Book Review of Jorge Luis Borges’s Fictions

The stories inside the cocoon of life’s perplexing and re-defining boundaries are never linear. They all inhabit different realities, different mysteries, different creators, and different evils. The point, however, is how they’re told. What if, within those worlds, every dream and its remembrance ignited a chain reaction? Sort of like a tunnel through which you could step over reality’s time-bound singularity and tuck yourself in as if tucked tightly under a blanket, an incomprehensible and strange dimension.

Reading Jorge Luis Borges’s Fictions felt like a tussle between known and unknown worlds. It occupies a prolific and celestial field. And on each stop on your journey is a unique and magical story; The Garden of Forking Paths, The Library of Babel, The Circular Ruins, The Shape of the Sword, and so many more. “Thinking, meditating, imagining,” Jorges writes, “are not anomalous acts – they are the normal respiration of the intelligence.” He instills in each of his characters, his worlds such an acute and concentrated sensitivity. That to understand the complexity and nothingness of life, you are relieved of the heaviness that is your own.

Separate yourself from your known reality’s dimensions to read Jorge Luis Borges. It is like transcending and strolling down multiple realities, each interlaced by its abstraction and mystery. You can be a different person in each, converge with different identities, laws, and natures.

Book Review of Raghu Karnad’s Farthest Field

“People have two deaths: the first at the end of their lives, when they go away, and the second at the end of the memory of their lives, when all who remember them are gone. Then a person quits the world completely.”

The measure of all things echoes in the stories that are left behind. The photographs of history tucked away between covers and in old and oxidized jewelry boxes. Farthest Field, penned in bold and imaginative strokes, is a story of India’s role in the Second World War. The fabric of the book is non-fiction but the patterning that gives it a personality is a fictionalized acquaintance of 3 young men.

The story is in parts sketched out of the author’s faithful and passionate re-telling of his ancestry. So it’s not all fiction. The roots of history have been dug up and revealed to the reader through records, memoirs, and interviews. The book shoulders that weight from the start. Especially when the following words, “For my mother, who didn’t let me forget” are pasted on the book’s dedication page.

This is history like you’ve never matriculated in school before. It’s factual, gripping, but oftentimes, a bit stretched to the extremes. But if you keep at it, the story sinks in deeper and stays there as something you aren’t forced to learn before understanding, as most of us did when learning about our history for the first time.

You can think of this story as “imperfect, live flesh drawn over skeletons rebuilt from scattered bones.” But what it also is is a quick and captivating read. Heavy with grief, loyalty, and courage rather than sacrifice. The kind that pulls you closer to home as you fathom a seedbed of humanistic force and conviction.

Book Review of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

Does all deep and unfortunate pain that is closed off and suffocated turn into distorted and excessive desire? The kind of yearning that, in imagination, relinquishes and claims the stillness, the emptiness, and non-existence of time’s passing. So what is to be is you and your desire and everything you do to prove, to nobody but yourself, that it still is yours. .
Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is often misconstrued as a romantic novel. The sort in which our character, Jay Gatsby, falls in love and abandons himself in a dream. Through an ironic display of grandiose materialism and wealth, he seeks to take back and pardon those lost years between his conquest, Daisy.

And there exists our protagonist, Nick Carraway, though solitarily. As he fastens his grip on the knife’s sharpest edge, you see characters like Jay Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Myrtle, and Jordan taking shape. Their unconscious movement and uniformity arouse complete dormancy of identity. Is that tragic? What stroke of living could possibly negate the nausea of such self-deception? Or is it that the few who do survive sail in the same boat that goes “against the current” and shoulders the weight of “the past” as Nick Carraway?

The Great Gatsby exists in the known and the unknown. It tests its limit on how far you, the reader, can go before injuring the innocence of each of its characters. So the most predictable way of navigating this tragic and loathsome story is to perceive in it a different kind of beauty. A beauty that exists not as a quality in the lives of the characters but as a beauty that lets us into their self-serving psyches as a standard of desire and its unending pursuit.

Book Review Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

You gather the courage to look back to look into the future. Margaret Atwood’s compelling and profound novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was published in 1985. The story is dystopian – a possibility that directly and effectively stamps on the feet of what makes human humane.

What makes this novel so captivating is that it has a human element. It’s not just a story that restricts women into their homes, compartmentalizes them based on their fertility and corporeal value so that it brings profitability to the men in power. But it’s also a historical story. A strict regime, punishable by death offenses, rape, moral codes, chaste clothing and conduct, and social and cultural regimentation. What Atwood does is she fictionalizes all this hurt, this puritanical pecking order without minimizing the historical suffering of it. The story merely reflects what has been done before. And the telling of it, in crisp, elaborate, and provocative sentences, is one of the best I’ve read.

