Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The inheritance of loss - Kiran Desai

Yet another Indian novel. This one is based in West Bengal. Not in Calcutta or anywhere near the sea though, but up north, in Kalimpong district, in the Himalayan mountainous region, where many ethnic minorities live.

It’s the mid 80s, the Gorkhaland movement insurgency for Nepali independence is underway and the life of Sai - a westernised orphaned Indian girl who lives with her grandfather (a retired judge), his cook and his pet dog - is shaken by the gruesome events and the ambiguous behaviour of his tutor/lover. 

Meanwhile in Manhattan, Biju -  the son of the aforementioned cook - lives and works as an illegal immigrant constantly dreaming to be granted a green card.

This is a story about colonialism and its consequences, of westernised Indians who despise Indian traditions (the judge being the main example of this category) and of traditional Indians who despise everything foreign, of Nepalis who despise Indians and of Indians who despise Nepalis, of love crashed by politics and cultural barriers, of poverty and immigration. 

It’s a very interesting and beautiful read. The prose is very refined and polished, demanding and rewarding, bordering good poetry quality at times.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Lost Horizon - James Hilton

Have you ever heard of something called "Shangri-la"? The mythical and mystical place hidden at the edge of the Tibetan plateau that has become a synonymous with “paradise on earth”, besides being the name of a well known luxury Asian hotel chain? Well, that’s an invention of James Hilton’s and it’s described in his book “Lost horizon”.
A group of British and American people are kidnapped somewhere in the far East and brought to a remote area inhabited by a community ruled by a lamasery. The place has some kind of magical property which makes aging a much slower process than it is elsewhere. As it often happens, though, each medal has its own reverse. Read the book and find out about it.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

What the dog saw - Malcolm Gladwell

If you enjoyed Gladwell’s bestsellers such as “The tipping point”, “Blink” and “Outliers”, this collection of articles is a must read for you.
Malcolm Gladwell has worked as a columnist for “The New Yorker” since the mid nineties. Many of the articles he’s published in that paper posed as groundwork for some of his most famous non fiction books. “What the dog saw” is a collection of the best of those articles.
Gladwell has a knack for digging a subject and finding some non intuitive viewpoint which allows him to unearth some unexpected detail that can lead to the solution of some broader social issue. Some of the examples he comes up with to back up his points are marvelous. I’ve read many of his books and he never fails to surprise me. I feel I learn so much from his analytical, counterintuitive and unconventional approach. I love his style. If you haven’t read any of his books, go ahead and try this one out.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Family matters - Rohinton Mistry

When I read Rohinton Mistry’s “A fine balance”, a few years ago, I thought that it was a beautiful story about Indian castes and politics (the story is based a the time of The Emergency and the sterilization campaigns of the ’70s), but I didn’t like the writing style at all.
I found “Family matters” a much better written novel. A little less interesting from the historical and political point of view, this book delves into the lives of a family belonging to the Bombay’s Parsi community. Mistry, being a Bombay Zoroastrian himself, is very detailed about the description of the community customs and traditions. I did like that aspect a lot. Reading this book one can also learn what the situation in the city was like in the early ’90s, when a Hindu nationalist coalition formed by the BJP and the Shiv Sena parties was ruling the state of Maharashtra (that’s when Mumbai became the official name of the city).
The novel’s main themes are interfaith marriages, bigotry, loss of traditions, family grudges, fundamentalism vs secularism. Definitely a good read, especially if you,
like me, are into Indian culture.