Review: White Teeth (Zadie Smith)

Author: Zadie Smith

Published: 2001

Language: English

Genre: Literary fiction, Realism

Rating: 3/5

Book summary:

https://www.goodreads.com/sl/book/show/4204.White_Teeth

I picked up White Teeth on a whim. When I haven’t come across an author or the title and cover look interesting, I’ll find myself eager to explore. I had only ever come across her books on Instagram. I have rated it 3/5 for it builds well and then unravels too quickly. You spend so much time reading and getting to know all the characters and spaces, and you’re caught in a blur of action towards the end, grasping at meaning and the end of the story.

The novel left me thinking, in addition to feeling a little confused about the overall message. It’s something I’ll chew on for the next few weeks. For now, I’ll break it down into the following aspects as I saw them.

Identity

Our identities are formed over time, as a result of our interactions, or lack thereof, with spaces and people. In Samad and Archie’s case, they are limited to their historical experiences to even open up to effects of the world changing around them. Their children are a better example of how immigrants approach their foreign identities. They are caught in the crossfire of their parents’ history and their future in the spaces that hold their shared present. Each generation feels entitled to their experience as immigrants.

Spaces

I enjoyed Smith’s keen observation and representation of foreign spaces through the eyes of natives and immigrants, creating a stark contrast. In a clash of cultures, behaviours, and mindsets, we are exposed to how immigrants can feel at home in their chosen land and still feel misplaced. A standout moment in the novel was when Smith narrates how the convention space is being set up by a focus group of immigrant workers and eventually ‘owned’ by British natives; it simply showcases how spaces are forever in a flux between neutral and polarised. Our ownership of a space is momentary in the world and immortal in the mind.

Balance

The immigrant experience is a delicate balance between ‘what we brought in from the homeland’ and ‘what we have adopted and adapted to in the foreign land’. The folks who watch us leave believe that we are starting afresh in a land far off, whereas it’s simply a continuation of the path we have all set out on. As we acclimate to the new environment, we evolve just like the second-generation immigrants in the novel and we tip the balance in the favour of home. This may not hold true for Samad, Archie and their wives. They are still rooted in their ancestral experiences and are forever evading foreign influences.

The catch however is the fact that we don’t notice how much we have changed till we meet our folks again or leave the foreign land. The balance vanishes. You have grown into the space that you have chosen, wherever it may be. A change of place and atmosphere can change you for the better or for worse, and it’s up to you to decide how you choose to process your experience.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who has ever moved homes and travelled beyond their city. It’s brings forth so many questions and the answers are entirely subjective.

If you’ve read White Teeth, let’s talk in the comments!

Review: David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)

Author: Charles Dickens

Published: 1970 (first published in 1850)

Language: English

Genre: Classic, Fictional autobiography, Bildungsroman

Rating: 2/5

Disclaimer: If you thought that this David Copperfield is a magician, like I did for a long while, do your research.

Wikipedia will tell you all about how Dickens came to write David Copperfield and that he never meant to publish it. I may just agree with him on that.

There’s always a reason a book is considered a masterpiece, and I’m sure it exists for this one as well, however it escaped me.

826 pages, tightly packed paragraphs, bygone vocabulary and my dwindling patience kept me company in the 7 months it took for me to read David Copperfield. A century ago, it must have been quite a book to occupy time and space, given its length and breadth. It didn’t work out too well in this era though.

I’ll start with what I enjoyed: the language. There were so many phrases that made me smile while I was wearily reading and they almost made up for the fatigue the endless paragraphs were causing. I say that while I write a sentence like that. At times, a small voice in my head wished we still spoke like the 1800s now; I couldn’t help but think of how we spend time now, in comparison.

Time was meant to be filled up 170 years ago, and now we worry about not having enough. Language helped fill up a lot of time, given how sentiments were expressed, questions were posed and advice was elaborate. We have reduced language to TBT, LOL and BRB, to say the least, quite literally, just to not waste time saying it all. That’s all I enjoyed!

