Monday, January 19, 2009

A week of plenty

Yes, clearly someone is playing hooky from work, and bingeing out on paperbacks. Spent all of last week reading, moaning about being unable to proceed on the project I'm currently on, then reading some more.

And here's what I read:

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, by John Boyne
Nine year old Bruno is not happy. His Father, who works for someone called the Fury has taken him away from his friends and the big house in Berlin to live in a desolate place called Out-with. Lonely and bored,Bruno begins to explore this strange new place until one day he meets a little boy on the other side of the fence.- a boy in striped pyjamas.

This story, of the friendship between a concentration camp inmate and the son of the man running it, is told entirely from Bruno's perspective, a boy who doesn't really understand what is happening to people on the other side of that fence, has no clue that there is a war going on and that his father is a Nazi, involved in the Final Solution. In a moment of fear, Bruno commits an act of betrayal he feels guilty for. To make up for this, he decides to help his friend the only way he can, with staggering consequences.

The story never makes explicit the time, the location,even the strange dismal settlement that Bruno lives next to. The language is simple, the horror lies in what remains unsaid and must be pieced together by the reader. For me, this is where the power of the book lies. However, this also means that the story will be largely incomprehensible to anyone unaware of the events of World War II, especially the atrocities committed by the Nazis on millions of people across Europe.

Apparently, the story has been made into a film, which should be out shortly. I fully look forward to bawling my eyes out through it.

Rise and Shine, by Anna Quindlen
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This is a book that's made for a TV movie,the kind you catch on HBO at 5am on a Saturday morning. It has all the right ingredients - two sisters, one rich and successful the other a social worker.The rich sister seems to have it all, until her husband leaves her.She has a very public meltdown, and only the poor sister can help her back. Other ingredients ... a gruff cop boyfriend who is the only one who sees both sisters for who they really are. A loud, tough talking black single mom. A very good son who has something very bad happen to him. And all of glorious New York in the background. Can't you just see it? You could probably even cast it in your mind.

It's written well, though this is not a book I'm going to remember for very long, simply because it has played out with so many variations, so many times before. Yes, mostly on HBO's red eye slot. The blurbs on the back of the book scream that this is Quindlen at her finest, but I have no way of knowing, as this is my first time reading her.Nonetheless, it kept me hooked. Predictable, but still enjoyable.

Bringing Back Grandfather, by Anjali Banerjee
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This is an old favourite of mine, from the great stash of kids' books I buy now for when the Imp is older,because these little gems may no longer be in stock then. At least, that is my excuse.

Anu's beloved grandfather dies while they are out birdwatching in the woods, and Anu decides to get him back. With the help of his friends,he embarks on a series of 'holy' escapades that include shaving his head, rolling to school and visiting graveyards.

I love this story, at once hilarious and touching, of a boy coming to terms with the loss of a loved one, and his own guilt.Along the way, he makes new friends and discovers his own strengths. The lives of Indians abroad is a recurring theme in the author, Anjali Banerjee's, work and it's handled well here as well.

The Tehelka Original Fictions issue (Jan 10 2009, vol. 6, Issue 1)
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I'd been looking out for this ever since I read about it here.Predictably,the demigods at Crossword had not even heard of the magazine.Finally got lucky at a tiny news stand on the platform of Kanjur Marg station. The theme of the issue is 'Excess' a single word brief that 15 writers have explored in a very diverse range of short stories.

I liked the stories by Mridula Koshy and Anjum Hasan, both about children. Other stories I enjoyed were Rajorshi Chakraborti's 'The Good Boy' which unravels the truth behind a young boy's suicide ,and Kalpish Ratna's dark 'Strawberries are White'. Felt a bit befuddled by Manjula Padmanabhan's 'Feast' at first, about a vampire that has, quite literally, a life changing experience in India. This story, like her 'Kleptomania' is hinged around a rather lengthy explanatory dialogue - a device that I find rather exhausting. I like a story that drops subtler hints, and makes me work a little at getting them. Nevertheless, a good story and an interesting point made.

The worst piece of writing here...the foreword by Tarun Tejpal. I was utterly gobsmacked by statements like "..The world begins to fall into an Orwellian nightmare when everyone is endlessly consuming the exact same cookie-cutter slices of reality." Huh?!! And elsewhere "...halogen of self-aggrandizement"(!!!)...... then again, perfectly aligned with the theme of the issue.

Interestingly, there are two graphic novelists featured - Sarnath Banerjee (the Big Daddy of graphic novels in India) and a favourite of mine, Amruta Patil.In fact I liked her little story a lot better than his, it has her characteristic wit, great dialogue, packs a punch at the end. Do read her graphic novel 'Kari'if you can. I also liked the graphics in the issue, especially the work of Sudeep Chaudhuri on stories like 'Rosie' and 'Hanging on like Death'.

Overall, a good afternoon's read, and an issue I hope they make into a regular feature.


The Imp and I are also enjoying a Dr Seuss bonanza! Current favourites without which we just cannot sleep, are:
Scrambled Eggs Super
, about the making of

Scrambled eggs super - de Dooper - de - Booper,
Special deluxe a la Peter T Hooper!

Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose, about the pitfalls of being a gracious host, and ...

I Had Trouble getting to Solla Sollew, where we learn that ..
There are troubles of more than one kind.

Some come from ahead

And some come from behind.

I think I enjoy reading these aloud even more than the Imp enjoys hearing them!

(Image courtesy for all Dr Seuss books:

Ok, now I will go fight the dark forces of imminent unemployment that hover at my door.

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