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Book Nook - 19-02-2018

Monday, February 19, 2018
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

Rich Historical Tapestry
A Column Of Fire is Ken Follett’s third Kingsbridge novel after The Pillars Of The Earth and World Without End, a sprawling historical epic that spans fifty years and is set mostly in Elizabethan England, though it travels to France, Spain, Scotland, The Netherlands—the core theme being religious tolerance.
In the sixteenth century Catholics and Protestants were constantly at War, brutally persecuting one another, with torture, excommunication and burning ‘heretics’ at the stake. Wars are fought, massacres carried out, fortunes made and lost.

The thick novel begins in 1558, during in the reign of Catholic Queen known as Bloody Mary, because she had thousands of Protestants tortured and killed. After Mary’s death and some frantic political skullduggery, her Protestant and illegitimate half sister Elizabeth is seated on the throne, with a promise to put a stop to religious fanaticism.

In England, the Willard and Fitzgerald families take centre stage—Ned Willard is in love with Margery Fitzgerald, but her family is responsible for financially ruining his. Ned’s brilliant mother is reduced to a shadow of herself, his brother Barney goes off to sea and builds his own life away from the family. Margery is forcibly married to a nasty Catholic nobleman Bart, while Ned goes off to work under Princess Elizabeth’s loyal spymasters Sir William Cecil and later, when she is queen, Sir Francis Walsingham.

In France, the low-born but ambitious climber Pierre Aumande ingratiates himself with the powerful Guise brothers, uses his short-lived engagement to the Protestant Sylvie Palot to spy on her people, and causes a savage slaughter by Catholics, that came to be knows as St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572. Margery’s brother Rollo vows to destroy the Protestant faith, by building a secret army of Catholics in England.

Follett’s fictional characters mingle with the real, and the novel is studded with historical events like the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots to the ailing young King Henri II of France, the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the swashbuckling Sir Francis Drake, the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in which Guy Fawkes and his Catholic co-conspirators planned to blow up Parliament, and the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots for treason.

 Follett seamlessly blends, history, action, adventure, suspense, romance and thrills to create a highly readable novel that moves at a breathless pace and is also educative. There has to be a sequel to this story, and there is a hint--the word Mayflower. History buffs will get it.

A Column Of Fire
By Ken Follett
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 916

Excerpt of A Column Of Fire Prologue
We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral. It is the usual place for executions. After all, if you can’t kill a man in front of God’s face you probably shouldn’t kill him at all.

The sheriff brought him up from the dungeon below the guildhall, hands tied behind his back. He walked upright, his pale face defiant, fearless.

The crowd jeered at him and cursed him. He seemed not to see them. But he saw me. Our eyes met, and in that momentary exchange of looks there was a lifetime.

I was responsible for his death, and he knew it.

I had been hunting him for decades. He was a bomber who would have killed half the rulers of our country, including most of the royal family, all in one act of bloodthirsty savagery—if I had not stopped him.

I have spent my life tracking such would-be murderers, and a lot of them have been executed—not just hanged but drawn and quartered, the more terrible death reserved for the worst offenders.

Yes, I have done this many times: watched a man die knowing that I, more than anyone else, had brought him to his just but dreadful punishment. I did it for my country, which is dear to me; for my sovereign, whom I serve; and for something else, a principle, the belief that a person has the right to make up his own mind about God.

He was the last of many men I sent to hell, but he made me think of the first...

In An Alien Land
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins is slightly different from the many Bengalis in the US stories (Bharti Mukherjee, Chita Banerji Divakaruni, Jhumpa Lahiri) in that part of the Das family’s immigrant experience involves interactions with black people.

The book has autobiographical elements as it briskly tells the story of Rajeev and Ranee Das who move with their two daughters Tara and Sonia from Kolkata to Ghana to London and finally to New York in the 1970s. There are the usual adjustment problems, Ranee is concerned that their Flushing neighbourhood is black, and her racism to so deeply set that Sonia does not dare to invite her black friends home.

Sonia is the dark-skinned, studious one, who grows up to be a journalist, while her sister Tars is movie-star pretty and does end up as a Bollywood actress, but that part of the story is kept of the pages. The narration is by Tara and Sonia by turns, and one can’t but note that the book could do with a lot more detailing. There are TV serial like jumps in time, and the reader is left to imagine what might have transpired in the intervening years.

