Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez – Book Reivew

One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my favourite books and as a result, it goes without saying that I would be inclined to try out another equally famous work of Gabriel García Márquez, being The Autumn of the Patriarch. The author having lived under several dictatorial regimes himself, be it Venezuela, Spain under Franco and his own native Colombia; it was only natural for him to write a book based on a dictator.

This book is based in a fictitious Caribbean country, where a tyrannical dictator has been ruling ‘for eternity’ that people have even forgotten his age. The book is split into six chapters and similar to One Hundred Years of Solitude, the chapters are neither named nor numbered. In fact, it goes to an extent where there are even no paragraph splits in a chapter (each of which is roughly forty pages). The sentences that the author constructed is so complex, which is entirely in indirect speech and is long winding, often a single sentence extending up to four pages.

The book focused on how, despite his tyranny, his subjects held him in very high regard. He also had a lot of features true of many dictators, wherein, he had an effective propaganda machine, had a very high level of insecurity that he kept a body double for his safety, executes dissenters, provides asylum to all former dictators and disgraced leaders in his country (similar to Gaddafi), etc.

The book also talks about the loneliness he feels, his only known relative is his mother, whom he supports and eventually, bestows sainthood. It also reiterates the loneliness he feels, despite fathering many children and the concubines whose company he enjoys. More so, it deals with the devastation he faces when his wife and legitimate child is killed which makes him go on a frenzy executing generals believed to be involved in a conspiracy.

While reading the book, I could connect what the author was saying with a lot of real life dictators, the eternal president and the effective propaganda machine – something that the Kim family does very effectively in North Korea, the curbing of dissent with most dictatorial regimes, the killing of children, and of course, bestowing powerful military titles on children of influential people, including his own.

But with that said, the author could have brought all this out in a much nicer and ‘reader friendly’ manner. The start of each of the chapter has the same premise, the absolute dictator, and usually, the end is his downfall caused by the systems he created himself, which became repetitive beyond the third chapter I read. Moreover, the contents that he conveyed on several occasions was a simple one liner which extends to three pages in the author’s manner of expression. This highly discouraged me from reading the book.

I understood from the testimonials that the book had received that this is a book that is better enjoyed when it is read the second time. But till I do that, I would say that the book did not create a strong first impression and my expectations from the author is quite high considering my prior experience with his works.

So, till I read it for a second time, if ever I do, the rating that book receives is a four on ten.

Rating – 4/10

Have a nice day,

Winston Churchill: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review

The judgements and opinions on the Former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill would always be split, under most circumstances. Some would credit him for leading the Allies to victory in the Second World War and others would criticise him for his openly racist views, pro colonialist policies and his complete neglect of the situation in India leading to the Bengal Famine. This a short biography on Winston Churchill by Hourly History.

This book starts with Churchill’s family background, who was born into a family of nobles with an American mother. He then went on to serve in the army, had a mission in Cuba, followed by India and South Africa and thus, had travelled well by the time he ran for parliament at the age of 26. It then focuses on rise to 10 Downing Street, the Second World War and the legacy he left behind.

This book brought out the personality of Winston Churchill well, the astute politician, shrewd military tactician, who makes uncanny alliances for a larger cause (such as his war time coalition government with Attlee) and at the same time, a sheer opportunist wherein he conveniently shifted his party allegiance to Tories from the Liberals. The book focused on most aspects that surrounded Churchill, the time in parliament, his performance as a soldier in wars, his Premiership, and finally, his decline and resurgence.

The aspect that the book could have focused a little more on his literary prowess, both as a writer and an eloquent speaker – it merely touched upon in the conclusion and the legacy aspect of the biography.

On the whole, I felt the book was fairly balanced bringing out both the positive and negative aspects of Winston Churchill, letting the reader pass their verdict on figures in history. I would award the book a rating of six on ten.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

Turkish Gambit by Boris Akunin – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘The Russo-Turkish war is at a critical juncture, and Erast Fandorin, broken-hearted and disillusioned, has gone to the front in an attempt to forget his sorrows. But Fandorin’s efforts to steer clear of trouble are thwarted when he comes to the aid of Varvara Suvorova – a ‘progressive’ Russian woman trying to make her way to the Russian headquarters to join her fiancé.

Within days, Varvara’s fiancé has been accused of treason, a Turkish victory looms on the horizon, and there are rumours of a Turkish spy hiding within their own camp. Our reluctant gentleman sleuth will need to resurrect all of his dormant powers of detection if he is to unmask the traitor, help the Russians to victory and smooth the path of young love.’

The protagonist created by Boris Akunin – Erast Fandorin, has often had comparisons with James Bond as well as Sherlock Holmes. On that note, I decided to pick this book up, to see how the author is managing to bring a mystery element into a spy thriller plot.

