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Archive for the ‘Book Arrival’ Category

I stumbled upon Bernhard Schlink’sThe Woman on the Stairs‘ recently. I haven’t read a book by him in a while and so I thought I’ll read this now for German Literature Month hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life.

The narrator of the story is a German lawyer. He is in Sydney on a  work-related trip. During a break from work, he goes to the art gallery. He is surprised when he sees a painting there called ‘The Woman on the Stairs’. We discover that there are mysterious past events that connect him to the painting and the people related to it. Our lawyer tries to find out who owns the painting, but hits a dead end. Then he hires a detective to find that out. What happens after that, when our lawyer goes on a quest for a secret from his past and tries to find the mysterious woman in the painting forms the rest of the story.

I don’t want to tell you anything more on the plot, but I can’t resist saying this. The next passage is my own opinion, but I think it is also spoiler-ish. Thought I’ll warn you in advance 😊

The Woman on the Stairs‘ is a beautiful homage to Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler and ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’. It is a beautiful love letter to Irene Adler. Atleast that is what I think. What happens when, after many years, Sherlock Holmes stumbles upon a clue and goes on a quest for Irene Adler? What if Sherlock Holmes is not a detective but a lawyer? What if it is not Bohemia of the 19th century but the Germany of the contemporary era? And what if Irene Adler is, well Irene Adler? 😊 Well, this is the story we get. It is beautiful. I loved it.

I had forgotten how much I liked Bernhard Schlink till I read this book. I loved his books, ‘The Reader‘ and ‘Homecoming‘, and some of the stories I read in ‘Flights of Love‘. Then I read his book ‘The Weekend‘ and hated it and I stopped reading Bernhard Schlink. Now I realize that he was probably having a bad day when he wrote ‘The Weekend’. Because his stories are consistently good. His prose is spare, his sentences are short. Every sentence moves the plot. There is no superfluous sentence, no wasted word. Occasionally there is a beautiful passage. Perfect reading if you don’t want to tax your brain too much, but want to relax and enjoy the story, and read the occasional beautiful paragraph. This book had all this, it was vintage Schlink. He has written one more book after this, ‘Olga‘. It looks fascinating. I want to read that soon.

This particular passage in the book made me smile 😊

“In our family, we did, and still do things by the book: no loud fights, no love fests or orgies of joy, no lazing about, as much work as possible, as much rest as necessary; day is day and night is night.”

When I was a kid, this was how my family was – no loud fights, spoke in low tones, didn’t show happiness or sadness or anger in an explicit way. I remember when my dad got angry, he spoke in a low menacing voice and it sent a chill down our spines. My sister, who was never scared of anyone, even she was scared of him at that time. All this changed when I got older. Now, I scream when I get angry at home  I scream when I am filled with joy, especially when watching a sporting event on TV – when Leyla Fernandez is match point down and she hits a delicate drop volley, or when Barbora Krejcikova is set point down and she hits a flowing forehand winner, or when Mohammed Hafeez delicately teases a ball between two fielders to the boundary and Alan Wilkins says on commentary – “Professor Hafeez is playing chess with his cricket bat…He is toying with the bowling with the delicacy of a surgeon” – I can’t stop screaming when I see that 😊 I love lazing about sometimes (or many times 😊) not doing anything, I rest a lot sometimes but do with very less rest on most days. And last but not not the least, day is night and night is day in these parts 😆 It is like night owl has gone rogue here 😆 I used to be the guy who followed all these rules, and now I’ve broken every one of them that it makes me smile 😊

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

“I read about the history of Australia, the convicts in chains, the settlers, the land grant companies, the gold miners, the Chinese. The Aborigines who died first from infections, then from being massacred, and then had their children taken away. The taking was well intentioned, it brought tremendous suffering to both parents and children. My wife would have nodded; she liked to say that the opposite of good is not evil, but good intentions. But the opposite of evil is not evil intentions, but good.”

“I sat back down on the bench. Should I go to the firm? I could still put in a day’s work. I didn’t want to. When, in the Botanic Garden, I remembered that morning by the river, it occurred to me that I had never done that again, fritter away a day. Of course, with my fiancée, then wife, and then with my children, there were days when I didn’t work. But on those days I did what I owed my fiancée, my wife and children, what served our health, education, togetherness. Pleasant activities, certainly, and a nice change of pace from work. But just to sit, and watch the world go by, and close my eyes against the sun, and daydream hour after hour, to find a restaurant with good food and wine, take a little walk, then find another place to sit and watch, and close my eyes against the sun, and dream – I did that only that day, and now again in Sydney.”

“The wind felt weird. It came without clouds, and without rain; it had no right to show off, but it did. It did not blow on me, but around me and through me and let me know how frail I was, as it let the house feel how fragile it was.”

“It takes many masons to build the cathedral of justice; some hew blocks, others carve plinths and cornices, still others, ornaments and statues. They are all equally important to the project: prosecution and defence are as important as judgement; the drafting of rental, employment and inheritance contracts is as important as the implementation of mergers and acquisitions; the lawyer for the rich as important as the lawyer for the poor. The cathedral would still rise without my contribution. It would rise without this cornice, or that ornament, but still they are part of it.”

“Or is it the small defeats that we can’t get over? The first tiny scratch on a new car is more painful than a big one later on. The small splinters are harder to remove than the big ones and sometimes won’t come out however much you poke them with a needle, and they fester until they work their way out. The big early defeats change the course of our lives. The small ones don’t change us, but they stay with us and torment us, little thorns in our side.”

Have you read ‘The Woman on the Stairs‘? Which is your favourite Bernhard Schlink book?

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After getting all my Everyman Library books together, I was tempted and ordered one more. One thing led to another, as it always happens with these things, and in the space of a week, I had nearly doubled the size of my Everyman collection 😆 Finally, I had to force myself to get off book shopping, before I made more impulsive buys.

These are the books I got.

(1) Julio Cortázar omnibus – It has his most famous novel ‘Hopscotch‘ and two short story collections. I’ve heard Cortázar’s name before, but it was just a name. When I discovered what ‘Hopscotch’ was about, I got goosebumps. I don’t know what it is about Latin American authors – the kind of innovations they have done in storytelling, you read the first page and you know that you are in the presence of greatness. Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar. Such amazing geniuses. I keep wondering where they get their inspiration from. They suddenly come out of nowhere and then produce magic, the likes of which has never been seen before.  I read a couple of short stories from Cortázar’s book and they are wonderful. I can’t wait to read ‘Hopscotch’. I think later literary experimenters like Italo Calvino and the more recent Mark Danielewski can just step aside, because this is the original master, the real master.

(2) Penelope Fitzgerald, two omnibuses – These two omnibuses have three novels each. Penelope Fitzgerald had a fascinating life. Till she turned sixty, she lived like the rest of us – went to work, got married, had kids, took care of her family. Then when she turned sixty, she decided that she had had enough of the normal life and started writing novels. For the next two decades she wrote amazing stuff and won awards and critical acclaim. She is a huge inspiration, especially for those of us who are closet writers, artists, musicians. Maybe we can pursue our calling after we turn sixty. There is still hope. I’m so excited to read her books.

(3) A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley – I’ve wanted to read Jane Smiley’s contemporary reimagining of the King Lear story for a long time. Looking forward to getting into it soon.

(4) Lucky Per by Henrik Pontoppidan – Henrik Pontoppidan is mostly forgotten outside his native Denmark today, but he won the Nobel Prize for literature during his prime, and this is his greatest work. Pontoppidan is part of a long line of great Danish writers who created wonderful literary works, from Henrik Ibsen to Tove Ditlevsen to Karen Blixen to Peter Høeg to Dorothe Nors to Linda Skaaret whose recent novel ‘Fugl Og Fisk‘ (‘Bird and Fish‘) is getting great critical acclaim right now. I am glad I discovered Pontoppidan’s most famous book. I can’t wait to read it.

(5) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh – Two of my friends said on successive days that they are reading Evelyn Waugh’s most  celebrated novel. I haven’t read it yet, and I couldn’t resist getting it.

(6) The Baburnama by Babur – This memoir by the founder of the Mughal empire has been around for a while, for nearly five centuries. It predates Rousseau’s ‘Confessions’ by more than two centuries. It is hard to believe that something like this exists – a tell-all memoir by a king. This edition has a beautiful introduction by William Dalrymple. I can’t wait to read it.

(7) Praeterita by John Ruskin – The Latin title of the memoir of England’s most famous art critic was beautiful and irresistible. I hope it is great inside too.

