Traveling Through America

September is coming to an end and it’s time to discuss the book that was spun for me through The Classic Club Spin #24

I was very fortunate to get to read one of the books that had been on my TBR for a very long time by an author whom I admired and whose books had defined my formative years. I speak of none other than John Steinbeck and one of his last books, Travels with Charley.

In 1960, after recuperating from a heart attack, against the explicit instructions of his Doctors, John Steinbeck set off to explore America again. As a writer of people, he felt that he had lately lost touch with his own country and its people, about whom he had written prolifically at one time and he set out to correct this miss! He started with meticulously organizing for the road trip, which included a customized Camper which he named Rocinante , furnishing it with all the books and maps he could not possibly need, stocking up food and other essential supplies and then choosing a traveling partner, his 10 year old, extremely pragmatic French Poodle – Charley. The trip started from a ferry at Long Island which was to take Charley, Rocinante and him to Connecticut from where he would start his actual “road” trip. He drove through Maine, New York, Buffalo, Chicago, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota, then onto Montana, through Seattle and Oregon and California, Salinas where he grew up. He then headed back home via Texas and Virginia and then New Orleans where heart sickened, he proclaimed that his journey was technically over and he was just now heading home. He saw Niagara Falls and drove through Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast and the Yellowstone Park. He met small store clerks and motel owners who yearned to take off like he did and he spoke to migrant farmers who came over from Canada to help out during the autumn pickings and the supervisor of a ranch who would be seduced away from the wild beauties of the land to a secure albeit boring job in the city, at the behest of his young wife who wanted luxuries.  He wrote of the “plastic” culture that decorated each motel and of the upwardly mobile aspirations of the people he met. He drank coffee and whiskey with strangers in a trailer park and spoke to them about the country, the upcoming elections and their aspirations. He was saddened by the people at Sauk Centre, the home town of Sinclair Lewis who failed to appreciate his genius and at one time had treated him as pariah until his death, made the town a lucrative tourist destination. And finally, he was completely heartbroken by the hatred and venom he witnessed from people opposing a newly integrated school. He felt that his journey ended with this episode and he drove home to New York summarizing that the country and it’s people had changed dramatically, moving directionless, away from all that which was real and good into an industrialized and material living frenzy, that did not brood well for the future.

John Steinbeck as always is deeply observant of human nature and the book is replete with many insightful and in some ways prophetic remarks. On watching migrant farmers from Mexico, India , Philippines work on the crops, he is reminded of the lessons in history where Carthaginians hired mercenaries to fight their wars; Americans bring in migrant laborers to do the hard work and he hopes that one day, they are not overwhelmed by the hardier race, in mighty foretelling of the future. He captures narratives from people who are comfortable living in mobile homes and not worried about not having roots, for they are convinced that obsession with building roots stops progress and moving forward. He muses “Perhaps we have overrated roots as a psychic need. Maybe the greater the urge, the deeper and more ancient the is the need, the will, the hunger to be somewhere else  The wonderful thing about the author is his ability to see two sides of the story; while he misses the more personalized way of doing things prior to the industrial boom, he also acknowledges that “I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days.” and therefore nostalgia is presented with a pinch of salt. The rediscovery of America is always sombre, but there is much humour that only a master craftsman like Steinbeck can bring to a book, that is a difficult narrative – his conversations with Charley are downright hilarious, filled with laugh out loud moments. Charley is an intelligent dog and Steinbeck never forgets this fact in his 4-month long journey and the intellectual parley’s he engages in with him. His sense of irony is equally powerful when describing a quiet and enjoyable Thanksgiving, at a Texas millionaire’s place, talking a dig that the incorrect representation of Texas as loud and ostentatious. The language is flowing and despite being a travelogue, not once is the reader exhausted wondering when this journey will end. In fact, his description of the landscapes he covers is vivid and lyrical that brings alive the places and the reader is swept away with them! There is so much I can say about this book, that to end, I would only say that I read some essays which state that Steinbeck took several artistic liberties in writing this book, and this work is more fictional in nature. Be that as it may, his insights about life and humanity holds good now as it did 60 years ago and his deep heartbreak at people not being able to internalize respect for fellow creatures and the mad race of consumerism holds true today more than ever!  

