June 2020 in Books

A summary of books read in the month of June.

~The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey – A memoir of a year spent with a woodland snail. The author suffers from a debilitating illness due to a viral pathogenic infection two decades ago. A visiting friend picks up flowers from the forest outside her house, unwittingly bringing along a hitchhiker of a snail which provides companionship and many life lessons on the way. Well written and researched, with ample literature about snails, conversations with malacological experts, and a wonderful glimpse into a curious world. 5/5

~Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson – The merging of neuroscience with contemplative practices and ancient meditative techniques that seek to explain the rewiring of the brain towards peace, well-being, wisdom and happiness. Change your brain to change your life. Informative with practical applicability, the writing style feels a tad drab. 3.5/5

~How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones – A coming-of-age memoir of living as a homosexual, Black man, practising Buddhism in a Catholic family. Beautifully blending poetry with prose, Jones’ haunting narrative captivates throughout – a powerful voice in today’s literary scene. 4/5

~The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa – An English translation of a Japanese book about a housekeeper with a ten-year old son, hired to care for a brilliant Math professor with a memory lasting only eighty minutes. A mesmerising story about the love for and beauty of numbers, living in the present, and the equations that form relationships – in Math and beyond. 5/5

~It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini – A teenager on the way to kill himself, makes a desperate call to a suicide helpline and gets himself checked into a resident program at a psychiatric hospital. His interactions and experiences with his fellow residents help him to confront the sources of his own anxiety. A book about depression, self-harm, OCD, schizophrenia, narrated through a fifteen-year old. A tough topic tackled with light humor addressing dark issues. 3.5/5

~Downward Facing Death by Neal Pollack – An ex-cop turned yoga teacher cum private investigator is hired by the FBI to investigate the death of a prominent Hollywood yoga guru. The narrative is simplistic and might not appeal to all, but the numerous yoga analogies make this a fun read for yoga practitioners. A hilarious and insightful outlook into the commercialization of yoga culture. 3.5/5

~The Guest List by Lucy Foley – A wedding party hosted on a secluded island, where neither the victim nor murderer are revealed till the end, making this a dual guessing game for the reader. An entertaining story that keeps you hooked till the end. I liked the shifting perspectives – almost feels like you’re on the guest list yourself, obtaining a first person account of the events leading up to the moment of the wedding, while reminiscing about the past and raising the question of how well do we know the people we know.  4/5

~You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann – An English translation of a German book, featuring a screen writer working on the sequel to his hit movie in a newly rented house in a secluded location. That the house has a life of its own becomes obvious on the first night itself. Rooms rotate, swivel, appear and disappear; windows reflect things and not people, basic Maths doesn’t apply to the measurements of the house’s dimensions, you exit a room only to enter the same room you left. The first person narrative  of the book flows parallel to the script being written, heightening the eerie atmosphere – are the narrator’s thoughts part of his fictional story, hallucinations, or observations of what’s happening? Gripping and haunting, closely blending the lines of psychological horror and ghostly horror. 4.5/5

~The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Hossain – Djinns and drones come together in this cauldron of fantasy fiction and science fiction. A djinn king awakens after millennia of slumber, finding an ally in a Gurkha, to take over a new kingdom to rule. Only it’s a post-apocalyptic world, run by an AI called Karma. A roller coaster of a read – hilarious, entertaining, thoughtful and literary, combining legends with speculations, a juxtaposition of the past with the future. Not a book to be missed. 5/5

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May 2020 in Books

I have been a little occupied over the past few months. Having utilized the lockdown period to enrol in literature courses, most of my reading these days is taken up by course material, required readings, lectures, and participation in student discussion forums. These are some of the books I read in May.

~Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks – Historical fiction based on true events surrounding the Plague that afflicted the village of Eyam in 1665. One of the first known evidences of quarantine as we now know it, the entire village decided to isolate itself in an effort to save neighboring villages and towns from contracting the disease. Eyam is a tourist destination today, known as “Plague Village” – the bubonic plague having ravaged through the self-sacrificing residents. 4.5/5

~Poisonville by Massimo Carlotto and Marco Videtta – An English translation of an Italian language crime novel. A woman finds herself murdered a week before her wedding. Her fiance being the son of the director of the firm she works for is the prime suspect, but things are never what they seem. A noir thriller where the killer is not one specific person, but an entire corrupt system, bringing together the dilemmas of family, business, society, morals, obligations. A good work of Italian crime noir. 3.5/5

