Book Review: – Fahrenheit 451 : -“Everything Burns!”

Fahrenheit451

3.5/5 Stars, Knowledge vs Ignorance ‘El Clásico’

“The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They’re Caesar’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, ‘Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.'” ~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

It is an exercise in futility to ‘judge’ or ‘review’ a piece of classic literature. It is much more satisfying to just discuss it. The idea that forms the corner stone of this novel is a nightmare for any bibliophile, “reading of Books is a capital offence”, your books along with your house, with you possibly still in it, will be soaked in kerosene and burned to ashes if you are caught. Just imagine that! A future where that might be the law.

The dystopian world of  ‘Fahrenheit 451’ is a profound comment on a great many things, on censorship, free thinking, equality, misuse of technology, pressure of conformity, importance of empathy & of creativity, war, peace, corruption of ideologies, FREEDOM!…. and perhaps many many more. Neil Gaiman in the introduction to the book states that :-

“If someone tells you what a story is about, they are probably right, if they tell you that that is all the story is about, they are probably wrong,”

And I concur, each of us would take an extra lesson from this book, based on us, our experience, our environment and our biases, along with the common ones that are explicitly stated in the book. That’s what classics do don’t they? make you think, sort out confusing thoughts in your head, agree, disagree, like, hate, but they provoke your brain cells to churn out those extra moments pondering, precisely the thing Ray Bradbury preaches about reading I imagine.

Precisely the thing that happens to Guy Montag ‘The fireman’ in the book, the very guy who’s job is to destroy books and fight against all they represent, turns to love and adore them & the ideas and ability they stand for, and is plunged into self doubt by reflecting on his actions and the state of the world for the first time in his life, all because of a chance encounter with a Girl ‘Clarisse’ who walks for pleasure in a world where no one does, who smells the flowers in a world where no one does, who stares at the moon, enjoys an actual conversation, delights in ideas, Cares! in a world WHERE NO ONE DOES.

Each character is a lesson in itself, ( Montag, Mildred, Clarrise, Captain Beatty, Faber ) each lesson an important edict to be passed on to the next generation with a warning tag “Beware!”. Will we ever Get them all I wonder?  Even if we do, will that be enough? It would be a start anyhow, a start is important, very important.

The writing is marvelous though not easy, the story though linear not plain, this book despite being only 180 or so pages ( My version has 249, 70 pages worth of commentaries and essays on its genesis, which add extremely interesting tit-bits to the whole book) packs a lot of punch and demands a lot of your attention, you can’t skim through this, can’t miss the subtle hints, perhaps on rereading it you would find something new altogether. So, it is one of those mind boggling books, that in the first read might almost defeat you, you can sense the brilliance yet you can’t shake off the bafflement. As ‘Beatty’ quotes ‘Alexander Pope’ in the book : –

“A little learning is a dangerous thing. Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring; There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.”

So drink deep, even if you have to drink again and again from this book, because the sobriety that it promises in the end is worth all the drunken stupor and hangover that you could possibly have to endure.

 

 

Advertisements

Book Review:- A Prophet Without Honor: A Novel of Alternative History by Joseph Wurtenbaugh

A Prpphet Without Honor

4/5 Stars, Surprisingly Good!

“Heil Schicklgruber!”  ~Joseph Wurtenbaugh, A Prophet Without Honor

Ahh History and the world of ‘Might-have beens’, The ‘What-if’s’ always hold us don’t they, If only a small thing would have changed, if only! ,the butterfly effect on the world as we know it would have been immense.

Goodreads Blurb :- ……The plot focuses on the one great, unrealized opportunity of the Twentieth Century. 
In the first months of 1936, Adolf Hitler risked everything by ordering his untrained military to reoccupy the Rhineland. It was a bluff. The Germans would have been forced to retreat if the French or British had offered the slightest opposition. But the bluff succeeded. History changed decisively. Hitler quieted the opposition at home, and marched the world relentlessly on, to the edge of destruction and beyond.The story examines that lost chance in detail. The result is a compelling story full of intrigue, danger, romance, and action, culminating in the reckoning that Hitler might have faced, had events taken a different course…….

