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Today I am honoured to participate in a guest interview with Delia from Postcards from Asia. There I talk a little bit about myself and share my thoughts on my favourite books and writers, my favourite quotes and my thoughts on writing and other book-ish topics. You can find the interview here.

Delia is one of my favourite bloggers and her book reviews are a pleasure to read. Do check out her wonderful posts on books, music and movies at her blog, especially her recent posts on Natalia Clavier’s haunting song Claridad and her favourite books from 2014.

Happy reading :)

I first heard about Cheryl Strayed’s memoir ‘Wild’ when I read Valorie’s (from Books Can Save Your Life) review of it. Since then I have wanted to read it. When I discovered that Reese Witherspoon has made a movie out of it, I decided to watch that first. 

Wild Directed By Jean Marc Vallee

‘Wild’ follows the life of Cheryl Strayed when she decides to take a hike for more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. She has recently gone through a divorce and her mother, whom she loved dearly, has passed away after suffering from cancer. Cheryl feels that the hike will heal her heart and make her see things from a new perspective. She has no experience of hiking before and so she learns new things everyday – her stove doesn’t work initially and she has to throw it out, her shoes are too small and her toes start hurting and bleeding soon and her backpack, which she has carefully packed with all things which she considers necessary including a few books, is heavier than her (one of the characters while welcoming her to a resting place tells everyone there – ‘Say hello to Cheryl and the monster’, the ‘monster’ being her huge backpack.) She meets strangers on the way, most of whom are hikers or who work in farms or live in the countryside, and they are mostly friendly and help her out. One of them shows her a resting place and when she reaches there welcomes her and makes her comfortable and introduces her to other hikers there. Another cooks her a meal and shows her how to travel light. Another takes her home, when she is stuck in the middle of the wilderness without food, and Cheryl is able to have a hot shower and a hot meal. There are virtually no woman hikers, but Cheryl meets one accidentally and she is so happy with the encounter and they have a long conversation. Cheryl also meets a shady character or two, some of whom look threatening and dangerous. She also meets a snake, a fox, a llama, a dog and a horse. She traverses through different kinds of terrain – deserts, fields, mountains, snow-covered peaks, small streams and big rivers – she hikes through them all. During her hike, while resting in the night inside her tent she reads books, mostly Adrienne Rich’s poetry. At every rest place she leaves a quote from a poet or a writer with her name written alongside. Other hikers see that and Cheryl becomes famous among hiking groups. 

While the movie shows Cheryl’s hiking in a linear manner, it also goes back and depicts her life as a child with her mother and brother, her relationship with her mother after growing up, how her mother is always happy though the situation of the family isn’t that encouraging (Cheryl says this while talking to her fellow woman hiker – “My mother used to say something that drove me nuts. There is a sunrise and a sunset everyday. And you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” It was one of the most inspiring scenes in the movie and one of my favourites. I live near the beach, but I am ashamed to say that I rarely go there these days. After seeing that scene, I feel I am wasting all that beauty. I should put myself in the way of beauty – in the middle of that sunset – one of these days), how her relationship with her husband changes and how they end up divorcing each other, how her mother gets cancer and how that breaks her heart, how after her divorce and after her mother has passed Cheryl’s life takes a turn for the worse – all these are depicted as flashbacks throughout the movie.

Though there are many human characters and a few animal characters, I feel that most of the movie is about Cheryl’s conversation with nature – the desert and the mountains and the river and the snow and the forest and the trees – and what she learns from those interactions and how she evolves as a person because of that. Nature is probably the main character in the movie and exerts its profound presence throughout.

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed is wonderful. Laura Dern as her mother, who is always happy and singing and dancing, is wonderful too. She is a very inspiring character. My other favourite characters were the woman hiker with whom Cheryl has a conversation, and a young boy and his grandmother who come with a llama with whom Cheryl has a conversation.

I loved ‘Wild’. It is a very inspiring movie. It is a shame that it didn’t make it into the ‘Best Picture’ nominations list. Cheryl Strayed says that it was snubbed because of Hollywood sexism. It is hard to disagree with her.

Have you seen ‘Wild’ or read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir? What do you think about them?

