Monday, December 26, 2016

Book Review: "1984" by George Orwell

Depressing & thoroughly unsettling. I was not prepared for "1984", it caught me utterly off guard.

I had heard so much about this book before. I had seen the terms "Big Brother" & "Orwellian future" being used countless number of times. I thought I understood what they essentially meant, I thought I knew the gist of what these sayings represented. I was wrong. 

George Orwell's "1984" is, at its core, a political commentary. It is a terrifying depiction of a totalitarian nation-state. A future in which everything that makes a person "human" is stripped off of him. Constant surveillance to the point where even one's thoughts are not private, 95% of the population kept purposefully in extreme poor conditions so that they won't have the time & the energy to think about anything other than mere survival. "The Party", as George Orwell calls it, has policed the language itself, eliminating a lot of words, making it basically impossible to express exactly what one thinks. The act of even thinking something out of line, labelled 'ThoughtCrime', warrants a capital punishment !

In spite of this hopeless picture of the future that George Orwell paints, in spite of this book not being an easy read (it starts out very slowly but picks up in the latter parts), I think "1984" should be read by anyone interested in political fiction. 

It is fascinating how the author has done his world building. The thought process of his protagonist, 'Winston Smith', the inner turmoil that he feels, his helplessness is captured very well. George Orwell has coined some terms which are now basically part of our everyday vocabulary. "Big Brother is watching you" - the eerie slogan that is now associated with extreme Communist regimes was first conceptualized in this book.

But what was George Orwell getting at ? Why such a dark, disturbing tale ? After finishing the book, I couldn't let this go. So I did some digging about George Orwell himself, his own political leanings, his non-fiction essays about twentieth century political scene (he calls himself a 'democratic socialist'). He published "1984" in 1949, when the echoes of World War II were still fresh in people's memories & the stage for cold war was being setup. The totalitarian nation state depicted in "1984" is based on the Nazi Germany's extremism and the 'iron curtain' that Stalin's Communist Russia put on eastern European countries. George Orwell wasn't just pointing out what would happen if an extreme Communist regime took over Europe, but he was also commenting about the abuse of power a complete authoritarian nation state would do. By portraying an extreme situation, "1984" makes you think why "privacy" & "personal freedom - of thought, of choice and of lifestyle" is an essential aspect of humanity & the backbone of any democratic state of affairs.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Book Review: "Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide"

The third and the final ebook based on the material from Pottermore. This one has 19 (very) short stories about anything and everything that is Hogwarts - you will find out more about Hogwart's grounds, different creatures that dwell there, some of its history & of course some of its secrets.

The most intriguing part of the book - a chapter that details how a magical portrait is created and specifically how past headmasters' portraits are created. It is fascinating to see how much thought & attention to detail JKR had put in while creating even the smallest of the things of her fantasy world.

4/5 like the previous two Pottermore ebooks. Potterhead junkies will enjoy it. One downside, leaves you wanting more !

Book Review: "Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists"

The second book of the 'Short Stories from Hogwarts' series continues in the same spirit as the first (review here). And just like the first book, this one also leaves you with a smile on your face and a healthy dollop of nostalgia.

This time around, the focus is on the slightly grey and one downright dark character. Who would have expected a full blown backstory of Dolores Umbridge! JKR has jotted down her thought process about Umbridge's character & how she drew slight inspiration from a real life teacher while developing her demeanor. 

One chapter actually lists all the Ministers for Magic starting from 1707 to present day! Each name is accompanied by a short description. Some are funny with a few tongue-in-cheek-moments. Careful readers of the Harry Potter books (i.e. obsessive fans) won't fail to notice some easter eggs ! 

The best bit of the book is the complete character story of Horace Slughorn, again a definite treat for the fans.

Overall, 4/5. Short read, fun read. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Book Review: "Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies"

Short, to-the-point and sweetly nostalgic! "Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies" is a fun read. It is the first of a 3 book series that gathers all the tidbits of "new" information about the Wizarding World that J. K. Rowling released through the Pottermore portal. 

I could never get into that Pottermore universe much. It felt like one of those obvious cash-grabs, a feeble attempt to keep people hooked-on via a badly designed web interface. But anyhoo, the one good thing to come out of this is the official release of the material that JKR could not include in the books. 

