Monthly Archives: January 2019

Salt to the Sea – A #Review

Book Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Septeys

The more I read about the Second World War, the more I realise how little I know. So here’s another WWII story, another perspective, another group of people displaced from their homes and homeland in search of peace.

The Story

The War is almost at an end. Germany is on the back foot, though refusing to acknowledge it even as the Russian Army advances, raping and killing along its way. Through this terrifying chaos, four refugees – two Germans, a Pole and a Lithuanian – with dark tortured pasts, try to escape the war, making their way to the coast of the Baltic Sea in an attempt to board a ship to safety.

Even after they board the Wilhelm Gustloff their struggles don’t end. For one, they still have secrets to hide. Also the German ship is a target for Russian torpedoes even if all it carries are wounded soldiers, women and children.

Four protagonists, Four POVs, Many stories

The story is told through four points of view, with each of the characters getting two or three pages at a time. It took me a few pages to get used to it but then narrative caught pace and didn’t flag till the very end.

The success of a book like this one depends on how much and how soon the reader gets invested in the characters and their lives. I found myself gripped by not just the four main ones but by many others too. I wanted to know their stories, their families, their background and the past they were hiding. The secrets were revealed slowly over the pages leaving me horrified and amazed by turns. I wanted them desperately to find the safety they craved, I mourned them as much as their friends in the novel.

The journey

A large part of the book talks about journey of the four protagonists to the ship. It is a passage plagued with fear. The biggest threat is from the Russians who are technically the liberators, but are just as vicious as the Nazis, claiming all they find as victors’ spoils. There are the Nazis themselves who wouldn’t hesitate to persecute a Polish girl or a deserter as also the old and disabled. Above all there’s hunger and cold. Septeys descriptions brought home how cruel, how persistent and how insidious the two can be, cutting through layers of meagre clothing, freezing and starving victims to death.

On the ship

Images of surging desperate crowds anxious to board the ship with their belongings, often reduced to a single bag, were heart wrenching. There were moms throwing their children onto the ship hoping they’d get to safety or ‘buying’ children hoping they’d be their passport for the voyage – those are scenes that’ll remain with me for a long time. Desperation makes one act in ways one never thinks of. It brings out the best in people and also the worst.

I must mention that though Salt to the Sea talks about struggle and fear and loss, it isn’t a sad book. It has moments of warmth and genuine goodness that make it worth a read.

Last Thought: This one has to be read.

To buy the book at Amazon click on the picture below.

Advertisements

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – A #Review

Book Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky

I’d heard a lot about The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It was also the winner of the award for the Best Young Adult book for the year 2000. So it was with a great sense of anticipation that I picked it up, specially because I knew nothing of the story at all.

A coming of age book..

…of 15 year old Charlie. He is about to start High School but isn’t at all ready to jump into the crazy whirlpool that High School is. The recent suicide of his friend has left him traumatised. The passing away of his beloved aunt haunts him too. Painfully shy and a complete introvert Charlie enters school which begins on not a very happy note. However, soon enough, he befriends siblings Patrick and Sam and a whole new world opens up to him – a world of friends, dating and music as also of drugs and sex. The book talks about how Charlie manoeuvres himself through that first year at High School.

The book deals with a very wide range of issues ..

– suicide, PTSD, bullying, drugs, homosexuality, young sex, incest, abuse, rape – the entire gamut that plagues young people. It was published in the nineties, a time when these subjects weren’t as freely discussed as they now are. Which is perhaps why scores of teens identified with it. It isn’t tough to imagine that every youngster at that age is a little bit unsure and lost and struggles with one of more of these issues. That makes Charlie identifiable and his story relatable. It is definitely a brave book for its times. Some of its quotes went viral too. Remember this one?

We choose the love we think we deserve.

It is an epistolary novel ..

…where Charlie writes to an imaginary friend. That’s where the trouble started for me. Charlie’s voice just didn’t sound like that of a fifteen year old. He writes like a middle schooler, which would have been acceptable if he hadn’t also been an advanced English student, apparently much ahead of his peers and the favourite of his English teacher.

