Monday, March 24, 2008

Nine on Nine - Nandita C Puri

A foreword by Gulzar and the cover design by M F Hussain , with recommendations by Shobha De and Khushwant Singh.. Written by a noted columnist , who is the wife of one of THE BEST actors in Indian Cinema. This has all that it takes to get my attention.

However, the end result is disappointment. Pretty ordinary stories of upper middleclass Indian Urban women told in rather superficious manner. None of the stories live upto the 'awesome' categories. This was heralded as the new Indian Writing. Let me admit, I have not read many Indian English writings to pass a judgment. But if this is the yardstick, we have a long way to go in fiction / short story writing.

Most of the stories are about the fall in moral values; social, family, couple and individuals. Every human is living in a dream world; may be it is the reflection of today's urban life. Barring 'Pages From Indulata Debi’s Diary' , which is styled as a biographical essay, there aren't many worth mentioning. On the whole, these stories failed to strike a chord with me.

However, here is a different view on the same.

Nine on nine - stories
Nandita Puri
224 Pages
Rs 295

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Attack - Yasmina Khadra

Amin Jaafari, an Israeli-Arab, lives in Tel Aviv with his wife and is leading a happy and content life as a successful surgeon in a hospital. A suicide attack in the nearby Cafe, opens this book, as his hospital and colleagues prepare themselves to save the victims. After an eventful day and trying to get some sleep, Amin is woken by a telephone call by his friend Navid, a detective asking him to come over to the Hospital at once. Little did he know that the devastating explosion, is going to change his life forever. One of the victims, is suspected to be his wife, who had gone to her grand mother's place and expected to return the same day. Worse still, is that they suspect her to be the suicide bomber behind this gruesome attack.

He goes through the rigorous interrogation by the authorities on his wife's involvement and his knowledge about the same and on release confronted by the locals as a traitor. But, these are not the real concern to him. He refuses to believe his wife's involvement and maintain that this is a mistake and she was only a victim. His quest to know the truth about the event in order to prove himself that his wife is innocent, takes him through the painful journey. Amin, confronts the Imams, the commanders, and his relatives to unveil the truth tracing the path of his wife. Instead of relieving from the stress and despair, that envelop him, he gets further dragged into the turmoil, until the point of no return. He does not get any help from the imam , the commander-in chief and multiple leaders he talks to as all of them tell him that they were persuading her against such an attempt. So, who has done the damage , is it the cousin Abdel ? Is it her early life and upbringing, or is it in their blood for generations ? The author does not give the answers. This journey become a personal pilgrimage to Amin, as he goes through the learning.

"Your wife died for your redemption", says the militant leader to Amin. "There are only two extremes moments in human madness, the instance when you become aware of your own impotence and the instance when you become aware of the vulnerability of others. Its the question of accepting one's madness, doctor, or suffering it.". And for them "there is no happiness without dignity, and no dream is possible without freedom".

The difference between the thinking is simple, For him paradise is at the end of a man's life; for me, it's at tips of of your fingers.

This book is very sensitive and have to deal with a subject which is under international discussion. Though it does not tells you any thing new or what we does not know , he is succeed in telling us a story from the human point. This is not a book on terrorism as the author tells in one of the interview " but everywhere you retain only terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. My novels do not speak about terrorism; they talk of human brittleness, anger, humiliation, the fears, sometimes the hopes; and of this burning and fatuous actuality which spoils our life".

A very well written book by this Algerian writer, who writes under a pseudo name Yasmina Khadra ( real name is Mohammed Moulessehoul ) whose other novels also deal on the same subjects , swallows of Kabul, In the name of God , The sirens of Baghdad. A contemporary fiction, but does not demand a second read. More reviews here..

The Attack
Written by : Yasmina Khadra ( Algeria )
Translated from French by John Cullen
257 Pages
PS: The real bastard isn't the man who doesn't know his father; it is the man who doesn't know his tradition.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Queen of the Prisons of Greece - Osman Lins

Let me start this with a warning: This book is one of the toughest read I have ever had. Extremely complex and demanding.

Osman Lins is a prolific writer from Brazil and this is his last fiction completed an year or so before his death of cancer. He was relatively young ( 54 yrs) when died and was recipient of numerous literary awards in his short career in fiction.

In this book, the narrator, examines the unpublished novel of his deceased girlfriend , died in an accident. Was his intention to know her better, or to know their love and relationship better or to know himself better ? However, written as the entries in his diary ( with dates) he takes the reader (and himself) through the pages of the manuscript while discussing literature, critics, art , social commentary, history of Brazil and various other topics.

Maria , the main character of the fiction being discussed, is fighting with the social welfare system of Brazil to get her eligible benefit. As usual, she has been sent across various functionaries for want of multiple documents and proof. She was treated briefly in a mental asylum and we realise that the story of his girlfriend is no different from the character. At many point of time, the narrator, the writer ( his girlfriend) and the character of the novel Maria all intermixed. The division between the narrator,writer and character diminishes. At the end of the reading, you are still left with such a confusion and ambiguity, and not sure who is in the disturbed state of mind ? Is it the narrator, the writer whose unpublished novel the narrator is describing, or the character in the novel Maria. And may be that was the intention by the author. The last chapter was one of the most "unnerving" one I have seen. As the narrator himself declares he doesn't understand anything anymore.

However, this book has some of the best discussion I have seen about the art of writing, the role of narrator in a fiction , critics, the readers and the book itself. They are outstanding and will give us some insight, though adding more complication to the fiction.

