Books: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

HomegoingHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing” explores the slave trade and its impact over the generations from the 18th-century British Gold Coast colony to modern-day Ghana. Each chapter in this ambitious novel is from the point of view of one of the descendants of half-sisters and the stories are linked by a pendant passed down by families. Highly recommended.

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Books: A Garden of Earthly Delights by Joyce Carol Oates

A Garden of Earthly Delights (Wonderland Quartet, #1)A Garden of Earthly Delights by Joyce Carol Oates
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was my first Joyce Carol Oates novel and it’s a difficult read beginning with the lives of “white trash” migrant farmworkers in the United States. Teenager Clara somehow escapes this depressing life and finds herself torn between her unreliable saviour Lowry and lover Curt Revere. Her son Swan cuts a tragic figure. Protagonist Clara is a strong yet almost unlikeable character in a novel that takes a harsh look at the difference between the social classes. I would have given it more stars and it probably isn’t Oates’ fault, but Swan’s story in the third part just didn’t resonate with me.

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Books: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Anne of Green GablesAnne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished this just in time for the new Netflix series based on the 1908 novel by Canadian author L. M. Montgomery. Anne, the red-haired orphan girl who doesn’t stop talking, moves to Green Gables farm in the fictional Canadian town of Avonlea. Her vivid imagination and charming quirks eventually win over anyone she meets. This is a heartwarming novel – for readers young and old – about Anne’s journey through the joys and sorrows of life. Recommended.

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Books: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers For AlgernonFlowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a disturbing novel about a man with a low IQ becoming a human test subject for an experimental surgery that turns him into a genius. Does this make Charlie Gordon happier? Written as a series of diary entries by Charlie, with grammar and clarity of thought improving in each entry, the reader is given heartbreaking insight into the treatment of the mentally disabled. Now I need to read something that will cheer me up.

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Books: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

The Name of the RoseThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The Name of the Rose”, the first novel by Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco, is a 14th century whodunit set in an Italian monastery. Franciscan friar William of Baskerville (yes, he shares several characteristics with Sherlock Holmes) and his assistant Adso are tasked by an Italian monastery’s abbot to investigate the deaths of monks dying mysteriously. The novel, peppered with Latin quotes, is replete with accounts of the philosophical and religious disputes of the time and heresies associated with the fraticelli (extreme proponents of Saint Francis). Hardly a novel to appeal to the average modern reader – but give it some time and Eco’s masterful plot and the overwhelming sense of fear and gloom will make this worth your while.

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Posted in heresies, historical whodunit, Italy, murder mystery, Roman Catholicism, The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco | Leave a comment

Kolkata

Wherever I went in Kolkata, they mistook me for a Bengali. In the bus, standing passengers asked me “Kothay jabe?” (Where will you go?) and I would answer “Esplanade” and they, knowing I wasn’t giving up my seat anytime soon, would go back to discussing politics or whatever else they were discussing with such fervour.

As I walked down Park Street, a passer-by asked me something and I shook my head to indicate that I had no idea what he was talking about. That I didn’t live here. That I was here on a three-day whirlwind tour of the British capital of India — a title Kolkata lost in 1911 to New Delhi, the city I consider home and where I have lived for much of my life.

In most respects, Kolkata is like any other Indian city. Glitzy malls, apartment blocks, offices and rush-hour traffic. A new metro under construction. And an old one that runs just fine. Yellow Ambassador taxis clash with blue buses. Kerbstones, signages and neon lights everywhere in blue-and-white, the colours of the ruling Trinamool Congress.

But hand-drawn rickshaws abound and heritage trams still run, sputtering to a stop when a car, cow or a pedestrian encroaches onto the tracks. I didn’t spot any of the road rage so common in Delhi. A scooterist banged into a car and the driver — a woman — stepped out to inspect the damage, made a few gestures and let loose a volley of what sounded to me like rosogulla missiles. The language sounded so sweet I couldn’t really make out if she was angry.

Like most tourists, I settled for the tried-and-tested, the best of what Kolkata had to offer, instead of seeking out “City of Joy” squalor. The not-to-be-missed list included the Victoria Memorial, Thakurbari (the ancestral home of Rabindranath Tagore where to my surprise the humble cabbage occupies pride of place in the garden), St. John’s Church, the Black Hole monument, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Prinsep Hall and Kolkata’s version of the Golden Gate bridge over the Hooghly river, the High Court, Park Street, College Street, Potter’s Lane, Big Ben, and the Dakshineshwar temple (where my belt buckle broke and I clutched my jeans for dear life).

And I ate. Chelo kebabs at Peter Cat, a sumptuous feast at Bhojohori Manna, mandatory desserts at Flurys (over-rated) and Nahoum’s, biryani from Aminia and Arsalan, the jalmuri at Hogg market, cold coffee at the Indian Coffee House, and the poochka (when we chanced upon a cart somewhere in the city).

It was in Kolkata that I broke open a door like a Bollywood hero (took six-seven tries though) when my friend got stuck in a bedroom after the door handle fell off. A day later, my friend rescued me from a lizard. So we are even.

My friend’s sister made jalmuri for me and I ate it by the handful until it was all gone. Asking for a third helping would have been rude. I passed the time playing countries-and-capitals with my friend’s teenage nephew, trying to trip him up with Tegucigalpa and Bamako, and discovered that he’s as good as I was in school. I need to brush up on Africa though and hope for a rematch.

As for Kolkata, I’ll be back. Probably the only thing I didn’t like about it was the 62-storey eyesore under construction on Chowringhee Road, a skyscraper climbing into the sky from the heart of the city. The times they are a-changin’.
 

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Books

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not everyone wants to read a book about dying. But this is a remarkably gripping book about a man who faces death and focuses on life instead. Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi died of lung cancer at the age of 37. This inspiring memoir was published posthumously. Highly recommended.

DryDry by Augusten Burroughs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a lot to be said for a writer who made a teetotaller enjoy a book about an advertising executive in rehab for alcohol addiction. This dark yet funny memoir tells it like it is, chronicling the gay protagonist’s search for love, friendship and a normal life. Recommended. View all my reviews

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