I should end the review here, except it wouldn’t be complete and it’s not going to be pretty here on. So, if you love Davy, you could stop here.

I am never going near that book again. There is a higher chance of me going to the moon than rereading David Copperfield again. Did I mention 826 pages? And the vacuum-packed paragraphs? Fine, the length wasn’t impossible. I have read the Millenium Series (1.5 times) and the Harry Potter series (3 times), but the words had room to breathe! I had to constantly step away from the book because the sentences seemed to be blending seamlessly into one another. If David Copperfield was a painting, Dickens would be wonderful. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Let’s talk about the story shall we? Or lack thereof? I am not saying I need a giant point to be made. I’d have just appreciated something to look forward to when I put the book down and it was quite ‘putdownable’. I’d wander off and actually forget about Copperfield because there was simply nothing to hook me. Hear me out: I understand that it was meant to capture his slice of life and the time it took place in. I just couldn’t relate to or appreciate. Yes, it sounds shallow. And yes, it’s my honest opinion.

And so, this review ends. It ends with me giving Dickens a 2-star rating and setting social media on fire. I can’t do it – stick to popular opinions and fall at the feet of deities being worshipped (currently, till another one rises). Your opinions are most welcome in the comments, I’d love to talk!

Until next time, Dreamers ūüôā

Review: The 5 AM Club (Robin Sharma)

Author: Robin Sharma

Published: 2018

Language: English 

Genre: Self-help, non-fiction

Rating: 4/5

What I think book shopping is going to be: a calm day out, or online sometimes, looking through endless options, reading blurbs meant to sell the book and happily going home with, or waiting for a home delivery of, a mountain of books, with no budget in sight.

What I actually do when I’m book shopping: walk around, or browse online, in the sale section hoping I find books that are on my list (or anything interesting) and within my self-imposed spending limit for that month or year or for a particular edition/condition.

Truth be told, I have barely ever paid full-price for a book in my collection of 350 odd books. Sale or second-hand is my haven of choice!

That’s how I chanced upon The 5 AM Club in an Amazon deal-of-the-day section. I had a vague idea about it and I never thought of picking it up because I couldn’t imagine myself waking up at 5 AM to do anything, let alone join a club, even theoretically.

However, I am now glad that I did read it. It’s thankfully not a cult that Robin Sharma has envisioned; it’s more of a suggested practice that you can modify to your speed and space. The 5 AM Club sounds like your walking into a fancy seminar, on the contrary it’s a good old manual.

It’s tricky when it comes to reviewing self-help books because it may not be universally helpful. I enjoyed it for the many models he has put together that will serve me like Lego blocks, all available to me to mix and match and build a routine of my own. And you can do the same of course.

Here’s where I find a lot of readers apprehensive about being caught in the self-help section. It doesn’t mean that you are incapable of figuring yourself out. It’s just like trying on someone else’s clothes before you invest in your own. It never harms you to test out an idea; toss it aside if it doesn’t work for you. If you go through enough ideas, you’ll eventually know what combination works for you.

Here’s how I am going to use the learning from The 5 AM Club:

~ Select three models that can be accommodated into my current routine.

~ Test the remaining models for short periods of time to see if they’re relevant to my goals and habits.

~ Revisit models based on changes in goals or routine.

I’m going to keep this simple for now because this is the type of book that needs more than one read. It’ll stay with me over the coming years, I hope. I gave it a high rating for its practical and intelligible content. What are your thought on it, Dreamers?

Review: Life of Pi (Yann Martel)

Author: Yann Martel

Published: 2001

Language: English 

Genre: Fiction, Adventure, Drama

Rating: 3.5/5

There is only so much that you can believe when you read a book. When it comes to Life of Pi, you start listening (or reading, obviously) to his story with a sack of salt just like his audience at the end of the book. I almost wrote a spoiler here!

