Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Title : Life of Pi
Author : Yann Martel
Publisher : Canongate/Random House
ISBN : 978-1-84195-392-2

There are some stories, I consider fortunate enough to enjoy the spotlight of the center stage more than once in their life times. Life of Pi happens to be one of them. Published in 2001 after being rejected by at least five publishing houses in London, Life of Pi won Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the following year. Later it got translated to a couple of other languages too. The story has managed to create hysteria once again after a decade when it has been adapted into a movie by an ace director - Ang Lee.

Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel written by Yann Martel. The protagonist of the story is Piscine Molitor 'Pi' Patel, an Indian boy hailing from Pondicherry, who happens to get his unusual name courtesy a famous swimming pool in Paris. His not so regular name makes him subject of a lot of ridicule, teasing and some funny incidents though it brings a lot of distress for the owner of the name himself.

Majoring in religious studies and zoology, Pi's quest to learn more about the divine power leads him to be a Muslim-Christian-Hindu, a rare combination indeed. The family (his parents, elder brother Ravi and he)decides to make the alien lands of Canada their home when his father, a zoo owner decides to call it quits in India. But that was not destined to be and the cargo ship tragically sinks in the rough waters of ocean leaving just a few survivors on the solitary lifeboat - newly orphaned sixteen year old Pi, a hyena, a monkey, a crippled zebra and a royal Bengal tiger who accidentally got the name Richard Parker. And hence the stage is set for a perfectly adventurous, nerve wrecking tale of fiction.

Life of Pi turns out to be a coming of age story of a boy who is caught in a strangely precarious situation where it is unimaginable to be sharing a lifeboat with a tiger while it is equally important for him to keep the tiger alive.  "A part of me was glad about Richard Parker. A part of me did not want Richard Parker to die at all, because if he died I would be left alone with despair, a foe even more formidable than a tiger. If I still had the will to live, it was thanks to Richard Parker. He pushed me to go on living. I hated him for it, yet at the same time I was grateful. "

His experiences, understanding, grit, patience, suffering and much more equip him to churn the same into fine pearls of wisdom. Situations which demand all possible and many times impossible faculties of an individual make the highlight of the book and it is wonderful to read how the survival instincts kick in at the right time. 'When your life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish hunger for survival'.

After struggling with many menacing foes, learning a lot more than regular routine offers, graduating from being a simple vegetarian to eating anything for survival, realizing the desperation that threat to survival poses, confronting the power of fear from close quarters, witnessing the magical presence of God on many occasions, riding the waves of hope and despair continuously, striking a symbiotic relationship with a creature with whom it is most unlikely, Pi, in the company of Richard Parker reaches the shores of Mexico after 227 days. 

The commendable part of Martels's writing is the life like portrayal of Pi, every mood, every feeling and every scene. Pi's questioning and analyzing mind goads the readers to introspect on many issues including the one that stays in the thinking minds always - presence of God. Overall an extremely well written, engaging account of adventurous life of Pi indeed. The story is power packed with action, philosophy, spirituality and introspection - all in one. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hitler's Daughter by Jackie French

pic courtesy flipkart

Hitler's Daughter
Written by Jackie French
Published by HarperCollins Children's Books
Ages 8-12

Mark, Anna, Tracey and Ben play a story game as they wait for their school bus every day. They have stories of fairies, of ball games and of horses. Until one day Anna decides to tell a story. It is an amazing story set on the fringes of a great war. It is the story of a child growing up tucked away from all the action, a privileged child who is kept safe despite not being the blue-eyed, blond, tall Aryan ideal, a child hungry for family and love, holding on to memories of the few-and-far between visits of her father. A father who obviously is somebody important. Important enough that people around her who have always taken care of her are in mortal fear of displeasing him. We are told early enough that the child, Heidi, is Hitler's daughter.

