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[personal profile] delfinnium
(recommended to link here by Deepad. First post, first review thing!)

Thanks to [personal profile] deepad, I'm currently reading the series Gameworld Trilogy by Samit Basu. (can be found here. It can be bought here!)

And it does start off a little slow, in the beginning, especially if you're like me, and have very little familarity with the Ramayan other than a very vauge understanding of 'something happens, Demons evil attack! Princess is involved, there is a vanar, Lord of monkeys and a damn good archer, involved somewhere, there is a lot of fire, and a chariot happens to be there somewhere', you might be a little thrown by all the terms there.

And it's GOOD!

I like that!

I mean there are some books (like the God of War series) that use terms so obscure and strange that it is hard to actually understand what is going on in the world unless you read it several times (and I'm not so sure I'm drawn into it), but this world is not like that!

I mean there are creatures whom you don't know what they are - vaman, pashan, vanar (though since I know passingly from School the ramayana, i know what vanar are), khuldran, and so on and so forth, and Samit doesn't explain, not at first.

But then as the story opens up, you start to realise what they are. Vaman are the equivalent of dwarves, vanar are monkeys/apes, pashan seem to be troll types, asur are... I'm not sure what they are, really, other than that no one likes them and they do all the dirty shitty jobs that no one wants.

( Yet longer incoherent flailing review here! )


You like POC cultures and fantasy? Sick of male dominated Generic White Medieval Fantasy?


Genre: SFF, fantasy, parody
Subject: parody, trope inversion, non-white fantasy
Author nationality/ethnicity: Indian
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[personal profile] sumofparts
I finished my second set of 50, yay and started a new set. Below are some thoughts on the books.

Remainder of second set:
39. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
40. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
41. Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice
42. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
43. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
44. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
45. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
46. Snakes and Ladders by Gita Mehta
47. The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee
48. Beijing Confidential by Jan Wong
49. Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
50. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
New set:
1. Decoded by Jay-Z

Cut for length )
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[personal profile] seekingferret
21 India Calling by Anand Giridharadas

India Calling is a book I read as I tried to write Midnight's Children fanfiction, updating Rushdie's style for an India that has changed since that book was written thirty years ago. It is in some senses typical of a booming sub-genre of nonfiction works about "the New India", coming to grips with the rise of capitalism, the rise of economic and social and intellectual mobility, and all the associated changes those things bring with them. There are a lot of such books- Giridharadas comfortably situates himself within the subgenre by comparing his experiences to those reported in a few of them. As I ended up writing in my story, "Anyone with a pen and paper is writing that India doesn't have a story, and they will sell it to you if you give them the chance."

Giridharadas himself was the son of Indian immigrants to America who then moved back to India as an adult. His perspective is interesting. He's an outsider, but he speaks the language and knows intellectually the customs, so he can get past the exoticization that true Westerners visiting India often subject their readers to. But his perspective is still outsiderly. He feels comfortable reproaching native Indians for behaviors he finds misguided, but also spends a lot of time deconstructing his own mistaken assumptions about India- as backward, religiously intolerant, unambitious, and addicted to poverty and corruption. I really appreciated the humility he brought to his study.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and though I don't think I ended up using any specific details from it in the fic, the sense he gave me of how India has evolved and how people feel about the evolution ended up being a major guiding force as I developed themes.

22 Dancers on the Shore by William M. Kelley

Kelley is a writer I would never have known about had I not literally googled for African-American literary novelists when I first started doing [community profile] 50books_poc, about three and a half years ago, and discovering him is one of the things I am most grateful to this challenge for. He writes gracefully and complicatedly about the mid-20th-century African-American experience and at times the broader American experience. A Different Drummer, his debut novel, which was one of the first books I read for this challenge, remains one of my favorites.

Dancers on the Shore is a short story collection published not long after A Different Drummer, and it is more of a mixed bag, as short story collections often are. Some of the stories are a part of a roughly continuous family cycle that continues throughout Kelley's novels and culminates in the messy post-modern soup of Dunfords Travels Everywheres. Others are standalone. Some of them feel like early sketches added to fill up the book, while others are marvelous in the depth of character and emotion that Kelly is able to show in so little space.

