Posted in Articles, Book Fiction, Book Non Fiction

Liberty Books Blogger!

Finally! It happened! It’s official!

After a series of intense emails and phone conversations, I have been shortlisted to join Liberty Books small but exclusive band of Book Bloggers! This is very exciting as I was looking for a larger platform on which to share my book reviews. Liberty Books have been super kind to take me on to blog for them.

The best part? I will be given complimentary books and giveaways as part of the deal! How exciting is that!?

As it is, there are only two books stores in Lahore that I frequent a lot: Liberty Books and Readings. I also like The Last Word a lot, but shopping from there is an expensive business– and I stick to getting a graphic novel or an exclusive book when it’s not available anywhere else.

I am fond of Liberty Books because of the Loyalty Card program they have introduced. I collect points when I purchase books, and then I can redeem my points to get more books! In addition to this, I get all my magazine subscriptions from them as they provide very timely and speedy service!

In Lahore, they are located at Emporium Mall (Pop Up Store) and at Packages Mall, and can also be found online here. Liberty Books will also be seen at the upcoming Lahore International Book Fair being held from Feb 1st to Feb 5th, 2018.

As of now, I am in a moment of #gratitude!

Cheer!

 

Posted in Book Fiction, Hollywood

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks is one of my all-time favorite actors. When Big came out, I was in love with him. I followed his acting trajectory over the years and with each movie, he excelled. From Sleepless in Seattle to Forrest Gump to Cast Away to Saving Private Ryan, Hanks has outdone himself, including winning an Oscar for Philadelphia. He’s just one of those actors who has always had a clean image, never let fame get to his head, down to earth and yes, his marriage is still surviving the pressures of Hollywood.

Which is why I was all the more excited when my favorite actor was coming out with his book Uncommon Type. I just finished reading the book last week, and my reaction at the end of it all was: is that it? As much as I am fond of Hanks the Actor, I am not too sure if I am fond of Hanks the Author.

Uncommon Type is a collection of 17 short stories, and they are all connected with a common theme: a typewriter. Each story has the presence of a typewriter, whether it’s a central character of its own, or it’s relegated to the background where you have to figure out the importance of it. Hanks has gone on record to mention how much he admires typewriters and is an ardent collector.

tomhankswithtypewriters

Some of the stories stand out more than the others, while others seem a little lackadaisical.

The first one, about two best friends who embark on a sexual affair sets the tone right with its wry humor and cheekiness (you can almost picture Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks). The ending brought a smile to my face and so I was prepared for the rest of the book. This tone is similar to another story where a son and his father go surfing, and thanks to an accident on the waters, the son stumbles upon his father’s little secret. The tone of these stories can be seen through Hanks brand of humor.

The other stories that stood out were the ones where four friends take a trip to the moon from their backyard, the story of a billionaire who time travels to 1939 and the recurring story of Hank Fiset, a newspaper reporter with an old-fashioned view of the world.

It becomes evident in the book that Hanks has relied a lot on his diverse movie roles to flesh out the characters. In one story, about a WW 2 veteran, reminded me a lot of Band of Brothers. While another, about space travel, reminded me a lot of Apollo 13. Hanks has also been a scriptwriter in Hollywood and that influence is seen in another story. He has put to good use his vast knowledge of acting and fleshing out characters in creating the stories. There is no doubt that Hanks is an accomplished storyteller, as accomplished as he is a great actor.

However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to everyone, but those who are fond of Hanks will enjoy reading it. It will not win any major prizes or anything, and at the end of the day, the book is about stories that have been vividly created with memorable characters and moments, that will charm and delight you, and eventually bring a smile to your face. Now that’s the kind of magic only Hanks can conjure up.

We can be assured that just in case if Hanks movie career finishes, he can always fall back on his writing!

 

Posted in Book Fiction

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness has been published exactly 20 years after Arundhati Roy’s first novel, The God of Small Things. The first novel won the Man Booker Prize in 1997, bringing Roy into the limelight in the literary world. Every time she wrote something, people took notice. Roy deliberately steered away from fiction to talk about political events and fought for various causes. So it’s no wonder that everyone expressed excitement and an eagerness to read her new novel.