Also, his world view too seems that of an 8-year-old which was confusing. His knowledge about girls, boys, love, sex and drugs is so very rudimentary. Assuming he had a over-protected life at home, (which is tough, given that he has an older brother and sister), surely he has been around other children, peers and that should have given him some idea.

I wondered for bit if he was autistic going by the way he ‘reports’ events rather than writes about them, plus there’s his exceptional talent for English. Or perhaps he had Asperger’s going by his social ineptness. However, the fact remained unexplained. And that shall bug me forever.

While the teen issues never really lose relevance, there have been a number of coming-of-age books since this one (like Simon vs the Homosapein Agenda) that are much better, much more focussed in what they have to say.

Last thought: Don’t kill for it but do read it if it’s at your library.

Linking up with the Write Tribe Reading Challenge – This is my review for ‘A book that was a gift’. It came to me from my dear Secret Santa at the BAR Nibha Gupta.

The Forest of Enchantments – A #Review

Mythology tells timeless tales. Which is why we never tire of listening to these stories from our childhood. Or perhaps the charm lies in the voice of the storyteller who brings something new, something unexpected to the tale; a new perspective maybe, or a poetic narration – something that makes the same old story fresh and exciting.

That’s why Chitra Banerjee’s The Forest of Enchantments was a book I was really looking forward to. It made me break my no-book-buying resolve within a few days of making it. Oh well!

The story 

…. of Sita is not new – found as an infant by the king of Mithila she is married off to Ram, the charismatic scion of the Raghu clan. When Ram is banished to fourteen years of exile she decides to accompany him, is abducted by the powerful Asura King Ravan only to be rescued by Ram. Barely has she settled down in the palace when she is banished, once again to the forest, this time by Ram himself for imagined infidelity. Finally, broken and hurt she finds refuge within mother earth.

Divakaruni’s Sita

…is my Sita too. She was closest to the one I’d always imagined and loved.

I loved that Sita chooses to tell her own story. Valmiki’s version wouldn’t do for her. How could he, a mere man, be equipped to understand a woman, divine guidance notwithstanding? So this here is the Sitayan.

Divakaruni crafts Sita’s character with care – her traits and her strengths complement her origin. Daughter of the earth, she understands all things that come from the earth. She has a green thumb, she can heal through herbs, she talks to the trees, she feels their pain, she craves the forest. Divakaruni’s pen brings to life Sita’s love in beautifully flowing prose, making one fall in love with the world as she sees it – free and unrestrained.

Sita is taught to use her body like a weapon, to centre her whole being and withdraw into herself when situations around her became unbearable.

Her natural gifts coupled with learned skills make her, to me, the perfect woman. One with silent strength and quiet courage, in Divakaruni’s words, ‘easy to mistake for meekness’; Sita has the courage of endurance.

On Love

Ramayan, as also Sitayan is definitely Sita and Ram’s love story. However, beyond that, The Forest of Enchantments is a treatise on love. Every action, good or bad, stems from love and its myriad shades – joy, ecstasy, expectation, pain, suffering, even death. Divakaruni gets elegantly lyrical as she enumerates how each action, each emotion finally finds its root in love. And every single quote is worth being read over and over again.

My absolute favourite is the one on Kaikeyi

It’s not enough to merely love someone…. we must want what they want, not what we want for them.

And this one from when she isn’t able to tell Ram how desperately she wants children during the banishment.

That’s how love stops us when it might be healthier to speak out, to not let frustration and rage build up until it explodes.

I know I’m overdoing this but just one more..

How entangled love is with expectation, that poison vine!

The other characters

..are beautifully etched too. Ram, the duty bound Raghuvanshi, Kaikeyi – strong and stubborn, Urmila – happy, effervescent as also Ravan, Shurpanakha, Mandodari, Sarama (Vibhishan’s wife), Ahalya (my favourite) and Shabari – they were all just right.

I would have liked to see a softer side to Lakshman. He seems forever angry and suspicious. Ram is his whole world, to the exclusion of everyone else. I sorely missed the warmth of his relationship with Sita.

But I’ll let that go, there is only so much one can do while cramming an epic into a few hundred pages.

