Some more memorable books.

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I had tried to read Amitava Ghosh some years ago and had not enjoyed his book or whatever I did manage to read of his. So even after he won the Crossword Hutch Book Award and the book constantly crept up in conversations, I was not sure of the book.

An afternoon in the bookstore below my office and one chapter later I was hooked. Its one of the those few books that constantly beckon to come back and explore it further. Its been ages since I read a book I could not bear to leave – constantly want to listen to the characters talk amongst themselves, read aloud descriptive passages or generally dream of being there myself.. as a part of the story.

Its a story set in the tide country or mangroves or to be more specific the mangroves at the delta of the Ganges, also known as Sunderbans. Set in an imaginary Lusibari, it revolves around people who come there, make it their home and then give up a lot more for their adopted homes.

Told through a narrative of a diary, the story unfolds in two time periods, giving it an element of dreaded certainty that makes you want to continue reading ahead because of our innate fancy for anything even remotely sad. Being right about anyone’s misery somehow makes us want to rejoice.. I wonder why?

Kanai, Pia, Fokir, Tutul, Moyna, Mashima, Nirmal, Horen.. I could go on.. it must be Bengali names that make them so musical to say. The story is a love story on one level, a fight to demand freedom on another, different generations making a picture with memories and snatches of conversations.

Its about Kanai trying to find the mystery about his uncle Nirmal’s death, Pia’s search for the Oracella Dolphins, the language barrier and how it ceases to matter in duress, the small victories in progress and education, the beauty of Sunderbans and how it is all interwoven coming together in the last few chapters.

As the story comes close to an end, it crescendoes with a storm (literal and figurative), keeping up the pace of the story in a similar high and razzy end.

I cant compare it to his other books because I have not read any as yet (but will definitely read at least more). But this one is written fluidly and is in places, dark, surreal and warm and liquid in others.

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Edited to add: It’s about The world according to Garp

A book about a writer writing on his being a writer, on his mother being a writer, on her writing, his writing, his reading about writing and of course all this interspersed with his writing – after an introduction (by a fellow reader) like this how could I resist reading this book?

But like more books achieving or claimed to have achieved cult status, this book falls short. Oh yes! It does entertain and keep one amused but somewhere along the way fails to make the point it sets out to make or may be makes too many of them.

Jenny Fields, her son T S Garp, their life together with his and her myriad family spans his entire life – all of thirty three years. What starts off as his entry into the world slowly evolves to make his life a reluctant feminist to his becoming a moderately successful writer interspersed with familial upheavals.

Garp was, like his beliefs, self contradictory. He was very generous with other people, but he was horribly impatient. He set his own standards for how much of his time and patience everyone deserved.

Almost summarises the book…

Progressing in a back and forth pattern, with verbs and tenses playing truant, the book surges forth. Entertaining nevertheless, this book strikes a cord many a times, especially for (self professed and otherwise) writers.

There is a faint, trapped warble from some televisions tuned in to The Late Show, and the blue gray glow from the picture tube throbs from a few of the houses. To Garp this glow looks like cancer, insidious and numbing, putting the world to sleep. May be television causes cancer, Garp thinks; but his real irritation is a writer’s irritation: he knows that wherever the TV glows, there sits someone who isn’t reading.’

The language in the book is good but nothing above the ordinary. The language does not accentuate the tale, just narrates it. The book brings forth many notions that are immensely entertaining and thought provoking – single parenting (and how!), feminisim, the knack of writing as opposed the skill of it, fidelity, real life influence on writing, violence in daily life and the basic fear of losing one’s loved ones.

To my quasi-feminist mind, I love Jenny and her ideals and would love to emulate her, had I even half the courage.

In this dirty minded world, Jenny thinks, you are either somebody’s wife or somebody’s whore – or fast on your way to becoming one or the other. If you dont fit either category, then everyone tries to make you think there is something wrong with you.

[..]

… Garp explained to his mother the Viennese system of prostitution. Jenny was not surprised to hear that prostitution was legal; she was surprised to learn that it was illegal in so nany other places. ‘Why shouldn’t it be legal?’ she asked. ‘Why can’t a woman use her body the way she wants to?

Why not indeed!

* Are excerpts from the book

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Skinny Legs and All is his fourth book that I am reading. Its his way of writing. Any book. Any subject matter. All pertains to today. All relevant now. It does not matter when it was written.

