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I have wanted to read Ushasi Sen Basu’sKathputli‘ for a while now. I took it out yesterday and I finished reading it today. The story told in ‘Kathputli‘ goes like this. Chitrangda is not happy with her job and with her life. So one day she leaves her job, takes a break, and goes back to Kolkata to spend time with her family and relatives. She hopes to talk to them, learn about family history and hope to use those stories and anecdotes to write a novel, something she has always wanted to do. She first meets her grandmother. Her grandmother tells her that her life is nothing special but she points her out to a cousin of hers, Puti. Her grandmother says that there is an annual family gathering at their hometown where most relatives would come and she tells Chitrangda that she would be able to meet Puti there. So Chitrangda, who is introverted and avoids people, goes to this family gathering. People are surprised at her arrival there, but receive her with warmth and affection and include her in their conversations. Chitrangda also gets to talk to Puti there. And before long Puti starts telling her about a dark, deep secret in the family which was buried deep a couple of generations back. As Chitrangda hears more, she gets more and more intrigued, as a forgotten woman, a lost woman, a mysterious figure arises like a ghostly apparition out of old family legends and starts looking more and more concrete, with every moment. Who is this woman? What is her secret? Why does nobody talk about her? The answers to all these questions form the rest of the story.

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The story is told in two interleaving strands. One is set in the current period in which we follow Chitrangda and her adventures and another set in the past, nearly eighty years back, and these look like excerpts from Chitrangda’s novel which she is currently writing, probably based on old family stories that she gathers. The time period shifts between the present and the past and at some point of time they merge into one. I loved this structure. Ushasi Sen Basu’s prose flows smoothly like a serene river – there is light-hearted humour there, there are beautiful contemplative passages (there is one which contemplates on the nature of truth, which is very beautiful), there is ample description of mouth-watering Bengali food – I loved that. I also loved the description of Bengal of the pre-independence era, the wide gap between the haves and the have-nots, the good and not-so-good things about the joint family, the position of women and the challenges they faced everyday – these were all beautifully depicted. I also loved the way the book depicted how things changed in big ways after independence and the way it contrasted life then and and life now through the voices of some of the characters. I also loved the names of some of the characters – Chitrangda, Debabrata – so beautifully classical. There is also a whiff of romance in the story, and in case you are wondering, it is totally children-friendly. There are interesting revelations in the second part of the book and the surprise which is revealed in the end – it is big and knocks the reader off.

I also loved the way the book has been lovingly produced – the beautiful cover art, the perfect spine, the charming font in which the blurb is written. The book also has colourplates painted brilliantly in watercolour depicting scenes from the story. I loved them.

Back cover with charming font

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Perfect spine

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Beautiful watercolour painting

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Kathputli‘ is about family – relationships, secrets, the good and the bad times. It is also about love, loss, the past and how it affects the future, and the many versions of truth and the true nature of reality. I loved it. I can’t wait to find out what Ushasi Sen Basu comes up with next.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“Chitrangda didn’t believe in “feelings” and “gut instinct”. They had not served her well the few times she’d tried to be guided by them, and had thus developed a healthy distrust and cynicism for them. She believed people only claimed to have these to make themselves important; like their purported powers of clairvoyance raised them above the run-of-the-mill person.”

“…truth is as slippery as a little fish in a pond. Even if you think you’ve closed your fingers on it, out it’ll slip through the gaps of your fingers, giving you a tantalising tickle to tell you “I was here, but you missed me.” It is the wise person who understands that, instead of the person who insists he understands the whole truth and proceeds to bludgeon it into as many people he can get his hands on.”

Have you read Ushasi Sen Basu’s ‘Kathputli‘? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to watch Satyajit Ray’sPather Panchali‘ (‘Song of the Road’) for a long time now. Finally, I got to watch this classic today. I must be the last person to watch it.

The story told in ‘Pather Panchali‘ goes like this. In a small village in Bengal lives a family, a couple and their daughter. An old woman also lives with them. They are always short of money and the husband doesn’t have a steady income. But they find happiness in the small things. Then the wife becomes pregnant and the couple have a son. The story continues as we follow the adventures of the girl and her younger brother as they play in the woods nearby, go to their neighbour’s homes, talk to the old woman, get sweets from the sweet vendor, cross the fields and see a train for the first time, enjoy getting wet in the rains. Then one day the husband leaves for another town to find a job. And the family, whose everyday life is challenging, goes through tough times. You should watch the movie to find out more.

