The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy [Book Review]

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy book review
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Title : The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Author : Arundhati Roy

ISBN : 9780670089635

Publisher : Penguin Random House India

Genre : Comtemporary Fiction

Pages : 464

Source : Self

Rating : 1 star

While I write this review, I am simultaneously thinking if there is a way to give a negative rating- negative because the 2nd half of the book ruins all the charm and exuberance that I felt for the unearthly prose and surreal analogies in the 1st half of the book. I wonder why Ms. Roy didn’t go ahead with another non-fiction if all she had to do was to push her propaganda with a fiction that she came up after 20 years of the legendary “God of Small Things

The first half of the book narrates the story of a transgender Anjum, her trials & tribulations as he transitions from Aftab to Anjum, her life and struggles as a “hijra” in contemporary Delhi and her coming out of age when she finally chooses to be independent and make a graveyard her permanent dwelling. Even in this half, Ms. Roy leaves no stone unturned to propagate her political beliefs- addressing Modi as “Gujarat ka Lalla”, incongruous addition of 2002 Gujarat riots- calling those who burnt the train as ‘miscreants’ while the Hindus become ‘Hindu Terrorists’. However, this half still mostly revolves around Anjum’s life, her maternal feelings and finally her independence.

Come the 2nd half and the reader is introduced with the Kashmir issue and this is where Ms. Roy completely loses it and pours all her hatred for the Indian Army on the pages. The prose becomes extremely chaotic, interspersed with multiple anecdotes of army’s cruelty in Kashmir and for hundreds of pages, the story seems to go nowhere. The reader is made to believe that all the army has done is killing innocent civilians.

I had been anxiously waiting for this book, had pre-booked it months ahead in advance (and hence got an author-signed copy) but now I feel sorry that I have to abandon this book. 20 years after The God Of Small Things, Roy is more of an activist rather than an author and this clearly shows up in the book. Expecting another path-breaking narrative from her was a gross mistake from my side.

Get a copy from Amazon here: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness 

Join The Booktrack Facebook Group for Freak Deals on books, recommendations, discussions and connect to readers from all across the world.

Who Me, Poor? By Gayatri Jayaraman [Book Review]

Who me poor? Gayatri Jayaraman: Book Review
Who Me, Poor? By Gayatri Jayaraman

Title : Who Me? Poor?

Author : Gayatri Jayaraman

ISBN : 9789386432230

Publisher : Bloomsbury India

Genre : Non-fiction

Pages : 192

Source : Self

Rating : 4 stars

 

 

 

As Indians, we often relate ‘poverty’ to rural and bucolic. The moment we encounter the word ‘poverty’, images of emaciated poor people living in mud houses in unhygienic surroundings envelop our mind.

Who me, Poor?” by Gayatri Jayaraman captures something we all know about, still feel awkward and uneasy to discuss even if it’s happening to us or our closed ones- Urban Poverty. The book has multiple first person anecdotes, ‘struggler’ stories and case studies of urban people who are cutting on their food, living standards and health just for the hope of making it big someday. All anecdotes are followed by a thorough analysis by the author on the reasons behind this phenomenon- what drives the millennials to succumb to pressure and live life on debts, loans and credits. The role played by evolution of cashless economy, corporate work culture, expensive degrees, overemphasis on ‘networking’, in the exacerbation of this menace has also been clearly analyzed.

The book discusses a much less talked about but an inescapable menace that is making its headway (infact, has already made) in Indian urban fabric. The author has done a commendable job in putting together relevant anecdotes and case studies, though the analysis part has turned out to be a bit complex. A few sentences might seem unnecessarily intertwined, thus undermining the sole purpose that the book is supposed to deliver- acquainting the reader about the phenomenon of Urban Poverty in India and its various manifestations.

All in all, the book is an impressive and well-researched work and I look forward to read more from the author in future.

Buy yourself a copy from Amazon here-  Who me, Poor? by Gayatri Jayaraman

Join The Booktrack Facebook Group for Freak Deals on books, recommendations, discussions and connect to readers from all across the world.

 

Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa [Book Review]

Hotel Iris Yoko Ogawa Book Review

Title : Hotel Iris

Author : Yoko Ogawa

ISBN : 978-0099548997

Publisher : Vintage

Genre : Mystery

Pages : 176

Source : Self

Rating : 4 stars

 

Yoko Ogawa is the third Japanese author that I read (after Murakami & Ishiguro) and I must mention that her prose is captivating and powerful and puts together quite an imagery.

Hotel Iris is a sado-masochistic tale where a 17 year old girl Mari finds herself drawn towards a middle-aged ‘translator’, who knows his ways well to provide her ‘pleasure through pain & humiliation’ until the situation climaxes into a devastating end!

The relationship between Mari and the translator oscillates between being a tender one with mutual attraction blooming between them on one side, and the extremely graphic description of BDSM, voyeurism associated with humiliation and afflicting pain on the other.

