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Book Nook - 11-06-2019

Tuesday, June 11, 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

Love, Loss And Letting Go
Chocolat by Joanne Harris, was a bestseller twenty years ago, turned into an Oscar-nominated film, which is why, when one pictures Vianne Rocher and Roux, Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp come to mind.

Two more books followed the Vianne saga, and the fourth, The Strawberry Thief, brings her back to the lovely little French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, where, in the first book, she has faced the hostility of the residents, the priest, Francis Reynaud in particular.

In this book, Vianne is going through separation pangs when her older daughter, Anouk, leaves to live with her boyfriend in Paris. Tension flares up, when Narcisse, the village florist, leaves part of his property to Vianne’s younger daughter, the probably autistic Rosette, in his will.  He also leaves a letter of confession to Reynaud, who is terrified that a crime from his own past will be revealed.

Rosette used to spend lot of time in a wild strawberry patch in the oak woods that is gifted to her by Narcisse. The teenage girl runs around wild in the village, communicating through her drawings and strange animal noises, and an invisible monkey as her constant companion, that only people with magical powers can see. There is also her ability to control the wind, that her mother wants her to keep in check.

Narcisse’s nasty daughter, Michele and her greedy husband, are furious at losing valuable property to Rosette, though their mentally disturbed son Yannick befriends her.

To add to the cauldron of simmering discontent, arrives Morgane Dubois, a tattooist, who rents Narcisse’s old shop, paints the door purple and covers the walls with mirrors. There is something weirdly dangerous about Morgane, as she divines people’s secrets and desires, which she draws on their skins with her tattoo pen and ink.

Vianne is afraid Morgane will take away all that is precious to her, particularly Rosette, who is drawn to the witch-like tattooist. She is aghast when even the most conservative of villagers secretly visit Morgane and get inked.

The story moves from Rosette’s point of view to the long confession by Narcisse that drives the priest to a sleepless dread.

If Chocolat was about tradition and the worldly pleasures that Vianne’s chocolates represent, The Strawberry Thief is about grief, loss and the fear of the unknown evoked by Morgane, and a group of nomadic Muslim migrants who camp by the river.  It seems likely that these characters will play stronger parts if there is a fifth book in the series. Towards the end Rosette does emerge as strong, willful and perhaps an inheritor of her mother’s melancholy, as well as her magic.

Harris writes with a feel for emotion, and does not judge any of the characters for what they did in the past.  She sympathises with a love that binds, but speaks for a love that lets go. And, of course, for all the pain and heartbreak that chocolate is capable of healing, if made by the right hands.

The Strawberry Thief
By Joanna Harris
Publisher: Orion
Pages: 368


Excerpt Of The Strawberry Thief
There’s always a moment before a storm when the wind seems to change its mind. It plays at domesticity; it flirts with the blossom on the trees; it teases the rain from the dull grey clouds. This moment of playfulness is when the wind is at its cruellest and most dangerous. Not later, when the trees fall and the blossom is just blotting-paper choking the drains and rivulets. Not when houses fall like cards, and walls that you thought were firm and secure are torn away like paper.

No, the cruellest moment is always the one in which you think you might be safe; that maybe the wind has moved on at last; that maybe you can start building again, something that can’t be blown away. That’s the moment at which the wind is at its most insidious. That’s the moment where grief begins. The moment of expected joy. The demon of hope in Pandora’s box. The moment when the cacao bean releases its scent into the air: a scent of burning, and spices, and salt; and blood; and vanilla; and heartache.

I used to think it was simple, that art. The making of harmless indulgences. But at last I have come to learn that no indulgence is harmless. Francis Reynaud would be proud Forty years a witch and now, at last, I have become a Puritan.

Zozie de l’Alba would have understood. Zozie, the collector of hearts, whose face still comes to me, in my dreams. Sometimes I hear her voice on the wind; the sound of her shoes on the cobbles. Sometimes I wonder where she is: whether she still thinks of me. No indulgence is harmless, she knew. Power is all that counts in the end.

The wind doesn’t care. The wind doesn’t judge. The wind will take whatever it can – whatever it needs – instinctively. I was like that once, you know. Seeds on the wind, taking root, seeding again before moving on. The seeds do not stay with the parent plant. They go wherever the wind goes.


