Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter

October 14, 2010

The nobel for literature will be awared to Mario Vargos Llosa. I had not read a single book of this author. Though, a friend had recommended me this author when i told him that i liked Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Thanx to him, at least i had heard of Vargas Llosa.
Googled for books authored by him and found this title interesting: Aunt Julia and the Script Writer. Thanx to the good old Eloor Library books that one wants are not hard to find.

The book has two stories that are interwoven. The main story is about Mario and his aunt Julia. The scriptwriter, Pedro Camacho’s story is interwoven in their story.  Mario works for radio station as a news editor. His aunt Julia, from Bolivia, is a divorcee and is on the look out for  prospective grooms.  She likes movies and asks Mario to join her.  He starts liking her and eventually falls in love.  He cannot marry legally because his age is <21.  The family is against their affair. The rest of the story is about how they manage to get married and also pacify family members, especially Mario’s  father.  I found their search for a Mayor who would bend the rules to get them married very interesting.

Pedro Camacho’s serials are already popular in Bolivia. He is hired by the radio station that Mario works for. His serials become popular here (Lima, Peru) too. He is asked to pen more serials. Pedro ends up spending entire days at his typewriter keying stories. This takes a toll on him. He starts losing memory. The characters in his serials get mixed up. They even die  and resurface later.  Eventually, things get so botched up that he is admitted to a mental hospital. The book closes with Pedro having lost his memory completely.  He is now working as a peon with employers who ill treat him.

In between chapters (there are 20) there are stories that at first seemed disconnected and irrelevant to the main story. But actually they are stories of the serialised plays that Pedro Camacho has written. They also reflect the gradual memory loss of  Pedro Camacho.  Most main characters in these stories are aged 50, have aquiline nose, broad for head, deep eyes.  For more information, i recommend the interview of Mario Vargos Llosa on BBC.


December 8, 2009

I saw the movie yesterday. Its different but not extraordinary. The make up man deserves the award. One wonders how he can be made to look so different. AB is pretty tall in real life but it does’nt show up in the movie. Ofcourse, he looks taller than other students but not as much. The film is 2hrs20min but it does’nt drag.
Vidya Balan looked and acted like a mom. Arundhati Nag played the role of Vidya’s mom deservedly. AB ofcourse did great but i wonder if Kamal Hassan could have done better. Abhishek …could he have done better. Paresh Rawal had barely any scope in the story. He was truly wasted.
The music and background score is typical Illayaraja. Those who have seen old south indian movies would find barely anything new. Even the sounds are the same…Though i have’nt seen many southy movies or know as many songs i could reconise one telugu song..” akasham yenatido anuragam anatide..”
On the whole its a good movie and worth watching once.  But will it be a crowd puller? I doubt.

Sanskrit and Plutonium

July 31, 2009

Everyone who remembers chemistry at school knows the periodic table. And has atleast heard of Mendeleev, the Russian chemist who came with the idea of arranging the elements in the form of table. His table had only those elements that were known at that time (1860’s). However, Mendeleev’s genius lay in the fact that he not only guessed that there were more elements to be discovered but also indicated their positions in the periodic table. It is important to note that Mendeleev arranged the elements in the periodic table based on their atomic mass. (The modern table is arranged based on atomic numbers) To name the new elements, that didn’t exist then, he borrowed some words from Sanskrit. Apparently. his friends Otto was teaching Sanskrit in St. Petersburgh Univ.. Thanx to his influence, Mendeleev got interested in Sanskrit and found a way of using it.  He learnt that Eka, Dvi, Tri meant one, two, three.  He named the missing element that had to be in the row after Boron as EkaBoron; meaning that this element should be one element after Boron.  Other missing elements named similarly were EkaAluminum, DviTellurium, TriManganese and many more.  These elements were later found and renamed as Gallium, Polonium, Rhenium, respectively. This and much more about Plutonium, Uranium, the atomic bomb,  and lots of science is described in an interesting way in the book ‘Plutonium, History of the worlds most dangerous element’ by  Jeremy Bernstein.

