Tag Archives: Book Review

No Room For Small Dreams- Shimon Peres

20180311_160150431403436.jpgWhen a Book has these many markers sticking out from it, it is evidence enough of having been a more than satisfying read.

There is something about Israel that has always caught my fancy. It all began with the movie Raid on Entebbe (1977 ‧ Television film/Docudrama), my parents true blue cinephiles had the VHS tape among others in their collection. I was all of 8 when I saw the movie, later Dairy of Anne Frank primarily and hundreds of other books on the Holocaust cemented my curiosity of the Jews and the land of Israel. So, it was due to providence itself that into my hands fell the autobiography by Shimone Peres, one of the founding fathers of Israel. The number of autobiographical books I have read and enjoyed I can count on one hand, Open by Andre Agassi had reigned numero uno for quiet some time until now when No Room For Small Dreams usurped it.

From the title itself I found myself mesmerized by the book. I read the title again and again, I wondered at its meaningful depth – haven’t the most questionable of dreams resulted in the most amazing of creations. Israel had been an almost implausible dream and its creation an almost impossible task. No Room For Small Dreams is the condensed version of its creation in the words of one of its architects, Nobel laureate – Shimone Peres. Born in Vishneva, Poland in 1923, his family had lived in the area for several generations, they called the village ‘shtetl’ yet it was never home for the many Jews who lived there ‘They saw it more as a way station, one of the many stops over thousands of years along the road back to our homeland. The land of Israel was not just the dream of my parents; it was the animating purpose of so many people we knew.’ In 1934 Shimone Peres with his parents and brother immigrated to Mandatory Palestine, the land that would be Israel. In this autobiography he reveals how an uneducated yet literate son of a librarian and lumber merchant became twice Prime Minister and President of a nation that would defy all its detractors to transform from a hopeless desert of permanent poverty to a technological miracle and a hub of scientific enterprise.

I have been inspired by the words of the man himself, and share some with you. The heads under which I have categorized the sagacity in his words are not necessarily the way he has done so in the book. These are derived out of my own need and my own understanding of them.

Overcoming the impossible:

We felt as though our mission was greater than securing a homeland, it was our job to imagine a new society…It gave us a family larger than any we had known and a purpose greater than ourselves. the hardness wasn’t an inconvenience; it was the reason we were there.

On Leadership:

I was assigned a job that would give me my first experience as a leader – not of men, but of sheep. Yet there was striking similarities: shepherd, for example, may have authority over his flock, but that alone does not mean he can control it… It took time and patience to master the skill. We had to find a common language, a common understanding. I had to know their fears as if they were my own, so i could understand where they could not be led – or at least, when I’d have to move with more deliberateness. I had to be both empathetic and insistent in stating my intentions – a figure they would follow, even reluctantly, if only out of trust.

On one of his biggest lessons learned from Ben-Gurion:

I had seen something else, too, something that would strongly influence my thinking about leadership: when he had been most frustrated, most intent on walking away, he had remained open to the arguments made by two young men with a mere fraction of his experience. He had nearly given up on the larger debate, but he had not given up his belief in debate.

On Chutzpah :

 In almost every meeting, we found the same set of circumstances – a courteous but firm dismissiveness… And yet I knew that we never achieve great things if we let austerity become an obstacle to audacity. To build a stronger, more prosperous state, we had to set our gaze higher than our temporary limitations.

The lesson on Cynicism is by far my favorite in the entire book:

Experience has taught me three things about cynicism: First, its a powerful force with the ability to trample the aspirations of an entire people. Second, it is universal, fundamentally part of human nature, a disease that is ubiquitous and global. Third, it is the single greatest threat to the next generation of leadership. In a world of so many grave challenges, what could be more dangerous than discouraging ideas and ambition?

 

Classification : History
Genre: Autobiography
Pub Date : Sep 14, 2017
Page Extent : 336
ISBN : 9781474604208
Price : Paperback – Rs 449 Kindle – Rs 338

Too Close To Home by Linwood Barclay

After reading a few intense books I like to settle down to read something light or a thriller. This time I picked up Too Close To Home by Linwood Barclay. Never having read him before my interest was piqued by the blurb of the book. What’s more frightening than your next-door neighbours being murdered? Finding out the killers went to the wrong house… The next line clinched it for me – For the Cutter family, the idea that they may have been the intended target seems crazy.

