Tuesday, August 23, 2016

#BookReview: What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell

On the jacket:


On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness, exploitation, and want.

What Belongs to You is a stunning debut novel of desire and its consequences. With lyric intensity and startling eroticism, Garth Greenwell has created an indelible story about the ways in which our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love. 

Review:

I'll be honest, I haven't read a lot of LGBT literature. When the prospect of reading What Belongs To You came, along with high reccomendations, I had to pick it up.  

Has it ever happened to you that you've read a work of fiction but it seems very real? As if you have lived that? a lot of times, yes. When I was reading What Belongs To You, the first thing that kept me glued to it was how real the 'story' is. You know deep within that this could be anybody's story, or segments from lives of different people. Our protagonist, or the narrator is unnamed. The story begins with his encounter with the very charismatic and irresistable Mitko. They met at a public washroom and soon they were in an intimate relationship. I will be honest, I didn't fall in love with the story from the first page. The plot grew on me as I turned the pages - the credit of which goes hands down to the style of writing and storytelling. 

There are so many facets to the story that one might think they will get lost, but that doesn't happen. Mitko's life - how and why he starts to use his body to survive, and then the narrator and his sexual obsession with Mitko. The story is set in Bulgaria where our narrator, who is an American buying sexual flavours from Mitko, while what he really wants is love.
 
There are subtle references to the way the characters are developed which made me put the book aside from time to time, and just imagine them. Like how the narrator was practically desperate and needy for Mitko, yet took quite a satisfaction in giving money to the homeless Russian when he needed it. It gave him a feeling of surperiority and paved the consensus that they were not equal. Made sense, for they were in a society where a homosexual relationship should not be made public.

Rating: ****/5


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Monday, August 8, 2016

#BookReview: What Might Have Been by Lynn Steward

On the blurb

As a fashion buyer at one of New York’s most glamorous department stores, Dana McGarry is a tastemaker, her keen instinct for fashion trends and innovative ideas coupled with a razor sharp business sense. But like the elegant and conservative store that employs her, Dana is caught between two eras—between being liked and standing her ground, between playing by the rules and being a maverick. Dana is sensitive and beautiful, but what you see is not what you get.

Behind the cool and attractive facade, Dana is both driven by her need to control yet impeded by her expectation of perfectionism. As she competes to replace women at the top of their game, she is challenged by jealous colleagues. And when a wealthy love interest wants to open doors and support her ambition, she embraces Coco Chanel’s mantra of “never wanting to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.” As the women’s movement paves the way, Dana finds a path to the career she wants at the expense of happiness that was not meant to be.

Steward captures the nuances of 70s life in New York City and provides the perfect backdrop for an independent woman determined to make her mark. What Might Have Been is a story that transcends any period.

Review:

What Might Have Been by Lynn Steward is the second book of the Dana McGarry series. As the blurb suggests, Dana, our protagonist is a fashion buyer in the city of New York. And as the cover of the book suggests, this is a very warm and feel good story. 
Dana has had a very turbulent life of late, owing to her husband's infidelity and their divorce. That shouldn't make you believe that she is sad in life. Her career is going great and she has a nice personal life too. However, life as it is, it comes with its own twists and turns. 
Set in the 70s and with New York as the backdrop, the book grabs your attention right from the cover. I had finished reading it in one afternoon, that should explain how nicely it has been written. The book throws a sneak peak into the fashion worls from that time, as well as Dana's personal life and its upheavals. Interestingly, despite being part of a series, the book works well as a stand alone as well. I myself haven't read the first book and didn;t at any point of time, feel that I don't know the story in some way.  

It is lovely to see a career woman of the 70s, crumble and then stand up, bloom and become herself all over again. 
Rating: ****/5


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lynn Steward, a veteran of the New York fashion industry and a buyer on the team that started the women’s department at Brooks Brothers, created the Dana McGarry series, set at a transformational time in the 1970s world of fashion and in the lives of multigenerational women.

What Might Have Been is the second volume in the series. A Very Good Life, Steward’s debut novel, was published in March 2014.