Later, Tara’s daughter Anna and Sonia’s half-black daughter Shanti/Chantal take over the narration; Anna moves from Mumbai to New York and the reader gets yet another dose of cultural adjustment. The stories of the five women are mildly interesting, and the book is quick read, but it’s the sketchiness  that prevents it from rising above the mundane. There cannot be a novel about Bengalis without several mentions of Rabindranath Tagore, but mercifully, there is no Durga Puja sequence. The one Hindu ritual is hilariously conducted by a hippie priest!

You Bring the Distant Near
By Mitali Perkins
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 303

ALSO RECEIVED
According to the synopsis, Taanya Sarma’s The Wild Cat is, “Based on true events, this erotic thriller novel tells the tale of a young, naive woman named Tanya who enters the online dating and chat world. Her first foray into this digital realm initially proves to be bland and disappointing; however, sex, suspense, power struggles and attempted murder soon unfold. These unwelcome adventures interfere with her business and her sanity as she aspires to live up to her deceased parent’s standards.

“A conman named Sam ensnares Aaron, a handsome investment banker, into his ploy and uses him as a pawn to lure women into doing things they normally wouldn’t do. Sam then exposes their personal information as well as their images, sometimes in the act of cyber sex, and posts them on a very successful porn website that he owns. Tanya’s encounter with these two men evolves into a long, winding road, with each turn bringing irreparable changes in her life. “Enraged by the deceit and the unconscionable behavior of these men, Tanya turns whistleblower and vows to assist the FBI in shutting down the dating app and porn site - and she won’t stop until the perverted perpetrators are behind bars. She never relents, but ultimately laments, “I never thought that I would have to give up my life to remain alive.”

The Wild Cat
By Taanya Sarma
Publisher: Invincible
Pages: 282
 
The Golden Dakini by Charu Singh is part two of The Maitreya Chronicles, The synopsis reads thus:
“ ‘Two shall come by the path of the swan,From the world of men in the fourth age –So shall the word be manifest again.So shall the vessel of truth,The Maitreya, come to be born in the world of men.’“Thus have the ancients of the divine kingdom of Shambala prophesized the birth of a new age and its saviour – the Maitreya. Destined to be the mother of the Maitreya, the golden dakini Yeshe Nam Lha has descended to Earth in the guise of a mortal. Accompanied by her celestial guardians – Prince A-KarO and Prince Narasimha – she must now journey to the hidden Mount Meru in order to choose a suitor, and fulfil the prophecy. “As her quest takes her through the sleepy towns of Sikkim and Assam to the snowy mountains of Jammu and Leh, Yeshe and her companions encounter a host of magical creatures – the tsen deities who reside in the caves under the Himalayas, the fey warriors of the celestial city of Ney, and the yakshas, gatekeepers of the hidden tunnels on the way to Mount Meru.

“But not everyone they meet is benevolent. Prince Arden, leader of the dark Asur forces, is on Yeshe’s trail, hoping to bewitch her with his magnetic charm – and Yeshe must overcome her earthly mortality if she is to make the right choice... “In this spellbinding sequel to Path of the Swan, Charu Singh deftly draws on the rich heritage of Tibetan-Buddhist mythology to immerse the reader in a story that is as magical and evocative as its precursor.”

The Golden Dakini
By Charu Singh
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 310
 
Melbourne-based Sami Shah’s novel Boy Of Fire And Earth is haunted by djinns. According to the synopsis “Born of a smokeless fire, and raised in Karachi, Wahid’s life comes apart when he loses the girl he loves to vengeful djinns. Setting out on a journey to recover her soul and find out the truth of his own origins, he is accompanied by Iblis, the Devil himself. Together, they traverse a city infested with corrupt cops and hustling beggars, and discover deathly creatures lurking under its sinister surface, even as the threat of Judgement Day looms large. Sami Shah’s Boy Of Fire And Earthis a dark, and often funny, novel of great imagination and power.

Boy Of Fire And Earth
By Sami Shah
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 360
 
The title of the slim book written by seventeen-year-old Rohit Chawhan, indicates what it is about. The synopsis says, “Meeting Ashish on the flight to New York was a chance encounter for Rohit. Romantic, emotional and sincere, this is Ashish’s incredible story of getting the girl of his dreams. Ashish and Kriti’s love story starts with a bang but fizzles out only to come blazing back again. How does this happen? The story kept Rohit hooked – am sure you will be too.”

The Journey Of Getting The Girl Of My Dreams
By: Rohit Chawhan
Publisher: Zorba
Pages: 76
 

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