Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Thursday, November 03, 2011
All our yesterdays is about the children of two neighboring families - one of them rich and owner of a factory, the other not so well to do. In their adolescent years, the children find themselves in a Fascist regime and in a country which decides to go to the war on Germany's side. In the excitement of youth, two of these children begin to prepare for a revolution, which soon fizzles out. As their adults die or become preoccupied with the oncoming war, these children spend idle hours going astray, unhurried and unconcerned about their studies.
Things change, and the youngest girl, Anna, is married to an old family friend with whom she moves to a poor village in South Italy. The life in this village is drawn in plain strokes by Ginzburg, and it is easy to see that it is a vastly different world from the town of Anna's growing up. It is here that war becomes a reality, and the writer makes us come face to face with the dangers and concerns of common Italian people. People who do not support Fascism and thus often celebrate Italian and German defeats against the English.
The writing is often minimalist, though not excessively so. The story is told by a narrator, who does not involve itself very much with dialogues, but does sketch feelings in rough outlines. With minimalism, Ginzburg is able to weave in many characters and events into the story. There are several deaths of various kinds, and each of the children grows up in a different manner, finding own ways of dealing with the changes. The several characters with their own forms of cowardice and heroism and their own voices ('lived and died a Socialist') make this book a very interesting read. The character of Anna, placed at the center seems most unformed as she drifts along life, but is also quite realistic.
This is one of the plainest war novels that I have read with few tortures, fewer gunshots and even lesser bomb attacks, and yet with a simple paucity of lemons and carefully guarded cellars, the author makes the pinch of war felt.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Tree of Life brought together the dichotomy of a vast cosmos versus individual life. Many times, a cosmic order is used as a salve for personal tragedies. God has a much larger scheme, the Universe has a much larger scheme, your personal sorrows are small. But is it comforting to know that you are nothing in that much larger scheme, that you could suffer personal losses and the Universe will just move on? Would it not be more satisfactory if you were the center of the Universe and the world would come to a halt if there was a hitch in your journey? It is possible that much of human angst is caused by the knowledge of being miniscule. Perhaps this is what causes Jack O'brien's (Sean Penn) angst and restless wanderings.
This film is a journey - into the memories of childhood, into the realm of Universal knowledge, and finally into the beyond. As a middle aged man, Jack O'brien remembers growing up in a small Texan town with two brothers. They have an idyllic childhood, spent in blissful afternoon excursions, looked upon by an angelic mother and a doting, though disciplinarian father. The brothers are happy in each others' company. There is just one scene in which sibling rivalry is mildly indicated: a toddler Jack looks upon his baby brother with curiosity, expecting him to play with him and then goes to throw tantrums when he finds no response. Mallick has captured a whole range of emotions in such subtle, ethereal scenes. There is very little dialogue in the entire movie. People whisper to themselves, or sometimes it appears that only bits of conversations are overheard by the camera/viewer - none of the words are spoken for the benefit of the viewer. In the movie are the rebelliousness of growing up, an exploration of personal failure and how it changes a person as a father, and more overpowering - a deep sense of loss. When Jack's younger brother dies at the age of 19, the whole family is thrown off, especially the mother, who wanders restlessly in the woods, seeking an answer from God. She asks: 'They say he has gone to God, but was he not with God all the time?' Her confusion, and sense of being wronged is deeply touching. Jack's misery is more lasting, as he tries relentlessly to keep the memory of his brother alive. His mind continues to wander, until one day, in the afterlife, he meets his family again and smiles in the togetherness.
It is hard to know whether Mallick is pitching a war between personal losses and the vastness of continuous life, or if he is trying to find comfort in the continuity of life. It seems like he is still wondering, as am I. But I am sure I will look forward to the blu ray release in October - so that I can enjoy the magnificent scenes on my personal screen.
Monday, September 12, 2011
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The book is about a part of Nothomb's own life, spent in China as a diplomat's daughter. Most diplomatic families live in colonies (which Nothomb christens ghettos) that are separated from the local population. As a result, many different nationalities come together in a microcosm of the outside world. Like the outside world, children from expat colonies indulge in their own wars, form their own alliances and chose their own enemies.