LynnSteward.com

Pinterest.com/LynnStewardny

Facebook.com/LynnStewardnyc

Twitter: @LynnStewardNY
Buy the book here:

Saturday, August 6, 2016

#ProductReview: Pee Safe - Toilet Seat Sanitizer


It so happened that over the last few week, I've had prolonged discussions with different sets of friends, in person and in whataspp groups about the problems we women face with public toilets in India (even abroad, though not as much). This is not a topic much addressed however, of late the Indian government as well as UNICEF are creating a lot of awareness about the need of proper toilets and how important hygiene is.
However, a public place is a public place. Germs are bound to be present, even if the toilet seat is visibly clean. Door knobs, taps, handles - anything which has public access, will have germs. For me, this is a concern even when I am visiting someone else's home because everyone's cleanliness routine differs. 
A doctor friend suggested buying small, empty sprat cans and filling them with dettol idea. Not a bad idea, except that dettol smells. Which means we will smell too. Right when I was quite into all this discussion, and we were looking for manageable solutions - this arrive from Pee Safe - Toilet Seat Sanitizer. 


Pee Safe - Toilet Seat Sanitizer and Wet Wipes
In the package were spray cans of Pee Safe - Toilet Seat Sanitizer of three different sizes, to be used as per requirement. Also in it was a small pocket size spray, along with two packets of wet-wipes. Wo! My first reaction was - What a timing! 

Indeed! The first thing I checked, to be honest, was it's price. Because if this product works, I'd want as many women as possible to use it. The 10 ml pocket spray is for Rs 36, 40 ml bottle is priced at Rs 99, 75 ml at Rs 150, and the wet wipes are fr Rs 60 per packet. Not bad, not bad at all. At least in urban India, women would be benefited, I believe.

This is what Pee Safe claims to do! (c) PeeSafe

So, how is this used and where all can it be used. To begin with, on toilet seats. The brand has the following claims about the product:
- It kills bacteria.
- No harsh chemicals used; it also smells good.
- It can be used on toilet seats, door knobs, handles, etc.
- It is travel friendly.
- It is quick to dry.
- It helps prevent UTI, diarrhoea, and gastroenteritis.
After using the products for two weeks, I must say, I am impressed. Public toilets which do smell foul many times, now smell wonderful the moment this is sprayed - on toilet seat, door knobs or taps/handles. To use it, shake the can - spray on the area - wait for 5 seconds - use! As simple as that!
   

PeeSafe would be particuarly useful when travelling, at work or practically everytime when not at home. Buy the products from SafetyKart.

Friday, August 5, 2016

#AuthorInterview: Harleen Vij

Author Harleen Vij's debut novel The Abstruse is all set to be launched in the end of August, 2016. The blurb of the story seems very interesting and curious. Curious enough for me to want to discuss the book with her. Here are snippets of my conversation with author Harleen Vij:

Blurb of The Abstruse:

A college girl has the power to predict cricket matches. But her lover thinks otherwise- she has the power to see glimpses of future and he is right. Things take a turn in their relationship when they realize this. Their trust and love, which were once spontaneous, become carefully thought our choices. And then, she has a vision. A vision to do with her brutal death and her lover. Should she believe in her vision or her most trusted lover? Should she ignore the premonitions or plan escape?


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Tell our readers something about The Abstruse.

The Abstruse is about a carefree 23-year-old-girl, Aradhita. She is passionate about cricket unlike other girls around her. She begins her journey by predicting an unimaginable 400+ run chase for Proteas against the Kangaroos. The prediction of this match makes her a favorite amongst her friends who indulged in betting. Gradually, her predictions become freakingly accurate. Her best pal, Aarav, makes her realize that there's more to what meets the eye. She is clairvoyant and stays elusive about it. The Abstruse is also a journey of Aradhita and Aarav whose relationship sees the dark and light in love while dealing with her clairvoyance.

How did you settle on this title for your debut book? 

Abstruse means something beyond the known or unfathomable. Aradhita is dealing with something which is beyond her understanding. The Unknown was the preferred title but it was taken. So, I went ahead with The Abstruse.

Tell us something about author Harleen Vij.

