A Book A Week Challenge – Week 35

Gabriel García Márquez was awarded The Nobel Prize in Literature for the year 1982 and regarded as “the greatest Colombian who ever lived” by the country’s President Juan Manuel Santos. 

Pre-Text: With the objective of making the most of the break from Man Booker Prize 2016 Reading List, I picked this masterpiece from Gabriel García Márquez. Three books remain from the Shortlist which I would return to after next week to finish them before the award ceremony.


Book #: 35

Title: “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez

Pages: 422

186 pages into the novel and after referring to the family tree of Buendías multiple times, this passage appears:

“Throughout the long history of the family, the insistent repetition of the name had made her (Ursula) draw some conclusions that seemed to be certain. While the Aurelianos were withdrawn, but with lucid minds, the Jose Arcadios were impulsive and enterprising, but they were marked with a tragic sign. The only cases that were impossible to classify were those of Jose Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo”

However, in the pages that follow, the characters break the pattern. The Segundo twins who looked absolutely identical and behaved very similar in their early days, were marked with names when their venture out to school. For the fun of creating confusion, they would exchange their name markers. As the story expands out, you would feel if the fun turned serious.

‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ is set up in a small village called Macondo in the South American waters where the founding family Buendías’ six generations form the core of a story. The first generation arrived in this region who were set out on an expedition and ended in a place through experiences of sleepwalking, suffocation, and hope. As the years pass by, the village goes through a transition that it struggles to keep up with. Gypsies, Turks, and Gringos all walk into the village with no inhibitions and the house of Buendías’ play host to most of them.

Two events mark significance in this novel:

  1. An explorer’s dream of building a house of mirrors and
  2. A small kid’s visit to see ice machine

The book returns to this theme time and again with a surrealistic attention on the theme that should never skip your mind.

Buendías generations transform from being a respected family in the village, who held the rights to the land which the first generation José Arcadio Buendía distributed among the villagers to a generation that sells lottery tickets to survive the day.

Three segments of characters run through the novel very strongly:

  1. Brothers: Three sets of brothers form the core of the family line. Often named Arcadio and Aureliano, they are contrasting individuals. They sleep with the same woman and only one of them from the branches that extend to next generation. These brothers were never hugging types neither are they hand shaking types. They live in the worlds of their own, one outwards fighting for the village and the other lost in the parchment manuscripts.
  2. Women: Even though the book tracks the family tree of Buendías, the women inside and outside the house form the core in extending the family tree. This has one of the best written strongest women characters. Ursula – who lives for more than one hundred and fifty years or so form the back bone of this family and Piler Ternera – who provided the family with next generation at step 1 who was the last to pass on.
  3. Friends: At first, the villagers were just like people under the rule of an empire and emperor took responsible in maintaining the harmony of his kingdom. As time passed by they turn into colleagues in arms to friends who the last generation regrets having left behind.

The themes used in this novel would go on to be referred as ‘reference guide to writing’ for generations to come:

  1. Illusions: There are illusions all through the book- the house filled with dead people, Melquíades, the first generation gypsy and immigrant, who walked through the streets of Macondo and settled down in the house of Buendías acts like a link between reality and magic that the family experience.
  2. Realism: As it is often done in present day novels with magic or fantasy as themes, the realism gets lost. The streets no longer represent a village. The people doesn’t look like humans. The vegetation doesn’t look like a real one. Here is the excellence of a man who is regarded as the forefather of writing “magical realism” where magic is as mundane as realism but as exciting as magic when experienced.
  3. Incest: I could think of a quote by a most renowned writer in India when he says “No country has a history that they would be proud of. If you dig deep, at every phase, the human race is so maligned and complex, you want to leave it alone” and so is the family of Buendías. Incest runs through the family, as if it is not sufficient, no generation had a clean family line. But surprisingly, the branches built through clean lines remain the strongest.

The last phase of the book makes you go amazed where the master concludes by saying:

(the gypsy in his parchment manuscripts) had not put events in the order of man’s conventional time, but had concentrated a century of daily episodes in such a way that they coexisted in one instant” and “like a magic trick, you need to skip and tie back the phases so as to make it look linear”

“the first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants” summarizes the journey of a hundred years of solitude of a family that runs through six generations.

David Gallagher in his Guardian Review referred to “One Hundred Years of Solitude” as “exceeding comic novel” despite the fact that it never speaks of humor in its written form. An interesting interpretation is “Humor” in Latin means “moisture”. The moisture that remains in the eye rather than moisture that a wet weather settles. The village of Macondo is built in a swamp with the mirage seen through the house of mirrors.