(8) The Histories by Herodotus – I debated for a while whether to get this or not. Herodotus’ most famous book is available for free on the internet. It is out of copyright, of course, because it is nearly 2500 years old. But after contemplating on it for a bit, I succumbed to temptation. There is no greater pleasure than holding a thick hardback edition of an ancient classic in your hand, and turning over its pages, and taking in its wise words. I don’t know when I’ll read this properly, but I’m planning to read the introduction soon and dip into the book and see what is there.

I have ordered one more book, The Collected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick. It is published by NYRB and so it is prohibitively expensive, but I managed to order a pre-loved edition from the secondhand bookshop at an affordable price. But I’m not expecting it to arrive, because secondhand bookshops are notorious in my place for not keeping their word – if they find out that a book is valuable after an order has been placed for it, they either surreptitiously send a different book in its stead or cancel the order. So I am expecting either of this. By some miracle if the book arrives, I’ll report back soon.

I am most excited about the Julio Cortázar and Penelope Fitzgerald books and those are the ones I am planning to read first.

So these are the new book arrivals at my place 😊  Did you buy any new books recently?

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Well, it is Christmas time and what makes us happier than new books 😊 This year after resisting temptation for most of the year and buying books only occasionally, I couldn’t resist it anymore and the dam broke, and I went crazy 😁 I blame it on the holiday season – something in the air makes us let our guard down. This is the second part of the new book arrivals.

(1) The Lonely City by Olivia Laing – I got this as a present from one of my favourite friends. It looks very beautiful. I don’t know whether Laing focuses on the pain of loneliness or on the bliss of solitude. I hope it is the second one. I can’t wait to read it. I got a beautiful cat bookmark too 😊

(2) Two Brian Dillon books – I included Brian Dillon’s ‘Suppose a Sentence‘ in my previous post. Couldn’t resist featuring it here too. I also got his memoir ‘In the Dark Room‘ and his famous ‘Essayism‘ (not featured here, but in my Kindle)

(3) The Years by Annie Ernaux – I have wanted to get Ernaux’ memoir for a while. It is all the rage these days, and I can’t wait to read it. I’m happy that at the grand age of eighty, she has become a literary superstar.

(4) Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis – This was an impulse buy. It looked funny and I couldn’t resist it. It will be my first Kingsley Amis book when I read it.

(5) Lotte in Weimar by Thomas Mann – More Thomas Mann 😊 This one is a fictionalized imagining of the grown-up Lotte going to meet Goethe. I can’t wait to read it.

(6) Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves – After reading Edmund Blunden’s First World War memoir, I decided to get Graves’ more famous one. Just started it. It is wonderful.

(7) Night of the Restless Spirits by Sarbpreet Singh – This is a collection of stories set during the 1984 riots in Delhi. This is one of the most shameful, violent and tragic episodes in recent Indian history, and this book promises to be heartbreaking.

(8) Spirit of Cricket by Mike Brearley – Brearley’s newest book. He was one of the great cricket captains during his time, and is one of the finest cricket writers now. He is one of my favourite writers and I can’t wait to read this.

(9) A Sound Mind by Paul Morley – This was highly recommended by Kaggsy (You can find her short review here and longer review here). I love books on classical music and this promises to be interesting. I am looking forward to long pleasurable hours of reading the book and listening to the classical music compositions that it recommends. I also went and got Morley’s memoir ‘The North‘ (on the Kindle, so not featured here).

Have you read any of these books? What do you think about them? What books did you buy or did you get as presents for Christmas?

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It is Christmas season and I decided to splurge on books 😁 These are not exactly Christmas reading (another reason to buy more books, of the Christmas-y type, soon – Yay!), but I was very excited when I got them today.

Arch of Triumph by Erich Maria Remarque – I loved Remarque’s classic war novel ‘All Quiet on the Western Front‘ and his novel on the Second World War, ‘A Time to Love and a Time to Die‘. Most of his novels are on a war theme, but they are all beautiful. ‘Arch of Triumph’ was recommended to me by Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’ and I can’t wait to read it. I wish they had retained the original title though – ‘Arc de Triomphe‘ sounds better, much better.

Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann – I am reading Thomas Mann’s ‘The Magic Mountain‘. Mann’s long sentences are beautifully sculpted, they are from a different, more beautiful literary era, and they are an absolute pleasure to read. ‘Buddenbrooks‘ is his first novel. The edition I got is 850 pages long – longer than ‘The Magic Mountain’ (who writes a first novel which is 850 pages long??) – but the font is big and I am so tempted to get started immediately.

