Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reading Challenge: Outside the Box 2014

I had great fun doing the Reading Outside the Box challenge in 2013. I am signing up for the 2014 edition of the challenge (@ Musings of a booklover) too which has many interesting categories.




I am signing up for the Look at me, outside my comfort zone!: level which means I have to read books in 8-10 categories.

Interested? Sign-up over here.

I am atop Pike's Peak...even as I start again.




Phew! Finally I have made it top of Pike's Peak i.e. read 12 books from my TBR pile for the MOUNT TBR challenge @ My Reader's Block.

Here are the books read:

Beloved Witch: An Autobiography by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti
 Star Trek: Prime Directive by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
In Matto's Realm by Friedrich Glauser
Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Bombay Rains Bombay Girls by Anirban Bose
Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss
 Visits from the Afterlife by Sylvia Browne
 The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Dhabba by Surender Mohan Pathak
 Arogyaniketan by Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay
Great Detective Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Others

I am quite relieved to have finally read the books by Bose, Browne, and Conroy.

*

I am signing up for the 2014 Mount TBR challenge too and going for the same i.e Pike's Peak (12 books). Interested in climbing atop your piles and mountains of books,you can do so over here.




European Reading Challenge: Looking Back, Looking Ahead



This year too I have been able to complete the  EUROPEAN READING challenge hosted @ Rose City Reader.

Here are the countries visited.

By Author:

Belgium: Georges Simenon
Austria: Friedrich Glauser 

Through Books:

England: Lady-Killer by Anthony Gilbert 
Norway: Mysteries by Knut Hamsun 
Switzerland: Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar 
Cyprus: Death in Cyprus by M.M. Kaye 
ScotlandEspresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith 
Italy:  Lenz by Peter Schneider 
Germany: The Sunday I Became World Champion by Friedrich Christian Delius 
Turkey  Light of the Day by Eric Ambler 
Greece Dirty Story by Eric Ambler 
Sweden: The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell 

*
The Challenge is being hosted again in 2014. I am signing up for it. If you too are interested,you could do so over here.











A few more completed challenges


Here are some more challenges that I was able to successfully finish this year.










The 2013 GENRE VARIETY was hosted @ A Daydreamer's Thoughts. I aimed to read 12 books in 12 different genres. I was able to read 18 books in 18 genres.

Contemporary
Historical :  Mari by Easterine Kire
Paranormal:Visits from the Afterlife by Sylvia Browne
Fantasy: Drinking Midnight Wine by Simon R. Green
Romance: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
Sci-Fi: Star Trek: Prime Directive
Crime: Light of the Day by Eric Ambler
Thriller:  Lady-Killer by Anthony Gilbert
Adventure
Non-Fiction: The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
Women’s Fiction: Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand
Chick-Lit
Dystopian
Epic Fantasy
Western: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
Comedy: The Affair at Aliquid by G.D.H and Margaret Cole
Horror: Night Screams by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg
MANfiction
Self-Help
Biography
Auto-biography: Beloved Witch: An Autobiography by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti
Religious
Fairy Tales
Classics: Mysteries by Knut Hamsun
Erotica The Case of Lucy Bending by Lawrence Sanders:
Short Stories: Great Detective Stories
Travel Guides
Mystery: Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar 
Suspense: The Last Labyrinth by Arun Joshi













I am Sherlock Holmes because I read more than 30 Mystery/ Crime books for the 2013 MYSTERY/ CRIME @ The Crafty Book Nerd.

1. Lady-Killer by Anthony Gilbert
2. Behind the Green Door by Mildred A. Wirt
3. Mysteries by Knut Hamsun
4.  The Case of Lucy Bending by Lawrence Sanders
5. Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar 
6. The Body on the Beam by Anthony Gilbert
7. Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout
8. Death in Cyprus by M.M. Kaye
9. Derby Day: A Victorian Mystery by D.J. Taylor
10. Maigret Loses His Temper by Georges Simenon
11.  Fuzz by Ed McBain
12. The Devotion of Suspect X
13.  Star Trek: Prime Directive by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
14. Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand
15. The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
16. Death Whispers by J.B. Carr
17. The Teller of Tales by Bhaskar Ghose
18. In Matto's Realm by Friedrich Glauser
19. The Musical Comedy Crime by Anthony Gilbert
20. Black Plumes by Margery Allingham
21. Death in Retirement by Josephine Bell
22. Night Screams by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg
23. The Last Labyrinth by Arun Joshi
24. The Affair at Aliquid by G.D.H and Margaret Cole
25. Burglars in Bucks by G.D.H and Margaret Cole
26. The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais
27.  Light of the Day by Eric Ambler
28.  Dirty Story by Eric Ambler
29. The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell
30.  The Secret History by Donna Tartt
31. Drinking Midnight Wine by Simon R. Green
32. Dhabba by Surender Mohan Pathak
33. A Little Local Murder by Robert Barnard
34. Great Detective Stories













I did well in the BRITISH BOOKS challenge hosted @ Feeling Fictional. The challenge requires one to read 12 books written by British authors. I read 18.


1. Lady-Killer by Anthony Gilbert
2. The Body on the Beam by Anthony Gilbert
3. Death in Cyprus by M.M. Kaye
4. Derby Day: A Victorian Mystery by D.J. Taylor
5. Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand
6. The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
7. The Musical Comedy Crime by Anthony Gilbert
8. Black Plumes by Margery Allingham
9. Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
10. Death in Retirement by Josephine Bell
11. The Affair at Aliquid by G.D.H and Margaret Cole
12. Burglars in Bucks by G.D.H and Margaret Cole
13. Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
14.  Light of the Day by Eric Ambler
15.  Dirty Story by Eric Ambler













THE CLASSICS READING CHALLENGE @ Thoughts at one in the Night is a cool challnge because there is no minimum requirement. Even one classic read makes you successfully complete the challenge. I read the following classics:

1. Mysteries by Knut Hamsun
2. The Last Musha'irah of Dehli by Mirza Farhatullah Baig
3. In Matto's Realm by Friedrich Glauser
4. The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
5. Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
6.  Lenz by Peter Schneider
7. A Runaway Horse by Martin Walser
8.  Arogyaniketan by Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay
9. Great Detective Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Others
10. Light of the Day by Eric Ambler










The CRIMINAL PLOTS III challenge @ Criminal Plots required one to read books in the following categories:


1. Novel with an animal in the title 
 The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais

2. Two short stories written by two different authors who are new to you - you can take these from magazines, anthologies, ezines. 
 Great Detective Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Others

3. Book written by more than one person
Burglars in Bucks by G.D.H and Margaret Cole

4. A YA crime novel.
Behind the Green Door by Mildred A. Wirt

5. A book from a series optioned for televsion.
 Star Trek: Prime Directive by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens


6. A novel that's been nominated for an Edgar® in the last five years. This should be a book you haven't read before. 
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino










[Artwork used (with permission) for the button is Anglerfish by Vlad Gerasimov.]

The NEW AUTHORS @ Literary Escapism. I thought I'll discover 25 new authors, in fact I hit half-century, with Philip K. Dick being the only author I couldn't review.

1. Easterine Kire
2.  Norbert Davis
3. Mildred A. Wirt
4. Knut Hamsun
5.  Ipsita Roy Chakraverti
6.  Hisham Matar 
7.  Mirza Farhatullah Baig
8 D.J. Taylor
9. Ed McBain
10. Keigo Higashino
11.& 12.  Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
13. Christianna Brand
14 Sister Jesme
15. J.B. Carr
16. Bhaskar Ghose
17. Friedrich Glauser
18. Carmen Carter
19. Josephine Bell
20 & 21. Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg
22. Arun Joshi
23 & 24: G.D.H and Margaret Cole
26. Frantz Fanon
27. Pat Conroy
28. Christopher Isherwood
29. Anirban Bose
30. Robert Crais
31.  Peter Schneider
32. Martin Walser
33. Friedrich Christian Delius
34.  Henning Mankell
35. Rita Kotari
36. Dr. Brian Weiss
37. Sylvia Browne
38.  Donna Tartt
39. Patrick DeWitt
40. Simon R. Green
41.Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay
42. Alberto Manguel
43. Robert Flaceliere
44. Robert Barnard
45. L.T. Meade
46. Robert Eustace
47. Arnold Bennett
48. Baroness Orczy
49. R. Austin Freeman
50. Philip K. Dick








WHAT COUNTRIES HAVE I VISITED 2013 @ Christian Novels.

I did a lot of travelling this year, visiting 15 countries in all, beyond my expectation of 10.

