Friday, July 26, 2013

A Short Walk In The HinduKush by Eric Newby

Title : A Short Walk in the Hindukush
Author : Eric Newby
Publisher : Picador India
ISBN : 978-0-330-46267-9

Travel writings are slowly climbing their way up in my preference list these days. Perhaps they have discovered the fact that I will never venture into some of the places that are being written about - the wilderness of Alaska, remote places in Afghanistan, scaling Mount Everest and the likes. So they entice me even more and to their delight I am letting them to.  In keeping with the urge to read more of these, I picked up 'A Short Walk in the Hindukush' by Eric Newby. It was a good choice.

In his frank and humorous way, Eric Newby has managed to compile a writing piece guiding potential climbers on what not to do in order to be a successful mountaineer. A wonderful and exciting book, interestingly written, 'A Short Walk in the Hindukush' is also recommended by Lonely Planet.

Giving in to his discontent while being in high-profile haute-couture industry, Eric Newby embarks on an amusing journey to one of the remotest places on Earth. He has his old friend, Hugh Carless, as a companion on this expedition. Though completely inexperienced and ill prepared, they both are brave and determined enough. They decide to set out to climb Mir Samir in the Nuristan Mountains of Afghanistan. In 1956, they decided to begin their trip with a crash course in basic climbing at Snowdonia in Wales so as to get a feel of the rigours that await them ahead.

They trekked through Nuristan, a region in the North-East of Afghanistan and then 'almost climbed' the challenging Mir Samir(6,059 m). They had to turn back just 700 feet from the summit because of their continual dysentery and altitude sickness. However, three years later in 1959, Mir Samir was successfully scaled by a German mountaineering team.

As expected in such wanderings, Eric Newby and Carless had a brush with wide range of adventures and experiences which range from nerve-wrecking, bone-chilling to thrilling. They passed through various big and small villages, met many people, peeked into the lives of some locals, came to know about peculiar lifestyles of many and had many (un)pleasant encounters. Along with reporting about these things, the author has beautifully sprinkled his narrative with light humour and wit. As they progress on their expedition, we also get to read a lot more about their loose stomachs and about the hostile natives of those regions. The overall picture that gets created after reading about his sojourn in the most beautiful wilderness on Earth does not speak very high about the locals. The description of natives often slips into being derogatory and author's conceitedness comes through in the open. To be fair to the author, this could also be just his honest portrayal of what he felt and experienced. And we must not forget that this book was written in 1958, when how the book would be received was less of author's worry. So I feel what he felt is what he has reported without trying to smooth-en the edginess of his comments. 

Towards the end of their trek, the author writes, "I had the sensation of emerging from a country that would continue to exist more or less unchanged whatever disasters overtook the rest of mankind." I wonder what the author would have said about the country now. 

Friday, July 19, 2013


ISBN : 9781479277759

The Guilty, is loosely based on a double murder that shocked Montreal in the 1990’s. 
                                                                     The Guilty is a story of a successful criminal lawyer, Robert Bratt, who is inherently an honest man but has mislaid his priorities somewhere along the course of defending criminals.

 The book opens up to the turmoil and anguish that Robert is facing in his life. Expressing his frustration and confusion over nearly losing his only child, Jeannie, to his profession, Robert finds himself questioning his past choices and decisions.

In the midst of all this, though Bratt does not want to but thanks to his legal partner, finds himself defending Marlon Small, a young man of Jamaican descent, accused of a double murder and an attempted murder. On top of it, he finds his lady love, Nancy Morin, in the opposite camp and refusing to have anything to do with him till at least the end of the trial. To his chagrin he also finds his ambition of becoming a judge of Superior Court hinging on the outcome of the Small trial.

The ironic twist comes in the story when Bratt has everything, the trial, his relationship with his daughter and his love life, moving in the positive direction. Robert comes across something which shakes him up and forces him to take stock of his life. Bratt finally takes a decision which alters his life on a monumental scale.

                                                            All this put together makes an interesting read. The story is fast paced and gripping, especially once it reaches the trial part.One can feel Bratt’s moral dilemma and it is easy to empathize with this legal eagle. 

Gabriel Boutros, the author of The Guilty, has practiced criminal law for twenty four years and as a consequence his professional experience shows in the story.

If you like reading court room drama then this is your book. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Brady Needs a Nightlight by Brian Barlics

Title : Brady Needs a Nightlight
Author : Brian Barlics
Illustrator : Gregory Burgess Jones
Publisher : Black Rose Printing
ISBN : 978-1-61296-195-8

'Brady Needs a Nightlight' is an endearing tale of a little bat - Brady. Though Bats are supposed to be sleeping during the day, Brady likes to enjoy the day time - playing and staying awake. He does not like the dark caves where the rest of the bats sleep during day time. Darkness scares him and he is afraid to close his eyes to sleep. He spends most of the time staying awake and watching other bats sleeping deeply.

