Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Curled up with a good book

Here are a few of the books I have read recently..... I highly recommend all of them.

"No onions Nor Garlic" by Srividya Natarajan

One of the funniest books I have read in a long time. It is downright laugh out loud Wodehousian silliness at its best. I took it with me to the spa thinking I could read it while my feet were getting pedicured and polished....bad idea, I kept laughing, and rattling that big pedicure chair and annoying the pedicurist!!! So read it at home in the comfort of your own chair, preferably with a pillow on the floor so you don't hurt yourself falling down and rolling on the floor with laughter. It should appeal to all, but specially to TamBrams familiar with our peculiar lovable  customs and traditions.

Here is what one reader from Mumbai says:

Like most of the kids of my generation, I grew up reading the fantasies and adventure books churned out by Enid Blyton. Many years, authors and countless books later, that magician P.G.Wodehouse hooked me. Many again are the hours I’ve spent curled up with a PGW book for company, lost in his idyllic world that – as the blurb says – will never go stale. I’ve often wondered how it would have been if Blyton or Wodehouse would have written stories in an Indian milieu.

Srividya Natarajan provides the answer to that idle thought. “No Onions Nor Garlic” is as faithful a tribute to P.G.Wodehouse as can be conceived without becoming a parody or a farce. This book could not be called a pale imitation or a spin-off. She has faithfully carried on the stylised sentence construction, grammatical idiosyncrasies and pun-happy prose of the master and taken it a step further. The situational comedy and sundry oddball characters are all there and they pave the way for a book that’s a laugh-riot.

Here’s an excerpt:

"At 4:40, somewhere in the middle of Mount Road, lodged in the bumper – to – bumper like a jezail bullet in an Anglo-Indian colonel’s bottom, was the Pallavan Transport Corporation No. 27A bus that contained Akilan. Well, it did not actually contain him. He hung from the door rail by the tips of two fingers, and bore a poetic resemblance to an over-size jackfruit hanging from the tree by its slender stalk. Only one of his toes was actually resting on the footboard, and a good part of his considerable bulk was travelling outside the bus proper. His dark face, with its plump, lugubrious lower lip was the face of a dromedary that had recently suffered some nameless disappointment."

The story is set in Chennai and the ethos is urban Tamil Nadu to the core. This does not take away anything, but to my mind it adds to the flavour. For the readers not familiar with Chennai and its peculiar ways, this could be a rollicking introduction. For Chennaites, it’ll be déjà vu all the way.

"The Saffron Kitchen" by Yasmin Crowther

Loved this book, kept reminding me of The Kite Runner. Here is a review courtesy

In The Saffron Kitchen, Yasmin Crowther has captured, with uncanny accuracy and grace, the deep confusion and conflict visited upon a mother and her daughter by their respective histories. The mother, Maryam, is an Iranian woman, daughter of a general and member of a well-respected family during the Shah's reign. When she became separated from her family at the start of the revolution and was sheltered chastely overnight by Ali, her father's servant, her life was forever changed. Disowned by her father, she moves to Tehran to become a nurse and then to London, where she meets and marries Edward, a fine and gentle man who adores her. When the story begins, their daughter, Sara, born in England, married to an Englishman, and ignorant of her mother's haunted history, is newly pregnant. When she miscarries, during a dramatic confrontation with her mother and her young Iranian cousin, years of secrets and pretending unravel at last.
Maryam decides to go to Iran, to distance herself from these events. What follows, in Crowther's revelatory manner, is a perfect portrayal of a half-life, one lived only on the surface. Maryam comes into her own when she goes back to her village; the sights, sounds, and smells all beckon to her with their sweet familiarity. England falls away, with all its confusing customs and strange language, as does Edward, with his so very different background. Beckoned by her mother, Sara comes to visit and to ferret out the particulars of her mother's past. The question remains: will Maryam return to Edward and England or stay where she is once again at home?