At appropriate intervals Nothomb, the child is funny, and these comic sightings keep the book interesting. Though the narration is based in China, there is little China that you meet - it is just somewhere out there, and never penetrates into the story, which is a bit disappointing, especially because the back-cover gives you the impression that it is going to be about an imaginative childhood in a troubled country (I immediately imagined Pan's Labyrinth, my fault, but you always anticipate based on what you have already experienced). Yet, there are certain short but astute observations, particularly on the secretive nature of Chinese government.
In all ways, the book is a capsule of a larger, more conscious adult life taken by a child. She experiences war, love, suffering and lives in a microcosm. All in the space of three years.
View all my reviews
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
In Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, one of the spins is about an affair that Gogol's wife is having. While reading through the affair, I was constantly anticipating an explosive, uncomfortable moment when Gogol would find out about it and feel cheated/humiliated. So I was pleasantly surprised when the author cut through that moment and skipped into the future. From there, Gogol only looked back upon the moment when he had found out about the affair - you can feel that time has already softened the hurt, it is merely to keep the records straight is why the reader is being told about it. You are not expected to sympathize or feel involved. It has happened, done with. As a reader, it is a relief to be spared the emotional turmoil.
But not so with Marias - he does not let you escape. At the outset, he will tell you that the tragic event has happened. But that distance of past never comes as as escape. He then begins to describe the moments immediately before and after the tragic event. In excruciating details. At the beginning of Tomorrow in Battle Think on Me, (which I am reading now), he tells you that a woman dies in the arms of a man she had just recently met. You instinctively want to escape the horror of this man, who finds himself in another man's house, his amorous interlude with this man's wife suddenly thwarted by her unexpected death. He is left alone in the house with a child of two years, torn between the horror of staying with the child in the house and explaining his presence to the husband in the morning, or the coldness of leaving the child alone with his dead mother. And Marias, unrelenting, makes you live that horror yourself - for 100 pages or so. You find yourself worrying about the sick woman whom you already know will die. Upon her death, you worry about the child, and worry about how you will explain the affair. It is curious however, that through those unpleasant pages, you suddenly begin to get comfortable, no longer as afraid or tensed as the first few pages, just treating it as a practical problem. The possibility of confronting the husband no longer seems as intimidating as at the beginning.
Perhaps this mulling over tragedy is what makes him a master. That and his ability to conjure up the most unpleasant situations (have you read A Heart So White where a newly wed wife shoots herself, or the mega-book your Face Tomorrow, where a multiple of such unpleasantaries unfold)
Friday, August 19, 2011
Somewhere beginning of last year, I purchased an iPhone 3G in India. At the time, the only options available were to either get an iphone locked to Airtel or to Vodafone. Now, none of these carriers were offering a deal. There was no lucrative plan, no discount - So you were saddled with a carrier for one year without any benefits except the ability to own an iphone.
So I got myself an iPhone locked to Airtel. At the time of taking the connection, I asked about the unlocking procedure after the completion of one year; to which the sales representative replied: It will auto-unlock in one year.
Well may be I was too gullible, but when I moved to Singapore, it did not strike me to check whether the phone was unlocked. I arrived in Singapore, and happily inserted a sim from 7-11 into my iphone - to get the rudest shock of relocation. My phone was still locked to Airtel and rejected this sim as Invalid! My first reaction was to rush off to the nearest Singtel store and buy an iPhone4, but providence saved me, as the store did not have the model I wanted. I know that iPhone5 is expected next month, and buying a model an year old is nothing short of foolishness. But to live without an iPhone till the next model arrives. Unimaginable!
So here's what I did. I shot off a mail to Airtel Customer care, requesting for a remote unlock. After about 4 days, I got a mail asking for some specifics regarding my model, which I promptly provided. Silence, for another 7 days. I could bear it no longer, and searched for ways to expedite. On twitter, I found Airtel_Presence - the twitter channel to reach Airtel's customer care. And I have to say they were responsive, at least far more than the official contact given otherwise. After two days, they responded (on twitter) saying that my phone is unlocked. I inserted the new sim again, expecting a 'Voila' moment, only to see some more invalid sim flashed on the phone.
