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THE EMPRESS OF INDRAPRASTHA. (SERIES)

Book one: Entering Kuruvansh.

By Sonali Raje.

Genre: Mythological fiction.

Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, Ramayana being the other. It is about the struggle for the throne between the two groups of Kuru cousins, the Kauravas (100 sons of Dhritarashtra) and the Pandavas (5 sons of Pandu) in the Kurukshetra war. There have been innumerable adaptations and retellings of various characters of this incredible epic. The Empress of Indraprastha is one such retelling from Draupadi’s perspective but with a different approach. Draupadi is one of the Panchakanyas ( panch =5, kanya=women of Hindu epics) who was a common wife of the Pandavas. She was not only beautiful but also courageous enough to accept the polyandrous marriage especially during the challenging patriarchal times.

‘Entering the Kuruvansh’ is the first book in the five book series of ‘The untold memoirs of an Empress’. It specifically deals with that aspect of her life when she was was by Arjun (one of the Pandavas) in her swayamvar, but eventually married all the five brothers. This unanimous decision though seemingly appalling, was taken not just as an acceptance of a misspoken command by their mother Kunti but after a lot of deliberation.

In this part you will get to see a determined, respectful and highly opinionated daughter- in- law of Hastinapur. There are a few brain- storming sessions with her husbands, talk of wisdom with Lord Krishna and also a glimpse of a strained relationship with Karna. It also emphasizes on the interactions with the unsung womenfolk of the epic who were just as righteous as our protagonist.

Brisk narration and colloquial prose is what makes this book a good pick for those who are not well versed with this piece of literature. A lot of minute details about the supporting characters are incorporated in this short read with a teaser for the sequel in tow.

THE AGE OF KALI.

By William Dalrymple

Rating: 4 ⭐

Genre: Travelogue

William Dalrymple understands the Indian subcontinent better than most of the authors of the recent times and it shows in the way he writes. He understands how the country works, what are the objectives of the diversities. I first read “Kohinoor” that he has co-authored with Anita Anand and since then, he is my ‘auto-buy’ author. This is the third book by him that I have read and I am amazed by the amount of research that has been put into it. A decade long travelling in the 1990s to the remotest corners of the subcontinent has been poured into this book.

The 90s decade saw a serious change in politics, music and entertainment, external affairs as well as in spirituality. The theme of this book is the underbelly of the system, corruption, casteism, sexism, violence, spirituality, that played a major role during that period. The vast spectrum of the topics covered ranges from Bihar, Rajasthan, to Goa, Madhurai, Hyderabad, Cochin. The essays also include Mumbai socialite Shobha De and 90s music sensation Baba Sehgal. From Pakistan in the north, he goes beyond south of India to Srilanka and further down to Réunion Island sharing his travel stories. The only missing I found in all of this was a neglect towards the North Eastern India. Not even West Bengal.
Choosing to ignore this strange exemption, these essays shows the readers the absolute contrast of the cultures in the Indian diversities that dominated the era of 90s. Being a 90s kid myself, I am aware of the different revolutions that made news while growing up.

This vast and thoroughly entertaining travelogue takes us back to the beginning of the extreme dark times. It purely focuses on the sinister governance, falsification, manipulation and deception being the nature of the society during those challenging period. It might be overwhelming but worth reading!

#Qotd : Do you read travelogues? Have you read any? Heard/ read anything by the author?

THE SONG OF ACHILLES

By Madeline Miller.

Rating: 3 ⭐

Genre: Historical fiction, romance, love story.

The Song of Achilles is a historical fiction novel by Madeline Miller featuring the Trojan war in brief. It is a love and life story of Prince Achilles and an exiled Prince Patroclus. It is a partial retelling of Homer’s Iliad that is narrated from Patroclus’ perspective. Patroclus was not only his companion throughout his life but also played a significant role in the Trojan war against Troy. This book describes Patroclus’ life, his exile to the kingdom of Pthia, his friendship with Prince Achilles, with whom he develops a romantic relationship. Achilles is the son of a mortal king and the sea nymph Thetis who disapproves of their relationship. Patroclus accompanies him to all his endeavours much to Thetis’ dismay. Despite her disapproval, their love and longing for each other only increases which ultimately becomes a turning point in the war.

The love story between Achilles and Patroclus develops leisurely. A decade long Trojan war comes in the later half of the book. The first half is all about their meeting and relationship. The writing is surprisingly easy and effortless. But the character development is weak. Achilles has no personality. I know that he is ‘great’ because I am told that repeatedly throughout the novel. His character is dull and cold. He was a legendary warrior, but sadly I couldn’t see it. Having said that, this book was smooth and all the important related side stories were helpful. It is understandable that this is Patroclus’ story so Achilles is playing a supporting role. But I expected more about the champion. Even if one has little to no knowledge of Greek Mythology, this novel is easy to understand. Overall a engrossing book.

THE LOWLANDS.

By Jhumpa Lahiri.

Genre: Contemporary fiction.

