Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens

Paperback, 382 pages
First Published in:  1854
Publisher:  Bantam Classics
ISBN:  9780553211764 

Blurb:  'Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; -- the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!' 

After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.
A masterful pageant of idealism, love, and adventure -- in a Paris bursting with revolutionary frenzy, and a London alive with anxious anticipation -- A Tale of Two Cities is one of Dickens's most energetic and exciting works. 

Doctor Alexander Manette has been captured in the prison of Bastille, before the French Revolution, and has almost lost his senses in the eighteen years of exile from the world beyond his cell. When an old friend and banker, Jarvis Lorry, summons Dr Manette’s daughter, Lucie Manette, on the pretext of settling some issues of the property that her ‘dead’ father has left her, she agrees to meet him in Dover. After circumlocution, Mr Lorry eventually tells Lucie that they are to get her father back from St Antoine in Paris. After hearing the news, Lucie passes out. Soon after, they are on their way to St. Antoine, for the Resurrection of Dr Alexander Manette.

I wasn’t acquainted with Dickens’ writings before I picked up A Tale of Two Cities. Although, I had read David Copperfield as a child, I don’t remember any of it now. Except hating Uriah Heep.

 However, a lover of World history, I loved the way the conditions of both France and England have been portrayed with n number of metaphors. Apart from what I had read in high school, I knew nothing of the French Revolution. But Dickens does not show us just history. He shows us lives of people of the Guillotine. Or even that of people in England. Many say that Dickens relied on Carlyle’s The French Revolution for writing A Tale of Two Cities, which in itself wasn’t very correct in exploring the history of the event. While many say, that Dickens corrected over the facts before writing A Tale of Two Cities. Whatever it is, as Dickens tells me of these lives, I take them as gospel.

The second part of the book was quite a task. I couldn’t take much of Charles Darnay’s courting Lucie, Sydney Carton’s drinking bouts, Dr Mantette’s madness, the blabbering of Miss Pross, the messy hair of Jerry Cruncher, and his wife’s praying against his will. I drudged along as I read each paragraph of the Book Two. I was dreaming of the next book I would read after the torment Dickens was doing on me would be over. God! How I hated the second part of the book. I found it agonizing and tiresome with all the stupid and banal details. If I have forced myself to read a book to the verge of madness, it was A Tale of Two Cities’ Book Two. Had it not been in my literature course, I would have stopped right there and chucked it out of my window.

Had this been my first Dickens’ novel, I think I won’t have picked  him up again. But I read a little of A Christmas Carol, and it was damn hilarious. I don’t know if Dickens tried to show off too much with all the symbolism and metaphors deliberately in A Tale of Two Cities, just to prove something. I didn’t like it much.

The Third part of the book was finally where I picked, I mean, the book picked momentum again. I loved the third part of it. It was all business, and no bullshit; unlike book two. I so want to reveal the plot and say how much I loved every aspect of it. But I know, no spoilers.

However, I love Sydney Carton. Hell with Darnay! Carton is my real hero, and I think everybody who has read the book would fall in love with Sydney Carton. I cannot stop thinking about poor Carton since I finished reading ATOTC.
The Book Three is a heart wrencher. It makes the torment of the rest of the book worthwhile.

However, the recommendation would be that if you haven’t read Dickens before, DO NOT ATTEMPT to read A Tale of Two Cities for the first one of his series of books. I would have said that you shouldn’t read it at all, however, just for the sake of Sydney Carton, I say that you definitely should. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nude Before God

Nude Before God
By Shiv K. Kumar

Paperback, 184 pages
Published in:  1983
Publisher:  Random House India
ISBN:  9788184003833 

Blurb:  Sex and death meet in a story bursting with laughs and essential life lessons.

Ram Krishna is an artist who paints nudes. He is obsessed with death and with his wife’s possible infidelity. Despite his own conjugal insecurities, he engages in an adulterous liaison. Immediately, Karma strikes: he is murdered by his wife’s suspected lover. Unclad of corporal existence, he hovers above earth and discovers that—apart from his parents, dog, and a few friends—no one misses him. Dejected, he encounters Yama, the Lord of Death, and begins a long conversation that extinguishes Ram Krishna’s airs and affectations, and makes him see that he may have been wrong about life . . . And his wife. 

Armed with a wry sense of humour, Shiv K. Kumar lays bare the questions about humanity’s inescapable end, plying us with a story that gives us new reasons to live and laugh.

Nude Before God was my first encounter with Shiv K Kumar’s writing. A satire on afterlife, the book said. I was intrigued. It seemed like my kind of thing, and once I started it, there was no stopping.

Rama Krishna is a top-notch artist, known for his paintings of nudes. Married to a Christian, Mary, you cannot call him a faithful husband. As soon as he picks up the call one night after returning home, it is some Kenneth George asking for his wife. The seed of doubt sprouts in his heart. Has Mary been having a Christian lover? Before he can look for the evidences, he finds himself dead, and talking to Yama, the god of death.

