Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

This is my second book for this year’s German Literature Month and this is my second Stefan Zweig book in a row.  ‘Journey into the Past‘ was highly recommended by Seemita from Fleeting Brook.

image

The story told in ‘Journey into the Past‘ goes like this. A man and a woman meet after many years. There is warmth and friendliness and even sparks between them. They board a train and travel together. Their minds go back to the past. Once upon a time the man was poor. After working hard and getting himself an education, he ends up working in a company. He works hard there and catches the eye of the director who takes him under his wing and promotes him. At some point, as the director is keeping in poor health, he requests our hero to move into his spacious villa as a guest, so that it is easy for them to work together. Our young man, after some initial resistance, agrees. He is sceptical about the move, because he hates rich people, in principle, because they make him feel poor, even more. But then he meets the director’s wife who treats him with respect and removes all such negative thoughts from his mind. Before long a beautiful friendship develops between our young man and the director’s wife which later blossoms into love. But suddenly one day, the director recommends the young man for a new project in Mexico and the lovers are parted. He hopes to come back after two years and she waits for him. But then as they say, the best laid plans go awry. When our young man tries to return back, news breaks out that a big war has started. How things pan out after that and how this man and woman end up meeting again and what happens between them form the rest of the story.

image

I like the way the story moves between the past and the present. We know that the two main characters are sitting next to each other in a train and they are travelling towards a potentially happy ending (are they?), but it is fascinating to find out how they parted and how they got back on that train, and what happened in between. I also loved the part of the story which talks about the young man’s poverty and how he works hard to get out of it and how he hates rich people for treating him like an inferior and how he guards his freedom fiercely. All these are beautifully portrayed. I loved the character of the director’s wife. She was my favourite character in the book – kind, beautiful, elegant, strong.

The war that the book talks about is probably the Second World War. This is interesting, because towards the end of the book, we are shown that the war is over, but interestingly, the Nazi party has survived. This is interesting because Stefan Zweig didn’t survive the war. He died in 1942 when the war was still in full swing. He imagined an end to the war which was very different from what actually happened. That pessimistic imagination is probably what most people believed would happen, during those dark days of the war. It is hard to imagine the bleak atmosphere that must have prevailed at that time.

The ending of the story was interesting – it was open-ended with things unsaid and what happens is left to the reader’s imagination. I can’t imagine what happened, because every ending I think of, has some unhappiness for one of the characters.

I loved ‘Journey into the Past‘. It is a beautiful love story set during an interesting time. It is vintage Zweig. I can’t wait to read my next Zweig story now.

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

“And the dense silence of the years, lying heavily as if slumped in the room, took alarm at their human presence and now assumed powerful proportions, settling on their lungs and troubled hearts like the blast of an explosion. Something had to be said, something must overcome that silence to keep it from overwhelming them – they both felt it.”

Have you read ‘Journey into the Past‘ by Stefan Zweig? What do you think about it?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

This is my first post for this year’s German Literature Month. I am late, but I will console myself by saying that I am the latest 🙂

image

I read my first Stefan Zweig book last year. It was called ‘A Game of Chess and other stories’. I fell in love with it – with the stories and with Zweig’s prose. So I decided to read my second Zweig book, ‘Letter from an Unknown Woman‘. This book has four stories, the title story and three others – ‘A Story Told in Twilight‘, ‘A Debt Paid Late‘ and ‘Forgotten Dreams‘. The first three are the length of a long short story or a short novella – somewhere between forty and fifty pages. The last one is a short story.

image

In the title story ‘Letter from an Unknown Woman‘, a writer comes home after a walk and when he checks his mail, he finds a letter written in a woman’s handwriting. There is no name on it and no sender’s address. He takes it out and reads it. In that letter a woman tells the writer that she loves him, has always loved him from the time she was a girl, describes how they have met many times and how he didn’t recognize her each time. She then describes the details of her life and their interactions across the years. It is a beautiful, poignant story. I loved this passage from the story very much.