The R.I.Ping Reads…..

When I had first started blogging so many moons ago, Stefanie, had introduced me to R.I.P (Readers Imbibing Peril; originally started by Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings) that was hosted every year during the Fall season. Over the years, R.I.P events introduced me to such classics like We have Always Lived in a Castle. But the last few years, like everything else life was became kind of crazy nightmare and though this year is hardly better bringing in it’s own surreal qualities, I atleast have the time and energy to look around and read! So when I saw the posts coming up about the 15th R.I.P. event, I knew it’s time again to pick up those things that I had to let go and start again!r.i.p.-xv

The rules this year are extremely simple and the only expectation is to read books from the following genre during the September-October

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.

I am *******trying****** to not buy more books after the splurging of the last few months and instead am digging up from my current TBR. I m not sure if in the end I will stick to this list, but for now this seems to be the plan of action –

  1. The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie – This is one of those few Christie books not to feature her regular detective quad of Poirot,  Miss Marple, Parker Pyne etc. There is a dead body and strange neighbors, set in the Cornish Moors and a young woman who is out to prove her finance’s innocence.
  2. The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne – The mathematical genius not only created the famous Winne the Pooh but was apparently wrote some very good mysteries. The Red House is one of them and set in over a weekend in the typical English country house where the host disappears suddenly, after some mysterious shorts being heard.
  3. Dead Man’s Quarry by Ianthe Jerrold – I was introduced to this book by Jane when she wrote a wonderful review of a cycling holiday gone wrong with one of the members being found dead at a quarry.

  4. The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo –  A brilliant review by Helen got me to buy the book. Set in 1937 Japan, a newly wed couple’s wedding night is marred with a gruesome death
  5. The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz – I have tried reading Horowitz a few time but it never quite works for me. But again a wonderful review by Helen made me pick this mystery within a mystery novel

This then is my plan; I am sure I will deviate and pick something else along the way, but as a starting point, this is what it looks to be!

Are you participating in R.I.P ? Do you have some good recommendations especially in the Gothic/Horror genre?

#ripxv

Let’s Spin Again…..

The Classic Club Spin is one of my most favorite reading activities. Over the years it has forced me to read books, that I was not sure I wanted to read and tackle texts, which I thought would be beyond me! Naturally the result has been wonderful, I fell in love with so many books that I had been hesitant to read; of course, there were one or two odd ones, that I could not and still do not like, but most of the times, the result were way more positive, with discovery of books and authors to cherish forever. Lately however, with all the tumult that life has thrown up, I have missed many of these events, but now that I am slowly settling back in, it is time to turn to those things that gave me a sense of joy and achievement. Therefore, I am all set to participate in The Classic Club Spin # 24

Thoughts by John Henry Henshall, 1883, The Athenaeum

The rules are as always, extremely simple and I quote from the site directly –

  • Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List.
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog before Sunday 9th August.
  • We’ll announce a number from 1-20. 
  • Read that book by 30th September 2020.

Thus, without further ado, I present my list of 20 and look forward to August 9th with both excitement and some trepidation (not all books are up there in I-want-so-read list!)

1The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarrington
2Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope
3Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy
4Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell
5Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
6The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xuequin & Chi-chen Wang (Translator)
7Son Excellence Eugène Rougon by Emile Zola  
8The Bucaneers by Edith Wharton
9The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
10Kim by Rudyard Kipling
11And Quiet Flows The Dawn by Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov
12The Bachelor by Stella Gibbons
13A Country Doctor’s Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov
14The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy
15Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor’s Son by Sholem Aleichem
16Gora by Rabindranath Tagore
17Gossip in a Library by Edmund Grosse
18Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck
19 Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
20White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

And now we wait for Aug 9th!

#ccspin

The Joy of Small Things

One of the best things about blogging, which I sorely missed during my hiatus was the pleasure of discovering books you never read or authors you did not know wrote! While this does create some issues in terms of TBR *****ahem! ahem!****** the fact still remains, that most of us Bookish people would rather have overflowing TBRs than scout around for what to read next! Recently Karen over at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings discussed a brilliant little book called Delight by J.B. Priestley and I knew I had to get hold of it immediately!

