Thursday, 12 July 2018

Pawan the Flying Accountant by Sorabh Pant – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘Arjun Singh is an accountant by day and a demigod by night, though he cares more about GST than about his own superpowers – and even lesser about life itself.

Arjun is indestructible. It is a power he would gladly trade for some bananas and rum. But now some people know exactly what Arjun is capable of.

They force him to work for their ‘unofficial’ army, assassinate terrorists and fall into life-and-death battles with a Chinese dragon. Worse still, they’ve not cleared his taxes.

Combining dark humour with a whirlwind plot, Pawan is the story of a reluctant superhero, the futility of war and a whole lot of rum.’

This is a novel from the Indian stand-up comic, Sorabh Pant. I enjoy his live shows – his ability to create jokes out of a wide range of topics from politics to everyday activities, etc. The very story of my getting this book was when I attended his live show in Chennai and post his show, he offered the book at a concessional rate, an autograph and a selfie, an offer which I didn’t want to turn down.

Coming to this very book, there was probably going to be more personal connect with this book considering the lead character of this book Arjun Singh and I are of the same profession, that is, a Chartered Accountant. I found the premise of the book extremely interesting and I got to reading this book immediately after buying it.

This book starts off with a bunch of disclaimers and rightfully so, considering he touched some of the most sensitive topics in the country. However, the disclaimer also said ‘however, if you still choose to be offended by these jokes, just remember that the gods have a better sense of humour than you’.

On that note, Arjun Singh, a reclusive Chartered Accountant working as an auditor in a firm with a lot of suicidal tendencies. His job is his only passion. He is invincible because he is from the same race as the Hindu god Hanuman; had superpowers but didn’t care about using them. He eventually comes in contact with India’s secret army who are meant to protect the country. It is revealed that Arjun is a Pawan, people from his race who emerge in every era to protect the country, starting from Hanuman to now, Arjun.

The trouble faced by India was that China had its own covert plans to take over a town in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and the secret army had to overcome the Chinese plan.

There is no other book that I have read so far, which I felt had so many phases and my levels of enthusiasm varied in each of the phases. This book mocked some of the topics very well, such as politics, Indo-China relationship, the current exploits of top corporates in India, certain Indian stereotypes where it goes to the extent of hostages refusing to be rescued by a woman, etc. The author was also bold in places, wherein, there are certain perceptions about the country from a lot of Indians but would dare not say the same in public, the author astutely combined all of those and projected that as the speech of a Chinese diplomat in the book. The book had an interesting start, wherein there were cases where it was shown as to how the country was more obsessed with symbols than actual practice – such as Arjun befriending a gang called The Secular Gang with each member belonging to a different religion.

Those were the phases that kept me going in the book. But at the same time, it needs to be said that the author was confused as to where he was taking the book. He tried to craft it the way in which he conducts his live shows – that is smartly connecting dissimilar topics and presenting a diverse show but that’s now how a book works. The fact as to whether Arjun was a Chartered Accountant or not made very little difference to the plot and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) related innuendos were so less that you could have very much ignored them. The book initially had a humorous feel to it, and then on, it had a bit of humour and seriousness but in the final third, it ended up being a lesson on philosophy, a serious story going on between the Indians and the Chinese, though, I do agree that he did have his one liners deftly placed throughout the book.

Coming to character building, Arjun was one character where some effort was put into – hedonist, has strong views on countries and the very need for them, being rational in situations, etc. and as a reader, one could predict Arjun’s behaviour as the tale progressed. However, this was lacking in other characters of the book, including Kelly, a fellow member of the secret army; the lack of which made the romantic sub-plot somewhat drab. The author has put in a good amount of research into the situation at Arunachal.

This is a book filled with highs and lows for me, and when it was in the latter phase, I wouldn’t even feel like resuming the book and when it was going good, I read 70-100 pages at a stretch. This book had the promise and could certainly have been better, but it is worth a read for those who are familiar his shows as they could connect with the type of humour better. For those who haven’t been exposed to his programmes, it could still be enjoyed if the person really is aware of what is happening in India at present and the situation surrounding it (for those who read subsequently, by at present, I mean 2017-18).

On that note, I would award the book a rating of six on ten, I hope for a lot better books from the author in the forthcoming years.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

The Ottomans: Europe’s Muslim Emperors by BBC – Documentary Review

Producer’s write-up:

‘Rageh Omaar traces the history of the Ottoman empire. A super-power of a million square miles, it matched the glories of Ancient Rome and collapsed less than a hundred years ago.’

This is a documentary produced by the BBC in 2013 – presented by the British journalist Rageh Omaar. Ottoman Empire was in existence for nearly seven centuries and its height, stretched from Budapest to Baghdad – this covers the rise of the Ottoman Empire and also its eventual fall over three hours split into three different episodes.

The documentary starts with Rageh Omaar exploring Istanbul and introduce us to the empire founded by a group of nomadic horsemen that stretched three continents for nearly 700 years. An emphasis was also placed on the fact that regions that were historically seen as Christian strongholds such as Constantinople (present day Istanbul), Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary, etc. fell under Muslim rule and that there was a Muslim empire right at the doorstep of Central Europe – being Austria. So, how did the empire begin? How did they a Muslim dynasty manage an empire whose majority population was not from a religion of their own? How are they going to establish their authority to rule? All these questions are explored as Omaar interviews historians and an Eastern Orthodox Church priest, the latter who puts forth the views of the Christians who lived in the Ottoman Empire.

The producers certainly got their visuals right, be it the Hagia Sophia, the Bosphorus Bridge, Topkapi Palace, Semiliye Mosque – all of them were captured brilliantly. However, this focus on visuals occasionally digressed from the theme, wherein, clips of modern day Turkey made it seem more like a travelogue. The architectural aspects that were being talked about for each of these monuments was interesting, especially the Semiliye Mosque – where the architect was in fact said to be a conscripted Orthodox Christian who was converted to Islam. The Janissaries are quite known to even those who are not Ottoman aficionados – wherein the Turks took Christian boys when they were young and were converted and trained to be powerful soldiers, government officials, etc. How the Ottomans ran that system and how it ensured the stability of the kingdom was explained well and both perspectives were presented, the historians as well as the priest’s.

However, it is to be said that it lacked detail in how administration was carried out in the kingdom. I do agree that they covered how the empire managed to balance the religious laws and civil laws and how they had a parallel court system. It was certainly not the case where the Sultan ruled the entire empire residing at Istanbul – even Machiavelli in his book The Prince had explained how Ottomans split their empire into Sanjaks and how the Ottomans established a system different from the European hereditary feudalism, ensuring stability in the kingdom. None of it was even mentioned here and was focused entirely on the glory of the empire.

The fall was covered extremely well, starting with their defeat at Vienna and how from being feared, they ended up being ridiculed in Europe as the sick man. The final half an hour was entirely about modern day Turkey and the aggressive reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk which brought about the recovery of the country post the First World War. Atatürk’s aggressive secular stance, pro-Western stance drew supporters and dissidents alike. However, this is where the series missed out – wherein, what was presented was a highly one sided picture of Atatürk. With regards Atatürk, I myself stand for every value that he stood for but with that said, I am sure that there would have been a lot of residents who would have been against the aggressive reforms, such as completely removing religion from public life, banning traditions they have been following for centuries, changing the script of the language, banning every Ottoman symbol, etc. They could have taken the views of people who were against Atatürk as well. If everyone were so pro-Atatürk even today as they project (this documentary is from 2013), we would never have seen the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) who are hard-line Islamists who strongly believe that the empire was glory days; AKP have been holding power for nearly 15 years now.

Overall, I would say that this is a good watch – in a totally unintended manner, this documentary has created an interest in a Turkish soap opera - Muhteşem Yüzyıl – a story where a lot of modern Turks feel the empire was unnecessarily glorified but still, is one of the most watched shows in Turkey.

This show has tried to appeal to all audiences – the history enthusiasts, the travel enthusiasts and in that attempt to please everyone, this show missed out on a few important details for which I would pull down the rating to six on ten.

