Archive for the Pai-Book-Review Category

The Martian – A novel

Posted in Pai-Book-Review on September 21, 2015 by prajwalpai

themartian

If anything can go wrong, it will. This book is one big Murphy’s law in action. Most chapters starts with ‘I am dying’ and ends with ‘yay! I am still alive’.

This book starts with a NASA MARS mission crew member left alone on Mars. This guy is an expert Botanist and specialist Mechanical Engineer. The core of the book is about him facing near-death situations every minute, his survival and resourcefulness. The best part of the book for me is its narration, no character is melodramatic or poetic. The journals are more are less like casual blog entries. The hero is of the book is characterisation of the protagonist and his sense of humour. I think the Space mission crews are mentally conditioned for all possibilities but it can also be argued that one strong-willed people are chosen in the first place. No matter how well the conditioning, preparedness and briefing is, the actual events bringing out the desperation and the will to survive makes this book/story work.

On the other side, this story is set in today’s world and media sensationalism is at work. The whole world is watching the satellite images and chat conversations are aired live. The news channels have a weekly segments and at one point of time the whole world is watching a rescue rendezvous. The whole of NASA is on its toes to come up with a rescue plan. Millions of dollars aside, 2 future NASA missions are put into jeopardy and one Chinese space mission needs to be cancelled to accommodate saving one man. This whole scenario is actually made believable. I was wondering throughout the book , to what extent the world can go to save ‘just’ one life. There are soldiers left to die for without any second thoughts, there are downtrodden dying each day, but with the right motivation a lot can be done just for saving one soul. When the last page of this book echoed this exact question, I felt it was the right conclusion.

The book goes too much into the technical aspects(which is a good thing for sake of credibility) and I think sometimes it’s an imagination overload, I can’t wait for the movie to release.

Ending this blog with my favourite excerpt of the book,

People have been using human waste as fertiliser for centuries. It’s even got a pleasant name: “night soil.” Normally, it’s not an ideal way to grow crops, because it spreads disease: Human waste has pathogens in it that, you guessed it, infect humans. But it’s not a problem for me. The only pathogens in this waste are the ones I already have.

Within a week, the Martian soil will be ready for plants to germinate in. But I won’t plant yet. I’ll bring in more lifeless soil from outside and spread some of the live soil over it. It’ll “infect” the new soil and I’ll have double what I started with. After another week, I’ll double it again. And so on. Of course, all the while, I’ll be adding all new manure to the effort.

My asshole is doing as much to keep me alive as my brain.

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Shantaram – The novel

Posted in Pai-Book-Review on April 27, 2015 by prajwalpai

Shantaram

It took me 4 years! I picked up this book 4 years ago and I was only able to finish it last night. It’s definitely a huge read with close to 1000 pages but that wasn’t the reason. I think this book demands a proper state of mind to read and I put it down first time after reading about 200 pages, I picked it up again few times but could never even get through halfway. This time the job was done! Mission accomplished.

The intrigue : 

On the back cover of the book, it says :

In the early 80’s, Gregory David Roberts, an armed robber and heroin addict, escaped from an Australian prison to India, where he lived in a Bombay slum. There, he established a free health clinic and also joined the mafia, working as a money launderer, forger and street soldier. He found time to learn Hindi and Marathi, fall in love, and spend time being worked over in an Indian jail. Then, in case anyone thought he was slacking, he acted in Bollywood and fought with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan… Amazingly, Roberts wrote Shantaram three times after prison guards trashed the first two versions. It’s a profound tribute to his willpower… At once a high-kicking , eye-gouging adventure, a love saga and a savage yet tenderly lyrical fugitive vision.

The Literature :

We have to understand that this author is not a novelist at all. This is the only book he has ever published. He is a convict, addict with no formal degree of sorts. With this perspective, I fell in love with the language of this book. I love the beauty in explaining even the mundane of things. For instance, When an author like Chetan Bhagat might say ‘It was amavas ki raat and it was just stars in the sky’ this book says ‘There was no moon, and the stars punctured the black doom of sky with a dazzling intensity’. For me, the language of narration has a huge impact, it elevates the book to a higher degree. The protagonist explains his first impressions on the disgusting slums of Bombay and we can feel the stink. He then goes on to explain the beauty of the people living in slums and the same slum is made to look colorful and vibrant, the transition takes some time but its beautifully described.