After a few unhelpful calls with Airtel (who suggested that perhaps my sim was not good enough, etc), and after some unsuccessful internet searches, I called up the Apple helpline, who told me that my phone still showed as locked to Airtel in their database. So after confirming with the carrier that my phone was indeed unlocked from their end, I had to restore my iphone to factory settings using itunes. I inserted the new sim, and restored my phone using itunes and finally - the Voila I had been waiting for!
So if you have bought an iphone in India with a carrier, you must:
- Check with the carrier how long is your phone locked.
- If there are no benefits in price, you must request an immediate unlock, and once the carrier confirms this, restore your phone to factory settings and check with a different sim not belonging to the carrier to ensure your phone is unlocked
- If you find yourself outside the country, unable to visit the carrier to get the phone unlocked, mail their customer service ID (no point calling as most of the tele-callers will be unable to help with the technical issues) and request for an unlock. Constantly follow up - else they will take a long time to resolve the issue.
- In case any of the above does not work, call Apple helplines, which are very responsive, and can tell you the right solution depending on your phone's serial number.
- If nothing works, well you can always go and do a hack unlock (for which there will be several guides available on the internet), but that is not something I suggest. Other than the fact that it is illegal, you end up losing warranty, have trouble doing OS upgrades (you will have to jailbreak everytime you want to upgrade)
Thursday, August 18, 2011
So it was this time too, when I chose to finally leave Mumbai, and move to Singapore. This time, the amount of stuff to be moved was massive - I had stayed, without knowing, 5 long years in Mumbai. These were years in which I had money to spend (unlike student days), had got married, and taken up much bigger houses than single rooms of earlier times. So even after days of selling and disposing stuff, I sent 47 packets home with Agarwal Packers & Movers! When they arrived at home in Jaipur (I was there to witness the catastrophe!), I was aghast at the mess. The movers kept bringing the boxes, and soon I thought Mom and I would get engulfed in brown boxes, never to be found again. Well somehow we managed (rather mom did as I watched from my sickbed, occasionally lifting a finger), and by the time my father arrived in the evening, there was no trace of the boxes and the chaos of the afternoon.
So I arrived here, in Singapore, with yet another suitcase. A few clothes, a few shoes, a few books and a few DVDs - essential moving stuff. (Leaving my collection of books behind at home was the hardest part, and the pain hit me anew when I entered the grand bookstore of Singapore: Kinokuniya at Takashimaya mall, and looked at the book prices. ).
In Singapore, the acceptable trend is to let out well-furnished apartments - it is often difficult to find an unfurnished place. Suits me in my current transient state, though it does impose quite a few restrictions. For instance, the microwave, the oven and the Wine cellar are all knitted together in a fixed space. To buy a new microwave which suits my needs better, will require a series of approvals - from the owner, followed by the apartment contractor, followed by the building committee (and I am sure followed by a Govt authority somewhere, which seems to involve itself on a macro level with public life)
Whatever I have seen of this city/country, the one defining feature that leaps out is Consumerism. I have rarely seen people who would be caught dead with a simple phone (which is any phone other than iphone), or without an LVMH/Channel/Prada bag on their shoulders. In the MRT (metro rail), the madness to consume is most prominent. Faces are buried in ipads, iphones, and the air is heavy with an amalgamation of perfume. The ugly LVMH logo stares out from all directions. As you walk through Orchard Road, the main shopping district, you see people queuing up outside the Channel store, or waiting patiently to get their Louis Vitton. In a coffee shop, sitting on a table which does not have an ipad or a mac is almost embarrassing. Heaven save you if you have some other brand of laptop/tablet. And anywhere in the city, if you are clicking pictures using a point-and-shoot, you will be forced to wonder if it is an unwritten rule to use 'DSLR only',
So when they say life in Singapore is easy, it is true to a good extent. There are some standard formats you can adopt for your life and live happily. You don't have to exert yourself in making choices - you know which phone to buy and what purse to carry. If I ask two people, I will also know the approved shoes and dresses. As a vegetarian I do not even need to exert myself in choosing food, simply have to pick out of the 2-3 options on the menu. Commuting is easy - the MRT is convenient, and safe. Located amidst many beautiful countries, Singapore is also a great place to travel from. I am told Bintan and Batam (Indonesian islands) are less than 40 minutes away by ferry, Malaysia is an hour's drive away.
