Orhan Pamuk’s latest novel comes with a beautiful cover depicting a braided bun of a woman with vibrant red hair. The fact that the woman’s face is unseen adds to the mystery the title evokes. In spite of the mysterious ‘red-haired woman’ in the novel, this is by far the simplest narrative by Pamuk. The novel spans across 334 pages of linear narration and makes for an engaging weekend read.
The setting of The Red-Haired Woman is in Istanbul and it’s neighbouring town Oregon. The characters are middle-class Turks with no particularly distinguishing characteristics. However, it is the premise of the narration that sets forth a chain of actions and reactions, and therein lies the entire drama.
To be honest, I was a bit flummoxed by the quotes from Oedipus Rex at the opening. These quotes, as the title and the cover image were shrouded in mystery. As the story unfolded, the strained relationship between the hero/narrator Cem and his father came to fore. The father is involved in leftist politics and is often arrested. It is also quite clear that he is seeing other women. Naturally my mind stressed on making the necessary connections with Oedipus. But there was no possibility of physical combat between father and son or even a hint of incest between mother and son. So, I waited patiently and read on.
Enter the ‘red-haired woman’ accompanied by the most fantastic premise for a story that I have come across in recent times. Cem gets a ‘summer job’ to apprentice with a well-digger. He aims to save money for his college studies as by this time his father had abandoned him and his mother. Master Mahmut is a veteran well-digger who is much sought after for his skills at digging deep wells and predicting the presence of underground water.
A wealthy man in Oregon officiates him with the task of digging a well on his land to enable him to set up a factory. Once the story moves on from Istanbul and takes Cem to Oregon, it can be divided into three sections – Cem’s experiences during the well-digging work, his life after it and the narrative of the red-haired woman.
Cem’s relationship with Master Mahmut takes on the form of a father-son relationship. Master Mahmut regards Cem as a young man with potential and tries to pass on his knowledge to him – through his work he teaches him about well-digging and through his stories he teaches him about life. Cem goes through a gamut of emotions regarding Master Mahmut. From reverence to anger, from subservience to jealousy and from treating him like a master/father to punishing him for wielding authority over him. The high point of this section of the novel comes when Master Mahmut is inside the 20-metre well, digging deeper and deeper, when an accident befalls him. Cem, the only person to help him then, runs off on a whim, leaving his master to a terrible fate.
Even without this horrible accident and Cem’s subsequent behaviour, it is obvious that he is not a good man. When he chances upon the red-haired woman near the theatre he becomes immediately infatuated and puts his work, his phone calls to his mother and even his safety at a second footing. In spite of knowing that she is married, he continues to woo her. He also has no qualms about sleeping with her. He watches her performance although his master had explicitly forbidden him to do so.
The red-haired woman herself is a complicated character. Although we know her name, she is referred to as the red-haired woman throughout the novel, underscoring the connotations attached to the word red. She knows who Cem is, who his father is, who Master Mahmut is and yet decides to get entangled with the teenager. As soon as Cem deserts his master, we see his infatuation for the red-haired woman lessening. In his memories she is no longer as beautiful or as charming as she had seemed at first sight. Both characters are flawed much like the pieces of jigsaw puzzle – they are flawed yet they fit.
My image of the red-haired woman came crashing down towards the end of the book, when she takes over the narrative and explains how she has dyed her hair with a special henna recipe. Everything about her appears contrived.
In the second section, Cem finishes college, marries a decent girl and has a flourishing business. They don’t have any children and Cem is reconciled with his father, too. Both husband and wife take an unnatural interest in the mythological lores of Oedipus and Sohrab and Rustom. The first one is about a son killing the father, while the second one is about the father killing the son. These intertwined tales, one from the East and one from the West, are intricately woven into the fabric of the novel. The focus is so much on father-son duos that the mothers are sadly sidelined.
The Red-Haired Woman keeps you engrossed with its mythological references. Orhan Pamuk’s prose is as elegant as ever and the translator, Ekin Oklap, has managed to bring the elegance forth.
The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk
Published by Penguin
Other Books by Orhan Pamuk: http://amzn.to/2xd67Y1
1947. The year that India and Pakistan got ‘freedom’. The year that tore us apart, and joint us as well, in a sequence of events that still continue. It is a year etched in our collective memories. The Last Vicereine is set in these turbulent times of history.