Anna's story focuses on the genocide from the outside in, raising many questions in Mark's mind. What if one's parent or child has done something really evil- how does one deal with such a parent/ child? Does one love them regardless? Do the sins of our parents taint us irrevocably, or is there redemption? Do the actions of someone dear reflect on us as individuals? How does society look upon those who stand in evil's shadow? Is a bad thing really a bad thing, or are we just victims of our convictions? Do we have a right to raise our hand against someone else's questionable behaviour if we, too, might be in the wrong in our own time?

These are very profound existential questions, and Jackie French, (interviewed here on Saffron Tree), in her inimitable chatty style, raises them through Mark's thoughts, without thrusting them at us. There are also references to Australia's own genocide-  the colonial actions against their Aborigine population.

It has been so realistically told that we are left wondering if Hitler indeed, did have a daughter that no-one knows about. Also, it is an unusual look at the Holocaust; a great book to introduce them to it, along with Number the Stars and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. There are no grisly portrayals of the deaths, as the point of view is of a privileged, though unfortunate girl.

This page-turner of a book was devoured by A in an afternoon. She has been, since, recommending it to many of her friends.

Cross-posted at Saffrontree.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Manto by Sadan Hasan Manto (Translated by Aatish Taseer)

Title : Manto
Author : Sadan Hasan Manto (Translated by Aatish Taseer)
Publisher : Random House India
ISBN : 978-8-184-00144-0

The author Sadan Hasan Manto born in undivided India donned many hats ranging from being a radio and film scriptwriter, journalist to a short-story writer. Though his short stories created many controversies yet he is acclaimed as one of the greatest story tellers of his times. In Manto's words, "If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth." Originally written in Urdu, his short-stories have been translated by none other than an accomplished writer himself - Aatish Taseer. Perhaps this is the reason that while reading this translation I never felt the missing link which usually the regular translations suffer from. The language is great and even though I have not read the original Urdu stories, I still could enjoy the details and nuances as would be done while reading classics of seasoned authors. So my compliments to Aatish Taseer that he brought the works of Manto to wider audience.

After reading these short stories, the most significant thing that could be said about the writing is that - his stories carry much more beyond the written text and understanding what is written between the lines make the stories and the story teller tower higher than the crowd.

Manto's stories introduce the readers to the realities of life and there are times when the reality is not very pleasing for the eyes and otherwise. Since his writings are around the time of partition, they do carry a somber mood and pessimism to a certain extent. This book brought back the memories of the writings of Khushwant Singh, Gurcharan Das, Gulzar and likes of them. Manto's writing has similar sensitivity and emotional aspect to them whether it is about : 'Toba Tek Singh' - a lunatic caught in no man's land, 'The Last Salute' which depicts friends turning into foes, child prostitute in 'Ten Rupees', cultural boundaries in 'The Mice of Shah Daulah' or the plight of a father after seeing her lost daughter in 'Khol Do'. Every tale stirs many deep seated strings within the hearts of the readers and I consider that an achievement of the storyteller.

The stories are set mostly in North western region of India which bore the brunt of partition the most. These 11 sensitively written stories explore those aspects of some lives which usually are left unspoken and un-talked about. In spite of belonging to conservative era, Manto did not hesitate to write about sensitive subjects so his writings were much ahead of his time. Usually women centric, the stories bring out the aspects which go beyond the realm of rationality and logic. These perceptive short stories would surely keep haunting the readers in times of non-activity.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

STOP ME IF YOU CAN !! - An IIM Grad's Tryst With Sales


It is about tryst of a young, confident or should I say over confident, Rohit Salaria's foray in the world of sales. Armed with a business management degree from the prestigious institute, IIM-C, Salaria considers himself a priceless gift to his company and to the world of sales in general. His antics, blunders in his professional life and his overall attitude towards all his failures and his life make up the book.
 Priya, the girl of Rohit Salaria's dreams and his bosses and colleagues at ABC further spice up the story.

I found the book interesting in the beginning but the author soon lost Rohit Salaria's panache in the frivolous incidents that mire Salaria's life.

The story though hilarious at places and easy to connect with, did not come anywhere near my expectations, maybe because the author has tried to pass on parts of the story, which as a person with a logical mind, I am not ready to accept.

