The Year of the Runaways – Sunjeev Sahota – Book Review


TheYearOfTheRunaways

Goodreads blurb: Three young men from very different backgrounds come together in a journey from India to England, where they hope to begin something new. To support their families, where they can, to build their future, to show their worth, to escape the past. They have almost no idea of what awaits them.

In a dilapidated shared house in Sheffield, Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his life in Bihar. Avtar has a secret that binds him to the unpredictable Randeep. Randeep, in turn, has a visa-wife in a flat on the other side of town, whose cupboards are full of her husband’s clothes, in case the immigration men surprise her with a visit.

She is Narinder, and her story is the most surprising of them all.

Utterly absorbing and beautiful in its scope, The Year of the Runaways is written with compassion and touched by grace. As Tochi, Avtar, Randeep and Narinder negotiate their dreams, desires and shocking realities, as their histories continue to pull at them, as the seasons pass, what emerges is a novel of overwhelming humanity: one which asks how far we can decide our own course in life, and what we should do for love, for faith, and for family.

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With The Year of the Runaways author Sunjeev Sahota takes us on a journey of three men with starkly different personalities but more or less the same situation in life, and he adds the sub-text of Narinder, who steps into the melee hoping to right a ‘wrong’ done by her in the past and ends up taking on more than she bargained for.

While Tarlochan (Tochi) is in London as a last resort and is trying to get away from his troubled past, Randeep and Avtar are forced to come to London due to various financial and familial difficulties. While each of the three need the money quite desperately, their levels of desperation and their motives behind earning the money are vastly different. However, fate puts them on intersecting trajectories and this makes for the main overarching narrative plot of the book itself.

More than the situations they find themselves in, how the author has dealt with the characters themselves, their motivations, their insecurities, their personalities, their interactions with others and the world around them, these make up for the bulk of the book which at times meanders along quite slowly but doesn’t quite get boring at any point in time.

In this mix, Narinder Kaur finds herself making choices which although made with the best of intentions end up turning out to be revelations in themselves. In her altruistic attempts to ‘do good’, she ends up learning more about herself, her beliefs and the world around her more than she bargained for. Her story and her character arc make for, in my opinion, the strongest and most interesting character in the book.

At the end of the year, does all end well for the ‘runaways’, do they end up truly ‘running away’ is the interesting journey that the book takes us through. This book truly deserves its spot in the Man Booker Longlist for the year, no two ways about that.

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

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

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Nari: A Novel – Sharath Komarraju – Book Review


NariGoodreads blurb: Army man found dead in Banjara Hills. Only witnesses – wife and servant. Unconfirmed reports of rape. Can the truth be revealed?

Nari is a chronicle of sexual abuse told from the points of view of the victim and the perpetrator.

It is set in present-day Hyderabad, when Ramya Tirthankar, the young wife of a retired army man, and their seventeen-year-old servant, Narayana – lovingly called ‘Nari’ – accuse each other of rape.

Layered and disturbingly lyrical, filled with shock, empathy and trauma, Nari uncovers questions related to human sexual behaviour, power play and how gender inequalities are built into our very genes.

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It is inevitable that any of us who read newspapers or follow any other form of media have not been outraged at the various incidents of rape that has been reported in recent times, and it is also quite possible that some of us might have even our own reasonably strong opinions about measures to be taken to prevent them from happening in such large numbers. But I am more than sure that very few of us would have given enough serious thought as to why these incidents happened in the first place and as to what was going through the mind of the perpetrators and the victims of such rapes. And it is in this small category that the author Sharath Komarraju and his latest book, Nari: A Novel falls into.

The blurb and the core narrative of the book are quite clear and unambiguous as to what the book deals with; a rape and a murder, but it is the structure in which the narrative is presented and the voice in which it is told that makes this book stand out in the plethora of other commercial fiction titles available. The author interestingly chooses the first person narrative of ‘the victim’ as well as ‘the perpetrator’ of the rape to present the plot to the readers. For you to figure out why I have inserted the above characters in quotes, you will have to read the book.