~Alien by Alan Dean Foster – A novelization of the screenplay that released before the movie came out. Consequently, the book is based on the original screenplay, straying from Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the horror classic we know. A brilliant science fiction read for lovers of the genre. If the silence and solitude of space scared you in the movie, the book ups the ante several notches. The fear is so atmospheric, with nothing and everything happening in the silence. Only seven characters occupy the entire length of the novel (and movie) and what a ride it was! 5/5

~Survival of the Sickest by Sharon Moalem – A scientific outlook on the evolution of disease and illnesses through the evolution of species. Viruses and bacteria have occupied our planet since the time of the dinosaurs. What makes them so resilient through millennia of evolution, with other species having come and gone? An engaging narrative on why we fall sick, and how disease within a species is inherent as we evolve. 5/5

~Mango Cake and Murder by Christy Murphy – A cozy mystery with a Filipino mother-daughter crime fighting duo who balance their investigations alongside a catering business. An interesting premise that had the potential to be a wonderful read, if not for the bland approach taken by the writer. A quick read that’s decent enough between heavy or more serious books. Not recommended as a must-read. 2/5

~The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi – Historical fiction set in Jaipur, India of the 1950s. A henna artist married at fifteen, escapes from an abusive husband at seventeen, and finds a path ahead applying henna/mehendi to the rich and famous of post-Independence India. Years pass and a sister born since after she left home shows up at her door step. Beautiful descriptions of the henna artwork, insightful concoctions of traditional herbs and restorative foods, recipes that make you want to eat along as you read – all travel parallel with sibling dynamics, interplay of past and present, the lines between clients and friends, family and strangers. A fascinating story and uplifting read. 5/5

~A Shower of Summer Days by May Sarton – An Irish estate home unoccupied for years, finds its temporary visitors turning permanent residents, as a middle-aged couple decide to settle in the wife’s ancestral house. A book about people not only bound to each other, but to the house itself – the house being a character in the story, a witness to emotions and conversations, providing a sense of familiarity and serenity as well as alienation and flaring tempers. Kind of a charming counterpart to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. 4/5

~The Rider by Tim Krabbé – An English translation of a Dutch memoir; a literary sports classic of the seventies. A tribute to the art of bicycle racing, Krabbé describes his transition from chess player and sports journalist to competitive rider and top endurance athlete – all interspersed within the pages of a 150-kilometer road race. A thrilling ride not just for cyclists or athletes, but anyone who enjoys an inspiring read. 5/5

~The Summer People by Shirley Jackson – A short story about an elderly couple that decides to extend their stay at a summer cottage. What happens when tourists turn full time residents? A sinister take on the relationship between locals and tourists and the outcome when these lines are blurred. 4/5

~The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – A re-telling of the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, from the point of view of Draupadi/Panchaali – the wife of the legendary Pandavas brothers. A well conceived interpretation with fantastic prose make this a book worth reading. 5/5

A collage of all the books:

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WITH THE BEATLES – A Review Of Haruki Murakami’s Short Story

Title – With The Beatles

Author – Haruki Murakami

Genre – Short story, fiction

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“The death of a dream can be, in a way, sadder than that of a living being.”

“Memory became one of my most valued emotional tools, a means of survival, even. Like a warm kitten, softly curled inside an oversized coat pocket, fast asleep.”

Haruki Murakami’s “WITH THE BEATLES” is a bittersweet story of a narrator reminiscing about his college days, and the passing of life from adolescence to adulthood. One of the narrator’s fondest memories is of a girl he encounters in the school corridor in 1964, clutching an LP of “With The Beatles”. He didn’t know her name and never met her again after that one incident, but the memory of the LP brought back some more memories of the Beatles’ music and the height of Beatlemania of the 1960s. The narrator subsequently takes us through the music of Nat King Cole, Percy Faith, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, the Temptations, and several other musicians of the era who made their way into Japan’s musical landscape. A chance encounter with the elder brother of his then girlfriend that led to a discussion on the works of Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Junichiro Tanizaki and Kobo Abe, leads the narrator to recollect his tryst with books and reading, “I could never just sit, still and silent. I always had to be turning the pages of a book or listening to music, one or the other. When there was no book lying around, I’d grab anything printed. I’d read a phone book, an instruction manual for a steam iron.”