Bohemia by Veronika Carnaby

Title : Bohemia
Author : Veronika Carnaby

This is the debut novel of Veronika Carnaby and she chose 1960s as backdrop to portray the lives of a bunch of young adults in their twenties, who try to carve a path for themselves in order to satisfy their creative urge. This particular set of youngsters highly influenced by free-spiritedness of the beat generation confront many obstacles, challenges and experience some very pleasant times together while treading this path.

The story is set in England and is narrated by Valerie, a vivacious person who wants to create an identity for herself. Her association with Emm and some other like minded individuals takes her to various places from New York, Chicago to Boston. It is through her eyes and ears that the readers get a flavour of fine music and other forms of fine arts. The author has beautifully dealt with the description of music and how sometimes it becomes such a powerful tool to influence the lives of people who are passionate about it. It is commendable how the author has etched the character of Valerie who comes across an epitome of liberation and exuberance.

The narrative does give a feel of the depth of relationships in that period which seem to run much low on the emotional side. Valerie cared for her friends but not to that extent which could make her committed to a certain thing for any of them.  The story becomes engaging at some points while there are some portions where it appears to be too scattered and jumpy. These are the parts which hinder the natural flow of the story and lessen the impact of the proceedings. The high points of the narration are the parts where the surroundings and people are meticulously described which work perfectly as inviting factor for the readers and a great way to make readers understand the essence of that period of time.

Usually I am open to all genres of books with an exception of suspense thrillers. But after reading Bohemia, I can say that is not my kind of book either. Though all the characters are meticulously carved by the author which I enjoyed reading about, yet, nobody could make an impact on me by the time I finished reading the book. There are overwhelmingly large number of characters with different personalities and there is too much of movement (literally) happening in the book which makes it hard to flow seamlessly with the storyline. It is not the book which stays with you for a long time and it never attempts to be one either. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Author: Pasquin
Rating: ***

"Teacher doesn't like you reading this, bro. Don't blame me if they knock this book right out of your hand." ... This is how the book begins. Well!

Throughout the book, the momentum continues. At each moment you are forced to rethink your decision to read on. The CoreAmerica concept, the main problem around which the book revolves, never really gets a clear picture, all you understand is that there is a father who forces his son to take part in this CoreAmerica event, whatever it is, and the son has to obey, though unwillingly. There he is bowled over by a girl and takes his decisions as per what she wants, more than what he thinks he wants, then they fight and the girl plans a revenge, she has the political support and though in the end one team was a clear winner, both teams are declared losers. How very sad!

Then there is the end. The wild end. The sadness is only so long as you are reading the book. Once the dish is over and all that remains is the lingering taste in the mouth, or maybe its smell on your fingers, that you realize that there was indeed something in there. Something that was beyond the obvious storyline. Some moral. Some lessons of life. Some food for thought. Some smiles. Something nice.

It is a really refreshing twist to the tale how from having been cheated by a mother, by the beloved, by the government and by your school, how you can collect your pieces, move ahead and yes, be successful! When life throws lemons at you, master your lemonade making skills, for, it might just turn out to be your kingmaker.

Other things that characterize the book includes, larger than life friendship, that too when one of the friends is blind; the description of a nerd, Candida's candid nature, wooing a girl and spending nights out in the truck with her, days when you go without electricity as you can't pay your bills, and loads of beer!

And then there is the touching revelation, “If I knew you were this interesting,” your dad says with some sass, "I'd have sold the TV and just watched you.”

A good read. Go ahead.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Asura - Tale Of The Vanquished by Anand Neelakantan

Title : Asura - Tale of the Vanquished
Author : Anand Neelakantan
Publisher : Platinum Press
ISBN : 978-93-81576-05-2

I enjoy reading retellings of our age old epics and do not mind how different authors enthuse their creativity and imagination in the same to bring out different perspectives. I guess I must have read and reviewed close to a dozen such books which are either purely fictional or are reporting of the original story with some twists here and there.

