Book Review : The Girl You Left Behind

Blurb: 

What happened to the girl you left behind?

France, 1916.

Sophie Lefevre must keep her family safe whilst her adored husband Edouard fights at the front. But when she is ordered to serve the German officers who descend on her hotel each evening, her home becomes a place of fierce tensions.

And from the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie’s portrait – painted by Edouard – a dangerous obsession is born, which will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision . . .

Almost a century later, and Sophie’s portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before he died. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and its troubled history.

A history that is about to resurface and turn Liv’s life upside down all over again . . .

In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for what they love most – whatever the cost.

Review: 

I love art and fiction. But I’ve actually read only a handful of art fiction. There are a lot of criteria – if the story is entirely based on a piece of art or involves a historically known artist or if it’s a biography of an artist. Not delving so deep into categories, I perceived ‘The Girl You Left Behind’ as an art fiction since it involves a painting as the seed of the story. I had read the famous ‘Me Before You’ and the others in the series and was might impressed with the first one. I wanted to read some more by Moyes and picked this Historical. The premise of a Historical during WWI France is super interesting in its own merit; adding cherry to the cake is a post-impressionist French painting as the cynosure of all activities in a century.

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Lockdown Lores

With over two months of confinement, life in the era of lockdown deserves its own epic. Almost everyone has realised something new in them and emerged with traits they probably didn’t know existed. We have learned to cook, clean, wash, stitch on our own and most importantly, co-exist with others under the same roof for days, months now. At times, it feels like a crash-course in evolution within a cave, as there is danger lurking outside (a virus in this case). Our caves have become havens, cohabitation is the norm – to the dislike of many – as I witness these days. As unprecedented in a century, it is unimaginable that stepping out of one’s house could be life-threatening. But, adaptation is an inherent trait of humans and now it seems these norms existed forever, life before lockdown appears on the other side of a magnifying lens, constricting to an unrecognisable molecule.

It took a pandemic to unleash a trickle of compassion into a country for migrant labourers and people suffering due to the lockdown. There are outrages on social and print media, so strong that they would melt even the stone-hearted. But very few offer a concrete solution and very few can extract something out of our megalomaniac government. Pieces of news or stories as they are termed by the media, keep floating around like photons in the air. They cling to you the first thing since you wake up from a slumber each morning. A good sleep is as elusive as the idea of it; hence, millions of worries churn into a perturbed slumber in all the hours of the nights. Each time you open your eyes and check the electronic devices, a little this and a little that seeps in via audio and visuals. It takes an entire day to tile those pieces into a jigsaw puzzle of death and anguish. Most of us haven’t seen a war in our lives; yet, this pandemic is turning into one so huge that wartime measures are employed. I hadn’t imagined in any nightmare that each day would begin with checking the death counters around the world and praying they come down soon.

It also took a pandemic to make people realise the worth of time, now that we seem to have surplus. Many have begun reading, re-reading, teaching how to read and trying to read. This is one of the best outcomes of confinement. Most people have realised the worth of labour, now that they have to endure a teeny bit of it in household chores. Quite a few privileged souls like us have begun to appreciate nature more than ever. The wedges of time saved from commute and rush are well utilised into long walks in the parks and admiration of glazing greens at the prime of spring. Nature this year is behaving like the drunken peacock dancing away in the anticipation of rain and love, oblivious of its surroundings. The flowers are more colourful than ever, the trees are a bursting green this spring and all the birds sound like they’re auditioning for faunal concerts. Life is still beautiful, albeit with a mask and super careful social distancing.

It took a pandemic to realise we’re still alive and thank heavens or whoever for that little favour. Hold onto life as of now and enjoy the little wonders of staying alive that might disappear again once we are back to ‘normalcy.’

Book Review : The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Blurb:

Tonight, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed … Again

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.


But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.

The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…

Review (*spoiler-free):

As it appears in the image, I read ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton and not ‘The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ apparently. It seems that I read the British edition, hence the difference in titles. Nonetheless, it doesn’t matter much as long as Evelyn Hardcastle dies more than seven times! This is the author’s debut novel and it turned out to be a mighty impressive one, winning the Costa book awards in 2018! It took him more than two years to write the book and I think that’s pretty justified, given the complex plot and characters. You have to render your utmost attention while reading every chapter as they depict the same day over again but from eight different perspectives. 

The story is about solving Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder, in a mansion near to a forest in Britain, amidst a party, set around 1920s. As the blurb says, Aiden Bishop wakes up in the body of eight different guests and relives the same day over. His task is to find out who wants to murder Evelyn Hardcastle in lieu of his freedom from Blackheath, the mansion. There’s Aiden, the mysterious Anna, Evelyn and eight other hosts – a corsage of peculiar characters with secrets of their own. There’s love, murder, plots, lords, a potential marriage, a not-so-forgotten death and deceit. There’s also this fantastical phenomenon of time loop – reliving the same day, and body swapping (well, not exactly). It’s a whirlwind, really. 

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Book Review : Who Killed The Murderer?