This book is in the true sense a classic. I have never ever enjoyed and learnt of the bitterness of the world so good humouredly as it has been depicted in this book. Shiv K Kumar has shown us the world through the eyes of an artist. Who finds love, beauty and sometimes sex, everywhere. Who sees the whole world as a rhythm. I was mesmerised by this aspect of the book.

The best thing about the book was showing the thirteen days of afterlife, and the torture and torment and fun a soul has in the time. I could never have imagined anybody writing a satire on afterlife and making fun of it. Shiv K kumar has become my ideal.

Even apart from the death and its satire, he touches several sensitive topics with all his humour. The infidelity, the sex, the envy, the pain, the hypocrisy, he shows it all. A true mirror to the world you live in and would be considered dead in.
Shiv K Kumar is the man who thought out of the box back in 1983. And his straightforward attitude might still not be taken in by everyone. And that is what I loved him for the most.

A very short book, it can be finished right in one weekend. And that would be the best ever entertaining weekend you would have had in a long time. 

I would recommend the book to everybody who loves reading, especially to those who believe in having ideologies completely opposite to the contemporary. Even if they be superficial.

Friday, July 12, 2013

In the Body of the World

In the Body of the World : A Memoir
by Eve Ensler


Paperback, 220 pages
Published: April, 2013
Publisher:  Random House India
ISBN:  9780805095180

Blurb: From the bestselling author of The Vagina Monologues and one of Newsweek’s 150 Women Who Changed the World, a visionary memoir of separation and connection—to the body, the self, and the world

Playwright, author, and activist Eve Ensler has devoted her life to the female body—how to talk about it, how to protect and value it. Yet she spent much of her life disassociated from her own body—a disconnection brought on by her father’s sexual abuse and her mother’s remoteness. “Because I did not, could not inhabit my body or the Earth,” she writes, “I could not feel or know their pain.”

But Ensler is shocked out of her distance. While working in the Congo, she is shattered to encounter the horrific rape and violence inflicted on the women there. Soon after, she is diagnosed with uterine cancer, and through months of harrowing treatment, she is forced to become first and foremost a body—pricked, punctured, cut, scanned. It is then that all distance is erased. As she connects her own illness to the devastation of the earth, her life force to the resilience of humanity, she is finally, fully—and gratefully—joined to the body of the world.

Unflinching, generous, and inspiring, Ensler calls on us all to embody our connection to and responsibility for the world.

Lately, I have been in love with reading Memoirs. After reading some quite nice ones, when I got my hands on Eve Ensler’s In the Body of the World, I couldn’t wait to get through it. As I read it, I realised I have become a sucker for memories. Be it mine, a friend’s, or an author’s. I love the idea of memories.

I had heard a lot about Eve Ensler before I got to read In the Body of the World. Her very acclaimed book, The Vagina Monologues had gathered all the praise it could. Being a burgeoning feminist myself, I instantly became a fan of Ensler for all that she has done for the women on the face of this earth.

Ensler’s memoir, In the Body of the World is primarily an account of her fight with her cancer. A uterine cancer that emptied her from within, quite literally.  This book is as much an account of the atrocities meted out to the women of Congo, and the making of their dream place, the City of Joy.

The first thing that intrigued me about the book was its index. She called it SCANS. I wondered what the SCANS was about. And just as you are through a few pages, she tells us why. And you are just awestruck at her capabilities and the uprightness that she shows towards life.  

The book, if to be described in a word, should be ‘heart-wrenching’. The images that Ensler shows us are vivid, and explicitly disturbing. Ensler doesn’t  hold back. She gives you the details of every damn disturbing thing in such a raw and graphic language that you would squint your eyes and say ‘Ew!’ Until now, of all the books I have read, In the Body of the World was the most disturbing one. And I loved it for that.

The women of Congo, the centre of attention for Eve even during her turbulent times of cancer, steal the show. So much that has been written about them, it made me feel more and more related and identifiable to them.

No wonder that the book is depressingly explicit in terms of the imagery, it is humorous. You would want to laugh in all the heart ache that Ensler gives you. This is the biggest thing that makes obvious the brilliance of Ensler as a writer. The way she marries laughter with tears, my hats off to her.

Eve’s language (Gosh, I am addressing her as Eve as if she were my childhood chum! But I felt closer and closer to her as I read the book. OMG! She is such an amazing writer) is like a conversation. You feel like she is talking to you; sitting in front of you sipping coffee and telling you everything that has gone by in her life lately. The book sounds like a diary. It is filled with casual but strong metaphors. And what took my heart away were the short chapters. Yes, I am a sucker for short chapters too.

She makes you feel ‘in her head’.

At last I would say, Eve Ensler makes you introspect. Whether you want it or not. She is a spiritual guide! I found it out right when she talked of the somnolence in all of us.  “The choice between being awake or half asleep,” she says.

You got to read the book to know it all. It is totally, totally worth your time.

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