Tuesday, February 21, 2017

REVIEW: Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult

People ask me how I pick books to read – do I look at the Bestsellers list? Do I look at Goodreads recommendations? Do I look at what other book bloggers are spazzing over? I do all of the above, but more often than not, I refer to a short list of writers whose releases provide enough and more literary satisfaction for me and ensure I’m well fed. Picoult leads this list.

Her books compulsorily have three ingredients: a plot that mandates a tissue box by your side, a writing style that gives you the benefit of walking in the shoes of different characters to look around and judge for yourself but most importantly, characters that can’t be classified as good or evil – in the end, no one is blameless. Everyone is human.

Picoult gets in my head and confuses with my ideologies. This is also why she’s one of the writers I hate the most. Her books always tackle subjects that are to be debated over tea, (possibly) in raised voices at book clubs, and keep you up at night wondering if the characters made the wisest choices and had you been in their place, would you have done it any differently. Needless to say, when I heard she had a book coming out about racism in contemporary society, I confidently dropped big bucks without even pausing to look at what everyone had to say about it.

I hope the panda was a nice touch
Confession #1: I was in a reading slump. You can verify that by merely looking at the date of publication of my previous post on this blog. Maybe I still am in a reading slump – I’m unravelling a little at the edges. But I read this book from start to finish and I consider that an achievement.
Confession #2: I am not the best person to judge this book, and I won’t pretend to be one either. I have never stepped foot in the US, I am Indian and usually navigate in predominantly Indian circles. But, in case this is news for you, racism is not exclusive to multi-ethnic societies. You’d be surprised at how widespread, silent and invisible racial discrimination actually is and I am no stranger to it.  But, as usual, I digress.

I loved her choice of PoVs: the victim, the lawyer and the white supremacist – expected, but still commendable – because warping reality into what might make logic for a douchebag requires genius and intensive research. I dreaded reading Turd’s Turk’s PoV chapters because it felt like sliding underneath the slimy skin of a monster. This isn’t my first time: Amy in Gone Girl, and Alfred in Salt to the Sea helped me mentally steel myself against Turk’s viciousness and feel pity for the likes of him. You can never justify their actions, but you can understand them.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t Ruth or Kennedy or Turk that intrigued me. It was Adisa. Adisa is such a solid character – so very real – in her blunt stubbornness, her own racist inclinations – a lot of spice with a dash of sugar. I wish Picoult wrote Book #0.5 from Adisa’s eyes – I want to know if she really sees the world in black and white or in Technicolor but pretends otherwise. I was especially impressed by how she weaved the past and the present in her narrative, not jarring against each other, but providing the other a context for us to understand better.

This book really messed with my head – I forged through the constant volley of questions thrown at me, taking breaks in between (you can’t read this at a stretch, nope) to mull over the answers and maybe pretend like I didn’t know them. And as I drew near the end, I began to dread the signature Picoult twist (usually someone you least expect and care about the most drops dead) and I wasn’t disappointed.

Another thing I love about Picoult is the copious amount of research she dedicates into her work. I despise inaccuracies or misrepresentation, especially when you’re dealing with sensitive matter, and this book wouldn’t have been easy for her to write. A white woman trying to voice the discriminated? It would have been intimidating, considering that she knows what she’s setting herself up against. But she did it, anyways.

Most of all, I loved the title. Small Great Things, is a reference to a Martin Luther King quote, like she explains in her Author’s Note. The plot is essentially a quest for a greater victory, but the actual greatness of the novel was in the small victories. When the father held his faceless newborn. When Ruth touched the baby. When Kennedy understood what racism actually means. Small great things like that.

VERDICT: Just do yourself a favour and read it please.

P.S. Miss Picoult, if you're reading this, thank you for this book. Also a huge thank you for the epilogue which restored my faith in humanity. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

"Not A Review" - Jacobinte Swargarajyam

Since the day of this movie’s release, I had heard nothing but glorious praise from people I know and not know. My roommate seemed to have made up her mind to visit Dubai at least once before she died. Another friend confessed that the movie busted many stereotypes. Yet someone else wanted to wax poetic on the technicalities.

My uncle who had spent more than five years in the Middle-East despised the film.

“I couldn’t wait to get out of the theater,” is what he scathingly told me when I announced one day that I wanted to see the movie. “What were they thinking by making a film out of a story everyone already knows?”

This was coming from a man who enjoys every movie that barely makes a scratch at the box office. Since I’ve never really valued his opinions on films; given his choice of movies in the first place, I decided to ignore his condemnation and deigned not to give a reply. That’s when he casually remarked that my other uncle and aunt who had spent more than twenty years in the Gulf also hated the movie.