For a murder mystery to thrill one always judges it rather unfairly by the standard of wonderment felt during the youthful dalliance with Christie. A quick read this one, and contrary to my expectations a well-handled plot. Barclay’s writing delivers as he manages to give the reader numerous suspects and peels back the layers of their compunctions slowly and surely. With likable characters he reveals their back-stories and has the reader connect to the Cutter family (Jim, Ellen and Derek) on both the emotional and intellectual level. A hardworking people they have pulled themselves up, on stairs made of the sands of lost dreams and human frailty. With the police foolishly making incorrect assumptions and pinning their sights on Derek, the teenage Cutter, it falls on his father Jim Cutter to unravel the plot for them. While the reader is engaged in figuring out how a 10 year old secret hidden in a salvaged computer is raison d’etre for the murder, multiple scenarios line up for Jim to wade through: What does a best selling author and professor fearful of ? What is Ellen hiding from Jim? Is Derek’s trauma at his friend’s murder obscuring something more? How does a forgotten boy’s suicide suddenly need to be looked into now? A corrupt politician and his rotten chauffeur, a girl who was rescued by Jim, a gay teacher and his paramour, Jim’s new employee – the list is endless for Jim to sort through. Jim’s own biases towards most of the characters conflict his judgement pushing the motley of narratives together and throwing them apart equally swiftly.

A vein of dullness runs through the story-line, the characters and the setting are nothing glamorous and the author makes it a point to express the wanness of the town ironically called Promise Falls, and the sallowness of its inhabitants. As the story progressed I was impressed by how cleverly Barclay built up the story towards an expected outcome, walked away from it completely and finally circled back uniting it at the end with what can only be called poetic justice. By the time the book moves closer to the end and before the murderer and their reasons are revealed, one can guess the end. However, the tension continues to the end as the interweaving plots converge. An author whose other books I would certainly want to read.

Originally published: 25 September 2007
Genre: Thriller

Just Another Day by Piyusha Vir

Just another day

Just Another Day by Piyusha Vir, is a set of 3 stories to delight sting in the tail enthusiasts. All written from the first person point of view each story progresses in a chronological manner – back and forth. Within the scope of limited words Vir manages to create relatable characters in a breezy style.

In the first story, Writer’s Circle, an author closeted in a room with other murder suspects only wants to get back to her writing, was perhaps the one I related to the most. Come hell or high water when there is a thought brewing in the mind, nothing, nothing takes precedence for a writer. As the story progresses the cold blooded opinions of Anuradha have one engaged right to the denouement, when the murderer and their motive is subtly revealed.

The second story is innocuously titled – Happy birthday, Saisha. Technically in this story Vir displays a deft hand at foreshadowing, which is both mature and surprising from an author with so few stories under her belt. An author to watch out for sure. But back to the story, one would have read somewhere in the news about an incident similar to what Saisha experiences on her birthday. However, one would not have read the thoughts of a girl who goes through such a birthday. Vir’s handling of the story has you gripping the edge of your seat in an innervation that rises slowly from the pit of your stomach leaving you with the metallic zing of disquiet.

The last story in this triad is Elevator Tales, a smile found itself to my lips as nostalgia hit me unawares. Everyone will relate to this story. All women would have memories of crushes on a handsome dude. If he lived next door that certainly would be the icing on the cake, wouldn’t it? For men too, I’m sure the feelings are the same. Vir’s characters rush of hormones have been experienced by all of us. Sighing and building sandcastles of a future together, embarrassing incidents and certainly being at our undignified best in front of the object of our affections might have been suffered by many of us. Yet, the fondness of those memories is what this story evokes ending with a slight twist to romance.

Just Another Day by Piyusha Vir on the face of it looks like a collection of quick shots at a day where life changing events occur for three individuals, but the depth of thoughts are more than what one would bargain for. Published by Readomania, this collection is available only on kindle @Rs 49 for now. Click here to buy.

