A throwback and a review (Me before you by jojo moyes)

Posted by Divya at Tuesday, October 07, 2014 2 comments Links to this post
The summer of 2001, I had a whole 2 months to kill in a city, where I knew nobody. I was in Chennai in her toughest months, weather wise. I didnt own a computer or a two-wheeler. Mobile phones weren't around. We were on a waiting-list for a telephone line. ( Not that I could afford making day long phone calls to anybody! ). And we as a family had a general apathy for TV, except news during dinner time. For many years after cable was the norm, we had still stuck to broadcasts via the rickety aluminum antenna.

So clearly there was just one logical and everlasting thing to do; To read. My father didnt believe in squandering money on racy novels that teenagers often read. Of course! at 13 I was mad at him whenever a rich friend would let me borrow her rows and rows of Nancy Drews. But he was wise; he taught me the love for libraries by joining me in one and asking me to borrow as often and encouraging to borrow different genres. So when I reveled to him once about "journey to the center of the earth" and how inspiring it had felt, he got me a copy of that and 20,000 leagues under the sea for the keeps from the second-hand market; Unabriged versions. I read those books many times during my teenage years, each time my imagination running wilder than the last!

So that's how it had been. And I eventually figured, that if I am to own a book, I must earn it! it must be my real-real-real favorite, a classic; and over time it had come naturally, what my father had tried to imbibe.

So in the sweltering summer of Madras, I would walk a good 2 miles every other day in the morning to Senthil library in RAPuram. Borrow my companion for the next 24 to 48 hours and head back to read under the whirring fan and beads of perspiration.

At 17, in the broiling heat of Chennai, I devoured most Aurthur Hailey, every Sydney Sheldon and every other Danielle Steele. I wouldnt say the plots were the same for Sydney Sheldon, although the motifs were; but Danielle steel was definitely addictive  and mediocre (if i may say so) in a way Harris Jayaraj's music is. If you have read a few, you can figure a pattern and predict the next one. And they are all fairly engaging, well written Dramas, again like HJ's music, which doesnt usually come across as bad neither as extraordinary.

My tryst with DS had abruptly ended after I discovered Jane Austen. and the JAs I then owned, I read, I re-read. Then there were a few other lone stars like "the painted veil" by somersaut maugham and "god of small things", "the fountainhead" and "the suitable boy" that left painful impacts, books I have re-read, re-read parts, inhabited and exited from time to time. Books I cherished, cried and laughed with.

Few books other than Harry Potter have left a mark that strong in recent times for me.

And it is true that you discover such true companions by chance, when you least expect it. Hidden and tucked away in a library corner or among the old boxes in the attic. Or something you picked up at the railway station for a journey ahead.

So it was on a whim that I asked a group of mothers, if anyone was interested in a book club. And I picked "Me before you", purely based on a 'romance' genre and expecting a dejavu of maudlin treatment like DS books. I knew nothing else about the novel, except that the author had won awards twice for romantic books genre!

Thats when this book tossed, tumbled and surprised me. In ways I didnt expect. 

Me Before you by Jojo Moyes
It is a difficult book in many ways and definitely a difficult one to review. It is also witty and heart-breaking at the same time. A combination I have rarely hit, especially something I didnt expect with a story line as simple as a guy in the wheelchair and his care-giver fall in love.

The book treads like it has a heart of its own. Trundling and open. Never trying to trick the reader into something else. Thats what hit the spot for me. The book is honest. It doesnt swivel the unhappiness wheel over and over, as the topic very well can!

It is tough to not fall in love with Lousia, who isn't perfect, who like a lot of other British female lead characters of the country-side I have read of in other books like (La in la's orchestra saves the world and the members of the "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" ) charms with her wit and energy. Like a remark in the book somwehere "She truly brightens up the space" holds true for her from the beginning.

On the other hand is Will, who takes time to warm up to the reader. the character I am glad the author sketched in a way that expects and creates less sympathy and more intrigue at the beginning. Sometimes you are even mad at him for fighting his circumstances, which could have been worse for someone not as fortunate as him wealth-wise. But as the story moves, you change from that cringing onlooker to meeting the person within, looking beyond the wheelchair and you even start to empathise and thats when it becomes crushing and exhilarating at the same time.

And thats how the author renders a story in peals, in layers, beautifully engaging; how the unique relationship of Lou and Will comes about, and organically they grow to help each other in ways that wasnt even fathomable when the story began.

There are conversations and quotes that leave your heart beating fast. that i am sure I will re-read someday to enter the warmth and coldness of the space it creates. There is also sarcasm and witty remarks that make you laugh with joy! And somewhere she will flip you back to reality with that quote like ""sorry clark, i cant do witty today"" And you wish like Lou, wish you have at that moment, just once more, one last time to enter that surreal space.

The story is predictable, but wise and holds surprises, with your own emotions. Even if you knew how it would end at the very beginning, you still wish to read to plunge to dwell, to support and sail through the waves. There may be moments you will sob with all you have got and yet be mixed about how you feel.

