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Posts tagged ‘Novels’

About Truths From 200 Years Ago – Austen In August

One doesn’t read Jane Austen; one re-reads Jane Austen.” said the very complicated William F. Buckley, Jr, but in this simple sentence he lay bare the absolute truth of Ms. Austen’s brilliance; one is never tired of re-reading her! Recently Brona over at Brona Books decided to pick up the threads of the annual event that Adam used to host “Austen in August” and sent round invitation to anyone interested in joining up! As I read through her page of people signing up for the event, many reflected my sentiments – re-read Jane Austen atleast once a year. All most all of us, who love books, classics and fiction, are devoted to Jane Austen. We may differ in our intensity in our devotion and we may argue about which of her work is the best, but there can be no denying that Ms. Austen rules triumphantly in our reading culture and preferences. And this brings me to the very heart of the matter  – Why does Ms. Austen abide even after 200 years?

I know of hundred thousand papers, books, essays that enumerate and illustrate, the many reasons why Ms. Austen continues to a be literary success inspiring generations of readers and writers alike from Edith Wharton to JK Rowling. The reasons are varied and range from the sheer brilliance of her writing to Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy as a means of reviving interest in her works! I am sure there are another hundred thousands reasons as to why we each prefer Ms. Austen in our unique way and each can be counted as a great motivation. The reason I have loved her work always, since being introduced to her at the age of 13 is many – the plot, the pre-feminist but for sure feminist heroines, the humor and that one telling quality of Austen novel – there is some truths to re-discover no matter how many times one re-reads and this truth is still as pertinent as it was in Regency England. I always loved Pride and Prejudice and Emma but over the years, Persuasions with several re-reads has become equally closer to my heart. Mansfield Park, which I could barely get through the first time round, has now been re-read atleast in double digits, because despite many more socio-economic resources being available, women in many parts of the world struggle to make independent choices with pressure of withdrawal of those material resources to keep body and soul together, until adhered too the norms set by those who control those resources. Ms. Austen keeps telling us many things, and things which still hold true 200 years, each time and this is why she endures!

Therefore to celebrate this season of Austen In August, I sought out some passages from the evergreen Pride and Prejudice which are a dead ringer for the state of today’s society, that also illustrates the genius of Ms. Austen in writing about things that were so remote from her time and social surrounding and yet managed to become a universal tale.

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  • if she had not happened to see Mr. Jones’s shop-boy in the street, who had told her that they were not to send any more draughts to Netherfield because the Miss Bennets were come away – Mrs. Phillips explaining how she heard of the elder Bennet sisters returning from Netherfield, is a perfect and outstanding example of the grapevine network which continues to flourish till date and whose authenticity actually can be trusted upon more than official channels many a times!
  • Pardon me for neglecting to profit by your advice, which on every other subject shall be my constant guide, though in the case before us I consider myself more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right than a young lady like yourself.”  – Mr, Collins remarks when Elizabeth tries to stop him from putting himself forward through a self introduction to Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball. Sigh! What can I say except Mansplaining seems to be a generational and sometime incurable phenomena!
  • I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character.”  Mr. Collins again, when Elizabeth rejects her marriage proposal. Consent as we see in many ways and forms are “interpreted” for the woman and the whole baloney of a No being a Yes…..seriously! Where did that come from?
  • Elizabeth, however, had never been blind to the impropriety of her father’s behaviour as a husband. She had always seen it with pain; but respecting his abilities, and grateful for his affectionate treatment of herself, she endeavoured to forget what she could not overlook, and to banish from her thoughts that continual breach of conjugal obligation and decorum which, in exposing his wife to the contempt of her own children, was so highly reprehensible. Elizabeth on reflecting on her father’s conduct post the letter from Darcy. This was one those very interesting and though provoking passages in the novel. Mr. Bennet’ s marriage was not the happiest; he had simply put married a woman who looked good and did not have any other abilities. There are many things here – in the best partnerships, a partner should elevate each other and bring out the best in other. In many cases I know this does not happen but how does one some around that and make the lesser partner more acceptable in the larger world. I think this is one place where Ms. Austen attributes too much influence on the partnership of spouses. True, while it is one of the highest forms of relationship but there is only so much one an do? Or is it? Either way, I do think the truth of the last statement is key – exposing your partner’s weakness in front of the children, does not brood well for the family overall.
  • There was now an interest, however, in believing the housekeeper; and they soon became sensible that the authority of a servant who had known him since he was four years old, and whose own manners indicated respectability, was not to be hastily rejected. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner’s reaction when realizing that Mr. Darcy was interested in their niece, when previously, they thought the Pemberly housekeeper had given an over the top opinion of Mr. Darcy simply because he was good Master.  I love this one – how often we change our own interpretation of narratives when we wish to believe something, especially if it is something good!
  • All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the man who, but three months before, had been almost an angel of light. The social reaction when Wickham’s elopement with Lydia came to light. But obviously, hindsight always becomes foresight after the destruction has happened!
  • Elizabeth, agitated and confused, rather knew that she was happy than felt herself to be so – Elizabeth feelings after accepting Mr. Darcy. One of the deep and most honest insight to human sentiments; when the longed for event finally happens, the initial feeling is more knowing the happiness than actual overflowing cheerful garrulousness!

