Saturday, February 27, 2016

#BookReview: In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

On the jacket:

From the Pulitzer Prize winner, a surprising, powerful, and eloquent nonfiction debut.  

In Other Words is at heart a love story—of a long and sometimes difficult courtship, and a passion that verges on obsession: that of a writer for another language. For Jhumpa Lahiri, that love was for Italian, which first captivated and capsized her during a trip to Florence after college. And although Lahiri studied Italian for many years afterward, true mastery had always eluded her. So in 2012, seeking full immersion, she decided to move to Rome with her family, for “a trial by fire, a sort of baptism” into a new language and world.   

In Rome, Lahiri began to read, and to write—initially in her journal—solely in Italian. In Other Words, an autobiographical work written in Italian, investigates the process of learning to express oneself in another language, and describes the journey of a writer seeking a new voice. Presented in a dual-language format, it is a book about exile, linguistic and otherwise, written with an intensity and clarity not seen since Nabokov. A startling act of self-reflection and a provocative exploration of belonging and reinvention.


For someone who has just started learning a foreign language, this book was a delight. Frankly, I cannot imagine learning the language and mastering it so well that I can write in it - even a diary entry of five sentences. In Other Words came up just when I had started to get restless wondering where Lahiri is, it's been pretty long since The Lowland. Well, the wait was well worth it!

In Other Words is very different from Lahiri's other stories. This is a love story between a person and a language. The depth here is unimaginable. Through multiple short essay like prose, Lahiri has described her stay in foreign, her journey of learning the new language and then implementing it in real life, trying to read in it and hold conversations. From venturing out armed with a dictionary to not needing it at all, the transition must have been one incredible experience. 

For someone who can write only in three languages, this attempt by Lahiri was a big deal. Though I read the English translation of it, the emotions of the journey of learning, mastering and writing in a new language seeped through the words. 

Having learnt and studied Italian for two decades, Lahiri lived in Rome for a while. And only after she stayed in the land, amidst its people, did she find out her comfort with the language. The book is autobiographical and I'd recommend it highly to all those who share my love for words.

Rating: ****.5/5

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

#BookReview: Mother, Where's My Country?: Looking for Light in the Darkness of Manipur by Anubha Bhonsle

On the jacket:

In her powerful, poignant book—one of the best non-fiction works from India in recent years—Anubha Bhonsle examines the tangled and tragic history of Manipur, and of much of India’s North East. Through the story of Irom Sharmila—on a protest fast since 2000—and many others who have fallen victim to violence or despair or stood up to fight for peace and justice, she shows us an entire society ravaged by insurgency and counter-insurgency operations, corruption and ethnic rivalries. Drawing upon extensive interviews with personnel of the Indian army and intelligence agencies, politicians and bureaucrats, leaders of insurgent groups, Irom Sharmila and her family and ordinary people across Manipur, Anubha Bhonsle has produced a compelling and necessary book on the North East, the Indian state, identity politics and the enormous human cost of conflict.


I have weeped throughout while reading this book, right from page one. I still am. So pardon me if my review is a little haphazard. Ideally, here is when you close this window to go buy the book to read, but if you need more convincing, let me try.

Going by the condition of the country, everyone has an opinion now. Opinions are varied and rigid. Amongst it all, there are the states in north east India, fighting their own wars which almost all of us are completely unaware of. Mother, Where's My Country?: Looking for Light in the Darkness of Manipur is Bhonsle's account of Irom Sharmila's fight against AFSPA. All through reading the book I've had mutiple emotions but the strongest where awe for the author. The book begins with an unidentified girl trying to talk about her rape, but not really succeeding in. The girl them recounts Irom Sharmila's story which is gory, heart wrenching, inspiring as well as touching. 

In a country where the entire mainland is living a more or less free and independent life, how and why are people in some states not living the same lives? Such questions don't cross our minds because we really don't know what the real deal is. Yes, we hear that she is on fast until death and how the government is reacting to that. But we know nothing about the life she is leading, or the people she is fighting for are. We have no clue what our army is doing to them or what the militant groups are. We just don't have any idea. Activists are not very loved people, here in India, more so when they are women. Because, the first way to silence them, is of course by raping them. Unfortunately (rather, fortunately), some women are stronger than the barbaric around them. Today, when there are so many opinions floating around about the incident with another activist from yet another forgotten part of the country, Sori Soni, this books comes more as a jolt, reminding us what we are conveniently missing.