It is also a place friendly to walkers, and I simply love that. No matter where you are, you will find a walkway. Despite the warm weather, it is lovely to take evening/night walks near the river, with the city twinkling in many lights, all of them playfully reflected in the river. My favorite spot, which I have recently discovered is the walkway at Stadium (Singapore Indoor stadium).
So I think I can very much get used to staying here. And also that it is early for impressions.
Monday, June 06, 2011
Tove Jansson was a Finnish writer, who wrote this book at the prime age of 60, but was already quite famous as a writer by then, although for a different kind of fiction - children books. She is best known as the creator of some reportedly lovable creatures called Moomins. Her fiction is based in the lands of moomins.
So, at the heart of her most celebrated work was imagination and a fantasy world. When she moved on to adult fiction, she switched to writing about reality (with dark tones). Perhaps this duality troubled her, or at least elicited some contemplation, because it seems to be at the center of The True Deceiver. In these 180 pages, she has placed both her selves - the realist and the fantasist opposite each other, playing them off. The children book writer is characterized in Anna, who is an illustrator. She is the dreamy one who likes the warmth of summer and believes in the goodness of people. She likes to paint, and when she is not doing that, she escapes into adventure stories. Anna is forced to confront Jansson's realist avatar - Katri, who loves hard numbers and is very comfortable in the harshness of winter. She is often consulted by the villagers for her logical arbitration, hates dishonesty and is very uncomfortable with all forms of kindness. When they come together, Katri's objectivity is forced on Anna, shaking her fantasy world. Sadly, the line between objectivity and cynicism is too narrow for anyone walking that path, and Tove Jansson portrays this poetically in flashes of anger, rebellion felt by an old woman.
The book, though an adult fiction, has the writing style of a children's book. Sentences are short and yet descriptive. Most significantly, there is very little abstraction, which is refreshing in fiction of such darkness. It is almost as if she was writing for a child, who has learned the ways of the world but not learned complex sentences. Sometimes, it is as good as having illustrations. I cannot get out of my head the image of old furniture lying on a frozen lake in anticipation of the arrival of summers, when it will drown in the lake or flow off with the water. Nor of the mad dog in a desolate lighthouse.
But this is not a book from the writer of children books. It is from someone else.
Monday, May 30, 2011
The Temple of Dawn is the third part of the Sea of Fertility tetralogy written by Mishima. It is well-known that he committed ritual suicide the day he finished the last book : The Decay of Angel, and hence the set of books are tinged with the after-effect of this event. The awareness of death seems all the more palpable because we know what is to follow, and hence the words appear to carry a prophetic & self-appraising weight.
I have not followed the tetralogy in sequence (I seldom follow order in books), I first read Spring Snow, part one, and have now skipped the second Runaway Horses to make way for the third. At the heart of the books is one person, fated to die young again and again, in different reincarnations. These reincarnations are witnessed by Honda, who sees the same soul in four different forms, and attempts to save each of them from these early deaths.
The Temple of Dawn is named after a celebrated temple Wat Arun (literally meaning Temple of Dawn) in Bangkok. It is in Bangkok that Honda meets the second reincarnation of his friend Kiyoaki, who is now born as a Thai Princess. The princess remembers her past lives, as she remembers knowing Honda in both these lives. It is a fantastic story, and could be written only by an Oriental. The Occidental will find it hard to transgress the boundary of births, or even suggest multiple lives.
