Books, Journal

The useless third

A nice side effect of being a business student is that it made The Restaurant at the End of the Universe an even more hilarious read than what it would’ve been otherwise. I’m referring to a part of the story known as the ‘B’ Ark, where our protagonists stumble across millions of alien management consultants, marketing heads, and others of similar professions traveling through space.

The ‘B’ Ark is a Golgafrinchan spaceship designed to carry them to another planet, since their home planet, Golgafrincham, was about to be ‘doomed’. As explained nicely by the ship’s captain:

“The idea was that into the first ship, the ‘A’ ship, would go all the brilliant leaders, the scientists, the great artists, you know, all the achievers; and into the third, or ‘C’ ship, would go all the people who did the actual work, who made things and did things, and then into the ‘B’ ship – that’s us – would go everyone else, the middlemen you see.”

He smiled happily.

“And we were sent off first,” he concluded, and hummed a little bathing tune.

It turns out, the ships A and C did not exist, and the entire thing was a ploy to get rid of the useless third of the Golgafrinchan population. The B ship was hard-coded to carry them to a faraway planet and crash-land in a way that would render it unable to fly ever again. This faraway planet, coincidentally, was Earth, at a time when cavemen were just beginning their journey outside caves.

Upon arrival, these Golgafrinchans started employing their skills to start a colony on Earth. Here’s an example of how it went:

“If,” the management consultant said tersely, “we could for a moment move on to the subject of fiscal policy. . .”

“Fiscal policy!” whooped Ford Prefect. “Fiscal policy!”

The management consultant gave him a look that only a lungfish could have copied.

“Fiscal policy. . .” he repeated, “that is what I said.”

“How can you have money,” demanded Ford, “if none of you actually produces anything? It doesn’t grow on trees you know.”

“If you would allow me to continue.. .”

Ford nodded dejectedly.

“Thank you. Since we decided a few weeks ago to adopt the leaf as legal tender, we have, of course, all become immensely rich.”

Ford stared in disbelief at the crowd who were murmuring appreciatively at this and greedily fingering the wads of leaves with which their track suits were stuffed.

“But we have also,” continued the management consultant, “run into a small inflation problem on account of the high level of leaf availability, which means that, I gather, the current going rate has something like three deciduous forests buying one ship’s peanut.”

Murmurs of alarm came from the crowd. The management consultant waved them down.

“So in order to obviate this problem,” he continued, “and effectively revalue the leaf, we are about to embark on a massive defoliation campaign, and. . .er, burn down all the forests. I think you’ll all agree that’s a sensible move under the circumstances.”

The crowd seemed a little uncertain about this for a second or two until someone pointed out how much this would increase the value of the leaves in their pockets whereupon they let out whoops of delight and gave the management consultant a standing ovation. The accountants among them looked forward to a profitable autumn aloft and it got an appreciative round from the crowd.”

Behind every joke is a hint of truth. For more fun-filled encounters, I highly recommend The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

Books, Journal

Setting a watchman

Disclaimer: This post might not make a lot of sense to most readers. It is mainly written to document some key insights that I want to take away from a book, for self reference in future.

My love for Harper Lee magnified after reading Go Set a Watchman. The book addresses a topic that is extremely relevant to me – how to accept a world that disregards the values that one holds dear. Jean Louise returns to her hometown, Maycomb County, and finds it rotting with racist ideas. Even her father, Atticus – a man who had been her idol since childhood and from whom she has derived all her morals – is a member of a white supremacist organization. The initial shock of the discovery makes her vomit in disgust.

“You sowed the seeds in me, Atticus, and now it’s coming home to you—”

“Are you finished with what you have to say?”

She sneered. “Not half through. I’ll never forgive you for what you did to me. You cheated me, you’ve driven me out of my home and now I’m in a no-man’s-land but good—there’s no place for me any more in Maycomb, and I’ll never be entirely at home anywhere else.”