Nights are no better for Brady either when all other bats are up and ready to go out and play. The darkness all around, the spooky sounds of animals and insects at night add to his fright. Brady finds no peace anytime of the day or night, he feels like crying. But there are some tiny creatures who sparkle and glimmer in dark. Brady gets a brilliant idea. Can he use these glistening small flies as his very own personal nightlight? Will  he be able to win over the darkness that seems to be engulfing him all the time? Children must read the story to find out how Brady conquers his fears and how a smile returns to his face because of his new found friends.

I love such children's books where the information is very casually entwined in the story rather than making it the prime focus. Children are made aware of the physical features of bats, their nocturnal characteristics, their physical features, their sleep patterns and their unique sleeping styles.  Moreover, the story addresses an issue which is very commonly faced by young children when they are learning to put themselves to sleep without any aide. The issue of getting scared of dark and not wanting to shut the eyes close to fall asleep. The good part is Brady tries to find a solution to his problem and when he gets an idea he first goes to talk it over with his mother. All these are wonderful points in the book which very subtly convey the message to the young readers. Moreover, these are great places in the story where children can be encouraged to talk about their individual fears or the things that bother them without being judgmental. Children will be able to identify with the lovable character Brady.

'Brady Needs a Nightlight' is the first story from the series called 'Fundamentale', a collection of tales that are created to kindle the imagination of young readers. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Hope Factory by Lavanya Sankaran

Title : The Hope Factory
Author : Lavanya Sankaran
Publisher : Hachette
ISBN : 9780755327874
The Hope Factory is a Bangalore based story with Anand Murthy as the main protagonist. He runs a small-scale auto components manufacturing factory and is at the verge of expanding his business by signing a deal with Japanese clients. He needs more land to set up a new factory and confronts many roadblocks on the path to acquire it. Having a dominant father-in-law who wants to impose his way on his daughter's life and family, makes matters more complicated for Anand. Vidya, Anand's wife is a typical society woman who wants to move in higher echelons flashing her designer clothes, throws lavish parties for friends to make an impression and talks about charity and fund-raising to sound like a concerned citizen. Though they both fell for each other during their college days which led to their nuptial but they clearly have different approach towards how they want to conduct their lives.

Another story which moves in parallel with Anand's story is that of Kamala and her son Narayan. Kamala is a house maid in Anand's home and all her efforts are geared towards providing good education to her son Narayan besides struggling to make both ends meet for both of them. She is a sincere and honest worker but still becomes the subject of Vidya-maa's fury many times.

The high point of the book is narration of situations and incidents from two very diverse perspectives with respect to two stories that are beautifully interwoven as one. Misery and anguish of Kamala, her resolve and determination, Anand's dedication towards his work, his interactions with his children, his father-in-law's eagerness in taking charge of things, and much more  - though sound very simple yet are handled expertly bringing the characters to life.

Through 'Hope Factory' the author has addressed current state of affairs in real estate, corruption and bribery, involvement of goons and politicians in high-order deals and feasible options available to people who want to carry on with their business honestly and sincerely. The characters are etched brilliantly and the narration flows smoothly. It is a little slow in the first half but gains momentum after that when more action is happening. Language is good, easy to understand and error-free and it deserves a special compliment because many new Indian authors falter on that account. Overall a simple story told simply which makes for a decent one time read. 

Monday, July 8, 2013


Publication: Pete E. Randall Publisher
Author: Donna M. Seim
Illustrator: Susan Spellman
Rating: ****1/2

The best part of being a reviewer is that you get to read a lot of good books. The better than the best part is that sometimes you get to read a great book that takes you by a storm.

Well, to put in a nutshell, Charley is a simple story of a little boy, who, along with his siblings is abandoned by their father, their mother being long dead. Charley being second of the four siblings, is not yet fourteen so he is also sent to an orphanage where he is picked up by a farming family. The family is mostly kind to him, but there are some members that give him a bad time.

One fine day, more bad news reaches him. His father had died. He was now an orphan.

It is not so much with the story line that make it good, it is the narration that changes the entire look about it. The gentle way by which the emotions are expressed, the immaturity of a little kid, the angst, the troubled feelings finding their way out, the very character that does not waiver even in the face of adversity, the trust of human on fellow humans, the acceptance, the hurt of rejection, the kindness of some and the the heartlessness of others, the human want of something that you haven't tasted and then the longing to run back to the old setup, and so much more, have been described so beautifully and artfully that they appear to cast a kind of spell on the reader. The chapters are crisp and the story progresses fast.

Another character that caught attention was Charley's elder brother George, who was well aware of his own position, circumstances and sorrows and did his best to shied his younger siblings from the same plight. The altruistic nature he possessed, though still being a kid, made him act in ways that cast a shadow over his character.  But eventually, we find that he was ready to bear all that just to see his siblings happy. Not often can we find such maturity from kids.

