Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

 

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What’s it about:

Marie-Laure lives in Paris with her father, the keeper of keys at the Natural History Museum. Werner grows up an orphan in a German town, with the future of a mining life looming ahead. But it’s the turbulent times of WW2 and they both get uprooted and cast far away from comfort. For Marie, it’s the excruciating escape to Saint-Malo and the fear of American bombs that drop from the sky. For Werner, it’s the promise of a better life, a life filled with science and discovery but something that soon catapults out of his control. How do these two unite and under what circumstances? That forms the crux of the story.

What I thought: 

Few books in the recent times had my attention the way this one did. From the get go, you fall into rhythm with the narrative that the author is trying to build. He cuts back and forth, past and present, cuts across locations, France and Germany, meticulously building characters and premise. He takes you deep into the minds of the folk who had to experience the war first-hand. Directly or indirectly. So much that war itself becomes a living breathing character.

Apparently this book has been ten years in the making, and it shows. I can’t begin to imagine the countless hours of research that something of this magnitude would take. I haven’t read a lot of World War fiction so can’t say this with absolute certainty, but something that usually doesn’t get talked about a lot is how the World Wars affected the common folk. And how differently the world view appears from the ground up. Doerr succeeds here immensely; he doesn’t sugar-coat, and there’s absolutely no attempt to emotionally entangle the reader. I’ve never seen bluntness used so to such an effect.

The chapters are kept short, some even just a couple of paragraphs, which keeps the momentum going. It’s also a clever way to make the book unputdownable, as there’s always something or the other happening. The language is crisp, yet poetic. And the author is somehow able to set up a whole scene, sights and sounds and smells, with just a handful of words at times.

If I’m talking so much about the technical aspects of the book, I think it’s because it deserves to be highlighted. This is a book where one soon realizes that the narrative is going to be bigger than anything, even if it tells two extremely personal tales. It might not have the gravitas of, say The Book Thief, but it makes one walk away with a feeling that they’ve just beheld something epic.

Keywords:

world-war-II, France, Germany, Saint-Malo, Sea-of-Flames, Jules-Verne, radio, Hitler’s-Youth, Clair-de-Lune

Book Review: They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera

 

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What’s it about:

Two teenage boys (with some *cough* emotional baggage) find out that they’re going to die sometime over the course of the day (magic of Death-Cast, don’t ask me!). But they end up having the time of their lives when they discover each other through an app called Last Friend that allows the dying to make one last friend. And as is usually with books that are described as “life affirming” or “heartbreaking” or “an emotional roller-coaster”, this one too has a lot of heavy touchy-feely bits. It’s pretty much the Young-Adulting for Dummies!

What I thought: 

It didn’t break my heart. It didn’t even give me the tingles.

Maybe I’m too old for this (at 27!) or maybe I’m just cold inside, but I really really wished that this book had adult protagonists. That would have lent much more gravitas to this otherwise simplistic narrative that never goes anywhere outside of where you expect it to. Yes, the boys are queer and yes they fall in love just moments before death knocks on their door, and yet I wasn’t shook. I just had an “oh okay then” moment and was happy to be done.

Part of the blame could be laid on the characters. Mateo and Rufus are so very cookie cutter that the sense of deja vu completely washes out any trace of empathy. Even the deeply personal moments don’t ring up an emotion. And you know there’s something wrong with the writing when a first person narrative fails to get you into the heads of your characters.

All this but credit has to be given where due, so I’ll say the premise was fantastic. And the world-building was authentic and on point. I liked the little segues into other characters’ lives and how it all intertwines at the end. I liked the clever red-herring, though the author wastes too much time to make it work. And that is pretty much all I got.

In the end, this is definitely a good book but if you’re out looking for LGBT reads, there are much better ones to choose.

Keywords:

young-adult, queer-protagonists, death, family, loss, friendship, self-acceptance, overcoming-your-fear, finding-love-in-a-hopeless-place

Book Review: The Untold Charminar: Writings on Hyderabad by Syeda Imam

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A jewel of a book!

Such an eclectic collection of mostly personal accounts, memoirs, and commentaries on the city that I call home.

From Narendra Luther‘sHyderabad through Foreign Eyes” which sets the stage nicely for what’s to follow, to Bilkees Latif‘s “Rare Visage Of the Moon” that talks about the lesser known Mahlaqa Bai – an Urdu poetess and courtesan, and then you have Sarojini Naidu‘s “Letters too tell stories” which painstakingly unfurls the loss she felt after the death of the 6th Nizam.

Each chapter charts the evolution of Hyderabad, from the opulence of the Nizams to their eventual downfall, the accession to the Indian Union in 1948, and what became of the city thus, how it transformed into the bustling concrete jungle of today yet never losing the spirit and harmony that has become its trademark. The spirit of Hyderabad and its people being the unifying thread that runs through every essay.

There are other interesting essays that detail the inclusiveness of the Nizams and by extension the city. Yezdayr Kasooji‘s “Growing up a Parsi in Hyderabad” is a wonderful account of the Parsi community and culture and how they had adapted to the local traditions, in true Hyderabad fashion. There’s just so much here for anybody who’s associated with Hyderabad that it makes for an overwhelming read. There’s even an aside on how the peculiar Dakhani language came to be.

Reading this book has given me a newfound appreciation for the city of Hyderabad. And I was saddened that there’s such a rich history to this place that most might never know. This is definitely a book worth picking up!

WPC: Partners

Here’s my possibly silly submission for Partners, but I’m gonna run with it anyway.

I know I haven’t been photographing much lately and seriously need to get my mojo back; truth is I haven’t been venturing out that much. But I got this out of my weekend’s ride to Lake Hussain Sagar at least.

You can’t tell from my B/W processing, but the two trash cans are colored green and blue respectively. One for biowaste and the other for everything else. Though you can pretty much guess that nobody cares a damn about the segregation. Some people would even scoff at the stupidity of having two trash cans next to each other!

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(No brownie points for noticing the Indian flag, second tallest in the country!) 

A month of Hyderabad…#weekendcoffeeshare

If we were having coffee this weekend, I’d probably tell you all about how much I’ve been missing Chennai lately. For people who don’t know, I had been posted in Chennai for my job from January 2013 to the end of March 2016. So, that’s a solid three years I’ve spent in a city all by myself away from the usual shackles (hear hear!) of domestic family life. But I’m back, and not with a bang!

Make no mistake, Hyderabad is an interesting city and I know it like the back of my hand. And of course, there’s the usual comfort of being in a place that you call home. But maybe, just maybe, comfort is NOT really what I need right now? Maybe being in Chennai has turned me adventurous for the better? I miss the weekend escapades to the beaches, or having the option to go on a trip at the flick of a finger. Now every decision I have to make will be debated at multiple levels by my family members. Freedom of choice has spoiled me for good. So should I be the “good” boy or should I be myself? I don’t have an answer to that question, probably never will.

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No more beaches, just lakes 😦 😦

If we were having coffee (which btw is only gonna be cold coffee), I mean is this the worst summer or what? Global-warming should be renamed Global-scorching. With mid-day temperatures peaking at 44 degrees Celsius, it’s become almost impossible to do anything outdoorsy in the day. And the nights are not much better. Yes, we did see a couple of summer showers (and I mean exactly a couple) and it was good while it lasted. But it was just that, a tease.

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Before the drizzle…

But is there a bright spot in all this? Well, I can say that it’s good to be back to my kitchen for one. I’m trying my hand at all the stuff that I wanted to do once I’m back here. Like Italian cuisine. And how simple it is to whip up a delicious plate of pasta if you bring the right stuff together!! Baking is another thing that gets me going, and I love that I can finally get to make my own cakes and breads again!

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Spaghetti Pomodoro ❤

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you life can feel like a hot mess at times. But it’s your resilience at dealing with that mess is what makes you a better person.

 

WPC: Oops…!

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Yea, you’d think I should have been able to notice those damn fingers while clicking but call it a slight-of-the-sun, I only realized how I ruined a perfect shot when I got home and saw those big Yeti fingertips staring at me from the computer screen.

I can’t even crop this one as it would just disturb the equilibrium. I had it perfectly framed, and got zilch.

Oh well.

Location: Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad. 


 

For WordPress’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Oops

Street Lights

Light trails are an amazing by-product of digital photography, in my opinion. And they’re quite easy to do as well, all you need is a little knowledge on the Shutter Speed of your camera and how light generally works in a photograph.

The maximum shutter duration on my Lumia 830 is only 4 secs but that’s more than enough to capture light trails of vehicles at night.

So yes, this is my photo for today’s theme: Street

This was taken at a bus stop in Hyderabad, opposite to a mall. The man in my foreground would generally have been blurry, but thanks to his amazing standing skills (and my steady hands), he came alright! 🙂