The ending

…needs special mention because it is absolutely magnificent. Sita’s last few lines completely satisfied the feminist in me, without being angry or aggressive or loud. You need to read it to get what I’m saying.

The few bits that missed the mark

I loved Sita, I’ve made that pretty clear. That said, there were parts of her character that didn’t come together. One, she seemed overly empathetic, unnaturally so – even with Ravan and Shurpanakha. She is constantly thinking from multiple points of view even in the most dire circumstance. I get that she’s a divine, evolved soul but in her human form, it didn’t ring true.

Yet at places what she feels and says doesn’t tie in with her divinity. When she thinks of dying in the Ashok Vatika one of her thoughts is,
‘I wouldn’t be able to tell him how I’d suffered and how all through that suffering had remained true to him.’ Only too human!

I’m being too demanding, I know. The balance between the divine and mortal is difficult not to say subjective.

There were also bits of writing that didn’t quite come through. The abduction scene, for instance, didn’t turn out to be as dramatically horrifying as I thought it should have been.
Says Sita ‘My nails raised welts on his dark smooth skin…’. No one would note her captor’s ‘smooth’ skin while being abducted.
Also, when Sita sees the Pushpak Viman, she says, and I quote..
‘I was so amazed, I couldn’t help staring in open-mouthed wonder. For a moment, I even forgot to struggle.
‘You might want to close your lips’, the rakshasa (Ravan) said kindly (?). ‘A bug might wander in.’
The humour detracted from the horror of the situation.

And yet, despite the few hiccups I’ll say this is the best retelling of the Ramayan I’ve read. The one that reminded me of my grandma’s stories only in a more colourful, more fresh, ever more engrossing form.

Last Thought: Buy it.

Click on the image to buy the book.

Reading plan for 2019



Featured post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

Hola people and welcome to this brand new year. Reading-wise 2018 was a good year for me. I got through 36 books and am pretty happy with that.

Normally I plan my reading meticulously but the end of 2018 was so chaotic on the home front that I was caught off guard without a reading plan. The thing to do then was to get my act together fast.

Very quickly then, here are the Challenges I’m taking up.

#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Challenge

To be honest this was already a part of the plan formulating in my head for a long time even though I did not consciously give it voice. Taking a cue from that (the voice in my head) the first Challenge I pledge myself to this year, is the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Challenge. I desperately need to, and I will, focus on reading the books I already have, at least one, maybe two, of the three I hope to read each month. I really have just too many of them and it’s an absolute shame to have them all sitting there staring at me while I pretend to ignore them and continue on a buying spree.

Of course part of me is already protesting:
There are new books coming out everyday and they’re so interesting and everyone talks about them all the time, and social media is buzzing with them; the covers are so enticing and the blurbs are intriguing and they’re so inexpensive on the kindle…

But Shushhh! I tell that part of me, as I renew my pledge to make a dent in the TBR pile at home. That’s going to be the mainstay of my reading this year.

The Goodreads Challenge

Then there’s the Goodreads Challenge which I’ve faithfully taken up and completed for the past three years. I love the freedom it offers: one can set his/her own target, read any kind of book and also that one can revise it at any point in time. Though if one does revise it, it kind of defeats the whole purpose of the challenge. But hey! To each his own.

That said, it works well for me because it gives me a push without making me feel the pressure. That sounds oxymoromish but it works perfectly. Also, more importantly, it does not distract me from my primary goal of reading the books I already have. In fact it is right in line with it.

The Write Tribe Challenge

Lastly there’s the Write Tribe Reading Challenge that sounds deliciously interesting while seeming easy to take up. Since I’m already pledging to read 36 books, this one seems doable too and so I look forward to reaching the level of a ‘bookworm’ at WT. I’m hoping the one ‘luxury book’ I allow myself each month shall go towards this Challenge.

And now I feel guilty for implying that books I already have are ‘non-luxury’ which sounds like they’re unloved and that is not the case at all – they’re all books I’ve bought or have been been gifted, very lovingly. I still need to fit titles into the WT categories and I shall get to it soon enough. I shall certainly be sharing it all here with you guys and looking for recommendations too.

That’s it from me. I’d love to hear from you. What challenges are you taking up? Do you too have a pile of books waiting to be read?