There are so many more things that I can talk about and continue to talk about, but time and other duties all. So I end this post with something Brona mentioned in our Twitter conversation and that seemed apt with what I have been trying to say through this post  – It is a truth universally acknowledged that p&p is quite simply perfect.

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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About a Tree & Tenacity

Among the many hundred books lying unread in my TBR, there are many gems and some which make for a good read, some which makes me wonder how did it get in my list and then some that sing to me! The June Read for The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith sang to me in sonnets, of tenacity, hope and the power of knowledge that alone can save complete deprivation!

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The novel is set in the turn of century Brooklyn, where a quiet, shy child of 11 years,  Francie Nolan lives with her younger brother Neely Nolan, her mother, Katie Nolan, who works as a janitor in the building where they live and her singer-waiter father, Johnny Nolan. They are poor and food mostly consists of many variations of stale bread, and yet a penny is always saved in the a small tin bank and joys are to be found, in reading a book by the window with a snack and lemonade. Their lives are crowded with challenges and etching out a bleak living, but they are still lives full of living and small success, of chalking out a scheme to go a better school outside of your district and of managing to wangle the biggest Christmas tree through sheer grit. There is a family of aunts who are always, there to support and spoil, especially on those days when father, comes home drunk, unable to hold down a job and neighbors who come around to pull you through when needed. But then comes one of  those full stops of life, which change the directions and make Nolan’s reassess the way they had mapped out their lives and force them to find new paths, until the make it to the desired end!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a wonderful coming of age book, that is not pedagogic or didactic and yet does not sentimentalize the harsh realities of poverty and deprivation in some noble glow. The novel just tells a story of things as they were, without any moralizing or martyrdom. The characters are all uniformly likable, and even when you start losing patience with some,  you are remained of their redemptive traits and made to recollect, that men and women are just that, men and woman; struggling to the best of their abilities to make better lives, one generation to another, sometime, succeeding and sometime failing! The marvelous feature of this book is that almost every reader, will find a piece of themselves in one character or the other, with their believable portraits of people in flesh and blood! The plot goes back and forth, to explain the coming together of Katie and Johnny, giving insights into some of the character traits and contradictions and then moves forward, as Francine grows into a young woman, on the eve of US joining World War 1. 500+ pages may seem a bit tedious to follow, but the story, albeit not crowded with epoch making events, nevertheless gently flows and one is never really bored, though the scenery change slowly. The book also touches upon several subjects that were pertinent to the early 20th century and in some way and form remain relevant today – the projection of certain images for women in the society, gender politics, socialism and the role of Unions in taking care of their own etc. which add an additional layer of enrichment to the writing, making it both a deeply personal narrative and strong universal story at the same time.There are many many good things about the book, but the one that I feel is the  primary achievement of this book was the sense of tenacity that comes out from all the characters and which I feel is the underlying theme of the book. The sense that if you hang on, just hang on, you will live one day and thrive! Whether, it is Francine’s conviction that one day, she will go to college and be a writer or her aunt’s Sissy’s firm belief that one day she will have a baby, despite 10 miscarriages. The book resounds with a sense of hope, especially stemming from education – the absolute faith that books and education are key to a better life and hold the promise of a brighter tomorrow. Grandma Rommely ensures, all her children except one can go to school atleast until the age of 14 and the three Rommely sisters, Katie, Sissy and Evy all in difficult circumstances are committed to the fact that their children will graduate from High School. This especially felt close to my heart – my parents filed for bankruptcy when I was very young and never really got ‘the groove’ back and it was a childhood of starvation on one too many nights and choice between fees for school or shoes to wear for school and of books which made those days pass. It was education and books that blocked out a lot of harsh reality, and instead allowed the mind to travels to far off places with many interesting companions. It was also that very hard earned education and books that sang of a promise that life will be better one day! To end this novel to me is a true testament on the power of books which has borne evidence through my own life!

The End of June

June has finally come to an end and 6 months of 2018 are already over; time does pass, whether we like it or not and I can for sure say for this year, Thank Goodness for that! Monsoons have hit some part of the country and the expectation of rains, definitely makes life more bearable, especially when we remember that, rains will be followed by the glorious Autumn! To summarize, end of June brings much hope and the reading that happened this past month, just added on to the sense of enrichment and sanguine calm, which makes the terrible times pass and help you see through a better tomorrow! So what did I read in June?

White Flock by Anna Akhmatova, Translated by Andrey Kneller

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We thought: we’re poor and don’t have anything,

But as we started to lose one thing after another, 

So much that each day became

A remembrance day, 

We began to write songs

About God’s immense genrosity

And the wealth, we once had.