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I loved the realistic way rural life in India is depicted in the movie. How people find happiness in small things, how they inflict small cruelties on each other, how mothers expect daughters to be responsible but shower affection on their sons, how neighbours fight with each other but also show kindness towards each other, the affection kids and old people have for each other – all these are beautifully and realistically depicted. During the time when Ray’s popular Bollywood counterpart Raj Kapoor was playing the role of the charming, loveable rogue and dancing around in villages singing prescriptive songs and trying to walk like Charlie Chaplin, Ray’s first movie must have been stark with its realism. I don’t know whether it made money in the box office – probably not. I have heard oldtimers say that they went to the theatre to watch escapist movies and loved to watch the hero and the heroine dancing around a tree, and their real life was hard and they didn’t want to watch that on the screen too. So, I doubt that this  movie would have had a lot of mainstream fans when it first came out. But it takes a lot of courage to buck the trend and make a movie which showed things as they are, in contrast to Bollywood of that time which depicted people living in villas and having affairs and flying planes and having a ranch filled with horses – the kind of life most people never lived. We have to admire Satyajit Ray for that. Because Ray was a student of Renoir, I was expecting the European thing in the movie – the camera showing water dripping from the roof for a long time, or the rain falling or the wind blowing or the sound of footsteps, with nothing happening in the story. A little bit of that is there but Ray is careful not to extend it to European lengths. There is minimalism everywhere though – dialogue is there only if required, most of the movie doesn’t have music and we hear only natural sounds, but when music makes its appearance,  Pandit Ravi Shankar’s composition evokes magic. My favourite characters in the story were Durga, the daughter of the couple, Durga’s mother, and the old woman who lives in their place. Ray makes sure that this old woman looks old, instead of dressing her well and making her look like a matriarch. This old woman is beautiful, like the painting by Albrecht Dürer of his mother. The acting by all the actors and actresses is understated and realistic. The ending of the movie is sad but there is also room for future happiness and adventures.

After watching ‘Pather Panchali‘, I wondered why it is regarded as a great work and why it established Satyajit Ray’s reputation. The reason I thought of this was because I have seen many Tamil movies, which came out in the ’70s and ’80s which had a similar theme. Bharathiraja made movies exploring rural themes for more than a decade. They were wonderful movies. Others Tamil directors like Mahendran, Balumahendra, Bhagyaraj and Sridhar made some beautiful rural movies too. (I am sure this is true of directors in most Indian languages.) Why isn’t their work as acclaimed as Ray’s? Why didn’t they win the Golden Lion, for example? When I think about it, the explanation I can come up with, is this one. Ray, probably, was the first to make a realistic rural movie. He was the first off the block. Even the Bollywood blockbuster ‘Mother India’ came later. Many of these rural movies had the Indian / Bollywood formula – there were songs whenever the main characters were feeling happy or sad, there was a comedy track to provide distraction from the main plot etc. Most of these movies also had prescriptive endings, with one of the characters speaking a long monologue in the end, describing what is right and what is wrong. Ray’s movie, in contrast, had none of these. There were no songs, of course. There were no Bollywood-ish formulaic elements. And there was no prescription. Ray’s movie depicted life as it was. I read somewhere that Anton Chekhov once said that his stories didn’t tell people how to live their lives. It depicted how people lived their lives. He said that it was not the artist’s job to prescribe, to advice. It was his job to depict reality as it is. Ray’s movie does that.

I loved ‘Pather Panchali‘. I can’t wait to see the second part of the series ‘Aparajito‘ now.

Have you seen ‘Pather Panchali‘? What do you think about it?