The writing style appears autobiographical and confessional, and relatable for a reader when we realize our own recollections of snippets of past incidents, and memories both good and bad finding their way into our consciousness without any specific reason. No doubt a treat for music and book lovers, this can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates a good story.

My rating – 4/5

Birthday Bookathon 2019

Halfway through the ‘Birthday Bookathon’. As part of the yearly goals I set on my birthday each year, my reading goal for this year was world literature in translation – an ode to translators, without whom many of the books we read would not be accessible to us unless we knew every single language in the world. I have selected languages from each letter of the English alphabet, and the aim is to read one book (at least) from each of the languages corresponding to a letter. I began on the 14th of November (my birth date). Today we are at the half way mark, and these were the books finished in the past six months.

~Albanian – The Accident – Ismail Kadare
~Bangla – The Greatest Bengali Stories Ever Told – Arunava Sinha
~Cantonese – Never Grow Up – Zhu Mo
~Danish – The Last Good Man – A.J.Kazinski
~German – The Bird Is A Raven – Benjamin Lebert
~Hungarian – Iza’s Ballad – Magda Szabó
~Italian – Six Characters in Search of an Author – Luigi Pirandello
~Japanese – The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa
~Persian – The Blind Owl – Sadegh Hedayat
~Russian – The Heart of a Dog – Mikhail Bulgakov
~Swedish – The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden – Jonas Jonasson
~Turkish – Istanbul Istanbul – Burhan Sönmez

This is the original blog-post I had written on my birthday when I started the reading list. Another fourteen more languages to go. 🙂 I am trying to keep one language for each alphabet, but I also have books from more languages, which will be read as I get the time.

Eine Buchrezension – A Book Review of Miss Hamburg

The beauty of language is that it opens up so many new avenues of communication. We can talk to more people, watch movies and read books in their original form, learn about different cultures. This blog site features write-ups mostly in English to cater to a wider reader base. When I post in any other language, the English translation follows the original post. I started learning German a few months ago, and have been attempting to read books in the original language, on the recommendations of librarians. The past few weeks have been busy, and I just finished my Deutsch A1 exam yesterday. I’ve barely even scratched the surface of the vast expanse of German literature. Like every little drop adding to the ocean, we start with baby steps and gradually increase our strides towards bigger things.

This is a review of the book Miss Hamburg. I’m attempting to write in German (and the English translation will follow below).

Der Buchtitel – Miss Hamburg

Die Autoren – Theo Scherling und Elke Burger

Genre – Fiktion

Sprache – Deutsch

Ein Buch aus der Leo & Co. Serie – des Bücher über eine Kneipe. Leo is einen Maler und eine leidenschaftlicher Koch, und Besitzer der Kneipe “Leo & Co.” Unsere Protagonistin Anna ist eine Studentin, die Teilzeit in der Kneipe arbeitet. Anna liest eine Anzeige von einer Modelagentur und möchte mit einem professionellen Portfolio einsteigen. Ihre Freundin Veronika, Boss Leo und Oma Trude, zusammen mit dem Fotograf Kai helfen Anna dabei. Ihr anderer Freund Paco scheint es nicht glücklich, dass Anna mit dem Modeln anfängt. Das Buch führt uns durch die Reise diese Gruppe von Charakteren, die Anna bei ihrer Verwandlung von der Kellnerin zum Model unterstützen und im Miss Hamburg-Wettbewerb beenden. Nervenkitzel, Missverständnisse, Freundschaften, Familie – der Leser wird zussamen mit Anna.

Eine mittelmäßige und kurz Geschichte. Gut herausgeätzte Charaktere und eine interessante Übersicht, die von Klischees ferngehalten wird. Eine etwas ausgedehnte Erzählung hätte das Leseerlebnis verbessert. Das Buch wird von einer Audio-CD begleitet, die eine große Hilfe ist, um die Aussprache beim Erlernen einer neuen Sprache zu üben.

Empfehlenswert, wenn Sie Bücher mit einfachen Handlungssträngen mögen – aber ohne Klischees – die menschliche Gefühle berühren.