Confessions of Felix Krull by Thomas Mann – This was recommended to me by Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’. The first sentence itself is vintage Mann, long and sizzling and a beautiful work of art. Looking forward to reading it soon.

Suppose a Sentence by Brian Dillon – I have wanted to read Brian Dillon’s books for a while. I thought I’ll start with this. Dillon loves words and sentences and essays and sharing his love for these beautiful things, and this book promises to be a delightful reading experience. Kaggsy from ‘Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings’ wrote a beautiful review of this book, which I loved. You can find her review here.

A Month in the Country by J.L.Carr – A month back, I hadn’t heard of J.L.Carr. Then I discovered this book. It is slim at less than a hundred pages, and it promises to be beautiful. It is amazing how we have never heard of a writer and one day we discover that writer by accident, and we wonder why we haven’t read their beautiful works before.

Have you read any of these books? What do you think about them?

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I was doing some book browsing online a few days back and discovered this series called ‘The Theoretical Minimum‘ by Leonard Susskind (and George Hrabovsky and Art Friedman). Leonard Susskind is one of the founders of String Theory, and I am always excited when a scientist takes time off to write a book on science for the general reader.

This series covers many of the important parts of physics, the ones we are excited about, as readers and science lovers. More volumes in the series are on the way. This book series evolved from a series of lectures that Leonard Susskind gave at Stanford for normal people who were interested in physics, but who were not pursuing any program at the university.

In terms of accessibility for the general reader, the books don’t shy away from equations and look more challenging than Bill Bryson’sA Short History of Nearly Everything’ or George Gamov’s Mr.Tompkins series or Christophe Galfard’sThe Universe in Your Hand‘. But I hate to admit this – this series seems to be more accessible than my favourite scientist Roger Penrose’sThe Road to Reality‘. The authors say that the mathematics included is as simple as possible, but no simpler, so that we can appreciate the beauty of Physics through her sister Mathematics’ eyes. That is the reason the series is called ‘The Theoretical Minimum‘. It sounded very appealing to me.

Hoping to get started soon. So excited!

Sharing the pictures of the back covers to give you a feel for the books.

Which is / are your favourite books on physics / science?

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After nearly two-and-a-half months, I got a taxi today and went out. Got some work done and then went to the bookshop. I spent an hour browsing. I realized I missed these browsing sessions so much. There was a time I used to go to the bookshop every week. Then when I started to buy books online, and later when my book buying went down because of the hundreds of unread books at home, I stopped my regular visits to the bookshop. Today, I felt that I had travelled back in time. It was so beautiful. I got a few books, and a chocolate, and had the chocolate on the way. Then went to a nearby restaurant, got a piping hot coffee through their takeaway service and enjoyed the coffee outside. Then I came back home. It was a beautiful day, filled with simple joys 😊

These are the books I got.

The Forest of Wool and Steel‘ was recommended by a friend. It looks beautiful and I can’t wait to read it. I am also excited about ‘Difficult Women‘. It promises to be a fascinating take on feminist history. ‘Parker Pyne Investigates‘ was recommended by another friend, who said that it had unusual stories with happy endings. I can’t wait to read this unusual book by Christie. I didn’t know that Dickens wrote a history book. I read the first page and it looks very interesting. Can’t wait to get started on these books.

How was your day?

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This is my fourth book for Diverse Detectives Month hosted by WOCReads. I read ‘Kolaiyudhir Kalam‘ (= Murder Season) by Sujatha, for the first time, when I was a teenager. It was one my favourite detective mysteries then. I had forgotten most of the story since, including who was the bad guy 🙂 So I thought it was a good time to read it again.

The story told in ‘Kolaiyudhir Kalam‘ goes like this. Lawyer Ganesh and his assistant Vasanth are hired to look at some estate documents and see whether there are any problems with respect to the title and ownership. The owner of the estate is a young woman called Leena, who is going to turn eighteen. Her parents have passed. Her uncle is her guardian now and has been managing the estate on her behalf. On her eighteenth birthday he will be handing over the estate to her. But when the lawyer duo stay at the estate for a couple days, strange things start happening, voices are heard in unoccupied rooms and there seems to be a ghost near the lake. And there is a legend behind the ghost – she seems to an ancestor of Leena, the young woman who owns the estate – and the legend says that the ghost is out to seek revenge. And before long someone is dead. And the dead person’s body disappears. And both our heroes are beaten up by a probable supernatural being. Is it really a ghost which is doing all these bad things? Or is it some good old plain vanilla human beings who are doing these bad things out of greed? Who will benefit by these strange happenings? Is Leena’s life in danger? Are out lawyer-detectives able to find the mystery behind all this? You have to read the story to find out.