Several altercations follow. We get to see how different characters justify their stances. They are exactly the kinds of arguments I’m used to when the topic of animal rights comes up. This is proof of the constancy of the human brain – the irresistible urge to justify the status quo through self delusion, no matter how black and white the issue is on moral grounds.

The book doesn’t stop here, but goes on to give some much needed comfort, for what it’s worth (through Uncle Jack, whose role in the novel makes him one of my favorite characters of all time). Uncle Jack asks Jean Louise to look at the other aspects of the world around her, to realize that it is not as doomed as it might seem:

Some men who cheat their wives out of grocery money wouldn’t think of cheating the grocer. Men tend to carry their honesty in pigeonholes, Jean Louise. They can be perfectly honest in some ways and fool themselves in other ways.

It begins with the basic understanding that one moral shortcoming doesn’t make a person bad. This is particularly true when the shortcoming is a general property of the society, as it indicates that the person has adopted the evil instead of initiating it. Thus, a slaughter of a sentient animal for pleasure (taste buds) should not be judged to the full extent of the crime just because it is the societal norm. The same is true for the white supremacists of Maycomb.

Then it moves on to how every one of us develops a personal conscience, and how it sometimes deviates from others’. This leads to falling out with people around us, including those whom we used to admire. But that’s okay, since it protects us from being blind followers and from the backlash that ensues as soon as we challenge society.

Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious… now you, Miss, born with your own conscience, somewhere along the line fastened it like a barnacle onto your father’s. As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings—I’ll grant you it may have been hard to see, he makes so few mistakes, but he makes ‘em like all of us. You were an emotional cripple, leaning on him, getting the answers from him, assuming that your answers would always be his answers.

And finally, the book shows us how we can co-exist in society despite such significant differences. In fact, it reassures that the conflicts are necessary for the society to make healthy progress over time. It also shows us how we are never truly alone in our convictions – there is always a significant number of people who feel the same, invisible though they may be.

“You may not know it, but there’s room for you down here.”

“You mean Atticus needs me?”

“Not altogether. I was thinking of Maycomb.”

“That’d be great, with me on one side and everybody else on the other. If life’s an endless flow of the kind of talk I heard this morning, I don’t think I’d exactly fit in.”

“That’s the one thing about here, the South, you’ve missed. You’d be amazed if you knew how many people are on your side, if side’s the right word. You’re no special case. The woods are full of people like you, but we need some more of you.”

… “What on earth could I do? I can’t fight them. There’s no fight in me any more…”

“I don’t mean by fighting; I mean by going to work every morning, coming home at night, seeing your friends.”

Books, Journal

An early birthday gift

Go Set a Watchman is a shady book. Since its publication in 2015, it has been drowned in controversy. It isn’t clear whether Harper Lee wanted it to be published, because she had maintained throughout her life that she will never publish another book. As a result, several Harper Lee fans have boycotted it. I was delighted to receive the book as a gift since I probably wouldn’t have read it otherwise. Before getting started, I wanted to quickly document my expectations from this book.

Even though the story is set chronologically a decade after To Kill a Mockingbird, the book itself was written earlier. It was rejected by the publisher and Mockingbird was born out of its ashes. Mockingbird, as we know, went on to become one of the most beloved American books of all time and its legendary protagonist, Atticus Finch, can be found on every list of inspiring literary characters (while Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus features at the very top of the American Film Institute’s list of heroes). He has been become nothing short of a benchmark for human morality.

Therefore, it comes as a rude shock that Go Set a Watchman portrays Atticus as a bigot. This is all word of mouth though and I won’t be passing any judgement before reading the book myself. Nevertheless, I will be treating this Atticus as if he were a completely different character altogether. Knowing that Mockingbird is an revised and improved version of Watchman makes this task simpler. I wouldn’t want Atticus’ existing image to be tarnished in any way.

I am also expecting to get some insights into the mind of Harper Lee. It is quite possible that this is the original and imperfect story that she wanted to tell, but was forced to change it to a more ‘agreeable’ version later in order to fall in line with the expectation of the masses.

Here’s to page 1.

