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Book Nook - 02-04-2019

Tuesday, April 02, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Detective On The Prowl
The Devotion Of Suspect X  won Keigo Higashino a worldwide fan following, and his books have not disappointed since.Newcomer, just out in Giles Murray’s English translation, stars the supercool and very, very sharp cop, Kyochiro Kaga.

For reasons mentioned in Higashino’s earlier books, Kaga has been transferred, or rather demoted, from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Division, to the quiet, almost crime-free Nihonbashi Precinct.

Kaga gets a feel of his precinct by walking around the main street and talking to the shopkeepers. Since he is casually dressed—and his clothes are described often—in jeans, T-shirt and short-sleeved shirt, and talks with calm curiosity, nobody is intimidated by him. He also has the peculiar habit of buying things from the shops he visits and gifting them to the people he questions as part of his investigation.

A woman called Mineko Mitsui, estranged from her husband and son, is found strangled to death in her apartment. The book begins with short stories that could work by themselves, but they all connect somehow to the murder. In the very first chapter, The Girl At The Rice Cracker Shop, the said girl, Naho Kamikawa, gets a glimpse of Kaga’s powers of observation. He notices, for instance, that businessmen walking from subway station towards home still have their jackets on, while the men going in the opposite direction have them slung over their shoulders? And this fact actually helps get a suspect off the hook.

The quaint shops on the street include a clock repair shop, one selling china and artifacts, a traditional restaurant, a bakery—all of which become part of the intricate maze of Kaga’s investigation, which drives his immediate superior, Hiroshi Uesugi, up the wall.

Kaga is eccentric, charming, gentle and infallible—to call him a Japanese Sherlock Holmes, would be paying him a compliment. Through his eyes, Higashino portrays life in a small town, suspicious of change, and fearful of outsiders. That Kaga gets himself to belong there so quickly, without giving away anything about himself, is his strength as a detective.

Newcomer
By Kiego Higashino
Translated By Giles Murray
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 352

 

Excerpt of Newcomer
“What’s this Iga fish plate doing on the shelf here? The black Bizen ware is supposed to be displayed over here. You got it wrong again. Why do I have to tell you the same thing over and over again? I’m at my wit’s end.”

Suzue grumbled to herself as she rearranged the plates displayed on the store shelves. Naoya just raised his newspaper a little higher in front of his face and pretended not to hear. Having to absorb an earful of complaints after coming home from the office every day was not his idea of fun.

It was the ideal time of day for customers to wander in off the street, but none of the people walking by outside showed any sign of stopping. On a day this hot, popping into a nice, air-conditioned store for a bit of browsing was a natural impulse. Unfortunately, their shop was wide open, with only an old electric fan whirring away to cool the air. “Getting air-conditioning is the least we can do—if we want any customers at all, that is,” Maki had commented the other day. She and Naoya had married last fall, so this was her first summer at the family shop-cum-residence.

“What’s the point? With an open-fronted shop like ours, air-conditioning won’t make a bit of difference,” was Suzue’s response. She was looking at Naoya as she spoke. Even when they were talking to each other, the two women barely looked at one another.

“Then we should close up the front of the store. If we got glass doors, people would be able to look in from outside, and the cold air would stay in,” said Maki, looking at Naoya.

When Naoya made the mistake of emitting even a noncommittal grunt, Suzue felt that she had to argue the point.

“Closing up the front, even with sliding glass doors, will still make it that much harder for customers to come in. Anyway, what about the things we have on display out on the street? What are we supposed do with them? Bring them all back inside and slam the doors shut behind them? Everyone will think that Yanagisawa’s gone out of business.”

“It’s like a sauna in here right now. Even the few people who’ve happily come in can’t beat a retreat fast enough. No one spends any time browsing.”

“That’s just not true. Not everyone’s in love with air conditioning, you know. Some of the customers comment on our wind chime and how it makes them feel cooler.”

“Only old-timers would say something like that.”

“Those ‘old-timers’ are important customers for us.”

The two of them went at it hammer and tongs. Naoya was stuck in the middle, unable to take sides. All he could do was waggle his head ambiguously and groan inside. But the womenfolk wouldn’t let him off so lightly; in the end, both pressured him to express an opinion on the matter.

“Oh, golly,” mumbled Naoya, scratching his head and smiling goofily at them both. “How about you let me think about it a while? Maybe we should have dinner now?”

The two women fell silent.

Dinner was eaten in an atmosphere of subdued tension. That’s the way things were in the Yanagisawa household. Naoya wanted to improve things, but he was at a loss for ideas. He tried discussing the problem with an older colleague at work, but his colleague quickly diagnosed the situation as hopeless.

“When a wife and a mother-in-law are at loggerheads, the husband can’t expect to sort things out. That’s just naive. Here’s what you should do: Hear both women out separately; shut up, listen, and never ever contradict them—that’s just pouring oil on the flames. After you’ve heard what they each have to say, look like you agree, comment on how reasonable their point of view is, and promise to convey their opinion to the other party when the time is right. Then—this is the crucial part—never say a word about it to the other woman.

