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Literary Review

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First Impressions

AT forty you ruminate. Mostly about life and what it has done to you. At forty you count your blessings. And accept the bitter dollops that have been flung your way. Aftab is forty. Balding a bit, a tiny little paunch, a tiny bit prosperous and of course unhappy. Aftab has an additional burden — his wife decides to leave him after 14 years of marriage. Were they perfect or imperfect? Is Aftab heartbroken, perpetually drunk, crying into his glasses and morose or has he risen to the challenge, taken control of his life minus his wife and kid and gone ahead? Neither. Here we have a hero, a man undecided about his fate and about his present. He frequently turns to his past — his childhood, adolescence, girlfriends, and other such memories that come sharply etched against the present rumblings in his mind.

Aftab make one last attempt to re-conquer what he has lost and to redeem the many compromises he has made in life. In a sensitive portrayal the author fleshes out his characters to fit them into a real world where success and disappointment go hand in hand.

We Weren't Lovers Like That, Navtej Sarna, Penguin, Rs. 250.

WHEN Yann Martel's Life of Pi won the Man Booker for 2002, it was time for the bookshops to bring out his first attempt at an autobiography of sorts. Except this one was written before the prize-winning book and contained nowhere the preciseness in language or the perfection in plot that the later book had. In Self which is almost like a seamless travel through a swiftly changing genderless world, where the self can become a man or a woman, where fiction and autobiography and fantasy collide, Martel runs through the lanes and bylanes of his life. There are interesting ideas juxtaposed against not-so-inspiring writing, and yet, one is forced to recognise that changes and mutations are possible in every human being.

Self, Yann Martel, Faber and Faber, 4.99.

THE blurb bills it as a "smashing, sensual story of love and passion, hatred and loss, innocence and avarice, retribution and forgiveness... " What it does not prepare the reader for is a veritable onslaught of a fairy tale romance much in the ever winning formula of the popular Mills and Boon series, where inevitably the men are cads with a heart of gold, the women, specially the heroine, fair, lovely, delicate and wraith-like in her innocence of the big bad world. Then in steps the villain, with an almost Machiavellian intent to wreck the perfectly cosy relationship that the two lovers have built up. Of course somewhere in all this is a message and eventually the two end up living happily ever after. Olivia & Jai successfully applies this winning formula. That the author has intelligently used historical backdrops as props goes to her credit. Interwoven is also the ever-fascinating story of mixed parentage and the consequences it has. Using the vast expanse of the Raj, the book traces the romance between these two kindred souls, the sense of pain and loss and of course the aftermath of successfully making a life together finally.

Olivia & Jai, Rebecca Ryman, Penguin, Rs.495.

THIS could almost be a mirror of the life of expats anywhere in the world. A small tight knit crowd, almost incestuous in its relationships, giving rise to complex situations which seem to skitter out of control. Political intrigue, both in the host country and between the expats, only adds to the sense of drama. And yet there is a sense of ennui as one leafs through the pages. There is a certain feeling of being suspended, of never coming to grips with the characters who slide in and out of the story in quick succession. Mona Kittredge finds herself in the driving seat of an important diplomatic assignment in a tiny but important Himalayan kingdom. But everything does not run as per course specially when the new American representative walks into her life. As she renews her friendship with her ex-lover, Kittredge finds herself getting embroiled in a series of nerve-wracking situations. How these are eventually worked out and what political steps are taken at what cost to human relationships could have made this an interesting book. But the incomplete sketches of the characters and a lifeless storyline leave much to be desired.

Unforgiving Heights, Betsey Barnes, Penguin,

Rs 350.


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