On second thought, most people must have already watched the movie, so I don’t know if I can spoil the book more than a movie can.

It took me the longest time to get to this book because it was too celebrated for my taste. The same goes for the movie; I haven’t watched it and I don’t know if I will. There will be an edit inserted here in the future if I ever watch it. Promise.

There were too many people reading and enjoying this book, without a single critical comment and it made me wonder if I am going to read it just to fault it. So I put off reading it for the longest time. To add to it, I refused to read anything but a copy with the original cover art. Movie-covers are something you shouldn’t get me started on. Yuck.

I took my time looking for the right copy and I made Goldilocks proud. When I finally owned the copy that felt¬†just right, I still didn’t want to read it. Three years later, I found myself looking for a book to take to Pondicherry. Et voil√†! The novel takes off from Pondicherry and I¬†had¬†to take it along, wouldn’t you?

I sat with my feet in the sand and I began reading, feeling glad that I was far removed from anyone who’d give me an uncalled-for book review. I finished 100 pages with ease and I must say I mostly read to know how it ended. You get used to his reality at a point when you suspend your disbelief and accept that is possible to last more than one day on a boat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and most surprisingly, a tiger.

There is also a point where I caught myself wondering if this is a work of fiction or a biographical account. Silly me. I reeled in my disbelief a little before continuing.

Overall, it tugged at my mind more than my heart. You can’t help but think about what you would have done in such an impossible situation. The Land of What Ifs is one that you can’t complete exploring; there are always new avenues opening the moment there is a shadow of a question.

I must say I haven’t read anything like it and that I was glad to have read it when I did. Also, hurrah for having completed writing a review within a year of reading the book. I have a long list of books with pending reviews. Doesn’t everyone?

 

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon)

Author: Mark Haddon

Published: 2003

Language: English 

Genre: Mystery, Family Drama, Murder Mystery

Rating: 4/5

Note: No Spoilers! Read Away!

Once in a while, I find a book that has perspective to offer. It’s not the kind of perspective that puts me in someone else’s shoes, but the kind that shows you a pair of shoes you didn’t know existed.

I didn’t know of Mark Haddon when I saw this book, but the title was a winner. It did all that a title is supposed to do: it made me stop, made me pick up the book, and I fell in love with the cover, too. As usual, I didn’t read the blurb until the moment I began reading the book, and I was in for a surprise.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time¬†isn’t a book written by Mark Haddon; the author is, in fact, Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old boy with ‘behavioural problems’, as he describes himself. There is no mention of what causes these problems, which leaves us to focus on Christopher and his narration.

I instantly fell in love with the way Mark Haddon paid attention to details to write a novel from Christopher’s perspective. At no point in the novel did I think of Haddon as the author; I believed in Christopher. The novel revolves around the murder mystery of the neighbour’s dog which makes Christopher write a book in order to solve it. There are other hairy details that I’ll leave you to read!

This child has an autism-spectrum disability that isn’t named in the whole novel, but you do get to understand the effects through Christopher’s eyes. He understands that he has special needs, but that he is smarter than other students with special needs in his class. He prepares for A-level exams in the book and describes concepts in Math that were beyond my capability. There are certain everyday interactions, like telling jokes or making small talk, that he can’t seem to carry out, but his analytical skills are incredible. The fact that he is aware of what he can and cannot do is most definitely my favourite bit about the book.

In addition, I forgot about his special needs as I read. It takes time to understand and settle into someone’s logic bubble, but once you do, you won’t notice the¬†differences like you did before. It is all a matter of making something so common that it doesn’t seem alien anymore. Christopher’s world felt unique, at first, because I had never experienced it, even though I do read up on learning and behavioural disabilities. It’s one thing to know the theory of it, but a whole other world of real experiences exists, and it’s too vast to be recorded.

Haddon has cleared out a space in the reading chamber of my heart, and he’ll be there to stay. I’ll be looking forward to more of his books and I hope this review has sparked an interest in you to give¬†The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time a shot!

