Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Books read in 2020

It is that time of the year where I make a proper post, and yes it is about the books I read last year. 2020 was a hard year around the globe for every one and it had affected my reading too. While a lot of people I know and follow have returned to reading, many finishing more than usual numbers of books they read, I was literally crawling in reading. It took me 4 months to read The Luminaries, not because the book was not moving, but due to the ill effects once the lockdown started. However things were smoother once I came down to Kerala for a short period. I finished 11 books in the last 2 months of 2020 - more than what I read in the first 10 months. I am eternally grateful to the family for that. 

Goodreads helps me keep a tab on what I read, and the challenge is a bit self motivating. The only challenge I take seriously in life :) 

So here goes the list.

1. Shikarasuryan by Chandrasekhara Kambar

Translated from Kannada, this is the story of a person who went on to become the King of a state by all the means he could use. This has betrayals, deceits, wars, love, gory details of the killings. Every damn thing a book of this stature should have. It is a mini Game of thrones (I haven’t read or watched it but from what I read I am making this comment)

2. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

Autobiography of a boy soldier who fought civil war in Sierra Leone, without knowing what they were fighting for. Story of his escape from the place and how he ended up in America

3. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

Recommended by Praveen Chandran in his FB post, this one is a murder mystery translated from Japanese. I should say the Japanese are quite a style when it comes to writing murder mysteries. If you want to start a Japanese murder mystery, let it be this. I’m currently in the process of making a list and acquiring more of these. 

4. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.

Magnum Opus. Classic. For more read my earlier post for more details. 

5. U R Ananthamurthyude 3 Novelukal - Samskara, Bharatheepuram, Avastha by U R Ananthmurthy

Samskara talks about a village head priest’s struggle with the burial of a corpse, who is a Brahmin, but is an outcast in his community, all the while being confused about the deeds he has done in his life.

Bharathipura is about Jagannathan, who wants the lower caste community around his village to be considered equal to him. He is a foreign educated landlord who plans to revolt against casteism by forcing the lower caste people to enter the famous temple in the village.

Avastha is about the journey of a politician from his student days to what he is now. Illness has caused him to bedridden and he is pondering about the life he has lived so far.

6. The Cubs and Other Stories by Mario Vargas Llosa

Llosa brilliant set of short stories written in his early years. It speaks about the life in “barrios” in Miraflores, Peru

7. Twinkle Rosayum 12 Kaamukanmaarum by G R Indu Gopan

Novellas about love and crime. More than the title story I loved this novella titled “Pushpavalliyum Yashivasanthayum”  It seemed like an 80’s  Malayalam movie script written by Bharathan or Padmarajan with Srividya and KPAC Lalitha in the lead. Terrific stuff from Indugopan

8. Pusthakangalum Manushyaran by N Sasidharan

A book of long form articles, that one should never miss if you are serious about reading. Biggest take away from this book is the umpteen number of books which Sasidharan introduces. You learn so much about them that you just keep adding them to your wishlist. I have specially curated a book list which I am currently using to hunt those.

9. Auto Da Fé by Elias Canetti

Prof Peter Kein, who lives in the world of books, dislikes human interactions and uses a minimum amount of his personal space so that he can build a private library. He is misogynistic, obsessive, disciplined and a maniac. Things take a violent turn when he marries his housekeeper and she throws him out of his house. And then he tries to get it back from her.

10. The House on the Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Written in the form of vignettes, this book speaks about the life of Latin Americans who migrated to the US. It is the story of a young Latino girl, telling life around her which is sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes happy & cheerful, while she grows up in Chicago.

11. Ushnarashi by K V Mohankumar

A well researched fictional account of the Punnapra Vayalar uprising. It is also intertwined with a contemporary story of people getting attracted to Maoism

12. There’s Gunpowder In The Air by Manoranjan Byapari.

Translated from Bangla by Arunav Sinha, this book - set in the 70’s -  is about a jailbreak planned by Naxalites and the mole who has been planned with them by the warden. Only that there is a small problem. The mole is getting interested in the Naxalites ideology

13. The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco

A 14th century novel set in the middle of warring factions of Christianity. 

In an abbey in Italy, whose abbot is the mediator of a debate between Fransicans and Papal Church, there starts a series of murders which puts the debate in jeopardy. An ex-inquisitor Brother William and his assistant Adso have to find out the murderer. There is also a library which bars entry to anyone after the dusk. A library whose rooms are laid out by a formula.

If you have heard about Eco's 30000+ number of books in his apartments, then you will understand how and why this book was written. Magnificent piece of history of Christianity of those times, apart from being a murder mystery and book about books at the same time.