When one of my favourite directors Ingmar Bergman passed, I read his obituary in The Guardian. The writer of the obituary paid tribute to Bergman in glowing terms. Of course, he would. But he also mentioned other directors who he said were as great as Bergman. I can’t remember the exact list of those directors, but I think Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini and Yasujiro Ozu were on that list. I suspect that Akira Kurosawa, Jean Renoir and François Truffaut might have also been there on that list, but I am not sure. But I definitely remember one name from that list. The writer of that obituary said that this director was the best of them all. I can’t remember whether these were the exact words he used, but he definitely implied that. The Guardian’s articles are always unsentimental. This one was too. But behind that unsentimental façade, I could feel the writer’s admiration trying to burst out, explode. It was the way people talked about Donald Bradman. Or the way Bradman himself talked about Stan McCabe’s innings. Or the way people talked about Jim Laker’s 19 wickets. Or the way people talk about Gary Sobers. Or Keith Miller. Or Victor Trumper. Or Harold Larwood. Or if you like tennis more, the way people talk about Rod Laver. I wondered how it was possible that I hadn’t heard of this director’s name before, this director whom The Guardian’s film correspondent thought was the greatest of alltime. This director’s name was Robert Bresson.

Since I read the article, I have wanted to watch a Robert Bresson film. But for some reason, they were hard to find. Maybe, I didn’t look hard enough. So, I put his name in the list of directors whose movies I would like to watch some day and left it at that. Yesterday, I stumbled upon Robert Bresson’s filmography by accident, and when I browsed through the list, one of the names leapt at me. My heart leapt with it. I opened the shelf which had my DVD collection and rummaged through it. And I found the concerned DVD and took it out. Yes, it was there, in open daylight for all the world to see. I had the DVD of a Robert Bresson movie! It was ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘. How I missed it all these years, I would never be able to understand. I think I I must have got it during the days when I used to do mass DVD shopping, without bothering who the director of a movie was, just going by the title of the film and a brief description of the film on the back cover. Well, I was very excited when I saw the DVD, and couldn’t wait to watch it. I had waited long enough.

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The story told in ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘ goes like this. A young priest goes to work in his first parish. The members of his parish are either hostile to him or indifferent to him. The girls in the school play practical jokes on him. The count who is an important person in the town, talks to him politely, but doesn’t help him much. The countess doesn’t care about God because her son died in an accident when he was young. The poor people in the parish are openly hostile to the priest. The priest tries to help everyone, giving them suggestions, intervening in their personal affairs to bring positive change to their lives, but the people in the parish rebuff him. The priest writes about his experiences in a diary. That diary is this movie.

As ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘ is based on a diary, the story is told in the first person. It means that our narrator, the young priest, is there in every scene. We see the events unfolding through his eyes and we see them through his point of view. This is an interesting and difficult way to tell a story. Many scriptwriters and novelists have done that. But somewhere in the middle of the story, most writers find this way of narration too restrictive and add a third person omniscient narrator to keep the story moving. Some writers add a second or third narrator. Roberto Bolaño had a new narrator in every page of his novel ‘The Savage Detectives‘. But ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘ sticks to a single narrator till the end. And pulls it off. That is one of the great achievements of the movie. The second thing that I loved about the movie was the minimalistic music. Music was mostly absent, except in a few scenes, and there were only natural sounds in the movie. It was beautiful to watch. The third thing I loved about the movie was that it was deep and contemplative. Though it had a strong story which was about a priest and his parish and the happenings there, because the story is narrated through the priest’s diary, there are many beautiful, contemplative, deep lines which make us think. Some of those lines ask some profound questions on faith. One of my favourite lines was this one, which the narrator’s mentor speaks to him.

“People don’t hate your simplicity – they shield themselves from it. It’s like a flame that burns them.”

It is no surprise that the movie is based on a novel. One could sense that, when listening to the contemplative lines being spoken – they have a bookish feel to them.

The ending of the story is beautiful, sad and in some way glorious too. You have to watch the movie to find out what that is. Claude Laydu delivers a brilliant performance as the young, idealistic priest.

So, what is the final verdict? I loved ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘. I will be definitely watching more of Bresson’s movies. The big question though is this – is Robert Bresson the greatest film director of all time? I am not sure about that. I have always had a soft corner for Ingmar Bergman. I think he is still my favourite. But I like Bresson. And this is early days yet. So we have to wait and see what happens, while I continue to watch more Bresson movies.

