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Archive for December, 2018

Yesterday was the day of the small cat. Today is the day of the big cat. My favourite big cat is the lion. Or rather the lioness. The lioness is an amazing superhero. She gives birth to cubs, nurtures them, feeds them, plays with them, teaches them to have fun, to fight, to hunt, to have good relationships with other pride members, and brings them up to become responsible lionesses and lions, and when the time comes, steps back and lets them go. She also treats other cubs in the pride with the same love and affection as her own cubs. She alongwith her pride sisters parent all the cubs in the pride together. She also hunts with her pride sisters and puts food on the table. Parenting, nurturing, maintaining great relationships, putting food on the table – she is great at them all. I love the lion too, because he looks magnificent and protects his pride, but I love the lioness more. She is my hero. She is one of the most inspiring mothers and one of the most beautiful women in the animal kingdom. I also love the lioness and the lion because they are the only big cats who live together as a large family. So, I was excited to read this book to find out what it says about my favourite big cats.

Lee Server’s book starts with these lines :

“The majestic lion is the legendary ruler of the animal kingdom. Revered for its strength and bravery, the lion has been a symbol of supremacy since the beginning of recorded history. The lion gained its ascendancy in a world filled with fierce contenders. It is not the largest of animals, nor the strongest or fastest. Compared to other cats, its skills as a hunter are, in fact, flawed, and its plain, tawny coat does not compare to the richly colored and patterned fur of other animals of its kind.”

Lee Server goes on to explore the history of the lion family and what we know about it and why it is regarded as the king of the animal kingdom. He describes how lions look, how they behave, how in some ways they are very similar to our house cat, how they get together and form prides, how pride members nurture each other, how lions and lionesses mate and have cubs, how lionesses nurture and raise their cubs alongwith their pride sisters, how lionesses stalk and hunt prey. The book, at around 70 pages, is not very long, but within those pages, the author manages to pack in a lot of information. There are beautiful, stunning photographs in every page and it is a pleasure to read the book and see the actual lion family scene unfolding on the page. I have shared a few photos in the comments to give you a flavour of their exquisite beauty. All photographs are copyrighted by the respective copyright owners. I have shared a few here, as a book reviewer, to illustrate the contents of the book.

“Lionesses can be caring mothers, guarding their cubs in infancy, entertaining them with play, and finally, teaching them to hunt and provide for themselves.”

“The rituals of meeting and mutual grooming provide an important bond between the members of a pride that helps to maintain the group’s cohesion and structure…most lions enjoy these lifelong social relationships…”

“When pride members meet after being apart for awhile, they greet each other by rubbing heads to show their friendly intentions. The greeting is often followed by a period of mutual grooming.”

“Play is another means of bonding among pride members. Females play frequently, while adult males are less enthusiastic. Lionesses teasingly stalk and wrestle with other females, and also romp a great deal with cubs. Frequently, a mother playfully pokes a youngster with her paw, causing the cub to swat back, often while rolling on its back.”

“Lion cubs spend a great deal of time grappling and swatting one another. These playful sparring matches teach basic defensive skills and help to establish patterns of dominance and rank among the younger generation.”

“Lionesses rarely have litters of more than four cubs. This number is the most that they can suckle at a time.”

“Learning the social rituals of meeting and grooming is an important part of a cub’s education. The bonds forged in infancy last a lifetime for many lions.”

Lee Server’s book gave me a lot of pleasure and joy and goosebumps. It is one of my favourite reads of the year. It is a beautiful book to read and browse with your family, especially, your little ones. One word of warning though. Lionesses and lions are big cats and are adorable, but they are also wild, carnivorous hunters. This book talks about that too. There are pictures which depict hunting scenes too. So if you are reading this book with your little one, do handle those pages with care.

Have you read ‘Lions : A Portrait of the Animal World‘ by Lee Server? What do you think about it?