Ashok K. Banker’s Upon A Burning Throne is the first part of The Burnt Empire Saga. According to the synopsis, “In a world where demigods and demons walk among mortals, the emperor of the vast burnt Empire has died, leaving a turbulent realm without a leader. Two young princes, Adri and Shvate, are in line to rule but birthright does not guarantee inheritance: Any successor must sit upon the legendary burning Throne and pass the test of fire. Imbued with dark sorceries, the throne is a crucible that incinerates the unworthy. Adri and Shvate are not the sole heirs to the empire, there is another with a claim to power, another who also survives. When this girl, whose father is the powerful demonlord Jarsun, is denied her claim by the interim leaders, Jarsun declares war, vowing to tear the burnt empire apart – leaving the young princes Adri and Shvate to rule a shattered realm embroiled in rebellion and chaos.”

Upon A Burning Throne Part 1
By Ashok K. Banker
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 350

Ram Kamal Mukherjee’s book on Sanjay Dutt “unravels the enigma and stigma surrounding Sanju Baba. There can be no last word on Sanjay Dutt. Ever. Even as he walks a free man after more than three decades of prison terms and controversies, Dutt remains a classic case study in all that defines the ‘star’ system in Hollywood industry known for its deep-rooted sense of entitlement. However, there is one question that dominates: who is the real Sanjay duty? Is he a man who has been ‘wronged by the media’, as his friend and filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani wants everyone to believe? Is he a son who could never recover from his mother’s death? Is he a son whose father political leanings made him an easy target? Or is he a myth, created by a consortium of film journalists, industry insiders, political fiends and adversaries? Delving deep into both the man and his circumstances, Sanjay Dutt: one man, many lives tells the Uncut, untold and uncensored story of Sanjay balraj duty. What emerges is an accountant much about one man's laudable efforts to keep reinventing himself, as it is about his privileges. Privileges that were seldom earned and always taken for granted. This is the closest anyone can ever come to understanding Sanju Baba.”

Sanjay Dutt: One Man Many Lives
By Ram Kamal Mukherjee
Publisher: Rupa
Pages: 240

The synopsis of Anukrti Upadhyay’s Daura reads, “A journey into the dark heart of the desert. A young District Collector is posted to one of the furthest outposts of rural Rajasthan, and finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the lives and troubles of the common people there. Then one day, with the help of a mysterious musician, the Sarangiya, he has an encounter with beauty in its purest, most absolute form - an encounter that precipitates a dangerous descent. The pages from the journal he keeps are combined with the narratives of various people around him to create a compelling account of his slide away from reality.”

By Anukrti Upadhyay
Publisher: Fourth Estate/HarperCollins
Pages: 150

The synopsis of Anukrti Upadhyay’s Bhaunri reads, “Can too much love be a dangerous thing? Bhaunri is married, as is the custom in her tribe of nomadic blacksmiths, when she is still a child. When she is finally sent away to her husband's home as a young woman, she finds herself drawn deeply and powerfully towards the gruff and handsome Bheema. Bheema, however, is far from the ideal husband, and when he strays one time too many, Bhaunri's love for him begins to fester and grow into something dark and fearsome. This is a story of obsessive love and the destructive power of desire. Half real and half fable, and redolent with the songs and myths, the beauty and mystery of Rajasthan.”

By Anukrti Upadhyay
Publisher: Fourth Estate/HarperCollins
Pages: 142

Manoj Jain’s new book A Man From Mandu is about, “Avishkar Baba, the new age Guru in town, slowly gaining popularity. His Instagram posts and Whatsapp daily quotes are gaining momentum and his number of followers are steadily increasing through this. He meets the people only twice in a month, and gives his sermons in the form of stories that resonate with his believers. How does his esoteric parables like the Man who wanted to fly or the Girl in the Land of Pink affect his adulant disciples. What is the history of the baba and why is Tarini promoting him so much, especially when they are obviously not a money-minting Godman racket.”

A Man from Mandu
By Manoj Jain
Publisher: Notion Press
Pages: 168

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