J.B. Priestley is far too well known for any introductions; a prolific writer, he has written books and plays enough to fill shelves after shelves. I too have read many of his works and loved them and like Karen mentioned in her Blog, enjoyed the slightly grumpy tone of his writings.Delight however is a departure not only from his more famous works of fiction, but actually focuses on the those small everyday items that bring joy to the author.

J.B. Priestly begins this slim volume by offering a context of writing this book. He offers his defense for always appearing to be grumbling including that authors have the unique privilege and therefore obligation to speak the truth, especially those truths that may be costly for others who have jobs and other dependencies, because no will fire them from their job with mortgage and impact on his family. Therefore he feels it incumbent for writers like him to speak of the unpleasant. He then goes on to share in small concise Notes like format all things that bring him “Delight” and they include a vast range of small everyday items that often get missed by most. He begins by describing the joy of Fountains and the synchronized way they sprout out water in varied hues and colors. He talks of the joy of reading “Detective Stories in Bed” at the end of a long hard day, where a good narrative instead of some “improving literature” actually provides relief and reset’s the mind for a new day! He also talks about the joy of reading or watching other artists including the works of H.M.Tomlinson and the Marx Brothers. No item is too mundane or small in helping the author finding delight, like Mineral water at a foreign locations after all the struggle of travel, or waking up at the right moment, when the breakfast is being prepared, so that one arrives right on time, when it is still hot and fresh or the joy of inventing games for his children.

Henri Martin, Fontaine dans mon Jardin, 1904, Source – Wikiart

I cannot say enough good things about this book! The author in an effort to share his joy forces all of us to think all those little things in life that bring us joy but we often ignore in our search for the big things! He remained me about my undiluted pleasure Reading in bed while it rains cats and dogs outside, of buying books, or Chamber Music etc. Only the brilliance of J.B. Priestley would have managed to convey such outpouring of joy in sparse, concise and at the same time witty prose. Here’s an example, on discussing the effectiveness of Marx Brothers as entertainers – “Karl Marx showed us how the dispossessed would finally take possession. But I think Brother Marx do it better.” Or on the subject of people seeking advise from him ” But because I am heavy, have a deep voice, and smoke a pipe, few people realize that I am a flibbertigibbet on a weathercock, so my advise is asked. And then for te minutes or so I can make Polonius look a trifler. I settle deep in my chair, 200 pounds of portentousness, with some first rate character touches in the voice and business with pipe, I begin “” Well, I must say, that in your place _____”” And inside I am bubbling with delight! There is so much fun and self deprecating humor, that not only does one remember to appreciate small things in life but also approach life understanding that not everything can and should be taken seriously! And through all these notes, never far way, is the author’s appreciation of the inequalities, of the struggles that come in everyday for the common man and his appreciation of the good things in life!

This book is a must have in everyone’s collection and from now on it is my Go – To book whenever I need a pick me up!

The January Reading Month….

Many moons ago, when I was still young (relatively speaking) I used to do these round up posts for the month. Then life and its complications intruded and everything including my regular blogging commitments fell apart. However, the thing about life is it passes and like I said previously, the only way to normalize things is to go back to the simpler tasks and do it again, as much as possible. So here I stand with a round up of January readings!

Personally January and I am knocking on the wood as I say and write this saw a whole lot of improvement from December. Yes, things continue to be tough, but I felt a growth and a letting go and learning of new lessons, which hereto I was not completely aware off. You would think at the advanced age of 37, I would know it all, but I did not and this month has opened up my mind to new ideas and thoughts and interesting revelations that I never thought existed and it’s all been very educational. With Dad’s health a tad improved and some brighter things on the horizon from the professional front, I can say, that January has been a good start to the year! (Knocking really hard on the wood!)

