“The Shadow Of The Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

"The Shadow Of The Wind" is about accursed books, about the man who wrote them, about a character who broke out of the pages of a novel so that he could burn it, about betrayal and a lost friendship. It's a story of love, of hatred and of the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind."

The Shadow Of The Wind” written by a Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a sweeping narrative of the entanglement of a reader’s and a writer’s life. It is a well written story which is set around the time of Spanish Civil War [1936 – 1939]. The Shadow Of The Wind is “a world of books inside a book” which is absorbing and tempting right from the first page. Reading this story word by word, page after page and walking through the labyrinth of the cemetery of forgotten books in my imagination has been one hell of a journey. If “the cemetery of forgotten books” were a real place, I would have loved to visit it once in my lifetime.

It is a mystery novel with a touch of magic realism. It is an artistic story which is gripping and unputdownable. This story makes you wanna suspect each and every character of the book at times. At some points, the plot might sound a little dramatic. But, this book has touched me to the core. This is a story which will stay with me forever. It is also special because this is my last book for 2020. If you love “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak and “Kafka On The Shore” by Haruki Murakami, you will love “The Shadow Of The Wind“.

Quotes from the book

Some things can only be seen in the shadows.

This is a world of shadows and magic is a rare asset.

To truly hate is an art one learns with time.

Presents are made for the pleasure of who gives them, not for the merits of who receives them.

We exist as long as somebody remembers us.

The moment you stop to think about whether you love someone, you’ve already stopped loving that person forever.

Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.

Those who really love, love in silence.

Nothing happens by chance. Deep down, things have their secret plan, even though we don’t understand it.

Keep your dreams. You never know when you might need them.

There are worse prisons than words.

We are puppets of our subconscious desires.

BookS recommendED in this book:

  • Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
  • Les MisérablesVictor Hugo
  • The Epic Tale of SandokanEmilio Salgari
  • The Mysterious IslandJules Verne
  • The Brothers KaramazovFyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Interpretation Of The DreamsSigmund Freud
  • CandideVoltaire

Halfway to Freedom; An Account on India-Pakistan Partition

Halfway to freedom is an excellent account on India-Pakistan partition written by an American photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White.


Margaret Bourke-White 

~A woman of many firsts~

The first photographer for “Fortune” magazine

The first female photographer of “Life” magazine

The first western professional photographer to have unlimited access into the Soviet Union

The first female war correspondent credentialed to work in combat zone during World War II


When all the Hindustani (Indians) were united to drive British rule out of India, nobody must have anticipated that their independence will be smeared with blood. Declaration of India’s Independence on 15th August, 1947 was accompanied by carving out of Pakistan from the bleeding India. Almost 200 years long British rule certainly came to an end but their divide-and-rule strategy persisted as a result of which a Muslim-dominated Pakistan and a Hindu-dominated  India was engendered from one united India. This unfortunate partition prompted an exodus. Millions and millions of Muslims from India headed towards Pakistan whereas the same number of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan advanced in the opposite direction towards India because they were not safe in each others land. 

In this book, you can get the first hand information from the author herself. She not only observed and experienced the India-Pakistan partition up close but also interviewed the then acclaimed personages such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Ghanashyam Das Birla, Seth Ramkrishna Dalmia, Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and many more who were close to Mahatma Gandhi. She also took opportunity to question face-to-face Mohammad Ali Jinnah, creator of the Pakistan (land of the pure). She interviewed natives of different castes and religions trying to know their opinion about the situation. No information can be as raw as this episode. 

Mahatma Gandhi is regarded as “The man of God“. The author is curious about the Gandhian philosophy. Her queries revolve around Gandhi. She wants to know his way of life. She ponders how he could have attracted so many followers and their loyalty. Hence, she goes around questioning people close to Mahatma Gandhi. In my opinion, she represents the western views and curiosities towards eastern culture and politics. 

Bourke-White mentions a celebrated remark made by Mrs. Naidu about Gandhi –

“If only Gandhiji knew how much it costs to keep him in poverty.”

Halfway to Freedom

Being a foreigner, she has misspelled some of the typical Sanskrit words and names of people she came across in her book. However, we can work that out ourselves and this mistake can be ignored with the fact that she has done a splendid job picking up every subtle details that she needs to depict the political and social scenario of that period. She has painstakingly collected cardinal information and has gone through a lot of trouble to photograph them. From the rich industrialists and politicians to slum dwellers, from landowners to laborers, from capitalists to communists, from Muslims to Hindus to Sikhs and from Brahmins to Sudras, she has touched the lives of almost every hierarchy in her astounding book.

