The week in reading 48-50/15

This is the last of the IBIS triology and a magnum Opus . It is a sweeping tale with a multitude of characters that spans two continents but captures all the action over a short period of time – the 1830s and early 1940s, when the British fought eh Opium Wars. It captures a period that is not so familiar to most of us and brings insight into the wheelings and dealings that kept the East India Company afloat. It was interesting that while I was wading through the book, the BBC was also broadcasting a documentary on the East India Company, which was being advertised as the ‘tale of the most successful corporation in history’. Ghosh gives us a wonderfully entertaining  insight into how this success came about – the underbelly of the opium trade, from multiple angles – the growers, the traders, the soldiers – Indian and English – who fought the wars, the Chinese who were the ultimate victims! What was remarkable was the final knitting together of all the different threads into a plausible end – an end which in some ways was settled by a number of deaths!! But, on the whole its an ‘epic’ or ‘saga’ of the kind that is not the style these days. Its an entertaining read, keeps you engaged but does not

James Agee’s ‘A death in the family”which I was reading simultaneously on the Kindle, was a stark contrast from Ghosh’s book. Set in in 195os, its a simple story of a death in a small rural American community. It has few characters, stark  and limited  space of action and covers a period of a few days. Its a simple tale of a young loving husband and father of two, who drives out to his parent’s house late in the night through relatively empty roads when his brother calls to inform him that his father has fallen seriously ill. He dies en route in a freak accident. Agee builds up Jay’s relationships with his brother, wife and children with great love and we too come to love Jay. And then the death – how each one of the people connected to him face the event. I have not read the emotions around  a death in the family captured with such sympathy, honesty and pathos. The most captivating part of the book is the voice of his adoring six year old son.

It is a beautiful book, for its simplicity and its candid exposure of simple people living simple lives, their fears, strengths and weaknesses.  And as I was reading both these books, I must confess that I found Agee more absorbing than Ghosh. While a complex story had to be tied up in the climax by Ghosh, there was no such pressure on Agee – but, in spite of that it was Agee’s ending that I looked forward to more anxiously. I would recommend this book highly.

This was also the 8th of the 14 books of the C-D section of TIMES 100 books list.

I have also been noting the representation of children’s voices in the recent books I am reading, and the voice of Jay’s children, Rufus and Catherine (6 and 3 year old) are among the best I have read.

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This book too was in many voices – and again the young voices were powerful. Albeit a different time and setting – modern England and a contemporary family with contemporary issue. It is a stylized book,of the kind that I’m not overly fond of – multiple themes converging around a person, and that too one that I could not understand or like! There is the successful, author mother,  the philandering, English Professor step father, the teenage son with a troubled school incident and a twelfish daughter who is impressionable and yet opinionated! And into this group walks in a stranger who then takes over the story – and this is told in turn by each member of the family. The children’s voices are wonderfully captured and revealing, the adults are confused and irrational. On the whole, an interesting approach which was only partially successful for me – and an unsatisfactory ending did not help.

Postscript: And as we draw to the close of 2015, my resolution for a weekly post has failed at times. I have clubbed 2 weeks off and on and this is the first 3 week one – in which I have managed only 3 books. The rest of December also looks busy and so not much reading may get done. So, ther ewill be a last post at the end of the year, a recap for the year.

 

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