Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Lit Reviews

Ulysses (Fiction)
By James Joyce

Touted as one of the 5 best books in the twentieth century and one of the best books of all times, James Joyce’s Ulysses is one book always regarded with awe by any book critic. The novel, which at first is a seemingly difficult book to read, is one book which when read is always liked by everybody. Written in the complex stream of consciousness style (i.e. a style where the writer chooses to write in a pattern similar to the human thought process, using free associations and no orderly thoughts), this book has had rave reviews by every critic.

Joyce's masterpiece describes the events of a single day, June 16, 1904 (the day Joyce met his wife-to-be), in the life of two primary characters, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus (with a significant offstage role played by Bloom's wife Molly, who only takes center stage in the final chapter), in Dublin.

Stylistically brilliant, the book plays with the English language like no book ever has before. There are a whole lot of narrative styles, and an umpteen number of literary associations. Usually it is highly recommended that one does have a glossary with the references in mind when reading this timeless literary classic.

Heart of Darkness (Fiction)
Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness written by Joseph Conrad is a novella of the turn of the 20th Century (1902) and has been one of the biggest topics of discussion ever since. Set in the peak of imperialism, this book has gone ahead to illustrate the dark facets of imperialists through the exploration of the human mind.

Heart of Darkness centers around Marlow, an introspective sailor, and his journey up the Congo River to meet Kurtz, reputed to be an idealistic man of great abilities. Marlow takes a job as a riverboat captain with the Company. As he travels inside Africa and up the Congo, Marlow encounters widespread inefficiency and brutality in the Company’s stations. The native inhabitants of the region have been forced into the Company’s service, and they suffer terribly from overwork and ill treatment at the hands of the Company’s agents. Marlow finally meets Kurtz, he sees Mistah Kurtz, megalomaniac, imperialist, power-hungry and savage, a total contrast to the idealist Kurtz visualized by Marlow. This contrasted image of a dying man screaming ‘The Horror! The Horror!’, when compared to the build-up of a Kurtz who was noble and idealistic, is a stark naked encounter with the extreme side of imperialism where the horrors of this system lie directly in front of our eyes.

Heart of Darkness has been considered for most of this century not only as a literary classic, but as a powerful indictment of the evils of imperialism. It reflects the savage repressions carried out in the Congo by the Belgians in one of the largest acts of genocide committed up to that time.

Five Point Someone (Fiction)
Chetan Bhagat

IIT! Don’t those three syllables bring in a sense of distancing – an aura of studiousness, slogging, detachment from the normal world and most importantly, a detachment from life – which makes us automatically brand these ‘people’ as ‘one of them’.

Five Point Someone written by Chetan Bhagat (an ex-IITian and ex-IIM-A – whoa! a double ‘one of thems’) is one of Rupa’s latest fiction publication. This novel, set in IIT-Delhi, traces the story of three friends. Another story aiming to inspire people with the success stories of 3 young adults who made it big you infer; that is where Chetan Bhagat surprisingly and pleasantly impresses his critics.

Hari, Ryan and Alok meet on their first day at IIT during a ragging session in Kumaon hostel. From this day begin their escapades, more aptly misadventures. From dating the Head of the Department’s daughter to tripping on Pink Floyd over vodka and joints, from watching every sci-fi at Priya Cinema to suspension, these friends go through all this and more in their ‘eventful’ years in IIT. The catch is these three friends are ‘five point someones’ (students who have GPAs of 5 point something, the lowest rung of students in IIT). Will these friends succeed with their ‘Operation Pendulums’ and ‘C2Ds’? This is what this book seeks to answer.

With simple English and a generous helping of expletives and colloquialisms, integral lessons outside curriculum in IIT, Chetan Bhagat definitely deserves two thumbs up for his maiden novel. Extremely realistic characterizations – be it the 3 friends, the confused miss goody-two-shoes meets I-want-to-be-a-rebel girlfriend Neha, the dynamic Professor Veera or the Hitler-incarnate Professor Cherian – make this book a start to finish affair. Glimpses in this book make readers relate to their student lives at some point or the other.

