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Book Nook - 19-11-2018

Monday, November 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

Out Of The Maze
When Spanish writer Carlos Luis Zafon wrote The Shadow of the Wind in 2001 he created a book lovers’ paradise, in the form of a cemetery of forgotten books, a secret mansion made of endless walls, corridors and columns of books, preserved for posterity. Only a few are allowed into the maze, and if they are initiated, they are allowed to take one book which they have to protect for life.

The huge success of the first book (translated by Lucia Graves), led to three more,  The Angel’s Game, The Prisoner of Heaven and the last in the series, The Labyrinth Of The Spirits—a magnificent, sprawling epic of a novel (800 plus pages), an absolutely riveting saga of Spain under General Franco, a country seething with unrest, intrigue and politically-motivated atrocities.

Alicia Gris is introduced in this book, a young woman, who, as a child, lost her family during the Spanish Civil War when the Nacionales (fascists) mercilessly bombed Barcelona in 1938. She was rescued by a young Fermin Romero de Torres (from the earlier books), who stowed away in a ship to Barcelona, escaping the sadistic Inspector Fumero, to carry a message for Alicia’s mother. While they were separated in the melee, Alicia found herself in the huge, mysterious library, where her life was saved, but she was left with a burn injury that causes her unbearable agony, and also painful memories that refuse to fade.

The suave and sinister Leandro Montalvo pulled her out of the streets and inducted the beautiful and enigmatic woman into the secret police in Madrid, a job she excelled at and hated. Leandro promises to release her, if she does one last job—tracing the missing Minister of Culture, Mauricio Valls.

She is paired with a reluctant partner, an older policeman, Juan Manuel Vargas, and they make their way to Barcelona, where the key to the mystery lies, and somehow the Sempere family of booksellers is involved.  Alicia discovers a possible clue—a rare book by the author Victor Mataix in Valls’s office in his forbidding Madrid mansion. Valls used to be the director of the dreaded Montjuic Prison in Barcelona during World War II, where several writers were imprisoned, tortured and possibly killed, including Mataix.

As Alicia and Vargas start investigating, they almost uncover a dark secret that imperils their own lives. Nobody seems to be what they claim to be, and nobody can be trusted; there is danger, deceit and a trail of crimes committed by the corrupt and powerful men in Franco’s tyrannical regime. They have left behind a system that has thrown up ruthless men like Valls and a frighteningly vicious cop called Hendaya.

In the first book, just before the Spanish civil war Daniel Sempere, the son of a bookseller who was one of the cemetery’s curators, selected a novel called The Shadow of the Wind by an obscure author, Julián Carax, and that is linked to the chain of the fourth book. The two middle books added writer David Martín, and in the last, is Victor Mataix, creator of a series of children’s books, called The Labyrinth of the Spirits; whose life and work hold the solution to the problems in which Gris and Vargas are caught up.

There are passionate romances, complicated subplots, references to classic literature, and stories within stories—the whole effect is that of a jigsaw, which readers can get lost trying to solve, till Zafon decides it’s time for them to fit all pieces of the puzzle and emerge into the light.

While he tells his stories, Zafón also comments on the political and religious censoring of what are considered ‘unsuitable’ books, and also conjures to vivid word pictures of Barcelona and Madrid. He is truly a magician of words and Lucia Graves translation captures his imagination and occasionally florid style, especially when Fermin speaks, “like a book,” a young character complains.

Readers who have read the earlier three books, would enjoy this one much more, but it works quite well as a standalone novel too.
 
The Labyrinth of the Spirits,
By Carlos Luis Zafon (Translated by Lucia Graves)
Publisher: Orion
Pages: 882


 

Excerpt Of The Labyrinth of the Spirits,
That night I dreamed that I was going back to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. I was ten years old again, and again I woke up in my old bedroom feeling that the memory of my mother’s face had deserted me. And the way one knows things in a dream, I knew it was my fault and my fault only, for I didn’t deserve to remember her face because I hadn’t been capable of doing her justice.

Before long my father came in, alerted by my anguished cries. My father, who in my dream was still a young man and held all the answers in the world, wrapped me in his arms to comfort me. Later, when the first glimmer of dawn sketched a hazy Barcelona, we went down to the street. For some arcane reason he would only come with me as far as the front door. Once there, he let go of my hand, and I understood then that this was a journey I had to undertake on my own.

I set off, but as I walked I remember that my clothes, my shoes, and even my skin felt heavy. Every step I took required more effort than the previous one. When I reached the Ramblas, I noticed that the city had become frozen in a never-ending instant. Passersby had stopped in their tracks and appeared motionless, like figures in an old photograph. A pigeon taking flight left only the hint of a blurred outline as it flapped its wings. Motes of sparkling dust floated in the air like powdered light. The water of the Canaletas fountain glistened in the void, suspended like a necklace of glass tears.