[Photo Credits: Fictionographer <РClick here to view more of his amazing photostories!]

Review: Dream New Dreams (Jai Pausch)

Author: Jai Pausch

Published: 2012 

Language: English 

Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir

Rating: 4.5/5


A deeply moving memoir by the woman whose late husband, Randy Pausch, wrote ‘The Last Lecture’.


Reading non-fiction turned out to be a revealing experience for me. It shattered my misconception about non-fiction being hard to understand, difficult to process because there would be too many facts, and boring because that is the general idea of it.

Dream New Dreams contributed to my change in perception. It let me know that facts could be emotional, too, and that they count. Jai Pausch was her husband’s primary caregiver and she wrote this memoir after losing him in 2008. Four years later, Jai published her experience as a caregiver and how cancer takes a toll on not just the patient, but the people around them.

One of Randy’s favorite sayings was, “Plan for the worst; hope for the best.”

Jai and Randy weren’t a perfect couple; they were a couple that worked on themselves and on building their life, keeping all communication channels open. I gave the book a top rating because of the practical, realistic and raw nature of it. There are things Jai will tell you that are quite taboo in real life, but it’s true; she speaks of things that people think, but don’t say out loud. That resonated with me because I try to improve the way I communicate, constantly, and believe me, it’s an important thing to work on.

In their whole experience, first as a couple and then as a patient and caregiver, Randy and Jai discussed and presented all their ideas and thoughts on the table, no matter how hard it was to talk about something. The case in point here was Randy’s impending death and how they were to cope after they lost him.

Jai’s memoir is relevant to anyone who has ever had to do something for someone else, whether or not they wanted to do so. There is so much energy that is spent and not much of it visible to the onlookers. She documents her little wins and failures in the memoir, in terms of Randy’s health, bringing up their children and creating a space for conversations of loss and love.

It is not easy to lose someone, and it’s even worse when you know it’s going to happen, when you watch it as it happens. Staying rational among all that is what I think Jai and Randy did best. They set goals for now and later, explored options for the family and for Jai, and created a balance between accepting cancer and preparing for life after his death.

As a mother, Jai placed her children first, when it came to care and comfort, but she also moves on to self – care, which is very often neglected when you are a caregiver yourself. You refuse to accept at that point that you need some maintenance, too, and that it is alright to care for yourself or let someone care for you. Caregivers are considered pillars of strength, but pillars can crack and crumble as well, sometimes on the inside.

“Please don’t die,” I said to Randy when I hugged him onstage. “All the magic will go out of my life.” Because he was my magic man. Without him, I believed nothing special or fun would ever happen to me or to our children again.”

Magic didn’t exist for a while after he passed away, but I loved how Jai wrote about making your own magic and believing that you can do so, and that it is alright to do so. Their love for Randy makes my heart beat faster and offers more perspectives than I can manage to practice, but I try.

I read Dream New Dreams  hoping to understand the other side of an illness, but I ended up understanding more about how a family or a couple can function no matter what life throws at them; the best way is to leave channels of communication and emotions open, in order to acknowledge and attend to them.

I will be reading this over and over again, for the rest of my life.

Review: Papillon (Henri Charri√®re)

Author: Henri Charrière

Published: 1969 (This edition: 1970)

Language: French (translated to English by Patrick O’Brian)

Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir, Adventure, Autobiography

Rating: 3/5

Note: No Spoilers! Read Away!

I wish I could have read this book in French, and maybe someday I will. Nonetheless, I expect it will be a completely different experience dans la langue française!

This edition is 48 years old, totally crumbly and smells like history. I read it with such care, without eating or drinking anything around it, lest I mar its charm. I knew nothing of the book when I first bought it; I had faintly remembered someone saying something about the book being famous, and I liked the blurb, so I picked it up.