So, if you want to get acquainted with India-Pakistan partition and post colonial scenario, then this book with the first hand details is for you.

The Little Prince

“The Little Prince” is a novella written by a French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It is an incredible children’s book which every adult should read.

Every day, we keep hustling as if we are obliged to reach somewhere. We keep running towards the complex aspects of life. We already have all that we ever wanted in our life. Even then, we are so entangled in the exaggerated problems that we can no more fathom the trivial yet exuberant aspects of life. We shrink to fit into the decorum and eventually lose the real essence of life. During this process, we dim our spark.

You understand the picture only after you read the book. It is a boa constrictor from the outside after it has engulfed the elephant but the grown-ups see it merely as a hat. The narrator of the story is sad about it.

In the story, a grown up man (who has abandoned his passion for drawing during his childhood because he was constantly discouraged and was instead expected to excel in mathematics, geography, astronomy and so on; who has now become a pilot) meets a Little Prince from another planet. The Little Prince reflects his younger self. The Little Prince is believed to have come from a far away tiny planet. His planet is so tiny that it consists only of a rose, a baobab tree and three volcanoes. On the way to the planet Earth, he comes across many grown-ups such as-

  • A self-acclaimed King who has no citizens
  • A conceited man who thought everybody admired him
  • A drunkard who drank to forget the fact that he was drinking
  • A businessman who had time for nothing but his calculations
  • A busy lamplighter of the small planet where time flies real quick
  • A geographer who knew nothing about the geography

The Little Prince finds the activities of adults weird. He finds the grown-ups hustling and bustling without any significance. He had left his planet in order to explore and understand the world. For this pursuit, he had to sacrifice a great deal. He had to leave behind The Rose whom he loved and he also had to abandon all the duties towards his own planet. However, his journey did not go in vain. On reaching the planet Earth, he learnt a lot about love and life which he did not know before. He met different animals, men and plants and was confronted with several aspects of life.

The pilot, who was once a child with amusing interests is now all grown up. As we grow up, we become prejudiced. We are so accustomed with the set norms that we can’t think about anything otherwise. When the pilot encountered the Little Prince, he got annoyed with his curiosities and his persistence. Little does he remember that he himself was nothing different from the Little prince when he was a child. As the pilot got acquainted with the Little Prince and gradually learnt about him, he started developing a profound bond with him.

At the end, the Little Prince allowed the snake to bite him hoping to return back to his planet. The pilot will never be able to forget the Little Prince and neither will you. Once you know him, he just leaves behind this obtrusive footprints in your life because The Little Prince is our childhood self : innocent, stubborn and untainted.

Likewise, the child in us appears and then vanishes; it is up to us to preserve it.

Final thought

As a child, even I had Elvish dreams of Moon and Stars. I had fantasies. But, with time, everything kept shrinking to the point that I don’t even remember them. We constantly try to suppress the child in us. We dim our spark and we conceal the innocence because that is what we are taught and that is what we will be teaching.

Prejudiced

Hypocrites

All those shits.

Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh

Master storyteller Amitav Ghosh gives goosebumps through the magnificent “Ibis Trilogy“. This work of historical fiction is a set of three books – “Sea of Poppies“, “River of Smoke” and “Flood of Fire“. These crispy and succulent books have brought 19th century alive vividly reflecting the scenario of Opium War between The Great Britain [The East India Company] and China [The Maha-Chin]. Ibis is a vast ship with which fate of many characters is tied in the story.

This rich-in-story trilogy is a journey from Calcutta to Mauritius to Canton to Hong-Kong, back and forth in between which Ghosh introduces myriad characters, each with their peculiar stories to share. Every anecdote is riveting. By the time readers turn the last page, they have already lived a hundred lives and experienced countless experiences. Ghosh’s way of story-telling is enchanting. As I was reading, I wanted to close the book, absorb the stories and smell the pages every once in a while. This is the kind of story which stays with you for days and months and years even after you have finished reading it. 

First book of the Ibis Trilogy: “Sea of Poppies”

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The story emerges from a small village Ghazipur of Uttar Pradesh, India. The different characters are dispersed at the beginning only to get connected later at the end. As the story culminates, the ship Ibis ties together the fate of –

  • a widow who is separated from her only daughter,
  • a bankrupt jamindar (land owner) who is rich and respectable one moment and is nothing but a Kaidi (prisoner) the next moment, 
  • an orphan European girl who has learnt to take care of herself gracefully over time,
  • a mulatto American freedman who has been extremely fortunate, and
  • a group of lascars with really amazing dialect (which fascinated me and I could not miss them out in this list). 

~ Once they are a part of the Ibis, they become Jahaj Bhai (Ship brothers) and Jahaj Behen (Ship sisters).~

This bond is precious and can never be broken. They realize it as they move on with time and meet at different point of life in the most unexpected circumstances. 

Second book of the Ibis Trilogy: “River of Smoke”

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The Second book of the Ibis Trilogy begins with the characters from the First book who have grown old. They narrate the story of their struggle to their children in the first few couple chapters. If you anticipate the entire book to be merely the narration from the perspective of parents or grandparents to their children, then you are going to be disappointed because Ghosh switched the narration to third person narrative after few chapters.

In this book, all the members of The Ibis are dispersed trying to claim their own fortunes. The majority of the story takes place in Canton, China. The three opium shipping ships – The Ibis, The Redruth and The Anahita, directed towards Canton gets caught up in the tempest. All the acts of the owners thereafter is aimed at recovering their loss. But all they get is – more troublesome legal issues. 

Third book of the Ibis Trilogy: “Flood of Fire”

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The last book of The Ibis Trilogy brings together all the characters insinuating that the bond of Jahaj Bhai and Jahaj Behen is precious and cannot be broken.

As the story unfolds, the loss of opium as well as other legal and political wranglings gives way to war. The East India Company is all set to wage war against Beijing. However, Chinese do not have the resource to stand against the modern British warfare. Hence, the plight of the debilitated party seems apparent. 

Ibis Trilogy is an enormous chronicle that has incorporated every subtle details of the 19th century culture and tradition. All the small fragments Ghosh had been knitting throughout the story has at last fallen into place giving a clear picturesque of the then social and political scenario. Once you start reading the book, it is unputdownable. 

“Old Path White Clouds” by Thich Nhat Hanh

After attending 10 days Vipassana Retreat, I am exceedingly drawn towards the idea of liberation. Only through mastering the mind, we can attain that emancipation. Meditation is the tool that helps us master our mind.

Image source – unsplash.com
Be light!!! 
Light, light, light. 
Full of light...

In the quest of liberation and peace, I came across this amazing book “Old Path White Clouds” written by a Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s been a while I have been following this venerable monk – his doctrines. But, this is his first book that I have read.

“Old Path White Clouds” is a book written in a very simple and straightforward manner. The entire book has an optimistic and positive tone. While reading the book, I felt like I was meditating. Reading this book is a quintessence of a guided meditation, if a book were to guide you through the meditation. Simply reading this gives you so much of peace and liberation. It is like a discourse on meditation. There is nothing much in the book that we don’t already know. You might not even find the answers to the queries you have about life and death and suffering. Despite that, this book is so special. It throws light on Gautam Buddha’s biography from a different perspective. It makes you think. And everything that makes you think has some special flavor in it.

Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.

SOCRATES

Some anecdotes might seem a little ideal and unrealistic in the book. However, the motive of the author is merely to radiate positivity and optimism. What else do you expect a monk to write anyway!!

Now, I would like to recollect few quotes from the book that has touched me.

Birth and Death

Impermanence and Non-self

Love and Acceptance

Life And Wonder

Mindfulness

To wrap up, this is a book you should grab if you have everything and yet you are not happy. Or, if you think that you will be happy and satisfied only when you achieve something. In a nutshell, you should read his book if you want Peace and Liberation.

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1984 By George Orwell

Will the war ever subside in the world? People in power will always keep on creating the utopia of their own definition. But, is it what every individual wants? What would be your definition of utopia? What would you want?

Note: Spoiler-free Review

In the dystopian story 1984 by George Orwell, the dictating party has a face of Big Brother. People don’t even know if the Big Brother really exists. The majority believes it and hence the Big Brother exists. Even the lie, if accepted by thousands of people, becomes the truth.

Mass Manipulation – The party manipulates the mass. They inoculate fear in the people. They create hatred towards revolution and change. They confine the thought of people. They control the thought process and every subtle aspect of life of the people who are capable of revolting against the party.

Brain-washing – Children are delicate. They can be shaped into whatever they are taught from their childhood. The party people brain-wash the children. They intend to diminish the heretical population working on people right from their childhood.

Re-writing the Past – On goes the struggle of the people in that dystopian world. The power shaped the past, present and the future. All the written records were changed and updated with time as per the convenience of the party. One piece of nonsense was substituted by the other. The data and information was manipulated and the past was wiped out in such a way that it didn’t exist at all. The past was changed, the changing of the past was erased and the past mentioned now was the past always. When all the records told the same tale, the lie passed into the history and became the ultimate truth.