1. Lady-Killer by Anthony Gilbert (England)
2. Holocaust House by Norbert Davis (USA)
3. Mysteries by Knut Hamsun (Norway)
4. Beloved Witch: An Autobiography by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti (Canada)
5. Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar (Egypt)
6. Death in Cyprus by M.M. Kaye (Cyprus)
7. Maigret Loses His Temper by Georges Simenon (France)
8. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino (Japan)
9. The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon (Algeria)
10& 11.  Lenz by Peter Schneider (Italy, Germany)
12. The Sunday I Became World Champion by Friedrich Christian Delius (Germany)
13 & 14. The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell (Sweden, China)
15.  A Burden of Refuge by Rita Kothari (Pakistan)



Barring a couple, all these challenges are being hosted again at the same blogs. I'll be participating in them once again in 2014.










Monday, December 30, 2013

Short Notes: Great Detective Stories

While I love reading mystery novels, the short-story in the same genre doesn't excite me that much. However, I did like this Watermill Classic which has five stories in which either a burglary or murder is investigated by a detective (and his faithful side-kick).



In Arthur Conan Doyle' s The Boscombe Valley Mystery, Sherlock Holmes and Watson travel to a country-estate where a man has been murdered, most probably by his son, the last person not only to be seen but also violently quarrelling with the dead man. Now, it is for Holmes to prove the young man's innocence though all circumstantial evidence points against him. Reading a Holmes story after a very long time, I absolutely loved this story right from the time Watson receives a telegram from Holmes. The train journey and Watson's reference to his time in Afghanistan brought a whiff of the past so strong that I wanted to read a Victorian mystery immediately.

Miss Florence Cusack and Dr. Lonsdale investigate the strange will of a miser that awards a man his weight in gold in L.T. Meade's and Robert Eustace's Mr. Bovey's Unexpected Will which was interesting because of the detective being a woman.

Actress Kitty Sartorius loses her diamond-studded gold bracelet in Arnold Bennet's playful story of beauties and adventurers - A Bracelet at Bruges.

Baroness Orczy is in fine form in Who Stole the Black Diamonds? The Queen of Bohemia loses her black diamond necklace. A year later, after the hulla-baloo has died down considerably, an American widow appears at a social function wearing the same necklace. She insists that these were legally bought by her late husband. Men of repute vouchsafe for the husband's integrity. Even more intriguingly, the diamonds were bought much before they got stolen, at a time when they were still gracing the neck of Her Royal Highness.

The murder of a young woman in a train-carriage is investigated in R. Austin Freeman's The Blue Sequin.

The best thing I liked about the book was it made me acquainted with authors about whom I had heard a lot but had not read (them). Barring Doyle, all were new to me. However, it would have better had this collection been edited with somebody providing a background to the stories and the authors.

*

First Line: We were seated at breakfast one morning, my wife and I, when the maid brought in a telegram.

Title: Great Detective Stories

Author(s): Arthur Conan Doyle and Others

Publication Details: London: Watermill Press, 1986

First Published: 1986

Pages: 124

*

The book might be available in second-hand books shops or libraries, I bought it at a Book Sale (Delhi Book Fair, 2009).


Challenge Complete: 2013 EBook




Though nothing can beat the scent of a book that you hold in your hand, one can't deny that e-books are here to stay. So I am happy to have completed the 2013 EBOOK challenge hosted @ Workaday Reads. I had signed up for the Floppy Disk level which means that I had to read 5 ebooks.

The books read are:

1. Holocaust House by Norbert Davis
2. Behind the Green Door by Mildred A. Wirt
3. Star Trek: Dreams of the Raven by Carmen Carter
4.The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais
5. A Little Local Murder by Robert Barnard

The challenge is being hosted again for 2014 and I'll be signing up for it again though for an upper level.

Short Notes: A Little Local Murder by Robert Barnard

A fortnight ago, I had no idea about Robert Barnard. Then Patti @ Pattinase dedicated one Friday to his books and I got to know that he was a British writer of mysteries who had passed away but recently. Sergio's review of his book A Fatal Attachment was so compelling that I wanted to read one of Barnard's books rightaway. I was lucky that Open Library has a number of his books that can be borrowed (downloaded/ read online). I chose A Little Local Murder because I liked the title. By sheer chance, it also turned out to be the first book that he ever wrote.



The little village of Twytching is thrown into disarray when Radio Broadwich decides to broadcast a documentary on its local charms. Suddenly, the villagers either turn philanthropists or accomplished artists, each eager to be interviewed for the show. However, the local Inspector George Parrish fears that something sinister is brewing under all this excitement. And his suspicions come true when a murder occurs (and the way the author brings it about, gives one a real jolt). Tensions increase and skeletons come tumbling about.