Though all of his characters are African-American, explicit and even implicit discussions of racial politics are rare (the first page is an invocation from the author begging to be treated as an author instead of as an African-American author who has anything at all to say about the Race Question). The stories are mostly family dramas, characters discovering things about themselves and about the people close to them. A mother contemplates divorcing her husband. A son visits his extended family and learns about his father's childhood. A young woman contemplates an illegal abortion. Two old men endure retirement together. All of these subjects are handled with sensitivity and ambiguity.

23 Terminal Point by KM Ruiz

I loved the first book in Ruiz's Stryker Syndicate series of cyberpunky post-apocalyptic psionic action-adventures, but this one, the second, was more uneven. It was beautifully plotted and paced, and it had more of the great characters from the first book, but it stinted on setting. I knew I was in for a good show with Mind Storm from the first scene, which threw us on a train moving across the radioactive wasteland between the husk of Las Vegas and the husk oif Los Angeles. The location was so atmospheric, interesting, and real feeling that it intensified all of the action. Terminal Point bounces through a lot more locations, and a lot more exotic locations, but none of them feel as rich and real as the settings from the first book. Many of them have their interesting features infodumped at us rather than being allowed to present themselves naturally. The plot subordinated the world building, unfortunately, and the result was a book that offered satisfying resolution to open plots from the first book, but not a book that was as satisfying on its own terms.
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[personal profile] dorothean
After I read The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet, I immediately sought out any other books by Vandana Singh available at the libraries to which I belong. This turned out to be only one -- a children's chapter book called Younguncle Comes to Town.

Younguncle is the youngest uncle of the three children in the story, but he was called Younguncle even when he was a child, because it just seemed to fit. Younguncle is a very jolly young man who is very good at making friends with everyone. He is impulsive and unconventional and very good at making everything around him more interesting and imaginative. This makes him terrible at adult things like holding a steady job or impressing with his sister's stuffy future in-laws, but it means he's a wonderful uncle. (And a wonderful brother, too, when the sister realizes that she really doesn't want to marry that guy after all.)

After Younguncle, my second favorite character is his baby niece, always referred to as the baby. She cannot talk yet but she always listens. Although she loves Younguncle, who entertains her by reading her physics textbooks, she is also his worst adversary because she is determined to eat one of his shirts.

Younguncle's adventures often begin with charming mishaps, such as his short-lived career as a railway station manager (during which period his greatest interest was in learning to imitate all the different sounds that trains make), but end by his righting an injustice (his sister's unfortunate engagement, the theft of a cow, and even the reign of a family of criminals). He maintains that one good reason for all of his adventures is to collect stories to tell his nieces and nephew.

He's sort of a combination of Mary Poppins and Robin Hood.
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[identity profile]
1. Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
2. Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch by Dai Sijie (translated by Ina Rilke; white)
3. Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
4. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley
5. The Circle of Reason by Amitav Ghosh

Read more... )

tags: a: selvadurai shyam, a: dai sijie, w-t: rilke ina, a: swarup vikas, a: o'malley bryan lee, a: ghosh amitav, chinese, french, indian, canadian, sri lankan, novel, fiction, graphic novel, young adult, china, india, toronto, sri lanka, glbt, mysteryr
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7)Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Oh man, I've been reading this book on and off since last September and finally finished it. And am somewhat sad that I won't be able to spend any more time with Saleem Sinai and his family. Midnight's Children is incredibly immersive and I think it's my favorite book of the 57 I've read for [ profile] 50books_poc thus far. This book doesn't really demand a review so much as it demands critical essays, but I'm always unsure if this is the appropriate venue for that sort of spoiler-rich dissection. I'll try to keep it somewhat vague.

