It has been an interesting year as far as books are concerned. Since I began formally recording what I read only in May, I cannot give the exact number of books that I read this year. I estimate it to be around 45. This year I read the kind of books that I didn’t normally read, and that has been very gratifying. The following is a list of the best ones.
1. Chokher Bali – Rabindranath Tagore
I read Rabindranath Tagore’s works for the first time this year; Chokher Bali (A Grain of Sand in the Eye) and a collection of short stories. I have to say that I greatly enjoy his writings. All the idiosyncrasies of his time and his world are so deftly described in his stories. The characters are extremely well-etched and all their complex emotions are presented with ease.
Coming back to Chokher Bali, Tagore addressed many issues. Adultery, a widow’s dissatisfaction with a life doomed to perpetual loneliness, the subtle ways in which Binodini manipulates Mahendra and Asha; it was all presented so poetically. It was sorrowful to see that despite being bold enough to rebel against the norms meant for widows, Binodini ultimately decides to walk away from Bihari, the person who loves her and wants to marry her. Tagore himself said that he regretted the ending. But perhaps that was the way Binodini redeemed herself; by allowing herself to have a little pride left.
Asha’s progress from a shy, young bride to a woman matured by circumstances was very beautiful to see. Her plainness made her endearing, because there were probably so many women like her. I especially loved the scene of her turning point; her distress on seeing her house in chaos without her mother-in-law. Sure, I don’t agree with many of the choices that she made, especially her decision to take back her husband after he fell in love with another woman. But I have to concede because it was a different time; the book was written more than a century ago.
Radha Chakravarty’s translation was simple and easy to read. A beautiful and sad book.
2. My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult
This is one of the very few books that made me cry, literally. The biggest reason that I enjoyed this book was that everyone was right from their own perspective. I especially loved Sara’s conflicts regarding motherhood and the choices that she had to make for her children. The following quote says it all.
‘You think you can lay it all out in words, black-and-white, as if it’s that easy. But you only represent one of my daughters, Mr. Alexander, and only in this courtroom. I represent both of them equally, everywhere, every place. I love both of them equally, everywhere, every place.’
So many of life’s actual situations are like that, aren’t they? Where you can’t distinguish where the lines blur.
The book wasn’t perfect though. The clichéd love story between the lawyer and the guardian ad litem could have been completely avoided. It didn’t add anything to the story. Parts involving Jesse as the typical problem child also were a bit dragged. But regardless, it is definitely a book that I would recommend.
3. Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri
I began my reading life with short story collections; fairy tales, moral stories, Aesop’s fables. I discovered novels and the short stories lost their charm for a number of years. I think it was partly because at that time, I was given certain short story collections that I did not enjoy at all. Even when the stories were good, it seemed to me that as soon as I began warming up to the characters, the story ended. I did feel somewhat like that reading Interpreter Of Maladies, but I’m glad that I finished reading it at the insistence of a blogger friend.
I’ve got relatives who are immigrants; NRIs. They come here every couple of years, stay for a month or slightly more. They want to go back to their lives after that. I can understand that. I’m sure that people get used to new places and new people after some time. This is the time of globalisation and there are people who have lived in various countries. I find that a little scary, to be honest. It’s not like I don’t want to go out and explore the world; I do. But then, I want to come back home. Is it easy to make a home in a place that’s so different from what you know?
I think every person, who is contemplating migrating should read at least one of Jhumpa Lahiri’s books. She captures the nuances of relationships between people from both the worlds so beautifully. There’s longing for home mingled with the desire to make a new life in a new country. I especially loved the last story. All the hesitations of a new marriage, coupled with the efforts to adjust to a new country; it was very touching to read.
4. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Dystopian fiction always leaves you asking for something more; a proper closure of sorts. By definition, the story and the conflicts often remain unresolved. You read the entire novel yearning for a near-miracle. That was my feeling when I was reading The Handmaid’s Tale.
The story is pretty horrific, but unfortunately, that is the reality of a certain section of women in the world, though maybe not to the extent shown in the book. For every atrocity I read, I was thankful for the choices that I’m allowed to make. My only problem was that Offred was an unreliable narrator. That makes sense since she was a prisoner, but at some points, I just didn’t want to let it go; I wanted to know. I wanted to know more about her daughter, her husband Luke, and frankly it was maddening to never know.
I enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s style of writing, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her books.
5. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
This was a disturbing book. It is impossible to discuss this book without spoiling it, so don’t read ahead if you’re planning to read the book.
In the first part we get to read Amy’s diary interleaved with Nick’s current reality. It was most perturbing to read how much differently can two people think about the same relationship. It unnerved me to wonder whether that’s true for all relationships to some extent.
In the second part, we come to know that Amy’s diary was, in fact, fabricated. In reality, she was psychotic and crazy. She planned her own murder in order to frame Nick. Her original plan was to actually kill herself but she changed her mind later.
The genius of the book came into play when I thought back to all the crazy things that Amy did to frame Nick. The hidden meanings in the clues of the treasure hunt were especially chilling when re-read after knowing the reality.
It was a fast-paced book, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes reading psychological thrillers and doesn’t mind the foul language and explicit scenes.
Have you read any of these books? What was your experience?