Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What I've been reading lately...

Have been a lazy blogger this year so haven't blogged at all about the several wonderful books I read this year. A quick summary of recently read and thus top of mind books:

Basharat Peer - Curfewed Night - a memoir set in Kashmir of the '80s onwards. The book is a series of anecdotes from various people in Kashmir impacted by the militancy and the army crackdown, following along Basharat's own life from his school days to his studing at college in Aligarh, his career as a journalist in Delhi and his eventual return to Kashmir. I read this for the book club and found myself quite emotional by the end of it. I couldn't decide whether he wanted this to be a journalistic account or whether he wanted to make a point. In fact, I couldn't figure out what he himself felt about the events in Kashmir, whether he sympathized with the militants or the Indian army...At one point in the book his parents are almost killed by a bomb thrown by the miliants and while he is shocked and grieved at the fact, he doesn't really express any anger against them. In a way, I felt his lack of a point of view, either way, robbed the book of depth for me. At the same time, possibly he and most others like him, are highly ambiguous in what they feel towards the militants, the Indian army( well, maybe less ambiguity there), the dream of a free Kashmir and the help/ threat from Pakistan. It's so much easier for those of us who can have black and white views on the major events, possibly because we have not been caught up in them, willy nilly.

Alexander McCall Smith - the entire Mma Ramotswe series, set around a detective agency in Botswana. Again a gently ruminative series, like his Isabel Dalhousie books, pondering on the many small conundrums of life rather than the big 'mystery' as the genre typically pursues. Interesting, gentle characters lead the stories and their ltitle quirks and foibles just make them the more endearing - could certainly relate to Grace's love of shoes!

Indu Sundaresan - The Feast of Roses. Beautifully written, like The Twentieth Wife, and highly evocative of royal life in the Mughal period. Intricately detailed and beguiling, it was a great peek into the mind and life of Noor Jehan, the way that her life panned out, the great love that she and Jahangir shared, her struggle for power in the palace, and how she ended up competing against her own niece, Mumtaz Mahal, for power and ascendancy. The Mughal court was reconstructed in fabulous detail and it took me a while to come out from there and back into the real world. Now looking forward to reading The Shadow Princess...

Alex Rutherford - A Kingdom Divided, Brothers at War and Ruler of the World. I really enjoyed the first two books - again a great peek into Indian history and some of its rulers. The story of Humayun was interesting - a mystic, opium-addict, who frittered away his father's legacy for several years, caught in fratricidal wars and his own weird beliefs - like different colours for different days of the week, or different days of the week for trasacting different kinds of business. It was also a very detailed look at the life and times that prevailed, and great follow-ups to raiders of the North which detailed Babur's life. However, Ruler of the World was a real letdown. Akbar has always been known as one of the greatest Mughal kings, if not Kings in general, for a variety of reasons, ranging from his ability to temper aggression with justice to his skilful compromising which led to a vast network of allies and put a halt to internecine warfare. His domestic administration was as well thought out and wise as his foreign policy, and of course his broad outlook on religion was highly unusual. However, in this book, almost the entire focus was on Akbar's poor relationship with his sons, especially Jahangir, and his lack of empathy as a father and his fractured relationship with Salim's mother. It was a real let down for the reader and a let down of Akbar himself, who surely deserved a broader framework. In despair, I turned to Abraham Eraly's Emperors of the Peacock Throne, where I found a much more well-rounded picture of Akbar and his reign.

Walter Isaacson - Steve Jobs. I had never been a big user of Apple products, having acquired an iPod just last year, but somehow when Steve Jobs died, it really hit me hard. I felt like a hugely brilliant mind and a truly intelligent innovator had been extinguished, so we were very happy to get this book as a prize at the Pub Quiz. Let me say at the outset that it was painstakingly researched - unfortunately, the pain shows in the writing. I wish the book had been a little more peppy and zesty as befitting Steve Jobs. But it was a very thorough biography and painted a true picture of the man, warts and all. There were so many angles to him that left me thinking hard, from his reaction to having been adopted to his own relationship with his kids, the way he befriended people and yet stayed detached, almost ruthlessly so...Clearly a very complex genius, whose real strength lay in his ability to visualize what people wanted to be able to do and then connect the dots with technology.

Philippa Gregory - various...highly detailed, and yet emotional and evocative accounts of women who stayed behind the scenes and yet played major roles in English and European politics in the middle ages.

Jean Plaidy - The Queen's Husband. A fictional biography of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, and their life together. He came from a small principality in Germany, and yet was brought up to be very correct and had a huge sense of noblesse oblige. In contrast, though Victoria was the only heir in England, she was brought up in a much more haphazard manner. The relationship between the two was deep and loving, and her image to the contrary, Victoria was a highly passionate and emotional young women. Under Albert's influence, she learned to put country above her own emotions. Yet they had a fascinating relationship as he was never crowned King and was just a consort, while she had grown up knowing she would rule. Jean Plaidy does her usual excellent justice to both characters and their milieu including the ups and downs of English politics of the time.

Elif Shafak - 40 Rules of Love. My first by this author and am going to head for more. A lovely juxtaposition of the modern-day humdrum and safe life of a housewife in the US with the lively and exciting love of Rumi the poet and Shams Tabriz, a sufi dervish, in the 13th century. Brilliantly written, it took me right to the heart of Rumi's household in the middle east and the whole cast of characters who populate his and Shams' story. Told from the points of view of the various characters who inhabit the stories, it's a great insight into sufism as well as a thought provoking read.

Julian Barnes - The sense of an Ending. Not quite sure where I am with this book. On the one hand, I found the concept of looking back at life fascinating - it's almost like you never know who you are because your own history eventually becomes a story you told yourself and others. So when you go back and confront multiple perspectives or find other people's parts of your story, suddenly the narrative gets deconstructed and you're back to square one. On the other hand, I didn't understand the fuss and the Man Booker part of it...

Currently reading and loving Kunal Basu - The Yellow Emperor's Cure

No comments: