Vol. 5, No. 4                                         BOOK ALERT                       September 2008

F I C T I O N
 
Title : The 3 mistakes of my life
Author : Chetan Bhagat
Pub. Details : Rupa : New Delhi , 2008
Abstract :

The novel is set in the year 2000, when a young boy in Ahmedabad called Govind dreams of starting a business, and is based on real events. To accommodate his friends Ishaan and Omi's passion, they open a cricket shop. However, each has a different motive: Govind's goal is to make money; Ishaan desires to nurture Ali, a gifted batsman; Omi just wants to be with his friends. During the story the characters have to deal with religious politics, earthquake, riots, unacceptable love and their own mistakes...

Subject : Fiction , English novel, Religious politics, Earthquake, Riots, Love, Mistakes

Title : The blind assassin
Author : Margaret Atwood
Pub. Details : Anchor Books : New York , 2000
Abstract :

The novel centres around the protagonist, Iris Chase, and her sister Laura, who committed suicide immediately after the Second World War. Iris, now an old woman, recalls the events and relationships of her childhood, youth and middle age, as well as her unhappy marriage to Richard Griffen, a rival of her industrialist father. Interwoven into the novel is a story within a story, a roman ŕ clef attributed to Laura and published by Iris about Alex Thomas, a politically radical author of pulp science fiction who has an ambiguous relationship with the sisters. That novel itself contains a story within a story, the eponymous Blind Assassin, a science fiction story told by Alex's fictional counterpart to that novel's protagonist.
The novel takes the form of a gradual revelation, illuminating both Iris' youth and her old age before coming to the pivotal events of her and Laura's lives around the time of the Second World War. As the novel unfolds, and the novel-within-a-novel becomes ever more obviously inspired by real events, it becomes clear that Laura's novel isn't what it seems; it is eventually revealed that Iris herself, not Laura, was the novel-within-a-novel's author and protagonist.

Subject : Fiction , English novel

Title : Disgrace
Author : J M Coetzee
Pub. Details : Vintage : London , 2000
Abstract :

"Disgrace" tells the story of David Lurie, a 52 year old English professor with literally nothing going for him - His teaching is uninspired, his scholarly output is uninteresting, his department has been gradually phased out, and he gratifies his baser urges once a week with the same prostitute. Spotting this prostitute, Soraya, out one day with her children, David himself is spotted, and his comfortable, prosaic routine is shattered. He begins an affair with Melanie, a student in his Romanticism course. Brought up on charges of sexual impropriety, David resigns from his university position, and moves to the hinterlands to live with his daughter Lucy, a homesteading farmer and animal caregiver. The remainder of the novel follows David's attempts to put some semblance of a life together...

Subject : Fiction , English novel

Title :

Foreign body

Author : Robin Cook
Pub. Details : Macmillan, London, 2008
Abstract :

Cook stumbles in this formulaic thriller about the timely subject of medical tourism, the trend in which U.S. citizens seek to save costs on expensive surgery through treatment overseas. At the center of the drama is Jennifer Hernandez, a fourth-year medical student at UCLA, whose grandmother has died in a New Delhi hospital following hip replacement surgery. Suspicious about the circumstances, Hernandez immediately flies to India to investigate. There she not only discovers a number of similar deaths of U.S. citizens but also runs into the one-two punch of a desperate Indian medical industry struggling to block all publicity about the deaths and a huge American HMO that wants nothing more than the widest exposure of the apparent medical missteps in the Third World. Implausible plot twists, unconvincing villains, silly dialogue and a convenient, all-too-happy ending make this one of Cook's rare weak efforts.

Subject : Medical tourism - India , Thriller , Fiction , English novel

Title : The famished road
Author : Ben Okri
Pub. Details : Anchor, 1993
Abstract :

Teeming with fevered, apocalyptic visions as well as harrowing scenes of violence and wretched poverty, this mythic novel by Nigerian short-story writer and poet Okri won the 1991 Booker Prize. The narrator, Azaro, is a spirit child who maintains his ties to the supernatural world. Possessed by " boiling hallucinations, " he can see the invisible, grotesque demons and witches who prey on his family and neighbors in an African ghetto community. For him (and for the reader), the passage from the real to the fantastic world is seamless and constant; many of the characters--the political thugs, grasping landlords and brutal bosses--are as bizarre as the evil spirits who empower them. In a series of vignettes, Azaro chronicles the daily life of his small community: appalling hunger and squalor relieved by bloody riots and rowdy, drunken parties; inhuman working conditions and rat-infested homes. The cyclical nature of history dooms human beings to walk the road of their lives fighting corruption and evil in each generation, fated to repeat the errors of the past without making the ultimate progress that will redeem the world. Okri's magical realism is distinctive; his prose is charged with passion and energy, electrifying in its imagery. The sheer bulk of episodes, many of which are repetitious in their evocation of supernatural phenomena, tends to slow narrative momentum, but they build to a powerful, compassionate vision of modern Africa and the magical heritage of its myths.

