Month: November 2015

Identity and Individuality: Questions That Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake Tries To Answer

Recently, I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s first full length novel, The Namesake. I’ve reviewed her other books prior to this and have spoken at length about her compelling narratives, the ones that draw you wholly into the book, such that you are not reading so much as you’re being immersed in the most intoxicating of wines.

sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-book-namesake-jhumpa-lahiri At the outset, let me mention this is not going to be a review. These are just a few thoughts I had while reading this book. There will be no rating at the end.

The reason why this is not going to be a review is, I have nothing new to add to what I’ve already shared in my reviews of Interpreter of Maladies, Unaccustomed Earth and The Lowland. One of the reasons is, like Lahiri’s other works, The Namesake is also about a Bengali family making their way across the seas, in the US, mingling with other Bengali families, desperately holding on to the shred of Indianness they all have left behind. It deals with the children of these families who feel torn between the country they are growing up in, and the environment their parents create for them that they feel forced to accept. But mainly, The Namesake is the story of Gogol, named after the Russian author Nikolai Gogol, a favourite of his father’s (the reason for which you must read the book to find out). Among his struggles as the child from an immigrant family, he also struggles with his unusual name – the embarrassment it causes him and a lack of confidence thereof. He changes his name before entering college, but does he ever find out the real significance of Nikolai Gogol in his father’s life?

The search for one’s identity is something that we have all undergone in our lives. Readers can relate to Gogol’s life and actions. But I could relate to him on a deeper level, for various reasons. For one thing – some of you may agree India, despite being a country, is a continent in itself. I belong to a family of Keralites, but grew up everywhere else. Whichever city I spent my childhood in, I was always identified as a southerner (or the moniker given by the ignorant ones – Madrasi). But once my family moved to Kerala, they all referred to me as the outsider. Existential crisis level – India! Then there were the constant references to the fact that I did not “look” like someone who belonged to <insert name of city presently residing in>. Much like Gogol’s parents, my own parents were collecting phone numbers of every Keralite relative every time we changed cities, and their ways were just – different – from the ways of my friends’ families. It’s funny to think about now, how I’ve imbibed the essence of every city I’ve lived in – you could even call it enriching! But it was not all that pleasant growing up, wondering where you really belong. In fact, I still sometimes question where “home” is.

Then of course, there is Gogol’s hatred of his name. I’ve made peace with my name now, but it was not something I was fond of. Gogol’s parents intended it to be his nickname and for Nikhil to be his official name; but due to something that happened at school, he is stuck with Gogol, much to the initial disappointment of his parents. Later he changes his name to Nikhil. I, on the other hand, always felt burdened by my official name, and even considered changing my name officially to my pet name (Chinki, in case you were wondering). It just sounded “cooler” to me.

With Gogol, I’ve sought answers to questions that have plagued me all my life. I can’t quite say the book answers them. But reading it was like a journey I took with a mirror image of myself. I am sure it is not just me, but there are so many like me who can find themselves in Gogol (I even found shades of me in Gogol’s wife Moushumi). That tells a lot about Lahiri’s storytelling prowess, which I have drooled over in my other reviews. Highly recommended for these and a lot more reasons!

Audition, by Ryu Murakami

Look at that scary anime female. How creepily cute is she with that syringe and all!

My God, wasreesha-divakaran-rain-and-book-audition-murakamis this book hard to get! In every bookstore that I asked for Ryu Murakami, I was told where to find the books of Haruki Murakami (the two, by the way, are not related). And yes, in case you were wondering, I am old-fashioned, and I prefer to go to bookstores rather than buying them online, except as a last resort. Which is what I did in this case.

That, on the cover is, Yamasaki Asami. She is pure evil.

And I mean that as a compliment, Asami, please don’t hurt me *cowers in fear*.

Audition is the story of Aoyama, a widower whose teenage son (an intelligent and insightful boy, as mentioned way too many times) suggests he remarry, seven years after the death of his first wife. His friend suggests that they hold film auditions for a fake film to find the perfect wife – the plan is to later tell the girl that the film got shelved. Aoyama gets smitten by Asami and then, well, unpleasantness ensues.