Here are some important points, I noted:

The comparison between novel and reader in our times, however, is not limited to a matter of age. The contemporary reader and that of old days are different. The reader ready to evoke what he has read, seduced by processes the sum of which have resulted in a sort of magic he wasn't aware of, has been replaced by suspicious, rebellious reader, not in the least naive, who seems to be saying, when asked: "I don't remember and I don't want to remember"

The new relationship between novelist and reader emerges clearly in the elusive entity to which the narration is entrusted. The story obliterated the text..

Narrative is a verbal event, and therefore it requires an agent to enunciate it; the role of the narrator, enigmatic being, is mysterious and diverse; contemporary fiction has been eliminating the interdictions that hindered its mediator and attempted, in their rigorousness, to impose the laws of the physical world, unchanged, upon the universe of the novel.

This time has come many times for me, and the novels I have read open their sealed doors to some hidden corner of my soul. As for others, they remain inviolable and I contemplate them from the outside, half frightened, half ignorant.

What's the use of a book's synopsis ? A superficial practice, its spreads and resurrects the common idea according to which the story is the novel, not one of its aspects, among those that illustrate the art of narrating the least. Imagining desires, mishaps, reversals of fortune, capitulations, death or triumph, pertains to invention in its raw state. The novelist is born by the act of arranging these events and elaborating a language that could either reflect them or simply make use of them to exist.

I'm not , however, a respectable critic, I don't even aspire to being a critic, and, as far as respectibility goes - so often an industrial virtue, like endurance in engines or color fastness in fabrics- whoever said I possessed it? I'm a sensitive man and, from this point of view, out of step with my times, a sensitive and grieving man, simultaneously the bearer of his fascination for a text and of his love for the one who created it

What I conceal in my eyes is fear. Fear of knowing how time passes.

I know and you knew that works of art are as unlimited as our grasp is limited. For this reason at seeks more lasting and,in some ways, indestructible incarnations than men: so that many minds, successively prodded by the work's never ending secrets, may accumulate decipherings. It's for this reason too, we preserve them: because we know that they try to speak to us, they try to speak to us, they try.

This book require multiple reading to make some sense. If I borrow the words from the book "work of art is unlimited and our grasp is limited".

The queen of the Prisons of Greece
Osman LinsTranslated by Adria Frizzi
Dalkey Archive Press

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Edge of Heaven - Dir by Fatih Akin

This movie was nominated for Golden Palmes in 2007 Cannes Festival and have won the best screen play award.

The movie is done in 2 parts. Yeter, a turkish prostitute in Germany is the new live-in partner for ALi Aksu , a widower and lives on pension. Nejat , his son , a professor in German University is not in approval of this , until he finds out from her that she uses this money for the education of her daughter. Yeter, dies in an accident, after a quarrel with Ali . Nejat is now in Turkey with the coffin, in search of her daughter.

In the meanwhile, the poilitical unrest and the related events makes Yeter's daughter Ayten escape the Turkish Police and moves to Germany. The daugher is in search of her mother and be-friends Lotte, a university student , who invites Ayten to stay with her. The fondness and love between them flourishes , but Ayten is caught in Germany and her plea for asylum is rejected. She is deported to Turkey and is arrested and jailed in her country. Lotte, come to Turkey to save her friend, but ends up murdered by a bullet shot by the street childer, while trying to save her bag and belongings from snatchers.

Her mother Susanne , is now in Turkey to understand her daughter and help her cause in saving Ayten and befriends Nejat. Movie ends with the release of Ayten from police.

One of the good movie I watched recently and have some good performances. It has one of the best last scenes ( Nejat waiting for his father to return from his fishing by the sea) and a noteworthy screenplay and dialogue.

More info can be found here

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Farewell my concubine - Directed by Kaige Chen

I have been waiting to see this film ever since it was honoured with Golden Palms at Cannes in 1993. I heard, this was the first movie from China to win at Cannes ( by the way, have we won any ? ).
I managed to get the book written by Lilian Lee ( on the same name) in 1995 and was truly impressed with that ( I referred the notes I have written 12 yrs back ,today before posting this) book.
A movie set in the begininning of 20th century, through the turmoil of Chinese history, is about two stage-brothers of the famous Beijing Opera and a woman comes between them. It gives you the glimpses of their early ages of training under the master, with its tough and torturouse way of inculcating the skills. The duo become the most sought after pairs in the Opera scenes, and the opera "Farewell my Concubine" become a master piece. Deiyi, who acts as the concubine in the opera and Xialou the fallen king. As the China goes through the political turmoil with the attack by Japan, the triumph of the Nationalist Party and later the Communist Army taking control of the city. The patronising of the Opera House thus goes through different regime. The actors and the team are often subjected to questioning for their alleged performance for the enemy. Xialou, who falls in love with a prostitute, later marries her, causing the drift among the friends. Situation turns worse after the new Commuist Soldiers arrest them for their involment in pre-revelution rulers and the chain of blame and betrayal set them apart.
Every aspect of Film making is superb. From story and screenplay ( by the author himself) , the performance, the direction , the visuals..

I found this little piece in the book, not sure if I noticed this in the film.
"Our Soldiers and Comrades", she replied sarcastically. "I thought they also served the people. They can't be the people".
"Well, who are the people ?"
"We singers aren't the people. Women aren't the people. Workers and soldiers aren't the people. Nobody is the peolpe, but everybody seems to be serving the people. Who are the people ? Who's left ?"
"Chairman Mao ?"