I must say it wasn’t too easy to read; it wasn’t a breeze, but more of a walk through a swamp. The extent of detail in the book is tremendous and left me overwhelmed. I think my poor knowledge of geography didn’t help my case, though the map at the beginning of the book helped a lot!

My interest was piqued because of the nature and circumstance of the author, Henri Charrière, who was, simply put, a criminal-turned-writer. He was wrongly incarcerated in 1931 for the murder of a member of the French underworld, but he did admit to his other crimes.

Charri√®re wrote¬†Papillon¬†(pronounced papi-yon)¬†in 1968, which was published a year later and went on to sell millions of copies worldwide. The title means ‘butterfly’ in French, of which¬†Charri√®re had a tattoo on his chest and it then became his moniker in prison. He was charged with life imprisonment, but he served a total of 13 years in prison, the experience of which is the story of¬†Papillon.

As usual, I won’t delve into the details of his experience, for that will defeat your will to read the book. I was most interested in and intrigued by his resilience and confidence when confronted with a life sentence in prison. He seemed to approach challenges the way you would a leaking tap – they could be overcome or solved. There aren’t signs of dejection throughout the book. Instead, you will find sparks of creativity and strokes of brilliance in the way¬†Charri√®re planned his escapes.

Moreover, I came to see this autobiography as an example of mind over matter and of how much one could be trained to withstand the toughest and harshest of situations. The French penal prisons were meant for convicts that would never be released back into society and for whom a decision of disposal had been made by the courts. There was no going back once you were incarcerated in one those prisons, yet this man attempted to escape multiple times. Read the book to find out what drove him to do so!

Papillon¬†faced a lot of criticism in terms of its authenticity on the part of Henri¬†Charri√®re. It has been contested by¬† journalists and authors, but that doesn’t change the narrative for me. The author claimed that it was true, except for a few possible lapses in memory and for the most part, I like to read books without frameworks attached to them, at least for the first time that I read them. The more research you do as a reader, the more it adds to the book and the experience of it, or it may even go south before you know it. So, I shall leave that discretion to you, fellow Dreamers.

For me, this book will always be about the ability of a human mind and body to adapt to any situation that presents itself, given that we have our wits about us and we never give a thought to losing hope or giving up. It is a show of moving forward and learning from your mistakes, something that I abide by in any role that I play.


Further Reading:

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henri-Charriere

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/1492895/Ex-convict-aged-104-claims-to-be-Papillon.html

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/inside-the-brutal-french-guiana-prison-that-inspired-papillon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papillon_(book)

 

Review: The Last Lecture (Randy Pausch & Jeffrey Zaslow)

Author: Randy Pausch & Jeffrey Zaslow

Published: 2008

Language: English

Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir

Rating: 4.5/5


January 3, 2016: I cried when he spoke about his wife and children, and I can’t recall the last time I did that. He couldn’t have been more frank and honest. Things he said still resonate in my mind and I am happy I read this now and not two years ago. I am satisfied that I own this book, too. I am at a point where I am deciding what to do with my life and I couldn’t have met Randy Pausch at a better time.


That’s the note I had written on a page at the end of the book and I was surprised to find it there because the effect of the book on me hadn’t changed. Maybe it will, if I keep re-reading it, who knows.

I used to cry while watching movies, reading books and listening to songs. Once I figured out why I do it, I stopped altogether. I used to cry because it seemed like protocol to display emotions while experiencing someone else’s documentation of it, but I never truly felt it; I’d cry because it was protocol.¬†This book makes me tear up and it’s beyond my control. It scares me when I get to the end of the book because Randy Pausch is no more all over again.

Like the note says, if I had read The Last Lecture two years prior to 2016, it would have been a completely different perspective. There were too many people around me that were reading the book in the year 2014; they discussed it and suggested it to people, one of them being me.

I was intrigued, but I was worried like I usually am about not enjoying a book that is¬†enjoyed by readers worldwide.¬†If it’s currently famous, I take some steps back and save reading that book for later. And there I was, two years later, with Randy Pausch waving to me from a shelf at a book fair. I took him home.