It is a beautiful book, that may even leave you to question yourself of choices you made and are making. Of closing your eyes and watching the characters come alive affably. Of still feeling haunted and agog in the paradox of the story for days after you turned the last page. In believing that "happily ever after" is not always like in fairy tales.

Romance is but a fragrant breeze that lingers throughout the pages,unwritten, untold never really entering the mawkish. It is truly much more and a deep novel. I wouldnt say it is a book you must read, but it is truly an experience you wouldnt want to miss in this lifetime!


I am glad I am reader. I am glad that is something I will never regret. I am glad for the world of books my parents and technology-sans childhood drove me to. I am glad there is always a private world of my own I can create when the real one gets claustrophobic. I am glad!

Memoirs of a Geisha

Posted by Divya at Thursday, June 23, 2011 3 comments Links to this post

I had watched snippets of the movie based on this book many years back. It had confounded me to no end, especially since I had watched in bits and pieces and drawing the story from my husband, only emerged a disgruntled “Oh something about high profile prostitutes” and that was that. So a couple of weeks back, I found an old copy of the book at my town’s library sale and decided to grab it, primarily to find out who a Geisha really is!

Let me start off my saying that this book is a clear formula of ‘rags-to-riches’ we have read in many novels; but, it is the setting of the story in a little known neighborhood and the effort to unfold the mystery of being a Geisha, that is its selling point.

The writing is in first person and enraptures the reader enough to burn the reading lamp through the night. The author makes no mistake in taking us to the streets of Gion, the Geisha district, buzzing with tea-house parties and matriarchal okiya houses that run the show; he does this with absolute panache, that mid way through the book, you are more than just a reader, but a spectator, smelling the smells, drinking the tea and watching that world unfold before our eyes.

In a haunting and wise tone Nitta Sayuri, narrates her life since she was a child and the reader sympathizes easily with her pain and suffering as the story begins. And just like her poetic references and lyricism laden descriptions, her childhood and everything she fought for vanishes as the story twists to offer her a whole new life and even a new name.

It is in fact fascinating to understand the life of Geishas, who are entertainers and work very hard to master music, dance and even indulge in witty conversations. The painstaking efforts they make to dress, makeup, learn to smile and appease, keep company to men; it is but ironic that all this eventually is to be taken as a mistress to someone worthy. Further confounding is the concept of the danna to whom she offers necessary sexual favors in return for financial independence.

While all these puzzling details of a Geisha’s life can throw a reader into misunderstanding and wondering the moral and ethical sides of the story, it is often forgotten in the way the tale takes many mellifluous turns and keeps one engaged on what comes next.

Unfortunately in all its glamorous setting, the book did let me down in a few places. Sayuri’s character takes a setback towards the end of the book, when she comes out as manipulative and deceiving as some Geisha’s are expected to be. It is not clear if the author lost all interest and was in a hurry to end the book. Further the story in the last few pages, tips over to being an absolute fairy tale and one can’t stop but wonder if the ending is all influential of Cinderella!

Other than these few points that catch the reader off guard, it is definitely a book for the keeps. If you haven’t already read the book, I would highly recommend it, even with its little flaws, it is a beautifully rendered novel and the seductive tone of Sayuri is absolutely alluring!

Reading Project

Posted by Divya at Friday, April 29, 2011 0 comments Links to this post
I can't believe that it has been a year since my last review. I have read books on and off, decided to revive the blog on and off and like a circle I have landed where I left off! Yes, I am on Harry Potter again and just to keep tandem with the final movie release this summer, I am going book 7 to book 1.

Parallely, I have decided to go on a book project, like pick up a clunker 1000+ page book and complete it like a task. Well I am hoping it will put me back into the review mode, for I haven't read a book interesting enough to review in recent times. So here are the two books (clunkers) I am going with for my project -

The Pillars of the earth - Ken Follett
(Was my 2009 birthday gift and I haven't flipped it yet!)
The infinite Jest - David Foster 
( which I heard requires a lot of dedication and time. I have borrowed the book and if I make progress beyond half the book, I am thinking of buying it.)

So there you go.. Thats my reading project this summer and I am hoping to post updates as I go!

Library loot and a comeback!

Posted by Divya at Wednesday, January 26, 2011 4 comments Links to this post
It has been ages since I have updated here. Lets just say, I had a lot going on in life that needed a whole lot of attention that I had to set the books aside for a bit. But I am back; I have been reading on and off, completed few books and didnt complete another few. But after the visit to a dear library yesterday, I think I have my mojo back and here is my library loot list --- 

the silence of splendor - Indu sundereshan
the weight of  heaven - thrity urmigar
The class - eric segal

What I have read in the past few months -
Maximum city - Suketu Mehta 
   This book literally made me laugh, cry and cringe for most of it. It was one of the most  truth-as-is books I have read in my life. I would recommend it to anyone from Bombay or anyone who wants to know about Bombay in its absolute realism.

