Category Archives: Famous books, Controversial books

10 minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World #BookReview

Book: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World
Author: Elif Shafak

After January’s reading spree February was a month for slowing down. Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds was the perfect pick for the purpose. One cannot open a Shafak and breeze through it. Her books are to be sampled and savoured at leisure.

But before I get carried away by my love for the author let me introduce you to the story.

The story

This is the tale of Tequila Leila – a prostitute in Istanbul. We are introduced to her as her body lies in a dumpster waiting to be found by friends or family.

The story stems from a piece of research that suggests that a person’s brain is active for about 10 minutes after the heart stops beating. 

Each minute of Leila’s time in the dumpster brings a memory.

Fragrance, flavour, sights and sounds translate into memories as she reaches into the depths of her mind to relive moments of her life. We piece together her story through each flashback. More importantly, we get to meet The Five; five of Leila’s friends who constitute the family she could never have.

That makes up the first part of her story – The Mind. There is also a second and third part – The Body and The Soul – that take up the narrative after Leila’s mind stops working.

You might also like The Bastard of Istanbul by the same author.

What I loved

One would imagine a novel that hinges on death would be about death and dying. Contrary to that, the focus of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds remains on love and friendship and the relationships we form throughout our lives. Here’s what I enjoyed about the book

The premise

I absolutely loved it. What a fabulous peg to weave a story! 

The poetic storytelling

While the story or the narrative is the life of a novel, there is also a special kind of charm in the way it is told. And that’s where Shafak excels. Almost every page of the book is a quotable quote.

Sample this one on friendship:

On days when she wallowed in self-pity, her chest cracking open, they (her friends) would gently pull her up and breathe life into her lungs.”

A sensory treat

Shafak’s story-telling stimulates the senses. So potent were her descriptions that the situations are forever tied up in my mind with the smells and sounds just as they were in Leila’s. The fragrance of cardamom coffee, the smell of sugar-and-lemon, the aromatic lamb stew as also the taste of watermelon and that of soil in her mouth – they will all remain with me forever.

The narrative

The first part was unputdownable as I followed Leila’s journey through the young innocence of childhood to her stormy and traumatic growing up years and then as she lands into prostitution. The individual stories of her five friends kept me glued. While I didn’t much like Part 2, the third part was beautiful, though a little short. 

The treatment

I loved Leila’s portrayal. I liked that despite the tough situations life threw at her, she didn’t turn cynical or bitter. If anything, she valued love and friendship ever more and made warm heartfelt connections. Which is why her friends are ready to go to any lengths for her.

Most of all, there was Istanbul

No one, absolutely no one, can describe Istanbul the way Shafak does.  Her love shines through each page even as she makes no attempt to camouflage its warts. Istanbul comes alive as a city with a million shades, innocent yet heartless, a city changing and growing constantly.

Istanbul was an illusion. A magician’s trick gone wrong… In truth, there was no Istanbul. There were multiple Istanbuls – struggling, competing, clashing, each perceiving that, in the end, only one could survive

Quotes like these are liberally sprinkled, often innocuously placed in the narrative. They build a picture of the city without you even being aware of it. If I ever go to Istanbul, it will be Shafak’s version I’d be looking for. Here’s another quote I loved:

This city always surprised her; moments of innocence were hidden in its darkest corners, moments so elusive that by the time she realised how pure they were, they would be gone.

What could have been better

The ‘friend-list’

That’s my first gripe with the book – that her friend list, the ‘water family’,  seemed contrived. It was almost as if Shafak was collecting one misfit of each kind to bring together to the group.

The individual stories…

… were too too short. I’ve said earlier I loved each of them and I wanted to know more about each of them. Some, like Humeyra, got a very raw deal. Her picture was incomplete, truncated somehow.

The bonding

I would have liked Shafak to spend a few more pages establishing the camaraderie between the friends. I got their deep connection with Leila but they didn’t come together as a group for me. And that was crucial since they were working together as a team in the second part of the book.

The second part

This part, The Body, was to me, the weakest bit of the book. Moreso because the first part was so beautifully written. It comes as a rude shock waking one up from a poetic bit of writing to something almost caricaturish as her friends attempt to give her a befitting burial. A book like this didn’t deserve it.

Last thought: Despite the weaknesses, I’d say Read it.

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it for the prompt ‘a book gifted to you’. This one came from my dear friend and an exceptionally generous Santa, Shalini.

The Bell Jar, Metamorphosis #MicroReview

Here are two books both critically acclaimed, yet both didn’t work for me.