gladwell and heart disease

July 12, 2009

First i chanced upon the article in the scientific journal ‘nature’ about Indians being vulnerable to heart disease because of their genes (read here about it). Soon after, again by chance, i read something which basically said indicated that genes had little to do with heart disease(read here about it). And now i read in Gladwell’s book, ‘Outliers’ that being a part of a community where there is healthy social interactions and having a good family life guaranteed a life free from heart problems. One can call it a coinicidence that i stumbled across all three articles one after another in a short period of time.  However, as the old  turtle in ‘Kungfu Panda’ says “there is no coincidence”.

Talking of Gladwell, i have read his ‘tipping point’ and ‘blink’ as well.  Gladwell basically takes up on one question and answers  it by giving different examples. Actually, he comes to the answer in the first example itself.  The remaining ones are more like substantiating the answer arrived at in the first example.  They many examples are actually an overkill to prove a point.

So here is my suggestion:

Read any one chapter…if you have got the point he is making leave the book.  Unless you have the time and patience to digest the overload of examples suggesting essentially the same thing.

‘Outliers’  basically tries to prove that exceptional people in all fields art, science, sports etc. have put in extraordinarily large amount of hardwork to get where they are.  If you need proof that hardwork pays OR if you want to know what hard work means or how much one needs to work then this is your book.

Carrot and eyes

July 8, 2009

Eating carrots is good for eyes?!  It is a myth. Though i never needed to test this hypothesis, i did think it to be true. Until, i read about the origin of that myth in the book ‘electric universe’ by David Bodanis.

Apparently, during  world war-II the British developed radars that could detect air planes long before they could reach the targets. This was unknown to the  German pilots who were always taken by surprise. It was during this time that the British government encouraged alternate stories of their ability to see the airplanes at long distances.   The newspapers carried leaked  reports that eating carrots enhanced vision to such an extent that one see accurately even at night!  The author supposes  that the story that carrots were good for eyes had its roots in these rumours.

What i talk about when i talk about running?

June 15, 2009

I decided to go for a hike to Maisan Tapsa. Tapsa is the temple on Maisan mountain. The journey from Seoul is nearly 4 hours. Which means i had a lot of time in the bus. I wanted to read a book that would be right for a temple-trek mindset.

Haruki Murakami is not the name that is commonplace in India. Well atleast not in Bangalore and definitely not in the circles that i moved in.  But there are so many of his books in all of Seoul’s book stores. I picked this book because it was thin (just 180 pages) and the size too was smaller than the regular novel. The things written on the back side of the book mentioned that it had bits of philosophy and was semi-autobiographical. I like biographies and curiosity about what a non-professional runner could say about running and that too in the biographical sense sold me on the book. I liked the book.

I would say its good company if you are on a journey all by yourself. Even otherwise its a good book for the so many non-professionals like him who run(actually jog) now and then. They would probably identify with him at different times through the book. However, Murakami seems to me an exceptional non-professional runner. By no measure is he that common man who would run/jog occasionally. He has been running more or less consistently for over 30 years and long distances ( >6 miles a day).  He has participated in innumerable races and finished them.  He got bored of running and so switched over to triathlon. If you are like me you wouldn’t know what a triathlon is. Its three events in one: swimming (in the sea!)+cycling+running. What!  And this guy is doing the triathlons consistenly for more than the past 5 years! Definitely, you are not the common runner Mr. Murakami.

However, the book makes interesting reading.  Its about how Murakami took to running  and how it helps him in writing and in living. Its not a how-to on running but its about Murakami running…about his transformation from a nightclub owner to a novelist. About how he trained for events (races). Especially interesting and unbelievable is the narration on the 62 mile marathon (in a day!) and also his first marathon between Athens and Marathon.

