Saturday, September 24, 2005

Sophie's World

This Week’s Selection

‘Sophie’s World’, by Jostein Gaarder

You really have a penchant for selecting strange, unfamiliar books, don’t you?

That’s what I thought too when my Editor recommended I read ‘Sophie’s World’. “Never heard of it“, I declared. “Read it“, she urged. “You won’t be disappointed”. And I’m glad I did.

If you say so. Does it have all the, er, familiar ingredients?

You have such limited imagination! ‘Sophie’s World’ is a very different kind of book. For one, it is really the history of Western philosophy over the last couple of thousand years. But, it is the manner in which the material is presented that makes it so… novel?

How so?

Well, the story is told through the eyes of a 15-year old, Sophie Amundsen. She’s not your usual pubescent teen, interested only in bubble-gum pop princesses, boys, dating and the like. She’s interested in life’s larger questions that have begun to pop up in her head. Who am I? Where has the world come from? Much to the consternation of her best friend, Joanna Sophie begins to lose interest in simple everyday pleasures such as badminton, cards etc.

Her all-consuming obsession is now the arrival of the post, with the letters from her mysterious correspondent. Each letter contains a question which sets Sophie off on a chain of thinking and searching for answers.

Weeeeeellll… I don’t know, somehow the book strikes me as heavy reading.

Early on, Gaarder weaves in a fiendishly subtle attempt to ensure that the reader doesn‘t summarily dismiss his work as being too serious, too not-for-me. ’The only quality we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder’, Sophie’s mysterious correspondent (we later learn his name is Alberto Knox) declares.

What’s interesting about the book is its format. As anyone who has ever ventured to read ‘The Story of Philosophy’ by Will Durant - or closer home, one of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s works - will attest, reading and understanding philosophy is no easy task for the lay reader, not given to abstract speculation in the normal course of things. Seen in that light, Gaarder’s effort deserves to be applauded.

So, should I go boldly where no man has ever gone before and all that…?

Never judge a book by its cover, but by its contents alone. The book has been a best-seller in its native Norway and elsewhere in the world too. Maybe, I’ll get some intelligent questions from you the next time around too!

I wonder…!

Book Stats

513 pages. Published by Berkley/Penguin. Price: Rs. 254/10

Next week’s selection: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach

This is your very own interactive space. Tell us what you think of that old favourite Jonathan Livingston Seagull. How old were you when you first read it? Did it make an impact on you? Write in to

Copyright, The Economic Times, 2005

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Shalimar The Clown

This Week’s Selection:

‘Shalimar The Clown’, by Salman Rushdie

Oh no! Has Rushdie once again rushed in where angels fear to tread?

Not at all. This is a much more mellow, contemplative work. And I have to say straightaway that it comes with impressive credentials too: Professor Sutherland, the Chairman of this year’s Man Booker Prize commitee while regretfully explaining the omission of the book from this year’s short list stuck his literary neck out to say that if it were in his power, he would award it the Nobel literature prize. John Updike, no mean observer of men and matters himself while reviewing the book in the New Yorker offers the startling suggestion - to those of us in India, that is - that ‘...Rushdie is no longer a Third World writer but a bard of the grim one world we all, in a state of some dread, inhabit’.

You’re leading me by the nose, even before I’ve decided whether to read the book!

That so? Well, Rushdie has long been the poster boy of artistic freedom. So, he deserves to be heard. ‘Shalimar the Clown’ is an important work, because at one level it marks a rather emotional return to his Kashmiri origins. It also mirrors his own felicitous straddling of the two disparate worlds of the East and West as they collide with one another. Within this large, unruly canvas he explores the themes of freedom and the loss of it, subjugation and so on.

Right. So, what’s the book all about?

The book begins with India Ophuls, daughter to a brilliant diplomat and a fictional American Ambassador to India sometime in the mid-sixties. As usual, Rushdie teases with characters who walk the thin line between fiction and reality. Max Ophuls, the Ambassador in question is described as someone who came after Galbraith but before Chester Bowles. Alas, my limited research was not able to throw much light on who this personage may have been - in Rushdie’s narrative, his rapacious sexual ardour and obsession with Boonyi, the beautiful Kashmiri woman may have unwittingly shaped American attitudes towards India and Kashmir.

