Ashwin Sanghi, one of the best selling authors in India, pens a tale of two men making it big, who end up competing and clashing with each other. Then there is a parallel story of ancient secrets being passed from kingdom to kingdom – with the two stories coming together at the end. There are several good things about the book. The first is its pace – it progresses really quickly – and it works. The second is Sanghi’s ability to relate real-life events and characters to this fictitious account. It blends very well and the reader also gets a taste of the many major events of modern history. What doesn’t work – the writing is clichéd, the book tends to be a bit repetitive in the protagonists chalking out victories after victories, and the immortality discourses at the end does not make much sense.
The book selects ten lesser known historical events that had a profound impact on America. Massacre at Mystic, California gold rush, the civil war battle in Antietam, Manhattan project, and Elvis Presley phenomenon are some of the events that are covered. The significance of the events on the course of history made for fascinating reading. The linkage of the events with their impact on American way of life is brought out well and in an engaging way.
The Booker Award winner for 2013 – which made Catton the youngest ever writer to win a Booker. So what’s The Luminaries all about? What makes it special? At the heart of it, the novel is a mystery. However a mystery woven with such magic and spun into an entangled web so beautifully that the eight hundred plus pages just turn themselves. It is 1866 in New Zealand. Hokitika is the latest gold rush town. After a few strange happenings in the town, twelve men gather to discuss. Each of them has a part of the puzzle. And then the story takes off, the incidents get more and more bizarre and the mystery deeper and murkier. Catton does a great job in engaging the reader, challenging her to speculate, guess, get perplexed but continue reading. The pace is good and the interest consistent. When all is revealed at the end, in a few quick chapters on actual sequence of event, and it turns out to be a fairly simple story – you realize the masterfulness of the writer in managing to engage you for so long. So what does Catton excel in – what got her the Booker. I don’t think it’s capturing the 19th century New Zealand (though she does a decent job doing that) or that the story is extraordinary. For me, it is the way she spins the yarn and the characterizations. She digs deep into each character (and the hook has a dozen and a half of them). Each of the characters is presented in such subtle detail that he or she comes to life – distinguished and polished. Sample this: “For Gascoigne was extraordinarily moody. The wave of compassion that had compelled him to lie on Anna’s behalf dissipated almost as soon as the whore was freed: it darkened to despair that his help might, after all, have been a vain one – misplaced, wrong, and worst of all, self serving. Selfishness was Gascoigne’s deepest fear. He loathed all signs of it in himself, quite as a competitive man loathes all traces of weakness that might keep him from his selfish goal. This was a feature of his personality of which he was extraordinarily proud, however, and about which he loved to moralize. Whenever the irrationality of all this became too evident to ignore, he would fall into a very selfish bout of irritation.” See the fine etching of the character there. And he is not even the primary character. The end is a little disappointing, a couple of sequences appear too convenient and not all is explained. Don’t know if the book deserved a Booker or not but it’s a compelling read. Enjoy the journey.
2nd Booker for Ms. Mantel and well deserved too. Cromwell carries on from where he left at ‘Wolf Hall’. And this time, it’s even better as the characters are familiar and it helps because there are so many of them. I don’t care for British history but her writing is so beautiful, she make you care, draws you in. Anne Boleyn has become the queen through Cromwell’s maneuvering but Anne and Cromwell have a fall out and then Anne is out of favor of the King too – and then begins new alignments, new friends, new enemies. Intrigue, power play and our protagonist wins in the end. Written beautifully, the book does a great job capturing the sixteenth century Britain. “He, Cromwell, said” – becomes a signature style.