After forcing myself to finish King, Queen, Knave by the celebrated Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov (best recognised for Lolita), I was desperate to read a book I could relate with and enjoy. Although it has been praised for its ‘delicious prose’, I found the excessive metaphors and personification in King, Queen, Knave tiring. The pace too was a real drag. I was eager to begin a new novel.
A few days earlier, my ex-colleague and friend Shiwangi sent me an author signed hardcover of Land Where I Flee by Prajwal Parajuly, all the way from Gangtok, Sikkim, as a belated birthday gift! Shiwangi has always been the super sweet girl so I was more touched than surprised. Last year, I had borrowed from her and read the debut novel by Prajwal (who is her friend) called The Gurkha’s Daughter and quite liked it.
Now, coming to Land Where I Flee. To put it very simply, I had a good time reading it. Land Where I Flee is set in Gangtok, where the author himself grew up. So, it’s a culture and people he knows well. At it’s core, it’s a tale of fractured familial relationships, old wounds, and the refusal to patch up. The characters that people the novel are interesting, real, conflicted, layered, and thankfully, not complex to the point where you do not fully understand their motivations.
An old, formidable, beedi-smoking, Nepali-speaking Hindu widow Chitralekha Nepauney is set to turn 84. Her 84th birthday, or chaurasi, is an event to commemorate. Her grandchildren, who she single-handedly raised after their parents’ death in a car accident, are coming from different parts of the world for the chaurasi. She has, however, a bone of contention to pick with all three of them.
The eldest, Bhagwati, had eloped at 19 to marry a low caste, untouchable Damaai. She, of Brahmin ancestry, had ruined the family reputation. Her Baahun grandmother left no opportunity to taunt her slither by. The second in line, Manasa had done the respectable thing by marrying a man from one of Nepal’s most prestigious political families but by refusing to get her husband along for the chaurasi, earned the wrath of her grandmother. Chitralekha’s only grandson, Agastaya, stubbornly remained a bachelor at 34. Apart from Chitralekha’s incessant mocking, complaining and rebuffs, the three siblings have their own demons to fight and hope only to come out of the chaurasi unscathed. The novel follows the events that unfold when they all congregate in their childhood home. As if there wasn’t enough melodrama in the household anyway, a mischievous eunuch maid and an uninvited guest take it upon themselves to create even more.
The sentences Parajuly weaves are quite simple in structure but every third page contained a word or two I was unfamiliar with! An aspect of Land Where I Flee I particularly noticed and liked was the liberal doses of dialogues and the muted, crisp narrative. The author doesn’t waste precious words in describing scenes and settings in great detail, and lets the story flow freely and quickly. The tension among the siblings and with the grandmother is brought out appropriately well by the words the characters chose to speak. The novel inevitably has a sprinkling of the Gorkhaland movement. However, one does wish that the author move out of his comfort zone in his next outing.
To sum it up, Land Where I Flee is a non-pretentious novel—literary enough but not absurdly, unbearably so.
On an aside, I hope 2014 turns out to be a great year for Indian authors and of course, the publishing industry in general. People of the world, please buy more books and show them damn Kindles and e-Readers who’s the boss.
PS: I also reviewed Sangeeta Mall’s Flight of the Flamingo recently. Click here for the link.
Flight of the Flamingo by Sangeeta Mall
To put it simply, this is chick-lit with brains. In that, it’s fairly easy to read through but has enough substance and poignancy packed in. This novel is first in the ‘Beyond Pink’ series by Westland publishing. And if the first is this good, I look forward their upcoming titles. The attempt here is to tell stories about the contemporary urban Indian women-their dilemma, choices, aspirations, et al. And the author here definitely succeeds.
The novel follows the life of Preeta Dhingra, a short, plump woman in her early thirties. Preeta works in a publishing house in Mumbai and is tired of editing brainless romance novels that her company so loves to churn out, The story begins when an extraordinary manuscript lands on Preeta’s desk. The submission is by a high-profile celebrity banker. Preeta’s boss shoots down the idea as ridiculous and risky. In flat defiance against her boss’s wish, Preeta decides to go ahead with it, and in doing so, risks her job. Along the way, many things happen. There is also a love angle in the novel. But that is hardly the focus of the novel. If, like me, you are tired of reading women-centric novels that deal only with love and relationships, you’ll appreciate The Flight of the Pink Flamingo for going way beyond that.
