When I picked up the copy of Past Tense by Lee Child I was a stranger to Jack Reacher. I had read about the fictional hero of course and his legendary popularity, but never really devoured a novel which had him in action. But, once you enter the world of Reacher, there’s no going back.
The book starts off with two parallel stories. Jack Reacher is looking at a long journey which he intends to complete on foot and hitching rides on the way. He plans to follow a diagonal path across the US, from Maine to San Diego. But, as luck would have it, he comes across the proverbial crossroads, literally, when he finds himself on a path where he has to make a choice. One road leads to another leg of his destination. The other leads to Laconia- the place where Reacher’s father was born. Curious about his father’s origins and thereby his own, he takes the detour.
On the other hand, Patty Sundstrom and her boyfriend Shorty Fleck are making a long car journey all the way from Canada. They get stuck at a motel in the middle of nowhere, somewhere near Laconia.
Strange things happen to both Reacher and Patty. Reacher discovers that no trace of his family exists and there are clear gaps in what he thinks he knows about his past. Patty instinctively feels something is not correct but can’t pinpoint to any specific thing. Why does the door of their room suddenly get locked? Why won’t their car start again?
The suspense starts right from the beginning. Lee Child is a master at his game. He unveils the sinister events bit by bit. Somewhere these two stories meet…It does not take long to understand why Reacher is the literary hero that he is. Lee Child has crafted this character with care! What appealed to me the most about his Jack Reacher was his acute sense of observation, leading him to look at little instances and regular situations of life with a different eye. Clearly, things are not always what they apparently seem to be
Past Tense is undoubtedly a page turner…one of those thrillers that you just don’t want to put down till they are over! If you are already a Jack Reacher fan, the book will live up to your expectations. If you’re new to him, welcome to the huge fan base! Past Tense by Lee Child is another Jack Reacher adventure you must not miss!
Title: Past Tense
Author: Lee Child
Publisher: Bantam Press
What does a smart and savvy businessman have to do with an ancient city buried underground? Pankaj Rajput’s novel, City of Nine Gates introduces the readers to a man who seems much like an ideal dynamic and successful millennial, until they realize that there is much more to him. There is something special about him. He probably holds the key to unlocking the wisdom of ages.
For starters, Gyan’s name itself is the clue. Gyan, the protagonist is involved in a project that involves excavating an old site. Gyan means knowledge, and indeed, Gyan finds himself in a position where he has been chosen to uncover timeless knowledge of the ages that will benefit humanity.
The book follows Gyan on the path to knowledge. The journey is perilous and danger lurks around. The “hata-sena”, an army, is behind him as soon as he undertakes this mission, guided by an ancient compass that leads him to a wise sage, who initiates a learning process that will change his life forever.
“Something told him within that the sage’s strength was not courage but a deep unwavering faith in the unknown and his non-attachment from the known,”.
There are two parallel lines that cut across the novel. Readers experience the book at different levels. On one hand, there is the story of Gyan and his physical journey to the city. The difficulties that he encounters as well as the practical journey though time exist at one level. At another level is the philosophical angle. He not only meets sages, but other wise beings who guide him through his travel and deliver timeless knowledge from ancient Vedic scriptures, thereby satiating his curiosity and imparting wisdom that had been locked for ages.
Of course, one has to pay the price for wisdom and it does not come that easily! There are riddles and clues that Gyan has to decipher before he progresses in this mission. I found this clue ‘game’ played with the readers quite interesting! The names of the characters, for example, Gyan, Buddhi, Parth, Indriyas, Prana and so on are also derived from words that express or connote a particular philosophical thought. A wide range of concepts (including karma, duty, the chakras, maya, violence, devotion, moksha and so on) have been addressed as the book progresses.
There are many metaphors and allusions in the book. Readers will enter the human body and participate in a war with Gyan even as he transcends into someone much beyond the human form.
Since I am interested in philosophies that stem from ancient Indian treatises, I found the book to be quite a refreshing way to understand some of these concepts. The Bhagavad Gita also forms an integral part of the book and for me, that was the cherry on the cake! I feel in a sense that the book has opened doors to many thoughts and ideas pertaining to the meaning of life and what the path to a well-lived life.