We are introduced to Anjum in the brilliant opening scene. Anjum (Aftab) is a Muslim and a eunuch. She is born as Aftab and has had a rather difficult upbringing. She now lives in Khwabgah- Dream House- with other women. On her way to a Gujrati shrine, she encounters the massacre of Hindus, which leads the government to clamp down on the Muslims. She happens to find Zainab, a three years old girl, at the steps of Jamia Mosque and takes her back to Khwabgah. Zainab grows up to be a fashion designer.

On the other end, we are introduced to S. Tillotamma, who is a student of architecture and the daughter of a Syrian Christian mother. S. Tillotamma befriends three guys- Musa, Biplab and Naga. She marries one of them, upon the request of the other, while the third secretly loves her.

The third narrative is from the Landlord’s point of view. The landlord is someone who loves S. Tillotamma but doesn’t declare his love. He recounts her journey, all the while expressing his own sentiments to towards her.

These are the three narratives in this widely complexed book that takes the readers through a lot of the political turmoil and upheavals in modern India. From the massacre of the Hindus to the land reform that disowned the poor farmers, to the Godhra train burning to the Kashmir insurgency. It’s almost as if Roy wanted to educate and enlighten the readers about the violent events of India that’s done more damage than bring out any good. The moments are so well explained that given the complexity of the entire sequences of events, one doesn’t lose track of the narrative, which in my opinion may not have been well explained in the hands of another author.

Roy has an incredible sense and magic in her hands to weave out an intricate and powerful story through all the tragic events. It’s an incredible feat to have a plethora of characters—at times I had to re-read some paragraphs to keep track of who’s who- and they all have some uniqueness to them. The beauty of it all is how well rounded the characters are- no feel they are there for the sake of being there. As a reader, I still remember something about the characters, what they did or what they said. Saddam Hussain, Major Amrik Singh, and Biplab Dasgupta stand out the most in the novel. To give away more about them would spoil the element of surprise for the readers.

Having said that, the novel can seem a little clunky at times, mainly due to the extensive, descriptive paragraphs. As a Pakistani myself, I had no issue reading the Urdu verses, or language for that matter. But I can imagine how a non-Urdu speaker may struggle to place the Urdu language, as well as the political events of India and Pakistan, in perspective. Some may find the story a bit of a drag, while others will lap up all the delicious words that sprawl all over the pages. Even though she is a brilliant storyteller, I personally felt The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a collection of different narratives. At times, it did feel like as if there is no story in motion, but just short narratives about Anjum and S. Tillotamma.

It may also put some readers of the varied perspectives in the novel. One chapter, The Landlord, is told completely in first person. Then there are some letters and Tillotamma’s notebook, and while they may seem distracting, they do allow the readers to see different perspectives to the events that unfold.

There are lots of big ideas in the novel: gender, women, parenthood, religion, life, death, war, peace, hate and love. With so many ideas, the reader will find it a delight to experience all these emotions, through various forms of narratives, that will leave a stamp on your heart as soon as you finish the novel.

One of the key element in the novel is embodied in the short poem, that sums up the lives of the main protagonists:

 

This drives home the point that the telling of the story cannot be done in parts, but through the assimilation of the parts. This is basically what the novel is all about.

To talk more about the novel would mean to give away the surprises. I, for one, loved the novel. The 20 years have definitely been worth it. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a powerful, engrossing and enriching read that deserves your time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Book Fiction

The Fireman by Joe Hill

In all honesty, I picked up this book because of the author, Joe Hill, is Stephen King’s son, and Stephen King has been all time favorite author (he’s written some seriously scary novels!). It goes without the saying that I also absolutely loved the cover, with the slightly dotted texture that makes holding the book fun.

In addition to this, I’ve been craving for a decent horror novel of which there is a severe dearth. The newer horror writers are not really scary as such. So it was with that excitement and anticipation that I started off with The Fireman.

