Roseanna by Sjowall and Wahloo

The first book in the classic Martin Beck detective series from the 1960s – the novels that shaped the future of Scandinavian crime writing. Hugely acclaimed, the Martin Beck series were the original Scandinavian crime novels and have inspired the writings of Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo. Written in the 1960s, 10 books completed in 10 years, they are the work of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo – a husband and wife team from Sweden.

Roseanna’ begins on a July afternoon, the body of a young woman is dredged from Sweden’s beautiful Lake Vattern. Three months later, all that Police Inspector Martin Beck knows is that her name is Roseanna, that she came from Lincoln, Nebraska, and that she could have been strangled by any one of eighty-five people. With its authentically rendered settings and vividly realized characters, and its command over the intricately woven details of police detection, ‘Roseanna’ is a masterpiece of suspense and sadness.(From Goodreads) 12104861

Honestly, I hadn’t heard of the book or the authors at all. I happened to come across it while browsing through the library and thought I’d give it a shot. I never realized Sjowall and Wahloo were such a big deal ! Their story is pretty amazing – it seems they wrote 10 novels in 10 years and would write alternate chapters through the night after putting their kids to bed.

As a novel, I would definitely recommend Roseanna but let me include a short note on the genre and style.

Roseanna is a “police procedural” which basically means that it is different from the usual crime fiction style of the crime, followed by introducing possible suspects, checking facts/alibis and finally the detective solving the case.

Here, the focus is more on how the police set about solving the crime when they have so little to work with. Like its mentioned in the blurb, she could have been murdered by any one of 85 people and here is the kicker – they were all tourists in Sweden ! So effectively the suspects are spread around the world and the concept of “alibis” doesn’t really apply here. Since it is about police work that takes place over years, the pace is slow but the interest remains high as they keep progressing towards their target.

There is also the occasional humour thrown in, some of which made me laugh out loud like this one where Beck’s colleague Kollberg reads out a statement from a tourist couple

“They had no idea that Sweden could be so nice. Damn it, I had no idea it could be either,’ continued Kollberg. ‘Of course the cabins were rather small and the second night – wait here is something – there was a big, hairy arachnida on the bed. Her husband had a great deal of trouble getting it out of the cabin. Well, does arachnida mean a sex maniac ?’

‘A spider,’ said Melander without taking his pipe put of his mouth.

‘I love the Danes,’ Kollberg continued.  

Give Roseanna a try ! 🙂

Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore

Original Title – Ghaire Bhaire (Bengali)    Translated by – Sreejata Guha

I read this way back in January and it has taken me all this time to write something about it. This book enjoys a somewhat cult status in India but I’m afraid it wasn’t my cup of tea.

23276412

Here is the blurb from Goodreads which pretty much sums it up

Set on a Bengali noble’s estate in 1908, this is both a love story and a novel of political awakening. The central character, Bimala, is torn between the duties owed to her husband, Nikhil, and the demands made on her by the radical leader, Sandip. Her attempts to resolve the irreconciliable pressures of the home and world reflect the conflict in India itself, and the tragic outcome foreshadows the unrest that accompanied Partition in 1947.

The only positive in this were the arguments on political ideology and ethics that Sandip and Nikhil have. Many people suggest that the character of Sandip was in fact based on Gandhi and his ideology and that Nikhil could have possibly been based on Tagore himself. These portions are indeed thought-provoking but are sadly only a very small portion of the novel. The major part is the love triangle.

This is where I was majorly irritated with the novel. The style of writing is completely lost on someone like me. It is “poetic something” ( I even forget what its called 😀 ). So we come across Bimala saying things like “he loved my body like a parijata flower from heaven” and “his waves of masculinity crashed against my feet like the ocean”. After all this, nothing happens (if you get what I mean).

Read it only if you like pages and pages of such writing.

My own feelings are summed up below

Bout of Books 13

I’ve decided to jump in and do my very first readathon ! *excited*

I haven’t figured out what “goals” I want to set yet but I do hope to get substantial reading done.

Are you taking part too ? Let me know !

And if you are new to this (like I am), check out their website for more details and do join in !

Bout of Books
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 11th and runs through Sunday, May 17th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 13 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

My first 5 star rating this year ! After a string of disappointing reads this feels so good ! 13446688

Yasuko lives a quiet life, working in a Tokyo bento shop, a good mother to her only child. But when her ex-husband appears at her door without warning one day, her comfortable world is shattered. When Detective Kusanagi of the Tokyo Police tries to piece together the events of that day, he finds himself confronted by the most puzzling, mysterious circumstances he has ever investigated. Nothing quite makes sense, and it will take a genius to understand the genius behind this particular crime…

I am going to make this review very simple … GO AND READ THIS BOOK ! Especially if you are a fan of crime fiction. Even more so if you tired of the usual crime fiction template. I am not going to discuss anything more about the story since I want to be very careful in not giving away spoilers. I would also recommend that if you are planning on reading it, don’t go through too many reviews and risk it.

