Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Literature of India: The House of Blue Mangoes by David Davidar

More than any other kind of novel, I expect the Historical novel to have memorable characters. The past already provides events of great interest which the writer weaves into the plot but it is really the characters that make us care about their life and times.

And this is where David Davidar's debut novel The House of Blue Mangoes fails.

The story which begins in the last year of the nineteenth century and ends almost fifty years later in 1947, with an India free but brutally cleaved, and which chronicles the rise-and-fall of three generations of the Dorai family, does not provide a single character whose fate interested me or with whom I could find any connect.

The novel has its moments as when an aimless and bitter Aaron Dorai joins a fledgling revolutionary group and then realises that he will have to shoot a man:

How do you kill a man? In cold blood? If you're a man like any other, a thinking, feeling, insecure man trying to lead a reasonable life, a man who is not in the grip of a great rage, a normal man, how do you kill a man who has done you no harm? Do you think of him as a disgusting envelope of shit and piss and dirty thoughts, whom it'd be a blessing to erase from the pitiful piece of earth he occupies? Or do you paint him as a monster that you can eliminate him with ease? The realization dawned on them that no amount of prevarication could conceal the awful truth - that their target was a man not very different from themselves, who lived and breathed, who could be so wearied by living that on occasion he could think how blissful it would be to live no more, but yet went on, day after day, getting on with the business of living, trying to keep his wife and children fed. Was it possible, through some extraordinary sleight of mind, to see this poor ineffectual functionary of the state as the ENEMY? Could they? Could they?

...Madhavan's voice came to him. 'The stomach. Fill your mind with your frustrated contempt for me, you spineless fool, fill it with your desperate desire to make some sense of your wasted life and put a bullet in this good man's stomach.'

The passages describing the horrendous treatment merited out to the revolutionaries in prisons by the British superintendent are gut-wrenching and some passages at the end are evocative as the last thoughts of a dying man:

...Mostly, I regretted the things I hadn't done, I thought about quarrels that hadn't been resolved, I thought about matters left incomplete. It's one of the paradoxes of life, and is something that each one of you will discover, that your achievements, your successes, your crowning glories do not matter to you at the end of your life. No, no, no, if I leave you with nothing else, I leave you with this piece of wisdom - it's your regrets that stay with you till you die.

And this brilliant piece about the passage of time:

A statue fleshed in stone would rise in Meenakshikoil; three streets would be named after him. Doraipuram would remember Daniel for at least a generation. And those who knew him would remember him too for a while. Barely two decades later, sun, sand and water would begin eroding the statue. His name would survive a couple of decades longer and then he would become just a landmark with no resonance - turn right at the Dorai statue roundabout and go straight to get to the Madras Ulundu Vadai Cafe.

At times, tilted towards a Western readership, the book is okay for a one-time read.


First Line: SPRING 1899
Publication Details: ND: Viking, 2002
First Published: 2002
Pages: 421
Source: CL [823 D28H]
Other books read of the same author: None

Monday, September 28, 2015

Remembering Bhagat Singh

Today is the birth anniversary of an illustrious son of India, the revolutionary Bhagat Singh. I thought, this year, I will remember him by reminding myself of some of the books related to him that I have had on my wishlist for long:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Forgotten Books: Three Cases of Perry Mason by Erle Stanley Gardner

There was a time when I eagerly devoured all the Perry Mason books I could lay my hands on. High school, college.. by the time I got my first job, I had read a majority of them. And then for years, I did not read anything by Gardner. This year, seeing a few reviews appearing here and there made me eager to read him once again and so when I saw this triple-decker at the library, I simply could not resist borrowing it.

To me, the pleasure of reading Perry Mason was not so much the mystery or the arguments in court as in the interaction between the characters. Initially, Mason, Della, and Drake and then later Tragg. And now going through these books again, it was interesting to see how their relationship develops.

The first one, The Case of the Sulky Girl, first published in 1933, is second in the series.

 And here is how the author introduces Perry Mason:

Perry Mason gave the impression of bigness; not the bigness of fat, but the bigness of strength. He was broad-shouldered and rugged-faced, and his eyes were steady and patient. Frequently those eyes changed expression, but the face never changed its expression of rugged patience. Yet there was nothing meek about the man. He was a fighter a fighter who could, perhaps patiently bide his time for delivering a knock-out blow, but who would when the time came, remorselessly deliver that blow with the force of a mental battering ram. 