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Japanese are hugely fond of cats. Their love for cats frequently manifests itself in literature, from the nearly century old classic ‘I Am a Cat’ by Natsume Soseki to contemporary well loved classics like ‘The Guest Cat‘ by Takashi Hiraide and ‘The Travelling Cat Chronicles‘ by Hiro Arikawa. What happens when a Japanese writer takes all the Japanese love for cats, all the adorable things about cats, and puts them in a box, and shakes the box well, and then takes the contents of the box and makes a manga comic out of it? We get ‘Chi’s Sweet Home‘ by Konami Kanata.

Chi is a kitten. One day she takes a stroll with her mom and siblings and and while returning back gets lost. A boy who passes through sits with her and later the boy and his mom decide to take Chi home. What happens to Chi after that? Does she like her new home? Is she able to live with humans? Is she able to find her real mom? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

I loved ‘Chi’s Sweet Home‘. It is beautiful, perfect, adorable. Konami Kanata’s watercolour illustrations are charming and beautiful and depict Chi in all her glory. If you have ever had a cat at home, you will love this book and following Chi’s adventures. This is a perfect book to gift your little one and read with her / him. I am sharing a few pages from the book in the comments so that you can see for yourself how adorable it is.

First pages

Chi plays with a shoe

Chi dreams

Have you read ‘Chi’s Sweet Home‘? What do you think about it?

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I got ‘Abandon the Old in Tokyo‘ by Yoshihiro Tatsumi as a present from a friend sometime back. When I was thinking of reading a graphic novel today, I decided to pick it up.

Japanese writers believe in presenting stories in comic form. They are pioneers in it. Comics probably occupies a bigger literary landscape in Japan than regular books – there are probably more readers of comics there than there are readers of other kinds of books. One of the reasons for this is that there are comics written for both kids and grown-ups. Writing comics for grownups was a quintessentially Japanese thing, before others started copying it. Sometimes these comics weren’t just fictional stories but were biographies and memoirs. The Japanese were much ahead of comics writers from other countries on this front – in presenting nonfiction books in comic form.

Why this long rambling passage on Japanese comics? Because this book is a perfect example of Japanese comics. It has eight stories. It doesn’t tell one story in eight chapters. It has eight short stories told in comics form. It defies the norm that a comics story should be long, should have a longer narrative arc. Who defies the norm, who writes a comics short story collection? A Japanese writer, of course.

The first thing about this collection of stories is that it is not for children. The stories are on themes which are of more interest to grownups. One of the stories might make even grownups squirm with discomfort. The first story ‘Occupied‘ is about a comics writer who loses his job. What he does when he hears this news forms the rest of the story. ‘Abandon the old in Tokyo‘, the title story, is about a young man who takes care of his old mother. His mother is domineering and tries her best to make him feel guilty and hold on to him and not let him go. Our young man is engaged to a young woman though. How our young man manages his relationship with the two women in his life forms the rest of the story. This was probably my most favourite story in the book. ‘The Washer‘ is about a man who washes windows of tall buildings. One day when he is washing a particular window, he notices that his daughter is inside that apartment and she is having an affair with someone. What this window washer does about it forms the rest of the story. ‘Beloved Monkey‘ is about a worker in a factory who has a pet monkey. It is a beautiful story about modern life in a big city in which a person feels alienated and lonely. It reminded me a lot of the Vittorio De Sica movie ‘Umberto D.‘ ‘Unpaid‘ is the story about an old man whose business goes under and who is hounded by creditors. This is the story with some shocking scenes. I won’t tell you what they are. It is a heartbreaking story. ‘The Hole‘ is almost a horror story – it is dark and scary and gripping. ‘Forked Road‘ is about a young man who is always drunk and we are taken back to his past to find out what happened to him which made him be this way. ‘Eel‘ is the story of a young man who works as a sewer cleaner.

