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Book Nook - 05-06-2017

Monday, June 05, 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 [email protected]

The Killing Fields And After
The Cambodian Civil War in the Seventies resulted in the most savage genocide in history, when followers of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge killed millions of people, imprisoned and tortured many more; several—mostly children—died of malnutrition and disease.

The mass graves of the massacred population were uncovered over time, and called The Killing Fields, by journalist Dith Pran, whose experiences were was turned into a disturbing film by Roland Joffe. There have been a few other books on the Cambodian horror, but few and far between.

Vaddey Ratner, who escaped from Cambodia as a child, wrote In The Shadow of The Banyan and now a second book, Music Of The Ghosts that takes the story forward to modern-day Cambodia, still reeling with memories of the past.

The protagonist is thirty-seven-year-old Teera, who had made a miraculous escape from Cambodia, along with the only other survivor of her family, her aunt Amara. They rebuilt their lives in America, but could not shake off their tragic history.

After Amara dies of cancer, Teera receives a letter from a man who calls himself Old Musician, and tells her he has a few musical instruments belonging to her father, that he would like her to have.  It takes Teera months of coming to terms with her sorrow and mustering up the courage to go to Cambodia, to confront the loss of her roots and the never-ending grief of losing her family.

The story unravels through the memories of Teera and the Old Musician, and events in the present, which include a romance with Dr Narunn, who understands and shares Teera’s pain. It is not easy for her to go to places that were once familiar and now only have echoes of torment.

The taxi driver who takes her around, the wise monk at the temple where Old Musician lives, an orphaned child, a family of survivors finding joy in their togetherness—everything adds to Teera’s understanding of the past and the enriches the experience of her return. She notices and embraces again the Cambodian way of life, wanting to shake off the tag of foreigner in the country of her birth.

But she sees, through an outsider’s eyes, “Shantytowns fight for their inch of land against sprawling residential estates and hotel grounds, against sprouting American-style shopping malls and Chinese-style row houses. Open sewage canals — clogged with plastic bottles and bags, the blackened water a hothouse for diseases heaving in the heat and dust — hem the streets boasting modern clinics and pharmacies.”

It may be a little repetitive and the prose too florid at times, but it is a very moving book. (In a scene that raises goosebumps, a mother whose children have died before her eyes, screams for their faces to remain uncovered, so that the people who dropped the bomb can see what they have done.)

The Holocaust is never allowed to slip out of the minds of the world—there are books, films, documentaries, TV shows and plays; the tragedy of Cambodia should not be forgotten either, the unimaginable suffering of the people should not be in vain.

Music Of The Ghosts
By Vaddey Ratner
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 336

Excerpt of Music of Ghosts
He feels his way in the confined space of the wooden cottage, hands groping in the dark, searching among the shadows through the blurred vision of his one good eye for the sadiev. The lute has called out to him in his dream, plucking its way persistently into his consciousness, until he's awake, aware of its presence beside him. His fingers find the instrument. It lies aslant on the bamboo bed, deeply reposed in its dreamlessness. His fingers inadvertently brush against the single copper string, coaxing a soft ktock, similar to the click of a baby's tongue. The Old Musician is almost blind, his left eye damaged long ago by a bludgeon and his right by age. He relies much on his senses to see, and now he sees her, feels her presence, not as a ghostly apparition overwhelming the tiny space of his cottage, nor as a thought occupying his mind, but as a longing on the verge of utterance, incarnation. He feels her move toward him. She who will inherit the sadiev, this ancient instrument used to invoke the spirits of the dead, as if in that solitary note, he has called her to him.

He lifts the lute to his chest, rousing it from its muted sleep, holding it as he often held his small daughter a lifetime ago, her heart against his heart, her tiny head resting on his shoulder. Of all that he's tried to forget, he allows himself, without reservation, without guilt, the reprieve of this one memory. The curve of her neck against his, paired in the concave and convex of tenderness, as if they were two organs of a single anatomy.

Why are you so soft? he'd ask, and always she'd exclaim, Because I have spinning moonlets! He'd laugh then at the sagacity with which she articulated her illogic, as if it were some scientific truth or ancient wisdom whose profound meaning eluded him. Later, at an age when she could've explained the mystery of her pronouncement, he reminded her of those words, but she'd forgotten she'd even uttered them. Oh, Papa, I'm not a baby anymore. She spoke with a maturity that pierced him to the core. She might as well have said, Oh, Papa, I don't need you anymore. Her eyes, he remembers, took on the detachment of one who'd learned to live with her abandonment, and he grieved her lost innocence, yearned for his baby girl, for the complete trust with which she'd once regarded him.

Something fluid and irrepressible rushes from deep within him and pools behind his eyes. He tries pushing it back. He can't allow himself the consolation of such emotion. Sorrow is the entitlement of the inculpable. He has no claim on it, no right to grief. After all, what has he lost? Nothing. Nothing he wasn't willing to give up then. Still, he can't help but feel it, whatever it may be, sorrow or repentance. It flows out of him, like the season's accumulated rain, meandering through the gorges and gullies of his disfigured face, cutting deeper into the geography of his guilt.

He runs his fingertips along the thin ridge, where the lesion has long healed. The scar, a shade lighter than the rest of his brown skin, extends crosswise from the bridge of his nose to his lower left cheek, giving the impression of two conjoined countenances, the left half dominated by his cataract eye, the right by smaller grooves and slash marks.

If his daughter saw him now, would she compare the jaggedness of his face to the surface of the moon? How would she describe the crudeness of his appearance? Would she see poetry in it? Find some consolably mysterious expression for its irreparable ruin? He never did make the connection between the softness of her skin and her imaginary moonlets. Now he is left to guess she probably associated the distant velvety appearance of the full moon with the caress of sleep, the lure of dreams that causes one's body to relax and soften. But even this is too rational a deduction, for he cannot trust his memories of the full moon to make such a leap. The last moon he saw clearly was more than two decades ago, the evening Sokhon died in Slak Daek, one among many of Pol Pot's secret security prisons across the country, each known only by their coded euphemism as sala. School. That evening, at Sala Slak Daek, the moon was bathed not in gentle porous light but in the glaring hue of Sokhon's blood. Blood that now tinges his one-eyed vision and sometimes alters the tone and texture of his memories, the truth.

R. Sridhar’s book, is a step by step guide to ideation, written with the lucidity that comes from experience, and would prove invaluable for young managers. According to the synopsis, “Unlock the Real Power of Ideation is a deceptively simple and powerful 'reference manual' for entrepreneurs, managers, and leaders, who want to think better, individually and as teams. A generous best-practice book on the process and practice of collaborating and asking better questions to achieve professional and personal goals…” It asks and answer the questions “  Why are bright managers unable to think differently? Why are, ideation sessions not productive as managers would like them to be?”
Unlock The Real Power Of Ideation
By R. Sridhar 
Publisher: Productivity & Quality Publishing 
Pages: 318

This one’s for science and astronomy geeks. Says the synopsis, “In 1995 two Swiss astronomers discovered a planet circling a star other than our Sun. This changed our perception of the Universe forever, proving that Earth and the other celestial bodies in our Solar System are not alone in outer space.

Now, after two decades of exploration, more than 860 planets have been discovered, many of which are completely unlike anything else we know. Some are blacker than coal; some are bathed in molten lava; others are perpetually scoured by hurricane-force winds; some have not one sun but two that rise in the morning, and others are perpetually drowned in global oceans.

But as well as strange, uninhabitable lands, there is familiarity too. Some of these alien worlds are strikingly similar to planets in our Solar System. Astronomers now know of planets just like Jupiter, Neptune, Mars and Mercury orbiting stars similar to our Sun, both nearby and deep into space.

Authoritatively written and fully up to date on this fast-moving area of science, The Search for the Earth's Twin will take you on a journey through the cosmos via frozen wastelands, slow-moving globes and fiery volcanic bodies, to planets that can - and just might - sustain complex life. The prospect of discovering the Earth's twin is now tantalisingly close.”
The Search For Earth’s Twin
By: Stuart Clark 
Publisher: Hachette 
Pages: 240

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