Hotel Iris is one of those books that unabashedly describe the deviant (but consensual) sexual behavior and this novella is a meditation on how two people, who are somewhat neglected in their own platitudinous life, find solace in each other while engaging in acts that they find mutually satisfying. While reading the book, I was frequently reminded that how the plot can at best be described as a fusion between Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov) & Fifty Shades of Grey, but Ogawa’s prose is mature & distinct enough to paint a unique literary picture.

The ending of the book is abrupt and left with quite a few unanswered questions but the way it kept me hooked till the end in spite of the extremely graphic description of sado-masochism (of which I am not a great fan), gave the cliched feeling of ” a satisfying read”. Now I am looking forward to read more works by the author.

Buy yourself a copy from Amazon- Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

Join The Booktrack Facebook Group for Freak Deals on books, recommendations, discussions and connect to readers from all across the world.

 

 

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher [Book Review]

Thirteen Reasons Why.jpgTitle : Thirteen Reasons Why

Author : Jay Asher

ISBN : 9781595147882

Publisher : Razorbill

Genre : Young Adult/ Contemporary

Pages : 336

Source : Self

Rating : 2 Stars

 

 

Unless you wish to pluck your hair out of frustration, end up with more questions and have their the pet-peeve bone tickled rather incessantly, keep away from this.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a book based on the suicide of one Hannah Baker. It revolves around the 13 reasons why she ended up committing suicide, the reasons which are made selectively public via tapes that she recorded before her death and ensured would get passed around to the 13 involved parties.

Characterisation

Well, it only says 13 people on the cover, but in reality you only get to know about 2. There’s Hannah who you wouldn’t connect to because there’s nothing told of her that would ever enable such a feeling. From the beginning of the book she’s just off rattling plot devices (aka the 12 of the 13 reasons) who’ve done nothing but anguish her (not really, they’ve all put her through such torment/minor inconveniences only once each). I use ‘anguish’ very lightly here. Even the narrator, Clay, couldn’t convince me enough to like Hannah as a person. She just seemed to rise from her grave, so to speak, to put her tormentors on trial. Further, the very attitude of Hannah’s (in actually sitting down recording the tapes, classifying the reasons into categories, making maps) speaks of clarity and doesn’t make the suicidal side of hers very believable. It’s tragic, but totally not believable.

The narrator, aka Clay Jensen, is equally bad. The narrator of a book is meant to be observant and paint an overall picture of the scenario because he is the reader’s only input into things. If an author can’t do this then the entire book fails. This here is a textbook example. Clay is so into his grief after Hannah’s suicide and angry at himself over his inability to ‘see the signs’ and save her that it’s turned into the only view he has on anything happening around him. This gets annoying real fast.

The remaining ‘support’ characters just appear to be plot devices, but nowhere to be seen as people. They’re there for the sole purpose of furthering the decision of Hannah’s suicide. They’re so two-dimensional that I can’t even recollect their names. They have nothing to offer to the book except being the catalyst that they are designed to be. There is no explanation for why they were being such jerks to Hannah. What Hannah describes is to be taken at face value, because why would a dying girl lie? Well, a dying girl might not lie but that still doesn’t give me a whole picture. People aren’t jerks for the heck of it, it’s motivated by something and this is lost to the reader.

Liked

I found it novel in the idea of using tapes in place of a suicide note with tiny ‘play’ ‘pause’ and ‘stop’ buttons denoting what the narrator was doing with the tapes. It was also pretty neat to feature a double perspective on things happening – As Hannah speaks, the narrator reacts to it making it appear very natural with the listener reacting to whatever he’s hearing. This however ended up getting pretty difficult when I was trying to speed-read the book because the difference was only in the way of font style (italics for Hannah, normal for the narrator) and I ended up confusing it pretty soon.

This book seems intended to be around one premise of how words can hurt others, how they snowball into something unimaginable and unintended – this tying in with the bullying Hannah faced. However, a lot of people who’ve rated it on a positive note seem to think that this book talks of depression and mental illnesses (because of the suicide involved). If we could remove that one misconception – this book does NOT talk of or deal with mental illnesses or depression – then I think it instantly turns into a slightly better book.

Didn’t like

The first thing I noticed reading through was the acute lack of struggle, of showing that it was Hannah’s last option to commit suicide. Reading through her reasons didn’t convince me that suicide was the only way out (this here is very subjective, but my rational mind can’t agree that she was forced to undergo anything suicide-provoking. It’s a grey area, I know). The book, for me, seemed to say that whenever things don’t seem to get better, suicide becomes a very rational option for people to take even if these problems are resolvable.

Personally I think that the reason this book exists is because she didn’t bother trying. Now it might sound harsh but my question is this: who thinks of suicide as their first and only resort? Had she seen what could be worked out (like getting away from negative influences, telling her parents), or tried getting to know a few more peers a few of who would be willing to give her a chance despite her ‘reputation’, or tried indicating that she needed help, and despite all these attempts nothing in her life changed, then the decision to commit suicide seems sensible.

She also does not bother understanding what consequences her tapes would have on the ones left behind. It’s as selfish as the act of her suicide itself is. This brings me to a related issue – Clay has done nothing to be named on the tapes. He’s only named there because for the story to make complete sense (according to Hannah) he had to be named. So he’s the golden egg amidst the rotten ones. The problem with this is that because of this, the book doesn’t reflect on how the ‘offenders’ have changed their ways upon understanding the consequences to their actions (because our narrator never does anything wrong!). This, I find, would be a significant detail for the readers to know.