The novel is written as a collection of letters, telegraphs, extracts from journals, memoirs & history books(of the might-have been world). We are exposed to each character through this epistolary form. And despite the limitations that one would think this would pose on the story and it’s narration, it was surprisingly engaging, entertaining, absolutely believable and absolutely fantastically written.

We follow the “Haydenreich” family from Bavaria, through the years, from 1910’s to the 1940’s, through WW1, the rise of National socialism in Germany and ultimately to Hitler, the characters are sketched well enough, as well as they could be given the restrictions of the style but that’s what added to the intrigue of it all, with many real characters whose lives would have taken different turns had the events of the novel could come to pass. The story itself was interesting, though sometimes the book seemed too long, but no detail was redundant I found, every letter had to be read, every interjection adds to the flavor, so despite it being a little too long it is amazingly composed.

To compare it to other Alternate History novels won’t be fair, though it could stand it’s ground if it comes to that, but “The Man in the high Castle“, “Fatherland” and others mostly talk about what if ‘Hitler’ NEVER lost, compared to that this gives a lot more hope, and the perspective of the various characters gives insight about the split in that world that the others could not. Though the gore content (the horrors we generally relate to the Third Reich) in the novel is surprisingly low, the moral conundrums are more highlighted, the politics of it all takes more of the center stage, this could be again due to the way the book is primarily written and due to the fact that the whole premise is that Hitler be stopped before he could unleash the full extent of his mania on the world. So, in the novel, the people who could have done something and didn’t, DO what they could, they realize what they face and despite the consequences to themselves deliver the world from evil, to know How and Why is profoundly satisfying.

A great (albeit a bit long) read, full marks on creativity, research, plausibility and narration. Any history enthusiast would enjoy this extremely, I recommend it wholeheartedly, And thank Netgalley for providing me with an advance copy. To the world of alternative and speculative history this is a welcome addition.

 

Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell:- “Holy sh@%snacks Mr. Orwell!”

wp-image-2101789662

5/5 Stars, Hands Down

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.” ~George Orwell, 1984

“Big Brother is watching you”, this statement is everywhere. The scholars & political pundits use it, the anarchists use it, the revolutionaries use it, the eccentric paranoid conspiracy theorists use it. You, me every second person on the TV uses it. And here I was having no idea where the reference came from. Every ruling regime which imposes some unpopular restriction on its people by default gets the title of THE BIG BROTHER. Even the bloody realty shows that have sprouted all across the globe have used this all seeing all hearing omnipresent idea that Mr.Orwell introduced in this book. This amount of impact on the world is a testament to what a marvelous piece of literature this book was, gory, depressing and utterly crushing, Yes, but marvelous.

Big Brother

The year is 1984, the great ideological struggle of the early 20th century is over, Socialism won, Capitalism is completely eradicated from the face of the earth. And now the world is divided into 3 great superstates, each with their own brand of socialist or communist ruling regimes, ‘Oceania’ ruled by IngSoc(English Socialism), Eurasia by Neo-Bolshevism & Eastasia by the political ideology of Death-worship,or more correctly ‘Obliteration of the Self’. And all these states are in a state of perpetual war with each other, trying to claim the disputed territories of the world.

The world Mr.Orwell creates is a truly horrifying and haunting place. Not because of Socialist regimes, Mr.Orwell as I understand was a leftist himself, but the corruption and complete mutation of the ideology by the ones in power just to attain absolute subjugation of the masses. I mean wow. When your party slogan is

“WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”

You can very well imagine what such a regime would do. Think (Stalin’s USSR + Hitler’s Third Reich + Mao’s PRC) * 100, and you get IngSoc. This book was a profound comment on the sociopolitical nature of the world. Written in 1948, this is as much relevant now as it was back then, maybe more so now, our generation has never really paid anything for the freedoms we enjoy, we have taken all that we have for granted and have always grumbled about wanting more. Then, imagining a world where there is no concept of freedom of any kind, where every which way you turn the passive face of BIG BROTHER greets you with a promise of pain, if you so much as twitch the wrong way, is nothing short of an eye opener.

