Sunday, August 31, 2014

Rashmi bookmarks “Rouse Up, O Young Men of the New Age!”

Translated by John Nathan, "Atarashii hito yo mezameyo" is a semi-autobiographical novel by Kenzaburo Oe, about life with his mentally handicapped son, Hikari (referred to as "Eeyore" throughout). On one hand the narrative follows the story of a father's struggle to deal - and build a relationship - with his handicapped son. On the other, it shows us the author's own interpretation of events in light of the poetry of Blake.

This was my first Oe novel, and I think this may not have been a good choice for a starting point. Being semi-autobiographical, there were so many moments where I felt I was intruding into the privacy of someone whom I had only just met.

That said, the sections dealing with Eeyore really touched me. Oe embarks on this journey by deciding to create a 'hand book' about life which would assist his son. As events play out however, Eeyore, through his many actions and reactions to life situations, ends up helping his father learn and grow. From helplessly asking Eeyore if he is in pain or nauseous ... to living through such simple realities as a childhood doctor retiring ... to dealing with a society that considers such children a blemish on their flawless neighbourhood, this is a poignant story of weakness and strength, culminating in that absolutely brilliant episode that showcases Eeyore's transformation to Hikari.

I think this book deserves a second read, and I will come back to it after reading some fiction by Oe.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rashmi bookmarks “The Graveyard Book”

Okay, I hereby officially declare Neil Gaiman one of my favourite writers of all time! What imagination. And what beautiful storytelling.

As 'the man Jack' murders all the members of a family, a toddler - the sole survivor - manages to escape to a nearby graveyard where the resident ghosts, persuaded in part by the Lady on the Grey, decide to raise the baby. It is named Nobody Owens, as "He looks like nobody except himself".

Granted the 'Freedom of the Graveyard', and helped by such key characters as Mr. and Mrs. Owens, the first ones to discover the baby and become its official parents; caretaker Silas, part living, part dead; Miss Lupescu, one of the Hounds of God; Elizabeth Hempstock, an unjustly-executed witch, this is the story of the first 15 years of Bod's life. What really took the story to a whole new level of awesome was its storytelling. Each chapter is a new adventure through the experience of which, we see the passage of time as Bod learns and grows into a unique person with qualities of both the living and the dead. Yes, he can stand up to the class bully, and yes, he can also Fade, Haunt and Dream Walk!

A visual treat, the story moves so fluently in and out of the corners and crevices of the graveyard. Up a hill where sits a great vampire, a member of the Honour Guard. Down a secret chamber, where the creature Sleer has been waiting for thousands of years for his "Master" to come and reclaim him. Around an abandoned patch of land where a denounced witch gets a belated headstone ... And of course that gorgeous Danse Macabre, the one day in the year the dead enter the living world.

What is traditionally a morbid topic, Gaiman turns into a fantastic adventure that is cheerily light at times and intensely dark at others.

This is the reason I read. For the wonder of a new world and the excitement of new discoveries.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rashmi bookmarks “A Medicine for Melancholy”

Any time I blog about a creation of Ray Bradbury, I'm not really “reviewing” the book; I'm really just thinking about the beauty and the poetry in his writings, encompassing everything from a nearby neighbour to a faraway planet, and soaking in that joy that can only come from reading.

As always, this collection of short stories has left me in a state of awe. The paranoia of being taken over by unidentifiable microbes in "Fever Dream"; the ever-present hint of the fear of being murderer and murdered alike in "The Town Where No One Got Off"; the unique story of Smith in "Chrysalis"; and that brilliantly undetectable takeover plan in "Zero Hour" ... superb!

"Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed" is a fantastic story about the Bittering family, who - along with many other humans from Earth - escape to Mars to get away from the atomic war. I loved the unexpected and complete integration into the Martian way of life.

I was really touched by the pathos in "The Time of Going Away". It is the story of 75 year-old William, who - after a lifetime of exotic trips fueled by his fascination with the "National Geographic" magazines - decides it is time to die, and prepares for his final journey. The juxtaposition of the mundane necessities of life and the eventual reality called death made for such a beautiful read.