The most difficult thing is to put words to describe yourself. Yes, even writers are at loss of words at times. The author in me is someone I'm myself trying to know. She's completely opposite to what I am. She is serious, observant and an introvert. Sometimes I feel like dealing with a split personality disorder but then, I feel, every author has two personalities. I am more of a carefree and calm person but the author in me is anxious and curious.

Who are your favourite authors?

Khushwant Singh, Amrita Pritam and Jhumpa Lahiri amongst the Indians and Haruki Murakami, Khaled Hosseini and Julian Barnes.

What next? Are you planning on a new book?

Well, of course. I am working on a couple of story ideas.

How was this journey, from conception of a story to being a published author?

Ah! Today, I would say that it's been a beautiful journey. I have seen the worst of times and the best times too. I have learnt, unlearnt and evolved as a person. Not only as a person but as a writer as well. My writing and story-telling skills have evolved drastically. It took me five years to get published and in these five years, I've seen life from many perspectives. I have seen the best and worst in people. I was a novice, both as a person and as a writer, when I started and today I feel glad about the time I took to begin my journey.

               Buy The Abstruse here:


The Conspiracy at Meru (Vikramaditya Veergatha # 2)





VICTORY IS TEMPORARY. THE BATTLE IS ETERNAL.

Vikramaditya and his Council of Nine have fought valiantly to repel the rampaging hordes from Devaloka and Patala – but Avanti has been brought to its knees. Ujjayini lies battered its citizens are scared and morale is badly shaken. Meanwhile, the barbaric Hunas and Sakas are gathering on the horizon and cracks are emerging between the allied kingdoms of Sindhuvarta.

The only silver lining is that the deadly Halahala is safe. For now. Bent on vengeance, Indra is already scheming to destroy Vikramaditya, while Shukracharya has a plan that can spell the doom for the Guardians of the Halahala. How long can the human army hold out against the ferocity and cunning of the devas and asuras? And will Vikramaditya’s love for his queen come in the way of his promise to Shiva?

                                             Goodreads * Amazon


The deadly Halahala, the all-devouring poison churned from the depths of the White Lake by the devas and asuras, was swallowed by Shiva to save the universe from extinction. But was the Halahala truly destroyed?

A small portion still remains – a weapon powerful enough to guarantee victory to whoever possesses it. And both asuras and devas, locked in battle for supremacy, will stop at nothing to claim it.

As the forces of Devaloka and Patala, led by Indra and Shukracharya, plot to possess the Halahala, Shiva turns to mankind to guard it from their murderous clutches. It is now up to Samrat Vikramaditya and his Council of Nine to quell the supernatural hordes – and prevent the universe from tumbling into chaos!

A sweeping tale of honour and courage in the face of infinite danger, greed and deceit, The Guardians of the Halahala is a fantastical journey into a time of myth and legend. 

                                           Goodreads * Amazon

About the Author


Door-to- door salesman, copywriter, business journalist & assistant editor at The Economic Times; Shatrujeet Nath was all this before he took to writing fiction full-time. He debuted with The Karachi Deception in 2013, followed by The Guardians of the Halahala and The Conspiracy at Meru, the first two books in the Vikramaditya Veergatha series. At present, he is writing volume three of the series. Shatrujeet lives in Mumbai, but spends much of his time in the fantasy worlds of his stories.

                                             Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads

Also by the Author:


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Friday, July 29, 2016

In Conversation With Author Aditi Mathur Kumar



Author Aditi Mathur Kumar's latest book Love, Whatever That Means... (LWTM) is out in the market and as expected, drawing a lot of attention from readers and book lovers. What could be a prologue to her first book - Soldier & Spice, LWTM has kept the promise to be witty and entertaining. Media girl Tina is our lead character in LWTM and she is living a normal, uncomplicated life, dealing with her pervert boss and enjoying life in general with her friends. In comes a surprise in the form of an unexpected promotion and from there on, life starts getting exciting. Tina meets a man in olive greens and a dozen questions roll in altogether. Will Virat and Tina click? Will it be a happily-ever-after or will it be a get-out-of-my face kind of a story. That remains to be known after you read the story. Meanwhile, here are snippets of a conversation with Aditi - 


Is LoveWTM a continuation to where we left at Soldier & Spice?