What prompted Shalimar, Max Ophuls’ driver to assassinate him then? What is his link to the rest of the characters and how do he and Boonyi become the leit-motif of Rushdie’s own lament of the existence and subsequent loss of freedom? Is ‘Kashmiriyat’ - the phrase Shalimar’s father uses to describe a sense of all-inclusiveness - a metaphor for all personal, institutional, social freedoms as they increasingly come under attack from those who seek to deny such freedom to others?

Looks like I’ve got to dust that old thinking cap first!

Of course! Well worth your time though, methinks!

Book Stats

Hardcover. Published by Jonathan Cape, London. Price: Rs. 595

Next Week’s Selection - ‘Sophie’s World’

This is your very own interactive space. Tell us what you think of ‘Sophie’s World’ by Jostein Gaarder. This was the book on philosophy that was packaged as a novel where Sophie poses her questions to a mysterious philosopher. Do write in with your views about the book to

Copyright, The Economic Times, 2005

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Godfather

This Week’s selection

‘The Godfather’ by Mario Puzo

The Godfather!! Man, that was way before my time!

Tsk-tsk… if age were to determine the worth of a literary work we may as well bid good-bye to the Shakespeares, Dickens, Wilde and other luminaries who followed over the centuries. The test of a literary classic is its ability to adumbrate a universal theme, something that resonates with the human condition across countries, cultures and chronology. ‘The Godfather’ passes this test on all counts. It was published in the late-sixties, but with every re-reading the characters only seem to grow richer, ever more vivid.

Omerta! I shall now follow the ‘Code of Silence’ and listen to what you have to say.

Jokey fellow! The Godfather is Don Corleone and he presides over an under-world empire of extortion and murder while running a legitimate business of importing olive oil. In the Don’s curiously old-fashioned world of morality and ethics, ‘friendship’ counts above all else even if you and I may not quite agree with the definition of that ‘friendship’. You took your problems to the Don and if he was convinced that you had just cause, he’d settle scores for you. Then, you’d be expected to be at his bidding when he needed you.

A re-hash of the old Robin Hood tale, then?

No, not quite. Robin Hood is a rather more uni-dimensional, cardboard cut-out. The Don’s character is far more layered and sophisticated. He does not take money from the rich to hand over to the poor, he does not hand out doles. When he does look after the family of any of his associates who get jailed it is out of pure self-interest; he does not want the man to sing like a canary to the police!

So, what’s special about the book then?

It’d have to be the rich panoply of characters that make up his family. Sonny Corleone, his eldest son – hot-headed, impetuous, murderous, a ladies’ man who finally meets his end in a hail of bullets. Freddy Corleone, a weak and soft character who remains a background figure. Michael, the youngest son who is possessed of a fine thinking mind and is closest to the Don’s own mental make-up. His daughter, Connie who gets upbraided by her father when she complains to him that her husband has been beating her up. And the supporting henchmen – Tom Hagen, Clemenza, Tessio, Luca… each with strongly-defined personalities of their own.

What did MadrasPlus readers think of the book?

Subramaniam, a die-hard crime fiction addict feels, ‘It’s the sort of book you can read several times. Nor can you forget the story easily, it’s so memorable. Don and Michael’s characters are the best-etched; the Don is clear-cut and decisive in all his actions’.

Arnab Ganguly, a marketing professional thinks Michael Corleone’s character appealed most to him. ‘In life, we end up doing certain things because of circumstances. Michael may have tried to do different things with his life, yet when his presence was needed he could effortlessly step into the Don’s shoes. Like the Don says, ‘Every man is born to his destiny!’

Anand, a systems professional singles out the meeting between the Don and Sollozzo (who’s come to ask the Don to get into the drug trade) as one of the high points of the book. ‘The Don tells Sonny that it’s better not to discuss what the family thinks in front of strangers. I’ve followed that advice in my work life whenever I go for negotiations with customers! I also liked the way the author has woven in the episode with the undertaker who comes to ask him for a favour, then ends up embalming Sonny Corleone when he has to redeem his favour to the Don. Very poignant!’

Verdict: A must-have book for your personal collection!

