Friday, April 30, 2010

Book # 14 - Brave New World

'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley had some similarities with George Orwell's, '1984'. Both books talk about what life in the future would become owing to great advances in science and technology. Huxley and Orwell wrote their books in 1931 and 1949 respectively. Their books were preceded by the two most devastating wars the world has seen (WWI and WWII). Huxley talks about a future London (AD 2540) where society has developed a reproductive technology which rejects natural reproduction and produces human beings en masse.

Bernard, Lenina and Helmholtz are the main characters whose activities help us to understand this new world. It is the introduction of the Savage, a human being, which adds an element of emotion in the story. The Savage is discovered by Lenina and Bernard when they go on a holiday to New Mexico to visit the Savage Reservation (a secluded area where life as we know it now, exists). They bring him back to civilization as the World Controller of Eastern Europe feels that he would be interesting to study.

It is a disturbing book because the way events are shaping in our world, totalitarianism is not unlikely to happen in the future. The world, as described by Huxley, knew nothing of art and culture. In fact, they had no idea who Shakespeare was! And a world without Shakespeare would definitely not be worth living in.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A courtroom drama

While I was reading my 15 books in 15 days and trying to write a decent blog about them, hubby dear was busy preparing for his final drama exam of this semester.

The drama that his class enacted was that of the famous Indian playwright Vijay Tendulkur. 'Khamosh yeh Adalat Hai' or 'Shantata! Court Chalo Aahe' (Silence! The court is in session) is a Marathi play and was first performed in 1967 (info source: Wikipedia). The play addresses the theme of middle class hypocrisy and the abnegation of women by society even when they are not at fault.

The setting of the play is within a play when a group of amateur actors reach a village where they are supposed to perform in the evening. To kill time they decide to create a mock trial in which they accuse one of their group member, Miss Benare, of having illicit relationships with a married man. Not only that, she is also held guilty for aborting the child which she begot through her relationship.

Hubby dear played the role of Mr. Sukhatmay, a lawyer, who along with the others corners Benare and finally forces her to give in and make her confession. Adnan was extremely convincing as the scheming, corrupt and menacing lawyer who derived great pleasure from the whole activity. It was an absorbing play with a sad note to it. The beauty of this play lies in the fact that it is applicable to our society even now where men conveniently rid themselves of all blame by pointing fingers at women.

Directed by their drama teacher, Rahat Kazmi, this play was a treat to watch. Kudos to the entire cast for doing such a great job and of course, a thumbs up for hubby dear for doing so well, yet again!

Book # 13 - Gabriel's Gift

In the recent month I had bought two books of Hanif Kureishi and even though Gabriel's Gift was not a part of my selected books, I was very tempted to read it and made it a part of the 15/15/15 project.

Gabriel's Gift is a story of a fifteen year old boy who tries to keep his parents, Christine and Rex, together. Christine, tired of Rex's lazy ways, throws him out of the house. Rex was a rock star (almost) and had played with very famous bands during the 60s. Christine was also in the rock n roll business, designing clothes for the band members and groupies. Both of them seemed to be stuck in the 60s era and were almost always telling Gabriel stories from the past. Rex's career came to an abrupt halt when he tripped over his platform shoes at a concert and broke his ankle.

Gabriel had a very creative and sensitive personality. He talked to his dead twin brother, Archie, and often took his advice in moments of difficulty. His talent lay in drawing and he made amazing sketches of ordinary things (which actually came to life in the beginning of the book!). His biggest dream was to make a film with his friend Zak and he had drawn the entire storyboard on his sketch book. He impressed his dad's rock star friend, Lester Jones (a fictional famous rock star), and got an autographed drawing by Lester when the latter called both of them for a brief meeting at his hotel. Owing to their difficult financial situations, both Christine and Rex wanted the picture so that they could sell it to Speedy, another friend from the 60s era who owned a restaurant with a wall dedicated to rock star memorabilia. How Gabriel manages to get his way, keep the picture and bring his parents together makes for a very fascinating read!

What I loved about these three characters was their unquestionable and unconditional love for each other. Gabriel, especially, is very compassionate towards his parents and tries to help them out even when he feels they are in the wrong. His gift is not in his artistic abilities only but in his ability to love. I guess that is what the world needs, just a little love!

Photograph: Google Images

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book # 12 - My Childhood

It was not such a great idea to choose the book of a Russian heavyweight and what made it even more difficult was the fact that I was reading Maxim Gorky for the very first time. Even though it was a slightly dismal read, it was a consolation that it was not as difficult or long as those of Dostoevsky or Tolstoy.

'My Childhood' is an autobiography and is based on Gorky's own childhood experiences. After his father's death, Gorky and his mother went to live with his grandparents. Gorky's grandfather was a terror who took pleasure in punishing everyone, especially children. His grandmother was very kind to him and told him many stories and folk lores and is said to have influenced him towards becoming a writer. This is the first part of his autobiographical series as the book ends when Gorky is in his teens and is kicked out by his grandfather when Gorky's mother dies. The other two parts are 'Among the People' and 'My Universities'.

The prose was crisp and simple though a little melancholic. But when it comes to Russian authors, Dostoevsky is still my favourite!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Book # 11 - Theatre

Maugham does not write, he creates magic. His books are a pleasure to read and so much so that at times, I am disappointed when the book ends. ' Theatre' is another masterpiece of his and I enjoyed it even more than any of his other works because of hubby dear's involvement with stage and acting.

This book, as the name indicates, revolves around the stage and is the story of a couple who are in the theatre business. Essentially the story is about Julia Lambert; a beautiful, talented and successful actress. But it is not her success story as an actress that Maugham talks about. He tells the story of Julia Lambert the person who leads two lives; one in reality and the other in a make-believe world. The only problem with Lambert is that she doesn't know when to stop acting and thus, she employs her acting methods ( body movements, lines from plays) with her husband, son and lover. This technique is advantageous to her in some cases but in other instances it does leave her distressed and broken. What makes her a wonderful character is her passion for acting. She derives strength from her make believe world in which she reigns as a queen.

A highly recommended read, especially for actors. If you're not the reading sort you can watch 'Being Julia', a film based on the novel.

Photograph: Google Images

Monday, April 26, 2010

Book # 10 - Carry on, Jeeves

After reading this book I had only one thought, I want Jeeves also!

'Carry on, Jeeves' made for a fantastic read on Sunday. It was full of wit, humor and the anecdotes of the wonderful Jeeves who seemed to have a solution for every stickler that the protagonist found himself in. Almost all of the stories were about how Jeeves helped the friends of Mr. Wooster (his employer) fool rich aunts and uncles, find lost love, replace cooks and get out of forced marriages. Jeeves is a jack of all trades and can come up with solutions in a matter of seconds. If only there were such servants in real life also!

Mr. Wooster is the perfect employer. He loves Jeeves and though he doesn't want to succumb to the butler's view on his appearance every time, he does give in whenever Jeeves helps to get one of his friends out of trouble. We find Wooster discarding some cherished pieces of clothing all because Jeeves disapproved of them!

A wonderful read. I had a smile throughout Sunday, thanks to this book. God bless P.G.Wodehouse!

Photograph by author/blogger. Spot the MINI.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book # 9 - To Have and Have Not

Except for 'Farewell to Arms', I have never really understood any books of Ernest Hemingway. Somehow, I can't digest his writing style and can never finish his book in one sitting. To Have And Have Not' has to be the most difficult book of this project and I barely managed to finish it.

In a nutshell, the book was based on the moral that even honest and courageous men can resort to a life of crime if forced against the wall. This is what happens to the hero, Harry Morgan. Fate plays some dirty tricks on him leaving him with no other option but to fool some one else and thus, earn some quick bucks.

There is also a movie on this book which stars Humphrey Bogart in the main role (which might be the only reason I might check this movie out). Ernest Hemingway was not too happy with this book also and legend has it that he considered it his worst work. If only I had gone through wikipedia before selecting the book for this project!

Movie Image: Google Images

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book # 8 - The Virgin and the Gypsy

D. H. Lawrence is not exactly my favorite author but there is something about his writings that makes me seek his books. I was quite excited to come across this novella at Sunday bazar and it was a perfect read for my very busy Friday.

Although the title sounds very exciting, the story was quite stereotypical. It revolved around two girls, Lucille and Yvette, who are daughters of a rector. Their mother had run away with a gypsy when they were very young and their dreadful grandmother (Mater) plus a spinster aunt had come to run the house.

Sounds quite the Cinderella story? Not really. The protagonist of the novella was the younger sister, Yvette, who seemed to have acquired her mother's taste as far as men are concerned. She, too, fell in love with a gypsy (whose look was enough to ignite the fire inside of her which all the other boys around her failed to do!). The one difference between the mother and daughter was the fact (which Lawrence mentioned in a slightly off hand way) that Yvette was willing to give herself to the gypsy without an elopement.

So we have the trapped young girl, a handsome prince (somehow all gypsies are dark and handsome!), an evil grandmother, a frustrated aunt, an affectionate sister and a confused father. There are horses and carriages, fortune tellers and even a heroic act right at the end which rids the heroine of the evil old woman and brings to light the pure intentions of her prince charming!

All of this in under a hundred pages, a perfect book for the project! And it affirms one thing - women are attracted to tall, dark and handsome men with an air of mystery around them. It is only men like these who lead to (quote) 'an emotional awakening in their elemental presence' (unquote). Point to ponder ladies?

Photograph: Google Images

Friday, April 23, 2010

Book # 7 - On Chesil Beach

I had never read Ian McEwan before, not even Atonement. So it was with great anticipation that I picked up 'On Chesil Beach'. And what a fabulous read it turned out to be!

'Wonderful...exquisite...devastating' is how the Independent on Sunday described the book (It also won the Galaxy Book of the Year British Book Award 2008). It was all that and more.

The book revolves around a newly wed couple on their wedding night. The fascinating part of the book is the manner in which the author has interwoven the present with the past. The present gives us a sketch of Edward and Florence's personality and the past gives us the how and why behind the personalities.

It is a book which you can't judge because it gives you all the right reasonings. It does leave you slightly melancholic. And maybe make you realize that there should be no pride or ego in any relationship, especially in a marriage - if you want to make it a success that is.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book # 6 - Thérése Raquin

The controversy surrounding this book was as interesting as the book itself. The book was published in 1867 and it met a scathing reception. Thérése Raquin was considered scandalous and a work of pornography. After reading the book I have to admit that certain sections of the book must be a shock for the people of that time period. But the book was anything but scandal; it was horrifying and dark. It was difficult to finish this book in one day because it left me, at times, with a sickening feeling and I had to tear myself away from it.

Thérése Raquin is a woman who finds herself in a distasteful and unhappy marriage to her cousin. She succumbs to the advances of her husband's colleague and friend, Laurent, and they end up having a steaming affair. Not satisfied with the few hours they are able to snatch from the world, they decide to rid themselves of all the hurdles in their way. Thus they scheme and execute murder and then live their remaining days in abject terror.

Zola has described this terror so well that it left me feeling uncomfortable and slightly twisted when I finished the book late last night. Read at your own risk!

Photograph: Google Images

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Book # 5 - Going Solo

I fell in love with Roald Dahl's writing from an early age when my mother brought me 'The Witches'. To this day my fascination with his writing has not dwindled and thus, it was with great excitement that I picked up his autobiography, 'Going Solo' (the sequel to his book, Boy).

In his introductory note, Dahl writes, 'A life is made up of a great number of small incidents and a small number of great ones. An autobiography must therefore, unless it is to become tedious, be extremely selective, discarding all the inconsequential incidents in one's life and concentrating upon those that have remained vivid in the memory'.

Dahl seemed to have done just that. Going Solo is the most interesting and amazing account of Dahl as a RAF fighter in the second World War. The name of the book is representative of his first solo flight which he took after a brief training in Africa. Dahl had gone to Africa, before the war broke out, as an employee of Shell. The book starts off with his adventures in Africa and he describes with great detail, yet in simple prose, his awe and fascination with everything he came across in the African continent.

Once the war broke out, Dahl volunteered to become a RAF pilot and thus a new set of adventures began for him. He was only twenty-two when he set out for Africa and when he came to England, at twenty-five, he had done and seen things that many people never experience in a lifetime.

This book does not talk about Dahl as a writer but of him as a young lad with dreams, hopes, fears, courage, and a great sense of integrity. It also gives a very close account of the perils faced by the British RAF fighters in Greece during WWII. Thus it serves as a sort of history lesson also. But a very interesting history lesson narrated by the 'splendiferous' story teller himself!

Photograph: Google Images

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Book # 4 - The Wayward Bus

It was a little difficult to read through John Steinbeck in one day but I somehow pulled it off . It took a three hour marathon session in the night but it was worth it!

Steinbeck is a smooth operator. He slowly sucks you into his book and with every page you turn, you get immersed into the fictional world created by him. You make images of the characters in your mind. You start rooting for some characters while disliking others. His writings are not just words, they are actual sketches and it feels like one is watching a motion picture and not reading a book. I experienced the same feeling when I read 'East of Eden' and this book didn't disappoint me either.

'The Wayward Bus' is a story revolving around a group of tourists on their way from San Ysidro             (California) to Los Angeles. There journey is full of great drama from the start when their bus breaks down on day one and they have to spend the night at the bus driver's place. The bus driver, Juan Chicoy, is a Mexican American who not only drives the bus but also has a gas station and a small restaurant which he runs with his wife Alice.

The most interesting thing about this bus ride is the assortment of the travelers. It is said that traveling brings out the true personality of people. This book is proof of that. Whether it is the old man who creates a fuss and declares that the bus will not reach its destination because of the rain or the young girl who ends up sleeping with Juan Chicoy, or the tramp who hides her true identity or the waitress who quits her job at Chicoy's restaurant and decides to take the bus also; everyone is on an edge, collectively and personally. And it is this edginess which Steinbeck captures beautifully and shows the real personality of each character in a span of only one day's journey.

This book was a crash course in understanding jealousy, vanity, insecurity, greed, power, sex and marriage. My favorite book in this project so far.

Photograph by the author (which of course does not mean Steinbeck). And yes, that is a MINI. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book # 3 - Another Gulmohar Tree

I had picked out this book with a lot of enthusiasm. Maybe it was the cover that drew me towards the book or maybe it was the news item I had seen on BBC the other day about Pakistani authors that made me buy this. Whatever it was, day three of the 15/15/15 project was dedicated to ' The Gulmohar Tree' by Aamer Hussein.

It's very difficult to describe how I felt after reading it because it aroused no emotion inside me. Thus I tried to analyze this book in a more scientific manner taking help from E.M. Forster's 'Aspects of the Novel'.

One of the things that Forster has mentioned in his book (originally a course of Clark Lectures at Cambridge) is people i.e., how does the novelist deal with the people (characters) in his story. There are, according to Forster, five main facts in human life; birth, food, sleep, love and death.

If we take these five main facts and apply them to Hussein's book, we will find bits and pieces of each. There is birth of the protagonist, of his wife and their children. But it just happened as a matter of fact. The births did not steer the story in any direction except that if the protagonist had not been born, there would be no story. Food and sleep featured, again, as a matter of fact. Death came and went away so swiftly that it just didn't register initially. The reason why it didn't register was because it wasn't adding anything to the story!

Essentially, this book was a love story. The love between the struggling Pakistani writer Usman and his British wife Lydia. The book is set in the years after the partition, but time is not really specified as such. Actually, nothing is really specified as such! Lydia meets Usman in London, is impressed by him, they have a sort of affair for one year and then he leaves her for his homeland. Lydia, two years after Usman's departure, leaves for Karachi having no kind of assurance except a few sentences here and there in their correspondence that Usman does harbor feelings for her. What a woman! The rest of the book is about their marriage, Usman's struggle as a writer, Lydia's routine and a gulmohar tree in their back (or maybe front) yard.

I think this book was like an extended short story and that does not come as a surprise because Hussein has printed five collections of short stories previously. I think he should stick to short stories only and not write novels. But if he does, Forster's book would come in handy.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Book # 2 - A Russian love story

My second book for the 15/15/15 reading project was Ivan Turgenev's novella, 'First Love'.

Initially, I was slightly disappointed after reading the novella. Although the name reeked of a love story, I wasn't expecting it to be so predictable. The blurb promised a story of a young boy who awakens to the complex nature of adult love. There was a young boy in the story who did fall in love with a girl a few years older than him. But this is not just a tale of unrequited love. It is a story of a love unfulfilled which became a torture for both the lover and the beloved. Zinaida, the heroine of the book, was everyone's beloved( she had many admirers which included our young 16 year old protagonist who is also narrating the story) but she only loved one. And the one she loved was the one she could not have.

There are some books which leave you with mixed feelings. This was one of them. As with most Russian authors, there was much hidden meaning in this simple novella. Although 'First Love' appears to be, on the surface, another love story; it is not. There are many things going on in this novella; love, jealousy, insecurity, competition, face saving, sacrifice and death. All in just 100 pages.

An easy read but one which did leave a deep impression. Somehow all Russian authors do that.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Book # 1 - In the City by the Sea

'In the City by the Sea' was the first book that Kamila Shamsie wrote and the first book of my 15days/books/blog challenge.

I have read other works of Shamsie which include Kartography, Burnt Shadows and Broken Verses. Even though she rose to fame with her book Kartography, it is Broken Verses which I like best. Burnt Shadows, her latest piece of work, is a wonderful read also. Among the many books written by Pakistani authors on 9/11, this is by far the most creatively written.

The book, 'In the City by the Sea', is based on the events in the country under dictatorial military rule. The reader gets an idea of the situation in the city through the eyes of the 11 year old protagonist Hasan whose maternal uncle, Salman Haq, is a politician. Haq is a threat to the military regime and is under house arrest when the author introduces him to the reader.

Hasan is the only son of an artist mother (who owns an art gallery) and a lawyer father (obsessed with etymology). The plot revolves around the ordeal the family goes through, especially young Hasan, when Salman Haq is imprisoned by the military government and stands trial. Hasan wants to rescue his uncle and is willing to go to any length yet he also understands his incapacity to actually put any of his plans into action.

The dilemmas and frustrations of Hasan's age are captured brilliantly. Although no city is mentioned, this book is based on Karachi, Pakistan's city by the sea. It covers many aspects of our culture; kite flying, rituals at someone's death, and our 'desi chai' or morning tea to name a few.

The prose has almost a lyrical quality to it which made the book a pleasant read. Shamsie has a way of saying the most complex things in the most simple ways. Following is an excerpt from her book in which Salman Haq gives Hasan a brief tutorial on dictators.

'No. no. All countries need dolphins, Hasan. But the General, our self-exalted leader, well, I've seen the way he operates. If he saw people in a hut drawing together to view a dolphin, he would shoot the dolphin dead. Then he'd plant clues to suggest to each person that someone else in the hut had pulled the trigger, and when the accusations turned to violence and everyone was intent on ducking and throwing punches, he would sneak out and sell the carcass for a handsome profit. The worst part is, before long some of the people in that hut would become dolphin killers themselves. And Huss, I don't think I could live in a world without dolphins'.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

15 books, 15 days, 15 blogs- whew!

I am not a bookworm, at least not yet, but I might just qualify for this title if I successfully complete this challenge. Posted by Girl Detective; 15 books, 15 days, 15 blogs is a pretty steep task. Considering the fact that I read a total of 15 books last year, this is going to be real tough. But hey, when Julie can cook one dish from Julia Child's book each day ( "Julie and Julia" - 2009 ) and post details of it on her blog, I think reading a book will be a piece of cake. Maybe.

So why take up this challenge? I think my biggest reason is that I'll have done 15 books in just 15 days which means I'll end up reading more books throughout the year and have a perfect excuse to buy even more books! Not that hubby dear and myself require a reason to buy books at any time!

The challenge starts from Friday, April 16th and ends on April 30th 2010. The selection of books was based on just one criteria, length. I might be a fast reader but considering all the external (and some internal) factors, I won't be able to complete any book, in one day, which exceeds 250 pages. Even then, I am having doubts about some books already!

Two weeks of intense reading... I better stock up on Coke Zero and plain potato chips.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Dream Ends!

Certain moments in life have a surreal quality. Both hubby dear and myself experienced such a moment these past ten days when we worked together in the wonderful production of NAPA's 'Beech Bahar kee Raat ka Sapna', an Urdu translation of Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.

It was an experience like no other. Of course what made it very special was the fact that both of us played the role of King and Queen (Theseus and Hippolyta) and being together on the stage as a couple was as amazing as it is in real life!

It was hubby dear's first public performance and he did an impressive job as Duke Theseus or Tabrez. A huge thanks to all our friends and family members who came to watch the play - it meant a lot to both of us!

I thought that acting was a simple profession but now, after this stint, I have realized what hard work and patience is required to perform and put on a great show everyday (the play was for a duration of ten days at The Arts Council Karachi). Kudos to all the people at NAPA (actors, director, assistant director, stagehands, set designers) who make it all look so simple and effortless!

I was transported into a different world in these ten days. I met all sorts of people from different backgrounds who had come together for the same purpose, to do their best in order to make the play a success. These people shed their own self for a few hours and assumed the identities of fictional characters. Actors are such multifaceted people. You never know their stories, their dreams, or their real self but they remain alive in your memory as a particular character which made you laugh, or brought tears in your eyes or left you in awe and wonder. All they want is your appreciation and love. All they want is applause.

We got a lot of applause from our audience each day. Three cheers for the entire team of the play!

[Photographs courtesy my dear friends Atif Asad Jan and Sabrina. Thanks guys! Also courtesy Mohammad Talha Ghouri]

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