One of my book club mates saw ‘Boyhood’ when it came out and he has been raving about it since. So, I thought that I should watch it sometime. When I discovered that it was directed by Richard Linklater, I was quite excited. I fell in love with Linklater after watching ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Before Sunset’ and was wondering why he didn’t make more movies. Well, he has done that now. Now, about the movie. 

Boyhood Directed By Richard Linklater

‘Boyhood’ is, as the title implies, about the life of a boy who grows up to be a young man. Mason is six years old when the story starts and he lives with his sister Samantha and his mother Olivia. Olivia is a single mom. Mason’s dad visits them occasionally and takes them out for fun activities, but he is not really involved closely with their lives. Olivia gets involved with men who are nice in the beginning – one is her professor in college, another is a veteran of the Iraq / Afghanistan war – but in the end they all tend to be bullies who get drunk and treat her children not-so-well. The story closely follows Mason’s life – how he misses his friends every time the family has to shift because his mom breaks up with an abusive boyfriend / husband, how he gets used to a new school and makes new friends and sometimes has to confront bullies, his friendship with his mom’s new husband’s children, his interest in art and photography and the other transformative and messy things that happen in life like drinks and drugs and love, which is all part of growing up. Though we see the story mostly from Mason’s perspective, we also see a lot of Olivia, Mason’s mother – in the way she struggles to find love, how she has to work hard as a single mom and at the same time try to get a college degree and a job and find a career which fulfils her, the contrast between her relationships with her children’s father (which is mostly cordial) and with her current boyfriend / husband (which always spirals down after the initial excitement). Olivia’s life is a hard one but it is also rewarding and fulfilling and filled with love and kindness sometimes from unlikely places. Mason’s father, Mason Sr., is an interesting character. He has a good relationship with Mason’s mother and he is more a friend than a parent to Mason and his sister. He doesn’t play any part in the hardwork of day-to-day parenting, but when he makes an appearance in the children’s lives, he makes them happy and gives them good advice. Some of my favourite scenes were the ones in which Mason and his sister have long conversations with their dad, including one in which he gives ‘the talk’ and tells them about contraceptives. I also loved the scenes which depict Mason’s relationship with his girlfriend Sheena and how their relationship ebbs and flows across time. 

I loved most of the characters in the movie. Even the abusive ones were perfectly portrayed. The main characters who get the maximum screen-time – Mason, his sister and his mother – were, of course, all wonderful, but the other main characters who are sometimes the minor ones were also fascinating. My favourites were Mason’s dad and his girlfriend Sheena – the scenes in which they come were all wonderful. In the last scene of the movie, Mason joins college and goes on a trek with three of his new collegemates. Mason has a long conversation with one of them after they reach the mountains and that is one of the fascinating scenes in the movie. The movie on the whole is vintage Linklater, with each scene sculpted delicately, the story waltzing slowly and a lot of conversation happening on screen – conversation which we love listening to.

Ellar Coltrane (Mason), Lorelei Linklater (Mason’s sister Samantha – how can one not like the name Lorelei :)) and Patricia Arquette (Mason’s mom Olivia) are all wonderful in their respective roles and Ethan Hawke teams up with his old friend Linklater and is brilliant in his role as Mason’s father.

This is all about the story and about the performances of the leading players. The movie was wonderful, on these aspects alone. What amazes us even more is that the movie was made over a twelve-year period with the same set of actors and actresses. So we can see Mason getting older across the years (and Ellar Coltrane plays that role throughout) and so do Samantha and Olivia. I have seen this happen in TV series where the same set of actors and actresses work together for many years – for example the way Amber (Mae Whitman’s character) grows up from a wild brat to a responsible young woman in ‘Parenthood’ and how Jake (Angus T. Jones) grows up from a cute, smart talking boy to a handsome young man in ‘Two and a Half Men’ and of course how all the main characters grow up and evolve in ‘One Tree Hill’), but this is the first time I have seen this in a movie. Because it is next to impossible to make a movie across twelve years – so many things change across time – for example the actors / actresses may not be available, the story and the screenplay might get dated – but this didn’t faze Richard Linklater in taking this huge risk and making this movie across more than a decade. His effort shows in the final result, in the exquisite beauty and brilliance of the movie, as the story and the characters feel wonderfully realistic, like people from our own family whom we watch from up close as they evolve as people.