Midnight's Children is a magical realist exploration of the history of India since independence in 1948. It's narrated by Saleem Sinai, who was born at midnight on the day of Independence and therefore grows up as India grows up. (Being an extremely self-conscious narrator, Saleem actually dissects and classifies the types of correlation, metaphoric and actual, between his life and India's.) Saleem, like Tristram Shandy, is not born until more than 50 pages into the book. He inhabits an India full of mysteries informed by the Ramayana and the Arabian Nights. And his narrative voice and position in society recall one of the first books I read for this challenge, G. V. Desani's manic 1950s satire All About H. Hatterr, with its helter-skelter command of the English language and unsteady position trapped between British rule and Indian self-rule. Midnight's Children is a book that inhabits both Eastern and Western traditions simultaneously, as modern India itself does.

The references to Tristram Shandy don't end with Saleem's birth. The significance of Saleem's nose recalls poor Walter Shandy and his Theories. Saleem's castration recalls Uncle Toby's wartime injuries. The resemblances continue. Rushdie fills the novel with an incredible density of ideas and allusions and references, a density which sometimes overwhelmed me but usually enchanted me. Of course, as I wrote about Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man recently, the problem with dense post-modern novels is that if you miss the references, you can sail right by and not realize what you're missing. I'm sure that an Easterner reading the novel would have an utterly different experience than I did. An almost entirely parallel set of allusions would be driving their access to the novel's themes. I wonder if the density and two-headedness of the novel can inspire a sort of critical laziness in the reader. It would certainly be possible for me to play spot-the-western-canon-reference and never spend a moment thinking about just how non-Western the novel is.

Because in many ways, this is an incredibly Indian novel and it does things with language and storytelling that I can't fathom seeing from a writer only steeped in the Western tradition. Its nonlinearities speak of an incomparably old oral folk tradition as much as they speak of a modern, urban lifestyle of fast-paced change and uncertainty. In one of my favorite lines, Saleem says "Everything has shape... there is no escaping from form." As with Marquez and Eco and Pynchon, the novel's form speaks eloquently about a way forward for Indian literature, without rejection of Western thought or modernity, but also without rejection of millennia of imposing history. Midnight, in the novel, is about standing on that precipice, straddling the day before and the day after. But Rushdie cleverly undermines his narrator's premise by demonstrating again and again that we are all living lives as Midnight's children, a perpetual existence perched between yesterday and tomorrow. That this is what makes Saleem special and unique is also what makes all of us special and unique. Our uncertainty becomes our raison d'etre.

All told, a magnificent literary experience.

tags: a: rushdie salman, postmodernist, indian
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In a voice mellifluous as a gentle shower of honey, without faltering, without throwing in filler words, very gracefully, the goose made a highly learned presentation. […] She also demonstrated her proficiency in poetry, dramaturgy, poetics, music, and erotic science.

The goose Sucimukhi was taught by Saraswati, Goddess of Learning and Speech, and given the title “Mother of Similes and Hyperbole.” In this gorgeous, witty, sensual fifteenth-century novel from south India, she helps resolve a war in Heaven by match-making between Pradyumna, Krishna’s son, and Prabhavati, the daughter of a demon king.

If you skim the genealogies at the very beginning, you don’t need to already have a background in Indian traditional tales and religion to appreciate this short novel, which can be enjoyed on many levels: as a love story told in luscious, Song of Solomon-like metaphors; as a love story punctuated by metafictional commentary and sly parodies of the overblown conventions of love stories; as myth; as a small taste of a literary culture that I suspect many of you haven’t encountered before. (I mean fifteenth century Telegu literature, not Indian literature in general.)

Unlike a lot of literature which was clearly hot at the time but not to modern readers’ erotic tastes… this is still hot. At least, I thought so. There are many more explicit passages, but I was particularly taken with this one, in which Prabhavati’s girlfriend helps her arrange her hair for her first meeting with her beloved, and breaks into spontaneous poetry:

If you let your hair down, you look beautiful.
When you let it hang halfway, you look beautiful, too.
If it gets tangled, you’re beautiful in a different way.
If you comb it down, even more so.
You can braid it, roll it into a bun, or better still
tie it into a knot on the side.
You’re beautiful with that hair every which way.