Book Stats

595 pages. Published by Arrow Books. Price: Rs. 234

Next week’s book selection: ‘Shalimar the Clown’, by Salman Rushdie

This is your very own interactive space. Tell us what you think of the book we plan to feature next week. It’s the long-awaited book from Salman Rushdie. Any Rushdie fans out there who’ve eagerly devoured the book? Share your impressions with us. Mail us at

Copyright, The Economic Times, 2005

Saturday, September 03, 2005

'Marker' by Robin Cook

This Week’s selection

‘Marker’ by Robin Cook

Groan! Do I need to fix an appointment with my physician so we can read the book together?

Afraid yes, old chap. Dr. Cook hits the ground running as is his wont, launching a deadly assault on our senses. Here he is, in the prologue as he describes two events – one, cellular and the other, molecular - that will set the tone for his book in the 532 pages to follow. ‘The cellular event occurred in a moment of intense bliss and involved the forcible injection of slightly more than two hundred and fifty million sperm into a vaginal vault. The nearly simultaneous molecular event also involved… a bolus of more than a trillion molecules of a simple salt called potassium chloride dissolved in a shotglass volume of sterile water (was) injected into a peripheral arm vein’.

Sigh. Why can’t Dr. Cook stick to doing what he knows best which is presumably the practice of medicine, instead of writing books?

Exactly my sentiments! To be fair to the good doctor, he has created the genre of the medical thriller and has waltzed his way to the bank, smile on face ever since. So perhaps, he does know something that you and I as humble hacks don’t.

Interesting thought. You think there’d be a market for a journalistic thriller, with blood, sex and drama?

Perish the thought. You don’t have a chance particularly when Dr. Cook lines up aforesaid cataclysmic cellular and molecular events against you. Besides, what could we possibly write about? Editors breathing down our neck as they chase deadlines or reporting on political events are hardly the sort of stuff for which readers are likely to fork out some crisp Gandhi notes. They want drama, the stuff of human emotion and all that.

Ok, you don’t have to wield the scalpel in such clinical fashion. So, what is ‘Marker’ all about?

Well, it’s about two medical examiners Drs. Laurie and Jack who are colleagues in a New York hospital who are investigating a series of puzzling deaths. A healthy, 28-year old young man fractures his leg while skating and ends up dying just a day after his surgical operation. Yet another patient, a 36-year old mother who has a torn ligament similarly ends up dead. It’s now upto the two medical examiners to crack the puzzle, since the autopsies reveal nothing that could be considered a reasonable cause of death. And of course, Laurie and Jack have been in a relationship and are now going through emotional hi-jinks as they try to sort out their lives.

Ho-hum, sounds like a predictable thriller. So, does the book have any redeeming virtues at all?

Well, yes I found it in the ‘Author’s Note’ towards the end of the book as he tries to explain his motivations in writing ‘Marker’. He is, he says a physician who has consistently opposed health insurance. And believes in the virtues of the doctor-patient relationship. Of course, his remarks need to be viewed in the context of just how soulless the health-care industry seems to have become in the US, with its focus on size and making money.

He also weaves in the twin themes of medical genomics and bio-informatics and their likely impact on the future of medical care. His views ought to be a wake-up call for many of us in India, who note with concern the disappearance of the family physician and the ever-increasing reliance on an impersonal form of medical care. Seen in that light, Dr. Cook would seem to have his heart in the right place as a medical ideologue.

Buy the book if you’re a confirmed Cook fan, else wait to borrow it from your local library!

Book Stats

Paperback. Published by Macmillan. Price: Rs. 495

Next week’s book selection: ‘The Godfather’, by Mario Puzo

This is your very own interactive space. Tell us what you think of the book we plan to feature next week. Is there anybody out there who has not read ‘The Godfather’? Puzo’s time-worn classic has inspired a whole genre of baddie fiction and movies. Tell us what you think of Don Corleone and his clan. Mail us at

NEW! This column now has an additional blog. Books reviewed in earlier columns are also archived at

Prasad is Managing Director of Rolled Up Sleeves, a Chennai-based publishing firm.

