Category Archives: Book Reviews

The God of Small Things – Final Thoughts

The nice thing about books is they generate numerous conversations. While I was nose-deep into The God of Small Things, my roommate said, “How long will you keep reading? Ab bas bhi karo! (Translation: Stop it for now!).” Another flatmate flipped through the pages of the book and said how much the book had depressed her when she read it – so much so that she left it midway. I, for your information, did not leave it midway. Though I had every intention of doing so at first and in the middle.


The day I got this book through Kwench and was into the first ten pages, I wanted to return it right away. However, post-understanding the voice of this book, I learned to appreciate the beauty in it.

The God of Small Things is poetry in prose. The clever adjectives, the poignant yet vague details are part of a poem that takes Time to sink in. A few times I felt that I need a few more years to appreciate fully where the author was coming from.

The peculiar thing about this book is, its strengths are its weaknesses too. The moving back and forth in time generates active interest in the reader, increasing the want to know how things came to what they are today. According to the author,

“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.

That is their mystery and their magic.”

– The God of Small Things

Following this reason, Ms. Roy lays bare the facts of the story early on. You know what has happened, and the story eventually comes around, after meandering this way and that. However, at times, having known the end, I found myself continuously going through different permutations and combinations in my mind, trying to form my own idea as to what might have happened on that fateful day (when things changed) that led to the pervading gloom of the protagonists’ lives. It was distracting for me, because I could not simply enjoy the story as it was being told. I was wondering if it would not be better if things were told in a simpler way, facts led bare as and when they happened, rather than the whimsical back and forth-ness in time.

Reading this book is like being in a daze. You are with the characters, you know sad things are happening in their lives, but after you close the book it is not really the characters’ pain that stays with you. Your head  is not populated with their world. There is a strange disconnect. For example, until quite late into the story, I had no idea how much Ammu loved the twins, how the twins themselves were connected – in short I was clueless about the personal interactions among the characters until quite  late – that is most probably because of the absence of that kind of dialogue and actions in the beginning. For example, we do not know what any given day, a normal day, in the lives of the people in Ayemenem is like.

One interesting thing about this book is the repeating catchphrases (Anything can happen to anyone, Things can change in a day etc.). They stay with you and make you nod your head when they appear. At the same time, especially when the story is going slow in the middle, it plays with your patience – you wonder if it isn’t entirely unnecessary, whether a straight time-frame might have suited the story better.

That said, for an aspiring writer, The God of Small Things is a treasure. It is the most experimental book that I’ve read so far. While reading it, you can see for yourself which devices work in a novel and which don’t. You can see for yourself how well being vague may actually work in a book if done well. Most importantly, The God of Small Things gives you the freedom of experimentation – it is like you have a palette and a canvas to yourself and you can do as you feel with it. For me, the author has re-created the English language itself, by choosing to use it as she willed, exploring the boundaries of the language, bending and twisting it. For someone like me whose first language is not English, this factor is very significant, because for most of us the language feels like a solid object, with rigid rules. Ms. Roy’s language is fluid and it flows of her will, not the other way around.

Like I said previously, this is one book that totally makes you choose sides: you either like it or your don’t. And indeed, The God of Small Things is a deeply melancholy book, so take care to know someone well before you suggest it as a must-read.

The God of Small Things – Initial Thoughts

While we are in training at office, every instructor starts by asking, “What are your expectations from this session?” Most of the time the answer is: We came with an open mind.

When I ordered The God of Small Things via Kwench, I did so with an open mind. I did not know what the book was about. I did not even read the book extract. I had heard the name of the book often and that it was famous. “So, let’s read it!” That was the thought.

Since I had no prior information as to the narrative and structure of this book, it caught me off guard. The adjectives are creative and new, certain non-noun words italicized. It felt like poetry. With the first chapter, I felt I had been forced inside the private life of a family, without even getting to know the family-members first. By the first chapter we know bad things have happened. The following chapters build on to that bad thing that happened.

The capitalization jagged my reading – I saw no sense in it. Eventually, I Googled the reason. Turns out the story is told through the limited point of view of a young girl. After I figured that out, the voice in the story felt much more natural.

