Book Review :: DANGLE By Sutapa Basu

Dangle

The last time I voluntarily picked up fiction must have been while in college. It is not a genre I enjoy reading much, except if by a few of my favorite authors. But when I heard that Sutapa Basu’s debut is a thriller called Dangle, I was too curious not to pick it up. Having read a lot of Sutapa Basu’s short stories, I never pegged her as a ‘thriller’ writer. According to me her forte is describing human emotions; the thing that made her the winner of the TOI Write India contest under Amish Tripathi. Her story, in Amish’s own words, made him cry. Sutapa captures the finest of the fine nuances of them, which a less discerning writer wouldn’t be able to even catch, let alone write about so beautifully. And, a large variety and profound depth of emotions isn’t something one expects in a thriller novel. That conundrum fanned my curiosity and spurred me into buying the book.

I would hate to divulge the plot in any way, thereby compromising your reading pleasure. But I should tell you, that Dangle is not your usual run-of-the-mill thriller, with cars chasing each other and guns bellowing every few pages. The real thrill of Dangle lies in how it leaves the reader dangling, throughout the story, as precariously, as the main character Isphita Sen. You jump edgily, every time she does; you look over your shoulder every time she does. That is how crisp and articulate the narration is. Also, unlike most thrillers, its gripping plot also fuses well many subjects of deeper connotation and social implication – women’s emancipation, the complicated challenges of living an Army life, domestic violence, sexuality of independent modern women, India’s disregard of its obligations as a popular tourist location, challenges of the elderly NRI, the pain of suffering with a mental illness and not knowing whom to turn to. The one that particularly caught my attention was militancy in the northeast. The author captures accurately and poignantly – the struggle of the common citizen caught between the militants and the armed forces; the everyday problems of living in constant fear of violence; the ability to tune out the horrific sounds of gunfights and bomb blasts; the spirit of resilience one needs, to continue clinging on to one’s homeland and thereby to the hope of a peaceful future.

The author is a master of narration when it comes to setting the scenes. In the opening sequence itself, the descriptions are so vivid that you find yourself standing next to Ipshita in that Chicago hotel room window, looking with horror at the helicopter outside. From there on it becomes impossible for the reader to leave her side. Describing the beauty of the characters’ surroundings with the minutest of details and making them all stand out distinctly from each other, from Chicago to Delhi to Imphal to Batam, was for me one of the high points of reading this book. You can quite literally smell the flowers, feel the ravishing beauty of India’s northeast fill your senses, taste the saltiness of the sea water in Indonesia. The city descriptions in fact would put to shame, some of the best travelogues I have read. I loved the idea of Ipshita being an ingenious travel correspondent, who creates these rather unique travel chats. That lent so much relevance and credibility to all the wonderfully etched location and travel details, which otherwise may have come across as needlessly extensive.

The characters are another high point of this book. Ipshita’s character, for example, is a very finely sketched modern day career woman; in love with her job and freedom, and dealing with the usual everyday problems. And of course, some very unusual ones too; as you progress with the story. Ipshita is shown constantly dangling, between courage and fear; between the past demons and the present enigmas. She is feisty and confident, and yet her constant fear and vulnerability comes across as very believable. I also liked how with every travel that Ipshita takes, and with the sights that she comes across, her mind takes a journey of its own. She looks at the roadside flowers and moss in Chicago and thinks of telling her father, an avid gardener, about that remarkable idea. She looks at the buildings in Chicago and wonders why Delhi’s architecture, with far more significant history than those Chicago skyscrapers, does not get the limelight it deserves.

Aditya Rao, Ipshita’s childhood friend is another wonderful character. He is a real catch; a gentleman, with a sincerity and passion for Ipshita which warms the reader’s heart. And yet the maturity to balance his love for her with the platonic friendship she considered it to be. Ujjal and Shiuli, Ipshita’s parents are perfect examples of parents who are indulgent towards their child while giving her the freedom she needs to grow and flourish.

My only discomfort with the story was Vikram’s character and how his atonement needed a clearer definition and rationalization, in order for me to understand the others’ acceptance of him. To me, he got off quite easy for doing something as despicable as he did. I guess I was expecting the other characters to despise him more explicitly and intensely. However, a little deliberation over Vikram’s treatment in the story brought me to a very painful but logical conclusion. That it is, in fact, a very realistic portrayal of how society deals with people who commit such grave and heinous crimes. They retaliate with fiery rage, for that very moment, but then forget the whole episode, too quickly. Because actioning on them and bringing such criminals to justice needs far more strength and perseverance.

But all things considered, Dangle is a fantastic and gripping read. A wonderful example of a debut novel; very different from the author’s previous works and yet so impeccably delivered, so as to carve a unique niche for herself.

 

 

Book Review :: A Thousand Unspoken Words

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“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – From the movie ‘The Dark Knight’

That to me was the essence of this book. We all want heroes; love to romanticize them. But rarely do we realize how much it takes out of a person, to be that hero for us. How it breaks him. Ruptures the very elements of his being, on a daily basis. How difficult it is for him to constantly keep up with our ever-growing expectations, and yet keep his life simple and normal. It’s tiresome. Confusing. And, may even be a lot less rewarding than we think it is.

We never know about any of these struggles, as long as our hero keeps succeeding. But the day he fails?… Well, that is where this story starts.

