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Archive for June, 2008

Disgrace — J.M.Coetzee — A book review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on June 28, 2008

Some books are very hard to write about. One is moved, disturbed and dulled into a pensive state by what one reads and yet one cannot place a finger on the aspects that touch and trouble the reader. J.M.Coetzee’sDisgrace” is a recent read of mine that put me through this troubling experience

It is a very complex book that poses a variety of ethical questions that arise out of peoples choices, beliefs, stances and behaviour and also the consequences of sticking to these in an uncompromising way. In a way, a compromise itself can turn out to be an ethical question i.e. should one compromise and move to a middle path or stick to what one believes irrespective of the consequences? Convenience vs conviction and the subsequent paths that await individuals — that to me appeared to be the central theme of this moving book by Coetzee

Set in South Africa “Disgrace” is the story of David Lurie and his daughter Lucy. David is a professor of languages in Cape Town University and gets involved with one his students and gets expelled from the University. The expelling itself can have serious consequences both from a career and financial perspectives, yet, David refuses to plead guilty, resulting in loss of his job and a harrowing journey of struggle and hardships. On the other hand Lurie lives on a farm making do with the produce from the land. In many ways it is a hard life that is not typical of whites in South Africa. A few days after his relocation to his daughters farm, David and Lurie are subject to a violent attack by three blacks and Lurie is brutally raped. The subsequent events bring the positions of each into a very sharp contrast.

Prior to the incident Lucie tries her best to understand David’s motives of why he does not plead guilty at the university, get a pardon and get on with his life. It is in portraying these moral positions that Coetzee comes up with his best. Consider the following no holds barred conversation between  daughter and father on this issue:

“……That’s not true. Even if you are what you say, a moral dinosaur, there is a curiosity to hear the dinosaur speak. I for one am curious. What is your case? Let us hear it

My case rests on the rights of desire’ he says. ‘On the god who makes even small birds quiver’……. one can punish a dog , it seems to me, for an offence like chewing slipper. A dog will accept the justice of that: a beating for chewing. But desire is another story. No animal will accept the justice of being punished for following its instincts

So males must be allowed to follow their instincts unchecked? Is that the moral?

No that is not the moral. What was ignoble about the .. spectacle was that the poor dog had begun to hate its own nature. It no longer needed to be beaten. It was ready to punish itself. At this point it would have been better to shoot it…

Have you always felt this way, David?

No, not always. Sometimes I have felt just the opposite.That desire is a burden we could well do without”

(It is my opinion that in the East the subject of desire has received an extensive empirical observation and multiple methods have been expressed either through philosophical expositions or through religion to control desire. On the contrary in the West the emphasis on controlling desire, it appears, has not received the kind of treatment that it derserved)

Lucy has a help on her farm in the form of a black called Petrus. David suspects that Petrus knows one of the three persons involved in the outrage. Gradually it turns out that that is true. David wants Lucie to let go of her smallholding and make a fresh beginning by migrating to Holland. Lucy refuses it. Lucy sees that it is a price that as a white she has to pay to live on the land where utter horrors have been committeed in the name of race. At one stage Lucy says the following:

 ‘But isn’t there another way of looking at it, David? What if…. what if that is the price that one has to pay for staying on? Perhaps that is how they look at it: perhaps that is how I should look at it too. They seem me as owing something. They see themselves as debt collectors, tax collectors. Why should be allowed to live here without paying? Perhaps that is what they tell themselves

David meets Bev Shaw a lady who runs a animal care center and builds a relationship with her. His original idea of writing a book on the later stages of Byron do not lead to any concrete results. In the meanwhile it turns out that Lucy gets pregnant and insists on staying in the farm despite the threat of continued attacks on her. David dissuades her from staying on… but Lucy is steadfast and instead takes the option of coming under the protection of Petrus in a possible arrangment of exchange of land to Petrus.. David is a completely broken man… yet a small ray of hope exists when David says: What will it entail being a grandfather? As a father he has not been much of a success, despite trying harder than most. As a grandfather he will probably score lower than average too. He lacks the virtues of the old: equanimity, kindliness, patience. But those virtues will come as other virtues go: the virtue of passion, for instance. He must have a look again at Victor Hugo, poet of grandfatherhood. There may be things to learn