You feel the intensity of the story and of the lives of all the women under surveillance and unconsented conformity to Gilead when you read the following lines. “What I need is perspective. The illusion of depth, created by a frame, the arrangement of shapes on a flat surface. Perspective is necessary. Otherwise, there are only two dimensions. Otherwise, you live with your face squashed up against a wall, everything a huge foreground, of details, close-ups, hairs, the weave of the bedsheet, the molecules of the face. Your own skin like a map, a diagram of futility, crisscrossed with tiny roads that lead nowhere. Otherwise, you live in the moment. Which is not where I want to be.”

The narration is chilling and terrifying. You’re catapulted into the past, before the regime, where the protagonist lived an intellectually, politically, and sexually uninhibited life. Then, in the present, where you read her words as your own as she navigates the “burning city” in all its heaviness, darkness, and soulless existence. Read The Handmaid’s Tale not because it’s one of the top dystopian novels of all time. The novel is psychologically-incisive in that it’s reflective of what we are all familiar with

Book Review of Soren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death

“…the very notion of a self is vague,”

The measure of one’s truth is in what drives a person to despair. How does one live? What faculty of thought or tendency of a “self” drives a person to happiness? Is it by virtue of the lack of sorrow? And what faculty of thought or tendency of a “self” drives a person to sorrow? Is it by virtue of the lack of happiness?

Soren Kierkegaard spoke about the idea of despair as being an eternal phenomenon as the “self” is an eternal force of nature. So the loss of despair is the loss of one’s “self” in which there can occur an annihilation of one’s relation to not only the outside world but to the “self” itself. The Sickness Unto Death is his profound, intellectual, and ceaseless conversation about self-actualization. His writing is easy no task to bear but if you are patient and amicable enough, the book is better than any self-help book you’ve ever read.

For Kierkegaard, this sickness of despair is not as conventional as physical sickness that may or may not drive one to death. Despair is rather an omnipresent, an underlying manifestation of the consciousness. It doesn’t alienate us from perception rather it elevates the intensity of the experience to the point of uninhibited self-expression, or what Kierkegaard calls “faith.”

One despairs in being oneself. One despairs in wanting to be oneself. One despairs in not wanting to be oneself. This tug of war between a self’s authentic and inauthentic despair is the formula of human existence.  The biggest danger, however, is “that of losing oneself, one can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed.”

Read all my highlighted passages from the book here.


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Book Review of Albert Camus’s The Plague

Begetting such symbolic human helplessness against the unbendable forces of nature… perhaps seen through an evolutionary standpoint makes The Plague an unfortunately arresting book. It’s symbolic in that it’s about the bubonic plague taking place in the 1940s, spread across the city of Oran. The plague could be Albert Camus’s allegorical interpretation of war and/or his absurd and atheistic interpretation of good and evil. One can view this book through many lenses.

The story is grotesque and uncompromising. It doesn’t dramatize death. The protagonist carries out his role as a doctor in the midst of this epidemic as an abstraction. An abstraction that trumps happiness and heroism. For pity, grief, and anger do not offer any strength against such a hardening blow. What’s left is cultivating logical habits that do not leave a person cold and empty.

This abstraction applies to most everyday things of life. We yearn to succeed at something not because it’s the ideal way to live. But in order to avoid failing at it. We’re constantly in fear of not knowing that it forcibly and impulsively compels us to know. Transitioning this thought to the question of good and evil where life is not evil nor is it good. Rather it’s the living of it that affects our judgment on the stand.

The book raises many such questions. Why human behavior is “more or less ignorant” rather than a “vice or virtue?” How appalling it is to understand love not by attaining it but withholding from it. And finally, a question that makes one aware of the enormity of our infinitesimal existence, “But what does it mean, the plague? It’s life, after all.”

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Book Review of Haruki Murakami’s Wind/Pinball: Two Novels

His first debut short novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, are the first strings that tie Murakami’s fantasy together. The stories are rich, captivating, and vivid. They transcend layers upon layers into the characteristic vitality and loneliness that Murakami never fails to bring page after page. The lives of the people permeate everything. I couldn’t understand how else the language and longing of the protagonist are brought to be understood by so many.

The novels are centered upon ordinary realities whose very essence and soul are rare and unforgettable. I enjoyed revisiting the pleasant and nostalgic sensitivity of Murakami. Where his deepest and conscious thought is so effortless to make sense of. The book demands little in return. Consider it a light read… a moving work of literature. Meditative and tranquil; containing the sum total of one’s lonely, quiet, and vigilant voyage.