Bewertung – 3/5

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For English readers,

Title – Miss Hamburg

Authors – Theo Scherling and Elke Burger

Genre – Fiction

Language – German

A book from the Leo & Co. series – a number of books featuring various incidents surrounding a pub of the same name. Leo is a painter and passionate cook, who runs the pub “Leo and Co.” Our protagonist Anna is a student who works part-time at the pub. Anna chances upon an ad by a modelling agency, and wishes to enter by creating a professional portfolio. Her friend Veronika, boss Leo, and grandma Oma Trude, along with Kai the photographer, encourage and help Anna in the endeavor. Her other friend Paco doesn’t seem too keen on Anna taking up modelling. The book takes us through the journey of this motley group of characters as they assist Anna in her transformation from waitress to model, culminating in the Miss Hamburg contest. Thrills, apprehensions, misunderstandings, friendships, family – the reader is taken on a roller coaster along with Anna.

A mediocre story line, which I felt passed too swiftly. Well etched out characters, and an interesting synopsis that stay away from clichés. A little drawn out narration would have enhanced the reading experience and given us more time with each character and their role in Anna’s life. The book is accompanied by an audio CD, which is a great aid to practice pronunciations when learning a new language.

Recommended if you like books with simple story lines – but without clichés – that touch on human emotions.

My rating – 3/5

Reading Goals 2018 – An Ode To Translators

It’s my birthday today! Rather than keep New Year resolutions, I set various goals on my birthday that follow through till the next birthday. As part of my bibliophilic endeavors, the past year was dedicated to reading regional books from around India – a way of travelling around the country through literature. India is a very large country with myriad local languages within its many states. Although Hindi is the national language, each of the states have their own languages, and there are many more dialects within. Reading a large number of translated books over the year got me thinking about the role played by translators in literature. We read books from around the world – many of them translated works of the literary greats – and aside of the name of the book and original author, the name of the translator often isn’t remembered. I also came across many poorly translated books – fabulous stories by the original writers, but appallingly translated with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and several editing issues as well. Badly translated books make you wish you knew the original language, because one misses out on so much literature on account of not knowing every possible language in the world.

This led me to plan reading goals for this year – read world literature comprising exclusively translated books, as an ode to translators who make books available to us around the globe. Italo Calvino had once said, “Without translation, I would be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my most important ally. He introduces me to the world.” Translators need to not only be proficient in both the original language and the language being translated into, but also be efficient writers to ensure the author’s words stay as true to his/her intentions as possible. A good translator can cause a mediocre book to be well appreciated by efficient writing skills. A bad translator can turn readers away from a great piece of literature. This brings us back to Calvino – the most translated contemporary Italian writer, whose books have frequently been translated by William Weaver, and are a beauty to read even in the English language.

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So, this year I will be identifying translators from around the globe. I have listed down languages starting from each letter of the English alphabet, and will be picking and reading translated works from each of those languages. Here’s the list I came up with and have already procured books from some of them.. A few books been lying around for a while and fit well with the theme. There were some classics I wanted to revisit and authors who had long been in the to-be-read list. As always, the books will include a mix of fiction and non-fiction, prose and poetry. A challenging task ahead when a reader is completely at the mercy of translators. The languages I know have been pushed to the far end of their categories. If time permits, I will pick up translated works as a tribute to those translators. My reading habits over the years will also be taken into account when prioritizing literature – hence the preference of Greek over German, Swedish over Spanish, and Turkish over Tamil.

A – Arabic, Assamese, Armenian, Albanian

B – Basque, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Burmese, Bangla

C – Catalan, Croatian, Cantonese, Czech

D – Danish, Dutch

E – Estonian, Esperanto

F – Flemish, Finnish, French

G – Greek, Georgian, German

H – Hungarian, Hebrew, Hindi

I – Icelandic, Italian

J – Japanese, Javanese, Jarai

K – Korean, Kurdish, Khmer

L – Latin, Latvian, Lithuanian

M – Mandarin, Macedonian

N – Nepali, Norwegian

O – Ojibwa, Oriya

P – Polish, Portuguese, Persian

Q – Quechwa

R – Romanian, Russian, Rwanda, Romani

S – Serbian, Swedish, Swahili, Spanish

T – Turkish, Thai, Tamil

U – Ukranian, Urdu

V – Vietnamese

W – Welsh, Warlpiri

X – Xhosa

Y – Yiddish, Yoruba

Z – Zapotec, Zulu

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Piled up a few of them – and have a couple on Kindle as well – to start off with.