It is with this sort of understanding and compromise from David’s side that the book ends

Coetzee’s displays an astonishing control on language through out the book. What I found most fascinating about the book is that the authors felicity with language is employed to build situations where the necessary room for portraying moral positions of the characters is created

Secondly, Coetzee through the book weaves gems of thoughts on various aspects which are very sublime. This I felt is only possible for writers of a very great caliber. Two of his thoughts in particular appealed to me quite a lot

I don’t think scapegoating is the best description,’ he says cautiously. ‘Scapegoating worked in practice while it still had religious power behind it. You loaded the sins of the city on to the goat’s back and drove it out, and the city was cleaned. It worked because everyone knew how to read the ritual, including the gods. Then the gods died, and all of a sudden you had to cleanse the city without divine help. Real actions were demanded instead of symbolism. The censor was born, in the Roman sense. Watchfulness became the watchword: the watchfulness of all over all. Purgation was replaced by purge

The horrors of apartheid and the futility of language to bring out the sorrow associated with it is also well described when he says
Doubtless Petrus has been through a lot, doubtless he has a story to tell. He would not mind hearing Petrus’s’ story one day. But preferable not reduced to English. More and more he is convinced that English is an unfit medium for the truth of South Africa. Stretches of English code whole sentences long have thickened, lost their articulations, their articulateness, their articulatedness. like a dinosaur expiring and settling in the mud, the language has stiffened. Pressed into the mould of English, Petrus’s story would come out arthritic, bygone

Overall, “Disgrace” is a very sad and thought provoking book. It has been a real struggle to write my impressions on this wonderfully moving book. Maybe there in lies an example of what a good book ought to be

Trivia: J.M Coetzee and Peter Carey are the only 2 writers who have won Bookers twice so far. Coetzee for Life & Times of Micheal K and Disgrace and Peter Carey for Oscar & Lucinda and True History of Kelly Gang


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The Viceroy of Ouidah — Bruce Chatwin — A book review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on June 22, 2008

Good writers tend to get addictive. And if they are especially as good as a Bruce Chatwin, readers stand very little chance. I have completed reading Chatwin’s “The Viceroy of Ouidah” over the weekend — once again I witnessed his wonderful ability of dousing readers in engaging narrative and taking them into worlds they have never been and most probably they will never be. To me it is atleast one of the many purposes of writers, books and writing i.e. help people experience life vicariously. On this count, I would rate Chatwin as one of the “most complete” (if I am allowed to use that expression) writers I have come across.  That it is quite an extraordinary and unique talent stares in the readers face within the first few pages of reading any of his books. I can say that with a  bit of temerity having come across his other books like “What Am I Doing Here“, “On the Black Hill” and ” The Songlines

The Viceroy of Ouidah” is the story of the birth, rise and decline of Francisco da Silva (Dom Francisco) an ordinary man from Sao. Salvador.de.Bahia in Brazil who makes his impressive fortunes through slave trading and agriculture in the African Kingdom of Dahomey. Dahomey is ruled by an unpredicatble king whom Dom Francisco befriends and for a long while makes his fortunes by keeping the king happy. It is the king who bestows the title of ” The Viceroy of Ouidah“. Falling out of the king’s favours and also changing attitudes to slave trading lead to disastrous consequences to Dom Francisco leading to his death in extremely pitiable conditions. The chances of making an escape to his native country of Brazil also stand reduced as he is branded as a criminal who has made his fortunes through slave trading. The changing postures of colonial powers like the French, English and Dutch also strengthen the historical forces against Dom Francisco. This biographical sketch is narrated as a recollection of one of his surviving daughters Mama We’we’ (Eugenia) who herself is on her deathbed and is approached by Dom Francisco’s living survivors — who long for the lost grandeur and who still entertain the belief that fabulous riches that their founder made are still available somewhere and that may be Mama We’we’has some clue to finding them. Both the grandeur and wealth are irredeemably lost. Yet the yearning and hope remains