However, 'Asura' is the first book which walks the readers through the situations and circumstances in Ravana's life and how the same made him the person he was. It was indeed interesting to read how author's flight of imagination soars in this book and brings a completely unique angle to the whole story. It would be unfair for the readers if I talk about that unimaginable twist in the review here, it is better left un-revealed.

We all are well conversant with the broad storyline of Ramayana, however the same story appears to be a completely modified version when it is narrated by different characters which are very much a part of the story or when it is being reported by a third person. In Asura, author works on the pretext of what if the opposite side - the Asura side, has its own story to tell. How many of us know about that side of the saga? Throughout the book, the narrative oscillates between Ravana and  another character Bhadra whose life was ruined by Devas. Ravana has some very strong reasons for doing what he did, including being present in the Swayamvara of Sita, followed by her abduction which led him to his own doom.

The story begins with Ravana nearing his death in the battlefield and his whole life flashes past through his eyes. A Shiva devotee, an accomplished veena player, a fine scholar - Ravana opens his heart and shares his inner feelings through the pen of Anand Neelakantan. As is the case with any human, Ravana is not immune to vulnerabilities, inabilities, fears and weaknesses either but it is interesting to read how these frailties do not eclipse the strengths of his character, some of which soar really high. I specifically liked the part where he unconditionally stood by  his wife and that is the part where the author subtly tries to draw parallelism between Rama's way of dealing with his perfection vs Ravana managing with his imperfections.

Asura is not Ramayana, it is Ravanayana. In Ravana words, "For thousands of years I have been vilified and my death is celebrated year after year in every corner of India. Why? Was it because I challenges the Gods? Was it because I freed a race from the yoke of caste-based Deva rule? You have heard the victor's tale, the Ramayana. Now hear the Ravanayana, for I am Ravana and my story is the tale of the vanquished."

Thus Asura becomes the epic tale of the subdued side and another addition to already inundated literary world of mythology in varied makeovers. However the editing needs to be tighter which would have reduced the length of the unnecessary portions in the story. There are many typos too which could have been eliminated with at least one more iteration of editing. The first half deals with a lot of guerilla wars when Ravana tries to establish his kingdom in Lanka and the details become too overwhelmingly drab at some places which readers would want to skip. Though I enjoyed reading Ravana's tale, I found something really amiss. Ravana has been  portrayed as an able ruler who stood by his people but somehow he fails to create the aura which Anand attempted to create in this book. I don't know whether to blame it on my conditioned mind or lack of magic in narration, Asura ends up being just another view point, nothing more nothing less.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Interview with Mayank Jain

Here we present an interview with Mr. Mayank Jain, the author of 'Stop Me If You Can - An IIM Grad's Tryst with Sales' (Reviewed Here). He shares his views about his book and how it came into being, his views on a real life Rohit Salaria, his favourite books and much more. For some real interesting next few minutes, read ahead ...

ZR: Did you always have this story in mind, or did some real situation inspire you to come up with this beautiful storyline?
MJ: To tell you very frankly, I don’t think I had the story in mind for a long time. So, this is what I generally used to do since, um, my MBA days at IIM Calcutta I guess – whenever I came across a funny situation I would make a note of it.

Now when I embarked upon my career in sales, I started writing a blog which was a lot of my previous and current experiences exaggerated to the hilt. I wasn’t really writing to evoke responses from people but just for the kicks. But I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who came back to me and told me that they were liking what I was writing. Some even proposed that I write a book. That was where the turning point was. And that is precisely when I decided to make a book out of my writings. I started nurturing the character Rohit Salaria and the story started taking shape. I pulled the blog down, and focused on making it a full fledged novel. Then the toiling part came. And finally I’m glad to see the final product and am decently happy with the numerous positive responses that I have received till date.

