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.

AS FAR AS THE SAFFRON FIELDS.

Author: Danesh Rana.

Genre: True crime. Pulwama Conspiracy investigation.

Kashmir is believed to derive it’s name from the sage Kashyap who, according to the legends settled people in the valley. Often called as “The paradise on Earth” for it’s unplausible beauty, Kashmir was once a hub for literature and aesthetic learning. Blessed by Buddhism, Shaivism, Hinduism, Islamic teachings and so many scholars it became a welcoming mother to all. During ,1947 Partition of India, Kashmir was handed over to the Indian provinces by the then ruler of Kashmir, Hari Singh. From that time, Kashmir has been a centre of conflict between India and Pakistan. It is said that till 1980s, amongst some minor unrest, people with multiple religions lived in harmony. But cracks in the form of terrorism started scarring the once tranquil valley. Thus started the evident separatist insurgency movement throughout Jammu Kashmir, instigating the youth to take up arms and join the cause of Azadi (freedom) or Liberation of Kashmir. Frequent incidents of terrorism, target killing, forceful conversion on religious ideas, stone pelting on the security forces, shooting of those who would oppose their cause, became a regular scene. In 2018, the central government scrapped ” Article 370″ and In 2019, Jammu & Kashmir was divided into two Union Territories of India. ( Jammu and Kashmir & Ladakh respectively).

In the district of Pulwama, lies a small town Lethpora located on the banks of Jhelum where one can get finest saffron (kesar). On 14 February 2019 afternoon this town saw a bloodiest terrorist attack, that was not only heard in the 10 km radius but who’s aftermath was unrecognisable. This suicide attack killed 40 CRPF personnel, injured 35. Grieving kins of the Army personnel received empty boxes. Such was the impact that the strewn body parts along with the metal, plastic scattered everywhere leaving a bloody trail.

The book takes us around the Pulwama conspiracy, right from its inception to its execution and ultimately the death of the mastermind. The very mindset of romanticism of the terrorism amongst the youth who aspire for the power and glamour is baffling. The author tell us about the family background of the terrorists also and their role in this dastardly attack. This book is based on true crime, with appropriate references to each fact. What irked me little was the face of the terrorists on the cover! It disturbed me throughout.

A lot has been told in the book which gives us a clear idea of the tension brewing in the valley, role of the governments, the residents who see their young boys straying. The cross-border terrorism, a bitter truth is exposed nakedly with facts and references. Apart for the Pulwama attack, few other deadly bombings, shootouts have been stated. I loved this books narration. It is not subtle. Doesn’t shy away from telling the truth and the language is proficient and fluid.

THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE.

Author: V. E. Schwab.

Genre: Fantasy Novel.


Suffocated by the conservative expectations by the society, Adeline starts praying to the Gods for her freedom. On her wedding day, her prayer is answered by a devil, who grants her immortality in exchange for her soul that she would eventually surrender willingly. Also, as her wish for freedom, she would be not be remembered by anyone after their first meeting. From then on she lives her every single day travelling around, free and forgotten. While at it, she constantly tries to leave a mark on the world. She follows a chaotic yet predictable routine until one fine day she meets Henry, who remembers her after their first meeting. The idea of someone remembering her intrigues her. Excited, she decides to pursue him to know more about this glitch in the curse.

The timeline keeps shifting from the present to her past in a non-linear narration. She lives a free life for almost three centuries with an impromptu visit from the devil whom she later names Luc, challenging her to surrender, which she ofcourse, refuses every single time.  While her journey is interesting and adventurous it lacks substance about the major historical events that she apparently witnesses. There is a casual mention of some world occurrences in the passing without much of her contribution or opinion. The story seemed more about her love affairs, the many first dates, pilfering for survival, her struggle to leave a mark and other escapades. Inspite of her being immortal, the purpose of her freedom seemed unchallenged and frivolous. Addie’s character felt superficial which lacked depth about her feelings about the surroundings. The years pass so casually in the story as if they are minutes without much of a consolation.

Having said that, I loved the language, the fluidity, the influence on the art and culture yet it felt incomplete to me. I needed more about her journey, her encounters and not just her one night stands. The whole world transformed multifold during the three centuries,  but there is hardly any mention of its effect on her.

If I just overlook the previous analysis, I really liked the prose of the story. It is a slow read which demands your rapt attention as you might miss certain developments in this strangely laid out timeline. Read this book for the structure of the thought of being forgotten every moment in this world where we do everything possible only to be remembered.

PRATIDWANDI. THE OPPONENT.

BOOK ONE: The Kalari.

By Ambuj Gupta.

Genre: Historical fiction.