It’s long, black, and so thick
you can’t hold it in one hand.
No matter how you wear it,
you’ll trap your husband with your hair.

Translated and with extensive historical notes by Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman.

The Demon's Daughter: A Love Story from South India (S U N Y Series in Hindu Studies)
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6, 7, & 8. Three poetry collections by Moniza Alvi: Carrying My Wife, A Bowl of Warm Air, and The Country At My Shoulder (all three collections are available together in an omnibus also called "Carrying My Wife"). I have to admit, out of about 150 poems, there were three that did anything for me. I mostly found the expression of content incomprehensible, possibly due to the author reaching for innovative imagery, and the aesthetics of form uninteresting, but she's a comparatively popular mainstream Establishment poet so my judgement is extremely questionable (and I haven't heard her read her own work live). There are two of the poems, which did speak to me, at my dw journal.

9. The Redbeck* Anthology of British South Asian Poetry, edited by Debjani Chatterjee, is a nearly 200 page collection with a wide variety of content and style, which I enjoyed. There are two example poems at my dw journal and a third example poem but, of course, three poems can't reflect the breadth (or depth) of this anthology.

* I keep misreading it as "Redneck". ::facepalm::

10. The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan didn't appeal to me visually as much as the previous Tan books I've perused but the gist, that it's more important to be happy than to fit in, is another good theme, especially for kids.

Note to tag wranglers: "british-asian" and/or "british-south-asian" is correct usage and, yes, some of the authors (and/or their subjects) are also caribbean / african / &c.

Tags: women writers, poetry, anthologies, asian, british-asian, pakistan, britain, british, caribbean, african, bangladesh, india, indian, indian-british, pakistani, bangladeshi, pakistani-british, bangladeshi-british, british-south-asian, asian-australian, australian, chinese-australian, picture books
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2. Sarita Mandanna, Tiger Hills

Devi is a beautiful, strong-willed young girl, growing up in Coorg, a rural, mountainous area of South India, in the late 1800s. She's in love with Machu, a warrior famous for having killed a tiger single-handedly. Devanna, Machu's younger cousin, is a quiet, intelligent boy, studying to be a doctor, who's in love with Devi. As you might expect, things don't turn out well.

This novel has some beautiful descriptions of scenery (apparently Coorg- spelled Kodagu today- is known as 'the Scotland of India'), but the plot is a bit over-the-top, with tragedy following tragedy. I enjoyed reading to pass the time on a long bus trip, but I'm not sure I can genuinely recommend it, unless you're looking for something to read that won't require a lot of thought.
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1. Bharati Mukherjee, Miss New India

Anjali Bose is a small town girl in rural India who has big dreams. Her teacher, an ex-pat American, encourages her to make something of herself by heading to Bangalore, which they both see as the best new city in India. Anjali eventually heads there, and ends up in more trouble than she anticipated.

The writing in this novel is quite good, very poetic, in the first few chapters, but gradually heads downhill and becomes very pedestrian by the end. The problem, I think, is that there is just way too much plot in this book. The main characters deal with rape, international terrorism, false charges of murder, police brutality, arranged marriage, teenage runaways, divorce, gay men in India, botched back-alley sex change operations, prostitution, art theft, suicide, the role of outsourcing in the Indian economy, riots, the art of photography, homelessness, telecommunication centers, and more. By about the fourth major plot twist, there's no time for poetry anymore, and even for much of a reaction from the characters, because there's just too much happening. I think it could have been a much better book if it had just focused on a few of these issues instead of all of them.