Books

Slaughterhouse Five

Slaughterhouse Five is miles apart from anything else I’ve read, as all great books generally are. It’s easy to overlook its brilliance, though, since much of the essence is concealed behind layers of subtlety.

The opening line reads:

“All this happened, more or less.”

Picking a madman as a narrator opens up several interesting possibilities of storytelling. For instance, he can talk about aliens and time travel, while narrating the allied bombing of Dresden in WWII. His story is a beautiful mess of reality and fantasy, and the reader must take everything with a pinch of salt.

The central theme of the book, as I understood it, leans towards nihilism.

While Billy was a POW, a German guard arbitrarily beat up an American prisoner, and the American is perplexed at the randomness of the event.

“Why me?” he asked the guard.

The guard shoved him back into ranks. “Vy you? Vy anybody?” he said.

Later when Billy is kidnapped by aliens, he asks why he was chosen out of all the humans in the world. Their answer:

“Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber? Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”

The aliens, as we know, can see in four dimensions, including time. For them, the past, present and future are all one; everything is predetermined and there is no concept of free will. Their indifference seeps into Billy and into his past, and eventually into the war.

The most horrific events are described with unnerving casualness and all deaths are readily accepted with the phrase: so it goes.

Yet, in spite of all the hopelessness and lack of emotion, Slaughterhouse Five is an anti-war novel. I can’t explain how, but it is, because it horrifies the reader in ways that explicit descriptions of violence and bloodshed can’t. There in lies the magic. It also has a deep rooted sense of empathy that never surfaces, but makes its warmth felt throughout.

Or maybe it does surface once, in the form of a gravestone that claims:

vonnegut_quote

 

Books, Journal

Bengali literature

I haven’t explored Bengali literature much and that has always bothered me in a consistent, nagging sort of way. My knowledge of Bengali is limited to 12 years of schooling, Satyajit Ray, and few other novels and short stories.

I believe time is better invested in learning one way of doing a particular thing instead of multiple ways — especially when the different ways are almost mutually exclusive and do not complement each other. If I have 100 units of time set aside for exploring language, I’d use all 100 on either English or Bengali instead of doing a 50-50 approach, because the greatest treats always lie at the far end.

English was always the superior choice in terms of opportunities, outreach and diversity. However, it is still a foreign language and can never have as strong a hold on my emotions as a mother tongue. Is it even remotely possible to capture the beauty of Pather Panchali or Srikanta in another language? I think not.

Within the constraints of my experience, I’ve always perceived Bengali as dark and somber. Its capacities for melancholy and nostalgia are beyond scary.

But then again, maybe that’s how all dying languages are.

Books, People Worth Knowing

Atticus Finch

Ah, if there is one character that would describe my concept of an ideal human being, it would be Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. His perfection, sadly, confines him to the pages of fiction — more specifically, to a child’s narration of a simplified version of the world. The real world comes with the added baggage of messy nuances and somehow I can’t picture Atticus being compatible with all that.

However, being too good to be true does not discredit him in any way, for he is perfectly capable of inspiring and captivating people who are very real and whose imperfections get highlighted in his presence.

Trying to explain what makes Atticus exceptional would be a fool’s errand. Pick up Mockingbird and see for yourself. The book also has a brilliant movie adaptation. I still prefer the novel though, with its subtleties and fluid narration.

It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.

– Scout, describing Atticus

#peopleworthknowing

Books, Journal

Damn those Russians

I’m nearing the end of Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky is my (new) favorite author. Being in love with his works is like being in a disastrous relationship — you know you’ll go insane if you stick around, but you stick around anyway.

I’m a little concerned about my mental health. I’ve returned the book to the library, so that I can read it only in the library (and avoid sleepless nights).

Don’t take my word for it though; it probably won’t stir such a strong reaction in most readers. It’s a masterpiece nevertheless, and it’s not that depressing (if you judge objectively). It just intimidates me, personally, as most of the thoughts of the author resonate deeply with mine.

I’ll write a review of the book once I finish it. After that, I’ll be saying goodbye to Dostoevsky for a while. There’s only so much pessimism one can endure, even if it is laced in the most wonderful gift-wrap.