14. Karukku by Bhama

Translated from Tamil, this book is an autobiography of a Dalit Christian woman who was a nun and left the order after seeing the caste oppression there. Portrays the life of Dalits in rural Tamilnadu and the marginalisation of the community within the church and outside. Written in a non linear fashion it presents the author's life as a process of self reflection and recovery from the betrayal of the order.

15. Al Arabian Novel Factory by Benyamin

One of the twin novels from Benyamin, this one is about a group of journalists who hunt for news in an unnamed Arab country, as part of a research team for a famous novelist. As they get to task, the protagonist gets to know about a banned book and ends up searching for more information on that. Though that forms the crux of the story, there is a lot of detailing of the revolution and Arab/Muslim conflicts in the book.

A well researched book, and of course a page turner like Manjaveyil Maranangal. However to me somewhere it lost its steam towards the end.

16. The Joke by Milan Kundera

A love story set in the backdrop of Communist Czechoslovakia, The Joke is a great novel which has all the ingredients needed for a novel. There is love, sex, abuse, revenge, communism, culture, history, nostalgia and of course philosophy.

A love story in its core, The Joke also talks about the degradation of ethnic cultures once Stalinism took over Eastern Europe. There is also the conflict within the Communist Party, which eventually paved the way for Prague Spring. There is also the theme of "The Joke" happening in every person's life who narrates the story. All the narratives culminate in a magnificent climax which keeps you on the edge for sometime until you realise it is all a Joke.

17. Puttu (പുറ്റ് ) by Vinoy Thomas

Story of Perumbady written in the form of stories, sub-stories, and numerous sub-*-stories. The hero and heroine of this novel is the landscape which lies somewhere to the North East of Thalassery nearby Iritty.  The craft which the novelist displays here is exemplary. 

18. The Book Hunters of Katpadi by Pradeep Sebastian

Though the  jacket claims this book to be India’s first Bibliomystery, this one turned out to be a damp one without any mystery. Maybe because I had high expectations from Pradeep, after reading that beautiful column, The Groaning Shelf. Though you have to agree that Kayal & Neela were two awesome book women, and the best thing that they taught me was “Buy Editions, not Volumes” .

19. The Fratricides by Nikos Kazantzakis 

In the midst of Greek Civil War a village priest is torn between his faith and rebel son. There is cruelty all around. Communists on one side and Fascists on the other. Killing every poor man in the village. The priest tells them to believe in God. Why, they ask, if God can't save them from the carnage. It is his people, and the priest needs to save them.

Father Yanaros will be one of the greatest characters mentally tormented between the love for his God, faith, people, and his son. He speaks to God and to his son. He speaks to the villagers and the soldiers. But no one cares for him. Yet, he is in pursuit of peace and wants to stop the brothers from killing each other. With just Hope on his side because he is not even sure of his God. Kazantzakis is great!

20. Mullappooniramulla Pakalukal by Benyamin

The banned novel written by Sameera Parveen mentioned in the novel Al Arabian Novel Factory. Though both are written by the same author, this is shown as an independent translation of the book, A Spring Without Smell, done by Benyamin, in Malayalam from Arabic.

The novel gives the detailed info of the revolution that happened in an unnamed Arab country. This is the country that the four journalists in Al Arabian Novel Factory visited after the revolution. Written in typical Benyamin style. A fast read with a lot of detailing on the revolution and history.

21. Cathedral by Raymond Carver

I started this beautiful book in the middle of November and though it had only 12 stories, I could finish it only on the last day of 2020. Each story in this book gave me a heavy hangover, and I kept thinking about the characters. 

Imagine two parents who have ordered their child’s birthday cake only to know that their son has passed away the very same day, and when they are still in shock, the pastry guy calls to pick up their cake. 

Imagine a couple invited for the dinner by their friends and when they reach his house a peacock lands on their car. 

Imagine a recently divorced couple meeting to talk about their stuff, and the husband complaining about his ear being stuffed up and the wife helping him to relieve that. 

Imagine a blind man, who is the friend of another man’s wife, and a person whom the husband has never met and not even sure why he is visiting them, helping him draw a Cathedral by holding his hand over the husband’s, as if you are teaching a young kid to draw.

These are the characters woven by Raymond Carver that gives you enough ammunition to ponder after you have read them. The problem with each of these stories is that it builds up a tension and you remain in some kind of hangover thinking about it. And to quote Carver it is all written about common things and common people in immense power. 

12 short stories that portrays various themes like helplessness, trust, preconceived notions, state of Americans, alcoholism, marriage, family, detachment, irony etc. Most importantly the emphasis is on what is unsaid than what is said. But everything written in plain simple terms. 

That’s all folks. Hope you like and read them. Happy Reading in 2021 :) 

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