Contradiction – The party changed the vocabulary. They limited the words in such a way that there remained no words of revolution. They tried to control the thoughts by controlling the words. The party performed in contradicting fashion.

The New High – There were three levels of people: the high, the middle and the low. The middle revolted to replace the high, preaching about equality. But, is there ever going to be an ideal equality? Because now, the middle is the new high. The low always remains the low.

I understand “HOW?”; I do not understand “WHY?”

1984

Torture – Oftentimes, we might have made promises to the people we love, may it be our romantic partner or the younger member of our family – I hope I would die before you do, I would take away all your sorrow if I could, etcetera… etcetera… But ever thought, what if you were faced with a torturous incident and you could exchange your place with the people you love the most, what would you do? Easier said than done. When reality hits you hard, you won’t remember your pointless promises.

You must have said “I would die if I could save you” to the ones you love genuinely. But, when you are being tortured, you would do anything to swap your place with the one you love.

All in all, 1984 is a disturbing and suffocating story. This novel makes you feel privileged and comfortable where you are.

What if all our thoughts were being controlled by others !!!

What would we do if all our activities were being monitored ???

What would we believe if everything was manipulated and false???

This story is not only fascinating but it also instigates myriad thoughts in us.

It is a deeply suffocating and extremely disturbing story.

I wonder – Which one is more disturbing; “1984” by George Orwell or “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood?

  • All the pictures used in this blog post are prepared using canva.com.

Of Mice And Men

A hilarious story that will break your heart at the end. Yes! That is what “Of Mice And Men” is.

Disclaimer: My review has spoilers. 

Book – “Of Mice And Men”

Genre – Fiction

Author – John Steinbeck (Nobel prize winner)

Main Characters

  1. George Milton – A relatively smart man who is small in stature and is characterized as both angry as well as compassionate. He goes to work in the ranch with his friend Lennie.
  2. Lennie Small – A huge man who is mentally handicapped and has child-like innocence. He is extremely loyal towards George and let’s George do the thinking for both of them.
  3. The Boss – The owner of the ranch where George and Lennie go to work.
  4. Curley – Son of the boss at the ranch who is jealous, insecure and goes around picking fights.
  5. Candy – A worker at the ranch who has lost his right hand and has a stump in place of his right hand. He has an old dog of his own. He and his dog represent the frustration of the old age. Later, Candy is included in the future plan of George and Lennie.
  6. Slim – The most respected and admired worker of the ranch who is characterized as intelligent and empathetic person.
  7. Carlson – A sturdy man with amiable nature.
  8. Whit – An aggressive and nosy character who seems to enjoy chaos and drama.
  9. Curley’s Wife – A lady who is in possession of Curley and is always seeking attention, affection and appreciation from everyone. She is regarded as a woman who brings downfall in men.
  10. Crook – A negro who has a crooked back caused by the kick from a horse. He is a proud and dignified worker of the ranch.

Brief Summary

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Of Mice And Men” is a novella written by John Steinbeck which takes place during the America’s Great Depression. During the great depression, there was lack of a steady job and hence increase in the number of itinerant workers. They travelled from place to place in search of job.

In the novella, George and Lennie go to a ranch at Soledad to get a job. On the way, they are delayed because they had an issue with the bus that was supposed to take them to the ranch. So, they decide to go to the ranch the following day. George explains the circumstances to Lennie. George plans the future for the both of them. Lennie is mentally handicapped and follows whatever George decides for them.

The big guy, Lennie loves to pet a mouse but every time he tries to love the mouse, he unintentionally kills it. He is innocent. He is loyal. He doesn’t remember much and finds happiness in small things. But he kills small pets out of love.

Too much love will kill you.

QUEEN

Dream

Of course, George and Lennie were not happy travelling from place to place in search of job. They dream of their own ranch where Lennie will have pets and George will live happily. Lennie makes George repeat the plan time and again. Recollecting it made Lennie ecstatic. They had a brilliant plan. George was afraid that Lennie’s innocence and forgetfulness would cause them trouble. So, he wanted Lennie to remain quite and let him do all the dealing. Lennie obeyed him without question.

Obstacles

Curley, the son of the boss loved to pick fights with men stronger than himself. He had a wife who was lonely herself and sought attention from other men. Curley being insecure wanted to keep his wife all to himself but she seemed to disobey. She often visited George and Lennie in their working place pretending as if she was searching her husband. In the meantime, Curley came picking fights with Lennie and got seriously injured. This was the point from where trouble originated for George and Lennie.