As a biographical sketch “The Viceroy of Ouidah” is bettered by any number of similar sketches of traders/businessmen/buccaneers who have made their fortunes through foul (or fair) means. So what is so captivating about this book? I think there are a few aspects which I would call singularly Chatwinisque

First, Chatwin comes completely alive in his observation of his surroundings and portrays them in a heartwarming manner. If human minds had a capability of auto projecting pictures as they went reading prose, I am certain Chatwin’s prose would produce the clearest pictures than the prose of any other writer that I have known. It is an uncanny ability to get into the skin of ones surroundings, people, settings so very deeply and then make the subsequent descriptions so very objective that one is left gasping at this clarity of depiction

Second is Chatwin’s prose. Extremely lucid yet economical. There is not a single word employed that is excess and not needed in describing a scene. Consider some of Chatwin’s descriptions : “Their cottons were printed with leaves and lions and portraits of military dictators. They hauled themselves into the teak pews… At the Credo, the ladies sighed, heaved their thighs and go to their feet. Letters, lions and military dictators rustled and recomposed themselves”

“Their skins cracked in the harmattan (an atlantic wind), then the rains came and tambourined on their caladiums and splashed dados of red mud up the walls of their houses”

At thirty she was an old maid, but after that her appearance hardly changed: The Slave Coast takes its victims young or pickles them to great antiquity” 

The book is littered with many such brilliant descriptions and passages

Third Chatwin employs this descriptive prowess to evoke a bygone era and a thin sliver of history in a very fascinating and haunting way.

The only complaint that I have against “The Viceroy of Ouidah” is that it is too short a book and can be completed in a couple of sittings

Despite these wonderful abilities and varied output, I am left with the impression that as a writer, Bruce Chatwin is not in the popular recall of many a reader across the world — on this front I will be more than happy to be proven wrong

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Amsterdam — By Ian McEwan — A book review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on June 19, 2008

It has been my unresearched perception that the contemporary literary landscape of English (rightly or wrongly I am also including Irish and Scottish into this) is a fascinating place brimming with activity, talent and creativity. I guess to a certain extent this view is fueled by a superficial brush with the books and reviews of writers like Kazuo Ishiguro, Anne Donovan, Zadie Smith, Martin Amis coupled with the annual commotion that one gets to witness during the Booker Season – I mean where in the world does one get to see bookies betting on writers the way one bets on footballers and horses? — I am not sure if that is an indication of the popularity of books and writers in UK or the capability of people to reduce any event with probabilities to a betting opportunity.  It is with this perception in mind, I thought, I will explore a couple of new writers from UK and chose “Amsterdam” by Ian McEwan and “Arthur & George” by Julian Barnes for this purpose

I am mid way through “Arthur & George” — which I shall dwell on in the next posting and so focus on “Amsterdam” in this one

“Amsterdam” is a dark book on ambition, assumed loyalties, fear of death and the destruction of relationships and people on account of intermingling of all of these drivers in the characters that populate this book. The main characters are Clive – a brilliant music composer and Vernon – the managing editor of a newspaper which is witnessing a serious decline in its fortunes. Both have been ex-lovers of Molly who is dead and wife to George – a rich businessman — with minor interests in “The Judge”, the paper that Vernon is managing. Vernon has a friendship with Clive that is parasitic in nature.   Both have divergent personalities and a common belief in euthanasia and desire for a painless death. When alive, Molly, was given to living life on her own terms and has had multiple relationships — some serious and some temporary. Chief among her other relationships are with Julian who is the current foreign secretary of UK and with a burning desire of being the PM. Julian is percieved to be a right winger with extreme views on human rights, National Health Service and UK’s role and involvement within EU. The story begins with the death of Molly and the selling of some revelatory photographs of Julian by Geroge to Vernon. Vernon wants to use this as a lever to turn around the position of his newspaper and also drive away the potential contenders for his job: Cassisus is hungry, Vernon thought. He’ll head his department, then he’ll want my job. The paper itself is steeped in tradition of reporting news from the fringes and many employees are against using the tactics of Vernon. The character of the paper and George are depicted brilliantly by McEwan when he writes: “These things take time to turn around.” Vernon tasted his port and protected himself with the recollection that Geroge owned a mere one and half percent of “The Judge” and knew nothing about the business. It was also useful to remember that his fortune, his publishing ’empire’was rooted in the energetic exploitation of the weak-headed: hidden numerical codes in the Bible foretold the future, the Incas hailed from the outer space, the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, the Second Coming, the Third Eye, the Seventh Seal, Hitler was alive and well in Peru. It was not easy to be lectured by George on the ways of the world

