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The Namesake, The Brothers Karamazov & The Shadow Lines

Ok, so 90 days since I last posted a review here. Wow! I shouldn’t have let that happen especially after I vowed on this very blog that I’d write here more frequently after reading any book. Not that anybody is reading this but I feel like I cheated! Anyways..another day and another promise to write more frequently!

So what did I read in the last 3 months? Well, I read 2 excellent books and 1 pretty good book. 3 books doused in coffee from the local coffee shop. A coffee shop is my third choice for reading a book behind a riverfront and a scenic park but as Jagger once said, ‘You don’t always get what you want’!

‘The Namesake’ and ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ were the 2 excellent books and ‘The Shadow Lines’ was the pretty good one.

The Namesake has been loaned to a friend!
‘The Namesake’ has been loaned to a friend!

TBK needless to say is a classic. Einstein said that, “Dostoevsky gives me more than any scientist, more than Gauss”. I don’t disagree. This is the 2nd book from Dostoevsky that I’ve read after ‘Crime and Punishment’. This book has 3 main characters, the 3 brothers, Dmitry (my favorite), Ivan and Alyosha, and all 3 are the main protagonist in their own right. Very much like C&P, our heroes here are quite conflicted in their heads (aren’t we all?). They think multiple contradicting thoughts and talk themselves into a frenzy, once again very much like C&P! Dmitry is the flawed one and hence the most real in my opinion. He has the most righteous of intentions but far too often succumbs to his “sensual” side. There are times where he shows the utmost probity but at other times careens uncontrollably to the other side of deceit and corruption. Writing about this now reminds me of the quote from Batman Begins, “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” And through the course of the story Dmitry does the damnedest of things! As a result he ends up getting convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, that of patricide! The story is a riveting read and I highly recommend it!

‘The Namesake’ was made into a movie a few years back. I never really watched the movie but in spite of that I could almost imagine the 3 actors (Tabu, Irfan Khan and Kal Penn) speaking as I was reading their characters’ lines in the book. Not sure how they acted out their parts but the casting couldn’t have been more apt I felt. Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli are an Indian couple that leave their country to make a life in the US and Gogol is their son who is born in the US. Having lived myself for 8 years in the US, these weren’t merely characters in a novel to me. These were people I’ve known. These were people I’ve been! Their problems were problems I’ve known. Their problems were problems I’ve seen!

All Bengalis have a Bhalo-Naam (a good name) and a Daak-Naam (a pet name). “Pet names are a persistent remnant of childhood, a reminder that life is not always so serious, so formal, so complicated”, the author says. Unfortunately for our story’s protagonist, his pet name sticks and he comes to be known as Gogol Ganguli while being an Indian kid in the United States (Gogol is a Russian name). Talk about identity issues! This is a coming of age story of him and along the way his family. It has some pretty poignant moments throughout, none more than the time Gogol goes to Ohio after his father dies alone due to a heart attack. He thinks of the times they spent together. “Remember that you and I made this journey together to a place where there was nowhere left to go”, his father had told him once, he remembers. I am paraphrasing The Times I think when I say that the author has spun sheer gold from the straw of ordinary lives!

Now on to the third book, ‘The Shadow Lines’. Amitav Ghosh has written this book in a unique way I think. He starts telling a story, dives into the details, gets to a point and then all of a sudden starts a new story. I read and re-read parts of the book to ascertain that this is indeed what he has done. I’m convinced that he did unless someone can convince me otherwise! Regardless this was an interesting read but I don’t think it made a lasting impression on me. Though there were certainly parts where the author was able to transport me to the time and place he was describing. Especially the time the protagonist’s grandmother goes back to her childhood home in Dhaka after decades.

So that’s it for this post. In the time that I started writing this post and finishing it, I’ve also read ‘Kafka On The Shore’. But that book most certainly deserves a post all to itself. Watch this space for more!

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