Copyright, The Economic Times, 2005

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Q and A - by Vikas Swarup

This Week’s selection

‘Q and A’ by Vikas Swarup

Your first question. What genre of book does ‘Q and A’ belong to? a) Fiction b) Breezy read c) Contemporary Indian tale d) Preachy prose

Playing around with literary genres, aren’t we? In some ways, ‘Q and A’ signals the arrival of a new genre of English writing in India. It is very contemporary, very urban and there is an immediacy about it in its choice of theme that we can relate with. Loosely modelled on ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’, debutant author Vikas Swarup comes up with a pastiche that has all these elements. But, I’ll settle for ‘contemporary Indian tale’.

You certainly took your time to answer that one! Shall we move on?

Yes, but let me also add that it seemed to me as though Indian writing in English would be stuck in a rut. Many themes were getting to be rather regional and narrow in their scope, perhaps reflecting the writers’ own limited cultural and emotional perspective. Books such as ‘Five Point Someone’ and now ‘Q and A’ are more representative of a more robust and homegeneous urban India.

No points for that one! So, is ‘Q and A’ a tale about a) An IIT nerd or geek b) An obsessive quizzer c) A gambler d) You and I

Well, it certainly is about you and I. After all, which one of us hasn’t fantasised about being on ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ and winning? Ram Mohammad Thomas, the disarming 18-year old waiter from Jimmy’s Bar and Restaurant may be illiterate but has all the answers that Prem Kumar, the show’s host may throw at him. In that sense ‘W3B’, the book’s fictional take-off on ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ becomes a metaphor for life itself. And as somebody said, the destination itself is not important – the journey is. And our Wunder Boy has packed more into his eighteen years than many of us would pack into a lifetime. Along the way he has honed his observations on human nature and a class system that draws clearly-demarcated white lines between rich and poor. ‘The brain,’ he says speaking of the poor, ‘is an organ we are not authorised to use. We are supposed to use only our hands and legs’.

Perceptive social commentary too? Which Bollywood film director’s style is the book closest to? a) Manmohan Desai b) Ramesh Sippy c) David Dhawan d) Subhash Ghai
Strange question. But, I’d say the book has all the schmaltz of a Manmohan Desai with all its recurrent motifs of the rags-to-riches boy, the triumph of good over evil, the unpredictability of life and fate… But, the climax is distinctly Ramesh Sippy and ‘Sholay’! If I say anything more, I’d give away the book’s climax!

Clever fellow. So would you recommend that MadrasPlus readers invest 395 hard-earned rupees in a copy, or not’?

I recommend they do. Lock kiya jaaye!

Book Stats

Paperback. Published by Doubleday. Price: Rs. 395

Next week’s book selection: ‘Marker’’, by Robin Cook

This is your very own interactive space. Tell us what you think of the book we plan to feature next week. ‘Marker’ by Robin Cook is his 25th book and the latest from an author who has specialised in the genre of the medical thriller. Mail us at

Copyright, The Economic Times, 2005

The image of the cover of this book has been sourced from and is used for illustrative purposes only. All copyrights and trademarks acknowledged.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - by Mark Haddon

This Week’s selection

‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ by Mark Haddon

Phew! Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?

With that intriguing title, Mark Haddon heralded his literary debut. As the reader discovers quickly enough, it is little more than a clever hook to launch her into a fascinating trajectory. The book is about how a gifted 15-year old boy with a learning disability called Asperger’s Syndrome views and reacts to the world around him.

A serious work of psychology, then?

Far from it. Chris Boone, the 15-year old narrator of this novel is quirky, whimsical, maddeningly frustrating… to our ‘normal’ perceptions, that is. In reality, he merely happens to be someone who can think and react in a logical sort of way. And that results in some fairly disastrous consequences when dealing with a crazy, illogical world.

A single narrator right through? That must be boring, surely?

Well, not really. We’re exposed to Chris’ world through his eyes. We discover that he solves maths problems in his head when he needs to relax. Or, groans out loud (Try that one!) We learn that he is about to have a bad day when he comes across four yellow cars in succession, on his way to school. We admire and empathise with his awkward attempts to make sense of the world in his own bumbling way. We are charmed as he tries to imitate his hero, Sherlock Holmes and unravel the mystery of why Wellington (the dog referred to in the title) has been impaled on a pitchfork. And we cannot help but brush back a tear as he discovers that he has a mother whom he hasn’t met in years and travels all the way to London to meet her.