From Thailand, Honda goes on a trip to India - he wants to visit Benares & Ajanta there, towns from a very distant past. On the way, he spends some time in Kolkata during Puja where the violent religiousness of the city intimidates him. His descriptions of that madness is evocative. This madness seems to be the theme of his entire Indian sojourn, as he meets a country which is physical, crowded, anarchical and turns him into an insomniac. He dearly misses his country and its peace, acutely feeling the Japanese discomfort of things foreign. The parts on India read like a perceptive travelogue - something a more religious/spiritual Chatwin could have written. I would like to return to these pages when I am finished with the book.
The part where I am now, is almost a second book in itself. As a war is going on from which he is dissociated due to his age, Honda finds time for extensive reading. He reads and reflects on various theories in Buddhism - on reincarnation particularly, and on the differences between Theravada Buddhism & Mahayana Buddhism on the subject. Needless to say, my pace has considerably slowed down in these pages because they are quite rich and dense.
Also posted at Project Dogeared.
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
A French woman is shooting for a film in Hiroshima, and a day before returning to Paris she meets a Japanese man in a cafe, whom she spends the night with. An intense affair develops, and in this intense love, the woman is transported to her first love - a German soldier whom she had met during German occupation of France. On the night of French liberation, the soldier was killed in her presence and his death and loss of love continued to haunt her. She was disgraced in her town (Nevers) for consorting with the enemy, and spent days locked in the cellar in a state of mental fever. In a while, she remembered only the pain and spent life in short, meaningless affairs - until, on meeting this man in Hiroshima she feels the intensity of love and is horrified at the thought of finally forgetting her first lover.
The horror of forgetting seems the central theme of the film. The necessity to remember disasters like the loss of love or bombing of a city, to keep it alive forever, are pictured both in the personal trauma and the scenes of horror from Hiroshima. Both disasters intermingle to make the trauma of Hiroshima very personal; it is no longer so distant as the destruction of a city. She cannot take a new lover, because it would mean that she could forget love and thus would also be able to forget this new love. And how could you forget love, forget Hiroshima, and move on?
There is something so beautiful and sad about Resnais' movie in its clear black and white imagery. The impossibility of love and the burden of guilt is reflected in the still shots above. The manner in which the flashbacks become a part of the current conversation, and in the way the two lovers juxtapose is haunting, and yet something felt often on dreamy mornings when worlds intersect, and for while you do not know which is which.
It was so fascinating to hear the conversation of the lovers - I am looking now for the screenplay(translated) of the movie written by Resnais and Duras.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
-In a Strange Room, Damon GalgutHe watches, but what he sees isn't real to him. Too much traveling and placelessness have put him outside everything, so that history happens elsewhere, it has nothing to do with him. He is only passing through. May be horror is felt more easily from home. This is both a redemption and an affliction, he doesn't carry any abstract moral burdens, but their absence is represented for him by the succession of flyblown and featureless rooms he sleeps in, night after night, always changing but somehow always the same room.
Why is it that words on travel, like these, make me yearn to leave home, and somehow still make me sad with loneliness.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
"Have you noticed", she asked the girl, "that the left are always drab? When I was in the Party they thought I was frivolous. They did not trust me because of my dresses."...
..."They dressed like they had no hope. It is capitalism, I told them, that is bleak, not socialism. When there is a revolution the people should wear wonderful clothes, streamers, flags, balloons. It should be full of joy and love, not look like a funeral. Do you like picnics?"
-Illywhacker, Peter Carey
What a cracker of a book -you can expect humorous wickedness on every page. It's characters are an ensemble of weird, fickle, not-quite-there folks. Their morals - I just love the gray area each one perennially hangs in.
Monday, January 31, 2011
In this interview, as in others, Bolano comes out with some cheesy lines, which he has the good sense to call cheesy before typing them, but the good sense does not stop him from making those comments anyway: My only home are my two sons, Lautaro and Alexandra . I believe he treated the interview with Ms Maristain as frivolously as she was treating it herself.