I highly recommend this book, especially now. Bhonsle is said to have interviewed more than hundred people for this book and to get to talk to Irom Sharmila, it took more than eight years, for they could talk only when she was out of the jail. The narration and events are one sided and while I didn't particularly feel the need to know the 'other' side of the story, you might.

Rating: ****.5/5

#BookReview: Kissing frogs for a while by Pavan Tarawade

On the jacket:

Being an only child to urban Indian parents, Ayesha is being forced into getting married early. In her late twenties and nursing a heartbreak, Ayesha succumbs to the pressures put on her by her folks.  But will she be able to overcome the bitterness that love has left behind? Will she be able to forgive and forget Piyush and move forward? How many Mr. Wrongs would she have to meet to find Mr. Right, and would she even find him?  A story that reveals a rollercoaster of emotions and the different men Ayesha meets to find true love! Does she finally settle for marriage without love?  How many frogs would she have to kiss to find her prince? Did these so-called princes even exist? Part of a generation that’s caught between love and arranged marriages, will Ayesha come out a winner? 


Kissing Frogs For A While is Ayesha's story - your regular city girl, with a more-than-decent career, good life, single. Almost 30, and single. Yes, this is the story of a lot of real life Ayeshas in urban India, not just this fictitious one. 

Before I get into talking about the story, I must mention one thing. I do not claim to have all recently published Indian romance novels, but from what I have read, they all have a pattern. Especially when the author is a man. Rarely is the protagonist a woman. Usually, men write about men and women authors write have female protagonist. So, that is different here. And to give the author due credit, he narrated the tale from a woman's pov pretty well.

What didn't work for me was the plot. It's been done too many times, and is a part of too many of our lives, specially women. Fall in love many times, only to get your heart broken, all the time ignoring the one true love right in front of you. The path the plot will take is more or less predictable, as is the title, but I quite liked the treatment given.

Ayesha is nursing a broken heart after a recent breakup. She is 28 and her parents, specially her mother, want her to get married. She does too, she isn't a rebel who wants to stay single all her life. But the problem is, who to marry? The one guy she had thought she will, had cheated on her. Unable to forget Piyush despite him cheating on her, not wanting to land up in an arranged marriage with a stranger and at a loss of knowing who to marry - Ayesha is at her wit's end. Then there is Naveen - he loves her and her family loves him. But Ayesha doesn't love him. 

So what happens to Ayesha? Who does she marry? A stranger she doesn't know or the first person who seems a little interested? Where does Naveen feature in her future life? And will Piyush cease to exist for her? Kissing Frogs For A While talks about all these. 

Rating: ***.5/5

Friday, February 5, 2016

Spotlight: The Last of the Firedrakes by Farah Oohmerbhoy

★.•**•.★★.•**•.★ The Avalonia Chronicles Book Tour ★.•**•.★ ★.•**•.★
About the Book:
16-year-old Aurora Darlington is an orphan. Mistreated by her adopted family and bullied at school, she dreams of running away and being free. But when she is kidnapped and dragged through a portal into a magical world, suddenly her old life doesn’t seem so bad.

Avalonia is a dangerous land ruled by powerful mages and a cruel, selfish queen who will do anything to control all seven kingdoms—including killing anyone who stands in her way. Thrust headlong into this new, magical world, Aurora’s arrival sets plans in motion that threaten to destroy all she holds dear.

With the help of a young fae, a magical pegasus, and a handsome mage, Aurora journeys across Avalonia to learn the truth about her past and unleash the power within herself. Kingdoms collide as a complicated web of political intrigue and ancient magic lead Aurora to unravel a shocking secret that will change her life forever. 

