Norwegian Wood

indexTitle – Norwegian Wood

Author -Haruki Murakami

Genre –  Fiction/Drama

Rating -3/5

Norwegian Wood is a best seller by Haruki Murakami.

When I finished this novel, I felt odd. The book ended on a weird note and I didn’t know what to make out of it. In the book, in one place it is mentioned that there are millions of books in the world and we have time to read only a few of them. So, one needs to pick and choose the book which deserves the time and attention it gets. And I felt, maybe this was a book which was not worth it. Curious as to why it was a best seller I browsed the internet for some time and I think I understand the book a little better now.

Set in the late 1960s, events unfold in a Japan where men in bars pick up girls and have sex with them. Smoking and drinking is a way of life. There are fewer social ties. While the institutions and buildings may be old, youth and their thoughts are relatively modern. So, is the loneliness and depression that comes with solitude in the modern world.

The narrator is an old man who feels he is forgetting all the details of his life and needs to pen them down before they are lost completely. Makes one wonder if all old people feel that way.

Coming to the storyline, it is about two love stories, one complicated and one simple. There is always a struggle going on in the characters’ minds. There are no right or wrong actions, simply actions performed so that life keeps moving. The book is loaded with symbolism. Every line means and says so much more that the meaning is limited only by one’s understanding. If you understand symbolism, the novel would be a great read for you. You will be able to relate with the characters and feel their anguish. If not, you will be an observer witnessing someone’s life from afar.

In the end, the book is not a bad investment of time.

Another Man’s Wife

15821409Title – Another Man’s Wife

Author – Manjul Bajaj

Genre – fiction, women

Rating – 5/5

This is not a chick-lit, as the name might suggest, but an excellent collection of women centric short stories. These nine stories evolve around human desire, emotions, intimacy and love, and each story explores and explains a different side of a person’s and a society’s behavior. The stories are each from a different part of India, and the characters cut across the vast panorama of classes and cultures. Tribals, servants, middle classes, businessmen, and elite – all jostle with desire and its aftermath.

Each story is beautifully written and has a distinct flavor from a different part of India- from Kashmir, to Delhi, Murshidabad, Lucknow, Jalandhar, Goa, etc. Once I started the book, I paused after each story to think over them, and the underlying emotions. Manjul has impressive writing skills and transports the readers to different regions with flesh and blood characters.

The language is simple, effective and descriptive. In all, an easy and thoughtful read! Looking forward to more works by the author.

The Book Thief

The Book Thief Title – The Book Thief

Author – Markus Zusak

Genre – Fiction, WW2

Rating – 5/5

Death, the narrator, is beautiful. He picks up the souls of the dead so gently, so delicately. He is, at the same time – fascinated, and haunted by humans. He tries so hard to understand them, but the different characters, their desires and wishes, the colors, the smells, everything confuse him. So he goes about doing his job and picks up bits of human experiences here and there. His narration is amazing. Throwing in bits of spoilers, dictionary-meanings, and word-references/translations , you will not want to put this one down.

The story itself is about the ability of books to feed the soul. Liesel steals books to calm herself, to cheer herself. Death narrates what she had written down in her “black book” during World War-II. Once you start reading this book you will definitely not put it down. You would want to read it slowly. At times, it is haunting, at times it is extremely funny, and then of course there are unbearably sad and heartbreaking parts as well. The characters are interesting, and have a lot of depth to them. They will charm you, and capture your heart.

The Wise Man’s Fear

the-wise-man's-fearTitle – The Wise Man’s fear

Author – Patrick Rothfuss

Genre – Fantasy

Rating – 5/5

Wise man’s fear is the second book in the fantasy series The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. The book is about a young man orphaned at a very young age. Left alone, he somehow manages to survive the hard and hungry world. Then he goes to the University aka the school of magic where he finds friends and foes alike. And the school changes his entire world. Also, in the big picture scenario, he is searching for something.

Sounds like your typical fantasy story. Except that it is not.

The way in which it is different is that there is a method to the madness. The magical components have an element of science and logic behind them. Events don’t just randomly happen. Everything is meticulously planned by the protagonist. He is witty and charming, traits he didn’t acquire out of thin air but which he learned from his wandering troupe as a child. It is all these things and many more that make this novel a treat for the bookworm.

Coming to the prose, for some reason, it feels very familiar. Every emotion is described in a way that you get a déjà vu feeling. The entire story moves in a rhythmic flow and is filled with witty exchanges along the way.