On the other hand Clive has a champion in Julian who supports the nomination of Clive to compose the millenial symphony and Clive feels that Vernon is betraying the trust and memory of Molly by deciding to expose Julian. The two friends differ on the morality of the approach. Clive is also under duress to get his symphony composed in time to get the recognition he longs for. He packs off to the Lake district to get on with his work. During his brief stay there Clive comes across a confrontation between a man and a woman and does not get involved despite the merit of the situation as he is after that inspirational moment that will enable the completion of work. It turns out that the man Clive encountered was a serial molester whom the police is looking for. Clive narrates this to Vernon who promptly informs the Scotland Yard about Clive’s role in the whole incident. Vernon feels that this is a form of revenge for Clive’s non acceptance of Vernon’s means of rising to fame. Clive is interviewed by police but is left free to travel to Amsterdam to present his symphony and make the final corrections. Things go completely awry for Vernon and he not only fails in indicting Julian but also fails in reading the public mood on the issue of Julian and fails to whip the needed frenzy. The rise in circulation numbers of his paper are temporary. In the process Vernon is utterly ruined and loses his job. While Clive appears calm outwards there is a seething rage against Vernon and also a feeling of being betrayed by Vernon especially with respect to the photographs and his approach to making use of them. Both Clive and Vernon make an appointment at Amsterdam under the pretension of a rapproachement and poison each other to death. Julian comes out unscathed supported by his family and friends. That in sum is the plot of the novel

So did I like the book? I did enjoy parts of the book but not in its totality. However, that is not to say that there are no aspects of the book that I am not impressed with. Ian McEwan’s control of language and accute observation powers stand out superbly. His psychological sketches of some aspects of people’s behaviour are breathtaking. For example consider the following where Clive thinks of the behaviour of high and mighty towards appointments: It would have been possible to back out of his engagements by assuming license of the free artistic spirit, but he loathed such arrogance. He had a number of friends who played the genious card when it suited, failing to show up to this or that in the belief that whatever local upset it caused, it could only increase respect for the compelling nature of their high calling. These types — novelists were by far the worst — managed to convince friends and families that not only their working hours, but every nap and stroll, every, fit of silence, depression or drunkenness bore the exculpatory ticket of high intent. A mask of mediocrity was Clive’s view. He did’nt doubt the calling was high, but bad behaviour was not part of it. Perhaps every century there was an exception or two to be made; Beethoven, yes; Dylan Thomas, most certainly not

Secondly, the situation building too is that of an accomplished writer. One only has to see his portrayal of the editorial meetings in a newspaper office –very realistic and very near to the innards of what a modern day paper would look like. The slow and gradual falling out of the friendship is also depicted brilliantly when Clive says this to himself: Put most crudely, what did he, Clive, really derive from this friendship? He had given, but what had he ever received? What bound them? They had Molly in common. There were accumulated years and the habits of friendship, but there was really nothing at its center, nothing for Clive. A generous explanation for the imbalance might have evoked Vernon’s passivity and self absorption. Now, after last night, Clive was inclined to see these as merely elements of larger fact — Vernon’s lack of principle. And with this the drift starts gaining momentum and reaches an uncompromising situation towards the end of the book