This book has inspired so much of today’s world. The extremes that the book tried to educate us about, the brain washing that it showed and warned us about, “2+2=5” is something that each of us should appreciate. The whole concept of “Doublethink“, “Thoughtcrime“,’Psychological Conditioning’ through The Two Minutes Hate are truly mind boggling. And whats more, is that, these very concepts ARE being used today, not in the extreme way of the book, but subtly, the masses, it seems, were not the only one to take lessons from this book, the higher ups learned as well.

A true masterpiece indeed, this book forces you to think, there’s no page in the book which doesn’t make you reflect on your current condition, what was and what could have been. And I think that was the true purpose of the book, to make people realize that as long as they hold on to their individuality as long as they don’t let go of their inner consciousness they would somehow make it through. “Sanity isn’t Statistical” after all.

This book needs no recommendation, it is a classic, already embedded in the curriculum of a great many education institutes, and with good reason. One great book, and a welcome addition to my favorites list.

Book Review: The Hero of Ages :- “Third Time’s Really the Charm!”

heroofagesen1-b

4/5 Stars, Goodreads Rating System

“THE BEST WAY TO FOOL SOMEONE, was to give them what they wanted. Or, at the very least, what they expected. As long as they assumed that they were one step ahead, they wouldn’t look back to see if there were any steps that they’d completely missed.” ~Brandon Sanderson

Oh you deviously clever clever man, Mr. Sanderson. I love it! There! There’s no other way to put it. This is without a doubt one of the best ending to a fantasy trilogy I have ever read. Don’t you love it when it all comes together beautifully, surprising you a bit at how perfectly it all fits.

Blurb :- Tricked into releasing the evil spirit Ruin while attempting to close the Well of Ascension, new emperor Elend Venture and his wife, the assassin Vin, are now hard-pressed to save the world.

Ever since I started The Final Empire, I was apprehensive about the end of the series, the mistborn universe was so good, the characters were so well developed and the story line with all its structured magic and constant plot twists was so engaging, that I thought this is too good to end on a good high. You kind of feel that way about a fantasy series, but dear me, was I ever wrong to doubt, to lose faith because Brandon Sanderson is the real Hero of Ages for fantasy writing. Even though his writing style is simple, you feel the world for all its complexities and interlaced storylines ever so acutely. In some books you have to give a lot of leeway to the author, take his leaps for granted, stifling your urge to scratch away at the cracks or to demand answers to actually engross in the book like The Gunslinger by King, people have loved that book but I just couldn’t, there were just too many holes, leaps that I just couldn’t love it all the way. No such trouble here, The Final Empire was to my mind kind of a standalone book, it didn’t give you too hard a time about anything, introduced to an awesome new world, to a intriguing cast of characters and left you a little curious. The Well of ascension again furthered the world building, made you comfortable with the characters and DID leave you with questions, as the second book in the trilogy that was its rightful function. The Hero of Ages, was the end, the book of answers and although I did not expect it, Answers it did provide, for Everything! Each little story line was linked, it was all part of the plan, the dominoes all fell into their respective places in the end and you go ‘Woaaahhhhh!’

One of the main strengths of this book , is the character development of “Spook” , “Sazed” and “Tensoon” , though ‘Sazed’ has been one of my favorite characters in the series since Book 1, the other two were also infinitely enjoyable. The other strength is the Story-line itself, “You Don’t know what I do for Mankind.” The lord ruler had exclaimed in the first book, and boy was he right, I mean seriously, after reading this one you say to yourself “You knew nothing Jon Snow“, and that was the intention, crafty little Mr.Sanderson had the whole thing figured out since page 1 of book 1, he didn’t go in blind, he started this thing having the whole damn map and deliberately hid, blurred or plain hoodwinked us into not paying enough attention, until it was time and he went Abra-ka-Dabra. Good one Sir, Good one indeed.

The world building in these books was phenomenal, at par with Martin or Rowling or even Tolkein I dare say (Okay, maybe not that intricate, but pretty damn close). The landscape with its various dominances, the Ash mounds, the Red sun, the constantly falling ash, brown plants and the mists. I mean talk about a world which knew that there’s some seriously wrong shit going down in it, and you would get the Mistborn Universe. With its creatures and species and the whole hierarchical hullabaloo, its pretty fantastic.

