Thursday, December 28, 2006

Malinche - Laura Esquivel

Malinche ( Malinalli) a mythical character from Mexical folklore and history , is arguably on of the most controversial figures in Mexico ( even after 5 centuries) is the story of the new book from Mexican Author Laura Esquivel. Malinche is considered as a traitor by the mexican people who had collaborated with the Spaniards on their conquest of the Aztec empire.
Laura Esquivel tries to put this story in a different perspective. "It is important to see [the Conquest] with different eyes and, hopefully, discover that the blood in our veins is the blood of all bloods; that our skin contains all colors; that our eyes contain all glances; that in Mexico, for the first time, the history of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America came together", as she puts in. Could be classified as another historical fiction, this book looks back at the conquest of Spanish invaders on the majestic Aztec empire.
From the author of "Like water for Chocolate", this novel is also very lyrical. Esquivel gets into the mind of Malinche and tries to put forward a different perspective to the whole history. Malinche , herself from a defeated tribe by Aztec , was later sold as a slave to the Spaniards by the rulers. With her intelligence and knowledge of the native language , she was given the charge of the interpreter "the tongue" by Hernan Cortes.
After the death of her father, her mother re-marry and sell the girl to the slave-traders. The only memory she carry about her childhood is that of the time she spend with her grand mother. Though blind, her grandmother is very well informed and takes the small girl through the culture and tales and helps her develop to appreciate the importance of Water, Air , fire and stars. Girl learns to develop codices and images and the mystical gods and goddesses become part of her life . She continue to live between the world of her gods, the Aztec beliefs and Spanish world and confused on the existence of her life and her experience.

Laura Esquivel is successful in transforming Malinche into a heroine of sorts while the whole world has seen her as a traitor. This novel is her struggle between two worlds , forced into the job of translator for Spaniards and she is clear that whoever wins, the loss is hers. In Cortes , she sees the personification of Quetzalcoatl ( pre-Aztec god), who will put an end to human sacrifice and free her people. But the massacres and his greed for gold disillusions her, and subsequent baptism into Christian belief of Spaniards challenges her to integrate the two belief systems.
This book is quite easy reading and does not have the magical realism, which set apart all the major latin american works. I would also think that the story was told in a haste and wanted to be within the boundary of the known historical facts. If she had considered a larger fiction with more scope to experimentation and detailing, we might have had a classic.

Malinche : by Laura Esquivel , Mexico.
Pages : 188
Price : INR 495

From History ( courtesy Wikipedia )
La Malinche (c.1496 – c.1529, some sources give 1551), known also as Malintzin and Doña Marina, was an Indigenous woman (almost certainly Nahuatl) from the Mexican Gulf Coast, who accompanied Hernán Cortés and played an active and powerful role in the Spanish conquest of Mexico, acting as interpreter, advisor and intermediary. She was also a mistress to Cortés and bore him a son, who is considered one of the first Mestizos (people of mixed European and indigenous American ancestry). In Mexico today, La Malinche remains iconically potent, seen in various and often conflicting aspects, including the embodiment of treachery, the quintessential victim, or simply as symbolic mother of the new Mexican people. She is often referred to by the pejorative term "La Chingada".

Here is two links for more insight about Malinche. Both are wonderful article.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

World Trade Center - The Movie

Any disaster, be it natural like the tsunami , earthquake etc, or man made ( negligence , or planned ) causes so much damage the the materials and to humans. The indirect damage, in terms of personal losses to the family and friends is even more saddening and this part of the story never appears in the press or in discussion. Everything is forgotten by the people so soon as they are back from the shock , into their own struggle in life. Media discusses this in detail until another news takes over from this.

Watching the movie " World Trade Center" of Oliver Stone, brought back these memories to me. Behind every disaster news , you find enormous amount of pain , losses and sacrifices by many people. Among the 3000 odd lives ended on the dreadful day , includes more than 300 ( I guess 343 ) of New york Firemen, Police men and others who were involved in rescue mission. Only 20 people were saved from the rubbles and John McLoughlin and William Jimeno of the Port Authority Police Dept were the 18th and 19th of them.

There are no admirable moments of brilliance in any of the departments be it acting or in the direction. Also the films drags a bit in the mid-time. What is important is that this movie is focused on the courage and survival of the trapped men and their family and friends. There was no focus on the heroism or on the visual effects.

It made me think about all those people who are at the receiving end, which ever geography they belong.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Customers for Life - Carl Sewell

I'm into management books these days.. may be a bit of overdose. I've decided to switch back to fictions with immediate effect..

