The White Tiger: A Dark, Haunting Reflection of Life in India

I haven’t reviewed a book in quite a long time, and this will be my last book review (and indeed last review, with only my top ten films of the year article left) of the year. And there is probably no better book for me to have returned with, and then closed on, than this one.

The White Tiger is written by Aravind Adiga, and it follows a man from a poor class in Northern India, who finds a way to become a driver – and servant – for one of the super rich families of the country.

However, the book is about so much more than that. The White Tiger is about class, money, corruption, loyalty, and the ever-fading line between good and bad.

And it is, undeniably, dark. It is rather surprising, then, that it is such an easy read, because this is how Adiga crafts the narration of the book. Similar in some ways to The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The White Tiger literally speaks to you, although in this case, you actually are someone. Specifically, you are Premier Wen Jiabao, a Chinese authority figure. This itself is quite clever, as the book’s satirical views about democracy are addressed to someone who does not believe in the concept.

It is this relaxed narration, laced with euphemism, that enables you to read through the book so effortlessly, and therefore reflect on its story and underlying commentary so clearly. Despite being so terrifyingly depressing in its depiction of the political system and class system in India, The White Tiger gets by this simply because its depiction is real. It would be a betrayal to the reader if it held back any detail, and it very much doesn’t.

The raw product the reader does receive is funny, witty, cheeky and yet so eye-opening. Even the narrator, the protagonist, is not necessarily what most people would call ‘good’. Nobody is really good or bad, everyone is just a person, and the book illustrates well that everyone isn’t so different. While so many other things do this in a good light, The White Tiger does so in a bad light too. That’s what makes it stand out.

The White Tiger is a book that not many would end up loving, but everyone who reads it will end up being impacted by it. It is smart, satirical, dark and moving. It deserves to be read.

On a scale where M is the lowest and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating:

The White Tiger: MIHIR

 

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Jonathan Livingston Seagull: A Soaring Story of a Seagull’s Self-Actualization

It’s not everyday you are taken through a seagull’s spiritual journey to enlightenment.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a 1970 short story, written by Richard Bach, which follows the titular character through his life as an Outcast of the flock, for his desire to want to learn more about his abilities as a seagull and to find more meaning in life, other than eating and sleeping.

This is a very simply written book that can speak to anyone who is a bit of an outcast compared to everyone around them. Even though this story is strictly about seagulls, it is a metaphor for human behaviour. In its few pages, it is able to describe how it is to be different and always looked down upon for not being like everybody else.

And in its few pages, it is able to (in an extremely symbolic and metaphorical fashion) express why anyone should embrace the things that make them different from everyone else. Jonathan’s journey through various forms of being are not only literal advances in his life. They are a result of him choosing to be different, and choosing to be better.

A child may not fully be able to connect with everything in the story, but any child that needs something to help them embrace their difference should read this book. I’m not even a child (well, officially, at least) and I was incredibly moved by the story’s message. It is short and a very quick read, but in its limited page count lies unlimited value.

On a scale where M is the lowest and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating:

Jonathan Livingston Seagull: MIHIR

The Reluctant Fundamentalist: A Book That Speaks to You Like an Old Friend

I have read books which put you in the shoes of a character. I have read books that have had an outside view, narrating everything as if the narrator always soars above the characters involved. I’ve even read a book narrated by Death. I have never, however, read a book which literally tells its story to me.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, penned by Mohsin Hamid, is a novel in which the main character, a Pakistani who emigrated to America, recites his time in the US to you, supposedly an American. I say this, because the entire book is, essentially, a conversation in which a stranger sits down with you for tea, and narrates the story of his adult life (or, the answer to the question “what if Forrest Gump wrote a book?”. This is praise, seeing as Forrest Gump is one of my favourite movies). It isn’t even second person narration. It is strange, but it is rather beautiful in its originality.

For quite a long way through its engaging tale, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a book that doesn’t allow you to put it down. It’s a book that has the cultures and lifestyles of Pakistan and America collide, with a narrator at the height of his venturous phase in the middle of it.

It is a story, much like Forrest Gump (which I really should stop making comparisons to), which has major real world events shape its narrative, while essentially being the story of how a boy is unreasonably in love with a girl he cannot have.