Have you seen ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘? What do you think about it? Have you seen other Robert Bresson movies? Who, according to you, is the greatest film director of alltime?

‘The Impossible Fortress‘ by Jason Rekulak was one of those incredibly lucky accidents that happened to me. I was at the bookshop on Diwali eve, just browsing, and somehow this book caught my eye, and I put it on my shopping list. Later when my book pile started looking quite big, I tried taking off some of the books. Rekulak’s book resisted that move with everything it had, like a pet dog which refuses to let go of us when we leave for work in the morning, and so finally I gave in and took it home with me. I am glad the book refused to let go and I am glad I gave in to its affection. I finished reading it a couple of days back. Here is what I think.

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The story told in ‘The Impossible Fortress‘ goes like this. The year is 1987. Billy is the narrator of the story. He is fourteen years old. He hangs out with his two friends Alf and Clark. Billy’s mother is a single mom and she works night shifts and so the three of them hang out at Billy’s place most nights. Sometimes they go out and have adventures. All three of them are average students at school. And all three of them belong to middle class families – not today’s version of the middle class but the ’80s version of middle class,when people worked hard and saved every cent, when going to college was expensive and many people opted to go to work mostly in the same town they grew up in, rather than go to college, when people didn’t have expensive gadgets at home and if they did it was bought on credit, when a computer in someone’s home was something which was very rare – the three of them belonged to that kind of middle class.

But Billy is different from his friends and other people of his age. He has a secret. He loves computer programming. Billy’s mom had won a computer in some kind of lucky draw, a Commodore 64, and so Billy’s home had a computer. In those days, even if people had computers, they mostly used it like a typewriter, or to play games. But Billy doesn’t stop with that. He teaches himself computer programming. And goes and creates his own games. He is good at it. He is great at it. His friends know that he can create games. But they have no idea of the expertise involved. No one else has any idea of Billy’s talent. Not even his mom.

One day Billy and his friends discover that pictures of ‘Wheel of Fortune‘ hostess Vanna White have been published in the latest issue of ‘Playboy’ magazine. They are so excited because they love Vanna White and ‘Wheel of Fortune’. They want to get a copy of the magazine. Of course, no store in America is going to sell a copy of the ‘Playboy’ magazine to three fourteen year old kids. So, the three friends make plans. Each of their plans gets foiled one way or another. Then they dress up like grownups, put on a suit, go to the local store, pretend to be running a business and buy some stuff and try buying a copy of the magazine too. They hope that the store owner will buy their bluff. But while doing their fake buying, Billy notices a girl in the storeroom behind. She is working on a computer. She is writing programs to convert popular music on tapes into computer music so that it can be played on the computer. The music that comes out of the computer is very impressive. This kind of stuff demands programming skills of a different level. Billy is impressed and amazed. He and the girl, who is the store owner’s daughter and is called Mary, start having a conversation. They discover that they have a common love for programming. Before long the girl tells Billy that there is a programming competition on, for high school students, and he should submit his game to be evaluated. At the end of this shopping expedition, the three friends still don’t have the magazine, but Billy has a new friend. What happens next? Does Billy enter his game for the competition? How does Billy’s and Mary’s friendship evolve? Are the three friends able to get the magazine? You should read the book to find the answers to these questions.

The Impossible Fortress‘ took me back to a bygone era, when the internet didn’t exist. It was a time when computers weren’t still widespread as they are today. When words like 8088, 80286, PC-XT, PC-AT, PS/2, MS-DOS, dBASE, Lotus 1-2-3, 5.25″ and 3.5″ floppy disks, Peter Norton, Alan Simpson, Kernighan and Ritchie meant something and got people excited. It was a time when an average computer user also knew how to program a computer. It made me nostalgic, because like Billy, I learnt programming, I loved it, I was good at it. My grades at school weren’t so good, similar to Billy’s, but my grades weren’t a reflection of my talent, as Billy’s wasn’t too. Unlike Billy, I wasn’t into computer games. I wrote programs in C language and I created a database management system with it. Now when I think about it, I wish I had created some games too. So, the book made me smile, laugh, cry. It was like the book was written for a reader like me. It was perfect.