That said, many of the characters here are quite appealing, particularly Anjali. And it certainly seems to be a very current look at Indian society (I learned, for instance, that the cool new dessert is cold coffee with ice cream, which I promptly went out to try, and I can inform you that it is delicious). Overall a fun read, but not a particularly deep one.
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1). Five Equations That Changed The World by Michael Guillen

This is a book I rather wish had been written when I was 13. I grew up with a decidedly similar book by Isaac Asimov, a collection of ten-page stories about important scientists that presented their great discovery in historical, social, but most importantly in personal context. It's one of the most treasured books in my collection, even though I've long outgrown the storybook approach to history. I'm pretty sure it's the book that turned me into a scientist. Asimov transformed these great scientists into heroes. He wrote of Lavoisier braving the mobs in the French Revolution to achieve scientific breakthroughs, and Marie Curie risking her own life to study radium. And despite the focus on the individual, despite the pat reductionism, Asimov kept his eye on the prize, drilling in through rote repetition the ideal of the Scientific Method.

Guillen's book, as I said, is remarkably similar in scope and style. He tells the story of five scientists: Newton, Bernoulli, Faraday, Clausius, and Einstein. And I think that's a very telling set of five names. Newton and Einstein are obvious, but the other three, while important, are not quite the household names. These are quite clearly Guillen's personal heroes. And his text is an act of beatification.

He focuses, for example, in the story of Michael Faraday's beautiful law of electromagnetic induction, on the class boundaries that separated Faraday and his mentor Sir Humphry Davy. And recalling the more memoirish elements of the other Guillen book I've read, where he describes his childhood in a working class Chicano family in California, I kept seeing the parallels Guillen was building in. And again and again, as he develops the story of these equations, Guillen spends time exploring the way the religious beliefs of these scientists shaped their thinking about scientific discovery. Family life is important, too. Loves and lost loves, brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters litter the pages. These are very intimate portraits, painted with enthusiasm and extreme care.

2)The Edge of Physics by Anil Ananthaswamy

Part travelogue and part modern physics explanation, this was a hell of a lot of fun.

A few years ago, an astronomy geek friend told me of her plan to travel around the world to visit radio telescopes and write a book about it. A couple years after that, she reported to me half-crestfallen that someone had beaten her to it. Only half-crestfallen, though, because she said the book itself was terrific. This is that book.

It describes a pilgrimage (The first site visited is a California observatory known as The Monastery. The last site visited shares a mountaintop with a Buddhist temple.) to the remote sites around the world where cutting edge physics is being done in unusual places whose geography has given it value, as the ambition of our scientists has grown to the point where we need lab structures bigger than we can build. The 'labs' the book describes include mineshafts deep beneath the Earth, mountaintops high in the sky, a vast swath of Lake Baikal, the South Pole, and others.

Ananthaswamy makes the science so clear and moreover, makes it so clear why it matters. He never loses sight of the real world, of politics, economics, culture. When he visits South Africa he explores the way apartheid intersected with astronomy. When he visits Chile he shows the climate change and its associated changes in weather patterns have presented new challenges for the observatory.

And he tells the stories of the little heroes with energy and sympathy. The human calculators, many of them women who were barred from doing 'real science', who made some of the important early 20th century discoveries in astronomy because they were the ones who got their hands dirty with the data. The researchers who drifted out of doing calculations into administration and became the ones who enabled the increasingly massive instruments to be built. The drillers braving the subzero temperatures at the South Pole to allow instruments to be placed deep inside the ice. The graduate students working long, hard hours doublechecking results while their PIs present them to universal acclaim. The Edge referred to in the title doesn't just refer to the locales he visits, but also to people who have forsaken comfortable lives in academia or industry for the challenge of pushing the boundaries of our knowledge. And as Ananthaswamy stumbles to the peak yet of another mountain whose thin air makes it hard for him to breathe, you appreciate just how arduous a task they have taken on as scientists.
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14. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Mistress of Spices

A sort-of fantasy novel about Tilo, a 'Mistress of Spices'- immortal, mystical women, trained in magic and secret knowledge, sent out into the world to help people. Tilo is sent to Oakland, California, where she slowly becomes personally involved in the lives of the people around her, and begins to reveal her own backstory.

