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Book Nook - 30-04-2018

Monday, April 30, 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 [email protected]

Courage And Grace
Many would remember the Ice Bucket Challenge, which had celebrities (and others) dumping a bucket of ice and water over their heads, to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as motor neurone disease. However, unvarnished facts about just what ALS is and how devastating it can be, are to be found in Lisa Genova’s Every Note Played.

Genova is the author of Still Alice that chronicled the suffering of a woman with premature dementia (made into an award-winning film, starring Julianne Moore), and how she and her family cope with it.  In the new book, also about a debilitating medical condition, a famous concert pianist is diagnosed with ALS. He loses the use of hands first, and has to give up his career. He becomes increasingly dependent on home care professionals, and after one particularly humiliating episode when he is locked out of his house and soils his clothes, he has to accept his bitter ex-wife Karina’s offer of shelter and care.

But as the disease progresses and one by one the patient’s muscles shut down, he cannot swallow, eat, speak clearly or even breathe without invasive machines. In spite of an acrimonious divorce caused by Richard’s repeated infidelity, Karina is driven by mercy to help him (no girlfriend is willing to put up with this condition of the man), but even she does not comprehend the magnitude of the sacrifice demanded of her. She can barely leave the house, her sleep is constantly interrupted by alarms from Richard’s room, she has to do every menial task for him and be alert 24X7. Their daughter Grace, who is not informed immediately of her father’s condition, is shocked into sullen silence when she comes home from college.

The characters in the book can afford the expensive gadgets and machines required to manage the disease, one cannot even imagine how a poor person could survive. Most patients live for three to five years in a state of utter helplessness—Stephen Hawking was the only exception, who lived for many years, but completely immobile..

Genova does not spare the reader the agony Richand and Karina go through and he still he wants to live. The one positive in their life is the home health aide, Bill, whose chronic cheerfulness covers his deep compassion, without which no one can do the work he does.

The book is painful to read, but also unputdownable. The raw emotions, the unflinching portrayal of a man’s decline and a test of a woman’s patience make for a book that is as terrifying as it is tragic.

Every Note Played
By Lisa Genova
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 320


Excerpt of Every Note Played
Richard sits down at his piano for the first time in three weeks, since August 17, the day his right index finger gave up the fight, the last of his right-handed fingers to fall deaf to his wishes. He’d been testing it daily. On August 16, he could tap his right index finger ever so slightly. He clung to this accomplishment, pathetically celebrating this movement that required massive mental and physical effort and that looked more like a feeble tremor than a tap. He placed his entire life’s hope on that finger, which eight months ago could dance across the keys of the most complex, athletic pieces without missing a beat, striking each note with just the right amount of force.



His index finger, every finger of his right hand, a finely calibrated instrument. If he made a single mistake while re- hearsing, if one of his fingers lacked confidence, strength, or memory and stumbled, he’d stop instantly and start the piece over from the beginning. There was never room for error. No excuse for his fingers.

Eight months ago, his right hand held five of the finest fingers in the world. Today, his entire right arm and hand are paralyzed. Dead to him, as if they already belong to a corpse.

He picks up his lifeless hand with his left and places it on the keys, setting his right thumb onto middle C, pinkie on G. He feels the cool sleekness of the keys, and the touch is sensual, seductive. The keys want to be caressed, the relationship ready and available to him, but he can’t respond, and this is suddenly the cruelest moment of his life. He stares in horror at his dead hand on the beautiful keys. It’s not simply that his hand is motionless that makes it appear dead. There’s no curl to his fingers. His entire hand is too straight, too flat, devoid of tone, personality, possibility. It’s atrophied, flaccid, impotent. It appears fake, like a Halloween costume, a Hollywood prop, a wax prosthetic. It can’t belong to him.

The air in the room thickens, too solid to breathe, and he can’t seem to remember how to inhale. A wave of panic slips through him. He places his left fingers on the keys, arm extended, wrist up, fingers curled, loving the keys they touch, and he inhales sharply. He heaves air through his lungs  as  if  running  for  his  life  while  his  desperate eyes search the keys and his two hands for what to do. What the hell can he do?

He begins to play Brahms I, actual notes with only his left hand, the right-hand notes with his mind’s ear. He played this fifty-minute concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood last summer. Eighty-seven pages memorized and played as near to perfection as anyone ever has. Some nights the music is well played and applauded, and other nights, the music is transcendent. He lives for those transcendent nights. That evening on the lawn, the entire orchestra was more than simply a cover band for Brahms. They were an open conduit, breathing life into the music, and he felt that ecstatic, energetic connection between his soul, the souls of the other musicians, the souls of the audience on the lawn, and the soul of the notes. He’s never been able to adequately describe the equation or the experience of this alchemy. Using language to convey the magic of Brahms would be like using a wooden classroom ruler to measure the speed of light.

While playing solely with his left hand, he closes his eyes to lose sight of his immovable corpse hand, and this cut-and-paste, mind-body performance is satisfying to him for a bit. But then he’s rocking his torso back and forth, an unshakable habit criticized by many of his teachers as being either distracting or indulgent, and accidentally knocks his right hand off its position on the keys. His entire dead arm dangles from his shoulder like a dropped anchor, heavy and painful, likely dislocated again.

He  uses  it. The  pain  in  Brahms  I,  the gravitas, the longing, the loss, the battle in the stormy first movement, like walking into war. The haunting solo played by his left hand. The lonely memory of the melody playing in his mind. The agony in his shoulder. The loss of his right hand.

He dares to wonder what part of himself he’ll lose next. His gut and his mind agree.

Your other hand.

He wails aloud and strikes the keys harder with his left hand while he still can. He loses the sound of the melody in his memory and can now hear only what is real, vibrations produced by hammers and felt and strings and vocal cords, and the absence of the right-handed notes feels like a death, a loss of true love, the bitter end of a relationship, a divorce.

It feels just like his divorce. He lifts his left hand high above the keys and hesitates, stopping the piece just before the crescendo of the first movement, his heart pounding in his shoulder and in the sudden silence, the unfinished song, his interrupted life. He curls his left hand into a fist and pounds the keys as hard as he can as if in a street fight as he weeps, betrayed and heartbroken all over again.

The summary of Jamal Merchant’s One Enduring Lesson reads, “Give me your money, or I will kill you!’‘Please…’ I gasped. ‘I’ve come from England to study!’
‘Well, let this be your first lesson, English boy…’

Eager to start a new phase in life, Rahul Saxena, 27, a half-Indian British citizen, recently out of job and rejected in love, lands in Mumbai from London to study filmmaking. But little does he know that Mumbai, the city of dreams, will turn his life inside out. From the dark corners of the streets as a professional rat killer to the vermin-infested confines of a jail, from shady dance clubs to the homes of Mumbai’s rich women where he is paid to provide pleasure—fate takes him on a roller-coaster ride that challenges his very will and determination to survive. When his secret life threatens to destroy even the love that he finds, Rahul seeks recourse in spirituality. Inspired by India’s synergetic religious traditions, Rahul fights back internal and external demons to write his own destiny.One Enduring Lesson is a tale of the undying human spirit of survival against all odds.”

One Enduring Lesson
By Jamal Merchant
Publisher: Rupa
Pages: 274

The synopsis of Navin Reuben Dawson’s fantasy novel The Lost Arcanum reveals, “Arcanum is a lost cache of esoteric wisdom guarded by a prehistoric secret brotherhood that besides holding dangerous information on disciplines ranging from metaphysical science, alchemy, advanced microbiology, anthropology and exhaustive cosmogony had known to contain, amongst many other, mankind's greatest untold truth about his origin. It's the subject of one of history's intriguing mysteries that was lost to time. But now, the hunt to unearth that cache of lost esoteric wisdom has begun once more. On the verge of solving series of gruesome murders, CBI officer, Jake Stevens, is pulled from the investigation. Intrigued, Jake seek answers and eventually stumbles upon a link that connects his long dead father and the murders to a secret - The Lost Arcanum. The link - a meticulously crafted cipher propels Jake through labyrinth of ancient secrets, hidden history and unseen truths scattered across the mysterious landscape of India, drawing him closer to a devastating secret buried since the beginning of time. With an unexpected company of Taneez - a historian, entangled in a treacherous chase with a professional killer and covert organization, Jake find himself on a deadly collision course with forces of vengeance, greed, power and the lost history itself.”

The Lost Arcanum
By Navin Reuben Dawson
Publisher: Invincible
Pages: 462

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