If you have read English translations of any of the languages listed above, share your titles of recommended reads. If you’d like to join me in this endeavor, hop on board. Let’s read the world! 🙂

 

Finale Of The Birthday Bookathon

For someone who can never seem to quench my thirst for literature from around the world, I had set out to read books from around India, in keeping with my reading goals for the year. The idea was to “travel the country through literature” – read at least one book from each of the twenty-nine states and seven union territories, making up a minimum of thirty-six books. The birthday bookathon started on the 14th of November last year (my birthdate), and concluded today. The objective behind this literary endeavor was to explore India through books. I wanted to identify lesser known books/authors, give a chance to newbie writers, dig into books I might have missed in the past, explore regional literature and translated books. Not all of the titles I picked up are popular books that might show up on a Google search. I intentionally avoided googling lists on Indian literature, and stayed away from recommendations from book clubs, for the simple reason that the same books/writers keep showing up and one’s reading gets very limited. I went about the task by listing down all the states and union territories and looking for local writers from each place. The criteria that had to be met for a book to be included in the bookathon were – it needed to be set in a particular state or any city within that state, or the author was a native of that place though the book wasn’t set there, or the author was writing about his/her own hometown. Preference was given to translated books from regional languages.

These were the books I read through the year (specific to my birthday reading goals. Overall, there were more books not part of Indian literature). As usual, I tried to maintain a mix of fiction, non-fiction, short stories, novels, anthologies, plays and poetry. Many have been reviewed on this blog site, and I’ll get around to writing about the pending ones as I get the time.

STATES

1) Assam – If A River by Kula Saikia

2) Arunachal Pradesh – Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent

3) Andhra Pradesh – Stories from Andhra by Ramakanth J

4) Bihar –  A Matter of Rats by Amitava Kumar

5) Chhatisgarh – The Burning Forest by Nandini Sundar

6) Goa – Poskem by Wendell Rodericks

7) Gujarat – Fence by Ila Arab Mehta

8) Haryana – Come, Before Evening Falls by Manjul Bajaj

9) Himachal Pradesh – A Year in Himachal by Humera Ahmed

10) Jammu-Kashmir – The Siege of Warwan by G.D.Bakshi

11) Jharkhand – The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

12) Karnataka – Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, and Hayavadana by Girish Karnad

13) Kerala – The Sixth Finger by Malayatoor Ramakrishnan, and The Legends of Khasak by O.V.Vijayan

14) Madhya Pradesh – A Breath of Fresh Air by Amulya Malladi

15) Maharashtra – Zopala by V.P.Kale, Rangresha by Shanta Shelke, and Bloodline Bandra by Godfrey Joseph Pereira

16) Manipur – Mother, Where’s My Country by Anubha Bhonsle

17) Meghalaya – Onaatah by Paulami Dutta Gupta

18) Mizoram – Zorami by Malsawmi Jacob

19) Nagaland – Son of the Thundercloud by Easterine Kire

20) Odisha – A Life Like No Other by Sujata Prasad, and Yagnaseni by Pratibha Ray

21) Punjab – Time Out by Jasjit Mansingh

22) Rajasthan – Annals of Mewar by James Tod

23) Sikkim – Beyond the Goal by Mohammad Amin-ul Islam, and Don’t Ask Any Old Bloke for Directions by Palden Gyatso Tenzing

24) Tamil Nadu – Poonachi by Perumal Murugan, and A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

25) Telangana – The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi

26) Tripura – Human Interference on River Health by Shreya Bandyopadhyay and Sunil Kumar De

27) Uttar Pradesh – Run to Realise by Abhishek Mishra, and Nirmala by Premchand

28) Uttarakhand – My Kumaon by Jim Corbett, and Love Among the Bookshelves by Ruskin Bond

29) West Bengal – Murder in the City by Supratim Sarkar

UNION TERRITORIES

1) Andaman and Nicobar Islands – Islands in Flux by Pankaj Sekhsaria

2) Chandigarh – Crossroads by Preeti Singh

3) Dadra Nagar – Did not find any literature

4) Daman and Diu – Travelling Through Gujarat, Daman and Diu by Adam Yamey

5) Delhi – Korma, Kheer and Kismet by Pamela Timms

6) Lakshadweep – Lakshadweep Adventure by Deepak Dalal

7) Puducherry – Evolution and the Earthly Destiny by Nolini Kanta Gupta

Forty-four books in all, comprising regional literature from all around India. Here are some of the books from the Birthday Bookathon – borrowed ones have been dutifully returned, and Kindle reads cannot be stacked.