Philosophy is best accessed through stories. It is also best understood gradually. The philosophical concepts presented in City of Nine Gates, come at the right time in the story, bit by bit. Where does this knowledge lead Gyan? How does it all end? Well, it’s for you to read and find out!
This book review is a part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program and Blog Tours. For details check: http://www.thereaderscosmos.com/
The questions of identity and of belonging have plagued humanity for time immemorial. These questions have never been asked so verdantly before, as they are today. Though set in the Shillong of 1980’s, Nilanjan Choudhury’s novel, Shillong Times evokes many of these questions, the answers to which still remain elusive.
The story is set in Shillong. The protagonist, Debu, aka Debojit, is the only son of the Dutta’s. His father owns a pharmaceutical shop in the town, while his mother, a housewife has the sole mission of turning her young lad into a fine young man with a good government job, preferably in Calcutta! While his parents still reel under the hangover of the bitter ancestral memories of exile from Bangladesh, they want to provide a normal childhood to their only child.
Their often humorous attempts at giving him a cultured upbringing lead to plenty of funny situations in the book that unfailingly bring a smile to the face. His mother’s attempts to protect her ‘half-child half- man’ from the big bad world of adolescence contrasts with Debu’s desire to enjoy life and friendship with his mates Clint and Audrey.
Life has a funny way of contriving intersections with people. Debu joins a math class and little does he know that Clint Eastwood, a not-so-good student in that class, would be associated with him and change his life forever. Well, Clint introduces him to forbidden pleasures and also to Audrey Pariat, the most beautiful girl in town.
There is a lot of humour deftly woven into the book. It also evokes the character of Shillong as a beautiful sleepy small town, untouched yet by modernity and urbanism. There are some moments that bring out feelings of nostalgia- like when Debu’s house gets a television set for the time time ever. The setting in the disconnected world of yesteryear’s compared to the highly hyper connected society of today, is like a breath of fresh air.
“Seven years after Meghalaya had been awarded full statehood, Shillong was to erupt in an outpouring of violence that would scar the town beyond all recognition. The bloodshed and hatred that followed would resurrect the traumatic memories of partition in the minds of many Bengalis. But they were to give it a misleadingly innocuous name- Gulmaal,”
The simmering tensions between the Bengalis of Shillong and the local Khasi community form the crux of the book. What adds to it is that Clint and Audrey are both Khasis, and Debu, a Bengali. Will friendship withstand these tensions? Is anyone an insider or outsider when it comes to friendship? Will the communal tensions test the limits of the bond between friends?
The tale examines how hatred cuts deep, and how organised groups worsen already bad affairs. As Debu’s father says in the novel, “Things will start going from bad to worse now. I hear things, I see things that I didn’t earlier. I can feel the hate stirring, rising. Like it did in ‘79. By this time, it will be different. Last time, it was spontaneous. This time it will be more organised, it will go on for longer, it will cut deeper,”
The issue of ethnic tensions pervade the book, but so does a different sub-theme- life in small town India. Debu’s mother has ambitions for him. Her character and her hopes and dreams for him evokes a commonly prevalent attitude of small-towners looking for bigger opportunities in cities. That Debu would have to look for greener pastures when he came of age is also aptly indicated, thereby underscoring the theme of migration, albeit of a different type.
“He knew that one day he would have to leave the hills and travel to the plains in search of employment. He would have to undertake the same journey that his grandfather had made nearly half a century ago, but in the opposite direction “
The issues of identity that are explored in the novel interact with a coming of age tale. How do children and young adults address this issue? How is their response different from the adults who are more prone to biases? Debu’s mother tells him in the novel, “You May have forgotten about those times. But we adults are not that lucky. There are so many things that happened then which we can’t forget, no matter how hard we try,”
In the book the lives of the three friends are deeply impacted by the violent scenario that pervades their hometown. But, they rise to the demands of the times and do what they perceive is right. The deftly woven story touches the chords of the heart when it shows that despite violence and hatred, love and friendship still create magic!
