It is easy to understand why Boris Akunin is a best selling author in post- communist Russia. His key character, Erast Fandorin is young and unburdeneIt is easy to understand why Boris Akunin is a best selling author in post- communist Russia. His key character, Erast Fandorin is young and unburdened by the big questions of life. As a 20-year old sleuth with the Tsarist police, his escapades owe as much to his quick thinking and intelligence as to chance and practical choice. When in a situation from where there is no escape, he does not hesitate to strike a bargain with his captor, Lady Astair, promising not to persecute the remaining members of her cult, in lieu of sparing his life.
I found the book to be an easy and fun read, despite a macabre end....more
The book is page turner. Consisting of two very different "movements" or novellas, it centers around a 100 year old Bulgarian man, whose life and imagThe book is page turner. Consisting of two very different "movements" or novellas, it centers around a 100 year old Bulgarian man, whose life and imaginations are also a peek into the former communist country's history.
The first "movement" is very much in the realist style which rich journey into the history of chemistry and music in Bulgaria in the 20th century, as seen through the eyes of its main protagonist Ulrich. The second "movement" is in a more contemporary, even post- modernist style and is based on the imaginary events in the mind of the now 100 year old man.
The book had me riveted throughout and one cannot complain about the quality of the writing. What I did find interesting is that the writer's skill is not only evident but also overpowers the story. The end result is that I could not feel anything for the characters while being in admiration of the Rana Dasgupta's command over the writing.
His effort in traversing a large chunk of history and a broad range of issues, comes at the expense of lack of insight into why things turned out the way they did. Ulrich, as well as his imaginary children are almost always at the mercy of forces that lie outside their control. Worse, none of them seem to be able to come out of it or make much of an attempt (and even when the attempt is made like in the case of Khatuna, it ends up going the wrong way).
Despite its post modernist ouvere, there is a sense of historical determinism in the novel.
Having said this, I look forward to reading the Rana Dasgupta's non- ficion work "Capital". ...more
Under a False Flag is an amazing first novel by Tom Gething, whose wonderful blog posts (at http://tomgething.wordpress.com) led me to this novel. ItUnder a False Flag is an amazing first novel by Tom Gething, whose wonderful blog posts (at http://tomgething.wordpress.com) led me to this novel. It brilliantly delves into the character of a young CIA operative who is posted in Chile and participates in his own small way to engineer the overthrow of the Allende regime. Tom Gething's writing is as easy to read as it is nuanced.
Highly recommended for for anyone seeking to read historical fiction, or understand the US foreign policy and the workings of the CIA. I just finished reading it, and easily rate it as one of the better novels I have come across recently....more
I read only a few pages of the book and while it is a fascinating read, it is too descriptive and long for me to read now. Maybe a couple of decades aI read only a few pages of the book and while it is a fascinating read, it is too descriptive and long for me to read now. Maybe a couple of decades ago I had more patience for this sort of writing. Still, it was wonderful to discover the existence of this book and it came as a pleasant surprise that such a work even existed in Urdu and was widely read till a half a century or so back....more
The following are some notes made while reading the novel:
"A quote that I liked on page 427: When I think back on that day, I see all those colourful umbrellas and raincoats, all the mud puddles on the street, and the dying fish and croaking frogs in some of the standing water. That torrential rainfall of the early 1990s exposed much of the corruption masked by the prosperity of the age."
Page 500 ------------ Fast moving events- Ximen Bao, the concubine whose two sons are the main protagonists, dies. Her funeral is a big affair with a numerous Party dignitaries attending it, the cavalcade consisting of 40 cars. Ximen Jiefang owns up his parentage by recognizing that his father's name was Ximen? and not Lan?. He is killed in a suicide attack by his former mentor and believer in Mao's collectivization pro Hang Taiyue?.
On page 488 ----------- As I inch towards the end, the novel becomes more interesting as layers of meaning are revealed. The novelist Mo Yan himself appears in the novel, as a "crafty writer". Yet he seems to have a soft corner for the Lan Jiefang, the county chief who falls for a girl 20 years his junior, and is portrayed as a hero because he renounces his powerful position for his new found love. It is tricky and difficult to make out if Mo Yan is playing tricks to circumvent the censors. Or perhaps, Mo Yan is trying to deliberately make a hero out of a much older man ditching his wife who supported him in his years of struggle. This is not clear and the reader is left to make his own judgement. I am inclined to assume that Mo Yan is playing it both ways and by retaining the ambiguity, he is also saving his own skin.
