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Archive for October, 2018

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Book 28 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on October 20, 2018

Its fun getting back to childhood books, especially when you haven’t read too many of them and now trying to catch up with all that you missed. Also the fact that, childhood literature consisted of Hindi giants like Premchand, Shivani, Renu, Nirala et al, western literature feels more like acquired taste but somehow more connectable. I have been reading witty quotes of Mark Twain since as long as I can remember, but his book is something else. Mark Twain always struck me as an open-minded gentleman with a strong sense of humor and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a fine demonstration of that. Tom Sawyer is one of the classic childhood adventure books, telling the story of Tom (a naughty youngster from the South of the US in the 19th century) and his many mischiefs.

Reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as an adult is still lots of fun. Mark Twain has a wonderful tomwriting style which keeps this book very interesting and flowing. The book also contains a good deal of social commentary which the author manages to convey with “boyish” way of thinking. It’s a quick read which keeps throwing you back to your childhood, recalling similar thoughts, wishes and behaviour. According to Mr. Twain, the book is “a history of a boy.” He further claims that the characters and plot are based on real people and events in his own boyhood. The resulting tale is as lively as you could imagine.

The main protagonist Tom Sawyer is full of mischief and constantly in search of new adventures, new tricks to play, or new ways to break the rules without getting into trouble. Throughout the book, there is a strong undercurrent of moral, psychological and intellectual development of Tom. It combines the past with the present in a way that the reader will personally identify with. You will also get to witness life in the Mississippi River town where Twain himself spent his youth. For children reading the book, the adventures are quite exciting. Although this book is believed to be for young adults and adults, I remember reading the “whitewashing of the fence” in middle school in an English text book which also gives us a good clue about Tom’s nature. It’s about how Tom was ordered by Aunt Polly to whitewash the fence as a punishment resulting from one of his mischiefs. But being smart ass that he is, Tom manipulates other boys into completing the job for him and by the time fence is all whitewashed, Tom is also a wealthy boy with the treasures (marbles, bits of glass, firecrackers etc) of other kids. He actually played it so smart that other kids bought their turn at the fence. It’s a pretty famous scene with one underlying message- “that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

Similarly, Tom is also used to enacting age-old scheme of playing sick in order to get out of school. As is with kids, Tom loves to use melodrama to get his way. Though, it backfires on him every now and then. Then there is first brush of romance and subsequent heartbreak. It was fun reading Tom’s lovesick musings. Furthermore, heartbreak leads to disenchantment and decision of becoming a pirate with two friends, Joe and Huck in tow. In addition to all the pranks and rascally ways, Tom has a sentimental side to him. Tom also demonstrates a heroic side. After witnessing a murder, Tom decides to testify in court. He later saves the widow Douglas from attack and finds Injun Joe’s buried treasure–thereby becoming wealthy and famous. He gets into trouble on numerous occasions but it’s also a fact that, Tom is pretty honest and commands a certain degree of goodness and courage.

First published in 1876, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer offers you dollops of humor, innocence of childhood, slavery, nostalgia, revenge, murder and several little reminders of what was and what should have been. Being an adult, you can also sense typical Twain satire that runs through the story criticizing the eccentricities and hypocrisies of human nature. Classics like these are hard to come by!

Happy Reading folk. Cheers.


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The Stranger – Book 27 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on October 10, 2018

He expects nothing from life or people, and cultivates nothing. Neither hopeful nor cynical, just flowing with the feeling of sameness all through day and night. Morality is not subjected to control and order but autonomy and liberty. One act is the same as another in the long run. There is neither hope nor a dint of cynicism. One act is the same as another in the long run. There is no sign of aspiration or quest. No materialistic ambitions. An anti-hero in the mould of Kafka’s Jospeh. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to introduce you to Meursault- protagonist of existentialist drama called “The Stranger”. As indifferent as piercing rays of summer sun and motionless waves of sea, Meursault represents urban disintegration and a by-product of routinized work.

Though published in 1942 by famous French author Albert Camus, Meursault could very well be representing modern day apathy prevalent in our generation. The character feels so indifferent, unable to tune himself to how society expects him to behave and express certain emotions during the moments of tragedy. It feels so relatable when you find him moving on from humdrum of day to day dreadful existence. Call it existential crisis or merely a product of his circumstances, that’s how he is. Can’t float on the surface of ecstasy and can’t wail in the depths of despair with any iota of supposedly natural expressions. Throughout the story you get the distinct impression that he does not conform.  He does not follow the norms set out by society about how we should be. He is merely a soul without any moral compass. He is not a bad person; he is just unable to subscribe to moral code set out by society. I mean, how do you judge a person who does not weep at his mother’s funeral? An anti-social criminal who does not play the worldly games and hence eternally condemned? Or he is just plain ‘different’? That’s the crux of the book.

camusI had fallen in love with Albert Camus when I had read his “The Fall”. His short, crisp writing style with dollops of penetrating sentences was an instant connect. Born in Algeria, this writer who was also a philosopher, author, and journalist, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. “The Stranger” is one of the most widely read French novels of the twentieth century. Originally written in French, it has been translated in many languages. The Stranger is an apt title as Meursault is a perfect stranger in every sense, whether he being a foreigner in Algeria, an outsider to society, and of course a bit of a stranger to those around him. If I dare a bit more, I will say, he is also a stranger to himself. Consider the opening of the book– “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.”   You getting the drift?