The Philosophy :

This book has an overdose of philosophical discussions. The classic good v/s evil and the meaning and purpose of human life. The philosophy of love/hate/arrogance/politics/power/crime/sin/justice is dissected to the core. We see the world through a prism of a criminal. The philosophy is the main reason, I put down this book many times. You need to completely immerse in the book, understand the context and align with the perspective of the author to feel a tug in the strings of your heart. If you just randomly read the excerpts below, it will NOT have the same effect. The conversations sometimes feels forced, How many times have you walked to a friend , and asked ‘Hi-What do you think drives humans?’  and start a serious conversation, despite that, I liked all the philosophical conversations among the characters.

The Desi touch:

I doubt if I would have picked up this book if its name was in English. If this book were named Robert’s journey, or Slum-doctor or something like that , I might not have given this book a thought. I think the author understand the Indian audience well. Shantaram is the name that’s given to him in a village but it finds a mention in just one chapter. He is called ‘Lin’ throughout the book. To name the book with a inconsequential Indian name is not a coincidence. The name itself gives a feel of India. Each of the smallest ‘Indian’ thing is kept real/credible. This novel is made to sound like an autobiography and it completely succeeds in that. The protagonist is quick to learn fluent Hindi and Marathi which is well appreciated by everybody. After reading this book, I feel I know Bombay more than what many ppl in Bombay might not be aware of (like standing baba/lepers colony). The author takes time to explain the history/origin of too many things. Many things which we have taken for granted but seen from a foreigners perspective gives it a different spin. The book is set in the eighties, so the detailed gold smuggling, Indira Gandhi’s death and many more things takes us back in time. The Bollywood that’s explained here might not have changed much. The way Indians reach in situations is fun but I am not sure if Bombay is the same now with all the people being so goody-goody.

The verdict : 

This book literally has everything, Its part autobiographical peppered with facts, its has a generous amount of fiction, It contains murder mystery, its deals with politics, it takes us on an adventure , its drowns us in philosophical conversations, it’s a part self-help book (if you have the eye), and more than anything, it’s a love story. If any of you guys are interested in this book but too lazy to read the book, do take a look into the quotes from this book. The book is not for amateur readers like me and I recommend it for serious readers only.

Some excerpts :

“The worst thing about corruption as a system of government is that it works so well.”

“Justice is a judgment that is both fair and forgiving… Justice is not only the way we punish those who do wrong. It is also the way we try to save them.”

“The burden of happiness can only be relieved by the balm of suffering.”

“When we’re young, we think that suffering is something that’s done to us. When we get older – when the steel door slams shut, in one way or another – we know that suffering is measured by what’s taken away from us.”

“At first, when we truly love someone, our greatest fear is that the loved one will stop loving us. What we should fear and dread, of course, is that we won’t stop loving them, even after they’re dead and gone.”

“Every life, every love, every action and feeling and thought has its reason and significance: its beginning, and the part it plays in the end. Sometimes, we do see..Nothing in any life, no matter how well or poorly lived, is wiser than failure or clearer than sorrow. And in the tiny, precious wisdom they give to us, even those dread and hated enemies, suffering and failure, have their reason and their right to be.”

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

“Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope. Sometimes we cry with everything except tears.”

“The world is run by one million evil men, ten million stupid men, and one hundred million cowards.”

“Loves are like that. You heart starts to feel like an overcrowded lifeboat. You throw your pride out to keep it afloat, and your self-respect and independence. After a while, you started throwing people out – your friends and everyone you used to know. And it’s still not enough. The lifeboat is still sinking, and you know it’s going to take down with it. I’ve seen that happen to a lot of girls. That’s why I’m sick of Love.”

The Silkworm

Posted in Pai-Book-Review on August 1, 2014 by prajwalpai

thesilkworm

Having not finished about 4 books which I had started reading in last few months, I was itching to finish a book. When I realised the second book of Cormoran Strike series had released, I knew this was the book I was waiting for. This is the second book by J.K.Rowling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith , the first being thoroughly enjoyable The Cuckoo Calling.

