go yada-yada-yada about first blank page on the book of 365 days and such like, but I do think that trying to constantly improve and evolve oneself is a journey and whether, we embark on it on Day 1 of the year or or Day 198, really does matter, as long as we move forward with the journey! Now as most of you are aware, moving forward with a evolutionary journey for me especially involves reading and reading good books, that open the world to me, makes me think and generally and hopefully makes me become better! Thus, it is only natural that one of the things that I have planned for 2019, is to read more and read better and as a consequence write more and write better!

However, I am also aware that we should not aim so high that a fall is inevitable; dreaming is good, but it is equally important, to plan the steps to that will help you achieve the dream! Long and short of this meandering monologue is that while I really would want to read and read a lot more (in fact, I have set myself the target of 100 books this year, after spectacularly failing to meet the Reading Goal of 60 Books this year and in 2017 in GoodReads!) I also am expecting a continued heavy work load and now being a year older and wiser, unexpected thunderbolts from powers that be, that suddenly and completely disrupt life! Therefore, in the spirit of being ambitious, with a modicum of sense, I am signing up for only one challenge – The 2019 TBR Pile Challenge, hosted by Adam, over at Roof Beam Reader.

This challenge helped me immensely last year and while I was not able to read all the 12 books I had planned and listed, I still managed to read quite a lot and some of them were absolutely marvelous and enriching! Therefore, I continue the pursuit of excellence again this year and share with you the 12 Books for this challenge with the alternates –

  • January – The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart
  • February – Orely Farm by Anthony Trollope
  • March – Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
  • April – The End of History and The Last Man Standing by Francis Fuokuyama (I had this in last year’s challenge as well, but then gave up!)
  • May – The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (Cleo, NEED HELP!!)
  • June –  A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
  • July – Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • August – Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  • September – Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp
  • October – Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
  • November – Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy
  • December – Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

Alternates –

  1. And Quiet Flows The Don –  Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov
  2. Alaska by James Michener

So that’s my list! I am hoping for a better record than last year, for sure, but even more importantly, I hope to read some enriching and engaging literature. What are your reading plans for this year or any other plans for that matter?

Tis That Time of the Year…..

Here we are, on the very last day of 2018 and it’s time to reflect and wonder, where did the year go? Of course, you may have already done this and that shows you are more practical, attuned to the demands as well value of time and over all circumspect in your approach. If that is so, then I hold you in admiration, if not, well, you have my company in the last minute reflections!

I cannot quite say I will miss 2018; I have always held the belief that even years are better for me, however 2014 and 2018, seem to really challenge this hypothesis. 2018, was in every possible way a horrid year, filled with all kinds of disagreeable happenings. In fact it was so bad, I went headlong and rushed an event, just so I can get it over and done with it this year, rather than let it fester in what I would like thinks is a brand new page. With an exception of one desperately sought professional movement, this year been blackest of black, with not even a tinge of grey to break the blackness. Thankfully, there were friends and books to see me through, yet again!

And this brings me to what is actually at the heart of this post, the 18 best books that I have read in the year! As is my tradition, based of the year number, I select that many books from my reading repertoire, in what can only be termed as one of the bestest reflections of the year. Therefore without further ado, here we go, in no particular order-

  1. Kathasaritasagar by Somadeva – This 11th century collection of Indian short stories was a significant departure from the traditional scholarly/spiritual texts of Sanskrit. In this earthly collections of tales, Kings and Courtiers, Queens and Maids, Priests and Merchants, Lions and Jackals, all battle it out for material gains of love, money, power, without managing to sound didactic or moralizing
  2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck – I cannot, simply cannot enumerate the brilliance of John Steinbeck or how wonderfully he translated it all in this book – the saga of the Hamilton and Task families in the turn of the century Salinas Valley, where the most vile is redeemed, by the sheer power of choice.
  3. The Diary of Nobody by George Grossmith – My second re-read and what is there not to love about this middle aged bumbling man in his new house and old wife and friends, as he meanders through his own life, while trying to steer the lives of his loved ones, in a most hilarious, uproariously funny writing ever!
  4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf – In this now celebrated and seminal writing, Ms. Woolf put down the very basic needs that remain unfulfilled for women, making them economically dependent and thus weaker, among the sexes.
  5. Scenes of Clerical Life by George Elliot – I have never been a fan of Ms. Elliot and though her novel, Middlemarch is considered by many the best possible English Novel; she is one author, I just could not get through and constantly struggled with. Until on a whim, I picked up The Scenes of Clerical Life and fell in love with the three short novellas that constitute this novel. The prose, the plot and the characters, all wove together, to create one of my best reads of the year. This book was powerful enough to goad me to try another Elliot – Daniel Deronda, through which I am still plodding!
  6. The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield – This funny, ironic and downright crazy narrative of a Lady living in Provincial England in between the two wars, is an absolute delight! While our narrator battles the various requirements of the Lady of the house, to various persons, including her laconic but practical Land Agent husband,the Cook who rules the household and itinerant round of parlor maids/menservants, not to mention her demands at the Woman’s Institute, as a reader, your are swept away by the  everyday life  and challenges which are as real now, as they were in 1930s and cannot help but appreciate Ms. Delafield’s ability to them on their head, and make it all look like one gigantic joyride. This was such a wonderful read that I ended up reading this twice in the year! 

