Autobiography of a Mad Nation – Sriram Karri – Book Review


AutobiographyMadNation

Goodreads blurb: “I was born in a mentally retarded nation.” – Thus begins this provocative, stylish, and racy literary rant against India by a twenty-four-year-old awaiting capital punishment.

When Dr M Vidyasagar (‘Sagar’), retired chief of CBI, gets an unusual request from his old friend and the President of India to privately investigate if Vikrant Vaidya—sentenced to death for motivelessly killing his teenage neighbour Iqbal—is innocent or not, little does he know how convoluted a conspiracy he is setting foot in.

With a narrative that springs forth from and weaves its way through the Emergency, anti-Sikh riots post Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Ram Janmabhoomi Rath Yatra, anti-Mandal Commission protests, economic liberalisation, Babri Masjid demolition, and Godhra riots, readers will find themselves in the grips of a chimerical tale, asking and answering the question: Is India truly a mad nation?

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Call it providence, coincidence or whatever, but the release of Gabbar is back in theaters and me reading Autobiography of a Mad Nation at around the same time is quite funny, in the sense that both these works deal with pretty much the same theme – vigilante justice. I know, comparing a book to a mostly mindless Bollywood movie is not speaking too much in favor of the book, but honestly, I thought the plot that the book dealt with and how it is treated in the narrative as well is a little ‘jingoistic’, to say the least.

While the blurb and the beginning of the book seem to point towards quite a riveting story with enough intrigue and suspense, very quickly it boils down to an extremely Bollywoodish treatment of the plot itself. What with a bunch of old schoolmates getting together and rallying around the idealistic whims and fancies of one of their batchmates and seeking revenge for what they perceive as society’s wrongs on him and his life. This is the stuff that movies are meant to be made of, catering to the lowest common denominator of the cinema-viewing audience. In my opinion, and this is probably just me, mind you, books are usually written for a more discerning audience, an audience which doesn’t quite take things at face value and doesn’t usually have extraordinarily idealistic and jingoistic view of the events happening around them. Unfortunately, the author seems to have forgotten that he is actually writing a novel and is not penning the script of the next Bollywood blockbuster. And what is worse is that even if he were writing a script for a movie, the fact remains that this particular plot has been rehashed a countless times over in India as well.

All of the above being said, I have to admit that the author does have an easygoing writing style and the pages turn themselves quite well. Despite the fact that there are multiple characters with storylines running in parallel, the proceedings don’t get too muddled and everything makes sense throughout the novel. However, just these don’t make a good novel, do they? And my biggest issue with this book lies with the fact that the blurb and promotional material seem to promise a story spanning generations and decades, which the author simply fails to deliver. The book does have quite an interesting premise, but is let down by the extremely filmy treatment of the subject matter.

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Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for a honest and unbiased review.

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The Murder of Sonia Raikkonen – Salil Desai – Book Review


TheMurderOfSoniaRaikkonenGoodreads blurb: Late one November night, the mutilated corpse of a young Finnish tourist is found in a public garden in Pune. It looks like a case of brutal rape and murder, but Senior Inspector Saralkar and PSI Motkar find themselves probing further….delving deeper.

Standing virtually clueless, except for a single white sandal found on the scene of the crime, the policemen duo start looking for suspects.

Things get murkier when Saralkar’s old friend and colleague, Inspector Patange, seeks his help to establish the identity of another murder victim – an old man found by a wooded hillside on the outskirts of Pune. Not only do the old man’s injuries match the wounds inflicted on the Finnish girl, but he is also found wearing the other white sandal.

As Saralkar and Motkar struggle to find the link that connects the two murders, nothing is what it seems….The emerging truth seems far more dangerous and the motive far more bizarre!

Who murdered Sonia , and why? The truth will chill you to the bone!

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Regular readers of the blog would have read my review of the first book in the Inspector Saralkar series – Killing Ashish Karve [Link to review], a book I thoroughly enjoyed and which heralded the arrival of yet another protagonist in the crime thriller genre which all readers could easily relate to and rely upon to nab the culprit and bring him to justice. The Murder of Sonia Raikkonen is Salil Desai’s second book in this series and at the outset let me confess, this book only serves to improve Inspector Saralkar’s already high standing in readers’ minds.

As the blurb states, the action begins when young Finnish national Sonia Raikkonen’s grossly mutilated body is found in a public garden with imminent signs of rape as well. This puts the duo of Saralkar and his deputy Motkar on the trail of the killer with just a single white leather sandal left behind as the only clue. Laced with his trademark and no-nonsense methodical approach to the crime, Saralkar manages to infuriate Motkar on numerous occasions with this ‘tongue-in-cheek’ humor and the playful banter between the duo adds to the overall charm that the author has with this series.

What I really liked about this book is that while it developed on the much loved characters from the first book in the series, it does so in an extremely unobtrusive and inconspicuous manner which doesn’t hamper the flow of the murder investigation itself. In fact, on more than one occasion, readers will find themselves being able to guess Saralkar’s and Motkar’s next moves and their approach to solving the murder mystery; that’s how well we are able to read these characters and their motivations. That’s how well fleshed out these characters are.