Historical fiction is a delicate genre. How much is true and how much is imagined? This is a question that readers often grapple with, as do authors. But, British writer Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang, toes the line well. The story, though fictional, is based on intensive research. There are some fictional characters, and of course, the majority are real characters.
It all starts with Letticia Wallace, the fictional narrator. She is a close friend and confidant of Edwina Mountbatten. Edwina visits Letticia, to ask her to accompany her to India, where her husband, Lord Louis Mountbatten would be posted for the transfer of power from Britain to India.
We get the sense of Edwina, that is, Lady Mountbatten right from the first chapter itself, when she comes all the way from London to Oxford on the train in very bad weather to convince her to join them in India.
Of course, Letticia Wallace accompanies the Mountbattens to India. Here sparks off the series of events that changed India forever.
She establishes the context of the social and political scenario which forms the backdrop of the story. Things were never going to be easy, and the reader gets a glimpse of this right in the beginning. This is best illustrated in the following words, which describe Letticia’s observations about the guests at the swearing in ceremony of Lord Mountbatten.
“I surveyed the diverse bunch before me, representing the Muslim League, the Indian National Congress and the princely states, and realised why it had been impossible to get any agreement on a plan for a transfer of power to India to date. Surely there were as many different visions of what India was and should be as there were conversations in this room.”
Interwoven within the story is the blossoming friendship between two key figures: Jawahar and Edwina. Their story against the backdrop of the horror of partition and the breakdown of society touches the reader. The narrator describes Lady Mountbatten’s visits to refugee camps where victims of riots were hosted, and through the eyes of Letticia, the reader also views the sheer horror of it all.
The title will lead you think that the story is about Edwina and Jawahar. It is, and the author does justify this premise. But, the story is also about the fictional Letticia and how a British woman, in the service of Lady Mountbatten finds a calling, and ultimately finds love in the unlikeliest of nations.
Towards the end, the reader’s heart will surely empathize with all the characters: imprisoned by duty…and by fate. What will also come out, is the sheer futility of violence and conflict.
As Edwina says in the book:
“I think the answer is that it is all real and unreal at the same time: war, death, suffering, joy, love, happiness. We cannot have one without the other”
But, through it all, The Last Vicereine is ultimately about hope and love! A smooth and poignant read indeed.
The Last Vicereine by Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang
Published by Penguin Random House India (2017).
This book was an ‘epic read’ as my students would have said it. In my words, it was ‘superbly awesome.’ Herman Koch’s unputdownable book simply titled Summer House with Swimming Pool is a work of art.
It’s dirty—but deep, it is poignant— but drifting, and it is disturbing, but exciting all the same. Narrated by the main protagonist who is a GP called Marc, the story flows into a rhythm of suspense and plot twists that makes the reader stare in complete awe at the masterpiece of a thriller that he is reading. The characters here make you laugh, smile, sneer, gag, hate, etc., drawing out the emotions necessary on the part of the reader to complete the story and understand its implications to perfection.
Sam Garrett translated the English version of this Dutch novel. I applaud the translator for doing such an efficient and excellent job with Herman Koch’s original masterpiece, for you feel that you are reading a Lee Child or a Patterson or a Nesser or a Baldacci.
But it’s better! Ten times better and richer! I’m so overwhelmed by this book and its master of the craft ‘synopsis’ that states the main mystery without divulging too much about the plot, which is the best thing possible where this fabulous book is concerned.
I am dying to head back to my library or the bookstore and pick up another book by Herman Koch, most probably his bestselling work, The Dinner. Summer House with Swimming Pool is a 409-page book but does not make heavy reading. There is a healthy blend of reflection and storytelling with a bit of philosophy tossed in at crucial moments.
I thought I was watching a Hollywood movie at the edge of my seat —the book was that spectacular. The climax is a complete surprise, and you will be up all night thinking about it even after the story is done and over with. This will happen because of the poignant questions asked by the writer through his protagonist, who is quite a shady character himself. If you want to be shocked and scandalised with the thrill of a perfect, viciously funny thriller, then Herman Koch is the writer for you.
