Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

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It took me sometime to pick up the much touted book  “To Kill a Mocking Bird”.  It would have been a miss had I not picked it up.  Written by Harper Lee, the book turned out to be a thought provoking and a delightful read.  In an emphatic fashion the author describes a story of a lawyer, his values, his family and in the process highlights the ironies of the human race.

  1. The Story and the Scope-  Set up during the period of racism in USA, To Kill a Mocking Bird is a story of a righteous white lawyer, Atticus, who fights a case of a rape accused black. The society knows that the black is innocent but the society along with Atticus also knows that the black will be, in fact, he has to be punished in a white dominated society. The upright  Atticus thinks of the case as a lifetime opportunity for him to live his belief, and he lives it, with full weight,   knowing the fact that he and his family will be mocked by his own society for doing so.  The story is a sharp attack on the hypocrisy of human beings and on the social order which permits inequality. The story also highlights the goodness residing inside humans. In its scope, other than racism, the book beautifully captures the innocence and the curiosity of the children and their tussle to prove that they are grown up.
  2. The Flow of Plot – The story is narrated by Scout, daughter of Atticus. The first part of the book is more about Scout, her brother Jem and their childhood plays. Gradually, without making it conspicuous, the story shifts to Atticus and his case. And suddenly the gentle but gripping story turns to a page turner. Once you realize the shift, you would also realize that there are some unresolved and unconnected pieces in the plot but in the end all the pieces nicely falls in the place. Overall, the flow is superb.
  3. The Characters –  I have read the book sometime back  but I still remember the characters and their qualities, so lastingly they have been portrayed by the author. The adorable character of Atticus lives life beyond the story and the book. Brave, super courteous and upright in nature, Atticus is a paragon of human virtue.  His daughter Scout is a fierce girl who has been raised without mother and  his son Jem always itches to prove that he is grown up, a desire which is so wanted by the kids.  The childhood play of the kids revolve around Boo Radley – a neighbor who has never been seen in public- and the kids desire to meet him.
  4. The Language-  The language and the text is coherent and fluid.  Author has impactfully presented the moral conundrums of humans, the ironies of the society and the psyche of the growing children.   One phrase which stands out in my mind is Frog sticking without light,  a phrase which perhaps has come in to usage after being used by the author in the book, even if it had existed before.  The truth about the moral issues are described in plain but effective manner.

Few pearls from the book:

  •   Atticus finch on why he would fight for a black, knowing the end result: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. 
  • Describing the feelings about thing which is your second habit : “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” 
  • “They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
  • “As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.”
  • A daughter’s pride described: “It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”
  • “Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

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Book Review: The Book Thief

” I am haunted by humans”.        images

The ending of the The Book Thief is as true and impacting as it can be.

The Book Thief is a true masterpiece of a work by Markus Zusak, a work in which Death has a story to tell. And what a touching story he has and how beautifully he narrates it.   No, don’t infer that the book is about death and horror.  It is much more than that, it has a beautiful story, woven around a girl and an equally good narration in the backdrop of Hitler’s Germany.

The Story and the Scope: Set in the reign of Hitler, in a town of Germany, the story is about a girl, Leisel, her family and friend. The story is about the harsh realities, about the parental love, about the friendship, about the selflessness and selfishness, about the rich and the poor, about the war and yes it is about the death too.  Full marks to the author for brilliantly depicting the relationships, especially for the adorable depiction of Leisel’s cordial relationship with her father, I almost felt like it is the depiction of the my relationship with my daughter.  The condition of the Jews and the treatment met to them under the Hitler’s regime is also profoundly presented.

The Presentation and Organization: Wow!! Delightful!! Unique!! The presentation is simply superlative. With death as the narrator, the tone of the story changes multiple shades – with death being incisive at times, humorous at some places and sarcastic at some other times. Very peculiar to this book, the author presents the by-product thoughts (if that is the term I can use for all the secondary thoughts which flow in mind while focus is on primary thoughts) in the form of intervention notes, right in the middle of the page and these notes actually add lot of value to the story.  The book is organized into 10 chapters with several  small sub chapters under each.  Such kind of organization tempts reader in to reading those extra few chapters which usually would be postponed to the next seating.