A must read for every IITian as well as the non-IITians, this book has won national acclaim fast. It also is soon to be a major film directed by Ritesh Sinha. The USP of the book definitely is the more unconventional depiction of IIT.

Pick up a copy today if you want to go on a trip down memory lane and just laugh at the misadventures of these three friends where somewhere within them lies a part of every one of us!

Death of a Salesman (Fiction – Drama)
By Arthur Miller

One must find out the true oneself in order to lead a successful life. This philosophy can aptly summarize the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, speculatively called by many as one of the most popular plays of the twentieth century.

Any man can have as great a fall and be as great a tragedy as a king or some other famous person. Just because people are common does not mean that their falls are to them less steep. This is what this play, written in the period of existentialism and modernism, tries to tell its audience.

The story is about Willy Loman, representative of any average American middle-class man, who is a salesman by profession. With a wife and two kids, a house and a car, he has all the bare necessities that an average American man dreams for. But this does not lead to complete contentment, as Willy would have ideally wished for. Underneath this surface of superficial familial functioning, lies dysfunction and disillusion. Willy, 63 year old, suddenly goes down a trip through his lifetime, in search of that single moment of truth which has made his life take the wrong turn in life, and shape up this way.

Literary critic, Christopher Bigsby aptly says if Willy’s is an American dream, it is also a dream shared by all those who are aware of the gap between what they might have been and what they are.

The Catcher in the Rye (Fiction)
By J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye, a book describing a nervous breakdown, gained notoriety and media attention when police found the book in his possession upon apprehending the psychologically disturbed Chapman. John Lennon's assassin, Mark Chapman, asked the former Beatle to sign a copy of the book earlier in the morning of the day that he murdered Lennon. But this is not the reason this book is regarded as one of the top bestsellers of the twentieth century.

The story, which is in the tone of a monologue, told by our protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is set in New York. It is about his journey away from reality, when he gets thrown out again from a school for poor performance academically. Depressed and disillusioned, our protagonist decides to take a vacation away from the people he knows. The book describes Holden's thoughts and activities over these few days, during which he describes a developing nervous breakdown, where he faces bouts of unexplained depression, impulsive spending and generally odd, erratic behavior, prior to his eventual nervous collapse.

The book is definitely an essential must read for anyone who is interested in knowing about the workings of the human psyche. Written in an exceptionally simple manner, Salinger definitely has penned a masterpiece.

English, August (Fiction)
Upamanyu Chatterjee

English, August has become a cult name in the field of Indian Writing in English. One of Upamanyu Chatterjee’s first works, this novel is meant as a quest through life, its nothingness, meaning and purpose.

Set in the town of Madna, a typical small town where just like any dysfunctional Indian government office, there exists the town’s administrative office. And over there for his training enters Agastya (August) Sen, an ambitious and idealist youngster, unaware of the systems and of the world beyond the metros. Here begin his escapades with the system, its upholders (?) and rural India (where he has nothing much to do except smoke marijuana endlessly and fantasize about women, because of the lack of them and be content with himself).

Chatterjee has done to an extent with Madna what R. K. Narayan has done with Malgudi; made the town fictitious town come alive in almost every Indian readers mind. Structure-wise he has began the trend of using the now famous ‘Hinglish’ in the Indian fiction scene, which is seen right from the very expletive first line which to a large extent sets the tone of the novel and shows the reader what to expect of it.

Written in a humorous tone, this novel succeeds exceedingly well in doing a spoof of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers and their lives as the emperors of these small towns like Madna. Witty would be the understatement when it comes to the caricatures built of the characters in the novel by Chatterjee. Thus, that he is successful is no doubt.

Marijuana, masturbation, mundane daydreams, and Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, this is the life of Agastya Sen, known better as August. Pick up your copy of this book today if you want to know whether August survives finally in Madna with such a lifestyle or does he decide against staying in the Indian Administrative Services.


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