James Potter and The Hall of Elders’ Crossing
Yup you guessed it! The title says it all, doesn’t it? What else could I be pottering around for except for Harry Potter??? Well not exactly among the 7 Rowling books but among the Potter fan fiction. And it is quite fun to read all these stories to pass you time. Most of what I read were short stories but I came across this novel on Goodreads website by Norman Lippert titled, ‘James Potter and The Hall of Elders’ Crossing.’ At first I thought its about Harry’s dad, James but no, its about his son, James’ first year in Hogwarts.
Firstly, anyone can read the book in PDF format on the following website: www.speedbumpstudios.com/chapters/JPHEC.pdf
The author obviously makes no money out of this but he himself has written a book called, ‘The Flyover Country’ and has also written books of James’ 2nd and 3rd years at Hogwarts, although I haven’t read them as yet.
The plot concerns James going into the first year of Hogwarts. Initially he is nervous, in general because it is his first year and in particular that he is great Harry Potter’s son and has to live up to that legend. Eventually he does make friends and relaxes a little. The novel touches upon other students as well and the mischief they do. But of course, being Harry’s son, adventure can’t be far behind right? This year at Hogwarts representatives from Alma Aleron and United States Department of Magical Administration are to arrive at Hogwarts. Also, a movement called the ‘Progressive Element’ is spreading among the students that questions the recent history of the whole Battle with Voldemort and the fact that the existence of the magical community has to be kept a secret from the Muggle world. James and his two friends, Ralph and Zane, an American whose father works in England, discover a sinister plot to bring back the most dangerous wizard, Merlin, to this time. And these three are determined and confident to foil this plan. Well, the book is more exciting than it sounds here. It really is.
Being a Harry Potter fan, it was good to read this particular book. ‘James Potter and The Hall of Elders‘ Crossing‘ is definitely not fantastic yet it gives a plausible imaginative story about Harry’s first kid. Reading the novel will stimulate any Potter fan as it takes the reader back to the school, gives tidbits of Harry and gang’s future and everything. Its quite fun to plunge back into that world again and is definitely enjoyable. So ok, Lippert is not a Rowling but his writing is decent, simple and comprehensible and retains the magic of the Potter world. The dash of the American element is well blended in in the book. Certain other imaginative bits like Snape’s portrait and Diggory’s ghost add a touch of nostalgia. The friendship between different houses, James need to become like his father and the slight sketches of the old characters like Harry in the role of the Head of Auror Department, Neville as the Herbology professor and several such more elements show Lippert’s desire to be different while still capturing the charm of the Harry Potter books. In fact, all sort of fan fiction does require neccesarily to hold on to the original books to make a connection with the reader. I remember feeling very happy seeing all the old characters in a new avatar.
However,there were some odd discrepancies which haven’t been explained such as James having subjects like Muggle Studies in his first year itself(which in Rowling’s case is supposed to be studied in the third year) or that different year students are attending the same lecture etc. The whole idea of magic as a science wasn’t too appealing either but those classes of Technomancy were good nonetheless. It just showed(along with the American flavour) that Lippert has the capability to imagine quirky bits while mingling the original ideas from JK Rowling.
In all, its worth a read for sure. Its good to be back in Potter world and ‘James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing‘ just helps you take the plunge into it! Go for it!
Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
The dearth of Indian crime fiction has been partially saved by the novel ‘Six Suspects‘ written by Vikas Swarup, better known for his novel, ‘Q and A’ that was adapted into the Oscar winning film, ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’ While ‘Q and A’ was a rather amateurish, not at all researched book with bits of faulty writing, ‘Six Suspects‘ is a tad bit better. While it has its own flaws, it is nonetheless a pretty good detective/thriller story that exposes the corrupt India and has a story that will be lavished by detective fiction lovers/fans.
The plot revolves around Vicky Rai’s (the son of the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh) murder that took place while he was partying at his farmhouse in Delhi to celebrate his acquittal in a Jessica Lall style murder case(only in the book, the girl who was shot dead by Vicky was named Ruby Gill). There are essentially six suspects that are detained by the police as they were found carrying guns. Then, aptly, Swarup goes on and gives elaborate descriptions about all the six suspects and their motives to kill Vicky Rai. The six suspects are a motley crowd-including a sexy actress, an American,a mobile thief, Vicky’s own father, a tribal from Andaman and a former chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh. These stories are cleverly interconnected and intelligently converge at Vicky Rai’s farmhouse. In the end, an investigative journalist, Arun Advani, solves this murder mystery and the end is, I might say, quite unanticipated! The murderer is an unexpected one.
