Book 229: The Guide by R. K. Narayan

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The Guide by R. K. Narayan

Rating: 8/10

“The Guide” follows Raju, who we meet at different times of his life, learning about how he becomes known as Railway Raju, how he works as a guide and meets various people, and how he ends up being called Swami and fasting in hope of bringing down rain on a drought-stricken area.

The characters in the book are fascinating and full of life and very well thought out. I really like how there’s barely any physical descriptions of people or places, but I could imagine the situations and people vividly.

What happens to Raju is all quite unexpected. To me the most interesting part was about Raju’s changing attitude throughout the book.

Sinec I’ve been a guide I found his attitudes towards that great -the excitement and enthusiasm and meeting new people who you only see once, and then there are the few exceptions that might stay in your life for a long time. And the eventual (though maybe not inevitable) decline into pessimism and boredom of having seen it all and talked about it to people who have been more interested in it.

Another bit that just made me chucklewas ofcourse the things that really do come up a lot when you’re a guide – someone’s asking about something you don’t know, you try and guess at the answer, and they obviously know better, or when they’re the one doing all the talking and you’re just learning about what you should have known before.

In general it’s a great Narayan book to read.

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Book 164: A Fine Family by Gurcharan Das

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A Fine Family by Gurcharan Das

Finished reading on April 8th

Rating: 8/10

This book deals with the lives of several generations of a family beginning in the 1940s in Lyallpur, continuing through the troubled time of Partition and moving away from their ancestors’ home as staying there becomes too dangerous. The second part follows the recently married daughter Tara and her husband Seva Ram and their son Arjun as they make their life in Simla and the final part of the book follows a grown-up Arjun and his later life and marriage.

One of the most prominent themes in the book seems to be dissatisfaction and also as appropriate for the time – being carried along in the fast flowing current of history.

“Even the dogs trembled as they wandered in despair for a morsel of human neglect. Once or twice a door opened and the smell of fear spilled onto the street.”

The book is certainly worth a read – the characters are interesting, though I personally didn’t find them particularly agreeable, and it is a fast paced story, with the end being a little bit rushed compared to the rest of it. But it’s all a little unexpected – you think you know what will happen, and it will, but there’s always some kind of twist to it… It’s quite poetic.

Book 130: The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa

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The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa

Finished reading on April 8, 2014

Rating: 8/10

The Sari Shop follows the life of a Ramchand, a shop assistant in Amritsar (which wikipedia tells me is in Punjab, India).

His day-to-day life might seem repetitive – as he wakes up in the morning, washes himself, is usually late to work and has to show saris to customers at work, eats a quick lunch and back to work, and the evenings he’d usually just spend staring at the ceiling, and on Sundays he’d go and see a movie in the cinema.

However Ramchand’s life is about to change, as he decides that he will try to read and write English every evening. In addition he is getting extra assignments at work, to go and show saris to the rich Kapoor family, whose daughter Rina is about to get married (and has a role to play further on in the story), or go fetch his colleague to work.

But while he is trying to improve himself, he also finds out more about his work colleagues, especially about Chander, one of his older colleagues, and about his wife Kamla, who he once sees, when he is sent out to find Chander who hasn’t turned up at work. Kamla is drunk and saying all sorts of obscenities. And this is where the novel’s mood changes, and we’re in for a surprise (not too nice one) ending.

“Just to be alive meant to be undignified, Ramchand thought, his stomach aching with acidity. Because it wasn’t just about your own life eventually. What was the point of trying to learn, to develop the life of your mind, to whitewash your walls, when other people lay huddled and beaten in dingy rooms? Or had dark, dingy memories like rooms without doors and windows, rooms you could never leave”  – Rupa Bajwa

The book was interesting, and the second part of the novel, which gives a lot of background information about Kamla  reminded me of the writing of Fyodor Dostoyevsky – showing the miserable life and living conditions of the working class, and what humans might become or do under pressure. An interesting look at life.