What is best in the book is his conversation with Carmen Boullosa. CB is as well versed with Latin American literature as Bolano is, and they speak as equals. Bolano is more forthcoming and also thoughtful about his replies:
For me, the word writing is the exact opposite of the word waiting. Instead of waiting, there is writing. Well, I’m probably wrong—it’s possible that writing is another form of waiting, of delaying things. I’d like to think otherwise
Overall, this volume was an enjoyable read, even if the best part of it was a reprinted review of 2666. But I sometimes got annoyed with Bolano's calculated words and his pedantic comments which kept cropping up.
The Carmen Boullosa interview can be found here. Marcela Valdes' review of 2666, which forms the introduction to the book can be found here.
Monday, January 24, 2011
This picture, taken by Grant Gee, seems like a beautiful introduction to the walking journey Sebald took. I cannot wait to see the film, but getting my hands on the film will be a humongous task - it will certainly not come to India in any legal forms. (Sebald's books hardly find their way here). I will have to find it online, which, something tells me will not happen soon.
My review of this beautiful book is here.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Milosz, a Polish writer, lived through the Warsaw uprising of 1944 and the Russian rule in Poland, and initially lent his cooperation to the Communist government by becoming the Government's Literary attache to Paris. These were the initial times, when the Red Army was trying to win Intellectuals over by giving them some literary freedom, as long as they did not criticize Russia or its theories in their writing. Neutrality then, was acceptable. But soon, the noose tightened to swerve these intellectuals into praising the regime, and it was no longer possible to be a writer without contributing to the party's agenda. Milosz struggled with this acceptance for a while, until his ideas of literary freedom won and he seeked political asylum in Paris. Captive Mind was completed during this phase, even though the seed had begun during his years of cooperation.
This background is essential to a book in which Milosz explains his initial cooperation and the cooperation of several Polish intellectuals. He does this through a couple of concepts, followed by 4 biographies of such writers. The concepts are interesting. Take for example the pill of Murti Bing. In a fantasy written by Witkievicz, an Eastern Invader Murti Bing defeats Poland, and offers a pill of happiness to its exhausted people. People take it willingly, because everyone inherently wants to move to a harmonious state. Milosz likens the pill to Communism - which offers a harmonious existence to all men, dissolving divides. People exhausted from the Nazi rule willingly accept it.
What takes the center-stage in the book are the four biographies of Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. All of these are Polish writers, and for different reasons are drawn to the idea of Communism. Alpha is drawn to purity and monumental tragedy, which a war-torn country gives him aplenty. Beta is a disappointed lover, a nihilist who has witnessed first hand the society that builds up in a concentration camp, and is a brutal narrator of it. The realism of Marxist regime appealed to his love for brutal truth, as did its materialism.
Gamma, a slave of history was a non-entity in the literary world before the war, but was elevated to a position of prominence & power with his embrace of the socialist regime.Lastly Delta, the troubadour was a jocose storyteller, who liked the regime because it paid him for his popular writing.
These portraits are tremendous, and each presents a different logic for embrace of a tyrannical regime. These writers, including Milosz are making some compromises, but considering the alternative - of not being able to write, or of exile to a nation where no can read your writing, their compromise does not warrant a harsh judgment. I would really like to know who these authors are that Milosz represents, and if possible read something from them - at least from Beta, whose writing seems a harsh portrayal of human nature under duress.
Milosz' language is a little poetic, he is not a debater and he sometimes digresses from the argument into memory lanes, which makes the book a little charming,and melancholy despite the ideological theme.
Once the portraits have ended, the book has become a bit monotonous. Perhaps Milosz should have ended sooner.
An interesting term in the book: Ketman. Act of paying lip service to the authority while holding personal opposition. Wonder why it has not come up in my earlier Totalitarian reads.
Also posted in Project Dogeared
Friday, January 07, 2011
This is one of the most heartbreaking, yet perfect endings in cinema. The ruin of a life, abandon and infinite pain.
I visited Angkorwat recently, and kept going back to this moment of acute melancholy and perfection in those ruins.