Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Author: Haruki Murakami 

Can you imagine a book where the characters have no names? How about imagining a human calculating machine with junction boxes in his brain?

The hero/narrator/calculating technician (Calcutec) works for the ‘system’, a firm which helps in protecting valuable data for clients. He gets a strange assignment from an old scientist to help him do some data manipulation. The scientist fears that the data could be stolen by a rival firm called the ‘semiotec’, and it would lead to catastrophe. The scientist also gifts him a unique skull as a parting gift.

The Calcutec meets a beautiful librarian and with her help researches about the skull. He learns that the skull belongs to a mythical creature, and begins to doubt his sanity. His life tumbles upside down, when a fat guy and a lean man get inside his apartment and smash his whole house. They warn that the scientist has skewed the Calcutec’s mind with the data he gave, and the world is going to end because of this. The lean guy asks the Calcutec to run away from the place and find the truth. They demolish all his belongings and finally slash his stomach to make the drama look convincing.

The hero receives a call from the fat granddaughter of the scientist, who pleads him to rescue her grandfather, as she fears he has been kidnapped by either the system or the semiotic. The Calcutec finally understands what has been done to him and the mystery unfolds into a painful nightmare.

In another narrative stream, there is a town surrounded by a wall, monitored by a Gatekeeper. The town is completely perfect, and the people do their respective tasks. They do not have shadows, and they cannot leave the town. A person enters the town, without his memories, and his shadow, and tries to make sense of all of it. He is given the task of reading dreams from old animal skulls placed in a library. The Dream reader is assisted with a librarian, who is familiar to him, but still doesn’t know anything about her.

The Dream reader’s shadow contacts him, and together they plan to escape. Did they escape? Did the Calcutec finally find the key to the puzzle? The story makes you anticipate till the end as the two worlds converge. The Calcutec is a laid back character, averse to making decisions, and lets his life flow from one point to another. His reactions on being forced to something unpleasant are described in a way unique to Murakami. Also some allegories from this book are borrowed for his later work “Kafka on the shore”.

The author traverses between two realities and we can no longer believe which is the real one and which one imaginary. Murakami does it every time!

Monday, November 21, 2011



Japanese authors are slow, a long standing opinion. But Murakami’s Kafka on the shore speaks a unique style. A mixture of surrealistic events and thought provoking metaphors,  Kafka on the shore impresses from page one.

Kafka, the fifteen year old boy from Tokyo is a runaway; he has long decided to go to Takamatsu. He leaves behind his dad, a sadistic cat killer and his only known relative, fearing that he would become like him. His father had supposedly cursed him; the Oedipal curse.

   At the same time, Nakata, a 60 year old illiterate man who speaks better with cats than men gets entangled in Kafka’s father’s death. Nakata confesses the crime, but no one takes him seriously. For the first time in his life, Nakata leaves his town and travels westbound. He doesn’t know why he is travelling; only that he has to cross a big bridge.

   Kafka, with the help of Oshima, finds refugee in a private library in Takamatsu.  Sakura, a twenty year old girl helps him out of a difficult situation. Ms. Seiki, the head of the library is very kind towards Kafka. Slowly, Kafka theorises that Ms. Seiki to be his mother and Sakura to be his long lost sister. He is angry at them for abandoning him, but worried about the oedipal curse.

   Nakata introduces himself to others as, “Nakata is not bright, Nakata can’t read.” He lives on a subsidy for mentally challenged. Apart from earning occasional meals by finding lost cats. One such expedition changes his life forever. The intriguing reason behind the accident that turned him incapable of understanding words adds to the mystery and depth of the character.

  How did Nakata learn to speak with cats? Will Kafka’s father’s curse come true? Are Ms. Seiki and Sakura blood related? Are they his real mother and sister? Why would a mother leave a four year old with a sadistic father? Why does his the photo on the library wall remind him about his own childhood? What is the link between Nakata and Kafka?

  It is not a book where all the plot threads are finally closed, and yet there is some closure at the end of the novel. The book is fast paced, but leaves us with lot of unanswered questions. Murakami’ s ideas are so strong that he makes us believe that anything the reader imagines is possible.

From Murakami’s interview, “The secret to understanding the novel lies in reading it multiple times: "Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren't any solutions provided. Instead, several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It's hard to explain, but that's the kind of novel I set out to write

  Music is an important component of the novel, the title comes from a pop song Kafka is given in the library by Oshima. It was sung by Ms. Seiki in her teenage, a sensational hit during that time. She never sung again.  The music of  Beethovan, and a background story about Beethovan’s life plays out in Nakata’s story.

So many riddles and a riveting read.