It actually is a prequel to Soldier & Spice. Haha, yes! I wrote Love, Whatever That Means as a prequel to my first book, Soldier & Spice because after the first book, so many people told me that they loved the chemistry between Pia and Arjun, and they’d love to read more about them. So I thought, why not tell the readers how Pia and Arjun met? You know, their romance of sorts. But my favourite genre is Humour, and I wasn’t sure if I’ll be able to write a dedicated Romance story – so I made this one more about our protagonist and her point of view on Love, whatever that means.
And oh, in the later stages of the book and the draft and the editing, I decided to change the names to Tina and Virat. I did this mainly because I wanted it to be a stand-alone book – which it is, and not be bogged down by the notion of not getting the story if you haven’t the first ne in the series. It seems to be working well, because a lot of readers who picked up LoveWTM, have now started reading Soldier & Spice. See, there’s no rule or sequence! *wink*

What is Tina like? Tell our readers a little about LWTM.

Love, Whatever That Means.. is a story full of laughter, friendships and finally, romance. It is the story of Tina, who is caught up in several things at once – a glossy yet demanding job that isn’t living up to her expectations, a set of goofy yet amazing friends, lots of day dreams which fail on all reality checks, among other things. Tina finds love, so something like it, in a stunning Army Officer – did I mention he’s super hot and very, very intense? – but is scared of the What Ifs. This is about her conquering her fears, learning to be brave in the face of adversity and yes, learning to fall in an all-consuming love without any over analyzing.

Also, if you’ve read Soldier & Spice, Tina is Pia.

Do stories come to you or do you create them? How does the process of storytelling work for you?

I hate to admit that for both my books, I started with just an idea of what I want to say through the stories, but no real flow or plan. I do rough algorithms at several stages during a story, but they change very frequently. So, in a way, most of the story comes to me while I am writing it. And I follow my gut – I go with what I’d want to read. The only thing I stick to is the essence of the story, the effect I want the story to have on a reader.

All authors have their own quirks related to writing. What is yours? 

Mine would be being unnecessarily moody when it comes to writing. I can’t follow a schedule, that’s not how it works for me. Some days I don’t write at all, and some other days I can’t stop writing for hours, all consumed in the story. Very erratic, this thing with me is.

Tell us a bit about your writing schedule. An army wife has a lot in her plate. That and with a toddler, how do you make time to write? 

Like I mentioned above, I have no schedule. Most of the times, I am playing pretend games with my daughter, or working/blogging, or attending Army things, or wasting time on social media. I need complete peace when writing, so that obviously is not possible with a kid in the house, especially when the kid in question is always coming up with super interesting new games for us to play. I mostly write at night, after she falls asleep.

Say, someone who wants to be a published author, asks - should one write if they have a story to tell or one should start writing and let a story take shape, what would you suggest?

I think you have to definitely know what you want to say through the story. More importantly, I think before you start writing, you should know how you want to make the reader feel through your words, through your story. Having a rough plot in mind doesn’t hurt either. Basically, you need to know why you want to be a published author and the answer will tell you how to go about it.

How much of the onus towards publicity of the book lies on the author? Many people out there can tell a decent story but social media is not their game. Is social media presence important to reach out to readers and promote one's book?

Till my first book was released, I used to think that the author’s work stops after she/he finished the writing part. I was wrong, and how! Today, the author’s job doesn’t stop at writing a good story, but also extends heavily to promotions. Especially on social media. 

A few authors hire an agency to help out with engagement and social media account management and if you have the budget for this, I think it makes a lot of sense because social media for self-promotion is very, every exhausting. Plus, the agencies know the market well and they can ensure a good hike in sales.

What next? A sequel or are you thinking of dabbling in different genres, maybe?