Post Notes: As I finished reading “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, I was left with a few moments of silence. Not because the content made me go blank, but the satisfaction of reading something that would remain for years to come. The book is considered as the single path-breaking master piece of 20th century and literature that opened up writings in magical realism. A lot had been written about the novel, the reviews of the book were considered as must-reads in their own way. The current generation should be lucky for being provided with the opportunity of transitioning between great literature in its natural form to a much complicated generation seeking quick summarizes and synopsis. Let’s be proud while we can to bridge that gap.


A Book A Week Challenge – Week 34

This Book is a part of Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series

AL Kennedy’s “Serious Sweet” might not have made it to the Longlist of Man Booker 2016 but is a book that can you pick from the shelf on any given day only to feel exhausted when you put it back in the rack.

A. L. Kennedy -Serious Sweet.png

Book #: 34

Title: Serious Sweet” by A L Kennedy

Pages: 528

The prologue of the book starts on a super high with a brilliant description of the child and family that are migrating into England from an “Arabic speaking” country.

Her force of personality is considerable. And she plainly assumes she is special and a focus of attention for only good reasons. And it ought to be possible that she is right in her assumption, that she always will be right.

This is what she writes of a child that is just twelve months old. Yes, exactly. That is way too early for a child to have such complicated thoughts, even when she is being made to run away due to injuries.

As we venture into the main novel, the clock ticks 6:42 AM only to end at 6:42 AM the next day after a tiring 500 pages. Literally on any given day, your life could take its own course – either it is just like any other day or it is exactly opposite to any other day. This ‘widely canvassed’ narration of two people at different phases of their life takes you through moments of extreme excitement followed by uncomfortable reading experience.

The book in itself, at least content wise, is nowhere close to being an exhausting read but the detailing gets way too, well way too detailed. The level that you would need in a cinematic character ‘fleshing’. Well, AL Kennedy cannot be blamed when the narration she needs is for a day, you should see extensive flashback episodes taking center stage.

The book scopes into the lives two contrasting individuals in terms of their forgettable pasts but absolutely similar in the way the thought process unfolds.

Jon-59-Retired. He is a man, if put in context of women, be described as ‘post menopause’ phase. He is way too shattered for his maleness in London. He is a worrying past and the conflicts are put right on across the table. You judge him all you want but can you put yourself in his shoes? Way too tough. Not for the challenges he has, but the train of thoughts that keep running through his mind. He is way too tied up in his mind. The world outside unfolds rather quickly (we have only 24- hours to be narrated) but the thoughts pile the timeline.

On the other hand, we have Meg Williams. A woman who wakes in the morning, because lying in bed when awake was inadvisable, she’d come up here to see the dawn arriving. This is the first impression or the first description you have of her. Her story never really takes off. She has a very forgettable past but she is brave enough to put it all behind her only to be judgmental of present politics and city development.

Then the moment comes when your lead characters have to meet and this is the best phase of this book. It was as if all this lead up was meant to make this a brilliant one. AL Kennedy is absolutely delight to read as long as these two characters are together.

Overall, A L Kennedy’s Serious Sweet is extremely tiring for a reader but has a supremely extensive canvas for a story that unfolds itself in 24-hours. It is a delight as long as the lead characters stay connected, afloat, and in the real world. Skip through the italics (which takes more than half its length) and you would love this book.

Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series:

The North Water” by Ian McGuire

His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet – Shortlisted

The Sellout” by Paul Beatty – Shortlisted

All That Man Is” by David Szalay – Shortlisted

The Many” by Wyl Menmuir

A Book A Week Challenge – Week 33

This Book is a part of Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series

Wyl Menmuir is regarded by many as a ‘surprise’ inclusion into the Man Booker Longlist 2016. This is the second time that independent publisher, Salt Publishing, made it to the Man Booker Longlist after their 2012 debut by Alison Moore “The Lighthouse”.


Book #: 33

Title: The Many” by Wyl Menmuir

Pages: 160

The underlying revelation (which is unfair to disclose here) of the story has multiple shades to it- the duality is its feature – you might feel “Naah! What the hell” or “What a brilliant underlying theme it is” depending on the point of your tiring day you finish reading the book. Hence, the recommendation would be to reread the final chapters at least one more time and you would be amazed by the alternate view you could envision.

This is essentially the theme of this 160 pages gothic novel (or novella) – there is a dark and disturbing undercurrent narration that tracks itself along with a much subtle and lighter drama on the surface. Just like the references in this book – there are chemicals killing the fishes making it a disaster to the fishers (and the environment) but on the surface, it is a beautiful view occasionally disturbed by heavy tides.