Book 125: The 3 Mistakes of My Life by Chetan Bhagat

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The 3 Mistakes of My Life by Chetan Bhagat

Finished reading on April 1st, 2014

Rating: 8/10

When it comes to books by Asian authors or  that take place in Asia, there’s always the fear of the unknown – will there be a suicide bombing, or violent mobs on the street – one never can tell from just the blurb on the back.

Chetan Bhagat is a bestselling Indian author

The 3 Mistakes of My Life tells the story of three friends – Govind, Omi and Ishaan, living in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Govind is excellent at mathematics and is giving tuition, Ishaan used to be the best cricket player at his school and Omi is the son of a Hindu priest.  They start a cricket shop. A lot of this book is about cricket and business.

As a person who knows very little about either of those, it was surprising that I found the book quite interesting.

That’s because there are more themes in this book – relationships between a teacher (or tutor to be exact) and a student, politics, religion, coaching, etc.

So what is the story?

Ishaan is giving cricket tips at the shop, but he also starts to coach some of the neighborhood kids, one of whom, is Ali, a twelve-year old Muslim kid, who can score sixes (if anyone understands that… I tried to find out, but I’d rather spend more time with tensor calculus, thank you very much…) – so his really talented and Ishaan decides to do anything to make sure, that Ali becomes a great player.

At the same time, Govind is tutoring Ishaan’s sister Vidya for her medical school entrance exams in mathematics, but there’s a relationship developing there…

Okay, no more talk about the story. Now for whether or not there’ blood and gore in the book – yes, there is, as the Hindus and Muslims have some scores to settle (and it’s not in cricket).  That was kind of surprising though, as the 150 or so pages before, everything was fine, and then suddenly there’s a lot of violence.

This was the fourth book by Bhagat that I read and second I reviewed (Find One Night @ the Call Center here). I like his writing style – it’s simple and straight-forward and for most of the time, it’s pretty obvious where the story is going, and there are several themes in his books, which is fun, although it can also  get exhausting… But the books are fast paced and I read this book in about 7 hours with just a few breaks to go make some tea and finished it at around 2 am, so his books are definitely  something that’s good entertainment for long bus-rides or when you’ve just taken your computer away to get it repaired and can’t figure out what else top do…

There’s also a movie that is based on this book. I haven’t seen it yet though, because I had to read the book first naturally…

Don’t remember there being any guns in the book, so I’m interested to see what they did differently in the movie.

Book 117: The English Teacher by R. K. Narayan

PIMG_9613The English Teacher by R. K. Narayan

Finished reading on March 21st, 2014

Rating: 7/10

“The English Teacher” is the third novel in an autobiographical trilogy by the 20th century Indian writer R. K. Narayan.

As the previous books “Swami and Friends” and “The Bachelor of Arts” this book follows Krishnaswami’s life. Now he is working at a college as an English lecturer, is married to the beautiful Susila and has a daughter by the name of Leela.

As the story starts we find out more about Krishna’s work and his opinions about teaching literature.

But then the story continues with his in-laws wanting him to finally live together with his wife and child. First they rent a house and then they’re planning to buy a house, but unfortunately they never get that far, as Susila falls ill.

In order not to give any spoilers I can’t really say much more about what happens next.

This book is somewhat different from the other books by Narayan that I’ve read, as it delves into some-kind of mysticism, that is a little reminiscent of 19th century English writers like the Bronte sisters. The novel’s tone becomes dark and sad.

“Flames appear over the wall…. It leaves a curiously dull pain at heart. There are no more surprises and shocks in life, so that I watch the flame without agitation. For me the greatest reality is this and nothing else… Nothing else will worry or interest me in life hereafter.”

I enjoyed the first part of the trilogy more than the two later ones. However I liked how in the end of the book Narayan resigns from his work and says things that reminded me of J. D. Salinger as Krishnaswami want’s to start teaching children instead of being a part of the college in which, as he sees it, they don’t teach the students to think for themselves but rather produce simple civil servants.

 

Book 100: Swami and Friends by R. K. Narayan

PIMG_8424Swami and Friends by R. K. Narayan

Finished reading on January 14th, 2014

Rating: 9/10

“Swami and Friends” is another great work of the South-Indian author R. K. Narayan, it was his first published novel (1935). It was Narayan’s first semi-autobiographical novel in a trilogy (second is “The Bachelor of Arts” and third is “The English Teacher”).