When you read this book you realize that the young twins through whom this story is told are very sensitive to the visuals, smells and emotions around them. That’s why the adjectives hit you so hard. That said, I wondered if it is not beyond the a young mind to be so perceiving of the world around them, especially in such poignant details. Was the author trying too hard?

The God of Small Things is definitely one of those books which make you choose sides: you either like it or you don’t. That’s why it has got both one star and five star reviews. If you’re someone who likes experimental writing, disjointed narrative with jumping time-frame, totally uncommon adjectives to describe normal, commonplace events and emotions, you can’t help but fall in love with Roy’s masterpiece.

If you’re into reading to take your mind off things, relax yourself, get yourself a different book. This book has the potential to knock you off the edge and leave you hanging, disturbed and with a book-shaped hole in the universe of your mind.

Cracking the ‘The Da Vinci Code’

My brother started college last month. He wasn’t much of a reader until recently. He borrowed The Da Vinci Code from a friend and brought it home for me to read in the weekend.

And what a read it has been! I have always been fascinated by mystery (then again, who isn’t?). But this book is so much more than just a mystery. It contains almost everything that awes and fascinates me: mystery, symbolism, intriguing mathematical concepts, history, Art, architecture and exotic locations.

I come from a country which has been home to a people of different faiths for centuries. I have always been fascinated by other religions, especially Christianity. In fact, when I was a child and was learning about Christianity in history classes, I kept making the sign of the cross at every chance I got. However, my knowledge of other religions is only rudimentary (I am a Hindu). I have been meaning to start reading world history books (I vaguely remember the Renaissance period and the Dark Ages from school), but did not know where to start. It would probably be inaccurate to consider The Da Vinci Code as a history book, but for me it was a good start.

Learning about an alternate version of Christianity gives me a glimpse at how the religion has developed and spread. I understand that this book is only a work of fiction and do not believe everything that the author has stated to be true. In fact I researched quite a lot for the authenticity of the claims that Dan Brown made in the book (e.g. about Mary Magdalene and Sarah). But as an aficionado of good storytelling, I must say that Mr. Brown has done one hell of a job. He has cleverly included bits and pieces of history into the book. I have always enjoyed learning about the origin of words and found some good ones in this book (allow me to spill: I was most satisfied by the description of the origins of the word ‘horny’, for I have always wondered how it came to mean what it means in today’s context).

For a brief period in college I was studying the Impressionist Art for an article in my college magazine (which was unfortunately never published) and I enjoyed the Brown’s descriptions of The Last Supper, Mona Lisa, Madonna on the Rocks. I kept searching the images in Google to learn more. And I am so much the wiser because I read this book (but don’t you start to quiz me on Mona Lisa now).

In good story-telling, it is essential to ignite an interest in the reader to find out something more. I have been reading a few books in the last two months and though I have enjoyed them, not one inspired me enough to finish the book in two/three readings. I had been reminding myself what a fast reader I was when I was younger, and wondered what happened to my love of reading until I read this book. And thank God for that! I was really worried that reading had lost its charm for me.

As much as I enjoyed the story-telling, the characters did not interest so much. Maybe, for a Harvard professor, I expected Robert Langdon to be more clever. Apart from his knowledge on symbolism, I felt like he was like a child in the quest of lost treasure.

Nonetheless, Dan Brown has rekindled the love I have for reading and for that I must thank him. There were just so many pieces of historical information (like Opus Dei, Heiros Gamos) which I might never have known had I not read this book. Agreed, the views of the author may not be historically correct, but it is a starting point for me to read more. From here, I trust my mind to find more answers, and unearth more questions in the process.

Have you read The Da Vinci Code? Do you think it hurt Christian sentiments? Or do you feel that as long as a writer writes something that you truly enjoy, you will give the author creative liberty? Please share your thoughts with me.

P.S.: Today, 19th August, is the last day of the reduced offer on my first Kindle ebook, Bound by Life. Buy your copy on Amazon for just $0.99 today!

Review of To Kill a Mockingbird – A Guest Post

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Today’s guest post in Re-living the Classics is a review of To Kill a Mockingbird by the wonderful Belinda. I love reading her beautiful personal anecdotes! Be sure to check out her site!

Would you like to have your review of your favourite classic featured on this blog? To do that, contact me through the form given after today’s post. Be sure to mention your name, email and the name of the book you wish to review. Thank you!