Of course, they’ll hound you, ask you how it went—but you’ll just have to grin and bear it. Divert their anger toward yourself, that’s the only viable solution.”

“Doesn’t sound like much fun,” mumbled Naoya.

“Buck up,” said his colleague, smacking him on the back.

“You’ve got yourself a lovely young wife. I’m sure she’s worth the hassle.”

 

SHORT TAKES
It’s time history was seen from the women’s perspective, and there were heroines who have been neglected or forgotten. Ashish Kaul’s Didda: The Warrior Queen of Kashmir is the story of the forgotten Hindu queen of undivided Kashmir. Says the synopsis, “History is often unkind and cruel to women, especially women who wield power. Trampled by wars and religious crusades, lies hidden the story of a glorious woman who was considered a harbinger of bad times when she was born but went on to become a legendary warrior—the saviour of Shrinagaram, the capital city of Kashmir. Didda: The Warrior Queen Of Kashmir is the untold story of a woman’s rise to power during the tenth century. The legend of Didda is entwined with a life of solitary struggles against prejudice and patriarchy. She eventually went on to rule the unified Kashmir encompassing the Lohar Kingdom and Kashmir for a period of forty-four years, taking it to glorious heights and making it the most powerful kingdom in mediaeval Asia. The foundation laid by Didda helped Kashmir defeat the dreaded warlord Mahmud of Ghaznavi twice.”

Didda: The Warrior Queen Of Kashmir
By Ashish Kaul;
Publisher: Rupa
Pages: 214


 
The synopsis of Someone Exactly Like You, reads, “A beautiful young girl, drenched in rain, is being chased by a couple of goons along the narrow meandering roads of Landour, Mussoorie, when a swashbuckling stranger comes to her rescue. She faints and on waking up, realizes she is in the company of the ‘bad boy’ of Bollywood—Veer Singh Tomar. Natasha falls for Veer, who, incidentally, is married and dealing with a messy divorce. By some cruel twist of fate, Veer’s estranged wife Amyra comes back to his life. But by then, Veer is already drawn to Natasha. Will Veer ever find his way back to Natasha?”

Someone Exactly Like You
By Esha Pandey;
Publisher: Rupa
Pages: 192

 
Sam Bourne’s To Kill The Truth is a fast-paced thriller. Acording to the summary, “Someone is trying to destroy the evidence of history's greatest crimes. Academics and Holocaust survivors dead in mysterious circumstances. Museums and libraries burning. Digital records and irreplaceable proofs, lost for ever. Former White House operative Maggie Costello has sworn off politics. But when the Governor of Virginia seeks her help to stop the lethal spiral of killings, she knows that this is bigger than any political game. As Black Lives Matter protestors clash with slavery deniers, America is on a knife-edge and time is running out. This deadly conspiracy could ignite a new Civil War - but who stands to gain most from the chaos? Taut, authoritative and explosive, To Kill the Truth takes us to the edge of anarchy, a world without truth in which history will be rewritten by those who live to shape it.”

To Kill The Truth
By Sam Bourne
Publisher: Hachette India;
Pages: 464

 
The synopsis of Devi S. Laskar debut novel, The Atlas of Reds and Blues says, “When a woman―known only as Mother―moves her family from Atlanta to its wealthy suburbs, she discovers that neither the times nor the people have changed since her childhood in a small Southern town. Despite the intervening decades, Mother is met with the same questions: Where are you from? No, where are youreally from? The American-born daughter of Bengali immigrants, she finds that her answer―Here―is never enough.“Mother's simmering anger breaks through one morning, when, during a violent and unfounded police raid on her home, she finally refuses to be complacent. As she lies bleeding from a gunshot wound, her thoughts race from childhood games with her sister and visits to cousins in India, to her time in the newsroom before having her three daughters, to the early days of her relationship with a husband who now spends more time flying business class than at home.“The Atlas of Reds and Blues grapples with the complexities of the second-generation American experience, what it means to be a woman of color in the workplace, and a sister, a wife, and a mother to daughters in today's America. Drawing inspiration from the author's own terrifying experience of a raid on her home, Devi S. Laskar's debut novel explores, in exquisite, lyrical prose, an alternate reality that might have been.”

The Atlas of Reds and Blues
By Devi S. Laskar
Publisher: Hachette India;
Pages: 227

 
Koral Dasgupta’s Summer Holidays is about “Three cities—Mumbai, Bangalore and Shimla. And a big family feud spanning over sixteen years. Summer Holidays is a fairy tale for adults with a comic take on modern families, their ideals, beliefs and prejudices. People misbehave with their loved ones, take them for granted, because they believe in a tomorrow when things will get sorted. What if there isn’t one?”

Summer Holidays
By Koral Dasgupta;
Publisher: Rupa
Pages:  248

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