This book can also be an inspiration for someone who is down in life and is trying to get back up.

Overall, a great read.

Game of Thrones – A Song of Ice and Fire 1

Title – A Game of ThronesImage

Author – George R. R. Martin

Genre – Fantasy

Rating – 5/5

This is a very riveting read. Do not go by the size of the book – as the ‘Times’ review says – you will be hooked within a few pages.

This book is the first of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series by George R. R. Martin – an American author. The books received tremendous attention with the coming of the TV serial named after the first book – ‘Game of Thrones’ produced by HBO. But, as is the popular view, reading the books is a much better experience.

The story is about kingdoms, kings, royal families, mucky politics, depravity, deceit, passion, valor, aggression, infidelity and much more. Most of the characters are quite detailed. Winterfell is ruled by the righteous and brave Eddard Stark. King’s Landing is where Robert Baratheon lives and rules the seven kingdoms under him including Winterfell – his good friend Eddard’s kingdom. This book revolves around the happenings in these two kingdoms.

Robert’s visit to Winterfell sets off a chain of events that is the heart of this story. Meanwhile, the last of the Targaryen blood – the previous rulers of the seven kingdoms and the last known ‘dragons’ – Daenerys and Viserys are staying away from the limelight across the ocean. Viserys has a sinister plan in his mind to usurp Robert’s throne. But as the story continues, it becomes clear that Daenerys is not a mere instrument for Viserys – who realizes what his sister is capable of – in a very histrionic mannner.

Also, the world is faced with the onset of a big Winter – when the army of ‘others’ from the North will come and plunder and kill everyone. The Night’s Watch – the protectors of the continent in the North are responsible to keep them at bay to save everyone’s lives – to save life itself.

Some of the standout characters are Eddard Stark, his wife Catelyn, Robert’s wife Cersei Lannister,  Cersei’s brother and master of wit Tyrion Lannister and the Stark girls – Sansa and Arya.

Can the fabled Night’s Watch protect the continent from this impending peril? Can Eddard set things right at King’s Landing? Can Lady Catelyn avenge her son’s ‘accident’? Can Sansa and Arya do what’s right when it matters the most? Can Daenerys realize her powers and bring back Targaryen dynasty with the help of the savage Dothrakis?

The secret of the books’ and TV series’ success is not so much in the story as it is in the enchanting story-telling by Martin. You want to know more at the end of every chapter. As is the case with the TV series as well, you just can’t stop at the end of a chapter.

My suggestion – read the books first and finish off the TV serials later if you have to!
‘Game of Thrones’ is as good a beginning to a fantasy series as it can get.

Shantaram

816552

Title: Shantaram

Author: Gregory David Roberts

Genre: Fiction, Crime

Rating: 2.5/5

Set in the early 80s, Shantaram is a story based on the experiences of the author, Gregory David Roberts, an escaped convict from Australia. An armed robber and a heroin addict, he was given a nineteen years jail sentence, but fled the prison and became his country’s most wanted man. He stopped over in Mumbai en route to his escape to Germany and ended up living there for ten years.

The book describes his initial impressions of Mumbai and how he eventually comes to love it as his home. It is about how fate takes him along a winding path that leads him to live in a slum, work for the mafia and fight a war in Afghanistan. Along the way, he makes many friends and loses the people he loves. As a foreigner in India, he develops an astute understanding of the country and its people.

While the book is more of a memoir rather than an autobiography, the detailed accounts of the people and places, especially Mumbai gives a sense of authenticity to the story. And through the vivid descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of Mumbai, the city takes a life of its own in the book. It is a powerful protagonist in its own right. Bollywood and the mafia underworld are weaved into the narrative as well.

Although it is an entertaining story and one that holds your attention at places, the author fails to maintain the ebb and flow of the story. Most of that can be attributed to the overdose of pseudo-philosophy which is strewn across the pages. It seems good for the first 200 pages or so, and some of it is actually meaningful. Some of the wordplay by the characters is excellent. But as the pages wear on, it begins to get tiring and a bit irritating. Every chapter ends with yet another piece of wisdom, and after a point, it seems that even a simple act such as walking is elevated to a profound experience. And at 933 pages, it is quite a tedious read. Some of the story arcs are unnecessary and could have been done without.

However, if you have the patience and time to forgive these indulgences of the author, it is a likable story. But for all that it offers, Shantaram fails to become the riveting story that it could have been.