This book picks up where the first had finished. It begins with Strike being hired to find a missing person, Owen Quine – a not so successful Author/Writer. Owen had plans to release a controversial book called ‘Bombyx Mori’ which is a symbolic autobiographical account of his own life.  All the real people in his life depicted metaphorically as characters in his book. The Silkworm is set in the literary world of London and each character is very well defined. We are made aware of the plot of Bombyx Mori in detail and Cormoran sets to fit the pieces of puzzle by mapping from book to real life and thus unravelling all the dark secrets of each character. A dead body is found under extraordinary circumstances and this murder is elaborate, strange, sadistic and grotesque, literary in inspiration and ruthless in execution.The solution to the mystery unfolds in a quick pace, through the gripping investigative work, through interesting interviews with eager suspects, through streets/tubes/taxis of nostalgic London, with many false trails , guided by Strike’s unerring sense and skill. Strike connects the dots between the book and the real life. The mystery unravels piece by piece , hinged instead on character studies, allowing the suspects to slowly reveal their inner-selves full of shallow and sometimes quite dark unpleasantness, propelled by almost casually shrewd observations of social inequalities and prejudices.

I actually had no clue till the end about who might be the killer, I did have my suspects but needless to say I was terribly wrong. We are given every bit of info to make us think and keep it intriguing. Very different from most books is that each suspect is jumping eagerly to answer the detective which threw any of my theory off the window. The book is kept very real and the characters are very human. Cormoran keeps getting hungry every now and then, his amputated limp keeps giving him trouble most of the times. Robin gets a lot of limelight and more involvement this time and her chemistry with Cormoran is as crackling as ever. We also see the relation between Robin and Matthew get more mature.

I am one of those person who cannot find any fault in Rowling’s writing. This book for me was in the ‘unputdownable’ category. Rowling continues the pattern she set in the first Strike book. One line from the book that totally encapsulates the essence of the entire book, 

“Ha, ha, ha, thou entanglest thyself in thine own work like a silkworm.”

The First Phone Call from Heaven

Posted in Pai-Book-Review on January 13, 2014 by prajwalpai

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I had liked Mitch Albom’s ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ , which had set my expectations high on this Novel. This book had a very interesting premise. A small town in U.S is witnessing an extraordinary divine phenomenon. Few residents in this town get phone calls every week from their deceased loved ones.

The book is organised in a very neat way, It considers this first call from heaven as an epoch. The chapters are named as first week, second week and so on. The story is very intriguing  and as promised from the premise is a page-turner. There are 3 parallel narratives which converge in the end. The first narrative is all about the ‘phone-call’, the second of main protagonist Sully – a pilot who suddenly has lost everything in life almost overnight. The third interesting narrative is about the ‘Telephone’ itself. This narrative gives us side notes or facts about Alexander Graham Bell- his personal life and lot of peppy facts on the instrument we now call phone. I loved the way the author has given a nice logical closure to even this narrative.

Without giving away the story too much, this book feels very real. Inspite of it being a fiction, the content is kept very believable. The news going viral , the people flocking, the supporters and protesters- it all feels real. I can easily imagine Arnab shouting ‘The nations needs an answer – Did you get a call from your DEAD SISTER!” doing a piece on this. The sensationalisation of any news true or false is a thing that we see happening everyday.

The ending was very unpredictable but satisfying. I have read many books or seen many movies which starts with a very intriguing premise but fail to sustain readers interest in the middle and fails miserably towards the end.  This book not only gives a satisfactory ‘who’ did it but also provides a convincing answer to ‘why’. I always like stories with no loose-ends. The apparent, not so mysterious things mentioned in the first few chapters and taken to closure towards the end. I somehow imagined this book to be a bit preachy but felt its contrary to what I perceived.

Favorite Quotes/Passages:

“The news of life is carried via telephone. A baby’s birth, a couple engaged, a tragic accident on a late night highway — most milestones of the human journey, good or bad, are foreshadowed by the sound of ringing.”

“There is a time for hello and a time for goodbye. It’s why the act of burying things seems natural but the act of digging them up does not.

“There are two stories for every life; the one you live & the one others tell.”

“No soul remembered is ever truly gone.”

“As happens with all miracles, once life goes on, those who believe retell them with wonder. Those who do not, do not.”