This book review is a part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program and Blog Tours. For details check: http://www.thereaderscosmos.com/
The Rainbow Acres is a story of survival. Two parallel stories converge slowly. It is the story of Kishan Singh, a lowly village boy from a small village in India. It is also the story of Sophia, whose life is torn by the political situation in Mexico. Both could not be more different from each other. And yet, their stories are similar when seen from the human angle. Two alternating narratives converge to tell a gripping tale. Bookedforlife chats with Simrita Dhir, author of The Rainbow Acres, to know more….
Immigration is the underlying theme of the novel. Today, this is a pressing issue in itself world over. How would you place the novel in the context of modern times?
The Rainbow Acres unfurls in the early twentieth century, but displacement and migration continue to be deeply relevant issues today where thousands risk life and limb every day in the search of new beginnings. In The Rainbow Acres, Kishan Singh’s hazardous journey across two oceans undergoing which, he nearly dies, is no different from the tragic refugee deaths that occur on boats today. Only in the last few years, nearly 9000 migrants have been lost in the Mediterranean. Sophia’s story, too, is deeply reminiscent of the plight of the Central American refugees today who undergo perilous journeys to start new lives in a faraway land. Across the world, the number of people forced to flee their homelands has increased to 65 million and refugee admissions in the United States have been trending upwards. Immigrant narratives are vital to conversations about displacement and migration and it is my hope that The Rainbow Acres will promote empathy for immigrants and refugees, thereby facilitating a deeper understanding of those issues.
The alternating narratives of Kishan and Sophia provide an interesting way to experience two different stories. What made you adopt this narrative technique?
My attempt in writing The Rainbow Acres was to focus on the immigrant experience as well on the universal themes of love, loss and moving on. Kishan Singh and Sophia’s journeys evolve along different paths in starkly different surroundings but both stories embody the quest for more and better in life. Both protagonists are dreamers who tend to look beyond the horizon. Victims of loss and denial, they fight circumstances as well as thought-provoking dilemmas while never losing their nobility. Their uncanny belief in the second chances that the faraway land seems to offer, drives their journeys. By alternating the two narratives, I wanted to draw attention to their unique yet universal immigrant experiences. I also thought that this narrative technique would offer a more interesting reading experience where the reader would be delving in two very different narratives spanning across two different continents. Even as the two narratives run parallel, they promise to converge at some point, which I thought readers would find engaging.
Both protagonists belong to different countries and encounter different situations. They have nothing in common but yet so much in common. Was this a way of portraying a common human experience?
Through history, people have migrated in search of greener pastures. As true as that fact is, a migrant is also a romantic who believes in the promise of the unknown, someone who does not sit around in his place of origin and wait for his luck to change. A migrant is a believer and a doer who takes charge of his life and destiny, someone whose sense of enterprise nudges him to break away from the familiar, take risks and embark upon the new. And while their backgrounds and experiences vary, both Kishan Singh and Sophia embody the immigrant optimism and grit. Kishan Singh loses the most vital aspect of his existence and Sophia’s entire world crashes before her eyes. Their lives are torn apart, they are devastated but never do their really let go of that inherent belief in themselves and in the world. They pick themselves and move on even as they know that they would face yet more hurdles along new paths. Sophia aptly says in the novel, “The human journey is not the travel of the sun or the moon. It cannot be predicted. One can’t fight one’s story, it always wins.” As their stories unfurl along new roads, Kishan Singh and Sophia continue to discover themselves anew. To quote from the novel, “Everyday was a journey. The odyssey never ended, going on and on instead in a perpetual quest of open roads and yet newer beginnings. And wild ambiguous milestones made it worth taking.”
How have your personal experiences informed the narrative? Or rather, have they?
This is a really interesting question. Well, I am an immigrant and a proud one for that. My immigrant experience defines me in many ways and that is the reason that I wrote The Rainbow Acres. Having said that, I must mention that the California that I immigrated to in the year 2000 was very different from Kishan and Sophia’s California. The year 2000 was not just the beginning of a new century but also of a brave new millennium. The California that I encountered was an out-and-out multi-ethnic place, the only US state to have no majority race, where everyone belonged, and no one was an outsider, so to say. Unlike Kishan Singh and Sophia, I came to attend university on a F1 Student Visa. Indian students on campus were perceived of as being insightful and intelligent. Generally speaking, being Asian was considered “cool”. I did not encounter any of the confining racial boundaries that Kishan Singh does in The Rainbow Acres. I, however, share Kishan Singh and Sophia’s enamor for the unknown in abundance and find myself invariably drawn to all things new. There are lines in the novel that capture the immigrant mindset. They are as true for me as they are for Kishan Singh and Sophia. “Far horizons were alluring, layered with miracles and romance. And they were always receding farther, arousing the urge to sprint to newer haunts, braver ideas and infinite dreams.”