This book is so short that you can finish it off in one sitting. But that doesn’t leave much scope for plot development, so the suspense was not all… well, suspenseful. There are hints dropped throughout, so as a reader, you can more or less predict where it’s going; it does not feel like a buildup. It feels a little rushed in fact.
The good thing though is that though you can predict where it’s going, you don’t know how it’s gonna happen till the last chapter. Once you reach the last chapter, my oh my! I’ve read my fair share of horror, but this was one of those times when… okay, I will not spoil it for anyone. It’s good, that’s all I am gonna say. Not scary, but just gross-out good.
I liked how cold blooded and seemingly indifferent Asami is. But there isn’t a lot of explanation as to what made her that way. It is mentioned that she had a bad past (cos every evil person has a terrible past – that’s Fiction 101) but you don’t see her metamorphosis into this terrible person. Aoyama has a dream about what happened – and that’s it. Also, what is the significance of the phrase “The Girl Who Lost Her Name”? Some loose threads here and there, but if you like gore, then do read this book.

Rating: 3.5/5

Buy it here.

Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller

Do you know what semantic satiation is? It is a condition where you repeat a word so many times that it ceases to have any meaning. Reading Tropic of Cancer is like that, except every page is like a giant brick of a word that clobbers you on the head. Repeatedly. Then you lose track of what you were reading or about whom you were reading.

This review is going to be brief. I had the urge to stop reading every few pages, but this book is considered to be a monumental achievement in the world of literature by some critics. To be fair, it has its moments – Henry Miller makes some profound statements that make you pause and think. But honestly, it takes a lot of getting-clobbered-on-the-head to reach one good sentence. Kind of like reading a text book on the day before a test. You read the same paragraph over and over without even realizing that’s what you’re doing until your eyes get strained and then you move to the next paragraph. You absorb nothing and you realize the words fell through your head like it was a sieve. Henry Miller describes in detail the life he led as a broke writer in Paris who did not know where his next meal was coming from. But the tone he uses, it just does not resonate with the audience. It reads like a grating noise – you want to be shocked or maybe sympathetic (whether or not Miller intended it) at the dire state he was in, but the grating noise just does not let you. A book must show you the world around its story. Here, the world around the story is being written about, but you can’t see it. It is raw and honest, but not the heart-wrenching, or even the take-your-breath-away kind of raw and honest.

There was one part I could actually relate to though. He talks about an acquaintance (one out of the many, many, *sigh* many he talks about in this book) who has always wanted to publish his own book, but never does because he has been reading too much. It was funny, it kinda sounded like me, because I’m reading all kinds of books, but never gathering the courage to finish any of the stories I started!

The rest of it, are there some insights I am not getting? Is there something I am missing out on?

Drab as it was, I read it nevertheless so you would not have to. But if you’re the kind that likes being clobbered on the head, or want to find out for yourself what the fuss is about be my guest: Amazon

PS: Did not include the cover pic as it is NSFW.

The Nomad Learns Morality, by Tomichan Matheikal

the-nomad-learnsA few weeks ago, I had informally announced that I would not be accepting any more books from authors/publishers for review, as I was not getting a chance to read what I wanted. But of course there are exceptions to every rule. When Tomichan Matheikal requested a review of his new book, The Nomad Learns Morality, I agreed without a moment’s hesitation. I have been following Tomichan’s blog for some time now, and his well-crafted, intelligent stories have always fascinated me. His book is a collection of 33 stories that have previously appeared on his blog.

The title, The Nomad Learns Morality, is the name of one of the short stories that appears in the second half of the book. But all the stories in the book, in subtle ways, question morality as we know it, what we have been taught as “right” or “moral.” The first half of the book has stories from mythology and history, all told from a perspective different from what we have often heard. For example, in the mythologies, it is often maintained, and even enforced that Rama is the ideal man. While not directly, and not in a preachy way, in the book, his situation is juxtaposed with that of Sita’s to question how right his actions really were. The second half has fictional stories set in the present day.