The story is well structured, with quite a few twists and turns that are definitely surprising.
Along with giving massive details about the life stories of all the six suspects, which by the way takes up a large chunk of the novel, Vikas Swarup also highlights the corruption rampant in India’s politics, displays the divide between the rich and poor and the different classes, the world of powerful contacts and influences and several more such instances that reveal the sleazy side of India.
Despite ‘Six Suspects’ being a good detective read, it still has certain weak spots. Firstly, Vikas Swarup tries to put in a lot of information about India in the novel and most of it is sadly lifted from ‘breaking news’ sessions of the Indian tv channels that can get monotonous. This aspect makes it look like ‘Six Suspects was written for foreign audiences and Swarup was aiming for this book to be made into a film as well. It seems there is a lack of originality. Secondly, certain ideas are rather stereotyped like the American’s view of India when he comes for the first time, the bit about Islamic fundamentalists is also very cliched(all Muslims are terrorists and all that crap). Although the story has an unpredictable end, there are times when the stories of the six suspects get predictable-for example, the tribal from Andaman has to be foolish and get duped by several people in India. Why can’t the tribals be intelligent for once?And there are several such examples.
There are certain creative bits as well like the English Literature professor ,which the former Chief Secretary met in jail, who expresses himself by uttering book titles only.
So the final verdict would be that ‘Six Suspects’ is definitely worth a read, a good crime novel that unfortunately shows only a newspaper version of India and does not delve deeper into India’s chaotic soul. From the writing it becomes apparent that the India of ‘Six Suspects’ though very real still has a touch of being seen from a distant lens. The lack of research shows through. So if one knows nothing about India, one can probably grab this book to know about its underbelly and get some background on all the wrong things that happened in the country in the past decade or so.
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Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid
When the world hears about Pakistan, the first thoughts that come to mind are terrorists, fundamentalists, terrorism etc thanks to the biased media. Nevertheless, a peek into Pakistan’s literary world shows that the country is much more than just that, much more complex with a labyrinth of different people and a varied society. Similarly, a glimpse into Mohsin Hamid’s debut novel, ‘Moth Smoke‘ will reveal something beyond that, will narrate a story of an ordinary man whose story could have be set in just about any country of the world. It’s an engaging read depicting Pakistan’s society in an unmistakable Gatsby like manner.
The prologue of ‘Moth Smoke‘ indicates that the story is loosely based on Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s sons’ rivalry. But with a twist. And that is that the protagonists are in an era of nuclear testing in the year 1998 in the modern city of Lahore. And the only resemblance they have to Shah Jahan’s sons are their names and rivalry-Aurangzeb and Daru. And in the end, it is Aurangzeb who turns out triumphant as was the case in the Mughal era when Aurangzeb defeated his brother.
Esssentially, the main protagonist is Darashikoh Shezad or Daru who is a banker living in Lahore. He gets fired from his job and from thereon begins his slow, drug filled downfall. He falls for his best friend Aurangzeb’s (Ozi in short) wife Mumtaz which have severe consequences for him. Daru is unable to find a job which results in loss of self respect, loss of electricity, loss of a faithful servant, loss of family, loss of almost everything that was once important to him. He begins to sell drugs to get his income ticking and even partners in a crime. With Ozi and Mumtaz as friends, he is able to get by and even get into classy, super rich parties where Hamid shows the rot that festers not only in Daru but also in Pakistan’s elite. Behind all the alcohol and drugs and sex lies a decline that is hard to miss.
But the story is more about Daru’s decline. ‘Moth Smoke‘ is about love, passion, idealism and jealousy. Hamid takes an old storyline-an unhappy wife, an uncaring husband, a caring friend and an steamy extra marital affair- and sprinkles his own charm over it to weave a novel story about love as an obsession and the lengths people go to achieve it and destroy those who take it away from them.
A prominent motif of the novel are moths who enter Daru’s house constantly after his electricity is cut off. They circle around the candle flames knowing that is is dangerous , that it will singe their wings. Yet they continue to romance with it, enjoying the risk that entails. Similarly, Daru loves Mumtaz knowing very well that she is a flame who can annihilate him because if Ozi came to know about their relationship it would bring on his ire on Daru.
The other themes could be corruption in society, nuclear war, the problem of unemployment among the educated youth, the elite’s superficial appearance and several more. Just like a variety of themes, ‘Moth Smoke‘ also has a number of characters apart from the love triangle like Daru’s servant-Manucci, the rickshaw driver/criminal-Murad Badshah, Daru’s family, Daru’s professor-Julius Superb and several more that add to the eclectic Pakistani contemporary society. We hear their stories through their own voices and also get to know about Daru’s personality a little more from these multiple narrators.