Must read it then…

You ought to. ‘The Curious Incident…’ is a work of great compassion. It would have been so easy for an author to sound patronising, to be judgemental, profound, pedantic… Haddon blithely skirts the problem by inserting himself into the shoes of the narrator. One can’t help but feel at the end of the book that it is ‘we’, the rest of the world who come across as devious, selfish, cruel and completely lacking in sensitivity.

At a deeper level, Haddon’s real triumph may be in speaking out for some of us – wide-eyed creatures of innocence, who can’t make sense out of or fit into a world that demands relentless conformity.

What did MadrasPlus readers think of ‘The Curious Incident…’?

Reader Sashikala says, “I loved the book… the story is told exclusively by someone who does not always understand or know exactly what is really going on, and like those books, Mark Haddon's writing is so good that the reader gets the full picture allthe time”.

Book Stats

Paperback. Transworld Publications. Price: Rs. 225

Next week’s book selection: ‘Q and A’, by Vikas Swarup

This is your very own interactive space. Tell us what you think of the book we plan to feature next week. ‘Q and A’ is the story of Ram Mohammad Thomas, an illiterate boy who goes on to win a major quiz setting off suspicions that it was rigged. How did he go on to beat contestants who were much more educated than him? Mail us at

NEW! This column now has its own blog. Books reviewed in earlier columns are now archived at

Copyright, The Economic Times, 2005
The image of the book cover has been sourced from and is used for illustrative purposes only. All copyrights and trademarks acknowledged.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Zahir - by Paulo Coelho

This Week’s selection

‘The Zahir’ by Paulo Coelho

Zahir? What kind of title is that?

In the time-honoured tradition of those amongst us who rarely get past the blurbs on a book cover, this column searches for an answer in the foreword and the fly-leaves. ‘Zahir’, we learn is an Arabic word which means ‘visible, present, incapable of going unnoticed. It is someone or something which, once we have come into contact with them (sic) or it, gradually occupies our every thought, until we can think of nothing else.’

Eh, wot?

Not bright and chirpy this morning, are we? Well, ‘Zahir’ becomes a personal metaphor of sorts for the novel’s young protagonist. He’s young, twenty-something, a wildly successful millionaire author who has to suddenly reconcile himself to the fact that his journalist-wife, Esther has upped and left. No answers, no reasons given. As if having to go through this trauma were not enough, he has to contend with the fact that the needle of suspicion is pointed in his direction by the police, friends and the world in general.

To lose one’s wife looks like carelessness…

There, there… now there’s no need to display your Wilde ways. Besides, this is a family paper. Well, what does happen is that our nameless narrator sets out on his quest. His travels - which rapidly turn into the reader’s travails - lead him to Mikhail in faraway Kazakhstan. Mikhail may have been Esther’s last lover and our narrator feels he can piece the story together with a little help from Mikhail. By now, you get the general drift don’t you? The journey is a metaphor for a discovery of the self, a self that our narrator discovers he has lost touch with.

So, is it worth a read?

Book reviewers have a difficult time when confronted by statistics of the writer’s popularity in terms of number of copies sold, languages translated etc dished out faithfully by the publicity machine. As a result, there is a lingering assumption that if an author has sold several thousand or million copies, his books possess artistic merit. The cover of ‘The Zahir’ extends this assumption artfully – the book is introduced as one ‘from the much-loved (emphasis mine) author of The Alchemist’ .
However, I found‘The Zahir’ both pretentious and superficial in its scope. This is one very dissatisfying book and is not recommended unless you are a Coelho fan.

What did MadrasPlus readers think of ‘The Zahir’?

Seems like loyal Coelho readers are hiding under a rock! We found plenty of people who were willing to talk about ‘The Alchemist’ or ‘Eleven Minutes’, but got blank looks when we asked whether they had read ‘The Zahir’!

Book Stats

Paperback. 339 pages. Published by HarperCollins. Price: Rs. 295

Copyright, The Economic Times, 2005
The image of the book cover has been sourced from and is used for illustrative purposes only. All copyrights and trademarks acknowledged.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency - by Alexander McCall Smith

This Week’s selection

‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ by Alexander McCall Smith

Right. So, is this a book that husbands need to be wary of?

