Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

Author: Nicholas Sparks

Publications: Warner Books

A really old man reads to a really old woman. She can understand only little. A boring beginning. He opens his notebook and begins reading. The story starts to get better. Go further. It becomes intense. In the end you ask, "Why did it have to end?".

A simple yet touching story line, the main focus is on the description of the events and the emotions involved and this makes the book stand apart. Noah and Allie have had a great summer romance, but due to the difference in their social standing, they are not allowed to be together for  long. Time passes and they move ahead with their lives. Noah gets work at a Jewish man's estate, then he works at a war and returns with big money, to realize his dream of buying and restoring an old property. Meanwhile Allie has grown up, she is now a socialite and is engaged to one of the most famous lawyers of her town. But some corner of her heart tells her to give her lost love another chance. She goes to meet Noah and they have a real great time together and she is torn between her true love for Noah and her engagement with Lon, the lawyer. The notebook story of the old man ends here.

The story progresses and we come to know that the lady has Alzheimer's and that the notebook story is of the couple itself, who has had a fairy tale like life, with a calm and serene backdrop, perfect home and hearth, complete harmony and above all, contentment. 

Through the story we meet a lot of amazing people and amazing revelations. Janice, the nurse on duty on Noah and Allie's 49th anniversary, decides to go away on the pretext of having coffee, when she already had it with her, just to allow Noah to slip into Allie's room. "Once again I learn that there are good people in the world"

There is absolute sense in the fact that no fairy stories can ever have a 'happily ever after' ending. Even the most beautiful and well-lived and well-loved lives end. Recalling the past is often either the sweetest or the sourest experiences for a human, and both leave a bitter-sweet taste, either of having loved the past and being forced into the present or of a horrid past and the relief of having gotten away. The former, of course, being more poignant.

In the Harry Potter Book 1 (Philosopher's Stone), J.K. Rowling mentions, "It does no do to dwell on dreams and forget to live." But, this book forces us to pose a different question, "What if our dreams and the reality decide to go for a joint venture; or rather - a joint adventure??

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Kalila and Dimna by Ramsay Wood

Title: Kalila and Dimna: Fables of Conflict and Intrigue
Author: Ramsay Wood
Publications: Madina Publishing
Illustrator: G M Whitworth

A sequel of Kalila and Dimna: The Pancatantra Retold - Book One (reviewed here), this book picks up from where the wise Dr. Bidpai had decided to halt his storytelling at the close of the previous book.

Though majorly a continuation of the previous book, a few changes have been introduced here, which include the fact that King Dabschelim now has three children who have been told about the amazing treasure and who are also to be the beneficiaries of the knowledge. Mimosa, rather interrupt-me-not (Mimosa is also the other name for touch-me-not plant) sister of Dr. Bidpai and a superb storyteller herself, enters and takes us through most parts of the story.

An amazing amalgamation of fables of personified stupid donkeys, of henpecked crocodiles, of wise, revengeful and storyteller monkeys, of normal people turned greedy, of wise idiots, and many more, the collection of stories presents an eye-opening insight into the feelings and thoughts of living creatures, both evil and gentle.

The stories, though meant to somehow relate to the rules of the conduct appropriate to the kings, give us, those far from the blue blooded races, a lot of meanings and moral lessons in ways both expressed and implied.  A micro list of the lessons I learnt includes: If we wish for something stupid and against the laws of nature, we are inviting our own doom. Exceptional greed leads to our own destruction. Blindly following the others, with putting in little logic could be tragic. A safe and strategically maintained distance and even friendship between enemies could be mutually beneficial .. and many more. How so many stories have be connected and put together as a single big story makes the work truly remarkable. 

Through the story, Mimosa comes across as a better storyteller than even Bidpai. The book completes the wise advise being given to the king, he gets his royal illustrators, calligraphers to put the stories together for us, the future generations.

To sum up: A wonderful book. An enjoyable read. An enriching experience.

All Things Dahl

13th September was Roald Dahl's birthday, and we at Zealot Readers would like to pay him a tribute. Here are two books that are brimful with fun facts that are as wacky as his books.

pic courtesy flipkart.
Spotty Powder and other Splendiferous Secrets
Compiled and illustrated by Quentin Blake
Publisher: Puffin (Pocket Money Puffin series)
Ages 6+

The book begins with a quote from his book The Minpins“Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most likely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” 

This should be the guiding light for all who associate themselves with children’s books. Or any books at all. Or anything that raises one above the mundane. As Dahl’s books certainly do. He was a keen observer of his surroundings, human or otherwise, and each of the twelve chapters begins with his essay on the month or season.

Do you know…

…that there were as many as ten naughty children to feature in his most famous book Charlie and the Chocolate factory? These were to have names like Bertie Upside and Herpes Trout. Or that the Oompa-Loompas were to be called Whipple-Scrumpets?

…that the Roald Dahl-Quentin Blake partnership began in 1976, quite late in Dahl’s career, and that initially Blake was nervous about illustrating for such a famous writer?

…that Dahl kept two notebooks in which he pinned down any stray idea that entered his head, and that almost all his books came from these years later?

…that strange though it may seem to his readers, his English teacher at boarding school had written him off? “This boy is an indolent and illiterate member of the class.” “Vocabulary negligible, sentences malconstructed. Ideas limited.”

…that in the churchyard at Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, big friendly giant footprints lead to Roald Dahl’s grave?

pic courtesy flipkart
D is for Dahl
A gloriumptious A-Z guide to the world of Roald Dahl
Compiled by Wendy Cooling
Illustrations Quentin Blake
Publisher: Puffin books
Ages 8+

It begins with a smudged copy of the Dahl family tree on page 1. The next 149 pages are cram-filled with alphabetically arranged snippets that will warm the heart of even the most reluctant of readers. All things Dahl : personal life, his books, quirks, his literary associates, his working style, his opinions about everything he came across- it is all there, in bite-sizes, and embellished with the zany illustrations of his friend and long-time illustrator, Quentin Blake.

Some our favourites are the Random Roald Facts in boxes:

He wrote his first ever story at the age of 10, titled “Kumbak II” about a machine that could tune in to conversations from the past.

From an essay written by him at school, describing his teacher: “He’s a short man with a face like a fried elderberry, and a moustache which closely resembles the African jungle.” On his teacher's cane: “It wasn’t simply an instrument for beating you. It was a weapon for wounding.” Do you see Miss Agatha Trunchbull from Matilda?

No wonder his teachers were vexed with him!

Here is a review of a proper biography, Fantastic Mr Dahl, written by Michael Rosen, on Guardian Children's Books.

Crossposted at Saffrontree.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Immigrant by Manju Kapoor

Title : The Immigrant
Author : Manju Kapoor
Publisher : Random House India

'The immigrant' is the story of a thirty-year old Nina who has apparently missed the bus of matrimony at the right time. But one fine day, unexpectedly a proposal arrives from a dentist Ananda settled in far away lands of Halifax, Canada. The marriage arranged by their respective families takes place and Nina leaves her home and country with stars in her eyes to the alien lands. But within a short period of time, the stars disappear and reality stares hard in their faces. The rest of the story revolves around the obvious - managing finances and loans, getting foothold in the foreign country, warding off boredom because of lack of human interaction while dealing with some very personal issues between the two of them.

The background is not unique, many books have already been written on this subject. 'The immigrant' is actually the story of incompatibility emotionally and physically, cheating, feeling cheated, search for identity, disillusionment and much more. But as the story progresses none of the two protagonists manages to strike any chord with the readers. The seem to be working on a very shallow plane and the story fails to become a genuine one. The story felt like progressing on a single track only whereas in relationships that is hardly the case. The mention of the political situation of the country at couple of places is left dangling in the middle of nowhere. It did not do anything other than adding the timestamp to the saga.

I always say and continue to feel the need to say it every time I end up feeling cheated by a book -

The readable fiction generally falls in either of these two broad categories: 1) Books offering some unique idea, out of the box thought, new plot or some extraordinary event which has never been presented before.  2)  Books working on known plots or ideas but the outstanding handling and packaging enable them to rise about the rest. By handling and packaging I mean - either the narration is very witty or engaging or is presented in such a fashion that something is there for the readers to savor.

Unfortunately 'The Immigrant' did nothing for me.

I am not sure if this book went through any editing iterations because it is very hard to ignore blatant mistakes like - the mother of the protagonist being referred to as Mr. Batra throughout the book and there are more name mix-ups at other places too.