One common feature across most of the stories is this – there is a young man who lives in a big city which is undergoing major change and modernization, he feels lonely and alienated from others inspite of the hustle and bustle around, he is awkward with women, he is introverted, his life is hard. This is the central feature of most of the stories. Alienation and loneliness are key themes in every story. How the story’s central character reacts to this alienation and loneliness is the main part of the story. It is beautifully and realistically told and sometimes it is insightful, and at other times it is heartbreaking. Yoshihiro Tatsumi says this in the interview featured at the end of the book, about his storytelling style –

“My basic approach was to come up with a ‘bleak story’ gekiga style that completely eliminated the requisite gags and humor so prominent in mainstream manga. The gag style defied realism. Unlike my contemporaries, I felt no need to incorporate humor into serious stories. I wanted to represent reality.”

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s artwork is beautiful – it looks deceptively simple in its quintessential Japanese style and Tatsumi plays brilliantly with light and shade throughout the book. I have included a few pages below to give you a flavour of the artwork and the stories. There is also an insightful one page introduction at the beginning of the book by Koji Suzuki, who wrote the acclaimed ‘Ring‘ trilogy.

Beloved Monkey – 1

Beloved Monkey – 2

Beloved Monkey – 3

Beloved Monkey – 4

Forked Road – beautiful play of light and shade

Eel – 1

Eel – 2

I loved ‘Abandon the old in Tokyo‘. I discovered that more of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work has been translated into English, including his memoir. I can’t wait to read them.

Have you read this book? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘Illegal‘ when I was browsing in the bookshop a couple of weeks back. A new Eoin Colfer book is always a reason to celebrate and in this case it was a graphic novel too, and so I was doubly overjoyed.

The book starts with this Elie Wiesel quote –

The book then proceeds to tell the story of Ebo, a boy who lives in a village in Niger. One day Ebo discovers that his brother has disappeared, and people around tell him that his brother has left for Europe. Ebo doesn’t have much of a family left – his parents are no more and his uncle who is supposed to take care of him is drunk most of the time. The story is narrated by Ebo as we follow his quest in search of his brother across the desert to the big city and across a bigger desert to a huge capital city and the journey into the sea and beyond. Is Ebo able to find his brother? Do they manage to get to Europe? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

Illegal‘ is a fascinating book. Though it is fictional, it is based on real stories of real people who have had experiences similar to Ebo. It is sometimes beautiful, sometimes bleak and it is hard to believe that this story happens every year. At the end of the book there is a map which shows Ebo’s journey and we discover that the distance covered is unbelievable. The artwork by Giovanni Rigano is brilliant. The scenes depicting the voyage through the sea are spectacular. I have included a few pages below so that you can get a flavour of the artwork.

First page – In the sea – 1

Ebo’s village

Agadez

In the sea – 2

Tripoli

I loved ‘Illegal‘. Eoin Colfer continues to surprise by experimenting with new narrative forms and it works brilliantly. I loved the artwork by Giovanni Rigano and I can’t wait to read more books illustrated by him. I hope they make this into a movie.

Have you read ‘Illegal‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘And the Ocean was our Sky‘, when I was browsing in the bookshop last week, and I thought I will gift it to myself as a Christmas present. I started reading it yesterday and finished reading it today.

Call me Bathsheba‘, the narrator says in the first words in the book. Before long, we learn that the narrator is a whale, she is an apprentice in a boat with an all-female hunting crew, and they hunt boats sailed by humans. Captain Alexandra runs the boat and she is an experienced campaigner. We learn subsequently how Bathsheba got into hunting and how her family believed in prophecy. We also learn more about her Captain and the two other apprentices working in the crew, Treasure and Willem. The book takes us through happenings in a whale’s life at sea, their relationship to each other, their love, friendships, rivalries, their relationship to humans and the war they both have waged against each other for centuries. Then we get to know about a mythical creature which is supposedly human, called Toby Wick, which has killed whales in the past, and how whales dream of hunting this strange enemy down. At one point Bathsheba and her crew get a human captive and he gives clues to the whereabouts of the mythical Toby Wick and the whales go on a search of this mythical creature. Do they find this mythical creature? Is it real or a product of their imagination? Do they survive the hunt or is that the end of them? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

