Last Man in Tower

…by Aravind Adiga.

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Vishram Society, Vakola. The site sought after by builder Dharmen Shah to demolish and rebuild a new development in its place. The residents of both Tower A and B are given an offer for their flats. Given that Vishram society is falling to pieces, most of the residents are more than happy to sign the contract, get the money and find a new and more stable place. Except for one man.Yogesh Murthy of Tower A. A retired teacher also known as Masterji to his neighbours. What initially begins as a way of sticking up for friends eventually results in him taking a stance for exercising ones freedom and rights to keeping ones roots. However, Masterji’s stance soon sees him making enemies and those people he thought of as neighbours and friends can no longer be trusted. There is Mrs Puri who longs for a new life after 18 years of penance looking after her disabled son Ramu. There is the building secretary, Mr Kothari who longs to live in Sewri watching flamingos and reliving what his father lost. There is the scheming broker Ajwani who will do almost anything to make more money. And the cyber-cafe owner Ibrahim Kudwa who thinks more money would mean a better life for his family and who is always looking to please everyone. Then there is Mrs Rego, a single mother and social worker who is envious of her sister’s life. And the Pintos who were very good friends with Masterji but have troubles of their own. Finally, can Masterji trust his own son Gaurav who seems to have grown all the more distant since the death of Masterji’s wife Purnima a year ago?

How far will people go to get what they want?

Will one man be enough to stand up against corruption in society?

And what makes a person good or bad?

To know all these, you have to read the book.

I thought this was an interesting book. It took a little while to warm up but then picked up really well. It really makes you question humanity in general particularly the lengths that people can go to when they are desperate. It also makes you question issues around good versus bad and whether deep down some people are evil or whether circumstances make them that way. Adiga delves into the corruption that is rife in Indian society and how sometimes it is a struggle for one man alone to fight the system. Especially when the system is bought by the corrupt and rich few. I found all the characters interesting and intriguing, each with their own background stories and morals. Some of them I must admit, reminded me of people I’ve encountered over the years. Mrs Puri in particular was one of those characters most people might have encountered — a martyr of sorts but a hypocrite at other times. Your regular nosey neighbour.

I’d picked up the book ages ago because my maternal grandparents lived in Vakola and it was an area I’d frequented for years. It definitely brought back memories of the area and well, of Bombay in general. Bombay — the city of dreams. But also, the city that can make or break you.

In short, I really liked this book. Even more than the one that won the Booker Prize! I give it a rating of 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This post first appeared on my personal blog

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Gifted

…by Nikita Lalwani.

14 year old Rumi Vasi is a maths prodigy. Living in Cardiff in the 1980s with her parents Mahesh and Shreene and her younger brother Nibu, she faces the challenges that most children of migrant parents do: caught between two worlds. Rumi though has the added pressure of being gifted in maths and consequently, has been pressured to do well academically since a young age by her parents. After years of putting up with her father’s regimented tutoring, Rumi finally begins to crack. She starts to long what most teenagers do: a life beyond numbers and academics. But unfortunately for her, longing and desire have no place in the Vasi household.

I really enjoyed this book. My heart went out to poor Rumi who had to put up with the pressures of parental expectations and being a first generation migrant. She tries to find herself and her own identity without much help from her family. A father who is rigid and aloof and whose only role is to push Rumi to succeed acadenically on all accounts is probably not uncommon in Indian households. Shreene though was an interesting character in that she is traditional and a prude and yet, at some level, you wonder whether she wanted Rumi at all. She pushes too but it’s her punishments and cruel words that cut through you as a reader. What I liked about the book was that unlike other books by Indian authors that portray the west as being negative or that the rebellious Indian girl eventually finds that all things Indian are the only right things in life, this was balanced. Yes, the parents are deeply rooted in Indian tradition and see the west as being a negative influence. But Rumi…while she enjoys Bollywood and feels a connection with India, also seems to realise that independence and a life of one’s own is just as important. I think because I see a lot of clients like Rumi, I was able to identify with her a whole lot more. And kept rooting for her. Nikita Lalwani has done a wonderful job in portraying her characters as well as unveiling the story.

It’s the kind of book I would have loved to write. My rating: 4

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

***This review originally appeared on my personal blog***

Sisters of Mercy

…by Caroline Overington.

Snow Delaney is in prison. And from prison, she communicates with journalist Jack Fawcett who followed her case as she thinks he was biased. Snow was born miles away and years apart from her sister Agnes. A sister whose existence she didn’t know about until her father’s death where Snow finds out that she is not the only beneficiary to her father’s large estate. Agnes though is now missing. A day after she visited Snow and possibly having disappeared in the red dust that blanketed Sydney on 23rd September 2009. As Snow protests her innocence through her letters to Jack, his research just might reveal something more than what Snow tells.

