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.
Burnt Shadows is a beautiful story of the enmeshed lives of two families in turbulent times. It starts with the Nagasaki bombing and ends after the fall of twin towers – traveling through India’s partition, Pakistan’s support of Mujahideens fighting the Russians in Afghanistan and then the post-9/11 situation in both US and Afghanistan. Shamsie take us through all these crazy times and the captures the mood and the sentiments of the history beautifully; a hint of Khaled Hosseini there. Since the story stays deeply personal at all times, you can feel the impact of these remarkable times on characters and their actions. Written sensitively and presenting opposing viewpoints masterfully, the book raises questions about right and wrong, race relations, prejudices and religion and leaves the reader with a powerful perspective that has the ability to challenge pre-conceived beliefs.
A Booker short-list, ‘A Little Life’ is an extraordinarily sad story of an orphan. Jude St. Francis who suffers through abuses all his childhood and never recovers from them as an adult. It is a moving story indeed and the shows the good and bad of the world in equal parts. Even though the book starts as the story of four friends, it quickly focuses on one of them and the novel becomes his story. However, there are major flaws in the story line. For example, not clear why Brother Luke kidnapped Jude out of the monastery. If abuse was the objective, it could have been accomplished in the monastery too; he was being abused there anyway. Then the twist of Jude’s straight friend Williem suddenly developing feelings of Jude and their becoming lovers. Not very believable. The book is also way too long and tends to be repetitive. A thousand cuts on the arms and the legs, the same friends meeting for dinner at a Sushi places a hundred times, Jude’s constantly losing weight – after a point start getting on your nerves. My verdict: No. A good story but not a good read.
The long time best-seller that deserves it’s place on the list. Rachel admires a young couple, everyday, from her seat in the train as the train passes by their house. The woman suddenly goes missing and then begins the tale of their lives enmeshing in an unexpected way that involves Rachel’s ex husband, his current wife and the missing woman’s husband. Essentially, a whodunit, but told in a brisk-paced, refreshing and engaging manner. A page-turner, if there was one. The time movements – the past and the present – worked out very well. A good read indeed.
Recommendation: Must read.
Furiously Happy is a collection of essays from Jenny Lawson. Most of them are LOL humorous anecdotes and her musings from her life. However, they are interspersed with some about her struggle with mental illnesses. It is an unusual combination – and a stark contrast – that works. However, it is a paradox we are familiar with. That the funniest people sometimes tend to be the saddest in their real lives. Lawson makes a conscious effort not to be one – and hence the title of the book. It is one of the funniest books I’ve read for a long time. Her endless musings. paranoia and exaggerations create images and situations that are hilarious.
Recommendation: Must Read.
‘When Breath Becomes Air’ is the true story of a budding neurosurgeon and writer who, at the age of thirty six, finds that he has cancer and has limited time in the world. Paul started writing this book when he found he had cancer and even though he wrote at a furious pace, he didn’t get to complete the book. Yet, the book has an ending that seems to do justice to the book. His pursuit of understanding the meaning of life through literature and then science can, at times, be a little dry. But the graph of his life is captivating indeed. How do you deal with imminent death just when the best part of your life has started to unfold. He makes brave, optimistic choices – his wife and he decide to have a baby, he completes his really demanding residency and he writes the book. His wife, Lucy Kalanithi’s epilog that describes the last couple of days of Paul’s life, his moments with his family, including his few-months old daughter made me cry.
Read, if the meaning of life, is important to you.
A fictionalized account of the life of Rachel Pizzarro, the mother of Jacob Abraham Camille Pizzarro, considered one of the fathers of impressionism. To begin with, her story is not that interesting. The life on the exotic island of St. Thomas can hold your attention for only so long. But what really sinks the book is the exceptionally bad writing. It seems like the first draft of a middling book that got published in a hurry. It’s so bad that on multiple occasions, I turned back to check if it had a legitimate publisher (each time I was surprised it did). With a sketchy story and limited landscape, Hoffman rambles on for 385 excruciating pages. Tells us about a green bitterness in her protagonist’s heart ten times, dreaming of rain fifteen times, pelicans following her twenty times, and the night when turtles come nesting thirty times. Yes, it is that repetitive. Paragraphs start with one thought and then move on a tangent to something else, and then to something else altogether – puzzling the reader. My favorite part, clearly, was the end, when I sighed with relief that I can move on to another book.