The week in reading 24-25/15

Well, 2 weeks of reading and there is no real good excuse as to why I failed to post last week – summer lethargy is as close as I can get. So over the 2 weeks I have finished four books and made good progress on the Ramachandra Guha tome.

human-stain-philip-roth-paperback-cover-artAfter ‘American Pastoral’  I wanted to read more of Philip Roth and this one did not disappoint. Its a  simple tale with a complex twist, in which a New England classics professor, Coleman Silk, is hounded out of his job for alleged racism.  Nathan Zuckerman, is the narrator, as he was in American Pastoral as well.  Silk asks the author, Zuckerman a friend and neighbor to write the true account of the witchhunt that has ruined his career.  So we learn of his past life in the Army, his early loves and his marriage though his narration to Nathan.  The narrator tries  to understand the  71-year-old Coleman’s all-possessing, Viagra-enhanced sexual passion, while he is himself impotent after prostate cancer. The sexual delirium, heady and destructive, is seen from the outside. The twist is revealed only after the sudden death of Coleman in an accident, about a life lived in duplicity and lies. Of course, revealing the twist itself would spoil the tale for those who may wish to read this – and I would strongly recommend it for anyone keen on American fiction. The language is almost perfect….. and the characters come alive with warmth and all the twists and complications of their every day life – Jewishness, racial discrimination, sexual frustration….

51BNeTm1yGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A completely different genre, time and continent!! This Pakistan story, is a personal account of a dear Aunt, who has to accept a second wife when the laws were changed by Zia. The author traces her family’s story from the time of the move to Karachi from Mumbai by her grandparents and cleverly links it with events in the history of the country – Bhutto’s hanging, Benazir’s early Karachi days, her return, her early days in politics, her marriage and so on.. She also brings forth the status of women, even the ones in affluent upper class homes like hers. Its a simple and well told account and very readable.

shakespeare-m_1687720f

I picked this one off the shelf only because of the name of the author – imagine having Shakespeare as a same and being a writer!! The book has a decent story, a bit on the unbelievable side and involves the adventures of a displaced Kurdish man and his way into a large fortune. The villain is totally unbelievable – the protagonist is interesting. But on the whole an average book that can be given a miss.

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And this is a book of few words, that I would recommend highly. A Pulitzer winning work by one of America’s foremost writers, is is a book with few characters (father and son), few events all of which say a lot. Father and son are traveling  southward in a post-apocalypse America – through territories devastated by fire and and other natural calamities, the nature of which is never fully clarified. They move south through nuclear grey winter,  sleeping badly beneath filthy tarpaulin, setting hidden campfires, exploring ruined houses, scavenging shriveled apples. With little food, numb with cold, they trudge for many months, hiding from the ‘bad guys’ who are touring the road and surviving on what they can get to eat – including human flesh.  The father is coughing blood, which forces him and his son, to seek what they hope is survivable, milder winters.The scenes he describes are absolutely convincing with breathtakingly lucky escapes; a complete train, abandoned and alone on an embankment; a sudden liberating, joyous discovery or a cellar of incarcerated amputees being slowly eaten. The father has a pistol, with two bullets only and plans to shoot his son if caught although he questions his ability to do so.

All of this is utterly convincing and physically chilling. And as they continue to trudge, we are suffering with them every step of the way. McCarthy achieves to recreate a physical and metaphysical hell  “The world shrinking down to a raw core of parsible entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colours. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true.” McCarthy makes the reader ache with nostalgia for restored normality and while creating this nightmare, it warns us  how much we have to lose.  We have beauty and goodness aplenty. But do we have the wisdom to keep them?

PS. I found this book particularly poignant in view of the recent reports of the imminent sixth mass extinction.

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