Monday, May 27, 2013

My Kind of Girl by Buddhadeva Bose: Impressions

Some books grab you by the throat, some lie next to you under shady trees on summer afternoons in companionable silences, and some, you must coax and cajole into a friendship. My Kind of Girl by Buddhadeva Bose started out being the third kind, but by the time I finished, it had become the second. My relationship with this book was one of old school romance - just what the book is about.

In the 'literary' age where more people know of E L James than say, Jane Austen, where consummation comes before courtship, My Kind of Girl is a 'difficult' book. It is a book that forces you to slow down, a book that will take you back in time to an inhibited world, where the only way of loving was longing.

My Kind of Girl, a translation of the Bengali 'Moner Moto Maye' is really a collection of four short 'love' stories held together by a looser, larger plot. Four stranded travellers - a doctor, a writer, a bureaucrat and a contractor - find themselves in the waiting room of a railway station and must spend a night together. They seek the warmth of each other's love stories to fend off the cold in their air and their hardened hearts.

Stories of young, and mostly unrequited love are narrated, transporting the reader to a time of innocence, a time purity, a time where a brush of the beloved's hand was enough to last one a lifetime. There is the thick-headed Makhanlal's story of  love for his neighbour that never comes to pass; Gagan Baran, the bureaucrat's story of Pakhi, who loved him as a 16-year-old and forever after; Dr. Abani's story of how he met his wife through a friend who broke her heart; and the writer's story of 'Mona Lisa', who he and his two best friends loved and lost together.

Every story is told with a tenderness we, as a people, as readers, have forgotten. To those who've grown on the fodder of Mills & Boons and Sidney Sheldons, Buddhadeva Bose's book will seem painfully primitive in the beginning. But one must give it time; one must open their hearts to the kind of love that is not about easy, sweaty sex and porn-perfect characters. One must slowly dance to the plaintive flute that a lovelorn heart plays. One must partake of the pain of longing, a pain that has no recourse or end. There are no happy endings, just twinges of sorrow to take back from these elegiac love stories. These are stories about 'Your kind of person', but one you can never have. Through its stories and its style, My Kind of Girl harks back to the romantic in you, the romantic you thought was gone forever.

Kudos to Arunava Sinha for translating not just the words but the delicate sentiments bound within the pages of this book. But this book is only for those who know how to take it slow.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino: Impressions


I would begin and end my review with those three words had this not been a review copy. 'Salvation of a Saint' by Keigo Higashino landed in my kitty as a book reviewer as a result of fierce PR activity that this writer/publisher is wont to do. I remember the massive noise Higashino's first book - The Devotion of Suspect X - made in India's blogging circles.

I finally managed to finish the book today after lugging it around for a while. And I call it lugging not for its weight or volume but for its sheer bore factor. Higashino is a genius with his basic plots but boy, does he drag his feet. If I was disappointed with Suspect X, I've downright disliked Salvation. Like the previous book, I have a problem with this one's title too. 'Salvation of a Saint' makes no sense right to the end. I'm beginning to wonder if these are translation problems. Perhaps the Japanese title has nuances that are lost to English readers.

The plot revolves around the principal characters of Ayane Mashiba, wife of a young and wealthy Yoshitaka Mashiba, Hiromi Wakayama, her young apprentice and a bunch of detectives. Ayane and Hiromi are prime suspects when Yoshitaka is found dead from poisoning. In true Higashino style, a case is built up with iron clad alibis, investigative dead ends, scientific solutions, and with even a romantic angle thrown in for good measure. But for the longest time - almost two thirds of the book - the plot goes round and round in the same place exploring the same angle. You can almost picture the author laboring to fill pages to match the commissioning editor's page count. I was tempted to abandon the book very often at this point. It must be super hard being a thriller writer, weaving in dead ends and sub plots in a story, staving off the end the way Higashino does. Yawn.

The book picks up pace only in the last 50 pages, when the real story and the real suspect are brought to the fore. There has been no evolution of style from the last book, and Higashino still writes in his crisp, visual manner, and with an evident love of science and forensics. If I make the mistake of reading a third book by the same author, I'll perhaps be able to tell that it is a Higashino book even without looking at the book cover. Familiar characters from the Metropolitan Police Department hold the plot, including detectives Kusanagi and Kishitani and chief Mamiya. A new addition to the characters, in the form of Utsumi, a junior female detective, is welcome. We also meet eccentric physicist Professor Yukawa from the Imperial University, who is instrumental in cracking the case.

When the mystery is finally revealed to the reader, it is nothing short of amazing, but it was definitely not worth my time and patience. Don't think I'm going down a Higashino lane again.