Monday, September 25, 2017

Book Review: "Jaya" by Devdutt Pattanaik

I have seen roughly two types of Mahabharata books - the ones aimed at telling the story and the ones which don't focus on just the storytelling aspect of it but also on analyzing, theorizing and interpreting the Mahabharata text. Obviously the books which fall into the second category are way more interesting than the first ones.

Having said that, I felt that "Jaya" by Devdutt Pattanaik was neither here nor there. This isn't necessarily a bad thing mind you. Its just that, one gets the feeling that the author "holds back" or rather "dials down" on the interpretive aspects and chooses to go down the "tell it as it is" path. Still a damn fine book though, but can't help but wonder if it could have been a great one...

More specifically though, "Jaya" is definitely crisp, to-the-point, fast-paced and yet sufficiently detailed. Some of the footnotes and illustrations are astutely done. My favorite parts of the book are the regional variations & folk retellings of the well-known stories - many of them I had never heard of before. Very interesting.

To sum it up, "Jaya" gets a well deserved 4/5 in my view. 
Reading any book about Mahabharata never gets boring. Reading a good book about Mahabharata, a reader can't ask for much more.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book Review: "DayTripper" by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá.

I dig comics and graphic novels. So when "DayTripper" showed up as a Goodreads recommendation to me a few days ago, I picked it up without any hesitation. But boy oh boy, was I utterly unprepared for it !

One doesn't expect a graphic novel to tell a story with 'death' as its pivotal theme, to leave a lasting impact without doing any emotional manipulation and also have a beautiful imagery that blends effortlessly with the narrative. "DayTripper" does all of this and so much more. Even with the subject of 'death' being an integral part, it still manages to paint everyday life as something immensely valuable and worth pursuing.

"DayTripper" is a graphic novel by Brazilian twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. The protagonist of the story, "Brás de Oliva Domingos" writes people's obituaries as his day-job and spends rest of his time dreaming about being a successful writer.

I kid you not, but the story that starts with a fairly mundane premise as this does not have a single cliche in it. Just go for it.

A definite 5/5.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review: "Forty Stories" by Anton Chekhov

This was my first Chekhov book and I can't remember the last time I was so deeply moved by a short story collection. 

Forty Stories is a great read, Chekhov's acute observations of the human spirit, the beautifully portrayed 19th century Russian countryside and the gut-wrenching emotional turmoil of his characters leaves a lasting impact. 

In my mind, the first few stories didn't really seem that captivating and were somewhat off-putting but the last few stories more than made up for it. By the time I turned the last page of the book, I felt awestruck by Chekhov's ability to paint vivid and lasting images of his characters. Even though the stories are over 130 years old, each and every character feels hauntingly real and each story reminds us of the intricacies of human personalities.

All in all, 4/5, a great read indeed.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Book Review: "Dark Matter" by Blake Crouch

"Dark Matter" by Blake Crouch feels like the book equivalent of a sure-shot, crowd-pleasing Marvel superhero movie. This isn't necessarily a bad thing mind you. The book is fast paced, action packed and entertaining. It falls under the category of "Science Fiction" - though I would say it is less "science" and more "fiction".

The premise of the book is based on the fairly well-known multiverse theory. So even though the science becomes outlandish after a while, the core of the story is good enough to pull it through. As for the characters, there is an underdog, easy-to-root-for protagonist, his love interest and a well defined crisp antagonist, completing the holy trinity that make a like-able story. And even with these basic ingredients, the book as a whole actually works ! It works as a perfect weekend read, it works as a perfectly adequate mindless thriller/action story, without getting too deep or philosophical.

Overall, a definite 4/5 from me. Fun and fast story without pretensions.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Book Review: "India Unbound" by Gurcharan Das

"India Unbound" by Gurcharan Das is definitely an informative and eye-opening read for someone interested in understanding how the economic landscape of contemporary India came about, why and how the 1991 financial reforms matter.

Gurcharan Das writes with enthusiasm and verve, his passion for classic liberalism, his arguments for minimal government intervention and the detailed point-by-point analysis of 1991 financial reforms is fascinating to read. The incalculable and irreversible harm that was done by extreme socialist policies is captured very well in a chapter called "The Lost Generation". I think every working class Indian needs to read that.

But this book is by no means perfect. For one, it glosses over and sometimes conveniently skips the political & social upheavals that we as a nation were going through that made economic development difficult. Two, the writer prefers to demonize socialism and state-run industrialism fervently but that system did give us some semblance of economic backbone and it is unfair to completely disregard that.

The book explains using real life examples why promoting monopolistic public sector and discouraging private enterprise and discouraging competition in general was bad for literally every single Indian - most importantly the population below poverty line. We preferred socialism over capitalism thinking that it will help the population below poverty line but state-controlled socialistic policies only introduced more controls, more corruption and kept poor people poor. The book points out that what finally seems to have helped (at least based on the evidence of last 25 years) is opening up of the economy, allowing foreign investment and recognizing the importance of investing in education.

In the end, I have mixed feelings about India Unbound.
Is it a must read ? Definitely yes.
Is it an analytical and backed-by-evidence dissection of the Indian economic scene ? Definitely no. Is the writing heartfelt, passionate and sweeps you over ? Yes. But is the book objective and encompasses various orthogonal reasons for India's economic state ? No.
Overall, 3/5 from me.