Time and again through the book one gets to see McEwan’s ability to delineate his characters with amazing clarity and locate them in a context with ease: In his corner of West London, and in his self-preoccupied daily round, it was easy for Clive to think of civilisation as the sum of all the arts, along with design, cuisine, good wine and the like. But now it appeared that this was what it really was — square miles of meagre modern houses whose principle purpose was the support of TV aeriels and dishes; factories producing worthless junk to be advertised on the televisions and, in dismal lots, lorries queuing up to distribute it; and everywhere else, roads and the tyranny of the traffic. It looked like a raucous dinner party the morning after. No one would have wished it this way, but no one has been asked. Nobody planned it, nobody wanted it, but most people had to live in it. To watch it mile after mile, who would have guessed that kindness or the imagination, that Purcell or Britten, Shakespeare or Milton, had ever existed or

Both men accepted that the nature of the request, its intimacy and self conscious reflection on their friendship, had created, for the moment, an uncomfortable emotional proximity which was best dealt with by their parting without another word. I can’t say why but this sentence reminded me of Chekov’s brilliant short story called Enemies

Knowing a little bit of the behaviour of the fourth estate world over, I am not sure if Julian would have been allowed to escape as harmlessly as was portrayed in the book. That to me appeared a little removed from day to day reality

I was also a little surprised to learn that “Amsterdam” won a Booker. The other 2 Booker winners that I read are “The Remains of the Day” and “Vernon, God Little“. “Amsterdam” in my view is not in this league (Now you know why it is easy to get into a bookie mentality !). Having said that I still feel that Ian McEwan is a wonderful writer that I have discovered for myself and have lined up his books “Atonement” and “The Innocent” as my next reads

As a one liner preface to his book, Ian McEwan quotes from W.H.Auden: “The friends who met here and embraced are gone, Each to his own mistake“. “Amsterdam” simply put is a larger version of this theme. For anybody interested in getting a taste of Ian McEwan’s writing “Amsterdam” is a sure starting point

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Hooking Up — by Tom Woolfe — A review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on June 12, 2008

NYTimes, NewYorker, Powells books have been my favourite hunting grounds for knowledge of writers and their books. William Styron, John O Hara, Alice Munro, John Updike, Elizabeth Hardwick have been new introductions to me thanks to these publications. On the other hand, where I was vaguely familiar with writers like Norman Mailer, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Annie Proulx, Jane Smiley and Tom Wolfe, but never had the conviction of exploring their work, these sources have supplied me with the needed conviction and adequate introductory material to proceed ahead. In the recent past NYTimes has introduced many interesting blogs which cater to multiple reading interests. Two blogs that I have begun to follow carefully are Olivia Judson’sThe Wild Side” — A brilliant blog on biology/genetics and another called the “Reading Room“. Reading Room has an interesting theme where invitees discuss a selected novel over a specific period of time. One gets to see the diversity, sharpness, depth, liveliness and talent in the discussions. In the recent past Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities” has been one such selected novel that got discussed. That motivated me to do an inventory check of what of Tom Wolfe I have on my shelves. Found that I have 2 of his well known books — “A Man in Full” and “Hooking up“. I have already written about “A Man in Full” and here is his next one on “Hooking Up

Hooking up” is a collection of Tom Wolfe’s essays on a variety of topics. The sheer diversity of topics is interesting, impressive and span areas related to changing cultural mores, rise of the internet and silicon valley culture, the state of “ART” — all at the turn of the twentieth century and in America, A Novella — “Ambush at Fort Bragg” and his interesting literary jousts with the high and mighty of the publishing and literary world of America of his times

That Wolfe is an extraordinarily sharp observer of his time and has an immense ability in presenting the zeitgeist is evident in his opening essay “Hooking Up“. Wolfe’s roving eye passes everything and stops at nothing. The death of words like “Working Class” “Proletariat“, “Chic” (replaced by the word sexy), “Perversion“, is explained in an interesting way. Inversion of sexual mores with the rise of feminism and the incessant sexual stimuli that the younger generations in America are receiving and the subsequent behavioural impact is articulated hilariously. Interesting are Wolfe’s observations on the super-rich within America and their changing dress preferences apparently driven by a sense of guilt, rising preference across America to be young and attendant fear of old age. Wolfe establishes the supremacy of America at the turn of the century and while the reader is about to pass judgment on the slightly excess nationalistic pride that is begun to be displayed, Wolfe queers the pitch and acknowledges in no uncertain terms that America continues to be a vassal stultified by European influence in the areas of art, architecture and philosophy and is disappointed that the ordinary American is not even conscious of this deterioration and is blithely planning his next vacation which he can afford on account of the immense prosperity that its citizens rolled in at the turn of the century. As one reads through the essay one understands that underneath the veneer of this sarcastic humour there is a fine mind and intense research at work and the reader is hooked to the book for the rest that is left