This is the second book where the police officer Erast Fandorin is featured. Here, he is in Serbia as a volunteer in the Russo – Turkish War in order to overcome his sorrows (I don’t know what as I haven’t read the first book but I can give my word that you don’t necessarily have to, to enjoy this book). At the same time, Varya Suvorova is on her way to Bulgaria to meet her fiancé who works as a cryptographer in the war for the Russian army. She has her luggage stolen which is when she meets Fandorin, who offers to help her and makes acquaintance of the British journalist McLaughlin and the French journalist Charles Paladin, who are covering the war.

However, soon after she reaches the Russian camp, a crucial letter to the General is edited, owing to which the Russian forces move to Nikopol while the Turks move into the strategically important Plevna unopposed. The only person who had access to the letter before it was sent was Pyotr Yablokov, Varya’s fiancé and thus, the reach the obvious conclusion accusing him of treason. The Russian troubles don’t end there, every attack led by the Russians, the Turks easily outmanoeuvre them, facing heavy losses.

In the meantime, Fandorin also talks about a certain Anwar, who is an astute Turkish official and a formidable opponent to face. He suspects that Anwar has a mole inside the Russian camp and is tasked with finding who changed the message and who is the traitor within the camp, as Russia’s fortunes depend on that, and in this, he takes Varya as his assistant who also has interest in proving her fiancé’s innocence.

This book was an amalgam of a lot of my favourite genres, to start with, historical fiction and then, there was an element of mystery, a rather interesting one. The start could have been a little difficult as the author would have introduced around 8-10 characters within the first pages, all of them with significant importance but once you could get a hang of it, there was no stopping with the book. The author did a good job in establishing the objectives of the warring factions considering the historical context, with Russia fighting for its Pan-Slavic ideals and the Ottoman Empire to defend their territories in Europe.

The author also did a good job in unfolding the mystery gradually – unlike some of the novels I have typically read wherein the culprit is found early on and the rest of the book is on chasing the person. There were sufficient red herrings to divert the attention of the reader and at the same time, without compromising on the progress of the investigation. Of course, for the satisfaction of the reader, ‘solve before the police’ is possible in this novel if careful attention was paid to every part of the novel.

Despite the novel being short, at around 266 pages, the author did a good job in building some of the characters, such as Varya herself, the progressive woman who strongly believes in suffrage – this was a frequent point of debate in the camp, where the highly conservative generals were opposed to her ideas. However, she did find support from the French journalist Charles Paladin, who had years of experience in covering events from Mesopotamia till Western Europe and thus, well-versed in the cultures of both Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

The frequent ideological conversations between Varya and the others in the camp might be viewed by some people as a compromise on pace but then, if you enjoy such conversations (I for one), you would certainly not feel bored, I had in fact found it rather insightful. There could also be disappointment on the mystery around Fandorin himself, considering till the end, I got to know very little about him barring the fact that he was a smart detective and no character talks much about him as he is in ‘sorrow’ but then, I would certainly read the first book to know more about him.

The author also used the genre to his advantage, wherein, characters make accurate predictions of the political consequences of various decisions in the future, to display the intellect of the character whereas the reader has knowledge of these events that happened in the future (such as the Russian Revolution) and know what the author is getting at.

It is not often that I have been left speechless after reading a book but that was the case with this book. It was a well-crafted historical fiction cum mystery novel and would be thoroughly enjoyed by readers of either genre. On that note, I would award the book a rating of nine on ten.

Rating – 9/10

Have a nice day,

John F. Kennedy: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review

John F. Kennedy; the charismatic President of the United States who was in office for barely two years, but is still well known even outside his own country, particularly for his speeches and the mysteries surrounding his assassination. This is a short biography of the former President from Hourly History.

The book starts off with describing Kennedy’s family background, who hails from a very wealthy Irish family with a Roman Catholic background. It is his father’s dream that one of his sons reach the highest office in the country and after the death of his eldest son, he pushes John to take up the ambition. The book then moves on to his campaigns, his time in Congress, his Presidency and his assassination.

By reading this, I didn’t have get any positive opinion on Kennedy, who is often tagged as an inspirational figure. Yes, his election meant US had transcended religious boundaries as he was the first President with a Roman Catholic background but at the same time, the book also established very clearly that he was merely living somebody else’s dream, that is, his father. There was some focus on Kennedy’s policies, especially his support for the Civil Rights Movement. There was also some focus on the Cold War as it was its peak during his tenure, with the ongoing Cuban Missile Crisis. However, when one mentions Cuban Missile Crisis, if there isn’t sufficient detail on the failure of the CIA led Bay of Pigs invasion, then the book is merely trying to glorify Kennedy’s tenure.

But for that, there was very little focus on his time in the US Navy, the famous debates between then Vice-President Nixon and Kennedy and of course, the famous speeches and quotes of Kennedy (written by Theodore Sorensen, but attributed to Kennedy, nonetheless). The focus seemed to be more on the scandals surrounding him than the more important matters in his life.

This was an Hourly History book which to keep it short, compromised on content and I was not satisfied. I would award the book a three on ten.

Rating – 3/10

Have a nice day,
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