Exodus by Leon Uris

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It was way, way back somewhere in my teens when I read Exodus for the first time. When I asked to borrow it from the school library on the recommendation of a friend, I remember the librarian asking me if I should be reading such a thick book just as the exams were approaching. Then she said in a resigned manner, “Knowing you you’ll make short work of it.” And she was right for I devoured it, so to say. As a teenager Exodus by Leon Uris was an eyeopener but then as the young are wont to be idealistic and fired about one issue till the next one comes along, so was I. I forgot the book.
Last year, I read Mossad by Israeli journalists, Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal, and therein awoke an itch to read Exodus again. I was looking for a copy of the book on kindle with little luck and bookstores around me surprisingly did not have one. So, when a friend said she had an ageing copy left to her by her Grandma, I jumped at the chance and requisitioned it. After these many years I remembered the story vaguely, but knew that it had made an impact. In my teens I had read Exodus in 2 days, in my 40s it took me longer. If you are a lifelong student of English Literature and a voracious reader like me you would have read numerous books on the Holocaust seen from various perspectives. You would have researched various references to the Bible, especially the Old Testament, you would have some inkling of the rich history of the Jews. But, you would not necessarily have read how the modern State of Israel came into being, Leon Uris in Exodus gives this triumphant carving of an oasis by the Jews, within a text of 600 pages.

The fictional story begins in Cyprus where Jews fleeing from Europe are held in prison-like camps by the British and the reader is introduced to Ari Ben Canaan. A dashing mountain of a man, he is a member of Mossad Aliyah Bet. A man principled and committed to the land he is born to protect, he plans the escape of 300 children aboard the ship named Exodus, leaving the British shame faced in front of the entire world. He is aided by his Palmach team on the ground, a Cypriot sympathiser, an American journalist – Mark Parker and a reluctant American nurse – Kitty Fremont, in his audacious plan. For the plan to succeed there are two more characters essential: Karen Hansen Clement and Dov Landau. Two orphans of the holocaust, one saved by the Danes with all the faith of her people and the other condemned by the Poles filled with all the hate inflicted upon his. From there the story progresses to Palestine, controlled by the British, here more characters are introduced such as Barak Be Canaan and Avika, Ari’s father and uncle respectively. We meet Sarah who against all odds and torture by the British does not crack and Ruth who is representative of all the woman who rebelled at stereotypical roles and worked alongside the men in ditches and mud and emerged better at Dairy farming, these are Ari’s mother and Aunt. Johana, Ari’s sister, and Dafna, Ari’s love, both soldiers and members of the Haganah, the Jewish defence force redefine valour. Through the fictional back stories of the characters Uris reveals the historical truth of reclaiming of farmland from marshes and swamps by the sheer grit of the Jewish pioneers (Third Aliyah) and forming the various kibbutz (agricultural collective communities) and how each generation contributed to fighting for the dream of a homeland.

When I read the book as a teen I was fascinated by the story yet being from the generation that scoured libraries for information, I did not have enough resources to research much. Now I Googled almost every detail as I read, and came across fascinating information, which makes Exodus a compelling read.

I was further enthralled to discover the manner in which Hebrew became the spoken language of a nation. The state languages of Israel are Hebrew and Modern Arabic. Hebrew is the holy language of Judaism, the Jews across the world spoke Yiddish along with the language of the country they inhabited. There is no precedent to this revival of a language without any native speakers becoming a spoken language by several million as is with Hebrew. But then, the whole story of the revival of the State of Israel is a remarkable one rooted deep in Judaism.