So, what is my final verdict on ‘Boyhood’? It is a beautiful, remarkable work of cinematic art. Richard Linklater takes big risks with the way he tells the story and the main actors and actresses play their roles perfectly with realistic understated brilliance. ‘Boyhood’ has been nominated for both the ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’ Oscars and I hope it wins both of them. I haven’t seen most of the other movies which are competing in these categories, but I think Linklater’s movie is gong to be hard to beat. Highly recommended.

I love Julianne Moore and so when I discovered that she has been nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for ‘Still Alice’, I had to see that. I saw it yesterday night. Here is what I think. 

Still Alice Directed By Richard Glatzer And Wash Westmoreland

‘Still Alice’ is the story of Alice, who is fifty-years-old, is a brilliant professor of linguistics at Columbia University and has written the definitive book on the subject. She discovers one day while giving a lecture that she is not able to find the right word which will articulate her thoughts – the word slips from her memory and as hard as she tries to grasp it and hold it and get it back it slips away. When this starts happening frequently, she meets a doctor. The doctor does a battery of tests and confirms her worst fears – that she has early onset Alzheimer’s. Her husband initially refuses to believe it, but in the end accepts it reluctantly. Alice has three grown up children – two daughters and a son. The elder daughter is married and is trying to get pregnant. The son is doing well professionally, but his romantic life is a roller coaster. Her younger daughter has refused to go to college, lives in L.A. and is trying to become an actress. When Alice breaks the news to them, they are all shocked. Then the family tries to get together and help her in their own way. The situation slowly deteriorates and Alice starts forgetting more and more things. She is frustrated with the situation as she has always been an intellectual person who has lived a rich interior life. She doesn’t want to forget her favourite memories and she wants to be around as a normal person when her daughter has children and for other special family events. Before things cross the ‘no comebacks’ line, Alice makes a video addressed to herself. In that video she tells herself that when she can’t remember the answer to basic questions like ‘What is her eldest daughter’s name?’ and ‘When is her birthday?’ she should go to her room, take out a bottle of pills and have them all together with a big glass of water and go to sleep. They are, of course, sleeping pills. The rest of the movie shows how Alice’s memory keeps slipping away a little bit at a time and how her relationship with her family members evolves during that period. Does she see the video and take the pills? What happens to her in the end? You should watch the movie to find out. 

I loved ‘Still Alice’. Alice’s relationship with her family and how it evolves across time is beautifully depicted. The way Alice struggles with her condition, the frustrations and heartburn she goes through and how she learns to accept it – these are all beautifully depicted. I loved the scenes which had conversations between Alice and her actress daughter Lydia. Alice is frustrated that Lydia hasn’t gone to college and is taking high risks with her career and doesn’t have a ‘Plan B’. Alice wants Lydia to get a college degree so that it could help her if her acting career doesn’t take off, but her daughter is adamant about not going to college. She says that she doesn’t want a backup plan. Lydia resents the fact that her mother keeps meddling with her life and doesn’t accept her as she is. In one scene Alice says that she wants Lydia to have a good career and settle down in life before she leaves and Lydia says that Alice can’t use her condition to make Lydia do what she wants and that was unfair. Alice says that she can and that is because she is her mother. It is a beautiful scene in which we are able to see both the characters’ perspectives and we understand both sides and know that the issue is not going to be resolved anytime soon like all complex family problems. The way Alice progressively loses her memory is delicately and sensitively portrayed and it is heartbreaking to watch.

Some of my favourite scenes from the movie were these – Alice’s conversations with Lydia on Lydia’s career, their discussion on a play Lydia is working on, and one of the last scenes when Lydia reads a play to Alice – I loved every scene in which Alice and Lydia come together; Alice weeping on her husband’s shoulder when she is frustrated by her condition and is not able to accept it; Alice giving an inspiring talk at the Alzheimer’s group – well there are many more, the whole movie was perfect.