All seeking salvation. Isn’t that what we all aim for? Look to? Call Nirvana instead? Ellen Cherry heads to New York (‘s art world) with the brand new husband Boomer Petway in a welded together “turkey” and reaches there losing only a spoon, a can o beans and a really dirty sock, along the way.

“I’m twenty-four, jilted and work in food service; I’m free to be as free as I please.” It occurred to her that despite the failure of her marriage, the failure of her career, despite her hangover and chronic horniness, she suddenly was feeling rather light and giddy. She couldn’t understand it. Was she simply too shallow to suffer indefinitely, or was she too wise to become attached to her sufferings, too feisty to permit it to rule her life?

Life’s secrets exposed veil by veil.. Salome’s seven veils… Boomer’s career taking off as a sculptor forces Ellen to reconsider her stock of painting talent and survive as a waitress at Isaac & Ishmael. The restaurant started by Roland Abu Hadee & Spike Cohen across United Nations. A restaurant by a Jew and an Arab. Considered a threat to the conflict in Jerusalem, this place symbolizes what nobody wants to acheive in the “Middle East”.

Jitterbug Perfume – quest for immortality; Villa Incognito – the need for disguide and masquerades; Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates – the intelligent US interference in all world affairs and now Skinny Legs and All which talks about the conflict in the Middle East. Though dominant through the 90s as an issue, the book still holds true. That, on some level, is dismal.

A superb read, this book, like all its precedents, is a delightful read. Language is handled perfectly to mask and unmask the veritable secrets to salvation and a assured trip to heaven. But yes you have to read the book for it.

Beauty! Wasn’t that what mattered? Beauty was hardly a popular ideal at that jumpy moment in history. The masses had been desentized to it, the intelligentisia regarded it with suspicion . To most of her peers, “beauty” smacked of the rarefied, the indulgent, the superfluous, the effete. How could persons of good conscience pursue the beautiful when there was so much suffering and injustice in the world?

Inanimate objects that prophesise the doomsday and righteous preachers who are willing to do anything to make sure doomsday happens (sounds familiar?). A welder accidentally discovering God? Art is ordinary mundane things seen through a skewed vision? How wars serve no purpose and how The Truth is out there?

The book is a bubble, escapsulating everything and every person. There is art, religion, sex, relationships, deviants, fetishes (a predominant theme in all of Robbin’s books – remember vaginas in seventy different languages from Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates), politics, satire and a sign of things to come.

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In one word this book is superb! Brilliantly written, just the right length and teeming with personal experiences, anecdotes and beautiful imagery. Gerald Durrell’s book is a fabulous first book of this author to begin.

Excerpt:
Spring had arrived and the island was sparkling with flowers. Lambs with flapping tails gambolled under the olives, crushing the yellow crocuses under their tiny hooves. Baby donkeys with bulbous and uncertain legs munched among the asphodels. The ponds and streams and ditches were tangled in chains of spotted toads’ spawn, the tortoises were heaving aside their winter bedclothes of leaves and earth, and the first butterflies, winter-faded and frayed, were flitting wanly among the flowers.

A simple tale well told – well one can never have enough of it. Gerry, at ten years old, along with his entire family (though the father is of course absent) move to the sun soaked glory of Corfu. What then unfolds is an adventure interspersed with lessons from zoology, botany, ornithology and all other -ogies from various fields of science. Of course I have not had any such memorable lessons in science.

Gerry (though I have to say, I am astonished as his retentive power, to be able to write this book later on in life, for events he experienced when he was ten), his various animals all from Geronimo the gecko to Roger the biggest of them all dog, all aboard Bootle-Bumtrincket ( I kid you not!). His various teachers and the other myriad people who enter his life… its a delicious read.

Another excerpt (a particular favourite two lines of mine):
…the time had come, he thought, for me to go to somewhere like England or Switzerland to finish my education. In desparatation I argued against any such idea; I said i liked being half educated; you were so much more suprised at everything when you were ignorant.

There are moments in the book when you chuckle out loud and look around guitily, sure that people will write you off as a nutter but many a incident in the book are vivid and delightfully entertaining. Though more than once, whenever Gerry picked out a youngling from his nest and took it home, it would bother me. Why would he want to separate the little one from his mother, just so that his collection would prosper, I did not quite follow.

Another aspect of the book which is handled very well is the death of pets. It can often be a traumatic experience for a child and is it imbued with a lot of sensitivity and can easily be related to.

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