Loneliness

George and Lennie had each others back. They took care of each other. Not everyone is lucky enough to have such companion. People are often left to themselves and are a victim of depression. Their co-worker Candy had an old dog who was a great company like Lennie was to George and George was to Lennie. However, he was shot because he was old. Candy became lonely once again when his dog was shot. He then became a part of George and Lennie’s future plan and was ready to contribute his share to buy a ranch of their own.

Curley’s wife, who is depicted as a mean slutty woman is another lonely character. She had failed to achieve her dream to work in movies and had instead married Curley. Her husband keeps her to himself but she often finds a way to escape and seek attention from other men. She makes Lennie curious. Lennie thinks that she is “purty”. At the end, Lennie kills Curley’s wife unintentionally.

Sacrifice

After the death of Curley’s wife, George and Lennie’s best laid plans fall apart. Curley starts to haunt Lennie with the motive to take revenge. George, out of sympathy towards his friend, shoots him himself in a painless manner. Eventually, George becomes all alone.

Made using – canva.com

Final thought

When I started the book, I was curious to know the end. How is such a short story going to progress and end! With every progressing event, I was growing more curious.

As I read the last line of the novella, the only music playing in my mind was “Too much love will kill you” by the band “Queen”. It was an extremely heart-wrenching story.

My sympathy is towards George, Lennie, Candy, Curley, Curley’s wife and every lonely creature out there. It doesn’t matter who you are with and how many people surround you. Loneliness hits you when you are in crowd. The pang of loneliness and depression come uninvited.

Not just compassion, loneliness and frustration but there are many aspects of life Steinbeck has revealed layer by layer in “Of Mice And Men”. Grab a copy if you want to taste it for yourself. Steinbeck is a Nobel prize winner for a reason.

We often plan our future. Well, we are not going to reach anywhere without planning. But, ever thought what would you do if your best laid plans start to fall apart bit by bit? Or, you might have reached that state. How did you overcome the situation?

“Home” by Toni Morrison

The novel “Home” written by Nobel-prize winner Toni Morrison is a petrifying, emotional and exasperating story of a war hero, Frank Money who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after he returns back from the Korean war. This historical fiction begins with Frank in a hospital from where he wants to escape but he doesn’t remember how he ended up there in the first place. After losing two of his childhood best friends in the war, Frank was guilty and couldn’t muster courage to return back home. There was no place he could go and escape trauma. Wherever he went, suffering followed him like a shadow.

Parallely, his sister Ycidra Money goes through a series of agony. The news of his sister being seriously ill guides Frank home. On the way back home, he unfolds his story starting from his childhood.

  • Racism – The Money family was made to abandon their home when Frank was a small child and Ycidra was about to be born.
  • Lack of empathy – Ycidra was born on the way to their grandparent’s home which was why their mean step-grandmother named her “a gutter child”.
  • Guardian – The brother-sister duo had to spend the majority of their childhood under the patronage of their mean grandmother before their parents could afford a separate housing. The elder brother, Frank was more like a parent and a protector to his baby sister Ycidra who was nicknamed Cee.
  • Childhood trauma – In tender age, Frank and Cee secretly witness a dead man being buried near their home which haunts them for a long time.
  • War and Trauma – Trying to escape the misery of his hometown, Frank goes to the Korean War which gives him more trauma. Watching his two childhood best friends die in his arms was distressing and made him guilty enough to return back home.
  • Falling in and out of Love – After the departure of her brother to the war, Cee falls in love with a boy, soon gets married to him and leaves her home. (The boy had married her for the sake of a car which belonged to her grandmother.) On reaching the city, the boy leaves Cee all on her own and disappears.
  • Struggle for Survival – Trying to earn her living, Cee ends up in the house of a doctor who performs different experiments on her and makes her infertile as well as seriously-ill.
  • Rescue – The brother comes back just to rescue his sister from her tragic fortune and is therefore, successful.
  • Healing – With the help of women in their hometown and their healing techniques, Cee is healed and recuperated.

Home” is a story not just of a war veteran but also his sister who after losing her worth and after years of undermining herself, finally knew her value. At the end, neither Frank nor Ycidra remain the same. Their own sufferings shaped their lives.

If she didn’t respect herself, why should anybody else?

Despite the success of Morrison in painstakingly carving the post war trauma and racism vividly, when the story travels from brother to sister, from present to past and from one narrator to the other back and forth missing out particular details, readers might lose interest. However, at the end, when all the events are put together, the puzzle pieces fit perfectly to give a precise picturesque of racism blended with war.