Archive for December, 2019

I got Uri Orlev’sThe Man from the Other Side‘ as a Christmas present from one of my favourite friends. I started reading it a couple of days and couldn’t stop till I finished reading it in the wee hours of the morning today.

The story told in the book goes like this. Marek is a fourteen year old boy, who lives in Warsaw with his mother and stepdad. It is the time when the Second World War in on. His own father was captured by the government, years before the war, because he was a communist and was tortured and killed. Marek’s stepdad Antony smuggles food and supplies to the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. He sometimes brings back babies which the Jewish people ask him to give up for adoption at the convent. Antony works as a Superintendent in the department of sanitation and so knows his way around the sewers and that is how he smuggles stuff into the ghetto. At some point Antony asks Marek to help him out in this. While this is happening and Marek gets to know more about Jewish people and their culture and their sufferings, he once discovers a Jewish man at the church. Jewish people are not allowed outside the ghetto and so it is clear that this man is hiding his identity. Marek decides to help him. What happens after that forms the rest of the story.

The Man from the Other Side‘ is set during the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. The events of the story are woven around this historical happening. The book takes us to that period and makes history come alive. We see events unfolding through Marek’s eyes and it is fascinating. Marek has a wonderful, original voice – he is at a stage in life when he is no longer a kid, but he is not yet an adult, and so he has a foot on both the camps. We get to see the important events of this age through the eyes of this fascinating narrator and hear the story through his unique voice. I loved most of the characters in the book, especially Marek, our narrator, Pan Jozek, the Jewish man he tries helping, Marek’s grandmother, who is anti-Semitic, but who undergoes a big transformation through the story, Marek’s mother who is a strong woman, and Marek’s stepfather Antony. The relationship between Pan Jozek and Marek’s grandmother, and Marek and his stepfather, are two of the most beautiful relationships depicted in the book. There is a chapter in the end called ‘The Jews’ Finest Hour’. It gave me goosebumps and it was heartbreaking and it made me cry.

The Man from the Other Side‘ is a beautiful book. It is my last book of the year, and it is one of my favourites of the year. It is out-of-print right now. I hope it comes back in print. It deserves more readers. It is recommended reading for today’s times.

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

“He asked me, “Have you ever been to the seashore?” I never had. It was a long way from Warsaw, although my mother had promised we would go there after the war. I tried to imagine the Wisla without its opposite bank, the way it was on a foggy day. Was that what the ocean looked like? I asked Pan Jozek. He said that it wasn’t. I remember him saying, “A river is a river and an ocean is an ocean. Each has its own beauty, its own sound, its own smell. I love the ocean and I love the Wisla too.”

“Sometimes he would become lucid again for only a few minutes, other times for hours at a time. It might even last a few days, as if there was nothing wrong with him. When that happened he was shocked by how much time he had lost, because he couldn’t remember a thing since he had last lost track of himself. Everything in between was wiped out, whether it was a few days, a week, or several weeks. He would sit up and wonder what had happened to all that time and ask how the war was getting on.”

“Today, when I try to remember how much time all this took, I don’t seem able to. The actual minutes spent shooting and throwing grenades couldn’t have been that many, but each one passed so slowly that I can remember exactly what everyone around me was doing, whereas the long hours of waiting between one burst of action and the next have contracted to almost nothing in my memory.”

Have you read ‘The Man from the Other Side‘? What do you think about it?

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I was looking for a book to read during Christmas Eve and I thought I’ll read a Christmas-y book. ‘Let it Snow‘ leapt at me. I have had it for years – after I read John Green’sThe Fault in Our Stars‘, I went and got every book that had John Green’s name on it. But I hadn’t read it yet, and now I felt that the time has arrived.

Let it Snow‘ is subtitled ‘Three Holiday Romances‘. It has three romances set during Christmas-time. The three romances can be read as three different stories, but they all happen in and around the same town. They are all interlinked though, and a minor character or a character who is just inside the edges of the frame in one story is the main character or the narrator in the other. I won’t tell you more about the stories. You should read the book to find out more.