Finally, the very fact that all 13 of her reasons are put on the same level of blame is pretty infuriating. For instance, being molested and stalked is equated to having her poetry stolen and being slapped by a girl out of jealousy. Further, some of her reasons make no sense at all – one of which is that she was in a car with a drunk driver when the car knocks over a stop sign that leads to an accident later that ends up killing a person. Why this ends up being a reason for her suicide, I’ve no idea.

Finally

To sum it, I would say that this book could have been so much more but ends with a lot being desired, On the other hand, this book has a great potential as a discussion starter (be it the reasons why, or the emotions Hannah must have felt or Clay’s dealing with the aftermath of losing Hannah and so on) which is needed and should be the goal an author writing a book along these lines should aim for.

Review by Mitra Somanchi

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: Thirteen Reasons Why

Join The Booktrack Facebook Group for Freak Deals on books, recommendations, discussions and connect to readers from all across the world.

 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne [Book Review]

The Boy in the striped pajamas.jpgTitle : The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Author : John Boyne

ISBN : 9780385751063

Publisher : David Fickling Books

Genre : Historical Fiction

Pages : 224

Source : Self

Rating : 3 Stars

The ending is heart-breaking!

The story revolves around a 9-year-old boy, Bruno, his 12-year-old sister Gretel, his mom who’s a housewife and his dad who’s a commandant in the German army. The book is set in 1940’s Germany.

I enjoyed reading the book, though the author’s attempt to show the main lead, Bruno, as an innocent kid has kind of resulted in a few flaws.

One-time read.!

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Join The Booktrack Facebook Group for Freak Deals on books, recommendations, discussions and connect to readers from all across the world.

 

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller [Book Review]

Notes on a Scandal.jpgTitle : Notes on a Scandal

Author : Zoe Heller

ISBN : 9780141029061

Publisher : Penguin UK

Genre : Nonfiction

Pages : 256

Source : Self

Rating : 4 Stars

Been wanting to read this book for a very long time.! Notes on a Scandal is a heart-wrenching read.

The story revolves around one Miss Sheba, who has an illicit affair with one of her pupils in the school she works in. The Book is narrated by her friend Barbara, a middle-aged woman who befriends Sheba after she joins the school.

I like how in the story ‘relationships’ are handled delicately, as they should be. How sometimes, people in relationships take things for granted, how they don’t realise what they have until they lose it and pay the price for it. The story also talks about ‘betrayal’ of friendship.

The story had a rather sad ending and makes you wish things had turned out differently. A lot of “coulda shoulda and woulda”.

It also touches certain topics like ‘loneliness’, ‘sexual frustration’ and ‘jealousy’. Which have been subtly incorporated in the narration by the author.

All in all, Notes on a Scandal is a really good read but has a rather sad ending and makes you wish things had turned out differently.

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: Notes on a Scandal

Join The Booktrack Facebook Group for Freak Deals on books, recommendations, discussions and connect to readers from all across the world.

Jerusalem by Guy Delisle [Book Review]

Jerusalem.jpg
Jerusalem by Guy Delisle

Title :  Jerusalem

Author : Guy Delisle

ISBN : 9782756025698

Publisher : RHUK

Genre : Nonfiction, Geopolitics & International Relations, Graphic Novels

Pages : 336

Source : Self

Rating : 4 stars

 

Guy Delisle is a famous graphic travelogue artist and after covering Burma (Myanmar), North Korea and China, the ancient city of Jerusalem is his latest project. He visits Jerusalem with his girlfriend (who is working for Doctors without borders) and children and has written an enriching account of the daily humdrum of lives in the mystical city that stands at the crossroads of three Abrahamic religion- Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The tone of this graphic novel is curious and humorous and though the author doesn’t go in detail to explain each sight that he experiences, he has done a commendable job in articulating the diverse manifestations of the city and his people. The author was permanently living in East Jerusalem (Part of Palestine) so it’s obvious that his views and descriptions might sound a bit pro-Palestinian but he has also tried to present the viewpoint of Jewish settlers in the city. He meets Arabs, anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox Jews, orthodox Jews who hate Arabs, modern Jews in Tel Aviv who hate all religious fanatics and even the Samaritans. For someone like me, who was completely unaware of Jewish traditions and customs, the book was an eye-opener and very informative.

The book also serves as a “Guide” to the famous religious sites (for different sects) and gives a little bit of historical and cultural details about them). In the backdrop of all this, the author never forgets to portray the sad reality of war and segregation that is taking place right since Israelis came here to settle down in the “promised land”

One aspect where the author must improve is coherence. At many points, I felt that a story/anecdote was left abruptly while the author moves on to describe another incident. Nevertheless, I am intrigued enough to read his other works on Burma and North Korea.

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

Join The Booktrack Facebook Group for Freak Deals on books, recommendations, discussions and connect to readers from all across the world.