A Book A Week Challenge – Week 20

“Putting things into perspective” is probably one of the most loosely used phrases- at least in the corporate parlance. You might have most probably read in some magazine or a book or even more common from the preaching of spiritual gurus. But, there is no better way to use that phrase than the emotion you are left it when you finish reading “By Night the Mountain Burns”0a9d7b47bd0d0b738b3c58da76e04195.jpgWeek 20 Reading is a book from ‘Equatorial Guinea’ by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel- written in Spanish and translated to English by Jethro Sautar. I must confess that I never heard that there is a country called ‘Equatorial Guinea’, let be about Annobon province- where the story is set.

Book #: 20

Title: By Night the Mountains Burn” by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, translated by Jethro Sautar

Pages: 275

You cannot wait to commend the brilliant efforts by the author and the translator for bringing this to a written form and so being able to distribute to the world that is 5,000 miles apart (drawn based on longitudinal line).

Like the narrator puts his words on narrating this story in the book as:

“What I have spoken of is what I experienced, heard and saw when I was a child. It has never been put down in writing before, because, as I said, I am not a writer; nobody on the island is.”

This description is true for many more cultures which live on the same planet as we all do. The story demands attention. The culture and customs demand appreciation. The challenges encountered by the inhabitants’ demands compassion. As it turns out, the country is now severely challenged the rich corrupt government which led to the original author (Juan Thomas) to leave the country and move to Spain.

Even before I venture into my thoughts on the story, it would only be appropriate for me to thank two people in specific: Of course, Jethro Sautar– if not for his translation, I would have missed something valuable; and secondly Ann Morgan, for her recommendation as a part of ‘A Year of Reading the World” project.

The basic essence of the book is the narration of unnamed narrator, who is now an adult, recollecting his days of childhood. The people of the island referred to as ‘Atlantic Ocean Island’, have very specific customs. They are unapologetically unambitious- their pursuit is only for survival- for fishing.

The narrator describes the various aspects of the lifestyle – about the schools- where children find no valuable education, mountains – where nothing ever happen except for an event that changed his life, hospital – that lacks any medicine to cure even the simplest of the diseases and the church- the Padre doesn’t even act for the great good.

But, it is not all darkness around. The celebrations of events are unique – the canoe building – which is the most celebrated event. The offering to the Sea King where everyone offers according to their strength and the happiest events being- the week where loads of fishes and squids are swept to the shore. It was, even more, happier event given that the main source of food for these people is fish.

If not fish, then there is no food.

The narrator also describes three major events that shook not just him but the whole of that island – The night that burnt entire plantations on the mountain- the event where it all began, and so the title; then came the epidemic cholera- which took along with almost the entire village and the third being the influence of She-Devils on the lifestyle of islanders.

They are completely isolated from the communications of the rest of the world (as the narrator puts it we are not even sure how many countries are around us. But, we know there are many because of the boats that float into out coast to steal the fish – some of them are from friendly nations and some or not). It is such as shame since the present day situation is not much better either.

The writing is absolutely simple and even more direct. It moves in a swift – never pauses anywhere- even when the narrator describes the same event three to four times- just like a coffee shop conversation. The success of a translator depends on how honest will his writing be in translating the emotion of the story as the original author wants. Jethro Sautar is spot in his translation and also in this discussion with guardian where he says:

“It’s the translator’s job to translate a book’s words, but of course, you also have to translate cultures. You become informed about the author’s country and circumstances, and you become well acquainted with the author, especially if you’ve had to ask him a lot of questions for your translation. You become a source of hope in times of crisis, and although you haven’t asked for the responsibility, and you maybe find it daunting, you respond as best you can, because you’ve also become the author’s friend.”

Overall, “By Night the Mountain Burns” is an honest attempt to describe the culture from a world which we never knew existed. It might not feature in the “Must Read” Lists or “Creative Writing” recommendations due to its failure to stick to “rules of writing”- but, if you miss this, you are going to miss out something really valuable. It changes the way you understand the world around you and be more compassionate for the communities which do not have the luxury of so-called ‘sophisticated civilization’.

Aaale, toma suguewa,

Alewa!

Aaaalee, toma suguewa,

Alewa!

A Book A Week Challenge – Week 19

A Tree faces a conflict of understanding its own purpose – To remain as-is so as to be “meant to provide shade for Mejnun disguised as a shepherd as he visited Leyla in her Tent?” or to allow to be transformed to a paper so as to “fade into the night, representing the darkness in the soul of a wretched and hopeless man?”

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The eternal conflict that an artist had to encounter every time he gets to work is – “what is that I am trying to depict/covey/paint?” – an object or its internal meaning. That perspective is what defines you as an artist.