There’s an underlying, inconspicuous thread in all the stories, which is what lingers on your mind once you’ve finished reading. It indicates that all that religions teach as “moral” is in essence not so (anyone who knows Lot’s story can vouch for that!) This is a sentiment that I agree with wholeheartedly. There is a hint of sarcasm, in a black comedy way, in the bottomline of each story. This is a style I have noted and admired in Tomichan’s writing ever since I started reading his blog. His writing is unlike any of the writers we have today. The thread of the stories is vaguely reminiscent of the short story Michelangelo by Gulzar.

There were some (very) minor errors that could have been corrected with some proofreading. Also, for the mythological stories, some background would have been more helpful – those not familiar with at least the outline may feel a little lost (especially so in the story titled The Autumn of the Patriarch – an excellent story otherwise).

Overall, a highly enjoyable read that I recommend to everyone.

Rating: 4.5/5

Available at: OnlineGatha

Note: A PDF copy of the book was sent by the author for review.

4 Times The Movie Was Better Than The Book

As a little kid, I used to watch a TV adaptation of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. It was more out of the excitement of seeing a favourite book series on TV than anything else – until then I had only seen the film adaptations of Heidi and Tom Sawyer. Watching a TV series week after week was pure extended joy! Even then, a part of me knew the books were definitely better. I would get disappointed each time they deleted a scene from the book or changed the situation. It didn’t seem right.

Of course, growing up, I realized it happened all the time and TV/film adaptations were simply not to be trusted. As they say, “Never judge a book by its movie.

But there are rules, decrees, corollaries, exceptions and then some. There have been times when movies have been almost as good as the book (Gone With The Wind, off the top of my head). There was one boring book which I’d read, and despite knowing the movie could not be in any way better, I still gave it a chance (because – Meryl Streep). It was more boring than the book. And then I watched Water, a movie so amazing that though it was not adapted from a book, I found myself wishing it was, because if a movie can be so beautiful and its story so poignant, then imagine how much better its book might have been [trivia: it was later released as a book as well, but that’s not the same thing as being adapted from one].

Then there are these books.

  1. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

I have to say, when I first picked up The Devil Wears Prada, I didn’t know it had been adapted into a movie. It had a catchy title, and honestly, I half-expected a horror-comedy type thing. It was boring, long-winded and pointless (maybe I’m just not into chick-lit). But a few years later, I watched the movie. It was really funny. It was, I have to say, so much better than the book!

PS: Because I liked the movie, I bought the sequel of the book, Revenge Wears Prada. Oh drab drab drivel drivel. Sigh.

2) Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001)

I had a vague idea that there was a movie by the same name, but for some reason I assumed it was a murder mystery (really, I need to stop assuming!) Bridget Jones’s Diary was heralded at the time as excellent feminist literature. Oh come on! It was barely literature! It was a girl crying about her life because she was always with the wrong guy – how’s that feminist? The author claimed it was a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but even then it was just eh. The movie though – I loved it so much that when I watched it four times in the week I got the DVD and watched it several times after.

PS: I’d add the second book too, but the movie was equally boring. I’ve heard there’s a third book out – I don’t know how it is.

3) Dracula

I must admit, when I read Dracula earlier this year is when the idea for this post struck me. I knew if I rattled my memory for sometime, I’d come up with more movies that turned out better than the book. Read my review of the book here.

4) The Hobbit (2012)

I am a huge fan of Lord of the Rings (I have a quote tattoo and everything) that I expected myself to enjoy The Hobbit as well. I read it in college, a few years after I read LOTR. What I did not know at the time was that The Hobbit was originally intended by JRR Tolkien for children (LOTR was not) and I did not like most children’s stories even as a child! The movie(s) though, are anything like children’s movie(s). Even if they were, ironically, I now enjoy kiddie movies very much!

Four seems like a very small number, as compared to the millions of movies that get adapted from books. Do you think there are more movies that are better than their parent books?