I gave¬†The Last Lecture¬†a 4.5 star rating. Why? What’s so awesome about it? Seriously?

To those questions, I say, “Read it to find something you think is awesome. Read it to relate to it on your terms. You can’t not relate to his words and experiences.”

There is a bit in the title of the book that I love:¬†lessons in living.¬†Pausch didn’t call them ‘life lessons’ nor did he make it sound Aesop’s Fables 2.0; a man dying of pancreatic cancer wrote lessons in living, what’s not to love about that? Gained any perspective yet? We’re still on the cover of the book.

The best part about his lessons is that you can select the ones you want to learn from or incorporate into your life, or just read; Pausch didn’t make any rules. He just wanted to leave behind bits of himself for his children to find and keep. Childhood dreams are what he thought made him unique, or rather his pursuit of them.

“Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

I have probably underlined half the book as I read it because there was so much that made sense to me. Pausch’s writing is like a voice speaking to you; it’s far from a silent text. The above quote is my absolute favourite. You need challenges and failures to help you understand how much you’re willing to get up and go after something. You have to want things enough to appreciate it when you finally get them.

I recommend this book to those who love reading as well as beginners. There is something for everyone, though his intention was initially to leave his experiences behind for his children, who were too young to remember anything when he passed.

“Not everything needs to be fixed.”

Pausch is clear about what he believes in and what he wants to work towards. Simplicity is key in his approach, with a few necessary quirky moves.

After I read this book, I came back a week later to re-read it because there was so much that I was suddenly aware of on a daily basis. That usually happens when you read a book, watch a movie or listen to a song too intently; you seem to notice things in a new light and sometimes, you even have a soundtrack to your epiphanies. It’s quite exciting, but it wears off once reality kicks in. This wasn’t the case once I read¬†The Last Lecture.

Here’s what I added to my repertoire:

  1. I will have failures and successes, but I need to focus on the experience of it all.
  2. I can either work on things or make them work for me; take it as it comes or stand armed.
  3. I set goals in order to able to achieve them, instead of shooting in the dark or shooting too much and running out of arrows aiming at the wrong target.
  4. I have finite time and energy, so I shall spend it wisely.
  5. Gratitude, honesty and hard work are as close to magic as I’ll ever get.

I know how to help myself now and it’s powerful. Pausch doesn’t stop there. He talks about moving from your dreams to helping someone else fulfill their dreams. As he lost his energy, he still looked for ways to give as much as he could or apologise when he had nothing left to give.

“My life will be lost to pancreatic cancer.”

Once you know exactly how much time and energy you have left, you begin to value it. Why not start today instead? Do the best you can, nothing more and nothing less.

I pass this suggestion to you, Dreamers. Read The Last Lecture on your terms. And then pass it on if you found any truth in it. I did.

 

Review: White Mughals [William Dalrymple]

Author: William Dalrymple

Originally Published: 2002 

Language: English

Genre: History, Narrative, Indian History

Rating: 4.5/5

Note: No spoilers here! Happy reading!

The stories we tell people about ourselves are called anecdotes or experiences. The moment the stories move back to a time we no longer belong to, it’s called history. It is made out to be distant and ancient; it is considered extremely important without anyone telling us why that is so.

My relationship with history has been rough, simply because there was too much pressure associated with it. As a student, you had to memorise dates and events, you had to know historical facts like you had lived through them and you had to make history repeat itself in the answers you wrote during examinations. I dreaded history because it felt foreign. It never felt like I was reading, or rather studying, something that was relevant to me. I have a good memory and I can commit dates, events and people to memory, but I would rather do it with a purpose in mind. History as a subject lacked that quality – purpose.

During my years at college, we had the Introduction to a book as a part of our syllabus, just the Introduction, and I thought it was quite bizarre. As far as I recall it, the purpose there was to help us understand Formalism, but it was still out of the ordinary to just have a teaser as a text. I read that text over and over and the more I read, the more I cared about what was written there.

