Monday, 31 August 2015

BOOK REVIEW : BRIDGES OF CONSTANTINE by AHLEM MOSTEGHANEMI





"There are countries we live in and there are countries that live in us"
         This is the basis of the novel "The Bridges of Constantine" by author Ahlem Mosteghanemi. She is an author, who I can rightly say, is fairly new to the western world of book lovers as her first book, "The Bridges of Constantine" got published only in the year 2013..but the fact is, she is the most popular and successful and loved and followed female author  in the Arab literary world. She is infact the first female Algerian author who writes in the Arabic language. She is a poet first and then an author. In her own words, " When we lose a love, one writes a poem, when we lose our homeland, one writes a novel". Algeria is never far from her mind. Her father was a militant political activist who was forced to go into exile during the Algerian Revolution.
I was so impressed by Mosteghanemi that after finishing this book I read almost all the articles on the internet on her.
The story is about an Algerian revolutionary who fought during Algeria's war of liberation and is currently in a self imposed exile since the past two decades in Paris. Khaled, a man of strong principles, is a victim of post war disillusionment, wherein the ideals held dear during the struggle are now replaced by greed and money and worst of all, an all pervading feeling of "self before nation"!!!! He finds this attitude unpalatable and hence refuses to go back to Algeria, his motherland who once filled the vaccum in his life at the sudden death of his mother.
A famous painter now, he shuns fame and recognition!!! The irony of life is such that it was freedom of his country from the French government that made him loose his one arm in the revolution and now he is taking shelter in that same France to get away from the corrupt Algeria!!
Khaled's life turns 360 degrees when Hayat, daughter of his long dead commander Si Taher comes into his life in Paris. Hayat makes Khaled remember all his long forgotten /buried memories of Constantine and once again makes his wounds raw!! He is completely besotted by her and starts visualising their future together....His obsession with Hayat reaches such a state that he starts thinking of her and Constantine in the same breath..as in they both begin symbolising the same meaning to him...his one true love who is difficult to attain but impossible to leave/ forget....but  again life as we know is never simple nor does it move in  our desired lane. Khaled and Hayat part ways and all he is left alone with, is his broken heart and shattered dreams!!!
A beautiful heart rending story of unrequited love..
The story is from a man's perspective.
 A 50 something year old man - his dreams, his love, his lust, his frustration, his helplessness, his anger- its all written so convincingly that one can almost imagine the author to be a male..  And this has in fact happened with Ahlem when she first published this book in Arabic in the mid 70's. It took her three years and five lawyers to prove that this was her creation, written  from a male's point of view. Wow, isn't it!!!!!
Frankly speaking before this book, I did not know where in the world is Algeria located and had zilch knowledge about its turbulent past. So I was unable to completely relate to the story. But what I really enjoyed was the style of writing and reading about the culture and social setup of Algerian society!!! 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

BOOK REVIEW : NOON by AATISH TASEER


NOON is that time of the day when the sun is at its zenith... We can even say it is at its highest peak.. Around 12'o clock...
A weird and out of context beginning of a post.... Right???
Wrong!!! I am not talking random ( though I usually am a pro in randomness).. The word NOON is very significant here..
Reason being simple.... we have an author here, the title of whose book is NOON, which (to me) sounds very intriguing..... for this one word is full of numerous interpretations as per the reader' s discretion...
Aatish Taseer, a man with four books to his credit...
A man not unknown to controversy, conspiracies, chaos and confusion...
And he brings it all in his writing as he sees it - as he feels it - as he experiences it!!!!!
Taseer's first book "Stranger to History : A Son's Journey Through Islamic Lands (2009) is a part memoir part travelogue.
This book NOON is a loose adaptation of his memoir with the same star cast : a strong Sikh mother, a famous Muslim father, a childhood in Delhi during the 80's, a journey to Pakistan to meet his elusive father and the extended family, the impact on one's emotional DNA as a result of craving for an absentee father!!!!
The story starts with a train journey undertaken by Rehan Tabassum ( the main protagonist) to Pakistan to meet his estranged father and family for the first time. Here he meets a young boy from Kashmir who talks about the recent horrific earthquake which had devastating effects. An interesting beginning!!
The story then moves to Delhi ,during the 80's when a young Rehan comes from England with his mother to live at his maternal grandmother's house. Taseer then moves the story ahead to the mid 90's when Rehan, now studying in the U.K returns to Delhi during his summer break. He is staying in the family farm house to concentrate on his writing , when suddenly the calm and tranquillity is shattered by a burglary.
Taseer spends a good portion of his story time in this incident, trying to highlight the deep rooted caste system of our Indian society which refuses to fade away in the face of all globalisation, modernisation!! It is a staunch reminder of the harsh reality of our society which the new age/ gen x/ urban India wants to forget and move on!!
Though this incident seems to be an important part of the story and I presumed that it was going to take the story further, Taseer ends it abruptly by showing Rehan going back to the U.K unable to handle the situation what with the police hounding his seemingly innocent staff!!!
A typical attitude.. Run away from what you cannot face or handle!!
The story now comes to its final chapters when Rehan goes back to Pakistan to spend some quality time with his step brother and experiences first hand the life under a dominating father, an uncle who is very loyal to his father ( loyalty which crosses the healthy limit), an older step brother who like Rehan has always craved for an absentee father' s attention and the young Kashmiri who tries to fit in there by claiming allegiance to one party while getting cozy with the other.
Taseer tries his best to highlight the hypocrisy and an inherent sense of confusion which plagues the Pakistani society but somewhere he fails to get the empathy of his readers.
I for one felt shortchanged after reading this book. Aatish Taseer has been touted as the next big thing in the world of literature, but this book has been a disapointment. Its seems like Taseer wanted to write about two three topics and instead of writing a short story on them, he pieced it together in the form of a novel. But the stitching has been very haphazard and has many visible gaping holes which left me with a feeling of being cheated out!!!
As this is his only book which I have read, I cannot comment about his writing skills per se, but have to say this , "what a let down!!"
Just have to say this before ending the post, just because people say that one has an interesting life, one need not write a story on it.. A story should always be written with the most basic equipment...A GOOD SUBJECT and an INTERESTING STORYLINE!!!