The Flow of plot: On this front too, Zusak is brilliant. No amount of organized approach would help if the plot does not evolve smoothly.  At no point in time, author has lost the grip on the plot.  The flashbacks and the flash-forwards (Oh, this is another unique attribute, the author has flash-forwarded the story on few occasions and reveled the secrets when least expected, and then he merrily returns the story to its present) never looks out of story and are well timed.

The Characters: As a reader, I found it very easy to connect with the characters as most of them are real. Apart from the narrator and Leisel, there are several interesting characters.  There is Leisel’s friend Rudy, who thinks himself to be Jesse Owen, has habit of poking nose in others affairs and ending up in trouble. Leisel’s mother is temperamental, practical and has habit of using slang as every other word. Leisel’s father is a simple man who plays an amateur accordion and for Leisel there is no one who can play the accordion better than him.  There is Jewish fist fighter, Max, who gets shelter in the house of Leisel and with whom Leisel develops and indescribable attachment.  Of course,  through Max, the author despises everything for which Hitler stands for, and he is quite successful in evoking hatred towards Hitler.

The Language: The language used is such that the tones adopted by the narrator hits like an arrow.   The author is at his best when he writes about Hitler and when he describes the Death’s point of view about his job.  The realities of day to day life are also crisply described.

This is how narrator flash-forwards the story:  “Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me. There are many things to think of. There is much story.”

Some crisp statements:

“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

“Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness. “
“Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day.”

“A small fact:
You are going to die….does this worry you?”

“I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skills is their capacity to escalate.

And Death’s statement on his job:
“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”

She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Leisel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchist’s suit collection. She kissed him long and soft, and when she pulled herself away, she touched his mouth with her fingers…She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on…”

“His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones. The ones who rise up and say “I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.” Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.”

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Books for beginners (Non Fiction): https://enlightenedsid.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/suggested-read-for-beginners-ii-non-fiction/

Books for beginners (Fiction): https://enlightenedsid.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/suggested-book-reads-for-a-beginner-fiction/

Book Review: Lord of the Flies

Lord of the flies is regarded as one of the best English novel, and for most part of the book I wondered why!!  Written by Nobel Prize winner, William Golding, the book presents a story which explores the two competing attitudes inside the human beings.  The book fails in many aspects, foremost aspect being the coherence.  There are good things too, but they are few and far.

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  1. The Plot: A group of school boys lands in an uninhabited island due to a plane crash. The boys, in their own childlike manner they try to establish rules to govern themselves but then the lack of resources leads to the awakening of that villainous and barbaric spirit which resides inside the humans and the result is savagery!!  The plot may seem interesting, but its flow and its development are dull.  Far too often the writer has described the events or symbols which do not gel with the plot.
  1. The Theme: The main theme of the novel is civilization vs. savagery.  The formation of a group, ego clashes between the two leaders and the deterioration of the group are the real world happenings which author has attempted to capture, but the attempt does not have much impact.  The renegading of children from civilized to unruly group, though irrational, is real – as in real world too, the renegades do renegade blindly rather than rationally.
  1. The Characters: All the characters in the book are kids.  Ralph and Jack are the two main characters and for me neither is interesting.  Good characters need to communicate with the readers so as to have a lasting impression and none of the characters of this book are able to arouse any emotion. The only exception, perhaps, being Piggy, a fat but logical child, who is the center of the fun and joke of the others and whose glasses play an important role in the book.
  1. The Language: The descriptions of the savaged boys killing a Pig as the hunt and then their killing of an apparent ghost are excellent. But apart from that there is nothing much. The author is verbose at many places and the narration can be skipped.  Overall, the reading is boring.

The book has its theme as the only good part, but the story, its development and the characters are not impacting.

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Books To Read For Beginners

Fiction: https://enlightenedsid.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/suggested-book-reads-for-a-beginner-fiction/

Non- Fiction: https://enlightenedsid.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/suggested-read-for-beginners-ii-non-fiction/

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Book Review: The Calcutta Chromosome

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There are stories which live a life even after the book is finished.  The tale of The Calcutta Chromosome surely lives that way.  Not because it is profound, not because it is life changing but because it has a great plot and an even greater build up to the finishing line but an unresolved and unsettled ending.  But despite its ending, which may disappoint and leave the reader craving for few answers, The Calcutta chromosome is a mesmerizing narration of a unique tale, the tale which cuts across the times and the places and the persons.