Another management book with a simple and straight forward way of telling the readers that there is nothing more important to business that a satisfied and happy customer.

With his simple way of narrating his own experience in transforming his Cadillac dealership to the second largest in US, he explains the steps he has taken to ensure customers are returning to him over and over again. Though the story is about a car dealership and operations, the story behind an excellent customer satisfaction is no different in any industry.

His steps and ideas explained in each chapter and the check point at the end , is a must read for every individual facing a customer directly or indirectly. By taking inputs from his customers, employees and the supplier , he develop an operation which is rated as the best in the US by agencies. As he says, you have to borrow the best practices observed in every industry , from hotel to insurance and try to implement the same in your own operations, so that you do not have to re-invent the same.

I liked his idea of removing customer service dept and inspectors, under promise and over deliver , measure everything you do etc etc.. He does everything in its minute detail thus ensuring it is improved at every level.

This book will help you in looking into your own operations and makes you to realise the importance of re-aligning your operations towards customer (though every company claim to do so)..

Customers for Life
by Carl Sewell
Publisher : Currency Books
210 pages

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mysteries - Knut Hamsun

I'm always fascinated by Scandinavia. I have not read many scandinavian books. The only serious reading I had was of Lars Gustafsson . I must admit that he has come out as one of my favourite authors after reading " A Tilers Afternoon" and "Death of a Beekeeper" .

I always wanted to read Knut Hamsun , after reading some article about him. During one of my regular scans at Landmark, I came across this book and my impulse won over budget constraint. Knut Hamsun has won the Nobel Price of Literature in 1920 for another work of his, and was famous through out Europe in the 19th Century and early 20th Century.

The novel , written in 1892 could contest for the first ever existentialistic novel. The novel starts when Johan Nagel , arrives at a small costal town in Norway. Nagel is young , single and has come with lot of money. His attempt to mingle with the local crowd succeed after his interference in a bar skirmish. He become a talking point after his actions to brings comfort to the insulted and injured. Nagel goes through his personal turmoil and a series of thought come to his mind and is restless. He lives through his nightmares and between life and death.

There are multiple theories on this and after each read you can come up with a new one. Is Nagel a bi-polar person, is the charector Midget his other self ... I can not comment... Read this and decide.

It is an amazing book and I strongly recommend.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Ice Cream maker - Subir Chowdhuri

Another mini sized management book in the genre of Fish! , Who moved my cheese.. This book is written as a story of a local Ice cream maker realizing the important of quality in all phases of life. Mr.Chowdhury illustrate how quality should be the integral part of a corporate / individual's culture. Pete, the manager of the regional ice cream company, determined to sell his ice creams to the large retail chain, Natural food. After repeated unsuccessful attempts by its sales team, and typical survival pressure from the boss, he has taken up the task to find out the reason of their failure to impress Natural Foods. From the conversation with Mike, Natural Foods Manager, Pete understands how they excelled in their business by embarking quality as a mission and by listening to their customers and employees. He learns the LEO principle ( Learn , Enrich and Optimize) from Mike and how it is part of every employee's life.

This book offers the essential business lessons on listening to your own people and customers in sustaining a quality product and services. This is a must read for every businessman every manager and every individual.

You can read more of this at

Title : The Ice Cream Maker
Author : Subir Chowdhuri
Publisher : Random Books
No of Pages : 115
Price : Rs 125

Friday, November 24, 2006

On Bullshit - Harry Frankfurt

"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit, Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted."
After reading these lines, I do not think anyone can keep this book down until you complete reading it.
As I was walking through the stalls in the Bangalore Books Exhibition, I saw this small book and the name attracted me to it. The above lines lines caught my attention as I slanced through the pages and I was willing to spend Rs125 for this Bullshit.
This book written by Prof Harry Frankfurt , profession and philisopher from Princeton Unitversity.
I was expecting a rather funny book and I was surpriced it was a serious work of writing , no bullshitting. This is more to do with philosophy and can be called intellectual humour.
Bullshitting is not lying or bluffing. Bullshitter is faking things . Bullshitting is creativity . To tell a lie, requires a degree of craftmanship. In order to invent a lie, he must know what is the truth. On the other hand, the bullshitter has much more freedom. As he says bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. How true in our profession. !!
Oxford English Dictionray define bullshit as " trivial, insincere, or untruthful talk or writing; nonsense."
He also takes examples from other literally works. "Never tell a lie when you can bullshit your way through" Eric Ambler ( Dirty Story ) is an interesting one.