Is Snow responsible for the disappearance of her sister?

Why is Snow in prison?

Has she been unfairly judged? 

Was it trial by media or did she get a fair trial? 

To answer some of these questions, you need to read the book.

This book was a bit different from most books in that while it started with the premise of Agnes’ disappearance, it takes us to a whole different level in terms of Snow’s actions that lead her to be arrested. The chapters are in the form of letters from Snow and Jack’s own research. The truth in the end, is to the reader’s discretion based on all the information provided. Overington once again explores social issues including disabilities and foster care in our society. She also explores how the media can sometimes be quick to judge someone and how they possibly exaggerate stories. And yet, amidst all this, we, the bystanders, need to come to our own conclusions. The ending is probably not what you expect and leaves you wanting more. Initially I was a bit stunned at the way it ended — I felt like I didn’t have closure. But as I sat back and thought about it, I felt like it did its job. It’s not a fluke that Caroline Overington is one of my favourite Australian authors. I like her style of writing and her themes. There were several instances while reading I had to remind myself that it was a piece of fiction…because it felt so real! And any author who manages to do that is great at their craft.

My rating is 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This review was originally posted on my personal blog.  

Mockingjay

…by Suzanne Collins.

This is the third and final book of the Hunger Games trilogy. {Read the first and second book reviews}. Following the destruction of District 12 and the loss of many lives, Katniss wakes up to find herself in District 13. Along with Gale, her mother, her sister Prim and a few other survivors. Unfortunately for Katniss, Peeta has been captured by President Snow as has Johanna. And they now face Snow’s wrath. In the mean time, the rebels along with Coin, the leader of District 13, now want to unite the rest of the districts to usurp the Capitol. And for that, they need Katniss. She is the Mockingjay. The symbol of the rebellion. As Katniss proceeds to fight, she also has to deal with a Peeta who has been brainwashed against her as well as not knowing whom to trust. The rebels are united in their cause but how many lives are Coin and the others willing to sacrifice?

The final book is about the final fight. The fight for freedom and overthrowing a dictatorship. Katniss’ character grows a bit but Prim’s character develops more to the point where you wish you could read a lot more about her. The ending is pretty gut-wrenching and Katniss finally makes her decision with the whole Peeta-versus-Gale issue. Several lives are lost but except for two lives, none of the others affected me too much. There were some parts in the book where I admit I skim-read. Because the fights and the lack of trust were just getting a bit too much for me. It’s not a bad book in that it completes the story for you {especially if you want to know what happens on starting the trilogy!} But it’s nothing spectacular. I find it hard not to compare it to Harry Potter where the final fight scene is so brilliantly penned. I know it’s not justified but based on that, it doesn’t live up to my expectations. I give it a rating of 3.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This review was originally posted on my personal blog.

Catching Fire

…by Suzanne Collins.

This is the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Please read my review of the first book if you wish prior to this one. In ‘Catching Fire’, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark have emerged as victors but Katniss has done something no one ever did before. And for this, she faces the wrath of President Snow. Some of the districts have begun to rebel against the Capitol thanks to Katniss’ stance during the Hunger Games. This also happens to be the 75th year of the Hunger Games. And this time around, there is a twist. The only people eligible for this year’s games are the previous winners. Which in District 12 leaves Katniss as the only girl tribute and Haymitch and Peeta to be chosen as the male tribute. Katniss is back in the arena with past winners and Peeta and this time, is fighting to keep Peeta alive. In the arena, Katniss doesn’t know who an ally is and who isn’t. But at the same time, she tries to trust Finnick and Mags from District 4. Amidst all this, she also tries to sort out her feelings for Gale and Peeta.

The second book, while thrilling in its own way, didn’t have the suspense and the feel of the first one. Having said that, it was still interesting in its own way. I got a bit frustrated with the whole Gale-versus-Peeta issue. Especially as it reminded me of another book that I couldn’t get past 7 chapters. {Twilight} Thankfully though, Katniss has more brains and brawn than Bella of Twilight. I doubt I could have read this book otherwise. I must admit, I like Katniss and Peeta but they don’t do as much for me as the characters from Harry Potter. It’s still an interesting book to read for the thrill of it and of course, to read as part of the trilogy.

My rating for the second book in the trilogy is 3.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This review was originally posted on my personal blog.

The Hunger Games

…by Suzanne Collins.

16 year old Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 with her mother and younger sister Prim, aged 12. Katniss’ father died in a mining accident and since his death, she has been the provider for her little family. Along with her best friend Gale, she hunts for food. Katniss and others who live in the Seam area of District 12 are always struggling for food. Thanks to the Capitol that governs all the districts around it.