I absolutely adored the humorous description of the village and its denizens. After reading a number of books that narrate the woes of policewomen who are never given the due or regard that their male colleagues receive, it was refreshing to read such a passage:

Sergeant Feather and Sergeant Underwood stood by watching him and waiting, the latter now and then patting down her skirt a little nervously. She had never before been on a murder case, and Twytching being what it was - this could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. She didn't want to disgrace herself by some foolishness of word or deed, and since the men at the station mainly kept her on cases of lollipops purloined in the school playground and pets who had absconded from old-age pensioners, it wasn't easy to decide how to behave.(72)



This is a delightful book and though I am sorry that Mr. Barnard has passed away, I am glad to have discovered a new author. I am looking forward to reading more of his works in the new year. Thanks Patti and Sergio.

*

First Line: The letter arrived on the front doormat of Glencoe, the residence of the Chairman of the Twytching District Council, on Wednesday morning but (the Chairman being busy in the kitchen frying bacon and mushrooms, poaching eggs and toasting toast) it was sometime before he came to hear of its contents.

Title: A Little Local Murder

Author: Robert Barnard

Publication Details: NY: Dell, 1984

First Published: 1976

Pages: 196

Other books read of the same author: None

*


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Challenge Complete: 2013 Women



I have successfully completed the 2013 WOMEN  challenge hosted @ Peek-a-Book. I had aimed to be a Super Girl, i.e. to read 11-15 books by women writers but have in fact become a Wonder-Woman by reading more than 16 books by female authors.

Wonder-Woman! Feels great!! :)

Here are the books read:

1. Mari by Easterine Kire
2. Lady-Killer by Anthony Gilbert
3. Behind the Green Door by Mildred A. Wirt
4. Beloved Witch: An Autobiography by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti
5. The Body on the Beam by Anthony Gilbert
6. Death in Cyprus by M.M. Kaye
7. Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand
8. The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
9. Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun by Sister Jesme
10. Star Trek: Dreams of the Raven by Carmen Carter
11. The Musical Comedy Crime by Anthony Gilbert
12. Black Plumes by Margery Allingham
13. Death in Retirement by Josephine Bell
14. The Affair at Aliquid by G.D.H and Margaret Cole
15. Burglars in Bucks by G.D.H and Margaret Cole
16.  A Burden of Refuge by Rita Kothari
17. Visits from the Afterlife by Sylvia Browne
18.  The Secret History by Donna Tartt

If you are interested in becoming a Wonder Woman too, you can join the 2014 edition of the challenge, over here.



Challenge Complete: 2013 Translation



I love reading books in translation, thus I am very happy to have successfully completed the 2013 TRANSLATION CHALLENGE @ Curiosity Killed the Bookworm by reading twelve books translated into English.

German books were the most read:



In Matto's Realm by Friedrich Glauser
Lenz by Peter Schneider 
 A Runaway Horse by Martin Walser 
 The Sunday I Became World Champion by Friedrich Christian Delius 

followed by French:



Maigret Loses His Temper by Georges Simenon
The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
 A Literary History of Greece by Robert Flaceliere

- and one each of Bengali, Japanese, Norwegian, Swedish, and Urdu:

Arogyaniketan by Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay (Bengali)
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino (Japanese)
 Mysteries by Knut Hamsun (Norwegian)
The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell (Swedish)
 The Last Musha'irah of Dehli by Mirza Farhatullah Baig (Urdu)



If there is any translation challenge in 2014, I'd love to take part in it.

Challenge Complete: Library Books






I have successfully completed the Library Books Reading challenge hosted @ Book Dragon's Lair. The goal was to read 18 books borrowed from a library, I read 21 in all. Mysteries dominated the lot with Anthony Gilbert being the most borrowed.



1. Lady-Killer by Anthony Gilbert
3. The Body on the Beam by Anthony Gilbert
4. Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout
5. The Last Musha'irah of Dehli by Mirza Farhatullah Baig
6. Death in Cyprus by M.M. Kaye
7. Maigret Loses His Temper by Georges Simenon
8.  Fuzz by Ed McBain
9. Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand
10. Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun by Sister Jesme
11. Death Whispers by J.B. Carr
12. The Teller of Tales by Bhaskar Ghose










Challenge Complete: Books on France




I feel a great sense of accomplishment having successfully completed the BOOKS ON FRANCE challenge hosted @ Words and Peace. It is always easier for me to read fiction rather than non-fiction and so I am glad that I read not one but two Non-fiction books for this challenge. Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth is a classic of Resistance Studies while Robert Flaceliere's book A Literary History of Greece is a scholarly study of Greek cultural history.