Blurb: 

When TV actress Shagun Seth mysteriously dies in a beauty parlour in Mumbai, her mother slams murder charges on Shagun’s banker husband Chetan Seth. Chetan’s family suspects that he is being framed and requests private detective Mili Ray to investigate. As Mili and her lawyer-associate Gatha start work, Chetan is released on bail. Soon after, Shagun’s mother is killed! Is Chetan responsible for these murders? Mili probes deeper and unravels shocking secrets buried beneath Shagun’s world of glitz that leave her baffled. An insecure boyfriend, an estranged husband, an opportunist colleague, a cunning TV producer – Shagun was surrounded by Haters. Even her twelve-year-old son didn’t want to see her alive. Why did everyone hate Shagun? While meandering through dysfunctional family upheavals and dark showbiz sagas, ex-super cop Mili Ray also struggles to tame her own internal demons. Will she be able to solve her second case as private detective or succumb to pressure and hang up her boots? “Who killed the murderer?” is a gripping psychological thriller that will hook you right from the first page.

Review:

Generally, murder mysteries are about one-two-three killings around the idea of whodunnit or whydunnit. In this story though, there’s a super clue in the title of the book and there are numerous murders. The protagonist, Shagun Mehra is murdered and later her mother and TV producer friend are killed too. Is there a serial killer on the loose? Or did Shagun’s husband Chetan Seth kill her and shut all evidences as suspected?

Who doesn’t love a well-plotted, juicy murder mystery that entails complex brainstorming and Moitrayee Bhaduri doesn’t disappoint. The story germinates in Shagun’s childhood, how a school trauma affects her entire life ahead and changes her as a person. Revealing more would be doling out spoilers, so I’ll refrain from that. But, as a reader, you should read the early chapters carefully for clues later. Shagun grows up to be an obnoxious person whom most people hate, including her son. It’s an extraordinary characterisation of a beautiful, successful woman living in an empty shell otherwise. Readers can guess why and how Shagun behaves, but the characters obviously don’t. And yet, positioned at this advantageous state, you can’t predict who murdered Shagun.

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Mahalaya, The Grand Beginning of Durga Pujo

Shiuli/Parijaat/Nyctanthes

How does nostalgia treat you? Is it like a spouse, lingering around, making space into your psyche, or like a distant lover, appearing only in turns? Mine is mostly like the latter, fleeting sporadically with a whiff of fragrance like the Shiuli flowers.

Mahalaya for Bengalis is a huge chunk of nostalgia that hovers before the onset of autumn. Marking the termination of Pitripaksha (fortnight of the forefathers), this day has its own significance within different communities. For us, it marks the beginning of Debipaksha (fortnight of the goddess) and eventually Durga Pujo, for others, the start of Navratri. Apart from these religious and spiritual habits, Mahalaya is solely important to a lot of Bengalis for a radio programme called Mahishasurmardini. This incredible show was curated and performed first in 1932 and is enthralling millions since then. It was recorded for the first time in 1946 so that pre-independence riots do not hamper the performance at dawn (source from Twitter). The Aagomoni songs for welcome of Durga into her parents’ abode take a backstage to the brilliant chanting of stotras by the legend called Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The resonance in his voice is something one can’t miss during Mahalaya each year. It gives me goosebumps for sure.

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Life Is One Stitch At A Time

There are some things in life that come back at a later stage, like a memory or a habit and tend to give your life a new lease. It might be a hobby or a lifestyle quirk or a forgotten custom. After I’ve spent more than half of my lifespan, one of my hobbies made a huge resurgence – embroidery.

IMG_2064

Pattern from Indian cross-stitch book.

I think for most of us growing up in India, embroidery has been equivalent to mandatory craft classes in school that were invariably boring. I felt so, too. My mother and paternal aunts are amateur seamstresses and I used to resort to them for sewing assignments in school. I tried a few but they weren’t too satisfactory. As long as the school assignments were being made by mother/aunt, I was happy. After my high school board exams, there was a lull of three months waiting for admission into college. Something struck me, probably boredom, and I picked up a plain cotton saree, drew some motifs and began stitching. If you have any idea about sarees from Bengal, there is a novel craft called Kantha stitch and the products are amazing. It began seamlessly, although an oxymoron for a stitching habit. Once I got the hang of it, with a little tutorial from mother, I did another saree in entirety. Then came table cloths and cross stitch. I guess I fell in love for the first time in my life with cross stitch and the saga still continues.

Pattern from Indian cross stitch book

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Book Review : Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Blurb: 

* Shortlisted for the National Book Award *
* One of the New York Times‘s 10 Best Books of 2017 *
* Selected for Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf book club *

Yeongdo, Korea 1911. In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.

Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country in which she has no friends, no home, and whose language she cannot speak, Sunja’s salvation is just the beginning of her story.

Through eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival.

Review:

That last sentence in the blurb became one of the reasons I picked up Pachinko. That, and the other reason being – I wanted to read more about Korean immigrants in Japan after I had read Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro. The subjects are similar but the premises of these two books are vastly apart. Pachinko, literally, is a machine game like pinball which is associated ethnically with Koreans, though the game is hugely popular in Japan. In the initial years, most Japanese blamed the Korean immigrants (called Zainichi in a derogatory way) for introducing this gambling game to Japan. This book is about Pachinko, but it is more about a family and its endless struggles.

