Good Books Lift You!

Good Books Lift You!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Review: Life After MH370: Journeying Through a Void

Life After MH370: Journeying Through a Void Life After MH370: Journeying Through a Void by K.S. Narendran
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After 4 years, we do not yet know what happened to Malaysian airlines flight 370. The author Narendran’s wife Chandrika was on the flight (travelling to Mongolia for a FAO conference) and this is his story of coping with and moving on with life since the day the flight disappeared. I still remember the initial hours and days – there was a sense of bewilderment and shock – how can a plane possibly disappear. Narendran recounts those early hours and days – where the heart wanted to hold on to hope. And yet as time passed, it became clear that passengers were not coming back.

Adding to the tragedy was Malaysian Airlines confused and at times insensitive handling in the immediate few hours and days. The announcement that the airline had crashed, made by the Malaysian government was both abrupt and offered no reasoning on why they believed that to be the case. With the large majority of the passengers being Chinese and Malaysian, at least initially, there was support and interest among those nations. That was not quite the case in India, as there were only 5 Indian passengers on the flight, and the government was nearly the end of its term and battling other issues. Narendran gives credit to the support received from the Indian consulate in Malaysia. After a period of sustained search by Australia, the interest slowly ebbed. Inmarsat data was the basis for the entire search effort, raising the question on whether it was right to trust it as the sole source.

Narendran takes us into his personal life and innermost thoughts as he describes the struggle he and his daughter Meghna have faced to come to terms with the tragedy and move on. Questions on what actually happened continue to torment the families who are impacted, who serve as as source of support for each other. It is as if life had slowed down and it was an effort to bring focus and interest in anything (such as the holiday home in the hills they had planned to build). And yet, as he discovers, acceptance cannot be conditional on finding the plane and understanding the sequence of events. There should be lessons drawn for aviation safety and passenger communication, but it does seem to have happened.

This is an extremely sensitive, intensely reflective and well written account of what life has been for Narendran, his family and all others impacted, ever since the disappearance of MH370.

Priya Kumar’s book I Will Go With You: The Flight of a Lifetime uses a scenario similar to that of Malaysian Airlines to discuss philosophical questions of life and I reviewed that at

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Review: The Boy

The Boy The Boy by Nrupal Das
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a short story, and I really liked the simplicity of the story. A boy has not returned home till quite late and his mother is worried. She enquires with his friends and with their not knowing his whereabouts, she gets to be frantic. She calls her husband home and very soon the entire neighbourhood is on the lookout.

This is as far as I can go without adding spoilers.

What happened to the boy? Does he return?

As I said the honesty and simplicity of the story is very attractive. The passages towards the end are nice to read as well and add depth to the story. And yet, though the story had potential, it could have gone further and added more substance to make it a read you can remember for more attributes than it's simplicity.

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Review: 03:02

03:02 03:02 by Mainak Dhar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book on an impulse after reading an excerpt. The story talked about almost everything coming to a standstill at 03:02 one morning. No electricity, no cars working, no mobile signal, ……

I was right with respect to the story – it was certainly interesting, and also different. Aaditya is doing well on a job and has just recently been promoted. In that sense life could not better. While growing up, being from a family where many have served the armed forces, he has a touch of fascination for it but settles for a well-paying desk job. The scenario was the result of a massive terror attack. While the main character – Aaditya, is based in Mumbai, India, this was a global attack with many nations impacted.

However, that morning changes everything. The world as people had known it has changed. A lot of the action is around Powai, Mumbai, an area I am very familiar with and it was nice to read how the places I frequent often figure in the story. Aadi motivates the local residents to resist and fight back. The local residents taking the fight to the terrorists is what this book is all about.

While the story is good, there are a number of other aspects of the book which are not quite appealing. A lot of the scenarios are far fetched and many of the characters acquire and display amazing tactical and fighting skills all of a sudden. So much so that the armed forces at a later stage look to Aadi and team for advice. There are a number of incidents which come across as being deliberately introduced for political correctness. A movie was a better format for this narrative. While, the fight the civilian population takes to the terrorists is appealing, there is too much of the same thing across the story.

Sadly, the narrative does not quite carry through the novelty of the story. And yet, for it’s different story, it is worth taking a look at.

My rating: 3.4 / 5.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Review: Ghachar Ghochar

Ghachar Ghochar Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I had heard of Ghachar Ghochar quite some time back, I got around to reading it only now. As I had expected, I had a good time reading it.

The narrator of the story is unnamed – he lives in a joint family with his uncle, father, mother, elder sister Malati and wife Anita. The cultural setting is distinctly (South) Indian. This is a family which has come into riches from difficult times. The father loses his job. At this time, the uncle starts a spice trading enterprise called ‘Sona Masala’. This does well, and the family gradually grows to be rich. The changing fortunes bring about a change in attitudes and behaviours.

The author is a director in the firm but is not much of a contributor to it. There are sequences when he thinks about his past friendship with Chitra who vociferously champions for women’s rights. Both of them move on, and the narrator marries Anita. Anita is assertive and direct and has her own expectations from her husband. This places her in conflict with the family on and off. The narrator takes refuge many a times at a coffee shop, where he grows close to and respects the waiter there (Vincent).