If you haven’t guessed it already, ‘And the Ocean was our Sky‘ is inspired by ‘Moby Dick‘. Patrick Ness, of course, turns the Moby Dick story upside down and makes the whale the hunter and tells us the story through the whale’s perspective and ‘Call me Ishmael‘ becomes ‘Call me Bathsheba‘. The result is a brilliant beautiful story which takes us deep into the ocean, makes us fall in love with the ocean currents and creatures and makes us live the life of a whale. It is fascinating. Patrick Ness’ prose zings and there are beautiful passages throughout the book. For example, there is this beautiful passage about prophecy :

“Was it prediction? Had she had a proper vision? Or was it a command, as it so often feels in the case of the prophetic? When you predict the future, when you do so strongly and you cling to it, how much of that future do you then cause to happen?”

And this one :

“We are always saying things like this, us as a people. Prophecy of the purest sort. What does that even mean? If prophecy were pure, it would be fact, but it is not. And yet, how it drives us, even when all I have ever seen is that the only prophecy that has any accuracy – any purity – is the one that self-fulfils.
We should get to the mountains. We should meet our destiny. But was it a disc that made it true? Or our dogged pursuit of it? Will the world end in darkness because it is foretold? Or because there will be those who believe it so strongly they will make it so? In the fear that I always try to hide in my heart, I wonder if there is even a difference.”

And this insightful passage about war :

“I have discussed this with soldiers and they have confirmed to me that’ yes, there are those who romance the hunt the way they romance war; in their safety, they imagine heroism, they imagine a place in history, an invisible pride that won’t feed their children but will raise them above their neighbours; they never imagine the despair; they never imagine the blood and suffering; they never imagine how your heart dies and dies again; I, like nearly every soldier before our wars finally stopped, have taken refuge in a silence so firm it is only the most witless who dare intrude upon it.”

Rovina Cai’s illustrations are exquisitely brilliant and they literally take us into the ocean, making us live a whale’s life. The way the ocean is depicted, the surge of the waves and the currents, the immense size of the whale with respect to humans and ships – it is so beautiful and feels so real. She is as much the author of the book as Patrick Ness. I am sharing below, some of the artwork so that you can experience its beauty for yourself.

And the Ocean was our Sky‘ is a commentary on humans’ relationship to nature, the wars they wage with nature when they should actually consider themselves part of it and embrace it, the devils that the imagination creates and the tragedy that ensues. It is a powerful story beautifully told with exquisite artwork. It is a must read for our contemporary times. I haven’t read Herman Melville’sMoby Dick‘, but it is hard to imagine how he could have improved on this. I can’t wait to find out.

Have you read Patrick Ness’ and Rovina Cai’sAnd the Ocean was our Sky’? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to read an Inspector Morse novel for a long time. I finally got hold of the first book in the series ‘Last Bus to Woodstock‘. The story goes like this. A beautiful young woman, alongwith her friend hitches a ride on a car in the highway. Later in the night she is found dead in the parking lot of a pub. It looks like she has been raped too. Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate. Who the young woman was, where she was going, who had the motive to kill her, who are the suspects, how the secrets are revealed – these form the rest of the story.

Bad News

Well, there is good news and bad news. Bad news first. In any whodunit, I expect many suspects, the detective pursuing one based on clues and then realizing that the clues were false or the detective hits a wall in the investigation, and one thing leads to another, making us want to turn the page. All these are there in the story, but it is not sleek and elegant like in an Agatha Christie story. There are different story strands running here and there seemingly without any focus.When we discover the identity of the murderer in the end, it is so surprising, that we feel that this person has been plonked into the story in the end to shock us. There is also some romance between Inspector Morse and one of the characters and I found it so lame – if a detective falls in love with a new woman in every story, what will happen after the story ends and where does this thing end? This kind of stuff happens only in a Bond novel.