This novel is very hard to describe, because it doesn't have much of a plot for most of its length. Instead, it's full of beautiful, poetic descriptions of spices and food, magic, Oakland and imaginary places like the Island where Mistresses are trained. Some parts are very realistic; others involve rampaging pirate queens or singing sea serpents. It took me a while to get into this book, because the beginning is very slow, but by the end I was in love. The language is incredibly evocative, and the resolution felt just right. I really grew to like the characters, particularly Tilo, who shows herself to be much more of a flawed human than any mystical fairy.

Highly recommended.
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13. Pico Iyer, Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East

I love travel books, and this is a fantastic one. Iyer visits several Asian countries (including India, China, Tibet, Burma, the Philippines, Bali, Thailand, Hong Kong, and probably a few more I'm forgetting) with the goal of seeing how they've been affected by Western pop culture and tourism. Iyer is quite good at describing places, and seems to have really made the effort to get to know local people and include their viewpoints.

This book is a bit out-of-date now (it was written in the early 80s), but to me that just added to the appeal. This is a China and Tibet newly opened to Westerners, a Hong Kong which is still a colony, Burma before it was Myanmar. So many of the places he visits no longer exist- at least, not as they did at the time- that it makes for an intriguing historical snapshot.

Iyer uses the 'Modern, Masculine West meets Traditional, Feminine East! However Will They Understand One Another?' trope a bit too much for my tastes, but you could easily skim those parts and focus on the descriptions of places and people, which are quite well-written. Recommended, and I'd love recs for other travel books, if you have a favorite!
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I read this review of Gita Mehta's Snakes and Ladders by [ profile] fiction_theory and decided to read the book -- I'm sooo glad I did.

I most heartily concur with the review [ profile] fiction_theory wrote, so I'll let interested folks read that instead of repeating it all here, but in terms of my personal experience with the book... well, most fundamentally, I didn't realize how colossally ignorant I was about India's history until I started reading. Not only are Mehta's essays delightfully engaging, blending the humorous, the serious, the political, the historical, the personal, and the lyrical into a deeply seductive mix, but they left me hungering to know more, which is, to me, one of the hallmarks of good non-fiction.

I'm going to be keeping an eye out for good books on the history of India (both about the periods up to the publication of Mehta's book in 1997 and about what's happened since then) -- if anyone has any recommendations, I'd love to hear them!

(Tags: a: mehta gita, nonfiction, short essays, history, indian)
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[personal profile] zeborah
Swati returns with his wife's ashes to his childhood home, where (though British colonialism has made the title more or less meaningless) he and his ancestors were kings. There he learns of the existence of a cousin he never knew about, and more.

The book mingles his journey and memories and the mythology and history of the kingdom in a way that reminds me a little of Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits (though chronology isn't quite so... liquid here as in that book). Part 2 dragged a bit for me (partly the point of view change, partly that I wasn't interested in that setting) but it all came together in part 3.

(Warnings for possible triggers: skip) Contains descriptions of violence, including description of sexual violence.)
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I'm way behind on posting here and, for various reasons, all but one of the following books are currently not in my possession - so these are pretty short reviews.

4. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, Paper

The back made it sound wonderful: a scribe in central Asia searching for the perfect paper, while his town's location at a crossroads of travel and politics impacts upon his life. While it is about that, the execution is not as good as I'd hoped. A lot of time is given over to the Scribe's unhappy musings about his life and how he's just not capable of writing the perfect book. Events unfold sometimes slowly, sometimes offstage, with the overall effect of not particularly gripping me. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani's language is lovely in places and some of the characters are interesting, but I felt like the novel isn't quite as focused as it could have been: it muses, it tells, but it doesn't quite work. Certainly interesting, though, and I intend to re-read it sometime because I suspect there are layers to be found. Also there's a chronology of paper-related history at the back which is marvellous.

5. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo & Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio, eds. Why I Travel and other essays by fourteen women

Now this was a find! It's a collection of travel essays by Filipina, with a section focusing on local destinations and another on international ones. A small section at the back considers the how of travel in particular; one my favourite essays is here, concerning how a wheelchair-bound woman has discovered that she shouldn't feel too limited by her situation, and she tells all about her adventures in a Moroccan souk on donkey-back and other experiences around the world, where the help of a few people has resulted in her having a fantastic time. The essays sometimes describe the places visited, sometimes dwell on personal history in that places (especially in the local section), and are almost all engaging and interesting.

6. Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Sightseeing

A collection of short stories by a Thai author. This means, crucially, that you're getting stories about Thailand as a complex and real place, not the magical land of golden temples and hookers often described by farang writers. Rattawut is concerned with the regular Thai person, not particularly wealthy, often in a perpetual balancing act just above poverty. He writes about a young boy's relationship with a Cambodian refugee whose now-dead father put all their wealth in her gold teeth; he writes about a young man whose mother is on the verge of going blind; he writes about a teenaged girl whose poor father is losing his cockfights to a rich bully, and the various consequences this has on their family; he writes about a wealthy teenaged boy dodging the draft while his poorer friend cannot; and so on. In some stories, the plot itself is not particularly innovative. The entire emotional arc of the draft-dodging story was predictable, for instance. But the way Rattawut writes allows you to really get into his characters' heads and understand their various decisions, so they are not distant or simple stories, and the Thailand he writes about is a difficult, interesting, complicated place. Definitely recommended, especially for readers of realist fiction or those interested in Thailand/SE Asia as depicted by a local.

7. Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red

Oh, My Name is Red, I did want to adore you. Those long beautiful passages on the nature of art and miniaturism and history are, in my opinion, worth the price of admission alone. (Especially if you, uh, got it for cheaps at an Indian pavement book stall.) Yet the characters are almost all un-captivating and parts of the plot progress strangely. A character is tortured and, within pages of the torture ending, decides that the man who gave the order is going to be his new mentor and father figure, and Pamuk spends the rest of the book telling us that they have a deep and meaningful bond. We're told a lot about characterisation in this book. I enjoyed reading about historic Istanbul (and I can't imagine the city under snow!) and, as I said, his tangents were divine, and parts of the murder plot were pretty interesting. Overall, though, a bit of a flawed package.

8. Githa Hariharan, When Dreams Travel

A novel about storytelling and storytellers, especially female, typically powerless ones. Hariharan takes the myth of Shahrzad and begins after it ended, with her sister Dunyazad returning to Shahrzad's palace to help her husband construct her tomb. Echoes of the Taj Mahal in its vast splendour and the Sultan's obsession and the consequences. Dunyazad and a scheming maidservant with a peculiarly hairy mole meet and share stories, including many of a hair-covered woman who was eventually ostracised by her community -- revolving around the possibility that Shahrzad escaped and they can too, from the entrapments of the old 1001 Night story and the present concerns of their lives. When Dreams Travel is a curious, meandering book, beautifully written.
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11. Farahad Zama, The Marriage Bureau for Rich People

Mr. Ali, a recently-retired Muslim man living in a city in South India, finds he has too much time on his hands. So, what to do but open a marriage bureau? It's sort of like a dating service, but with an emphasis on caste instead of personality-matching quizzes (emphasis on looks and occupations are universal, though). Secondary characters include Mr. Ali's estranged son, Rehman, who is a human rights activist; Aruna, a poor Hindu girl he hires as a secretary who is secretly worried about her own marriage prospects; and, of course, Mrs. Ali.

This book is being marketed to fans of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series, and I have to agree that if you like them, you will almost certainly like this new book as well. They share a similar simplistic-but-charming writing style, a focus on traditional values, and evocative descriptions of the beauty in rural and natural scenes. Zama's book is a bit marred by a heavy reliance on "As You Know, Bob" language to convey information about Indian weddings and marriages to the reader, but hey, if you don't know much about that topic, it's certainly an easy way to learn.

