Monday, February 26, 2018

#601 : The Fragile Thread of Hope by Pankaj Giri - A Review


It is not often that one comes across a book so well written technically yet finds it difficult to like it. I've been reading books since I was 6 and been writing about them on public platforms for the past 5 years. There have been just a handful of times when I struggled to give a rating and justify it. The whole concept of rating some human's effort is such a hard thing to do. This book left me wanting to pull out my hair - I couldn't decide upon a rating. I settled for a three star writing. I hope to justify it below.

The writing and characterization - These are two things which forms the base of any story apart from the story itself. The writer managed to get one of this perfect and the other almost perfect. The writing was just perfect. I literally fell in love with Teesta river. Exploring north east has been on my bucket list for long, reading this story made me want to be there. Places and people came alive in his writing. The characterization was almost perfect, barring one minor flaw in one character - Fiona - I couldn't really digest that she didn't grow out of that shell she went into sooner. However, this writer must have had his own convictions to do so. Overall, very fluid and beautiful writing.

The Story - This is where my problem lies. The story was a good one. Writing a story around death is not an easy thing to do. When emotions are in play, logic might as well be thrown out of the window. What matters is the sequence of events as such. It is understandable that the story is more character and emotion-centric given the theme, but after a point it was quite easy to predict what was coming next. It felt like yet another old movie where two people are joined by their fate. It is hard to explain much without giving away the plot, yet I am trying my best. Towards the end, I felt as if the writer had to resort to certain cliches to give the story an ending. The common solution to a conflict might not essentially be a best one. It is not always necessary to tie down everything with a beautiful ribbon in the end. That's really why I broke my head over the rating. The story had nothing really wrong with the climax as such but it was something I didn't really like. The writer - whose words seem to be almost magical - could have chosen differently, but he did what he thought was best and I didn't like it. Simple.

It is book worth picking up in spite of the cliched story line.

Note - The book was a review copy from the writer in exchange for a honest review.

Friday, February 16, 2018

#600 : I'm Not From Around Here by Ishai Klinowsky : Book Review


I'm not from around here is a memoir of a Jewish man whose family survived the World War II. It typically reads like the diary with sequence of events which moves on from generation to generation with each set of characters slowly fading out of relevance as the generation progresses. The denominator in such memoirs have always been the torture methods used and the impact it had on the person's psychology. This book was slightly different in that aspect for me as it was a diary which focused more on resilience rather than failures.

The author traces the journey of his mother from surviving a labor camp to being married twice breaking cultural norms. The author also talks about his father and step father - both of them ended up getting arrested for smuggling cars into the country. The rest of the story is how the family survives in spite of ending up in different places.

The narration is surprisingly from a young version of the writer. However, there were multiple POVs in some place which really didn't work in favor of the memoir in general. Given the diary itself is spread across generations there were too many characters which really didn't seem of consequence once this generation faded.

I jumped at the chance to read this book primarily at the mention of Israel. I've not read a single account by an Israeli about the war. I expected the narration from a middle aged man. It was uncharacteristic of a memoir to be narrated by a young boy. I could connect quite well with the story and the underlying emotions as the tone of the narrator is quite young.

Note : Received the book as a part of b00k r3vi3w Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, February 5, 2018

#599: ¡Buenos días! - Spain Diaries - The People

A nation's culture resides in the heart and soul of its people remarked a very learned man from my country - Mahatma Gandhi.

The people of Spain are quite friendly, warm, passionate and generally do not indulge in racism unlike their other European counterparts who are notoriously famous for being racist. Of the 72 days I've been here, there was just one instance where we catcalled for being brown and Asian. Right from the receptionist and the janitor in the hotel where I stay, to random strangers on lifts, colleagues from work, people in super markets and restaurants, are quite friendly. They always greet you with polite hello (¡Hola! or ¡Bueno!) or the wishes appropriate for the time of the day (¡Buenos días! - Good Morning, ¡Buenas noches! - Good night). Immaterial of the gender, the age, the color or the creed, they go on wishing with a smile. This is one thing I wished my hometown learnt. Yet again, people are different and cities are different.

Physically, it is near to impossible to stereotype a Spaniard. The features are all mix - Tall, short, bearded, blondes, blue eyed, black haired and what not. This can be  attributed to a fact that Spain has a very rich history in terms of the DNA make up. This is bound to happen as the country was conquered, invaded, influenced and ruled by various kinds of people including the Vikings, the Arabs, the Jews and the Catholics. Every town I visited at least had a mix of two cultures as a part of their history.

Madrid's Sol square. Teeming with people - Taken weeks before Christmas

One thing that scares me a bit is the intensity and passion of these people - again attributed to their genetic make up. It is a bit unnerving to watch a very jovial person turn all red and intense when they are conversing on certain topics which mean a lot to them. There was this one instance where a Spaniard I work with disagreed with me on a technical topic we were discussing. The discussion quickly went south and I decided not to indulge in an argument. It took that person quite a while to come back to the normal and talk to me like before. Witnessed "Intensity" first hand. There were several instances with several other different people who went from being laid-back to serious in fraction of seconds when touched upon certain subjects including that of Catalonia - a topic I have very limited knowledge and literally no opinion.

Madrid however, seems to be a melting pot of cultures. There are a lot South Americans from Cuba, Argentina, Venezuela to name. Though they share same language with the Spanish people, they seem to have a slightly different accent - evident even to a person who doesn't know Spanish. Immaterial of the accent and dialect, they also seem to be as intense as Spaniards.

One thing I truly love about the Spanish people in general is their sense of equality. Men and Women are equal. It is apparently characteristic of the people to not bat an eye to the vagaries of women folks. Being from a country where public displays of affection (of any kind) is quite frowned upon, this culture was mildly shocking - in a good way though. Initially I was quite jumpy when my male colleagues touched me to call me. That never does happen back home. You simply don't touch a woman who is not your wife or daughter or sister. Much to my utter shock (initially again), it is customary here to kiss people to wish them or greet them. I always thought it was only the French who believed in kissing. Turns out, the Spanish are no different. I was just a bundle of nerves all during the Christmas and New Year season. Yet again, I strongly believe in adapting. Different country, different culture - different customs. It was one learning experience. I concluded strongly that this kind of a gender indifference is probably what paved way to equality. It is also not surprising to note that the culture has embraced all sexual orientations quite well.

One aspect of the culture that I would not wish to comment upon is the sense of commitment. Yet again, my Indian upbringing refuses to really let me adapt to notion that a man and woman can live together, have kids without being married.  To me, that kind of a relationship cannot be dissected and debated until one has first hand experience.

At the end, it all boils down to one simple golden rule - When in Rome, be a Roman. Adapting is the key. It is important to respect the culture and way of life of other humans. When you are being treated with respect, I don't think it is difficult to reciprocate.

Note : I've steered clear of talking about the food. The Spanish cuisine deserves a post of its own.

The other topic I have not touched upon is Literature and books in general. That's a work in progress because literally everything is in Spanish and I need to obverse and converse with people to understand about that.