Review of To Kill a Mockingbird

Guest Post by Belinda

First, thanks to Arpita for this opportunity to review one of my all-time favorite books. While I originally had planned to take a look at Madame Bovary, current events and the imminent release of Harper Lee’s second book (Go Set a Watchman, July 14, 2015) compelled me to change my mind.

to-kill-a-mockingbird2To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) is a story of a small town in the southern U.S., where things move slowly but certainly, and a small spark of hope for the future exists. It’s a tale of friendships, family and the forgotten, and how in the end they all fight for each other.

It’s also a story of vast racial injustice and a man not willing to be resigned to it until he’s forced to be. Mostly, it’s the tale of girl growing up and learning about all that happens and all who live in this small town she calls home.

Jean Louise Finch, who goes by Scout, lives with her brother, Jem, and father, Atticus, in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama.  Scout and Jem befriend a boy named Dill, who visits his aunt each year during the summer months.

Scout, Jem and Dill are fascinated by their reclusive and ostensibly frightening neighboring, Boo Radley. For two summers they watch and wait for him to appear. The third year, they’re bewildered to find small gestures of friendship seemingly from the shy man, yet still don’t catch sight of him.

That same year Atticus is appointed to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman. The entire town becomes captivated by the trial, and the consequences of the outcome shape events for months to come in a dramatic and poignant way.

The children’s fascination with Boo and the unfolding of events that follow the trial come together in the final pages in a way true to the rest of the story, the town and its characters.  This type of ending to such a complex story is rare. So often the plot line becomes convoluted or melodramatic.  Not the case here.

 The books narrative style is fluid, with bits of irony used to communicate the complex issues it covers. It’s a story you can read time and again, always with a different perspective: once with a look at racial injustice, another with an eye to class and culture in the American South of the early 20th century. It addresses human nature on a broader scale in the character of Boo Radley and how the town dealt with him in their words and actions.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It captivates me from the first sentence every time I read it, which is about once every three or four years. I couldn’t wait to read it again for this review, and look forward already to the next time.

Would you like to have your review of your favourite classic featured on this blog? To do that contact me through the form given below. Be sure to mention your name, email and the name of the book you wish to review. Thank you!

Review of “Do You Hear What I’m Saying?” – A short story by Kori Waring

I came across the short story, Do You Hear What I’m Saying? by Kori Waring on Carve magazine. Click here to read it.

There are very few stories I read in the recent times that made me go, ‘Aha!’. I am happy to say that this story is one of those. Do You Hear What I’m Saying? starts with a failed author getting married and then becoming mother to a beautiful girl. The girl grows up. One day, when she is in third grade, she loses her voice and becomes mute. Until here, the story reads like perfectly normal, describing events in the real world. But then, the realm of magical realism drops in (I must say that I was a bit surprised by the sudden transition for I did not know beforehand which genre the story belonged to).

In the next scenes, the girl’s parents drive her to the doctor only to find the waiting room filled with other third graders (who have become mute as well) and their worried parents. With time, all these kids have whiteboard hanging across their neck onto which they scribble what they want to say with marker pens. One day, the girl’s mother goes to the school to pick up the child, and she finds a royal blue parrot accompanying her daughter. She discovers that all the third graders have parrots now, and when she asks her daughter about it she [the daughter] explains, “at recess a bunch of parrots landed on the playground and went straight to the kids in her class, and this one picked her, and the birds stayed with them all day no matter what the teachers did.” The parents allow the third graders keep their parrots because the birds make the kids smile, which they had rarely been doing since they lost their voice.

One day, the narrator finds her daughter talking and she rushes to her bedroom, only to find that it is the parrot which is speaking in a voice identical to her daughter’s. Soon, all the third graders’ parrots are speaking in their voices, quoting from books.

But the best bit is yet to come. One day, fire  breaks out in the school. The kids are evacuated and stand on the lawn, but the parrots kept in the cages in teachers’ lounge could not escape. While they burn, the birds scream quotes from books in the children’s voices. The kids try to run into the school to save their birds, but the parents restrain them, holding them back. When the birds finally die, and their cries stop, the third graders “sound a collective moan, and crumple.” The story ends soon after this. The parents drive the kids home as they “try to forget that now you know exactly how her [the kid’s] voice would sound if you crashed the car and it exploded in flames with her trapped inside.” Towards the end, there is indication that the kids find their voices back, though this change is so subtle that you might almost miss it on the first read.

