Book Review: Family Life

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Author: Akhil Sharma
Publisher: Penguin Books India
ISBN13: 9780670087457
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Flipkart

“Family Life” revolves around the Mishra family, who move to the United States from Delhi in the 1970s. The eight year old narrator is in awe of everything around him from elevators to wall-to-wall carpet in their new house. Simple things like the hot water flowing directly from the taps also amazes him. He goes on to talk about the struggles and adjustments his family makes in order to fit in to the new world. Ajay narrates how his Father who works as a clerk in a government agency and mother who left her job as a high-school economics teacher in India and now works as a garment factory worker, are anxious about the acceptance of his elder brother in a reputed school. There is happiness and celebration all around when Birju wins acceptance to the Bronx High School of Science.
The twist in the story comes when the elder son of the family is in a unfortunate diving accident that leaves him severely brain damaged, blind, and mute. Only able to breathe by himself, otherwise incapacitated. The tragedy and the family’s response to it seen through young Ajay’s eyes touches the heart and leaves knots in the stomach.
Each member of the family suffers differently. His father becomes an alcoholic, his mother looks for cures through hoards of miracle workers while Ajay acts out trying to find an outlet for his feelings as well as his place in the world now that it’s been turned upside down.

The author relates the story with a view point of an eight year old, adapting a child’s sharp perception and simple language. The book makes you very sad and then smiles make sudden appearances on the childlike outlook of a grim situation. You sympathise with every character at all times. Its deeply unnerving and tremendously tender all at once.
This is Akhil Sharma’s second novel after the PEN/Hemingway Award-winning “An Obedient Father”. He is an Indian-American writer. A graduate of Princeton University, where he studied Public Policy. Sharma won a Stegner Fellowship to the writing program at Stanford, and won several O. Henry Prizes.

I read “Family Life” with a lot of sighs. Not everyone who reads it can relate to it, a few definitely will. Its one of those reads that shakes your core. This one does it with a large helping of sorrow topped with a kiss of dark humour.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: Love among the Bookshelves

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Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher: Penguin/ Viking
ISBN13: 9780670087341
Genre: non fiction
Pages: 200
Source: Flipkart

“It wasn’t a bookshop, or a library, or a great-aunt’s hoard of romantic novels that made me a reader; it was the week I spent in a forest rest house, in what is now the Rajaji sanctuary, between Haridwar and Dehradun” This is the first line I read and did not stop until I had read it all.
Ruskin Bond’s stories have amazed and inspired generations of readers. In this anthology, he presents the stories he grew up on, and the inspiration that he drew from them. In stories by authors such as P. G. Wodehouse, whose Love Among The Chickens is the inspiration for this book’s title, H. E. Bates, W. Somerset Maugham, Charles Dickens and Richard Jeffries, learn how young Ruskin Bond became the writer we all know and love.
Bond speaks out in this part-memoir. He draws readers into his past and reveals a process hidden in plain sight, yet one every non-writer wishes to understand. He gives out his secret to being the brilliant writer in a word: “reading”

The book is divided into chronological sections. From his childhood and school vacations, school days, the time he spent in Jersey with his aunt and his two years in London. Each section has a memory that has stuck by him, a book that belongs to that time of his life and an excerpt from that book. The best thing about the book is a list of Ruskin Bonds favourite books.

Ruskin Bond is a British-Indian writer. He is known best for his children’s stories. Some of his works are: The Room on the Roof, A Flight of Pigeons, The Sensualist, The Blue Umbrella, Angry River and The Parrot Who Wouldn’t Talk. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his contributions towards Indian literature. He now lives in in Landour, near Mussoorie with his adopted family.

Love among the Bookshelves is a classic Bond book. Its written simply yet there is something magical about it. It leaves you wanting more, much more.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: The Treasure of Kafur

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Author: Aroon Raman
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
ISBN13: 9789382616122
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Copy

The story begins before the Mughal era, with a tale of Kafur, Khilji’s trusted lieutenant. The bounty that they have won after waging war in different regions has accumulated and transporting it through the desert is a dangerous prospect, as the threat of an attack is imminent. So, Kafur is instructed to hide the treasure in a place that no one can ever find it. With that the legend of  the treasure of Kafur begins

It then leaps forward to the Mughal era, where Akbar is reigning over India. He is a practical, pragmatic and a visionary ruler. He has managed to get most of the country under his control. Asaf Baig of Khandesh loathes Akbar with every breath and he knows that to win the allegiance of all anti-Akbar troops, the treasure of Kafur is his key. It will make him indestructible, presenting him with the largest army. Only an old woman called Ambu knows the whereabouts of this treasure that Asaf Baig seeks, so he kidnaps her, leaving her grandson Datta alive. Datta begins a quest to find is grandmother  and prevent Asaf Baig from acquiring this treasure. And only ally he can count on is Akbar.
In between the quest for the treasure, the characters are caught in a whirlpool of events which will forever change the course of their life.

This story has fiction and fact, with a layer a fantasy over it. The book, as the author mentions, is partly true when concerning the facts. The treasure itself is a fact of history. Akbar’s character is kept true, and details such as his marriage to Jodha and his illiteracy are true, as are the threats from Khandesh. Each character is well etched out and nicely detailed.

The author Aroon Raman’s first book The Shadow Throne, is a national best seller. He is a Bengaluru based entrepreneur. His research and innovation company works in the area of materials science and has won critical acclaim for developing scientific talent at the grass-roots level. He divides his spare time between trekking, advising and supporting NGOs and travel.

The Treasure of Kafur is a perfect blend of history and mystery, with adventure added to taste. Makes a good weekend read.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: The Avatari

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Author: Raghu Srinivasan
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN13: 9789350095744
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Personal Copy

The Avatari is an intense trail through a mythical kingdom. Legend has it that only those chosen by destiny can gain entry into Shambhala, which is believed to hold the ancient wisdom. The story begins with a golden metal piece, which a character picks up, while on an expedition to the Himalayas in the 1930s. His grandson delivers it to a Laotian monastery in the late 1950s. This piece then gets stolen. Upon the request of a monk, Henry Ashton, a retired British Army Officer and his team sets on a life-altering journey to retrieve it and prevent it from being misused.
The group follows the trail, risking the perils of the inhospitable deserts of Ladakh, turmoil in Pakistan and the rugged mountains of Northern Afghanistan, where the Afghan War is at its height. But they are up against a deadly adversary with seemingly unlimited resources, who will stop at nothing to get possession of the ancient secret a secret that, if revealed, could threaten the very fabric of civilization.

The author etches out each of his characters beautifully, with great detailing. He picks his words with utmost care. It is a brilliant narrative, switching between numerous time period, locations and characters. On the surface it looks like it is a quest for a very valuable artifact, which if misused threatens to destroy everything. But going deeper reveals that it also serves as a timely lesson in history and somewhere along the way, highlights the human costs of violence and war. Srinivasan portrays the paradox between karma and freewill subtly yet beautifully.

Raghu Srinivasan is a serving officer in the Indian Army. His tenures have seen him patrol leech-infested tropical jungles, stare across the expanse of the African savannah and spot snow leopards in the Karakoram ranges. He is also the newest entrant on the brilliant Indian thriller writers list.

Read The Avatari for drama, read it for suspense, read it for a journey in to the magical imagination the author has!

Rating 4.5/5