Reading in Winters
Summer morning by Robert Vonnoh, 1895

From a reading perspective, it seems like, while I have read quite a bit (GoodReads says I am 2 books ahead of my 2020 reading challenge !) it has mostly, actually, completely, been a re-read kind of a month. As I previously stated, I am picking thing’s up on a whim, reading what I feel is entertaining or enlightening and not worrying too much about what-should-be-read! Considering the kind of stress life has lately been under, the joy of reading old favorites has especially been comforting and in some cases even inspirational. I continued on my “selective” Harry Potter journey; while I have read and own the entire series, there are certain parts that I like more than the others and those I re-visit more than often. I managed to re-read The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Half Blood Prince in January. The Prisoner of Azkaban is my most favorite; and among various reasons, this is book that kicked of my Harry Potter love affair! Speaking of fantasy and inspirations, no one did it better than Sir Terence David John Pratchett aka Terry Pratchett. His Discworld series are one of those very few books that teaches all of us to be better, kinder and more generous to our fellow creatures, all the while making us laugh till we ache and also telling us a highly entertaining story in the process. (If you want more details, please read my dedicatory post to him, here!) He was a genius and his words gives many of strength and courage and in year where things were more dimmer than brighter; re-reading Maskerade and Men at Arms was a good reminder of courage, honesty and doing the right thing, even if it’s the hardest thing to do! Vi Va Sir Pratchett, gone too soon! If you have never read his work, please go ahead and buy some, not all books are great, and some are for sure better than the others, but they all teach us something! Finally with all the hype around the new Little Women film, I kind of ended up re-reading this wonderful classic again. And once again was left in awe of the quiet courage of Mrs. March and the sheer goodness of Beth who has always been the role model since I was 11 and read the abridged version. All my friends wanted to Jo, but I always aspired to be Beth, albeit wanting to lead a happy boisterous life! Beth’s death always moves me (Yes! I cry every time!) and I picked up a little know but very funny novel for variation – Kissing Toads by Jemma Harvey. While this book has very few readers and it is easy to categorize it as a chick-lit, 10 minutes into the book you realize that it is anything but one. Sure, there is romance, but it is primarily about friendships and sisterhood and friends who are family that this book really touches upon!

That was my January reading! For February, I already started on Carpe Jagulum by Terry Pratchett ( because once you start, you cannot stop!) Also, I have almost completed this wonderful selection of essays on literary woman and woman authors by Elizabet,h Chadwick called Seduction and Betrayal. Kaggsy introduced me to this brilliant collection and I am ever so grateful to have read this volume. I also have the new Jeffrey Archer novel, Nothing Ventured lined up and while my chunkster reading – The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton has hit a slump, I hope to get started again!

That is all I had for today! Happy February everyone!

P.S. Does anyone know the artist who painted the picture I have incorporated. I have done all kinds of searches but cannot find the author of this wonderful piece of art and I really really want to give the due credit and learn more about their work!

P.P.S. Kaggsy to rescue again; Painting identified and updated with due credits.

 

Reading Plans and 2020

I know it is almost 15 days in the year for this post to go up. But I am guessing better late than never and if nothing else, these kind of posts inspire me to have some kind of a reading map to guide me through, instead of all kinds of crazies. Having said that, I must also say, that this reading plan is not really a plan, but some guidelines that I want to adhere to while making reading selections through this year. These are not exhaustive reading plans or list. I love those detailed plans I used to make at the start of the month and at end the month assess of how I fared. I also used to love participating in various reading events and read alongs; many books and genre’s that I would never read would become my absolute favorites thanks to these events. However life has been totally out of control for the last two years and if that should be the trend this year as well, then it is better to be selective and chose or not, wisely so that there is no sense of I-really-have-not-read-much-this-year at the end of the year!

Therefore moving on, here are my very basic rules for reading anything this year –