The Cuckoo’s Calling

Posted in Pai-Book-Review on August 23, 2013 by prajwalpai

jk-rowling-the-cuckoos-callingJ.K. Rowling is my favorite author of all time, Obviously I love her books but more importantly I love her for this fantastic 2008 Harvard commencement speech. I will be completely honest in saying that I would have never picked this book if J.K. Rowling had not written this. I am glad that I picked this and I must say this fell into ‘unputdownable’ category. It takes courage for a popular author( a brand name) to publish a book with a pseudonym. The author might not have a burden of reader’s expectations but the content has to carry the entire burden of selling itself.

As I started this book, it kinda sucked me into it. In the past, I had tried to read ‘Casual Vacancy’ but couldn’t get past the first two chapters. This book, however had me glued in the first few pages. The main protagonist Cormoran Strike and his office assistant Robin were intriguing characters. Its my process to give a face to the characters as I read any book. I imagined the Dr.Calman and Foster to be the perfect fit. Cormoran Strike is a Ex-Military Boxer (with a prosthetic leg) and a very tall and intimidating guy as is our Dr.Calman. He appears to know when people are telling the truth and sense when people are lying. Robin is a hot and professional assistant who has got engaged recently. She is in complete awe of her boss but non-romantic about her boss.

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This novel managed to be stimulating, engaging, and touching at the same time. As leisurely as the plot unfolds, never did I lose interest in Strike’s investigation. At almost halfway, I was still unsure if this was a murder mystery or a suicide-confirm mystery. My favourite fact being that there actually was an investigation! A hot-shot model is dead and media has gone bonkers. The cops have done everything that they can do and followed every possible lead and have finally concluded its a suicide. Here starts Mr.Strike and we are taken along for the ride; no clues or tidbits are left out from us readers, bereaving us from the chance of making our own accusations. No, we are kept invested in the outcome of Strike’s investigation as if we were part of it ourselves. My suspicions shifted from one character to another, never making ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ a predictable nor boring read.

It might not have the world is about to end kinda cliffhanger climax but every loose end is tied and every un-answered question gets an answer. I read rumours saying a Cormoran Strike series might be on the cards. I got nostalgic reading Cuckoo Calling as i had cultivated my reading habit on a staple diet of James Hadley Chase’s thriller novels. I recommend this book to anybody who has any little interest in thriller. Don’t go looking for wands and spells but I would say this book has its own magic.

Inferno – A Novel

Posted in Pai-Book-Review on June 6, 2013 by prajwalpai

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Well!! This is a Dan Brown novel. What more do I need to say? The template is standard. It opens up with a chapter which places our Hero in some mysterious or intriguing situation. The alternate chapters introduces us to some villainous guy. The third chapter spells doom and the end of world. Wait a minute, we can still save the world if we can decode just one clue left by a dead person and there is just one person in the world who can do that. One clue leads to the next and of course, they all take us to couple of artifacts across few museums. While we are at the museum, how can we not talk about the museum, the road that leads to the museum, the city its in and the country too. A lot of trivia about everything in sight with the secret meaning of all the paintings.  Its almost towards the end do we realize that the most influential good guy is actually a bad guy and the guy who we believed to be a bad guy is actually not so bad.  The final chapters lead to some good action and the world is safe!!

This is the template in all of  his books so far and I must say I am not bored of this yet. I have thoroughly enjoyed each of his book.  On every page, I Google-out the mentioned work of art or the place mentioned and it is very much real. The best part is that he exploits only the facts to be a crucial part of the proceedings in his story.  Dan Brown is a genius and no second opinion about it. He weaves a fictional story out of facts and this is no easy job. The trivia he provides of each place adds to the magic. He ties every loose-end and the code breaking is just mind-boggling, even if its repetitive.

This book goes a bit away from his template but only a little. I am very tempted to give away a single spoiler- this book has a very unconventional ending and very different from his previous books. That’s all I will say. Although it has all the usual painting,poems,statues with conspiracy theories, The core of the book is about the uncontrollable growth of Human population which I have written about in a separate blog.I had a few ‘I didn’t see that coming!’ and many ‘is that really true’ moments. It has everything that you are looking for in any Dan Brown book.  I read some bad reviews, but if you complain that Harry and Ron are not solving any murder mystery or if Sherlock and Watson are not casting any spells, it’s just plain stupidity. If you are picking a novel in which the protagonist is a world-famous professor of iconology and symbology , Icons and Symbols is what you get! Deal with it!

