A Book A Week Challenge – Week 16

The Sympathizer is 348 pages of war fiction written by Viet Thanh Nguyen. To categorize it into “war fiction” might be a bit of down selling because it has a potential of being a modern day war classic.

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Book #: 16

Title: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Pages: 384

“Vietnam War” or “Second Indochina war” or “Resistance War against America” or simply “American War” – whatever may be the nomenclature you can use to refer to this mayhem which lasted for almost 20 years – can simply be regarded as “the most celebrated war story in the world” after World War II.
When I say “celebrated”, I am being extremely conscious of the context – Wikipedia lists as many as 103 movies that were based on Vietnam war and add to it a flurry of documentaries – including the famous “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” by Eleanor Coppola.
In literature, there are as many as 213 “Best Literature about the Vietnam War” listed by Good Reads – not even including the historical research papers.

But, here comes the catch: the number of books that were written or the movies that were narrated from Vietnam’s point of view is very minimal. This is the void that the new PULITZER PRIZE winning novel of Viet Thanh Nguyen fills in and it does with absolute brilliance. An even more interesting aspect of this novel is you can take the Vietnam-American background out and fill it with any other War around world – the novel fits in with immense ease.
In the popular culture, “duality” is the most commonly used term to describe the human mind and so the universe that it can perceive. “The narrator”, protagonist of this novel, whose name we do not know, is the perfect representation of the duality – he is half raced, half loyal and half-hearted. Many beautiful novels were written in the past with torn loyalties- this stands there right at the top. He takes the pride in protecting the world he grown up and he does anything that it demands of him. He moves to a nation that is totally alien- as an undercurrent spy and coexist with the likes of community that destroyed their home.
It is probably easier to narrate a story of core war – like firing sounds, the tanks, the rocket launchers- but it is extremely difficult to keep yourself away from it and yet narrate something from the closest quarters. As you would expect, the novel starts off in the dark backdrop of Saigon with people eager to evacuate their nation which is in the midst of chaos and disorder. The characters, which are the key components of this story, gets introduced upfront, probably in the first 40-50 pages, and then demands you to sit back and witness what transpired in their lives.
War is chaos.
War is disorder
War is mayhem
War is death.
But, War was never dared to be written in the context of “comedy/humor”- it is obvious, with the people losing their lives, the nations’ collapsing and the civilization wiping out. This is where Viet Thanh Nguygen’s brilliance in writing comes into play.

After initial dark age narration, the life moves to a more settled Los Angeles with a cross-cultural satire thrown at each and everyone within the reach of The Narrator. Read it as a “Satire” or as “Comic” or “get offended”- but the reality is around you. In the closing chapters, the novel moves with immense pace and you can exactly visualize the chaotic unsettled camera moving in the cinematic parlance.

Overall, The Sympathizer is a novel that you must read right now. It opens up your world of perception.
Forty years have passed since this war ended and every anniversary is marked to celebrate the war stories- for both the nations – and also within North and South Vietnams. Viet Thanh Nguygen pays a perfect tribute to the war that it deserves. It is time to mark a closure to the war – memorials paid and stones erected- bury the hatred.

A Book A Week Challenge – Week 15

Whenever there is very intense unrest in the world around you, where people kill each other for fun, it is often with no specific message to convey. The only reason these revolutionists, so they call themselves, go gag about the bullets is to prove that they have a control even in such chaotic conditions. In this situation, what do you do as a single young lady?

Week 15 read is a shortlisted book for 2016 Man Booker International Prize.

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Book #:15

Title: A Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa (translated by Daniel Hahn)

Pages: 258

She is still very young, staying in the apartment of his sister and brother-in-law, when Angolia ‘enjoyed’ the independence from Portugal occupation. What was supposed to be a happy independence years, turned to be chaotic circumstances for almost 26 years due to the outbreak of civil war.

What Ludovica (Ludo) does in the backdrop of Angolian independence was something miraculous.

Ludo keeps herself locked in the apartment – by bricking herself inside it. Yes, you read it right. She doesn’t give up easily as see gets the knowledge of the world around her through radio and the view from her balcony. She writes on the wall with charcoal about what she sees and listens from behind the closed wall.