Book #: 19

Title: My Name is Red” by Orhan Pamuk

Pages: 666

2006 Nobel Prize-Literature Winner Orhan Pamuk’s “My Name is Red” is all about these perspectives. A Historical novel is set in the backdrop of 1591’s Istanbul when Ottoman is at its peak- the artists and painters were commissioned to appreciate the art that would narrate the heroics of the great Sultan. It transpires through the Ottoman era until its downfall with the arrival of the East.

This book on the outset is a thriller novel – about a secrecy that led to the murders of two artists – Elegant and Enishte. Thriller novels often have to encounter this unique risk of walking on a feeble thread- one hard step- one early revelation, one heavy emphasis and all the narration goes to shatters. This challenge is what could make an author a genius or a dud.

Orhan Pamuk definitely knows his art- like all the miniaturists in Ottoman who paint a human body completely independent of one another but to tie them into a great narrative. It is a memoir or historical narration of sorts – the journey of “Black Effendi” since the time he was commissioned to be a part of this book of Sultan till he fights the murderer of artists.

Memoir- about the evolution of Istanbul’s empire – Ottomans and their defeat at Lepanto. It walks through the lifestyles of individuals in the society who had to survive through the personal mishaps and at the same time adjusting to the emerging societal demands.

The book is a first-person narrative that also embeds within itself a second-person perspective on reading the narrative. This is the huge risk for a thriller novel and to do that from a dozen different persons is the masterclass of a writing. Tree, Dog, Gold Coin and most importantly The Color Crimson have their perspectives too. The Color Crimson translates to the title of this novel boasts itself as “As I bring my color to the page, it’s as if I command the world to ‘Be!’ Yes, those who cannot see would deny it, but the truth is that I can be found everywhere.”

666 pages of brilliant writing with 59 chapters narrated through the eyes of 12 different persons – flavored with 9 different perspectives of objects – that were personified with equal brilliance. This is a writer’s delight and reader’s paradise.

A Book A Week Challenge – Week 18

“Policing a Police; Interviewing an Interviewer; Critiquing a Critic” – not a spot you want to be in. A.O Scott in his book “Better Living through Criticism” puts himself into that difficult position. A renowned film critic with New York Times had to experience heavy backlash from Samuel L. Jackson when he reviewed “Avengers”. Even though this book seems to have taken birth as a vengeance against those who are judgmental about the role of the critic but has enough content for everyone to spend some time on it.

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Book #: 18

Title: Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth” by A O Scott

Pages: 290

A.O Scott starts off by stating “Everyone is a critic – you have an opinion on everything you see or experience” but that doesn’t undermine your role as being a critic. Everyone who would call themselves a “professional critic” might have experienced this backlash as to their role in the big schema of things. Many even go further to call them as the “failed artists” and “vengeance seekers”.

A O Scott puts criticism as an art in its own form. The role of critic is not to “rubbish everything” and at the same time not be a “fanboy”. Criticism enhances the glory of other arts, and an impossible activity. Zoom it out into large frame of life scenarios – it is necessary and essential for human understanding.

The struggle of an artist lies in his brilliance of translating the vision of his director. His success or failure depends a lot on how director sees his final product and also how the audience adapt into their systems. But, the critic is the player that fits right in between these two entities – taking only the happy viewing (I mean ‘happy’ it is equivalent to ‘quality’) till viewers. The critic has his limitations in conveying what he believes is right or wrong in the art. But, he has no right to banish the viewers from his experience.

Many directors of any generation believe that their movie is medium of dialogue between him and the audience. Critic either acts as a catalyst to enhance the experience or to shatter the dialogue. Most of the present day critics translate the movie to layman terms to viewers and it is the mad rush to share the review that hurts movie viewers experience.

Overall, A O Scott puts a lot of thoughts and opinions forward as to the dos and don’ts of how you perceive a critic’s writing. One essential element he highlights is “critic should share his criticism on the object that he sees and not the effort that goes into making it”.

Even though, the thoughts are arguably convincing, they take you nowhere by time you reach the end of the book. “The End of Criticism” (A Final Dialogue) pretty much summarizes he covers in the bool– if you have a time crunch – pick this one chapter and you get the essence of it.

A O Scott probably might be better critic but he tumbles at multiple places in writing and maintaining consistency in what he wanted to communicate.

Maheshinte Prathikaram (The Revenge of Mahesh)

It is not always easy to outshine as a screenwriter or director when you have a brilliant actor cast for the lead role. But, Dileesh Pothan (Director) and Syam Pushkaran (Writer) wins many brownie points over Fahadh Faasil.

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“Your revenge had outgrown your being and you are totally engulfed by it”

This is the moment of self-actualization that closes any movie with revenge as its central theme – from “The Revenant” to “Badlapur”. Maheshinte Prathikaram (The Revenge of Mahesh) takes a completely opposite route to it.

Yes, a mishap happens.

Yes, he vows revenge – this time to not wear slippers till he fulfills his revenge.