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittian

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When the sound of victorious guns burst over London at 11 a.m. on November 11th, 1918, the men and women who looked incredulously into each other’s faces did not cry jubilantly: ” We’ve won the war! ” They only said: ” The War is over.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

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From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography.”

The Lady of the Basement Flat by Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey

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I have been here a week and am already endorsing the theory that you can never really know a person until you have lived together beneath the same  roof.

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson

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We all recognize a likeness of Shakespeare the instant we see one, and yet we don’t really know what he looked like. It is like this with nearly every aspect of his life and character: He is at once the best known and least known of figures.

This then was my readings for June and now here’s to a new month and new books!

The End of May…..

5 months have already gone by and suddenly, we are in the middle of the year! 2018 is passing and I cannot say I quite regret it; but I must also own, that the Summer has brought much peace and much needed calm to what had been a hectic Winter/Spring! And while the earth is baked under the powerful sun, that blazes down with all its fury in this part of world, I was able to sit quietly at home and read through several nights, drinking glasses of “Shikanji” (Indian Lemonade) and Buttermilk, in an effort to stay cool! Thus, I present to you, a snapshot of all my readings for the month of May –

From Persuasions by Jane Austen

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How quick come the reasons for approving what we like.”

From The Sign of Four by Sir Author Conan Doyle

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The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.”

From The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

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Deeds may speak more compellingly than words,but I believe words have their place too. A man who has both is gifted indeed.”

From Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

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“This was the great truth of life, that fact and fiction were always merging, interchanging.”

From The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

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Really, this man seems to have been considering the difficulties very intelligently. I wonder if he had an aunt?

From The Uncommon Reader by Allen Bennett

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Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it.

From The Sisterhood by Helen Bryan

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It confirmed Mother’s secret conviction that the world had enough trouble without insisting all worship God the same way. There was room before the Throne for everyone who served Him – Baptists and the Hindus, Seventh Day Adventists, Muslims and Jews as well as Catholics.”

That’s my round of May books! Another Summer month beckons and hopefully, it will bring more books and great readings for all!

 

 

 

 

The Attempt ……

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction is considered to be the interwar periods, when such stalwarts as GK Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Josephine Tey, Micheal Innes and many more, who wrote, what can be termed as “whodunnit’; murder mysteries, with a cast of characters, a certain Upper Middle Class English setting, most likely in a English Country House. These novels were mainly written from an entertainment value and were kept simple, direct and without too much complexity or depth. Despite it’s decline in popularity, especially with the on set of World War II and criticism by many including Edmund Wilson, as non intellectual reading, this genre, for many remains a go-to, that helps them escape the real life and provides much needed amusement!

The Murder of my Aunt by Richard Hull is one such piece from this era. Published in 1934, it soon was celebrated as something special in the genre and hailed by  authors and newspapers alike including Dorothy L Sayers, Times Literary Supplement and New York Times. Yet today, this novel, remains virtually unknown with  only 120 ratings and 29 reviews on GoodReads. I myself stumbled on this book by chance, too lazy on a Saturday afternoon for any heavy reading, I found this little novel in Kindle Unlimited, with a very interesting premises and began reading it on a whim!

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The book begins with the narrator, Edward Powell, describing his life in a small village town, Llwll, in Wales,  where he lives with his Aunt, Mildred, on whom he is financially dependent. Early into the novel, it unravels that Edward is a weak, pompous individual who looks down on everybody and everything. His aunt, however comes across as an excellent woman, who is kind to her neighbors, popular in the society, a just and considerate human, who goes out of her way to take care of her orphaned nephew, though he seems little deserving of the same! The two personalities naturally come into conflict with each other, and often, with Edward constantly feeling that his aunt, was stifling him, because she holds the purse, despite Edward’s overall superiority. One such clash over delivery of some novels for Edward from the post office soon escalates, leading Edward to formulate a plan, which will once and for all take care of all his concerns and ensure he is never held in contempt by his aunt!

The book blurb says, that  “this classic mystery is considered a masterpiece of the inverted detective story, in which it is known “whodunit.”  I could not have described it better; turning the whole concept of “whodunit”, Mr. Hull, from the beginning keeps the reader is in confidence of the who, but is left wondering on how and what finally did happen. In what I consider a most innovative narrative of such genre, the author manages, what is often deemed impossible, a mystery, with dollops of humor. In Edward, we find a reprehensible, good for nothing and not to bright, but thinks he is bright character. While the readers, cannot help but dislike him, at some level, he manages to create a connection, nevertheless, where one is left wondering, what does happen to him. In the character of the the Aunt, we have a portrait of all that is solid, responsible and good. She endears, because she does not always know the answer but she tries to the best of her abilities! The supporting cast is equally magnificent, with all drawn true to life and many who must have resided in the 1930s small village towns, doing their bit and leading good lives. The plot is tightly drawn and though at times, the details of the planning may get tedious, they do not essentially take anything away from the narrative and the story flows along wonderfully! Quirky, witty and intelligent, this is one of those lost gems of the genre, that need to be read, if nothing, for its sheer originality!

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