“…for there is nothing on earth like the love of a child that passes unnoticed in the dark because she has no hope : her love is so submissive, so much a servant’s love, passionate and lying in wait, in a way that the avid yet unconsciously demanding love of a grown woman can never be. Only lonely children can keep a passion entirely to themselves; others talk about their feelings in company, wear them away in intimacy with friends, they have heard and read a great deal about love, and know that it is a common fate. They play with it as if it were a toy, they show it off like boys smoking their first cigarette. But as for me, I had no one I could take into my confidence,  I was not taught or warned by anyone, I was inexperienced and naive; I flung myself into my fate as if into an abyss. Everything growing and emerging in me knew of nothing but you, the dream of you was my familiar friend.”

The second story ‘A Story told in Twilight’ starts as a story told by one person to another as twilight sets in, in the evening. It looks like an imaginary story set in a castle in Scotland where a boy in his middle / late teens – an age which has been described by some writers as too old to be a boy but too young to be a man – this boy meets a woman in the night when he is taking a stroll. They have a passionate time together. The next day at breakfast time, all the women in the house are there in the dining room and everything is quiet like it has always been. The boy tries to find out which of these women he met in the previous evening. He devises ways to discover that. And then he makes a surprising discovery. And then he does something silly, like all love-smitten people do, and makes another shattering discovery which breaks his heart. I won’t tell you more. You have to read the story to find out what happened. I loved this passage from the story. It showcases the beautiful, evocative descriptions that Stefan Zweig frequently gives.

“In an hour’s time it will be night. That will be a wonderful hour, for there is no lovelier sight than the slow fading of sunset colour into shadow, to be followed by darkness rising from the ground below, until finally its black tide engulfs the walls, carrying us away into its obscurity. If we sit opposite one another, looking at each other without a word, it will seem at that hour, as if our familiar faces in the shadow were older and stranger and farther away, as if we had never known them like that, and each of us was seeing the other across a wide space and over many years.”

In the third story, ‘The Debt Paid Late‘, a woman who is a homemaker takes a break from her routine to re-energize herself and goes to a small village in the mountains and stays in an inn. Her plan is to stay there for two weeks, walk in the meadow, read a book, not talk to anyone and spend time in tranquility. But there she meets a man whom she recognizes from her childhood. What happens after that is the rest of the story. The whole story is in the form of a letter that this woman writes to her friend, after the events happened.

The fourth story, ‘Forgotten Dreams‘, is about two people, a woman and a man, who meet years later and remember their attraction for each other during their younger days, and talk about what has happened in their lives and what might have been. I loved this passage from this story.

“The apparently unruly confusion of her fragrant, shining curls was the careful construction of an artist, and in the same way the slight smile that hovered around her lips as she read, revealing her white teeth, was the result of many years of practice in front of the mirror, but had already become a firmly established part of the whole design and could not be laid aside now.”

I liked all the four stories in the book. The first three seemed to have some kind of theme in common – there is a question of identity in each of them. In the first, the identity of the narrator is never discovered though the writer tries to, in the second the identity of the woman is a big surprise, and in the third one, the discovery of the identity of the man brings back old memories. The book is vintage Zweig, with beautiful, flowing prose, beautiful passages and a perfect balance between story-telling and aesthetic beauty. I loved it. I can’t wait to read my next Zweig story now.

Have you read Stefan Zweig’sLetter from an Unknown Woman‘? What do you think about it?

Read Full Post »

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.

image

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

image

Perfect spine

image

Beautiful watercolour painting

image

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?

Read Full Post »

‘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.

image

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?

Read Full Post »

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.

image

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?

Read Full Post »

I discovered ‘Crescendo‘ by Amy Weiss accidentally in the bookshop while I was browsing there a few weeks back. I tried putting it back but the description on the back cover pulled me and I couldn’t resist it. Did a long readathon yesterday and finished reading it.

image

Crescendo‘ is a story of love, loss, grief and love regained. The main character is an unnamed woman who is married and she and her husband love each other very much. She is also pregnant, which adds to their happiness. Of course, this kind of idyllic beginning always portends something dark. And disaster arrives soon and the woman’s husband and unborn baby are taken away. The woman grieves for them. She has a mare to keep her company. Then one day she leaves her place with her mare, and goes on a long journey. On her journey she meets interesting and wise people who share their wisdom with her, as she tries to understand life, love, loss, death and whether there is meaning to all this.