Kishan Singh asks a question in the novel- Is the journey worth the struggle? How would you, as the author, answer this?
That is a question for the readers to ponder on and come up with their own answers. The journey motif is integral to the story. There are lines in the novel about the course of journeys, “Stories are no one’s slaves. They follow their own course, not anyone’s wishes or dictates.” Long journeys, such as the ones that Kishan Singh and Sophia undertake to reach the fabled land, are bound to be difficult and unpredictable. Along the way, even the most optimistic of voyagers, like Kishan Singh, is bound to reflect upon the question, “Is the journey worth the struggle?”
As I see it, The Rainbow Acres is a story of strife, struggle and moving on. Inspired by historical events of the early 20th century, it salutes the courage and resilience of the pioneer Punjabi farmers of California. Much like Kishan Singh and Jaspal Singh Dhillon in The Rainbow Acres, those pioneers enriched the California landscape with their hard work and the courage of their beliefs. The Rainbow Acres pays homage to their difficult journeys and hard-earned success in a relentless time.
Through Kishan Singh and Sophia’s brave odysseys across borders, the novel also celebrates California’s exotic Punjabi-Mexican community of the early 1900s, which was a vibrant melding of two cultures and a truly secular, bi-ethnic set-up that came to exemplify a new, eclectic California.
Human kindness from unexpected sources on the journeys that the two protagonists make, is something that is brought out quite poignantly. Was that a conscious decision while writing?
Interestingly, kindness is instinctual, and it springs from courage and inner strength. Practicing and experiencing kindness are truly sublime experiences in which both the giver and receiver are transformed forever. In The Rainbow Acres, Kishan Singh and Sophia take difficult journeys across unfamiliar terrain, separated from family and everyone who is familiar. In battling hardships, both protagonists are rescued by complete strangers who feature only for brief moments, disappearing immediately after rendering help, but the reverberations of their acts of kindness continue to echo through the length of the novel. Towards the end of the novel, when Kishan has a chance to make a difference in the life of an oppressed wife, he doesn’t hesitate to help the woman. He is able to manifest kindness because in the past, kindness has been meted out to him by complete strangers – the jeweler in Jalandhar, and the girl on the ship. Similarly, Sophia who has been telling her daughter that “there is danger in men”, dramatically turns over a new leaf upon encountering overwhelming kindness from a stranger on the boat at the most crucial time in her life. She never forgets that stranger or that moment, and upon gaining stability, she decides to help others who are wrecked by the Mexican Revolution. So, essentially, the novel depicts that in life, one has a choice – either to be dismissive and indifferent or to be kind and thoughtful. Kishan Singh and Sophia are compassionate because they have known suffering and have received kindness from unexpected sources.
Yes, it was a conscious decision on my part to focus on the benevolence of strangers. The representation of strangers in fiction has, more often than not, tended to be one of distrust. So, I wanted to shift that stance and show how in their limited roles, strangers have the ability to leave a lasting impact, gradually leading the protagonists to becoming the finest versions of themselves.
Title: The Rainbow Acres
Author: Simrita Dhir
Publisher: Om Books International
To rephrase Keats, I would say, a beautiful garden is a joy forever. Big or small, a garden is a key link between man and nature. It can be your haven, and your very own personal sanctuary. It is a place that you lovingly tend, and that will give you bountifully in return as well.
In Ground Rules: 100 easy lessons for growing a more glorious garden, Kate Frey draws upon years of experience to present a simple rule-book on the myriad aspects of gardening.
The first section concerns planning the garden. Several tips cover the kind and variety of plants that you should be thinking about. One of the guidelines I found particularly useful is to use variegated foliage for an all-year-round colourful look. I also found the point about mingled planting quite apt. Another great idea pertains to using different containers and multiple plants in a single container in order to increase visual interest.