Re-reading ‘Kolaiyudhir Kalam‘ was an enjoyable experience. I had forgotten the story completely and so couldn’t guess the revelation in the end. Sujatha does a Hitchcock and kills the main suspect halfway through the story and after that it is a roller coaster ride and it becomes harder to guess the ending. There are many popcultural and literary references throughout the story – like a quote from an O’Henry story, the Bruce Lee movie ‘The Return of the Dragon’, the Frederick Forsyth novel ‘The Devil’s Alternative’, a description of a plot revelation from a Tamilvanan novel (one of my favourite Tamil crime fiction writers), Inspector Jacques Clouseau, Agatha Christie – it was fun to spot all these. I don’t think I spotted or appreciated most of these when I read the book the first time, all those years ago.

I enjoyed reading ‘Kolaiyudhir Kalam‘ again. It didn’t resonate with me as much as it did to my teenage self, but it was an enjoyable read nevertheless. After reading the book I wondered whether I had grown out of Sujatha books. But then I remembered that I read the collected plays of Sujatha sometime back and it deeply resonated with me and I loved it. So there is hope yet.

Have you read Sujatha’sKolaiyudhir Kalam‘? What do you think about it?

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This is the first book I am reading for Diverse Detectives Month hosted by WoCReads. (Or rather the first three books 🙂 )

I decided to start with a book which had a collection of Byomkesh Bakshi mysteries. After finishing one book, I decided to read another and then another. I think there are only three translated collections of Byomkesh Bakshi mysteries in English. Now I have read them all. The three books I read were ‘Picture Imperfect‘, ‘The Menagerie‘ and ‘The Rhythm of Riddles‘. The first two were translated by Sreejata Guha, who was probably the first to translate Byomkesh Bakshi mysteries into English twenty years back, and then continued translating other Bengali classics into English. The third book was translated by Arunava Sinha, who is the current doyen of Bengali-English translators. The first book had seven stories, the second one four, and the third one three – that is fourteen stories in all. The first collection mostly had stories from the first part of Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s career, from 1932 to 1937. The second collection had stories from the second part of his career, from 1952 onwards. The last story in the second collection was written in 1967.

Byomkesh Bakshi was one of the first Indian fictional detectives. The first Byomkesh Bakshi mystery appeared in 1932 and the last one in 1969. There was a break of fifteen years between 1937 and 1952, when Saradindu Bandyopadhyay went to write screenplays for Bollywood, but he came back and continued from where he left off. While reading the stories, it is hard not to spot similarities between Byomkesh and Sherlock Holmes – the way the character gets introduced first, the way the narrator Ajit and Byomkesh become roommates. There is even a police officer similar to Lestrade who creates problems for Byomkesh. Sometimes, Byomkesh wakes up Ajit in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, to go out on a mission. He doesn’t say, “Wake up, Ajit! The game is afoot!” though. However, as we read more stories, we discover that the two series diverge, because Byomkesh and his friend Ajit are quintessentially Indian and Bengali. In many stories, at some point we can make a list of suspects, and typically the culprit is one of them. But it is hard to guess who. Saradindu Bandyopadhyay almost never cheats, by bringing an unknown character from outside the main cast, and declaring him / her as the culprit. Which is a wonderful thing. There are beautiful, humorous passages in many of the stories, and though things get lost in translation (which is one of the essential aspects of humour, that it gets lost in translation), the humour typically peeps out through the translated English sentences and is a pleasure to read.

Some of the stories in the book are short, but others are long, while some approach the length of a novella. I liked the stories from both the time periods, but I think I liked the longer stories more than the shorter ones. In one story, which runs to more than a hundred pages, called ‘The Quills of the Porcupine‘, Byomkesh Bakshi and Ajit come only in the beginning and in the end. The middle, which is the biggest part of the story, features a young couple who are newly married, and describes how their relationship evolves. If we remove the mystery aspect of the story, it almost reads like the story told in one of my favourite Tamil movies, ‘Mouna Ragam‘. I wonder whether Maniratnam just lifted Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s story (maybe from its film adaptation), made some changes to it and called it ‘Mouna Ragam’. If that is true, then it will be one more case of a famous Tamil movie being a copycat of another. I feel sad just contemplating on it. The longest story in the book is ‘The Menagerie‘, which runs to more than 150 pages. It has a complex plot with many murders and suspects and an ending which is hard to guess. It was made into a famous movie by Satyajit Ray, and I want to watch that sometime.