The Introduction that I fell in love with was from White Mughals by William Dalrymple. You must have guessed that, right? I was just playing a game of stating the obvious. Humour me, Dreamers!

Up until I graduated, I had never looked at the book in its entirety. I just knew the Introduction and I knew I had to read the book someday. My curiosity arose from the fact that the story was set in Hyderabad, the city I live in. The fact that something scandalous had taken place more than 200 years ago in places I frequented was fascinating! I was sharing space with stories I couldn’t see and that’s magical in some way. It’s time travel through a stationery space.

White Mughals captures a romance that blended cultural, political and religious spaces, considered taboo in eighteenth-century India. James Achilles Kirkpatrick, a British Resident in Hyderabad, fell in love with Khair un-Nissa, a Muslim Indian princess and the great-niece of the Nizam’s Prime Minister, in the late eighteenth century.

That’s about as much of the story as you are going to get from this review. If that isn’t intriguing enough, read the blurb on the back of the book, take a peek at the Introduction while you contemplate purchasing it and to add to that, here’s why I recommend White Mughals to any human with a remote interest in reading:

  1. To witness sheer effort in terms of research and writing. Rummaging through archives, letters and documents, travelling to places seeking out a story and being able to write a book that justifies its length is a result of absolute and determined effort. You need to LOVE what you do in order to be able to do it in a way that draws people into it. I, a history-hating, fact-fearing, politically-pathetic human, was able to enjoy a historical narrative solely because of Dalrymple’s display of effortless effort. That’s smooth.
  2. To challenge yourself to try to read a book that may seem like it’s beyond your scope of reading. In my year of non-fiction, I realised that in the simplest sense, non-fiction is a real story; it’s a narration of experiences that exist in a particular time and space. 550 pages, including the Glossary and Notes, may seem like a brick just hit your face, but take it one chapter at a time and you will overcome the fear of trying something new or different. Length in a book doesn’t always equate to a voice droning on or intricate details that are meant for decoration; some stories deserve that length in a book and that space on a shelf and White Mughals is one of them.
  3. To understand that differences exist within cultures as well. There were rules for Kirkpatrick and Khair un-Nissa, rules that applied to their families and contemporaries, too, but they had their own reservations against the cultures they grew up within. The whole idea of cultures blending is evident in the title itself and it is real, no matter how much people choose to believe that they are pure in their cultural composition. This story is relevant 200 years later, for cultures are blending to give birth to new ones as I write this.
  4. To revisit and/or befriend history on the whole. I can’t believe that I have transformed, even now. I have failed in history as far as I can remember and it was a pain. Like I said, history as a subject lacked purpose, and now, history as a genre has opened up so many options for me to read and explore. Historical narrative as a part of Dalrymple’s style drew me into reading history like the story it actually is. It’s real. These events took place. They took place in the very city I live in and that was a lovely way to take a step towards finding a purpose in history.
  5. To be inspired to explore space and time, whether that is your own or someone else’s. Ever since I started visiting forts, I started having a certain feeling of curiosity when I walk into a new space. I wonder what could have possibly taken place in the same spot as I am standing then, I wonder about how many people take a sip of water simultaneously all over the world, I wonder about what colour the walls were before they were painted the colour I can see, and it goes on and on. What if we asked the same questions about the cities and countries we inhabit? It wouldn’t be a new thought, but we would be participating and contributing to history. Dalrymple escorts you through the spaces that were inhabited by noblemen and officials, all the while presenting the transformation and loss of these spaces over the years as well. He takes you through the door to the past and opens up a window to the present, and I loved those transitions in the book.

You won’t require these reasons if you know and follow Dalrymple’s work. I know now, and I seek his books out regardless of the topic or setting. There are certain authors that are able to convey their passion for their subjects through their writing styles and he is definitely one of them. It’s a quality I wish to imbibe when time comes for me to publish my writing.