  1. Read two chunksters – I have several and there was a time when reading chunksters was BAU and did not need to be called out. However, life is throwing me spinners and I need to manage accordingly, so I am calling it out and restricting the number to two; if I end up with a miracle and read more than two, that would be even more awesome. But for now two. I started on The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I bought this book nearly 5 years ago but never really got around to reading it, so now I am pacing myself with a couple of chapters every week and trotting along. I have no idea what the second chunkster will be.
  2. Read more classics – Again, something that would not have been called out in the past but lately I have skipped reading the more richer works, unless one counts, re-reads of Austen. I need to get back into the groove of reading Classics again and I will consciously try and read a few more, maybe 5 through this year.
  3. Read Non Fiction – Lately I have been reading significant amount of Non Fiction beyond my usual trope of Travelogues and History. And I must say, that it has been quite an enriching and significantly transforming experience. I have read and learnt and observed and it definitely challenged my mind and forced me to think in ways I do not do and overall, it has been a learning that I would want to continue on.
  4. Read Books already Bought – I think this is a common issue of all Bibliophiles. We see books, we buy books and then we go back re-read Austen or Harry Potter. I have nothing against re-reading Austen or Harry Potter; in fact most of you know, those are my go-to comfort books. However, I have over the years bought several 100 books and my house is filled to excess with unread books, I want to try and read some of those this year, I cannot commit to never buying new books; I have yet to reach that stage of Nirvana, but atleast control by spending spree, I have developed a simple rule – I will add books to my cart and keep them for 24 hrs; if post that I still am itching to buy them, then I will. I have trying this since December and the only book I have bought since then is a Strategic Management book which is part of the coursework I am doing for a certification. I hope, super hope, I can stick to this one critical resolution.
  5. Have Fun!

That is my reading plan for the year. The only read alongs I have so far signed up for is to re-read Pather Dabi by Sarat Chandra and Bleak House by Charles Dickens with Cleo, whenever she takes those two on. The other event I want to participate is The 1920’S Club hosted by Kaggsy and Simon. I love that era and inherently gravitate towards that time period and therefore being part of this event is only a natural progression!

This then is the plan for 2020! I am hoping in the last week of December this year, to be able to show case a relatively favorable report than those I have shared or not over the last few years! But that will be when, it will be! Until then, here’s to all the good things in life in 2020, including and especially Books and Readings!

About Random Things…..

I am trying once again to be diligent again about my writing/blogging! In the last one and a half year, which has been tumultuous to say the least, writing in any form and through any channel has taken the last priority on the list and while I have been aware of it and made several attempts to start and restart, it’s not been a wholly successful attempt. But this time I am determined and despite no near easing in site of all the ruckus that has infiltrated my life, I will make sure that I once again go back to the pattern of posting atleast  one post a week !

For more reasons than one, this week has not been conducive to reading, so for today, there can be no literary post. It was Diwali here in this part of the world, and it was a week of deep cleaning, gift buying, cooking traditional food and visits to friends and family! However now that the Diwali dust has settled, I do plan to get down to some serious reading, even though time may be limited. I recently enrolled into a Design Thinking Specialization with IHC Paris and the course work looks murderous; however this is yet another thing that was pending for long, in my list to dos and the sooner I get to it the better. Therefore I continue with the policy of making no serious reading plans. However I did sign up to buddy read with Cleo, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton in November and I am looking forward to it! It’s a re-read but I do love this work by Wharton; in fact I love this novel, more than her highly acclaimed Age of Innocence. Further more the event is hosted by my partner in all reading crimes, my crazy soul sister with a golden heart, Cleo and no way am I letting her do this, without me! There is also Brona who is also hosting AusReading Month and then there is Non Fiction November; if I could combine the two, that would make for another perfect read! (Brona, HELP!) I may also have a short trip planned into the Himalayas later in November, and that for sure is something I really looking forward to!

All in all, a busy month beckons as Autumn, gives way to Winter in this part of the world and I hope, this change of season, brings good things to all our lives! I leave you with some sights of Diwali, in and around my world!

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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!

IMG_20190818_221422795 (1)

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!

Snake Gods and Migrants

I have been planning to write this review, literally for weeks. I had read the book more the a month back and these days, I only post a review if I really enjoyed the book or it exasperated me beyond my patience! This one for sure met that criterion and it’s just life as a always became to busy for me to find time and space to write about this book. After all of this, it is time to introduce the book I am referring to – Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh!

I have been a Ghosh fan well before his Commonwealth winning and withdrawing of The Glass Palace which also I loved. I was first blown away by his Shadowlands, a beautiful, lyrical story of Bengal, partition, riots and coming of age. Till date it remains, one of most sensitive pieces of prose I ever read and the end, still takes my breath away. The Glass Palace, though I feel falling short of the brilliant prose, was a wonderfully crafted story; the history resonating very closely to me (my great grandfather was a Teak Merchant, settled in Myanmar, and saw the history of the land unfold through his own eyes). However, The Hungry Tide put me off Ghosh; I could not relate to the characters, of people who fall in love without any communication, or even the vast range of issues that Ghosh seemed to try and tackle which did not truly integrate into the main plot. I was put off enough to skip the entire Ibis Trilogy and only to pick up Gun Merchant, when this came my way as a gift!

Screenshot_20190717-121133

Gun Island is narrated from a the perspective of Deen Dutta, a 50 something erudite, cultured and well traveled man and dealer in rare books, based in New York. A chance meeting with his extended Bengali family, during a vacation, gets him involved with the legend of the Gun Merchant, a Ulysses like character, who traveled along with his companion a ship captain, all over the world, in a bid to escape a curse of the Indian Snake Goddess, Mansa Devi. In his effort  to dig the truth about this myth and Deen comes across and interacts with a host of characters, all of whom are on their own journey of self discovery and have parallel stories of strife and success. There is Piya, a fellow Bengali American Professor, who sets this journey in motion, there is Rafi, the illiterate Muslim Fisherman, whose grandfather was the keeper of the temple of Mansa Devi in the Sunderbans and Cinta, his old friend and mentor, who helps him reach out to the unknown to find the truth.

gc3b6ttin_manasa_in_lehm
Hindu-Goddess Manasa,  in a hut made of mud in a village in the Sundarbans, West Bengal, India by Durga (Source – Wikipedia)

The premises of the book is excellent! India and especially Bengal is rich in myths and folklore all of which are somewhere grounded in a reality that happened in the past. The made up legend of the Gun Merchant, is actually a take off on the the legend of Chand Saudagar whose hide and seek games to escape the wrath of Mansa Devi is something most Bengali children can recite, handed down from generation to generation. It was interesting to go with Ghosh’s exploratory journey to understand the roots of this myth as well the rich travel history of Bengal, when it traded with Venice and many other European nations, especially as it took the readers into some wonderful description of Sunderbans, the now fast disappearing mangrove forests, east of India.  But this is where I guess my admiration ends. I am beyond sick of Ghosh’s polarization of Indian society – in his world lately,  there are only Americanized erudite but still holding on to Bengali roots figures or uneducated, impoverished characters. There is nothing in between, there are no small time shopkeepers, there are educated middle classes, there are not rich Indian industrialists, there are no artists, there is no one except these two extreme worlds. Even if I would allow for such polarized characters, I could not like them – i could not warm up to Piya in the Hungry Tide and when I saw her enter this book, I was ready to give it up. I cannot understand her hauteur or while I understand her reserve, I feel her to be totally and completely insensitive to other’s emotional needs. I did not like Deen – I felt he was too bumbling, too self doubting, too everything for a man of the world. The only character I could like was Cinta, who came across with depth, emotions and sensitivity and was the only rescue device of the novel. The plot while originally intriguing should have stuck to discovering the roots of the myth, instead of taking on world problems. I understand and am concerned about the environmental disaster that we seem to hurtling into. I am appalled at the intolerance of the world at large to the migrant’s issue; my grandparents were refugees, fleeing the violence of 1947, East Pakistan now Bangladesh, leaving behind homes, lives and security. I know the trauma of such displacement, which continued to haunt my grandfather till his death and was inherited by my father and my uncles to great extent. I cannot even begin to fathom the conditions if besides the trauma, my grandparents also were refused entry in what they considered a safe home, a newly independent India. But I do not think as plot devise adding the migrant issue along with environmental concerns into a novel tracing the history of a myth is a very good idea. We end biting more than we can chew and say nothing which has not been said and do not shed light on anything new. In fact, it smacks of borderline commercialization – a sort of piggy backing on the world wide uproar on the migrant issue by not only writing about it, but picking up the “boat incident” to a T. This was not well done and from somebody of great intellectual and sensitive abilities like Ghosh, it is definitely unacceptable! The language and even the division of the novel into section seems contrived and does not flow! All in all, by pass this book if you have toppling TBR; there are better books on Bengal and partition and migrants than this one, including Shadowland, by the same author!

 

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!