I am now on page 450. The novel has taken a turn for the better. After a very long middle that meandered through the years of the Cultural Revolution, collectivization of agriculture followed by de- collectivization during the early Den Xiaoping years, the novel now explores the 1990s that saw the definitive turn towards capitalism and its ideals- of making money. The party officials, descendants of Ximen, have now gotten rich. While one of them continues to mouth the slogans of the early CPC, he also plans to make the Ximen village a place of leisure and relaxation for the rich. Jinfang(?), now a county chief, is smitten by a young girl twenty years his junior- literally and metaphorically, symbolizing the emergence of the "gentrified" apparatchik. For the reader, the novel could not be more delightful than it is now. The dreadful middle, always a challenge for both the writer and the reader of a long novel, is over. To Mo Yan's credit, it might have been a deliberate ruse to bore and wear out the censors !
I have just begun reading Part III of Mo Yan's "Life and Death are wearing me out" (a little over one third of the book) and have mixed feelings about it. What works for me is the narrative of post- revolutionary China, particularly about the Cultural Revolution. What also works are the different points of view, a robust sense of humour amidst a tumultus period if China's post- Revolution history and a literary flourish that make the book a page turner.
What doesn't seem to be working is the quirkiness of the narrative, tangential diversions and exaggeration- much in the style of Garcia Marquez in "One Hundred Years of Solitude" which I liked the first time I read "One Hundred..." but found it irritating while reading the second time.
Mo Yan's style also contrasts with another book that I happened to be reading alongside- "Everything Flows" by Vasili Grossman.
The collectivization of the peasantry, among other changes in the post Revolutionary Soviet Union up to Stalin's death are very similar to those in China in the 1950s and 60s. Yet, the contrast between the two writers could not be more striking- Mo Yan is verbose and humourous while Grossman has used tight prose and is uniformly serious, digressing into long soliloquies on Lenin, Stalin and a grand sweep on Russia's thousand years of history. It was refreshing to read a simply written, straightforward novella that was no less - if not more, engaging than "Life and Death...". I finished the 200 page "Everything Flows" in a couple of weeks, much moved by its sparse but surgically precise prose.
I continue to plough through "Life and Death are wearing me out", and if I am not worn out by the time it is finished, will post a longer review....more
Reading Borges is somewhat like reading blogs, the stories are short even though dense and packed. In this collection, I particularly liked The GardenReading Borges is somewhat like reading blogs, the stories are short even though dense and packed. In this collection, I particularly liked The Garden of Forking Paths. The others were re- reads and most of them are quite enjoyable. Reading Borges makes me feel that fiction is also a means of innocent pleasure, and that is what attracted me towards reading as a child. Borges made me re-live that wondrous childhood once again....more
Hair raising book that both mesmerizes and horrifies the reader. As a reader from India, I could feel that all the action could well have taken placeHair raising book that both mesmerizes and horrifies the reader. As a reader from India, I could feel that all the action could well have taken place anywhere in the Indian sub- continent- where honor killing is still practiced. It is not a co- incidence that the victim, Santiago Nasar, is of Arab descent, an "outsider" in the country that his father had adopted. Marquez at his best....more
Extremely beautiful prose. As they say, all the stories in the world have been told. it is just a matter of how the stories are told, and this whollyExtremely beautiful prose. As they say, all the stories in the world have been told. it is just a matter of how the stories are told, and this wholly enjoyable read underlines that. I would certainly look forward to read more by Per Petterson....more
This book made me aware of the genocide in Guatemala during the US backed military regime. I also liked the 'stream of consciousness' narrative. The bThis book made me aware of the genocide in Guatemala during the US backed military regime. I also liked the 'stream of consciousness' narrative. The book accomplishes what it seeks out to do, namely, bring about a disconcert in the reader. The sentences are very long and one needs to keep the focus and the tempo to complete each chapter,else it is better to start allover again from the beginning of the chapter. ...more