The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Meet Renee (or Madame Michel as she is also known), the concierge at Number 7, Rue de Grenelle. Only she is not your typical concierge. Behind the mask of an average telly-loving, couch-sitting, frumpy looking concierge, Renee in fact has a love of reading philosophy, enjoying art in its various forms and taking pleasure in some of the finer aspects of culture. She is way more knowledgeable than her rich Parisian employers at 7 Rue de Grenelle. She is the hedgehog.

On the outside, she’s covered in quills……on the inside, she has the same simple refinement of the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary – and terribly elegant. (pg. 139)

Also living at 7 Rue de Grenelle is 12 year old Paloma Josse. Paloma is an extremely intelligent girl who despises her bourgeois family and neighbours — her politician father, her mother who thinks psychoanalysis is the answer to her troubles, her older sister Colombe who is flighty and arrogant. Paloma has a plan to avoid the future she thinks is pretty much set out for her. By planning to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. And in the process setting fire to the apartment.

However, both their lives are changed by the arrival of a newcomer to the building. Monsieur Kakuro Ozu.

In order to find out how, you need to read the book.

It’s an engaging book that looks at philosophy and poses interesting philosophical questions, into people’s behaviours and attitudes, the class discrimination that exists and most importantly, delves into the characters of Renee and Paloma. It’s not necessarily a book about a basic plot or story but rather about life in general through the eyes of two main characters. The story seems to occur around the characters (if that makes sense). There are several profound statements and thoughts, particularly in the form of Paloma’s journal on profound thoughts. And there is a search for Beauty in life. There are moments that make you smile, some that make you chuckle and some that make you cry.

Here are just a couple of examples of the lines that I found meaningful:

If you want to heal

Heal others

And smile or weep

At this happy reversal of fate (pg 286)

Our eyes may perceive, yet they do not observe; they may believe, yet they do not question; they may receive, yet they do not search: they are emptied of desire, with neither hunger nor passion. (pg 300)

The book has been translated from French into English. And yet, the language is beautiful. It’s definitely a work of literature. The book can leave you with this heavy feeling in your heart but also with the thought that there is beauty in this world we live in. No matter how cruel. No matter how fake. No matter how cynical. No matter how discriminatory. There is still beauty. You just have to know where to find it.

I would give it a rating of 5 and would highly recommend you read it.

Until next time,



The Unbearable Lightness of Being

…by Milan Kundera.Set in Prague, this is a story about Tomas, Tereza, Sabina and Franz – how their lives are intertwined in the sphere of marriage and extra marital affairs. Tomas, married with a kid, divorces his wife and moves on to live a life in which he decides to have only casual relationships with no commitments. Things change when he meets Teresa, with whom he falls in love. Even though they get married, Tomas doesn’t give up his world of casual relationships; Teresa puts up with his infidelity. Sabina, an artist, is Tomas’ long-term mistress and Franz, an intellectual, is a married man who also has an affair with Sabina. That’s the story on the whole; with layers of philosophical notions here and there that makes the reader’s think.

I seldom start reading a book expecting too much. For some reason, I did with this one – not that I read any amazing review, or that I’ve read the author before to admire his work, or that I read the synopsis of the story and was blown away – but I picked up the book with great expectations, and must admit wasn’t really satisfied. As far as a plot for the novel goes, the story didn’t have a lot of energy. Yes, it made me think; yes, it made me wonder; but the plot dissolved after the first half. The first few of sections were very well crafted (especially the part on “Words Misunderstood”, my personal favorite, which I would go back to read over and over) for they made me muse about life, love and all that from a philosophical point of view. But that was it for me. The rest of the book seemed to be too much of a drag with each character drowning in the depths of his/her emotional baggage. It seemed more like reading essays about philosophy, politics and such put together rather than reading a novel. Maybe I just haven’t reached that level to be able to interpret the depths of the characters here, but whatever it is, I didn’t really enjoy reading the whole book.

On a positive note, this is a great book if you are looking for something thought provoking. It is, for parts, skillfully written that it will make the reader stop and ponder. The prose style is amazing. That was one thing that kept me going after the first few parts…it flows well enough to keep the reader engaged. As far as the writing is concerned, I would definitely pick up another book of the author’s without second thoughts.

