Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London by Mohsin Hamid

Date Published: November 27, 2014
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 252
Source: Review Copy provided by Random House India
Format: Paperback

Goodreads SynopsisFrom “one of his generation’s most inventive and gifted writers” (The New York Times) , intimate and sharply observed commentary on life, art, politics, and “the war on terror.”

Mohsin Hamid’s brilliant, moving, and extraordinarily clever novels have not only made him an international bestseller, they have earned him a reputation as a “master critic of the modern global condition” (Foreign Policy). His stories are at once timeless and of-the-moment, and his themes are universal: love, language, ambition, power, corruption, religion, family, identity. Here he explores this terrain from a different angle in essays that deftly counterpoise the personal and the political, and are shot through with the same passion, imagination, and breathtaking shifts of perspective that gives his fiction its unmistakable electric charge.

A “water lily” who has called three countries on three continents his home—Pakistan, the birthplace to which he returned as a young father; the United States, where he spent his childhood and young adulthood; and Britain, where he married and became a citizen—Hamid writes about overlapping worlds with fluidity and penetrating insight. Whether he is discussing courtship rituals or pop culture, drones or the rhythms of daily life in an extended family compound, he transports us beyond the scarifying headlines of an anxious West and a volatile East, beyond stereotype and assumption, and helps to bring a dazzling diverse global culture within emotional and intellectual reach.

Buy it here – Amazon India | Flipkart Amazon US | The Book Depository | Add on Goodreads

My View: To tell the truth, the only reason I picked up this book in the first place was because the author was famous for having written The Reluctant Fundamentalist which went on to become a major motion picture. Otherwise, a book with a title like that would have been easily glossed over.

The book has been divided by essays into three parts – Life, Art and Politics. It’s difficult to choose which part I liked the most. But yes, I found the first two parts more easy to read and interesting while the final one was heavy and dry on the palate.

I liked the way the essays have been structured. It starts with giving us a glimpse into the author’s life which makes it easier to appreciate what comes later on. We see the world through his eyes and experiences and it lends itself a different voice than the world might see from their side of the spider’s web.

The author’s journey through his career changes, his personal life and travel within the three countries makes for an interesting narrative. In seeing the world-view through his eyes, one finds oneself wondering at the objectivity and its absence in all things meaningful.

The essays in the Art section also made for a gripping read. With my interest in all things related to books, I could identify where the author was coming from. His essays about rereading books, likeable characters, Murakami, great American novel and the change of reading experience through ebooks found a resonance within me. They made for a page turning read.

Let me now talk about the Politics section. Frankly, I have zero knowledge and/or interest in politics. But every so often, with the help of books like these, I try to keep myself abreast of the goings-on in the world. And that’s precisely where this section stepped in. The essays give a plethora of events to think about, to reflect upon. Looking at the drones and war from an insider’s perspective lends it an air of honesty and raw brutalism that makes one shudder. It’s easy to read about it in the news than to hear someone who has been through it and knows the ins and outs. It would be easier to side with the US on its drones and air strikes when its labelled as a fight with terrorism but when you hear it from the horse’s mouth do you realise it carries within it so much more than just that. The essays give a refreshing albeit heart rending stance to the whole situation. Frankly, it was difficult to go through it. It was unsettling and as is easier, one tends to pass by what is uncomfortable or evokes disturbing emotions. But I needed to know the bird’s eye view of things and not just what the newspapers tell me and hence I read it, every single word of it. It didn’t help settle my perturbed emotions but surely helped me realize that one can never see the panorama from just one side. And now that I have touched on the philosophical, let me give it a rest. And you go read the book.

Highly influential and well-written. Would definitely be trying the author again.

4/5 stars – I liked it. 4 stars

(All opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced.)

Huge thanks to Random House India for providing the review copy.

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My Life as a Silent Movie: A Novel by Jesse Lee Kercheval (Audiobook Review)


Date Published: March 3, 2014
Publisher: University Press Audiobooks
Source: Review Purchase from Audible
Format: Audiobook
Narration: Rosemary Benson

Goodreads SynopsisAfter losing her husband and daughter in an auto accident, 42-year-old Emma flies to Paris, discovers she has a twin brother whose existence she had not known about, and learns that her birth parents weren’t the Americans who raised her, but a White Russian film star of the 1920s and a French Stalinist.

A story about identity and the shaping function of art, My Life as a Silent Movie presents a vividly rendered world and poses provocative questions on the relationship of art to life.

