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Book Review –Cobalt Blue

This is a review of the book Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar. Honestly, I chose to read it because it’s been translated from Marathi by Jerry Pinto. I loved his book Em and the Big Hoom. I knew nothing more about the book or the author and I like it that way. It helps me to keep an open mind while reviewing the book.

I’m swept away by this book after having read it over the course of a long day at court. It’s layered and well-written and transcends all genre. The fact that the author of this marvellous piece was 20 when he started the book and 22 when he finished it, makes me want to stand up on a chair and applaud and simultaneously to weep with jealousy.

Simply put, it’s the story of a brother and sister in love with the same man. The book is divided into two parts, each written in first person by one of the siblings. It’s a love story, yes, a love triangle if you will;  but mostly it’s a portrait. It’s a portrait of lower middle class life in Maharashtra, it’s a portrait of a generation clever enough to rubbish antiquated tradition but not strong enough to break away from regressive familial bonds. It’s a portrait about how mundane love can be, and yet so overwhelming, how it can make one forget the world around us. It’s a portrait of a society where mosr types of romantic love are forced to stay hidden, of a society where homogeneity and acceptance are the biggest aspirations.

It’s a small book, which only brushes the surface of each of the above aspects, but it’s nuanced enough that it does not remain a photograph. The work that was put into the resulting simplicity is apparent.

I love both the main characters, Tanay and Anuja. However, the seem to be caricatures or uni-dimensional stereotypes, rather than fleshed out persons.

I liked that Tanay’s part was in the form of a letter addressed to the man he loves, who remains unnamed. I like the digressions and the non-linear style of narration, and the way he circles back to thoughrs after having fleshed them out with background. I loved that Anuja kept a journal. She says that life felt like a hairball and keeping a journal helped to smooth things out. I completely agree. As everyone knows,

I quite enjoyed the fact that she’s so clueless about her brother’s feelings for her own lover because it serves to demonstrate the invisibility of minority sexualities. It’s simply inconceivable, even to the most loving and well-meaning people.

I felt that every line in this book was loaded with purpose and meaning. For instance, Tanay observed his parents’ relationship and craved a permanent relationship to “grow into” while Anuja only wondered why her mother does nothing for herself and has no space of her own.

On Goodreads, I read that the author felt that Anuja and Tanay are just masculine and feminine sides of the same person and not two separate persons at all. That confused me because I didn’t get that feeling at all, even though my reading was coloured by that quote that I read. I kept looking for signs of that being the case, and I just didn’t find any. All I saw are two siblings who were close and compatible to each other, and “different” in a family that greatly valued homogeneity. One sibling recovered and started to go down the path of redemption while the other seemed to get lost in an ocean of sorrow.

More than anything else, I saw this book as a portrait of a certain type of life in a certain type of family.  I also felt that the purpose of the third sibling, Aseem, the golden boy, is introduced only to juxtapose the reception of a conforming child with two other children who could not and would not conform to the values of the Joshi family.

I want to end this review with my favourite quote from the book, from Anuja’s journal:

Our house was big enough for middle-class dreams, but not for privacy.

Has anyone read this book? What did you think of it? Do you agree with my take on it? Do you agree with the author? Do you think this is a “gay novel”? Let me know in the comments?

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30 Day Book Challenge — Day 3 |My Favourite Series

I am being so good about this! I’ve already started this post, and it’s only noon. Let’s hope that this zeal continues to last, especially in November, when I have exams. (Is this foreshadowing for bleak times to come, Sindhu? Uh…maybe?)

Okay, my favourite series in life is Harry Potter. In fact, the various books of Harry Potter are my go-to answers for a LOT of these questions. But I won’t mention them. (Except to say that I won’t mention them… Yeah. Logic.) The reason for that is obvious. It’s that it would make things REALLY boring.

Also, I’m assuming here that a series is every story that has more than one book in it, including trilogies. 

Ok, I’ve decided to cheat a bit on this question and name one series which has ended and one which is ongoing which I’ve loved so far because both these are amazing.

I don’t read a lot of series and trilogies because most series and trilogies are fantasy related and that’s usually just not my cup of tea. (Yes yes. The horror! Bring on the brickbats!) OF course, there are a few fantasy authors that I really do like such as Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, etc though I’ve read exactly one trilogy by each of them and no more. I liked the ones I read. Most of the books I read are standalones, most are post-modern books, although I also read a lot of classics, and I like it that way.

Now there’s also this new trend where every trilogy is dystopian young adult and I jumped on the bandwagon for the first couple (Hunger Games and Divergent, basically.) but now they’re just everywhere and the premises are just so strange and they’re a combination of paranormal and dystopian and there’s just not enough focus on the hopelessness of the situation… They’re not even REALLY Dystopian I think. They’re just fantasy novels in different universes.

My favourite genre is in fact, dystopian, which is why I have strong opinions on this subject. A Clockwork Orange, anyone? Now THAT’S a bleak book! Which is as it should be.

Anyway, onto my favourite series/ trilogy that has ended, ie. in which all of the books have already been published:

The winner is… The Gameworld Trilogy by Samit Basu. Now, this is an Indian fantasy series, and it is hilarious, dark, adventuous and completely fabulous. I am in love with both of the main characters, Maya and Kirrin and they are also one of my main ‘ships‘. (Click on that if you don’t know what a ‘ship’ is. What rock have you been living under? Huh? I only found out what the hell it was at the beginning of the year, but whatever.) Maya is one of the most badass female leads in the history of forever. Guys. Guys. Read these. Please. Samit Basu deserves far more love and attention than he gets. It transcends borders. And his world builfding? -Phwoar- That’s the sound my mind made when it was blown. READ THIS. OR FACE MY WRATH.