I also read my first Maigret:
Maigret Loses His Temper by Georges Simenon


So, all in all, I am very happy to have taken part in the challenge and I look forward to taking part in it next year too.

Short Notes: Two Books on Greek Literature

The Iliad is the first extant book of European Literature. Part of an oral tradition of poetry, it is supposed to have been composed by a blind,wandering minstrel named Homer who is also considered to be the writer of that other great Greek Epic, the Odyssey. Over the years both these books have influenced writers and critics tremendously.

And really Homer can be quite magnificent. Here's Apollo descending from the heights of Olympus to help a person in distress:

So he spoke in prayer,and Phoebus Apollo heard him and came down in fury from the heights of Olympus, his bow and covered quiver on his back. With every movement of the furious god,the arrows rattled on his shoulders, and his descent was like nightfall.

Here's the isolated bravery of Hector:

So now my destiny confronts me. Let me at least sell my life dearly and not without glory, after some great deed for future generations to hear of.

Recently, I read two books related to Greek literature.



Alberto Manguel's book is the biography of the two great epics of Greek literature and analyses their reception and reconstruction over the years. The book reads well and there are certain points that I was delighted to discover:

Samuel Butler considered Homer to have been young woman of Sicily. While I was aware that certain critics have offered the argument that Homer was a woman, I had no idea Butler was one of them.

It was also nice to know the Arabic names:

Homer- Umatirash
Hector- Aqtar
Achilles - Arsilaous

Also there was an interesting tid-bit. Apparently when Turkey was at war with Greece and Italy was helping the latter, the leader of the Turks wrote to his Italian counterpart as to why the Italians were helping the Greeks. His argument was that both the Turks and the Italians were sons of Hector (Troy is in present-day Turkey and the legendary founder of Rome is Aeneas, a cousin of Hector). They should, in fact, combine against the Greeks, who being the sons of Agamemnon, had once destroyed the land of their fore-fathers, Troy. I absolutely loved this mish-mash of politics and legend.





The other book, A Literary History of the Greeks, is by Robert Flaceliere, a scholar and professor of Classical Greek. The book bears the stamp of his scholarship and provides a comprehensive view of Greek political and cultural history right from the mythical times of the Trojan war to the Roman conquest of Greece. Politicians, artists, philosophers, sophists, orators, writers, painter...all are discussed in this book which doesn't isolate literature but rather presents it in the socio-historical context of the day.

The book is an interesting read but I was rather saddened after finishing it because so much of the knowledge of the Greeks is now lost to us. The text are either extinct or just survive in fragments.

*

First Line: It seems fitting that the two books which, more than any others, have fed the imagination of the Western world for over two and a half millenia, should have no clear starting-point and no identifiable creator.

Title: Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey: A Biography

Author: Alberto Manguel

Publication Details: ND: Manjul Publishing House, 2012

First Published: 2007

Pages: 285

Other books read of the same author: None

*

First Line: Even if Helen's beauty was not its only cause, and though Homer's account of it may not be completely reliable, the Trojan war did nevertheless take place.

Title: A Literary History of Greece

Original Title: Histoire Literaire De La Grece

Original Language: French

Author: Robert Flaceliere

Translator: Douglas Garman

Publication Details: London: Elek Books,1964

First Published: 1962

Pages: 395

Other books read of the same author: None

*

The books might be available in libraries. I borrowed them from libraries too. [898.01 092-MAN] & [949.5 F 591 L].




Challenge Complete: Guilty Readings



Nina a.k.a Topcho @ Bla bla bla books hosted a most unusual challenge this year: Guilty Readings that challenged us to read those books lying on our shelves that one way or the other make us feel guilty. I signed up for the second level: Eager for the Challenge and thus had to read 4-6 books. I am very glad to have completed the challenge successfully. At least there are four books off my shelves and I don't have to feel guilty about their lying their unloved and unread.

Here are the books read:

1. Mari by Easterine Kire
2. In Matto's Realm by Friedrich Glauser
3. Bombay Rains Bombay Girls by Anirban Bose



I liked this unusual challenge a lot and would love to participate in it once again.

Challenge Complete: South Asian 2013



I have successfully completed the South Asian 2013 Challenge which required one to read either books by South Asian writers or set in South Asia.

