April 2016 – Book Review

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Karan Bajaj’s The Yoga of Max’s Discontent was apparently well-received in India, and, upon its upcoming release in English, I can see why. Bajaj’s characterization of his main character, Max, is vivid and realistic, at least for the most part. Max, completely distraught by his mother’s death, desires more out of life, or at least a better understanding of how to live and what to believe. So, he journey’s to India to find a guru and practice yoga, to rid himself of his discontent. I generally enjoyed reading Max’s exploration of life.

There were two things that I did dislike though: one is minor and the other major. Bajaj does seem to jump pretty suddenly between different settings, both geographical and chronological. He very suddenly leaves New York and finds himself, somehow completely comfortable, in India. Max, after several chapters and just a few months spent at an ashram, has then suddenly spent three years of his life there. The pacing just seems a bit off. The other, bigger problem I have is Max’s blatant disregard for his physical health. I understand that, in his yoga practice, his mental prowess and his ability to remain calm and completely focused on his path to transcendence is the central goal, but you can’t really transcend if your body withers away. This dissonance may just be because I’m not overly familiar with this practice, but I just can’t get over that.

Even with these two problems, I did really like this novel. It’s a relatively fast and easy read, and it does make you think about your place in this world and your spiritual life, I guess. I’m usually not one to read books that discuss the best way to live your life, how to take care of yourself spiritually, and all that, but I did enjoy Bajaj’s novel. I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as a religious novel, but rather a spiritual one. 3.5/5

Everything But The House - Sample

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith

Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) has given us an entertaining, fast, and fun read with The Cuckoo’s Calling. This novel, the first in the undeniably cool-sounding Cormoran Strike series, tracks the apparent suicide of supermodel Lula Landry. Former military and current private eye Cormoran Strike, along with the help of temporary secretary Robin, interviews a series of individuals associated with Landry–fellow tenants, friends, family members, employers, etc.–and discovers that her suicide may in fact be a murder. While the result of Strike’s investigation isn’t necessarily all that creative–I may have figured it out rather early on–the writing is so inviting and easy to read that I wanted to see where the story went and how Strike would solve this crime.

I don’t read too many mysteries, so the only other novel I can really compare it to is Hammett’s The Thin Man, which I read in March. Hammett’s novel is certainly more complicated, and you can easily lose track if you don’t pay attention. That’s not really the case with The Cuckoo’s Calling, but that’s okay; I have no qualms with that. In fact, the only qualm I do have–and it’s quite minor–is that, for a mystery novel, it seems light on action. The climax of the story, of course, has some action, but the bulk of what’s here consists of interviews. I’m hoping there’s a bit more action in The Silkworm. Overall, though, this was an immensely readable and fun story, and I’m excited to see where Galbraith takes us next. 4/5

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates

I don’t freely hand out five stars to books; they must truly astonish me and impact me in ways which can only be described as profound. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is such a book–“required reading” as the great Toni Morrison states. I find it hard to review this book, to eloquently put it into words. This is a letter to Samori, Coates’ son, and this letter delves into the author’s existence as an American with a black body, a body that must continuously struggle. Coates details his experiences with his family, attending Howard University, meeting his wife, losing friends, and feeling the chains that are still present in the current American culture.

It’s no wonder why Between the World and Me won the National Book Award. For it’s timeliness and effectiveness, this is something that I think should be read by as many people as possible. It’s importance is something that will only grow in time. 5/5

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

I wonder what compels us to read so much World War II literature. Are we still so fascinated by a not-so-distant past, where such monstrosities occurred, that we see this literature as both unfortunately possible and yet so indescribably irresistible? Are we able to willingly be dazzled by such atrocities? Are we able to see past the terror when reading through the veil of a book, especially if it’s a work of fiction? Do such manifestations make these events–real or fiction–more digestible, more palatable, more welcoming? Do they give us a better, clearer understanding of the past? What if the author wasn’t present? I’d say yes to all of these.

On it’s tenth anniversary of publication, I finally got around to reading The Book Thief. I’m not sure where I was, or why I’m so late to the party, but I did finally read it. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I knew relatively little about the novel–only that it was set during World War II in Germany and that there’s a not-so-impressive movie adaptation. (Though, I still do want to see it.) Liesel Meminger has had a rough life. The war has begun and she’s already lost a number of things she holds dear. However, when she rescues a book–well, she steals it–she finds a new journey to begin. A number of obstacles come her way, but Liesel persists and continues her book thievery to survive. Not everyone can survive, however. Even though there are such glints of happiness, ultimately that cannot be the norm for Liesel.

Zusak’s writing is generally easy to read, and there’s a nice ebb and flow to the story. The characters are defined well. My biggest complaint that I have is the narrator, Death. He’s kind of annoying and reveals too much information. He gives up the ending a number of times. Yes, I understand that this is a YA novel, but I think we can read between the lines. We don’t need to be spoon-fed here.

I studied abroad in Germany in 2013. My courses focused on literature with themes of authority: being suppressed by it, abused by it, overcoming it, and dealing with its circumstances. I read such works as 1984White NoiseSlaughterhouse-FiveNever Let Me GoOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and others. And I’m curious, after having read The Book Thief, why we never read it. Perhaps it was too juvenile. Perhaps Liesel’s acts of book thievery were too subtle, too small, to be considered rebellious. I don’t know exactly. But, I am glad I finally got around to reading Zusak’s novel.

While in Germany, I did visit the Buchenwald concentration camp. It was completely snowed-out; you could barely see five feet in front of you. I distinctly remember a large group of elementary school children laughing, playing, loudly calling to each other. Everyone in my group was completely silent, and I was unable to understand why these children were acting the way they were. Perhaps they were just children and didn’t understand, but I don’t think that’s true. I feel like it shouldn’t be, anyway. To this day, there’s still some dissonance there: a group of children laughing and playing on the grounds of such torture and death.

I think I have a different mindset when I do read World War II literature and non-fiction books. It’s one thing to read about these experiences from afar; and, yes, this novel can be and should be read by as many people as possible, as it’s an important book. However, once you’re there, in the midst, with history facing you from all sides, it’s difficult to not be changed and read subsequent works in a different light. The horror that is somewhat-lightly touched upon–or, perhaps, not so gruesomely detailed–was in the back of my mind throughout my reading. 4.5/5

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