I enjoyed reading these three Byomkesh Bakshi mystery collections. It was interesting to read about India of a different time, and about this famous detective, or truth-seeker as he called himself, and how he discovered the truth about strange happenings, and how he brought bad guys to book, with a little help from friends. There is an acclaimed TV adaptation of the Byomkesh Bakshi stories starring Rajat Kapoor. I think I have watched one or two episodes of it. I hope to watch it properly one of these days.

Have you read Byomkesh Bakshi stories? What do you think about them? Which ones are your favourites?

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I have been eagerly looking forward to October, because it is Diverse Detectives Month hosted by Bina from If You Can Read This and Silicon from Silicon of the Internet. The phrase ‘Diverse Detectives’ is used in the sense that the detective in question is not a regular detective like Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple, but someone who is a person of colour (African, African-American, Chinese, Japanese, East Asian, Latin American, Persian, Arab, Native American, Indian etc.) or / and someone who is gay or who has a fluid sexual orientation, or LGBTQIA+ as the current acronym for that goes. I think it is easier to find the first kind of detective. It is hard to find the second kind. I will look forward to finding out what books other participants read especially with respect to the second kind of detective. I remember Pierce Brosnan saying sometime back that it was time for a black Bond, it was time for a gay Bond. I don’t know whether Bond will ever become black and / or gay, but I can definitely say that diverse detectives have arrived, if you look at the suggested reading list for the event.

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One of the fun parts of participating in a reading event is making reading plans. I always love making reading plans. Whether I stick to the plan or not is another matter 😂 I had a lot of fun making plans for this event. When my constantly evolving reading list finally took shape, I was so excited. Here it is. I am hoping to read some of these books over the next month. I divided the list into three parts as you can see.

In English

(1) The Walter Mosley Omnibus, comprising, Devil in a Blue Dress, A Red Death and White Butterfly

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I got this book years back at an Indian version of the Parisian bouqiniste, or a platform bookshop, as we affectionately call it here. I had heard of Walter Mosley a few days back and as such things happen, a few days later the book leapt at me when I was browsing. The blue, red and white in the titles makes me think of the French national flag and its meaning and the Colours trilogy directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. I don’t know whether Walter Mosley was trying to say something there. I loved the fact that these three colours are featured in the cover – I am sure that was intentional. I read the first few lines of the book and I am thinking that Walter Mosley might be the African-American Raymond Chandler and his detective Easy Rawlings might be the African-American Philip Marlowe. I will know when I finish reading the book.

(2) The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

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I have wanted to read this book for years. Can you believe that I haven’t read a single Alexander McCall Smith book? Time to remedy that. Can’t wait to read about the adventures of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s finest detective.

(3) The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill

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One of my favourite friends gifted this book to me a while back and I have wanted to read it since. It features the seventy two year old coroner Dr.Siri Paiboun and is set in Laos. It promises to be a lot of fun.

(4) Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely

I first discovered this book through Eva from The Charm of It. And before I knew it, I started spotting it everywhere, like in the Diverse Detectives reading recommendations and Bina’s TBR list. It features the detective adventures of Blanche, who is a plump, fiesty, African-American housekeeper – how can one resist that.

In Translation

(5) Four Short Stories by Jorge Luis BorgesDeath and the Compass, Tlön, Uqbar and Orbis Tertius, The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim, A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quaint

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I have read just one story of Borges before. I have read that he was a master at taking a traditional detective story and turning it on its head. ‘Death and the Compass‘ is supposed to be the most famous of his ‘detective’ stories. I can’t wait to read that one and the others.

(6) Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong

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I have had this book for years, since my Chinese days. I have never read a detective mystery set in China and so am very excited.

(7) Three Byomkesh Bakshi books (Picture Imperfect, The Menagerie, The Rhythm of Riddles) by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay

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These stories featuring the Indian detective Byomkesh Bakshi first appeared in the 1930s, and were originally written in Bengali. They are quite famous in India  and have been adapted for TV. My Bengali friends rave about them and I can’t wait to read them.