This book, like its predecessor, is once again quite strong in the police procedural aspect of the crime itself and once again stands out as quite the path-breaker in this regard. The author leaves behind his stamp quite clearly as someone who knows and understands the nitty-gritties and the humdrum everyday life of policemen, while ensuring that he manages to deliver an interesting and relatively fast paced murder mystery novel at the same time.

As stated earlier, this book only serves to enhance Inspector Saralkar’s already good reputation as a crime solver par excellence and is a good addition to the murder mystery genre of books written by Indian authors.

Click here to purchase the book from Amazon [Link].

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Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Citizens Rising : Independent Journalism and the spread of democracy – David Hoffman – Book Review


CitizensRisingGoodreads blurb: From the fall of the Soviet Union to the Arab Spring to today’s continuing conflicts, media have played a decisive role in political affairs across the globe—driving the revolutionary changes shaping today’s new world. This is the first book presenting a comprehensive look at the emergence of media as a primary actor, and not merely an observer, of global affairs.

As founder of Internews, a leading non-profit organization dedicated to information access and independent media, David Hoffman has had a backstage pass to many of the seminal world political upheavals in recent years. In these pages we see how media have been used for good and bad—to trigger genocide, but also to effectively prevent conflict, facilitate free elections, expose corruption, promote nation-build­ing, provide critical information amid natural disasters, and bring about massive social change such as free education and women’s rights. With the rise of digital technology, the power of media to intervene in global affairs is in the hands of ev­eryone—including you. This book examines media’s historic impact and offers a roadmap to the future.

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As is the fashion nowadays, I, just like many others around me have more often than not accused the media, especially the television media of overreach on more than one occasion and I am also pretty sure that we have all accused Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai and their ilk of conducting trials by media of various politicians, sports administrators and the like. I personally haven’t had even one good word for media of any form or fashion over the past few years or so, and therefore, when I did pick this book up, I wasn’t quite prepared for what hit me.

Using examples from all over the world; starting with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), the birth of independent media in new Russia in Moscow, to examples of how independent radio stations brought forth a new found freedom for youngsters in Afghanistan to citing examples of how dictators such as Eduard Schverdnadze of Georgia and Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan bit off more than they could chew by opening up independent media in their countries, the first part of this book chronicles some memorable incidents from the not so recent past as to how independent media made an indelible contribution in the growth of democracy almost all over the world.

Part 2 of the book primarily deals with some examples of how media has been effectively used as well as abused by politicians and governments around the world. What stood out in this part of the book was how media persons effectively harnessed the power of local and international media in leading humanitarian and rescue efforts in tsunami and earthquake affected areas in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Haiti. How various independent agencies, foreign press correspondents and various media agencies coordinated to ensure that the attention of the entire world was focused on these various tragedies and the impact it had on subsequent rescue and rehabilitation efforts made for good reading.

The final part of the book deals with how new media such as Twitter and Facebook played important roles in the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings which we are all familiar with. The story of the Egyptian revolution and how it was all sparked off by one normal person starting off a Facebook page anonymously to protest the death of his friend ended up snowballing into the Tahrir Square uprising made for some riveting reading and truly highlighted the power of social media networks today.

The last chapter of the book is quite interesting in the sense that it deals with how the people of China despite being closed off to the rest of the world with press and internet censorship has managed to build quite an overwhelming strong online presence domestically using home-grown alternatives and how these movements have culminated in giving persistent headaches to the ruling Communist Party by highlighting corruption, nepotism and various other relevant issues prevalent in today’s China.

In a nutshell, this book makes for really interesting reading, albeit in an unconventional sense. It is a must read for anybody who is interested in figuring out what it is that makes the media and 24-hrs news channels tick, and to truly understand and learn from incidents all over the world as to how to effectively and efficiently use media for the greater good of the greater number of people.

Please click on the links to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] and Amazon [Link].

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Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in return for an unbiased review.

Equilibrium – Paras Joshi – Book Review


Equilibrium_ParasJoshiGoodreads blurb: WHERE DARKNESS EXISTS SO SHALL LIGHT

“…a great crusade shall ensue,

Manking will fight its greatest war,

At that time shall light shine through;

and Past, Present and Future Converge”

– THE CONVERGENCE CYCLE, circa 354th century

AN ANCIENT PROPHECY,

THE LARGEST METROPOLIS IN THE WORLD . . .

A PETITE SMALL-TIME ROBBER . . .

Meet Arya, a 17-year-old with the uncanny ability to open almost every locking mechanism ever known to mankind. Paid to break into a high-profile government vault, he unknowingly sets in motion events of apocalyptic consequences—The Tamisra is rising; mercenaries and shadow spirits have joined hands with humans to destroy the Equilibrium; and rumours abound of a Maayukh that links the ring, known as Avaasya, to the fate of the world.

Racing against time to undo what he has done, Arya finds that time is his biggest enemy and that he can trust no one in this race to return balance to the world.

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With Equilibrium, the author Paras Joshi takes us readers into a veritable roller-coaster ride as we join young Arya in his journey to Saatvikalok as a race against time. Set in the far future (354th century to be precise), the world as we know it hangs on a delicate balance of power between forces of light and darkness which keep creation in ‘equilibrium’. And as the saying goes ‘time and tide wait for no one’ and therefore it is almost time for the forces to cancel each other out and apocalypse to begin. In such a scenario it was but natural for both these opposing forces to make strategic moves to emerge the victor in the ensuing battle. However, this time around it looks like the dark forces seem to have an upper hand.

However, standing between them and certain victory is young petty thief Arya who unwittingly becomes a pawn in the bigger game. Is he a part of the proceedings just by chance, or is there more to his involvement in the current state of affairs? This book leaves us with this important question with the last page giving a huge hint to the answer itself.

It takes a crazy amount of imagination and creativity to come up with a fantasy fiction novel that is believable, likeable and engaging at the same time. And with Equilibrium, Paras Joshi has succeeded wonderfully well on all three counts. He manages to simplify things in the narrative while retaining enough of his creative license to play around with the settings, characters and the narrative.

Relying on the time-tried and tested canvas of good versus evil and following the ‘race against time’ template, Paras give us a likeable protagonist in Arya who we all end up rooting for during the course of his quest to reach Saatvikalok. The settings are similar to the Lord of the Rings trilogy and on more than one occasion remind us of the small villages and its residents living in perennial dread of the impending great final battle.

In a nutshell, this book is a sure-shot read for all lovers of good fantasy fiction and the young adult genre of books. Purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Tantrics of Old – Krishnarjun Bhattacharya – Book Review


TantricsOfOldGoodreads blurb: The Horseman had come to your apartment?

Adri nodded.

‘What did it want?’

‘My goddamn soul.’

Tantrics. Necromancers. Exorcists. Talkers to the dead. Summoners of Demons. An ancient art. A select few. The only ones in the land allowed by law to inscribe upon themselves the magical tattoos of the profession.

The city of Old Kolkata. Dark. Devastated. War-ravaged. Unforgiving.

Adri Sen, a banished Tantric, wakes up one morning to find the horseman, death, sitting at the edge of his bed.

The Apocalypse cometh. Wraiths whisper. Ancients bleed. Demons stalk. Fallen Angels rise. Assassins attack. Storytellers spin.

In every legend, a small grain of truth.

Run for your soul, Adri. Run.

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Now with a cover like that and a blurb which has been presented above, how can a reader resist from picking up this book from the shelf and start reading it. And man, was this one hell of a journey or what?

With Tantrics of Old, the author Krishnarjun Bhattacharya takes us on quite an adventure through the city of Old Kolkata with the protagonist Adri Sen, banished Tantric who is on the run from Death himself, with his companions, Maya, a Demonology student, her brother and an assassin who is sworn to protect Maya.

The setting of the novel and its action are Old Kolkata which is ravaged by a civil war between MYTH, representing the new order and founder of New Kolkata and the free Demons, a group of magical creatures led by the enigmatic and ruthless Ba’al. It is in this situation that Adri finds himself being hunted down by one of the legendary four horsemen; Death, himself and his only way to save himself would be to travel deep into Old Kolkata with Maya. The novel chronicles his journey and the subsequent adventures he encounters thereof.

In my opinion, writing a novel in the fantasy fiction genre is an extremely tough ask as it not only involves coming up with a believable storyline but a lot of detailing has to be done in setting up the story appropriately in terms of the locations, the timelines, the history, the geography and a whole lot of other details. And it is precisely in this department that the author scores really high. The level of detailing and the narrative style employed transport readers right into the milieu of Old Kolkata, its sights, sounds, smells and the distinct feel of being in a war-ravaged city.

Further, the fact that the setting also involves magical elements, practices and more such as Tantrics, Necromancers, Demons, Witches, Angels, and such like means that the author had to make all of them as believable as he could, while ensuring that they integrated well with the overall narrative. And I have to say that he has done an extremely credible job of the same. Not at any point in time did I feel that the narrative was so unbelievably fantastic with its treatment of any of these characters or their actions, and they all blended in really well with the narrative as well.

One aspect which kind of irritated me a little bit was the fact that the character of Maya which had a promising introduction and was involved with the early action suddenly is rendered helpless and spends almost the entire book without being too involved, albeit it was her predicament that drove most of the narrative forward. However, this minor irritant sorted itself out right at the very end of the book, which promises a sequel to this lovely book with Maya promising to take over the main protagonist duties in the next book.

For sure, this book is a must-read for all fantasy fiction readers, and my only hope is that Krishnarjun Bhattacharya comes out with the sequel to this book really soon. Go ahead and click on any of the following links to purchase the book from Amazon [Link] or Flipkart [Link]. Yes, I will make a small commission if you do so, but rest assured, it will not increase your purchase price of the book.

Disclaimer: This book was offered for review by the publishers, but the above review is independent and unbiased.

Related information

Book Tantrics of Old
Author/s Krishnarjun Bhattacharya
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