She might not even be aware that the transcription could be the most valuable history notes even though the the reliability of the content be questioned. You are generally assumed to be not in good mental health and your perception will be believed to have taken over your understanding of the world around.

This is where José Eduardo Agualusa’s work shifts from being a struggle story to a legend. The brilliance of Agualusa’s stories were translated with equal eloquence by Daniel Hahn. All the stories could have  been lost in the dark closed rooms of history had they not been narrated by a struggling female striving for survival. This is where the justification of title comes.

The bond between the story and narrator is a tricky one, most of the times. When the story does the talking, the narrator could just relax back and let the words flow. But, there would be that awkward phase of the story where narrator needs to pull himself up – that is how some of the brilliant stories were written. Jose Eduardo Agualusa’s work is where the narrator lays back but Daniel Hahn’s work is where narrator pulls himself up.

As Ludo tries to comprehend the essence of her letters brings your memories back from the oblivion sounding like George Orwell in ‘1984’ –

“I write feeling my way through the letter. An odd experience, as I cannot read what I have written. Therefore, I am not writing for myself.

For whom am I writing?”

But you know “Ludo, my dear, we are very happy now”

Side note: The book has got some of the brilliant chapter titles such as:

Our Sky is your Floor

The days slide by as if they were Liquid

The subtle architecture of Chance

A Pigeon called love and

How, to Quote Marx: All that is Solid Melts into Air.

It creates a strange sense of determination to be a writer yourself, just so that your story stands by the test of time and never had to fear oblivion.

A Book A Week Challenge – Week 14

Week 14 read was best-selling novel of the year 2015- on top of the list for 13 consecutive weeks ever since its launch in Feb. Lot of post launch discussions and the similarities it carried with extremely successful “Gone Girl” brought the book back to No.1 in Jan 2016- a year after its launch- not a usual occurrence. This book touted as ‘psychological thriller’ was an instant hit.

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Book #: 14

Title: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Pages: 338

The novel takes the narrative from the POV of three women: Rachel, Megan and Anna. Each of them experiencing a sort of trouble in their own lives. Their lives were extremely disconnected but intertwined and entangled by their own mistakes.

You make no mistake in judging the key attributes of Rachel – stressed, drunk, suffering from blackouts and often imaginative. She explores the meaning of a happy wedding, not from her own married life which is shattered, but from the flat she could see from her daily commute.

It is not often when you have your lead character struggling with such ‘lost in the world’ nuances. For me personally, it took a lot of time to get into the thick of what Rachel is undergoing- Yes, her wedding has gone bizarre, her drunk lifestyle took over but I couldn’t feel the empathy for her. Not until, she takes that step to inform police for a couple who she knew little about – all about them was in her imagination. The behavioral traits of the key narrator, Rachel, makes you feel skeptical to believe all she is saying. She definitely has some trust issues.

The most interesting aspect of the movie is not the characters but the narration. This is usually a difficult task to accomplish- as the rule 1 of fiction writing tells you- make the readers feel for their characters. Paula Hawkins takes her own time to make you connected with emotions of the characters – but gets into the act straight in. You know all you need to know about the key characters as witnessed from the eyes of a struggling young woman. She might be right. She might be absolutely wrong. But, you go with the flow- you travel with Rachel- until you realize how wrong she is with all her presumptions.

Considered as the second “Gone Girl” by many, the book does include the shades of it but the surprisingly vulnerable characters yet strong narration with brilliant pace of suspense makes it an interesting read.

A Book A Week Challenge – Week 13

Week 13 read would make it a streak of four and half (H is for Hawk) non-fiction reads. It sometimes get extremely draining to read four really interesting and amazingly demanding books in straight weeks.

So, I must confess I experienced a sense of fatigue. For those of you, who feel, how can reading be a fatigue exercise. Please give it a try.

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Book #: 13

Title: Being Mortal: Medicine and what matters in the end” by Atul Gawande

Pages: 302

Atul Gawande’s best selling book “Being Mortal” tries to address two key questions:

  1. How the medical advancements helped increase the life expectancy of human race?
  2. Given these advancements, do you want to spend the life curing your health conditions in medical hall or just go about living the way you love to?

Even though, at the top level, the questions look straight forward. But, the impact of these two major events pretty much evolved as a culture.

Atul Gawande brings in the brilliant proposal of how joint family culture in the East would be more encouraging for the aged rather than nuclear family structure in the West.