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Equal Stillness

Author: Francesca Kay

The novel from Francesca about the life of a painter set in the mid of 20th century is a striking debut. It traces the life of Jennet Mallow in varied roles of an artist, a woman, a wife and a mother.

Jennet, a quite, enigmatic girl who is sent to London to start her painting career, falls in love with a talented painter David Heaton after a casual one night between them. Compelled into marrying her, David’s life is the exact opposite of Jennet, though they remain married to each other, over a sense of convenience and duty if not love.

Francesca has weaved a complex portrayal out of each of the characters in her novel with David, the most handsome, confident of his genius, disregard for his wife’s talent in contrast with Jennet’s soul searching, dutiful yet resolute passion for painting. Jennet’s mother Lorna’s ache for her hometown and her patron’s Leonard’s mystical adulation over her are a sample of the author’s potential!

The story is brought about as a biography written by a person close to Jennet, and there’s a surprising twist at the end when the narrator is revealed. Each of Jennet’s paintings comes vibrantly alive in the words of Francesca, that you feel this book is a catalogue of an artist in language instead of pictures.

A winner of the Orange award for new writers, which is truly deserved, “An equal stillness” is an enjoyable read portraying the subtleties of human nature.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Shall not hear the nightingale

Author: Kushwant Singh

'Spring will come to our barren land once more…
Once more the nightingales will sing.’

Thus sings Sher Singh when his mother asks him what does independence means to him.

“I shall not hear the nightingale” is about the story of a high class family in Punjab, set during the independence struggle.  Father Buta Singh is a loyal officer to the British, enjoying his status in the society, and the perks of his officialdom in being a judge. His wife Sabhrai is a typical home maker, pious and religious. They have a son Sher Singh, meaning the Lion, and a daughter Beena.

Sher Singh is trying hard to fit into a life of his own, to please his wife, and to dream beyond his father’s security, but he is cowardly to achieve anything big. For namesake, he is accepted as a leader of a group of local disbanded terrorists, but he is averse to killing and violence as much as he brags about it. He is aware of his growing paunch, his unattractive psyche, and the short time within which he pledges to make a mark of his own in the society.

Contrary to him is Madan Chand, equally friendly and adverse, is the son of the local magistrate, who sees Sher beyond his persona, adding his father’s frustrations of serving Buta Singh. He is a charming man of lesser moral scruples, and doesn’t hesitate to make passes to both Sher Singh’s wife and his sister Beena.

As the independence struggle is moving ahead in a feverous pitch all over the country, Sher notices that Punjab is still sleepy, and somewhat protected from the harsh natures of reality. His urge to do something towards the struggle leads to a police informer go missing, and Sher is suspected of the murder. Sher is offered pardon if he discloses the name of his cohorts, or he is threatened to be hanged by the British.

The whole family is jolted because of the revelation, and their normal life is disrupted. Does he make it alive? To what extent will he be able to come to a decision in the confines of a prison, when his father is leaning towards his loyalty to British?

Khuswant Singh handles the emotional dilemmas of his characters, and how they react differently to the same circumstances. This book, written in his early years of being an author, has a classic style, and yet it has a different premise. The taut narration keeps us guessing till the end of the novel, and Sabhrai’s character is a revelation at the end.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Author: Michael Crichton

Is it possible for human beings to create another species? What if we were Gods, capable of creating artificial life forms which can think, act, evolve and reproduce? Set in a premise, where men have cracked the code of commercially producing such creatures using Nano technology and distributed computing, Michael Crichton explores the aspects of such an act which can go wrong, in the sci-fi thriller PREY.

Scientists undertake an experiment to create surveillance for United States’ defense, using Nano technology. Set in an obscure desert, they succeed in creating Nano particles which can form a cluster and act as a camera, thereby undetectable to the enemy forces. All goes well, till some of the particles escape from the controlled environment and become rogue. These particles programmed to be logical predators, become real predators by adapting, adjusting and evolving at an exponential rate. They kill all life forms within a matter of minutes, and human beings are left defenseless, as no machine or bullet can penetrate them.

The hero Jack, an out-of-work programmer from the Silicon Valley, has to race the clock to figure out what went wrong with the code written for creating these Nano particles. Crichton adds further depth to the story by introducing an emotional angle in the form of power struggle, between him and his wife, who is the president of the research firm creating the Nano particles.

The story begins in a mysterious way, and the author makes the plot intriguing further. But then the climax falls short of the expectations built throughout the story. It’s an easy guess to find the villains, for there are a lot of careless clues strewn around. But I would rate this book above average, for its original story, and a wonderful pace till the end. Science fiction lovers will enjoy this book.