This booklet has fully developed back stories of characters that are not exactly "central" to the Harry Potter plot but are pretty important for the whole story as such. There are stories about Prof. Mcgonagall, Remus Lupin, Sybill Trelawney and a fourth new character. And the best part - these stories are written by JKR herself, no proxy or anything like that - you can tell from the writing - feels like vintage JKR.

All in all, a surprisingly quick read but entertaining nonetheless ! Give it a go. 4/5

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Book Review: 'And Then There Were None' by Agatha Cristie

Boy oh boy, what a book ! "And Then There Were None" is by far one of the best and one of the most engaging mystery novels I have ever read !

A clever murder-mystery plot that keeps you constantly on the edge of your seat, compels you to keep playing 'guess-the-murderer' game and then literally makes your eyes pop & jaw drop as the story unfolds to its perfectly executed conclusion.

I made the mistake of starting this book on a Monday night. Little did I know what I was walking into. Had to literally tear myself away from the book to not miss work the next day. It is surprisingly fast-paced. Characters are well-rounded with no extra frills - just the relevant details. The thriller-movie like atmosphere created in the book adds to the whole sense of panic & mystery.

All in all, a definite 5/5, a great read.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Book Review: 'The Waste Lands - The Dark Tower #3' by Stephen King

The third book in The Dark Tower series, 'The Waste Lands' is no doubt enjoyable with a few spectacularly well crafted story moments, but it is also not without its share of over-the-top plot points with a borderline annoying level of surrealism. 

What has fascinated me about this series is how well it mixes elements of fantasy, horror, science fiction and pure action in a concoction that actually works. The Waste Lands has no shortage of moments where these four different aspects of the story get showcased. The story arc is decently paced and fairly gripping. New and exciting characters are introduced, not to mention a few past characters do also make an appearance. And even though it does drag a bit in the latter half, the conclusion, in typical Stephen King style, is executed very well. 

Overall, I would say 4/5. Miles better than Part 1, but not quite there if compared to Part 2.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Book Review: "Harry Potter And the Cursed Child"

(No Spoilers)

Disappointed. Angry. Betrayed. And finally, just plain sad.

Yes, I know this is a script for a play and not a book;
Yes, I know I shouldn't judge a script by only reading it and not experiencing it's performance on the stage;
Yes, I know that J K Rowling did not write this herself (but she Did approve of the final version written by Jack Thorne);
Yes, I know that with so much hype and expectations, it is being put to unfair and harsh judgments;

But even after anticipating & understanding all of these caveats, even after adjusting expectations & even after giving it benefit of the doubt, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, still felt like a letdown to me.

It started out well. I cruised through the first Act - felt nostalgic and happy, in fact a little exhilarated too to meet our beloved characters - all of them now a bit older, a bit wiser. I was rooting for Albus & Scorpius - our next generation protagonists. But as I continued on, I just couldn't keep up the facade.

I, who used to wait in queue for hours, early morning on the book release day to get my hands on it ;
I, who used to read through the complete book on the release day itself, keeping everything else on hold ; 
I, who used to Not let go of any opportunity to rant about JKR & the Harry Potter universe ; the same me, actually closed this book after the Second Act to "take a break".

That deep connection with the characters, that involvement in the premise of the story never got formed. Characters and their interactions felt dry and unemotional. The story felt drawn out with unnecessary character cameos and laughably ludicrous "twists".

Almost always, JKR has avoided re-using plot devices in her 7 books. For example, Thestrals play a major role in Order of the Phoenix but later on, only a minor mention. Every book would introduce a new Wizarding world plot device, sometimes a new physical location within that universe. But here, many past plot devices are recycled - which frankly feels lazy and a pandering to popular taste. There is an unnecessary number of character cameos - again feels like a cash grab.

To be fair, there are some good points. Scorpius Malfoy's character is developed pretty well. A couple of unexpected twists do make you feel awe-struck. Some nuances of Harry and Albus's father-son relationship are portrayed very well. One can see that the kernel of the story does have some merit. Hence the 2/5 from me.