This is a gem of a fantasy, a novel, a series rather, which every fantasy lover should read at least once, Okay maybe twice, maybe give it another go after reading all the side books too, okay maybe read it every two years, when you want to get lost somewhere.

 

Book Review: The Well of Ascension :- *~Appreciative Whistles 1, 2, 3……~*

Well of Ascension

4/5 Stars Goodreads Rating System

“I kind of lost track of time…”
“For two hours?”
Elend nodded sheepishly. “There were books involved.”   ~Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, That’s kind of how I felt while reading this book. Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true, I experienced this one through Audio-book format, almost 29 hrs worth of audio, so time is one thing that I could keep a track of, though I still successfully lost myself into it.

The fabulous world of Mistborn with which Mr. Sanderson acquainted us in The Final Empire undergoes some dramatic changes in the trilogy’s 2nd installment. Understandably so if you think about it, What happens when you upset 1000 year old established order of things ? When you do the impossible and kill God ? When an empire which was united due to tyrannical terror has nothing to be afraid of anymore? When it’s ‘everyone for themselves’? And everything is up for grabs? The answer is simple, Chaos, chaos reigns. And so, what happens to the City which was home to the Almighty? It gets besieged of course, not by one not by two but by three armies, and the people trying to rule it, well, they find its not all that simple. After every Revolution comes a time of chaotic adjustment, that brief period where the people who fought so hard for their freedom doubt whether they have done the right thing. Specially, If there’s a chance that a thing worse than the overthrown tyrant ‘Lord Ruler’ waited in the shadows.

Brandon Sanderson, has earned himself a fan. Though, this is only my 2nd book by him, I absolutely love his storytelling skills, its completely engrossing. And though the book could feel like it drags a bit in the middle (not to me, nope, not to me at all) nothing was ever redundant. The plot of this book, Its fantastic characters and Sanderson’s writing prowess are absolutely awesome. This series, to my mind, is in league with the most famous fantasy works, a bit darker than ‘Harry Potter‘, and a bit lighter than ‘The First Law‘ series. This book, I felt was a preparation pad for all the characters of the series, understandable, the first one introduces you to the world, the problem and then stirs the pot quite vigorously, the second one would be chaotic, where everyone involved(The characters) will have to pull up their socks, tuck in their fears and grow and adapt through it all, the third, well, we could hope will be THE Showdown. Though, this by no means indicate that this book lacks action, although intrigue and politics take much of its space, the interest or the excitement in the story never wavers. The Characters of ‘Vin’, ‘Elend’ & ‘Sazed’ were most enjoyable, each struggling with a herculean task, their stories and POV’s were the focal point of interest and excitement.

I enjoyed this immensely, even though it had some cringe worthy romantic moments, but teenagers (the characters I mean), what could you expect, really. I am not even pissed that I will have to read the next one immediately, because that Ending, …well,…..okay, that Ending won’t let you rest with contentment, like the first one did. It practically thumps away in your head, you have to get the next one. I am very much looking forward to it. To all who love fiction and specially fantasy, Ladies and Gentleman, we have struck Gold with this series. Pick it up, oh you absolutely must.

 

Book Review: Midnight’s Children: – “A mind-boggling beauty of Literature “

Midnight's Childern

5/5 Stars

“To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world” ~Salman Rushdie

There’s something to be said about digressions, about the chaos of thoughts one after the other, mingling and colliding like waves of an uneasy ocean. Thoughts disjointed and devoid of sense in their individuality, yet in the end meaningful to each other, like various little pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle where two pieces could be as different as structurally possible and yet in the end complete each other and ultimately give that final reward ‘Meaning’, ‘Sense’ and of-course the feeling of accomplishment as we gaze at the full picture. The phrase “Learn how to see, Realize that everything connects to everything else” by Da Vinci comes to mind.