Liar’s Poker

200px-Liarspoker-book (1)Title: Liar’s Poker

Author: Michael Lewis

Genre: Biography/Autobiography

Rating: 4.5/5

Liar’s Poker is a semi-autobiographical book by Michael Lewis describing his experiences as a bond salesman on Wall Street during the late 1980s. The book derives its name from liar’s poker,  a game played in idle moments by workers on Wall Street, the objective of which is to reward trickery and deceit. With this as a metaphor, he describes his four years with the Wall Street firm Salomon Brothers, from his bizarre hiring through the training program to his years as a successful bond trader. His description of the firm’s personalities and of the events from 1984 through the crash of October 1987 is vivid and memorable. He gives some brilliant insights into the Alpha-male-dominated world of big investment firms, and the extremely odd and intriguing culture that still exists today. It is fast paced, shrewd and wickedly funny book.

Lewis was an art history student at Princeton University, who wanted to break into Wall Street to make money. He describes his almost pathetic attempts to find a finance job, only to be roundly rejected by every firm to which he applied. He then enrolled in the London School of Economics to gain a Master’s degree in economics. While in England, he was invited to a banquet hosted by the Queen Mother, where he was purposely seated by his cousin, one of the organizers of the banquet, next to the wife of the London managing partner of Salomon Brothers, in the hope that his intelligence might impress her enough for her to suggest to her husband that Lewis be given a job with Salomon Brothers, which had previously turned him down. As it turned out, the strategy worked, and Lewis was granted an interview and landed the job.

Lewis then moved to New York City for Salomon’s training program. Here, he was appalled at the sophomoric, obtuse and obnoxious behaviour of some of his fellow trainees and indoctrinated into the money culture of Salomon Brothers and Wall Street in general. He talked about how all of the trainees would be in one room, and an investment banker would talk to them. He gives a vivid description of the trainees.

The class involves lectures from various MDs and speeches given by upper management. Most were there to gloat about themselves and looking for ego-boosts. Rarely anything useful came out of these classes. Memorable speakers included:

  • The Human Piranha – Perfect example of the fuckspeak culture on the trading floor.
  • Sangroid – cold and intimidating, made a point that every trainee must live and breathe the financial world.
  • Richard O’Grady – a young trader who started at Salomon as a lawyer. He told true, personal stories of various abuses at Salomon.

He describes how a trainee would go to any extent to impress the managers of the department he wanted to be in, after the completion of the training. Everyone wanted to be in the mortgage bond department because that is where the money was at, and no one wanted to be in equities. “Equity in Dallas” became the lowest of the low for a trainee to end up in.

Lewis portrays the 1980s as an era where government deregulation allowed less-than-scrupulous people on Wall Street to take advantage of others’ ignorance, and thus grow extremely wealthy. He traces the rise of Salomon Brothers through mortgage trading, when deregulation by the U.S. Congress suddenly allowed managers of savings and loans to start selling mortgages as bonds. Lewis Ranieri, a Salomon Brothers’ employee, had created the only viable mortgage trading section on Wall Street, so when the law passed, it became a windfall for the firm. However, he believed that Salomon Brothers became too complacent in their new-found wealth and took to unwise expansion and massive displays of conspicuous consumption. When the rest of Wall Street wised up to the market, the firm lost its advantage.The good times started to haze from 1986 as talents left Salomons and mortgage bonds became commoditized (partly through Salomon’s own invention of CMOs etc).  Ranieri was finally squeezed out in 1988.

Michael started in the London office as a corporate bond salesman. He eventually was able to become, what the top management at Salomon Brothers would call a “Big Swinging Dick” (one who could make millions of dollars come out of those phones, he became the most revered of all species). He got a client to purchase an extremely large amount of bonds for a company that was soon to fail. He started to feel awful for the Frenchman that bought the bonds, but that is what Salomon Brothers wanted him to do.

A huge round of firing and trimming of Salomon workforce preceded one of the worst stock market crashes in history (winter of ’87).Reflecting the gross failure and lack of vision from the top management, the company summarily closed down departments and fired a thousand employees. Michael escaped the cut and was instead rewarded with a surprisingly large year end bonus. Salomon did not go under, it continued to operate, but earning much, much less than in its heydays. He quit the firm in 1989 and wrote this book, the main reason for Michael’s departure from the firm was the belief that his rewards should have reflected his contribution to welfare of the society. He could not rationalize how his job of selling bonds to customers produced much goodness.