Saturday, January 03, 2015

When you restart a dormant blog, I think it is the best to do so without giving a reason.  So, here I go.  To begin the n-th innings of my blog (which hopefully will not end with this post, or worse, before I post this even), I choose to review a few books I read last year.  Count-wise, the year was not that rich, but quality-wise, I ended the year with a few more than 10 books to review, but I think I should restrict myself to 10, for fear that I may not complete the list otherwise.

10. Hard-boiled Wonderland and End of the World- Haruki Murakami: Murakami-sque in every way, this book, as with many of his books, alternates between parallel universes- one, a futuristic world, and another, a mindless end of the world.  The complex mystique nature of the book led my impatience through the book, and the way the two worlds are interconnected presented an uncanny possibility of what the author wants to present to the world.  Classic Murakami, requires patience if not already into similar literature. Fantasy.

9. Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk. Finally I did it.  Better late than never.  Fight Club is a modern day must read classic, even for those who have seen the movie.  Yes, obviously, the book is better.   The way the story builds up and explodes is wonderful.

8. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close- Jonathan Safran Foer.  Pain and senselessness of loss felt by a kid affected by 9/11.  Yet another novel adapted into a movie, but then, novel is better.  A nine-year old boy whose father was killed in 9/11, discovers a key hidden in a hidden vase in his father's closet.  The boy, who has solved numerous puzzles created by his dad before the latter died in 9/11, takes this up as another one of those, the toughest so far, thinking that his dad had left a message for him.  And a message, he received.  Touching, sensitive and socially relevant.

7. Bury My Heart at the Wounded Knee - Dee Brown.  Subtitled "An Indian History of the American West", this historical non-fiction provides a serial description of events during the 'Conquest of the West' from a Native American perspective.  This could be the story of any population exploited and cheated out of their land, and also raises a question of whose land, and what one's own means when the world changes.  History, Non-Fiction.

6. The Bosnia List - Kenan Trebincevic.  Yet another story of contemporary barbarism.  Even when we say we are in the 21st century, the world doesn't act, and has never acted, in the way it is supposed to be- civilized and mature.  This book is written by a Bosniak Muslim refugee of war, who grew up in the midst of Bosnian civil war which began when the author was 11.  His family tried to escape the war for almost 2 years, before they were allowed to leave, and nearly 15 years later, his father, brother and he go back, in reconciliation, in revenge.  But when he is there, he changes.  The book is haunting.  Biography. Contemporary.

5. Mullappoo Niramulla Pakalukal, and Al Arabian Novel Factory - Benyamin.  (മുല്ലപ്പൂ മണമുള്ള പകലുകൾ, അൽ അറേബ്യൻ നോവൽ ഫാക്ടറി ).  Two books set during the Arab spring in an oil-rich Kingdom which is never mentioned by its name, the ingenuity of the author is in bringing out two books, interconnected with each other.  One book is not the sequel or prequel of the other.  And, since this happens in a geography that is familiar to Malayalis, it doesn't feel odd at all, when we read a Malayalam original set in foreign lands.

Benyamin explores the background of Arab Spring in an unknown Arab kingdom, with reference to the various religious and ethnic factions as well as its impact and roles played by various immigrant communities.  As with his previous master-piece (ആടുജീവിതം, Aadujeevitham, Goat Days), the books haven't gone well with the authorities in the region where it has been set.


4.  Edge of Eternity - Ken Follett.  The Finale of the Century Trilogy.  A very good example of historical fiction.  As with other masters of the genre, Ken Follet has an amazing ability to place his characters in the midst of the most happening things of the century, right from the first book of the series.  The finale starts during the peak of the Cold War, with the major characters spread on either side, as well as some along, the Iron Curtain.  With characters placed in Moscow, Berlin, London and various cities of USA, Edge of Eternity is an enjoyable study of the second half of the past century, spilling into the 21st a bit, as is necessary for closure.

A take on the prominent happenings of close to 50 years, and well-connected with the previous two installments of this amazing adventure that Ken Follett set himself upon, this book leads through Cold War, Civil Rights, Counter-culture, fall of the iron curtain and a painful end to the 20th century from a western viewpoint.  Heartbreaks, lighter moments and drama galore in the book.

Historical Ficton.

3. New York - Edward Rutherfurd.  History and Historical Fiction seem to be the trend of my reading, the past year.  This giant of a book about the city starts when Europeans had just settled in what is currently Manhattan.  The conflicts - between the Native Americans and the newly arrived and expanding European colonialists, among Europeans of various nationalities, all take up the initial third of the book, at the same time presenting a strong family background for the main characters.  As the book progresses into more recent years, it takes us through the most important happenings, including signing the Declaration of Independence, Civil Emancipation, installation of Statue of Liberty, Wall Street Crashes, and to end with, the 9/11.

The book somehow misses the Asian settlers, but may be, we Asians may not be as important in the city as we think of ourselves to be.  But, on the whole, the novel does justice to the city, the city that is rich, diverse and culturally overflowing.

Historical Fiction.

Now, between the top two books, I am yet to decide which book comes second, and which one comes first.  So, I present, in the order that I read, the top two books of 2014, in my list -

1. East of Eden, John Steinbeck.  Always my favourite author, John Steinbeck's East of Eden is an epic.  Set mainly in the areas close to where I currently am, this book traces the life of a few individuals who somehow get tangled with each others' life in friendship, neighbourliness, evil, hatred, jealousy and bloodlines.  Steinbeck draws his characters with crystal clarity, and makes startling revelations in what happens when they interact with each other.  Drawing parallels from good and evil of Biblical proportions, East of Eden retains the innocence of some characters, and the helplessness of evil of some.

An epic battle of emotions, principles, East of Eden is very rich in symbolism, sometimes very surprising ones.  A huge book, heavy to read, but this book gave me the satisfaction of having read a classic.

1. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak.  A book narrated by, none other than, death.  Wow.  I started reading it once, earlier in the year, and left it a few pages into the book, as I didn't like the feel of the e-book.  Then, I saw it in my local library, on a 7-day loan.  It didn't take me 3 days to finish this book, and, realized that this is one of the best books I had read this year.  Set in Germany during the Second World War, this book is a different view of the holocaust, from the perspective of a girl not directly affected by it, the innocent bystander, a collateral in the game played by someone else, entirely unknown and foreign to her world.  Adopted by what appears to be a rough woman who cares more for the money that the adoption would bring, and her easy-go husband, we see as the family bonds through some very tough times. The girl, a strange misfit, in an already well-fitted village, gets well along with her friend, some of the best depictions of friendships in a book for adults.

It shows the depravity of war, of a vindictive rationale that the ruling enforces on the ruled, the ideological ruthlessness that blinds the human nature.  The book is cruel at times, as fate and death, often are.  Raw and emotional.

Some books that didn't make it, narrowly

Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck
The Sea is my Brother, Jack Kerouac
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami
The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

No comments: