Summer Reading – II

Aravind Adiga

Between the Assassinations: I picked this up because I found Adiga’s debut (Booker prize winning) novel, The White Tiger, a fascinating read. This set of short stories set between the assassinations of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi narrates stories from the lives of “ordinary” people in Kittur — a small town in Karnataka. I use quotes on the ordinary because while Adiga does an excellent job describing the setting of his stories, his people are far from ordinary. While I am not unaware of the caste-ist nature of rural India (especially in the 80’s), I find his depictions too bleak and lacking any subtlety. His characters need much more fleshing out and his stories need some sort of cohesion that will make it a nice and taught read. I was not disappointed with the book, but I was not too enthralled by it either. Pretty much a “meh” read.

R. K. Narayanan

 The Banyan Tree and other Stories: Now I see why Narayanan is regarded as a fine author, FINALLY! These set of short stories capture the essence of rural India so well that Adiga’s book above seems to pale in comparison. Narayanan’s narrative is elegant, simple and crisp. There are wonderful stories here, some of which barely span two pages but are so deeply etched in my memory, and are so well connected with the Indian-psyche that I cannot help but regard the transformation of my opinion of Narayanan in a matter of a book! I am happy now…I can read more of Narayanan. I think the key is to read his shorter works rather than his novels — though I am curious to try out the Malgudi days ones.

Charles Dickens

Dombey and Son: I love Dickens. I started on him last December when I was in India and started to fall deeper and deeper in love with him and his prose. His narratives generally tend to be long and detailed (except maybe Oliver Twist), but the long journey is always worth it. This tale is less about a firm named Dombey and Son, and more about Mr. Dombey and his daughter Florence. There are so many layers to the story that I will not even attempt to describe it here. However, compared to his other works (David Copperfield, Martin Chuzzelwit etc.), I found that this one had lesser characters and one major plotline that Dickens follows faithfully to the end. As with the other works of his that I have read, the novel tends to get a little draggy about 3/4th of the way through (owing possibly to the serial nature of the original publication) and then suddenly picks up speed and rushes to the finish line. All authors are allowed their dalliances though, are they not?! The end, I felt was a bit of a cop out — everything was hunky-dory and rosy….I’d really have liked a darker ending.

Gerald Durrell
I picked up quite a few of Durrell’s works, thanks to the first one that I read and enjoyed so much. Here are some that I managed to finish in this session.

Menagerie Manor: This one is a set of stories chronicling Durrell’s trials and tribulations with the zoo/conservatory that he built and managed for many years during his life. Although these are tales that narrate the life of a zoo-owner/keeper, Durrell brings to these narratives his excellent descriptions and his vivid sense of humor and detail. These are essential tales of various animals and their peculiarities — the way that Durrell describes them, they seem to pop out of the book right into the room beside you. A short book, well worth a read.

Marrying off Mother:
Again, Durrell comes through with his unique brand of humor and his characteristic way of making even the most mundane observations seem hilarious. Although the title story is so-so, I particularly liked the first one — Esmerelda — about a prized pig; it was so frivolous a tale that I could not stop laughing! Another good one was Ludwig, where Durrell brings out the hilarious best in the supposedly humor-lacking German. A neat collection of short stories, and like the other Durrell books I’ve read, well worth the time spent on it!

A Zoo in my Luggage: Another gem from Durrell — sort of a prequel to Menagerie Manor — in which he narrates his adventures in Africa where he went to scour for animals for this upcoming zoo. As usual, he describes the animals with such beauty that they pop-out of the screen and stream directly into your brain — the best 3D I have ever experienced! His narrative is peppered with lavish doses of humor and his stoic narration simply adds to the mirth. Another short read that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend!

The Overloaded Arc: Apparently, I have been reading Durrell’s books in reverse chronological order. This one is the first of his books and details his first visit to the Cameroons and Africa, where he went about collecting animals for a zoo in the UK. The first half of the book is a little slow and lacks the general sense of observational humor that seems to peek out from Durrell’s other books. The second half makes up for it though, for here, Durrell is in top form – humor, situational comedy and narrative flourishes abound. Slightly longer than the ones above, again a read I thoroughly enjoyed.


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