The next section concerns “The Joy of Plants”. A garden is made up of plants, and hence it is important to understand the nature of individual plants and what you want them to do in the garden. Some of the tips are pretty useful, such as, not buying root-bound plants for instance, and opting for plants that have roots that fill the container rather than stagnate it. Sometimes, these little tips escape our minds and it is good to be aware of them. This section is more practical in nature and has tips and practical suggestions for growing plants- timing them, understanding their requirements, composting, watering, choosing the right plants and so on.
“The Real dirt” talks about soil. Well, we all know that ultimately the soil maketh the garden. This section has some handy tips on recognizing the kind of soil required for your garden and nurturing the soil that you have. Composting, mulching, tilling and so on become familiar concepts here.
“Be Wise With Water” tackles the issue of using water in the garden heads-on. Planning the garden against the background of being aware of the water requirements of the plants, is extremely important as we live in a world where water shortage is becoming increasingly rampant. This section has some useful tips (such as hydrozoning) to ensure optimal water usage and minimal water wastage.
“How to be a good Garden Parent” tackles the topic of nurturing. “Birds, Bees and Butterflies” talks about how to create a garden that supports abundance of life. Yes, beautiful plants look all the more stunning when the garden thrives with little winged creatures! There are a few handy tips here, but the one which really resonated with me the most concerns the tip about how not to ‘stress’ plants, lest they attract pests and not helpful insects!
“A Garden of Earthly Delights” takes a look at the social and emotional benefits of nurturing a garden. I think this section is probably the best one. One can know about technicalities of gardening, but the emotional advantage of having a garden is one to reckon with, and this is exactly what the section purports.
Simple and easy…
The rules are quite straightforward and to the point. Each page has a different point and hence it is really simple and easy to navigate the book. Read it from start to finish or just open to any page and look at what it has to offer! If you are a beginning gardener, there is a storehouse of ideas that you can take from this book. If you are an experienced gardener, you may still find nuggets of inspiration that will add on to your beautiful garden!
Several photographs supplement the text, and this is indeed one of the best things about this book. These pictures focus not necessarily on variegated plants that add to the beauty of the garden but also on how the garden can be seen in context of the entire décor scheme of the house, or how the individual plants can be viewed against the backdrop of the entire garden. Hence, the pictures provide a context against which the reader can visualize his or her own garden space.
The author also gives several examples of plants that one could include in the gardens. It is a well-known fact that the best gardens support local vegetation. Hence, readers from other geographical locations would do well by keeping this in mind as they read the book.
As I near the end of the book, I have managed to catch quite a few tips for growing a more glorious garden, but what resonates the most is, to put it in the words of the author, is the fact that “Gardening yields both a material and inner harvest”.
Title: Ground Rules
Author: Kate Frey
Publisher: Timber Press
Genre: Gardening/ non-fiction
LIKEtoKNOW.it is a ready-to-shop content platform. With this book, titled LIKEtoKNOW.it: Stories from the Influencer Next Door, it now brings success stories of the influencers right on the pages of a coffee table book.
It features many influencers who are a part of the LIKEtoKNOW.it network. They are top global influencers in the lifestyle realm. They talk about various aspects of their influencer business. They tell their personal stories about how they started their business and the challenges they had to deal with.
Each person featured in the book has an interesting story to tell. The question answer format makes it easy to read and glean what is relevant and interesting. Most of the bloggers featured here belong to the fashion and lifestyle arena, and the majority of them are women. However, the lessons learnt are applicable across genres.
Many colourful and well-shot images add to the fun of reading the book. As a coffee table book, these images may just enhance the experience of browsing the book!
Here are some of the things the reader will know and understand about the influencer business: How do these influencers connect with their followers? What has made them find their USP and their niche? What led to the creation of their blog in the first place? What were they doing before blogging? What are the challenges that come along with the business of blogging?
There are little nuggets of wisdom and inspiration embedded in the stories of these women (and a few men). Many of them are parents, balancing the demands of a family with their work. They reveal their secrets in the pages. Some of them readily sought help from near and dear ones (many hubbies have turned photographers!) and that shows how one should ask for help from immediate family, especially in the early stages of the business when one needs to keep expenses low!