While it was extremely hard to get away from the fact that The Fireman is written by Stephen King’s son, the opening chapter of the book immediately made me realize that Joe Hill has a voice of his own.

 

Joe Hill! 

 

The novel starts off at a school, where the teachers and students witness a man self-combusting. He merely catches fires and burns to death. Witnessing this is Harper Willowes, the nurse at the school, and through whom we witness the epidemic outbreak happening all around her. Hill portrays a harrowing scenario that immediately draws you in with intrigue and curiosity. It’s a brilliant set up and makes you want to read on to find out what’s happening.

Harper is married to Jakob, who himself is trying to work on a novel but not getting anywhere. In the midst of the crisis, their relationship suffers. We see that Harper is a sensitive and a submissive woman, while Jakob often bullies her. In the process, Harper relies on Mary Poppins and utilizes Poppin’s philosophy to get by in life, albeit with a “spoonful of sugar.”

The society, in general, is breaking down, with the discovery that the disease, known as Dragonscale, is affecting everyone. The spores develop on the body and ultimately the body self-combusts. As the world around her is crumbling down, Harper discovers there’s a place, Camp Wyndham, where there are people who are infected but have the ability to control Dragonscale.

She makes her way to the camp, having been estranged from Jakob, who goes cuckoo in the mind. She meets the group of survivors, among them, is Renee, a sweet lady who doesn’t know how tough the future will be, and Nick, a young deaf-mute boy who communicates in sign language. It is here she meets the Fireman, who reveals that he has a capability to control Dragonscale. Turns out, that everyone in the group is infected with the disease, but have powered the ability to control the disease by singing songs in a group, and prevent themselves from burning.

The twist comes when the group decides to eradicate the infected and so develops a moral dilemma. This is actually the best part of the book as we get to witness the real horrors a human being can inflict onto other in the worst of times. This part of the book also takes the readers by surprise as we are drawn into an emotional, human drama and away from what is actually happening in the outside world. Hill aptly writes about how the real horror lies inside the human being, and not in the disease that’s spreading all over.

The novel is set in a post apocalyptic world, where societies are breaking down, rule and law have vanished and people are dying all over. Hill does a remarkable job of creating this kind of world and we feel the doom and gloom scenario. As said earlier, what starts out as a horror novel, shifts tonally into a human drama, albeit with a few jump scares. There are a few major exciting scenes, such as the Phoenix, but nothing grabs you and shocks you. It’s all fairly downhill towards the end.

See, the problem with The Fireman is that it cannot entirely get out the shadow of The Stand and the influences of King on his son. At more than 750 pages long, it’s a gargantuan read, and while the beginning and the middle are superb and engrossing, it’s the ending that just sort of fizzles out, when the whole time I was led to believe the book will end with a bang! It’s precisely this reason why I would give this book a 3-star rating and not a 4 star.

To the seasoned readers of Stephen King, some comparisons will be drawn to The Stand, which also follows a band of people seeking to reach a high ground amidst the world falling apart. There are also a few connections between the characters in The Fireman to the characters in The Stand.

Having said that, I am a fan of Joe Hill because, for one, his way of writing allowed me to turn each page with excitement. He’s a brilliant and masterful storyteller. He knows how to weaves his words around, create characters that we can connect to, give all his characters their own time, and doesn’t get bogged down in detailed descriptions in the narrative.

I have picked up Hill’s earlier book, Heart Shaped Box, as I am indeed drawn into the way he writes stories. Pick up The Fireman if you are a fan of horror novels, and have enough time to read through all the pages, otherwise, I would suggest revisiting The Stand.

 

Half way through the book! 