All in all a perfect read by a master of the craft, Herman Koch. And, thanks once again to the translator for a job well done!
This review was first published on www.insaneowl.com
We have heard about super heroes…super women….but the buzz nowadays is all about super couples! Super couples are a different lot. Their partnership goes beyond marriage or a committed relationship and creeps into the professional realm as well. Super couples- Inspiring stories of couple-preneurs, a new book by author Prachi Garg, examines some interesting cases of couples who’ve decided to walk together in the professional realm as well.
Long gone are those days when people believed that professional and personal should be separate. There is a rising band of super couples who leverage on each other’s strengths and run business ventures together, thereby making the best of both worlds.
Prachi Garg throws some light on super couples who have started their own business ventures, thereby unravelling the answer to the question ” How do they do it all?” Through 19 stories covering a mix of start-ups and business ventures helmed by couples, she gives readers a glimpse into the secrets of how spouses manage to work together (and stay together at the end of it all)!
Each story typically begins with a little background into how the couple met and the genesis of their business venture. Garg then delves into the specifics of their working relationship and how their partnership works in context of the business.
Garg sensitively brings out the challenges that couples who run a start-up or business together face. Each couple have their own unique situation to deal with. Through detailed interviews with the duos, she elicits relevant information that throws light on various issues that these super couples often grapple with.
How did they conceptualise the idea? What specific teething issues did they face? How do they organise finances? How are they scaling up the business? How do they divide work between them? What impact does the work have on their personal lives and vice versa? With the intensity and curiosity of a journalist, Garg explores these questions and many more in the narratives, giving a comprehensive insight.
This book will definitely be of great help to couples who plan on working together or who are already doing so. Super couples are a burgeoning reality. Sharing the multifold experiences of those already in the game will provide a unique insight into the dynamics of working with your spouse, the challenges that could come up and the immense benefits of the entire experience.
However, ultimately these super couples are duos who’ve managed to create successful ventures. Their journeys and their struggles are equally relevant for solopreneurs as well.
Super couples: Inspiring stories of couple-preneurs
Author: Prachi Garg
Every once in a while we are caught with instances where the lines between right and wrong are blurred and life presents a picture that is, well, in different shades of grey! Sometimes, Us…mostly, by Laila Bhaidani, dives into that realm. Eleven short stories deal with the theme of romantic love.
The protagonists are regular people who hide deep anguishes or surprising thoughts about a topic as mundane and yet as varied as love.
Indeed, Laila Bhaidani’s characters are faced with several choices that impact the sequence of events that happen to them. The choices may not always be right or wrong. In fact, most of the times the author chooses to be morally ambiguous. This is what adds a different flavour to the stories.
There is an interesting mix of characters through the tales. We meet a transgender who is in a quest to pursue elusive love. A lesbian couple, sacrosanct their relationship thanks to a man who sacrifices much for their sake. A dark skinned woman battles societal demons of the virtues of fairness. An adoptive daughter yearns for love from her mother all her life. Different shades of love paint a picture of the concept of love in modern society.
I found Mutton Biryani to be the most touching story. It is about an old couple and it clearly illustrates the pervasive mundaneness and insensitivity that can creep into relationships that have lasted for decades. Another story with a surprise element is 1,2 and 3, which describes a trio of friends and stretches the limits of unconditional love.
The stories are quite fast paced and the book is a quick read. The language may be simple but the themes and emotions described within are quite complex.
Precisely. I believe that life is between the black and white, and somewhere deep within we all agree with this. My book is an attempt to make my readers see real emotions as they exist in our lives – without any judgements. I believe, as human beings, we are all different shades of grey. We are all between black and white…right and wrong. I wanted my readers to gracefully embrace the “grey” in their lives, through these characters.
Well, real emotions and real people. I prefer looking at people beyond what they say and appear. I always try to see what lurks beneath the exterior of a person. We human beings try to fit in our emotions, our lives, our choices to the stereotypes we have been told to abide by. It’s safe and acceptable. But just below the surface of every person exists the real response and emotion…raw and vivid. This intrigues me. I like to explore this in my writing.