I also loved the story. How Billy balances his life between his two best friends Alf and Clark, and his new nerdy friend Mary. How he balances the effort into trying to get a copy of the Playboy magazine and trying to create a game and submit it for the competition. How Billy’s mom manages the challenges of being a single mother, how frustrating it is to watch her son do badly in academics though he is talented, and how happy she is when she discovers Billy’s hidden talent. How Billy’s headmaster tries to be kind to him but has to also show tough love to him. How Mary is the cool character who suddenly enters Billy’s life, gives him direction, while she herself is struggling with challenges, loss and secrets in her own life. How Zelinsky, Mary’s dad, has a soft heart behind his gruff exterior. How small town life in the 1980s was beautiful, hard, happy, challenging. I loved how the story depicted all these. I loved all the characters in the story, especially Billy, but my most favourites were Mary and Billy’s mom. I loved them the most. I think that is my grown-up self talking. I think if I had been a teenager, I would have loved Billy and his friends more. There is a revelation towards the end which is surprising and which I didn’t see coming. The ending of the story was beautiful. I loved it.

I loved ‘The Impossible Fortress‘. It is one of my favourite reads of the year. It is a charming novel about teenagers growing up during interesting times. If you grew up in the ’80s or even in the early and middle ’90s in the pre-internet era, and you loved computer programming and fiddling with computers, this book is for you. It will take you back to a magical, almost Narnian time, and make you nostalgic. Also, it is hard to not see the similarities between ‘The Impossible Fortress’ and the Chetan Bhagat novel ‘Five Point Someone‘ and the Aamir Khan movie ‘3 Idiots‘. So, if you liked these two, you will love this book. I hope they make ‘The Impossible Fortress‘ into a movie. I would love to watch it. I also can’t wait to find out what Jason Rekulak comes up with next.

I will leave you with one of my favourite dialogues from the book.

Scenario : It is the year 1987. Billy and Mary are discussing computers. The 64 that the conversation refers to, is the Commodore 64, one of the early personal computers.

      “You’re the first person I’ve met with a 64,” I told her. “And you’re a girl.”
      “Is that strange?”
      “I didn’t think girls liked to program.”
      “Girls practically invented programming,”  she said. “Jean Bartik, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas – they all programmed ENIAC.”
      I had no idea what she was talking about.
      “And don’t forget Margaret Hamilton. She wrote the software that let Apollo 11 land on the moon.”
      “I meant programming video games,” I said.
      “Dona Bailey, Centipede. Brenda Romero, Wizardry. Roberta Williams, King’s Quest. She designed her first computer game at the kitchen table. I interviewed her for school last year.”
      “For real? You talked to Roberta Williams?”
      “Yeah, I called her long-distance in California. She talked to me for twenty minutes.”
      King’s Quest was a landmark computer game, an undisputed masterpiece, and now I had even more questions.

Have you read ‘The Impossible Fortress‘ by Jason Rekulak? What do you think about it?

I discovered Lina Meruane’sSeeing Red‘ when I stopped by at the bookshop a few days back. The cover grabbed my attention and refused to let me go. Then I read a quote by Roberto Bolaño on the back cover raving about Lina Meruane – well, who can resist that. I started reading it a couple of days back and finished reading it yesterday.

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Seeing Red‘ tells the story of a woman, who has a delicate health condition. Her eyes are in a delicate state – her blood vessels in her eyes can burst any time and she can go blind. Her doctor warns her that she has to be very careful during her everyday life – she can’t drink, smoke, make love to her boyfriend, can’t even bend down. There are so many other things she can’t do, simple everyday things, that we normally take for granted. She lives life in this careful way, avoiding anything which can result in the unfortunate event happening. But one day she is at a party and the dreadful thing happens – the blood vessels in her eyes explode and she becomes blind. She is able to see vague shapes and some light and shadow though. She tries meeting the doctor but she is able to get an appointment only a few days later. When she meets the doctor, he says it is hard to say anything. He says they need to wait for a month and then can think about an operation. He asks her to go on a holiday and spend time with her family in Chile. Well, I won’t go into the rest of the story. How her reunion with her family goes, what kind of support her boyfriend gives, does the operation help her – for answers to these questions, you have to read the story.