Book Links:
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World of Avalonia

Read an Excerpt:

Chapter 3

For a second that felt like a lifetime, everything stopped; I felt like I was floating in nothingness. Then I blinked, and, when I finally opened my eyes and focused again through the tears, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
I found myself standing at the mouth of a small cave situated on a hill and overlooking a quiet, moonlit valley. On my left, a dark forest stretched out as far as the eye could see, treetops glistening silver in the light of the full moon. The hills around us undulated into wildflower-filled meadows that lay sleeping in the dewy night.
Far down in the valley, I could see a little village, its lights twinkling in the distance. To my right, a waterfall splashed playfully into a small river that ran down into a lake, next to which the little village was built. The moon here was fuller and larger than I had ever seen it, and the night sky was awash with a fantastic array of glittering stars.
Had I passed through the tapestry? Where was I?
I looked around, disbelief clouding my judgment. I was still trying to get my bearings after that strange moment when I had been inside the tapestry and nowhere at the same time. It gave me a funny feeling, as though I had been lifted out of my own consciousness and then put back into my body.
A warm breeze brushed past my face and played with my hair. Gone were the cloudy grey mist and the cold, nipping wind of the English countryside. I drew in a sharp breath—the air was crisp and clear, sweet smelling, and fresh. The moonlit valley was filled with fruit trees, wildflowers, and rolling meadows.
“How did we come here? Where are we?” I asked, still confused.
“You really are ignorant,” said Oblek, glancing at me. “I take it your uncle didn’t tell you anything?”
I shook my head and looked down. Oblek had tied my hands with a rope he had with him while I was still dazed and looking around. It was humiliating, and the rough ropes cut into my wrists, rubbing them raw every time he pulled me forward.
I had to find some way out of this. And, at the moment, the only thing I could do was discover more about where I was. Then, when I got an opportunity, I could escape and find my way back up to the cave on the hill, where we had arrived out of the tapestry.
But then what?
Christopher was probably dead, and Aunt Arianna would doubtless blame me for everything since I had disappeared at the same time. I had no idea what to do. I didn’t really want to go back, and, now that my adoptive parents were dead, I had nothing to return to.
I was starting to panic. I had nowhere to go, and my mind was imagining an array of horrible outcomes of my kidnapping. My palms had become sweaty, and my racing heart was thundering in my chest as I half-walked and half-ran, desperately trying to keep up with Oblek’s giant strides.
“Why are you doing this?” I pleaded with my kidnapper.
But Lord Oblek said nothing. He didn’t even look at me. He just kept walking ahead and dragging me along behind him, with no more explanations as to what he was planning to do with me.
I was terrified, and I had no idea if I was going to survive this. But I tried to be brave. Maybe I could talk my way out of this?
“You do know that this is called kidnapping?” I said, trying to reason with Oblek.
He didn’t bother to answer.
“What will happen to me now?” I squeaked, my voice breaking, as I tried not to cry.
“Queen Morgana will decide what is to be done with you,” said Oblek, finally.
Queen Morgana! The woman from my dream? It was not possible that this, too, was a coincidence. It must be the same Morgana, the one who had tried to kill my real mother.
Who the hell was she?
Suddenly all of this seemed extremely scary. I hoped that I was still dreaming and that there was no way I had actually traveled through a magical tapestry into some strange land. It all seemed very exciting in books. But actually being kidnapped and then hauled around like an animal, traveling deep into a land I knew nothing about, was not my idea of fun.
I had to get away from this horrible man, and fast.

About the Author:
For Farah Oomerbhoy, writing is a passion and reading her solace. She is a firm believer in the fantastic and magical, and often dreams of living in Narnia, Neverland, or the Enchanted Forest.
When she was pregnant with her first child ten years ago, a story popped into her head she could not ignore. “I was at my grandmother’s house, and as I looked at the image of a beautiful forest with a castle in the distance on a tapestry hanging on the wall, I imagined myself being whisked away into another world,” she said. It was at that moment the world of Avalonia, with its powerful mages and fae and the evil Queen Morgana, was born. Farah Oomerbhoy’s debut novel, The Last of the Firedrakes, was released in the summer of 2015.

Farah lives with her husband and three children in their family home in Mumbai, India. She has a Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Mumbai. Her first novel is The Last of the Firedrakes, Book 1 of the Avalonia Chronicles.
Contact Farah:

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#BookReview : The Shrine of Death by Divya Kumar

On the jacket:  Prabha Sinha, an IT professional in Chennai, is plunged into a murky world of idol theft, murder, and betrayal aft...