Meanwhile, here’s a few lines from one of his short stories:

For, after all, you do grow up, you do outgrow your ideals, which turn to dust and ashes, which are shattered into fragments; and if you have no other life, you just have to build one up out of these fragments. And meanwhile your soul is all the time craving and longing for something else. And in vain does the dreamer rummage about in his old dreams, raking them over as though they were a heap of cinders, looking in these cinders for some spark, however tiny, to fan it into a flame so as to warm his chilled blood by it and revive in it all that he held so dear before, all that touched his heart, that made his blood course through his veins, that drew tears from his eyes, and that so splendidly deceived him!

Do you realize, Nastenka, how far things have gone with me? Do you know that I’m forced now to celebrate the anniversary of my own sensations, the anniversary of that which was once so dear to me, but which never really existed? For I keep this anniversary in memory of those empty, foolish dreams! I keep it because even those foolish dreams are no longer there, because I have nothing left with which to replace them, for even dreams, Nastenka, have to be replaced by something!

Books

Catch-22: tickling your inner sadist!

Someone had mentioned to me that Catch-22 is a funny book, but didn’t care to mention funny in what way. I picked it up expecting a light and humorous read to go along with the heaviness of the other book that I’ve been reading — Crime and Punishment.

After a few chapters, I realized that I don’t have a proper adjective in my vocabulary to describe what Catch-22 is. Here’s a short example, containing the description of a wounded soldier in a hospital:

The soldier in white was encased from head to toe in plaster and gauze.

Sewn into the bandages over the insides of both elbows were zippered lips through which he was fed clear fluid from a clean jar. A silent zinc pipe rose from the cement on his groin and was coupled to a slim rubber hose that carried waste from his kidneys and dripped it efficiently into a clear, stoppered jar on the floor. When the jar on the floor was full, the jar feeding his elbow was empty, and the two were simply switched quickly so that the stuff could drip back into him.

Okay… and this is narrated as if it’s the most natural thing — hidden so well among other mundane descriptions that it jumps the reader and takes him by surprise.

I’ll put Catch-22 aside for the future since I feel it deserves more attention than I’m willing to give right now.

Meanwhile, I decided to google “Is Catch-22 funny?” just in case. And google answered with an excerpt from the New York Times review:

“Catch-22” is a funny book — vulgarly, bitterly, savagely funny. Its humor, I think, is essentially masculine. Few women are likely to enjoy it. And perhaps “enjoy” is not quite the right word for anyone’s reaction to Mr Heller’s imaginative inventions.

Looks like an open challenge to female readers! 😉

Books, Journal

The trouble with buying (real) books

All readers have a fantasy of building a mini-library; a room dedicated to books or something of that sort. At least that has been the case for me ever since I can remember. In fact, none of the books I read till middle school were borrowed — I bought them all and made quite a big collection for myself. Somewhere down the line I realized that I would never re-read most of these books (Enid Blyton, abridged classics, etc.) again. My preferences had changed. I ended up giving everything away to younger cousins.

Fortunately, I still enjoy the books that I liked in highschool and I can reasonably assume that I won’t dislike them in the future. But with adulthood comes a different set of problems. Firstly, I don’t read as much as I used to. My current reading routine goes like this: I read 20-30 books in a span of 4-5 months (mostly during summer holidays) and then I quit reading for the rest of the year. I should read more, I guess.

Secondly, I don’t have a permanent residence. It is impossible to store books at the hostel and it is cruel to ask my parents to carry along all my novels every time they move (which is quite often).

Thirdly, I’m a nitpicker. The cover art and typography are as important to me as the content itself. If I wanted just the content, I’d stick to my kindle. I actually prefer the kindle editions over poorly designed paperbacks. For example, consider the following two editions:

Coraline Paperback Coraline Paperback 2

The first one costs Rs. 750 and I won’t ever go for the second one. Would I buy a thin paperback at such a high price? Probably. I’d wait for the book-fair though.