Subject : Magical realism, Africa, Violence and Poverty, Fiction, English novel

Title : Five point someone : what not to do at IIT
Author : Chetan Bhagat
Pub. Details : Rupa and Co. : New Delhi , 2004
Abstract :

The novel is set in the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, in the period 1991 to 1995. It is about the adventures of three mechanical engineering students (and friends), Hari Kumar (the narrator), Ryan Oberoi, and Alok Gupta, who fail to cope with the cruel grading system of the IITs and come to be known as five pointers due to their perennially low 5 something GPA's.
The book is narrated in the first person by Hari, with some small passages by his friends Ryan and Alok, as well as a letter by Hari's girlfriend Neha Cherian. It deals with the lives of the three friends whose elation on making it to one of the best engineering colleges in India is quickly deflated by the rigor and monotony of academic work. Most of the book deals with the numerous attempts by the trio to cope with and/or beat the system as well as Hari's fling with Neha who just happens to be the daughter of Prof. Cherian, the domineering head of the Mechanical Engineering Department.
While the tone of the novel is humorous, it takes some dark turns every now and then, especially when it comes to the families of the main characters. Most of the action, however, takes place inside the campus as the boys, led by the ever creative Ryan, frequently lamenting how the internationally lauded IIT system has stifled their creativity by forcing them to value grades more than anything else. Uninspiring teaching and numerous assignments adds to their woes although the boys do find a sympathizer in Prof. Veera, the new fluid mechanics professor.

Subject : Fiction , English novel, Indian IIT system, Engineering education system in India

Title : The gathering
Author : Anne Enright
Pub. Details : Vintage Books : London , 2007
Abstract :

The gathering is a novel about love and disappointment, about thwarted lust and limitless desire, and how our fate is written in the body, not in the stars. The novel traces the narrator's inner journey, setting out to derive meaning from past and present events, and takes place in Ireland and England. Its title refers to the funeral of Liam Hegarty, an alcoholic who committed suicide in the sea at Brighton. His mother and eight of the nine surviving Hegarty children gather in Dublin for his wake. The novel's narrator is 39-year-old Veronica, the sibling who was closest to Liam. She looks through her family's troubled history to try to make sense of his death. She thinks that the reason for his alcoholism lies in something that happened to him in his childhood when he stayed in his grandmother's house. She uncovers uncomfortable truths about her family.

Subject : Fiction , English novel, Secret societies - Rituals - Juvenile fiction, Detective and mystery stories, Supernatural - Fiction, Australia - Fiction

Title : The god of small things
Author : Arundhati Roy
Pub. Details : Penguin Books : New Delhi , 1997
Abstract :

The God of Small Things (1997) is a semi-autobiographical, politically charged novel by Indian author Arundhati Roy. It is a story about the childhood experiences of a pair of fraternal twins who become victims of circumstance. The book is a description of how the small things in life build up, translate into people's behavior and affect their lives. The book won the Booker Prize in 1997.
The God of Small Things is Roy's first book. Completed in 1996, the book took four years to write. The potential of the story was first recognized by Pankaj Mishra, an editor with HarperCollins, who sent it to three British publishers. Roy received half-a-million pounds (approx. $970,000 USD) in advances, and rights to the book were sold in 21 countries.

Subject : Fiction , English novel, Twins - childhood experience

Title : Heat and dust
Author : Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Pub. Details : John Murray : London , 1975
Abstract :

Heat and Dust (1975) is a novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala which won the Booker Prize in 1975. The events of the story take place in India, during the periods of the British Raj in the 1920s and the present day of the novel (the 1970s). A young English woman, searches for the truth about her greataunt Olivia (1920s). The narrator discovers that Olivia was a woman smothered by the social restrictions placed upon her by British society. She falls in love with a Nawab and becomes pregnant with his child. Her decision to abort the baby results in a scandal. In discovering the truth about these events, the narrator also comes to fall in love with an Indian man, understand herself better and develops an interest in India.

Subject : Fiction , English novel, India - History - British occupation, British India, Kings and rulers

Title : In a free state
Author : V S Naipaul
Pub. Details : Pan Macmillan : London , 2001
Abstract :

In a Free State is a sequence of five works — two short stories (the prologue and the epilogue), two forty page novellas and a one hundred and forty page short novel — linked by a common theme. All are about individuals stranded in foreign countries and confronted by alien cultures. In "One out of Many" an Indian servant is almost accidentally transported to Washington, where he finds a niche for himself but remains profoundly alienated from the world around him. "Tell Me Who to Kill" is the tragic story of a West Indian who moves to London. The novel "In a Free State" is about expatriate English civil servants in a recently independent African state torn by civil war.

