Monday, October 09, 2017

Book: 4321 by Paul Auster

43214321 by Paul Auster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"4 3 2 1" is the coming-of-age tale of Archie Ferguson, with four dramatically different yet parallel versions of his life, his relationships and his experiences in the 20th century. That's creative in itself and while its length may make Paul Auster's 17th novel seem long-winded, his attention to detail and his control over the multiple narratives ensures the reader is enthralled throughout. This is a long read and it took me a month to finish. Worth it? I think so.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Book: Orange Is the New Black - My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's PrisonOrange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The hit Netflix show piqued my interest in the memoir that inspired it all. Piper Kerman's narrative of some 13 months in prison is a more subdued affair - there is no lesbian sex or prison riot, almost everyone makes her feel welcome, she never spends any time locked up (at least in Danbury) with her ex-girlfriend, and fiance Larry is a really nice guy who waits patiently for her to get out of prison. While the show gave us many more interesting characters, a few with recognizable characteristics appear just in passing in the book. And yet, this is a poignant memoir where the reader accompanies Piper through the whole prison experience. The show on the other hand relegated Piper to the sidelines by Season 5, giving viewers a diverse range of characters and much more drama. Not that I am complaining. I liked them both.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

'Gunda' turns 19

I accepted the movie challenge thrown by Anupriya Kumar and watched the cult classic "Gunda". Users on give the 1998 Bollywood film an average rating of 7.6/10 and it ranks 214 on the list of top-rated Indian movies of all time - higher than “Raajneeti”, “Rustom” or “Sultan”.

"Gunda" is, erm … different. Each character speaks in silly rhyming couplets for the opening sequence and much of the film. This is all the more bewildering because the lines are delivered randomly during scenes that would be tragic in any other cinematic context - such as a woman being raped, a villain cradling the lifeless body of his brother, or sporadic stabbings.

At its heart, “Gunda” is a revenge thriller, involving coolie Shankar (Mithun Chakraborty) caught in the middle of a gang war between weirdly named dons Bulla and Lambu Atta. Lambu Atta is out of the picture before you can ask “What does Lambu Atta mean?” - leaving Bulla as undisputed villain and connoisseur of all things evil. Shankar ends up in Bulla’s crosshairs after helping the incompetent police arrest his henchman.

Double entendres abound, and there are plenty of heaving bosoms, pelvic thrusts and penis/gay/Viagra references to give any self-respecting censor board chief nightmares.

The basic plot, without giving away too many spoilers, sees our hero losing his sister, father and sweetheart to the maniacal villain and his bananas-and-other-things-obsessed cohorts. To ensure that the bloodthirsty action is evenly spaced out, director Kanti Shah inserts titillating songs to give audiences a welcome break from all the rapes, castration and throat-slashing gore.

Animal lovers rejoice, there are plenty of non-humans on display. A pet monkey who insists the hero’s sister ties a rakhi on him. And Bulla takes his house-trained leopard out for walks: it deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for tolerating Bulla’s tuft-of-hair brother (Shakti Kapoor) who keeps insulting it by calling it a tiger. There is a special appearance by two stray dogs whose blissful dreams on a beach are disturbed when Shankar appears, in hot pursuit of an evil politician with an uncanny resemblance to former minister George Fernandes. There’s also a wailing baby in the mix. Shankar and Bulla play catch with it, occasionally allowing the monkey to get in on the fun.

As for the visual effects, they are out of this world. Backdrops (airstrip, port, desert, coal mine) change in an instant; brothel charpoys swing from the sky in the director's homage to Salvador Dali; the baddies indulge in one-too-many somersaults because they feel like it; an on-foot Shankar keeps overtaking a VIP convoy just to demonstrate Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Not to forget Shankar uses his bare hands to clobber hordes of Bulla henchmen who attack him with machetes, swords, knives of various sizes, revolvers, rifles, grenades, machine guns, auto-rickshaws, Ambassador cars and even a helicopter sponsored by Deccan Aviation. If you must know, Shankar escapes all that with barely a scratch. His victims are not so lucky.

