The Association Of Small Bombs – Rich, Evocative, Compelling

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I stumbled on to this book on a friend’s timeline and put it on hold at my local library. As someone working on a book of her own, I am forever on the lookout for books by Indian authors. So, this seemed a promising read.

The book starts with a bomb going off in a crowded marketplace. Two boys lose their life and the third runs away. What follows is almost a kaleidoscopic view of the implosion following the bomb attack. The survivors, the victims, the terrorists and the lives they touch. The book zooms in and out of the various scenes effortlessly, switching POVs and zooming out to paint a general picture. The language is rich and evocative bringing to life the Delhi of the solid middle class and the crowds jostling in Lajpat Nagar. You can feel the heat, smell the dust and are blinded by the vibrancy of details.

As someone who has grown up in Madras of yore, I could picture this happening in any big city in India or elsewhere. For me, this book was a visceral experience. As someone learning the craft of writing, I found Mahajan’s approach to putting the story first and the audience later work very well. The book does not compromise or cater to a specific audience and the story is the real winner here. Diversity and Own Voices is a trend in publishing and books like these need to be heard and seen.

Towards the end of the book, I felt myself zoning out unable to connect with Ayub’s POV or compulsion to turn terrorist but that did not stop me from finishing the book or savoring the incredible writing.

It is not a book for everyone. If you like literary books that take a hard hitting view and does not flinch from the hard stuff, this book is for you. Definitely a book worth another read for me.

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The Nightingale – A Riveting Read

TheNightingale

I bought this book after it was our book club pick for this month. It sat on my Kindle for over three weeks before I even looked it up. I had no idea what to expect as I skipped reading the synopsis or the reviews before buying the book.

I finished the book a day after I started reading with tears streaming down my eyes. Tears not because of the way it ends but for the powerful storytelling and a story that will stay in my head for years.

Hannah’s language is lyrical and evocative. The story starts in current day and slips effortlessly into the 1930s and 1940s. This is a tale of two sisters set in the middle of WWII. What makes this book unputdownable at 440 pages long is that the story hums along refusing to get bogged down by details. Yes, it about the war but it isn’t about bombs and being out in the trenches. It about the women left behind. The ones who trudge on through the days, weeks and years, carrying on running their homes, raising their children  despite the unspeakable horrors they witness. It is the story of courage – of mothers, of sisters, of friends and of neighbors. It is about what is worth fighting for when you have lost everything. Well, almost.

The magic of the story that Hannah spins is such that you are transported into the freezing winters of France, on to the sidewalks of Paris in its heydays and in the middle of rebels plotting to fight to the death. You are there, with Vianne, with Isabelle as they grapple with the questions of what is right and what they can do.

An absolutely lovely and thought provoking read. A book I know I will re-read in the years to come. A definite buy!

Before We Visit The Goddess – A Nuanced Read That Will Linger

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Before We Visit The Goddess by Chitra Divakaruni is a book I have been looking forward to since I saw the pre-release publicity on Twitter. I got it over the weekend from the library and savored it over the course of this afternoon.

The book opens ominously to jackals howling in the night and dives right into the life of Sabitri now penning a letter to her granddaughter Tara. As she mulls the kind of wisdom a grandmother can convey across generations and oceans, we are teased into her life and the life of her daughter Bela. Three women. Three generations. Three lives. The books jumps across time and continents and threads them together in piece that is compelling.

The language is evocative, the book plays like a series of montages spotlighting mom, daughter and grandmother. The other characters appear in and out, pay their role and bow out. You watch from the sidelines and ache for each of these women. The tropes are plentiful and before you worry that it might head to its cliched end, they morph and deliver something of value. You have the aging senior who needs a sitter, you have the visiting professor, you have the masseur boyfriend, you have the gay friend. Each of these characters are delightful making you wish they would linger on, yet the story teases you and playfully jumps on to the next scene.

At a time when novels tell you more than you want to know and spend agonizing hours on showing what the characters feel and do, Before We Visit The Goddess is crisp, leaping between plot points making you pay attention. A lot is left unsaid letting you the reader pontificate. It leaves glimpses of things that happened, the future that could be and lets you fill in the details.

This is a book that I may be tempted to read again or suggest as a book club selection. Definitely a keeper!