Another favourite was the "Pillar of Fire". William Lantry emerges from his grave some 300 years after he was buried and walks into a utopian society where lawlessness of any kind - from lying to murder - no longer exists. Rising from a sense of great loss (writings such as that of Poe have been deemed unsuitable by this pure society), this is the thrilling story of Lantry's vendetta, who is on a violent mission of bringing the dead back to this world.

"The Trolley" was just such a simple, beautiful story with such depth of emotion ... As a small town's historic mode of transportation starts on it’s final trip before being closed down for good, we are taken on a small trip down memory lane itself. From the unadulterated joys of childhood to the final irrevocable change that is life itself, this is classic Bradbury; a small slice of life that remains in our hearts forever.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rashmi bookmarks “Murder on Olympus”

Once upon a time Zeus decided to have a Government made up of Gods and Humans. One of the humans who was hired for this body, as member of the Olympic Bureau of Investigation, was Plato Jones. After a fallout, Jones decided to work on his own as Private Investigator, but was hired by Zeus himself to unearth an impossible act - the murder of a god.

Robert B. Warren's premise made for a very interesting read, refreshingly different in its portrayal of a world where missing gorgons and disappearing scientists co-exist, and demigods, humans, satyrs and minotaurs work together.

What was slightly disappointing was the fact that, despite the title setting certain expectations, Warren really did not write a murder mystery. The narrative fell into a cycle of Jones going to one person, asking questions, getting no answers, getting one name (which, in the overall absence of in-depth characterizations, was no more than blatant name-dropping), going over to that person, asking ... and so on (punctuated by random rounds of beatings by hired goons). There really was not even a semblance of intelligent detective work.

What I found even more annoying however, was the slightly juvenile writing that broke through every now and then: the secretary doing her nails sitting at reception, the gorgeous woman discovering her husband was cheating on her and crying on, and kissing, the detective, the “playful smack on the rear” of women who then proceed to “squeal and hurry along” ... Argh!

Overall, however, I liked the setting of this world; the interaction of gods and humans, and the brief glimpse into the mansions and the lives of the gods made for a light, fun read.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Rashmi bookmarks “Fool”

I am so glad I discovered Christopher Moore. In a world where I have finally reconciled myself to the fact that the greatest writers of all time belong to an era only to be found in the past, it is so heartening to have stumbled upon someone like Moore who takes his thorough knowledge and understanding of a topic and re-invents and re-creates with shocking freshness.

Although deriving characters and plot points from several plays, “Fool” is primarily based on Shakespeare's play King Lear. Narrated from the perspective of the character of the Fool, Pocket, this is the story of how the king's fool sets up the bastard Edmund of Gloucester to plot against his brother Edgar, who goes on to render the king powerless, who searches out the three mysterious witches and gets a love potion from them, and who, in the grand finale, starts off a civil war ... mm, all to basically prevent Lear from marrying off his daughter Cordelia, whom Pocket is in love with! Oh, and adding a crucial voice to all these proceedings is that of The Ghost (yes, "there's always a bloody ghost")!

I loved that this story was not just about the jokes or about being funny; it was such an amazing story that spanned decades and was about so many people and their past and their future. In a series of flashbacks, we get to see so many stories played out - as prophetic incidents involving children, and as final outcomes of adults. This story was an interesting wave that started out as sheer comedy and led to so much politics and plotting, drama and death.

What also fascinated me was the author's note in the end (reading "Lamb" taught me that this is one author, whose final say you do not want to miss) - and once again, I saw how much research Moore does and how knowledgeable he is. He hasn't just taken off on a generic view of a famous story and spoofed it. His story - bawdy wit and all - stems from great knowledge of the subject, to which of course, he adds his special magic.

Just for the sheer joy of reading - not with any great agenda or deep purpose in mind - but for a great, enjoyable read, I keep going back to Chris Moore.