I want to try a non-fiction next, or a story that deals with serious issues like depression, but with a light treatment. Haven’t started work on anything as yet, so can’t be sure. Like I said, mostly the story comes to me, haha (yes, that’s my lame excuse). I hope to start soon, though.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

#MovieReview: Madaari


Once in a while comes the kind of movie which requires all the laud and praise not only because how well it is made, or how brilliantly the actors have performed, but also because the movie manages to touch emotions set deep inside us. Madaari is one such movie. Nishikant Kamat directed Madaari has Irrfan Khan in the lead and it is said that Irrfan had read the script first after which he had searched for a capable director to handle this subject. 

A social-thriller, Madaari is story about a father who loses his sons and then decides to cleanse the system because no one else was doing so. Also in the cast apart from Irrfan Khan are Jimmy Shergill, Tushar Dalvi and Vishesh Bansal. Irrfan Khan's solid acting and gentle presence took the movie up by many notches. 


A must watch with the family, for the movie will not invoke negative emotions. It will instead urge you to come out of your shell. With commendable direction by Nishikant Kamat, this Vashu Bhagnani film gives a strong message to the society. Irrfan, a techie whose own son had died due to civic negligence which had resulted from corruption, kidnaps a high profile politician's son to take revenge for the death. A regular citizen of the country, going about doing his own job, being as much an ideal citizen as possible, and suddenly his life gets disturbed. Madaari portrays how common people face exploitation in the hands of politicians and other government officials.  

A satirical yat hard-hitting portrayal of how few people in power make the rest dance to their tunes, just like a madaari does to monkeys. Apparently, this is a real life story, the probability of which made the story even more heart touching. If you are looking for a way to spend this weekend with your family, Madaari would be a good choice. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

#BookReview: No Safe Zone by Adite Banerjie

On the jacket:


Qiara Rana will do anything to save her mentor and their non-government organization from ruin. Even if it means visiting the city she had vowed never to return to. But within a few hours of landing in New Delhi, she is being chased by a gunman and is a potential suspect in the murder of a high-profile businessman.   The only person she can turn to for help is Kabir Shorey, the man who stood her up ten years ago. Past and present collide in a deadly plot of crime and greed that moves from the cosmopolitan streets of Delhi to the bazaars and villages of Rajasthan.

Review:

Love, in itself is a no safe zone. You get into the zone unaware, and by the time you realise, you get sucked into it. Some love the experience and come out happy, while some don't. When I heard that Adite Banerjie's latest book is titles No Safe Zone, it triggered my curiosity. I've read Banerjie before and quite like the kind of stories she spins. So with hightened curiosity, I picked up the book.

Kabir and Qiara are our story's protagonists. While Qiara is a lawyer-cum-social worker based in London, Kabis in a intelligence bureau office in India. I loved the career chosed for the protagonists. Not the they-do-nothing-but-are-very-rich kind of people, but normal people who work hard.  Qiara is associated with an NGO which is in serious trouble because of a particular patron who himself was in trouble. Qiara comes to India to get to the bottom of these problems and meets Kabir with whom she has had a turbulent past. Every time they meet, they leave each other unsettled. And when they meet this time, more drama ensues. 
Things were complicated between the two and it would have been best if they went their own ways. But when does life behave how people want it to? The two get together, somewhat gudgingly, to solve the mystery - him as a part of his job profile and she for the reason she'd come to India in the first place. 
No Safe Zone is not your usual run-of-the-mill romance story but it has drama and suspence in equal dose. A smooth read, since Banerjie is an accomplished author and is already famous for writing beautiful stories. A perfect accompaniment for these rainy afternoons we are witnessing all around the country.

Rating: ****/5

[This is an author request review. However, the opinons expressed are my own and unbiased.]

Friday, May 13, 2016

#BookReview: The Wedding Photographer by Sakshama Puri Dhariwal

On the jacket:


On a seventeen-hour-long flight, a chance upgrade to business class lands journalist Risha Kohli next to handsome real estate hotshot Arjun Khanna. What’s more? Risha has been moonlighting as a photographer and her next assignment is Arjun’s sister’s wedding: the most anticipated social event of the year!

But Arjun doesn’t trust journalists and suspects this smart, sexy and incredibly spunky girl of using their mutual attraction as a ploy to invade his privacy for a newspaper scoop. And Risha, unaware of Arjun’s personal demons, is worried that this dishy tycoon’s unnerving behaviour will jeopardize her biggest photography gig so far.