Yet another initiative by the Capitol is the Hunger Games. Every child from 12 to 18 from each of the districts has to put in their name to participate. And who gets chosen is purely by chance: picking a name out of the hat. 12 boys and 12 girls are then put in an arena and have to fight it out till there is only one remaining. In other words, 23 other children must be killed for one to be declared a victor. And the victor’s district then gets food for a year. When Katniss volunteers herself in place of her sister, she knows it is a matter of life and death. She also knows in order to win, she will not only have to kill children from other districts but also the boy from her own, Peeta. Peeta who was once so kind to Katniss that she still owes him.

I must admit that I was very sceptical about reading The Hunger Games when I heard about it several months ago. The concept of kids needing to kill other kids in order to survive was something I didn’t morally agree with. Eventually though, I caved and got the book after being recommended to read it by someone at my book club. I finished this book in 2 days. Yes, it was that fast paced! I must say I enjoyed most of it and was glad that the killings were not elaborated in a morbid manner and that the violence was not completely gratuitous. Yes, it was disturbing but I think the author handled the concept of the children seemingly having no choice thanks to their government quite well. It’s like a reality TV show that is grotesque. There were occasions when I found myself musing that in real life, this is probably what reality shows could honestly stoop to.

I quite liked Katniss’ character. The fact that the protagonist is a girl and a strong one at that made me feel quite pleased. {Especially when you think about Twilight’s female lead being one I wanted to smack on the head}. The actual games had a feel of the Triwizard Tournament for me initially. Of course, they didn’t have to kill anyone there to win! In the end though, I think the fact that Katniss and a few other children were not killing each other without having doubts of doing it probably saved it as well for me. If it had all been cold-blooded killing, I think I would have been put off it completely. All in all, it’s a good fantasy read and quick-paced. Just don’t compare it to Harry Potter though. 😉

My rating for this book is 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This review was originally posted on my personal blog.

The Happiest Refugee

…by Anh Do.

Australian comedian Anh Do nearly didn’t make it to Australia. Born in Vietnam, Anh left with his family as a toddler on a boat. To some place. Met by pirates on the way and a treacherous journey altogether, they eventually got accepted as refugees to Australia. Anh talks about the initial good times the whole family had despite struggling with finances. His parents went on to get divorced. After their father walked out on them, Anh and his siblings Khoa and Tram lived with their mother who sewed to try and make ends meet. Anh and his brother had a part-scholarship to study at St. Aloysius College at Milson’s Point but the financial pressures were at the back of his mind. He also describes his post-school years and his journey through university and TAFE and meeting the love of his life Suzie at uni. And of course, how he became a comedian and his journey till now.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while. And I’m so glad I did. I like Anh Do as a comedian. And it was interesting to read his journey from a toddler till today. It was a heart warming read about the struggles he and his family went through as refugees and how they saw the silver lining in most things and made the best that they could with what they had. Most importantly, given the brouhaha we have been having here lately about ‘boat-people’, Anh’s story is a great reminder of how the stupid right-wing people are so black-and-white about their views of refugees. Or ‘boat-people’ as they like to call them. It also gives somewhat of an insight as to why someone would want to make the dangerous journey on a boat to another country. It is also lovely to see how the family embraced Australia and love the country. I identified with the love for Australia being an immigrant myself {albeit, not a refugee}.

I found myself laughing out loud in several places and crying silent tears in some others. Both of happiness and sorrow. I’ll leave you with some excerpts from the book before rating it:

Talking about his girlfriend Amanda:

Amanda also had one other problem that wasn’t technically a relationship breaker, but definitely something that was a little bit odd. She couldn’t say ‘Vietnamese’. She would say Viet-man-nese, over and over again.

‘It’s not that hard’, I told her. ‘Sound it out: Viet-na-mese.’

‘VIET-MAN-NESE.’

‘Viet-man-nese? What the hell is that? Like some refugee superhero or something? I am Viet-Man! I will fly over to your house and save your dinner with the softest hot bread rolls.’

On the journey by boat:

There was nothing but flat, blue water in every direction. The heat of the tropical afternoon sun clung to our skin and shoulders, and people tried to shield their eyes from the glare as the boat skidded along the frothy wave.

All in all, Anh shows us how fortunate he is to be where his life is at currently. And that resonated deeply with me. We forget all the things we have in this lovely country. We whinge and complain about everything without realising all the benefits we have. Like Anh Do, I know how lucky I am to be here.

And that’s what I loved about this book. I give it a rating of 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This post originally appeared on my personal blog, Over Cups of Coffee.