Julianne Moore as Alice is brilliant and has given probably the finest performance of her career. She has won every award out there for her role and I hope she caps it off with an Oscar on Sunday. The Academy has ignored her for so long and I hope they get it right this time. I also loved Kirsten Stewart as Alice’s daughter Lydia. Kirsten Stewart keeps getting better and better and has evolved into a fine actress. I hope she chooses weighty scripts like this and does more wonderful movies in the future.

‘Still Alice’ is one of my favourite movies. It is a sensitive portrayal of a woman who is slowly affected by Alzheimer’s. It is beautiful, inspiring and heartbreaking, all at the same time. I started watching it late at night and I hoped to see half of it then and half of it the next day. But once I started watching the movie, I couldn’t stop and though it went on till the wee hours of the morning I kept on going till I watched the last scene. After I finished watching, my mind was fresh, there was a spring in my step and my heart was more alive and was filled with happiness even though it was a untimely hour – this is the kind of effect that the best movies have on the viewer and ‘Still Alice’ is definitely one of the finest of them. If you haven’t already watched it, I would highly recommend that you do.

Now a rant :) I am surprised that ‘Still Alice’ has not been nominated for the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar. Not even for the ‘Best Director’ Oscar. I checked out all the movies which have been nominated for the ‘Best Actress Oscar’ and four out of five have not been nominated in either of these categories. Why is that? Why is the Academy ignoring movies which have a main woman protagonist for the ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’ nominations? Is this kind of thing still happening??

My movie watching has gone down quite a bit in the past two years after I started watching TV shows seriously. So, this week I thought I will do the Oscar thing-y – watch all the movies that have been shortlisted for the Oscars this year and write about them. I hope it will put my movie watching back on track. 

The first movie I watched was ‘American Sniper’. An odd choice for the first movie, given all the controversies that it has been surrounded by – including the fact that the Academy dumped Martin Luther King for a sniper character for the ‘Best Actor’ nomination (If you hate this movie for this or other reasons or if you want to hate this movie, you should read this article). But I love Clint Eastwood and so I thought I will give this a try. 


American Sniper Directed By Clint Eastwood

‘American Sniper’ is based on the life of an actual American sniper called Chris Kyle, who worked in Iraq. The movie shows his life since he was a boy – how his dad inspires him to fight for others and teaches him how to use a hunting rifle, how he becomes a cowboy but then decides to enlist in the navy and becomes a SEAL and a sniper, how Navy SEAL training is hard, how in the final days of his training he meets a girl in a bar and how they both fall in love and get married and how as soon as he gets married he has to leave on a tour of Iraq. Most of the rest of the movie is about his subsequent tours of Iraq, the dangers he and other army soldiers face there and his time back home during vacation when he finds civilian life hard to adjust to. The movie ends with him retiring from the army and coming back home to his family. (A subtitle in the end says that he was killed by a veteran whom he was trying to help.) 

‘American Sniper’ covers most of the same ground that was covered by ‘The Hurt Locker’, the only difference being that the main character in ‘The Hurt Locker’ defuses bombs while the main character in ‘American Sniper’ kills enemy combatants. But otherwise the locations, the camaraderie in the army, the bombs, the friends who get killed, the psychological trauma, the difficulty that a soldier has in adjusting to civilian life and how he yearns to go back to the warfront – these were all depicted in a way similar to how it was done in ‘The Hurt Locker’. So, in that sense, there was nothing new in this movie. Part of the story is about how our hero tries to hunt down an enemy sniper. The enemy sniper is nameless and he wears black and is just depicted as a bad guy. This was much better done in ‘Enemy at the Gates’ in which Ed Harris comes as a German sniper in the Second World War and he is a much better fleshed out and cool character. In fact the whole sniper thing was depicted way better in ‘Enemy at the Gates’. Most of the Iraqis in ‘American Sniper’ are shown as bad guys – even women and children don’t hesitate to pick up a grenade and throw it at the American army vehicles and sometimes they even take up a rocket launcher and fire it. It is a very simplistic and Hollywood-ish generalization and interpretation of a whole country and it makes one cringe.