Yes, he chases him

But, this time, he does other things in parallel to preparing himself for the day he takes revenge – such as learn the meaning of true photography, fall in love (irony huh?)- and the day it comes for revenge, he doesn’t stay back and teach morals. He walks straight head on seeking revenge and wins it.

Maheshinte Prathikaram is poetic in multiple ways -but you need to sit through the initial vocal adjustment to engulf yourself in the essence of poetic rendition. There are three major instances in this movie that absolutely belong to the director and the screenwriter. As an actor or as an audience, all you could do is let your guard down and bow in respect.

The lead-up to the conflict that enrages Mahesh (probably reminds you of ‘butterfly effect’ or ‘chain reaction’), the father of his lady love discusses their wedding and the actualization of revenge are the perfect examples of what can be accomplished with brilliant writing.

This will be the fifth movie of Syam Pushkaran as the script writer that I watched -Salt N Pepper, 22 Female Kottayam, Iyobinte Pusthakam, Rani Padmini and now, Maheshinte Pusthakam. I am still waiting for the day to be disappointed by his writing. I hope the day would never come.

The brilliance of Dileesh Pothan is as much as what he conceived in the movie to as much that he had to let go. The movie traces the absolute path- no deviation- just follow the rail track. The moment you snapped, you are derailed – but Dileesh never left his driver’s seat.

Fahadh Faasil is a brilliant actor, no questions about it. This year, I also watched his movie “Monsoon Mangoes”, a disappointing experience, which demanded his brilliant acting skills to pull the movie through. But, in “Maheshinte Prathikaram”, it is being as subtle as he could and let Dileesh do the steering. Even though this movie doesn’t require him to go all-in as he did for “Iyobinte Pusthakam” or let only his face do the talking as he did for “Akam” – according to me, this stands in his top 5 best performances so far.

Bijibal is coming off from a tiring 2015 during which he worked for 15 films. But, this might be his easiest and quickest till date. Four songs – 10 minutes – all run in the background- stick to strengths (melody)- Done with.

Overall, ‘Maheshinte Prathikaram’ might not be a “Must-Watch” but you are going to miss something if you don’t watch it.

Language: Malayalam

Director: Dileesh Pothan

Run Time: 140 mins

Release Date: 05 Feb 2016

CBFC Rating: “U”

Writer: Syam Pushkaran

Cinematography: Shyju Khalid

Editor: Saiju Sreedharan

Music: Bijibal

Production: OPM (Aashiq Abu)

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America is not necessarily a good versus bad movie but a rather consent versus dissent kind of movie. Captain America: Civil War is doing tremendous box office business across the world and deservedly so. Because, this might not be the perfect superhero (or heroes) movie but it could easily be right up there.

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The instant reaction after you watch Marvel’s latest offering “Captain America: Civil War” is, if Marvel Superheroes pit against DC Superheroes, there is no way DC could win the contest. If not for their ability, but for the sheer number of heroes.

Captain America: Civil War brings in almost every superhero in Marvel’s portfolio excluding “Thor” and “Hulk”. This also marks the multi-hero debut for “Spider Man” and “The Black Panther”. When there are so many powerful people sitting across the discussion table, it would more likely end up being chaos and further catastrophe, no matter how ideal the topic or intentions could have been. But, the Russo siblings might have just got the equations perfectly right. They not only managed to avoid catastrophe but even managed to make an ‘almost’ perfect superhero movie.

“Civil War” is not necessarily a good versus bad movie but a rather consent versus dissent kind of movie. Superheroes are meant to protect the public across the world. But, what happens if the protector causes more destruction than the actual destroyer. This is the basic premise above which the plot of Civil War had been written.

Whenever Captain America is in picture, it is absolutely impossible to put politics out of equation. So, the movie sets itself up with the meeting between 117 countries to draft accords to move Avengers from being a private entity to a sovereign governed body. This could be both good and bad depending on what side of the table you are on.

You would expect Captain America who characteristically operates under the command of United States to take a stand pro-accords and Tony Stark, the multi-billionaire lavish lifestyle ego centric (as established in many Marvel movies so far) to the counter stance. But, in “Civil War”, the sides taken were quite opposite and the reasoning behind it was the only background that you should be aware of. And guess what, that is exactly what you would know- nothing more.

There are as many as 12 superheroes (with at least ten individual movies among them) in the movie taking either side of the table to begin with. Since, the conflict is not revenge driven but ideology driven, the loyalties are not forever and so you see them switching sides to help their friends. At the end, you are not fighting against your enemy but your friend. So, focus on the mission and not the man – is the message that is sent out loud and clear.