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  7. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith – I discovered Arkady Renko very late in my life but having discovered him, I wasted no time in falling in love with this fictional hero. Set in 1980’s Soviet Union, the story follows the investigation by Renko, an investigator in Moscow’s Prosecutor’s office as he hunts for the identity of the three murdered victims, whose bodies are found in a cold April afternoon in Gorky Part and their killer, taking him across USSR and US, and changing the very complexion of his life so far!
  8. February by Boris Pasternak; Translated by Andrey Kneller – Boris Pasternak was another non favorite. I could not, simply could not make myself like Dr. Zhivago or his unending whining about Lara. But while reading Gorky Park, I realized that Pasternak was appreciated in Russia more as poet than a novelist and that prompted me to try and read some of his poetry. This turned out to be one the best literary decisions of my life as I can now understand, why Russians love Pasternak. I quote directly from my post on this collection, as I simply have no other way to describe the sheer power of these poems – “Pasternak in this collection of 27 poems brought the Russia that he knew, with all its beauty and tragedy to life, painting on a vast canvass, touching upon the key notes of everything that constitutes mankind. And while I am wary of all translated works, simply because one does not know exactly what is lost is translation, even in essence, there is enough in this work to enrich your soul and your mind!”
  9. Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. PearceHelen has introduced me to great many books and Dear Mrs. Bird is one such book for which I will be eternally indebted to her. This novel about a plucky, funny and sometimes clumsy heroine, who dreams of a job as a Lady War Correspondent only to end up working for a woman’s self help column, that brings her success, challenges and one of the ultimate tests of life, is one the best new books of the year, according to yours truly.
  10. The Murder of my Aunt by Richard Hull – This little gem is something I stumbled upon sheer chance and what a find it was! The author in a reverse narrative, actually let’s the reader on who is going to murder whom and then leads us on a merry ride of adventure, fun and a unique take on English life and times in early part of 20th century! An absolute marvel.
  11. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittian – If I had to pick one book which elevated me, made me cry and enriched me as a human being, teaching me some important lessons, it would be this absolutely scintillating memoir by Ms. Brittian tracing her youth, her struggle for education and finally the heartbreak of war. This book is a lesson of things we must NOT do as people and as responsible adults, who should bequeath a better world to the younger generation. This book forces one to think and challenge one’s belief system and then no matter how hard, work to better the world, in whatever small way we can!
  12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – Another book which came very close to Testament of Youth and enriched me as a being! This story of coming of age of Francine Nolan, her struggle for education, the constant challenges of poverty and an incapable, albeit bright father and a fierce mother, to her final tryst to college on the eve of US joining the Second World War, is more than a story of young adult. It is about determination, it is about dreaming and of never letting go what you truly want, no matter how daunting the obstacles.
  13. I, Claudius by Robert Graves – Yet another author I was wary of reading, but I finally managed to read and of course love. I, Claudius traces the early years of Claudius, the future Emperor of Rome, nephew to one Ceaser and brother to another is hardly a typical hero but Robert Graves with his deep research and brilliant writing, makes him a memorable character, with kindness and intellect, who could be a straight arrow or a diplomat as the situation demanded and whose these very skills, and not one of physical poweress will make him survive one of the most difficult and suspicious history of Roman History, to become one of the longest ruling Ceasers.