It’s an interesting story about childhood and friendship from the perspective of a boy who’s about ten years old and constantly seems to get into trouble by being in the wrong place at the wrong time (or not being in the right one).

I really liked this novel, because it reminded me of the attitudes and thought of childhood – what exactly is important when you’re a child, and what isn’t – for example cricket is important, and drill is not. Also it showed the relationships between friends and ends with a friend leaving, and the ending was the reason why I liked it so much – although a good friend moving away is not as tragic as  someone dying, then for a child it is quite awful, and even for adults it’s not easy, so the final chapter is one of the sadder parts of this book.

I like how Narayan uses language and how Swami, the main character seems to think and feel, and why he does certain things – there’s never malice behind his actions that get him in trouble, it’s always his childish way of looking at things or not understanding what’s happening or just plainly imagining things that aren’t there.

Although it was written 80 years ago and about a fictional town in India, then it felt relevant to me, and I think it might be so for many people – despite being already in history, it feels modern.

“Twice he had gone up to the gate of Rajam’s house but had turned back, his courage and determination giving way at the last moment. He was in this state, hoping to see Rajam every tomorrow, […]” p180. R.K. Narayan “Swami and Friends”

“Every tomorrow” – doesn’t that just strike at you? Hoping of something that could happen tomorrow, and when it doesn’t then it will happen tomorrow…

In order not to spoil the book – here’s what it’s about – switching schools, making friends and keeping them, childhood, getting lost in your way, getting mixed up in greater things, and physical violence in school.

Book 84: The Vendor of Sweets by R. K. Narayan

PIMG_7034The Vendor of Sweets by R. K. Narayan

Finished reading on October 30th, 2013

Rating: 7/10

R. K. Narayan (1906 – 2001)  was an Indian author, who was one of the leading figures in early Indian literature in English.

“The Vendor of Sweets” is one of his short stories that was first published in 1967 and  was another one of the stories that was set in Narayan’s fictional town named Malgudi  in South-India. This short story follows a short period in the life of Jagan, a man who is about to turn 60 and owns a Sweet shop.

Jagan is a rather curious character as are many of the characters I’ve come across in previous works by Narayan I’ve read. Jagan follows a really strict diet and life philosophy and has over years accumulated quite a lot of money from his sweet shop, which he keeps at the best possible level. He’s life if filled with routine until one day his son Mali decides he doesn’t want to go to college any more. Instead Mali wants to become a writer and write a novel in about five months for a contest. Jagan is fine with that, as he can proudly say that instead of reading what other people write, his son is now giving other people something to read.

However for some reason or other Mali’s novel doesn’t seem to get anywhere and after the contest deadline has passed Mali suddenly wants to go to America to study how to write novels.

And that is where the everything else ensues. He studies in America and is sending back letters to his father about the life there, not mentioning much at all about what he is doing. Although in one part his letter did make me chuckle:

“I’ve taken to eating beef, and I don’t think I’m any worse for it. Steak is something quite tasty and juicy. Now I want to suggest why don’t you people start eating beef? It’ll solve the problem of useless cattle in our country and we won’t have to beg food from America.”

Oh, the young people!

So a little while later Mali arrives in his home town with a girl! Who his father thinks first is Chinese and thinks to himself:

“Don’t you know that one can’t marry a Chinese nowadays? They have invaded our borders…”

But that’s just the beginning of the story. Now having studied and gotten wiser Mali wants to start a business (and not take over his fathers sweet shop) and that’s something that is nothing but trouble as you can find out in the story as arguments and misunderstandings ensue about whether Mali is really married or not and why has Jagan suddenly dropped the prices of the sweets in his shop. And of-course someone has to go to jail and someone has to want to leave home.