More than a month later, when the movie was still running in a nearby theater, yet another NRI uncle of mine who was holidaying here in Kerala, decided to take his family to see Jacobinte Swargarajyam and asked me to tag along. And that’s how I finally got to see the movie.

I call Dubai home. I’ve always felt that if I hadn’t been born in Dubai, I might have been someone else. My family is a far cry from Jacob’s family – my dad doesn’t dress like a “global citizen” from the 90’s and doesn’t have twenty suits, my mom spends all the time she isn’t working by sleeping, and we don’t have a fancy apartment. Despite having lived in Dubai for two decades, we still haven’t gone camping in the desert. We know the stories of other people and consider ourselves lucky enough to be able to call Dubai home.

I lied. Uncle #3 wasn’t holidaying. He had come here to drop off his wife and two kids – one high schooler M and a cute pre-schooler J who has no idea he won’t be able to see his daddy that often anymore. After the movie, we piled into the car and waited for the twenty or so cars in front of us to move. No one was saying anything.

M then turned to me and asked how the movie was. I said some heartfelt shit about how goddamn good the direction was; that I was bloody thankful that I got to watch it on a 70mm screen and how I would have otherwise missed out on fully appreciating all that gorgeous cinematography with those beautiful backlit scenes. J happily snored through my rant on my aunt’s lap.

After another moment of silence, Uncle #3 who’s otherwise full of opinions, laughed a little and said offhandedly, “That’s my story.”

This isn’t the first Malayalam movie to attempt to bust NRI stereotypes. Arabikatha, Gaddama and Pathemari were the frontrunners of this genre. Strangely enough, my aforementioned uncles who didn’t like JSR had loved them. Once I made this observation, I started thinking.

Vineeth Sreenivasan noted at the end of the movie that there are millions of Malayalees in the Gulf trying to make ends meet and how he knows the story of only one such individual. The movies mentioned earlier tackled such stories from a different perspective. They all had MCs who had come to the Gulf in the hopes of being able to provide for their family back in Kerala. These films had gripping plots with compelling backstories for the characters. The characters went through hardships that many NRIs hadn’t encountered in person and had only heard about. That’s where JSR makes a difference.

Jacobinte Swargarajyam annoyed my uncles and aunts because it’s their story. It’s the story of a huge majority of Malayalees who had come to Dubai in pursuit of the mythological pot of gold. Aunt #3 later said that ten minutes into the movie, she’d already guessed the storyline. They didn’t like being shown their personal struggles acted out by people under borrowed names, on a huge screen in front of clueless theatre-goers who enthusiastically clapped when the credits rolled out.

Uncle #1 also didn’t get a happy ending like Jacob eventually did, which I suspect is one big reason why the movie irritated him so much.

Being the grudging film critic that I am, I too wouldn’t have liked the movie had it not been for the characters. Granted the direction, cinematography and editing made the movie a visual treat. But the heart of the movie wasn’t the story, it was the characters. Rather, their evolution.

That was what finally clinched the movie for me. The transformation of the suits-only, clean-shaven, fitness-freak, confident Jacob to the grey-haired, bearded, tanned Jacob who finds it difficult to look people in the eye. The evolution of the follower, model-son Jerry to the bat-wielding, whisky-hiding Jerry who no longer takes shit from anyone. Even Abin changed from the rowdy, typical dropout middle son to a man who swallows his anger for the sake of his father and is willing to shoulder responsibilities. The appearance of everyman heroes like Philip Uncle and Unniettan from time to time also restored my faith in humanity. But my personal favourite was Shirley. Her metamorphosis from the namesake silent business partner, who seemed to be happy enough to be running a family of six to a woman willing to fend off bloodthirsty debtors in lieu of her exiled husband; a woman who tells off the CEO of a big firm for smoking in front of her; a woman who finally loses it after trying the pleading strategy at an obstinate knucklehead and just plain shouts at him in a language he doesn’t know but somehow understands when she speaks it. A woman who eventually confesses to her eldest son that she had been neglecting her motherly duties with regards to her youngest.

Agreed, the movie didn't have much of a plot. And I liked it that way. No unnecessary plot twists and digressions. It is a simple story that needed to be told.

The car we were in finally began moving. I then asked Uncle #3 if he would have watched this movie had he known the storyline. “Sure, why not?” was his chirpy reply. “I’m going to get a happy ending too.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Celebrating Women Everywhere | International Women's Day

I’d wanted to do this post for a long time now. Each year, March 8 would come and go, escaping my notice. FYI, I don’t live my life knowing what day today is. I deign to burden myself with such trivial information only when I’ve got no way around it. Illustrious examples include exam schedules and birthdays of best friends who are capable of burying me alive.

