book review · books · history · reading · writing

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf


Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no
bolt, that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

In as little as sixty pages, Virginia Woolf covers the entire span of humanity’s greatest chasm- the inexplicable notion of ‘male’ and ‘female’, the unending debate on the cycles of gender oppression and denial. This short fictionalized account from 1929 considers what it would take for the world to have more women writers but the essay covers so much more than just women’s ability or inability to pen down their thoughts through the ages. Ms Woolf talks about why there is so little to be found of women’s autobiographical accounts of themselves and how that has led to a vicious chain of suppression for women writers. .

I can say more but I would rather pen some quotes from the book which conveyed the point much better:

“Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.””Possibly when the professor insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority. That was what he was protecting rather hot-headedly and with too much emphasis, because it was a jewel to him of the rarest price. Life for both sexes- and I look at them, shouldering their way along the pavement- is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate that imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By feeling that one has some innate superiority…”

“Suppose, for instance, that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; how few parts in the plays of Shakespeare could be allotted to them; how literature would suffer! We might perhaps have most of Othello; and a good deal of Antony; but no Caesar, no Brutus, no Hamlet, no Lear, no Jaques–literature would be incredibly impoverished, as indeed literature is impoverished beyond our counting by the doors that have been shut upon women.”
“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to.”
“Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.”

“All this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority, belong to the private-school stage of human existence where there are ‘sides,’ and it is necessary for one side to beat another side, and of the utmost importance to walk up to a platform and receive from the hands of the Headmaster himself a highly ornamental pot.”

And so, despite its often unsavory topic, this essay was not a bitter, distasteful rant but a reasonably concluded commentary on women’s role in recorded history over the ages. Ms Woolf expresses an optimism about the future- and indeed, we can look back now and feel fortunate that so much has changed and writing is such an easy and fluid occupation for women today than it ever was (of course, to be truthful, writing is hardly ever easy and often excruciatingly rigid in its flow). This essay does not lose its timelessness because it is unapologetic about the past of one half of humanity and yet does not beg or pray or demand but releases softly into the world a delicate truth that must have taken it by storm when it first appeared in print.

PS: The one glaring absurdity she expresses is a belief that a woman (or man, for that matter) cannot write unless she has a steady income and a room to call her own. She says that impoverished individuals cannot be good writers which is a bluntly snobbish statement to make.

Advertisements
books · reading

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


There was something strangely appealing about the way this book laid down its groundwork and embarked upon what promised to be a tumultuous portrayal of a unique individual with an unknown obsession. The only problem is that the title of the book is so suggestively ambitious and the foundation so solid, that the rest of the book inspires a mere ‘meh’ from me.

The Great Gatsby claims to be a commentary on the ‘Roaring Twenties’ but other than a few sparkling and gaudy scenes, it falls short on the front. Once you have understood how all the guests that frequent Gatsby’s swinging parties possess false bottoms, there is nothing else to examine in their scanty conversations and their petty gossip about Gatsby’s origins.

The book also claims to be a love story about two damaged individuals who are destroyed by a materialism they could not sustain. As with most else here, you just have to accept this fact at face value. You never see the ingenuity of Gatsby’s vast fortune-amassing schemes or the freshness in Daisy, who is somehow said to have induced in him a passion so ardorous, he created an entire empire of wealth to host her extravagant demands. What was it that held these two together despite five years of separation? What trails did they undergo along their journey? What makes their love a love worthy of the narrator’s attentions?

Coming to the narrator himself, this story is told from the first person view of Nick Carrayway, a detached neighbor. The purpose, I believe, is that Nick’s cynical and objective assessment is meant to give the plot an appearance of beholding a distant phenomenon with an intimacy that an eye-witness can provide. But it fails even there! It is impossible to gauge the slow transformation of Nick’s sympathies from that of impersonal observance to that of hero-worship towards Gatsby. Indeed, there is no substantial reason for his shift because when Nick starts off with his suspicious interpretation of Gatsby’s murderous gaze, you believe him. But when he randomly becomes the vehicle of Gatsby’s deliverance, you’re left in the haze because you’re never told when and why you should like Gatsby.

Coming to Gatsby himself, I couldn’t understand what it is that makes him ‘Great’. I could not help but be as annoyed as Tom Buchanan, every time Gatsby called someone an ‘old sport’. The exposition of his past life is brief and leaves a bitter after-taste of incompleteness in your mouth- right from his explosion on the scene of decadence to the passion that leads him down that path in the first place. Who was Gatsby and why was he who he was? Why did Nick grow into his staunch right-hand-man? What inspired all the gossip and hatred towards him? Why was he damaged by his love and how did it consume him? Why should we believe in him? All unanswered questions.

This book was clearly a disappointment to me. I enjoyed the lucidity of Fitzgerald’s expression and the simple weaving of the plot. But the plot itself felt flimsy to me, the characters constantly fell short of expectation. What could have been a beautiful book capturing the essence of an epoch, came across to me as an exaggerated story about unrelatable characters.

books · Fiction · reading

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo


Les Miserables is, above all, the story of Jean Valjean, who was captured for trying to feed his hungry sister and her children. His imprisonment lasts for varying time durations, as he breaks out again and again until he encounters a bishop who does him a turn so magnanimous, that it causes a complete change in his psyche. From then onward, his story is one of good against bad, where he always chooses self-sacrifice in the face of the safety of one little girl entrusted to his care by her unfortunate mother- for this girl, he becomes the light that protects her from darkness; her savior, her father and more. It is the story of his many conflicting thoughts, his suffering, his constant struggle. Along the way, we grow well-acquainted with many other characters- the young woman Fantine, who spends her whole life trying to provide for her daughter through the deep miseries she bears; Cosette, the little girl whose well-being is central to the plot; Marius, the noble and selfless young man who loves truly and wishes to convert a monarchy into a republic; Thenadier who will unscrupulously fall to any lengths to achieve his aims, Javert, who struggles with questions of authority and is thus unable to reconcile his personal agenda with that of the monarchy he serves; and several others.

There is something about the thickest classics I’ve read- you dust the covers and plunge into a vast, unexplored world. Like walking through wilderness, there is so much overgrowth when you start that you feel small and pale in comparison. But the further in you travel, the more captivated you become by the bits and pieces of beauty you find enclosed within its pages. Reading a classic is usually challenging- it tests your patience. But the rewards you reap are beautiful. Les Miserables is one such book. I started reading slowly, unsure of what I would find. It was so luxurious, richly scripted and well-crafted to the finest detail of its plot, that I was excited about how it would proceed. In addition to that, it painted a great picture of Paris at the epoch in which it is based- the story is mostly set between a ten year period and culminates with the July Revolution of 1832.

There is a lot to digest in Les Miserables. From complex character sketches to great descriptions of places and events to philosophical and political discussions, it paints quite a picture. The plot often takes detours at critical moments in the story, which goes to show how much patience you really need to proceed with this 1400-something pages sage. The imagery is rich. I was constantly lost within the passages of this book. There are many places where I could not help but disagree with Victor Hugo though, mostly about questions of God (for he chose all his terrible characters to be disbelievers of God and all his best ones to be deeply devoted to Him- which was rather linear and reflected his personal beliefs), but that was okay because it was written so long ago. There was a lot I was amused by- such as a long passage in which he ventures to mention ‘virginal’ Cosette’s toilette and then immediately plunges into three paragraphs about how unbecoming it is to disrespect the innocence of  a virgin by even merely drawing attention to it; or the passage where Cosette and Marius are conversing and Marius looks away if her dress lifts even as far as her ankle or if it plunges a little down her neck.

A book that makes you weep proves that it touched your heart. That is why I loved Les Miserables so much. I was crying when Fantine, Gavroche, Eponine, M. Gillenormand or the little Cosette suffered. I was very moved when Jean Valjean suffered. The characters of this story really touched me- Marius, Valjean, Fantine and Gavroche especially. I found the grown-up Cosette a little hard to bear.

Anyway, I know I will cherish this book and I do not regret having spent so much time on it. Definitely a great classic, every bit as brilliant as promised.

reading · writing

Another Letter (To Myself?)


My Dear,

I hope you are doing well. I am writing this letter because I have such strange desires in my heart today. I do not know how to share them! I don’t want to write a single word without carefully weighing it anymore. I am searching for thoughts now. I am reaching out into the universe with my entire soul concentrated on tapping that unreleased creative energy which lies latent just underneath my life’s outer skin. I want to be a writer someday! It’s been my dream since I was a little girl. More importantly, however, I kept thinking I would wait for a time when I have gathered enough experience to have the most meaningful things to write about. Today I am filled with a horrific doubt for the first time. This is something I have heard before but never imagined possible: What if everything that needs to be said has already been said? And anything else I do or say is just a reflection of something already out there? This means a skeptic who reads something I write could easily say, ‘Well, so what is new in that? This shit has already been said before, since eternity.’

Maybe this thought is a sign that I am growing up. Grown-ups have doubts and fears. One of the main characters in a movie I recently watched states it, ‘What if I have already experienced every feeling I ever will and everything from here on out is just a repetition of those?’ It could be true. As we grow older, life seems to speed up. I thought this was a recent phenomenon, owing to the speed our lives have gained due to the effects of technology. To a certain extent it is, of course. So much of what we do is confined on the internet that we harness swiftness as our eyes and fingers move over the screen and keyboard and our mind briskly processes information. But the other angle is that as we grow older and know ourselves better, we gauge our own reactions and the turmoils of our teenage agony fades away.

Until a few month ago, I would have given anything to replace that pain with stability. So I chose to do just that. Over the course of half a year (or maybe it started unconsciously long before that), I re-created the bricks upon which I began to build myself anew. Pains are still fresh enough in my mind for me to not want to go down that road. But I imagine ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years of this. And that makes me want to go insane! My mind is already searching for something new. Which is why the same sort of books and movies representing the same emotions are no longer enough. I need to feel something different in the things other people have created. And in the things I create myself.

I extended this argument further in my head as I typed the above paragraphs. I got to the root of my problem: this was something else that was burning inside me in the recent weeks. I watch everyone getting married and starting a family. I know, inevitably, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow morning, one day I will get married and have (or try to have) children. But…then what? I know it is what everyone is doing and that seems to make it lose some of its value. This isn’t because these things aren’t beautiful or worth having (because of course they are). Nor is it because I want them, someday in the distant future. But because this is the standard society is holding over my head and that alone makes me feel like a clown.

That is why I have started to think of writing as my one single saving grace. Words hold a strange power over me. They distort my reality but I love them more for that. I want my experiences to be translated into words because nothing else is enough. I don’t think I knew how powerful words were in my life! There was a whole year where I barely wrote anything but the flimsiest excuses of prose that could possible exist. Somewhere along the road, I found those words again and now I want to lean on them again. But how! It takes finesse to create something wonderful. I want my words to be more than just random letters laid on sheets of paper! People tell me I am a good writer but I value the opinion of those who point out my flaws more than those who say how formidable, effortlessly talented my writing really is. It isn’t! I know that. They might not. So I want to see the my writing reflected in the eyes of readers who know what they see when they see it.

There are three ways to begin as soon as I possibly can: One, of course, is to have a journal again. Much as I adore this blog with all my heart, the content I put out here should be slightly more thought-over than it currently is. A post of this sort is useful once in a while but I should be able to do more of this writing in a journal. I love pretending to be writing letters. Of course, I created a “Kitty” of my own in my old journal and for some pointless reason, I called her ‘Lucy’. I no longer want that, of course. I want a journal where I can stick to the format of letters but they should reflect my growth over this period of time.

The other inspired solution owes itself to the reading of The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. I adored the harsh standards to which Sylvia Plath held herself as a poet and author. She berated every sentence she created. This has never been my style. I’ve been in the habit of pouring out the insanity of the minute and then watching it spread slowly over my consciousness until the meanings pop out. There are times when I am ‘inspired’ by something beyond the ordinary. Posts like ‘My Unborn- A Letter’ are a testimony to that. But most other posts are tiny sparks that I convert into something more. I do not do it painstakingly and I do allow myself mistakes- lots of them. I want however, to capture tiny moments and learn from exercises that actually show a pattern of evolution. For that, I must learn to capture the essence of descriptions- people, places, emotions and more. There are numerous ways to do this and I want to start trying. This needn’t be a daily exercise but as frequent as I want. After all, I did keep a diary for eight years. I should know how to channelize myself better.

The third, of course, is to keep reading. In 2013, I read 30 of the 50 book target I set for myself. This year I managed 32. I don’t mind the count. Having enjoyed reading books such as ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ and ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, which were long and challenging, I feel satisfied with my numbers. But this year I ended up reading a lot of books I wished I hadn’t! If I give myself a good 60 years more to read books and pretend to be able to manage a book a week (which means 52 books a year), I’d only have read 3120 books by the time I die. That is nothing compared to the books that are out there, begging to be read! And of course, I cannot and do not want to read 52 books a year because that would mean I raced through them without stopping to smell the roses. Also, life would get so hectic soon that I wouldn’t be able to manage even 30 books, unless I’m in every weekend (which is quite plausible, but let’s pretend it isn’t).  And that would be utterly pointless. So I need to concentrate on reading better books which make me feel like I achieved something. I must be careful of what I pick up because once I start a book, I cannot leave it midway. So I should be more careful about my reading choices than I have been.

This could be a ‘Resolution’ post to the future me. Now that I am nearing the end of it, I think that is what it has grown into. I do not like keeping resolutions per se but giving this post that label helps justify having it out on my blog. I need to buy a journal that suits my needs. If anyone who is reading this has any tangible suggestions on that front, I’d be happy to receive them.

As 2014 draws to a close, I am forced to think in a backwards direction. I cannot help it. 2014 was more stable than I might have hoped. Every year keeps getting more so. What sort of a creature am I, to want more! Stability was what I wanted and now I want to be swept off my feet! But please, life, do not take this as an invitation to swing out into a tangent direction! Instead, curve slowly towards something new and interesting. And teach me the art of mastering my emotions without losing them, so I can use them to play by my strengths!

Wow. I really must be growing up, in order to be able to give myself such mature advice.

Love,

S.

books · Fiction · reading

Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin


Retired. Haunted. Alcoholic. Smoker. Rebellious. Cheeky. Dark. Old School. And yet on the side of the law. Rebus is everything he has ever been and more as he takes the front seat in another great murder mystery by Ian Rankin.

Rebus is digging skeletons from closets, trying to fill his spare time with long-closed but unsolved cases instead of just liquor and music records. Boxes in a room with pages upon pages full of transcripts, notes and reports about victims who never got justice. His aim is to be back on the squad. The retirement age has taken  an upward swing and he is eligible again. Of course, the skeletons in his own closet mean he is under the strictest of scrutiny. A determined young officer is eager to see Rebus fall of the bandwagon. And yet, somehow, Rankin has you believe it’s a good idea to follow your dark and dangerous hero over to the other side and root for him when he’s on to the big stuff and cry with him when he turns back from his daughter’s door, choosing instead to call  her from miles away and being okay with just hearing her voice.

And then a mother comes into the picture. Convinced that her daughter, who had disappeared years ago, had actually been murdered by a serial killer. Almost nobody else had believed her but Rebus chooses to carry the box of files she claims are linked, back to his empty house and examine them at leisure.

While a hunch starts to take over him, another missing girl leads him to the conclusion that something isn’t right in these sporadic disappearances. And the ever-resourceful Siobhan Clarke is going to find that once more, having Rebus around would be as advantageous as it would be a pain-in-the-ass.

I just love how dark and deadly stories become in the hands of Rankin. He paints Edinburgh as a thriving, throbbing monster. He deals with Rebus with unforgiving bitterness and yet pulls him through in the end. I wouldn’t be very surprised if one of these days Ian Rankin decides Rebus has had a full life and must now fall to his own grave. I don’t expect a Sherlock-esque protest for rebirth. Rebus would just have to be a good man and stay dead.

In the meantime, retired or not, he is full of acid sarcasm and the best of crazy ideas as he chases murderers through the deep ends of Scottish country and her rain-drenched cities.

A slight complain from this book. Towards the end I was still expecting a more staggering truth to grasp me but that never came. There was one and only one conclusion and past it, I was left with a little bit more desire. That being said, Rankin’s books never fail to haunt me, at least for a night or two.

It’s just not another man’s grave every time, is it?

books · Fiction · reading

The Secret of the Nagas and The Oath of the Vayuputras (Amish Tripathi)


(I had to do a combined review of these books because I wouldn’t have known what to say if I didn’t.)

The Secret of the Nagas and The Oath of the Vayuputras are the second and third parts respectively of a trilogy following a fictionalized human manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva.

Amish Tripathi writes with straightforwardness and with the best of intentions, no doubt. But his books leave much to be desired. Is it okay if I call him AT for the rest of the review?

First thing that strikes me throughout the series is that AT lets his characters talk colloquially, often with hilarious consequences.
So, for example, we have Kali tell Sati that she has always been ‘daddy’s little princess’. And Veerbhadra teases Parvateshwar and his wife by exclaiming, ‘get a room, you two!’. And Shiva says things like ‘Oh hell’ and ‘Shit!’

The characters are pretty much linear too. When they do decide to develop complex,  conflicting emotions like real humans do, they come through as over-chewed cardboard cutouts.

It is strange to me that while Shiva talks against blind belief, the openness to question existing rigid systems, including changing some aspects of existence which had apparently been introduced by Lord Ram (he justifies this by saying this is what Lord Ram would have wanted and he knows that because he is the much-proclaimed Neelkanth), he chooses to chant god’s name and pray every day. But I found it rather amusing.

Keeping the initial story intact, AT weaves a human life for Shiva but in the process, perhaps in his need to maintain the semblance of the legend, he lets the plot take absurd turns. His characters often talk illogically.

Case in point?

 Parvateshwar, Shiva’s General and staunchest supporter makes some of the most foolish proclamations and declarations a clever man can ever be expected to make. He isn’t the only one though. Logic is given a big kick out of the window but instead of replacing it with something believable, AT chooses to let the plot limp along. Until…

And I must stress that this was, for me, the saving point of the series. The ending.
It wasn’t what I expected. Perhaps this was because AT chose to follow the original plot without modifying it into something that would please his mainstream audience a lot more. And I see across the internet, a volley of complaints launched at him for going down this particular road. People don’t want to see their hero suffer. God forbid if a God be reduced to something less than all-knowing, all-powerful and completely, one hundred percent invincible.
But I liked that.
In the end, I liked AT for putting a modern spin on Shiva’s tale. I liked how he treated the issues of caste-ism and gender. I liked, for the most part, the values he tried to impart in a manner that people might enjoy.

So although the plot fell short with loopholes abound, what I really enjoyed was how it came together in the end. It was the redeeming part of the story, the reason I felt it was okay that I spent time on the trilogy. Ultimately, I enjoyed the flawed but likable protagonist Shiva and his immediate family.

And they’re making a movie out of this?

Oh no. :/

 

Fiction · reading

The Cuckoo’s Calling by J.K. Rowling (written as Robert Galbraith)


“Why were you born when the snow was falling?
You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling…
…Why did you die when the lambs went cropping?
You should have died at the apples’ dropping”

– A Dirge, Christina G. Rossetti

When the most beautiful model in London falls to her death from the third floor balcony of her swanky apartment at one-thirty on a snowy night, the media and police alike are quick to write it off as suicide. After all, she had been in and out of rehab for a drug addiction and her bipolar disorder. Her brother however, isn’t convinced that she was suicidal and something is refusing to add up in his head. So he approaches private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate.
Reeling under the bulk of a loan he cannot repay, a rent he is struggling to meet and a newly-appointed temporary secretary Robin who is so efficient, he is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that he cannot afford her, Cormoran Strike’s past is checkered with ghosts. When he is approached with the case he is quite sure there isn’t much he can do but the money seems lucrative enough for him to agree to investigate the circumstances. As he starts to delve into the model Lula Landry’s life and circumstances however, he starts to realize that something is wrong. As he finds himself falling into her shoes, a new story begins to emerge. Soon there will be no turning back for him.

When I first heard about this phenomenon of Ms Rowling having written a book under a pen name, just to see how her book will be received outside the circle of fame Harry Potter has necessarily tagged on to her, I was impressed beyond belief. I have always maintained that she did a very brave thing by renouncing her continued Harry Potter legacy and shifting to other things. I loved The Casual Vacancy for that reason (and also for the fact that it was a book worth loving in it’s own right) and here again I feel nothing but adulation for the woman who refuses to live in the past and strives to explore different genres. For writers this is often very hard to do when they taste success in a particular area of writing, they often feel compelled to stick to their zone and keep their feet firmly planted on the ground. For the renowned author of such staggering bestsellers, this task must be doubly difficult. Spin-offs from the Potter franchise could arguably support her for the rest of her (and her children and grandchildren’s) natural life in luxury and turning her pen into a different genre is a very creative move.

Ms Rowling’s crime writing is engaging but conventional. Her hero carries the baggage  of failed relationships and a disturbing childhood along with a briefly haunting spell in the army. Despite the similarities you can draw between this and various other troubled detective protagonists over the years, there is a freshness to Cormoran Strike. Beginning with his unusual name (a personal penchant of Rowling’s), Strike is an emboldened war veteran who lives out of his office due to a lack of habitat and money, and limps on a prosthetic leg; having lost the real thing in his war years. Although Rowling provides him with a secretary- the beautiful, kindly but highly resourceful Robin and cracks her own joke about the highly obvious Batman-Robin analogy, she offers fresh spins there too.

Cormoran Strike does all the normal things a detective must do to get to the bottom of a case and like most good crime protagonists we follow, he breaks the occasional law and does the occasional rule bending to stay ahead in his game. The impassivity I felt towards this protagonist in the beginning of the book turned from begrudging relating to strong empathy as I went through it. By the time I had turned the last page, I was firmly a fan.

Once again I looked for the haunting shadows of Harry Potter in the pages of a book by Rowling. It is hard to believe that the creator of that magical story can resort to writing about such mundane, every day things as Afghanistan wars, threading eyebrows (‘it’s like plucking but with a thread?’) and the ugly side of the high lives of the posh. And yet the descriptions are as colorful as ever with hints of that famously mischievous sarcasm. There’s also the occasional uninterrupted monologue which is actually a two-way conversation cut down to it’s essentials, often reducing the protagonist to only a witness. Cormoran is sometimes just there but laconically inscrutable, with a characteristic notebook and pen, while his interviewees talk. His methods of reaching conclusions are, however, less immersing than the step-by-step logic of, say a Poirot or a Holmes, and more in the spirit of a Felix Felicis-esque dependence on what seems like wild theorizing.

Other characters too are colorful and often conflicting, told through the eyes of one another they each come out in bits and pieces and it’s only as the story progresses that you can seriously start to etch them into a niche because the whole picture offers a perspective that you do not get midway in. Even easily fit-table characters like Robin the newly-engaged alacritous temp offers a bunch of endearing, if slightly predictable scenes. As does the well-meaning sister.

With all the elements of crime writing intact, Ms Rowling is clearly rooting for a return of Cormoran Strike. For all his slowly growing charms and passive endurance, I am looking forward to that return. It’s been a long time since I read a breezy book way into the wee hours of the morning, not wanting to put it down and go to bed because the urge to read the ending was so compelling. It’s been too long since I read something so consumable. I had forgotten how much of a crime-fiction fanatic I have been and I long to return to the genre more than I have been in the recent past. I don’t mind a return of this unlikely hero. In fact I unutterably look forward to it. I’m sure that subsequent Strike books will be quite as charming and far more polished than this quite pleasant debut.

books · history · reading

Jerusalem- The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore


“O Jerusalem, fragrant with prophets
The shortest path between heaven and earth…
A beautiful child with burned fingers and downcast eyes…
O Jerusalem, city of sorrow, 
A tear lingering in your eye…
Who will wash your bloody walls? 
O Jerusalem, my beloved
Tomorrow the lemon-trees will blossom; the olive-trees rejoice; your eyes will dance; and the doves fly back to your sacred towers”

– Nizar Qabbani, Jerusalem

The story of Jerusalem is a story of 3000 years of existence in a city that is marked sacred for three of the world’s greatest monotheistic religions. It is a story of a city that has wept tears of blood while its own inhabitants fought for control over one another and conquerors poured in through its golden gates to capture the sanctity and revel in the deliverance that it inadvertently and perhaps unwillingly promised to the world. But not just that, Jerusalem- The Biography is the story of maddening lust borne on the shoulders of men and women who plotted, rioted and murdered but also wept, besieged and prayed for a chance to live in the city’s merciless bosom.