What surprised me about this story is that Jagan goes through real growth in the stories scant pages. In the beginning he is really shy with his son, always wanting to please him and almost never even talking to him directly, but through some middle-man. But by the end Jagan has gained some kind of confidence, he doesn’t care anymore what his son thinks of what he says and while throughout Mali’s life Jagan has tried to make his life as comfortable as possible, in the end, when Mali ends up in a police lock-up Jagan won’t even take the time to go and see him, but instead is hurrying to a bus-station to get out of his old life, away from the sweet shop and to start something new with his life.

A really interesting story.

 

 

Book 64: The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi

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The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi

Finished reading on August 14, 2013

Rating 5/10

It is supposed to take place in 1900BC, in India. And it’s about Shiva. The plot is great, it’s interesting to follow, the characters seem alive, it’s easy to imagine everything that’s going on….

But there are some disturbing anachronisms and/or doubtful things in his book.

For example while Chandravanshis are spying on Shiva and the royal family one of them is using a scope – a spyglass. Not likely!

While explaining how the “drink of the Gods”, somra, works, a “scientist” explains it to Shiva using terms like oxygen (which was discovered in the end of 18th century and the name was given in 1777) and oxidant. Facepalm… And the fact that there is a “scientist” in 1900BC? Sigh….. Yes, I know it’s not Europe, it’s India, but still!!  And in one part Shiva is lying on his bed reading a book! Seriously?!

So this book kind of made me groan and sigh and want to hit my head against my desk in desperation just because of those small details. It’s fantasy and myth combined. But if there just weren’t those little annoyances, then it would be excellent!

In one chapter some religious guy is asking Shiva to remind himself about how humans see light and different colours. And it’s the modern description. Rawr! How many colours are there in the rainbow? Everyone knows there are seven. But it was Newton who said there were seven, he had originally written five, but later added indigo and orange so as  “to divide the [spectral] image into parts more elegantly proportioned to one another.” One can read about that in Topper’s “Quirky Sides of Scientists”.

I’m awful, I know. And yes, I do realize that even the fact I know this kind of stuff is odd.

Otherwise it was fine.

Book 61: A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

PIMG_4969A Suitable boy by Vikram Seth

Finished reading on July 29, 2013

Rating 10/10

This book is the longest one I’ve read this far in my life with 1474 pages .

It tells the story of several extended families who are all connected somehow by marriage or circumstance. The main story line (in my opinion, though there were several) follows Lata Mehra, whose older sister is just getting married in the beginning of the book, to a suitable boy whom Mrs Rupa Mehra has chosen for her daughter. Naturally now comes the time to find a suitable mate for Lata.

This book wouldn’t be half as long if it were easy and Lata would really want to get married to the first guy her mother thinks suitable (from the right caste and religion, not too dark, has a good job etc.). There’s some drama and romance involved.

Some political and religious intrigue throughout the book are going on in the sidelines, all very interesting indeed….

By the end of the book Lata makes her choice – in the beginning  she met Kabir Durrani, a Muslim boy she falls in love with, Lata’s sister’s sister-in-law tries to make a match between her brother Amit and Lata and Lata’s mother has found a suitable boy in Haresh Khanna – from the same caste and religion, well-to-do etc.

I’m not going to write whom she chose, but I’ve got to admit that she chose just the guy whom I didn’t like out of the three… 😦 Oh well… It’s an excellent book nonetheless.

 

Book 53: The Bachelor of Arts by R. K. Narayan

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The Bachelor of Arts by R. K. Narayan

Finished reading June 23, 2013

Rating 7/10

This rather short piece is about Chandran, a history major whom we first meet being asked to be the Prime Mover in a debate ” The Historians should be slaughtered first”. So already the beginning of this novel is catchy.

It continues with Chandran’s life in and out of the university, for example establishing a History Association, trying to get a marriage arranged between himself and a girl he sees and follows on a beach, his depression when their horoscopes don’t match and hence they cannot marry…. And all this followed by months of him being a sanyasi, someone who renounces worldly and materialistic pursuits.

After around 9 months he returns home to his worried parents and has to decide what to do next – to go to England maybe…? or take up a venture into a newspaper venture? And all this while his mother is giving arranging a marriage for him another try.

It was a rather good read, it could just have been a lot longer…