I would like nothing more than to eat my words later when the play comes out & turns out to be great. I would like nothing more than to really see, to really experience Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, in the same manner that J K Rowling envisioned it and which compelled her to write this story. Because even though this 'script' (not calling it a book anymore) was not what I expected, and even though I think J K Rowling should have stopped at the "Nineteen Years Later" chapter 9 years ago, I still believe that, whether she decides on a follow-up to this story or not, she will Not ruin the Harry Potter universe further.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book Review: "India After Gandhi" by Ramachandra Guha

What makes "India After Gandhi" by Ramachandra Guha an absolute must-read is the beautifully balanced way in which he celebrates the survival & success of democratic India and at the same time acknowledges the numerous shortcomings and the failures we, as a nation, had to endure. 

It is a 900 pages worth of astutely researched, carefully backed piece of work. And despite its size, it leaves you wanting more & believe it or not, actually feels rushed at some places. Ramachandra Guha comes across as a no-bullshit academic historian but still the writing feels so spirited that you can't help but get swept away in the whirlwind of pride, patriotism and sometimes shame, anger and helplessness.

The first 75% of the book is a detailed account of India's journey from the day it became independent till the early 1990s. Guha presents his facts fairly objectively, citing references, sometimes actual excerpts from speeches, sometimes actual text from the Indian Constitution. He doesn't shirk away from talking about all the politically incorrect & not-to-be-discussed-at-a-dinner-table topics. For someone only exposed to carefully doctored & disgustingly selective school-level history text books while growing up and then the extremely partisan & laughably mediocre and sensationalist news in the later years, this no-bars-hold "expose" of Indian history comes across as a breeze of fresh air. Yes, it has the stench of regionalism, of communal & religious riots, of nepotism, of corruption, but it also carries with it the echoes of practicing secularism, of unifying princely states, of industrial, agricultural & service sector revolutions and yes - of winning four Indo-Pak wars. 

The remaining 25% of the book consists of independent essays by Ramachandra Guha about broad topics like 'riots', 'elections' etc. Unfortunately, it is in this portion of the book that Guha gives up the previous objective stance and takes on his semi-socialist, anti-right-wing, nehruvian stance. Nothing wrong with that since he clearly mentions that these essays are his personal opinions. And instead of reading oversimplified "BJP bad, Congress good and I am the best" journalistic views, Ramachandra Guha gives credit when its due. This I like. Anyone would be more willing to read something they don't agree with wholly if the writer is brave enough to also openly acknowledge the lack of a clear  black and white. Yes, the book has a certain pro-Nehru tone, but I felt the majority of the book is fairly objective.

So do go ahead and give "India After Gandhi" a read. 
Neither is there an over-emphasize on India's poverty to garner western attention nor is there a one-sided sing-song praise of the Indian State.
Neither is there a sugar-coating of our religious, communal, linguistic conflicts nor is there a glorified account of our solidarity, unity & harmony.

All in all, 5/5 from me.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Book Review: 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' by Philip K. Dick

I found "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" to be one of the most riveting pieces of science fiction storytelling. Granted it has some flaws but the way it has juxtaposed numerous (and scarily believable) science fiction ideas with the question of 'what is empathy & what it means to be human' is; simply put; amazing.

The story paints a very dark & depressing future for the Earth and mankind. It is a future where almost all humans have emigrated to Mars because of after effects of a global war and some of the surviving humans on Earth are suffering from horrible radioactive abnormalities. It is a future where a multitude of animal & bird species have become extinct and where artificial intelligent beings with an organic human exoskeleton or 'the androids' are amongst us. 'Rick Deckard', the protagonist, is tasked with 'retiring' i.e. killing six 'rogue' androids which have escaped from Mars colonies to Earth.

Even though the premise is essentially an action story, Philip K. Dick (PKD) has woven elements of philosophy & identity crisis very beautifully. A number of future contraptions/concepts described in the book seem like something the future human generations will build, but at the same time these 'devices' are used as a great metaphor to our thought process and how we perceive ourselves and our place in this world. A collective empathy based pseudo religion (PKD calls it 'Mercerism') seems like a scary not-too-distant future considering the effect social networks have on our moods & emotions even today.

That being said, I do feel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" loses steam in some of its plot-points. Some things feel rushed while other things get introduced and they don't really amount to anything in the whole scheme of things. But these complaints are few & to me it did not reduce the quality of the book. Similar to PKD's other work, this story also has a trippy, hallucinatory undertone at a couple of places. 

