Category Archives: Book Review

Mumbaistan: 3 Explosive Crime Thrillers

mumbaistanWhen I realized that Mumbaistan was written by the same Piyush Jha who had made the film Chalo America, the DVD of which I had bought and watched last week, I took it as a good sign. There is no denying that Piyush Jha presents three cinematically explosive crime thrillers in this tiny anthology of stories all of which have the city of Mumbai in common. His writing style is simple and detailed and although he does, like many Indians writing in English, use Hindi curse words to bring certain genuineness to the story, something I personally detest, he doesn’t overdo their usage, keeping it to the bare minimum.

An easy and quick read, Mumbaistan unfortunately gets too predictable after the very first story. The author deserves credit for presenting stories that are without a doubt Bollywood-ish and do have a number of filmy clichés, but simultaneously also have hints of originality, colourful characters, and a certain entertainment factor that keeps the reader engrossed in the story.

The strongest point of all the three stories in the book is the twists and turns that the situations and characters are put through. Every time the story seems to be heading towards an expected culmination, Piyush, just at the last moment, adds in a new character and a new situation that lengthens the anticipation of the reader. While this tactic works brilliantly in the first of the three stories, titled Bomb Day, the remainder of the two become extremely predictable as the reader, by now, is aware of how the author thinks and the guessing game becomes relatively easier.

The same can also be said about the final twist in each of the three stories. They all have the exact same element (which I shall not disclose here), laced with betrayal, that takes away the fun from the entirety of the story.

The author gives his best presenting Mumbai with a unique character of its own. The stories dive deep into the shady by-lanes of the city emerging occasionally to mention the more prominent parts that even a non-resident would know of. While it does give an insight into the city, to someone who is clueless about the nitty-gritty of the life in Mumbai, like me, the names of the places do not evoke any emotion or response. They are nothing but names that don’t add much to the stories either.

Nevertheless, keeping in tune with the general atmosphere of the stories, the description of the places does add a feeling of dread which in turns does make them slightly more realistic and exciting at the same time.

Mumbaistan is perfect if you want to get a dose of Bollywood type action in the form of a book. The stories are full of vibrant characters and the fast-paced events would be perfect to showcase on screen, but the predictability factor is the only major letdown of the book. Furthermore, counting close to 5-6 obvious printing mistakes in the first two stories was quite disappointing.

I will however state that even after its minor faults and major predictability, the stories and consequently the book remains un-putdown-able.

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Book Review: The Complete Maus

‘Graphic’ and ‘novel’ ideally stand apart for any reader, since the former tends to rely largely on image and the latter on text. I decide to judge for myself, the result of merging the two, when the TSBC Challenge comes up with a “Graphic Novel Special” in June. And, by now, I’m attuned to lay blind trust in their recommendations.

But it wasn’t the BEST people who survived, nor did the best ones die. It was RANDOM.

the_complete_maus

Pavel’s astute observation on the Holocaust, in Maus, constantly rings in my mind as a comment on reading, as well as mis-reading a survivor-story. Half way through the book, he questions the writer’s own perception of the Holocaust and its survivors even as he tries to lighten Artie’s emotional/creative dilemma and distress (graphically portrayed by Artie’s shrunken size). Could we extend this remark to life itself, I wonder, as I try to consolidate my experience of ‘reading’ Maus by Art Spiegelman, as a part of the TSBC Challenge.

The book-cover leaves little to the imagination, for one can’t help but notice a vivid swastika cross. One broadly knows what to expect, but not quite. Expectation, in the world of Maus, is a mistake. I’m told by the mini-blurbs on the inside of the jacket that the work is autobiographical. However, the predominant images of cat and mouse seem at odds with this intention. Why would an autobiographical work require a metaphorical representation? Intriguing.

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Book Review: The Prague Cemetery

I decide to take up the TSBC Challenge out of curiosity. What book would I get? Could it be completely out of my loop? As a student of literature, haven’t I already abandoned the idea of a ‘comfort zone’? And anyway could TSBC gauge my loop?  And, I’m in for a surprise!

The-Prague-CemeteryMy first impressions of The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco are restricted to two words on the smoky, greyish-brown book cover: ‘Cemetery’ and ‘bestselling’. And I see a man with a hat who apparently conceals an event of some consequence as he stands with his back to the audience. It is perhaps, only through him that we might see light. Horror? Mystery?

The first chapter continues the eerie feel of the book cover by taking the reader through the “tangle of malodorous alleys” in a crime-infested neighborhood of the late nineteenth century Paris, only to land him/her at the doorstep of an old, faded antique shop. Inside, the reader almost bumps into history, as it is jammed together in terms of articles perhaps from different times and contexts — “a pendulum clock in faking blue enamel”, “vase stands with chipped ceramic putti”, “a rusty iron visiting card holder”, “hideous mother-of-pearl fans decorated with Chinese designs”, “two white felt slippers with buckles encrusted with Irish diamante”, “a chipped bust of Napoleon”… Interesting.

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Book Review: The Chocolate War

It is said that good writing is the context which a writer creates and makes the readers think.

Going by this famous quote, The Chocolate War is not only a good, but an exemplary piece of writing. It not only makes the reader think but also sets a stage for him/her to be able to clearly recognise right from wrong, good from evil, and the consequences and repercussions of standing by one’s beliefs in a particular scenario, like the school in this book. But it stands true to every phase and situation in life. Calling it an analogy to society, as such, will not be wrong.

the-chocolate-warWritten by Robert Cormier and first published in 1974, The Chocolate War remains the most discussed, analysed, debated and criticised book by Cormier and has been frequently labelled controversial and provocative. It has been banned in some parts of the world for it’s mature content, language and violence, but is equally supported by critics and taught in schools in other parts of the world.

The story is set at Trinity, an all-boys Catholic school where an annual chocolate sale is held to raise funds for the school. Brother Leon, the evil Headmaster at Trinity, doubles the number of chocolate boxes to be sold and also the price, clearly burdening the unassuming students. For this he cleverly seeks help from Archie Costello, the ‘Assigner’ with The Vigils, an underground student gang/group operating within the school in a clandestine manner. The Vigils intimidate the students and terrorise them into doing ‘tasks’ assigned by them. The protagonist Jerry Renault is a 14-year old freshman at Trinity who has recently lost his mother. Jerry refuses to sell chocolates for the annual sale and that sets into motion a chain of events, all unexpected and unusual for the school. How Jerry stands up to his beliefs, continues to refuse the sale of chocolates despite being bullied and harassed, how the complicated behaviour of students and Brothers at Trinity unfold layer after layer following this rebellious act from Jerry form the body of the book.

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