In a way, it is a book that is both a love letter to, and a mirror held up against, America. It is the story of a Pakistani’s relationship with America, falling in love with its opportunity, diversity and a girl native to it, and not with what he saw post-9/11.

What this results in, even openly addressed in the book, is a book with some controversial viewpoints, and regardless of whether the writer himself expresses these views, the fact of the matter is that one way or the other, someone had to say what’s said in this book, for the sake of discourse, if for nothing else.

This was shaping up to the perfect book, in all its effortless beauty through its first two-thirds, but after that, it did, in a sense, fall from grace. It began to feel a little more robust, a little less easy to read. A free-flow to the end is what this book needed, but its momentary change of pace lost it some of its points.

Regardless, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an interesting and enticing read, certainly for anyone looking for a love story, or a slight political outcry, or fans of Forrest Gump.

On a scale where M is the lowest and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist: MIHIR

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: A Case of Identity (III)

A Case of Identity, the third short story in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, presents itself in a rather bloated manner, disguising itself as a bigger mystery than it actually is (which is, actually, quite fitting).

When Mary Sutherland approaches Holmes with a case of a disappearing husband-to-be, he develops an interest in the case and leads Watson to think it is of significant difficulty.

A Case of Identity is a good read. It is not as good as its predecessor, The Red-Headed League, as its mystery does not have the same associated suspense, but it does have some interesting details in it.

It expresses that not every case, no matter with how much ease, difficulty, flair or trouble everyone’s favourite consulting detective solves, can be legally punishable. He may uncover some of the most evil developments, but if the law isn’t suited to penalise this evil, nothing can be done.

It also expresses how Holmes isn’t so afraid to take matters into his own hands, if it means receiving justice. In a rarity, it shows that he does care about his clients. At least, some of them.

On a scale where M is the lowest and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating:

A Case of Identity: MIHIR

 

Turtles All The Way Down: A Reading Experience That Will Leave an Imprint on Your Mind 🐢

First, I apologise for writing this one day late, but I actually can explain. I spent the entire day yesterday thinking to myself that it was the ninth of October and this book was releasing today, and only at the very end of the day did I see John Green himself say the book is out, on Instagram. That’s when I checked the date and realised the stupidity with which I wasted the entire day, especially after being in anticipation of this book for months.

Anyway, here we are. Turtles All The Way Down is John Green’s latest book, and is his first since The Fault in Our Stars, which came out way back in 2012.

I remember watching a vlogbrothers video, which dates back a few years, in which John said he was struggling to follow up The Fault in Our Stars and didn’t feel very confident about being able to write another book.

It is quite surprising, then, that he managed to create a masterpiece that somehow rises above all his previous work.

Turtles All The Way Down follows Aza Holmes, a high school junior who lost her father a few years prior and suffers from extreme anxiety, often descending into unforgiving thought spirals that have adverse affects on her life and the people in it. The story kicks off with the disappearance of a billionaire who lives very close to Aza, but is so much more than just a mystery.

As far as the conventional standards of a novel go, there isn’t a need for me to mention much. John Green consistently features great narrators that can speak to a reader on a personal, and a more metaphorical, level. This is something that is a staple with every book he writes; he has a deep understanding of adolescents and how an adolescent thinks.

When his narrators take it a step further, however, things get even better. The Fault in Our Stars, which had held my spot for his best book until now, is narrated by a cancer patient, and this was able to make the book more fragile and (honestly, I couldn’t think of a better word. I’m sorry) precious. This book is narrated by someone who suffers from a serious condition that, when it comes down to it, nobody except her can truly understand.

What is in store, then, is a story about friendship, family and love, all wrapped around – and strangled by – the narrators condition, and it is truly something unique to read. There hasn’t been a more intimate John Green book, nor one that puts you in the shoes of the narrator quite as much as this one (it does this so well, in fact, that you begin to think and feel exactly as you would expect the narrator to).