Have no such fear. It’s about Precious Ramotswe, a young African lady who at the age of thirty-five decides to set up Botswana’s first detective agency. (‘For all confidential matters and enquiries. Satisfaction guaranteed for all parties. Under Personal Management.’) Her father has just died, leaving her a lot of money with which to start her own business. He had hoped she would set up a butcher shop, but Ms. Ramotswe has other ideas.

Looks like she longed for a different kind of blood and gore… Ha Ha

Will you stop being facetious? Ms. Ramotswe is not your typical modern-day detective armed with techno-gadgetry. In fact, about the only deadly piece of equipment in her office is the typewriter which her assistant, Ms. Makutsi uses to churn out bills for her clients. For the most part, Ms. Ramotswe uses a charming, yet lethal combination of good old-fashioned common sense and honesty.

I get the idea… more Marple syrup, it looks like?

Will you stop being disrespectful to literary icons? And yes, ‘The New York Times’ did compare Ms. Ramotswe to her more famous literary sister. However, it’s the mise-en-scene of the stories and their predictableness that set them apart while being strangely reassuring – stray husbands, missing children, over-possessive fathers (a rather improbably named Indian character called Mr. Paliwalar Sundigar Patel) and the like. And occasionally, Ms. Ramotswe does get out-smarted by those she’s supposed to outwit, Mr. Patel’s daughter being one such example.
Central to Ms. Ramotswe’s world view is the belief that people are essentially good and that it is circumstances which cause them to do strange, unpredictable things. The book ends on a happy note with Ms. Ramotswe’s whose romantic life has been in disarray, responding favourably to the overtures of the personable Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors.
What did MadrasPlus readers think of ‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency?’

Meera Krishnaswamy, a researcher lavishes praise on Mr. McCall Smith, calling him ‘a writer who is direct and to the point. I could have cried and embraced Mr. Smith for reminding me what the English language really looks (sic) like and what pleasures can be had from it’.

Here’s what reader Sashikala Asirvatham had to say, “The author obviously loves Botswana and this comes through so clearly in his writing that you end up loving the place too. Precious Ramotswe is a wonderful character. She's down to earth, honest and insightful. Her internal musings are delightful as is the gentle humour that is so much a part of the book.”

Book Stats

Paperback. 250 pages. Published by Abacus. Price: Rs. 218/75

Worth a read?

Yes, yes and yes again!

Copyright, The Economic Times, 2005
The image of the book cover has been sourced from and is used for illustrative purposes only. The image on the cover appears to be that of the American edition and may not match the Indian one. All copyrights and trademarks acknowledged.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - by J.K. Rowling

This Week’s selection

‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ by J.K. Rowling

Haven’t we already read reams of newsprint and watched the carpet-bombing on TV?

Precisely. Which is why this week, I take a backseat and let our readers have their say. And they have plenty to say too!

Nitya Vasudevan, freelance editor

“‘The Half Blood Prince’ was definitely better than the fifth book… at least, we did not have to put up with a whiny, bratty Potter! But I found it depressing on two counts. One, it ends with Dumbledore's death. Two, it was a let-down for Snape to turn out to be the bad guy… I mean, he has been so obviously nasty and cruel that you expect something better, some twist perhaps…!”

Sukriti, just a Potter maniac

“’The Half-Blood Prince’ scores a perfect 10 in more aspects than one. Rowling has assumed that her readers have grown along with the book and its characters. There are no unnecessary references or introductions to the previous books and their events. The plot has been well-spun and is gripping.

The so-called loopholes are just one of Rowling's ingenious ways to keep her readers waiting for the 7th and final book and the answers it will bring with it…”

Sukanya Ragunath, another Potter fan

“With a more grown-up Harry (and his friends at Hogwarts), Rowling succeeds at skillfully building up Harry's personality by another notch. But where this book gets really racy are the journeys into Dumbledore's Pensieve- when they "leave behind the firm foundations of fact" and journey "through the murky marshes of memory", right up to Dumbledore's death… to put it in his own words: being cleverer than most men his mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger: this rings especially true when it comes to his death.”

Mihika Agnihotri, first-year college student

“I have read all the Harry Potter books. ‘The Goblet of Fire’ has been my favourite so far. ‘The Half-Blood Prince’ is an exciting read too. There are lots of exciting twists. Plus, the characters - and especially Harry - are more grown up. He has many more responsibilities on his shoulders now. Some mysteries remain unsolved and I found that very frustrating. Imagine, we are going to have to wait another two years for the last book to find out what happens in the end.”

