Aug 23, 2014

Private India [Book Review]

I should begin this review with a disclaimer that this is the first book of Ashwin Sanghi that I have read and I was not aware (until this review opportunity happened) that James Patterson is one popular and widely published author. I do have Sanghi’s Chanakya’s Chant lying on my bookshelf for over a year, but did not get a chance to read it yet.

The Private series by James Patterson is now set in India and there is a string of murders occurring in the nation’s financial capital Mumbai. The task that the Private team comprising of Santosh, Nisha, Mubeen, and Hari have in hand is to see if the murders are linked and identify the killer(s) and the motive(s) behind the killing. Apart from this, a terrorism angle is thrown in and a few elements that were essential to a Bollywood potboiler of the 80s and 90s are incorporated as well.

With simple language, good characterization and most importantly, shorter chapter length (there are over hundred chapters ranging from 4 to 6 pages long), the authors ensure that the flow of the premise is pretty easy. For a first time (after long) mystery reader like me, this was a very very easy read and I did not have to spend a lot of time trying to remember characters’ names or what was happening in the book even if a character popped up in the narrative after 200 pages. In addition, there is a linear yet non-linear first person narrative occurring every few chapters which I felt was very well done. This brought me closer to that particular character without knowing who he/she was and that is something commendable.

One thing I definitely admire about the book is the way in which a few of the locales from Mumbai are presented, including the very important Parsi location. For a person like me who has not seen much of the city lately, an author basing the story in Mumbai and not taking the cliched depiction route was refreshing.

I do not want to dwell into the premise of the novel completely, since that would mean posting spoilers in this blogpost. But I need to mention a few things about the book and the narrative that did not quite work for me.

  • The way the mystery of the sequence of killings that occur is deciphered by Santosh leaves a lot to be desired. It appears as though the author did not want to spend too much space in the narrative to help him arrive at that conclusion.
  • A whodunit mystery always has a few unfortunate good souls who are suspected of the crime, and this book is no different either. That got bland a tad too quickly and perhaps lessens the impact. 
  • In trying to explain the premise completely to, perhaps, an average reader, the book definitely goes deeper into the details of the resolution of the crimes. It would have worked better for me if a lot of the simple assumptions/conclusions were left to the reader to make, and also if a couple of the ‘twists’ were just introduced and left to the reader’s imagination to interpolate. 

To conclude, Private India in no way is a terrible book, but it is definitely not the best book you will read this year either. It is an easy read that you can use while waiting for a flight at the airport. It may turn out to be a popular book and perhaps soon have a Bollywood adaptation. But Mr. Sanghi, I definitely expected a lot more from this book.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Aug 11, 2014

Game of Life - Round 1 [Book Review]

This is probably the first time I am writing a review for a book, outside of Goodreads. And man, while I thought peer-reviewing research journal articles was hard, reviewing a 200+ page book definitely seems harder.

As a self-confessed fan of Mahabharatha, literally the great epic, I have always found the Ramayana a little too underwhelming in terms of character portrayal. The reason may be because of the epoch (yuga) that it is set in, where the characters are portrayed as either all white or all black, seldom with shades of gray as in the Mahabharatha. It could also be attributed to the type of books I have read previously on the Ramayana (the Rajagopalachari version, Sita by Devdutt Pattanaik and Asura by Anand Neelkantan). But, I was proven (mostly) wrong by the first book in the series, Ramayana - The Game of Life called The Rise of the Sun Prince.

The Game of Life. For a title, this is a pretty ambitious choice, I felt. After getting to somewhere around 50 pages in the book, I realized why the author named the book that way. A few obvious, a few not-so-obvious, a lot of not-at-all-obvious pearls of wisdom on life, correlating to the happenings in the epic are thrown at us. Most of these are in the form of footnotes which are plenty in number, and can get quite distracting too till you get used to them. (Jaya and Sita by Devdutt Pattanaik have similar treatment with respect to trivia, however all of them appear at once at the end of one chapter.)

The main protagonist of this Bala kaanda is actually Vishwamitra, the sage king who has a wonderful chapter on his transition from a king to brahmarishi. A lot of the trivia about the brothers and sister of Ravana, the 350 wives of Dasaratha, the story of the bow that Rama breaks at Janaka’s palace, the ancestors of Janaka are something that I was unaware of. The whole premise is something that is known to any Indian kid who has seen or heard of Ramayana stories in one form or another. But it is this trivia that makes a lot of these epic interpretations interesting and the book definitely delivered a lot more than I expected.

The language is pretty simple and perhaps aimed at multiple markets. One - as a story for someone reading the Ramayana for the first time. Two - as a book to correlate life’s happenings with what the Sun prince faced.

The beauty of the book lies in the overall feel where that it gives. Yes, the book can get philosophical, but it does manage to get so without getting too preachy. Another attribute is that the author is aware that he is dealing with material that has had multiple interpretations, but he still manages to not get influenced by the base material he has (Valmiki Ramayana and Kamba Ramayana) and manages to get his points across with little effort.

A few things that I look forward to in the forthcoming books in the series:

- hopefully better placed footnotes,
- a little deeper analysis into the psyche of the person called Rama, and not the Vishnu avathaar,
- a more conversational narrative than a biographical narrative, and
- no preview to the next book in the series. It is best to end the book at a particular point/juncture which is very significant.

As thanks to this blogadda book review program, I have been able to write a blogpost after really long. I hope this is just a start!

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!