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In addition to these books, I also identified numerous others which have been added to my list for future reading. Literature is so vast, and new books are written even as one struggles to finish previous works. Those of you who have been following this blog site and have read my book reviews, would be aware of my reasons for selecting each book. Reading, for me, is not merely to add titles and increase the yearly count of books read. The purpose of the Birthday Bookathon was to learn more and move beyond what I had already been reading – for instance, Rabindranath Tagore has been intentionally avoided for West Bengal because I have read a lot of his works; I had read Premchand’s Nirmala in English years ago, and hence read the original Hindi version now; P.L.Deshpande is a popular name in Marathi literature whom I have already read a lot from, causing me to opt for Shanta Shelke for Maharashtra. I also found books after I had finished reading from that particular state – reading will continue in tandem with the new goals I set for my birthday this year. Another observation was that most translated books tended to be fiction – I suppose it has to do with the popular notion that people prefer stories, and books are accordingly picked for translation.

For those interested in exploring Indian literature, this is the original link to the article I had written on my birthday last year. It includes books I had already read at the time, and also new ones from where I picked titles for the bookathon. If I come across anymore titles, I will keep updating this original blog-post as a handy guide to country specific books. (I had undertaken similar reading initiatives for South Africa and Australia in the past, but wasn’t blogging at the time.) In case you decide to take up this challenge too, happy ready and happy travelling! 🙂

 

 

 

 

Sea Prayer – Book Review

Title – Sea Prayer

Author – Khaled Hosseini

Illustrator – Dan Williams

Genre – Fiction

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Finally got my hands on Khaled Hosseini’s long-awaited book – a combined creation with illustrator Dan Williams, to bring to life a story about Syrian refugees. The epistolary book is written in the form of a letter from a father to his child on the eve of their journey out at sea. Rather, it can be called more of a poem or letter, instead of story. The narrator is a father cradling his child, as they wait for the break of dawn when a boat will arrive to take them to a new home. As they stand waiting in the dark night, the father reminisces about the summers of his childhood at his own grandfather’s house in the city of Homs. He speaks to his son, Marwan, about the time when he was a young boy himself, the same age as Marwan. “The stirring of olive trees in the breeze, the bleating of goats, the clanking of cooking pots” seem like another life altogether; a life before the skies started “spitting bombs”. That life is now a dream, a long-dissolved rumor. All Marwan and children his age know now are protests, sieges, starvation, burials. They can identify shades of blood and sizes of bomb craters. They will never know the country of their birth as a place without bombings or ruin.

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As they wait, impatient for sunrise, and dreading the uncertainty of a world that might not invite them in, they still hope to find home. The father assures his child that nothing bad will happen if he holds his hand, but he knows these are only words. The sea is deep and vast and indifferent, and he knows he is powerless in contrast. And that is why he prays. That is the essence of his “Sea Prayer” – that his most precious cargo is protected, and the sea delivers them safely to a new land.

Sea Prayer” was inspired by the incident of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who had drowned in the Mediterranean Sea and whose body was washed ashore on a beach in Turkey in 2015. In the years after Alan’s death, thousands more died or went missing at sea while attempting to flee their torn country. Hosseini’s response to the current refugee crisis is an attempt to remind us that an incident is not isolated. This is not the story of one child or one parent, but the lives of many more – names and faces we might not always be told about in our corners of the world. The watercolor illustrations are fabulous and stay true to the text – beginning with bright colors as the father thinks fondly of a time long gone by, to dark and dreary shades of greys and browns reflective of the current situation in the country. The transformation from home to war zone is powerfully depicted in both words and sketches, and heartbreaking as you flip through the few pages of this slim volume. A light book which weighs heavily on the reader.

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Sea Prayer” was created as an effort to raise funds to help refugees around the world who are fleeing war and persecution. Proceeds from the sales of this book are said to be donated to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and The Khaled Hosseini Foundation. A short but powerful book – the text says a little, the illustrations show a lot, and much more is conveyed in the background, beyond what one is reading. Having read Hosseini’s other works, I had hoped for this one to continue for longer. Nevertheless, it is impactful and evocative in it’s own way.