Of the books read, one was in Hindi:
Dhabba by Surender Mohan Pathak

Two were translated into English,one from Urdu, the other from Bengali:
The Last Musha'irah of Dehli by Mirza Farhatullah Baig
Arogyaniketan by Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay

The rest were in English:
 two of them autobiographies:
 Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun by Sister Jesme
Beloved Witch: An Autobiography by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti

four novels:
 The Teller of Tales by Bhaskar Ghose
 The Last Labyrinth by Arun Joshi
 Bombay Rains Bombay Girls by Anirban Bose
 Mari by Easterine Kire

and one cultural/ historical study:
 A Burden of Refuge by Rita Kothari

Of the 10 books read, the translated ones were the best:


Saturday, December 28, 2013

The House of Healing: Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay's Arogyaniketan

There was once a blind pir-fakir in Dera Ghazi Khan (prior to 1947 a province of India but now in Pakistan) who could discern what ailed a person just by feeling the latter's pulse. Extremely orthodox Muslim ladies, who would not allow the touch of any man barring their husband, would tie a thread round their wrists and the fakir would finger the thread and dictate a prescription. Not pills and capsules, mind you, but herbal concoctions. Once a young man, eager to prove the man as a fraud, went and let the man examine his pulse. The fakir made his diagnosis. The next day, the young man went again and again the same thing was told to him. This happened a few times, the young man would disguise himself differently everyday and approach the pir and the blind man would make the same prognosis. Finally, one day the pir said to him, "Aap roz aa jate hain." (Why do you come everyday?)

This anecdote narrated by my father came back to me while reading Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay's award-winning novel Arogyaniketan. Revolving around a small clinic, Arogyaniketan, in the village of Debipur, the novel chronicles the rise and fall of the Mashay family, practitioners of medicine for three succeeding generations.



Established by Jagat Bandhu Kaviraj Mashay and taken over by his son Jeevan Mashay after the former's death, the clinic was established on the the noblest ideals of care and concern. As the founder says to his friend: "(Healing) is the best kind of gain in this life. One party gains for he gets healed, the other has gained God's mercy by nursing the sick." Both Jagat Bandhu and his father were practitioners of Ayurved, the indigenous system of medicine in India in which diagnosis is made by examining the pulse of the patient. The most accomplished ones, like the Mashays, can even foretell the time of death.

Jagat's son, Jeevan, however, does not want to learn this ancient science. Enamoured by Dr. Ranglal, he wants to learn the modern science of allopathy. He even enrolls himself into a medical college but certain personal calamities force him to leave the college and he ends up learning ayurved from his father. Soon, he is as accomplished a practitioner as his father and grandfather before him but the world has moved on. Ayurved has fallen into disrepute because of certain unscrupulous people who merely pretend to be its practitioners. People now hardly ever come to arogyaniketan preferring the new hospital that has come up on the outskirts of the village, manged by Dr. Pradyot whose concern for his patients rivals that of Jeevan Mashay and who has no time for mumbo-jumbos like feeling the pulse and predicting the cause and cure of a disease. And what irks the good doctor no end is the prediction of death. Can anyone really do it and should this be done? Isn't it unethical? Shouldn't efforts be made to save a person till his last breath or would a person be more relieved to know his stipulated time and make preparations for his departure?

I never thought that a novel revolving around various practitioners of medicine - ayurveds, allopaths, hakims, homeopaths, even quacks - and around philosophic questions of life and death, would turn out to be so interesting. Highly recommended.

*

First Line: AROGYANIKETAN or the clinic run by the Mashay family of Debipur, doctors for three succeeding generations, was by no means a charitable dispensary or a hospital in the conventional sense.

Title: Arogyaniketan

Original Title: Arogyaniketan

Original Language: Bengali

Author: Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay

Translator: Enakshi Chatterjee

Publication Details: ND: Sahitya Akademi, 2005

First Published: 1953

Pages: 323

Other books read of the same author: None

Trivia: The book has been made into a movie.

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This book was gifted to me on my birthday in 2006. Though I pretended otherwise, I wasn't too happy. I'd rather have received a mystery than a book set in rural India. Thus, the novel sat on my shelves. This year, I finally dusted it off and read it, prepared to wade through a life full of woe. Was I surprised when the novel turned out to be so gripping that I could hardly put it down!

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The book is available for free download on certain sites.

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Submitted for various challenges.



Friday, December 27, 2013

Challenge Complete: Historical Fiction




After mystery, my next love is Historical Fiction. Thus, I am very glad to have finished the Historical Fiction challenge @ Historical Tapestry. I aimed to be a Victorian Reader i.e to read 5 historical novels. Well, I have successfully completed the challenge. Here are the books read:


1. Mari by Easterine Kire



This is the story of a forgotten war, the Battle of Kohima, called the 'Stalingrad of the East'.