  14. The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp – There are books, that really do not have a nail biting plot or a sensational character or an epoch making historical event to serve as a background. Yet, in the setting, the characters and in the narrative, things come to together so well, that they are just right and tug at your heartstrings! The Flowering Thorn is one such book.  Lesley , the young woman about town, has everything that she wants, but is somehow unhappy. On a whim, she adopts an orphan and begins life in the country with all the challenges of keeping a cook, managing a house, not becoming and then becoming friends with the Vicar’s wife and of course taking care of young being, leading to a life that comes in an enriched full circle. Beautiful, poignant, and just lovely, I will forever be grateful to Jane for introducing me to this book!
  15. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – One of those highly cried up books of 2017, that I meant to read, but did not want to, because mostly such books are such disappointments. However I am glad I sloughed on this one.This story of Count Rostov an unrepentant aristocrat, who is punished by the Socialist Government in 1917 Russia to be confided in an attic room of the Grand Hotel overlooking Kremlin as the most volatile era of modern Russia evolve, is more than just another historical fiction. It is a deep insight into the Russian society, the changing of the guards and love that comes from the heart, without any blood bonds. I do not have enough words to describe this intellectually and emotionally illuminating book. You have to read to experience it!
  16. Final Meeting by Anna Akhmatova; translated by Andrey Kneller – Yet another book of poetry picked from the reading of Arkady Renko series. Anna Akhmatova’s poetry shines and glitters through the desolation and heartbreak, both at what happens to her personally and to her beloved Russia. It is often said, that the best poets experience pain, to write the very best poetry. I cannot even begin to fathom, the amount of pain, Ms. Akhmatova must have gone through, for such amazing works like Final Meeting, Epilogue etc. Mr. Kneller’s translation as always is appreciable in keeping the integrity and the essence of these poems very close to the originals in Russian
  17. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Torton – All stories after a point are more or less similar, and there can only be so much one can do with a murder mystery….right? Wrong. You need to read this absolutely shocker for I have no other word to describe this completely mind blowing work of Mr. Torton’s. Innovative, twisted, with a punch at the end of each chapter, only a book as this roller coaster could have helped keep me doom and gloom at bay, and help me get perspective back. Very rarely do I use this sentiment, but this book definitely calls out – Vi Va Mr. Torton!
  18. High Rising by Angela Thirkell  – I usually love most of the woman authors and their works who published some of the best pieces of fictions between 1870-1950 and am greatly indebted to many of my blogging friends for introducing me to their work. But Angela Thirkell despite all the commendations, I held back, because of what appears to be slight class consciousness in her writings. However on seeing this book listed by Cleo as a Christmas read, I decided to take the plunge. And am I glad that I did. Laura Moorland is a successful author of paperbacks for woman readers which has enabled her to raise her 4 sons, the youngest of whom, Tony is now the only one in school. Her work has also enabled her to get a flat in London and a cottage in the country, where she is headed with her son, this Christmas, to get some rest, write her book and meet old friends in High Rising. But there is a newcomer who is upsetting the serene settings of this countryside and Ms. Moorland must gather her wits, to ensure, peace continues to reign. In this she is ablely aided by many of her friends, including the village doctor, her publisher, her secretary and her formidable housekeeper Mrs. Stokes.  Unique character, uproariously funny dialogues and a plot that without being outstandingly different, neverthless holds your attention and flows smoothly! Great book to end the year with.