All in all, a must-read if you are into science fiction - 5/5 from me.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Book Review "तेंडूलकरांच्या निवडक कथा"

विजय  तेंडूलकरांच्या २५-३० वर्ष्यांच्या दैदिप्यमान कारकिर्दी मधल्या वेगवेगळ्या ठिकाणी प्रकाशित होऊन गेलेल्या आणि १-२ नवीन लिहिलेल्या कथांचा संग्रह म्हणजे "तेंडूलकरांच्या निवडक कथा".

भाषेची सहजता हे त्यांच्या लिखाणाच वैशिष्ट्य, पण या सहजसुंदर, प्रसंगी रोखठोक भाषेमध्ये सुद्धा अंतर्मुख करून सोडणारी आणि मनावर एक खोलवर ठसा उमटवणारी तेंडुलकरांची प्रतिभा या साहित्य कलाकृतीत पुरेपूर दिसून येते. कथेतली पात्र हि जिवंत आणि खरी तर वाटतातच पण त्यांचा संघर्ष, चलबिचल आणि कधी कधी मानलेली हार हि मनाला घर करून जाते.

तत्कालीन समाजव्यवस्थे बद्दलचे, स्त्री-पुरुष भेदभावा बद्दलचे आणि सर्वसाधारण ढोंगी धर्मकांडा बद्दलचे संवेदनशील निरक्षण आणि प्रसंगी काहीच न करता आल्यामुळे होणारी पोटतिडीक आणि तडफड हि कथांमध्ये विलक्षण पद्धतीने मांडलेली आहे. विशेष लक्षात राहणाऱ्या कथा म्हणजे 'चौऱ्हात्तर पावसाळ्यांचा जमाखर्च', 'गाणे' आणि 'मित्रा'.

मानवी गुंतागुंतीकडे पाहण्याचा तेंडूलकरांचा आस्थेवाईक दृष्टीकोन, कमालीची अकृत्रिम भाषा आणि मार्मिक व्यक्तिचित्रण, 'निवडक कथा'नसाठी खरोखर ५/५च योग्य !

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Book Review: 'The Drawing of the Three - The Dark Tower #2' by Stephen King

Oh boy, how glad I am that I didn't give up on The Dark Tower series after the not-so-great first book (review here), because the second book, 'The Drawing of the Three', is an intense, fast-paced & a totally riveting piece of storytelling!

The many question marks and the constant surrealism of the first book is replaced by a set of wonderfully crafted new characters, an action packed prose & a sinister vibe overall that paints the mystical Dark Tower into something epic.

The story picks up immediately where the first book left off & Roland, completely exhausted and sleepy, is forced to confront the new horrors of his world that 'has moved on'. He is faced with three literal physical doors - each of them leading into 'our' world - one into 1980s New York City, the others into 1960s New York City. This intriguing idea flourishes into an action-packed drama & makes you think about what the word salvation would mean to you.

All in all, 5/5. Just go for it.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Book Review: 'The Gunslinger - The Dark Tower #1' by Stephen King

Dreamy, weird & insanely surreal - "The Gunslinger" - the first book in the Dark Tower series - is not an easy pill to swallow. This is one part fantasy, one part wild wild west, one part horror and if that is not enough - one part science fiction as well!

Don't get me wrong, I am sufficiently hooked on now that I will read the next book in the series. And judging by the overall tone of the other reviews online, it seems like the series is supposed to get better - but reading the Gunslinger sometimes becomes downright confusing & even frustrating to be honest.

I am usually a big fan of hidden symbolism & a plot that purposefully keeps details fuzzy - I thrive on the stories where theorizing, scrutinizing for clues, hints & general obsessing over the details is encouraged. However there should be enough breadcrumbs spread out - to at least keep the reader involved. Too many unanswered questions & a total lack of definitive plot details would just sway the reader in a wrong direction.

Luckily though, the last quarter of the book picks up pretty good & by the time the story finishes, quite a few interesting riddles have been setup. I think I should just look at this whole book as a prologue per-say. If you persist & do finish the book then I guarantee that you would be more than involved and highly intrigued by the world created by Stephen King & you definitely want to know more.

In summary, 3/5 if you enjoy fantasy with a dash of science fiction. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Book Review: 'Dongri to Dubai' by S. Hussain Zaidi

Should a Non-fiction book about Mafia be a factual, textbook-ish, non-judgmental piece of writing or should it have a moral lesson that paints the gory, bloody side of the criminal life & highlights the ill effects, the illegality and the moral turpitude of the mobsters ? 

