The weeks in reading 38-40/15

Its been a busy eventful time – death of near ones, travel……neither time to read or to write!! So this is a 3 week review.

I did write about my book shelving project before. Well I’ve finally logged in and shelved 643 books – combined collection of my father and me (with a few from Mukta). The bulk of his books were bought in the 1950s and 60s – with a few from the 40s and earlier. These had no ISDN numbers and had to be manually entered. Mine were easier to add, since the App is pretty quick using the ISDN numbers. They are arranged as fiction, philosophy/essays, biographies (a genre my father was partial to), travel – and fiction as UK, USA, Europen, South Asian etc. On the whole it was enjoyable project…

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Part of the collection

‘Brideshead Revisited’ by Evelyn Waugh (read on the Kindle) was book no 15  of the A-B section of the TIMES 100 books list. This is a coming of age story of Charles Ryder who is befriended by a young nobleman, Sebastian Flyte in the early days at Oxford set. The time is 1923, and in the England of the post-War years much has changed – but the way of life of the rich with their large houses and many servants has not changed so much. Charles tells the story in flash backs from a time towards the end of the Second war when he is billeted at Brideshead the home of the Flytes. The stay brings back memories of the close friendship he and Sebastian had shared, Sebastian’s complex relationships with his family into which Charles get drawn, his struggle with the Catholicism of his mother and siblings and his final descent into alcoholism.  He has a constant sense of wonderment as to how remote the life and mores of just two decades ago seemed!! There are these points in history when the change is out of proportion to the time frame – and this was one of those times. Sebastian wanders off to Europe and then North Africa and Charles drifts away from the family, to geton with his own life. And then many years later he meets Sebastian’s sister Julia and they start an affair. Charles is not sure if he has loved her from those early days, but they decide to divorce their respective spouses and marry.  But this does not come to pass, as Julia realizes she cannot abandon her faith. It is a tenderly told love story, of a complicated family, in which the house itself plays a prominent part. The other dominant theme is of religion, faith and the lack of it – and the inner clashes that faith can generate.

When Oiver Sacks dies a few weeks ago, there was much written about him even in our press. I had been hearing a lot about his books and they interested me since few medical men achieve fame among lay readers, and he was one. So I ordered on Kindle “The man who mistook his wife for a hat and other stories”. It is a series of case histories of unusual cases regarding memory and the senses. It is difficult to convey the feeling that these cases conveyed to me, both sadness and incredulousness, Could these really happen? But then, how little we know of the human mind!

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This was the second book by a Malayasian author I have recently read, after ‘The harmony Silk factory’ by Aw Tash. This book is a Second World War story set in Malayasia set in Penang.  Philip Hutton, of Chinese-English heritage, is troubled with his mixed heritage and not comfortable with either. The story is of his relationship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat who teaches him Aikido, a form of Japanese martial arts. War looms, the Japanese invade and Philip discovers that Endo is part of the Japanese Administration.  Both Endo and Philip are torn between their loyalty to each other and to their country and family respectively. Philip decides to assist the Japanese and Endo in administering the country in an attempt to keep his family safe, but wherever possible passes intelligence to the guerrilla fighters. He does not succeed in saving his family and barely escapes death himself. His guilt and remorse haunt him…..  Eng ins being compared to Conrad, who I enjoyed reading many years ago, and it is true that both write about Penang with love. But the Conrad I remember was far deeper and wonderful – this tale is good and well written and enjoyable but not much more than that. As for Conrad – this book has made me want to read them again!

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