Rating – 6/ 10

Have a nice day,

Friday, 15 June 2018

The Total Zone by Martina Navratilova and Liz Nickles – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘Sixteen-year-old Audrey Armat is a combination of sugar and steel: Grand Slam contender with a scorched-earth serve and hub of the nine-million-dollar business that is Audrey Armat Enterprises. She rarely loses. Luckily.

Professional tennis: high pressure, high profile. But what is the impact on young players? What happens when the line between privacy and the public is crossed?

No one knows better than Jordan Myles, former tennis champion and sports therapist, who works with the top players and aspiring champions, all drawn to the Desert Springs Sport Science Training Center. Their goal: achieving the Total Zone, when the mind and body are in perfect harmony and winning is inevitable.

Audrey Armat comes looking for it but disappears. And in launching a hunt for her, Jordan uncovers a startling story of abuse, suicide and murder.’

I bought this book after looking at the person who wrote it, a person who has lifted a trophy in Grand Slam tournaments 59 times, Martina Navratilova. For starters, I didn’t even know that she was also had a crack at writing, that too fiction – based in the world of tennis. There is a co-author, Liz Nickles, but I am unsure about the extent of her involvement.

The novel’s central theme is the life of a sixteen-year-old teenage sensation, Audrey Armat. The parents of Audrey have absolute control over her life – where she goes, who she meets, her endorsements, her style of play, her diet; and has been coached by her father since six. Lately, she has been experiencing a lot of health problems and that is when she is brought to Jordan Myles, a former tennis champion (including grand slam tournaments) who now works as a physiotherapist post a career ending injury. Things don’t go on well between Jordan and Audrey’s mother, especially when Audrey goes missing and she places the blame on Jordan and her organisation.

Jordan suspects extreme abuse on Audrey at the hands of her parents and decides to uncover the mystery behind her going missing. It was a reasonable premise that the author had and yes, she is someone who knows entirely as to how the system works – who are the persons involved, to what extent sponsors and endorsements have a role, the role of administrators and the games that they play. Jordan had quite the adventure, stretching from New York to California to Florida and then on to the UK (for Wimbledon) with public perception going increasingly against her following the lawsuit from Audrey’s mother.

However, the author’s only effort had been to try and build the character of Jordan Myles – as to who she was, her past, her planned future and what she believes in and what drives her. Barring her, no other character was built with such care – be it her colleague Gus, or the detective who helped her – Fish, her journalist friend Cas or even that of Audrey. Very often, reading her book felt like reading a tennis’ players journal – when she described how to play a particular shot or about achieving the ‘total zone’ – that is perfect mind and body harmony while playing.

The plot was loose, and begins to unfold very late, after a very slow introduction. I felt a lot of pages in this whole book was unnecessary, such as the entire Wimbledon saga. However, I did like the part that the author did not try to make herself the protagonist even though she brought a character similar to her into the book – a character named Mariska from Eastern Europe who had defected to the United States. I am sure that the author is more qualified to comment on the situation at Wimbledon than I am but I would say this that by reading this book, one might come to the conclusion that being a tennis player at Wimbledon is possibly one of the most dangerous things that a person could do.

This was a thriller novel which had a reasonable premise from an author who could very much put herself in the shoes of the characters but the narration was totally botched up, with uninspiring writing and while she thought of writing a rather gross climax, it just turned out weird and creepy.

I did not enjoy reading this book and in fact, took quite some time to complete it and on that note, I award this book a rating of three on ten.