‘Crescendo’ is a beautiful book. It is like a fairytale for grownups or like a spiritual fable The first three chapters which are about love, loss and grief were incredibly beautiful. There were beautiful descriptions and images in every page and Amy Weiss’ soft prose was an absolute delight to read. It is not a book that you read fast like a mystery or a thriller, but it is a book that you read slowly and linger on every sentence, paragraph and page. After three chapters, the book changes a little bit. An old man makes his appearance, as he normally does in a fable like this, and shares his spiritual wisdom. It is still beautiful and there are many beautiful passages, but it has a prescriptive quality and depending on one’s world view, one might agree with it or not. If you are a spiritual person, you will love it. The quest that the main character goes through resembles the Orpheus-Eurydice myth, though in this case, it is the reverse of that, because the Eurydice of this book goes in search of Orpheus. There are also references in the book to String theory, Many worlds theory, Big Bang theory, Theory of Evolution and other such interesting things. Some of them are easy to spot while others are subtly and deeply embedded in the story. Amy Weiss follows the golden rule, ‘show-don’t-tell’, pretty well. There is even an origin-of-the-universe myth which bears an oriental Hinduism flavour to it. The ending of the story is interesting – it touches on the non-linear, circular aspect of time and has a James Joycean flavour to it.

One of the beautiful things I loved about the book was the structure of the book. Each chapter is titled after a musical concept related to musical theory, technique and form. There is something in that chapter (or sometimes even the whole chapter) related to that particular musical concept. And as our heroine goes through her quest in life, we see it through musical eyes, and the whole book feels like the story of a symphony – how a symphony is born and takes shape with beautiful notes which after some interesting experiments fall into the right places to form beautiful melodies and how this symphony evolves and becomes the complex musical being it is meant to be and how it is unfurled, in the end, in all its musical glory. It is incredibly beautiful to read and experience.

I loved ‘Crescendo‘. Amy Weiss follows in the long hallowed tradition of authors like Kahlil Gibran, Richard Bach, Robert Pirsig, Paulo Coelho and Mitch Albom, and has written a beautiful spiritual fable, a fairytale for grownups, which addresses all the big questions in it – love, loss, longing, grief, the meaning of life, the true nature of time, the deep bond between humans and animals. Amy Weiss’ soft prose is beautiful and lyrical and luminous and a delight to read. The book can be read for that alone. One of the reviewers said this about the book, a passage which I absolutely loved – “Crescendo is a lyrical travel tale, a myth, a map, a parable – all of these and more. Amy Weiss has the skill of a poet, the dramatic flair of a storyteller, and the heart of a mystic. This little book is lit from within – lit with intelligence, spirit, hope, and mystery. Weiss weaves a spell that caught me in its luminous threads from the first word to the last. I feel expanded having gone on the journey of Crescendo.” If you like spiritual fables and fairytales for grownups, you will like this.

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

      “That’s much too sad,” he says. “Sing me a love song instead.”
      As if every word she speaks is not a love song. As if there is not a love song in the way she looks at him, in his hands creating curls in her hair, in the touch of her cheek against his. A love song that has begun to form in her belly and that will, in due time, swell inside it. As if, each time he gazes at her, he is not sight-reading the music of her face. It is how they communicate, in that language of silence and sound. In the evenings they play together in the barn, where her harp tells of the quiet, naked things that hide within her heart, and his guitar shares secrets he did not know he had. They talk late into the night, their conversations becoming lullabies that send the mare, sleeping nearby, into dreams filled with desire and stallions and God.