Rating – 5/5

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This photograph of September 2015 made global headlines. Taken by Nilüfer Demir, a Turkish photojournalist based in Bodrum, Turkey, three-year-old Alan Kurdi became a symbol of the plight of those fleeing conflict in Syria. This haunting image compelled Hosseini to write “Sea Prayer” .

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Murder In The City – Book Review

Title – Murder In The City

Author – Supratim Sarkar (Translated by Swati Sengupta)

Genre – Non-fiction, anthology

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As part of my birthday reading goals, this book was picked as a representative from the state of West Bengal in India. Murder In The City is a collection of police case files, sourced from the archives and narrated in the form of stories. A Bengali friend revealed the concept of these “stories” originated as a series of articles written in the Bangla language by Supratim Sarkar, a police officer himself. Translator Swati Sengupta published them as a book in English this year.

~ “Imagine a policeman killing his own brother, and burying the body in a house where he continued to live!”

~ “Everything that a school-going child was likely to have was in place – exercise copies inside a school bag, tiffin box, water bottle. The school boy was there too, his uniformed, lifeless body inside the trunk.”

~ “They opened the packets one after the other. They contained two arms, palms, fingers, wrists, all chopped into pieces.”

A man injected with the Pasteurella Pestis bacteria to be killed off from the plague, a pregnant woman’s body chopped into pieces and wrapped into packets strewn across public spaces (a separate packet for the foetus too), a seemingly docile housewife plotting the murder of a neighbor she suspects of having an affair with her husband, a man killed by his brother and the corpse buried within the wall of a house the accused continues to live in, a child kidnapped and killed by novice abductors who can’t seem to make him unconscious, an off-duty policeman standing up for a woman being molested finds himself attacked and killed by a gang of fellow off-duty policemen, and many more gruesome tales. These are not spoilers. Murder In The City is a compendium of twelve case files of the Kolkata Police, taking the reader across decades and centuries – from as early as the 1930s to the present day. Those who were alive when the murders happened might recall these cases from the news reports of the time. Sarkar frequently mentions how old the victims might have been today were they still alive, or what they might have accomplished in the professional sphere had their lives not been cut short. The Kolkata Police is known as one of the oldest and most illustrious police forces in India. Sarkar has dug deep into their archives and recounted astonishing cases, of which twelve tales have been presented in this book. The writings which were initially in Bengali were widely read and shared among populations who could read the language. The translation here is equally gripping and fascinating. Police officer Sarkar’s writing skills are commendable. Some snippets of his figures of speech:

~ “An ordinary afternoon was quickly taking strides towards evening time, as if it were rushed off its feet.”

~ “His sharp voice cut through the stillness of the night. It could have broken a sheet of glass into shards.”

~ “Those biting cold nights were tough players that refused to let go of the crease.”

Some of the cases selected for the anthology include the first two times “photographic superimposition” was ever used in India to identify a body, cases of murder solved even though the bodies were never found, cases of individual bioterrorism, murder mysteries solved during the early days when DNA testing or mobile phones and CCTV cameras didn’t exist. Murder In The City reinforces the old adage of fact being stranger than fiction, where one shudders to think that these are all true stories. I took a while to finish the book and had to pause after every tale to reflect on the happenings – the level of evilness in the perpetrators, of victims who were tortured and killed, of the tenacity of the police to bring justice, and the author being a policeman himself narrating the efforts of his former colleagues. The book highlights what the police go through in their jobs, the details of investigations, the steps involved in solving crimes, how clues are tracked, evidence is collected – with frequent comparisons drawn to fictional detectives who paint a glamorous picture of case solving, but the reality being far more hard-hitting and not so alluring.

A brilliantly written and translated account of some of the grisliest and most baffling police cases, every story is a spine-tingling experience. A word of caution for readers who cannot stomach gory descriptions – Sarkar has gone all out in explaining the details of each case. Read this book for a real-life account of murder mysteries, and the first-hand information from the forces who solve them. I usually pick my favorite of the lot from anthologies, but it’s hard to do so in this case because “favorite” would translate to most gory or sinister – the levels people can stoop to dispose off another human being makes for brilliant reading but a shocking experience. And if the hallmark of good literature is how it moves the reader, then each of these tales stand out in their own gruesome and sinister way.

My rating – 5/5