It isn't everyday you get to read a book, a non-fiction especially, that has complete control on your emotions. Charley, the book, ends just when it must, else it would look like a Dickens' recast. The sad parts have not been over exaggerated and neither have the happy parts, though few, been overshadowed.

The culture of the early twentieth century America has been described well, the reader does not feel the absence of some information that might have been useful in the complete understanding of the story.

Yes, this book is going to find a place in my private library. It has just made a good memory that I will cherish for a long time to come.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Author: Suresh Taneja
Publication: Frog Books
Editor: Vibha Sharma
Price: INR 145, $6
Rating: ***3/4

A bunch of youngsters (G4, as they call themselves)  have a long vacation at hand. They plan a mischievous party, only that they are forced into a bizarre situation. A situation that causes them to think. To think about things that their tender brains and hearts are not yet trained for. 

The situation, or the sequence of events, as I can put it, changes their lives altogether. From carefree teenagers, almost overnight, they grow into flag-bearer of one of the largest mass movements that modern India has seen.

Their creativity, thinking, resolve, determination, never say die attitude, situation handling skills, friendship, integrity, honesty, even a fair amount of good luck, all are put to hard tests, time and again, and almost always, the G4 comes out victorious. Do read the book to find out what happens eventually.

It is heartening to see how a topic that has impacted almost all the people of India, be dealt with, so easily. The book definitely gives a whole new perspective to the problem of rampant corruption in India, and a novel solution to it. The book will see its ultimate success, when people get inspired by the story, take hints and eventually shake the soul of the nation with a similar mass movement, thus cleansing the nation of this ill that has ailed her for so long.

Though the narration is quite excited, rather than being subtle and does not come across as natural, I think it is a good start for the author. It would have been better, had the story also dealt with some moments of the G4 where they actually failed, or did not succeed as per expectations. This would only make the story more real.

Additionally, I think, it would have been better had the part with the PM be reduced to him releasing a formal letter or something similar, as the G4 attending meetings had, by that time, become too commonplace and routine. Joking with the PM, PM crying and even an anchor crying on screen is too much to imagine. 

It is reassuring that time and again the emphasis of the story has lain in the fact that truthfulness must be achieved. One must walk the righteous path to glory as only that path has the power to sustain. The goodwill and trust you earn over time is bonus.

Another brilliant thing about the book is the family tree right in the beginning of the story, its absence would have made life really difficult for the reader.

As for me, I would love to see this book scale heights of fame as the time passes... Just for a reassurance that the literary world still acknowledges those who want to write a clean story, devoid of all that was once considered cheap, but has now become the selling point of many books.

Do read the book, for there is still hope for a better world.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Last Train to Omaha by Ann Whitley-Gillen

Title: Last Train to Omaha
Author: Ann Whitley-Gillen
Genre: Literary Fiction
Published By: Ann Gillen Books

This story is a story of pain, death and loss but more than that, it’s a story of hope, love, forgiveness and letting go. There is no denying the fact that one will need a box of tissues at some stages in the story but those are tears of catharsis, of healing and of relief.

James Milligan at thirty five cannot let go of the pain and loss he suffered years ago when his best friend Stephen died at eighteen in a tragic accident right in front of his eyes. He feels responsible for the death and immensely guilty, so guilty that he not able to nurture any existing relationships in his life, neither he builds new ones. His only salvation is his self acquired role of the “Shepherd” in the family run palliative care hospital for war veterans run by his family. He sits through the last moments of the terminally ill and helps ease their passage to the other world.

Then comes in Martin; a character which steals the show. Martin is a friend of James’s father who takes upon himself to alleviate the boy’s pain and help him rediscover himself and life. Being terminally ill, his zest for living is exemplary. His resolve to help James come out of his predicament and find life again is the crux of the story.

The plot to begin with seemed to be going nowhere actually. James on the surface seems like any young successful person who shuts out his family and is a work alcoholic but like onion peels, the layers came off his character and the plot too. It was intriguing till the end. Once you get through the beginning, you are caught hook, line and sinker in the story. The characters are weaved into the plot with a great ease. Kitty; the feisty sister, Janice; the mother are all well etched. Rebecca as the prospective girlfriend is enticingly portrayed; the reader can feel what she feels. The little friendships, the fairy tale romances and camaraderie blossoming in the hospital are heartening. . James’s journey of self discovery encouraged by Martin Diggs as a father figure and Ted as friend and guide is a revelation.

There are such realistic portrayals of family and the veterans that one doesn't even realize that one has become a part of it all. You feel with them, laugh with them and cry with them. You feel their pain and revel in their joy as much as you smirk on the one liners and shed tears with them, finding in their story snippets and reflections of your own pain, suffering and joy at one time or the other.

For those who are dealing with disease, death and loss of loved ones- this book has the capacity to teach how to take it in stride and deal with it. It tells you that you have to bury the skeleton of your past and take good things from life and move on. It restores your faith in life and love. For everyone else too it’s a book that will leave you a little wiser, little happier and very peaceful.