      Without stopping, she leans against an oak, unaware that it is listening. Though the oak is a strong, stoic type, it is deeply moved by the woman and the gentleness with which she cradles the harp. It is mesmerized by the strange spell her hands cast over the wood : transforming a tree into melody, making it sing. It yearns to feel her fingers brush against its own body, to hear the sound she could coax from its silence. Leaves fall from its branches, flutter around her, surround her in a sea of longing. The cardinals and starlings perched in its hollows cock their heads and stare. They have never known the oak to cry; who has seen their house shed tears? Their songs are also made of light – a different one, a gilded one, which erupts from their little bird bodies when they can no longer contain it’s force – yet they are unfamiliar with sorrow. Only the mourning dove knows it’s dreary refrain.

A book belongs inside and beyond time and space. A reader can dip into its pages and swim in its words, put it down, walk away, come back to it years later, come back to it even after its author has died. It alters the consciousness and the heart, yet its effects do not varnish when its cover is closed, when it is returned to the shelf, when its events are purely fictional and never physical. The book itself may be destroyed, its words erased or struck from the page – but not from the reader. The material world is the same. Reality can disperse with the wave of the old man’s hand, the illumination of the woman’s mind. The medium comes and goes. The insight remains.

      “To become louder, to become quieter, to discover the strength in the softness : these are means of expression in music, and they are what move the listener. Beauty is born from the dynamics. Power has its own dynamics, and it too can be played both ‘forte‘ and ‘pianissimo possibile‘, as soft as possible.”
      “Soft power?”
      “Yes, like a butterfly. No one expects it to be a firecracker. It wouldn’t be a butterfly if it were, and it would devastate the flowers upon which it lands. Nevertheless, the power inherent inside it – to accept the dark days, knowing that they are when transformation occurs; to honor the time it takes for one’s wings to dry; to slough off the weight of its past and fly, when all its life it has known only to crawl – is far more explosive than any firecracker. Soft can be so much stronger than hard.”

Have you read Amy Weiss‘ ‘Crescendo‘? What do you think about it?

Read Full Post »

I have wanted to read Moupia Basu‘s book ‘Khoka‘ for a while, ever since I discovered it. Yesterday, I took it and finished reading it in one sitting.

image

Khoka‘ is the story of two boys who lived in two different times. One boy is from today’s contemporary times. He is intelligent and smart but sometimes he is upset and it shows in his behaviour. To make him happy, his mother takes out an old diary and reads stories from it to him. Sometimes she gives the diary to him and he reads the stories to her. The diary contains stories about a boy called Khoka who lived more than seventy years back. The book then goes back and forth from the present to the past, but mostly it stays in the past as we learn more about Khoka and his life and times.

I loved Khoka’s story. It takes one to the small town India of a different era, when people lived in joint families, when children went out and played in the streets, went to the nearby fields and mountains and forests, plucked fruit from the trees and had fun and enjoyed life in a very different way, how strangers helped each other, how life wasn’t the meticulously planned thing that it is today. If you have lived that life or seen that life in close quarters, this book will make your heart delight with pleasure, it will make you nostalgic. I loved reading about Khoka’s life and the adventures he had. The book read like a collection of anecdotes rather than as one continuous narrative. This gives a realistic feel to the book – it makes us think that these events actually happened. Reading the book makes us feel like we are talking to our parents or uncle or aunt or a relative about old times. It is like a beautiful conversation on a summer evening. In addition to describing small-town India of the time, the books also weaves in stories about the independence movement – about how ordinary people felt about it, reacted to it, participated in it. I loved reading that part of the book. The book has beautiful descriptions of the forest, trees and wildlife. The book also has beautiful mentions of food – when I read about how Khoka and his friends were sitting in a hut and eating rice with fish curry and brinjal fry, it made me want to go back in time to that hut to try that delicious food. There are also beautiful line drawings throughout the book which illustrate all the major scenes and stories.

I loved ‘Khoka‘. If you are a child like me and are nostalgic about the bygone era, you will like it too. It is a great gift for children at home or for your young nephews and nieces.

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »