Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Q&A: Not really that bad

Ask anyone who has read it and you'll most likely, get the same reply. It's either "isn't that the Slumdog Millionaire book?" or "yeah, read it, sucked man". Enough of a reason for me to give the book a try.

Q&A by Vikas Swarup isn't your conventional run of the mills 'coincidental' fiction novel. It's pretty well crafted and elegantly put together novel with a thrilling plot which comes alive with every single chapter. The protagonist Ram Mohammad Thomas, (weird name you would say, well even that has a pretty humourous explanation) lands up in a KBC-esque (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, for people not familiar with KBC) quiz show to win a billion rupees.

Of course, being a boy from the slums, he is left to fend for himself at the show, with the help of his extensive experiences. To the horror of the producers of the show and the surprise of everyone, he manages to answer all the questions correctly and win the prize money. The producers, who weren't prepared to pay a billion rupees to the winner in the first place, bribe the police and have him arrested on charges of cheating, only to be saved later by a lawyer.

This is where the story takes off. Q&A is essentially Ram's explanation to the lawyer (whose identity is revealed later in the plot) as to how a boy from the slums managed to scrape through the maze of all the questions on the quiz (and life) without having any formal education.

The reason why most readers hate this novel is because of its literary character (rather the lack of).  Granted its not literature. But then again, popular fiction isn't all about literature only is it? It's about entertaining the reader and making sure the reader has enough interest to not throw the book away after reading the first few pages. To that extent, Vikas Swarup definitely succeeds. And we must give him credit for that.

Its quite a departure from the movie Slumdog Millionaire, (the other way round it should be, but since this was a post-movie read I'll keep it that way) and frankly I like this one better!

Neglect the reviews for once and go read this book, you wont regret it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Shiva Trilogy

It's not very often that we Indians come across books from our compatriots which turn out to be page turners. Sure we have the Amitav Ghosh-s and the Kiran Desai-s, but the mass market popular paperbacks are what is lacking here. Chetan Bhagat broke that seemingly insurmountable barrier with Five Points Someone.

Amish Tripathi has taken it one step further. His books, The Immortals of Meluha and The Secret of the Nagas, which is a sequel to the former, have found admirers among many Indian readers who would have otherwise been loath to the idea of reading formulaic books. The Shiva Trilogy (the final book in the series yet to be released) is an epic retelling of the tale of Shiva, a subject rarely dealt with in popular culture. Amish has clearly done his research and starts off with the premise that claims Shiva as a human being who was elevated to the stature of god for his virtues and his deeds. Thus identifying with Shiva, all of sudden, for the reader is not really as difficult as it would have been had he been a god.

Writing a book on a topic yet to be 'discovered' has its advantages. But thankfully, Amish doesnt seem to take his readers for granted. Action packed to the point of being a thriller, both the novels are absolute page turners. 'Unputdownable', I'd say (as a certain newspaper in Kolkata promises to its readers).

It's not literature though and the amateurish (or populist?) writing can at times get to you, but the sheer magnanimity of the main plot, the well thought out subplots and the adequately if not well developed characters lend a certain charm to these novels, not found in most tales by Indian authors these days.

I will go as far as this, Amish is definitely the GRRM of Indian literature as of now. The scale of the plot is as grandiose as A Song of Ice and Fire. A must read. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Garden of Solitude - Review

I'll be honest here. I rarely read books from 'debut authors'. However Siddhartha Gigoo's novel had to be an exception. It just had to be. 

The Garden of Solitude deals with the plight of the Kashmiri pandits, the pain and the suffering the migration caused and the emotional turmoil the pandits had to go through. There aren't very many books on the subject. The ones which exist are either out of reach, in all senses of the word, or written in a documentary format, which to be honest, doesnt really make for an interesting reading experience.

So there I was, the book in my hand, eagerly awaiting to delve into the pages. The novel starts off lazily, describing the lives of the residents, the near utopic state which prevailed before the turmoil. Although the descriptions are vivid and eloquent, it gets pretty boring eventually. Hence, even before the real story kicks off, I felt tired and bored.

The story in itself is quite shocking and the events dealt with an amazing amount of sensitivity. However at the end of the day, it just feels like way too impersonal an account. The author does come up with a few glimpses of his literary brilliance, but those are few and far between. It almost feels like an overstretched poetry gone wrong due to the poet's over-eagerness to impress.

This is a must-read though. The plight of the Kashmiri pandits has been a neglected topic for many years now. The author should get all the kudos just for bringing the subject to light.