I have worked with a lot of young people in India in 2018. These were young, energetic men and women, fresh out of colleges and into their first corporate jobs, facing life with a fervor I have almost forgotten. One of my common ice-breakers was discussing the books they liked reading. Unfortunately, a rather large number of them confessed that reading was not one of their passions, so to speak. They were travelers and adventurers, connoisseurs of the digital art and media. But, they were unfamiliar to the magic of the printed letters. I have decided, hence, to talk more about the books I read and enjoy, in hopes that the generations to come would feel inspired to pick up a copy, once in a while. Of the 37 books I read last year, here are the top 5 books I most enjoyed:
The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafon is an author that I accidentally discovered last year. It is, by far, my greatest literary discovery in some time. The Shadow of the Wind is the first of the author’s series, Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and was originally published in Spanish in 2001. It was translated to English by Lucia Graves in 2004 and has since become a worldwide phenomenon.
The setting of the novel is this beautiful library from another time and world – where forgotten books go to live on the rest of eternity in silent dignity. A young boy, Daniel Sempere, follows a story within the story, as he chases a forgotten book and its even more elusive author. The beauty of the novel is that it hides a warm, tender tale of togetherness and separation, of love and betrayal, in its dark and murky folds.
Zafon’s strength is his character building and his Marquezesque narrative style. From the flamboyant side-kick, Fermin Romero de Torres, to the loathsome antagonist, Detective Fumero, Zafon’s characters draw you into their psyche quite effortlessly. The plot wanders, yet keeps the reader just sufficiently in control of the flow. The story refuses a genre defiantly, so does the style of writing. It is literary yet has the whiff of the thriller genre, it is classic (very reminiscent of Dumas) yet very contemporary, somehow. All in all, it is a rule-breaker of a book that I enjoyed!
I have dabbled in mythological fiction, mostly of the Indian kind, throughout 2018. I have read Devdutt Pattnaik and Sutapa Basu, and almost all of them have proved satisfactory. But, Madeline Miller’s Circe was more than that.
Of course, a tale of a demi-Goddess, an under-dog really, rising from the embers of divine wrath, ostracization, and rape, to become a fierce force to reckon with, is just the kind of mythology that stokes my feminist ego. But, even beyond the natural attraction for the complicated title character, Miller’s style of writing itself had me hooked. She tells it from the feminine perspective, always a fascinating lens for the mythological (case in point, Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions). She grips attention consistently, moving from episode to episode through the eternity of the Goddess’s life. For those who love a little modernistic twist on an age-old tale of revenge and redemption, this is a must-read.
I am quite thankful that Srinath Perur decided to translate this Kannada gem to English. I have always heard great things about Kannada literature, and if this book is anything to go by, it seems a rumor very close to the truth.
The tale starts as a rustic, middle-class story of a man in Karnataka, reminiscent almost of an R.K. Narayan novel. But, the book surprised me by quietly veering into the macabre depths of the human condition. It is so relatable and close to the reality I have been brought up in that the cruelty it hides at its heart shook me. A fantastic and quick read.
The Graveyard Book
This one would be a delight to read for fans of Absurdist literature. I am a die-hard fan of Mr. Gaiman and I had high expectations of this book after having read Neverwhere earlier.
To be honest, it did not measure up in my opinion to his other Absurdist creations. But, the premise of the book is gripping, to say the least. A little orphan toddler is protected and fostered by the dead within a graveyard. As our young protagonist comes of age through the pages of the book, he is chased in and out of the mystical realms between the living and the dead, by a blood-thirsty assassin. It is quite enchanting to follow the boy’s adventures, although I do confess I found the ending a bit overwhelming and dramatic.
The Bell Jar
Well, I had steered away from this book very long because of what I had imagined it would be like. Then, when I did read it, I was so positively influenced by it that I wrote a whole post on it (Read Suicide, Illness, Plath, and Bourdain: Reading the Bell Jar). So, I won’t repeat myself and load up the site with praises for the author and her creation. But, if you have, for whatever reason, kept away from this Classic, take my word for it and read it. I am sure you would be impressed by the sharp mind and the brilliant skill of the incredible woman, Ms. Sylvia Plath.
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