These then are my 18 favorites of 2018. A special shout out to Adam whose challenge,  The Official 2018 TBR Challenge, helped me read a lot of books that have been lying in my TBR forever, but from one reason or another, I did not venture forth. While I was not able to finish the entire planned 12 books, 5 of the 18 books listed stem from this challenge, which goes to show you need a friend to give you a push, always!

I cannot think of better ending for this long post and and even longer year than this piece by Ian Frazier, published a couple of years back in New Yorker  –

Dear friends, this year was not real great.
There’s no need to enumerate
Just how gloomy it’s appearing.
But Ever-better days are nearing!
Though dark nightmares be distinguished,
Still the light is not extinguished
By the darkness crowding ’round it.
Find hope’s advent by the sound it
Makes somewhere out in the distance:
Bells that ring with soft insistence,
Hoofbeats, voices singing faintly,
Hymns unearthly, almost saintly,
Mailmen’s footsteps, babies’ crying,
Wings of angels quickly flying,
News worth calling from the steeple, “Peace on earth, good will to people.” 

A peaceful, happy and bookish or whatever ish makes you happy 2019 to everyone!

The End of July

Yet another super late post! I wish I was bit more regular and diligent but crazy work hours and super hectic weekends, have slowed the pace of reading and blogging severely! I barely got any reading done in July and did very little in terms of leisure activity besides watching the Wimbledon semi final and final round matches. Yet looking back, I must say, that it was not so bad, if I managed to watch all the semi-finals including the Men’s Singles each of which was 5+hours long! Oh! Well! Hindsight is an interesting thing!

Moving on, like I said, between work, Wimbledon and socially busy weekend, reading really took a back seat! However, if we were to claim quality and never quantity matters, then, I had a wonderful reading month, because, despite the limited number, the sheer  brilliance of the works, made the reading a truly enriching experience! My reading for the month went something like this –

I Claudius by Robert Graves

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There are two different ways of writing history: one is to persuade men to virtue and the other is to compel men to truth”

Final Meeting : Selected Poetry by Anna Akhmatova; Translated by Andrey Kneller

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Faced with this grief, the mountains bend,

The mighty river stops its flow,

But iron bolts won’t even dent,

Behind them – “the convicts’ den”

And somber deathly woe.

Some people feel the soothing breeze,

For some the sun shines red –

For us these wonders long have ceased,

We only hear the grinding keys

And soldiers’ heavy tread.

We rose as though to early mass

And crossed the capital in throngs,

More breathless than the ones who’ve passed,

The Neva’s hazy, overcast,

But hope continues with its song.

There’s the verdict… Tears burst loud,

She’s singled out, on her own,

As if her life has been ripped out,

As if she’s thrown onto the ground…

She’s staggers… stumbling… alone…

Where are the friends with whom I’ve shared

Two years of living in that hell?

What blizzards do they have to bear?

What visions in the lunar glare?

To them I’m sending this farewell

Augustus Carp, Esq. By Himself Being the Autobiography of a Really Good Man by Henry Howarth Bashford

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“For the first time, I was in the presence of the greatest human vice. Nor have I ever, perhaps, entirely recovered from the enormous shock of that discovery. For though I had been aware, of course, from my studies on Holy Scripture, that such things had occurred in the Middle East, and had even deduced from contemporary newspapers their occasional survival in the British Islands, I had never dreamed it possible that here, in a public park in the Xtian London of my experience, a married man could thus openly sit with his arm round a female who was not his wife.”

That is all for now folks! Like I said, not too many readings, but some very qualitative and interesting ones! Hopefully August will bring many more Reading Hours!

The Roman Emperor…

Jewel Parker Rhodes in an interview, a few years ago had highlighted one of the most most unique features of Historical Fiction. She said, “I love historical fiction because there’s a literal truth, and there’s an emotional truth, and what the fiction writer tries to create is that emotional truth.” This to me is one of the best definitions of Historical Fiction, where facts becomes woven in a narrative through an emotional thread and one of the most telling example of such genre, is I, Claudius by Robert Graves.

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Published in 1934, I Claudius was a significant departure in the style from the usual, writings of Robert Graves, who had already received much accolades first as a War Poet and then for his World War 1 autobiography, Goodbye to All That, all of which focused on the 20th century socio-political developments. I Claudius, went back in time to ancient Rome and gave voice, to one of the more able, albeit relatively neglected Emperors of the Julio-Claudian clan, Claudius, and tells to story of the successors of Julius Caesar, from the time of his assignation, to Claudius’s coming to power in 41 AD, after Caligula’s assignation. Taking the reader, through the lives and actions of Augustus and his ruthless wife Livia, to the profanity and yet able administration under Tiberius and finally the desecration of the Rome under Caligula, the book gives a rich insight into the intrigue and the sly diplomacy that went into keeping the power of Rome at the helm, in a way which would also ensure that the Julio-Claudian clan continued to rule the affairs of the state, in the name of the “Republic”. Claudius, a weak child with a limp, born to the Drusus, Livia’s second son from her first marriage, he is mocked for weakness and often considered dim witted because of his stutter. Shunned as a child, with the only friend and champion in form of his elder brother Germanicus and is cousin Postumus, he develops a intellectual abilities beyond the ordinary, and begins writing histories about Rome and her subjects. During all this, he  also watches from the sidelines as Augustus’s favored and presumptive heirs lose their lives or are banished, and the rise of Tiberius, the eldest son of Livia to the throne, finally followed by the base Caligula, which brings Claudius closer to the throne, surviving, treachery, tragedy and humiliation, to be finally declared an Emperor himself!