It  does have tips on what goes into making a novelist. Reminded me of Stephen King’s suggestions in his book on writing.   It does get boring sometimes when he becomes self-critical (repeatedly and repetitively).  The book, as the author claims to be, is honest and possibly one of the reasons that one may like it.  I liked the lines when he talked about his wife.  For instance, ” …And my wife, waiting at the finish line, didn’t discover some unpleasant truth about me. Instead, she  greeted me with a smile. Thank Goodness. ”  Wish he had talked about her more. It ends with Murakami still running and looking forward to participating in more triathlons.
This book is a translation. The english is kept simple but could it be made more interesting? or is the translator short of vocabulory…

Lost Salinger

August 25, 2007

I had just begun to understand the style and line of thought of Salinger. I even enjoyed reading the Laughing Man as a story. I also noticed that Salinger’s descriptions of the way people stood or sat were repetitive. Such as: his hands in his hip pockets, she crossed her long legs, uncrossing her legs.  After all there only finitely many ways that someone could sit or stand. And there is something going into and out of the pocket in almost every story.  But did he describe facial expressions?…mmm… less so, not anything that struck me. ‘Just before the war with Eskimos’ was good reading but i did’nt quite understand the connection between the title of the story and the story.  ‘For Esme-with love and squalor’ was both interesting and crisp. And then i started ‘Pretty mouth and Green my eyes’ while on the subway to Itaewon and lost interest and patience. The gray haired man remains without a name even half way through the story which is where i had to get down to shop.  The story had yet to take shape and meaning.  I shopped, had coffee and was at the station when i realised that i had lost the book. I ran back to the ticket counter and the coffee shop but in vain. 

The book chose to stay away from an unappreciative reader. The stories of Salinger have to be reread to get to know the characters, the circumstance and the underlying theme. I came across this link which has short summaries of each story and praises almost everyone of them. For instance it has this to say about ‘Just before the war with Eskimos’, “Rich in metaphor, this piece is as much allegory as short-story. With significance instilled in every word, and symbolism stacked upon symbolism, it demands a slow and careful read”    

Not my cup of tea.

But there is a lingering quality to his stories.

There is this site where pages of Salinger’s collection can be read online.

Nine Stories

August 15, 2007

I had once tried to enjoy reading ‘Catcher in the Rye’ but in vain. I knew his work was highly acclaimed and few of my friends were all praise for him. Then, i had neither the time nor inclination to appreciate classics. But now i can spare the weekends and have even bought Nine stories.
I rushed through the first story, ‘A perfect day for bananafish’, just 18 pages, but at the end of it was left wanting. Put it simply, this story is about Muriel and her husband Seymour. The war has affected Seymour. While Muriel seems to be sure of his recovery her mother is anxious. Meanwhile, Muriel is on the beach and seems to like conversing with the girl Sybil. He tells her a story about the bananafish. The bananafish like bananas and once they get into the hole that has bananas they hog and fatten. Fatten so much that they die in the hole unable to get out it. Seymour then returns to the hotel. Muriel is asleep on one of the beds. He sits on the other and shoots himself.
What does one make out of this story? Frankly, if i had not known the author i would have put this book off. But then i took a second chance.
The second story, ‘Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut’ didn’t help me either.  I take the help of Google and find this site which puts the stories in perspective. It appears to me, the stories did’nt come to Salinger as Stephen King (see ‘On writing’) would have liked it.  He builds the stories to portray his view of the world, which to me seems pessimistic. I quote from the site, ‘Salinger believes that we are all subject to cruel twists of fate…’.  I will read the other 7 stories but now i am sure they will be depressing. (they were not as u will find here)
What this book needs, atleast to help lay readers like me, is a good introduction.

The Cry of the Magpies

August 11, 2007

I was looking for Korean literature in English. Its a library meant for technical books, of which there are plenty, but it does have a few cupboards of novels in Korean. I scraped through and found this lone novella. I was delighted because it fulfilled my requirement of being short. Its a collection of two stories by Kim Dong-Ni and is just 86 pages! My labmates tell me that he was a well known writer.