The heroine of our story, has the same name as the writer, Lina Meruane. I later discovered that the novel is based on the writer’s own experience. It shows in the story, because the way Meruane describes the way blindness explodes into our heroine’s world and plunges her into despair – it feels so real. The relationship between the heroine and her boyfriend is so beautifully depicted. The reunion scenes with her family, her very different relationship with her mother and her father, her two different brothers – they are all beautifully portrayed. I loved the character of her doctor. I loved this particular description of him –

“I never noticed Lekz rushing a single syllable or discreetly checking the time; there wasn’t a single clock on the walls of his office, no phone ever rang, he didn’t have a cell phone. No one ever interrupted him. He was an absolutely dedicated specialist, true Russian fanaticism inculcated by his Soviet lineage.”

That doctor was a no-nonsense character, dedicated to his work,  never made any promises that he could’t keep.

I love the way the book describes our heroine’s descent into blindness, how navigating everyday things becomes a challenge for her, for example in this passage –

“I got tangled up in rugs, I knocked over posters leaning against walls, I toppled trashcans. I was buried in open boxes with table legs between my fingers. The house was alive, it wielded its doorknobs and sharpened its fixtures while I still clung to corners that were no longer where they belonged. It changed shape, the house, the rooms castled, the furniture swapped places to confuse me. With one eye blind with blood and the other clouded over at my every movement, I was lost, a blindfolded chicken, dizzy and witless.”

– how simple things she took for granted are now challenging or impossible, how for someone who is a reader and a writer and a researcher, this is a kind of irreparable loss. Our heart goes out to the heroine and we sink when her heart sinks. But the book also descibes how our heroine handles these challenges with style and aplomb – it is inspiring. For example, in this sentence –

“As the car set off and began to gather speed, I looked into the rearview mirror with my mind’s eye…”

– and this passage –

“Yes, but I’m only an apprentice blind woman and I have very little ambition in the trade, and yes, almost blind and dangerous. But I’m not going to just sit in a chair and wait for it to pass.”

– and this passage –

“when he opened the door Ignacio exclaimed joder, the sun is coming up. But the word sunrise evoked nothing. Nothing even close to a sunrise. My eyes were emptying of all the things they’d seen. And it occurred to me that words and their rhythms would remain, but not landscapes, not colors or faces, not those black eyes of Ignacio’s that I had seen spill out a love at times wary, sullen, cutting, but above all an open love, expectant, full of mirages that the crossword puzzle would define as hallucinations.”

There is a scene in the book where our heroine kisses her boyfriend’s eye – it is so beautiful, sensual, even erotic. It was amazing, because I never thought that a description of a person kissing someone’s eye could be that way.

The description of Chile in the book is fascinating and beautiful and takes us a little bit into Chilean history of the past half century and makes us want to read more about that period. The ending of the book is unexpected and stunning – I didn’t see that coming. Then I stepped back by a chapter and discovered that there were clues strewn around by the author. It was like watching ‘The Sixth Sense‘.

I loved the structure of the book. It is not very long at 157 pages. It is divided into short chapters, between two and four pages long. Each chapter has a title. Interestingly, each chapter is also made up of only one paragraph. Punctuation is used minimally. There is no distinction between a statement, a question, a dialogue. Sometimes the speaker of the first sentence is different from the speaker of the second sentence and there is no signpost to indicate that the speaker has changed. This kind of stuff might bother some readers. It didn’t bother me. I loved it and the story flowed naturally for me. Lina Meruane’s prose is soft, gentle and smooth and flows beautifully and quietly like a river. Reading the book is a meditative experience, which is very fascinating, because the main theme it addresses is a bit dark and bleak. Meruane’s prose softens the blow and makes us turn the page.

There are places in the book where I couldn’t help wonder how a particular passage would have read in Spanish, how it would have been even more beautiful and poetic in the original. For example, this description –

“That accent, so unmistakably Chilean, harbored the glacial poem of the mountain peaks and their snows in eternal mid-thaw, the dark whisper of the south dotted with giant rhubarbs, the mourning of roadside shrines, the herb-garden smell, the rough salts of the desert, the sulfurous copper shell of the mine open to the sky.”