Judaism is almost 3,000 years old, the first of the Abrahamic religions its texts, values and traditions influenced later Abrahamic religions including Christianity, Islam and the Baha’I Faith. The history of mankind is littered with story after story of man’s brutal greed, the Children of Israel too had to defend their lands from the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Ottomans, Crusaders and an endless list of muraders who wanted to gobble them up, resulting in creating the largest diaspora in the middle ages. The Jews scattered to save themselves and their faith from the yoke of tyranny, but did the world provide them with a safe heaven? Sadly not. What followed was racial prejudice, ghettos, pogroms, The Jewish Pale of Settlement and the Holocaust. From East to West for two thousand years the Jews wandered looking for dignity and freedom. They struggled, they strived, they adapted and were loyal to the nations they adopted. Very few accorded them the dignity and freedom they searched for whereas most gifted them with persecution and legal restrictions. The Jewish Question” is a very interesting term that I came across in Exodus and was appalled to understand the implications of it. Under the covers of this innocent sounding term is millennia of Anti-Semitism. But what is both terrifying and wonderous at once, is the faith of Judaism. That refused to die. Despite the foot of prejudice attempting to choke out the very breath from their windpipes, the Jews dug deeper hugging their faith close to their emancipated bodies. To fathom how after 2000 years of savage abuse, abysmal degradation and searing inhumanity, the Jewish people still kept their faith. Their belief that they were the chosen ones and the Messiah would one day lead them to their land of milk and honey, is nothing short of wonderous.

So, how did they keep their faith? In the folds of the book you will discern many reasons for this, but none resonated with me as much as this one about the pursuit of wisdom, Uris writes: Community life pivoted around the Holy Laws, the synagogue, and the rabbi, who was at once teacher, spiritual leader, judge and administrator of the community. The rabbis of the Pale were all great scholars. Their wisdom was far-reaching and rarely questioned… Indeed the community moved as one for the existence of all…The poor donated to the poorer. The poorer – to the poorer yet. Charity was the eleventh, the unwritten commandment. Leading scholars and religious leaders had to be cared for. Nothing was allowed to interfere with the pursuit of wisdom.

There were two aspects that disturbed me in the book. The first was the way the Arabs were portrayed by Uris. He describes them with a bias that is unsettling. In Uris’ words: The air was foul with the mixed aroma of thick coffee, tobacco, hashish smoke and the vile odors of the rest of the village; Nazareth stank. The streets were littered with dung and blind beggars… filthy children were underfoot. Flies were everywhere. How pathetic the dirty little Arab children were beside the robust youngsters of Gan Dafna. How futile their lives seemed in contrast to the spirit of the Youth Aliya village. There seemed to be no laughter or songs or games or purpose among the Arab children. This could be attributed in some part to the policy of the British. On November 2, Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour sent his letter to Lord Rothschild, a prominent Zionist and a friend of Chaim Weizmann, stating that: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The Balfour Declaration of 1917, gave Britain the administration of Palestine, with the understanding that it would work on behalf of both its Jewish and Arab inhabitants. As an Indian, I was not surprised and this became the second disturbing aspect in the book – how the British played Jews against Arabs. It is summed up neatly by Uris’ fictional character General Sir Clarence Trevor-Brown: The only kingdom that runs on righteousness is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdoms of the earth run on oil. The Arabs have oil. It is evident from the telling of the story that Uris holds a baised opinion about Arabs and the British.

I am told by a dear friend that The Haj by Leon Uris gives the Arab side of the story. I am now searching for it. Readers who own any Leon Uris books do hold on to your yellowing pages, these books are not easy to procure.

To just Leon Uris was an American Jew who as a war correspondent covered the Arab–Israeli fighting in 1956. His experiences and discoveries led to writing the Exodus which was first published in 1958 by Doubleday. Exodus went on to become an international publishing phenomenon, the biggest bestseller in the United States since Gone with the Wind (1936). It remained number 1, on the New York Times bestseller list for 19 weeks after its release. It initiated a new sympathy for the newly established State of Israel and fed the American minds with a twisted view of the Arab people. Celebrated by many it has also been denigrated equally, “As a literary work, it isn’t much. But as a piece of propaganda, it’s the greatest thing ever written about Israel,” said Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion.

The reason I liked the book immensely is stated in Uris’s dedication message : all those good folk who spend their chapters hating themselves, the world, and all their aunt’s and uncles…all those steeped in self-pity…all those golden riders of the psychoanalysis coach…I have shown the other side of the coin, and written about my people who, against a lethargic world and with little less than courage, conquered unconquerable odds.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman

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Books like this one make it easy to fulfil my promise of writing reviews. A much recommended book by two discerning reader friends (Devna & Kiranjeet: Thanks from the bottom of my bibliophilic heart), I downloaded it onto my kindle.