Crowther writes with great insight about attempting to cast off one's past--and the impossibility of doing so. The saffron kitchen of the title is a lovely evocation, both symbolic and actual, of what gets left behind and of one daughter's willingness to occupy both worlds.

"Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortensen and Oliver Relin
The inspiring account of one man's campaign to build schools in the most dangerous, remote, and anti- American reaches of Asia

In 1993 Greg Mortenson was the exhausted survivor of a failed attempt to ascend K2, an American climbing bum wandering emaciated and lost through Pakistans Karakoram Himalaya. After he was taken in and nursed back to health by the people of an impoverished Pakistani village, Mortenson promised to return one day and build them a school. From that rash, earnest promise grew one of the most incredible humanitarian campaigns of our timeGreg Mortensons one-man mission to counteract extremism by building schools, especially for girls, throughout the breeding ground of the Taliban.

Award-winning journalist David Oliver Relin has collaborated on this spellbinding account of Mortensons incredible accomplishments in a region where Americans are often feared and hated. In pursuit of his goal, Mortenson has survived kidnapping, fatwas issued by enraged mullahs, repeated death threats, and wrenching separations from his wife and children. But his success speaks for itself. At last count, his Central Asia Institute had built fifty-five schools. Three Cups of Tea is at once an unforgettable adventure and the inspiring true story of how one man really is changing the worldone school at a time.

The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi

Malladi is a wonderful writer. More: she’s not only a great storyteller, she seems to always have something to say. Consistantly. And her background and her interests and the things she seems to care very deeply about fall in line with the backstory of our times. She has a finger on the contemporary cosmopolitan pulse and together with a talent that is not slight, she weaves all these disparate things into stories that almost anyone will care about.

Her most recent novel, The Sound of Language, illustrates all of these points. In the novel, the Afghani Raihana escapes Kabul to stay with relatives in Denmark, a country that is as damp and cold as Afghanistan can be sunny and warm. In fact, everything is foreign to her, everything tears at her heart. Even the sound of the Danish language which, to Raihana’s ears, sounds like the buzzing of her uncle’s bees.
Raihana connects with an elderly Dane named Gunnar. Gunnar has been left widowed and he needs help looking after the bees that were in his wife’s charge. That is, left to Gunnar, the bees will die. They were not his department. Over the course of a summer of Raihana’s keeping of Gunnar’s bees, the pair forge an unlikely relationship, one that gives both of them solace from their separate heartbreaks, but that their friends and relatives find impossible to stomach.

The Sound of Language is an almost impossibly beautiful book. The coolness of the Danish landscape, juxtaposed against the heat of the immigrant’s heart. Raihana is a stranger in a strange land, of course. But with his own actions and the choices he has made, Gunnar has become almost as much of a stranger as Raihana. And, as seems always to be the case with the very best of this sort of tale, while we begin seeing everything that is different, before very long, we see all that is the same. And not all of those commonalities are good.

Author Mulladi knows these roads. Born and raised in India, she has an engineering degree and worked in Silicon Valley for several years. Though they met and and married in California, Mulladi and her husband, the Dane Søren Rasmussen, moved to Copenhagen from the United States in 2002. In a reading group guide published with the book, Mulladi says she didn’t think that living in Denmark would be much different than living in the United States had been. “Needless to say,” Mulladi writes, “I was wrong.”

I just started on "Stones into Schools", the sequel to "Three Cups of Tea". I hope it will be as absorbing and interesting! But here is a reader's review of it:

I read Three Cups of Tea and was incredibly inspired by Greg Mortenson. His second book is even better in my opinion. Teaching people that they have the power to change themselves is so simple but sometimes takes incredibale amounts of work by other people. Greg and his team have performed incredible acts of bravery, endurance, and dedication to the noble cause of providing education to the girls of Pakistan and Afghanistan. You will not be able to put this book down. You also learn firsthand accounts of the success of many of the first girls to go through Greg's schools.

Read this book for an incredible account of an individual who has changed the world for so many people.

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