Thursday, 22 November 2012

The City of Devi by Manil Suri | Apocalypse now

I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I started reading The City of Devi by Manil Suri. I love Indian literature, and the apocalyptic theme intrigued me, so I simply had to throw myself into it. The novel turned out to be nothing like what I imagined, and I'm kind of glad. It's refreshing to get some new perspectives, and Suri certainly conveys some interesting ideas!

Sarita's world is falling apart. Bombs have struck her city of Mumbai, all communication channels are cut off, rumours claim that terror has struck world-wide and that Pakistan will drop the atom bomb over Mumbai this week. Worst of all, in the middle of all this, her husband Karun is missing. We follow Sarita as she navigates the new warzone in her search for her husband. Muslims and Hindus are at each other's throats, and manage to find time between the bombings to brutally murder each other. But in the midst of all this, Sarita's mind is full of memories. Her and Karun's courtship, their marriage, and the importance of a pomegranate.

Enter Ijaz, a Muslim Sarita saves from certain death, who claims to want to pay her back by seeing her safely to her husband. Unsure if she can trust this smooth stranger who always has a new story for everything, it quickly becomes clear that they need each other to safely pass through areas that are either Hindu or Muslim. But Ijaz has secrets of his own, which ties him together to Sarita and Karun. As they start closing in on Karun's trail, it becomes clear that Ijaz has his own agenda. But will they even find Karun before the bomb is supposed to go off?

Sarita and Karun are navigating a landscape of religious fanaticism. After the Bollywood hit movie Superdevi, Mumbai has become the city of Devi. Our heroes start hearing rumours that Devi is here, and will protect her city against any attack. Fate leads them straight to the so-called Devi's doorstep, where they get up-close and personal with the young "goddess". Will the moody and whimsical Devi-ma be able to protect them, or will she be the cause of their demise?

The plot of the novel keeps thickening, and is constantly moving forward. We move between Sarita and Ijaz as narrators, and they in their turn move between the present, and their memories of the past. This works really well to create suspence and to let us see more sides to the story.

I can totally see this as a bollywood movie. The colours, the action, the grandness, the secrets, the identity crises. A major theme is the novel is identity. We never get to see Karun's perspective, but we get a strong sense of him as a troubled individual floating without an anchor. Sarita tries to be his anchor, but Karun sees the triangle as the perfect balance, and that is what is missing for him to be whole. He keeps returning to his father's notion that the divine triangle consists of Vishnu, Shiva and Devi, instead of the traditional assumption that Brahma was the third wheel. Similarly, this is the third book in a trilogy, the first two being The Death of Vishnu and The Age of Shiva.

Suri explores a number of conflicts in the novel. The clashes between hindus and muslims, between gays and straights, but perhaps most importantly the inner conflict of a person who is totally lost. Is it possible to find healing in a world that is at war?

I find that some of my beliefs have been challenged in reading this book. I question the devotedness of Sarita, and Ijaz, I am annoyed with Karun's lack of a backbone. But I was also taken for a joy ride. There are some really funny passages, and I was completely absorbed in the story, both of the present and the past. And even though Ijaz could be a completely selfish a**hole, he had some redeeming qualities.

The City of Devi is only available in 2013, so in the meantime you can read the other two novels. The Death of Vishnu was even nominated for the Booker, so well worth a go. Next time I'm in the mood for Indian I'll check it out;)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Murder of Norman Ware by Rosamund Kendal

Rosamund Kendal is a delightful South African author whose previous bestselling novels The Karma Suture and The Angina Monologues were great hospital chicklits. With her latest novel, Kendal makes the move into crime fiction. The Murder of Norman Ware is a fun and enjoyable crime book, with a strong tone of Desperate Housewives. So if you get a kick out of the narrating voice in Desperate Housewives, Kendal's novel will be right up your alley.

The residents of the luxurious San La Mer eco-estate outside Durban wake up to shocking news. Advocate Norman Ware is found mutilated and murdered in the men's  bathroom. Judging from the missing body parts, he was tortured before being dealt a deadly blow to the head. How could such a thing happen in a secure estate?

Kendal introduces us to a large range of characters, each representing extremities of South African lives, and each playing some sort of part that lead up to the murder. From the Sangoma who trades in muti, to the corrupt businessman, from the bored housewife to the cheating husband. They all have interesting and highly South African stories to tell, and in this seemingly idyllic place, no one is innocent.

The Murder of Norman Ware is a joy to read. It's a novel that doesn't take itself too seriously, but it still offers pungent social critique. It's got loads of black humour, and if you're looking for an escape read, The Murder of Norman Ware is just the ticket. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins | *crushing*

Oh how happy I am that my friend insisted I read the first book in the Hunger Games Trilogy even though I was persistent that I didn't need to read it since I'd seen the movie. I loved it!! And in quick succession I had to read the other two books as well. My conclusion? I want more!! And I can't wait for the rest of the movies to come out. According to IMDB there's a whole year to wait for Catching Fire and another two years for Mockingjay. It's much too long, and I've got serious withdrawal symptoms from Katniss and Peeta... *sigh* I just love it when I fall in love with books.