This book has often been sighted as one of the best modern classics and one of the most outstanding examples of historical fiction! I have to agree with these kinds of sentiments. Roman politics written even by the most adept authors can be difficult and despite all the best efforts, it becomes dry, despite the scandalous  conduct of many of its subjects. And yet here, Mr. Graves not only produces a fine nuanced piece of literary writing and make it so interesting, that you stay up the night to finish the book! The plot never flags, though there are repetitive actions of murder and mayhem, and herein lies the brilliance of the author to make each event interesting by some unique twist of the narrative. While, I am not very well acquainted with Roman History (on account of the dry narratives) but from my megre reading, it does seem that Mr. Graves has kept to authenticity of the actual unfolding of events as much as possible taking very little artistic licenses. In this work of historical fiction, one can easily see how Mr. Graves supplied the “emotional truth” to the “literal truth” to make this an edgy, interesting novel. Claudius is hardly a hero you would cheer for and there are times when Graves’s protagonist comes as too much of a namby-pamby, that bends as per the blowing wind! But that I think was the point, that the author was trying to showcase; that Claudius was great not because he was a standard strong and brave hero, but because he knew what his weaknesses were and knew how to use them as a strength to survive one of the most tumultuous and bloody ages of Roman Empire.  Claudius remains on the side lines for most of the narrative, observing, commenting with sly humor and with touch of distaste, but always, interesting and somehow involved that while, you know he is not the hero, you cannot fathom the events, without his presence, regardless of impact he makes or fails to make. And while you are never really cheering him on, you are nevertheless sympathetic and invested in his survival and eventual prosperity. The other ensemble is equally well drawn, especially with the portrayal of Livia, in whom we find an exceptionally talented administrator, far to capable for the times she was living and ruthless, in determining what is best for her family and for Rome. Augustus and Tiberius again portrayed very clearly, and drawn very much close to life, while holding good on their own, still pale in representation of Livia.Finally to end, one can easily say that written in an  an easy language, with minimum description and with more focus on action, the book is a great, entertaining read, that gives an interesting and absolutely, fascinating glimpse into the Roman world!

This book was my July Read for The Official 2018 TBR Challenge.

The 24 Hours Madness – Summer Special Edition :: Updates

Update 1 –  06:40 hrs (1 hrs 30 mins since the Challenge started )

Like I mentioned, I am not an early morn person, but I did finally manage to wake up about 40 mins back and get all the necessary in order – tea, books, social media! Now we get the party started at the Dewey’s 24 hrs Readathon

I am now ready to READ, especially considering I have not read the whole of yesterday in anticipation of this – I will try and update as much as possible between couple of hours! Besides this blog, you can find me at the following places twirling around on the links on the upper left side of the page!

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Hour 5 Update (Almost)

I am finally off to some solid reading! My sister left for a shoot and will be late coming back, so the house is clean and quiet and all mine for some significant progress! Anyway, here goes some updates at ground level –

Time – 10:05 Local Time; 4.5 hrs since we started

Food – Breakfasted on Coffee & an enormous Omelette  (Sorry! No picture! Was too hungry to wait!)

Reading – Finished about 140 pages into The Bengalis by Sudeep Chakravarty & have now switched onto to Augustus CarpEsq.  by Sir Henry Howarth Bashford

Bookish Notes –  The Bengalis so far seems to be a very well researched book, looking into the very genesis of the community and its modern identity, colored by the Partition of India in 1947. It’s a good reading, but heavy duty stuff, so have now changed the pace with the brilliant, laugh out loud satire of Augustus CarpEsq.

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Hour 9 Update

Reading progresseth well and even managed to order groceries and finish laundury! Woohoo, on a roll here!  More updates at ground level –

Time – 14:30 Local Time

Food – Pasta in 4 Cheese & Bacon (YUM!)