– and this phrase –

“to interrupt the peace of the worried”

– and this sentence –

“While outside the street revives – a gust or a whisper in the distance – and the sun peers indignantly through the gaps in the curtains to track us with its flame”

If you get to read this book in Spanish, I will envy you.

I also loved the fact that there was a lot of white space surrounding the words in a page – a beautiful place where the reader can write comments and notes. I love a book when it has that.

I loved ‘Seeing Red‘. It is one of my favourite reads of the year. I hope to read it again one of these days, more slowly, focussing on my favourite passages.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“I’m the heroine who resists her tragedy, I thought, the heroine trying to drive destiny crazy with her own hands.”

Good was a word Lekz sometimes slid out like a crutch, and other times it seemed to weigh heavy on his tongue, like a rock that sinks in silence, leaving only ripples. The word had an expansive effect in the room.”

“The lyrics of the song explain : what makes you live can kill you in excess. The refrain repeats : too much sun, too much sugar, too much water, too much oxygen. Too much maternal love. Too much truth.”

“The finger is no longer there. My hand isn’t there and neither is my arm. I’m not me anymore. Lucina vanished, her being is suspended somewhere in the hospital. What is left of her now is pure biology : a heart that beats and beats, a lung that inflates, an anesthetized brain incapable of dreaming, while the hair goes on growing, slowly, beneath the cap.”

Have you read Lina Meruane’sSeeing Red‘? What do you think about it?

When I discovered that there was a movie based on David Foster Wallace’s life, I had to watch it! This is that movie – ‘The End of the Tour‘. It is based on a road trip that another writer David Lipsky took with David Foster Wallace and the few days they spend together before and after the road trip. David Lipsky is working with the Rolling Stone magazine at that time. David Foster Wallace’s mammoth novel ‘Infinite Jest‘ has just come out and it is making waves. Critics are saying that it will win all the awards. Lipsky is skeptical about the book. His girlfriend asks him to read it. They both do. And after reading, Lipsky knows that it is a profound work. He is inspired by it and wants to write an article about Wallace for his magazine. And he arrives at Wallace’s home in the middle of nowhere. What happens in the next few days is some of the most beautiful, profound, weird and mundane things that Lipsky will experience. You should watch the movie to find out what that is.

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There are a few characters in the movie and they are interesting, but the major part of the movie is a conversation between Lipsky and Wallace. So, there are no major plot twists and turns or cool scenes or stylish dialogue. While watching the movie, I felt like I was reading a book. The bookish atmosphere, the bookish spirit pervades throughout the movie. The conversation between the two characters is fascinating.

In one scene Wallace speaks these dark, bleak, profound, beautiful lines –

“There’s a thing in the book, about how when somebody leaps from a burning skyscraper it’s not that they’re not afraid of falling anymore, it’s that the alternative is so awful. And so, then you’re invited to consider what could be so awful that leaping to your death would seem like an escape from it. And I don’t know if you have any experience with this kind of thing but it’s worse than any kind of physical injury. It may be in the old days what was known as a spiritual crisis. Feeling as though every axiom of your life turned out to be false and there is actually nothing. And that you are nothing and it’s all a delusion. And you’re so much better than everybody because you can see that this is just a delusion and you’re so much worse because you can’t function. It’s really horrible.”

Hearing those lines being spoken, I realized that this is no regular movie, this is no ordinary movie. It is beautiful, deep and profound. It is one of the great movies ever made.

Jesse Eisenberg plays the role of David Lipsky. He has patented that nerdy character these days and he has nailed it here as well. Jason Segel plays the role of David Foster Wallace and he is brilliant. He is unrecognizable from the man who played the adorable Marshall in ‘How I Met Your Mother‘. Clearly he can do things which are more than romantic comedy. Such a wonderful, brilliant talent. How these two guys missed winning the Oscar for their roles here, I will never know. Joan Cusack plays a charming character who appears for a brief while. Anna Chlumsky makes a brief appearance as David Lipsky’s girlfriend. There are two dogs which are adorable and which do adorable things.