Before you ask, here is how the teams split:

Team Iron Man: Iron Man, Black Widow, Black Panther, Vision, Spider-Man, War Machine

Team Captain America: Captain America, Falcon, Ant-Man, Winter Soldier, Hawk Eye, Scarlet Witch

One of the key success drivers for “Captain America: Civil War” is the way these super heroes enter into conflict. Some of them are in for revenge, some to support friends, some to be loyal and some eager to join the big league. What happens when so many friends meet on a war field, they might fight but they shake hands. So, does everyone in this. Shake Hand and Punch.

The biggest surprise however is Tom Holland. He is a total outsider among the big league of super heroes (or super stars). This would probably be one of the best written and performed stints for “Spider-Man” (no offense to Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield). Tom Holland takes the major portion of the pink pie and cherry along with it.

Overall, “Captain America: Civil War” goes all-in with the super heroes and emerges even shinier.

Language: English

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Run Time: 147 mins

Release Date: 06 May 2016 (US)

Rating: PG -13

Writer: Mark Milliar (Comics); Stephen McFeely, Christopher Markus (Screen)

Cinematographer: Trent Opaloch

Editor: Jeffrey Ford

Composer: Henry Jackman

Production: Marvel Studios

IMDB: 8.5 | Rotten Tomatoes: 90% (09 May 2016)

A Book A Week Challenge – Week 17

Week 17 read is my return to reading after a week off. I know I am going to fall short on my goal of reading 52 books this year, but this was a welcome break for me. At some point, even without my conscious choice, reading had become a part of me. It grew so much so to miss the absolute joy of “experiencing” beautifully constructed words or phrases or sentences or analogies and even at times the narrations.

Week 17 read for me is like meeting your much-anticipated superhero. You heard about him from people among your circles. You wanted to meet him multiple times but the time just didn’t work well. Finally, when you get to meet him, either of two things could happen.

You would be absolutely awed by his presence and drop to tears or be totally disappointed with the hype created around him- you might as well be disgusted by yourself for creating opinions without even looking closely of who you admire.

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“A Wild Sheep Chase” by Haruki Murakami is the one that falls into the first category for me. I was absolutely delighted reading this 353 pages novel – enjoyed every bit of it. I feel sorry for myself to have not picked any of his work so far.

Book #: 17

Title: A Wild Sheep Chase” by Haruki Murakami. Translated by Alfred Birnbaum

Pages: 353

This might be the most surrealistic novel written operating within the limits of a chase thriller novel. This book narrates the chase of sheep that ‘inhabit’ humans but the boundaries to discuss absolutely contrasting ideas were pushed way to its limits.  The book covers a wide range of topics: from fighting multiple relationships to a criminal anarchy to the evolution of a town to the way ranks evolve among sheep herds.

More often, the translator, mainly in written form of art, gets little due attention as he deserves. In any other art form, for instance, movie or theatre or dance, the version which you see – the face of the performance or his moves gets much more attention than the underlying narration. Of late, I had an opportunity of reading probably some of the best translations made in the modern era of writing.

Illustration of brilliance in writing translations is more pronounced in analogies than any other portion of writing.

Here is a simple example of how a phrase (‘Silence’) can be used in multiple scenarios without disturbing the beauty of the respective context:

“A Silence pregnant with the presentiment of death”

“There ensured a brief silence, a pebble sent plunging down a fathomless well. It took thirty seconds for the pebble to hit bottom”

“This was a definitive silence, one you could judge the qualities of other silences by.”

“The uncertainty of silence that followed showed I had earned myself a few points”

“A weighty silence ensued”

“It was a silence strong enough to make your ears hurt”

“Particles of silence floated about the room for the longest time”

The other interesting attribute about this particular novel – the story in its narrative form could as well be a simple one – as they say, it’s not about the baseline story, it’s about the storytelling.

For a novel that has a natural flow of narration, it takes immense strength to fill in the ideologies of lead characters. It gets tricky – as explicitly quoting the philosophical ideologies of characters -could be disruptive to the narration.

Here is another illustration of how heavy philosophies smoothly get transitioned into writing:

This is how the narration of an existential reality (the undercurrent theme of this novel) is narrated in words:

“As long as I stared at the clock, at least the world remained in motion. Not a very consequential world, but in motion nonetheless. And as long as I knew this world was still in motion, I knew I existed. Not a very consequential existence, but an existence nevertheless”

This is how the time is described:

“Time really is one big continuous cloth, no? We habitually cut out pieces of time to fit us, so we tend to fool ourselves into thinking that time is our size, but it really goes on and on”

I might continue drafting multiple examples right through the book but would strongly recommend reading this masterpiece of writing to know about (along with the story):

  1. Why ships have names but not airplanes?
  2. Is there a religious interpretation in how we react in the traffic jam?
  3. How pecking order is created among sheep?
  4. How towns evolved in the past where people ran away from home due to debts?

Overall, for me personally, “A Wild Sheep Chase” introduced me to the most celebrated writers of our time and made me experience the joy of reading. Again.