The story is narrated through the eyes of two people – Ethan and Timothy Buchannan with Perran and his house being the driving character. Set in the backdrop of coast where fishing is the prime activity, the beloved son of the land Perran dies of an accidental drowning which disturbed the lives of the village.

Perran who understands the sea as if he was born to it. Perran who guides the boats in and out, who comes and goes as he pleases.

Timothy buys the place left by Perran and it shakes up the village even further. The stay of Timothy is largely horrifying for an outsider. The village tracks every move of him and stories evolve over time about his interest in buying this deserted house. They are surprised how similar both Timothy and Perran looked in terms of physique or features.

Timothy has come to resurrect Perran. He has come to destroy Perran’s house, to erase his memory.

There are two excellent features of this novel which would impress you the most:

Firstly, despite the setting of location feels like completely disconnected to the world, with only connection with the world being the sea, there is the extreme relevance of conflicts that these villagers encounter. Never were the sports discussed, nor was the politics, they are concerned only about the sea and the fishes. It is all that mattered to them.

Secondly, the dreams. My favorite bit of the novel is the dreams that Timothy experience and so do Ethan. At times, the difference is extremely minimal as if you believe they are dreams of the same person.

But, Wyl leaves you with way too many questions to answer. The italicized flashbacks episodes give away a few answers but leave a lot of them for your interpretation. This surprises me as there is a limited scope in fiction to leave a huge chunk of the unaddressed story since everyone is looking for a closure.

Overall, Wyl Menmuir’s “The Many” definitely surprises you with its content at the same time leaves you with a lot to ponder upon -both in terms of story and the contaminants that are destroying the marine biology.

Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series:

The North Water” by Ian McGuire

His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet

The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

All That Man Is” by David Szalay

A Book A Week Challenge – Week 32

This Book is a part of Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series

There is a popular quote according to India’s great old Vedic literature that provides guidance on acquaintance. As it turns out it is ideal for a man to stay in close association with someone who is one and half times his age and for a woman, the equation adjusts to twice the age.

David Szalay’s “All That Man Is” takes care of both the equations and plugs in way too many variables to explain the behaviors of a man over his lifetime. It is not a Boyhood-ish narration because we are not tracking the life on only one individual. These are nine different men at various phases of their lifecycle- and what is the connecting theme? Well, I am more than puzzled.

David Szalay - All That Man Is.png

Book #: 32

Title: All That Man Is” by David Szalay

Pages: 448

“All That Man Is” made it to the longlist of Man Booker 2016 for “All That Man Is brings these separate lives together to show us, men, as they are – ludicrous and inarticulate, shocking and despicable; vital, pitiable, hilarious, and full of heartfelt longing.”

 It is ludicrous and despicable for sure but vital, pitiable and hilarious is being way too lenient.

 There are three common themes that tie (if you wish to call it so) the story together, otherwise, it is a simple anthology of nine different short stories with no absolute conclusions to be drawn at the end of each section.

Theme 1: Men. All of them, hence the title, from different phases of life. A seventeen-year-old, all the way till the retiree who is apparently the grandfather of the seventeen-year-old walk you through the current phase of their life. One interesting tidbit about this vaguely connected book is the topics the dialogues were built. The conversation will other characters replicate the phase they are in.

Theme 2: European Union: If you are from East and waiting for that one holiday trip to cover Europe, this is an abstract of the beginners’ guide. The story moves around EU and explains how the men in Europe respond to the situation they are currently in. This is the big non-significant variable (in statistics terms) that was included in the equation which messes any correlations you wish to find with Behavior of Men at different phases of their lives.

Theme 3: Women. Yes, we totally understand the book is about men. But as in this universe, the men can never escape from two things: women and himself. Neither of David Szalay’s characters does either. But, the stories reach a phase where you pause a minute and think “Wait. I have met better women.” All the women in this book had only one thing to do: seduce the man. Except for the first and the last stories- which according to me are the best stories.

Overall, David Szalay’s intent to narrate the challenges and conflicts that men from various phases of life encounter is worth picking up the book. But, the love towards this story fades away as the woman enters his life. The narration changes from being good-to-know to when-do-they-kiss-next. I am surprised with the lack of closures to these stories as you move on to the next because you want to know what led him do an act or what are the consequences of it.

David Szalay compiles nine very interesting men but couldn’t keep the emotional tab on them and so the moment you switch to next chapter; you have already forgotten who is the previous one.


Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series:

The North Water” by Ian McGuire

His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet

The Sellout” by Paul Beatty