Sep 28, 2014

God is a Gamer [Book Review]

When a book is advertised as the 'First Bitcoin Thriller' or the author of the book is referred to as 'India's No. 1 Thriller Writer,' there is definitely a sense of expectation arising from those claim. Whether Ravi Subramanian manages to satisfy those expectations in 'God is a Gamer' is subjective, but one must give it to the man for having been able to weave out a story with a mostly decent premise incorporating money, online gaming, bitcoins, 'love' and politics.

Having seen the author's books adorn the best-seller shelves in Crossword, Landmark and elsewhere, I was keen to know whether this author was one of those 'new-age Indian writers' capitalizing on the success of Chetan Bhagat. But my impression about this author has significantly changed post reading the book. This is mainly attributed to the fact that the author, as mentioned earlier, has a decent premise in hand and does a good job of executing it with words. The language, as with many of the books these days, is mostly simple and mostly conversational and is sure to draw the average Indian reader who may want to move away from C-Bag.

The book begins with narratives from multiple cities including Mumbai, New York, and Washington DC, with multiple characters and parallel stories running through almost two-thirds of the book. These are the book’s best pages, when you try to understand how all of these parallel story threads will fall into place in the premise. While there’s the story of Malvika, Aditya, Swami, Sundeep, Varun, and Tanya on one side, there’s Gillian, Nikki, Gloria, Adrian, Dan, and Mike on the another side with pieces of Josh, the finance minister and others thrown into the premise when required. In the large scheme of things, what was impressive was the fact that it is hard to lose track of the characters for the most part, mainly thanks to the short chapters (4-5 pages each at the maximum). That is, each character felt important to the premise and was never ignored or left out across multiple chapters.

Having said that, the main peeve I have with the book is with the same aspect of having the shorter chapters, which sort of doesn’t help in forging a long bond with the character in that chapter. However the biggest disappointment from this book is the fact that you can smell the ending from a long distance (almost at the 200th page mark), though I must confess that I almost fell for the ‘almost-ending’ before the epilogue. Another fact that I did not completely relish was alienating women characters from most of the narrative using them mostly as props. Though there is Tanya and Malvika, who are presently through a major part of the narrative, they hardly seem to make an impact. The fact that the reason for the actions in the premise mainly stem out of the lust of two main characters makes for a pretty lame reasoning and seems rushed. Fortunately, this doesn’t affect the premise of the book for the most part, since it comes up at the very end.

Overall, God is a Gamer makes for a mostly decent lazy afternoon read (like the one I read it on), or as a read for person who would like to observe how Indian writing continues to evolve, for the better. Mostly.

Reach the author Ravi Subramanian at:

Sep 27, 2014 [Book Review]

(A book review for BlogAdda)

If the first few pages of a book has quotes by Rumi, I am usually sold. Though it doesn’t take too much on the author’s creativity to reproduce the lines of Rumi, the selection of the quotes from hundreds of very relevant quotes is no easy task. Abhimanyu Jha, the author of won my attention right there. Whether he managed to hold it on or not is a different story in itself, but still 10 points to the selection of the Rumi quote and 5 more points to each of the other quotes in the preface.

MarryAGhost – One would wonder what sort of a title that is. While the back cover the book has a synopsis of the book (with spoilers), it was both a cheesy title, and a title that piqued my interest, at the same time. Having never heard of this author before, I cautiously proceeded to read this book and man, I was drawn. Call it guilty indulgence or the craving for a break with a lighter book (having read A Fine Balance and This Divided Island prior to this – both heavy book), I must say I quite enjoyed reading most part of the book.

The likeability of the book comes mainly with respect to the fact that the language is free-flowing and one need not invest too much time in trying to understand what is happening. There is also an advantage in that regard that there are just 4 main characters, with a couple more showing up at times. This minimal character count is perhaps easy on the light reader, and also you are drawn towards the main two characters greatly. The conversations between Maahi and Veeru are mostly not forced, as simple and realistic as what a couple would have (except that they are not a couple). I am almost tempted to use the spontaneous with respect to the premise, except for the fact that this spontaneity comes with a price.

What could the book have done better or what could Mr. Jha do with the second part of the book? Oh yes! There is a ‘To be continued!’ on the last page, and it is indeed a pity that the book doesn’t have a mention of whether it is a multi-part series. Well, I am going to definitely want to read the next part, and I hope it is the only other part. Coming back to what the author could have done better, the first thing that any new author is guilty of is the repetitive nature of the conversations. It is indeed understandable that the two main characters have (sort of) fallen for each other and are insecure about the others’ feelings. But bringing this up every now and then can get a little annoying. Second, the book requires a total suspension of belief, which is to be understood seeing the title, but it would have helped if there was a logical flow to a few things like how the characters landed in Goa (there is a logic, but a flawed one!)Thirdly, the language is pretty light on the brain especially because is mostly conversational. But I fail to understand why the author uses the F-word with hyphens at a few places and uses it in entirety elsewhere. And why even use it in the first place?

While the story in this first book ends at a pretty interesting point, what happens to Maahi, Veeru and the others involved at the end of the 14 days is something that I can’t, but will need to wait to check.

This madly in love ghost could use some of your love with a suspension of belief.

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

Sep 24, 2014

This Divided Island [Book Review]

Buy 'This Divided Island: Stories from the Srilankan War' on Flipkart at:

There is a line in This Divided Island that reads ‘In the new Sri Lanka, demolition was a vital tool of nation-building.’ The author Samanth Subramanian could not have summarized the country and his experiences in the country better.

I was in Sri Lanka in 2013 during the Christmas and New Year time. While I had a whale of a time relishing the way the monuments in Sigiriya and Kandy were protected, I really had an urge to see how the war-striven areas were doing. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance back then since I decided to stay back in Colombo and interact with the locals there to get a perspective of their life there. This book by Samanth Subramanian definitely helped fill the void that I had carried with me following the trip.

The division of the book into its four parts, called The Terror, The North, The Faith and Endgames, is a masterstroke in itself and one can witness the amount of research (and interviewing) that has gone into the writing of the book to ensure that it is a coherent read. What makes this book fascinating is the fact that Samanth has numerous first-hand accounts of the pre-war life (assuming there is something like that), the duration of the ‘prachanai’ (the problems/troubles), and the post-war ‘recuperation’. It is difficult to draw strict lines differentiating these three parts, considering one has a long lasting influence on the other, but Samanth ensures that there is good emphasis on the lives of each of the people featured in the book.

Be it Raghavan (a close aide of Prabhakaran) who was based out of London after a brief stint in the Tigers’ camp, or the fitness conscious doctor Thurairaja, or the Canada settled Ravi, who feature in the Terror part of the book, the perspective of the minds that operated for the Tamils was indeed fascinating to get into.

The North, which is perhaps the most engaging and also the important part of the book, features people working on automobile repairs, a very mysterious yet outgoing character M (one whose identity is cleverly hidden), and the Muslim community. The Muslim community are sort of neither favored by the Sinhalese nor the Tamil, but face damaging consequences in the conflict. This reminds me of the Parsi community that faced similar troubles during the India-Pakistan partition.

The Faith part could very well be the Sri Lankan counterpart of the William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives. Be it the Buddhist Monks who take up violence and turn against the Tamils, or the monks that get involved in politics, or the history of the Buddhist influence in Sri Lanka’s growth, this part gets into something that many authors may shy away from. The fact that the current president Mahinda Rajapakse is perhaps be placed on the same pedestal or even higher than that of the historical king Dutugemunu in Sri Lanka owing to his ‘illustrious’ victory and wiping out the ‘demelas’ is interesting.

The most moving part of the book for me was the one called the Endgames, which featured instances of the Tamil families who had at least one family member missing post the conflict. The missing here corresponds to them being ‘made to disappear’ by the army. The stories of the frequent relocation of the families, thanks to the war and its aftermath, is indeed heart-wrenching. In addition, this part presents a variety of discomforting truths including how the families had their kids recruited into the Tiger army and how there is no ‘youth’ in the current generation of the Tamil population. No one type of family is spared. Not a journalist. Nor a tea shop owner. The hope with which a lot of these families await the return of their (possibly dead) loved ones is beautifully presented.

To summarize, this book is a book about Sri Lankan people: people affected by the war; people who took part in the war; people who believed the Sinhala Buddhists were the only real Sri Lankans; people who just followed the Tiger leader blindly or otherwise, despite knowing that they were on the losing side; people who are leaders and refuse to acknowledge their inebriated state being drunk with power.

This Divided Island is completely worth undivided attention!

Sep 7, 2014

60 Minutes [Book Review]

(A review for the Blogadda Book Reviews program)

At times while watching a (not-so-good) movie, we continue watching it, sometimes till the very end, to see if the plot gets better. 60 Minutes is one such book.

There are movies with plots that begin slowly, but pick up momentum and then leave a lasting impression on you. There are few other plots which start with a bang and end with the same bang maintaining the thrill throughout. While the book 60 Minutes is advertised as ‘A One-of-a-kind Corporate Drama Where All Action Will Unfold In Sixty Racing Minutes,’ the book fails to fall under either type of the movies/plots mentioned above.

A time-bound premise with a non-linear narrative traversing back into flashbacks every five minutes had such promise. When I first looked at the contents, I was both excited and skeptical at the same time. The former because I am huge fan of the TV series '24' and perhaps this was going to be a racy ride. The latter because I was not too sure how a non-linear narrative would fit into a premise that was time critical. My fears, unfortunately, came true.

Firstly, to focus the positives, I was quite impressed with the simplicity in the style of writing. It sure did not use bombastic words and it is very well evident that the author wanted to use a limited vocabulary. This is a plus because words could have distracted and I was in no mood to keep a dictionary by my side while I read this book. Next, the characters had enough depth, at times more detailed than necessary. There was sufficient background to each of the characters and this helped the characters appear slightly more human, especially with their gray shades. The characters Maithili and Sailesh, especially the latter, definitely seem to invoke some sympathy from the reader and come across as real ones.

While focusing on what could have been better in the book, the first thing that comes to mind is the business lingo especially with respect to the stock markets. While the premise of the character Agastya (the main protagonist) being hooked to stock markets is understandable, it got way too distracting and definitely got in the way of the ‘thriller’ that this could have been. Secondly, there were way too many characters, all not of importance, and the author could have easily done away with 4 to 6 of them. The background for those characters in the flashbacks did not prove to be beneficial either.

My main peeve with the book is the non-linear style of narration. While a well-crafted movie running in real time can do with those short flashbacks every now and then, a book surely needs to be able to hold the reader’s attention with a crisper narrative. This book definitely lacked that. What would have helped the book was just 12 chapters (for each of those 5 minutes in the 60 minutes), with narrations from the BCL side and the Stark side alternatively, with the details from the flashbacks woven into these chapters in a much briefer fashion. The author could have taken a cue from '24' for this.

To sum it up, 60 Minutes is a decent lazy weekend read which doesn’t fully realize the potential it had.

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