The scenes depicting the difficulty that Chris Kyle faces in adjusting to civilian life are also well trodden ground. Others have done it before and they have done it better. For example, the film ‘Return’ is about the life of a woman solider and it handles the ‘difficult-to-adjust’ part quite well. From a literary perspective, Erich Maria Remarque in his book ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ has said everything that needs to be said on this topic. Others can only repeat.

Return Directed By Liza Johnson

My favourite scene in the movie is the one in which Chris Kyle meets Taya at the bar and they have an interesting conversation and subsequently fall in love. It is an odd choice for a favourite scene in what is mostly a war movie but I am a fan of the quieter moments most of the time. Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle and Sienna Miller as Taya are perfect. Another of my favourite scenes is the one in which Taya calls Chris (who is in the warfront) after coming out of the hospital and tells him that their pregnant child is a boy. Chris is travelling with other soldiers when he gets the call and while he is happy with the news, there is shooting and then there is an explosion and he and his mates get their guns to return the fire and he drops his phone and Taya hears all the shouting and the screaming and the firing and the explosion and she doesn’t hear Chris’ voice and she doesn’t know whether he is alive or dead and she is in front of the hospital and she is pregnant and she doesn’t know what to do.

So what is my verdict on ‘American Sniper’? I think it moves through mostly well trodden ground and so most of the story sounds repetitive and something which we have seen somewhere else and especially something which we have seen better articulated artistically elsewhere. The fascinating thing about the movie is that most of the events actually happened. But if we ignore that fact, I would say that it is an entertaining war movie, but probably not the finest example of its genre. I think it got really lucky to get into the Oscar nominees list.

I wanted to write about something else here – something about which I have been thinking for a while, and something about which other movie fans I have talked to have been having similar thoughts. My straightforward comparison of ‘American Sniper’ wouldn’t be with other contemporary war movies but would be with the TV series ‘Homeland’. ‘Homeland’ treads most of the same ground but it is much better done – the plot is tight and gripping, the characters are more fleshed out, the scenes are intense, the dialogue is sparkling and there is style and class in the way it tells its story. One might disagree with the politics depicted in it, but it is hard to ignore it as a work of art. It is much better than any war movie that I have seen recently. Now the question that I wanted to ponder on was this – is the excellence of ‘Homeland’, when compared to recent war movies, because of the extra time it has to tell its story? (The first three seasons of ‘Homeland’ have one long plot and they come to a total of 36 hours.) Is that the difference between a good war movie and a not-so-good one – the time available to tell the story? Would ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘The Deer Hunter’ been better movies if they had been longer? What do you think? 

This Valentine’s Day I decided to read some of my favourite love stories. So I took out my favourite love story collections and put them together in a pile and started reading some of the stories. I read some old favourites and also read some new ones which I haven’t read before. 

These are the books from which I read the stories

Love Stories

My favourite stories out of the ones I read were these. 

In the Gloaming by Alice Elliott Dark – This is story of the mutual love of a mother and her son. The son is grown up, in his early thirties, but he is suffering from a terminal illness. A warm, loving friendship develops between then and they talk about things that they never did before and get to know each other better. One of my alltime favourite stories. 

Yours by Mary Robison – It is the story of Allison and Clark. Though they are married, they are from different generations – Allison is thirty-five while Clark is seventy-eight. Clark’s children don’t approve of Allison. But both of them are very much in love with each other. It is Halloween and Allison goes and gets some pumpkins and she and Clark sit together and they start carving them. We are under the impression that Allison is the one taking care of Clark. But at the end of the story the sad, heartbreaking truth is revealed. The story is just two-and-a-half pages long, but under the pen of a master so much beautiful magic is woven into such a short space. It is a triumph of storytelling. Mary Robison is a real genius. 