Meghana Dilip, prospective doctoral student

‘The Half-Blood Prince’ was dark, sad, funny, sweet and captivating all at the same time. Harry comes across as more mature. I see the story building up towards the final climax and the inevitable clash between good and evil”.

Navin Sigamany, writer and editor
“A major departure from the earlier books is the unabashed importance given to the storyline and advancement of the plot. Detail is given the go-bye, and action is the key. Rather like the ‘Kill Bill’ films, ‘The Half-Blood Prince’ is the first in the series that has no resolution - only a lead-in to the next book. Like the two ‘Kill Bill’ films, books six and seven are part of a set - a set that is incomplete with just one of them. Looks like we have to begin another long wait till the final one comes along!”

Book Stats

Hardcover. 672 pages. Published by Bloomsbury. Price: Rs. 895

Worth a read?

The world is made up of two types of people: those who have read the Harry Potter series and those who haven’t! You know what to do next!

Copyright, The Economic Times, 2005
The image of the book cover has been sourced from and is used for illustrative purposes only. The image appears to be that of the American edition and may not match that of the Indian one. All copyrights and trademarks acknowledged.

Five Point Someone - by Chetan Bhagat

This Week’s selection

‘Five Point Someone – what not to do at IIT!’ by Chetan Bhagat

Since when has this column begun discussing academic books?!!

Nah…! This has nothing to do with academics. It’s about chillums… er, chilling out, discovering what a heady combination Floyd and vodka can make, making out with the Head of Department’s daughter on the terrace of your hostel building and oh… did anybody mention the occasional academics and GPA scores?

Tsk, tsk… and I thought young people went to IIT to study!

Sure, they do. Our three young heroes, Ryan, Hari and Alok thought so too, in the first flush of having cleared their entrance exams. Till, they discover before the first semester ends that they are ‘low-lives’ and are creating too much ‘arbit tension’ for one another worrying about Grade Point Averages and surprise quizzes and assignments. So, they decide to get a life – and that means they need to ‘C2D’, or ‘Co-operate To Dominate’. This they do by dividing up the classes between themselves, taking notes that will then be faithfully copied by the other two and having lots of free time to watch movies, eat parantha and butter chicken and smoke dope.

So, is this book just about the fun-and-games side of IIT?

Well, not quite. At first glance, Bhagat has written a funny, intensely-relatable book about eighteen year olds aspiring to be tomorrow’s Geek Gods. Dig a little deeper though and one finds that the author has cleverly woven in his own take on just how impersonal the IITs have become and what happens to eager, young minds when cynicism sets in.

What do MadrasPlus readers have to say?

Reader Sashikala Asirvatham says “The style of writing leaves a lot to be desired… the story is quite interesting and one keeps reading because one does get involved enough to want to know what happens to the main characters”. Reader Affan Mohammed, just stepping into college ventures to suggest that the book has ‘many scenes or situations (in the book) hit home, so that makes the book a very pleasant read”.

Reader Priya Murlimohan, a Technical Writer lavishes praise on the book, calling it “breezy and unpretentious… an Indian novel that isn't contrived to whet the appetites of an international audience and simply depicts contemporary Indian life for what it actually is”. Mukund, a lawyer confesses to having read the book in a single sitting since he found it so gripping! “This book certainly removed the aura surrounding the IITs and shows that the guys at IIT (atleast some of them) are mere mortals, after all”, he says.

And finally, reader Sukanya Ragunath who felt she had just read the script to a Bollywood flick! Her advice? “If you haven't read a fun, light, feel-good kind of a book in a long time then this could well be it”

Amen to that!

Book Stats

270 pages. Published by Rupa & Co. Price: Rs. 95

Worth a read?

Definitely! Bring out the popcorn and put your feet up too while you’re at it!

Copyright, The Economic Times, 2005
The image of the book cover has been sourced from and is used for illustrative purposes only. All copyrights and trademarks acknowledged.