Rating – 3/10

Have a nice day,

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Let it Bleed by Ian Rankin – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:
‘In another bleak Edinburgh winter Rebus finds himself drawn into a web of intrigue that throws up more questions than answers. Was the Lord Provost’s daughter kidnapped? Why is a city councillor shredding documents that should have been waste-paper years ago? And why is Rebus invited to a clay pigeon shoot at the home of the Scottish Office’s Permanent Secretary? Sucked into the machine that is modern Scotland, Rebus confronts the fact that some of his enemies may be beyond justice.’
Let it Bleed is the seventh instalment in the John Rebus police procedurals from Ian Rankin. Rebus has broken up with his girlfriend Dr Patience Aitken and his daughter Sammy now has a job of her own that he has now entered into the ‘nothing to lose in life’ phase.
It starts with a car chase by Rebus and his superior, Frank Lauderdale, going behind the alleged kidnappers of the daughter of the Lord Provost. However, things turn as the police end up in a terrible car crash with Lauderdale being severely injured and Rebus escaping with a few bruises but the two alleged kidnappers committed suicide by jumping off the bridge. Add to that, while Rebus was recovering, there was one more suicide, with a man shooting himself in front of councillor Tom Gillespie during the surgery. Rebus is to prepare a report on the suicides but he isn’t entirely convinced that it was a mere suicide – he had a fundamental question – why did he need the councillor for a witness for his suicide? Everyone, including Rebus’ superiors were keen that he just closes the case with a simple suicide report, just that he refuses to budge.
Rebus substantially acts alone in this book, considering the trouble that he brings about in investigating powerful politicians, his superiors force him to go on a leave. He takes the occasional help from the two detectives under him, being Siobhan Clarke and Brian Holmes. He takes on the most powerful people in Scotland in this book, while uncovering the mystery behind these suicides, these include politicians and corporates and the nexus between them. Rebus, strangely is also on the opposite positions as against his daughter – who now has a job which involves interacting and rehabilitating prisoners and is often in contact with felons whom her father investigates.
This was also the book where I could see Rebus the most. He has always been the tour guide for the readers for Edinburgh. Here, in his ‘nothing to lose’ attitude, he was being equally snide and sarcastic with his superiors – Gill Templer and ‘Farmer’ Watson as well as the top politicians of the country. Moreover, Rebus’ moral convictions were brought out the most in this book wherein, he decided to go till the very end for what he believed was right but was also in dilemma as to proceed with his investigation as it could happen that if he did, a lot of ordinary people might be affected.
The author also managed to bring a lot of aspects into the plot involving characters from all sections of the society, the working class, the corporate, the politicians and the civil servants. This was also one of the Rebus novels where there was no distinct sub-plot and every page of the page-turner was connected to the main plot. In fact, there was no murder in the novel for a substantial part of the novel and was in fact, a mere suicide investigation, another point of difference between the usual books and the current book.
True to any other book of this genre though, this book was not entirely free from loose ends but I am willing to ignore those innocuous gaps considering the overall plot.
On the whole, one could say that this is the book where we could witness and experience Rebus’ evolution as character the most, the author’s witty dialogue crafting augmenting the brilliance of the plot, this certainly is one of the best books of the genre I have read so far and the best book from the author that I have read thus far.
Considering all of the above, I award this book a rating of nine on ten.
Rating – 9/10
Have a nice day,

Spanish Civil War by Hourly History – Book Review

When spoken about fascist dictators of Europe, two names that come to mind are Hitler and Mussolini. However, General Francisco Franco of Spain held power for a significantly more number of years and still, is not talked about as much. Franco was involved in a 3-year long power struggle against the ruling Spanish Republicans and in the civil war with estimated casualty starting from a minimum of 200,000 up to 2,000,000 people. This almost acted as a prelude to the Second World War and this is a short retelling of the history by Hourly History.

Spain had a liberal centre-left republican government in 1930s and they had just had a transition of power from military back to a civilian government post the Great Depression. Before too long, Spain plunged into another crisis and a large section of public felt once again that the military needs to be in power to resolve the same. However, even the military was divided, half of them supported the Republican Government and the other half supported the rebellion led by the trio – General Mola, General Sanjurjo and General Franco. Post the ‘mysterious’ deaths of two of the Generals, General Franco became the sole leader of the rebellion. The book focused on the manner in which the two factions organised themselves, the brutalities committed by both sides, the reasons for the failure of the Republicans and the foreign interests in the civil war.

The book was balanced in bringing out the perspectives of both sides of the war. It also explained an interesting fact that this is more documented than most civil wars especially because of Spain’s extremely cautious efforts to forget the event and I read in the book that children in Spain are not taught about the civil war. The book focused a lot on bringing out the various factions on the Republicans whereas, the Nationalists had united under a common cause. The aspect as to how the Germans, Soviets (for the Republican side) and the Italians used the Civil War as means to test their military power before the Second World War was also brought out well.