2. The Last Musha'irah of Dehli by Mirza Farhatullah Baig



The narrator organises a poetic symposium at the time of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah 'Zafar'. Not only do luminaries like Mirza Ghalib, Ustaad Zauk, and Hakim Momin grace the occasion, it gives the author the perfect opportunity to show the fading culture of a city.

3. Derby Day: A Victorian Mystery by D.J. Taylor
Many fortunes ride on Tiberius on the day of the derby.

4. The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

Napoleon's agents scout the countryside in Regency England even as girls move out of their homes to look for jobs.

5. The Sunday I Became World Champion by F.C. Delius


Post WWII, Germany has lost confidence in itself and then on a magical Sunday it wins the Football World Cup...

6. The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell

A trail of blood leads from a sleepy hamlet in Sweden to the Chinese city of Beijing via the US and brings in its wake a past tale of exploitation, of indentured labourers from China being sold in markets and living in inhuman conditions.

7. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

The author recounts the heady days of the gold rush in California in this prize-winning Western.

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I also read two books depicting two significant epochs in the history of Germany. Mr. Norris Changes Trains which is set in the last days of the Weimar Republic and Lenz which is about the disillusionment that set in post the Student movement of the sixties. But since these were written in the years immediately after the time- period described with the authors having lived through those times, I don't know whether these can be considered historical fiction.



I aim to sign up for the 2014 edition of the challenge too.

Hindi Pulp: Surender Mohan Pathak's Dhabba

Surender Mohan Pathak is a well-known name in the field of Hindi pulp literature. Author of nearly 300 crime novels, he has a number of series and stand-alones to his credit. The earliest series that he wrote is the Sunil series. Sunil Kumar Chakravarty is a reporter at the daily Blast in the fictitious city of Rajnagar, a modern-day metropolitan in India situated near the sea. Zooming on his Bullet motorcycle with the cigarette Luckystrike in his mouth, Sunil is the usual dashing hero who besides being an honest and upright reporter often turns into a detective whenever there is a person (read damsel) in distress. As an investigator he is helped by his friend Ramakant Malhotra, the chain-smoking, whisky-guzzling owner of a club. There is also a Lieutenant Tragg like figure in Inspector Prabhu Dayal with whom Sunil often matches his wits. Sunil is also apparently a secret agent and at times is called for certain espionage operations. Not even those who are closest to him are aware of this secret identity of his.



In Dhabba ( The Stain), a millionaire on his death-bed wills his fortune to his nurse in lieu of the way she had taken care of him during his prolonged period of ill-health. Naturally, his family members are not too happy about the turn of events and decide to contest the will. The nurse meanwhile meets with an accident and dies and the fortune passes on to her daughter Vaishali. Suddenly, one of the witnesses of the will, Gauri Parmar, another nurse in same hospital where Vaishali's mother used to work, starts proclaiming that she had no idea about what she had signed-on. It is not long before she is found dead and the suspicion naturally falls on Vaishali who would have been deprived of a fortune had Gauri stuck to her stand. Vaishali appeals to Sunil and he starts investigating the case in order to prove her innocence.

I have read a number of Sunil books over the years and while the mystery is just about okay, I absolutely adore the conversations and confrontations between the sensible Sunil and the insensible Ramakant. This book is no exception.

For those who are interested, two of Pathak's books have been translated into English by Blaft publishers who are doing a great work in translating  pulp from Indian languages to English. The two books are from Pathak's Vimal series. Here's a link to one of his works @ Detectives Beyond Borders.

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First Line: Shaam sadhe aath baje ke karib Sunil Youth Club pahuncha.

Title: Dhabba

Series: Sunil # 119

Author: Surender Mohan Pathak

Publication Details: ND: Raja Pocket Books, 2010

First Published: 2010

Pages: 334

Other books read of the same author: (Among others) Meena Murder Case, Kala Karnama

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Submitted for various challenges.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Short Notes: The Secret History, The Sisters Brothers, Drinking Midnight Wine


What happens when reviews pile up, the year is drawing to an end, and time is limited? Well, you resort to short reviews especially if you haven't enjoyed the books.

I had heard a lot about Donna Tartt's The Secret History. The story revolving around a group of students studying Greek classics seemed unusual, so when I found it in a book sale, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, the book didn't really appeal to me.