In my opinion, the second option is better - but there is absolutely nothing wrong in going with the first.

What a Non-fiction book about Mafia should Not do is glorification of the criminals, the romanticization of the power that life of crime brings and to Not cater to the morbid fascination of violence, gang-war, police shootings etc. 

And doing exactly that, I believe, is inexcusable!
It is because of this, in my opinion, that Dongri to Dubai by S. Hussain Zaidi fails miserably.

It is a dizzyingly fast paced thriller-ride that chronicles the Mumbai mafia starting right from 1948 - immediately after the Indian Independence - upto 2011-2012. It covers the criminal life of about 15 to 20 infamous Mumbai mafia dons - starting from Haji Mastan, Karim Lala, Varadrajan Mudaliar to Bada Rajan, Chotta Rajan, Chotta Shakeel, Abu Salem, Manya Surve, Arun Gawli, Maya Dolas and of course the big D - Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar.

About 75% of the book is devoted to Dawood. His rise from a poor family with 11 siblings and a respectable cop father to a street thug - then to a Police pawn - and finally to the numero uno of Mumbai underworld. Dawood's gang wars with the Pathan gang in the 80s, the Arun Gawli & Rama Naik gang in the 90s & then after his fallout with Chotta Rajan, the subsequent feud with him. 

It is a tale of violence, backstabbing, racketeering, corruption, drug syndicates, police shootouts, police encounters, corrupt politicians, Bollywood celebrities embroiled in the crime circle & a jaw-dropping insane amount of money that finances & fuels this all!

On the purely informational & journalistic front, the book deserves straight 5/5 stars. 
How the changing political and economic landscape of the country (like the liquor prohibition, the emergency, the lifting of trade restrictions by Prime Minister PV Rao) shaped the Mumbai crime scene, how & why young people from poorer neighborhoods like Dongri would prefer taking a life threatening risk for 10,000 Rupees is explained pretty well.

You feel livid after learning about the rampant corruption in Maharashtra politicians, in country-wide politicians in fact, the many opportunities to nab Dawood gone wasted.
One of the most infuriating story in the book is that during a gang-war related shootout by Dawood's men in Mumbai's JJ Hospital, they literally used a politician's "laal-batti" ambassador to escape! The name of the politician is an open secret - but still the complex nexus of corruption & money has swept everything under the rug!

However, even an iota of glorification of crime, even a subtle hint, in a purely non-fictional book is not good. Dongri to Dubai actually goes one step further. There is a sizable portion of the book devoted to supposedly convincing the reader how Dawood had no knowledge of 1993 Mumbai blasts & how he only provided logistical support. Seriously ? Dawood Ibrahim, a person who was on Forbes's most powerful people in the World list, a list that had Obama, Dalai Lama & Steve Jobs, had no idea why he was providing logistical support to land hundreds of kgs of explosives on Konkan coast ? No sane person would buy this reasoning.

The book mentions in gory details all the gang-war related shootouts - but the innocent people who lost their lives in the process deserve no more than a mere mention. Why should I, the reader, be expected to feel sorry for the gangsters who had to flee their homes & whatever country they were currently residing in, when their rival gangsters finally caught up with their hideouts ? 

These gangsters have orchestrated such a great deal of pain & suffering on Mumbaikars, repeatedly trapping naive youth from poorer neighborhoods to take life threatening risks and after mentioning all of this in a passing, the author wastes no time in saying how genius this plan of "recruiting" new gang members was. Yes - it was a genius plan - but an 'evil, deserves-to-be-punished-by-law-evil genius' & you can't jut call it "genius" and stop there, you have to point out how it destroyed innocent lives !

Anyway, I am giving the book three stars. Thumbs up for collating 60 years' worth of history of mafia, police, shady Bollywood & corrupt politicians. But a big thumbs down for the wrong overall tone of the book.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Book Review: 'Dune' by Frank Herbert

Did I find Dune immensely entertaining - definitely yes.
Did I find its commentary on politics, faith, organized religion & symbolism to cold war political gridlock profound & thought provoking - definitely no.