My takeaways about the influencer business gleaned from the book:
While the book has useful insights, I felt as if towards the end some points were repetitive. However, it does have plenty of encouragement for those who want to start their own influencer business. With the gorgeous photographs, it also makes for a good coffee table book.
Ashwatthama’s Redemption: The Rise of Dandak is set one hundred years after the Mahabharata war. The story begins when peace is paramount, but there seems to be an impeding warning of a war to some. Some ancient evil power threatens to destroy the world. Ashwatthama may have played the villain in the Mahabharata, but it’s time to play the hero. He is the only one who can save the retrieve the Kodanda- the lost bow of Rama. It is this bow that would redeem mankind. The mythological fiction story imagines the life and travails of Ashwatthama after the war. Do the demons of the past continue to haunt him? Or, is it time to turn the wheels of Karma? At one level, the novel is an exciting adventure story set in ancient India. At another, it is a tale of redemption, courage, and the futility of war.
Bookedforlife chats with the author, Gunjan Porwal, about the inspiration behind the story….
What made you choose to imagine the story of Ashwatthama? The Mahabharata has a rich cast of characters. What about him appealed the most over the host of others?
The Kurukshetra war was full of adharma events. There was no honest side. However, the legacy of Ashwatthama was ruined by one night of infamy, who otherwise must be counted as one of the greatest warriors of the Kurukshetra war. Also, apart from Karna, I found that Ashwatthama’s story had some layers of complexity – being the dishonored warrior, a loyal friend, a hated enemy, part-incarnation of Shiva. So, I decided to take up writing about him.
What kind of research did you undertake for the book?
The research included going through lots of online resources. One of the things I had to make sure was getting the lingo and small details right, like things that would be available in that era – lots of daily use items, or metals, some of them were not discovered during that time. For example, leather was not there, but tanned animal skin was there. So, I had to spend some time in making sure that the small details are right, and the reader does not get any false information. I do not wish for the reader to be looking up something and saying ‘This is not right. Glass was not invented then.’
Recently there have been many books that look at retelling or reimagining popular stories from our epics from different points of view. This genre seems to be creating a strong niche of its own. Could you share your thoughts on the same?
There has been a surge in Indian Mythology books. I feel it’s a great thing that the young generation is digging into that, and savouring it. There are lots of stories that are coming out, some of them fantastic ones. We have all been influenced by Western History, and Greek mythology. What better way than books and movies to preserve our stories for future generations! Indian mythology is one of the richest in terms of details, and it good to see so many new stories about characters that were unexplored before. On the other hand, the quality bar has gone up quite a bit.
The theory of karma and how it plays out across lifetimes is a theme that is brought out beautifully in Ashwatthama’s Redemption. Was it a conscious decision to add this philosophical element?
It was more of a thought that came during the writing process. Karma was always the underlying theme, because Ashwatthama’s redemption had to be tied to it. But, when I was writing the conversation between Ashwatthama and Urmila, I thought that this part must be more than just a retelling of what happened. It should convey a message to the reader, while telling the stories. Urmila is young, and she would learn the hard way. What better way for Ashwatthama to hand over the reins to the younger generation by sharing his knowledge and learnings? So, I decided to give it the karma angle, which I believe also ties later with the redemption part.
You work as an engineer and you are also passionate about mythology. Do let us in on your experience of writing this book. How did you balance it with a demanding day job? What is your writing schedule like?
It takes time to write the first draft. Post that, things are bit easier. Of course, it varies from writer to writer. For me, I started writing the first draft with a view to write a 200-page book. It could just be a 100-page story, but must be an engaging one. I had not outlined this one before. There were many points where I got stuck for days, and would not know what to do next. That took a lot of time. But it was refreshing to delve deep into mythology, and figure out facts that we did not know before.
As for the writing schedule, I hardly could find time during daytime. I wrote mostly during nights, and when I got time during weekends. That’s one of the challenges all part-time writers face. But once a schedule is set, it becomes easier.
Ashwatthama’s Redemption demands a sequel! Any ideas about what would follow “The Rise of Dandak”?