‘Moth Smoke‘ is a commendable novel, written in an unique style, blending in history with the present, presenting the story as a presentation in the court, mingling several voices to tell a single story yet at the same time bringing in tales of a great many myriad people! A promising read that touches upon an old theme in an excitable novel way. Go ahead and grab it!
101 Folktales From India
This one book is a definite must for all parents who want their kids to read Indian stories rather than just Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys or God forbid Twilight series!!!!!
Its called, ‘One Hundred and One Folktales From India‘ written by Eunice De Souza. The book, as is self explanatory, is a collection of folktales from all across India-from Kashmir, to Nagaland, to Assam, to Konkan, to Kerala etc. Some tales are new, never before chronicled, or rarely narrated in such collections. While some are very popular, well known stories.The book is divided into 6 parts, each having a separate theme. There are stories about magical beings, about kings and queens, heroes, Gods, clever men and women, saints and sadhus, of famous personlaities like Akbar Birbal, Tansen, Tenali Raman, of beasts and birds and several more!
The language is simple, clear cut, easy for the youngest children to grasp and coupled with superb black and white illustrations done by Sujata Singh, these tales are sure to entice kids. The stories can also be enjoyed by adults who have little time to read and want short, simple, witty stories. Its a great book to read if one is travelling short distances. One can easily read five to six stories in about 15 minutes since most stories are one or two pages only. Its a good way to revisit one’s childhood when such stories were popular to read or get in touch with Indian folktales.
Despite its collection and marvellous illustrations, many parents would prefer buying some other folktales books like the Amar Chitra Katha or Aesop fables books. The former is in general very popular and its colourful illustrations along with the comic book style format will surely catch the eye of any young kid more than Eunice De Souza’s ‘One Hundred and One Folktales From India.’ That’s one and the only disadvantage of the book. There are just so many better, more vibrant, colourful books about India’s rich folktales and mythology that both parents and kids might prefer that. They may view De Souza’s book as just another big, fat, long, textbook type book that completely discourages them from buying it. Of course, a parent can definitely influence a kid’s choice!
Apart from that, ‘One Hundred and One Folktales From India‘ is a brilliant collection of stories, fables and folktales that allows any reader, with its simple language, to get a glimpse of India’s rich stories!
Night by Elie Wiesel
A Night To Remember
‘Night‘ by Elie Wiesel is not a book for the faint hearted or for those looking for a casual read. The book maybe thin but don’t judge it by the size. Its profound impact on the reader goes beyond its volume.
The book deals with the Holocaust-one of the brutal genocides in 20th century. Wiesel was just a teenager living in a nondescript town of Sighet in Transylvania when the Nazi troops came and bullied all the Jews into ghettos and eventually the concentration camp. Wiesel was separated from his mother and sisters and had only his father along with him.
‘Night‘ is a heart wrenching autobiographical account of Wiesel’s own horrifying experience in several concentration camps-from Buna to Auschwitz and eventually to Buchenwlad. It talks of unimaginable horrors that Wiesel himself suffered and saw all around him, being meted out to countless Jews in the camps. It records Wiesel’s own struggles, his gradual disillusionment in God, his numbness towards all the suffering around him, his love and support for his father and the eventual disappearance of that support, of innocence and the appearance of a self centered thinking that was sowed by the brutality he witnessed in the camps.
The reader sees the transformation that Wiesel went through and how life in the concentration camps made animals out of humans, how it sapped the hope of the most optimistic person and sapped the most devout person of his faith.
Page after page will make the reader cringe, force him/her to feel the pain, ponder on how anyone could survive such colossal pain, ponder on how such a mass genocide was allowed to take place. Hopefully the book will etch the story in the reader’s mind forever so that they never forget-Wiesel’s aim in writing this book in the first place. Hopefully, readers will remember the Holocaust, because as Wiesel puts it,”to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”(pg. XV,’Night‘ by Elie Wiesel,Hill and Wang Publication, First Edition,2006).
Moreover, what I hope the readers will take away from this book, is that we, as readers, should intervene if and when such genocides happen because Holocaust is by no means the last such genocide. They keep happening and continue even in the 21st century-the so called progressive age. It is imperative that we learn from history, from one man’s ordeal that such horrors must never be allowed to happen because that strip humans of the humanity that we are all entitled to.