Slowly, as if I were trying to advance underwater, I managed to press on across the spell of a Barcelona trapped in time, until I came to the threshold of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There I paused, exhausted. I couldn’t understand what invisible weight I was pulling behind me that barely allowed me to move. I grabbed the knocker and beat the door with it, but nobody came. I banged the large wooden door with my fists, again and again, but the keeper ignored my pleas. At last I fell on my knees, utterly spent. Then, as I gazed at the curse I had dragged behind me, it suddenly became clear to me that the city and my destiny would be forever caught in that haunting, and that I would never be able to remember my mother’s face.

 

SHORT TAKES
Yudhanjaya Wijeratne’s The Inhuman Race is the first of The Commonwealth Empire Trilogy.According to the synopsis, “The year is 2033. The British Empire never fell. Communism never happened. The Commonwealth flies the flag of the Empire. Many of the Empire’s colonies are stripped bare in the name of British interests, powerless to resist. Upon this stage is Ceylon: a once-proud civilization tracing itself back to the time of the Pharaohs, reduced but not dead: for the Great Houses of Kandy still control the most lucrative trade routes; and even dust and ashes can serve a purpose. In this surreal landscape, where technology and humanity intersect, we meet The Silent Girl—a survivor, an explorer.”

The Inhuman Race (The Commonwealth Empire Trilogy Book 1)
By: Yudhanjaya Wijeratne
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 200

 

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne’s Numbercaste is set in the not too distant future. The blurb reads, “When Patrick Udo is offered a job at NumberCorp, he packs his bags and goes to the Valley. After all, the 2030s are a difficult time, and jobs are rare. Little does he know that he's joining one of the most ambitious undertakings of his time. NumberCorp, crunching through vast amounts of social network data, is building a new society - one where everyone's social circles are examined, their activities quantified, and their importance distilled into the all-powerful Number. A society where the artist is as important as the billionaire. Where those with influence are rewarded, and those without, punished.”
Numbercaste
By: Yudhanjaya Wijeratne
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 300

 

The Last Avatar – Age of Kalki by Vishwas Mudagal is set, “In the not-so-distant future, when India has fallen, and the world is on the brink of an apocalyptic war. An attack by the terrorist group Invisible Hand has brutally eliminated the Indian Prime Minister and the union cabinet. As a national emergency is declared, chaos, destruction and terror reign supreme. From the ashes of this falling world, rises an unconventional hero - a vigilante known only as Kalki. Backed by a secret society called The Rudras, Kalki, along with Nushen, the Chinese superhuman spy, must do the impossible to save his country, and the world. But who is Kalki? A flesh and blood crusader with a mysterious past? Or the Messiah the world has been waiting for? The future of human survival depends on a single man. Will he become the living God prophesied as the last avatar of Lord Vishnu, or will he fade away as an outlaw?”
The Last Avatar – Age of Kalki
By Vishwas Mudagal
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 320

 

Vineet Bajpai has written three books that make up the Harappa Trilogy. The first two were Harappa – Curse Of The Blood River and Pralay--The Great Deluge, and the third is Kashi – Secret Of The Black Temple. The book blends mythology and history with a modern-day thriller.According to the synopsis, “1699 BCE, the Marshes of Aryavarta – As the titanic waves of pralay swallow city after city, a final battle for the Ark and the Earth begins. A ruthless barbarian-king threatens the very existence of mankind, heralding Kaliyuga - the eon of Kali.

“2017, Banaras – A sacred nakshatra erupts in the night-sky as the fateful, prophesied hour arrives. A God-sacrifice turns into a horrific raakshasa-bali, even as the devta uncovers the bloodstained chronicles of a sinister Brotherhood.“762 AD, the Rashtrakuta Empire the mighty Prithvivallabha receives a mysterious visitor from the holy city. The sovereign is entrusted with an ancient secret, setting him on the path of a legendary, impossible quest.“2017, New York City – A sixth-generation billionaire receives a phone call from the Big Man. The Overlords of the New World Order unleash their last lethal bid. Mumbai underworld joins forces with the messenger of the Devil himself.Will Vidyut survive his decisive war with the Brotherhood? What is the gruesome truth behind Europe’s 14th century Black Death? Read on to witness the final war between light and darkness, good and evil, Gods and demons.”
Kashi – Secret Of The Black Temple
By Vineet Bajpai
Publisher: Treeshade
Pages: 362

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