In doing so, it also can be quite painful to read at times, and if you read this book completely at once, like I did, it leaves you quite exhausted, and this is a compliment, because you understand Aza so well that you turn the last page, take a few deep breaths and wonder how she, and everyone in the world with similar symptoms, is able to handle what she goes through in this book all the time. It’s so merciless in its depiction of Aza’s condition that it is a powerful advocate to raise awareness about the difficulties of people suffering from mental health issues, and without meaning to sound too political, in an adolescent/school-reading demographic, books like this are essential.

This is also quite fitting because John Green has also said in numerous vlogbrothers videos (which are, obviously, the greatest things on the internet) that this book is inspired by his own experiences with Aza’s condition, and this makes you feel like you’re connected to the author as you read this book, almost as if, in a way, he is talking directly to you.

This is the rare book that you can develop a relationship with, and will stay with you for a long, long time.

Turtles All The Way Down is a book that will transcend decades and be looked back upon as an inspiration to both readers and writers, for its courage to be so relentless in its narration, and its raw ability to be human.

Take a bow, John Green.

On a scale where M is the lowest and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating:

Turtles All The Way Down: MIHIR

 

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Red-Headed League (II)

Stop number two in the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the Red-Headed League, a short story which follows a mysterious organisation that hires Holmes and Watson’s latest client to work part-time, and then disappears out of the blue.

Following A Scandal in Bohemia, The Red-Headed League is an excellent short mystery that doesn’t allow you to put it down until you finish all of it. Crisply contained in only one day, this is a mystery that develops with every page, and has marvellous reward at the end.

What’s also interesting in this story is John Watson’s observation of Sherlock Holmes’ relationship to music, which is not only touching to a reader who knows Holmes as a hard, dedicated detective, but also quite relatable to one who has similar experiences with music. Holmes has a certain human touch in this story, and whenever you’re able to peel a few layers off a character, the wonders that the author has in store are almost always intriguing.

The Red-Headed League is a flawless short mystery that is able to have every word be juicier than the last in its journey through an ever-developing peach of a plot.

On a scale where M is the lowest and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating:

The Red-Headed League: MIHIR

The Ship of the Dead: Rick Riordan at His Best (Featuring a Godly Rap Battle)

Return to the modern world of Norse mythology in Rick Riordan’s third (and apparently final) installment of the Magnus Chase series: The Ship of the Dead!

Following up on The Hammer of Thor, The Ship of the Dead (a title I was never a fan of. The Sword of Summer and Hammer of Thor sound so elegant. This one just sounds bland) picks up right where its predecessor left off, with Loki making arrangements to set sail the Ship of Nails, or Naglfar, or Ship of the Dead, and officially begin Ragnarok, the Norse Mythological equivalent of the end of the world as we know it. Magnus Chase and his friends have to… Stop him.

The Ship of the Dead is a well-paced conclusion (I had no idea this was the last one until I looked it up after reading it) to one of my favourite Rick Riordan series. There’s always been something great about the Magnus Chase books that all of Riordan’s other books don’t have, although I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly that is.

One thing I do know separates this series from all others is the sheer diversity in its main characters. There’s an atheist son of a Norse god, a gender fluid shape-shifter, a Muslim Valkyrie, a hothead Irish woman, a Viking, the son of a slave, a fashion-crazy dwarfs and a deaf elf with learned magical abilities. Oh, and a talking, singing sword. Don’t forget Jack.

The reason I’ve listed all of them is that you get something interesting about every single character, and in this book particularly, you can see every character receiving justice for their abilities. Not only that, the fact that they can cooperate so well is also something that is a joy to read. Shoot me for thinking so, but when a book is able to express that people who are so different from each other can get along so well, and be the best of friends (or, riding the Fast and Furious mobile, family), is something that I really appreciate.

The plot of The Ship of the Dead is fairly straightforward, as I’ve already mentioned, and the book is too. There aren’t any unnecessary side adventures thrown in just to add more pages. It’s concise and always has your attention, because it’s always moving forward. In fact, despite being the last book in the series, it is the shortest.

What is most worth noting regarding the plot is that the ending is great. I like to call it the Doctor Strange treatment: When a story ends in a very different way than most others in its genre. The entire confrontation with Loki feels like something you want to hold onto forever, the undeniable peak of Magnus Chase.