One could however point to the fact that the book perhaps over simplified the fall of the Republicans and ignored the fact that while the Nationalists were supported by surrounding fascist governments with similar ideologies to that of Franco (being Germany, Portugal and Italy), the Republicans were not supported by the neighbouring liberal powers such as France or the United Kingdom.

This is a very good compilation on the Spanish Civil War and should you want to know more than what is stated in this book, you can always research more starting with this as the base to establish your interest. I award the book a rating of seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Luka and the Fire of Life by Sir Salman Rushdie – Book Review


you are Luka, a twelve-year-old boy who has to save the life of the storyteller father you adore.


you have two loyal companions by your side: a bear called Dog who can sing and dog called Bear who can dance.


you must now embark on a journey through the Magic World to steal the Fire of Life, a seemingly impossible and exceedingly dangerous task …’

Luka and the Fire of Life is effectively a sequel to the Haroun and the Sea of Stories written by Sir Salman Rushdie. This is also a novel targeted at younger readers and is dedicated to his younger son Milan, whose middle name is Luka.

Thus, it can be seen that this follows a model very similar to that of the author’s earlier aforementioned book. Similar to that, there is a young boy Luka who enjoys his father, Rashid’s stories. However, on a fine day, Rashid is struck by a coma and has his life threatened by a genie named Nobodaddy. To bring Rashid back to life, Luka must bring The Fire of Life from the world created by his own father through his stories. Nobodaddy, his two pets – a dog named Bear and a bear named Dog would be companions in Luka’s journey.

Unlike the author’s previous book with a similar theme, this time it was made a lot more personal, wherein, here Rashid could possibly die whereas the last time around, he was just unable to tell stories. It started very well, when it went inside Rashid’s world – filled with witty riddles to cross various paths, interesting enemies on the way – elephants, a group of abusing otters, etc.

However, midway through the book, I felt the author lost the plot, he tried to make it into some kind of a game wherein Luka had to save his ‘progress’ in the mission. His writing was not as simple for a younger reader to understand nor were some of the themes within and at the same time, the plot was not too interesting to keep other readers engaged. The rules of the adventure were highly malleable and were constantly changing as and when Luka goes into a dire situation. While I certainly liked the way in which he described the setting, there was nothing else that was noteworthy about the novel.

My expectations on the author are always quite high and while I understand that this was targeted at younger readers, I used a similar book as yardstick to set my expectations (Haroun and the Sea of Stories) and as compared to that, this book is a terrible disappointment.

On that note, I would award this book a rating of four on ten.

Rating – 4/10

Have a nice day,

French Revolution by Hourly History – Book Review

One of the most iconic revolutions that has shaped the Modern World is the French Revolution. People keep talking about it all the time, references are made, but with all that said, how much do we actually know about the revolution? This is a short history about the 18th century event from Hourly History.

The book starts mentioning the class system in France and how it is designed in a manner in which the Clergy and Aristocracy would always be in a position to oppress the working class. Moreover, the lavish lifestyles of the royalty and their decision to live in the far off Versailles rather than the city kept them even further away from the reality of the lives of ordinary people. Added to that, with the renaissance in Europe augmented by philosophers such as Rousseau, Marat and Robespierre, a revolution to overthrow the regime was just beginning.

The book covered all the aspects that were necessary for the reader to understand a gist of the French Revolution – starting with the events leading to the revolution, the alienation of the king, the success of the revolutionaries, the brutalities of the succeeding government and the eventual takeover by Napoleon. This book also covered the reaction from the other kingdoms of Europe. I also liked it as to how the book did not try to absolutely glorify the revolution and brought out the misdeeds of the revolutionaries as well.

However, they could have been a little more elaborate about the philosophies that inspired the rebellion. This book was in fact a few pages shorter than the normal length of books that comes from Hourly History.

Overall, it is a good read for those who want a glimpse of the French Revolution and I award the book a seven on ten.

Rating – 7 / 10

Have a nice day,
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...