“Inevitable”  and “Acceptance” – can be referred to as the theme of this book.

Yeah, we all know that the Death is inevitable and We, as the individuals or the loved ones, should be able to accept it. Death gives a sense of departing which can cut through the hearts of many around you.

But, what do you do to postpone that?

As Atul Gawande walks you through the different stages of decline of your own body elements as the disease creeps in or as simple as age builds up, you feel scared or distraught.

But, it is inevitable. Isn’it?

What do you to compensate for something inevitable?

Live the way you love.

This is when your Eastern culture seems to tick multiple boxes – you were taken care of, you were provided the attention, you were loved like never before, you can enjoy those small little moments of extra sleep, extra food.

But, what you miss the most is that sense of “independence” which is the reason how Western culture evolved as a family and society.

But, do you the ability to fight all by your own independently.

There comes the acceptance.

Overall, it is a brilliant read in the sense, it gives you that perception which you might have to rethink about how you wish to close your loving life:

In the medical hall or

Within the walls of your home.

The trade off is that extra days to a joyful closure of your already magical life.

Virat Kohli – The hero you want to be

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Virat Kohli doesn’t need any introduction to the current generation of cricket followers across the world. His popularity on social media speaks a ton about his admirers. He is now followed by 10.1 million followers on twitter and almost 2.8 million follow him on Instagram.

Assuming, a typical active member on Instagram would find themselves on twitter too, it roughly translates to approx. 10 million distinct people get notified of anything that this guy shares on social media. They have him on their timelines. Not to forget, all those non-internet-non-social folks who only follow him bit less frequently through newspapers or sports broadcasting channels.

He is a genius and a legend in the making. Period. 

But, that is not what I want to share about. Not about his skill as a player or why he is so important to the Indian cricket team’s evolution as a strong force in the modern day cricket. This is about the hero he admired and the hero he transformed himself into. 

Even most of his ardent supporters today would have described him as aggressive, rude and uncontrollable on field player, until may be a couple of years ago. His altercations on field with opposition team members, displaying inappropriate gestures during a test match, getting face to face and giving earful with Australians- He did it all. Here was always there right in the middle of everything that could take impression of  gentlemen out of cricket. Controlled aggression was never his forte. He would throw all of him at you. He would give everything of him on the field.

In an article that I read recently, it was reported him quoting:

“I always wanted to be Sachin. I wanted to bat like him, so I tried to copy the shots he played and hit sixes the way he used to. He was the one player that always made me think: I want to bat like him”

Well, every one who followed cricket in our generation did that and so did this young man from Delhi.

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Ever since, he rose to fame when he led the young Under-19 team to cricket world cup in 2008, there were never questions about his talent as a player. But, there were more than reasonable questions raised about his temperament – which is in complete contrast to how his hero behaved on the field.

 

Yes, we all have our heroes in  own right whom we admire, we support when they lose, we argue when one questions their abilities, we imitate them but can we become our heroes? 

No, we cannot because we are totally different to what our heroes are.  We are ourselves and not our heroes. We can never be our heroes. We are a different entity altogether.

So is Virat Kohli. He is not his hero. He can never be. But, he followed his hero to become one himself.

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What we have seen of Virat Kohli in the recent years is complete contrast to what he was during his formative years. He is bit more composed now, his aggression stayed but it was more streamlined. The raging desire to score runs, to put that extra effort to sprint for extra run, to dive to stop those boundaries and to own and finish the game- that craving for win will always remains with him.

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In this world cup, what he did was beyond magical. He almost pulled off the games single-handed for India. He put himself as a team member, he requested audience to cheer for India and not Virat, he blamed himself when he lost his wicket against New Zealand, he fell to his knees when India won against Australia and he shed the tears when India lost against West Indies in Semifinals.

He is more emotional now. He values himself a lot more and he knows his responsibilities as a team member and a captain himself. He knows what his strengths are and acknowledges what his limitations are.

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But, he sends out a strong message to his admirers:

You want to be like your hero. Believe in him. Follow him but one day be a hero for yourself. That is the best tribute you can pay for your hero.

Virat Kohli, you are a hero. You now lead the generation that believes you as their hero, just like your hero Sachin Tendulkar did.