If what you seek is wisdom and meditation that’s lurking beneath the surface, you’ll find it in this story. All it does is give you a taste of that flawless and enigmatic purity that Murakami achieves in his later works. If you’re attentive enough, these short stories reveal the beauty of such seasoning of life.

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Book Review of Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life

Reading Proust and meditating on his literature and wisdom are unique but strange experiences. His descent and inquiry into igniting every compassionate nerve in one’s body are exceptional. And Alain de Botton accomplishes the rare task of compiling Marcel Proust’s most significant and learned possessions.

The book comprises of life’s most sought but unrequited questions. Perhaps it’s not about people that we need to learn about. Nor is it about acquiring more words under the guise of knowledge and wisdom. Rather, it’s understanding the varied dimensions to loving and being.

Presence, which goes above and beyond sensory perception is often unwelcome in the realm of friendships and loves.

Proust takes you a step further into the logic of such a philosophy. And when other philosophy books seem perplexing and perhaps too embracive, Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life makes the same sentiment more alluring than just a glance. It’s intense, simple, and within the realm of one’s emotional, intellectual, and platonic possibilities.

There is a lesson in each question. Two of them that, in homage, I offer to time’s quickening spirit is ‘How to Suffer Successfully’ and ‘How to Read for Yourself’. Read this book as a reminder or merely a kind of repose which offers mind and creative courage. Alain de Botton delivers an unforgettable and imaginative evaluation of what Proust so eloquently discovered in his books.


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Ladders to Fire – Anais Nin

This book is proof that words contain within themselves, emerging from scattered streams, whole words, whole emotions, and whole dreams. Anaïs Nin’s Ladders to Fire seizes you faster than the speed of an electric current puncturing flesh. The book is essence over substance and the dissolution of that substance into a surreal dream.

What Anaïs Nin offers is closer to a prophecy – a timeless and pulsating beat – in which the toughest feeling is that of a nostalgic remembering. A recalling of love once ripe and soft – now, impenetrable and cold. A passion once ignited and breathless – now deep and obscured. Yet all this exists, within one’s internal fabric, as if part of one’s skin. The exterior remains concealed in plain sight; shifting and responding to the change of every wind, of every whisper imprinted into the skin.

It’s comforting to keep this book under covers; it is for you that this book lives. And nothing will extinguish its fire unless you stop reading it. So keep it under covers, hide it from piercing eyes. Perhaps you will not be able to forget this book. You will love it so you can let it go but only after you’ve bandaged the book’s dissonant cries as if it’s an old wound festering the veins of your own soul.

The book is about several women, each navigating the depths of her fears, desires, guilt, memories, and happiness: Some awaken to self-reflection as when light enters the mind at the end of every dream. The wakefulness of the narration is in contrast with the murkiness and mystifying appearance of these women. And it’s the realization of this quality that conveys the book’s extraordinary genius.


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The Face of Another – Kobo Abe

The loyalty of a face is so inveterate against the reality of identity. We’re lost in the maze of misplaced, forgotten, or abandoned identities. And no other Japanese author understands the significance and crisis of this fable better than Kobo Abe. In his book, The Face of Another, this part of our humanity is most chronic and ablaze.

The book rises to the challenge of an experiment. This experiment is as much in the protagonist’s mind as it is in the reader’s. It’s a dormant state followed by a line of questioning. Though we can escape anger or loneliness, can we strip the face that holds on to these emotions? We may not look at other faces and turn our gaze to nature and reflect in its mirror, but how is it that we cannot turn away from the many faces we ourselves cannot bear to remove? Is it a disguise even if it feels more real and closer to reality than nothing?

The protagonist strips each layer of identity and then of its masks. He loses his ability to distinguish person from person, object from object, music from music. These sights, sounds, and smell flood his inner ecosystem. And to redeem it, he chooses a different identity in order to meet the world and himself. Kobo Abe’s literary style – in The Face of Another, The Box Man, The Woman in the Dunes – feels like a black hole in space. Inside it are different pulsating soliloquies suspended over a vast space of empty air.

Have you ever read a book that feels the right kind of nihilist, perhaps even cynic? Kobo Abe’s chilling and classic fiction scrutinizes a man’s suffering and reawakening. The most absurd and existential of catastrophes is the confrontation of your inner mind’s eye with your outer. This book is humanity’s letter of admission to the world. It’s brutal and brisk in the way it breaks down superficialities.


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