Richard Papen is a small-town boy who gets admitted to a prestigious academic institute, the Hampden College in New England. Richard is eager to study ancient Greek not only because of his fascination with the language and literature of ancient Greece but also because he is fascinated by the elite group of students who are doing the course. At first rejected, he is later able to impress the professor and his small select band of students by his knowledge and admitted into the class. However, since he still remains something of an outsider, he is not initiated into some mysterious rituals that the others practise including Bacchanal rites. One day the rites go too far and result in the death of an innocent man.The group tries to suppress the murder but, like in all classical Greek tragedies, blood that is shed cries out for vengeance.

This novel had a superb beginning but I just could not sympathise or relate to any of the characters and hence it simply failed to work.

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I have a great liking for books that feature brothers so I was really keen to read Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers, a book that had been nominated for the Man Booker Prize 2011.



The book is a historical Western set during the Californian Gold Rush. Brothers Charlie and Elli Sisters are the fastest draws in their part of the world who are hired by a man known as the Commodore ( a title which reminded me of the mostly dim-witted commodores of Star Trek) to track down a man called Hermann Kermit Warm who has apparently cheated him. The brothers thus start on for what turns out to be a long journey full of many adventures and revelations even as Warm remains one step ahead.

The book's ending was a huge disappointment what with its 'all's well that ends well' kind of scenario. Surely two murderous men didn't deserve this kind of infantile end.


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What happens when a sexual violation leaves you with a baby? Well, you reject the baby, abandon him, and care two hoot about how he is being brought up. What happens when the same baby grows up to be a twisted being, full of hatred and bent on destruction? Well, you suddenly become all maternal and profuse plenty of platitudes about how love conquers all hate. This hypocrisy made me so sick that this is all I am going to write about Simon R.Green's Drinking Midnight Wine.




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First Line: The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.

Title: The Secret History

Author: Donna Tartt

Publication Details: London: Penguin, 1993.

First Published: 1992

Pages: 660

Other books read of the same author: None

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First Line: I was waiting outside the Commodore's mansion, waiting for my brother Charlie to come out with news of the job.

Title: The Sisters Brothers

Author: Patrick de Witt

Publication Details: London: Granta, 2011

First Published : 2011

Pages: 328

Trivia: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011


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First Line: BRADFORD-ON-AVON is an old town, and not all of its ghosts sleep the sleep of the just.

Title: Drinking Midnight Wine

Author: Simon R. Green

Publication Details: NY: Roc, 2002

First Published: 2001

Pages: 290

Other Books read of the same author: None

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Submitted for various challenges.

Challenge Complete: Outside the Box





I have successfully completed Reading Outside the Box challenge, hosted by Musings of a Book Lover. I had opted for the 'It's not so bad out here' level which meant I had to read books in 5-7 different genres/categories. I actually did one better, reading ten books in 8 categories which means I actually upped my level to 'Look at me, outside my comfort zone!' Yahoo!

 Here are the books read:

#2   Another Voice

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

Barring books by Indians, I hardly read anything written by Black writers. So it was wonderful (though also extremely heartbreaking) to read this book about the Algerian War of Independence written from a Black person's perspective.

#3   Opposites Attract
I am not into YA literature but this year I read not one but two YA novels.

Behind the Green Door by Mildred A. Wirt
Bombay Rains Bombay Girls by Anirban Bose

#4   5 Star Day

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

I had never read any Japanese Crime fiction but suddenly there were a lot of positive things being written about Japanese writer Keigo Higashino. The title of the book made me a little wary (X-Rated stuff!) but it turned out to be a marvellous book, well deserving of all the praise, and not at all what I had feared.


#5   XyZ pdQ

Both the authors have a Z in their names!

Night Screams by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg
[Yes, I know your eye-sight is perfect but it was fun writing it this way].

#6   It’s my Birthday!

 Lenz by Peter Schneider

Published in 1973, this is a contemporary classic.


#7   From one place…

I read very many books that were neither firstly published in India nor in the USA. Here's a link to the one that has the earliest publishing date.

Mysteries by Knut Hamsun

The Norwegian writer won the Nobel-Prize and promptly presented it to Joseph Goebbels (His first name now makes sense, doesn't it?)

#8   It’s All About ME!
Well, the first one certainly is!
Beloved Witch: An Autobiography by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti
Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun by Sister Jesme.


#12  I couldn’t help myself!

 Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar

I had no idea either about the book or the author. But the cover was so compelling, I simply had to borrow it. And yes, it was worth it. Have a look yourself:




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I had lots of fun doing this challenge and I am glad that it is being hosted again with all new different and exciting categories. I'll be signing up for it soon. If you too are interested, please have a look over here.