I don’t read much YA literature now. There was a time I went through a YA phase, when I read a lot of YA books. I used to ask friends for recommendations and discover new YA writers. But then that phase passed and I didn’t read as many YA books as before. These days I just read books by two of my friends who are YA writers. One of them publishes a new book every two years. Her previous book came out last year. Her new book is coming out soon. I am looking forward to that. My second YA writer friend last published a book six years back. I don’t know when her next book is coming out. I occasionally read a YA book that someone highly recommends. That is how I discovered the wonderful Tschick‘ by Wolfgang Herrndorf, this year. But otherwise, I don’t read YA much.

Let it Snow‘ made me remember why we all love YA books so much. Especially, the first story in the book, ‘The Jubilee Express‘ by Maureen Johnson. The prose in that story is cool and stylish and makes us smile. There is not a single dull sentence. There is no unnecessary word. The narrator is a cool and nerdy girl with an interesting sense of humour and we are totally in her team. That story was wonderful and exceptional and I didn’t want it to end. After reading that story, I wondered why I haven’t heard of Maureen Johnson before, why I haven’t read her stories before, why she is not as famous as John Green or Rainbow Rowell. Because she is good, really good. I want to read more stories by her. The second story in the book is by John Green and we expect that, because he is a celebrity YA writer, he will raise the book to greater heights. But the book suffers a huge, unexpected, sophomore slump there and we keep wondering, “Is this really a John Green story?” That story has its nice parts, but still…In the third story, Lauren Myracle tries to salvage the book and bring back its earlier glory and succeeds partially.

But on the whole, the book succeeds admirably. It has three Christmas romances and they all have wonderful, engaging stories, and beautiful, satisfying endings, and they provided lots of delight to this particular reader, during this holiday season. I loved it. It is a great book to read in winter, in front of a crackling fire, with your dog sitting nestled against you gazing at the fire in wonder, or your cat sitting on your lap purring in her sleep, and you thinking about your great love and smiling to yourself.

Have you read ‘Let it Snow‘? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to read ‘Jeremiah‘ ever since I discovered it, because it was written and illustrated by one of my favourite Belgian artists, Hermann. I finally got around to reading the first omnibus volume.

The volume I read had the first three comics in the series. The story is set in America, in a post-apocalyptical world, which has resulted probably because of a nuclear war. It looks like people are back in the nineteenth century. Jeremiah is a young man who lives in a village, who is noble, innocent and naive. He meets Kurdy, who is streetsmart and who is aware of the ways of the world. The stories follow the adventures of these two as they get entangled into one event after another. Hermann said in an interview that he worked on many Westerns before he created ‘Jeremiah’ and we can see that influence here, because the story is filled with lots of Western elements.

There is good news and bad news. The good news first. The main characters are interesting and well-developed. The dialogue is interesting and humorous. The places where the events of the story happen have been depicted so beautifully. And the most important thing, of course. The artwork. Hermann has a very distinctive style, and that is the reason I love his art. That distinctive style, the vintage Hermann artwork is unfurled in all its glory here. It is beautiful and exquisite. The colours are vivid and spectacular. It is a pleasure to look at every panel. I loved it.

Now the bad news. I found all the stories mostly middling. They started off well and were fascinating till around one-third of the way but after that they meandered away into some kind complexity which was hard to understand, because the story started with so much promise. In the first story, the villain was a cartoonish character which was disappointing. In the third story, I felt that the story didn’t fit into the spirit of the series and at some point the story became too complex for its own good. I liked the second story the best – it was like an old-fashioned Western.

I am hoping that the plot will improve as we venture deeper into the series. I have the second volume of this series too, and I hope to read it sometime soon.

I am sharing some pages of the book so that you can get a feel for its artwork.

Have you read the ‘Jeremiah‘ series? What do you think about it? Do you like Belgian comics?