Preeta leads a tough life. But there is none of that wallowing in self-pity or lengthy ruminations about how tough life is. You tend to understand and also admire the way Preeta deals with life. The character feels real. It could be someone you know. The novel scores on plot, narrative and characters. What more does one want, really!
Ever since I went all spiritual and zen and stuff a couple of years ago, I haven’t managed to read sufficient fiction. I have been devouring novels that fall under ‘self-help’-a rather pitying label, if you ask me. So I’m gonna say I was reading a lot of NON-FICTION. After I figured out who will cry when I die, and how to get from where I am to where I want to be, I am back to good old fiction. With plots, and characters, and conflict.
Here is a recap on some of the fiction novels I’ve recently read.
Mumbaistan by Piyush Jha:
Three novellas come together to form Mumbaistan, each involving plenty of twists and turns that keep you hooked to the plot. The first novella, Bomb Day, sees a prostitute, her lover, and a policeman, playing a deadly game with each other. The stakes are high and nothing is as it seems. In Injectionwala, we are introduced to the malpractices that go on behind the curtain. A policeman chases a vigilante on a killing spree. In Coma Man, a man wakes up from coma after two decades, and sets out in pursuit of his wife-and himself. Mumbai is a character in itself, a sort of catalyst. Fast paced and action packed, this was one book I did not want to be disturbed reading! Jha keeps it crisp and pulls you right in.
The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni:
Has become one of my all-time favourites. This book is Mahabharata as seen, felt and narrated by Draupadi.. or Panchaali as she liked to be addressed. It doesn’t matter if your grandparents have told you stories from the Mahabharat countless times before. This book will change your perspective completely. Besides, how much would you know about Panchaali anyway? Her character and life is so flat and uni-dimensional in the traditional narration of Mahabharat that you are sure there must be more to her. And there is. A lot, lot more. Her character arc is by far the most superior I have ever read. You will see the main players in the epic mythological tale also differently. Complex, layered and excellently told. Highly recommended.
A word of caution: Reading through the first few chapters, you might find the pace a little tedious, but it’s important to know where Panchaali is coming from, and also, the pace picks up like nobody’s business once she’s married off to Arjun.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai:
As you may or may not know, I like reading fiction by Indian authors. I was, thus, mighty excited to read this 2006 Man Booker winner. Was I disappointed or what. The novel seriously drags. I found it difficult to finish it. Nothing really ‘happens’ during the first 200 pages or so. I didn’t care much for the few main characters either. You don’t fully understand their actions or thought process. It just didn’t sustain my interest. Maybe I am missing something, but I just can’t fathom HOW this book can win the Man Booker.
The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho:
This book is just one long (375 pages long) rant about the rich and famous of Hollywood.. who, without exception, lead unsatisfied, miserable, materialistic lives full of greed and worry. That is how Coelho portrays makes it seem. I think he should stick to fables and magical tales to get his point across. As a fiction novel, The Winner Stands Alone falls flat on it face. I used to be a big fan of Coelho and his teachings, but this book was really disastrous. Big disappointment.
The Wednesday Soul by Sorabh Pant:
I felt very good about myself buying this book because I’m all for supporting Indian stand up comedians and when one of them writes a book, of course you have to buy it. I began reading The Wednesday Soul on a bus journey to a neighbouring city, which was perfect because this is the kind of novel you need to read while travelling. The novel follows Nyra Dubey’s journey into afterlife, where all sorts of crazy unimaginable things happen. Involves dog-men, Eledactyls (Elephant-Pterodactyl), guards who go rogue and a final war in space. Overall, the book is rather okay. Fun at times and ‘trying too hard’ at times.
Have you read any of these books? Would love to know your thoughts on them.
Book recommendations are also welcome.
My book review was published in the August issue of JetWings, (international as well as domestic edition) the luxury travel in-flight magazine on Jet Airways, one of India’s premier airlines.
Please click on the link here for the PDF: Review of The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad (My name at the bottom right of the review, not the entire page.)
If you think I review books in an unbiased manner, also have a look at my review of Ruskin Bond’s When the Tiger was King.