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Reading – Mid way in Augustus CarpEsq.  by Sir Henry Howarth Bashford

Bookish Notes –   Augustus CarpEsq. so far is turning out to be gem! I am surprised why it is not more widely read. Written in the lines of Diary of a Nobody, the book is a satire with all best wit of England brings forth in literature!

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Hour 14 Update

Reading progresseth has slowed down! Some friends dropped by in the afternoon and while that did take some precious reading time away, they are old friends and it was a pleasant unexpected surprise! Then in the spirit of Hour 14 theme, over at Dewey’s Page went for a quick 40 mins run and now finally showered and ready to read, some more!  More updates at ground level –

Time – 19:40 Local Time

Food – Coffee in a while!

Reading – 70% in Augustus CarpEsq.  by Sir Henry Howarth Bashford

Bookish Notes –   Augustus CarpEsq. continues to be hilarious, though the constant emphasis on the priggish tendencies of the protagonist albeit satirical on is getting a bit tedious!

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Hour 18 Update

Reading progresseth well again! My sister returned from her shoot and we had dinner and now again some non stop reading time!  More updates at ground level –

Time – 23:05 Local Time

Food – Dinner Rice, Dal (Legumes) & Paneer (cottage cheese) curry – all Indian food, all home cooked!

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Reading – Finished Augustus CarpEsq.  by Sir Henry Howarth Bashford & started The Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Bookish Notes –   Augustus CarpEsq. was a brilliant, funny and witty satire. It did slow down a bit but then was back to its original promise! Life of priggish, Englishman in turn of century England was very entertaining! Now to the most anticipated book of my Readathon – The Gentleman in Moscow.

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The 24 Hour Madness – Special Summer Edition!

This post should have been up several days back, but work, as always intervened! Long hours and sometimes pretty horrible hours kept all good things at bay, including more reading and talking about a REVERSE READATHON! A Reverse Readathon! What is that, you ask? Ah! Let me enlighten from an explanation directly from the source – the lovely people at Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon : “we’ll start this readathon at 8:00 PM Friday, July 27 and run through July 28 at 8pm, Eastern Standard time, where we normally start at 8:00 AM Saturday. Still 24 hours.” Now for me, situated in between the borderlines of the Equator and Tropics, this is actually a Readthon in straight, normal hours and how in the world could I pass that up? Actually, let me rescind that, I would have never given up an opportunity for any Readathon, but this starting in early morning hours is kind of supra exciting!

Now for the books line up – since work has been so crazy lately, I have not had  the usual luxury to plan and consider and plan! Fortunately, I did manage to sneak in a spate of Book Buying a week before and that alone gives me enough ammunition for the  ‘great read’! So here goes my list –

  1. The Bengalis – A Portrait of a Community by Sudeep Chakravarty – Published in 2017, this book has gained a lot of appreciation for its nuanced and impartial socio-political portrait of a community split between two countries – Bengal in Eastern India & Bangladesh. I am very curious as ethnically, I belong to this community and this history with many of its finer telling on the Cultural Revolution in 1800s and the Partition in 1947, have close links home!
  2. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – A book that has been on my TBR for some time and a book I am very excited to start. Set in the immediate years after the Russian Revolution, it follows the life of Count Alexander Rostov as he stays in Moscow as an unrepentant bourgeois. I have never read any book by Towles but I have heard so many great things about this one, that I cannot wait to get started. Also this is historical fiction and historical fiction, set in a time and a place that I am always interested and eager to read about! So double yay!
  3. Augustus Carp Esq. by Henry Howarth Bashford – Another book lying in my TBR forever and one that I had major problems getting hold off! But finally I have managed to get a copy and I am on Chapter 4 and all I can say was it was well worth the wait! A satire of the best kinds following the life of an middle class Englishman at the turn of the century as he waddles, yes that the word, waddles through life!
  4. We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter – Yet another historical fiction, following the lives of the three generations of the Kurc family as they struggle in the aftermath of Poland’s conquest by Nazi Jews and are asked to pay the price for being Jews!
  5. Open Book – Always a good idea not to plan for an additional book as we always need that one book on the fly , when the very best laid plans fail!

That now is the plan for tomorrow, when I start for change, all bright and shiny at the early morn! This early morn may be a tad difficult as I am really a night person, but I will be there, by morn, for sure!

As always, I will run an update post and will be going nuts on Twitter (here) & Insta (here)! And now, nothing much left to do,except say, Let’s READ!