One thing I’ve always had as a gripe against the Magnus Chase books is the humour. Sometimes, it would work, and other times it just felt a little too juvenile, especially considering the narrator is 16/17 years old. I’m delighted to say that this book has humour, but only good humour. I’m not sure how it strays away from the other two books that way, but I’m not complaining.

The reason I mentioned that this is apparently the final book of the series is that the ending to this book both feels, and doesn’t feel like, the culmination of a trilogy. I guess that’s just standard Riordan practice, though. Always leave a few doors open to possible future explorations.

Magnus Chase and the Ship of the Dead is a beautiful end to a wonderful trilogy, and is the best of the three books. Hopefully, Riordan will revisit these characters some time in the future. Now that I know that this book is the last one, I will miss Magnus Chase and his oddball group of friends.

There’s a reason Rick Riordan is still my favourite author.

On a scale where M is the lowest and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating:

Magnus Chase and the Ship of the Dead: MIHIR

 

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia (I)

There are very few literary characters as well known, over all of time, as Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective lives and breathes even almost one and a half century later, with his latest breath being through Benedict Cumberbatch.

It is appropriate, then, to write about every one of twelve short stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes as I read through the book, starting with A Scandal in Bohemia.

Narrated through John Watson, the premise is quite simple. A member of the Bohemian royal family hires Sherlock Holmes to find Irene Adler, a former lover and resident of London, who has threatened to release proof of their affair from years ago on the day of the Prince’s wedding, in the hopes of having his new bride turn against him.

This story has been adapted in the BBC’s Sherlock (a show which is, quite simply, magnificent), although it had a slightly different premise and name, specifically A Scandal in Belgravia. This is something the show regularly is guilty of (A Study in Pink; The Sign of Three), and it is clear why the adapted version is better than the original story.

The issue there is with A Scandal in Bohemia is that the entire story is paper thin, as it is basically a series of people reciting incidents to John Watson. The narrator is never really there in the middle of the action, and so what you have is Sherlock simply telling him what he did, and this took me out of it a little.

Even so, however, the important element of this story is that Sherlock, despite his brilliance, is outsmarted by Adler, and he comes to terms with this. Sure, the ending is abrupt and really, all the stakes in the entire story are for nothing, but the whole point is so that Sherlock, for once, loses.

I can’t really say much more because these are all short stories (so I suppose this will be a series of embarrassingly short reviews), but I will say that if the reader was more involved in this story, there would be a lot more praise.

On a scale where M is the lowest and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating:

A Scandal in Bohemia: MIHIR

The Book Thief: A Book to Steal Your Tears and Your Heart

There are times when you feel completely powerless and unable to do a thing about your sorrow. One such instance is when you finish a book that will be with you forever, knowing – especially since it is a special edition with bonus material – that there is simply no more of it for you to take in and appreciate.

The Book Thief takes it a step further. Somehow, even after it causes you to shed more tears than a three year old who is denied her chocolate, it leaves you feeling like you have actually lost a member of your family.

Markus Zusak pens a novel that is for the ages. Narrated by Death, The Book Thief follows Liesel Meminger, a girl who has been left at a foster home by her mother at the height of the war in Nazi Germany, and someone who has a knack of stealing books.

That synopsis is, to put it lightly, terrible. As far as I’m concerned, no synopsis can justify the beauty of this book. From start to finish, it is an experience like no other.

Let me start, then, with the narrator. Death tells this story as it is, and Death is not how you would expect Death to be. Indeed, in mythology, Death is never really considered evil or sinister. In fact, in Greek mythology, Thanatos (who can be classified as Death) is often mistaken for Eros, the god of love, because he is so strikingly beautiful. Death, if you think about it, is only someone who does his job. Our fear of Death and our prejudiced perception of how Death may be is only a result of our fear.

In The Book Thief, there is an air of innocence to the way Death tells this story. There is an understanding of human nature, and yet there is a bewilderment to it as well. Seeing things like love and war through the eyes of Death is truly something that leaves a lasting effect. As ironic as it sounds, Death adds a certain level of authenticity and charm to this book.