I loved ‘The End of the Tour’. It is one of my favourite movies from this year. I still can’t believe that someone made a movie about a nerdy author like David Foster Wallace. This kind of stuff doesn’t do well in the box office. This fact doesn’t seem to have deterred them. This warms my heart because it means that some people still value art over money. May their tribe survive and thrive. If you are like me and read long contemplative books and watch movies which make you feel like you are reading those books, this movie is for you. If you are a David Foster Wallace fan, this is a must see. Now, I want to go and read ‘Infinite Jest‘ and come back and watch this movie again.

Have you seen ‘The End of the Tour‘? Have you read ‘Infinite Jest‘? Do you like David Foster Wallace?

I watched the BBC adaptation (2016) of Leo Tolstoy’sWar and Peace‘  a few days back. If you don’t know the story of ‘War and Peace‘, here is the brief outline. The story is set during the time when Napoleon invades Russia and it follows the fortunes of three families, the Bezukhovs, the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys. Of particular interest to us are the adorable Pierre Bezukhov, everyone’s favourite Natasha Rostova and my favourite Marya Bolkonskaya.

(In the picture below, from left to right, it is Pierre Bezukhov, Natasha Rostova and Andrei Bolkonsky. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good poster of the show  with Marya Bolkonskaya.)

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I loved the BBC adaptation. I haven’t seen other TV or film adaptations of Tolstoy’s novel, but being the person who always brings uninformed, subjective opinions to the table, I will say that this might be the finest ‘War and Peace‘ adaptation yet. (I haven’t seen the classic film adaptation yet. Audrey Hepburn plays Natasha Rostova in that ❤ Can’t wait to watch!) The casting is perfect –  Lily James as Natasha Rostova is brilliant (from ‘Downton Abbey‘ to ‘War and Peace‘ to her upcoming new roles, she is going from strength to strength), Jessie Buckley as my favourite character Marya Bolkonskaya is brilliant, Paul Dano as the adorable Pierre Bezukhov is perfect and James Norton as the wavering, indecisive Andrei Bolkonsky is wonderful. That ballet scene in the third episode is gorgeous, that spontaneous dance which Natasha does in the countryside home – the dance that Orlando Figes raves about in his brilliant cultural history of Russia called ‘Natasha’s Dance‘ – that dance is beautiful. The scenes in which Marya and Natasha appear together were some of my favourites – when two of our favourite characters come together as soul sisters and love each other so much – what more can one ask? The scenes in which Pierre is a prisoner of war and makes friends with a fellow prisoner who has a dog and a later scene in which Pierre talks about this fellow prisoner-friend and his philosophy – they are beautiful. Even the supposed bad characters like Dolokhov and Kuragin are charming. The relationship between Kuragin and his sister Hélène is beautifully portrayed too – they are one badass brother-sister duo! The war scenes are done well too.

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I was happy that most of my favourite characters had a happy ending – my most favourite character got married to the man she loved and two of my favourite characters declared their love for each other and got married. Unfortunately, one of my favourite characters ended up having to give up her love. One of them died. One of the minor characters, whom I loved, also died.

The last scene was perfect – the main characters all happily married with beautiful children, everyone sitting outside a countryside house enveloped by the beauty of the garden, the trees and the forest and ready to have lunch, the children playing, and the birds chirping, the sunlight beautiful and warm and we can hear the lapping of the waves at the nearby lake – that beautiful ending which warms the Russian heart and soul, was perfect.

I have a couple of complaints too. I was never convinced why Napoleon turned back from Russia. I don’t know whether Tolstoy’s novel provides better justification. I also don’t know when Natasha fell in love with Pierre. Pierre was always her platonic friend. Pierre was the one who loved her. When Natasha’s heart changed is not properly revealed. It felt like the sudden happy ending of an old Bollywood / Tamil movie. Need to find out whether the novel does a better job here.

I have tried reading ‘War and Peace‘ a few times, but got distracted everytime and had to give up each time. Now that I have watched the TV adaptation, I am inspired to give it a try again. Hoping that I can ignore distractions and avoid temptations and read till the end.

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Have you watched this BBC adaptation of ‘War and Peace‘? What do you think about it? Have you seen the classic film adaptation? Which do you think is better?