Stamps on a nice cover pisses me off too. Also price, discount and advertisement stickers which are pasted on the book. Also covers made from movie posters. Aaargh!

To Kill a Mockingbird Cover The Book Thief Cover

The problem of nitpicking might seem trivial to those who don’t experience it, but it is not, considering that I buy hard copies for their aesthetics and for the sake of collection.

Nowadays I rarely buy books that I haven’t read before. This ensures that I don’t end up owning novels that I don’t like, thus lowering the quantity of books that I have to store, while also saving money for those occasional expensive editions.

Books

Thoughts on “The Catcher in the Rye”

I finally read The Catcher in the Rye which had been on my to-read list since, like, forever. The novel has a somewhat controversial image (several shooters, including the guy who killed John Lennon, had claimed to have been influenced by the book). Let me begin by stating what I knew about this book before reading it and what I expected from it.

I knew that the book is about teenage isolationism and how the main character, Holden Caulfield, is unable to relate to other humans. I knew Holden is not generally likable. I also knew that the novel didn’t have much of a plot. I expected that I would relate to Holden, united by the fact that I don’t relate to many people either (I’m not sure if that’s just me or a common human trait). I also thought it would have some radical philosophies since it inspired people to shoot and all.

The most noticeable thing is obviously the language. It’s full of strange expressions (American teenage lingo, I assume) which get a bit annoying after a while. The prose also has touches of dreadful passivity and monotone and you would get the feeling that Holden isn’t even trying to make his narration interesting. But then again, Salinger does make his tremendous writing skills visible through all this; and I don’t have a faintest idea of how he managed to pull that off, it’s just magically interwoven into the text.

I think it would not be an understatement to say that The Catcher in the Rye disturbed me to the core and simultaneously amazed me in several delightful ways.

Firstly, Holden. What a character, with his generalizations and his hatred for “phonies” (which, in this context, refers to everyone except himself and few others)! It would seem that he dislikes everyone who does not abide by a set of principles. These principles are not clearly mentioned anywhere, but most of them have to do with preserving innocence in some form or other. Anyway, it’s easy to dislike Holden. Throughout the novel he says negative things about people around him. Even when he’s praising someone, he has to do it against some negative generalization of others. For example:

She was terrific to hold hands with. Most girls if you hold hands with them, their goddam hand dies on you, or else they think they have to keep moving their hand all the time, as if they were afraid they’d bore you or something. Jane was different. We’d get into a goddam movie or something, and right away we’d start holding hands, and we wouldn’t quit till the movie was over. And without changing the position or making a big deal out of it. You never even worried, with Jane, whether your hand was sweaty or not. All you knew was, you were happy. You really were.

But if you’re like me, you must be having mixed feelings about the above quote. The earnestness is evident. In fact, the entire book is full of stuff like “It was. It really was.” Whatever Holden’s faults are, he is extremely honest and direct and earnest with everything he talks about.

Here comes the scary part: you realize that Holden is like your raw and uncultured inner self which judges people, loves and hates without bounds, and also alienates you from everyone around. For the first time, you get an outsider’s perspective of that self and you realize that he’s sort of ugly. In short, the novel might make you dislike yourself or human nature in general.

The author takes depression and isolationism to scary levels. This reaches its pinnacle while Holden describes his plan to run away from his life.

What I’d do, I figured, I’d go down to the Holland Tunnel and bum a ride, and then I’d bum another one, and another one, and another one, and in a few days I’d be somewhere out West where it was very pretty and sunny and where nobody’d know me and I’d get a job. I figured I could get a job at a filling station somewhere, putting gas and oil in people’s cars. I didn’t care what kind of job it was, though. Just so people didn’t know me and I didn’t know anybody. I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn’t have to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something, they’d have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. They’d get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then I’d be through with having conversations for the rest of my life. Everybody’d think I was just a poor deaf-mute bastard and they’d leave me alone. They’d let me put gas and oil in their stupid cars, and they’d pay me a salary and all for it, and I’d build me a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made and live there for the rest of my life. I’d build it right near the woods, but not right in them, because I’d want it to be sunny as hell all the time. I’d cook all my own food, and later on, if I wanted to get married or something, I’d meet this beautiful girl that was also a deaf-mute and we’d get married. She’d come and live in my cabin with me, and if she wanted to say anything to me, she’d have to write it on a goddam piece of paper, like everybody else. If we had any children, we’d hide them somewhere. We could buy them a lot of books and teach them how to read and write by ourselves.