I don’t understand why the author has to be labelled the “Japanese Stieg Larsson”. Maybe it helps sell more but to me it seems unnecessary, especially since the styles are different.

On a side note, this also reminded me of an anime I was crazy about ages ago – Detective School Q. Those who know this would agree with me that it is one of the best crime solving shows ever. If you haven’t watched it, I would strongly recommend that you do. It is simply amazing ! Detective school q Vol1.jpg

The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen

I’m sensing a pattern this year …. I keep picking up these books that have this huge hype and hoopla around them, get disappointed and feel bad about leaving them unfinished. This is one more added to that alarmingly fast growing list. But having read quite a sizable portion, I’m going to go ahead and review it anyway. 10310 To prevent myself from ranting away without control I am going to just put it down as 3 points

1. History does not begin and end with Akbar and Ashoka 

The first essay is good since it outlines the history of argumentative tradition in India. But that is it. He then continues to refer to the first essay in all the essays that follow. Every other historical reference he makes is either Akbar or Ashoka. Out of some 1000s of kings who ruled India across history, he talks about only 2. For someone who knows even a little history, it is boring.

2. Culture does not begin and end with Bengal 

This should have been “The Argumentative Bengali” ! Why add “Writings on Indian culture” with the title when all we have is pages and pages of Tagore followed by Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Aparna Sen, etc. ? Do not mislead the readers so !!

3. The overwhelming bias in the writing 

Numerous essays are devoted to the critique of a political party’s ideology. First of all, I would expect the scholarly work of an academic to be objective.Even if he is going to take sides so blatantly, equating donations made by NRIs to “religious fundamentalism” is taking it a bit too far and it speaks to a deep seated bias.

Bottomline : Do not fall prey to the hype like I did – just skip it !

A Year of Blogging

How time flies ! I have been blogging for a full year now ! Even I am quite amazed at that 🙂 I would have totally missed it had it not been for a lovely reminder from WordPress.

blog_one_year

First, it is a milestone for me because I am not a very consistent type. I do have the bad habit of just dropping things when my interest begins to wane. So going by my history, a year is quite a big deal 🙂

Second, blogging has been so important in sustaining my reading interest. Every time I get into a reading slump, I look for new recommendations/unique books and make an effort to start reading again. Also, how daring I have been with my choices ! A few years ago I was reading only crime fiction and now within the past year I have tried non-fiction, translated works and even a graphic novel ! Again, by my standards, that is quite a big deal 🙂

Finally, the most important part – the book blogging community. When I started I wasn’t sure that anyone would want to read my blog at all. I thought I would try it out and if no one responds, I’ll just quit writing. But I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of warmth I received from fellow book bloggers. Before I knew it I was doing memes, designing stuff, writing lengthy discussion posts and having a lot of fun 🙂

So, a sincere thank you to all my lovely fellow bloggers ! ❤ ❤ Thank you for all the support, without which I would have stopped blogging a long time ago.

Wishing you guys the very best in life,
The Resurgent Bookworm 🙂

One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan

Original title: Madhorubhagan
Translated from Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan 

(Preview post with excerpt here)

24931449

Kali and Ponna’s efforts to conceive a child have been in vain. Hounded by the taunts and insinuations of others, all their hopes come to converge on the chariot festival in the temple of Ardhanareeswara, the half-female god. Everything hinges on the one night when rules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman is sanctioned. This night could end the couple’s suffering and humiliation. But it will also put their marriage to the ultimate test.

I had initially given 3/5 for this but then upon giving it further thought for the review, I have revised it to a 2/5, which in Goodreads terms is “It was ok”. That pretty much sums up my feelings about the book. And all the hype and hoopla around the book didn’t help.

Somehow I had been thinking that it was set in contemporary times – turns out it’s set in the immediate post-independence period so that was a surprise.

The positives first ….

The story is definitely unique and the author claims he has done years of research for this so credit to that.

I liked how Kali and Ponna’s relationship has been portrayed – the story starts 12 years after their marriage and in all this time they have been quite happy with each other. They don’t blame each other for not being able to conceive a child. When others insult them, they withdraw into a shell and gradually cut down on socializing but never take it out on each other.