Now, onto the ongoing series that is my current favourite, or at the very least, my most anticipated series ending-book-release of 2015. This series is somewhat dystopian, I think, and they’re fairytale retellings. They are also set in the future in a world where humans, cyborgs and androids all co-exist. I know right? WHAT! THEY’RE SO GOOD. They’re immaculately thought out, fascinating and familiar and yet, so original at the same time. If you haven’t already guessed what I am talking about, I am talking about the Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer. The first book, Cinder, is a retelling of Cinderella. The second, Scarlet, is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. The Third, Cress, is a retelling of Rapunzel. The third one is my favourite. 🙂 There are two more books due to come out. One is a prequel and one is the final book of the series and I MA DYING TO GET MY HANDS ON THEM. I want to know. I can’t wait to know. Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Yes. Give this series a chance for sure. It may seem formulaic in this day and age because of the dystopian/fantast/sci-fi young adult thing but it’s refreshingly original and amazing.

Also, the opinions expressed about fantasy, etc/, in this post are very personal and I don’t think it’s a comment on the actual quality of the book, but just a comment on what I enjoy reading. I hope i didn’t offend anyone. 🙂

So yes. Until tomorrow,

Hoot.

–Sin

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Past Continuous | Book Review

I’ve only read two books so far this month, and that’s quite slow by my standards. The worst part is, I’ve read so little despite having a lot of time because I’ve spent a lot of time on Youtube trying to work up the courage to start making videos of my own.

I’ve just finished Past Continuous by Neel Mukherjee and it’s left me quite unhappy, not because it isn’t good, but because it’s disturbing. Which obviously means that I loved it! I will post a review, or try to, because I have no idea how to dissect this book, and it is a book which requires a lot of dissection.

For starters, it tells two stories, one of the main character Ritwik, reading English literature in England and the other, the story of a British lady in Colonial India in the 1890’s, which Ritwik is writing. This book terrified me because the tool employed was that of the ‘unreliable narrator’ because the life Ritwik is leading has strange echoes from the novel he’s writing. Their stories intertwine in mind-boggling ways which make you question Ritwik’s reality, which the author has no trouble whatsoever in convincing the reader to accept as her own reality too. That effect is disquieting, to say the least.

Additionally, this book also deals with themes of child abuse, the effects of growing up in poverty, sexual abuse, etc. But that’s not the main reason I wanted to read this book. I’ve owned this book for about a year already, and I’d bought it on a whim without knowing anything about it.

It was not on my original TBR list for this month, as you’d know if you’ve seen that post. And then I read an excerpt of an interview of the author (Who’s just been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for his second book, The Lives of Others. Yes, I own that one as well) and I discovered a crucial fact: The protagonist Ritwik Ghosh is gay. I am a huge LGBTQ supporter and I feel like gay protagonists are hugely under-represented in literature, especially in Indian literature, but in general too. I wanted to see how Neel Mukherjee manages his representation, so I picked up this book, off-schedule, since it still went with my Indian authors theme for the month.

After reading the book, I found the fact that the novel wasn’t about his homosexuality pretty refreshing. I feel like gay(or bisexual or lesbian or transgender) persons can’t be seen to be accepted as such if their sexuality continues to be the main ‘theme’ of any pop-culture of which they are a part. I feel like this dehumanises us somehow. On the other hand, Ritwik is depicted as a person with very real struggles, ideas, needs, distinct from being gay. I love that. Despite this, it still made a reasonably accurate representation of the furtive struggles and fears of a closeted gay man trying to find a sexual partner in the 1990’s in England.

However, this aspect isn’t the focus of this novel. The focus of the novel of Ritwik’s journey into life as an illegal immigrant from being a scholarship English Literature student. It’s about his relationship with his dead mother who still haunts his thoughts with the burden of her all-consuming, dependent love which leads her to become abusive. It’s about his frustration at the seeming opacity of the character of the protagonist in his novel, which is a frustration everyone who writes knows so very well. It’s about his friendships with people, which are necessarily transient due to his illegal immigrant status.

Ritwik, in my opinion, is one of the most real, most relatable, yet complicated characters I’ve ever had the privilege of reading. He’s a character I’d be proud to have written. I dream of writing about a contradictory character like him all the time, but I’m too scared to because I feel like I may step into the realms of the absurd.

I almost gave this book five stars of Goodreads, but I haven’t because of a couple of loose ends, including a couple of characters on whom I didn’t get enough closure. The novel doesn’t aim at closure, of course, quite the opposite, but the author’s treatment of a couple of characters, like Aritra, Ritwik’s brother was just not believable to me. I don’t want to give anything else away so I’ll leave it at that. 🙂

I’ll think about this book and about Ritwik for a long time yet. I feel like my review didn’t do justice to all of the various layers in this book, but I could write a thesis on it if I tried, and this isn’t the appropriate forum to post that!

I’ll stop here, hoping that I piqued the interests of at least one person to read it!

That’s all I guess.

Hoot.

-Sin