Things are not all that dark, however. Mr. Antolini states it beautifully in his advice to Holden:

Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.

In my efforts of figuring out what really makes Holden tick (he seems uninterested in everything and without purpose), I feel that he is obsessed with preserving innocence in the world, as is evident from the following extracts:

[1]

The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat on this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or you’d have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way – I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.

[2]

I kept walking and walking, and I kept thinking about old Phoebe going to that museum on Saturdays the way I used to. I thought how she’d see the same stuff I used to see, and how she’d be different every time she saw it. It didn’t exactly depress me to think about it, but it didn’t make me feel gay as hell, either. Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad anyway.

[3]

Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.

[4]

While I was walking up the stairs, though, all of a sudden I thought I was going to puke again. Only, I didn’t. I sat down for a second, and then I felt better. But while I was sitting down, I saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody’d written “Fuck you” on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them – all cockeyed, naturally – what it meant, and how they’d all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of days. I kept wanting to kill whoever’d written it. I figured it was some perverty bum that’d sneaked in the school late at night to take a leak or something and then wrote it on the wall. I kept picturing myself catching him at it, and how I’d smash his head on the stone steps till he was good and goddam dead and bloody. But I knew, too, I wouldn’t have the guts to do it. I knew that. That made me even more depressed. I hardly even had the guts to rub it off the wall with my hand, if you want to know the truth. I was afraid some teacher would catch me rubbing it off and would think I’d written it. But I rubbed it out anyway, finally.

I’m still in the process of digesting this book and all I can say is it’s brilliantly disturbing and definitely worth reading.

Books, Journal

On beautiful writing

Long back, I had stumbled upon a short story by J. D. Salinger on the internet. I have been planning to read The Catcher in the Rye for years. A short story, I feel, is a nice way of getting acquainted with an author’s writing style.

The story was titled A Girl I Knew. It unfolded pleasantly under the narrator’s matter-of-fact tone and subtle humor, until the girl was introduced; the writing took on shades of detached admiration and everything was fine and dandy when, suddenly:

She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.

The remarkable change of intensity would bewilder any reader. It’s like skimming through a pleasant, imaginary scene and everything gets tossed up into a mess. Few seconds pass before the mind is able to comprehend what went wrong, and then it revolts.

This is why good authors tend to be so overwhelming; they yank deep rooted emotions out of our minds and wrap them up neatly, in a perfect sentence.

Books, Misc.

The Palace of Illusions

Review of The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

The Palace of Illusions

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a little skeptical about starting this book. The concept seemed nice enough – Mahabharata from Draupadi’s perspective – but I didn’t want to read a deviation without knowing the original story first (I just knew a few parts here and there). But I decided to try it out anyway, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The narration is charming enough and the story flows smoothly. However, the author has a habit of going into a hinting mode – “When I did this, I didn’t know how deeply it would affect my life” or something similar – which gets a bit annoying and repetitive at times.

Also, I found myself having very little respect for many of the characters, including Draupadi. They seem very normal and naive (almost like teenagers, I might add), apart from the fact that they make crazy sacrifices and vows for silly reasons. I know I should keep such skepticism away from mythological characters, but I found it hard to. Most of the major political decisions and wars were based on personal issues and most of the major problems were brought about by unnecessary displays of honor. I don’t know how much of this would apply to the original Mahabharata, but I suspect most of it would.

As far as this book goes, I maintain that it is very well written. The dynamics between Karna and Draupadi are interesting to read, and the relationships of Draupadi with Krishna and her brother Dhri are beautifully portrayed.

I recommend it to mythology lovers.

View all my reviews