My second happiness came from realizing that I actually really enjoyed reading a so-called "Young Adult" series. I guess it's the fantasy element that pulled me in. "Adult" books seldom have the same magic as children's books, but I enjoy the magic. However, I still think I'll have a hard time finding a book that will fill the gap after Hunger Games. Anyone got any good suggestions? Love is essential.

Now to say a few things about the books. I thought all three books were brilliant. They're such accessible reads, the sentences flow beautifully and Collins' style is on the money. I loved how the plot kept thickening and how we were as much in the dark about things as Katniss. Katniss and the other characters keep changing and developing throughout everything that befalls them. And Katniss is a piece of work on her own... My only problem with the books is that Mockingjay simply was a little too short. I only wanted another two pages where everything could come together properly, but I am sure that was an editorial decision, and not entirely Collins' fault. I understand that "Young Adult" readers might only cope with a certain amount of pages, but I'm only asking for two more pages..!


Oh, and I really felt the story through music. Maria Mena's "I'm on Your Side" seemed like a perfect match to the books... If I could make one of those edits with clips from the movie to this song I'd totally do that.

Each confession I make
Translates to you as an insult.
We must rid ourselves of this habit.
I once heard you say you'll
never love anyone more.
Then why am I still fighting you?
And it's never felt like this, before.
No, we've never fought like this, before.
But you, should, know,

That I am on your side,
I am on your side.
Although it may seem useless.
I am on your side.

Your hands are bearing,
worn down to the bone.
But you're still holding on me.
So I tighten my grip,
By god, I won't let you slip.
But can you breathe this way?
And it's never felt like this, before.
No, we've never fought like this, before.

And I am on your side,
I am on your side.
Although it may seem useless.
I am on your side.
I am on your side.

Love was never this frail or so
good when it's good.
No, it's never felt like this, before.
No, it's never felt like this, before.

And I am on your side,
I am on your side.
Although it may seem useless.
I am on your side.
I am on your side.
I am on your side.
 
Oh, and Beth Ditto's "Good Night Good Morning" also perfectly fits the theme of cameras, identity and total confusion...

Are you listening very carefully
Close your eyes and come with me
To go where the evening comes undone
Late at night in the city streets
I feel the need to see the streets
I go where you'll always find someone yeah

Is it good night, is it good morning
Is this real life, are you performing
You're like a vision I can't control
We're in a movie I'm playing a role

I can be by myself sometimes
But I won't be by myself tonight

The sun comes out and suddenly
Something's happening inside of me
I wanna now where the silence has come from

Is it good night, is it good morning
Is this real life, are you performing
You're like a vision I can't control
We're in a movie I'm playing a role

I can be by myself sometimes
But I won't be by myself tonight

I can be by myself sometimes
But I won't be by myself tonight

So yes, I am properly crushing on these books. I am proudly "Team Peeta". The sad thing about finishing a book is that the initial awe cannot be relived. My comfort now is the upcoming movies which will hopefully be a great source for more of the Hunger Games magic.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Winter of the World by Ken Follett | The Great Story(teller)

I have been a proper slow-poke this last month. Reading Ken Follett's amazing new novel Winter of the World took me a long time, but truth be told, I'm glad it did. It deserved not to be raced through, but savoured rather.

I read Fall of Giants last year, and had high expectations to the second installment in the Century trilogy, but Follett didn't let me down. Follett is one of the greatest storytellers alive, and once more he perfectly weaves together factual history with fictional characters who come to life in a stunning way. Follett has managed to put together a daunting amount of material in a highly accessible way.

I was happy to see that we hadn't seen the last of my beloved characters from Fall of Giants. But 20 years have passed and the main characters are the children of the main characters of Fall of Giants. The characters are spread over England, France, Germany, Russia and USA, so we are presented with a very full picture of the war from all sides. Since all of the characters are very reflected, regardless of political view, we get insight into a variety of situations, ranging from the Nazi supporter to the Russian spy, from the British soldier to the American politician. All are fully fleshed characters who are forced to change in the course of the war.

In Ken Follett's stories, there is always a very strong dichotomy between good and evil. There are always evil characters involved who are making life difficult for our heroes. But you can trust that good always defeats evil in the end in his writing. Now that I have read a few of Follett's books, I question if Follett perhaps makes those distinctions a little too easy at times. As "classic" stories go, we do expect and want good to win in the end, and of course in the big picture of the war it did, but I still feel that Follett can be a little harder on his "babies" and not always conveniently killing off the bad-guys towards the end. Real life isn't like that (yes, I know, this isn't real life, and people do want a happy ending).

Winter of the World is a history lesson with soul. It brings to life the horrible years of war, the terror, the hunger, the desperation, the blood, but it does it with heart. Once again I genuinely came to care for the characters who was at the heart of it all. And once I finished the book I just wished my grandparents were still alive so that I could pick up the phone and get an answer to all the questions this book triggered in me. I am hungry for more.

I am so excited now about the third installment! Follett keeps blowing me away, and I want him to just keep writing, keep the good stuff coming..! Winter of the World fully satisfied my cravings for a good story and left me with a lot to chew on. Come Christmas, I will pick my parents' brains for what blanks they can fill in, but unfortunately my grandparents' stories were never written down.