A lot of readers have shared that the book gave them an insight into the life of different kinds of people and their struggles. Through my stories and narrative, they were able to view each character with compassion and a non-judgmental attitude. And because there is no stance on morality in my book. I have been told, that it has helped them relate to other kinds of people in real life too.
Us… mostly is a collection of stories of people like us. That’s why the name- Us.. mostly. Since it contains stories of ‘us’, the book will appeal to every kind of reader.
Author: Laila Bhaidani
Publisher: Frog Books, Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd.
Category: Short stories
link for buying kindle edition:
Inspired by his own cello teacher, he sees the book as a way children and music lovers can forge a link with the great composers by getting to know them as friends.
In this book, Isserlis introduces us to six of his favourite composers: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Stravinsky. All of them have produced beautiful music that plays on till today and will do so for eternity.
He narrates interesting anecdotes from their lives. I was highly amused to read that Bach threw his wig in a fit of rage at a player who did not play well. Or that, Beethoven did actually throw the stew at a waiter, again in a fit of rage! Consider this passage that describes the child genius Mozart, whose father Leopold often took him and his elder sister Nennerl to give concerts in faraway places:
The children gave concerts everywhere-usually starting with Nannerl playing difficult pieces brilliantly, and then being upstaged (poor Nannerl) by her little brother. He would not only play equally difficult works – even if he’d never seen them before- and duets on one keyboard with his sister (quite a novelty for those times), but would make up on the spot huge pieces based on tunes suggested to him by the audience. People didn’t believe that he was really doing it all without any preparation; they kept trying to catch him out- they’d spread a cloth over the keyboard (a strange thing to do but they did it anyway), smile knowingly at each other, and wait for little Wolfgang to make a fool of himself. It didn’t work-he played just as amazingly as before.
The language and style is very witty and informal. You would be forgiven to think that you’re actually having a chat with an old friend. There is a lot of text…packed with really useful information. If children are okay with reading more text, they can surely enjoy the book on their own. It is also a great tome to share with an adult and read jointly.
The lively black and white line illustrations provide a perfect accompaniment to the text!
What I like best about the book is the way it sees the masters of classical music as human beings with their share of strengths and weaknesses. We know their music as great, but their lives were often far from perfect. They battled poverty, insecurity, psychological problems and many other issues. This book presents them as regular humans who were obviously great composers.
I also love the way Isserlis has brought out the psychological problems faced by some of the composers, who suffered from specific disorders. It has been described in a gentle manner for it to be relatable. Take for example the following passage which introduces Robert Schumann (who was diagnosed with psychotic melancholia). The reader gets an inkling that not all is right with him, but this is done in a subtle manner.
The trouble with him was that he was never normal; either he was so happy that he could hardly speak, or so depressed and miserable that he couldn’t speak at all. In fact, speaking in general wasn’t his strong point. Once, for instance, he wanted his new symphony performed, so he went to see his friend Ferdinand David, a violinist and conductor. The two men sat opposite each other for an hour or so, while poor Mr. David tried to guess what it was that Schumann wanted. When he finally guessed, he agreed to perform the symphony; Schumann was delighted, and made gestures to show that he’d willingly pay the musicians himself. Having been that communicative, he obviously felt he’d done his bit; he sat back in silence, smoked two cigars (Schumann loved cigars), tried to say something (but nothing came out because he kept wiping his hand over his mouth at the crucial moment) and then got up to leave.
Indeed, Isserlis brings the composers alive in an irresistible manner that can’t fail to catch the attention of any child whose ear has been caught by any of the music described, or anyone entering the world of classical music for the first time.
Witty and informative, touching at times and at times plain hilarious, this a book you cannot miss if your child is deep into music. If they have a ear for music, you gotta have an eye for this book!
You can buy it from Amazon by clicking the link below. Just in case you are too bowled over by it, and still want more, there is another book that follows this one: Why Handel Waggled His Wig.
The main theme of Between the Lines, where one of the fictional characters falls head over heels in love with the reader would make every bibliophile and book lover’s dream come true! This happens to be my very first Jodi Picoult book and I adored it. I just couldn’t put it down and read it in two days’ time. Apparently there is a sequel to this book which I am going to borrow from my library ASAP.