Letter to the Lady of the House by Richard Bausch – Our hero, the narrator, has a fight with his wife on the eve of his seventieth birthday. It is about a mundane thing like putting black pepper on his potatoes. His wife goes to bed alone while our narrator sits in the living room and has a drink. Then he decides to write a letter to his wife about their relationship. What comes after that is a tale of extraordinary beauty. One of the most beautiful love stories I have ever read – this is an ode to married love. If you like you can listen to Richard Bausch reading the story here

Mister Death and the Redheaded Woman by Helen Eustis – This is the description of the story at the beginning – “In this rip-roaring tall tale, novelist Helen Eustis celebrates the American West. Here, a determined young lady refuses to let her own true love be taken away by the cold hand of Mister Death. She tracks him down on his pale stallion, but is unprepared for her reaction when she pays the forfeit her nemesis demands in return for her lover’s life…Mister Death, it turns out, has some unexpected depths, possibly enough to turn a girl’s red-head.” How can we not like a story like that? I loved, loved, loved it! Maud Applegate, our redheaded heroine, Mister Death and his granny are all adorable characters. 

Other stories which I liked were these. 

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver – In Carver’s legendary story, two couples are sitting at home having a drink and talking about love. One of them says that her earlier husband loved her so much that he wanted to kill her. How is that even possible? She proceeds to tell the story. Carver’s story had one of the great last lines – “I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.” 

Mouche by Guy de Maupassant Five friends have a boat and sometimes take it on trips down the river. They sometimes take a girl with them. They like one of the girls very much that she also becomes a part of the group. All five of them love her – one of them is the official lover while the others are clandestine lovers. And then one day the girl becomes pregnant. And all five of them decide to take care of her. After that the story takes some twists and turns and has some sad and happy things. 

Dating Your Mom by Ian Frazier – In a short space of three pages Ian Frazier tells us an interesting story. Looking at the title we would expect it to be Oedipal, but it is not – it is nice. 

Other stories which I read, but which didn’t move me much were these. 

Love by Grace Paley 

A Rose For Emily by William Faulkner – I went into this much anthologized classic with a lot of expectation. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as great as expected. I realized that the old maxim is always true – one should never go into a story with expectations. 

Dirty Wedding by Denis Johnson – A story about abortion. 

First Love by Isaac Babel – A story about a boy’s love for an older woman. I was hoping to see echoes of Turgenev’s story (of the same name) here, but this one was a pale shadow. 

One Autumn Night by Maxim Gorky – Another story into which I went with a lot of expectation. I read Dostoevsky’s ‘White Nights’ and loved it and I was hoping that Gorky’s story would be something similar. But there was nothing much in it and in the end there was a twist in the tale which was predictable and disappointing and an insult to the heroine. 

Have you read some of the above stories? What do you think about them?

This year I wanted to read atleast one book by each of the five J’s – Juli (Zeh), Julia (Franck), Judith (Hermann) and the two Jennys (Zoë and Erpenbeck) – authors who are affectionately known as ‘Fräuleinwunder’. Last month I read Zoë Jenny’s ‘The Pollen Room’ and loved it. This month it is the turn of Juli Zeh. I loved the central theme of ‘Dark Matter’ and so decided to read it. Here is what I think.


Dark Matter By Juli Zeh

‘Dark Matter’ is a crime thriller and is also a book which has a scientific theme. Two of the main characters, Sebastian and Oskar, are scientists who are potential Nobel prize winners. They have been friends since university days. Sebastian is married to Maike and has a son. Oskar is still single. Sebastian and Oskar frequently have debates on physics – on quantum mechanics and the wave equation and on whether the Schrödinger’s cat analogy can apply to the world from a human perspective. Sebastian and Oskar hold different points of view on this and so frequently the debates are heated. One day Sebastian is taking his son to camp. While stopping by at a store for getting supplies, he discovers that his son has disappeared. He gets a phone call from an unknown number and a woman on the other side tells him that Dabbelink must go. Dabbelink is Sebastian’s wife Maike’s friend and Sebastian is a little jealous of their relationship. Now after this phone call, Sebastian thinks that his son has been kidnapped and he has to kill Dabbelink to get his son back.

I will stop here as I don’t want to reveal any spoilers. Does Sebastian kill Dabbelink? Do the kidnappers return his son? What is the role of Schrödinger’s Cat in all this? You have to read the story to find out the answers.

