Turning back the pages
Social distancing has led us to look at things we've left behind. Five writers recount the experience of finally reading the title they had put off for long
Farthest Field by Raghu Karnad
I started it years ago, but never finished it. This month, I started again, and was able to finish it. What a beautifully crafted tribute to three men in Raghu's family who fought and died in World War II. As well, a record of how war chews up notions we imbue it with: glamour, honour, ideology, patriotism.
At the end, Raghu has the epitaph of Bobby, his grand-uncle, from the War Cemetery in Imphal. But wait! War junkie that I am, I was there in 2018, strolling about and photographing graves at random. Could I have …? I scrolled through dozens of photographs, wondering, wondering… wham! Got it! My photograph of Bobby's grave.
- Dilip D'Souza
Inside the Mind of Xi Jinping by François Bougon
It had been sitting on my bookshelf for a long time, but clearly now was the time to read it. The new emperor of the Middle Kingdom is projected as being an avid reader. To quote: "I was most captivated by The Old Man and the Sea.... I went to the bar Hemingway frequented and ordered a mojito, his favourite rum with mint leaves and ice." Who would have thought?
I enjoyed this informative, often sceptical, always readable look into the political and personal narratives of the authoritarian leader who has left the world guessing about the disturbing contours of the Chinese Dream.
- Namita Gokhale
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
I last read science fiction a long time ago [during my] university days. My foray into the genre was therefore defined by Isaac Asimov and then I abandoned this genre for decades, seduced instead, by literary fiction.
A friend had given me a copy of The Left Hand of Darkness many years ago, trying to tempt me back into science fiction, assuring me that this book, written by a woman, had defined the notion of gender fluidity. I remain unconvinced.
Then the lockdown happened and in an aimless hour, I reached for the book. I suggest you do too.
- Ira Mukhoty
The Shining by Stephen King
I've had this book on my shelf for four years. And of course, I had seen the film before reading it but learnt that King and the director Stanley Kubrick didn't see eye to eye, so I was curious to know what the book had in store. The plot has a good parallel to these times of isolation since the protagonist Jack Torrance, a writer, is isolated himself [at the haunted Overlook Hotel].
This isn't a book to turn to for inspiration; it's a dark read but also hugely entertaining and well-written. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the thriller and horror genres — and those who want to add to the horrors of everyday life!
- Bilal Siddiqi
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith is a writer whose words often dance on the page. And so when she crafts a book where two of the central characters are dancers, it's cause for a little jig. I'd bought her latest novel Swing Time when it came out in 2016, but somehow never got around to reading it, perhaps a bit wary of the unfamiliar context. Now, during the lockdown, the canary yellow cover and lively title drew me to it. I found the book to be filled with her easy wit and sharp social commentary, but the rhythm of the characters and tempo of the plot to be uneven. That said, it's got enough to keep one's feet tapping in these eerily still times.
- Rehana Munir
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