Buy it here – Amazon IndiaAmazon US | The Book Depository | Add on Goodreads

My View:  When I saw this audiobook up for review, there was something that appealed to me about this book (if you know me well, you know I don’t read book blurbs, so all my good books are usually either by fluke or recommendations). Well, it certainly could have been that Eiffel Tower on the cover (Side note: I love travelling and I am in love with the idea of Paris, still to visit though).

Okay, let me warn you upfront, this audiobook is almost 10 hours long. I know some are like 40 hours long but since I prefer short audios, this was huge for me. But wait, did I feel all 10 hours of it? Nope, not at all. And why would that be? Perhaps because the book pulled me in from the very first word and did not let go. The narration is good enough. But the major meat is the book! Just wow!

First, the author draws a background and you are interested in what’s going on. Mmm hmm… And then there comes the twists and the turns. And Paris! And the walks around Paris. Surprise upon surprise. I was totally overwhelmed (happily!) by the plot, the unraveling of it, the characters who I found myself rooting for. Giggling at times, wanting him to be @%^&$ alive! Woah, a gamut of emotions, all in one book.

There’s some history in there. Something I don’t really like but when you dish it out in a book, I’m all for it. A woman taking a trip across the world to unravel her past – now there’s some magic in that, right? History, art, travel, mystery, a solid plot, a good narration and there you have it, a brilliant book.

A must listen I would say.

4.5/5 stars – I really, really, really liked it! Highly Recommended. 4.5 stars

Gadget Girl by Suzanne Kamata & Giveaway (INT)

GadgetGirlGadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible by Suzanne Kamata
Publication: May 17th 2013
Genre: YA Contemporary

Synopsis: ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS meets STONER AND SPAZ.Aiko Cassidy is fourteen and lives with her sculptor mother in a small Midwestern town. For most of her young life Aiko, who has cerebral palsy, has been her mother’s muse. But now, she no longer wants to pose for the sculptures that have made her mother famous and have put food on the table. Aiko works hard on her own dream of becoming a great manga artist with a secret identity. When Aiko’s mother invites her to Paris for a major exhibition of her work, Aiko at first resists. She’d much rather go to Japan, Manga Capital of the World, where she might be able to finally meet her father, the indigo farmer. When she gets to France, however, a hot waiter with a passion for manga and an interest in Aiko makes her wonder if being invisible is such a great thing after all. And a side trip to Lourdes, ridiculous as it seems to her, might just change her life.

Gadget Girl began as a novella published in Cicada. The story won the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award in Fiction and was included in an anthology of the best stories published in Cicada over the past ten years.

Goodreads | Purchase on Amazon

My View: This book got my attention from the very first sentence and ensured my interest throughout. With an unusual main character, a girl with cerebral palsy, this book had a different feel to it unlike books where everyone is perfect from head to toe and insta love happens.

I have never read a manga but the way this book relies on it, I’m tempted to give them a read now. I love how unique the plot was, how different and real the characters.

I immensely loved the emotions this book brought out in me – empathy, sadness, happiness, delight. Oh, the world!

With a powerful background and brilliantly sketched characters, this book had a strong grip on the storyline and the pace, never letting go.

Add in Paris and Japan, and a travel aficionado like me is literally in heaven. Even though there’s not much of travel going around nevertheless I loved the description of places the mother-daughter duo visited in France.

Despite the fact that the book’s main character is a teenager, I believe the plot is more mature and not just YA.

Overall, though this is not my usual kind of read, I immensely enjoyed this book and look forward to more books by Suzanne Kamata.

4 stars – I really liked it. images (1)

Giveaway
5 paperback copies (open internationally)

Enter here.

AUTHOR BIO

Five-time Pushcart Prize nominee Suzanne Kamata is the author of the novels Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible (GemmaMedia, 2013) and Losing Kei (Leapfrog Press, 2008), and editor of three anthologies – The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan, Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs, and Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, 2009). Her short fiction and essays have appeared widely. She is the Fiction Co-editor of literarymama.com.

Author Links: Website | Goodreads | Twitter

Lord of Hawkfell Island by Catherine Coulter

Goodreads summary:
Rorik is a Viking warrior, as fierce and savage as the North Sea during the winter solstice. Mirana is a Viking woman who loves birds, is more ingenious than most men, and loyal down to her toes. Her life changes utterly one fateful day when Rorik and his men come to Clontarf, a Viking fortress on the eastern coast of Ireland, to kill her half-brother. But she is the one taken as hostage to use as a pawn against him.

Rorik is the Lord of Hawkfell, an island off the east cost of Britain. The moment he brings his captive home, it seems that everything begins to fly out his control. The women are out to teach the men a lesson with the result that food is rank, Rorik’s family is out for Mirana’s blood, a murderer is on a loose, and a huge mongrel, Kerzog, dotes not only on his master but also on his master’s captive.