(8) The Complete Adventures of Feluda by Satyajit Ray

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Satyajit Ray is one of India’s greatest filmmakers. But like many other artists, he was a man of many talents, and one of them was writing mysteries featuring the detective Feluda. The original stories were written in Bengali and first appeared in the 1960s and have delighted generations of Bengali readers, young and old alike. The collected Feluda stories come to around 1600 pages and I wouldn’t be able to read them all in one go. Hopefully I will be able to read some of them.

Not Available in Translation

Time to look at some of the books in my language, Tamil 🙂

(9) Manimozhi, Forget Me by Tamilvanan

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I read my first Tamilvanan book when I was in my preteens and promptly fell in love with his works. Tamilvanan was probably the greatest detective mystery / crime fiction writer in Tamil in the twentieth century. He wrote from the ’50s to the late ’70s. He started his career writing literary fiction, but after a not-very-impressive start he shifted to crime fiction. (I don’t know why he didn’t hit it off as a literary fiction writer, because I have read his literary fiction and it is pretty good.) One of the fascinating things about Tamilvanan was his prose. He wrote Tamil which didn’t have the slant of any regional dialect. It didn’t have any English words. It wasn’t the way anyone spoke. It was the ideal version of Tamil, somewhat like the ideal version of the Queen’s English or the Parisian French. It was an absolute pleasure to read. I remember spending many an hour of my teen years taking in the delightful pleasures of Tamilvanan’s prose. Tamilvanan wrote books which spanned the complete range of crime fiction – detective mysteries, noir crime and every other genre in between. Half of his stories featured two detectives and the other half were standalone crime novels. His main detective was called Shankarlal. He was a combination of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and James Bond – sometimes he would go to the crime scene and collect evidence and look for clues like Holmes did, at other times he would call everyone and sit inside a house and run thought experiments and solve the mystery like Poirot did and at other times he would be travelling to exotic locales and would be speeding away on boats with a damsel-in-distress in tow with the villains chasing them. When I think about it now, it all seems illogical and unbelievable, but when I read these books, I loved all the different facets of this detective hero. Tamilvanan was the inspiration for all the detective mystery / crime writers in Tamil who followed him. I don’t know how many books he wrote, but I think I have around a hundred of his books, all stocked up for a rainy day. Most of his books went out of print, and I got some of the last copies available. These days, his publishers are trying to bring some of his famous works back into print, which is great. ‘Manimozhi, Forget Me‘ is a crime novel. A father one day calls his twenty-something daughter and tells her that he is not the good guy she thinks he is, and bad guys are going to kill him, and he asks her to leave town. What he is, really, and what happens to the daughter forms the rest of the story. I read it the first time years back and it was gripping and page-turning like the best detective/ crime fiction is and I loved it. I can’t wait to read it again.

(10) The Sea Mystery by Tamilvanan

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My english translation of the title doesn’t really say anything about the story. I still remember the first scene – a man hires a boat in the night to take him to a ship, which is at the outer anchorage. While the boat is waiting quietly this man boards the ship. Ten minutes later he comes running across the ship’s deck being chased by gunmen, jumps from the ship onto the waiting boat and the boat speeds off to safety. It was a scene straight from a Bond movie. I loved it when I first read it. I can’t remember much of the story now except for that first scene. I hope to read it again and rediscover it.

(11) Detective Sambu by Devan

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Devan was the Tamil Dickens. He wrote books about everyday middle class people, his descriptions of life were realistic and authentic and his stories were told with lots of humour. This is one of his famous works. Sambu is a clerk in a bank. He is forty years old. His boss calls him an idiot – in the sense, when his boss wants to speak to him, he tells his secretary – ‘Call that idiot.’ Sambu is frustrated with his life and his career, when one day surprising things happen. How this clerk becomes a detective – I can’t wait to find that.

(12) The Murderous Autumn by Sujatha

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Sujatha was one of the great Tamil literary masters. His fans called him ‘Vaathiyaar‘ – an affectionate way of saying ‘Teacher‘. Detective mystery was one of the genres he wrote in. He also wrote literary fiction, feminist fiction, historical fiction, short stories, plays, nonfiction books on science for the general reader, literary essays, translation of ancient Tamil epics into modern Tamil and all kinds of things in between. He even wrote screenplays for movies. He was a true allrounder. His detective mysteries mostly featured the lawyer duo of Ganesh and Vasanth. They were probably modelled after Perry Mason. This is their most famous story. My translation of the title is not perfect – the original title ‘Kolaiyudhir Kaalam‘ can be more accurately translated to ‘The season in which people are murdered and drop dead like leaves during Autumn‘. I don’t know how to shorten that into a few words. I read this book years back and I remember it being a combination of murder mystery, paranormal, science and an unexpected ending. I can’t wait to read it again.