Book: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath

I picked up The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath because it’s said to be a modern-day classic and also because it’s the only book written by the author. When an author writes just one book, it is often close to her/his true self and that’s a treat to read.

The book introduces us to the bright young Esther Greenwood who is in New York on a writing scholarship. It traces her journey as she tries to fit in, to do things expected of her but fails. She finds she can neither be a true blue society girl nor a ‘good’ girl. Flitting somewhere in the middle, she loses her real self. She tries to fit into societal moulds but feels suffocated by them(like she’s under a bell jar, hence the name of the book). Then on begins her spiral into depression, slowly and surely, as she lets go of one opportunity after another. Finally she finds herself in a mental facility, struggling to regain her balance.

I found it hard to connect with Esther. She is so confused about what she wants from life. Perhaps one needs to be in a specific state of mind to understand and appreciate her, perhaps one needs to have experienced some of that depression to truly empathise. Or perhaps Plath spilt her own disinterest in life into the book. That might be a  testimony of the honesty with which it is written but it renders this a hard book to read.

Book: The Metamorphosis
Author: Franz Kafka

This is as unusual a book as they can get. It talks about Gregor Samsa who wakes up one morning to find he has turned into a vermin. Interestingly, we don’t even know whether it was actually a vermin or an insect of some kind because the book is originally written in German and Kafka is known to use words that keep baffling translators.

Moving on, Gregor’s change scares and disgusts his parents and Grete, his sister. Grete, initially shows some concern leaving food for him and at least noticing if he was eating or not. She even tries to make his room a little comfortable for this new version of him. His father has to begin going to work again as does Grete while his mother has to take up sewing assignments to run the house. A depressed Gregor gives up eating and finally meets his end and his family moves on living together happily.

This is a less than 100 page book but boy, it proved hard to read. Like The Bell Jar, I couldn’t empathise with Gregor, perhaps because I come from an entry difference space as compared to him. The book reflects Kafka’s dissatisfaction with his own life, stuck in a nine-to-five job routine which, he felt, took away from his true love which was writing. It also shows his real life alienation from his family. With that background, I could get some understanding of the book but it still remained too dark for my taste.

Faces in the Crowd #BookBytes 16

I have come to realise that one of the best places to look for book recommendations is my children’s English textbooks. They curate excerpts from some of most wonderful reads. I have been doing it for the longest time actually – since my own school days. I’d read an excerpt and find it so engrossing that I’d go looking for the book.

That’s how I chanced upon The Little Prince. I first met this book when I was a tween and I remember being rather unimpressed, probably because I couldn’t get much of the hidden meaning between its pages. When I recently stumbled upon an excerpt again in the twins’ text book, I simply reached out for my phone and ordered it.

Reading it now, as an adult, I find it loaded with profound wisdom. Before I get lost in more nostalgia (something that’s happening very often these days), let me get to the passage I’m sharing today:

“…. What does that mean — tame?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.” 
“To establish ties?” 
“Just that,” said the fox.
“To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….” 

– The Little Prince By Antoine de Saint-Exupery

We’re just random people in the crowd till we form ties and then we become special and unique for each other. Making friends and forming relationships is as much an act of choice as it is that of fate. The ‘fox’ goes on to add that one needs patience and effort and understanding to build a friendship.

Do you agree? Do you think one needs to make an effort to form a friendship or do relationships happen because they are ‘meant to happen’?

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If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Share it on your blog and link back to this latest post.
  • Put in the logo (above) so it’s easy to spot.
  • Leave the link to your blogpost in the comments so I can drop by too.
  • Book Bytes goes live every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Do join in.

The next edition is scheduled for October 1st.

Chai and a book with a dash of nostalgia #WordsMatter

Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

It’s a wet wet day but I’m not complaining. I like this respite from the sun. Besides, when it rains, the balcony beckons, the tea tastes better and a book looks ever more inviting. Giving in to temptation, I drag out a bean bag, grab a cup of tea and pick up a book from my nightstand resolutely pushing away thoughts of unmade beds and messy rooms. Just this once, just one hour I promise myself as I settle down for a read.

‘What are you reading?’ did you ask? Here take a look.

Yeah, I recently started re-reading Gone with the Wind as part of a buddy-read.

I pick it up now running a hand over the plastic cover that has turned translucent with age. I imagine myself covering it lovingly, possessively (and numbering it too). It has been a long time since this book came to me, and I mean a really really long time.

As I open it to the first page I find a simple inscription from my aunt.

My aunt marked it is as a gift for my birthday even though it was some six months later.