The Stranger unfolds through Mersault’s perspective, and is divided into two main parts—before he committed the most senseless crime, and how society perceives him after his arrest. Throughout the book, he has a matter-of-fact tone. Whether you find him apathetic or sympathetic depends on your nature and inclination. His description about his mother’s death is in some way weird and at the same time revealing of how Mersault’s brain was wired. Check his emotions- “It occurred to me that anyway one more Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed.” First part of the book is about his day to day affairs and not for a moment you will find traces of passion or any strong emotions. When he commits the senseless murder, he had no motive except for intolerable heat.

Mersault’s trial feels like a circus; a complete farce uncovering the methods of society layer by layer. Everyone expects him to feel remorse for his crime but there is none. His atheist mindset does not help his cause as well. Merasault is not happy about the fact that his guilt is being established without his participation. Readers get a feeling that he is not exactly being punished for murder but for his behaviour after his mother’s death. Pronounced guilty in a hasty verdict, Mersault‘s trial was against the protagonist’s character more than it was about his crime. The novel concludes with a scintillating monologue when Merasault launches an impassioned tirade after a chaplain attempts to salvage his soul. To him, nothing mattered and he believed everyone was privileged to live and be carried by the tides of fate, and all of us are equally condemned to face an end—whatever that end may be. With that outburst he actually takes command of his fate, relegating death to merely a result of the choices he’s made. And these choices did not matter to him. It was simply the way his life unfolded.

To wind up, “The Stranger” shakes you and your existing notions about life, death, freedom and choices. Even though he is condemned to death, he still feels that he is free. And if you think you are more free than others because you don’t give a two hoot about societal norms and notions of convention, then do we have any right to consider you limited or condemned? Living on your own terms is worth more than what the world views as rational behaviour. Mersault also made me think about concept of remorse. Not having any interest in introspection or religion or worship or regrets is actually fascinating. Do these really matter in the end when death is certain? May be these notions are too bleak but I find them worth considering. After all it’s all about desire to be free. To be free is humane. Cold and detached it may sound but then you have got every right to live your life the way you deem fit. Go for it if you are interested in philosophy, existentialism and absurdist literature.

Happy Reading folk. Cheers.


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The Magician’s Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia)- Book 26 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on October 1, 2018

Those even slightly interested in fantasy genre, must have heard of “Chronicles of Narnia” series. As most of us believe Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan were the first children of our world who traveled to Narnia and met Aslan. But the truth is, two kids named, Digory and Polly were the first to be actually there when Narnia was created. The Narnia series is better known for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but The Magician’s Nephew is recognised as first book in the Chronicles of Narnia because it’s about the earliest events in Narnia’s history. However in certain records, it is sometimes listed as Book 6 because it was the sixth book in the series to be published. Six more books followed this one and together they became known as The Chronicles of Narnia. Written by C.S. Lewis, this prequel is a child’s delight.

My adult version would like to be critical but the inner child thoroughly relished this fantasy. Having watched the movie version when it was first released here, it was never as engrossing as The Lord of the Rings series but it was always decent fun along with likes of Harry Potters and Golden Compass of the world. As for the plot, the magician’s nephew in question is a boy named Digory who along with his friend, Polly, found his uncle performing secret experiments — and they soon become his guinea pigs. They get transported to a strange in-between place that houses portals to many mysterious worlds. In their relentless journey, they find themselves housed in enigmatic land called Narnia.narnia

But no make mistake. Story is not as simple and smooth as it sounds. Which good story have you ever found simple? In their rollercoaster journey, Polly and Digory had the misfortune to meet megalomaniac and murderous Queen Jadis who wishes to conquer all the dimensions through sheer brute force. The Magician’s Nephew is all about how two young fellows discover their courage and stop Jadis from conquering our own planet? Also, it’s an exhilarating tale of how the duo makes their way to Narnia and their encounter with Aslan.

The book has got a different feel in terms of literature. More like old-fashioned in a fable like structure with decent language proficiency. This is an introduction to the world of Narnia and it can’t get more detailed than that. In fact, many Narnia fans will be delighted to come across details that they’ll recognize from the later stories. For example, did you ever wonder why there’s a lamp-post in Narnia? Or where the hell the Witch came from? You’ll find the explanation in The Magician’s Nephew! C.S.Lewis has an engaging writing style that is more about beautiful descriptions rather than nonstop action. There is so much attention to detail to the way a different world was built from the scratch. Book feels of decent length and size for a young child.

The strength of ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ lies in all–adventure, lovable protagonists, a remarkably strong villain, an interesting plot, and even the occasional well-placed comedic relief. London of 1900s is depicted with vivid details. The writing style is such that you can visualize the novel’s individual scenes perfectly. From the isolated and downright eerie mood at Charn (the world Jadis massacred), to the warm, pure simplicity of the earthy scent of sun-baked grass in Narnia. All feeding your imagination while keeping the rest of the story at a suitably speedy pace. My favourite bit is story of Jadis and destruction of Charn and the actual creation of Narnia. It makes for an extremely powerful moment, along with the unique reactions each character has to what they are seeing before them. I have got the entire series in one volume and I will be devouring them in slow fashion. Go, feed your inner dormant child.

Happy Reading folk. Cheers.

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