The story is rather straightforward. It revolves around the main protagonist, most obviously, Eleanor Oliphant and her dealings with the world. Ms Oliphant, as she would appreciate my addressing her, is not your run-in-the-mill kinda girl, she’s got issues. And her issues are not minor skirmishes with the world we all face, for she is a girl who looks at the world with different lenses from yours and mine. If you’ve read the Rosie Project or seen The Big Bang Theory, you would recognise in Eleanor similar oddly charming and socially challenging characteristics as Don Tillman and Sheldon Cooper. But, where the difference lies is that there lurks a sinister shadow in Eleanor’s life which the writer peels away layer by layer.

Eleanor Oliphant is 30 years old and a weird creature of habits. She needs her days to run just so. She has her meals in a certain way and at certain timings. She has worked at her first job for 9 years and has not ever thought of making any changes. One day Eleanor is thrown out of her comfort zone of her regulated schedules by two incidents: the first is when she sees the man she decides is the one she must marry and the second when she is drawn into helping an old man who has collapsed on the street. Both these incidents compel her to begin making serious changes in the way she lives. While the romantic interlude is planned by her in meticulous detail of self-improvement. The other results in throwing her life into a kilter. Where Gail Honeyman walks away my five star rating is how she makes Eleanor slowly creep into my heart as living, breathing relatable character.

Eleanor’s is a story about loneliness so intense it took my breathe away. She is 30 years old and asks: I do exist, don’t I? It often feels as if I’m not here, that I’m a figment of my own imagination. She has not a single friend in the world, there are days when she is lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether her to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. She has worked in the same firm for 9 years and the threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday, but no one knows anything about her. Besides a social worker no one has ever walked over the threshold of her home. This is where the story begins. Honeyman points out a facet of modern day society which is alarmingly true: These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.

This also a heart-warming tale of friendship, of finding there are people who care, if we let them. Eleanor finds in Raymond a friend with whom she finds the gentle heat of something opening, the way some flowers spread out in the morning at the sight of the sun. I knew what was happening. It was the unscarred piece of my heart. It was big enough to let in a bit of affection. There was still a tiny bit of room.

But, for Eleanor Oliphant to be completely fine till she faces the sinister demons lurking on every page of her life. She needs to acknowledge the ghosts of her childhood in order to overcome the scars on her heart, just as thick and disfiguring as those on her face. Despite her self-imposed loneliness hope lingers in her heart, as she confesses in her own words, I hope some undamaged tissue remains, a patch through which love can come in and flow out. I hope.

Reading up till now you might consider the book to be a sad and heavy story to be picked up with care. On the contrary Honeyman has incorporated delightful moments with Eleanor navigating the perplexing world. Eleanor’s self-improvement endeavours are hilarious, her observations on bikini waxes, manicures and high heels and why Starbucks needs to write her name on a cup had me in splits. She is shamelessly judgemental and delightfully perfect in her assessments of the human foibles. Her tactless comments are so refreshing, and to be honest we all think the same stuff as her, but just don’t utter it out aloud.

Some books leave you dissatisfied with the way they end. Some may feel the same for this one, however, I was not. Gail Honeyman has, with the end of the book done what is rarely done by authors: she has acted with a mature restraint. Would love to know if you agree. Read the book and do let me know.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

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The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

The Wonder By Emma Donoghue, begins with a gloomy portrayal of a beautiful country, Ireland. Having visited the vibrant island a few months back, I was disconcerted to read Donoghue’s lacklustre words. What a contrast I thought to myself. Was the author, I speculated, giving credence to the main character Lib, by reflecting a British nurse’s prejudices towards the Irish? As I read further it struck me, that Emma Donoghue was employing the Gothic style of writing. The term Gothic in itself is intriguing, isn’t it? Gothic Literature refers to the style of writing that employs elements of fear, horror, gloom, death as well as romantic elements, such as nature, individuality, and very high emotion. These emotions can include fear and suspense. Set just a few years after the an Gorta Mór, The Irish Potato Famine (1845 – 1849) a period of mass starvation and disease, the famine remains a formidable character in the background of the story.