There are many problems which crop up, including a bad episode involving someone who comes in search of the narrator’s uncle. A lot of things can be worked out with the money they now have, and yet not all. Many problems linger and take a toll.

The cultural setting is very realistic and one would say – even typical. The buildup of the characters is very quick, and yet detailed enough to understand their attitude and motivation. The translation is excellent as well.

“Ghachar Ghochar” is a cooked-up phrase which Anita tells the narrator as part of a story. A close meaning for this would be “messy” – based on how the characters use it.

Ghachar Ghochar understates a lot of things, and that in fact is one of it’s charms. However, when I reached the end of the book, I felt it left too many things unsaid, leaving too wide an area for speculation. Just maybe, it could have continued its charming narrative at least a little further…..

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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Review: The Monsoon Murders

The Monsoon Murders The Monsoon Murders by Karan Parmanandka
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Monsoon Murders sets a good pace throughout the story and is one of those books you wish to continue reading without a pause. I largely did that and finished the book faster than most others in recent times.

The story is about a murder of Arun Ruia, a senior executive of Fox Capital Inc – a financial service firm which has done very well in the past few years. The CEO of the company Jayesh Kumar requests Roy Kunte, an ex-police officer (who was forced to resign from the force) to further investigate the case. He is also worried about the impact this is having on Alina, Arun’s sister who seems distraught after her brother’s murder and also is a suspect.

There are several twists as the story moves along, as is to be expected, and Roy has to delve well into the past of many of the characters to uncover the truth. There are aspects of the police investigation which are not entirely straightforward either.

As I wrote at the outset, the pace is the biggest positive of the book. The investigative prowess of Roy is another positive. However, aspects of the plot are somewhat contrived and of the kind you have come to associate with Bollywood movies these days.

This is an excellent book to relax with, and for that I certainly recommend you read it.

My rating: 3.25 / 5.

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Review: Rani Padmavati: The Burning Queen

Rani Padmavati: The Burning Queen Rani Padmavati: The Burning Queen by Anuja Chandramouli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The recent few months has seen a lot of interest around Rani Padmavati, with the strong opinions around the film ‘Padmavat’. Writing historical fiction is a delicate balancing act between staying faithful to the ethos of history, while introducing enough new material to interest readers. This is a genre Anuja Chandramouli excels in.

Padmavati is the queen of Chittor, famed for her extraordinary beauty. This is the most prominent aspect of her personality we know of, other than the tragic end she suffers, when she decides to end her life rather than be captured and possibly become another of Alauddin Khilji’s wives.

Anuja does introduce substantial material to illustrate new facets to her personality including her grace, selflessness and balance. In the face of provocation, hardship and finally tragedy – she stands tall, unflinching in her support to her husband King Rawal Ratan Singh. In the face of the eminent threat from Alauddin Khilji who sets his eyes on Chittor, after his conquest of Gujarat, Rawal Ratan Singh has only limited success in bringing together the kingdoms in the vicinity to resist him. There is also a stroke of bad luck as the kingdom is further laid low by an epidemic.

While the end is tragic, it is the memory of Rani Padmawati and Rawal Ratan Singh’s characters which endures. The book also does well to bring Alauddin Khilji’s fascination for Rani Padmavati in a fairly balanced perspective devoid of hype.

As with her other books, the writing is very good, as are the incidents which shape the personalities of the characters. There is a case though for the book to have been more expansive by introducing further new material, incidents and exposing inner thinking processes of its main characters to help us get closer to their souls.

A book I certainly recommend for the strong narrative, the depth of its characters and the impression it leaves about them.

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

Review: Malice

Malice Malice by Keigo Higashino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book of Keigo Higashino that I read after “The Devotion of Suspect X”. This is an excellent murder mystery as well. The style is similar – great story & plot, depth of characters and systematic & painstaking analysis. It does not have the frills which build suspense and many readers have become so used to – the end of a chapter having a sentence or two with a touch of drama. In many ways, this is the way murder mysteries should be written.

Hidaka is a best selling novelist, and Nonoguchi is his friend – he writes children’s books too. Hidaka lost his wife some time back and is now newly married again. He is found murdered at his home by his friend and wife. Detective Kaga is given the case (he and Nonoguchi were colleagues as teachers at a school a few years back), and quickly uncovers a number of clues not quite apparent when one looks at the circumstances and situation of the case.

There seem to be a number of complexities, all of which need investigation well into the past – the relation between Hidaka and Nonoguchi, Hidaka’s relation with his first wife and also a number of incidents from the past.

After reading around 1/3rd of the book, it appeared as if the mystery was over. I wondered what more could come now, and was worried that the story would just drag on. As it turns out, there was a lot more to come – all from very painstaking investigation by Detective Kaga. An in depth investigation of motive leads Detective Kaga well into the past and interviews with various different people to uncover the full sequence of events.

This is an excellent murder mystery – and recommended without hesitation if you like this genre!

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