In a wistfully poetic fashion, the author traces the often-complicated and blood-thirsty history of which is perhaps the world’s most inextricable city, tangled in its own stories and in a web of overlapping ambitions and counteracting dreams. It is written in unbiased prose but is a mesmerizing account of everything Jerusalem’s people have been through.

From the Kingdom of David and the Herods, to the crucification of Jesus Christ and the subsequent formation of Christendom, from the prophecies of Muhammad and the Arab conquests to the much-glorified Crusades, from the modern politics and the world wars and the mandates, to the conclusive Six Day War and right up to the Israel-Palestine stalemate of the twenty first century, life in Jerusalem has hardly ever seen a peaceful period. Aside from bouts of undisturbed culture that rises like a crescendo, the remaining phrases of Jerusalem have been distraught with frenzied killings and invasions, riots and pogroms, all in the name of God. Could a solution ever be reached in a city which is ‘more a flame than  a city and no one can divide a flame‘? Dr. Sebag-Montefoire hopes that such a solution will one day be within grasp. he acknowledges Jerusalem’s fragility and describes a daily modern-day dance of rituals between the various sects that call their holy shrines on its soil but he seems to think peaceful coexistence is possible. I would not venture to be so hopeful.

This book is like a lilting tale passing from era to era with a flowing timeline. Jerusalem changed hands often enough- from Jewish to Christian to Islamic and back full circle, she saw hundreds of rulers. Each of them have been carved out distinctly and impartially here. It may be impossible to remember names and events unless you have a photographic memory or resort to taking notes. But what am I taking away from this book?

Probably a better understanding of the convergence of the Abrahamic religions. The knowledge that all three spawn from one another and share the same stories and the same ultimate goals, yet each claims superiority and remains in a constant state of hostile retaliation with the other. Although it is easily observable that Judaism has almost always been at the persecuted end of the spectrum and Islam is mostly irreconcilable and rigidly violent, without taking sides one can be wishful that all three would simply see some sense. Their histories are common, they share the same shrine and worship the same God (if they must do so at all). Why then must so many human lives be pointlessly sacrificed for no visible goal? If Apocalypse is coming, must we face it with our hands reddened and our hearts leaded? This question will remain on my mind.

Life · reading · writing

Blogiversary!


Blue Loft turns FOUR.

http://latherwriterepeat.blogspot.in/2011_03_01_archive.html

Four? Are you freaking kidding me? It’s been four years since I have been writing in this little white box bordered with a bunch of random tools and just hitting ‘Publish’ and letting thoughts out into the globe? Four years ago (oh boy, here I go again), I had no idea what to expect when I started putting some of the scribbles out of my notebooks and diaries up here just because people said I should. But this space has become ‘home’ in  weird way and it’s obviously great to have people tell me they enjoyed a post or two (who doesn’t like flattery?).

New Monthly Segment

So far I haven’t really been doing any regular segments although I have often thought about them. The nearest I have come to this has probably been through my Dexter and Game of Thrones weekly reviews. But for a while now I have wanted to do a section on some interesting unsolved/solved/unsolvable cases/stories/anecdotes. The world is stories we wonder about but many are left untold and so I’m going to take something interesting up each month and speculate upon it. This is exciting! But let’s see. I’m going to start this month with something interesting, I promise you. 🙂

Thank you for stopping by and making me not feel like a complete idiot who is just blubbering to herself.

I’m grateful for every view, like, comment, vote and subscription. I really am. I would have gone on writing anyway (probably. hopefully) but it’s better to know that a bunch of people actually do stop by to read what is often only a random rant like this one.

And so although I’m not launching into another year of blogging with the toddler Blue Loft with any sort of pomp whatsoever, I just hope that if you’ve ever found something here that you liked, you’ll keep coming back and finding more reasons to connect. 🙂