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Book Nook - 16-01-2017

Monday, January 16, 2017
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.

The Heroic Fisherman
Martin Cruz Smith’s 1981 crime novel Gorky Park, set in the erstwhile Soviet Union is a thriller classic. Subsequently he wrote several books with the same central character, an incorruptible investigator, Arkady Renko.

His new standalone book, The Girl From Venice, is set in 1945 Venice, amidst a lot of crime an subterfuge. But at the centre of all the World War II mayhem is a tender love story between a fisherman, Cenzo and a young Jewish girl, Giulia, he vows to protect from marauding Nazis.

Evert since Cenzo’s lookalike brother Giorgio ran off with his wife, he has become a loner. He lives away from his family in a tiny shack and paints when he is not fishing. One day he finds the corpse of a girl floating in the lagoon, and pulls her out. Turns out the girl is not dead, and is being hunted by the Nazis because she escaped while her family was butchered.

Smith describes with empathy, life in the Venetian backwaters in the village of Pellestrina, where ordinary folk, who just want to get on with their lives, are under attack from the Germans, the fascists and the partisans fighting a guerilla war. It is a time when Italian dictator Benito Mussolini capitulated to the Nazis and set up in the  northern Italian town of Salo, the headquarters of his puppet state. The victorious Allied Forces are on their way to liberate Italy from the Germans, but in the in-between state of flux, the Nazis are even more vicious in defeat.

Giorgio, who has become a movie star and fascist spokesman, keeps flying down to Pellestrina in his two-seater Stork airplane and rubbing Cenzo’s nose in the dirt out of spite. Cenzo ends up killing a Nazi officer to save Giulia, and manages to hide her from the many people looking for her by dressing her as a boy and teaching her to fish. He sends her off to Salo with a friend, and then is lured there himself by Giorgio, who wants him to find the girl again.  Cenzo has, of course, fallen in love with Giulia, though admitting to himself that his passion is hopeless—why would the rich, educated girl want to spend her life in a village with a fisherman?

Salo has some of the novel’s most interesting bits, as the town’s rich live lavishly and try to pretend everything’s alright. Maria Paz, the wife of the Argentinian consul becomes the axis around whom the characters revolve, and even she has a shameful secret. In the meantime, Mussolini is amassing wealth to escape Salo, and the wartime rumour mills speculate about who he will take with him—his wife or his mistress.

Cenzo’s plight is palpable, as he skirts around danger from many quarters to look for Giulia. It is a beautifully written book, with well-developed characters, a thread of suspense running through it, and an utterly sympathetic hero, who always does the right thing.

The Girl From Venice
By Martin Cruz Smith
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 308



Excerpt of The Girl From Venice
Without a moon, small islands disappeared and Venice sank into the dark. Stars, however, were so brilliant that Cenzo felt drawn to them, even as mud oozed between his toes. The faint report of church bells carried over the lagoon, from farms drifted the smell of manure, and once or twice he caught the tremolo of a German gunboat plowing the water. A curfew barred all nighttime activity, no exceptions except for fishermen. Fishermen were nocturnal creatures who slept by day and fished by night. They stayed out on the lagoon for days at a time and when they came ashore they smelled so much of fish that cats followed them through the streets.

Cenzo’s only illumination was an oil lamp that hung on the mast, but he didn’t need to see his catch; one touch told him whether he was handling sea bass, mullet, or a lost boot. He wore no shoes or boots himself; the mud would only suck them off. He did have a variety of nets and traps, tridents and rakes, for catching fish and damp sailcloth to cover them with. Every night was different. Tonight’s catch was mainly cuttlefish come to lay their eggs. They rolled their otherworldly eyes toward the lamp.
Fifty percent of fishermen said that cuttlefish were best caught on a full moon. Another fifty percent claimed the opposite. Sole, sea bass, and orata Cenzo laid in wicker baskets. Bullheads he threw back into the water. The air reverberated as Allied bombers passed overhead on their way to rain destruction on Turin or Milan or Verona. Anywhere but Venice. Sacred Venice was attacked only by pigeons. The population of the city had tripled as refugees poured in, hidden by the blackout. From the market Cenzo planned to sail home. For a week he had not bathed in freshwater or eaten more than grilled fish and polenta cakes. He pushed the boat off the grass to drop in the rudder when something sizable rose to the surface. Cenzo held his lamp over the water as the body of a girl took shape.

A chill ran through Cenzo. He expected any second that the girl would become a hallucination. Fishermen saw all sorts of things at sea and eyes played tricks at night. At a touch she might separate into the white belly of a ray and the blank face of an octopus. But no, she stayed intact.