Two inseparable brothers, Subhash and Udayan choose separate paths when they grow up but eventually their lives converge when Udayan gets killed because of his involvement in the Naxal Movement. Subhash in an attempt to mend his broken family takes a step that further complicates his own life. Even after death, Udayan is still very much a part of their lives.

The story is around the time when the Naxal Movement was at its peak in Eastern India. A large number of youth was drawn towards the movement that resulted in a massive revolt and hunt down by the security forces. Udayan, the younger amongst the two, impulsive, free spirited gets sucked into the movement that eventually gets him into trouble. The rage against the system, their misguidance, justification of the violence and the background of the movement makes this book bold and unforgiving.

Subhash, Gauri ( Udayan’s wife), his parents are pushed into a vacuum with nothing but endless darkness. Subhash still tries to do the best he can with a constant fear of losing the little that is left.

This book stunned me. It is dark, bitter, real and mentally violent. It is about the serious implications on the family because of one person’s action that creates a cascading effect for generations. I regret not reading it sooner and also judging the author too soon. (I did not like ‘Namesake’ as much). But this book is brilliant and courageous. The character built up is accurate. She has gone into the skin and soul of each person to express their manners and thoughts. It is needless to say that her writing is absolutely flawless. One of the best fictions I have read in the recent times.

LITTLE TALES OF BIG INDIA

By Sabra Patni

Genre: Short stories.


Little tales of big India has three stories focusing on the crimes against women that occur on a daily basis in every part of the world. While not every victim is lucky to get even the basic justice, here the end of each story, has a positive outcome. The stories have the same tempo with an incredible twist. These incidents happen in the Metropolitan cities in India.

In the first story a woman taking a daily local to work encounters a classy smartly dressed pervert. This is so common, that mostly the best dressed people in the society have the most deceiving personalities. This story is about how she tries to tackle this uncomfortable situation and gets tangled in a web of lies.

The second story is about an adorable flower seller at the signal, who suddenly goes missing and is feared to have become a victim of the worst. I have seen many children beg and sell flowers, plastic toys at the signal, sleekly maneuvering themselves between the unstoppable deluge of traffic. No one truly neither notices, nor miss these kids even if one of them goes missing. That is why they are the easiest targets. It is a sad and a very harsh reality.

The last story is about an aspiring football player who escapes an attempted sexual assault but seriously injures her legs in the bargain. In such cases, there is usually a volley of advocates for the accused rather than for the victim, who has to not only fight for her life but also prove that she is actually a victim.

Women safety is the biggest concern and crimes against women have been happening since ancient times. The only difference is that now there is awareness and women have found their voice. That’s why it seems like there is a sudden surge in such crimes. I bet there is not a single woman in this world who hasn’t encountered even a single sexual advance in her lifetime. 

The author has chosen three common crimes for the stories. The book is short and can be read in just few hours. Usually such stories have sad and disheartening endings but the climax of each story is different and hence is the highlight of the book. The language is easy and the narration has some Hindi expressions and salutations. Overall, it was a short fast-paced thrilling read. After a heavy book, it managed to get me out of a reading slump.

THE VANISHING HALF.

Author: Brit Bennett.

Genre: Contemporary family drama, historical fiction.

Triggerwarnings: racism, domestic violence, colourism.

Rating: 4⭐

Teenage light skinned black identical twins, Desiree and Stella Vigne, elope from a small town called Mallard in Louisiana. But soon after, Stella just vanishes leaving behind nothing but a note for Desiree. Years later, Desiree returns to Mallard with her dark skinned daughter Jude, while Stella continues to live hidden as a white woman with her white husband and their daughter, Kennedy, abandoning her own family. Their lives reach a full circle when their respective daughters come face to face unintentionally threatening to unveil the lie on which Stella has built the foundation of her new life.

This is one of the best recommendations I have received. While the theme of the book is colourism, racism and domestic violence, it also highlights the prejudice of colorism within the community. It was disturbing and empowering at the same time. It shows how the colour of the skin determines a lot of aspects in the lives of the people. It talks about the extent to which black and coloured people are shunned, that they don’t mind losing their own identity in order to be accepted. Characterization by the skin colour is prominent in the story to emphasize on the affects of racism. It hovers on the idea of bigotry, ethnicity, regret and a life based on a compulsive lie.

This book is a non- linear, multi- generational story of the Vigne twins. The characters are dynamic, raw, and show their grey side of survival. I was able to get into the flow of its smooth narration easily. There is an audiobook on YouTube that you can check out.

IN XANADU. A Quest

Author: William Dalrypmple.

Genre: Travelogue.

Rating:  4.5⭐

Xanadu, now Shangdu, is located in Inner Mongolia, northern China. It was the first capital and the summer capital of the Mongol Empire in the 1263. Xanadu was famous for its palaces, gardens and waterways and was Kublai Khan’s favourite summer palace.