The narration of Saleem Sinai in this book gives truth to these words. Before delving into the story and its symbolism then, lets take a look at its structure, there are books written in First person style or a Third person style,  this uses both of them, sometimes Saleem refers directly to himself, sometimes still referring to himself he takes a third person approach, this amalgamation of narration gives this book a unique advantage, it can take philosophical detours and yet stay true to the story, it skews the events keeping the protagonist (in his delusion, truth , fallacy, we never really truly care) at the center of everything . Our hero (for the lack of a better word) is truly fickle in his tale and he admits it freely. This delving into the mind, sifting through thoughts, one moment at the start of something, the next revealing the end prematurely, connecting invisible dots, impossible theories. And you never really question any of it. Continuously in the tale he will give away the end, then delve back through much of his own musings of fantastic philosophies and start the story from the beginning, summarizing for our benefit all that transpired and how it connects (or seems to connect for him). Books that can successfully pull this off are hard to find (maybe “I, Lucifer” by glen Duncan or “The slow regard of Silent things” by Patrick Rothfuss), harder to read as well, not for everybody, the ramblings of a madman truly appeal to the mad, or do they? just to the mad?  The enormous success of this book decorated with “Man Booker Prize (1981), The Booker of Bookers Prize (1993), The Best of the Booker (2008) would suggest otherwise.

Magical Realism or Fabulism call it what you will, was a concept with which I had a passing acquaintance, courtesy of Neil Gaiman & his books “American Gods” and “Anansi Boys“, but to experience it so profoundly was a first, perhaps because I was familiar with the setting (India, Independence and its struggles) or perhaps Salman Rushdie is just a master of this world and his book an absolute masterpiece of this genre. And so we delve into the story which mixes realty and magic and cares not for the truth because “What’s Real and What’s true aren’t necessarily the same“. So,on 15th Aug 1947, when Nehru declared to the world “….At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom…”, along with India awoke 1001 new born children, as special and full of possibilities as the newborn country itself. Midnight’s Children with fabulous potential and special powers of which Saleem perhaps was the greatest. But yet the story doesn’t start there, no sir, it takes 32 years and 170 pages to reach there, the story starts in 1915 Kashmir among rubies, diamonds and a spectacular Nose. With Saleem’s grandfather. To truly understand a person you have to swallow the world indeed. Or as he aptly summarized in the book.

“Who What am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”

You are getting the allure, aren’t you. And so, you hear him out from Kashmir to Bombay to Karachi to Dhaka to Delhi, you hear him out and all the lives that he touched or that touched him. The greatest of which was the nation itself, a life which rivaled history in its incredulity. The symbolism in the story might not be apparent to some, to me it was, but I can totally understand the confusion. The story travels with India on its journey to independence to partition to its flirtations with socialism communism to corruption to its wars of 1947  ’65 ’71 to its period of emergency 1975-77. Narrated by the person who shoulders the responsibility for everything and when I say everything I do mean everything.

The prose style Rushdie has used is marvelous, I have not read many post modern books but, this multitude of awesomeness has convinced me to pay more attention. The literary significance of this work would be apparent to almost everybody who read it. Frustrating is a word I am trying to avoid because generally frustrating books don’t keep me up at nights, when only the inability of my eyes to not stop burning force me against my wishes to give it a rest. So frustrating ,No, complex, Yes, maddening at times, Definitely, Goddamn this book is off the chain, a capital YES. And so this book will have a rare honor in my library, having a 5 star rating and a ‘mind-boggling’ tag. In one of the many reviews I read “This book is Rushdie’s love letter to India” and I concur, that is a most apt analogy, as this book not only celebrates the ‘crowd’ and multitude of concepts that form my country but also embraces the dark side of it, and shows that hope though not always but many a time trumps hate and when it does the result is a chaotic beauty of infinite proportions. I urge everyone to pick this one up, fully realizing that perhaps not everyone will be able to. So, to everyone who does the rewards would be fantabulous but beware ‘Here there be Dragons’.