Yes, I want to explore Ashwatthama’s character further. A warrior like him has gone through much, and there are lots of other parts of his life that can be explored. The story also could not be so simple as to simply kill Dandak after his resurrection, after all the background set for him. So, a sequel is in the works!
Well, we’re sure that readers are waiting to set sail with Ashwatthama and delve deeper into his adventures!
Author: Gunjan Porwal
Publisher: Om Books International
Genre: Mythological Fiction
With an increasing number of Indian women moving out of their home towns to work and study- they have gained more exposure to dealing with various facets of life including more freedom to date and choose their own life partners. Financial independence has given Indian women many more choices which the earlier generation never had. The rising popularity of the Chick Lit genre seems to reflect this changing social scenario.
A typical chick lit novel will revolve around the life of a young woman, usually single, working in a metro, in the 20s-30s age bracket. A common theme noticed in these light reads will be of “finding love”, love versus arranged marriage, work place politics, internet dating, open discussions of sexual experiences, body image issues, female friendships etc. There will always be some sort of conflict between the social conditioning of being a good Indian girl versus trying to make it in the big bad city.
Plenty of authors have jumped on to the chick lit bandwagon and some of the recent chick lit novels include Encounters of a Fat Bride, The Wedding Photographer, One Indian Girl etc. Most of these do reasonably well. Given the rise of digital readership and self-publishing platforms there is always room for reaching the urban educated woman who is the target audience for these stories. Sometimes it may be hard to distinguish one chick lit novel from the other- and the story lines may come across as repetitive.
“I am too old to read fairy tales and I do want to find love- the protagonist in the novel could easily be me- her problems could easily be mine- going through a tough break up, not getting that promotion that you aimed for, weight issues, pressure to get married at the right age etc.- the funny way in which these are portrayed is extremely enjoyable to read and brings a big smile to my face”.
Well, I couldn’t agree more- I am going to raise my Martini to Chick lit, Cheers!
When it comes to famous personalities, we often wonder who the person behind the larger-than-life personality really is. Muhammad Ali, the legendary boxer who ruled the ring during his illustrious boxing career, comes across as a very different person, seen from the point of view of his daughter.
At Home With Muhammad Ali brings alive scenes from the lives of Muhammad Ali and his family. The memoir is written like a story, slowly unveiling the man behind the boxing champion that the world knew. Ali had nine children and was married four times. The writer of this book, Hana Ali, is the younger daughter from his marriage to Veronica Porché.
It all started with a series of tapes that Ali had recorded since 1970s. “If anyone is wondering why I, Muhammad Ali, am making these tapes, it’s because history is so beautiful. And, at the time we’re living, we don’t always realise it,” he mentions in one of these tapes. These provide the raw material for the book.
Accessing these tapes, old published articles and a rich storehouse of memories, Hana recalls her memories of her father, from her unique point of view. How was life with a legend? How did it feel when celebrities flitted in and out of the house like casual friends? How did it feel to ‘share’ her father with the world? Fremont Place, where Hana lived with her mother and sister (Laila Ali, who is also a boxer), somehow pervades the narrative and makes a strong appearance in the book.
“We all think we know our parents. Some of us may, but in most cases only half of what we think we know is true” writes Hana. One can feel the sense of loss and pain that pervaded her life as she grew up.
“You are not my father, You’re Muhammad Ali,” she says to him once. This statement reflects the mindscape of a child who had to “share” her father since he was a celebrity who was larger than life. To add to that, he had nine children from different relationships, and he was dedicated to all his children.
Despite the pain, there were moments of joy. When he was with Hana, he more than made up for all the inevitable absences. The little memories of daily life are etched in her mind. “Even when he was busy, he made time for us. My memories are rich because of it”, writes Hana. The book describes many of these seemingly little instances that enriched her life. We see Ali as a family man placed in the context of his immediate surroundings.
Ali’s separation with Hana’s mother Veronica is one of the themes that underlies this book. Throughout the narrative there is a sense of questioning why their relationship broke up. From blaming her mother for the inevitable, Hana attempts to see both sides of the story and finally accepts the situation. She also accepts her father’s role in this break-up. She presents his side of the story, without passing judgements. She is also open about the disappointments that she harboured.