The Kalari, book one of The Pratidwandi series, starts with a bang, trails briefly in the middle but has essential stories of culture and tradition with an eventful finish.   The climax of this book leaves a promising plot for the sequel. Pratidwandi is the first ever series on Indian Martial Arts. There are 5 books in the series. The sequel most likely by the end of this year.

It focuses on the group of Kalaripayattu proficients who are struggling to keep their legacy alive while they are been hunted and snubbed by the East India Company (EIC) who are afraid of the united rebellion by these fierce, well trained warriors. Threatened by the popularity of the sport, they systematically put curbs on the cultural gatherings, Kalari Gurukuls (academy), Vallamkali ( traditional boat race in Kerala), and other traditional aesthetics much to the people’s dismay.

Book one: The Kalari.

In the backdrop of the initial tremors of the first war of Independence 1852, this book is set in a fictional alternative reality called Reality Theta where the greatest descendant of Vadu, the legendary family of warriors is brutally murdered by the EIC as an example but instead creates an angry wave of insurgency throughout the state. Their last hope is Sai, the scion of Vadu who is being trained by the greatest icons of Kalaripayattu. This is his tenacious journey along with the significant others, to be the relentless opponents, the Pratidwandi of the EIC.

Kalaripayattu, also known as Kalari, is an Indian martial art form that originated in modern-day Kerala. It is believed to be the oldest surviving martial art in India, with a history spanning over 3,000 years.

Kalaripayattu is a martial art designed for the ancient battlefield (the word “Kalari” meaning “battlefield”), with weapons and combative techniques. It is also used by practitioners of Keralite dance styles, such as Kathakali and Mohiniyattam, as part of their training routines. The art also bases medical treatments like Ayurveda, pressure points and healing techniques.

According to legend, Parashurama, the sixth incarnation of the god Vishnu in Hinduism is the creator of Kalaripayattu. He is believed to have learned the art from Lord Shiva, and taught it to the original settlers of Kerala.

In 1804, the British banned Kalaripayattu in Kerala in response to the Kottayathu/Cotiote War, a rebellion against British rule in Kerala lead by the Keralite king Pazhassi Raja. The ban came into effect shortly after the King’s death resulting in the closure of most of the major kalari training grounds in Kerala.

Every part of this 400page book seems necessary as it emphasizes on the value of the Kalaripayattu tradition in their lives. Their struggle of not just survival but also retaliation is effectively showcased which makes this book brave and equally disturbing. There are some exciting sketches related to the storyline which broadened my perspective. The drama and events are inspired from real lives of the oppressed during the British rule. The vastness of the subject can sometimes be convoluted but the research about the legendary era is phenomenal. The characters are powerful and contribute effectively to the essence of the story.

A PLANE STORY

Author: Anmol Malik.

Genre: Fiction, Rom-com.


Tara and Dev are coincidentally on the same plane to Paris to crash their respective ex’s wedding to each other. But their already flawed impulsive plan goes up the smoke when the plane does an emergency landing at the Heathrow Airport. They try to survive the mayhem together reluctantly at first, until they realise, they make a great team.

Gorgeous cover, hilarious conversations, innumerable clumsy, foot-in-the-mouth situations make this book a complete package. The story cracked me up so hard so many times that it made me look stupid amongst the serious individuals in the room staring at me. Both the characters are amazing in their own right. But I loved Dev more. Passionate, reckless, caring, funny and chivalrous Dev.

The plot may seem like a contemporary love story but it has more to it than just a rom-com. The narration and attention to detail takes away the prize.

Get this one. You will definitely enjoy it.

BEARTOWN

By Fredrik Backman.

Genre: Hockey literature, contemporary fiction.

(TW: Rape, rape trauma, bullying, physical assualt)

Hockey in Beartown is not just a game. It is their religion. The very pulse of their existence. The soul of their survival. But when the captain of the hockey team, their ace player is accused of raping the 15 yr old daughter of the General Manager of the Beartown Hockey Club, it causes tremors in the otherwise quiet town. Sides are taken. Some ignore. Some act. Coz that’s an easy way out, for both. Hockey is bigger than the Club. The Club is bigger than the player. But is it? And at what cost? And who is to pay? This book plays on its subjectivity.

At the onset, one may find it has a very common theme. A girl assualted, powerful guy might get away, humiliation, theories, character assassinations, blah blah blah. But the presentation, the narration, the point of views, the reactions of the people involved, directly and indirectly is soul stirring. The trauma of both the families, fighting for their child, is faultless to the the extent that you feel a pinch for them.

Fredrik Backman is a master in human emotions. Common social evils ( there are more than one here) are moulded to make a gorgeous story. His expressions are astonishing. Every page has something profound and deep that you have to read it again to re-experience the feelings.

This is a Swedish book translated in English. It is the first book in the Beartown series, followed by Us against You. Slow paced but piercing. Read this if you haven’t already.

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