Let me analyse the book on few parameters:

1) The Scope:  It is difficult to classify this book under a particular genre, perhaps it is a Sci-fi medical thriller. The book has a flavor of science, of superstition, of medical, of religious cult and of some astonishing characters, all being enmeshed and encrusted in a nice recipe.

Those who have read Amitav Ghosh’s other works can say that this is an experimental piece of writing.  And for the major part of the experiment (almost its entire span) the book lives a captivating life.  (Read my other review of Amitav Ghosh’s work – https://enlightenedsid.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/review-the-shadow-lines/)

Rating: 3.5/5

2) The Theme:  The protagonist, L Murugan, is obsessed with Ronald Ross who had received the Nobel Prize in 1902 for his work on malaria.  The Protagonist believes that Ross had serendipitously discovered the cure for malaria and there is much more to his discovery which is yet unresolved and that is the Calcutta Chromosome.  In his quest to unravel the chromosome he travels to Calcutta. On the way to solve the mystery, he unearths several interesting anecdotes and meets range of characters.

To write on an established technical subject and then to question it, requires a skillful handling and a deep research. And, Amitav Ghosh, once again, as he has done in his other works, has shown his prowess in research.

Rating: 4/5

3) The Characters: As always, Amitav Ghosh has presented a delicious range of characters.  Besides the intriguing and obsessive Murugan, there is Antar who has a supercomputer AVA at his disposal.  There is Mangala, a cleaning woman at the laboratory who becomes an immortal Demi God through her brilliance. There is four fingered assistant of Ross, Laakhan.  And then there are two women journalists, one of them with an aura of celebrity around her.   And there is a writer, Phulboni and the story which narrates his involvement in the chromosome puzzle is simply breathtaking; the best I have read in recent times.

Amitav Ghosh has been brilliant in describing the humdrums of the characters.   For the magical way in which he has woven different characters in the story, I rate him high on this parameter.

Rating: 4/5

4) The Flow of the plot:  The story navigates through different timelines and places and genres.  From the past(about Ronald Ross’s work) to the present  (about Murugan and his disappearance),  and from New York – (where Antar is trying to trace the disappeared Murugan) to Calcutta (where Murugan along with a woman journalist is trying to unearth the Chromosome mystery).

The navigation of the story is often confusing, perhaps Ghosh has choosen too many dimensions – time, place, people, the complex subject and of course the genre – to cover.   There are some parts which while reading may make you feel as if you have missed a chapter or two, and there are parts where you might have to re read the previous parts to understand the flow.

Considering the multiple dimensions covered, the overall flow of the story has been built superbly. The build up leads to the adrenaline rush and high expectation towards the end. But towards the end, Amitav Ghosh has been disappointing.

Just because the book has left many questions unsettled, I give it one rating less.

Rating: 3/5

5) The Language and The Tone:  Language is Brilliant and Tone is Earnest!!  I have always admired Amitav Ghosh for the way he describes the simple stories using compelling language.  I admire the writers who are able to use pinpoint verbs to describe even a mundane action.  I believe that it is difficult to use appropriate adjectives, a bit more difficult to draw persuasive analogies and perhaps most difficult to describe the everyday feelings and actions in an earnest tone.  And when it comes to that description, Ghosh definitely ranks among the best.

Examples:  Look at the usage of verbs in the bold:

  • WALKING PAST the pavement stalls on Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Road, Urmila caught a whiff of the irresistible smell of fish cutlets and dhakai parotha wafting through the doors of the Dilkhusha Cabin.
  • There was a window above the sink, and by craning his neck he could just about see the back of Tara’s apartment, on the far side of the building’s air-shaft.
  • His sense of well-being returned now, as he sat in the gentle breeze, listening to the  chorus of frogs and crickets that came welling up from the flooded fields below
  • The journey took eight hours, but to the young writer it seemed to pass in a matter of minutes. Long before he had slaked his appetite for the landscape, the guard appeared to tell him that they were almost at Renupur.
  • Sonali gave him a nod and a distant smile. He swallowed convulsively, his Adam’s apple bobbing like a fisherman’s float.

 Rating 5/5

Overall Suggestion: A definite recommendation. Yes, if one reads books only for the stories then one will not like it.

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