Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"In Evil Hour" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I can't say I have read everything Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote, but "In Evil Hour" (La Mala Hora) doesn't seem to be his best work. First published in 1962 (in a bowdlerized version that Marquez disowned), it is now considered a forerunner to "One Hundred Years of Solitude", his masterpiece.

In a Colombian town, lampoons appear on walls and doors, targeting its residents. Everyone is worried that they may become the subject of the malicious rumours. And a murder later, things get really serious.

As usual the novel is populated with some great characters, but my problem with "In Evil Hour" is I didn't care enough for them. Some of the minor ones seemed to just drop off the pages, never to be seen or heard again. And the mystery of the lampoons is never solved.

"It's the whole town and it's nobody," says a fortune-teller from a travelling circus and that enigmatic reply is supposed to satisfy the reader.

Marquez fans would never forgive me but this novel seemed more like a collection of good character sketches of people going about their daily lives. (Some weird ones there, btw)

Maybe I am supposed to see the larger picture. Perhaps I should wait till my Spanish is good enough to read the original. Or maybe I should stick to his later, and more famous, works.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

"India After Gandhi" by Ramachandra Guha

The good thing about reading Ramachandra Guha's "India After Gandhi" (2007) is that it's not a dull history book. It is history, but with a pacy narrative that would rival the craft of Dan Brown.

Most of us know - or think we know - a lot about India’s history in the 20th century. Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Emergency and the Kashmir issue. What Guha does admirably well in his narrative is move away from the sanitised schoolbook version of Congress party rule in the first few decades of independence.

And he also brings to life several names that have been forgotten over the years - take for example V.K.Menon, who helped Vallabhbhai Patel convince 554 princely states to join the Indian republic. Or Sukumar Sen, under whose able leadership the country’s first general election was held, defying predictions of anarchy.

What I didn't like about the last third of Guha's tome is how it glosses over the 1990s. I wish there had been more of the anecdotes that enrich the book's first half. But perhaps there is just enough material missing for a detailed sequel called "India After Rajiv".

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