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Book Nook - 09-07-2018

Monday, July 09, 2018

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Miles And Memories
Taiwanese author Wu Ming-Yi’s The Stolen Bicycle, which was on the longlist for the Man Booker International Prize for 2018, is a well-researched, deeply-felt, beautifully illustrated (by the author himself) and evocative history of Taiwan through its bicycles.

The narrator is a writer, Cheng, the younger of two sons in the large family of a poor tailor—like in India, a Taiwanese couple keeps having kids till they beget a son!  The family’s memories are dominated by stolen bicycles, that devastated them when the thefts took place, because of the expense and dependence on the mobility they provided.  Cheng’s father had disappeared with his beloved cycle and when a reader sends him a query about what happened to his father’s bike in a novel that he had written, Cheng sets out to find that and other Lucky brand bicycles—that were once the backbone of a developing country, and known in the local parlance as “iron horses.”

Not only did businessmen, professionals and government employees covet these two-wheelers—till cars became more popular—soldiers were sent out to battle on cycles during World War II.  Cheng starts collecting and restoring bicycles and joins the small community of men and women, equally enamoured of old bicycles. There’s Abbas, a war photographer, whose story is woven into the narrative, along with that of—among others-- Old Tsou, Little Hsia and A-Hun, a woman who makes butterfly collages that became such a thriving industry during the 1960s and 70s that “the butterflies themselves, once ubiquitous in the hills and fields, gradually took their leave of the era and the wild, never to return again”.

Like little tributaries to a long, raging river, there are chronicles of the War, elephants and animals in the zoo; the novel takes the reader to Burma, Thailand and Malaysia, and into the minds and memories of bicycle fanatics, who who form a strange and magical network. Through the history and design evolution of the bicycle, twentieth-century Taiwan is revealed to the reader.

The Stolen Bicyle is a blend of fiction, philosophy, memoir, nostalgia that makes for a fascinating read.  Wu Ming-Yi, who is a prominent Taiwanese writer, is also an artist, designer, photographer, professor, butterfly scholar, environmental activist, traveller and blogger; this is only his second novel to be translated into English (by Darryl Sterk). Now readers will undoubtedly look out for more from this very promising author.

The Stolen Bicycle
By Wu Ming-YiTranslated by Darryl SterkPublished by Text Publishing
Pages: 396

Excerpt of The Stolen Bicycle
No matter how I tell it, this story has to start with bicycles. To be more precise, it has to start with stolen bicycles. ‘Iron horses have influenced the fate of our entire family,’ my mother used to say. I would describe my mother as a New Historicist: to her, there are no Great Men, no heroes, no bombing of Pearl Harbor. She only remembers seemingly trivial—but to her fateful—matters like bicycles going missing. The word for fate in Mandarin is ming-yun, literally ‘life-luck’ or ‘command-turn’. But ‘fate’ in my mother’s native tongue of Taiwanese is the other way round: ūn-miā. It belies fatalism, putting luck in front of life, suggesting you can turn the wheel of fate yourself instead of awaiting the commands of Heaven.

Sometimes I wonder if I can really call myself a bicycle fanatic. Maybe not. To be honest, there are things about bicycles I like, and things I can’t stand. I love their geometric simplicity, the double triangle design with a wheel at each end. Could there be anything finer than two chain-driven wheels turning ceaselessly down roads and paths, through forest and farmland, by lake and bay? But I hate the sore bum I get from a long ride. I also hate cyclists posing in sunglasses and all the pro gear, thinking they’re cool when they couldn’t even pedal up the modest slope of Yang-teh Boulevard. You know the type: guy with a bulging gut who parks his expensive bike by the side of the road to show it off. Whenever I see a guy like that, I hope his chain falls off. Or that he gets a flat or a broken spoke.

Sometimes I think what fascinates me isn’t bicycles per se but the names people have called them by, and all those names imply. Monsieur Pierre Michaux et fils, the guys who invented the machine, called them ‘fast feet with pedals’, vélocipèdes à pédales. Another Frenchman, Pierre Lallement, modified the design, producing the modern ‘bicycle’, meaning ‘two circles’ (a bilingual compound, from the Latin bi and the Greek kyklos). For as long as I can remember, I’ve asked everyone I meet who speaks a different language how they say bicycle: bike, vélo, cykel, jízdní kolo ...I can only speak two languages, Taiwanese and Mandarin, but I can say bicycle in thirty-six. When it comes to bicycles, I’m a polyglot.

The Drugs Storm
Bestselling author Sidney Sheldon passed away in 2007, but Tilly Bagshaw continues to write thrillers in his style, so that his name is the main attraction for fans who buy the books.