Dune is an 800 pages worth of action-packed story line, intriguing, multi-dimensional characters, quite a few interesting science fiction concepts and a fair bit of symbolism.

About 20,000 years in the future when this story takes place, human civilization is a multi-layered, socio-political structure. There are royal houses vying with each other for controlling various human-habitable planets (sort of like Game of Thrones in space), there is a matriarchal group wishing to engineer human species via controlled breeding and an independent organization that has sole monopoly over space travel. All of these entities, which are always at political odds with each other are kept at bay by a central ruler/arbiter, who is called an emperor.

And then, there is the desert planet "Arrakis" or Dune! It is the sole place in the entire universe where humans have found "melange" - a special "spice" that drives light-speed space travel, limited prescience & even enhances biological processes.

If all of this sounds like a Hollywood action movie or an HBO drama on a fat budget, then that is exactly what Dune is. 
Fun, action-fueled entertainment.

However, if you go by the online reviews and dive into the book looking for a philosophical discussion about organized religion & intricacies of politics & faith, then I guarantee you that you will be disappointed as I was.
Granted that there are some thought-provoking discussions about extremism and using religion to mobilize a people, but I feel, the book tries too hard to sell itself as something it is just not.

All the obviously middle eastern sounding names, the similarity that anyone can draw between the special substance "melange" with 20th century oil crisis is sort of off-putting. And I feel, for a story which is essentially about good science fiction action-drama, all the political undertones, frankly, seem unnecessary.

All in all, a strong thumbs up with adjusted expectations.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train is a decently paced, entertaining & an adequately well crafted thriller. 

The first person storytelling where the principal narrator is an unlikeable human being; someone who makes your insides squirm & yet makes you root for them - is difficult to pull off and I think this book has managed to do that fairly well.

The premise is different and original - a depressed, alcoholic woman - who on her way to work via train everyday - likes to watch and obsess over a seemingly perfect couple living close to the train tracks - doing their household, routine things. The story starts from this innocuous fascination of this woman with the couple.

But then again, it becomes too messy and melodramatic after a while. You sort of figure out who the killer is and the characters take such an unnecessarily long & winded path to get to the conclusion that you wish there was a way to fast-forward the whole thing. To be honest, even though the mystery is good - I found the execution of the ending just meh.

In trying to make every character a complex, hot mess, some of them have actually turned out to be pathetic & pitiable.

Overall, I would give it a 3/5. 
Give it a try with realistic expectations and turning a blind eye to all the hype (this was apparently rated as one of top books of 2015).

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Book Review: 'The Man in the High Castle' by Philip K. Dick

Insanely entertaining, cleverly written & an intriguing piece of storytelling by Philip K Dick. 

The Man in the High Castle (TMITHC) falls under the category of alternative history fiction. But it is so much more than just the action and the drama that the characters in Dick's alternate version of the world go through. It is a profound commentary on the meaning and essence of a person's identity.

It's the 1960s. The Axis powers - Germany and Japan - have won the Second World War. Between the two, they basically control the world. The United States is split between 3 regions - everything east of Mississippi river is governed by the Nazi Germany (called the United States of America), the west coast is governed by Imperial Japan (called the Pacific States of America) and the middle states act as a buffer between the two 'countries'.

The story is told from the point of view of 6 or 7 people - living in the Japan controlled San Francisco. They are not 'heroes', they are everyday people - people who live and have no choice but to accept the world they live in - the world in which slavery is still legal, the world in which Jews are still being prosecuted.

The story adds an additional 'meta' level when in this alternate history, there is a famous  book - which talks about what would have happened had the Allies won the war. All the characters are reading, interpreting and philosophizing about this 'what-would-have-been'  scenario ! 

No matter how much it may appear so, the book is not "action-packed" - in the traditional sense. The point of the book is not to construct a dramatic action-fueled, gun-slinging heroes, but to point out how a person's psyche accepts the world around them. how it shapes their values, their fears, their joys. The characters ruminate about their choices, their day to day actions and the world around them in general. 
In fact, fair warning, at places the story becomes really trippy, borderline hallucinatory. And that is the beauty of the book!

The author points out, very astutely I must add, the racial and ethnic prejudices that we all have. The cross cultural miscommunication is depicted very well. It is interesting to see how peoples' sense of self and identity could be sculpted and influenced by history. 

In summary, a solid 4/5. Recommended.