I’m still not clear on what Shankar does for a living. He never wears the coolie uniform he wore in the beginning. But he’s definitely wealthy enough to pay for the bright yellow suits, cars, and rocket launchers that Shankar seems to produce out of thin air. But then this is a film that is designed to make you think and ponder over the meaning of life. Not like the other rubbish Bollywood churns out.

The ball is in your court, Anupriya. "Student of the Year" (SOTY) awaits.

(An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that "Gunda" had turned 21)

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Books: "Alex" by Pierre Lemaitre

AlexAlex by Pierre Lemaitre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second novel in a trilogy by French crime writer Pierre Lemaitre, "Alex" (2011) was the first to be translated into English and drew obvious comparisons with "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". A woman is abducted, tortured and kept in a cage with some hungry rats for company. But an unexpected twist in the tale turns the police rescue mission into a hunt for a serial killer. Gripping, gory and with enough thrills to keep you reading till the end. A Hollywood adaptation is in the works. Meanwhile, I will be on the lookout for more translations of Lemaitre's work.

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Sunday, August 06, 2017

Books: Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger'sLook Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's by John Elder Robison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a moving memoir about living with Asperger's syndrome. John Elder Robison, who wasn't diagnosed till he was 40, describes a painful childhood due to his inability to pick up on social cues. Having a dysfunctional family didn't help. His only comfort: an uncanny ability to tinker with machines and make them work. I found some chapters a bit repetitive, but there is little doubt that younger brother Augusten Burroughs is not the only writer in the family.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book: Transmission by Hari Kunzru

TransmissionTransmission by Hari Kunzru
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hari Kunzru's second novel is the story of Indian programmer Arjun Mehta who loses his dream job in America when the IT bubble bursts. He will do anything to stay in the United States, even if it means creating a computer virus featuring the dancing figure of Leela Zahir, his favorite Bollywood actress. "Transmission" seems to have underwhelmed readers, but I think it's underrated. On the whole, this 2004 novel is a compelling read and not just for geeks. Its biggest flaw - a caricaturish British entrepreneur who gets caught up in the havoc unleashed by Mehta.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Book: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass CastleThe Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a powerful memoir about growing up poor in the Walls household - with eccentric non-conformist parents who had no interest in feeding their children. The Walls siblings moved to a new town within the United States or slept in the car each time their charismatic but alcoholic father lost a job. Jeannette Walls' story is one of resilience and coping with hardships in an unsympathetic world. Looking forward to the Hollywood movie adaptation releasing in August 2017: Brie Larson as the adult Jeannette with Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts playing her parents. I smell some Oscar buzz already.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Book: The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh

The Complete Stories of Evelyn WaughThe Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh by Evelyn Waugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This underrated British writer is a master of short fiction. The enthralling collection includes the story of an explorer who is lost in a remote Brazilian jungle and finds himself the prisoner of an illiterate native who wants him to read aloud the works of Charles Dickens - a storyline that was later expanded into Evelyn Waugh's novel "A Handful of Dust". Waugh's body of work would have merited a higher rating were it not for the dull opening story, but I persevered and my patience was rewarded. My only other grouse was the inclusion of fragments of incomplete novels, which serves no purpose and detracts from this otherwise brilliant collection.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Books: "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One DayMe Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

David Sedaris is at his wry best in this collection of autobiographical essays that mostly deal with his moving to Paris. All the essays are enjoyable but my favourite is one where American tourists travelling on the Paris Metro mistake him for a pickpocket.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Books: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted to read Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel before watching the television adaptation. I have been let down by hype before, but "The Handmaid's Tale" lives up to its fame. This is a powerful and hard-hitting tale of a theocratic dictatorship that may have seemed far-fetched back in 1985, but is entirely plausible in the new world order of 2017. Highly recommended.

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Saturday, June 17, 2017


Audrey Hepburn 1956Audrey, did you read this newspaper feature about Christie’s auctioning your stuff?

Hand me my purse, will you, darling? A girl can’t read that sort of thing without her lipstick.

Read more here

Monday, May 29, 2017

Books: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

HomegoingHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing" explores the slave trade and its impact over the generations from the 18th-century British Gold Coast colony to modern-day Ghana. Each chapter in this ambitious novel is from the point of view of one of the descendants of half-sisters and the stories are linked by a pendant passed down by families. Highly recommended.