Reading those well-loved lines brings a smile and a deluge of happy memories. Despite the rain around me it transports me to long hot summer days, of noisy coolers that blasted air along with occasional drops of water and the delicious smell of khus khus, and noisier cousins who played, fought, chatted all day.

Each vacation my aunt would come visiting along with my cousins. Before she left she would get us a gift. Each time she would ask, ‘Do you want a dress or a book?’. Each time, without fail, I’d say, ‘a book’.  And off we’d go to browse and buy.

Books were precious treasures back then. We read a lot yet owned a few unlike now when parents start building a library even before their child is born.

Gone with the Wind was the most expensive book I’d ever wanted. Our budget used to be somewhere around Rs 50 but this came at 60. I well remember standing in the bookstore staring at it, knowing it was beyond reach, too embarrassed to tell my aunt just how badly I wanted it, yet unable to tear myself away from it. And so I stood there, desperately wanting to wish away those ten rupees standing between me and my happiness.

I am not even sure my aunt noticed my dilemma. All she said was, ‘You want it? Okay.’ And just like that, in a heartbeat, the book was mine. I cannot even begin to describe what that meant to me. Not only did I get to read the book but I also got to own it! I went through it at breakneck speed, sitting up late into the nights. I strutted about school for days magnanimously lending it to everyone who asked for it.

As I leaf through the yellowed pages now, I notice a few are coming loose from the binding, some evil silverfish have dug in fine holes too. And yet, each page is more precious than the freshest, crispest, whitest pages I will find in any new edition. So no, I won’t be ordering a new one. I’ll sit down with tape and put the pages together, I’ll leave it out in the sun to get rid of the silverfish and I’ll read it multiple times. I’ll preserve it for as long as I can because, more than a book, it’s a cherished memory.

Do you have a book that evokes a special memory for you? A person who was instrumental in igniting a love for stories?

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I am participating in the #wordsmatter bloghop. I received this tag from teacher and writer Jyotsna Prabhakar who blogs at  Jonaatbest. I’m passing on the tag to the very artistic, very humorous Rajlakshmi at Destiny’s Child. Do follow the #WordsMatter Blog Hop for some interesting reads.

Have you heard of The Wind Done Gone?

The Wind Done Gone was a novel written by Alice Randall which tells the story of Gone With the Wind from the point of view of Cynara, Scarlett O’hara’s half sister, Mammy’s daughter. She’s a slave too. The names of all major characters, other than Mammy, have been changed. Tara becomes Tata, Scarlett becomes Other, her father, Gerald O Hara becomes Planter, her mom becomes Lady and Ashley becomes The Dreamy Gentleman. Like Scarlett she also falls in love with ‘R’ and after he leaves her, Cynara becomes his mistress.

We all know what happened after the book was published. Margaret Mitchell’s estate sued the author and after much litigation a settlement was reached. The book was branded a ‘parody’ and all but disappeared from public memory.

There are other spin offs to Gone With the Wind. There’s Rhett Butler’s People, which traces Rhett’s journey and there’s Scarlett, the official sequel to the book. None of them could come close to Gone With the Wind.

While spin offs, sequels and series have almost become a norm, I haven’t come across many novels that have tried to tackle a story from a different perspective. Of course copyright issues might be a deterrent.

Some authors like Chitra Banerjee and Kavita Kane have explored other POVs in Indian epics and I’ve loved most of them.

I find different POVs fascinating. For instance, I’d love to read a book from the point of view of an upperclass wife in The Handmaid’s Tale. What did she feel as she watched her husband bed another woman? Did she, even for one small moment, feel a pang of sympathy for the Handmaid? Or did jealousy and insecurity chase away all other feelings?

I’d love to read Rebecca from Maxim’s point of view. The backstory leading up to her murder and then his encounter with the new Mrs de Winter would have been quite a roller-coaster.

So tell me, which popular book would you like to read from an alternate point of view?

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.

On self-esteem #Teaser Tuesday – 2

Joining in with Teaser Tuesday which is hosted by Should Be Reading. This week I’m right on time and I’m picking two lines from my  current read An Unsuitable Boy by Karan Johar (With Poonam Saxena). All I’ll say for now, is that it is proving to be a very interesting read.

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For some reason, I was not motivated to do anything.
I was so caught up in my own head about being overweight and effeminate that I was resisting any interaction
with the outside world.

So says Karan Johar, director producer of the some of the most opulent and successful Indian commercial films. Watch out for the review.

download

If you fancy joining in, here’s how…
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
• Share the title and author so other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!