A WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE by BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD
I’d read this book when I was studying in the 10th standard. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Ok, that’s all I can remember from Dickens’ classic ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. But this line is so apt for how things were in the 10th standard.
But, as is my wont, I digress! Emma Harte, the protagonist of ‘A Woman of Substance’ greatly inspired me, she still inspires me. At one level it is just a story of a girl who rises above her means and becomes rich and famous, bur underlying it is the journey she makes from a poor maid to a businesswoman of great repute and the sacrifices she has to make to get where she did. And the best part is that she is not as pure as driven snow, she has many flaws, the yearning for revenge being her greatest; and she can be cold and calculating when she wants to be. But it is her strength, both mental and physical, which greatly awed me. It truly is a fantastic book.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFÉ by FANNIE FLAG
This is a great Southern American story about four women – Idgie Threadgoode, Ruth Jamison, Ninny Threadgoode and Evelyn Couch. The women do not do anything extraordinary, except sticking up for each other and being there for each other in times of trouble. But I guess that is quite extraordinary in itself! I’d watched the movie before I’d read the book. The movie was quite a faithful representation of the book, with great performances by Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary Louise Parker, Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates; but I enjoyed reading the book much, much more.
GONE WITH THE WIND by MARGARET MITCHELL
In Greek plays the hero is the most honest bravest, strongest, smartest, kindest person around, but possesses one terrible flaw that leads to his undoing. Scarlett O’Hara is the antithesis of the above. Here is a heroine who is selfish, greedy, vain, crafty, and would stop at nothing to get what she wants; and she is also a procrastinator like yours truly, as is evidenced by her famous words, “Tomorrow is another day”! Hehe! Just kidding! Those words show just how self-possessed she is, as despite all of her flaws she does have great confidence in herself and in her abilities. And it is mostly due to her efforts that her family survives during the Civil War. Here again I saw the movie before I’d read the book, and I think the movie is not a patch on the book, though the performance by the cast is very good. I guess it was not possible to encapsulate all the events that occur in the book into the movie. The sequel, ‘Scarlett’ by Alexandra Ripley turns Scarlett O’Hara’s character topsy-turvy. It is like Ripley created a totally different character! But I won’t go into all that now. Suffice to say that Scarlett O’Hara is one of the most dazzling fictional characters of all time.
LIFE OF PI by YANN MARTEL
‘Life of Pi’ is one of the most imaginative books I have ever read. It tells the story of Pi, short for Piscine Molitor Patel, a young boy whose father owned the Pondicherry zoo. He gets stuck in a lifeboat with the most unlikely companions for 227 days. And how he survives makes up most of the story. Aristotle had said that the audience should be willing to suspend their disbelief in the duration of a play. You will have no difficulty in suspending your disbelief while reading this novel! Martel narrates the events with such lucidity that you cannot help but be entranced by it all! This book is all about survival; it even weaves in a bit on ‘survival of the fittest’.
THE LAST SONG OF DUSK by SIDDHARTH DHANVANT SHANGHVI
This novel is quite… magical. I cannot think of any other adjective to describe it. It just transports you to a different world. The characters are quite extraordinary, yet their motives not all that difficult to understand. It is the story of Anuradha Gandharva, her husband Vardhmaan, their son Shloka and Anuradha’s cousin Nandini. I won’t presume to understand everything that occurs in the novel, some parts are steeped in mystery, and I did not get the philosophical overtones at some points. But the time during which I read this book I would just be cut me off from the world around me, the feeling was almost surreal.
SPOUSE by SHOBHA DÉ
I have just finished reading Shobha Dé’s ‘Spouse’, and whoever saw me reading it gave me knowing looks and passed comments like, “Oh! Are we going to hear some kind of good news from you soon?” or “Preparing already for the future huh?” Followed by a lot of ‘wink-wink, nudge-nudge’. I was quite amused for the most part. No, there is no “good news” to be expected and I did not buy the book with the intention of “preparing for the future”. I actually bought it because I was bored and pissed! And I must say it was one of my best buys (*pats own shoulder*) yet! I started reading it expecting the tone to be kind of condescending and ‘talking down-like’, but boy was I in for a surprise! It is a very common sensical book. Dé says it as she sees it, without mincing any words, which is of course her usual style, but I enjoyed reading this book much more than I did any of her works of fiction. It not only gives an insight into her own marriage but also into the married lives of Indians ranging from the ‘elite’ class to the lower middle class. I think it should be made compulsory reading for all couples that are planning on getting married. It will surely bring them down from Cloud no. 9 and face reality. Already married couples will also benefit from it. And one thing I found out is that from all accounts my parents do seem to have quite a great marriage on their hands! They are openly affectionate to each other (sometimes disgustingly so! :D) and they just somehow seem to make it work! Dé would be so proud of them! :)) And the best thing is that her advice can be applied not only within a marriage, but to other relationships too.
There are soooooo many other books that I absolutely love, like the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, ‘The Simoqin Prophecies’ by Samit Basu, ‘Five Point Someone’ by Chetan Bhagat, ‘The da Vinci Code’ by Dan Brown etc., etc. But I’m just going to leave it at these six above.