The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
This book brought me into a state of utmost happiness. It is multi-layered, nudging you in one direction and then dragging you back to another, leaping and meandering, weeping and laughing. The book is not a story as much as it is an experience. It is dedicated to the unconsoled people; people who are hidden, who go unseen, the ones who fall through the crack, the ones we do not meet in our daily lives, the hijras, the Maoists, the abandoned children, the street creatures, the disdained, the reviled, the mentally unstable, the freedom fighters, the Naxalites, the abused and the abusers, the raped and the rapers. It is a book about Kashmir and Godhra, Bhopal and the Gujarat riots. It’s about emergency and partition, and fast unto deaths. It’s about megalomaniac leaders and fly by night politicians, bureaucrats and corrupt officers. It’s about Hindu fundamentalists and Muslim jihadis, love, war and relationships beyond blood. It’s about motherhood and mothering and deep love that transcends physical space. Above all it is poetic and lyrical. You sense the song in her opening lines as she talks about bats drifting across the city like smoke. You see the amaltas blooming in full yellow glory looking up at the scorching brown sky and uttering an expletive. You can imagine resting against frayed velvet bolsters that are washed, darned and washed again or a simple man collecting relics, from a life less lived, in a bright yellow See, Buy, Fly, duty free bag. Yet again stop and listen to the lovers as the silence between them swells and subsides like the bellows of an accordion playing a tune only they can hear. Picture a car floating like a steel bubble through a city of potholed streets, towering cement blocks and snaking gray flyovers tangling and untangling under a yellow sodium haze. Everyone will have a different reaction. People who know about India will immediately recognize characters, feel the vibe and get pulled in. Others may just revel in her clever story-telling, tying threads and making sense of nonsense. Some will read it for the poetry of Cohen, for the urdu couplets and Hindu mantras. Others will read it for the artistry of words and images. Beg, borrow buy but burrow into Roy’s world of the unconsoled. The book is a must read.
The Trespasser by Tana French
She never never never fails to enthrall me. This book is again a mindblower. She leads you in, lulls you. And then wham. This time the suspense is there but the characterization is what blew me away. And how people deal with each other. Who stands up for whom. Even bad guys have friends. And not all bad actions come from a bad place. There is so much to process. So much to accept. Did the end please me? Maybe. Possibly not. But its reality and that’s the beauty of Tana French. Ever so believable. The flawed characters, the intense plot, the sub plots, everything so spot on. Another unputdownable book. When’s the next?
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
And finally by page 336, I cried. Beg, borrow or steal but this book is a must read. It’s funny and poignant. It tears you apart and puts you together too. It reinforces trust in humanity. And makes you whole again. Backman has a wonderful style of writing. His characters are so well fleshed out you feel you are watching a movie while reading the book. Ove could be your misunderstood next door neighbor. It takes one pregnant woman and many understanding friends who unwittingly bandage his broken heart. I won’t say more because the book is an experience to be savoured.
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
What a powerful book. It was disturbing at many levels but ultimately it is an inspiring story of a woman who fought against all odds to triumph. As I wrote in one of my columns, hers is a story of a woman who fought a system that stifled her and managed to break free. Her search for truth and understanding led to the questioning of age old norms even if it meant losing familial ties. Hirsi Ali’s traumatic and controversial life and the way she dealt with adverse circumstances is truly inspirational. She had a devout Islamic upbringing even though her mother showed some feistiness early on in her life. She even flirted with Islam, wearing the black hijab for a long time but inconsistencies and questions about the path Islam was taking finally made her break free. She became an atheist, a woman who eventually realized no one could give her the power, she had to claim it. This books needs to be read. It made me realize how fortunate I have been. It shocked me to read how women in my lifetime, around my age, have had such a different reality.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngochi Adiche
The building book club had chosen to read this book. It was on my wish list in any case and when I realized I would be able to attend, I quickly got it on kindle and read it in two days!! The fact I could read it so quickly means I enjoyed it. If it had been a tedious read, even urgency would not have hastened my reading. In a broad sense, the book is about race. It deals with the immigrant experience in the US; how life is for immigrants in their countries before and after their US sojourn. I totally identified with the book because, even though it is a book about Nigerians, blacks and Africans, it is parallel to a narrative for Asian immigrants; Indians for example. So much of their reactions, their experiences and how they are when they are in India is similar to the Nigerian experience. The writer jumps back and forth between time periods and it was a bit disorienting. There were two point of views too. Some extremely short. Once I got used to the style, I started looking forward to how she unveiled her story. I also enjoyed that the protagonist is a blogger. I identified with her views and since I also blog, I felt in sync with her. There are some intensely disturbing moments in the book but necessary to lay the groundwork for everything that follows. Pick up the book. Read it. And then look at immigrants with empathy. And yes one more thing, I never realized how difficult it is to manage ‘black people’ hair until I read this book. #Respect