I recommend this book to all ( and I'm not bullshitting )
Book : On Bullshit
Authot : Harry Frankfurt
Pages : 67
Publication : Princeton University Press
Price : Rs 125

for more read visit:

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Himalayam - Shaukath

My in-laws had recently undertaken a North India pilgrimage visiting all the famous temples in the himalayas. This is a continuation of their last years Amarnath and Vaishnodevi trips. I have been hearing about the great places in the himalayas and their personal experiences during their journey. Last time when I went home, he handed over a book written on the himalayan journeys by Sri Shaukath.

I was expecting to read another travelogue, describing places of interests the temples and rituals , cheating middlemen and the horror of the journey through the narrow roads and bridges at the mercy of snowfalls and landslide.

However, this book is not all that, though he do describe the beauty of himalayas, the holy rivers and the places. It is more like his communication to himself and the people he meet. The high mountains and the sadhus in their huts and caves gets us to realise about ourselves. He meets innumerable Sanyasis away from their normal life, staying in the snow clad mountains even during the hard winter season. All the sadhus we meet in his writing are so selfless and living their simple life serving the people with hot tea/food and shelter apart from sharing the priceless wisdom and knowledge they attained by 'tapas' and 'dhyana'.

Shaukath , unlike many other travel writers do not bring himself at the center of the events. Book drags and become repetetive at places, otherwise it is a very interesting read. The book is in Malayalam and is published by Kerala Bhasha Institute.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous

War and related struggle of life has inspired many great books and movies. Some of them stands out by their way of narrating human stories and NOT those army / muscle men victory tales.
Worldwar II and the related Nazi and Holocaust stories are also abundant. All those stories were told by the victors or by the victims prior to the Allied Forces triumph over Germany, mostly those horrifying stories of the survivors.

Nazis were defeated in the war and the Germany was occupied by Russian and the Allied forces and the subsequently split Germany into Communist controlled east and US-allies controlled west.
I have just finished reading an amazing book by a woman who remain anonymous . She is writing in her notebook the time during the surrender of Nazi forces and occupation of Germany by the Red Army through the 8 weeks period, experienced by she and people around her. It is interesting to see the effects on the people who were forced to surrender and bear the aftermaths of a lost war. As in the case of any war stories, the occupied forces continue their loot , destruction and rape of the victims in their conquered land and the Russians were no exception. In a deserted city of Berlin , where most of the men are killed or fighting some loosing war elsewhere in the front or missing , the women and the old are enduring the occupation and humiliation . It is interesting to see the change in attitude and their willingness to co-operate the occupiers and accepting their fate brought on them by their rulers.
The visible change it brought to me is that I realised that under or after Nazi rule of Germany, the real victims were the German people themselves.

The author - the book is published after her death - we understand is from the publishing experience, comes out to be very intelligent and articulative. She had travelled Europe and Russia prior to the war and have basic knowledge on Russian and other european languages. She uses this to her advantage in dealing with Russians and also works as a interpreter between the occupiers and the survivors. She was also not spared in the onslaught of Russian Officers and she describe the incident in a matter of fact. The woman suffered at the hands of Russians live their sorrow by discussing this with their fellow victims.

While reading through the diary you will also realise the effect of this in the society and the narrator uses multiple incidents to take us through the ruins. Most of the woman associates themselves with one of the high ranking officer to escape the assault and they find nothing wrong in them.

While the "Diary of Anne Frank" is attributed to a girls innocence and Ellie Weisels books are intellectual and deep , this diaries are of a grown up intelligent person.

The world has not changed since then. Vietnam , Afghan , Iraq , Bosnia etc are still in front of us and the story is the same..

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Like Flowing River - Paulo Coelho

Just finished reading a brilliant book by Paulo Coelho. The book is called "Like Flowing River". Unlike his other popular books, this is not a fiction. As the title suggest it is a collection of thoughts and reflections.

This is a collection of the articles written and published by him on various subjects. You could call it a management, philosophical, spiritual, travelogue , stories or whatever you like. He writes with amazing ability of his encounters with people and events, stories told by people , reflections on social events.

There are many quotes from Bible , Quran, Buddism, Bhagavad Gita.
All the writings are a search for finding the essence of life, as he said every life has a legend and the journey of life is our effort to fulfill that legend. It is humourous , very touching and personal and very strong on views. And the judgement is yours..
Paulo Coelho has been one of the writers I liked. This was after I read the very poetic first chapter of "Like Piedra I sat down and Wept" . I have read all his fictions and was alwayed liked his style of writing.
I recommend all to buy and read this book and you will realise what I mean..