But I digress. (I really should make that my tagline.)

Here is a prized list of books (off the top of my head, thank you college-life) that celebrates women and shows us exactly what they are capable of.

The Help – Kathryn Stockett

Oh hell yes. I will not oblige you by giving you a description of this book. If you haven’t even heard of this book by now - ye who hath been living under a rock, rectify that mistake pronto. And for those of you who have heard of it but couldn’t be bothered to read it:

The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

A girl whose mother died when she was little runs away with their Black maid (who’s the only mother figure she’s ever known in her life) to escape her father (and the pissed-off racists), right into the arms of a sisterhood. There she is introduced to the secret world of bees, the Black Madonna and her mother. I love this book to shreds, btw. This had so much potential to turn into yet another civil-rights drama, but it is just a backdrop to flaunt the strength of women.

The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk Kidd

It really is about the inventions of wings in America before the abolition of slavery. It’s about two sisters as abolitionists and feminists and how they plunged ahead, despite the criticism they faced, even from fellow abolitionists. Bear in mind this is a loose account of the Grimke sisters, so no sceptics, these women aren’t fictional.

Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire – Elizabeth Wein

These books are a bust for traditional tropes of delicate, fragile women. This book celebrates the power of friendship and sisterhood even under the direst of circumstances. How the love for your best friends and the love for your homeland can equip you with powers you didn’t know you could have. Fair warning – it’s a roller-coaster ride, and not for the faint-hearted.

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

Two women. Two different generations. Married to the same man in a war-torn Afghanistan. The bonds between them morph between rivalry, mother-daughter, and sister-sister. The beautiful yet incredible thing about this book it shows just how much a woman is willing to sacrifice because of the love for her family. Again, I’m warning you to keep a huge box of tissues at the ready.

Sold – Patricia McCormick

A thirteen-year-old Nepali girl gets sold for 800 rupees by her stepfather into a prostitution ring in India. Lakshmi happily goes along with “Auntie” thinking about the tin roof she can buy her mother with the money she gets by working as a maid in “The City”. This novel traces her loss of innocence with a narration that doesn’t give a lot of morbid details but is still harrowing. McCormick’s accounts of the shady underworld of prostitution will leave you livid at the injustice of it, and in wonder of the women who do more than just survive through it. How they stay even when there’s a chance of escape because staying means their families get to eat.

You have to fool yourself into believing that the things described in this book don't really happen to finish reading it.

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

A book that has survived the wrath of many narrow-minded people; a book that celebrates femininity in all its glory. A book that doesn’t shy away from saying the things that have to be said.

Out of the Easy – Ruta Sepetys

Screw it. I just tried to write a three-line-pitch without making it sound synoptic. What do I love about this book? A whole brothel full of prostitutes showering love on a seventeen-year-old girl in search for some answers. I have never seen so many women of so many different shapes and personalities. But they all equal in their capacity to love.

Saving Francesca – Melina Marchetta

At first glance, this book may not seem like a prime candidate for a seating on this list. It’s about a gang of badass girls in a boys’ school and how gradually they run the place.

God, I love this book.

The Seven Realms – Cinda Williams Chima 

A fantasy world run by a matriarchal government. Plotsy, shippity, and all things addictively nice. Need I say more?

one Girl – Gillian Flynn

I am including this book in the list because the list lacked some good female psychopaths. Who ever said girls were sugar and spice and all things nice? Heads up, female psychopaths are just as bad as their male counterparts. You get on their bitch-side, heaven help you.

A Song of Ice and Fire – George R R Martin

Daenerys. Arya. Cat. Sansa. Cersei. Don’t tell me your knees won’t give in front of these women who are capable of kicking your ass.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Life Updates: The One Where Everything But Life Is Happening

Since my blog shows signs of life even more sporadically than I'd originally imagined, I thought I'll give a poke in the blogosphere and tell all you beautiful people what I'm up to these days. Believe it or not, I don't just spend time staring at the ceiling.
OK well. Sometimes. When I really don't know what else to do after finishing a series.

For starters, let me say, the last semester of college is SHIT. I  had a bunch of responsibilities to tend to, and nowI have a parade of exams coming up. Now, when I say parade, I mean a DAMN PARADE. And if by a miracle, I do survive through them, I have to tackle the momentous question:

I have no clue.

I did land myself with a job that pays well (so yes, that should have shut me up and made me giddy with happiness and gratitude according to busybodies) but I DON'T LIKE IT so I'm not going to.