What follows is a rollercoaster of snarky quips, sizzling chemistry and simmering drama amidst a Big Fat Indian Wedding.

Review:

Risha is a journalist who doubles a wedding photographer thanks to her very lenient boss who lets her take off on assignments, sometimes even overseas. That reminds me of my days of journalism and how not just me but nobody had such leave-giving bosses. Well, this is a story. So while Risha is retuning to India from one of her photography assignments abroad, she meets investment banker-turned-businessman, Arjun Khanna. Like all rich boys, he took thinks his privacy is what the world is after and to top that, he despises journalists. Fate plays its own game and Risha is to photograph arjun's sister's wedding! As is expected, while there is attraction, there is also Arjun's whim that Risha is in this to get some scoop for her pathetic newspaper. 

The book is as energetic and fun as the blurb promises. The charcaters are well-etched. One thing which always bothers me is how some characters are inspired from real life famous people and the author doesn't modify much on them. When you read about them, you know who the author is talking about. I feel this could be done without and like the other characters, the authors should create their own. 

I would have finished reading this book in one go had some glaring editing errors not made me cringe and take time off. 

Rating: ***.5/5

Thursday, May 12, 2016

#BookReview: Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

On the jacket:


A beautiful, powerful new novel from the bestselling, award-winning author of Sister of My Heart and The Mistress of Spices about three generations of mothers and daughters who must discover their greatest source of strength in one another—a masterful, brilliant tale of a family both united and torn apart by ambition and love.

The daughter of a poor baker in rural Bengal, India, Sabitri yearns to get an education, but her family’s situation means college is an impossible dream. Then an influential woman from Kolkata takes Sabitri under her wing, but her generosity soon proves dangerous after the girl makes a single, unforgivable misstep. Years later, Sabitri’s own daughter, Bela, haunted by her mother’s choices, flees abroad with her political refugee lover—but the America she finds is vastly different from the country she’d imagined. As the marriage crumbles and Bela is forced to forge her own path, she unwittingly imprints her own child, Tara, with indelible lessons about freedom, heartbreak, and loyalty that will take a lifetime to unravel.

In her latest novel, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni explores the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, and the different kinds of love that bind us across generations. Before We Visit the Goddess captures the gorgeous complexity of these multi-generational and transcontinental bonds, sweeping across the twentieth century from the countryside of Bengal, India, to the streets of Houston, Texas—an extraordinary journey told through a sparkling symphony of voices.

Review:

Before I write a review for the book in question, let me confess my love for the author. I'd read Oleander Girl a couple of years ago and I am not exaggerating when I say that a part of my stayed inside the pages of the story ever since. Maybe this has a lot to do with the fact that I am a Bengali, a probashi at that, and how even the smallest descriptions in the story brought back memories of the six-monthly school vacations spent in the city of Calcutta. Or maybe it is purely because the genius behind the author. Long story short, after having read four of her books now, I can say - I have a favourite Indian author.

This review is no one influenced by how much I love what Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni writes, or hey, maybe it is! Let's start at the very beginning. I have always marvelled at how some authors describe people so well. Like, so well! This is Sabitri's story - a story she tells her grand-daughter in a letter she is being forced to write, in a way. The purpose of the letter is to explain the importance of education in a woman's life. 

Effortless writing (or so the genius of the author makes us believe) and flawless character formation of very flawed characters, the author has brought together the plot perfectly. What I loved the most, let me be honest, is that the story is about three generations of women of the same family. This made me connect at a personal level for of late I've been wondering why I never asked my grandmother more about her lifetime. 

The thing about the main relationships dealt with in this story is that, they are close yet distraught. And I guess that is the case in almost every family. While Sabitri's story was inspiration, her daughter Bela, just seemed selfish to me - but that is how people are, flawed. All these women have earned the lives they are living and are dealing with them in their own ways. The genius of the storyteller shows in how the same incident is showcased from the pov of different characters. The novel spans across six decades and takes the reader along on a glorious ride. A must read!

Rating: *****/5

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