So, this is my reading list for Diverse Detectives Month. Are you participating? Which books are you planning to read?

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I got a package on the mail today. When I saw it I couldn’t stop smiling. When I opened it, the object of my affection slowly crept out of the package and looked at me. It was the book ‘Bottom’s Dream‘ by Arno Schmidt.

I discovered ‘Bottom’s Dream‘ through an article I discovered through Twitter. The article said that the book was thick, it was originally written in German, this was the first time it was getting translated into English, it was translated by the old German hand John E. Woods, and the book had influences of Joyce and Poe. I have a soft corner for chunksters and everything about the book gently whispered to me to get it and I ordered it eventhough it cost me a small fortune. I was thrilled when it arrived today. Dalkey Archive Press, the publishers, say that only 2000 copies of the book have been printed. I am thrilled to be one of the lucky 2000 to have a copy! Yay!

The first thing that hits you when you look at ‘Bottom’s Dream‘ is its size. There is an article by Scott Esposito which describes the book as a ‘chunkster‘, ‘enormous‘, ‘giant‘. Its dimensions are given as 11×14 inches with 1500 pages. Tolstoy’sWar and Peace‘ is that long and so we expect something of that size. But ‘Bottom’s Dream‘ defies all expectations. ‘Chunkster‘ doesn’t begin to describe it. It is HUGE! Comparing it to other novels in terms of size is meaningless. I have seen some huge books during my time, but none like this one. I have around two thousand books in my collection and this is the biggest of them all. I take out ‘War and Peace‘, ‘Les Miserables‘, ‘The Count of Monte Cristo‘ and put them next to it and ‘Bottom’s Dream‘ towers over them all. It towers over even the huge one volume edition of Arnold Toynbee’sA Study of History‘. To give you an idea, if I take a knife and cut it in the middle into two, each of the resulting two books are as big as ‘War and Peace‘ in terms of dimensions and thickness. It is not a ‘chunkster‘ or a giant. The best way to describe it is this. There is a scene in the TV show ‘Game of Thrones‘, in which Daenerys’ dragon flies and descends and lands next to her. The dragon is huge and Daenerys is tiny next to it. ‘Bottom’s Dream‘ is that dragon – it is a book dragon. It dwarfs every other book in sight.

Here is a picture of the book. I have put it on top of today’s newspaper, so that you can see the relative size.

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I took the book out of its slipcase and opened it. It was so heavy that I couldn’t hold it in my hand for long. I put it on my lap. It weighs a little more than six kilograms (thirteen pounds) and I could feel every ounce of it. This is definitely not a book you read when you commute by the subway. It is too big to carry. It is not even a restaurant book, because of its size. This is a book that you can only read in the library or at home after putting it on the table. 

After opening the book, I flipped through the first few pages. Every page had three columns – the main text ran through the middle column, while the left and right columns had notes and comments. The prose was hard to read – it looked like a combination of surrealistic Joycean prose and Burgess’ nadsat. I looked at the last pages of the book and read the afterword by the translator, James E. Woods. Woods describes how he got into translating the book and shares his thoughts on it. It is brief and to-the-point. It is just two pages long. I smiled when I read that, because a 1500-page book might have benefited by a longer afterword. Or maybe a fifty page introduction. But the publisher and the translator had decided not to have any unnecessary words – Arno Schmidt is what you want, Arno Schmidt is what you will get.

Thanks to James E. Woods for taking twelve years of his life to translate this book. Translating epic length books is a labour of love and one can’t pursue it unless one loves the book in question very deeply. There is not much money to be made here. Thanks to Dalkey Archive Press for publishing this work. Bottom’s Dream, Arno Schmidt, thanks for coming to live in my home. I hope you like it here. I am normally bad at taking care of my books, but I will keep you wrapped in plastic sheets, keep you in a dust-free environment and take care of you well. And hopefully, I will read you one day soon. German Literature Month is around the corner and so that day is not as far as you think.

Bottom’s Dream‘ has been sighted in a few other places. Here is an article about it.

Here is an article comparing ‘Bottom’s Dream‘ to other big chunksters which can’t be read in the subway.

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