Rorik and Mirana are two strong-willed people, ardent in their opinions, who will have you rooting for both of them equally.

You will discover who really rules Hawkfell Island.

My views: Well, I found this book left in the hostel room that I was to occupy. I was excited that I had found a book, no matter what it was. Even though the cover and title told me it wasn’t a sort of book I would normally read. So the book occupied my shelf for 2 full years before I ran out of paperback books and decided to give it a chance. I read the first few pages and thought to give it away, it just wasn’t my kind of book. But something made me read on and I am so glad I did.

Either the book turned out to be my kind or my preference changed but I ended up loving the book. The characters are very well developed. I fell in love with Mirana, a strong headed woman, beauty, brain and brawn, what a combination! The plot is well built and never slows down. This is a swift moving action-romance book. There were quite a few surprises in the book. And it also has lot of great humor thrown in. In all, a complete package. A surprise hit book. I would check out other books by the author now.

4/5 stars – I really liked it

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith


Goodreads Summary: Working in a mystery tradition that will cause genre aficionados to think of such classic sleuths as Melville Davisson Post’s Uncle Abner or Robert van Gulik’s Judge Dee, Alexander McCall Smith creates an African detective, Precious Ramotswe, who’s their full-fledged heir.

It’s the detective as folk hero, solving crimes through an innate, self-possessed wisdom that, combined with an understanding of human nature, invariably penetrates into the heart of a puzzle. If Miss Marple were fat and jolly and lived in Botswana–and decided to go against any conventional notion of what an unmarried woman should do, spending the money she got from selling her late father’s cattle to set up a Ladies’ Detective Agency–then you have an idea of how Precious sets herself up as her country’s first female detective.

Once the clients start showing up on her doorstep, Precious enjoys a pleasingly successful series of cases. But the edge of the Kalahari is not St. Mary Mead, and the sign Precious orders, painted in brilliant colors, is anything but discreet. Pointing in the direction of the small building she had purchased to house her new business, it reads “THE NO. 1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY. FOR ALL CONFIDENTIAL MATTERS AND ENQUIRIES. SATISFACTION GUARANTEED FOR ALL PARTIES. UNDER PERSONAL MANAGEMENT.”

The solutions she comes up with, whether in the case of the clinic doctor with two quite different personalities (depending on the day of the week), or the man who had joined a Christian sect and seemingly vanished, or the kidnapped boy whose bones may or may not be those in a witch doctor’s magic kit, are all sensible, logical, and satisfying. Smith’s gently ironic tone is full of good humor towards his lively, intelligent heroine and towards her fellow Africans, who live their lives with dignity and with cautious acceptance of the confusions to which the world submits them. Precious Ramotswe is a remarkable creation, and The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency well deserves the praise it received from London’s Times Literary Supplement.

About Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie Series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and he was a law professor at the University of Botswana. He lives in Scotland.

This book is read as a part of

(Click on the image to know more.)

My views: I have been to Botswana and back, with this book. Refreshing mystery tales, almost like short stories in themselves. I took an instant liking to the character of Mma Ramotswe, self-made, determined woman who opens up a ladies detective agency which was unheard of in that town. With her intuition and thinking abilities, she solves one case after another with ease. The book takes you in from the very start with a case to solve. Though I did not like the change from the case to learning about the life of Precious’s father and her childhood, I realized that it is important for the building up of a character and took it in my stride. Later, this proved to be beneficial. I have always enjoyed mysteries, especially those where I get to think with the detective and give my mind a jog to solve it. I ended up doing that a lot with this book.

*Spoiler*
I loved the character of the little Indian girl who ends up conning Ramotswe. 🙂 And was I glad to hear her nod to marriage in the end. I loved her so much to wish for her to have a companion and a worthy match at that.
*End of Spoiler*

I loved to solve mysteries and be a detective since childhood, whenever something disappeared from our home, I would be the one to find it. The only case where it wasn’t found was when I was the one who had hidden it in the first place. 😉

A lovely, short book that finished even before you realize it since you are so engrossed solving the mysteries.

I also picked up some great quotes from the book-

“It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin.”

‘I am just a tiny person in Africa, but there is a place for me, and for everybody, to sit down on this earth and touch it and call it their own.’

‘You can go through life and make new friends every year-every month practically-but there was never any substitute for those friendships of childhood that survive into adult years. Those are the ones in which we are bound to one another with hoops of steel.’

4/5 stars – I really liked it