Kublai Khan was the grandson of Genghis Khan and the founder of the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century China. He was the ruler of the Mongol Empire for 30 yrs. During his reign, Xanadu flourished, making it one of the richest kingdoms. After Kublai Khan’s death, however, Yuan Dynasty started to decline, thus changing the face of the once prosperous city to shambles. Xanadu was believed to be so beautiful, that ‘Xanadu’ term is still used as a metaphor for opulence or an idyllic place.

In 1270s Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant, explorer and a writer travelled along the Silk Route with his father and his uncle and reached Xanadu where he served the court of Kublai Khan for 17 years. Though he was not the first European to reach China, Marco Polo was the first to leave a detailed chronicle of his experience. His travel book inspired Christopher Columbus and many other travellers. Author and his companions are one of the many who decided to retake this path once taken 7 centuries back. They started from Jerusalem to reach a tedious route with multiple ethenic diversities, landscapes and overcame diplomatic complications, struggled for basic comfort to finally reach Xanadu. This travelogue takes us through two timelines, 1270s and 1980s with the glimpse of the history compared to the present . He has collated his observations with that of Marco Polos, adding his own version about the aspects which were either not present or overlooked by the later.

It does take a moment to get into the book if you don’t know the background of the topic. I had to do my own research to understand the scene. Nevertheless, it improved my knowledge and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this hilarious travelogue. It has its ups and downs but never a dull moment.

OF DAFFODILS AND STORMY DAYS.

Author: Temsuienla Jamir.

Genre: Fiction, drama.

Publication: The write order.

Rating: 4 ⭐

The ever so graceful Asteria, a theater actor at Querencia is a daughter and a sister. Rich, poised but with an overbearing attitude of superiority, she manages her daily life as a superstar. Behind her glamorous facade, she tries to hide her estranged relationship with her family. Thus, one stormy day, Asteria finds herself in a queer situation that makes her rethink her past conducts that she conveniently chose to ignore.

Captivating narration, theatrical prose with just right emotions, this contemporary drama will sweep you through the story smoothly. The characters are moulded perfectly to intensify the exact sentiments intended towards them. This is a short book and the protagonist has a powerful character. The builtup of the yesteryears with pigeon posts, horse carriages, the theatre art gives it a classic touch.

Asteria’s character has all shades. At some point I detested her deeply but the next moment she melted my heart. Thei family bond, though estranged, is knotted beautifully. This story comes with a moral applicable to anyone who has ignored their surroundings, blinding themselves in self- loath.

A good one time read that I will definitely recommend to those who like to read light relationship based novels.

THE ADVENTURES OF JIMMY AND ANDREW: AMERICAN STONEHENGE.

Genre: Middle-grade adventure fantasy with illustrations.

Author: Mike Goldstein.

Andrew is not an ordinary dog. He is not only immortal but can also hear people’s thoughts. Born during the ancient Egypt almost 5000 yrs ago, Andrew has seen a lot. So in the present, when Jimmy, a nine year old boy adopts Andrew, their journey of thrilling escapades together begin. The moment they set eyes on each other, there is an instant connection.

Jimmy’s parents take them along on an exploration of a strange mysterious Stonehenge sighting similar to that in England. While on the way, they hear stories and together try to discover the mystery of the ancient structure. They meet strange people, decipher symbolic puzzles, protect each other from the unknown danger that only they can sense. Also, Andrew tells him fascinating stories from his past. His birth and various narrow escapes, his different companions over the time and their special bonds, his adventurous journey and the life lessons that make Andrew a wise dog. He teaches Jimmy a lot of things and guides him through his young ways.

The book seems to be a complete movie but I loved the way the author had articulated his thoughts and made this piece a worth read .

This book is brilliant. The story is gripping, full of adventure in every chapter, has easy comprehensive language and beautiful illustrations about the on going story. There is never a dull moment in the story that takes us back and forth to the important historical moments which Andrew has “witnessed”. I absolutely adored the concept and the authors vision. One of a kind with the potential to be an exciting series for the young readers, this book is a must read for every child who loves excitement and a series of colourful exploits.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.

Author: Fredrik Backman.

Genre: Contemporary fiction novel.

Elsa, an almost eight year old is a special child. Or as her Granny says “smarter than all those lunatics out together”. She has no friends, but her Granny who teaches her to be “all the different she wants”, coz only those who are different can change the world. So, before her Granny dies, she leaves for Elsa, a treasure hunt. She leaves a series of letters for Elsa to find and deliver apologising for the wrong she did.

Oh, how I loved this book! Everything about it is just wonderful. The story is about an extremely smart little girl, her crazy Granny and her fantastic fairytales, her parents and their respective partners, and a few demented neighbours. As Elsa goes around solving the treasure hunt she realises that there is so much about her Granny that she doesn’t know. As the story unfolds, the characters that are interwoven, blossom into a relatable neighbourhood drama.

I am a huge fan of Fredrik Backman’s books. With every book it gets better and better. His forte is people, relationships, society, surroundings and their reactions. Struggle of an extraordinary child, her difficult life in school as well as at home, her fight to cope loss is expressed beautifully.

Read this book! It is warm, mildly crazy, usually adorable, heartwarming as well as heartbreaking.

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