‘Dark Matter’ is a very different kind of thriller. There is a physics theme which underlies the whole book. So, there are lots of insightful, philosophical passages which are very beautiful to read. There are many discussions on scientific concepts and how they relate to our everyday world. I loved these passages. There are also two interesting detective characters in the story – Detective Rita Skura who is working hard to prove herself in a man’s world and Detective Superintendent Schilf who finds out the truth in unconventional, unlikely ways. I loved the scene in which Rita Skura is introduced. I loved all the main characters in the story – they were well fleshed out, complex and unique.

There were two mysteries in the story – one of them which is revealed to the readers at the beginning and another which is revealed in the end. I found that to be the weakest part of the book – the plot. I could understand the underlying philosophical ideas and scientific concepts and the way those got manifested in the real world were quite interestingly explained. But the plot was still not very satisfying, in my opinion.

Having said that, I still liked the book – there were beautiful passages throughout the book, the discussions on quantum mechanics, the wave equation, Schrödinger’s Cat and the true nature of time were fascinating (clearly Juli Zeh has done her research) and the characters were believable and real. The book defied categorization – it was a crime thriller, but there were beautiful literary and philosophical passages in it and there was also a lot of discussion on science – I loved this aspect of the book.

There were also many beautiful descriptions of Freiburg, where the story happens – the city where many wonderful German authors came from or studied in and where one of my favourite friends lives. Two of my favourite Freiburg passages in the story were these :

     As you approach it from the south-west, at a height of about five hundred metres, Freibuge looks like a bright, worn patch in the folds of the Black Forest. It lies there as if it had fallen from the heavens one day, right at the feet of the mountains. The peaks of Belchen, Schauinsland and Feldberg stand in a ring around it. Freiburg has existed for mere minutes in relation to these mountains, yet the town behaves as if it has always been there, next to the River Dreisam. If Schauinsland were to ripple its slopes in a shrug of indifference, hundreds of people cycling, riding in cable cars or looking for butterflies would die; if Feldberg were to turn away in boredom, that would be the end of the entire district. But the mountains don’t do that. Instead, they turn their sombre faces to the goings on in the streets of Freiburg, where people set out to entertain. Every day mountains and forests send a swarm of birds into the city to gather the latest news and report back. 

The detective has never particularly liked Freiburg. The people seem too happy to him, and the reasons for their happiness too banal. It smells a little of holidays, especially when the sun is shining. Students are lifting their bottoms on to hand-painted bicycles. Married women festooned in batik make their way to their favourite boutiques. A traffic jam of pushchairs has already formed outside a health food shop. No one here seems to feel the need to ponder the meaning of life. The detective sees only one face with a sceptical expression. It belongs to the blue-and-yellow macaw in a large cage next to the postcard stand… 

Some of my other favourite passages from the book were these :

They also never taught you what to do with a three-word sentence. It is always thee-word sentences that change the life of a human being in a decisive manner. I love you. I hate you. Father is dead. I am pregnant. Liam has disappeared. Dabbelink must go. After a three-word sentence, one is totally alone.

The beauty of time is that it passes unaided and is undisturbed by what happens within it. Even the next few seconds will disappear, and what seemed impossible a moment ago will be over and done with. Waiting is not difficult. Life consists of waiting. Therefore, Sebastian decides, life is child’s play.

Rita Skura has a cat. When she lifts the animal off the ground, it spreads the toes of all four paws as though it is preparing tiny parachutes for a fall. Rita Skura would never drop her cat, but the cat does not rely on that. If it were to fall one day it would land softly and stroke the hair on its chin with a superior look on its face. That is exactly why Rita loves her pet. It possesses two qualities which to the end of her days she will never have : healthy mistrust and natural elegance.

Despite years of experience, Schilf feels a slight shudder at the sight of a human fate turned into paper. Every file he opens is an intersection between his life and that of an unknown person. It will never be possible to untangle the threads that weave themselves together from the moment he starts reading.

So what is the final verdict on ‘Dark Matter’? I liked the book. I loved the beautiful passages and I will be coming back to read them again. I also hope to read more of Juli Zeh’s work. Her work seems to be really unique – literary, philosophical and contemporary themes all woven into one.

Have you read ‘Dark Matter’ by Juli Zeh? What do you think about it?

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