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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Book Review : Go By Kazuki Kaneshiro

Blurb:

A Freeman Award Winner for Young Adult Literature

For two teens, falling in love is going to make a world of difference in this beautifully translated, bold, and endearing novel about love, loss, and the pain of racial discrimination.

As a Korean student in a Japanese high school, Sugihara has had to defend himself against all kinds of bullies. But nothing could have prepared him for the heartache he feels when he falls hopelessly in love with a Japanese girl named Sakurai. Immersed in their shared love for classical music and foreign movies, the two gradually grow closer and closer….

Review: 

I am not Korean or Japanese. I am a rootless vagabond.

The entire essence of the story is summarised in this mini monologue by Sugihara, the protagonist of Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro. I had a presumption that Go might be about the famous board game in Japan and Korea. But, this little word implied a vastness that engulfs all immigrants in the world. I would probably qualify into one of them as I’m quite far away from my ancestors’ original roots. At times, I feel like the topmost tendril of a climbing vine, distanced and alienated from its roots afar.

Go is about Sugihara, who is caught between the complexities of citizenships in both Koreas and eventually Japan. He is an ethnic Korean born and brought up in Japan. I didn’t know that this kind of people are called Zainichi Chosenjin in Japan. The Zainichi bear an interesting as well as tragic history. The Koreans were brought to Japan for forced labour during their invasion and occupation of the country that ended during the World War II. At present, about 80,000 ethnic Koreans are said to inhabit Japan and the term Zainichi is widely used as derogatory and discriminating.

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Book Review : Newcomer by Keigo Higashino

Blurb View:

Detective Kyoichiro Kaga of the Tokyo Police Department has just been transferred to a new precinct in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo. Newly arrived, but with a great deal of experience, Kaga is promptly assigned to the team investigating the murder of a woman. But the more he investigates, the greater number of potential suspects emerges. It isn’t long before it seems nearly all the people living and working in the business district of Nihonbashi have a motive for murder. To prevent the murderer from eluding justice, Kaga must unravel all the secrets surrounding a complicated life. Buried somewhere in the woman’s past, in her family history, and the last few days of her life is the clue that will lead to the murderer.

This is the second appearance in English of Police detective Kyochiro Kaga, the protagonist of the critically acclaimed Malice.

Review :

I have read three books written by Keigo Higashino now and I’ve mixed feelings about them. It’s bizarre that I’m not sure if I like them much and why not. For the records, I had loved reading The Devotion of Suspect X. Hadn’t liked Salvation of a Saint, and now, I kind of liked Newcomer. Weird, is it? This is one problem that I face while reading translated literature is that it is not consistent. The first two books of Higashino that I’d read were by a different translator than the one who did this latest book. It is futile to form an opinion about the literary aspects of a translated book as it is often said that the flavour of the original language evaporates in translation. While that is a much debatable topic, I’d focus on the other aspects that are more important in Higashino books.

What I like the most about his books are – they always begin with a murder. There’s no dilly-dallying on the fact that the books are murder mysteries, so the entree is served right at the beginning. All you can do is ruminate through the book and unravel the mystery layer by layer. It’s all about whodunit and whydunit more often than howdunit. If you start finding a pattern in a certain author’s style of writing and expect a similar one in their latest book, life gets easier. Newcomer begins with a murder too, as I had expected. But there were more surprises in the book.

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Book Review : India On My Platter

Blurb view: 

Backpacking through the country, young chef Saransh Goila sets off on a culinary trail through India, wherein he discovers the various nuances of local cuisine. From rural villages to barren deserts to freezing mountains, he unfolds the flavour of his destination by meeting local villagers or erstwhile royalty and picking up a tip or two to use in his kitchen. Wherever he goes, he makes sure to visit the famous eateries of that place. Through him, the reader can vividly smell the spices and taste the dishes that are described. The recipes given also present ways on using locally found ingredients. From having steaming Murthal ke paranthes to savouring tasty street food in hometown Delhi, from cooking on a boat in Varanasi to cooking dishes using a bamboo hollow in Assam, Goila does it all and presents his adventures in a lucid, flowing narrative peppered with humorous anecdotes.

Review: 

India On My Platter is the account of a chef’s endearing journey across the vastness called India and picking up bits of food and culture from various states. Coincidentally, I had first glimpsed at chef Saransh Goila at the 2014 show Roti, Rasta aur India, where he traverses through the country in 100 days and explores the variety of food. I liked Roti, Rasta aur India as it was a simple and honest show where a rookie chef’s exuberance was so palpable and enjoyable. Saransh Goila had won a culinary competition and the show was his first as a television chef. There was some naivety and over simplifying stuff, but it was still a good show for such a young chef, a protege of Sanjeev Kapoor.

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Best Reads of 2017

The year has been tumultuous in terms of reading and writing. The first half of the year still presented itself wrapped in books as gifts, impulsive buys and planned purchases with the purpose of imminent reading. Then, a major movement happened, tectonic plates of our tiny family shifted and we moved up northwest to Belgium. Reading habits changed from cradling a book on bed to juggling the heavy e-reader with the blanket. And before I could acclimatise in a propah way, we’re left with two bloody cold days in the year! I’d agree that the weather is more conducive to cuddling a book but there’s more mundane chores cocooned in the warmth of the house that seems to gnaw at my reading. I could only complete half of my Goodreads reading challenge this year which is a total shame compared to what I’ve read in the last few years. And yet, e-reading is coming handy on the phone at the bus stops, metro rides and long queues in supermarkets with a bit of thanks to the locals here who seem so engrossed in reading even while walking on streets! It is both liberating and motivating. I will read more for sure in 2018 without any resolution to follow it up with. And here are what I loved this year, a mixed bag.

1. River of Smoke By Amitav Ghosh 

This one’s my favourite in 2017. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Ghosh’s books (loved The Glass Palace, hated Calcutta Chromosome) and picked up the middle one of the Ibis trilogy after I’d read the first book two years ago. Took me a while to resume the story from where it had been paused in the earlier book and then I fell in love with this one. The plot, the history, the backdrop, the ship named Anahita, the characters, the relationships – everything was resplendent. No wonder it took him a decade to write this trilogy, it is as vast as it seems to be. One can just sum it up as the story of Indian immigrant slaves in the opium trade to South East Asia, and yet, it expands to nooks of islands we haven’t even heard of. I think parts of Ghosh’s research would make a book in itself on ‘how to write novels with historical backdrop.’ An absolute favourite, I would recommend this entire trilogy to everyone who loves reading epics.

2. The Conspiracy at Meru By Shatrujeet Nath

Featured twice here in three years, let me clarify that Shatrujeet hasn’t paid me a dime (yet). It is his writing and content that has inched its way here over the year. The Conspirary at Meru is the second of the Vikramaditya Veergatha trilogy and I have already reviewed it.

I didn’t get boggled by the fact that I’m dealing with King Vikramaditya and the devas, asuras and super powers. Instead, I tried to ingest the story as a racy over the edge action-packed thriller. And it is safe to infer that the book met all the expectations.

There you go. If, like me, you too are not-so-interested in Indian mythology, give this one a try. It is a great thriller in itself with a good blend of mythology and loads of anecdotes. The third book is due to release soon.

3. The Cuckoo’s Calling By Robert Galbraith

First of a trilogy, for a change. I felt a bit FOMO not having read a single JKR book including Harry Potter. But this murder trilogy with an interesting and offbeat detective Cormoran Strike seemed more than worth a try. And the trilogy was more than rewarding in its own way. I loved JKR’s way of dealing social issues so pertinently and with ample wry humour. Honestly, I hadn’t known what to expect from her pen having written the magnanimous Harry Potter books. I’d safely say now that she’s one of my favourite contemporary crime writers and I’m truly hoping she would write 10 Cormoran Strike novels as she has promised recently.

4. Origin By Dan Brown

Ah, the most popular and controversial star of world literature! Dan Brown is like the Shahrukh Khan of thrillers – snubbed by critics, loved by thrill-junkies, and liked by millions of people (including me) who have read each book of his without being too judgmental. I don’t read him for the literary value of his books (as there is none claimed by International critics). I read him for the nuggets of knowledge on art and his backdrops of beautiful Europe. In Origin, it’s Spain with rich art and the usual chase sequences that are getting more suave with private helicopters and inside a cathedral designed by artists like Gaudi. Origin has a blend of science and art with religion the primary clash factor. I loved the plot with scientific experiments and those few chapters can be the main reason you should read the book. Dan Brown has raised a question that is lurking just around the horizon of our lives now – Where are we going? 

5. Home Fire By Kamila Shamsie

This has been my last read of the year, perhaps for its nomination in the Man Booker longlist. I love the writers from my neighbouring country and this is the first book by Kamila Shamsie that I chanced upon. I didn’t have an idea that it is an adaptation of a Greek tragedy Antigone until I read it. The fact that Home Fire stands out on its own is where it matters. I’d say the first half deals aptly with ‘Home’ and the second is truly ‘Fire’. Since Shamsie was raised in Pakistan, studied in the US and now lives in England, she has picked up bits of culture, society and life from each continent and created a bowl of steaming story related to her roots. Her writing made me smile, laugh (with the acquired British sarcasm), stiffen and finally shudder at the climax. I’m so glad I read this book at a point when I want to write about immigration and everything in its spectrum. What a way to end the year!

Have you read any of these in 2017? Let me know your thoughts and we’ll share our views. Have a great 2018! 

Ziddi – by Ismat Chughtai

I have been coveting to read Ismat Chughtai’s books since long, in Hindi, preferably. I started with Manto, however, picking up a translated copy (by Atish Taseer) from a friend and realised that I didn’t savour the translation. Taseer might have done a good job in trying to extrapolate Manto’s writing to those who cannot read Hindi/Urdu but I wasn’t one of them. The anguish and dilemma in Toba Tek Singh must be read in the original flavour, I thought. Thus, I procured Manto in Hindi, read, tried to fathom and moved on to read Chughtai too. Ziddi was my first choice as I had already watched the film (1948) starring Dev Anand and wanted to read the original, rich text that Chughtai is so famous for.

Ziddi is the story of Pooran and Asha. No, it is not an easy love story as it may sound. The book starts with a very old woman on deathbed who wishes to glance at young Pooran one last time before she dies. She’s the nanny who looked after him all childhood and leaves behind her only grand-daughter, Asha. After naani passes away, Asha takes refuge in Pooran’s palatial house. An unequal love blossoms, though the rest of the family treats Asha as the nanny’s kin-turned-gracious-househelp. Due to this socio-economic imbalance in their statuses, they are stricken apart every time they come close. Years pass, but the unavowed love lingers as embers in a dying fire. Ah yes, fire plays an important role in the climax of the story. But that is for the readers to find out.

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