There is no central story in this book. It is rather a telling of Liesel’s story and everyone who is in her life along the way. It is the relationships that she has that humanise this book, be it with her foster father, her best friend, her foster mother, a Jew that is being hidden in her basement, or anyone else for that matter. What Zusak so masterfully does, and this is something he has said he wanted to do, is create Liesel’s world in Nazi Germany to be one worth living in. Through five-hundred-odd pages, you care so much about everybody close to Liesel that you are there with them. You are Death, overlooking this little town and everything that happens in it.

When you are able to bond with a book, it is as tragic as it is beautiful. Of course, you can reread it when you are done, as any Harry Potter book would tell you about me if it were to talk, but when it comes to a book like The Book Thief, the bigger tragedy is that you ever turned the last page in the first place. You want to be stuck inside forever. You want to be taken to Nazi Germany, and you want to stay there.

I could talk about this book for much, much longer, but for the sake of not boring you and to honour my no-spoiler policy, I will stop.

A little way through this book, I noticed striking parallels to To Kill a Mockingbird. Both follow a young girl, set in the past, who look up to their father figures in awe despite them doing something unimaginable at the time. The difference, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, is that The Book Thief is better. In fact, it may well be the best book I’ve ever read.

On a scale where M is the lowest and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating:

The Book Thief: MIHIR

The Catcher in the Rye: An Insight Into an Alienated Adolescent’s Psyche, For Chrissake

When you read a classic, there are expectations that come with it. The Catcher in the Rye, after all, was Mr Anderson’s favourite book growing up in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and considering he was played by Paul Rudd in the film adaptation, Mr Anderson is to be taken seriously.

Similar to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Catcher in the Rye is an adolescent coming of age story, revolving around a narrator who is a teenager that doesn’t quite fit in. Except, it’s much older.

Essentially telling the story of three days in the life of Holden Caulfield, who has just been kicked out of yet another prep school, and decides to come home to New York a little earlier than planned… Without letting his parents know he’s in New York.

That decision was made instantaneously, like everything in this book. This alone is enough to highlight how much J D Salinger was able to understand the thinking process of an adolescent when writing this book. It is narrated in a way that is especially informal, and demonstrates just how naive the narrator is.

Not much happens in The Catcher in the Rye, but that doesn’t matter because it is the kind of book that requires you to see it through a more intimate lens. It demonstrates a unique understanding of how an adolescent who doesn’t quite fit in with everyone would think. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book this pessimistic in my life, but this is not a complaint. Through all this, you come to know a person who is deeply broken, despite this person himself not knowing this. He almost refuses to see the good in things because he is the first to assume the bad. He is often misunderstood and often misunderstands.

What anyone could call this book is a series of events in which Holden learns lessons. Being on your own in New York, if only for a couple of days, he has a few experiences that do not explicitly effect him, but as you go through the course of the book, all of them do. This book has a very chunky form of narration, as Holden often randomly starts to tell a story from his past, and this is initially quite hard to adapt to because you are taken away from the present every couple of pages, but once you get used to it, it’s enthralling to learn more about him as you go along.

If I do have one complaint, it’s that the ending felt rather unsatisfying. However, that is all I can say.

It is, I am now discovering, quite difficult to express the best things about this book in words. It’s the sort of book you simply cannot put down, and there’s a reason it’s considered a classic.

On a scale where M is the lowest and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating:

The Catcher in the Rye: MIHIR

There is one more thing I want to address. This book was originally written for adults, but has since been widely popularised by teenagers. This is a concern for many people, because understandably, this is not what you would call a children’s book. It’s a book that has been banned from school shelves over and over, and I suppose I’d just like to share my views about this, somewhat similar to what I said in my Looking for Alaska review.

The Catcher in the Rye is certainly a book more mature than most targeted at teenagers, but not allowing an adolescent to read it is a tragedy. A teenager would be able to connect with the book a lot more than an adult, and really, nothing in this book is ‘over the top’ for someone who’s around sixteen years old.

I think this applies for any book. If a book is banned from a high school, without a student being able to make a judgement for themselves about their opinion of it, that is a problem in itself. Teenagers should be able to form their own opinions, instead of being told what to think.

As John Green said it himself in this vlogbrothers video: Stop condescending to teenagers!