Good News

Now for the good news. The ending is surprising and I couldn’t guess the identity of the murderer. All the story strands get woven together and all the loose ends are tied together at the end with a bow on top. It is wonderful. The conversations between Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis are interesting. I loved Sergeant Lewis – he is that old-fashioned honest policeman who does things in a structured way, by the book, and his struggles to get adjusted to Morse’s unstructured unconventional ways was interesting to read. Sergeant Lewis also speaks one of my favourite lines in the book. It goes like this :

“Do you think I’m wasting your time, Lewis?”
Lewis was nobody’s fool and was a man of some honesty and integrity. “Yes Sir.”

I couldn’t stop laughing when I read that 🙂 And, of course, I fell head over heels in love with Sergeant Lewis.

Beautiful Prose

Colin Dexter’s prose zings time after time and there are many beautiful passages which are a pleasure to read. Like this one :

“He was tormented by the thought that a sequence of events, not in themselves extraordinary, had taken place; that each event was the logical successor of the one before it; that he knew what one or two of these events had been; that if only his mind could project itself into a series of naturally causal relationships, he would have it all. It needed no startling, visionary leap from ignorance to enlightenment. Just a series of logical progressions. But each progression landed him at a dead end, like the drawings in children’s annuals where one thread leads to the treasure and all the others lead to the edge of the page. Start again.”

And this one :

“Morse noticed a copy of Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Villette‘ balancing like a circumflex accent over the arm of her chair.”

And this one :

“… the trouble with murder is that it usually tends to wipe out the only good witness of the crime – the victim.”

And this one :

“For the last four years his uniformed career had been uniformly undistinguished…”

The English Language

There are also interesting commentaries on the English language and they are lovely to read. Like this one :

“Sylvia’s habit of omitting all final ‘t’s seemed irritatingly slack. ‘It’ in Sylvia’s diction was little more than the most indeterminate of vowel sounds, articulated without the slightest hint of a consonantal finale.”

And this one :

“No one in the schools cared much these days about the bread-and-butter mechanisms of English usage. He’d been brought up in the hard school : errors of spelling, punctuation and construction of sentences had been savagely penalized by outraged pedagogues, and this had made its mark on him. He had become pedantic and fussy and thought back on the ill-written travesty of a report he had read from one of his own staff only two days before, when he had mentally totted up the mistakes like an examiner assessing a candidate’s work. ‘Asessing.’ Yes, that was wrong in this letter – among other things. The country was becoming increasingly illiterate – for all the fancy notions of the progressive educationalists.”

Morse also loves solving crosswords and sometimes they are involved in deciphering clues and those parts of the book are wonderful. There is one place, where Morse and Lewis look at the bare evidence they have, take a piece of paper, do a thought experiment and some number crunching, and arrive at a final result and we get a peek into it and it is amazing and magical. It is like Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes’ brother Mycroft sat on the couch in the living room and using their intellect and imagination alone solved a crime. It was awesome.

In many places, Colin Dexter sings an ode to famous lines from famous works of literature, and it is fun to spot them. I am giving some of them in the quiz below. Do tell me whether you can guess the answer.

Quiz

The following sentences from Colin Dexter’s first Inspector Morse novel are inspired by famous sentences from great works of literature. Which ones? Can you guess the original lines? Do share in the comments.

(1) “In the beginning was the thought, and the thought became word and Morse unwrapped the text carefully and read the message.”

(2) “Gone were the flights of angels that had guarded him in sleep.”

I liked the first Inspector Morse novel. Though some aspects of it were not satisfying, other parts of it were wonderful. One of my friends, who is a huge Inspector Morse fan, says that the third novel in the series, ‘The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn‘, is his favourite. I hope to read that sometime.

Have you read ‘Last Bus to Woodstock‘? What do you think about it?

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