Bong-su, the protagonist, is off to serve the army behind leaving his poor mom and sister Ok-nan. Like other villagers she held the belief that the magpie crying in the morning would bring guests home.  Every morning the magpies would usually cry and she hoped that her son would return. Days turn to months and a year or so later he returns. Was he relieved or did he cook up an excuse to get relieved is something that is revealed later. Infact the story goes back and forth as it unfolds.

Bong-su had come home thirsting for his love, Jeong-sun. She loved him too but now was married to Sang-ho. He had convinced her that Bong-su had got killed in the war and even prouced a notice saying so. Bong-su pleads with her to start life afresh. She is willing to be with Bong-su but lacks the courage to leave the family. She has child from Sang-ho. Bong-su too, is frustrated and the story ends in a question mark. But not yet. Yeong-suk, Sang-ho’s sister is Ok-nan’s friend and possibly secretly likes Bong-su…And when he heads into the forest frustrated over Jeong-sun, she follows him….”please dont kill yourself, i will give you my love, i will do anything for you, if only i can assuage your grief.

Next moment she was in my arms…just then i heard the magpies cawing…Slowly i lowered my handsonto her chest…The next moment my two hands were pressing her tender neck down against the ground.” Those are the last lines of the story.  The cry of the magpies in the evening is believed to foretell the arrival of death.

The story is tragic and lingers in your mind long after being read.  Infact it grew with time.  Bong-su and Jeong-sun could have eloped but the author prefers to keep that possibility unanswered…I think thats how he builds the lingering effect, keeping ends open in a story. 

Wisdom song: the life of Baba Amte

January 28, 2007

Baba Amte is a familiar name in
Maharashtra, atleast.  As a kid I had imagined him to be somekind of a social reformer, somebody like Raja Rammohan Roy as taught in school history books.  That he wore a kamarpatta to support his spine was also common knowledge, but nothing more had I known about him.  So when I chanced upon this book at the library I borrowed after getting impressed in the quick browse.  The photograph of Prakash Amte (Baba’s son) with pet leopards brought to my mind Dr. Purnapatre about whom I will talk elsewhere.  The book fully appeased my thirst to know about Baba Amte: his life and works. 

Born 26th December 1914, Baba lives on at Anandawan near
Nagpur.  He donned many roles from ascetic-brahmachary to lover, a major contributor in eradicating leprosy-atleast the fear it, savior of rivers, valleys, wild life and tribals, educationist and above all a humanist.  Sane Guruji seems to have a profound impression on him.  (It was shocking news for me when I read that Sane Guruji commited suicide-as it happens with most who are ahead of time.)  Baba was successful in most of his endeavors.  He has also won national (Padma Shri, Padma Vibhushan…) and international (UN human rights prize, Ramon Magsaysay award…) recognition and has among his friends the Dalai Lama.  Among his setbacks the Narmada Bachao Andolan stands out.  

Sadhan Tai is the woman behind his success-the author, Neesha Mirchandani brings this out quite clearly in the book.  Baba, however, likes to call himself a mad son of a mad mother.  His trait of taking inspiration from ordinary-daily life heroes and heroines, he acquired from his mother. Once Baba’s mother asked him to invite a Gulab Qadir, a muslim, for lunch.  The story goes….there was a mad woman who roamed about the place stark naked.  She took bath and breast feed her baby in a public place.  Many lustful eyes would fall on her but no one dared to touch her.  Gulab Qadir, the big muslim man, with a kerchief over his head, kept guard for her a distance away.  He saw the mother in her….She wanted Baba to like Gulab Qadir, a jitendra (one who has conquered his senses).  Many such anecdotes from Baba’s life make the book interesting read.  All of Baba’s family members and their views find mention in the book.  His sons actively supported Baba’s cause and even his grand children are not averse to work towards the many institutions that have sprung under his umbrella.  The cover photograph of the book is one of those with which your attraction grows with time.  This is typical of photographs of spiritual men.  

The site carries much more info about Baba Amte.

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