In his essay “The Two Men Who Went West” Wolfe traces the rise of the silicon valley and people who have made it possible. James Grinell — for unknowingly providing the religious, educational and social setting and Robert Noyce for building the nuts and bolts i.e. integrated circuits and memory chips.  It is an unusual essay for it not only portrays the spirit of the age but also underlines the historical and religious underpinnings (which Wolfe describes as “dissenting protestantism“) behind the rise of the silicon valley. The focus is the semi conductor industry including some of the well known people and companies that made it possible. Geographically it happened in West as against the East of America and was fueled by people who came from semi urban or rural areas and who had deep emphasis on education (to be specific engineering), realised the superiority of the value of human capital over assets and played accordingly. Flat organisations, democratic, devolved decision making, respect for entrepreneurship and ideas, a love for money and disdain for flamboyance have been hallmarks of the spirit. But it had its dark side too in terms of family breakups and burnouts. While reading the essay I could not refrain from drawing some parallels to the happenings in India in terms of the rise of software industry — it had the same characteristics i.e. driven by the educated semiurban and town folks, emphasis on engineering as a profession, a new work ethic, wealth creation and distribution and a sense of aggression in grabbing and capitalising the opportunties on hand

Many of us today take the terms “digital noosphere” ( the equivalent of world wide web) and “global village” as a given. However, these neologisms have been based on concepts of convergence that some prescient minds like the French palentologist Tielhard and Canadian acadamician Marshal Macluhan have promulgated long before anyone could grasp the significance of the changes that have been coming into existence. Wolfe explains that Marshal Macluhan used the ideas of Tielhard and some core ideas of Canadian economist James Innis in building his detailed expositions on the power of media, technology and his own views on the  its impact on the human nervous system. In the essay “Digibbale, Fairy Dust and Human Ant Hill“, Wolfe deals with the history of the evolution of these thoughts and the twists and turns that this evolution process has undergone. What Wolfe finds interesting in the rising belief of convergence and the unfounded acceptance of the supposed impact that TV and world wide web are going to have on the human nervous system. He explains this as the famous “explanatory gap” that is common in philosophy — i.e. acceptance of a phenomenon without data. This Wolfe also weaves with the rise of thinking around socio biology. Woolfe rubbishes the claims of the earth shattering impact of internet as nothing but digibabble and says that at best internet will reduce your trips to post offices and book shops and enables one to “shoot the breeze” (I liked the expression) with a few friends — nothing more, nothing less 

(A small digression: Eric S Raymond is a legend in the area of Opensource Software movement and I have first come across the term noosphere in his classic essay viz: “Homesteading the Noosphere”. It is one of the finest expositions on the socio-political dynamics of the open source software world. It has more to do with the behavioural dynamics of followers and contributors of open source philosophy and less about software itself)

Your soul just died” is a wonderful piece on the scientific temperament at the end of the 20th century and the despondent and confused state it has left mankind overall. The rise of darwinism, death of fruedian school of psychology — a movement from Psychology to psychiatry, rise of neuro biology as an important discipline, the debate on determinism on account of genetics and the grand sceptcism about the current foundations on which science is based is portrayed very well. What really strikes one in this essay is the constrast in the mood and temper that Wolfe manages to paint of the scientific community at the beginning of the 20th century as compared to the beginning of the 21st century. The world according to Wolfe has moved from confidence to uncertainty. It might sound trivial but it needs an uncommon ability to articulate views that sweep the breadth of a century and still be convincing

In the past Wolfe had written a highly acclaimed essay called “Stalking the billion footed beast: A Literary Manifesto For A New Social Novel” where in he trashed a few genres (and writers along with them) and kind of suggested that realism of the time should become an important element in a novelists approach to writing a novel. When his book ” A Man in Full” was published three prominent authors Norman Mailer, John Irving and John Updike rubbished his book as utter trash and questioned if his novel could be considered as literature at all. As a rejoinder to that Wolfe wrote an essay called — “My Three Stooges” (it is evident which three he was referring to) which is part of “Hooking Up“. The essay is dazzling, pugnacious, at times petty (I mean why call John Updike and Norman Mailer ” Old pile of bones”?) but provides a scintillating summary of the state of the American novel. This essay was a joy to read for it not only explains the uniqueness of writers like Sinclair Lewis and Steinbeck but also provides a great introduction to some of the lesser known but apparently well respected writers in America. Wolfe goes on to explain that the void that American novel has created by ignoring realism was usurped and monopolised by cinema and therefore the popularity of cinema — despite the obvious disadvantages it has as a medium

The Novella “Ambush at Fort Bragg” is about the phenomenon of sting TV. I personally did not think it was great. The other noteworthy pieces are about his jousts with high and mighty of New Yorker……… enjoyable but nothing exceptional

All in all “Hooking Up” is one of those Wolfe’s books worth having in ones library and the nice thing about the book is that one can read any essay, in any order, for, the topics are diverse, the research is intense, the view points original and writing style breezy….. It is difficult not to enjoy this book

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Haroun And The Sea Of Stories — Salman Rushdie — A review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on June 9, 2008

There are times when you whack yourself on head for not having read a book earlier or not explored a writer to a detail that would have given you a good picture of the writer’s capabilities and his literary output. With the reading of Sulman Rushdie’s “Haroun And The Sea Of Stories” I had an occasion to do the same. Even the “Booker of the Bookers” fame and popularity of Rushdie’s “The Midnight’s Children” did not goad me to explore Rushdie’s oeuvre. The only other book of Rusdie that I read was his collection of essays called “Imaginary Homelands“. I have read this book long ago and was left with an impression that despite the controversial side of this writer there was also a side that included profound learning, depth and a grand appreciation of various aspects of literature and other contemporary events. It is a shame that I loaned this wonderful book to a friend and never managed to get it back. Not for nothing is it said that the three forbidden things for loaning out are money, women and books — once they go into another man’s hands they may never return (a crude translation of an old sanskrit saying)

Haroun And The Sea Of Stories” is many things at once — a word of caution on the consequences of imposing limits on freedom to imagine things and state them, a son’s daring attempt to rescue his father and above all a great story in the league of a charming Arabian tale. Rushdie is undoubtedly a fantastic story teller with all the essential qualities of a good story teller in abundance — inventiveness of the story, nice plot, a charming way with language, attractive and appropriate characters, whooping twists and turns and humour — all combined optimally to make a thoroughly enjoyable read

An interesting aspect of “Haroun And The Sea Of Stories” is its defiance to be classified into a book for any specific age category — it is a story that can be read by, read to and enjoyed by one and all alike. I tried this on my two little kids and for a couple of days they were all “land of gup“, “land of chup“, “Prince Bolo“, “Princess Batcheat“, The wicked but silent goddess “Bezaban” and the evil king “Khattum Shud“, “Gopi” and “Bagha” (2 characters who had their appearance first in a Satyajit Ray’s wonderful movie “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne“). To enhance the reading pleasure Rushdie also added some wonderful rhymes which are full of humour and contextual (you can chop Kar-a-tee, you can chop suey… you can chop… but you cant chop me)

There are a lots of words in Urdu and some mannerisms of bollywood actors (especially in Prince Bolo) which I think would make the book a little less amenable to western readers to be able to catch the underlying humour. Notwithstanding this minor idiosyncrasy, I think “Haroun And The Sea Of Stories” is a great read and one hell of a story that can be told to everyone for a long time to come………………

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