A fairly detailed first half presents the view of Mrs Ramya Tirthankar and her narration of the events that led to the murder of her husband Captain (Retd) Tirthankar. And to me, this portion of the book is so nuanced, layered and subtly written that there’s just so much more to Ramya’s story than what is visible to the readers’ eye. And this is where Sharath succeeds wonderfully well in hooking the readers at the end of the first half where Ramya’s narrative ends and Narayana’s (Nari’s) takes over. And with this portion of the book, Sharath breaks the common myth that most urban dwellers have that incidents such as rapes, sexually deviant behavior and suchlike exist only in urban centers and are largely absent in the smaller towns and villages. The author not only breaks this common misconception but also probably goes on to suggest that such things are probably more common in the ‘other world’ that we know so little of; albeit in a different manner.

With neither of these characters or the supporting cast in the form of the victim Captain Tirthankar and others following the usual clichéd tropes, this book forms an interesting study into the minds of the parties involved with rape and other deviant sexual behavior. While most of the characteristics, motivations and reasons are things that we could probably easily guess, the fact that the author manages to successfully weave this into a fictional novel in the first person voice speaks volumes for his ability to easily and seamlessly step into the minds of the various characters in his book. And given that he has chosen an educated urban middle aged woman and a rural teenager as the main protagonists to give voices to, both of whom are quite far removed from his particular reality and world, speaks volumes for the sheer depth of imaginativeness he possesses.

Anybody who wants to read a well written book which provides an entirely different perspective to rape as a crime must surely add this to their reading list.

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

The Treasure of Kafur – Aroon Raman – Book Review


TreasureOfKafur

Goodreads blurb: ‘The fate of an Empire trembles in the balance…’

Hindustan, 1580 AD. The Mughal Emperor Akbar is at the height of his power, seemingly invincible. But twenty years of war have earned him many enemies, and rebellion is brewing, led by Asaf Baig, the tyrannical ruler of Khandesh. Baig has stumbled upon the knowledge that the fabulous lost treasure of Malik Kafur, that will guarantee victory to Akbar’s enemies, is known to an old woman called Ambu.

Baig kidnaps Ambu to wrest the knowledge of the treasure from her; but her twenty-year-old grandson, Dattatreya, escapes and flees across Hindustan to enlist the help of the one person who has the most reason to stop Baig – the Mughal Emperor himself.

Staying one step ahead of capture and death, Datta is swept up in a world of kings and warrior princesses, of uncommon friendships and an implacable evil; and a desperate race against time to save his grandmother – and the Empire.

Aroon Raman, national bestselling author of The Shadow Throne now brings us a riveting saga of action and adventure set in Mughal India.

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With “The Treasure of Kafur”, author Aroon Raman weaves a wonderful tale of fantasy filled adventure with lost treasure, talking animals, a race against time which involves a tortuous journey, a teenage boy’s journey to coming of age and more. As if this wasn’t good enough, he goes ahead and sets this narrative in Mughal India in a time when Akbar’s reign is possibly at its highest point.  This book is truly a joy to read and will surely remind readers of books such as the Harry Potter ones and the Chronicles of Narnia series.

Cleverly weaving history and fantasy fiction together, the author manages to draw us all into the world of the main protagonist Dattatreya (Datta) whose grandmother Ambu is kidnapped by tyrant ruler Asaf Baig to extract the location of the famed lost treasure of Malik Kafur. The only option available to Datta to save himself and Ambu from the clutches of Baig is to make his way to Agra, capital city of the Mughal empire and ask Emperor Akbar for assistance.

The first part of the book deals with this treacherous journey where Datta and his motley crew of friends comprising of a cow, a tortoise, a couple of ravens and a parakeet narrowly escape death at the hands of Baig’s forces and make their journey to Agra. This portion of the book sets up the rest of the novel very well and has enough and more action to whet the appetite of the readers. The second part deals with how Datta manages to apprise Akbar of the situation and also impress upon the impending rebellion being planned by Baig and his partners in crime. The third and the climactic part of the book deals with a showdown between the Mughals and the rebels.