In a nutshell, the story begins in a small fishy island in Korea called Yeongdo, a little far from Busan. Hoonie, the man with a cleft lip and a limp and Yangjin give birth to Sunja, a not-so-beautiful but hardworking and stout girl. Sunja helps Yangjin run a boardinghouse after Hoonie’s death and things get rough when she gets pregnant with a married man. A pastor from the boardinghouse marries her and they move to Osaka. Sunja gives birth to Noa and later to Mozasu, living with her brother-in-law and his wife. The events and years that follow are long and tedious. After her husband’s death, Sunja takes up peddling Kimchi, working in a restaurant, surviving the second World War and facing her old lover Koh Hansu, who turns out to be a Yakuza. Does the odd father-son duo come to terms with each other? You will definitely have to read the book to know the entire story.

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Book Review : About The Night

Blurb: 

On a hot summer day in 1947, on a grandstand overlooking Jerusalem, Elias and Lila fall deeply, irrevocably in love.

Tragically, they come from two different worlds. Elias is a Christian Arab living on the eastern side of the newly divided city, and Lila is a Jew living on the western side. A growing conflict between their cultures casts a heavy shadow over the region and their burgeoning relationship. Between them lie not only a wall of stone and barbed wire but also the bitter enmity of two nations at war.

Told in the voice of Elias as he looks back upon the long years of his life, About the Night is a timely story of how hope can nourish us, loss can devastate us, and love can carry us beyond the boundaries that hold human beings apart.

Review: 

Firstly, I had never imagined that I would ever read a book that was originally written in Hebrew! There’s a joke in Bangla that implies Hebrew is the most difficult language in the world. Nonetheless, this is a translation into English and doesn’t retain the complexities of Hebrew. I am pleasantly surprised that I discovered this beautiful book late, but all thanks to Amazon Prime Reads for promoting translation literature. There are some out of the world great books to be read in this series.

1947. The year that we Indians associate with our freedom and the struggle before and renaissance after. I, for one, had the least idea that much turmoil was happening in Jerusalem as well. Apart from a city amidst the Israel-Palestine conflict, Jerusalem was the city of birth of Jesus Christ to me. The tussle between Jews and Arabs which reached its pinnacle after the World War affected Jerusalem the most. About the Night begins with the conflict and the whirlwind that it creates for two lovers who meet by chance.

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Chicken Keema Three Ways in a Budget

Doesn’t chicken become boring after a while? Or even after years of consumption, when most of us wonder how to make innovative dishes with it? For me, it surely becomes stifling to cook and eat chicken in the form of curries, stew and roast/kebabs for weeks on stretch. If you are a student or on a budget, buy half kilo chicken mince (keema) and make three interesting recipes for lunch, snack and dinner for two people.

How to prep the keema: 

Heat oil in a wok. I use mustard oil at almost all times and it tastes fine. Add a pinch of cumin seeds and garam masala powder to the oil. Add finely chopped onions and keep frying. Add 1 tbsp of ginger-garlic paste and mix well. Throw in the keema and keep stirring until the extra water dries off. Now add the powdered spices – 1 tsp each of turmeric/red chillies/cumin/coriander/garam masala and 1 tbsp salt. Mix well, cover and let cook. Make sure the mix is cooked and there’s no extra water. Add boiled and mashed potatoes (2 large) to the keema and mix. Garnish with a little garam masala powder and let cool.

Once this mix is ready, you can try three different recipes with it, one each for lunch, snack and dinner.

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What Are You Eating This Summer?

L-R : Topshe Fry, Brain Kebab, Mete Chochhori, Dim Thuke Jhaal, Machher Dimer Borar Jhaal, Kanchkolar Kofta

Having cruised and bruised through a lot of Durga Pujos in my lifetime, there’s always this tinge of excitement, that flutter in the stomach, that vibe in the air which signifies autumn and Pujo. While there are many, especially in Calcutta, who like to eat out during the Pujo week, my family has mostly concentrated on cooking good food at home and munching on a few snacks while pandal hopping. Come Kali pujo and it’s time to binge on all the non-vegetarian stuff that we can get our hands on. Summer, on the other hand, is a mellow affair. There was rarely eating out as the ’90s didn’t have the option of ordering food at home. Restaurants were expensive and risky during the season. To keep the appetite inflated, various ‘mukhorochok’ (loosely translated to tasty/delicious) food were cured up at home.

Here are a few recipes that you could use this season.

Mete Chochhori

Mete (Goat Liver) is something that is almost a delicacy now, but it was pretty regular a few decades. Regular and inexpensive. Mete tastes best in this chochhori, I think, especially for me as I’m not really a fan of its earthy, iron odour and sandy texture. This chochhori renders a delectable version of the mete that I can at least devour. It is uber spicy, hot and ideal for winters.

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