A hero, who has lost his way. A fan, who has lost her hero. A romance, which has lost its warmth. ATUW is a story about all these mislayings. And, about some discoveries too. It is a story of a man trying to find a balance between his principles and priorities, or at least what he has come to think of as his priorities. It is about a woman trying to find a middle path between idealistic love of her heart and basic logic of her mind. And of the readers trying to find out whom they stand with – the mysterious artist Musafir or the practical Riddhimaan?

At its heart, ATUW is a whirlwind and a complicated romance, but not without those quintessential ‘warming-one-to-the-cockles-of-one’s-heart’ moments. There are romantic nights under the stars, stolen glances, sudden overwhelmingly passionate moments. And also the pointless fights that start out of nowhere. To sum up, a very real romance. And certainly, far better than a lot that goes around these days, in the name of romantic novels.

Paulami has captured both the agony and the ecstasy of the lovers quite beautifully. Her characters are quite sharply defined, every goodness and every flaw clearly chalked out. I love the stories where the characters feel familiar and everyday, from the very first word. Tilottama, Riddhimaan, Krishnakoli, Shoumu Sen and even the minor characters like Mimi and Rajdeep feel just like that. Like I’ve known them a long time. And I guess, that in no small part comes from the fact that Paulami has etched their emotions so accurately, and so vividly. When Tilottama longs for Musafir, when Ridhhiman tries to catch a teeny-weeny glimpse of Tilottama through an open door, when Krishnakoli gets a whiff of that longing and pulls their legs for it, when Tilottama worries about her father, when Shoumu Sen reads Riddhimaan’s torments and counsels him; you feel every emotion and you too, move with the characters.

For someone like me, who is an outsider to Kolkata; the way the city has been used in the story, almost as a character in itself, was a real treat too. I felt pulled in; found myself standing and watching the story unfold from the various unique vantage points, of the nooks and crannies of Kolkata and Shatiniketan.

But the strongest part of this story, for me, unquestionably, is Musafir/Riddhimaan and his constant struggle to figure out which one of these two men, he truly is. When Musafir falters, surprisingly, I couldn’t blame him much. In a way I knew, I too, would have been torn the same way, if I were him. And yet, I constantly yearned for him to do better, be a better man, be the idol which many saw in him. And that’s when I realized how much I have internalized Tilottama’s beautifully etched character.

The narration is very engaging, and you can almost whiff the overpowering fragrance of screenplay in the story and it’s well panned out scenes. I did find a few editorial issues, where I could sense some text has been eliminated in the interest of brevity but the edges haven’t been smoothed that well. Also, the prologue I felt, could have been shorter.

But nothing that marred my overall of experience of reading this book.

All said and done, ATUW is just the kind of romance, one would love to cuddle up with, on these cold winter nights. And to boot, it will leave you with a wonderful aftertaste of fantastic storytelling and characters you’d like to mull over for days.

So what are you waiting for? Go, get a copy!

Book Review :: The Dove’s Lament

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The Dove’s Lament is not an easy book to read. You might be tempted to put it away or shrug it off as something that you do not have a taste for. Maybe, even hide it at the bottom of your ‘currently reading’ stack; if not further away.

That is how painful, revolting, depressing and full of violence its stories are.

But you will be compelled to come back to it. Pull it out from the bottom of the stack and finish it.

Because that is how well crafted, and more importantly, real these stories are.

Over time, we have learned to tune out the newspapers and television, which cover the same dreadful events this book talks about. But this book makes those events hit closer to home. And by doing that, it takes away ‘that faraway world’ feeling; behind which we hide ourselves to preserve or maybe justify our way of life. I found it hard to turn these stories off in my mind, even long after I had read them. Because now, these horrific incidents weren’t only happening in faraway places like Sudan and Syria. They were happening to people I knew. People I could relate to. The way Kirthi has captured every subtle nuance of the victim’s emotions, the scenes of the crimes, the scale of those atrocities; after a point, it just becomes impossible to feign a disconnection.

And then, there is that map at the beginning of each story, marking out the part of the world it comes from. Now, I do not know if this was an intentional placement or if just happened, but for a reader from India, the map too acted as a catalyst for the overall experience of this book. As I flipped through the stories one by one, that small highlighted landmass on the map, moved from Rwanda to Bosnia to Afganistan; until I found it in India. The stories now spoke of Kashmir and Rajasthan, and suddenly, started to feel even more real, although one would have thought that that is no more possible. The names became familiar, the places became known and the pain reflected in those stories hit its crescendo.

Kirthi’s writing is straight from the heart, and her passion for humanitarian causes oozes from every word. Each story is followed by a short essay, stating the history and the current situation on these conflicts and issues which are ravaging humanity across the globe. The essays and stories are quite well researched, and make the stories even more relatable.

To me, the best part of the book is the concluding story. After reading of atrocities and oppression, page after page; reading about hope and humanity made it easier to end the book. It was reassuring to know that while we live in a world where, overnight, lifelong neighbors can turn into foes and unleash unspeakable suffering on you; there are also people out there, strangers, who would take you in and nurse your faith in humanity back to health.

The editing is crisp and well done. The language of the book is well above average and at places displayed an almost poetic beauty. The only area of development I could point out, is that at a few phrases (heart danced/beat a tattoo) have been repeated often. Although, I understand that the context were similar, but that makes it even more important for the language to be varied. Thankfully, such instances are but a few.

Other than that, The Dove’s Lament makes for an informative, soulful and interesting read.

You can buy book here.