Della Street, his secretary, we are told, was about twenty-seven years old. Her manner radiated assurance and efficiency.

And here is my favourite of them all, Paul Drake, making his appearance:

Paul Drake, the detective, bore no resemblance whatever to the popular conception of a private detective, which was, perhaps, why he was so successful.

He was a tall man (taller than Mason we are told later), with a long neck that was thrust forward inquiringly. His eyes were protruding , and glassy, and held a perpetual expression of droll humor. Nothing ever fazed him. In his life, murders were everyday occurrences; love nests as common as automobiles, and hysterical clients merely part of an everyday routine.

While Drake drapes himself over the chair:

He sat in the big high-backed leather chair in Perry Mason's office, and turned sideways, so that his long legs were crossed over the right hand arm of the chair. A cigarette was in his mouth, hanging pendulously at an angle from his lower lip.

Or perches on Mason's table:

Paul Drake perched on the edge of Perry Mason's desk and shook tobacco from a cloth sack into a brown paper which he held expertly between cigarette-stained fingers.

Mason has the habit of hooking his thumbs in the armholes of his vest... (How does one do that?)

The relationship is still at the initial stage, so here is Drake to Mason:

Drake nodded.

"All right," he said, "I get the sketch. I just wanted to be certain there wasn't any misunderstanding between us. Misunderstandings in my business make for dissatisfied clients, and I want to keep my clients satisfied,"

"All right," Mason told him. "We understand each other on that."

There was a knock at the door, and Della Street glanced significantly at Perry Mason (wondering whether to reveal things in front of Drake)

"That's okay," he said, "tell me what it is, Della."

We jump seven years and 13 books for the second book: The Case of the Baited Hook, first published in 1940 and one which has a most interesting opening.

Paul Drake conserves his energy:

Paul Drake was tall and languid. He spoke with a drawl, walked with a long, slow-paced stride. He was thinner than Mason, seldom stood erect, but had a habit of slouching against a desk, a filing cabinet, or slumping to a languid seat on the arm of a chair. He gave the impression of having but little energy to waste and wishing to conserve that which he had.

And his relationship with Della has progressed much form the point when she was wary of divulging details in front of him to the point where they flirt with each other:

Paul Drake's voice from the corridor said, cheerfully, " Against the light, your legs are swell Della. They'd get by in front of any window."

"Sometime when you're not too busy, tell Perry all about them, will you, Paul?"

Drake, in a rare good humor, circled Della Street and edged in at the open door....

"If Paul's through admiring my figure, I'll be going" Della observed.

"What the devil was the last crack about?" Mason asked.

Drake grinned, "Don't you ever notice your secretary's legs?"

Mason, of course, has to play the party pooper:

 "For God's sake, snap out of it! There's work to be done."...

Drake's loquacious good humor evaporated under the influence of the lawyer's savage grimness.

There is also an interesting encounter between Mason and Sergeant Holcomb who are usually at loggerheads:

Sergeant Holcomb spun on his heel, took two quick steps...pushed a hand out at the surprised lawyer.

"All right, Mason, "he said, "I don't like your methods. Some day I'm going to throw you in the can, but I do appreciate good detective work when I see it and I'm enough of a cop to pull for a guy who solves crimes, even if I don't like the way he goes about it."

Surprised, Mason shook hands.

"My thanks for handing me a tip on a silver platter and for bringing a murderer to justice. Any cop worth his salt will respect a man who can do that."

Mason clapped Sergeant Holcomb on the shoulder, "Spoken like a man, Sergeant. Go to it."

When Della admonishes him for helping Holcomb, Mason has rare words of praise for the sergeant: "...he's a fighter and I like fighters."