She floated faceup in a dirty nightgown. He was no expert on the ages of girls but he guessed she was in her late teens. She was barefoot, her eyes were closed, and her skin was a nearly translucent white. Her lips were purple and long hair and sea grass wrapped around her neck. Cenzo was hardly a believer but he crossed himself automatically and lifted her into the Fatima—no easy task, because the dead were so loose-limbed. Even as he laid her out on the bottom of the boat he knew that he should have left her alone. A woman on a boat was bad luck, and he supposed a dead girl was even worse.

ALSO RECEIVED
This collection of short stories by some of the world’s finest crime writers from Arthur Conan Doyle to Ian Rankin is a collector’s item. The stories are all set during the festive season and deal with all manner of crime; many contain the gist of what could grow into a novella. Since most of the writers belong to another age, the style of writing may seem slightly old-fashioned, but that doesn’t detract from the pleasure of reading the masters of suspense at their best.

The synopsis states: “A murderer who materialises in a field of snow, leaving no footprints. Blackmail on Christmas Eve. A missing jewel discovered in a very festive hiding place. A body slumped in a chair on Christmas morning, still listening to carols. The midnight theft of a gift intended for a saint.

Crime doesn't take a holiday, so these - and many more - are the puzzles that make up Murder under the Christmas Tree, a collection of festive mysteries featuring fictional sleuths from Lord Peter Wimsey to Sherlock Holmes, Cadfael to Father Brown. This is the very best of Christmas murder and mayhem - so settle into your armchair, put another log on the fire and take a bite of your mince pie. Just make sure it's not poisoned...”

Murder Under The Christmas Tree: Ten Classic Crime Stories for the Festive Season
Edited by: Cecily Gayford;
Publisher: Hachette;
Pages: 288

 

Excerpt of Murder Under The Christmas Tree:
(From The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers)

Oswald Truegood had retired into the back room and shut the door behind him while the party discussed the next subject of examination, when suddenly Sir Septimus broke in on the argument by calling to his daughter:

"Hullo, Margy! What have you done with your necklace?" "I took it off, Dad, because I thought it might get broken in 'Dumb Crambo.' It's over here on this table. No, it isn't. Did you take it, mother?" "No, I didn't. If I'd seen it, I should have. You are a careless child." "I believe you've got it yourself, Dad. You're teasing."

Sir Septimus denied the accusation with some energy. Everybody got up and began to hunt about. There were not many places in that bare and polished room where a necklace could be hidden. After ten minutes' fruitless investigation, Richard Dennison, who had been seated next to the table where the pearls had been placed, began to look rather uncomfortable. "Awkward, you know," he remarked to Wimsey.

At this moment, Oswald Truegood put his head through the folding-doors and asked whether they hadn't settled on something by now, because he was getting the fidgets. This directed the attention of the searchers to the inner room. Margharita must have been mistaken. She had taken it in there, and it had got mixed up with the dressing-up clothes somehow. The room was ransacked. Everything was lifted up and shaken. The thing began to look serious. After half an hour of desperate energy it became apparent that the pearls were nowhere to be found. "They must be somewhere in these two rooms, you know," said Wimsey. "The back drawing-room has no door and nobody could have gone out of the front drawing-room without being seen. Unless the windows - " No. The windows were all guarded on the outside by heavy shutters which it needed two footmen to take down and replace. The pearls had not gone out that way. In fact, the mere suggestion that they had left the drawing-room at all was disagreeable. Because - because -

It was William Norgate, efficient as ever, who coldly and boldly faced the issue.

"I think, Sir Septimus, it would be a relief to the minds of everybody present if we could all be searched."
 

READER'S RECOMMENDATION
By Vijay Shanker


Wonderings Of A Wanderer by Jyotishka Misra is an excellent book of poems that cover a wide variety of subjects with a unique style that is commendable for a young poet, thought-provoking with a touch of humour too. Misra is a professional petroleum engineer with a passion for writing poems. Although he started writing as a kid, Jyotishka makes his debut as a poet with this book. He defines himself as a self declared poetic knight armed with rhythmic creations; sometimes he lashes out at armchair philosophers and sometimes defends graffiti as an art form. His poetry covers myriad subjects like political unrest, war, destruction of nature, social injustice, India's independence, civilization, technological advancement and funny situations among many others.

With 78 poems being listed, Wonderings Of A Wanderer has a foreword  by  poet Malay Roychoudhary and comments by Dr Purenendu Shekar Das, poet Debasish Sarkar and Arghya Dutta.  Makes for interesting and thoughtful reading.

Wonderings Of A Wanderer
By Jyotishka Misra;
Published by Macmillan; |
Pages:  88

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