A fun, breezy book, with a very predictable happy ending. However, it's clearly aiming itself at an audience who's only looking for light reading, and it achieves its goal of being pleasant read.
ext_48823: 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything (books)
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Here is a batch of mini-reviews and notes on books I read from May to October. I started including descriptions from other websites but didn't do that for all the books. Also, please note there are potentially triggering scenes and events in some of the books (e.g., rape, childhood abuse, incidents with dubious consent, violence). Please let me know if you need more detail.

List of Books Read
33. Burndive by Karin Lowachee
34. Cagebird by Karin Lowachee
35. Ocean of Words by Ha Jin
36. Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith
37. The Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong
38. Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang
39. The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh
40. Pulse by Lydia Kwa
41. Choose Me by Evelyn Lau
42. The Monkey King & Other Stories edited by Griffin Ondaatje
43. The Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee
44. Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? by Anita Rau Badami

Reviews )
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10. Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games

If you ever wanted to know the Mumbai slang terms for 'motherfucker', 'ass-fucker' 'sister-fucker', or just plain old 'fucker', well, this is the book for you!

More seriously, this enormous novel is the story of two men: Sartaj Singh, a world-weary, slightly corrupt, recently divorced, low-level policeman; and Ganesh Gaitonde, the head of an organized crime syndicate, and probably one of the most powerful and wealthy men in India. The novel opens with Singh receiving a phone call from an unknown source, who tells him that Gaitonde is in Mumbai and gives an address. When Singh arrives, he finds a strange building, a sort of concrete bunker; a short conversation between the two men via intercom later, the police break down the door and inside find Gaitonde, dead by his own hand.

The rest of the novel follows two threads. The first is (mostly) Singh's, who is given the assignment to figure out why Gaitonde was in Mumbai and what he was doing in that building. This half of the novel is a crime thriller, particularly as it picks up speed near the end as consequences and meanings start to come clear and events take on an urgency (I admit, I didn't figure out the mystery at all, and once the truth comes out, it's genuinely scary and exciting). Despite that, other characters occasionally speak, ones usually related to the plot, but who fill out the world of the book. I found a chapter from Singh's mother, remembering her childhood during Partition, particularly moving. Partition and the violence then show up repeatedly throughout the novel as a recurring theme. The second half of the story is Gaitonde's; he speaks in first person, directly to Singh, though it's never clear if this is meant to be a ghost, the proverbial "life flashing before your eyes as you die", or what. He retells the story of his life, beginning as a child without a name or past, up through his struggles to get his first few followers, the growth of his mob, gang-wars with rival organizations, several stints in jail, advancing to become an international figure, his dabbles with Bollywood, his struggle with faith, and finally the explanation of how he ended up in a small building in Mumbai and why he killed himself. I liked the Gaitonde sections better than the Singh ones, if just because Gaitonde appealed to me more as a character; he has a incredibly engrossing voice and point of view. And his story is just more exciting, at least until the discoveries Singh makes at the end. The tone of the novel ranges from melodramatic gun shoot-outs or spy adventures to high-minded discussions of religion and the meaning of good and evil. There's lot of sex and violence, but just as many epiphanies and golden moments, and some seriously beautiful turns of phrase.

Highly, highly recommended, though be warned: this is seriously a massive tome of a book (my copy had nearly a thousand pages), so don't start it if you're on a deadline for something.
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9. Gita Mehta, Snakes and Ladders: Glimpses of Modern India

Snakes and Ladders is a book of short essays (very short; I'd guess the average was three pages) on the modern history of India, written to celebrate the country's fifty anniversary in 1997. If you don't know anything about modern India, I think this would be a great place to start. If you already are familiar with the topic, this is probably not really the book for you, although it is certainly written in a very engaging style.

My favorite essays were the ones that didn't deal with history or politics at all, but recounted personal moments from Mehta's own life: how her mother was out at a club at 3am, dancing the foxtrot and the tango, when she went into labor to have Gita; the effect on her parents' marriage of their involvement in the Freedom Movement; how she grew up with a love of reading, thanks to the booksellers of Calcutta.

Recommended as a lighthearted but educational read.


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