 

 

 

Posted in Book Fiction

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

I only noticed A Hologram for the King when I saw the movie adaptation come out, starring Tom Hanks. The trailer of the movie showed Hanks traveling to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and that piqued my interest. I immediately went out to buy the novel that’s been written by Dave Eggers. Interestingly, the book was also one of the finalists for National Book Award.
The first line in the book starts off with “Alan Clay woke up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It was May 30, 2010. He had spent two days on planes to get there.” As someone who’s lived in Jeddah for more than 25 years, I was definitely sucked into the novel.
A Hologram for the King is the story of Alan Clay, an American businessman, who’s been divorced and is forced to sell off his house to pay for his daughter Kit’s college education. He travels to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia representing his IT company Reliant to pitch a new teleconferencing technology to the Saudi King. His primary reason to take up this job is to earn enough money to fund for Kit’s education, to prevent his house from being sold and to do something great with his life. Oh, and also, he has a weird shaped lump on his neck. This book is about his journey and how far he is willing to go to look after his daughter.
Checking into Jeddah Hilton, Alan’s (mis)adventures begin the next day when he misses the shuttle to take him to King Abdullah Economic City (jokingly referred to as KAEC- Cake). He arranges for a taxi to take him, and enters Yousef, a Saudi driver who studied for a year in Alabama. Yousef and Alan strike up an unlikely friendship as they drive out to the desert.
Witnessing the huge complex, Alan is in awe of the scale of the development of mix used properties, with residential apartments, hotels, and office complexes being made, all out in the middle of the desert. However, Alan finds out that his staff is working inside this giant tent, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the king, to witness their new technology: a hologram conferencing.
Much to their dismay, they find out the king is not coming. Alan meets Hanne, a European woman working on the same complex. She provides him with a bottle of olive oil (read that as alcohol) in which Alan finds much relief back in his hotel room (since alcohol is forbidden in Saudi Arabia). Hanne also reaches out to him and invites him to a “party” taking place at the Danish Embassy, which turns out to be a full-blown pool party with drugs and booze. Alan’s eyes are opened up to the stark contradictions in the Jeddah society.
While Alan is struggling to get the work done and waiting endlessly for the king to show, he also is suffering from the pain emanating from the lump on his neck. This leads him to pay a visit to the hospital where he’s treated by Dr. Zahra Hakem, a Saudi female doctor. The two develop some level of attraction, since both are divorced, and this friendship eventually goes into unchartered territories.
Does the King eventually show up for the meeting? Do Alan Clay and his team manage to convince the King to invest in Reliant? Do Alan and Yousef clear out their misunderstanding after the incident at Taif, where Yousef takes Alan to meet his family? Does Alan Clay manage to get the money to fund for Kit’s education? Do Alan and Dr. Zahra stick together or go separate ways?
All these questions and more form the crux of the book, which left me with a very warm and fuzzy feeling at the end of it all.
The novel deals a lot with the clash of cultures and some parts are so well depicted, I wasn’t put off like I am usually with Western writers stereotyping Saudi life.
We have Alan Clay, who doesn’t necessarily represent the American Dream, but rather the opposite: a corporate slave, divorced and short of money to pay for his daughter’s education. His life is a failed and struggling life. Then we have Dr. Zahra, an accomplished doctor working in Jeddah, who represents the Saudi women who are powerful, working and have a mind of their own. Alan’s interaction with his driver Yousef depicts a friendship that develops organically, as they bond over the American life, the Saudi life, music, drinks (Yousef tells Alan he knows when someone has a hangover!) and women.
However, there will be a few elements in the book that may seem stereotyped to someone who’s lived in Jeddah and this pushed to delve deeper into what prompted Eggers to write this novel, but as someone who’s lived there, I would say Eggers got it right for most parts.
In the acknowledgments section, Eggers mentions how the book grew out of a conversation he had with his brother in law who went to work at King Abdullah Economic City. It was his experiences there that pushed Eggers to work on this book. For the most part, Eggers gets everything right and accurately portrays life in Jeddah. A few minor parts seemed a little far-fetched, such as the moment when Dr. Zahra tells Alan that she has to wear shorts only while swimming so others would think it’s a man swimming.
There are hardly any novels set in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and for me, this was the definitely a highlight as I took myself back to the time when I lived in Jeddah. I would highly recommend this novel to those who are interested in Saudi Arabia, understanding cultures and how foreigners can overcome prejudices to connect on a more human level (don’t watch the movie before reading!)
It was the ending of the book that left me with a huge smile on my face. I literally had goosebumps as I read the last line. I am very fond of Jeddah, and the Saudi people and have amazing memories of my time there. Dave Eggers, through his book, took me back to my hometown of Jeddah and made me fall in love with the city all over again.
Posted in Book Fiction

Exit West (Book)

Each time Mohsin Hamid’s name comes up, readers automatically refer to his brilliant first novel Moth Smoke, that captured the travails of the urban youth in the vibrant city of Lahore. Hamid’s subsequent books- The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How To Get Rich in Dying Asia and Discontent and Its Civilisation- didn’t captivate readers as much as Moth Smoke did. Readers were left disappointed as they would have high expectations from Hamid.
It was with that same sense of dread that I started reading Exit West. I wanted this book to be a great one. I wanted to catch that spark which I caught in Moth Smoke. I wanted to be captivated and mesmerised by the characters and the story that only Hamid can weave so imaginatively.
Did he succeed with Exit West? The answer is a resounding YES!
The novel starts off with the meeting of Saeed and Nadia, the novel’s two main characters. We are introduced to them in a city which remains unknown throughout the novel (and one of the mini-frustrations readers may have). We can gather that there is a great turmoil in the city, with bombings, public executions and new laws being announced. We find out they are refugees.
The initial chapters set up the characters, with a description that allows the readers to form a visual of what Saeed (he has a beard, but not a full beard) and Nadia (she grew up loving arts) look like. Their meetings amidst the chaos form the set-up of the novel, and one essentially realises that Exit West is essentially a love story. They lose their phones, thus losing contact. They meet in a Chinese restaurant. Saeed wears the black abaya to meet Nadia secretly at her place. They like each other and have an attraction, but don’t take the relationship to the next level.
But this is not just any love story. Things start to become a little fantastical when they discover that there are certain black doors that are cropping up at odd locations. These black doors provide a portal to another country altogether. So their adventure begins as they end up in Greece, Dubai, London and California. They encounter various situations that test their relationships.
Ultimately, what forms the crux of the novel is how Saeed and Nadia handle these situations based on their love for each other, which is tested to the extreme, leading to an unexpected twist turning the whole book around.
Hamid has written rather well, even though some of his sentences are so long, they form an entire paragraph. The dialogue is minimal and vocabulary has been kept to a fairly easy level. I was able to read the book in two days. Having said that, upon finishing the book, I was left with a ‘what the heck just happened?’ feeling. I took a day to process what the book was about and when it dawned on me, I felt privileged to had read it.
Exit West is a very relevant book for today’s time. Hamid has done a brilliant job of humanising the immigrant experience. He’s made it so personal, we get to experience what it’s like to be a refugee through the eyes of Saeed and Nadia. With the immigrant crisis in 2016, where refugees were fleeing West (Syrians and Afghanis migrating to Europe), Exit West gives the reader a rather intimate experience of what it would have been like to be a refugee.
On a side note, and in my opinion, and I may be very wrong, but the black doors through which people enter in one country and come out in another could very well represent the back doors of the large containers in which humans are trafficked. This is merely speculation on my part as we are never given an explanation of where the black doors come from.
The novel should be read and reread and an is an excellent book to have a healthy debate on various issues such as what it means to be a refugee, the migrant crisis, testing relationships and staying loyal. It may seem like a simple book but is full of big and challenging ideas. It’s a compassionate, fierce, thought-provoking and magical love story of two migrants caught up in turbulent times.
A very clever point is made towards the end about how we are all migrants in this world, whether we move from one city to another, or from one country to another country.
“…that everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same house our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.”
Posted in Book Fiction, Book Non Fiction

The Spy (Book)

In 1998, a book came out that transformed the lives of millions, and still does so today. It’s a book that’s been quoted by people from all walks of life world over as one of their favourite books. The book is called The Alchemist and the author is world-famous Paulo Coelho. With each subsequent book that he put out, it would send the literary world abuzz with excitement and anticipation to see what wisdom he shares through his unique and interesting characters.

Some of his more popular books are Veronika Decides to Die, The Witch of Portobello, Manual of the Warrior of Light, as well his recent best seller Adultery. It was with that level of eagerness that every awaited his latest novel The Spy.

The Spy is a short book and centers around the life of Mata Hari, the female Dutch dancer, exotic courtesan and convicted spy who was executed by a firing squad in 1917. The first chapter draws you right into the final moments of her life at prison and being led out to the grounds to face the men who will execute her. The book is split into three parts, each detailing a section of her tumultuous life.

The source of inspiration for Coelho is the letter that Mata Hari had written to her lawyer, explaining how she ended up in the situation she is in. The point is that Coelho has merely used that a device to create a story of what Mata Hari may have done and said. The Spy is to be read as more as a fictional story based on a real life historical person, as opposed to reading a biography (Coelho acknowledges in the end notes of a better written biography on Mata Hari).

Part I deals with early life of Mata Hari, initially known as Margaretha Zelle, and explores her life as a prostitute who encounters the rich and influential men. She is also a dancer and dreams of going to Paris to perform. She brings unique dance moves, inspired from Egypt, to the delight of the people who flock thetheaters to watch her.

Part II follows her journey into the rest of Europe as she becomes a popular exotic dancer, scandalizing a lot of people and being watched by the old world order who cannot fathom a strong, independent woman who is bold in her dealings with the men and women. She lands in trouble with a wrong man who uses her as a spy for her personal request to move to Paris from Hague, leading to disastrous consequences.

Part III ultimately shows how Mata Hari is accused of being a double spy and ends up being arrested, leading up to her execution.

While the story is known to many, it’s Coelho’s treatment of Mata Hari that’s slightly disappointing. One expects a thrilling, espionage thriller novella, but what we get instead is a brief, skimming over of some of her important moments. Her encounters with Freud and Picasso are merely glanced over, for example. At times, Coelho does a better job of describing the pre-war Paris, or the contents of her luggage for that matter, than he does of what’s happening inside of her mind.

Having said that, there are some interesting moments, but they are far and few in-between. I was somewhat disappointed though given what a huge writer Coelho is. It just felt like he wanted to talk more about a woman who’s bold, independent and assertive, shedding some light on women power and feminist stance that Mata Hari expressed, all in 1917 at a time when an average women was anything but Mata Hari. The Spy is a very short read, more like a novella, and makes for a quick read for those who don’t have time to pick up a book.

Posted in Book Fiction

The Forty Rules of Love

It was at a book club that the group decided to read Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love. As a guy, I was somewhat hesitant to read this as a preconceived notion about this books set in; it’s a chick-lit. However, after having read this book, I have to say I am glad I did, for indeed the Forty Rules of Love (and Life) provided a great insight into the genius world of Persian poet Rumi and wandering dervish Shamz of Tabriz.

The setting is a modern day America where we meet Ella Rubenstein, a 40-year woman with a  husband who is distant, and three teenagers, who are drawing away from her. She has everything going on for her and her family, everything that should make her happy and fulfilled, but she’s not. There is a vast emptiness in her life which renders her unfulfilled in life.

Ella is given a job by her friend to proof read a novel, Sweet Blasphemy by Aziz Zahara, a novelist based in Amsterdam. She starts an email correspondence with him in order to get to know the novel better. What draws Ella into reading this novel is the note that Aziz Zahara included with the manuscript:

In many ways the twenty first century is not that different from the thirteenth century. Both will be recorded in history as times of unprecedented religious clashes, cultural misunderstandings, and a general sense of insecurity and fear of the Other. At times like these, the need for love is greater than ever.”

This is the moment that Ella realizes that her personal life is missing this kind of love.

Diving into the novel Sweet Blasphemy immediately, we follow the moments in the life of wandering Persian Dervish, Shamz of Tabriz, in the 13th Century, and his inspirational relationship with poet Jalal al Din Rumi. Through the fascinating and interesting interaction between Shamz and Rumi, we see the gradual transformation of Rumi into a committed mystic, a passionate poet and huge advocate for love.

We are taken through the Forty Rules of Love that teaches us lessons in life, spirituality and most importantly love. Ella realises by the end of it all that she herself, just like Rumi, has been transformed as a human being, through her correspondence with Aziz Zahara, who is just like Shamz to her.

The chapters in the novel alternate between Ella’s dialogue with Aziz Zahara and Shamz and Rumi’s interaction, which makes for a great read. Though personally speaking, I found Ella’s segment in the novel a tad bit boring because it’s predictable and you can’t just wait to get back to Shamz and Rumi. There isn’t any emotional connection to Ella which prohibits the reader to feel any sympathy for her.

However, the novel kicks in massively when we get to Rumi and Shamz. There is an air of mysticism and magic, along with spirituality, that makes for a rather interesting reading. There are many rules of love that I think most of us can apply to our own lives: personal development, loneliness, reciprocity, God’s timing and achieving love for self and this is what makes the book a great read: it’s a relatable book.

It’s an easy to read novel, and Shafak does a brilliant job of merging the Eastern and Western world together, which is evident from the author’s own personal background. There is no doubt that Rumi is a huge influence in the world of literature all over, so much so, Hollywood is now making a movie on Rumi (with rumours of Leonardo di Caprio portraying Rumi).

Shafak also made the right decision to stick a more populist avenue rather than a scholarly work on Rumi. This allows for someone who is completely unfamiliar with Rumi’s work to take everything in and not be bogged down with his poetry. In other words, The Forty Rules of Love is that perfect book to introduce anyone to the world of Rumi’s teachings. I’ve highlighted all the forty rules in the book and go back often to reread them to remind myself of several things that I tend to overlook, especially with regards to patience, gratitude and change in life.

Along with Paulo Coelho, Elif Shafak has made a place for herself in the literature world as one of the authors to watch out for. The novel has become of those must read books in today’s time, especially for those who are seeking for a higher purpose in their lives. Magical, mystical and mesmerising, The Forty Rules of Love should make a permanent place on your bookshelf for it’s timely and a feel good message for the world we live in today.

 

 

Originally published in Royal Palm Country and Golf Club Magazine, Annual Edition July 2016

 

Posted in Book Fiction

How It Happened

They say Pakistanis are obsessed with two things: Cricket and Politics. To that, I would add one more thing that all of us love to talk about in our drawing rooms: Weddings. Whether we are single or married, we have been involved in some conversation that revolves around marriage. Aunties will ask you at a gathering when you will marry. Other will suggest you potential suitors. In Pakistan, there is no dearth of anything related to weddings: our TV dramas revolve around marriages; we have regular bridal fashion shows nationwide; new designers crop with their take on bridal dresses.

Which is why Shezaf Fatima Haider’s debut novel “How It Happened” becomes a very apt book for readers today. Though it was published in 2013, I just finished reading it a while ago upon the recommendation from a friend. I cannot tell you how much fun I had reading this book.

The story is focused on a Shia Bandian family, where we have Dadi who is adamant that her grandchildren are married the way she deems successful marriages to be: arranged. At the start of the book, she narrates of her weddings in her ancestral village of Bhakuraj, which serves as a benchmark for successful marriages.

Haroon, the eldest of the three grandchildren, is the first to go through the marriage process, and in a rather hilarious chapter, we see his potential suitors and how everyone reacts to the potential bride to be, which should be all too familiar to everyone who’s been through the introduction phase. Haroon has his “list” of requirement of what his wife should be, and so does Dadi.

While Haroon’s marriage may not have taken a turbulent path, it is the sister Zeba Baji, who creates a ruckus in the family by choose to have a love marriage. The defiant attitude doesn’t bode well with the Dadi at all and so causes a friction.  Zeba is the sort who will “date” and not settle for marriage for “pleasure.”

All of this is narrated by the very observant, sharp-eyed 15-year-old Saleha, the youngest one in the family. So sharp are her observant skills, she picks up the minutest of details of potential suitors who frequent the house. There is a lot of delight to be able to witness her observations, such as “tray trollies” that is prepared for every meeting.

The greatest thing about Haider’s novel is that she doesn’t take any sides. We are merely shown both the arranged and love marriages, and the readers are left to make up their own minds. There is no correct formula for what works, for there is nothing wrong with arranged set up, neither will one be disowned if they choose to have a love marriage. So well researched is the novel that many parts of the book will remind you of someone or some event that you may have witnessed.

While the novel is humorous and funny, there is an underlying tone which is much more serious. The old generation and the new generation are at odds with one another. You hear of a love marriage end up in a divorce, and you hear of an arranged marriage that is successful. Pre conceived notions are challenged, and as mentioned earlier, we are left to draw up our own conclusions about what makes a marriage works.

The book’s chapters are rather witty, with titles like “How Haroon Was Tied to the Knot” and “How a Phone Call Created Complications,” which makes for a light, breezy reading. Just like we had strong debut novels from Mohsin Hamid with Moth Smoke and Mohammad Hanif with The Case of Exploding Mangos, we have a strong novel from Haider too.

It’s definitely a very apt novel which should be read by every Pakistani for it’s sheer brilliance in detailing the idea of marriages. We are made aware of the idea that marriages are not made in heaven but rather in the drawings room with Dadi, the parents and the rest of the family, which is a rather beautiful element: family connections (this concept is further elaborated when Dadi talks about marriage between two families, not just two individuals). Most importantly, Haider wants us to know that while marrying off your child may be one of the most difficult things a parent can do, it is indeed important to have a sense of humour and to somehow laugh your way through the journey.

 

Originally published in Royal Palm Golf and Country Club magazine, January 2016

 

Posted in Book Fiction

The Girl on the Train

When Gillian Flynn came out with her novel Gone Girl, the entire world caught on to it and made it one of the most popular books. So popular was Gone Girl, a movie adaptation was also made. Many authors tried replicating the success of Gone Girl’s novel format, but none could match up to. Till The Girl on the Train came out.

Written by Paula Hawkins, who herself is a journalist; the novel has a series of interesting premise, all linked to a high sense of dread, mystery and suspense.

We meet Rachel, an alcoholic woman with a slight bit of memory loss, who commutes on a train to London every day. She passes by this house where she fantasises about the perfect couple. She observes them, makes up stories about them in her head, and does this every day. The one morning, after a night of heavy drinking and finding herself in blood, she finds out the woman, who she sees every day at the house on her commute, has gone missing and is dead.

This is where we enter the mind of the second woman, Megan, the woman in house who has been unknowingly observed by the girl on the train. We follow her story alongside Rachel’s. In addition to this, we also follow the story of a third woman, Anna, who is Rachel’s ex-husband’s mistress, who is scared of Rachel. Among the male counterparts, we have Tom, who is Rachel’s ex husband; Dr. Abidic, a Muslim therapist who Rachel frequents and Scott, Megan’s husband.

With a plethora of characters, the reader is led deeper into the mystery of the death of Megan.

Is Rachel guilty? Do her frequent black out causes her to behave irrationally? Is Anna right to be scared of Rachel or is she making it up? How honest is Dr. Abidic, the therapist? There is a huge dollop of mystery and suspense, and personally speaking, there were moments in the book when I would be super frustrated at Rachel. During some parts. I wanted to scream at her to sort herself out and solve the mystery. In one scene, when she is being interrogated by the police, she becomes rather annoying because she couldn’t remember what happened on that particular night. You are never sure whether she is lying or has genuinely forgot.

Never have I read the last few chapters of a book as quickly as I did for this book because I wanted to literally kill the suspense.

Hawkins does a great job of fleshing out the characters and the psychological aspects of their minds; their behaviour, attitudes and actions can be analysed and that makes for a very insightful experience. There are enough red herrings to throw the readers off track and create a huge sense of doubt in the minds.The character of Rachel is a very unique one for everyone I’ve talked to who’ve read this book, the common element was how much they disliked Rachel, which goes to show the excellent ability of Hawkins to etch out such a character.

I won’t say this novel is at par with Gone Girl, but it comes very close to it., since the whole psychological – voyeuristic aspect of it becomes quite realistic.

 

 

 Originally published in Royal Palm Golf and Country Club magazine, November 2015