My conversations with my parents for the next decade or so.
What else is happening you ask? Well, here you go.

The signboard of my life

I am on the hit list my class drew up. Everytime I open my laptop, people clear a circle away from me - it's like just like clockwork. And any misfortunate soul who happens to be near me, gets to watch a couple of videos under duress.

But the one productive thing that has happened is I've rediscovered my talent (or not) for sketching.

And then my soul got consumed again. On purpose.

Now my energy is laser-focused on aggressively shipping Bellarke. Tumblr encourages me too.

That's it for now. Remember the parade of exams I mentioned earlier? Allow me to volunatrily go die.

Yours insanely,

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

REVIEW (well, sort of): Salt to the Sea - Ruta Sepetys


I will never get tired of reading historical fiction. Just when you think you've read enough on WWII from all angles, a book like this comes along and nudges you to look even closer to see things your so-called experienced eyes have missed.

Sepetys says that 'stories of strength through struggle' inspire her work, especially since she's the daughter of a refugee. That's what birthed this book - a successor to her Between Shades of Gray; the book that introduced me to this phenomenon that is her. She wants the world to know and remember what layers of debris resulting from the more flamboyant historical fallout, have hidden underneath and I am very much smitten with her for it.

I admit my shameful ignorance of the Wilhelm Gustloff and thank Sepetys for remedying it. But the truth is that that's not what shocked me the most in this book. What truly horrified me was not the sheer scale of the atrocity, but the less flashy, more relatable kinds of horrors, like - 

Or this - 

But I'm jumping ahead of myself. This book follows the lives of a very interesting motley of refugees. And that of one psychopath-in-training,

Initially, I was mightily creeped out by Alfred's POV accounts and dreaded his chapters. I kept questioning its purpose throughout the book and it was only towards the end that it struck me that even he needs a voice. It's not enough psychopaths like him and Hitler roared all they liked on radios and megaphones - we need to know what really went inside their heads where they were held captives so that we can give them our pity.

But back to Joana and Florian and Emilia and the Shoe Poet and the Orphan Boy and Eva and Ingrid. This is where the book triumphs in the story it is trying to tell. When humanity shines through even when all else is lost. 

So even after I've waxed eloquent about this book, I feel like I'd be lying if I won't admit that I didn't love this book to pieces like I prophesied to myself. I had the same problem with BSoG. The endings of both books left me mildly dissatisfied. This pretty much feels like blasphemy, but I'm missing out on the magic Sepetys did with Out of the Easy. Maybe she felt a pressured need to give justice to the characters in BSoG and SttS and not offend in any way, but I sense a restraint in her writing in this book, unlike in OotE. I don't want to sound pretentious - there's a 150% chance I'm wrong - I was just going out on a limb here.

The last paragraph is a personal opinion; you probably won't find it anywhere else. There's a 150% chance you'll love this book to pieces though.

VERDICT: 4 stars

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Birthday Treat From Yours Truly - No There's No Cake or Giveaways Sorry

So it’s been almost FOUR years since I’ve started this blog although it remains to be seen how well I’ve made my presence felt in the bloggerverse. A quick perusal through my blogroll will advertise the embarrassing fact that I’ve not exactly tried very hard to be an actual blogger.

In these four years, not once did I celebrate any blog-related milestones (probably because there aren’t many to speak of) so I thought I’d celebrate my birthday with you guys. And I wasn't lying, there really is no cake. No there aren’t any giveaways either. You know I'm too poor for either of those.

But there is something.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been vapid enough to google whether there have been anyone you admire/adore/adulate – I mean ANYONE –  who shares the same birthday as you. I have, and the results were dismal.
But then, inevitably, upon my baptism to the EXO fandom, I happily learn I share my birthday with this dork.

Is it just me or does he seem a little put off by that fact?

Anyways, this was my reaction when I found out
And I decided I’ll post a Kai GIF-rabilia post (I have to be the first to coin such a term) to celebrate my birthday. Pardon me for being way too excited to just let this momentous stroke of absolute luck pass by. Imagine if I hadn’t discovered EXO.
Now everyone knows the dancing machine EXO Kai.
So, I thought I’ll throw up some (meaning, a lot of) gifs celebrating the man (kid? honestly I’ve no idea) off the stage. There is a difference between the two, actually.

If this is Kai –
Smoulder #1
Smoulder #2
The Smirk (that will be the end of me)
Then this is Jongin.

Aegyo #1 fail FAIL DAMMIT On Point

Aegyo #2

A Jongin Tutorial on How To Break Make Hearts
I thought I'd also share some other interesting facts about him that I've gleaned over the past three months.
(Does it show? That I'm a newbie to the KPOP fandom?)
(Really. Who am I kidding?)