If you’re a slow reader, don’t panic, just take it like a marathon and pace your reading. If you’re a fast reader, take a few breaks to recapitulate what you have read and go back and forth, if you have to, in order to experience the effect of the book.

Happy Reading!


Dear Mr Dalrymple,

If you’re reading this, thank you for writing and sharing what you know best. The element of calm and quiet in your books are like the moments when you stop the car, on your journey to somewhere, to walk through an empty field and you can hear every little sound around you, as well as the thoughts in your mind.

Yours sincerely,

Nandika.

Review: The Lowland (Jhumpa Lahiri)

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

Originally Published: 2013

Language: English

Genre: Literary Fiction, Culture, History, Family Saga

Rating: 3.5/5

Note: No spoilers here! Happy reading!

The Lowland written by Jhumpa Lahiri is a novel rooted in emotions, against the backdrop of the Naxalite Movement of the 1960s in West Bengal, India. The story of two brothers РSubhash and Udayan Рbound and separated, like two poles of a magnet, is about the conventions and contentions in a relationship between brothers, between husbands and wives and between parents and children.

In this review, I shall not be going into the details of the political and historical events as they hold no interest for me. I have understood it as a stimulus for Udayan’s character in the novel and I shall discuss it accordingly.

Lahiri writes without the sense of a hindrance in thought. I feel like The Lowland could be narrated and it would sound like a seamless flow of thought, ebbing only to make connections or to draw parallels.

The narration shifts points of view and is a non-stop relay, with characters changing positions and presence. The use of interior monologue is exquisite and I came to like the novel for the quality and range of language used in terms of vocabulary and imagery, as well as for the tone that an interior monologue brings to the story. The story itself could have been bland, in my opinion, but Lahiri’s style and structure carried me through to the last page.

Cadence is an element that appeals to me when a novel delves into the lives of the characters across decades. The rhythm is important because it’s essentially a long journey and not everything along the way is going to be significant. There are undertones and clues that come into play in a saga and we need to pick them up as we go, even if they don’t make sense right away.

One such clue is the metaphor that Lahiri creates with the lowland Рa set of two ponds that flood and form one water body in the monsoon. The two ponds symbolise Subhash and Udayan who look alike, but are different in their moral compositions; they complete each other and later contradict each other. They drift apart, but are brought together by circumstances that may or may not be in their control.

The imagery that Lahiri uses are inspired by the brothers’ childhood and culture and is used to create mental photographs that allow you to see through their eyes and in turn understand the nostalgia that results from it. There is this continual sense of longing – when the brothers are together, they long to find themselves or to find a purpose to fulfill and when the brothers are apart, they long to regain the identity they hold for each other and also bear a longing for the days that weren’t as complicated when they were growing up.

Gauri and Bela are the characters that stir up the past, each with their own purpose and offer links to what they have all left behind. They are able to ease that shift in time for the reader and the references keep details fresh. Gauri follows conventions and finally breaks free, whereas Bela, her daughter, is free from rules, for none are created for her. Bela brings with her a new realm of the relationship between parents and a child; the intimate brotherhood encouraged by their parents and Bela’s poor kinship create a stark contrast as proof for generation gaps.

The change of place – from India to America – also contributes to the sense of longing and belonging, to the change in lifestyle and values, to the sense of the unknown and mostly to the surge of emotions as the novel progresses.

The novel, for me, goes to show that no matter what age we are at, we need a sense of belonging, of love and of acceptance. Circumstances change, but that doesn’t mean they always bring out the best in us. There are a number of reality checks in the way the characters respond to these changes and it makes for a relatable read.

In addition, the outward expression of our inner selves – Subhash through his meticulous marine research in America and Udayan through his role in the turbulent Naxalite movement – is a key thread that runs throughout the story. There is only so much we can keep in and only so much that we can let out. At the end of the day, peace comes from being able to accept yourself, for yourself.