It also highlights how society reacts, superstitiously at times even, to couples who don’t have children.

The negatives …

The writing goes from one extreme to another – one line is a lyrical description of palm and the next line is full of someone hurling abuses. The abuses made me cringe and I suspect they have actually been toned down by the translation. Of course, this is subjective – another reader may justify it as being real so it depends on you.

The blurb is pretty much the story. In an effort to make it into a full-fledged novel, the author has dragged it on and on. There are so many repetitive threads in the novel ! For instance, if you had presented 5 cases of people insulting them, wouldn’t that have been sufficient enough to drive home the point ? But no, every alternate chapter has a description of one such incident. Similarly there is the non-conformist uncle Nallupayyan who turns up every few chapters to dispense unsolicited advise. There is also a random (and unnecessary, in my opinion) story about how Kali’s great-grandfather won a competition held by a British officer. Beyond a point they get tiring.

Final thoughts …

I wouldn’t recommend it. The ending is ambiguous and the journey towards it gets boring very soon.

Have you read it yet ? What do you think ?

Banned Books Infographic

Yes I know its not banned books week yet but I’m going to share this anyway – quite the blogging rebel now 😉

Source : Printer Inks 

Banned Books Infographic

Currently Reading – One Part Woman

I usually don’t write detailed posts on my current reads but this one has been in the eye of a storm recently so I thought I’ll share its background in detail.

Back in 2014, The Hindu had carried an article on books that discuss gender. As always I had added the books to my Goodreads TBR and then promptly gotten distracted by other books 😛

Little did I know that one of those books would snowball into a major controversy …. *cue dramatic music*

24931449

Here is the blurb to help understand things further

Kali and Ponna’s efforts to conceive a child have been in vain. Hounded by the taunts and insinuations of others, all their hopes come to converge on the chariot festival in the temple of Ardhanareeswara, the half-female god. Everything hinges on the one night when rules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman is sanctioned. This night could end the couple s suffering and humiliation. But it will also put their marriage to the ultimate test.

Towards the end of 2014, there were protests demanding that the book be banned, the reason being that it portrayed the above mentioned temple and the community in a poor light. Copies of the book were burnt and the author was threatened.

In response to all this, Murugan announced that he had taken the decision to quit writing and requested his publishers to withdraw all his novels.

My curiosity has therefore been heightened and I’m already halfway through the novel now 🙂

Here is a summary of the events as they unfolded – “I am not Perumal Murugan ..

Here is the Goodreads link (in case you want to TBR it) – One Part Woman 

And here is an excerpt from the book – One Part Woman (excerpt)

What do you think ?

Why I couldn’t finish reading …

1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller 

168668

Click to access Goodreads page

Why I wanted to read it : Everyone keeps raving about it.

Why I couldn’t finish it : It just became so tedious after the first 100 pages. I couldn’t bring myself to pick it up again and hence I decided to let go instead of forcing myself to finish it. The book is over 450 pages and I wonder, is all of it really necessary ? The problem here is not with the writing, which I did like actually, but it is the fact that it is so repetitive. Whatever humour or emotion the characters manage to evoke is lost if you read the same thing withing the next 5 pages.

Actually, no one was around when Yossarian returned from the hospital but Orr and the dead man in Yossarian’s tent. The dead man in Yossarian’s tent was a pest, and Yossarian didn’t like him, even though he had never seen him. Having him lying around all day annoyed Yossarian so much that he had gone to the orderly room several times to complain to Sergeant Towser, who refused to admit that the dead man even existed, which, of course, he no longer did. 

2. English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee 

7017366

Click to access Goodreads page

Why I wanted to read it : I came across its sequel, The Mammaries of a Welfare State, in the list of Sahitya Akademi award winners. I thought it would be better to read the prequel first.

Why I couldn’t finish it: The story is narrated by the protagonist Agastya Sen aka August in a cynical and tongue-in-cheek humour style.

A bat flew in. Mr.Srivastav scowled at it. It left. 

And more such wry observations. I’ve linked the cover image to Goodreads and there are plenty more examples in the reviews there.
I couldn’t even reach 100 pages in this case for 2 reasons. First, you feel absolutely nothing for August and second, the story simply refuses to head anywhere. He gets posted in a village as a bureaucrat and the novel, at least till the point I read, was about how he shirks work, smokes pot, fantasizes about older women, etc. etc. There is also too much of profanity which gets irritating beyond a point.
Is there a big picture and is it, in fact, a commentary on the Indian bureaucracy ? Maybe, but I didn’t feel it was worth the effort to complete it and find out.

Have you read any of the books above ? What did you think ?