The Broker - by John Grisham

This Week’s selection

‘The Broker’ by John Grisham

Straight from the publisher’s blurb

In his final hours in the Oval Office, the outgoing President (of the US) grants a controversial last-minute pardon to Joel Backman, a notorious Washington power broker… after receiving enormous pressure from the CIA… It seems that Backman… may have obtained secrets that compromise the world’s most sophisticated satellite surveillance system…

Ok, just give it to me straight…

Joel Backman is a Washington power-broker, a lawyer with the influence to open many doors in the corridors of power. Hubris proves his undoing when he tries to sell details of a surveillance system to the highest bidder. Caught in the act, Backman has no option but to accept a jail sentence – ironically, just so he can stay out of harm’s way.

The story begins six years later though, when the CIA brings pressure on the President of the United States who is about to demit office to grant him a pardon. Their gameplan? Give him a new name, give him a new identity and a place of residence but gradually leak the details of his new life to whoever will hunt him down. To the CIA, it matters little who does it – after all, the Israelis, the Russians and the Chinese were all interested in what Backman had to offer.

Moving to Bologna in Italy, Backman commences a new life only to realise soon enough that he is about to become the quarry. He has no friends in Washington and it’s upto him to save his skin.

Cloak-and-dagger stuff from Grisham?

The law courts and corporate boardrooms have been happy hunting grounds for Grisham. Long before ‘Ally McBeal’ and ‘The Practice’, Grisham’s books had made the law look interesting and exciting as a source of material to a new generation of readers.

In recent works, Grisham has been casting around for a new turf. ‘A Painted House’ and ‘Skipping Christmas’ are two examples, but the results have been less than satisfactory. Indeed, this leads me to believe that Grisham may have become a victim of his own success. As an author and story-teller, his artistic horizons may well be limited by court-rooms and board-rooms, but it’s also the only world his readers have come to love and expect.

‘The Broker’ makes for an interesting, fast-paced read but it has a rather linear narrative. And that takes it out of contention when I compare it against any work by my favourite author in the genre, Robert Ludlum.

What do MadrasPlus readers have to say?

Arathi, an HR professional is a die-hard Grisham fan. “I thought it was an amazing chase with a tinge of romance. It kept me hooked till the very end” she says. Harish, an investment banker says “It’s fast and leaves the reader hanging till the very end, the twists are just so incredible”

How long is it?

465 pages (Arrow Books edition)

Worth a read?

If you’re an avid Grisham fan, yes! Else, you can let it pass.

Copyright, The Economic Times, 2005
The image of the book cover has been sourced from and is used for illustrative purposes only. All copyrights and trademarks acknowledged.

My Name is Red - Orhan Pamuk

This Week’s selection

‘My Name Is Red’ by Orhan Pamuk

What’s it about?

A story of art and what happens when new influences clash with the old. Court intrigues that result when commissions are handed out to new artists and the old favourites feel aggrieved. Set in sixteenth-century Istanbul.

Want to know more?

A well-known miniaturist is commissioned to illustrate a book on the achievements of the reigning Sultan. Shortly thereafter, he is found dead at the bottom of a well. Not only that, the man who commissioned him to do the work is also found dead.

Who was responsible for the deaths? The patron had been impressed by the work of Italian portraitists and their style. However, figurative art is forbidden under Islam and the project was bound to get embroiled in controversy. Was there a jealous clique within the Court? Did the miniaturist fall victim to the scandals and intrigues of the Court?

Court intrigues? Surely, not a boring historical novel?

Nah! Pamuk writes in a gripping, engaging style. Never a dull moment. Although there are long passages where he ponders on everything from form and style, the impact of Renaissance painters, the lingering influence of earlier painters of the Islamic school and so on, the story moves forward.

Besides, he uses interesting literary devices to propel the story. There are nearly 20 characters from whose first-person perspective the story is told. Among them, a dog, a horse, Satan, a gold coin…!

What did the critics have to say?

“Astonishing… Exquisite…Engrossing… Chockfull of sublimity and sin.” – The New York Times Book Review

“Curious, sumptuous… Pamuk’s eminence… looms singularly.” John Updike, The New Yorker

How long is it?

413 pages. Another 3 pages of chronology which is useful reading for those more interested in knowing about 16th century Istanbul

Worth a read?


Copyright, The Economic Times, 2005
The image of the book cover has been sourced from and is used for illustrative purposes only. All copyrights and trademarks acknowledged.