With hunger a dominant theme in the book, the story revolves around 11 year-old Anna O’ Donnell who has refused to eat for four months and still survives. The devout believe this is a miracle and flock to the O’ Donnell’s cabin to kiss the hems of this living saint. The cynical believe it is a hoax. So how is the dilemma to be resolved? A committee is formed comprising the influential of the village: a landlord, a doctor who believes Anna is his greatest scientific discovery, a priest who wishes to protect his church at all costs and a tavern owner. Each one has their own vested interest in proving the child is indeed a miracle. Anna needs to be observed and a period of two weeks is decided upon where the girl will be watched every waking and sleeping moment. But who would do the watching? Two nurses are hired – one from England, a pupil  of Florence Nightingale, the other a Sister of Mercy,  who has devoted her entire life in service to the sick. One nurse is an Irish Catholic nun and the other a British woman of science. What could be a more impartial watch.

I know a book is good when I read and get sucked into it. When I can see the characters as if they were walking parallelly with me. As I read The Wonder, I could feel the coldness of the rain and roughness of Lib’s tweed nursing uniform. The starched rustle of Sister Michael’s habit sent a my nerves jangling. I fell for the handsome William Byrne, so jaded by his profession who recognised the truth of Anna’s condition quicker than the trained nurse, Lib. I recoiled from the squalor of the O’Donnell’s cabin just like Lib and wanted to straighten out the sheets of Anna’s bed with her. I could taste the peat in the oatcakes served to Lib and identify with the guilt of eating in front of a child who had not eaten for months. While I could understand the love of a father in Malachy O’Donnell, yet like Lib not reconcile to his dumb acceptance. As a mother I could not even begin to comprehend the character of Rosaleen O’ Donnell.  I felt sorry for the slavey, Kitty who collapsed every night onto the hearth. But most of all I could relate to Lib’s scepticism, her determined pursuit to expose the fraud and then her horror at the unimagined truth she uncovers. The revelations at the end are not really surprising, yet had me gasping in horror.

This book reveals the power of religion over a devout child misguided by the adults who should have been protecting her. Zealotry is not something I understand. Not overtly devout, I found Anna’s faith difficult to connect to. With all kinds of deafening religious debate blocking out all sounds of sensible discourse these days, I found in this book the dangers of being ‘God fearing’. When the tenets of religion provoke only a sense of fear in the minds of children, there is something very wrong with what is being preached. Saying that, I cannot help but admire the power of religion over individuals. Or is it the power of the so-called upholders of religion – the preachers screaming from the pulpits? This is not a comment on one, but on religion at large. Today we see a world where children are used as suicide bombers, where in the name of saving cows they are lynched, and mobs attack a bus full of school children in the name of upholding the honour of a fictitious historical character. Which leads me to ask that one question which I’m sure all of us ask: When will they, the preachers, realise that they have an obligation to the people for whom they have made their bond of reverence?

I am part of three Bookclubs, I read The Wonder with one of them. A question asked there had me stumped: Who was or what was The Wonder in this book? I cannot find the answer, as I debate with myself: Was is Anna, the girl who did not eat? Was it Rosaleen O’Donnell’s style of mothering? Was it Lib’s commitment to her patient? Was it a priest’s need to protect his church at all costs? Was it a Doctor’s need to leave a legacy? Was it the acrid aftertaste left by the author’s skill that made me reluctant to write this review? What was it that overwhelmed me, I do not know. I hope, dear reader, you can answer this one for me.

To read more of my Book Reviews please click on:

https://vasudhachandnagulati.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/the-truth-about-the-harry-quebert-affair/

https://vasudhachandnagulati.wordpress.com/2018/01/16/book-review-before-we-were-yours/

https://vasudhachandnagulati.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/book-review-a-window-to-her-dreams/

https://vasudhachandnagulati.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/in-the-light-of-darkness-book-review/

 

 

 

The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair

the truth about the harry quebert affair

As I mentioned in my last post, I made a Godawful promise to myself and as a result spent 10 bookless days. Since January is too soon to give up on a New Year resolution and I must stick to it till February at least, I had to write the review and fast. This time I was smart, I wrote the review as I read along.