The Silent Widow is a fast-paced, twisty-turny crime thriller, that has murder, sex, drugs and crime in the right proportion. Dr. Nikki Robert, a therapist, is still grief-stricken by the death of her doctor-philanthropist husband Doug in a car crash, when Lisa, one of her patients, is found brutally murdered with multiple stab wounds—her body shredded so badly that the killer could only be a psychopath. That has not even sunk in, when Nikki’s assistant Trey is found killed in a similar fashion.

Two police detectives, the handsome and well-behaved Lou Goodman, and the fat, rude, racist Mike Johnson, are given the job to investigate. Johnson, who hates the beautiful, stylishly dressed upper class Nikki with an inexplicable passion, is convinced she is the killer, even though his partner reminds him, it does not seem likely.

Then Nikki is attacked, she gets threatening mails; fed-up of the cops’ inaction and hostility, she hires Derek Williams a down on his luck but efficient private investigator. With links to the past, he opens a can of worms that involves drug cartels and corruption in high places.

The writing is workmanlike, but the suspense is maintained till the end, even though the strands are tied up rather too neatly—as if Los Angeles were a one-horse town with just so this many characters all involved in the plot--  and there are laughable scenes like a villain actually explaining everything in detail to a character (to the reader actually!) when  any smart crook would shoot and scoot.  Stuck at home on a rainy day, this would be book to pick up and race through.

Sidney Sheldon's The Silent Widow
By Tilly Bagshaw
Publisher: HarperCollins; Pages: 438

SHORT TAKES
S. Hussain Zaidi’s crime writing is powerful and authentic because it comes from the first-hand observations of an investigative journalist in the field. The summary of his latest book, Eleventh Hour reads, “New Delhi, 2017. It is nine years since the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai and the wounds have still not healed. Especially not for Superintendent of Police Vikrant Singh, who ends up landing a slap on the High Commissioner of Pakistan’s face when he meets him at an event. Meanwhile, in Bhopal, five members of the Indian Mujahideen, arrested by Vikrant, break out of the Central Jail. Vikrant, suspended for the diplomatic disaster, is unofficially asked to assist the team tracking the escaped terrorists. In another part of the country, a retired tycoon, a heartbroken ex-soldier and a young woman dealing with demons of her own embark on a journey of self-discovery aboard a cruise liner from Mumbai to Lakshadweep. Fate, however, has other plans, and the cruise liner is hijacked. Racy and riveting, this is Hussain Zaidi at his best.”
Eleventh Hour
By S. Hussain Zaidi
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages 247

Anita Shirodkar has just released Sitanshu, the second part of the Blue Lotus Trilogy (the first was Aryavir). According to the synopsis, “As the divine Blue Lotus Indivara sprouts an ominous red petal, its guardians must do everything in their power to protect it and their kingdom. Aryavir and Sitanshu march to the border of Kalipura for a bloody showdown with the Chandraketu King Divyendu. It seems as if the Kamal Akshi Army with its peerless long-haired Kesakuta warriors cannot lose a war, but the wily enemies of Kamalkund have diabolical plans that are not written in any rule book. Thanks to the evil machinations of the Mayakari Queen Tamasi and wily King Kratu, Aryavir and Sitanshu are facing the battle of their lives.

“With hidden ancient secrets that are known only to the revered Maheshwari Masters, the mythological Old World is about to be plunged into intrigue and danger its denizens could never have imagined. Powerful kings face mortality, relationships are tested to their breaking point and the Great War of Sompur will bring completely unexpected repercussions.Written with the classic Indian ethos, Sitanshu, the second part of the Guardians of the Blue Lotus Trilogy, pays homage to India's magnificent mythological heritage and takes the reader on a journey into the heart of human passions.”
Sitanshu
By Anita Shirodkar
Publisher: AuthorsUpFront
Pages: 265
 
Sandeep Amar’s book Is: A Journey That Will Change Your Life, is “an investigation into core concepts of life. These concepts are explained through experiences, practical examples and the most accepted scientific theories. The most significant resolution offered by this book is for ‘pain’ and the elements of pain. The book not only provides clarification of life concepts but also complete and practical direction for knowing one’s life objectives. The book covers concepts like awareness, god, experience, purpose, money, and love in life. The book is an excellent read for people looking to resolve life, or looking for conceptual clarity of life concepts and get a real direction in Life.

Is: A Journey That Will Change Your Life
By Sandeep Amar
Publisher: Prabhat Prakashan
Pages: 96

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