Inferno is all about Dante’s journey through 9 layers of hell in excruciating details. The readers are made to walk along his journey through hell.’Inferno- A Novel’ is an absolute ‘must read’ if you are a Dan Brown fan. Go to hell!!

Instant!

Posted in Pai-Book-Review on February 25, 2013 by prajwalpai

InstantThe first thing that came to my mind when I read this book was “History Repeats”. I had heard of Polaroid but all I knew of it was the Polaroid Instant  Camera, the one where you click and it spits out an instant image. I remember many years back, we had the Polaroid Studio where we used to get instant passport size snaps. I vaguely recall the Polaroid TV Advert, which featured Pankaj Kapoor getting clicked Instantly. I still do see a lot of Polaroid cams in ‘Just for Laugh Gags’.

The Genius Edwin Land :

To be totally honest, I had never heard of Edwin Land till I read this book. But only the first couple of pages should be enough to convince how much of a genius he was. Land’s philosophy was “Do some interesting science that is all your own, and if it is, manifestly important and nearly impossible, it will be fulfilling, and maybe even a way to get rich.” In his lifetime, Land received 535 United States patents. No wonder everyone called this college dropout “Dr. Land”—particularly after Harvard University gave him an honorary doctorate. He advised several presidents (from Eisenhower through Nixon) on technology,and effectively created the u-2 spy plane. Richard Nixon admired his scientific prowess, once asking an aide, “How do we get more Dr. Lands?”. He was a super salesman and he would  make an event out of his new product launches. He would present it in such a way that audience which didn’t know a product’s existence before the launch would wonder how they could live without one. A trend which was later followed by Jobs. In the sixties he has a vision of how photography should be, his vision was to create a device, compact enough to fit in pocket which people could use day in and day out to document their everyday life. His vision some 40 years back is today’s Camera phone.  It’s no wonder Steve Jobs considered Land a personal hero and modeled Apple after Polaroid.

The ‘polarize’ of ‘Polaroid’:

We all have read the polarization effect. A polarizer is a unique type of filter, As Land’s would oversimplify and  explain : Waves of light, as they come at you, vibrate in every plane, vertically, horizontally, and at all angles in between. Certain crystal structures can function as gratings, allowing through light that vibrates in just one plane. If you picture the beam of light as a handful of thrown straws, oriented in every direction, the polarizing filter is a picket fence. The only straws that come through are the ones that align with the slots between pickets. Polaroid became a multimillionaire company by selling polarized sheets.
Can you imagine that 3-d glasses(used even now) and concept was first invented by Edwin Lane!! Simplest application of polarization shoot movie using two cameras with an inch difference in between and project 2 different images to both eyes. The magic here is by the fence we talked about above, we have vertical fence on left eye and horizontal fence on right eye and we can control which eye can see what. That’s it!! Since both eyes see two different images, our brain calculates the depth perception.

The parallels with Apple :

Apple was a recurring theme while reading this book.Both companies started out with something different that what they ended up doing after 20 years from start. Polaroid went from Polarisation sheets to Camera and Apple went from computers to iPod/iPhone. Land was Polaroid as was Jobs used to be Apple. Coincidentally, Edwin was kinda forced to retire/get out of Polaroid like Steve Jobs was let go by Apple board. Like Apple vs Samsung ended in a Patent war , Polaroid was in war with Kodak. It was a 1 billion settlement between these two in 1990 and was the biggest patent-infringement judgment ever. These are kinda the huge similarities but thought-out the book we see a lot of similarities between Apple and Polaroid. I can just say history repeats.

The Before and After :

The biggest similarity between Apple and Polaroid is the vision and audacity of its visionaries. They both believed that a technology didn’t just have to work; it had to be beautiful. Polaroid didn’t go on to become a printer company because at the time, inkjet printers produced coarse, muddy images, and few people at Polaroid believed that photographers would never be happy with anything out of those machines. As one employee put it, The engineering department refused to accept the bad taste of the consumer.

Their exit from their respective companies made a fatal difference to the outlook of the company. Land and Jobs both believed that every significant invention. . .must come to a world that is not prepared for it.
After their exit, both Tim Cook@Apple and Booth@Poloroid asked the world what it wanted, then made it

If you are too lazy to read the entire book, Just watch this 4 min Book Trailer :