1. EVERYONE loves Kai. 

BEHOLD Kai's fangirl army base
And then there's the biggest Kai fan of all time.
Featuring Kai's Death Stare and a Blushing Chanyeol

2. He hits people when he laughs. 

Mostly it's poor Sehunnie who gets the most of it, but really - no one sitting next to him is spared.
Chanyeol later gave as good as he got in the same "interview'

3. Acting sexy comes naturally to him. 

This can be seen by how frequently he combs his fingers through his hair or how he repeatedly sticks his tongue out. I already mentioned The Smirk, didn't I?

His tongue doesn't sit in his mouth, for some reason

4. Despite the I'm-A-Bad-Boy attitude you get from the music videos - 

He gets easily embarrassed for no reason
.... and easily hurt, the big baby

5. Does it surprise you that he's great with kids?

Look at the proud papa

6. He probably got all that daddy training by raising three poodles. 

He loves dogs, you know.
Kai's the one doing the Lion King thing at the back

7. Let's talk about ships 

Having a dozen members in the band guarantees a lot of permutations as ships. However the most famously shipped Kai-starring ship is - 
 A popular KaiSoo meme
Kaisoo is real, people.
Seriously. Thank you Tumblr for this gif.

Poor D.O. Can't move a muscle. I'd probably puke though if Kai was standing that close.
This post took a lot more time to put together than it should have because the wifi was having mood swings and because Photoshop ate my RAM. Also, my sincere apologies to all those with slow internet because BOY you're missing out on a lot of awesome gifs.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

REVIEW: Tell The Wolves I'm Home - Carol Rifka Brunt

This is the second time I’m reading this book. The first time I read it (which I did at lightning speed – like I do for most books – because I don’t have the patience to endure the suspense of the ending), I thought all that the book had going for it was the plot and the characters – which is more than enough for me and which is everything that the blurb advertises.

My most grievous fault.

If you do a basic Google search about this book, you’ll come across numerous posts that have written odes to everything that’s beautiful about this book on the surface. The plot is set in the late 1980s, a time when America was in the grip of homophobia and AIDS was in the headlines all too often. It introduces to us a fourteen-year-old, who finds herself lost after her godfather, confidant, best friend, and uncle, Finn passes away. That’s also when she learns there’s a lot of Finn that she didn’t know about.

That’s not all. There’s Greta – the ace kid in the family – and once upon a time, together they used to be the Elbus girls. Then June learns that her mother – the boring accountant who, together with her accountant husband, orphans their kids during their tax season – has a past that June has trouble wrapping her head around.

And then there’s Toby. And then there’s Toby.

The book explores more issues than I thought it would. Apart from the obvious that you can glean from the blurb, it also delves into the realms of forbidden love and sibling estrangement.  I actually had problems with June. I will not hide my initial disgust when I realized the nature of June’s feelings for her uncle. Nor my annoyance at how flippantly June mentions her newly acquired habit of smoking and occasional drinking. Nor my anger at her decision to accept the invitation to visit an apparent stranger and go places with him.

She does a lot of stupid things. Granted. But that’s also what I liked about the book. It isn’t trying to teach lessons about Stranger Danger or Smoking is Injurious to Health or Falling in Love with Relatives and this is not the book I would recommend as the solution to any of the above. Brunt neither condones nor condemns it – she merely talks about it. That is what struck me – you can’t detect the mature adult author acting as the conscience in the morally-compromised teenage narrator. Because there isn’t. It’s up to you to decide if that’s good or bad.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the imagery. Motifs like wolves, rain, butterflies, Mozart’s Requiem, trains, woods, a beautiful Russian teapot, and negative spaces in paintings show up now and then. I didn’t know that this book was a lot of work and is thus a prime candidate for book club discussions. I didn’t know that you had to read some lines twice and thrice to understand if there was a deeper meaning to what seems on the surface. There are some that you’ll miss if you blink like Finn’s chess set, or the painting Nurse Feeding Sick Man from the Book of Days.

Like I already mentioned, the characters are not whom they seem on the surface. There are layers upon layers on them. You would have peel them off slowly and carefully, to get a look at who they are underneath all of it. And underneath all of it, you'll find that they’re just people, not some characters in a book.

This book is work. But once you get to the end, you'll just remain curled up, hugging it to your chest. 

VERDICT: 5 stars
Add your graffiti here before you leave; this wall needs all the colour it can get. And check back, I always reply as promptly as the wifi allows me to. ;)