Eat pray love - Liz ( that's how surreal she seems now )
   I finished this book as an audio book as I drove and did my running. May I say, its my second favorite to 'god of small things'. there was something so inspiring and free spirited about her flow of words and writing.. I was hooked. I am sure to read the book again and then a lengthy review, i Promise!

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
   My second fav Austen. S & S being the first. Was reading it for the umpteenth time and this time as an audio book again.. I am loving the whole audio book concept now. Lets me be with the words even when I am doing other things! You must give it a try. Makes exercising and cooking a lot of fun!

And a few more I never completed or got started.. So all that pending ones are going to a make my upcoming reviews and hopefully I am more regular.
Until the next review!

Harry Potter.. Sticking with him till the end

Posted by Divya at Sunday, May 02, 2010 4 comments Links to this post
It has been a completely different experience this time ( the second time around HP Series read). Last time, it had long waits and what is termed pottermania, of which I am sure remnants still remain in each of us muggles who have been sucked into J K Rowling's world.

The half blood prince is my least favorite of the Harry Potter books. One of course we arent happy to see the most loved wizard depart, but for how she ends it on breach of trust and confoundment. Another thing that baffles me is the SuperHero status she gives Harry towards the end, when he decides that he has to endeavor it all by himself and decides a love interest would only deter him from his goals. It felt like an antithesis... Didnt we hear Dumbeldore harp on and on about the only magic that is deep enough is love? And yet Harry decides to forgo his ability to love which may be the about the only thing that distinguishes him from the dark lord? And then the almost complete lack of hilarity in her writing, which until book 5 holds her writing different from other fantasy authors; for her comedy is a class apart. But here the tone is solemn all the way.

That said, I still love the series and I am on to book 7 now.. the final saga...
Does anyone else feel the same about the half-blood prince? a little deceived, like Harry himself?

The Great Gatsby

Posted by Divya at Monday, April 26, 2010 4 comments Links to this post

It was recently that I had come across the term 'Lost Generation writers'. I must admit it was a little intimidating to brace myself to read Fitzgerald, for I had expected 'the Great Gatsby' to be a bulky classic requiring months of laboring to complete. And like a pleasant surprise (I run the risk of sounding crude saying this) - the book is small and better still an easy read as well.

The narrative is first person and told my Nick Carraway who incidentally was in the first world war, probably like the author himself. The story in itself may not be out of the ordinary, but it is the narration that sticks to 'first-person' that makes it interesting; that is, Carraway only narrates things he knows of, any speculation about someone or something is purely his point of view. The story-teller is not omnipresent, but someone like you and me.

That said, the narration is in most parts satirical. The story is set in the Jazz age and a period when 'prohibition' was in effect in America; but this does not stop the protagonists to access to  abundant liquor. The general motif seems to be to emphasize the unfairness in the world. He brings it on paper through the references to high-end parties, west-egg and east-egg lifestyles and the classes. It is easy to imagine the cruel undertone of NY which to date remains very familiar. I did indulge in some wikipedia reads to get an understanding about America during this era of 1920s, so that I could figure some of the references in the novel.

Like an immovable force is Gatsby in the book, the rags to riches lad, the stupid lover, the doormat; all of this is known from Carraway's point of view, while Gatsby's real background remains a mystery almost throughout the writing, till the end. The initial tone of sarcasm slowly gives way to disdain and gets darker as the novel progresses. One is left to distrust Carraway also at times, for he is not a reliable narrator as well, with biases, frustrations and everything human.

The end is cruel, but it leaves a piquant after-taste, something you neither pity nor find heart-breaking. And simply like the vile world he projects, close the book and get on with your life. The world that has got no time to care...


Posted by Divya at Monday, April 26, 2010 0 comments Links to this post

This is my first graphic novel of recent works. Having not read Satrapi's more popular Persopolis yet, I wasnt sure what to expect from this terse book. I had assumed embroideries would be in the lines of a quilt-club of women and I was almost right, except for having guessed 'Embroideries' completely wrong!

The setting is a tea-klatsch ; There is the redolence of tea brewing in the samovar, a gaggle of  intriguing women and the warm ambiance suited for unending talk. With the motto of "To speak behind others' backs is the ventilator of the heart" this strange clique presided by Marjane's grandmother settles to narrate stories that are even better than gossip, for they are gossip at its best.

 The main topic of conversation is surprisingly about sex, experience they have had or known others to have had. the stories flow as easy as conversations and are at the same time heart-breaking and funny. The things common to the stories are obsession to being a virgin when the woman marries and deception of men.

As the samovar warms and many rounds of tea is drunk, the stories turn to many confessions and mishaps that are laugh out funny, but equally tragic. Satrapi's ideas, and drawings are amazingly fresh. It is refreshing to see how much she depicts with the stroke of her hand and limited words. There is no real motif in the entire book but a culmination of dialogues, representing the woman's world in Teheran that is no different from the west.

It is a charming little book, with so much told and yet untold painting a vivid picture in our minds. You will love the characters and caricatures without much effort and may be even find yourself in the party.


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