There is a sense of catharsis in the memoir, as if Hana has finally exorcised the past and looked at the events with a new eye. Hence the subtitle ‘a memoir of love, loss and forgiveness’ makes perfect sense.
At Home With Muhammad Ali reveals a lot about him as a person behind the public persona. With all his faults and strengths, Hana attempts to present an honest picture of the man. However, it is equally an attempt to come to terms and make sense of her own childhood and the impact it had on her own life.
I wish there were more details about Ali’s other marriages and children, and their perspectives as well. This would provide the reader with a more rounded image of the man. Honest and poignant as it is, it is still Hana’s perspective.
Ultimately, this is a book about the relationship between a parent and a child, and how childhood memories form an indelible impression on young minds.
“Being a parent and being married is hard. My father may not have done everything perfectly, but he learnt from some of his parents’ mistakes, and my mother learnt from hers, just as Laila and I will learn from their missteps and do better with our children. I guess that’s what we all hope will happen until someone, someday, many years from now, finally has a perfect childhood” writes Hana, providing a fitting message to the readers.
Title: At Home with Muhammad Ali
Author: Hana Ali
Publisher: Bantam Press, Penguin
Genre: Biography/ Memoir
“At twenty-seven years old, I had been introduced to a man with no name. I had handled his body, cut it apart, and put it back together again. From that point on, I thought, every careless mistake I might make in the hospital would be a slap in his face, every success a tribute to him, my first patient. He had given himself freely – wholeheartedly-and now I had to give him back and leave him to restful peace,”
-Sandeep Jauhar, Heart: A History
The heart is one organ in our body that widely links to metaphor and abstractions. When the author of a book is a heart failure specialist writing on the heart, one does not really expect storytelling to enter in. But, that is maybe where the skill of Sandeep Jauhar lies. He ‘dissects’ the heart in this book, titled “Heart: A History”, and merges various disciplines to give us a comprehensive account of the most important organ in the human body.
You’ll find different kinds of narratives here as the book moves on- the author’s personal history and accounts, references to the heart in literature, interesting facts about the heart (such as the origin of the heart shape as we know it), medical and scientific information about the heart, the history of the research in the field, art that depicts the heart, the idioms linked to the heart, case studies from annals of research in cardiology as well as stories and facts drawn out from his personal experience. All these bits of information jostle together and find a place in the book, sitting comfortably next to each other.
What I found most interesting is the exploration of the link between the physical and metaphorical heart. Jauhar quotes from research studies and personal experience to highlight the fact that the biological heart is deeply linked to emotions. “We have moved away from the emotional heart to a narrow focus on the biomechanical pump,” he writes. Perhaps this call to give importance to how emotions impact the heart resonates strongly throughout the book.
As he uncovers the mysteries of the heart he also takes us through his personal journey- the first time he dissected a frog, studied a cadaver and came face to face with tragedy as he helped victims post the 9/11 attacks. Poignant stories from his family continue to pervade the pages of the book, giving us some deep reflections to apply to our own lives and to our mortality as well.
He quotes several pathbreaking medical research studies. It is impossible for the reader not to empathize with the brave cardiologists over time who have researched and experimented to better current techniques. Many of them have, often for moral and practical reasons, experimented on themselves! Often, this has come at great cost. How can one balance between innovation and safety when it comes to human lives? Cardiologists had to take tough calls and the book illustrates these stories though the ages.
As one reads the book one feels like a partner accompanying the author on this surprising and mysterious journey of the heart! There are moments when the research bits get a bit detailed, but at no point is the narrative difficult for the non-expert reader.
We also get a peek into two worlds. Firstly, the field of cardiology with its pathbreaking technological marvels that have indeed made a huge contribution to humanity. But more interestingly, we also enter his own personal world. The feelings of guilt and helplessness at not being able to help a patient, the fear of the huge responsibility that his job carries and the happiness and gratefulness at being able to make a difference is also brought out very poignantly.
Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar will take the reader through a very unique journey in exploring the human heart.
Title: Heart: A History
Author: Sandeep Jauhar
Publisher: Penguin books