Subject : Fiction , English novel, Expatriate English, Africa, Civil war

Title : Life and times of Michael K
Author : J M Coetzee
Pub. Details : Vintage Books : London , 2004
Abstract :

Life & Times of Michael K is a 1983 novel by South African-born author J. M. Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature for the year 2003. The book itself won the Booker Prize for 1983. The novel is a story of hare lipped, simple gardener Michael K, who makes an arduous journey from civil war-ridden urban South Africa to his mother's rural birthplace, during an imagined near-future within the apartheid era.

Subject : Fiction , English novel, South Africa, Apartheid, Civil war

Title : Life of Pi
Author : Yann Martel
Pub. Details : Penguin : New Delhi , 2001  
Abstract :

Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Canadian author Yann Martel. The protagonist Piscine "Pi" Molitor Patel, an Indian boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of religion and spirituality from an early age and survives 227 days shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean.
First published by Knopf Canada in September 2001, the novel won the prestigious Booker Prize the following year. It was also chosen for CBC Radio's Canada Reads 2003 competition, where it was championed by author Nancy Lee.

Subject : Fiction , English novel, Religion and spirituality

Title : Midnight's children
Author : Salman Rushdie
Pub. Details : Vintage Books : London , 2006
Abstract :

Midnight's Children is a loose allegory for events in India both before and, primarily, after the independence and partition of India, which took place at midnight on 15 August 1947. The protagonist and narrator of the story is Saleem Sinai, a telepath with an extraordinary nose. The first section details both the peculiar roots of the Sinai family and the earlier events leading up to India's Independence and Partition, connecting the two both lines literally and allegorically. Saleem is born at the exact moment that India becomes independent. From that point on, Saleem Sinai feels the pressure of his chronology and invests his life and narrative into describing the zeitgeist of his child- and adulthood...

Subject : Fiction , English novel, Hinduism and Islam, Poor and rich children

Title : The sea
Author : John Banville
Pub. Details : Pan Macmillan : London , 2005
Abstract :

Banville's magnificent novel presents a man mourning his wife's recent death—and his blighted life. "The past beats inside me like a second heart," observes Max Morden early on, and his return to the seaside resort where he lost his innocence gradually yields the objects of his nostalgia. Max's thoughts glide swiftly between the events of his wife's final illness and the formative summer, 50 years past, when the Grace family—father, mother and twins Chloe and Myles—lived in a villa in the seaside town where Max and his quarreling parents rented a dismal "chalet." Banville seamlessly juxtaposes Max's youth and age, and each scene is rendered with the intense visual acuity of a photograph ("the mud shone blue as a new bruise"). As in all Banville novels, things are not what they seem. Max's cruelly capricious complicity in the sad history that unfolds, and the facts kept hidden from the reader until the shocking denouement, brilliantly dramatize the unpredictability of life and the incomprehensibility of death. Like the strange high tide that figures into Max's visions and remembrances, this novel sweeps the reader into the inexorable waxing and waning of life.

Subject : Fiction , English novel, Life and death

Title : Unaccustomed earth
Author : Jhumpa Lahiri
Pub. Details : Random House India : New Delhi , 2008
Abstract :

A set of eight stories. In the title story, Brooklyn-to-Seattle transplant Ruma frets about a presumed obligation to bring her widower father into her home, a stressful decision taken out of her hands by his unexpected independence. The alcoholism of Rahul is described by his elder sister, Sudha; her disappointment and bewilderment pack a particularly powerful punch. And in the loosely linked trio of stories closing the collection, the lives of Hema and Kaushik intersect over the years, first in 1974 when she is six and he is nine; then a few years later when, at 13, she swoons at the now-handsome 16-year-old teen's reappearance; and again in Italy, when she is a 37-year-old academic about to enter an arranged marriage, and he is a 40-year-old photojournalist. An inchoate grief for mothers lost at different stages of life enters many tales and, as the book progresses, takes on enormous resonance.

Subject : Fiction , English novel

Title : Vernon god little : a 21st century comedy in the presence of death
Author : D B C Pierre
Pub. Details : Faber and Faber : London , 2003
Abstract :

The surprise winner of the 2003 Man Booker Prize, DBC Pierre's debut novel, Vernon God Little, makes few apologies in its darkly comedic portrait of Martirio, Texas, a town reeling in the aftermath of a horrific school shooting. Fifteen-year-old Vernon Little narrates the first-person story with a cynical twang and a four-letter barb for each of his diet-obsessed townsfolk. His mother, endlessly awaiting the delivery of a new refrigerator, seems to exist only to twist an emotional knife in his back; her friend, Palmyra, structures her life around the next meal at the Bar-B-Chew Barn; officer Vaine Gurie has Vernon convicted of the crime before she's begun the investigation; reporter Eulalio Ledesma hovers between a comforting father-figure and a sadistic Bond villain; and Jesus, his best friend in the world, is dead--a victim of the killings. As his life explodes before him, Vernon flees his home in pursuit of a tropical fantasy...

Subject : Fiction , English novel, Comedy
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