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Books: A Garden of Earthly Delights by Joyce Carol Oates

A Garden of Earthly Delights (Wonderland Quartet, #1)A Garden of Earthly Delights by Joyce Carol Oates
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was my first Joyce Carol Oates novel and it's a difficult read beginning with the lives of "white trash" migrant farmworkers in the United States. Teenager Clara somehow escapes this depressing life and finds herself torn between her unreliable saviour Lowry and lover Curt Revere. Her son Swan cuts a tragic figure. Protagonist Clara is a strong yet almost unlikeable character in a novel that takes a harsh look at the difference between the social classes. I would have given it more stars and it probably isn't Oates' fault, but Swan's story in the third part just didn't resonate with me.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Books: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Anne of Green GablesAnne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished this just in time for the new Netflix series based on the 1908 novel by Canadian author L. M. Montgomery. Anne, the red-haired orphan girl who doesn't stop talking, moves to Green Gables farm in the fictional Canadian town of Avonlea. Her vivid imagination and charming quirks eventually win over anyone she meets. This is a heartwarming novel - for readers young and old - about Anne's journey through the joys and sorrows of life. Recommended.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Books: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers For AlgernonFlowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a disturbing novel about a man with a low IQ becoming a human test subject for an experimental surgery that turns him into a genius. Does this make Charlie Gordon happier? Written as a series of diary entries by Charlie, with grammar and clarity of thought improving in each entry, the reader is given heartbreaking insight into the treatment of the mentally disabled. Now I need to read something that will cheer me up.

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Saturday, April 08, 2017

Books: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

The Name of the RoseThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Name of the Rose", the first novel by Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco, is a 14th century whodunit set in an Italian monastery. Franciscan friar William of Baskerville (yes, he shares several characteristics with Sherlock Holmes) and his assistant Adso are tasked by an Italian monastery's abbot to investigate the deaths of monks dying mysteriously. The novel, peppered with Latin quotes, is replete with accounts of the philosophical and religious disputes of the time and heresies associated with the fraticelli (extreme proponents of Saint Francis). Hardly a novel to appeal to the average modern reader - but give it some time and Eco’s masterful plot and the overwhelming sense of fear and gloom will make this worth your while.

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Monday, April 03, 2017


Wherever I went in Kolkata, they mistook me for a Bengali. In the bus, standing passengers asked me "Kothay jabe?" (Where will you go?) and I would answer "Esplanade" and they, knowing I wasn’t giving up my seat anytime soon, would go back to discussing politics or whatever else they were discussing with such fervour.

As I walked down Park Street, a passer-by asked me something and I shook my head to indicate that I had no idea what he was talking about. That I didn’t live here. That I was here on a three-day whirlwind tour of the British capital of India -- a title Kolkata lost in 1911 to New Delhi, the city I consider home and where I have lived for much of my life.

In most respects, Kolkata is like any other Indian city. Glitzy malls, apartment blocks, offices and rush-hour traffic. A new metro under construction. And an old one that runs just fine. Yellow Ambassador taxis clash with blue buses. Kerbstones, signages and neon lights everywhere in blue-and-white, the colours of the ruling Trinamool Congress.

But hand-drawn rickshaws abound and heritage trams still run, sputtering to a stop when a car, cow or a pedestrian encroaches onto the tracks. I didn’t spot any of the road rage so common in Delhi. A scooterist banged into a car and the driver -- a woman -- stepped out to inspect the damage, made a few gestures and let loose a volley of what sounded to me like rosogulla missiles. The language sounded so sweet I couldn’t really make out if she was angry.

Like most tourists, I settled for the tried-and-tested, the best of what Kolkata had to offer, instead of seeking out “City of Joy” squalor. The not-to-be-missed list included the Victoria Memorial, Thakurbari (the ancestral home of Rabindranath Tagore where to my surprise the humble cabbage occupies pride of place in the garden), St. John’s Church, the Black Hole monument, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Prinsep Hall and Kolkata’s version of the Golden Gate bridge over the Hooghly river, the High Court, Park Street, College Street, Potter’s Lane, Big Ben, and the Dakshineshwar temple (where my belt buckle broke and I clutched my jeans for dear life).