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I read a little bit of ‘The Lost Dutchman’s Mine’ by Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean ‘Mœbius’ Giraud many years back. I remember liking it very much, but it was very long compared to the other comics I used to read – the typical comic that I read at that time was between 32 and 62 pages long, while this one was around 100 pages long – and so I got distracted halfway through and never got around to finishing it. I finally picked it up again today, and finished reading it in one sitting.

The Lost Dutchman’s Mine‘ is one of the famous stories in the Blueberry series. In this story Blueberry is temporarily stationed in a town in Arizona to help in upholding the law. His friend and assistant, the old man Jimmy, is his deputy. There is a brawl in the bar and two people are trying to kill each other. Blueberry stops the fight, and a rrests one of the people involved. The fight seems to be about a goldmine in the land of Apaches that this man has discovered. No one believes this man, but then one thing leads to another, strange men come to the town looking for this man, and before long, both the good guys and the bad are on their way to this mythical goldmine filled with secret treasure. What happens after that forms the rest of the story.

The Lost Dutchman’s Mine‘ is an old-fashioned Western. There is a small town, there is the desert, there is the mountain, there is a bar brawl, there are horse-riders-chasing scenes, there are Apaches, there is secret treasure – all the enjoyable elements of a classic Western are present. It is intricately plotted, the action moves at a beautiful pace, there are twists and turns and there is a surprising revelation at the end. The artwork by Jean ‘Mœbius’ Giraud is very interesting and unique and received a lot of acclaim when this book and the Blueberry series first came out, because of its realistic portrayal of the places and characters.

I enjoyed reading ‘The Lost Dutchman’s Mine‘. I didn’t love it as much as I had hoped to – I really loved the first part when I read it the first time years back but it didn’t have the same impact on me now – but I still enjoyed reading it. I am glad I finally read it and I got to finish the book. Jean ‘Mœbius’ Giraud’s artwork is an acquired taste – my favourite Belgian comic artists are William Vance and Hermann – but hopefully one day I’ll be able to appreciate it better.

I am sharing some of the pages of the book so that you can get a feel for the story and the artwork. If you want to read the book, you can find it here.

Have you read ‘The Lost Dutchman’s Mine‘? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to read ‘Batchalo‘ by Michaël Le Galli and Arnaud Bétend, for a long time, and today I took it down from my bookshelf and read it in one breath.

In February 1939, a caravan of Tzigane gypsies (Hungarian gypsies) come and camp in the outskirts of a small village in Bohemia. They visit that village regularly to sell the beautiful stuff they make. But this time, a couple of children in the village go missing. The villagers suspect the tziganes. When the villages visit the tziganes to ask about it, they discover that the tziganes are closing camp and leaving. This leads to suspicions that the tziganes might have stolen their children. But after some questioning, the tziganes reveal that some of their own children who have been playing with the village children have gone missing too, and so they are going in search of the missing children. The village policeman, Josef, who is also the narrator of the story, joins them, because his own son is one of the missing children. What adventures befall the tziganes and Josef? Are they able to find the missing children? The answers to these are revealed in the rest of the story.

Batchalo‘ is a beautiful, poignant, heartbreaking story. It is an account of the life and the culture and the mythology of the gypsies – a community who don’t belong to any country, who have their own culture and beliefs, and who believe in freedom and living under the open sky – how the Nazis try suppressing them, and what happens in the aftermath. We see the events unfolding through the eyes of Josef, the policeman. Though I liked Josef, my favourite character was Silenka, the gypsy medicine woman and witch who takes Josef under her wing. She is strong, inspiring, fearless, and speaks her mind. The sepia-tinted artwork by Arnaud Bétend is exquisite and is a visual treat which sets a melancholic, atmospheric tone to the story. I read that it took him four years to complete the artwork featured in the book.

I loved ‘Batchalo‘. It is one of my favourite graphic novels. I want to read more about the European gypsy community and the Tzigane community now. I am sharing the first few pages of the book, so that you can get a feel for its artwork and atmospheric tone.

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

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