When I got my hands on this 615 pages long innocently titled The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker, to be honest I wasn’t very thrilled. Would you be with a title that long and cover page revealing an empty town? However, once I began I couldn’t stop. Hastily prepared meals, ignored emails and exercise regimes, and  feigned ignorance towards the needs of the spouse and kids, I finished the book in two days flat. Well…two days and one all-nighter.

By now I must have piqued your interest, so without further ado, let me share the many reasons why you must read The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

For a good juicy Mystery

If there is one thing I absolutely abhor is the Rubix Cube. I am convinced Erno Rubix invented the damn thing to flummox the likes of me. I manage to solve one colourful (generally blue, since that’s my favourite colour) side and then the all the other sides resemble a punk’s dream come true. In school and college my friends gave up and now my kids have given up on trying to explain the ‘simple’ funda (as they call fundamentals) behind solving it. My daughter when she was 11 shared a YouTube video too hoping I would get it, but NADA. And then the Piramix, astride my Whizkid son’s palm, walked into our home. Let me not even get started on my battles with this Rubik’s cousin from hell. You may be wondering why I’m lamenting on my incapability to handle this ‘simple’ puzzle when the post is about a book deceptively named The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair.  The reason is rather simple (please, detect sarcasm here).

Fanny Blake of the Daily Mail describes the book as ‘An expertly realised, addictive Russian doll of a whodunnit’, I cannot find a better expression than hers. Having read whodunnit’s from an early age, there is not much that comes as a surprise in books anymore, and even though I had guessed who had ‘dunnit’ early into the read, Dicker made it tough to say: Aha! I knew it, at the very end. Every turn of the page became interesting as new information was revealed and confused the hell out of me on who would be the inglorious murderer. Joël Dicker can probably solve the Rubik’s cube and the Piramix with a few twists like my progeny, but I’m convinced he also can break it down to its spare parts and join them together without breaking a sweat. For he sure broke the plot of this book down, scattered the pieces, let his pet or offspring run riot over it and then put the pieces back together in the most ingenious novel within a novel. If that isn’t reason enough for you to pick up the book here’s the next.

You should read it for the protagonist, Marcus’s Mom

The most fun conversations happen between Marcus and his Mom. To the son’s frustration he just has to say something and the mother twists it into something else entirely, these conversations brought out many a chuckle of delight as I read on. She is the quintessential mother, always questioning all her son’s actions and choices resulting in hilarious conversations with her bewildered  child, who needed to get on with investigating a murder, exonerating his mentor and writing a book all at the same time. If I were Marcus, I wouldn’t have lasted, I would marry the first woman I came across just to shut her up. Sarcastic Moms have always been my favourite characters in books and Mrs Goldman lives up to the expectation and more. Need more reasons to read the book? Well, here’s the next.

If you are a budding writer

Read it for the dollops of writing advice dished out by Harry Qubert to his protégé Marcus. The many doubts I constantly deal with, are answered in this book with equanimity.  Here’s one to whet your appetite: “A new book, Marcus, is the start of a new life. It’s also an act of great generosity: You are offering, to whoever wishes to discover it, a part of yourself. Some will love it, some will hate it. Some will worship you, others will despise you. Some will be jealous, others will be curious. But, you’re not writing it for them. You’re writing it for all those who, in their daily lives, will enjoy a sweet moment because of Marcus Goldman. You may say that doesn’t sound like much, but its actually quite something. Some writers want to change the world. But who can really change the world?” 

You still need more reasons, right? Phew! Demanding, aren’t we.

Well here’s the last one. Every book should leave you with having something you would like to go back to again and here’s one from this one I wanted to share for all those who spend most of their life worrying about reaching the top of the mountain.

Harry:   “So you felt like you’d won?”

Marcus: “Yes, I did. Even if technically, I lost the match, I felt as if I had won.”

Harry:   “Well, there’s your answer: It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. What matters is how you fight between the first bell and the last one. The result of the match is just a piece of news for the public. Who can say you lost if you feel like you’ve won? Life is like a foot race, Marcus: There will always be people who are faster than you, and there will always be those who are slower than you. What matters, in the end, is how you ran the race.”

Amazing, right? So simple, yet a resounding message about what life should really be about.

I now gleefully reach out for my next read The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. Watch this space or rather my blog for the review.