With a good hold on the pace and the intensity of the narrative, Aroon Raman manages to ensure that the readers keep turning the pages one after the other without being able to put the book down at all. And even if they do put the book down, I am sure that almost all readers will continuously have the story running in their heads when they are doing whatever else it is that they are doing. A wonderful combination of well written characters, a riveting action-filled narrative, lovely pacing and good writing ensure that this book delivers on its promise of being ‘an action filled entertainer’. Couple this with the subtexts of Datta’s friendship with Dilawar Khan, his coming of age in a world of humans, his suppressed feelings for Princess Ahilya of Amber, and you have a wonderful mix of all the elements required for a good read.

Surely, a must read book for adventure lovers and readers who like the fantasy fiction genre. So, what are you waiting for, go ahead and purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link] right away.

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Disclaimer : Although I will make a small commission if you purchase the book from either of the links above, your purchase price will remain the same.

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Name The Treasure of Kafur
Author/s Aroon Raman
Publisher Pan MacMillan
Year published 2013
ISBN 13 9789382616122
Goodreads link Link
Flipkart link Flipkart
Amazon link Amazon

The Shadow Throne – Aroon Raman – Book Review


Goodreads blurb: India faces nuclear Armageddon.

A mysterious murder at the Qutub Minar triggers a call to ace journalist Chandrasekhar from his cop acquaintance, Inspector Syed Ali Hassan. The victim is unlike anyone Chandra has ever seen: a white Caucasian male who has all the looks of a throwback to Greek antiquity. Soon after, Hassan calls in to report the case has been taken away from him – in all likelihood by RAW – the Research & Analysis Wing, the uber-agency of Indian intelligence.

What began as a murder enquiry soon morphs into a deadly game of hide-and-seek within the shadowy world of Pakistan’s ISI and India’s RAW; and Chandra, his friend history professor Meenakshi Pirzada and Hassan find themselves in a race against time to avert a sub-continental nuclear holocaust.

As the action moves to its hair-raising climax among the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan, Chandra must face up to the fact that Inspector Hassan is not all that he seems …

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The above blurb does grave injustice to the actual way in which the book begins. The mysterious death of the strange victim at the Qutub Minar forms only a small part of the narrative which sets in motion a crazy chain of events in the main protagonist Chandrasekhar’s life over the course of the next two odd weeks.

Between Chandra, Hassan and Meenakshi, the story travels between time and space in terms of the fact that its genesis lies in Emperor Kanishka’s times and most of the action is centered on the Bamiyan region in Afghanistan where the world famous Buddha statues once stood. As is the norm with espionage thrillers, all is not what it seems for most part of the book, but suffice to say that all the knots are slowly opened, and all secrets revealed at appropriate moments in the book and the end result is more than satisfying.

What I particularly liked about the book was that the author seemed to know the nitty-gritty of the inner workings of the RAW and the ISI. It is one thing to say that this kind of information is easily available on the public domain and can be read and researched by anybody, it is entirely another thing to actually go ahead, do that and come up with a reasonably credible and believable account of the goings on in these shadowy offices. And Aroon Raman comes up trumps, at least in my opinion, on that front with this novel.

What I would have loved to have a little more of would have been more detailing to the characters of Hussain and Meenakshi. While Chandra and his trouble with overcoming the loss of his wife Yamini to cancer have been dealt with at the beginning of the book, the author could have added more flesh to the characters of Hussain and Meenakshi as well, and this would have added more to the chemistry between these three characters. This would have added more sheen to the already sizzling rapport that they share during the action in the book.

This would have to be the third book in recent times that I have read which places a espionage / terrorism thriller in the sub-continental milieu (the first one was Baramulla Bomber by Clark Prasad and the second one was The Taj Conspiracy by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar) and I honestly have to say that it makes for a welcome change compared to all the books in this genre that I have read over the years which are set in other countries all over the world. The fact that these books are set in India, have Indian characters, deal with Indian authorities, and are so credible make them all the more special. I truly believe that Indian writing in this genre is slowly coming of age, and man, am I excited about that or what!

Do read this book if you are a fan of well written, well paced thrillers. This one is a definite page turner, no two ways about that.

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Name The Shadow Throne
Author/s Aroon Raman
Publisher Pan MacMillan India
Year published 2012
ISBN 13 9788192398006
Goodreads link Link
Flipkart link Flipkart
Amazon link Amazon