Between the Lines is a light romance with a lot of plot twists that keeps the reader’s attention till the end. The characters are interesting and real to life–well almost. The story about how a handsome prince falls in love with a teenage girl who is the reader of his fiction world is magical, captivating, and alluring. The tender moments of this book are precious.
The climax is out of this world and something that I personally would not have been able to crack, so kudos to Jodi Picoult, and to her lovely daughter Samantha. The magical fairy tale world of Prince Oliver is as captivating as the regular high school life of Delilah.
By the way, this is actually a Young Adult story, but I only realized it after I picked it up from the library. However, it’s brilliant not only for a teenager but also for an adult reader who once in a while ‘likes to get lost in a good book.’ My congratulations to Samantha van Leer for coming up with such a marvelous idea for a book. It’s a great story and yet the reader is made to feel as if it was no trouble at all to think of this idea. Genuineness radiates greatly from this book and has forever made me a Jodi Picoult fan.
I remember when I was a teenager reading Richard Bach’s books and wishing that one day Richard Bach would suddenly materialize from the middle of his book and fall in love with me, and then I would have a boyfriend of my own caliber. If you’ve ever had that thought too when you were reading a book of your favorite author or a character that you liked a lot, then this is the book for you.
This story has a lasting appeal which can’t remain enclosed ‘between the lines’ of the book. It’s a book you will be recommending to people for a long time to come!
This book has been reviewed by Fiza Pathan and was first published on her blog www.insaneowl.com.
Spinster by Kate Bolick is one of the most enriching and well written nonfiction books that I have had the pleasure to read this year. I found this book in my local library’s bookshelf and I just had to borrow it. It’s a heavy read with a lot of in-depth analysis of situations, personality traits, decisions that we make, etc. I picked up this book because I always wanted to lead the life of a spinster and as the subtitle says, I wanted to make a life of my own.
However, this book is not only meant for spinsters or people who want to lead the life of spinsterhood. This book is meant for everyone and anyone who wants to enrich their lives and give importance to themselves as individuals, even if they are couples, parents, etc.
Spinster analyses the idea of the word ‘spinster’ itself throughout history and especially during the early years of the 20th century. The book is a sort of unique memoir of Kate Bolick who wishes to lead the life of a well-balanced and self-actualized spinster in a world where being a spinster is something like a taboo topic.
No parent wishes that their girl should not one day be married at the right time and to the right person. This is what Kate Bolick challenges. Why should we bring up children to only have marriage as the focal point of their lives? Why can’t new goals be set? Why can’t girls change their priorities? Why can’t spinsterhood become a lifestyle and not just a label? All these questions and more are answered, analyzed and debated upon in this book along with the thoughts of certain unique, independent, self-made women who touched the author’s life and made it blessed.
True, the book technically focuses on only women in American society, but I think all of us from any part of the world can definitely connect with the author’s trials, tribulations and victories because as a sisterhood, we are almost the same if not totally identical people.
What I loved about this book is the way being a spinster is shown as a lifestyle choice and not a terrible label one pastes on a person’s character. I am completely inspired by the literary women mentioned in this book especially Maeve Brennan, whose writings I totally relate to. Every sentence in this book is of a contemplative nature where you tend to sit back and say, “Oh what a new way of thinking about this topic,” and then look at the words in the book with a new light altogether.
I loved the part about home décor, as I am also very much into the décor of my private as well as public spaces, and I love to have these spaces presented to others as a symbol of my own lifestyle choice and my sense of style. In Spinster Kate Bolick states in more ways than one that it is very important for a woman to showcase her own home décor be she a spinster, married or just living-in with someone. For those readers who love to understand changes in society like demography, this book is full of it and is very accurate.
There is no doubt in my mind that this book was definitely an eye opener for me and I am so fascinated by it that I’m going to order my own copy of the book from Amazon, and keep it by my side all the time like a Bible.
A very insightful and a very thought provoking read!
Note to readers: This story was first featured on www.insaneowl.com
Lend Me Your Ears: The Puffin Book of Elocution Pieces, edited by Terry O’Brien, is supposed to help students who are working on their elocution skills. While it surely accomplishes this aim, it does much more. It brings the best literary gems across genres and authors to the discerning reader. This is a book that any book lover will cherish!