The story is written entirely in the second person POV. Every paragraph starts with the word ‘Imagine’. I loved this quirky style, so much so that I wrote one of the stories in my debut book of short stories, Bound by Life, along the same style.

Kori has a powerful voice, and that reflects in this story. One can not help but feel the pain, worry and helplessness of the parents when the kids suddenly become mute. More poignant still is the description where the birds die in the fire. Their painful screams made me want to cover my ears, and I felt as if I was present at the scene witnessing their death.

The best thing about this  story is that it can be interpreted in various ways. One can read it simply as a story of the magical realism genre, or can see it as a figurative commentary on present human condition (Do read the comments section following the story on the site for more on this). Kori does a great job of leaving things to the readers’ imagination. Few authors can do that successfully.

The one thing that confused me, however, was the last line where the little girl is shown murmuring in sleep at night, after the horrific incident at school. It was not obvious to me that the kids were getting their voices back as they parrots were dying (though there are a few sentences in the story which point to this: “the third graders sound a collective moan”, “she runs straight to her room and throws herself into bed and will say nothing but “Go away!” in a voice that is hoarse and hollow”). Maybe, it wasn’t easy to figure out because the author uses the last paragraphs to describe how deeply the accidental death of the birds affected the kids and the parents. There is no indication as to the parents feeling relief or joy after the kids get their voices back, which would have been natural and an expected reaction. Maybe the author wanted to focus mainly on the pain one feels when s/he witnesses a loved one suffer/die.

I totally enjoyed reading this story. Did you? If yes (and even if it’s a no!), please share your thoughts on the story with me in the Comments below. Also, if you liked the style of the writing and would love to read more, please read my story, ‘The girl with the white patches’ on Bound by Life. Bound by Life, my first book, is priced at $ 3.00 and releases on June 20, 2015 as Kindle edition on Amazon. It is available for pre-order here.

On novelist J. M. Coetzee and his masterpiece, ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’

Today’s guest post is written by Ms. Swagata Mukherjee, with whom I have had the good fortune to share a room for the last five months of my engineering program. Swagata is pursuing her Ph.D. in experimental high energy physics, has travelled widely and shares her travel exploits in her blog, Through My Eyes. The pictures on her blog are also mostly photographed by her. She is also passionate about books. Today, on my request, she shares with us her views on novelist J.M. Coetzee’s ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’. Thank you so much, Swagata Di, for this guest-post.

Not being a widely-read person, especially in English literature, I would have probably never come across a book written by J. M. Coetzee if a Bengali publishing house didn’t come up with a Bengali translation of some of the masterpieces of the Nobel laureate author. This year, at the Kolkata International Book Fair, when I was roaming around in different book stalls, I came across a book in the stall of “Protibhash”. In Bengali, the name of the book is “Barbarder apekkhay”, meaning, “Waiting for the Barbarians”. Until then, I did not know about the author, but something was attractive about that book and I decided to buy it.


Book cover of Bengali translated version of ‘Waiting for the Barbanians’. Translation by Kabir Chowdhury.

Image Courtesy: Swagata

“Waiting for the Barbarians” is a novel, published in the year 1980, years before I was born. The story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed magistrate of a small town which is a part of a big empire.  The town is situated at the border of the empire and very near to the town there lived some tribal people who are referred to as “barbarians”. The novel describes how the tribal people are tortured by a special force sent from the capital of the empire. The magistrate knew that the tribal people are harmless and innocent, but he could hardly do anything to save them.

The fact that the name of the town is unspecified and most of the characters of this novel have no names makes so much sense – because the state-approved torture on under-privileged and innocent people is a horrifying truth in different places on earth! Also the fact that the magistrate wants to protest but fails to do so points to one of the greatest truths about ourselves that we don’t wish to confront.