And I ate. Chelo kebabs at Peter Cat, a sumptuous feast at Bhojohori Manna, mandatory desserts at Flurys (over-rated) and Nahoum’s, biryani from Aminia and Arsalan, the jalmuri at Hogg market, cold coffee at the Indian Coffee House, and the poochka (when we chanced upon a cart somewhere in the city).

It was in Kolkata that I broke open a door like a Bollywood hero (took six-seven tries though) when my friend got stuck in a bedroom after the door handle fell off. A day later, my friend rescued me from a lizard. So we are even.

My friend’s sister made jalmuri for me and I ate it by the handful until it was all gone. Asking for a third helping would have been rude. I passed the time playing countries-and-capitals with my friend’s teenage nephew, trying to trip him up with Tegucigalpa and Bamako, and discovered that he’s as good as I was in school. I need to brush up on Africa though and hope for a rematch.

As for Kolkata, I’ll be back. Probably the only thing I didn’t like about it was the 62-storey eyesore under construction on Chowringhee Road, a skyscraper climbing into the sky from the heart of the city. The times they are a-changin'.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not everyone wants to read a book about dying. But this is a remarkably gripping book about a man who faces death and focuses on life instead. Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi died of lung cancer at the age of 37. This inspiring memoir was published posthumously. Highly recommended.

DryDry by Augusten Burroughs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's a lot to be said for a writer who made a teetotaller enjoy a book about an advertising executive in rehab for alcohol addiction. This dark yet funny memoir tells it like it is, chronicling the gay protagonist's search for love, friendship and a normal life. Recommended. View all my reviews

Tuesday, March 07, 2017


An Object of BeautyAn Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was pleasantly surprised by this novel - my first foray into writings by Hollywood actor Steve Martin. He's an avid art collector, which explains how he writes so effortlessly about Lacey Yeager and her meteoric rise in the New York art world. Like Becky Sharp in "Vanity Fair", Lacey will do anything to achieve her goals, whether it's using her position to manipulate the prices of high-end art or break people's hearts. Martin uses several real-life references here, so this is a treat for art lovers. And it is to Martin's credit that I ended up rooting even for Lacey. Last I hear, a movie adaptation was in the works. Will look for other works by Martin.

Nemesis (Harry Hole, #4)Nemesis by Jo Nesbø
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Although it begins on a dramatic note, this psychological thriller never reaches the heights of suspense Jo Nesbo achieved in "The Redbreast". Inspector Harry Hole is investigating a bank heist gone wrong and ends up becoming a murder suspect. There are plot twists aplenty, but the denouement is unsatisfying. Don't get me wrong. "Nemesis" is much better than the average whodunit, but coming as it does after "Redbreast", perhaps I had expected a bit too much from the Scandinavian master of crime novels.

A Simple PlanA Simple Plan by Scott B. Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Three men find a bag with $4.4 million in a crashed plane. Can they keep a secret?

This 1993 thriller is a brilliant debut by Scott Smith. I wouldn't change a word. This is something you would want to binge-read and never want to end. If you haven't, read it now. I'm yet to watch the Oscar-nominated movie adaptation starring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, but I doubt if it can surpass the book.

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Sunday, February 05, 2017


The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I started reading "The Man in the High Castle" while simultaneously watching the TV series. And discovered that apart from the main characters, the 2016 Amazon series is a very loose adaptation of the 1962 novel. What is common is this: the Nazis won the Second World War, and Germany and Japan now rule over the United States of America. No spoilers here so I would just say this is one of the few instances where the TV adaptation of this alternate history might be better than the original - pacier, fleshed-out characters and a visual treat. Not that the book is boring, but the series is a thriller.

A Dog's Purpose (A Dog's Purpose, #1)A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The writing isn't top-notch, but the premise is certainly interesting. This is a heart-warming read about a dog searching for life's purpose over the course of several lifetimes. A must read for dog lovers, whether or not you believe in reincarnating dogs. The Hollywood movie adaptation opens in cinemas later this month. Woof!

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A heartwarming novel about Ove, a curmudgeonly man whose life changes when a family moves next door. Written in deceptively simple language (originally in Swedish), this is a story about hope and kindness in an unforgiving world. Highly recommended. The Swedish movie adaptation is a contender in the Best Foreign Language category at the Oscars.

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