 

 

Book Review: The Rise Of Sivagami : – “..And Perhaps that of Indian Fantasy too!”

sivagami being badass
“SIVAGAMI DEVI” as played by ‘Ramya Krishnan’ in the Movie ‘BAHUBALI’

“That is my WORD and my word is LAW!”  ~Sivagami Devi

When you see a character who has just slitten the throat of a traitorous general, ordered the death of all the treasonous nobles in the kingdom, declared that SHE will decide who’s to be the next King, with blood still on her face calmly sitting and breastfeeding two young princes in the throne room, the words “Epically Badass” fell short of doing her any kind of justice. That was how we were introduced to ‘The Queen Mother’ of ‘Mahishmathi’ Sivagami Devi in S. S. Rajamouli‘s blockbuster epic ‘Bahubali‘. The character and her fabulous portrayal was riveting.  And thus i suspect started Rajamouli’s dilemma, the world he created, the characters (specially the supporting ones) he introduced were so complex and had a depth that he just couldn’t cover or satisfactorily show in 2 movies. He wanted the world to know them further to live in that world a little more intimately, so, he approached an up and coming author from the south whose previous works he had enjoyed, Mr. Anand Neelakantan, gave him the designation of “Story Hunter” and let him loose to discover and develop the epic world of ‘Mahishmathi’. And thus came to be “The Rise Of SIVAGAMI“, the first installment in what seems to be a worthwhile Indian epic Fantasy trilogy set in the time period before the story of ‘Bahubali’.

The-Rise-of-Sivagami-by-Anand-Neelkantan-Bahubal

3/5 Stars Goodreads Rating System

This was my second book by Anand Neelakantan, The First one “ASURA“, the reason for his widespread fame, didn’t appeal to me all that much and so i was apprehensive about picking up this one. But curiosity got the better of me and i am glad that it did. I won the book in Goodread’s Giveaways and what a ride it has been. Firstly, Watch the movie (i suspect this was a major reason for the commission of this book), Secondly, even if you don’t this will work just fine (But you will watch the movie afterwards anyway, trust me, these are clever clever people indeed.). Anand Neelakantan has a specific way of writing, he loves being on the bad guy’s side, by his own admission this was his first book where he wrote for a positive character but i felt that his habit of coloring things grey has stayed in this one too. Which, adds a splendid ‘anti hero’ flavor to the book. The world of ‘Mahishmathi’ can be experienced in more detail, with its social and power structures sketched out as well as all that ails that world from slavery to the draconian social norms of the ‘Varna System’. The story focuses not only on the three main characters with which the audience(of ‘Bahubali’) would already be familiar with Sivagami, Kattapa (The ever loyal slave) & Bijjala (the arrogant prince) but adds a host of new ones too like ‘Keki the eunuch’ , ‘Skandadasa the deputy prime minister’,’Gundu ram the lovable orphan’, ‘Shivappa the rebel’, ‘Jeemotha the pirate’ and many more. The book unfolds as a series of POV’s so you get to enjoy different characters in their element. The story itself was good though i feel it could have been better, but considering the 108 days deadline (that’s how long he had apparently) you can’t really fault the author. The writing thus feels patchy sometimes with the characters being too obvious in their dialogues, giving a somehow rough feel to the reading experience. But the imagination and expansion of the world was glorious. We get to know some new kingdoms and the overall picture of the power hierarchy among them and the secret to the success of the kingdom of ‘Mahishmathi’.

Other than the awesome tale of ‘Sivagami’ and the brilliant moral conundrums & struggles of ‘Kattapa’, the element that works for the book or rather for the whole trilogy is the suspense of the unanswered questions. How did a girl who wanted to see all the royals dead, ended up being the Queen Mother?  What happened to Bijjala ? What became of ‘Mahadeva’ the young prince and his crush ? What is the ‘Manuscript’ all about ? And Why in the name of all that is possible and impossible did Kattapa did what he did in the End of the movie ? ( I know i am digressing a bit here but well IT is the burning question).

So, yes, i would read the next two. And yes, i feel that these books are a welcome addition to the Indian Fantasy genre. I just hope Mr. Neelakantan uses a bit more finesse in the upcoming ones. The books are quite alluring, and i suspect after the release of the next and final movie (This April’s end i am told) that allure would go up ten fold. So, read on my dear friends and experience the glory of this fantastical world. “Jai! ‘Mahishmathi'” (Hail! ‘Mahishmathi’).