However, these words do not apparently help Holcomb because in the very next book of the series: The Case of the Silent Partner, published in that very same year: 1940, he has been replaced:

Lieutenant Tragg said nothing but concentrated on driving in traffic. He was about Mason’s age. His features stood out in sharply etched lines. His forehead was high, his eyes keen and thoughtful, an entirely different type from Sergeant Holcomb. Mason, studying the profile as the car screamed through the streets, realized that this man could be a very dangerous antagonist indeed...the man was as cool and detached as a surgeon performing a delicate operation. His face showed complete concentration and an entire lack of nervousness.

What are the books about? Oh, they are about a heiress who is not on good terms with her guardian who ends up dying; about a masked woman who is Mason's client but Mason has no clue about who she might be; and a young woman who runs a flower-shop she is in danger of losing. Interesting mysteries but not as interesting as the characters.


The Erle Stanley Triple-Decker

The Case of the Sulky Girl (1933)
The Case of the Baited Hook (1940)
The Case of the Silent Partner (1940)

Publishing Details: NY: Grosset & Dunlap

First Line: The girl walked past the secretary who held the door open, and surveyed the law office with eyes that showed just a trace of panic.

pages: 302


First Line: two persons in the city had the number of perry mason's private, unlisted telephone.

Pages: 281


FL: Mildreth Faulkner, seated at her desk in the glass-enclosed office of the Faulkner Flower Shops, selected a blue crayon of exactly the right shade.

Pages: 281


Source: HML
Other books read of the same author: (Among Others): The Case of the Spurious Spinster


Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase. Please head over there for the other entries.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Baker's Dozen: Authors Unknown

Do you pick up books by authors you have no idea of? I love to do so, esp. when I feel I might be discovering a hidden gem. Here are thirteen books that I purchased this year with absolutely no idea of the authors. I liked the brief summary on the back cover and so purchased them:

Imaginative cover.


Have you read any of these? Which one would you recommend? Depending upon the covers which one would you have picked-up?


Part of my A Baker's Dozen series. For other entries, click here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Challenging Myself: Three Mammoth Books

I am challenging myself to read three books by 15th October. They have been on my TBR for a very long........... time and I feel that if I don't read them now, I'll never be able to read them. Mammoth books they are so I want to finish them before I get busy with Diwali cleaning and preparation.

Here are the books:

As I finish each text, I'll treat myself to a mystery.

Have you read any of the three? How did you find it/ them?

Monday, September 7, 2015


For a long time, I thought of Roald Dahl only as the author of stories for children like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and so when my colleague exclaimed one day that she was fond of Dahl, I couldn't quite agree. It was only when Prashant reviewed a story called Lamb to the Slaughter at his blog that I realised that I had been a fool and that  Dahl had written such stories which I had admired over the years. So coming upon Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected was a real pleasure. And Dahl does not disappoint. Each of the story has a twist in the end, sometimes comic, sometimes ironic, at times even macabre and disturbing.

The stories, sixteen in all and published between 1954-1961, are as follows:

Taste has a lecherous wine connoisseur.

Lamb to the Slaughter has a wife cooking dinner for her husband.

The Man from the South lays a deadly bet.

My Lady Love, My Dove has the hosts eavesdropping on their guests

Dip in the Pool has a man jumping overboard.

In Galloping Foxley, a man encounters a bully from school.

In Skin, a man gets his back painted by a young man who eventually becomes a famous painter.

Neck is about a man and his adulterous wife.

In Nunc Dimittis, a man tries to revenge himself on a girl who he believes has belittled him.

In The Landlady, a man looking for a room encounters a strange landlady.

William and Mary has a man surviving his death as a one-eyed brain whom his wife takes special care of.

The Way up to Heaven has a woman tired of her sadist husband.

Parson's Pleasure has a man coming across an antique rarity.

Mrs. Bixby is given a mink coat by her lover but does she really get it in Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat?

A baby starts turning into a bee in Royal Jelly while in Edward the Conqueror, a woman is convinced that the cat that has strayed in her house is the reincarnation of musician,  Franz Liszt.

You like a twist in the tale? This is the book for you. Highly recommended.


First Line: There were six of us to dinner that night at Mike Schofield's house in London: Mike and his wife and daughter, my wife and I, and a man called Richard Pratt.

Publication Details: Camberwell: Penguin, 2008
First Published (in book form): 1979
Pages: 282
Soure: MCL [ 823 D137T C.1]