After ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins, a top best-seller, comes ‘Girl on a Train’. A journalist meets a troubled young woman on a train who is later found to have committed suicide. Our protagonist is certain that it is not suicide and sets out to investigate. The story proceeds at a reasonable pace till the middle of the book but then starts going around in circles. The worst part is the end – that has a poor rationale and is difficult to believe. In fact, believability is an issue with other parts of the book too. Doesn’t quite add to the pace and suspense of Hawkins’ book.
Recommendation: Stick with the original best-seller.
Rahul meets Avantika and they fall in love. Rahul’s little daughter takes to Avantika big time. Then Avantika vanishes suddenly and the writer takes us on the journey of Rahul’s first marriage. How did Rahul and Shalini meet, how they married and then broke up. It is a simple, single-layer story that doesn’t go anywhere much – but still it’s not too bad and I found it engaging. However, what kills the book is the writing – cliché ridden, tacky and repetitive. It is better than some of the current best sellers in India but not by much.
Recommendation: Don’t bother.
We have all seen movies that are so bad, they make you laugh. However, I don’t remember a book like that. Thank God for that because books are a much bigger investment of time. The Contract, though, clearly qualifies in that category. The plot line has gaping holes, the characters bellow and lament at the slightest provocation and the protagonist’s motivations are strangely narcissistic. It is so bad that if you didn’t laugh, you’d have to cry. Juan grows up in a contract-killer family in Columbia (even though the setting is so bleak you have to rely on the writer’s word for it). He decides to take the honest road against the family traditions, turns to crime mid-way as the honest road doesn’t pay, and then repents in the end. The protagonist’s turnaround in the end is completely irrational and un-understandable. The writer takes pride that no research has gone into the book and the reader is left wondering what did he do to deserve something so banal and tasteless.
Recommendation: Of course, not.
Once in a long long time comes an amazing story, an amazing life that practically writes itself. Louise Zamperrini’s is an extra-ordinary life. From a wild childhood to an Olympic runner to a man marooned at sea for the longest time ever to a POW in Japan subjected to unbearable cruelty to post-war ruin to a final resurgence – it is an exceptional life indeed. Like six lives lived in one. And Laura Hillenbrand does it full justice. One can only imagine the effort that must have gone into resurrecting that life on paper. The long section on Louis’ life as a POW makes for exceptionally fine reading and you wonder at the infinite capacity of human beings for cruelty. Hillenbrand combines sensitive narration and hard statistics beautifully to render a picture that is neither too clammy with sentiment nor dry facts. Alongside some of the all-time greats whose scenes have been burned in my memory (Midnight’s children, one hundred years of solitude, Roots), some of the POW scenes will stay. Clearly, one of the most engrossing non-fiction book in many years.
Recommendation: Must Read.
A beautiful immigrant story. Everything I Never Told You is the family story of James, who is of Chinese descent, and Marylyn, a blue-eyed American, living a quiet life in a University town in Ohio. Lydia, their much-loved daughter drowns in a lake and thus begins an analysis of what went wrong. Ng does a great job in getting into the minds of the two parents. James, who has always been ‘different’ and wants his daughter to blend in and be popular. Marylyn, who had to give up a career to bring up her kids, wants her to excel in academics. Lydia tries hard to please both but can’t eventually cope up. Ng also does a great job of building relationship between the siblings – Lydia and Nath. There are a couple of twists that are hard to believe. Marylyn’s going away from family without telling anyone to pursue college (why couldn’t she talk it over with her family?) and Jack’s turning out to be gay. The last quarter is a bit of a letdown. Despite the flaws, fast-paced and very readable. Ng’s understanding of the psyche of the key characters viz. James, Marylyn, Lydia, Nath and Hannah is superb and takes the book to another level altogether.
Recommendation: Must Read.
Standup comic Jim Gaffigan’s account on bringing up five children in a tiny New York apartment. It is an endearing and relatable subject for all of us who have or are raising kids. The chaos at home, the suffering that any travel becomes, the playground friendships, the school moms’ politics – we’ve all been there. Subject-wise he couldn’t have chosen better. And he does the topic full justice. Written with ‘clean’ humor, the book is a lovely journey in the joys and tribulations of parenthood. His love for his family gives the book a warm, fuzzy feel that works. Laugh-out loud chuckles are not that many but a constant smile on the face and a warmth in the heart is not a bad bargain.
An all-time American classic that has been on my ‘to read’ list a long time. The plight of poor Americans in the depression of 1930s. The picture Steinbeck paints is stark, moving and sad. Tom Joad and his family, and dozens like them, thousands actually, suffer through gut-busting, soul-sapping poverty that doesn’t seem to have a silver lining. However, there are problems. First, the book is a bit too ‘red’ – Steinbeck’s ideology, at times, seems to overpower his writing. Second, the writing is a bit repetitive. I know he is an acknowledged master and this may sound strange – but wasn’t too taken by the writing. However, the scenes are strongly visual, the characters distinct and evolving and overall the book works.
Recommendation: Read – if you can ok with reading about a depressing time.