One day the magistrate meets a barbarian, a young girl, who is one of the victims of the torture.  The magistrate offers her to work in his house. The interaction between the girl and the magistrate reveals the psychological conflicts going on in the magistrate’s mind. Finally, the magistrate makes a difficult journey to the nearby mountain to return the girl to her own people. When he returns back to the town, he discovered that he was longer the magistrate but a prisoner who is subjected to the same torture and oppression. The empire has lost faith on him because he tried to help a barbarian.

At the end of the novel, the dwellers of the town still wait for the barbarians to invade to the town and unleash their barbarism through murders, rapes, destruction of properties. But the gang of barbarians never arrives!

As per expectation, this novel by Coetzee received the CNA Prize, James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. So far, Coetzee has been awarded with numerous prizes, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003 and the Booker Prizes in 1983 and 1999. I am looking forward to reading the other masterpieces by this celebrated author like Life & Times of Michael K, Disgrace, Age of Iron, The Master of Petersburg etc.

The End

Today marks the end of the Guest Blogs series in May on Scribbles@Arpita. I would like to extend my heartiest thanks to the bloggers who shared their thoughts through these guest-posts and made this series a success. Until next time, keep blogging and spreading your wonderful ideas!

Thoughts on the short story “So you’re just what, gone?” by Justin Taylor

This week on my Twitter feed I read the story ‘So you’re just what, gone?’ by Justin Taylor. You can read the story here. Now I will be honest, on the first two reads I did not get the story. That’s not to say I did not understand the story. I did, except for the ending. I have read other stories online on The New Yorker that made me go like, “Wow! That was something.” But this story did not inspire any such emotion in me on the first reads.


Image Source

Photograph for The New Yorker by Brian Finke

I spoke over the phone with my professor, Mr. Shreedeep Gangopadhyay (who, by the way, is an occasional author and has shared two of his shorts in his guest post on this blog), about the story at length, going to the extent of narrating the whole story to him without summarizing (and may I mention, caring not two hoots about my grand viva of the final semester of engineering, which was due on Tuesday) and asked him the same question that I put on Twitter: “So, what’s the hitch?” Our discussion ended on a note that there might be something which we were missing, which the editors definitely saw. Perhaps Mr. Gangopadhyay would have a different opinion if he’d read the story himself.

Then I read the author’s interview about this story on The NY. That gave me an insight into the story which the story itself didn’t give.

The author dissected the protagonist, Charity’s character, who is this teenage girl who boards a plane to her Grandma’s place with her mother. They get different seats on the plane, and Charity sits beside a man, who introduces himself as Mark and makes indecent advances towards her.

This isn’t exactly the entire theme of the story, but is an important part. Now, from the author’s interview, I got to know certain patterns about Charity that wasn’t obvious to me from reading the story. For example, Charity is shown using Instagram in this story and the author says this is because:

 …she’s a highly visual person. She’s always alert to color and to light and is interested in composition, in image-making. This is why she prefers Instagram to, say, Twitter or

I hadn’t given her using Instagram much thought until I read the author’s views. I only imagined it to be a random platform she happens to use, just like I use Facebook or this blog. But the fact that the author put some thought before selecting the platform she uses was intricate to me. It made me truly appreciate the thoughts that go into character-building in stories/novels. In fact that explained the ending to me partly as well, the scene where Charity takes a picture of fish guts and a picture of the inside of her mouth and Instragrams it. I made a mental note to plan such things for my characters too (which would be something new for me, for I am more of an organic writer, writing stuff as they come to me).

Another thing which Justin pointed out, that “her thinking is far more nuanced and articulate than what comes out of her mouth,” became apparent to me as I read the story once again. For example when her grandma says some nasty things, she only cries out and calls for her mother. She knows perhaps she should complain about Mark Perv’s (that how she saves Mark’s name on her phone) advances, but she is undecided about it because complaining about him would also mean explaining herself to everyone else, an idea which she isn’t particularly fond of.

I found I enjoyed the story better after I had read the author’s views, but I guess I would have preferred if I saw the nuances myself (then again, I’ll admit I am not much of a trained reader, and am only finding my way through). If not anything else, this story will stand out to me as the piece where the author really does speak successfully through a teenager’s voice. He does the point of view pretty well, for it’s indeed quite difficult to see this world through someone else’s eyes, especially if that someone else happens to be a sixteen year old.