But, coming back to its stated purpose- communicating effectively is a skill that is undoubtedly quite essential in survival kit of mankind. One of the formal ways of developing and assessing these skills is by elocution. Remember those elocution competitions at school? Or those very popular speech and drama classes that almost every child does nowadays? We have all heard various speeches but only some of them really stand out and entrench themselves in our minds and hearts.
Lend Me Your Ears presents a collection of poetry and prose that will add spice and meaning to your speeches. These are not merely run-off-the-mill pieces. Each one has been carefully handpicked and curated for its potential applications to public speaking.
The book starts off with a comprehensive checklist of how to improve and build on public speaking skills, including how to select the right piece. It is then divided into varied sections.The section on poetry presents a collection of well known poems from the annals of literature. It also elaborates on specific points to consider while reciting poetry. Appreciation of a poem is a prerequisite to understanding it completely and incorporating it in a speech or as an elocution piece. Hence, before each poem there is a short background note that aids understanding. From the evergreen “IF” by Rudyard Kipling, to poems of the English Romantic poets right through the Indian literati such as Tagore, Sarojini Naidu and the very beloved Ruskin Bond, it has enough to ponder over!
What I like best is the “Kiddies Corner” which has a selection of poetry especially meant for children. Leave behind the notion that poetry must be esoteric, and revel in these gems for children, coming from the best poets across ages.
Terry O’Brien has picked true gems from known classic works by American and English writers. There are excerpts from Indian writers as well, and that’s quite welcome!
Of course, when we talk about public speaking how can we forget famous speeches that have captivated generations so far? Many political speeches fall into this category. These historic orations by world leaders such as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, John Kennedy and so on, will remind you of the time when political leadership truly inspired change through the power of words.
The prose section also has a ‘kiddies corner’, that follows the main prose selection of essays, independent features and short stories by well known writers. These are humorous or philosophical pieces that resonate with a wide group of readers.
Elocution and drama are overlapping and related. The last section comprises of extracts from well known plays. Shakespeare obviously takes centre stage here! Anything that has to do with good language must include Shakespeare, and the book has charming selections from the bard’s works.
Lend Me Your Ears took me back to some very pleasant memories of studying literature at school and college. It reasserted the belief that words do make a difference and that the ingredients of powerful speeches can be found amidst the beautiful world of literature! Lend me your ears is a handy book that provides for interesting reading, definitely for young readers who seek to build on their public speaking (and writing) skills, but also for older children and adults. In my opinion you could safely add it to the collectible list!
Lend Me Your Ears: The Puffin Book of Elocution Pieces, edited by Terry O’Brien
Penguin Random House India (5 July 2017)
Avid readers always look out for opportunities to read and relish interviews of their favourite authors. After all, there is better way to glean a writer than from a heart to heart conversation. The Last Interview: Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Other Conversations takes this literary conversation to another level altogether.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a Colombian author. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in the year 1982. He is considered as one of the most significant influences and voices of the last century.
The book, edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter David Streitfeld comprises of a series of interviews with the author. It basically consists of five curated and highly detailed, informative and revealing interviews. The earliest interview dates back to 1956 and the renowned author’s last interview dates to the year 2006.
The interviews have been carefully curated and handpicked. Some of them were originally published in other languages, mainly Spanish, and have been translated into English in the book.
Taken together they cover the entire writing life of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose fierce activism was always woven with the literature he produced. The interesting mix of interviews reveals his writing process, his deep involvement with political matters in Latin America, his activism, his views on power and how it corrupts as well as little known tidbits from his writing life. It also includes the writer’s insights into subjects such as the meaning of true love and quite interestingly, the validity of superstitions.
Interestingly, the book includes his first ever interview, that was taken before he wrote the book “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, which took him to dizzying heights of success. It provides an intimate glimpse into the mind of the young writer at that time. Quite predictably, it also contains his last interview. Somehow, it makes fans of the writer view his life in full circle.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a prolific and powerful writer. This book only exemplifies this fact through a unique insight into key conversations that he has had with the media in his lifetime.
The Last Interview: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Edited and with an introduction by David Streitfeld
Publisher:Melville House Publishing,