ZR: How much time did the whole process take - from inception of the idea to the final product in hand?
MJ: Well, honestly it was a lengthy process. I would be lying if I said it was an easy job completed quickly and without any pain. So, like I said, I got the idea of writing a book after my experiences with the blog. Putting together the first draft took me around 10 months after that. And then began the strenuous exercise of posting to publishers, which lasted about an year. Then there was editing, final editing and proof reading – all of which require a lot of time and energy. So, all in all it took around two years for the whole process to complete. And there were obviously a lot of times in between when I doubted my capabilities and questioned myself on whether the book would ever see the light of day. It’s a huge amount of satisfaction to see the final product on the shelves. One thing I would say to all first time authors-in-the-making is that while writing and while on the lookout for publishers, keeping yourself motivated is very, very important. It is very natural to start feeling demotivated and losing focus. But then if you have your eyes set on the goal, sooner or later, you should be there.

ZR: In real life, do you believe a Rohit Salaria - like personality would be equally successful? In your opinion, is it wise to be a Rohit Salaria?
MJ: (laughs) To even think of a real life Rohit Salaria is quite amusing. If you have read the book you will know what I am talking about. Very simply put he is impossible. With nerves of steel and a Bond-like attitude, he knows no limits.

But then having a real life Rohit Salaria would be a very interesting concept. I don’t know how successful that guy would be, but I can tell you he would be someone who would be very, very visible in his organization. And being visible is not all that bad no. Challenging bosses, devising strategic plans to woo a girl or launching marketing campaigns based totally on gut feeling, ah, it would be exciting to meet such a guy in a real-world setup. In fact, I had joked in one of my previous interviews that I would gift all my money and property to him, the day I stumble upon the real-life Rohit Salaria.

I strongly recommend joining the FB community at http://www.facebook.com/StopMeIfYouCan.IIMSalesman
to get a flavour of Rohit Salaria and his antics which make him so special.

ZR: What, according to you, are the greatest works in contemporary fiction till date?  Do you also believe that the best of contemporary fiction is yet to come -or- is Rohit Salaria the answer to this question?
MJ: All works of P.G. Wodehouse and his characters – Jeeves, Bertie Wooster, Aunt Agatha et al are right up there for me. Then I think there is something about Catch 22 and Yossarin that keeps you glued to the book.

And to answer your question of Rohit Salaria being the best work of contemporary fiction (laughs). I would love to think that this be the case. With his super attitude and insurmountable spirit, and the fact that he is already striking a chord with a generation of corporates, why not?

ZR: Who is your all time favourite author? Which are your favourite books?
MJ: Like I said, I like P.G. Wodehouse a lot, and I don’t think anyone comes close. I am a big fan of his flowery language and English humour. His Jeeves collection is something I relish a lot.

ZR: As an author, where do you see yourself and your book 5 years down the line?
MJ: I don’t really think I have thought hard on either of these lines. I don’t know where I would be – would I have written another book, two more books, three more books or maybe none after the first one in five years time. Will I be a hit phenomenon or would I have drowned with time? I don’t know. And honestly, I think I should only be focusing on my work, working hard and letting the other things fall in place. Also, right now I also have a regular job and I totally enjoy going to work, and my work. And I intend to do well there too.

ZR: Nowadays, a lot of people are turning into authors, even when they are qualified for other things, and are doing a remarkable job. Do you believe this is because everyone has a great story to tell and a unique way of telling it, that makes them noteworthy or are there some other reasons for this?
MJ: So you need to thank one person big time for this – Chetan Bhagat – for opening the floodgates of writing/authoring in India. I think people who have tales to tell were always there. And now with more and more opportunities available, anyone who dreams to be an author has more avenues than ever before to be one.

As for myself, I was very confident that a Salaria-like character could melt the stoniest of hearts and bring laughter and smiles to those who have ever been in a corporate environment. Or those who have ever wooed a girl. Or those who have ever had a boss. Or those who have ever been in teams. (laughs)

ZR: Are you planning to come up with another book anytime soon? Would it also have a prodigious IIM grad as its protagonist? Would it also be masala packed and  humour laced?
MJ: Well, as of now, I haven’t thought of anything concrete. There are a few ideas, but let’s see. Right now I want to focus on “Stop Me If You Can!!” Rest, I leave it to time.

Thanks Mr. Jain!! We wish you all the very best for all your future ventures and look forward to reading, enjoying and reviewing many more books of yours.