Overall, while it is intellectually stimulating, it failed in other aspects to impress me. I would recommend it if you are looking for philosophical musings, but do not expect a strong organized storyline.

My rating: 3*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

The Angel’s Game

The Angel’s Game

…by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.Set in the early 1900 Barcelona, this story introduces us to the narrator, David Martin, who works at a local newspaper and aspires to be a writer someday. David gets an opportunity to write a story for a newspaper under a pen name, and thus signs a contract with the publishers of the paper. Few years down the line, David realizes that the kind of story that he writes for the paper is not what he really enjoys doing, and then enters a mysterious foreign publisher, Andreas Corelli, who offers David a chance to write a book under his own name in exchange for a big sum of money. The catch? – David has to write a book that will help create a new religion. Intrigued, yet unsure, David doesn’t take up Corelli’s offer right away, but when things in his life start going downhill, he gives in and starts off with the project. Soon after, David finds himself in the middle of a maze, trying to solve the mystery of his foreign publisher among other things. As he digs more and more to get answers, he’s only left with further questions.

Who is Corelli? How this project changes the course of David’s life. Does he get to finish his project? Why he finds himself in a big pool of trouble – police chasing him, people close to him passing away, people he comes in contact with getting killed, not knowing how and when everything is going to end. David’s life is anything but peaceful.

This book, working wonders to bring out the charm of a dark and depressed Barcelona, left me satisfied, intrigued, yet confused. The author does a superb job of narrating a tale of this proportion paying attention to every scene, every detail and never leaving the reader bored. I was hooked, right from the first page; had I had the time to read it all in one go, I would have…this is one of those books that is so thrilling in its scope that it will leave a reader wanting more with every turn of the page. The story flows flawlessly; the characters are all very well-drawn; the prose evokes the right emotions at the right times making the readers connect and identify with the different characters. All in all, this author’s work is a must-read.

Now for the part what left me confused – while I couldn’t put down the book especially once I got to the later part of the book, at the end, I was left with many questions than anything else. And honestly, I don’t know if that’s because this is something that is out of realm of understanding, or because the intention was to leave the reader in that puzzled state of mind. The author leaves the story with an open end – while it didn’t bother me that I was left to interpret the ending to my liking, to my understanding, it did baffle me a bit because of all the unanswered questions I have…maybe I’ll get the answers if I read it once more and fill my head with all those details that I might have missed the first time around, but until then I’ll have to settle for leaving my concerns behind. Anyhow, this doesn’t take away from the wonderful journey that was reading the book; so I won’t complain much.

Overall, I would highly recommend it – a tale of love, obsession, passion, friendship, a little bit of life’s philosophies with a tint of supernatural outlook makes reading this book a one of a kind experience.

My rating: 5*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

Tuesdays with Morrie

Quick Data

Author: Mitch Albom

ISBN: 978-0-7515-2737-7

Price: 225 INR


After reading Albom’s ‘5 people you meet in heaven‘ I was sure that I wanted to read more of him and hence this is my second read of the same author.

Mitch Albom is a very successful sports writer journalist who is busy..very busy in his life and travels like the speed of lightning..he has no time to even pause and think about himself..He running short on time due to which his love life also suffers but he has no idea what to do to bring it back to normal…

Mitch’s life changes gears only when he sees Morrie,his old professor,on a certain television program and remembers that when he graduated he had promised his old professor that he would stay in touch with him..he also gets to know that Morrie is soon going to die with a disease called ALS [Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis]…that is when he decides to visit the professor..after 16 years..once there he realizes how much he has missed Morrie and that he would want to meet him often now till he is alive. They settle down on an arrangement that they’ll meet every Tuesday and Morrie will teach Mitch 1 lesson of life every time they meet.

There are 14 Tuesdays,that they could manage to meet until Morrie dies…These are presented in the book in a very crisp manner with life’s important lessons in 192 pages.

The book is philosophically toned and very ‘positive-attitude’ oriented book. It teaches of a lot of those things which you might already know but would not have seen from different perspective..It talks about very basic human emotions and realities of life like love,touch,tears,death,family,people etc.

Tuesdays with Morrie is a 1997 non-fiction novel by American writer Mitch Albom. The story was later adapted by Thomas Rickman into a movie of the same name, directed by Mick Jackson….

I also watched the movie and I cried…it does that to you !

My rating for the book is 4*